“Dogs of Chinatown”: At least two thumbs up (both of mine), and that’s even before you factor in the local connections. Here in Greensboro, you’ve got two more chances to see it — 7:30 p.m. Wed. and Thu. at the Carousel Grande on Battleground Avenue. You should go. (Leave the kids home — this is definitely just for grownups.)
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 10:27 pm
I don’t know the first thing about disposing of explosive ordnance (unless the first thing is “Get the hell away!”), so there may be a perfectly logical answer to this question, but: Why would someone advertising for an explosive ordnance disposal technician want to remain confidential?
OK, two questions. The second: If you’re not the military or a police/sheriff’s department, why are you disposing of explosive ordnance in the first place?
… and, doggoneit, 312 more people liked him than liked Norm Coleman:
Republican Norm Coleman ended his bruising eight-month court fight over Minnesota’s U.S. Senate seat this afternoon, conceding to Democrat Al Franken after the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in Franken’s favor.
The justices ruled today that Franken won the U.S. Senate election and said he is entitled to an election certificate that would lead to him being seated in the Senate.
“Affirmed,” wrote the Supreme Court, unanimously rejecting Coleman’s claims that inconsistent practices by local elections officials and wrong decisions by a lower court had denied him victory.
Two hours after the decision was released, Coleman said he would “abide by the results.”
Within minutes, Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s office removed the last hurdle to Franken’s being seated in the Senate, saying he would sign Franken’s certificate of election.
I have no idea what kind of senator Al Franken will make, but I congratulate the voters of Minnesota on finally obtaining their constitutionally guaranteed second U.S. senator.
I would also point out that despite the length of time involved, Minnesota’s election laws defined this process quite clearly, and the process did exactly what it was supposed to do. It produced a result that, though narrow, was incontrovertible. Even Norm Coleman has recognized that.
Monday, June 29, 2009 9:36 pm
So you want to be a reporter? Well, then, God help you, but if you’re serious, YouTube’s Reporters’ Center has tutorials.
… from The Charlotte Observer’s editorial writers, for the win:
Sanford is a two-term conservative Republican governor with a state legislature dominated by conservative Republicans. You’d think S.C. government would now be conservative Republican nirvana. Instead, Sanford had pretty much alienated his legislature, which earlier this month overturned 10 of his vetoes in one day. …
In 2002, during Sanford’s first campaign for governor, Observer reporter Henry Eichel profiled him, noting his penchant for going it alone, and reported this: “Sanford’s critics predict that if he does become governor, he will end up isolated and impotent.”
Well, they were half-right.
(h/t: commenter Waccamaw at EmptyWheel)
President Obama may issue an executive order authorizing the indefinite detention of possible terrorists who, for whatever reason, can’t be tried but are deemed too dangerous to release:
Obama administration officials, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, are crafting language for an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations.
Such an order would embrace claims by former president George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war. Obama advisers are concerned that an order, which would bypass Congress, could place the president on weaker footing before the courts and anger key supporters, the officials said.
This anonymously sourced article by The Washington Post and nonprofit ProPublica obviously is just a trial balloon, but the fact that the idea is being floated at all is disturbing for at least two reasons: 1) the executive branch can’t just bypass the legislative and judicial branches on this, and 2) it’s unconstitutional on its face.
Christy Hardin Smith speaks for me on this: “Considering how opposed I was to this during the Bush years? It should be no shocker that I still think it’s craptastically unconstitutional nincompoopery.”
It seems that Obama is bent on embracing every objectionable bit of Bushery he can get his hands on, as long as it empowers the executive branch. And this, folks, is why you don’t tolerate behavior like that: Even if it’s someone you like who’s doing it, inevitably someone else, someone you DON’T like, will come along and do it even worse.
After 9/11, it was quite common for people who didn’t necessarily agree with everything the Bush administration wanted to do to be criticized as “unpatriotic” (or even “objectively pro-terrorist”). That was untrue, poisonous rhetoric.
Which hasn’t prevented some Democrats from adopting it now that their guy is in the White House:
… the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) plans to run ads on the July 4 holiday criticizing several vulnerable Republican members for their votes against the supplemental last week. As Glenn Thrush reports, “A series of 60-second radio ads will run during drive time from July 1 through July 8, according to a script provided to POLITICO — and they have the support-our-troops ring of GOP spots.” Thrush provides the script:
Around here, we recognize Independence Day with parades … and picnics … maybe a few fireworks. But July Fourth is about more than that.
It’s about remembering those who fought for our freedoms. And those still fighting today. Congressman Lee Terry used to understand that.
When George Bush asked, Congressman Terry voted to fully fund our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, last year he said, quote, “We must give our military every resource it needs.”
Seems like Congressman Terry is playing politics now … Last month Congressman Terry voted AGAINST funding for those same troops. It’s true: vote No. 348 – you can look it up. [emphasis in original]
Leaving aside the merits of the International Monetary Fund loan pool that became part of the bill — a provision that led a number of members to switch their votes — the fact remains that voting against the supplemental is an issue on which reasonable, patriotic people can disagree. The Dems need to save the “unpatriotic” rhetoric for when it’s really needed — such as when Republicans or the president are doing something that undermines the Constitution.
Sunday, June 28, 2009 9:20 pm
… and I’m only half-joking. One of the many things I learned while covering religion is that the Church of Scientology does not suffer gladly those who would publicly criticize it, and the Times is opening up a three-part case of whupass.
I know that the government already has ruled Scientology a “real” church for tax purposes. What I don’t know is why.
One of the commenters raises a really good question: How do you code this for billing?
You know that iconic photograph from 9/11 of the three firefighters and the American flag? Well, that flag has gone missing.
Quasi-relatedly, a less-well-known but equally striking photo.
Saturday, June 27, 2009 6:49 pm
Actually, strike “probably”:
SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. – Authorities said a couple got into a fight using Cheetos. The Bedford County Sheriff’s Department said a 40-year-old man and 44-year-old woman became involved in a ‘verbal altercation.’ Somehow, the orange puffy snacks were used in the assault.
Deputies said they were charged with domestic assault. No one was hurt.
Friday, June 26, 2009 8:32 pm
… since Tom Wolfe serialized “Bonfire of the Vanities” in Rolling Stone about 25 years ago. Novelist/scriptwriter Lucian K. Truscott IV is writing his new novel, “General Bongo’s War,” as a blog. (Some language NSFW)
See, the investment bankers’ problem isn’t that they actually blew the economy all to hell, ruined a ton of people’s retirement or college savings and threw millions out of work. No, their problem is that there has been “populist overreaction”:
Wall Street’s largest trade group has started a campaign to counter the “populist” backlash against bankers, enlisting two former aides to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to spearhead the effort.
In memos of confidential meetings with top financial executives, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association said it began this month the “execution phase” of the operation, which pledges to “embrace change” and accountability. The plan targets policy makers and the media in New York, London, Washington and Brussels and calls for a “city-by-city, grass roots” approach.
The securities industry “must be perceived as part of the solution, which will allow it to better defend against populist overreaction,” the documents, prepared for a June 17 meeting of SIFMA’s board, said.
The board meeting minutes and staff-written papers, obtained by Bloomberg News, outline the program crafted by polling, lobbying and public relations companies paid at least $85,000 a month. The memos provide a glimpse, in often candid language, into how Wall Street is grappling with its pariah status.
“It is imperative that in this historic period of reform, the industry be recognized as playing a positive role in seeking change and providing solutions to the problems we face,” one of the documents said. “There is currently widespread skepticism about the industry’s commitment to this needed change.”
But wait! There’s more! (With these cheesemunches, there’s always more.) The guy who’s going to be leading this effort? Doesn’t exactly have a record of competence where the public’s welfare is concerned: “I’m not sure anyone in history has ever helped destroy a brand more thoroughly …”
Those smiles you see belong to lawyers who now understand that banker jokes are going to supersede lawyer jokes for a long time to come.
Thursday, June 25, 2009 8:41 pm
Q (from Tim Graham): “Isn’t Obama Planting a Huffington Post Question Worse Than Bush’s ‘Gannongate’?”
This has been another edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions.
Athenae at First Draft posts fairly frequently on how the troubles of the newspaper bidness ought to be blamed less on content problems and Internet competition and more on the butt-stupid business management of the industry.
She’s gonna love this, and by “love,” I mean “vomit over”:
Dennis FitzSimons, the former CEO of the Tribune Company who walked out the door with $41 million after engineering the disastrous sale of the company to Sam Zell, has just joined the board of directors of Media General.
The board seat was created just for him.
“’Dennis FitzSimons is a proven and innovative business leader who led a premier media company through times of outstanding growth and tough challenges,’ said Marshall N. Morton, Media General’s president and chief executive officer, in a filing with the Securites and Exchange Commission,” according to the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “‘His industry knowledge and experience with the changing media landscape and the synergies of print, broadcast and online platforms will bring a valuable perspective to the Media General board’s deliberations’.” …
“Like other newspaper publishers, Media General has been cutting jobs and other costs because of declining advertising and readers moving to the Internet,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “It has closed its Washington bureau, suspended its dividend and 401(k) match and required workers to take a 10-day furlough.”
A friend and former colleague of mine lost her job when Media General closed that Washington bureau, so this is kind of personal. And if you care about the health of the Winston-Salem Journal, Reidsville Review and/or Eden Daily News — and it’s at least statistically possible that some of you still do — you should know that Media General owns them.
(Not to take anything away from Sam Zell’s stupidity — there wasn’t a chance in hell he was going to be able to keep Tribune afloat with all the debt he took on when he bought the company. Still.)
Wednesday, June 24, 2009 10:14 pm
Citigroup Inc., the U.S. bank that got $45 billion of government funds, will raise base salaries by as much as 50 percent to help compensate for a reduction in annual bonuses, a person familiar with the plan said.
The biggest increases will go to investment bankers and traders, said the person, who declined to be identified. Workers in consumer banking, credit cards, legal and risk management will see smaller salary adjustments. The New York-based company also plans to award stock options to try to keep employees after Citigroup’s market value plummeted 84 percent in the past year.
Citigroup joins Morgan Stanley and UBS AG in boosting salaries for executives and employees. Morgan Stanley said last month it will increase base pay for many of the New York-based firm’s top executives and double the pay of Chief Financial Officer Colm Kelleher.
Well, sure, because the last time a company I ran lost $28 billion in one year and sucked $45 billion from the taxpayers’ teat, I got a 50% raise, too.
I oppose eliminationist rhetoric, so I’ll have to make do with thoughts of torches and pitchforks and “Let them eat cake.”
“Is there anything on this planet more infuriating and tiresome than somebody else telling you, with a sickly smile and a pat on the head, what kind of lessons your personal apocalypse should be teaching you?”
Empathy: I don’t know that it ought to be a characteristic of a Supreme Court justice, but it surely ought to be a characteristic of a human being.
You may or may not know the name of Ahmed Fadaam from his work with WUNC-FM’s “The Story.”
I decided to apply [for refugee status] for myself and then, and after my application is approved, I could ask to be reunited with my family. But the big surprise was that none of the immigration lawyers I met knew anything about this special visa program, and if I want to apply for refugee status, then I had to do it just like any other alien who has entered the States and wants to stay. If I wanted to make use of the special resettlement program, then I had to do it from outside the States. And this didn’t make any sense.
The lawyer also told me that it will take me at least three to five months after filing my application to get a temporary working permit, and maybe another six to eight months before my application is approved. Then I can ask for a reunion with my family and that could take another year.
This meant that I could not work or make a living. I had already spent a year away from my family and, according to the lawyer, it would take me another year or two before I can get to see them again. My financial resources are limited and I will not last for long here considering that I’m supporting myself and my family, too.
So the best way for me to make a living and be with my family is to get back home, go back to the war zone, and live under continued threat.
But how long will it take before I am spotted again? How long will I have before I get killed? Either way, I risk being apart from my wife and kids — by living in the States away from them or by going back to Iraq and getting killed. At least this way, I will get to see them before I die.
I have worked with a U.S. media outlet, hoping to tell the truth to the American people about the war and what really happened, and I was helped by the American people to get to the States, but I didn’t get any help from the American government or the American system.
And he is just one of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Iraqis who have put their lives on the line to help the U.S. in that country.
What, if anything, do we owe them? Must we help? Or should we just chalk it all up to the fact that freedom’s untidy?
Shorter George Will: A publicly funded health-insurance program wouldn’t need to make a profit and so could provide services more efficiently than private insurance. That’s unfair to private insurance.
Oooooo-kay. And this is bad … why?
Something else all these anti-government types need to take into account: Social Security is popular. Medicare is popular. The VA health-care system is, by many objective criteria, the nation’s best. That’s not a compelling argument for a government-funded health-insurance plan, nor is it intended to be. But it does suggest that people who say government can’t do anything right don’t know what they’re talking about.
… for which I have six words: not just no, but hell, no:
There are an array of reports today outlining the steps that the banking and financial services industries are taking to gum up various aspects of the plan to beef up Wall Street regulation.
There’s a new industry group — the Financial Instruments Reporting and Convergence Alliance (FIRCA) — fighting an accounting rule change meant “to end a practice that contributed to the risky lending that set off the financial crisis.” Hedge funds, organized into the Managed Funds Association, are mobilizing “money and power to fend off tougher oversight, higher taxes and much greater transparency.”
And of course, banks are continuing to raise a stink about the Obama administration’s plan to create a new consumer protection agency. All of which makes this report from the Research Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) (via The Stash) extremely timely.
The paper shows that the financial firms that did the most lobbying from 1998 to 2006 also had lower lending standards, a greater tendency to securitize, a larger presence in areas that are suffering the most from loan delinquencies, and ultimately lost the most money during the financial implosion. The researchers concluded that financial sector lobbying of this sort poses a threat to economic stability and increases systemic risk:
[The results] tend to support a theory of “moral hazard” whereby financial intermediaries lobby to obtain private benefits, making loans under less stringent terms not because they have better capacity to evaluate risks associated with the loans, but because they expect short term gains from these loans during the boom phase, and to be bailed out when losses amount during a financial crisis. These results…provide indirect evidence that lobbying might have the potential to threaten financial stability and contribute to systemic risk.
Of course, no one could have possibly seen that coming.
The Charlotte O’s Mark Washburn schools the newbies. And as a native, I can confirm he got it right.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009 8:57 pm
Monday, June 22, 2009 8:53 pm
In theory, and at its best, the American criminal justice system both finds out the truth and metes out appropriate justice to the deserving, guilty and not guilty alike. As a state prosecutor whom I used to cover would always tell juries during both opening statements and closing arguments, “verdict” comes from Latin meaning, “to speak the truth.”
But in real life, most days, the anti-crime politics of The American Way have turned what is supposed to be a search for truth, if not justice, into a conviction machine. And conviction machines, like sausage machines, frequently produce repulsive products.
I suppose one probably could find a more repulsive product than the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling last week in the case of an Alaskan prisoner named William G. Osborne. But the search would stink to high heaven and probably would lead to the discovery of the execution of innocent people.
The court denied that prisoners have a right, post-conviction, to obtain DNA testing that might conclusively prove their innocence (or guilt). What’s particularly galling in this case is that Osborne has been in prison since 1994, when DNA testing was much less precise than it is now. It’s not like Osborne is only now raising an issue that he could have raised 15 years ago. (And even if he were, so what? The failure of his counsel to have done so at the time should have been treated as prima facie evidence of that counsel’s incompetence, had such testing then been available.)
The Times editorial noted that Chief Justice John Roberts, in his majority opinion, acknowledged that DNA testing is more precise than ever before. But, the Times said, “he treated that breakthrough more as an irritant than an opportunity.”
Think about that: Roberts didn’t give a damn that 1) an innocent man might be in prison and 2) a rapist might still be running around free. Neither did four of his colleagues. Their vote in this case, a clear violation of a defendant’s right to confront evidence against him, is not strict constructionism. It is sociopathy, and it ought to be grounds for impeachment. At the least, no sane person can call it justice.
So a proposed Democratic health-care plan might cost $1 trillion over 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office says, and that’s too rich for a lot of people’s blood.
That plan is in such a formulative stage right now that I have no opinion on it because neither I nor anyone else — including, for that matter, the Congressional Budget Office — knows what ultimately will be in it. But just for the sake of discussion, let’s assume the $1 trillion figure is accurate.
We’ve given about $2 trillion to banks in the past year — every dime of it off-budget.
And we’ve spent about $1.8 trillion in Iraq since we invaded there six years ago — every dime of it off-budget.
So it’s more than a tiny bit specious to suggest that budgeting $100 billion a year for health care is unaffordable. We can afford it just fine. It’s just a question of what our priorities are, should a decent bill finally emerge from the legislative sausage-making machinery.
And what would constitute a “decent” bill? That’s in the eye of the beholder, of course, but a large majority of beholders have made up their minds:
Americans overwhelmingly support substantial changes to the health care system and are strongly behind one of the most contentious proposals Congress is considering, a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. …
The national telephone survey, which was conducted from June 12 to 16, found that 72 percent of those questioned supported a government-administered insurance plan — something like Medicare for those under 65 — that would compete for customers with private insurers. Twenty percent said they were opposed. …
Republicans in Congress have fiercely criticized the proposal as an unneeded expansion of government that might evolve into a system of nationalized health coverage and lead to the rationing of care.
But in the poll, the proposal received broad bipartisan backing, with half of those who call themselves Republicans saying they would support a public plan, along with nearly three-fourths of independents and almost nine in 10 Democrats.
The poll found that most Americans would be willing to pay higher taxes so everyone could have health insurance and that they said the government could do a better job of holding down health-care costs than the private sector.
I know only two things about this issue: 1) The status quo ain’t working. 2) Any plan with 72% support — including 75% of independents and 50% of Republicans! — is a centrist, bipartisan plan. (Nonetheless, my state’s Democratic senator may not be on board, the poll numbers notwithstanding.)
Now, I realize that a lot of people are worried about the deficit. But, interestingly, Americans have a history of being more worried about deficits when there’s less to worry about than they are when deficits are actually at historically high levels as a percentage of GDP.
Why is that? Digby hypothesizes:
The fiscal scolds don’t stop when the numbers turn around. They keep up the fear mongering because it isn’t really about balanced budgets or paying down debt. It’s about keeping government from bringing positive results to the people. As long as they can keep people focused on debt, whether it exists or not, they always have the rationale to stop any sort of government action that could empower average citizens.
That’s not true of all deficit hawks. It certainly isn’t true of me. But those of us who do value balanced budgets (over the long term, at least) do have to be careful not to become tools of the Grover Norquists and Pete Petersons of the world, who do not come to the table with clean hands and pure motives.
Staff at Goldman Sachs staff can look forward to the biggest bonus payouts in the firm’s 140-year history after a spectacular first half of the year, sparking concern that the big investment banks which survived the credit crunch will derail financial regulation reforms.
A lack of competition and a surge in revenues from trading foreign currency, bonds and fixed-income products has sent profits at Goldman Sachs soaring, according to insiders at the firm. …
In April, Goldman said it would set aside half of its £1.2bn first-quarter profit to reward staff, much of it in bonuses. It is believed to have paid 973 bankers $1m or more last year, while this year’s payouts are on track to be the highest for most of the bank’s 28,000 staff, including about 5,400 in London.
Critics of the bonus culture in [London] said the dominance of a few risk-taking investment banks is undermining the efforts of regulators to stabilise the financial system.
Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman, said: “The investment banks more than any other institutions created the culture of excessive leverage, excessive risk and excessive bonuses that led to the downfall of the financial system. Now they are cashing in and the same bonus culture has returned. The result must be that we are being pushed to the edge of another crash.” …
Until the release of its first quarter profits in April, it seemed inconceivable that a firm owing the US government $10bn would be looking to break all-time records in 2009. …
Last week, the firm predicted that President Barack Obama’s government could issue $3.25tn of debt before September, almost four times last year’s sum. Goldman, a prime broker of US government bonds, is expected to make hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from selling and dealing in the bonds.
So not only did Goldman Sachs help create our current financial clustermess, not only did its alumni in government help it to survive at the expense of rivals, it’s now poised, with major competitors having been knocked off, to take a big cut out of the tax money Americans are spending to clean up the mess it itself made.
The chair rules that the motion carries by acclamation.
It’s bad enough that the Obama Justice Department is echoing the Bush administration’s position that records of an FBI interview with then-Vice President Dick Cheney about the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity as an undercover CIA agent should remain private.
Yes, that’s bad enough.
But the Obama folks have gone the Bush folks one better: the Jon Stewart argument:
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge said Thursday that he wants to look at notes from the FBI’s interview with former Vice President Dick Cheney during the investigation into who leaked the identity of a CIA operative.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan’s decision to review the documents followed arguments by Obama administration lawyers that sounded much like the reasons the Bush administration provided for keeping Cheney’s interview from the public.
Justice Department lawyers told the judge that future presidents and vice presidents may not cooperate with criminal investigations if they know what they say could become available to their political opponents and late-night comics who would ridicule them.
“If we become a fact-finder for political enemies, they aren’t going to cooperate,” Justice Department attorney Jeffrey Smith said during a 90-minute hearing. “I don’t want a future vice president to say, `I’m not going to cooperate with you because I don’t want to be fodder for ‘The Daily Show.’”
One, the Obama folks shouldn’t be taking this position at all. Two, if they’re going to take it, they at least ought to base the position on substantive factual or legal grounds. I don’t think any actually exist, but, c’mon, guys, at least make the effort. “Jon Stewart might make fun of me” just doesn’t cut it. (To say nothing of the fact that by the time someone has gotten to be vice president, Jon Stewart probably has already made fun of him/her.)
Pop quiz, kids: Jeffrey Smith’s argument shows:
a) the Obama Justice Department is stupid.
b) the Obama Justice Department thinks you are stupid.
And relatedly, the Supreme Court today refused to hear Valerie Plame’s lawsuit against Cheney and other Bush-era officials over her outing.