Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, June 23, 2014 6:31 pm

N.C. seeks to immunize pension-fund managers, banks from criminal liability

Really, that’s about the only way you can read this:

In the last few months, there has been increasingpressure on public officials to stop hiding the basic terms of the investment agreements being cemented between governments and Wall Street’s “alternative investment” industry.

That pressure has been intensified, in part, by twosets of recent leaks showing how these alternative investment companies (private equity, hedge funds, venture capital, etc.) are using the secret deals to make hundreds of millions of dollars off taxpayers. It is also in response to the Securities and Exchange Commission recently declaring that many of the stealth schemes may be illegal.

And yet, as the demands for transparency grow louder, a potentially precedent-setting push for even more secrecy is emerging. Pando has learned that legislators in North Carolina — whose $86 billion public pension fund is the 7th largest in America – are proposing to statutorily bar the public from seeing details of the state’s Wall Street transactions for at least a decade. That time frame is significant: according to experts, it would conceal the terms of the investment agreements for longer than the statute of limitations of various securities laws.

In other words, the legislation – which could serve as a model in state legislatures everywhere – would bar the disclosure of the state’s financial transactions until many existing securities laws against financial fraud become unenforceable.

A growing scandal in North Carolina

If the North Carolina Retirement System and its sole trustee, Treasurer Janet Cowell (D), seem familiar to tech readers, that is because the NC system is one of the lead plaintiffs in the class action suit surrounding Facebook’s initial public offering. Additionally, as part of her career in the financial sector, Cowell was the marketing director for the tech-focused VC firm, SJF Ventures.

Like other states, North Carolina has been redacting and/or refusing to release the contractual terms of its pension fund’s massive Wall Street investments, even though the contracts involve public money and a public agency.* In recent months, that practice exploded into a full-fledged political scandal when the State Employees Association of North Carolina released a 147-page report from former SEC investigator Ted Siedle.

The report asserted that under Cowell, up to $30 billion of state money is now being managed by high-risk, high-fee Wall Street firms, and that the state could soon be paying $1 billion a year in fees to those firms. The report also noted that the investment strategy “has underperformed the average public plan by $6.8 billion” and it alleged that Cowell has misled the public about how where exactly she is investing taxpayer dollars. The union has called for a federal investigation, while Cowell has publicly denied the allegations.

Note that it’s state employees, a majority of whom are presumably Democrats, calling for a federal investigation of a Democratic state official.

I don’t know whether the state’s Republicans just haven’t had this issue on their radar, or whether they see a payoff in insulating investment banks and other financial institutions with which the state does business from criminal liability. But either way, their silence is puzzling. And since banks are about as popular with Americans right now as strychnine, this down-low approach by the GOP doesn’t even make political sense.

*This practice appears to this layperson to be a clear violation of North Carolina’s Open Records Law. No exception recognized in the statute to the presumption that a record is public applies to this information. This practice appears to be the equivalent of your stockbroker refusing to tell you where and how he has invested your money: Would you find that arrangement acceptable?

Additional, deeply scary and infuriating background via Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism:

North Carolina’s investment performance in alternative investments is terrible. Of 23 reporting public pension funds, it ranked 21 in real estate and 23 in private equity. Whether due to corruption or incompetence, it is clear the state would have done better and at lower cost buying a mix of index funds. So the notion that these persistent bad results are due to payola is worth taking seriously.

However, the overwhelming majority of abuses Siedle cites [in the report linked above -- Lex], such as charging of dubious fees, pervasive broker-dealer violations, pension fund consultant conflicts of interest, various securities and tax law violations, also take place with investors who have no potential for pay to play to be operating, such as private pension funds, life insurers, and endowments like Harvard that also invest in private equity. We’ve written about many of these bad practices in earlier posts, and have had to stress the degree to which limited partners have deeply internalized the idea that they can get better returns from private equity than from other investment strategies, and therefore they can’t cavil about the terms, since otherwise they won’t be allowed into this club. In keeping, the SEC has said, with uncharacteristic bluntness, that supposedly sophisticated limited partners have entered into agreements which are vague on far too many key terms and weak on investor protections.

Disclosure: Never having worked as a public employee in North Carolina or anywhere else, I have no direct interest in the state’s pension fund; nor, so far as I know, do I have any indirect interest beyond being a North Carolina taxpayer.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 11:21 pm

Rigged

Nine years ago today, my father died. He was 75 and a self-employed financial consultant who was still working about 30 hours a week right up until his final illness (acute pulmonary fibrosis), which lasted a couple of weeks before his death.

From an early age, I heard Dad talk about the importance of saving and investing, and I did the best I could to follow his advice. As I got older and better able to grasp the mechanics, he talked about the stock market as the best long-term investment vehicle for retirement (although he did say that once I hit 50 I should start swapping some equities for bonds).

To the best of my abilities, I have followed his advice. I won’t give you numbers, but I’ll tell you the following: I don’t have a ton of ready cash and never have. But were I to die tomorrow, my family would be pretty well fixed, especially considering I was a journalist, and thus not particularly well paid, for most of my career. Like many Americans, I haven’t gotten a dime in retirement matching for coming up on about seven years now, but — although no one can read the future — I think my family and I will be OK assuming I live to 67 and actually get to retire.

But Dad didn’t live long enough to see the mortgage bubble burst. He didn’t live long enough to hear all the revelations about bank and nonbank and insurance-company and security-rating shenanigans on a scale that dwarfed the crimes of the S&L crisis two decades prior. He thought repealing Glass-Steagall was a bad idea, but he didn’t live long enough to see just how bad. For that matter, he didn’t live long enough to see high-frequency trading and the ease with which the practice makes front-running a trade possible.

So although I’m remembering Dad today with warmth and his passing with sadness, for some reason the Dad thought that has been most on my mind today has been: I wonder what he would make of today’s financial markets? Would he still consider it possible for a single, well-informed investor to do OK? Or would he be convinced, as I have been, that most of the market is a rigged game — that there is a club and that most Americans like me aren’t in it?

(And I’m writing from a middle-class prospective. My problems don’t even begin to touch the problems of the working poor, who are being robbed outright.)

I don’t know what he’d think. All I do know is that while he certainly wasn’t perfect, in his professional life, to the best of my knowledge, he acted with integrity and took seriously his fiduciary duty to his clients. I’m struggling to name a commercial or investment bank that exists today that I’m confident does the same thing.

Thursday, May 15, 2014 8:18 pm

Throwing our children’s still-beating hearts into the stone mouth of the free-market idol; or, you’ll never guess whom economist Steven Levitt tried to bullshit.

Anyone who has sat through Econ 102 and higher understands that while lots of things work well in theory, in real life they bump up against human beings who are not nearly as rationally self-interested as theory would have us believe.

Noah Smith likens belief in free markets to idolatry and calls its unblinking supporters “the free-market priesthood.” The good news, he says, is that among econ academics, a little nuance is finally starting to creep into an area of thought that had been dominated for decades by the free-marketeers. The bad news, though, is that popular economics, which is the only kind most Americans are aware of and espouse, hasn’t gotten the memo.

One guy who should know better is Steven Levitt, co-author, with my acquaintance Stephen Dubner, of the “Freakonomics” books. Their new book is called “Think Like a Freak” — i.e., like them. I haven’t read it and so won’t pass judgment on it, but the behavior of Levitt himself is, by his own description in the book, apparently … questionable.

In their latest book, Think Like a Freak, co-authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner tell a story about meeting David Cameron…They told him that the U.K.’s National Health Service — free, unlimited, lifetime heath care — was laudable but didn’t make practical sense.

“We tried to make our point with a thought experiment,” they write. “We suggested to Mr. Cameron that he consider a similar policy in a different arena. What if, for instance…everyone were allowed to go down to the car dealership whenever they wanted and pick out any new model, free of charge, and drive it home?”

Rather than seeing the humor and realizing that health care is just like any other part of the economy, Cameron abruptly ended the meeting…

So what do Dubner and Levitt make of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which has been described as a radical rethinking of America’s health care system?

“I do not think it’s a good approach at all,” says Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago. “Fundamentally with health care, until people have to pay for what they’re buying it’s not going to work. Purchasing health care is almost exactly like purchasing any other good in the economy. If we’re going to pretend there’s a market for it, let’s just make a real market for it.”

Smith brings the pain:

This is exactly what I call “free market priesthood”. Does Levitt have a model that shows that things like adverse selection, moral hazard, principal-agent problems, etc. are unimportant in health care? Does he have empirical evidence that people behave as rationally when their health and life are on the line as when buying a car? Does he even have evidence that the British health system, specifically, underperforms?
No. He doesn’t. All he has is an instinctive belief in free markets. Of course David Cameron didn’t “realize that health care is just like any other part of the economy” after a five minute conversation with Levitt. Levitt didn’t bring any new ideas or evidence to the table.
And it’s not like Levitt’s idea was new or creative or counterintuitive. Does anyone seriously believe that the question of “why is health care different from other markets” had never crossed David Cameron’s mind before? Obviously it has, and obviously Levitt knew that when he asked his question. He wasn’t offering policy advice – he was grandstanding. Levitt wants to present himself as “thinking like a freak” – offering insightful, counterintuitive, original thinking. But if this is “thinking like a freak”, I’d hate to see what the normal people think like!
Surely it has not escaped Levitt’s notice that the countries with national health systems spend far less than the United States and achieve better outcomes. How does he explain this fact? Does he think that there is an “uncanny valley” halfway between fully nationalized health systems and “real markets”, and that the U.S. is stuck in that uncanny valley? If so, I’d like to see a model.
But I don’t think Levitt has a model. What he has is a simple message (“all markets are the same”), and a strong prior belief in that message. And he keeps repeating that prior in the face of the evidence.
I’m am not arguing, nor would I, that free markets are always and everywhere wrong. But Levitt is arguing pretty much the opposite, even though 1) he knows damned well it’s untrue, 2) he knows damned well that control of markets exists on both a quantitative and qualitative spectrum, and 3) he knows a world of empirical evidence derived from both this depression and the last one proves him wrong. I mean, dude, if Alan Greenspan admitted that, much to his surprise, free markets were not always self-regulating and self-correcting, surely you could concede the same?
But no.
I don’t know whether Levitt is insane or just has books to sell, nor will I speculate. But the fact is that he is intentionally saying things about the economy that he knows are false, and the fact is that he knows that these falsehoods that have real and painful consequences for tens of millions of Americans and make America look ridiculous in the eyes of the world. He had the ear of perhaps the second most powerful person in the free world, and he bullshat the guy.  I don’t care why. I just want him to stop.

Stressing the country out; or, Tim Geithner should have been fired about umpty-‘leven years ago

Tim Geithner, the guy President Obama inexplicably put in charge of the bank bailouts, has a new book out called “Stress Test.” (The term derives from the laughably phony “tests” endangered large banks were put through to see whether they had so many crap assets on their books that they needed to be liquidated; the fix was in, so not one large bank was broken apart of liquidated. Instead, we gave them bazillions of taxpayers’ dollars which they spent on bonuses for themselves instead of lending money to businesses to create jobs.)

The consensus seems to be — unsurprisingly, to me — that it sucks. Particularly, it’s incoherent where it’s not downright dishonest. The Washington Center for Equitable Growth rounds up some of the responses:

Glenn Hubbard:

About housing… I must say I split my side in laughter because Tim Geithner personally and actively opposed mortgage refinancing…. And now he’s claiming this would be a great idea…

David Dayen:

The guy who handed hundreds of billions of dollars over to banks with basically no strings attached [was] suddenly worried about fairness when homeowners get a break on their mortgage payments…. Even as he says in the book “I wish we had expanded our housing programs earlier,” he completely contradicts that to Andrew Ross Sorkin, saying [that his own] statement is “unicorny”…

Amir Sufi and Atif Mian:

Multiplying $700 billion by 0.18 gives us a spending boost to the economy in 2009 of $126 billion, which is 1.3% of PCE, 10 times larger than the estimate Secretary Geithner asserted in his book. So Mr. Geithner is off by an order of magnitude…

Economist Brad DeLong concludes:

In the “real world” Geithner did have full control over the GSEs and the FHA–because Paulson nationalized them in the summer of 2008.

In the “real world” Geithner submits his recommendation that Glenn Hubbard be nominated as head of the FHFA to President Obama on January 21, 2009, it is approved by the senate in February 2009, and thereafter there are no constraints on technocratic use of FHFA and the GSEs to rebalance the housing sector and aggregate demand.

Geithner should not say “I wanted the FHFA to act but I did not have the authority to get the FHFA to act” and at the same time say “having the FHFA act would have made no difference”; Geithner should to say “you cannot blame me because of the constraints” when we know that it was his own actions and inactions made those constraints.

Look: Tim Geithner did much better as a 2009-2010 finance minister than any of his peers. Look: the stress tests worked, and worked very well. (I disagree — Lex.) Look: Christina Romer and company say that if you need a bank rescued in 48 hours, Tim Geithner is your man. But the purpose of Stress Test is to explain to us what Tim Geithner thought and why he thought it, and thus why he did what he did.

And in Stress Test, on housing policy, he doesn’t.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 7:33 pm

Why default on Oct. 17 shouldn’t necessarily create an economic crisis but probably will anyway

Shorter Dean Baker: because bankers are f—— stupid:

… it is interesting to look at the fundamentals here. The vast majority of bonds … will not have defaulted. Even the ones that are technically in default will have only lost a small fraction of their value. Think it through. You have a government bond that was supposed to have a coupon payment on October 17th which was not made because of the debt ceiling standoff. How much less are you willing to sell this bond for on October 18th? (If you say 3 percent or more, send me a note.)

While this set of events could possibly undermine the system as it functions today, if the bankers could not develop a workaround pretty quickly, they are a lot dumber than people give them credit for. …

In the current situation, does anyone really doubt that at some point the government will make the interest and principle payments on its debt? …

[But] the Wall Street boys really don’t seem to be very good with numbers. Put to the test, they may well fail.

My predictions: 1) If it comes to that, they will fail, and 2) even if they do fail, they’ll still collect big bonuses while we taxpayers clean up their mess. Again.

Friday, April 12, 2013 6:50 pm

Quote of the day, is our children learning edition; or, measure everything and don’t do anything you can’t measure

From Kay at Balloon Juice, with emphasis in the original except where noted:

Michelle Rhee came to Ohio and lobbied my state legislature on her last national tour. She was treated like a celebrity. No one questioned any of her claims, which is unsurprising if you actually live in this state because all of her reforms involve union busting, pension looting and shifting public money to private operators(emphasis added). She’s a Right wing ideologue’s dream come true. They bought it because they believed it before she walked onto the floor that day.

The school reform industry response to the Atlanta cheating scandal was to call for better test security. As usual, the reform industry spokespeople are missing the larger point, the bigger picture. The truth is they based their reforms on high profile “turn arounds” in Atlanta and (especially) DC. If the scores in these places where they ran their experiments were bullshit, they “reformed” the US education system based on bullshit. They’re supposedly “data-driven” and most of them are billionaires. I shouldn’t have to point this out.

Hire an independent prosecutor like they did in Atlanta. Let’s find out. In the meantime, get a different opinion on “school reform.” Stop relying on the billionaires who backed this, the politicians who swallowed it without question, the hundreds of lobby shops who now exist because of it and the celebrities who promote it to evaluate it. They’re biased, they’re all in, they believe they are the “best and the brightest” and the top-tier analysts and executives are making a lot of money. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Well, disaster for ordinary taxpayers. For the grifters (and, remember, grifters are gonna grift), not so much.

Thursday, June 9, 2011 8:22 pm

Fact-checking the fact checker

The Washington Post has a guy named Glenn Kessler writing a column called “The Fact Checker: The Truth Behind the Rhetoric.” I did not know this, but then I don’t read the Post religiously; the existence of this column was brought to my attention by my friend Fred. A little box next to the column talks about all the years Kessler has spent covering this and that in the federal government. What it doesn’t indicate is the extent to which Kessler has learned anything about context.

That’s a problem, friends, because contextual accuracy is just as important as factual accuracy. It is a key element of fairness. It is an essential ingredient in determining the importance of a story. It underlies the frequency with which conservatives accuse national news media of being liberal. And, at least in this instance, it appears to be a subject with which Glenn Kessler has only glancing familiarity.

I say this because of this column, which purports to “fact-check” the president’s recent comments regarding the auto-industry bailout. Kessler focused on this passage:

“Chrysler has repaid every dime and more of what it owes American taxpayers for their support during my presidency — and it repaid that money six years ahead of schedule.  And this week, we reached a deal to sell our remaining stake. That means soon, Chrysler will be 100 percent in private hands.”

And here is what Kessler said about this passage:

What we found is one of the most misleading collections of assertions we have seen in a short presidential speech. Virtually every claim by the president regarding the auto industry needs an asterisk, just like the fine print in that too-good-to-be-true car loan.

Now, “misleading” is a word most mainstream journalists overuse because they’re too bent, bought, scared or lazy to use more straightforward words like “false” or “lying.” Of course, sophisticated readers know that — and Kessler, being as experienced as the Post claims he is, probably knows that they know that. So Obama must be lying out of his ass, right?

Um, not so much. What the president says does need some contextual clarification, and in fairness to Kessler, he appears to provide that clarification with rigorous factual accuracy:

According to the White House, Obama is counting only the $8.5 billion loan that he made to Chrysler, not the $4 billion that President George W. Bush extended in his last month in office. However, Obama was not a disinterested observer at the time. According to The Washington Post article on the Bush loan, the incoming president called Bush’s action a “necessary step . . . to help avoid a collapse of our auto industry that would have had devastating consequences for our economy and our workers.”

Under the administration’s math, the U.S. government will receive $11.2 billion back from Chrysler, far more than the $8.5 billion Obama extended. …

Even the Treasury Department admits that U.S. taxpayers will not recoup about $1.3 billion of the entire $12.5 billion investment when all is said and done.

But Kessler’s tone puts his own column in need of some contextual clarification, perhaps better known as perspective. Consider this sentence:

The president snuck in the weasel words “during my presidency” in his statement. … Through this sleight-of-hand accounting, the White House can conveniently ignore Bush’s loan …

What Kessler considers “weasel words” an accountant might consider a material factual clarification — hardly “sleight-of-hand accounting.” In any event, Obama is objectively defining the time period he’s talking about, a time period for which he, not his predecessor, is directly responsible. Is his omission of the Bush Administration loan a lie? Hardly. Is it misleading? Yeah, some. One could argue that Obama is talking only about the money lent during his tenure because, arguably, that’s the only money he’s responsible for. I don’t buy that argument — as a senator, he voted for Bush’s bailout loan — but reasonable people could disagree on it.

Or you could look at it this way: It’s not that Obama spun the facts, it’s that he spun them the wrong way. Suppose, instead of using the wording he used, he had said something like this:

We loaned Chrysler $12.3 billion total during my administration and President Bush’s. Yeah, we may have to write off about 12% of that. But we saved hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Big Three auto makers and their suppliers. I’d do that deal again in a heartbeat.

It’s factually accurate without the misleading spin of which Kessler complains. If I were an incumbent congresscritter who had supported the bailout, particularly one with a lot of auto-industry workers in my district, I’d happily run for re-election on a line like that.

Kessler grudgingly admits that, as the president said, Chrysler will soon return to 100% private ownership. But he errs himself in arguing that “The debate was over the right course to take in the bankruptcy process. … the debate was not either [bankruptcy]/or [not], but rather what was the best policy to bring the automakers back to financial health.”

The fact of the matter was that the debate was technically about what type of bankruptcy might have been the best idea. But the important context, which Kessler glides right past, is that the result of any form of bankruptcy likely would have been the permanent loss  of hundreds of thousands of jobs. I don’t know whether Kessler is objectively pro-Republican or whether the GOP “working the refs” has him bending over backward to avoid the appearance of pro-Obama bias, but his omission of this context is every bit as bad as Obama’s and has far greater consequences.

And yet Kessler awards Obama’s comments three Pinocchios on the Post’s 1-to-4 scale. According to that scale, three Pinocchios indicates “significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.” I’ll let you decide whether one Pinocchio or two is more appropriate:

  • One Pinocchio: “Some shading of the facts. Selective telling of the truth. Some omissions and exaggerations, but no outright falsehoods.”
  • Two Pinocchios: “Significant omissions and/or exaggerations. Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily. A politician can create a false, misleading impression by playing with words and using legalistic language that means little to ordinary people.”

If anything, it’s Kessler who deserves three Pinocchios. His contextual shortcomings come a lot closer to the kind of material omission that constitutes a lie than did those of the president.

And here’s some more context: If Kessler wants to check some facts, he could check what government officials are saying about how we’ve coddled investment banks and why it supposedly was necessary not to let them fail.

And here’s even more context: Along with most other major national news outlets, the Post has focused its news coverage far more on the potential dangers of the current large budget deficits (primarily inflation, which, with rates on 10-year notes having fallen half a point in May, looks more remote than ever) than it has on the actual human suffering caused by years of high unemployment. With its coverage, it is saying that jobs don’t matter. That’s a value judgment, not a verifiable or disprovable factual assertion. But it says a great deal about the Post’s values, none of it flattering.

UPDATE: Kessler screws up even worse, failing to get even basic facts straight, in assigning three Pinocchios to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius’s recent denigration of Rep. Paul Ryan Medicare scam. Sorry, Glenn, but when you take away Medicare, replace it with vouchers worth substantially less and dump the patients into the private insurance market, it is demonstrable with straightforward mathematics that those people will be able to afford less care. And in that age group, health problems are so common that it logically follows that with less care, a nontrivial number of those people will indeed die sooner than they otherwise would. Saying so is hardly “outrageous”; it is common sense.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 9:42 pm

But the Internet killed newspapers! Really!, or, This, says the former frat boy, is why you don’t want frat boys running things

“Bankrupt culture.” Heh.:

In January 2008, soon after the venerable Tribune Company was sold for $8.2 billion, Randy Michaels, a new top executive, ran into several other senior colleagues at the InterContinental Hotel next to the Tribune Tower in Chicago.

Mr. Michaels, a former radio executive and disc jockey, had been handpicked by Sam Zell, a billionaire who was the new controlling shareholder, to run much of the media company’s vast collection of properties, including The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, WGN America and The Chicago Cubs.

After Mr. Michaels arrived, according to two people at the bar that night, he sat down and said, “watch this,” and offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts. The group sat dumbfounded. …

It was a preview of what would become a rugged ride under the new ownership. Mr. Zell and Mr. Michaels, who was promoted to chief executive of the Tribune Company in December 2009, arrived with much fanfare, suggesting they were going to breathe innovation and reinvention into the conservative company.

By all accounts, the reinvention did not go well. At a time when the media industry has struggled, the debt-ridden Tribune Company has done even worse. Less than a year after Mr. Zell bought the company, it tipped into bankruptcy, listing $7.6 billion in assets against a debt of $13 billion, making it the largest bankruptcy in the history of the American media industry. More than 4,200 people have lost jobs since the purchase, while resources for the Tribune newspapers and television stations have been slashed.

The new management did transform the work culture, however. Based on interviews with more than 20 employees and former employees of Tribune, Mr. Michaels’s and his executives’ use of sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective shocked and offended people throughout the company. Tribune Tower, the architectural symbol of the staid company, came to resemble a frat house, complete with poker parties, juke boxes and pervasive sex talk.

The company said Mr. Michaels had the support of the board.

Let me ask you a mostly rhetorical question: Can you imagine just how poisonous the workplace banter must have been, how profane the invective must have been, to “shock and offend” people who had spent their careers  in a motherfreakin’ newsroom? Because I’m a pretty imaginative guy — just ask some of the people I’ve cussed out in my life — and I’ve got nothin’.

Media companies are in the business of aggregating eyeballs and delivering various demographically sliced ‘n’ diced segments of those eyeballs to advertisers. We have, in Sam Zell, and the “friends and family” he brought in to run one of the country’s great media companies, a guy who was a massive, flaming failure in both the aggregating part of the business (the so-called content end of the business) and the delivering of those demographically sliced ‘n’ diced segments of aggregation to advertisers (the so-called business end of the business) … if, that is, you define business success as it traditionally has been defined — quality product/service, decent income for employees, decent return for investors.

But I suspect that Zell defined it somewhat differently and that the outcome was pre-ordained. I know of no one, and I include Zell himself in that generalization, who seriously expected this deal to ever attain profitability. Consider:

Mr. Zell’s first innovation was the deal itself. He used debt in combination with an employee stock ownership plan, called an ESOP, to buy the company, while contributing only $315 million of his own money. Under the plan, the company’s discretionary matching contributions to the 401(k) retirement plan for nonunionized Tribune employees were diverted into an ownership stake. The structure of the deal allowed the Tribune to become an S corporation, which pays no federal taxes, making taxpayers essentially silent partners in the deal.

The $8 billion in new loans used to finance the deal left the company with $13.8 billion in debt. But Mr. Zell was convinced that by quickly selling the Chicago Cubs and other assets while improving operating margins, the company could emerge as a valuable property. It was typical Zell: a risky approach to gain control over a large, distressed asset while minimizing his own exposure, something he acknowledged in a company newsletter:

“I’ve said repeatedly that no matter what happens in this transaction, my lifestyle won’t change,” he wrote to his combination employees/shareholders. “Yours, on the other hand, could change dramatically if we get this right.”

Yup. You thought you’d be living your retirement in modest comfort. Instead? Penury.

This deal wasn’t structured to make money for investors. This deal was structured to screw as many non-Zell stockholders, bondholders, employees and other investors as possible. Little personal exposure? Check? Borrow out the wazoo? Check. Jeopardize employees’ retirement savings while bullshitting them to their faces? Check. Screw the taxpayers in the process? Check. The bugs weren’t bugs, they were features. This was a classic RICO enterprise:

More than the Tribune’s creditors took a haircut: the shares that about 10,000 nonunion employees received in the ESOP deal are now worthless as a result of the bankruptcy, although at the beginning of this year, the company replaced the ESOP plan with a cash incentive contribution. But if and when the Tribune exits bankruptcy, the value of the company will be worth substantially less than when Mr. Zell bought a controlling interest. Under a proposed settlement filed recently with the court, senior lenders, including the Angelo Gordon hedge fund and Oaktree Capital Management, would receive $5.5 billion, while other lenders with less priority would receive far less. The case is in mediation.

“How can anybody say that they have done a good job?” said Henry Weinstein, a former Los Angeles Times reporter who filed a lawsuit, still pending, that contends that the use of employee pensions to finance the deal was illegal.

“Anybody can make money when you are not servicing the debt and cutting people. Zell and the people he brought in had no idea what they were doing.”

And Mr. Zell? On Aug. 13, his lawyers suggested that if other junior creditors were paid, he should get his money back as well.

Of course he should.

Despite the company’s problems, the managers have been rewarded handsomely. From May 2009 to February 2010, a total of $57.3 million in bonuses were paid to the current management with the approval of the judge overseeing the bankruptcy. In 2009, the top 10 managers received $5.9 million at a time when cash flow was plummeting. …

Other proposed bonuses on the table for 2010 could bring the figure for management pay enhancements to more than $100 million, and those bonuses are heavily weighted to top management.

Why milk the company so badly (I mean, other than the obvious reason, “Because I can!”?) Because Zell didn’t just want to make money, he wanted to make money by personally screwing a bunch of people he obviously held in contempt out of their retirement savings. For him, that was icing on the cake.

And how do we know that he held them in contempt? Consider this:

Mr. Michaels remade Tribune’s management, installing in major positions more than 20 former associates from the radio business — people he knew from his time running Jacor and Clear Channel — a practice that came to be known as “friends and family” at the company.

One of their first priorities was rewriting the employee handbook.

“Working at Tribune means accepting that you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use,” the new handbook warned. “You might experience an attitude you don’t share. You might hear a joke that you don’t consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process.” It then added, “This should be understood, should not be a surprise and not considered harassment.”

Shorter handbook: We’re going to act like total flaming jackasses, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

Some perspective here: I spent some time in the music bidness and some time in the radio bidness. The music bidness is notoriously sexist and always has been (cf. Liz Phair’s “Exile in Guyville”); what’s more, it also has been an excuse for people to act like overentitled jackasses because that’s rock ‘n’ roll/punk rock/gangsta, or something. Now, your average radio executive will never be mistaken for Prince or Jay-Z in either looks or talent, but execs at chains the size of Jacor and Clear Channel make enough money to overcome an awful lot of ugly, such that the average 21-year-old pneumatically torsoed airhead can’t tell the difference and will service him in his convertible while he’s hauling ass down the 101.

Only here’s the problem: Employment law applies even to rock ‘n’ roll. And if I worked for Tribune HR and read that handbook, I’d be getting the company lawyers on the phone or getting my butt out of Dodge. Because while the executives wouldn’t care if this stuff got made public — in certain circles, it would even enhance their cred — anyone else I might ever work for in the HR field would consider me an abject failure.

Oh, but they’re not done yet:

According to the company’s monthly statements, cash flow is on the rise and the company has $1.6 billion in cash on hand, about half of it from the sale of the Cubs, which Mr. Zell eventually managed to sell. “We are just getting started,” he said in the announcement.

And management still is confident that the new thinking has Tribune on the right track. The company recently announced the creation of a new local news format in which there would be no on-air anchors and few live reports. The newscasts will rely on narration over a stream of clips, a Web-centric approach that has the added benefit of requiring fewer bodies to produce.

“The TV revolution is upon us — and the new Tribune Company is leading the resistance,” the announcement read. And judging from the job posting for “anti-establishment producer/editors,” the company has some very strong ideas about who those revolutionaries should be: “Don’t sell us on your solid newsroom experience. We don’t care. Or your exclusive, breaking news coverage. We’ll pass.”

As with Howard Kurtz moving from The Washington Post to the Daily Beast, we’re supposed to believe that people who, in decades of work, have yet to produce so much as a fragment of a single anti-establishment, revolutionary, creative idea are now going to be the revolutionaries. It could happen. Stranger things have. But I have done enough hiring to know that the best predictor of future performance is past performance. And past performance shows that as both content producers and business people — indeed, as fiduciaries of any type whatsoever — Sam Zell and his frat-boy buddies make excellent Visigoths.

So if you’re wondering about the causes of the fall of American journalism, stop.

It didn’t fall. It was pushed.

UPDATE: I’ve read a number of pieces responding to this article and have a couple of additional thoughts.

  1. Although Tribune Co. owns what were once some very good papers, the Tribune itself was never all that good. Not a huge detail for the purposes of this post, but if you’re in the business, it matters.
  2. American’s ability to be fascinated by shiny objects has them primarily talking about the boobies ‘n’ cigars ‘n’ bad language. And, honestly, I’m sure Sam Zell is perfectly happy to have bloggers and “real” journalists and everybody else talking about the boobies and cigars and bad language. Why? Because if they’re talking about the boobies and cigars and bad language, then they’re not talking about the fraud or the breaches of fiduciary responsibility or the RICO Act violations.

UPDATE: The next time some half-wit tells you government should be run more like a business, ask if Tribune Co. is the business he means.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 5:32 am

Quality government ain’t cheap

It looks like the cost to taxpayers of getting Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., on board with the Democrats’ finance-reform bill — that is, getting him to vote for a cloture motion and break a GOP filibuster — may be an $8 billion gift to Nebraska’s richest man, Warren Buffett. Warren, pal, you’ve been on the side of the angels before, but on this one, you’re just one more bankster.

(If this bill were actually going to prevent another big economic failure, I’d say it was worth it. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough to do that.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 7:55 pm

Your legislature: Stifling competition, hampering growth, sticking you with slow Internet

To: Daniel.Clodfelter@ncleg.net, Dan.Blue@ncleg.net, Peter.Brunstetter@ncleg.net, Fletcher.Hartsell@ncleg.net, David.Hoyle@ncleg.net, Clark.Jenkins@ncleg.net, Josh.Stein@ncleg.net, Jerry.Tillman@ncleg.net, Paul.Luebke@ncleg.net, Harold.Brubaker@ncleg.net, Becky.Carney@ncleg.net, Pryor.Gibson@ncleg.net, Dewey.Hill@ncleg.net, Julia.Howard@ncleg.net, Danny.McComas@ncleg.net, William.McGee@ncleg.net, William.Wainwright@ncleg.net, Jennifer.Weiss@ncleg.net

Subject: I oppose any moratorium on deployment of high-speed Internet service by local governments

Dear Members of the N.C. Revenue Laws Study Committee:

As a free-market conservative, I write to demand that you vote against any bill that would impose a moratorium on installation of high-speed Internet service by local government. Legacy carriers are trying to get you to impose such a moratorium to reduce competitive pressure, but we need MORE competitive pressure, not less. The U.S. network is already inferior to that of many other nations. Creating impediments to the improvement of the network by any sector — for-profit, nonprofit or governmental — would place us at even more of a competitive disadvantage as a nation. It also would make it harder for North Carolina entrepreneurs, freelancers and small business people to innovate and compete.

Moreover, no matter which sector carries out this work, the work will create jobs. With North Carolina’s unemployment rate currently at 11.2%, any stifling of job creation, particularly for anticompetitive reasons, is utterly unacceptable.

I urge you in the strongest possible terms to oppose any hampering of competition in this critical arena of our national infrastructure. And I will be watching all of you to see what you do.

Love,

Lex

(h/t: Jay Ovittore)

Monday, February 22, 2010 5:31 am

How the other 400 live

Filed under: You're doing WHAT with my money?? — Lex @ 5:31 am
Tags:

Just in case you were wondering, David Cay Johnston has the scoop:

The incomes of the top 400 American households soared to a new record high in dollars and as a share of all income in 2007, while the income tax rates they paid fell to a record low, newly disclosed tax data show.

In 2007 the top 400 taxpayers had an average income of $344.8 million, up 31 percent from their average $263.3 million income in 2006, according to figures in a report that the IRS posted to its Web site without announcement that were discovered February 16. (For the report, see Tax Analysts Doc 2010-3372 .)

The figures came at the peak of the last economic cycle and show that widely published reports in major newspapers asserting that the richest Americans are losing relative ground and “becoming poorer” are not supported by the official income data.

The long-term data show that under current tax and economic rules, the incomes of the top earners rise when the economy expands and contract during recessions, only to rise again. Their effective income tax rate fell to 16.62 percent, down more than half a percentage point from 17.17 percent in 2006, the new data show. That rate is lower than the typical effective income tax rate paid by Americans with incomes in the low six figures, which is what each taxpayer in the top group earned in the first three hours of 2007.

Taxpayers on the 95th to 99th steps on the income ladder paid an effective income tax rate of 17.52 percent, according to calculations by the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit research group that favors less taxation and lower rates. Taxpayers in this category earned between $255,000 and $451,000 in 2007, compared with an average daily income of almost $945,000 for the top 400, who paid lower effective tax rates on average.

Payroll taxes did not add a significant burden to the top 400, not changing the rounding of rates by even one decimal. With payroll taxes taken into account, the effective tax rate of the top 400 would be 17.2 percent in 2006 and 16.6 percent in 2007, my analysis shows — the same as not counting payroll taxes. As a point of comparison, about two-thirds of Americans pay more in Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes than in federal income taxes. …

Since 1992, the bottom 90 percent of Americans have seen their incomes rise by 13 percent in 2009 dollars, compared with an increase of 399 percent for the top 400.

The annual top 400 report was first made public by the Clinton administration, but the George W. Bush administration shut down access to the report. Its release was resumed a year ago when President Obama took office. The Statistics of Income Division at the IRS created the top 400 reports at the urging of Joel Slemrod, a business professor at the University of Michigan.

The top 400 reports understate actual top incomes because of deferral rules. For example, managers of offshore hedge funds who deferred their gains may not be counted in the top 400 reports, which are based on the figure on the last line of the front page of Form 1040.

At least three hedge fund managers made $3 billion in 2007. It is not known how much, if any, of their income they deferred.

But remember, kids, if we’re going to avoid economic DEE-zaster, we must cut the hell out of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; we cannot raise taxes on the wealthy for that would be commiesociofascistictude.

Also, to avoid economic DEE-zaster, we must continue to tax income derived from work about twice as heavily as we tax income derived from wealth, or the commiesociofascistictudenoids will eat us in our beds or something, and if this means that you and I continue to subsidize the lifestyles of the banksters, well, is this a great country or what?

Sunday, February 21, 2010 12:12 pm

Why the deficit is as big as it is

Filed under: You're doing WHAT with my money?? — Lex @ 12:12 pm
Tags:

The chart is derived from Congressional Budget Office estimates:

One caveat: Given the fact that the $400 billion cap on Fannie and Freddie’s buying toxic assets off bank balance sheets was zapped in late December, F&F’s contribution to the deficit, which looks mild, now has the potential to be much larger than is shown here, absent congressional action.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 11:06 pm

Odds and ends for 1/27

And people think I’m crazy for suggesting that Obama is as bad as Bush: Marcy flags something that the Washington Post’s Dana Priest wrote down but apparently failed to grasp the significance of: “Somewhere there’s a list of Americans who, the President has determined, can be killed [by their own government] with no due process.” OK, I’ll say it: Impeach him. I’m dead serious. Because if what Priest reports is true, the president has illegally and extraconstitutionally conspired to commit murder.

Think George W. Bush will watch on teevee?: Britain’s former prime minister Tony Blair testifies Friday in the inquiry into that country’s decision to join the war in Iraq. Even if he escapes indictment — and that is far from certain — Blair’s place in British history appears sure to fall into the Brit equivalent of Warren Harding country.

Cue ominous music: The SEC voted 4-1 today to suspend automatic redemptions from money-market funds. People who value these investments for their liquidity now have no reason to value them. Let the stampede begin. What’s the larger meaning? I have no idea, but I’m about 98% sure it ain’t good.

The banksters screw us again: Citi temporarily tamped down some of the criticism of its big bonuses by announcing that every part of anyone’s bonus over $100,000 would be paid in stock, not cash. The idea is, you tie employees in to the company’s goal of long-term growth and profitability. Which would be great if the stock weren’t redeemable for a couple or three years. But this stock? Will be redeemable in April. As stock bonuses go, that’s practically cash.

How the banksters screwed us the first time: The so-called “Schedule A,” the list of crap mortgage-backed securities that the New York Fed took off AIG’s hands at 100 cents on the dollar when they were actually worth around half that, has finally been made public. Not sure exactly what it will mean, but inasmuch as the NYFRB tried to keep this list secret until 2018, you can be reasonably sure it’s nothing good.

Smoking gun: Goldman Sachs could and should have had to eat some of its bad investments in 2008, but the New York Fed let it off the hook, documents show. That’s the same New York Fed then run by our current SecTreas, who REALLY needs to be returned to the private sector posthaste. Oh, wait: He has been a “public servant” his whole life. Well, that’s OK. After what he appears to have done for Goldman, they should pay him a princely sum for life and not even require him to show up for work. Then they’d have a slight taste of how we taxpayers feel, except for the part where they NEVER ACTUALLY DID ANYTHING FOR US, not that I am bitter.

Cops bumping into each other: Joining the House Oversight Committee in looking into the New York Fed’s bailout of Goldman Sachs and AIG is Neil Barofsky, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as the bank bailout program, who testified today before Congress.

Oh, and lookee what Mr. Barofsky had to say: “According to these [Federal Reserve Bank of New York] executives, then-President [Tim] Geithner ‘acquiesced’ to the executive’s proposal. When asked by [Barofsky's office]  if the executives felt they had received their ‘marching orders’ from then-FRBNY President Geithner to pay the counterparties par [instead of the roughly 48 cents on the dollar they actually were worth], one FRBNY official responded ‘yes, absolutely.'” But … but … Geithner and the White House both say Geithner wasn’t involved in the decision to screw taxpayers by paying AIG customers (including Goldman Sachs) more than they should have. So somebody’s lying. And Barofsky’s the one under oath.

And the hits just keep on coming: A report from Rep. Darrell Issa, ranking Republican on the House Oversight Committee, nails Tim Geithner’s butt to the wall.

Memo to commenters on this article: Genocide is not a contest. There is no prize.

If Steven Pearlstein were president, he’d say the state of the union sucks.

Mixed blessing: In his article “Appalled in Greenwich Connecticut [sic],” downloadable (.pdf) from his site StumblingonTruth.com, Clifford Asness of AQR Capital Management, whom I have not read before, combines grossly unfortunate metaphor (“Unfortunately for this President, he will, I hope, find the financial community not cowering from his Cossacks on a shtetl in the Pale of Settlement (Greenwich, CT), but meeting his accusations with logic and patriotism.”) with both an entitlement mentality AND common sense (“So, how do you fix too-big-to-fail? Well, this is complicated, give me a moment. I got it. You let them fail.”). For a quant, he manipulates words real purty. I may return.

The problem with cutting Medicare and Medicaid: Abe Sauer explains.

Tax the rich! Tax the rich! Oregon’s doing it. Sort of. A little. For the first time in 80 years. But the media is all Scott “Our Next President” Brown, so if you don’t hear about this, that’s why.

Wrong AND lame: President Obama’s proposed 3-year freeze on domestic discretionary spending is not only exactly not what the economy needs in a time of depressed consumer demand, it’s also almost meaningless in its effects on the budget deficit, given that it doesn’t affect big-ticket items like defense, wars, interest on the national debt or entitlements. It’s one more example of trying to appear to people who believe you incapable of doing the right thing that you’re doing the right thing. You will never win those people over, so you ought to just go ahead and do the right thing. Simpler. More effective. Pisses off the people who are wrong. Everyone’s a winner.

Rhodes Scholar tackles spending freeze, president loses.

Related: A roundup of amusing reactions to the quote freeze unquote.

And if you want to look for budget savings, here’s a suggestion. Even George W. Bush’s last Defense Secretary thinks we’re spending too much on defense, and spending it the wrong way. Observes Spencer Ackerman, who covers this stuff for a living, “Everyone in Washington who studies the Pentagon budget quickly finds gobs and gobs of wasteful spending. Not some people. Not dirty hippies. Every. Single. Defense. Analyst.”

Can we like ACORN again? Reminder: O’Keefe’s videotapes were doctored. And August J. Pollak’s commentary on the case is short enough and good enough for you to hie thee hence and read it in its entirety. Go on. I’ll wait.

(pause)

Oh, good, you’re back. Moving on, then …

Conflict of interest: Tyler Durden points out reason to believe that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a quite personal reason for wanting to see Bumbling Ben Bernanke reconfirmed as Fed chairman as early as Thursday.

Whoops! Not so fast, there, Fast Harry: Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., claims to have documents showing that Bernanke overruled his advisers in approving the AIG bailout. And here we thought Harry Reid was just venal. Y’know, nothing is becoming Jim Bunning’s Senate career like his leaving of it. Maybe the old guy is going senile, but he’s actually, at long last, acting in the public interest here. Or maybe he just hates Democrats. Either works for me.

Hard cases make bad law, and this hard case has led a judge to make some awful case law.

You might want to put down the knife, Ms. Quinn, because the Secret Service does NOT mess around: Obama has been advised to make sure the bunny is secure. Commenter El Cid at Balloon Juice adds, “I think it’s kind of funny that Sally Quinn goes to the trouble of asking her readers to ‘indulge [her] for a moment’, as if that woman spends the tiniest femtosecond of her life not being indulged.” And this would be funny if every other Washington journalist weren’t just like her.

The teabaggers are “good Republicans even if they don’t know it.” That’s about the best description I’ve seen.

Speaking of good Republicans, the ones doing PR for the party are just top-notch: The GOP response to the State of the Union tonight was given in — I am not making this up — the hall where Jefferson Davis was inaugurated.

The public option: C’est popular. Corporations: pas tellement: In a Research 2000 poll in 10 swing congressional districts whose seats are currently held by Democrats, a majority of Republicans favor a public option, and a plurality of Republicans, 43%, say Democrats need to do more to fight big corporations.  In the single N.C. district polled, Larry Kissell’s NC-08, voters overall favor a public option by 73% to 16%, with 11% undecided, and a 59% majority of voters, the biggest majority of any of the 10 districts, said Democrats need to do more to fight big corporations. It’d be interesting to see the results if the vague “big corporations” was changed to “banks” or “health-insurance companies” or both.

Against it for all the wrong reasons: Polling ace Nate Silver points out that part of the reason health-care reform isn’t polling as well as its supporters wish is that sizable chunks of the population believe (bad) things about the bill that are objectively untrue.

Why wouldn’t a combination of high-deductible health-insurance plans and Health Savings Accounts fix the problem? That’s pretty much the question one of my cousins asked me in an e-mail the other day. Well, Nancy, here’s your answer.

It would be funny if these people didn’t effectively control the entire U.S. school textbook market: The Texas Board of Education [sic] bans Bill Martin Jr.’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? from its third-grade reading list after confusing its author with that of the book Ethical Marxism.

Afghanistan Fail: The guy who once held Stanley McChrystal’s job running the U.S. military in Afghanistan and is now ambassador to Afghanistan says McChrystal’s anti-insurgency effort in Afghanistan is doomed.

Good news, for a change, for vets: Iraq and Afghanistan vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder but denied monthly disability benefits from the VA can join a class-action lawsuit to get their disability ratings increased to the level required by law, which will make them eligible for benefits. The relevant law was quite clear on what disability rating vets with PTSD are supposed to be assigned, so the fact that someone even had to sue over the issue is a disgrace and an outrage.

CBS: Morons: They won’t let people run factual advertisements about George W. Bush’s war crimes, but they’ll let Christianist wingnuts Focus on the Family run a forced-pregnancy ad during the Super Bowl. I think maybe I’ll just skip the game, then — all the best parts (i.e., the other commercials) will be on YouTube next day anyway. Also, I hope all the fans of Tim Tebow, who’ll star in the commercial, read this. The money quote comes from “an NFC South talent evaluator” who is most likely with the Bucs, since the Saints and Falcons are fixed for starting QBs and the Panthers have neither the money nor the draft pick to go after a potential first-round QB.

Don’t don’t-ask-don’t-tell: That well known military-hater, retired Gen. John Shalikashvili, who implemented “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says it’s time to repeal the military’s ban on openly gay people. I’d say that time actually was 1775, but I’m happy to welcome J-Shal to the bandwagon.

The lessons of Stuyvesant Town: But by all means, let’s re-confirm Ben Bernanke. Jesus wept.

Rush Limbaugh confesses that he AND the world would be better off if he killed himself: Only on The Onion, unfortunately.

Why Howard Zinn and not Rush Limbaugh?: Zinn, who came up with the radical idea that the history of a democracy shouldn’t be by and for aristocrats only, is dead at 87.

Would it be irresponsible to speculate that since he’s getting a divorce, Karl Rove is now free to woo and wed Jeff Gannon? It would be irresponsible not to.

OK, this is just weird:

You’re looking at the performance of Apple stock earlier today. That big dip came right around the announcement of the iPad. I’m not sure what it means, but I’m pretty sure it ain’t what the Apple board expected.

Best. Apple. Humor. Ever.: The Wikipedia Entry for the iPad (until today): “iPad was a prototype for a feminine hygiene product that purported to digitize a woman’s menstruation cycle and store it on a password-protected Web server.[1]“ More iPad humor here, but guys may want to give it a miss.

Keith Richards, sober? Because he was so upset by how hard Ron Wood fell off the wagon? I think The Awl says it all: “If Keith Richards stops drinking because he thinks you have a problem, well, you have a problem.”

This cannot possibly end well: George Lucas is producing a computer-animated musical.

And you thought Blog on the Run was minor-league: I’ll have you know this blog has just 35 fewer paying customers than Newsday.com, so there. And that’s after spending $4 million less on my site design than Newsday spent on theirs!

And you thought my carpal-tunnel syndrome happened because I type a lot.

How Japan intends to win the World Cup (this one goes out to my friend Beau):

(Note that the numbers on the radar are kph, not mph.)

And, finally, things journalists should know about polls:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 7:16 pm

Odds and ends for 1/13

Espwa: Our church supports an orphanage in Haiti, Espwa (which means “hope”). The orphanage has a blog. The residents and staff, through (literally) shaken by the earthquake, escaped injury, although several lost loved ones elsewhere in the country. Moreover, the orphanage gets all its food and supplies overland from Port-au-Prince, and it’s not clear right now whether the roads are passable, let alone what shape the city’s shipping infrastructure is in. You can contribute online here.

Goldman Sachs CEO admits under oath to fraud, walks free anyway. No, that’s pretty much what happened. (UPDATE: But Jack Welch calls this “uneventful,” which tells you all you need to know about Jack Welch.)

Jackasses: The SEC, which ought to be clearing up the mysteries around AIG’s use of taxpayer money, instead is trying to bury them. And make no mistake: This would not be happening without the knowledge and approval of Barack Obama. Memo to the Democrats: One real good way to lose Congress is to let hosers like Rep. Darrell Issa play the good guy.

Steepening curve … and not in a a good way: A month ago, the Mortgage Brokers Association was predicting that its members would originate 24% less in mortgages in 2010 than 2009. Now, they’re saying that figure will drop 40%, from $2.11 trillion in 2009 to $1.28 trillion in 2010. That’s the lowest level since $1.14 trillion in 2000.

A clawback, but not for the taxpayers: A large pension fund has sued Goldman Sachs over its bonus policy, asking that money that would be going to Goldman employees go instead to it. Where that budgeted $22 billion in bonus money really needs to be going is the taxpayers, inasmuch as fully two-thirds of Goldman’s 2009 revenues were more or less directly attributable to taxpayers. But I suppose the retirement savings of cops and firefighters is a more productive place for it than Goldman execs’ pockets. And that is where the money (much of it, at least) will go, because Goldman will settle this toot de suite. It does not want its folks answering questions under oath.

A nation of pants-wetters, or, that high-pitched whine you hear is Ben Franklin (“He who would give up liberty for safety deserves neither … and shall have it”) spinning in his grave fast enough to light up Pittsburgh: A majority of Americans want to give up civil liberties to make themselves safer. Cheese and crackers, people, what are all the GUNS for … to HIDE BEHIND? MAN. UP. Or else the terrorists really do win.

Memo to aides to Massachusetts Dem Senate candidate Martha Coakley: I realize that losing Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat to a guy who posed nude for Cosmo might make one’s candidate a bit, um, testy, but still, don’t shove reporters. Or move to China if you want to do that stuff.

Jan. 23 is National Pie Day. I think I may head over to K&W and have some of the chocolate-creme to celebrate.

From Facebook’s Overheard in the Newsroom: Design Editor: “I want the font that makes people addicted to reading newspapers again.” Commenter Bruce Reuben: “The font would have to be made of crack.” Lex: “The font that looks like kick-ass, take-names accountability journalism. Yeah. That. Also.”

Harold Ford: Strikingly un-self-aware. I’m not a huge fan of Sen. Kristen Gillebrand, but having lived in NY I think she’s far more in tune with people than Ford is. As someone else put it, there’s a reason Alabama doesn’t send gun-confiscating atheists to the Senate.

Nobody does human like Tolstoy, as Ishinoy reminds us.

Tucker Carlson won’t tell you, so I (and Crooks & Liars) will: His new site, The Daily Caller, will have a whole section devoted to “environmental scepticism” [sic]. His primary funder — $3M in the first year alone — is a huge global-warming denier.

Now it’s up to Harry Reid … and Barack Obama: Arlen Specter says he’ll back Dawn Johnsen to head Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. So that’s 60 votes. Let the flushing of the Aegean stables begin.

Somali pirates have scared off shipping … including the illegal trawlers that had depleted fisheries, so that legit fisherpeople are having a great year. Hey, you take your good news where you can find it.

Shorter WSJ: Watching TV will kill you dead. (I was never allowed to summarize medical research like this when I was a professional medical writer. I must say, this is fun.)

Bitters shortage: Does anyone who is not either a watcher of or a character on the AMC series “Mad Men” even drink Manhattans? And if so, why?

It’s over: Dan Rather’s lawsuit against CBS has been tossed, probably for good. In effect, the state court system’s Appeals Division identified problems in his case, then refused to allow any depositions or discovery, which could have, as the lawyers say, cured those deficiencies. Oh, well. Sucks to be him. That said, regardless of Rather’s error in relying on documents whose provenance he couldn’t/didn’t verify, other evidence indicates quite clearly that Bush was, in fact, AWOL.

What I’ve learned from reading about “Game Over” (besides the fact that I don’t want to read the whole book): You can make a lot of money publishing anonymous, 2-year-old gossip. And in real life, people who are dying of cancer and whose spouses are cheating on them don’t always behave as nicely as their Movie of the Week counterparts. OK, I already knew that last one.

I think this comment from liveblogger Teddy Partridge tells you all you need to know about the competence of counsel for the bigots defense in the California gay-marriage trial: “Sorry, this lawyer is asking really long questions and requiring YES or NO answers which makes liveblogging almost impossible”

Busted: The American insurance industry, while publicly claiming it favored health-care reform, was giving money to the Chamber of Commerce to produce and air anti-reform TV commercials. I am shocked, shocked, etc. Someone explain to me again why it’s a good idea to point a gun to American taxpayers’ heads and make them give these companies money. Someone else explain to me why the Chamber and the insurance trade group should get to keep their tax exemptions, kthxbai.

Speaking of health care, there’s this notion floating around that taxing health benefits will lead employers to give more to employees in the form of wages. However, this notion is not true.

Quote of the day, from Sen. Harry Reid: “I have no regret over calling [former Fed chairman Alan] Greenspan a political hack. Because he was. The things you heard me say about George Bush? You never heard me apologize about any of them. Because he was. What was I supposed to say? I called him a liar twice. Because he lied to me twice.” Cue Republican efforts to frame this comment as a “gaffe” in 3 … 2 …

This thing where Giuliani said there were no terrorist attacks on the U.S. under Bush? That was no one-time bit of misspeaking. That was an emerging Republican meme. Guys, Goebbels was a cautionary tale, not an exemplar.

Some judges just need impeachin‘, starting with Warren Wilbert, the Kansas judge in the murder trial of Scott Roeder, who assassinated* abortion doctor George Tiller. Wilbert will let Roeder argue that his killing of Tiller actually was voluntary manslaughter because, in some parallel universe, Roeder wordlessly put the barrel of a .22 to Tiller’s head and pulled the trigger because Tiller was doing something besides providing a legal and needed medical service. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear Wilbert just declared open season on abortion providers.

*He has signed a statement admitting to the shooting.

How Lucky could save the planet!


Tuesday, January 12, 2010 8:49 pm

Odds and ends for 1/12

War crime: An independent Dutch commission finds that the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and therefore the Netherlands’ support of same, “had no sound mandate in international law.” Somewhere, Dick Cheney’s shriveled testicles shrivel a little more.

The SEC mans up. Oops, no, wait, not really: The Securities & Exchange Commission asks the court for permission to file additional charges against Bank of America for failing to disclose Merrill Lynch losses to BofA shareholders before a takeover vote. And yet it also says no individual(s) can be held legally responsible for the royal hosing those shareholders received. All the deceit and fraud somehow just … happened, I guess. Yet one more reason why corporations, legally speaking, shouldn’t be people.

Pecora for the new millennium: A list of questions the banksters should be asked tomorrow by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (also called the “New Pecora Commission,” after the panel that looked into the causes of the Depression), but almost certainly won’t be.

New Jersey legislature approves medical marijuana, and the gov says he’ll sign the bill within the week. The effects on “Jersey Shore” remain to be seen.

And speaking of “Jersey Shore,” watch out, “Jersey Shore,” there’s a new drinking game in town: Fox News hires Sarah Palin.

Anything that annoys the Financial Services Roundtable is probably a good idea: Obama considers taxing banks that got TARP money. It should happen … which means I’ll believe it when I see it.

“I am not a hero.”: The hell she says. Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who helped hide Anne Frank’s family and other Jews from the Nazis and later preserved Anne’s diary, is dead at 100.

He was not necessarily a hero, but he was one bad dude: Old-time Coney Island strongman Joe Rollino, who celebrated his 103rd birthday by bending a quarter with his teeth, is dead at 104. But only because he got hit by a minivan.

To see, or not to see: The Supreme Court supposedly will decide tomorrow whether to allow 1) closed-circuit broadcasting of the trial of Perry v. Schwarzenegger (the gay-marriage lawsuit) in other courthouses in California and/or 2) allow video to be posted to YouTube. Here’s some factual and legal background (more here); both writers think the Supremes, who don’t want their own proceedings broadcast, see this as a slippery slope. I bet they’re right.

Quote of the day, from commenter mjvpi at Firedoglake: “Health care reform is giving me Tourette’s syndrome.”

Another quote of the day, from washunate at The Seminal: “… the past three decades have witnessed the slow and steady transfer of the wealth generated by labor’s productivity into the hands of a few select families of already great wealth. If anything can capture an image of the consequences of the Reagan-Bush era, it’s gotta be 225 million Americans in 1979 buying more vehicles than 308 million Americans in 2009.” Yup. In absolute numbers, almost 33% more. Heckuva job, Georgie.

Monday, January 11, 2010 10:55 pm

Odds and ends for 1/11

U.S. v. terror: Conviction rate in civilian courts? 88%. Conviction rate in military tribunals? 15%. So someone explain to me again why Dick and Liz Cheney are still getting airtime?

Harry Reid v. Trent Lott: To elaborate a bit on a comment discussion Fred and I had in a previous thread: What Harry Reid said about Obama was grossly awkward and inept, but he said it in a context of praising Obama. What Lott said, on the other hand, was praising a segregationist. These two things are not logically, linguistically or morally equivalent.

Guantanamo v. the Constitution: Those party animals at McClatchy News Service have served up a pyrotechnic package of print (with a whole bunch o’ Web stuff, too, including source documents) in observance of the eighth anniversary of the incarceration of the first terrorism suspects at Gitmo. The series touches on subjects ranging from holding, and torturing, innocent people to the Taliban’s influence within the prison (yeah, you read that right).

Generation R(ecession) v. the economy: Newsweek’s Rana Foroohar notes some interesting characteristics of people who come of age in bad economic times. Unfortunately, notes Chris Lehmann at The Awl, she draws some of the wrong conclusions.

Afghans v. everybody else: Incredibly mixed findings in this ABC News poll from Afghanistan. They hate both us and the Taliban. They almost unanimously think their government is corrupt, but they actually support President Hamid Karzai more than they used to. And they’re about evenly divided over whether civilian deaths are more NATO’s fault or more the insurgents’ fault for mingling with civilians.

Matt Labash v. perspective women: In his feature “Ask Matt Labash” on Tucker Carlson’s new anti-Huffington Post, the Daily Caller, Matt Labash calls red-light cameras “legalized rape” and calls Rachel Maddow “the sexiest man alive.” Way to court those swing voters, guys.

Dylan Ratigan v. Geithner: The MSNBC reporter/anchor is starting to carve pieces out of SecTreas Tim Geithner’s hide, and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy not named Bush, Cheney or Rove.

Perry v. Schwarzenegger: Gay marriage on trial — literally: The lawsuit Perry v. Schwarzenegger went to trial today in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. At issue is the constitutionality of Proposition 8, enacted last year by referendum to deny the right of marriage to couples of the same sex in Cali. Expected to last about 3 weeks — with the case likely to end up before the Supreme Court no matter who wins. Your all-purpose source for trial info is here, and if the opening arguments are any indication — which they may or may not be — gay-marriage proponents are headed for a big win.

The perfect v. the very good: Actually, the U.S. health-care debate is now more like the acceptable (if you drop the Stupak amendment) v. the bad, and the bad is winning.

Law enforcement v. the drug war: A lot of former cops, judges and prosecutors have endorsed legalizing marijuana in California, where a legislative committee is scheduled to vote on just that next week. Whether the full legislature passes the bill may be immaterial, though; an initiative to regulate and tax pot is on the November ballot and expected to pass.

Congresscritters v. reality: About six in 10 Americans say terrorists probably will find some way to strike us again. Unfortunately, that’s probably correct, but you wouldn’t know it to listen to some of the Congressional Republicans who are suggesting that 1) we should all be peeing in our pants over the guy who nearly set his crotch on fire and 2) that if you torture enough people and bomb enough civilians, all terror can be prevented.

Time v. knowledge: I am shocked, shocked to learn just how many Balloon Juice commenters did not know that the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.

It’s like Vegas: What happens on Facebook stays on Facebook. Forever.

There an app for your cheapo phone if you’re a student at UNC-Wilmington, where a couple of people set out to create useful apps for the 88% of us who can’t afford smartphones.

Shorter Jonathan Alter: Clap louder and the Democrats will be fine in 2010.

Best SEC comment letter EVER: (h/t Zero Hedge)

Saturday, January 9, 2010 11:07 pm

Odds and ends for 1/9

Roger Ailes: drama queen. Dude, the Islamicist terrorists of the world are not out to get you because the Islamcist terrorists of the world, by and large, have no freakin’ idea who you are.

Charles Murray, shorter: Man, there are a lot of black people in Paris.

Dick Cheney sure looks funny with that second southern orifice, thoughtfully torn for him by Phoenix Woman at Firedoglake.

Because everything else they’ve touched has worked out so well: Blackwater is a contender for the contract to train the Afghan national police force — and wants a cool billion for the job.

Speaking of Afghanistan, we’re out of our depth there from an intelligence standpoint (witness the CIA deaths at Forward Operating Base Chapman), and the general who wrote the report with that conclusion leaked it because apparently his superiors were ignoring him. But the surge will make everything peachy!

Monday, January 4, 2010 6:03 am

Odds and ends for 1/4

Methinks the ladies doth protest too much: No one could have predicted, say U.S. anti-gay activists Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer, that our gay-bashing in Uganda could have led to (literal) Ugandan gay-bashing.

Brit Hume: As bad at counseling as he is at journalism.

Just say no to a special commission on the deficit. Because the last thing we need is another way for Congress to avoid responsibility and accountability.

Lessons from California: “What happens when one of the two major parties does not see a political upside in solving problems and has the power to keep those problems from being solved?” We’re going to find out.

DougJ on Ann Althouse, FTW: “To paraphrase Winston Churchill, yes, Ann, the president is tired, but tomorrow he will be rested, and you will probably still be drunk.”

Forget everything I’ve said about the Panthers’ likely off-season personnel moves: That’s because I forgot that 1) there’ll be no salary cap in 2010; and 2) there’ll probably be a lockout in 2011. More to come in a separate post.

Not that guy: For the record, I am not the Lex Alexander mentioned in this article. He and I have never met. But we both grew up in Charlotte (when I was a kid I used to get his overdue notices from the public library) and, because I’ve spent a lot of time in the Triangle and have lots of family and friends there, we know some of the same people.

I like our dog well enough, but I wouldn’t clone him for even 0.01% of the price.

Pete Peterson and the deficit scolds government destroyers are seeking people to appear in their documentary propaganda.

Shorter Matt Taibbi: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were bad, it is true, but there is still plenty of blame to go around and those who argue otherwise are trying to make off with your money. (Or: to paraphrase “The Incredibles,” if everyone is  guilty, then no one is guilty.)

Afghanistan: Where the American economy goes to die?

Monopoly by any other name: Cable TV industry’s “TV Everywhere” is just one more bad idea from an industry with a long line of bad ideas and a long history of resisting good ones. In a country with a functioning Federal Trade Commission, it also would be ruled collusion on its face.

Friday, January 1, 2010 12:39 am

Odds and ends for 1/1

I have no idea what the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee is, but inasmuch as it just sued the Fed for records, I like it already.

Auld Lang Syne: Sam Stein reminds us that then-N.C. Sen. Elizabeth Dole was among 8 GOP senators who voted in 2007 against spending $250 million to upgrade U.S. airport security. On the one hand, what was she thinking? On the other hand, in hindsight, what have we gotten for that $250 million?

Feeling safer yet?: The guy overseeing the probe of how the U.S. compiles and uses its terrorist watchlist is the same guy who 1) helped design it under Bush and 2) got rich working on it in the private sector.

I call BS: VH-1 had some special on tonight about shocking moments in rock or somesuch, one item of which was Keith Richards’ reportedly having snorted his dad’s cremains like cocaine. Unless he ground ‘em up really, really well, it never happened. Cremains are actually coarse enough to give you a fast lung abcess or three if you inhale them. (Sugar will do the same — inhaling pulverized sugar was a favorite suicide method of Soviet Gulag inmates — and cremains are even coarser.) So, as with so much else Keith has done or been reported to have done, kids, do not try this at home.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times: Ten Things That Totally Sucked About the Media in 2009, followed by Ten Things That Did Not Suck About the Media in 2009.

I presume this legal theory also will be brought to bear in the cases of Guantanamo inmates: Four Blackwater (now Xe) mercenaries get off on murder charges because federal investigators, despite explicit warnings from prosecutors overseeing the case, relied too heavily on compelled statements.

Another military history: The New York Times has obtained and posted a secret, 422-page official military history of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2005, and the parallels between it and the Vietnam War’s Pentagon Papers are striking and depressing. Memo to those with whom I was arguing on Christie Tatum’s Facebook page on government secrecy: This is a big and classic example of the kind of stuff I was talking about.

“I can’t help but think this is God’s way of telling Rick Warren to STFU.”: So sayeth Lisa Derrick on the lying megachurch pastor’s plea for $900,000 before year’s end. Warren implies that church services to jobless members has combined with lower-than-expected offerings on the last weekend of the year to create this budget gap. I have two questions: How can one weekend create a gap that big? And why should we believe a word that comes out of Rick Warren’s mouth?

Clearly, Focus on the Family needs to STFU, too: This wingnut Christianist outfit has laid off more than 500 people in the past four years but thinks it’s important to spend $4 million on a Super Bowl ad to tell people it opposes abortion. Like we couldn’t have guessed. Jackasses.

Other people who need to STFU: The Dumbest Quotes of the Decade.

Memo, which The Washington Post hasn’t read: Pete Peterson and his outfit are not disinterested analysts/journalists/commenters. They have an agenda, and the agenda is to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and give that money to rich people.

The Stones are crooning “Dead Flowers” and I’m drinking a carbonated beverage made from dead, fermented grain of some sort, and it’s getting on toward bedtime. To better days.

Thursday, December 31, 2009 2:13 am

Odds and ends for 12/31

Enough already: GMAC wants another $3-4 billion from the taxpayers. Just. Say. No.

Our arrogant national culture is letting our soldiers/marines die unnecessarily: “Indeed, off-the-shelf solutions [to military problems in Iraq and Afghanistan] were there for the asking within Coalition partner states, but no one asked.”

Some good news for a change:Q: Obama says America will go bankrupt if Congress doesn’t pass the health care bill. A: Well, it’s going to go bankrupt if they do pass the health care bill, too, but at least he’s thinking about it.” So we’ve got that going for us.

A question: If the guy accused of being the pants-on-fire would-be terrorist on Flight 253 is “cooperating” with investigators, as investigators say, then why are people calling for him to be tortured?

News flash: U.S. corporate governance sucks, at least at publicly held companies.

Another news flash: Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., send the president a letter asking him not to release six Guantanamo detainees to Yemen. Just one problem: too late. A big deal? Of course not. But imagine how this would have been played if three Democratic senators had done this with George W. Bush still in the White House.

The Washington Post’s Steven Pearlstein, unlike McCain, Graham and Lieberman, is NOT too late. Not that it helps: Indeed, he warned us a year ago that Obama’s choice of Mary Schapiro to run the SEC would suck. And it has come to pass as it was foretold.

Well, at least we’re going to have a national election contested on a clear issue: Newt Gingrich has been calling on Republican Congressional candidates in 2010 to pledge to repeal health-care reform (should it finally pass) if elected. Now the White House is double-dog-daring them to do it, too.

How to keep your recently deregulated, greedy, rapacious, out-of-control industry from being intelligently re-regulated: First, get the majority party to assign a bunch of politically vulnerable rookies, who will therefore be desperate for lots and lots of re-election campaign cash, to the committee that oversees you.

Worst financial footnote of the year: By the time this post sees the Interwebz, results should be posted.

Dennis Kucinich may see flying saucers, but he also sees some incredibly bad policy (if not actual crime) and is calling it out.

From the banksters’ own fingers: Some internal AIG e-mails are finally being made public. We need many, many more, and we need many, many people to go through them looking for evidence of crime.

Sigh. More Calvinball*. Better journalists, please.

Newt’s getting predictable.

Memo to Andrew Sullivan: There’s a difference between accountability and kabuki, and John Cole, being smarter than you, explains the difference. Pay attention; this will be on the exam.

*Term explained here.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 11:01 pm

And now, a word about spending like a drunken sailor, from an authoritative source

Filed under: Fun,You're doing WHAT with my money?? — Lex @ 11:01 pm
Tags: ,

My longtime friend and neighbor Fred e-mails:

I’ve been a sailor. I have been drunk. I have spent money as a sailor, while being drunk. I have extensive experience spending like a drunken sailor. I could qualify as an expert court witness in “spending like a drunken sailor.”

As an expert in this field (O.K., I qualified myself, but I feel it is justified), I am offended by those that say Bernanke, Obama, and Pelosi are spending like drunken sailors.

Drunken sailors STOP SPENDING WHEN THEY RUN OUT OF MONEY.

This conservative attack must END!

I blame George W. Bush and global warming for the spending.

Bonus documentary evidence of our source’s authority:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 11:50 pm

Odds and ends for 12/29

Gettin’ back at ‘em: Wall Street’s 10 Greatest Lies of 2009 and 10 Ways to Screw Over the Corporate Jackals Who’ve Been Screwing You. For informational purposes only; no endorsement implied. IANAL. Void where prohibited. Etc.

Waykewl pitchers: Time’s “The Year in Pictures 2009,” National Geographic’s “Top Ten Space Pictures of 2009.”

Denzel in the house: Denzel Washington came to the Davidson-Penn game last night to watch his son’s team lose to the Wildcats. (Malcolm Washington converted a 3-point play for the Quakers’ final points of the game.)

Connecting the dots: Fecund Stench does an excellent, if scary, job of it.

I’m sure the Right-Wing Noise Machine will apologize to the Dixie Chicks right after it excoriates Ted Nugent.

Following in the footsteps of the other death merchants: Like the tobacco industry before them, the health-care industry, not satisfied to mess things up at the national level, is now also messing things up at the state level.

Attention, deficit hawks: Despite what you may have learned in Right-Wing Math Class, a $900 billion health-care program that’s paid for is NOT as big a problem as a $9 trillion unfunded liability.

Chase and Citibank are dropping out of the FDIC 4K program. Uh, what does that mean, you ask? Basically, they’ve found a way to do more gambling with your money.

Two Panthers are going to the Pro Bowl, RB DeAngelo Williams and DE Julius Peppers. RB Jonathan Stewart’s final stats may outshine Williams’s. Peppers, on the other hand, is tied for 305th in the league in tackles through Week 16, with 39; ranks tenth overall, and sixth among defensive ends (fifth among DEs in the NFC), in sacks; tied for 177th in passes defended (eighth among DEs), with five. In his defense, he is tied for third in the league with five forced fumbles and is among only four DEs in the league who have returned an interception for a touchdown.

Carbon gap: All the blather about a carbon/environment/clean-energy bill is overshadowing an ominous fact: China is going to eat our lunch in this arena … if we let it.

Quote of the day, from Bruce Schneier: “Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” So let’s 1) stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars a year on equipment and people that don’t do what they’re supposed to do and 2) stop making flying commercial any more of a miserable experience than it absolutely has to be. Thank you.

Another quote of the day, from Osama bin Laden, which we really ought to look at again before rushing off to start new wars in Yemen and Somalia: “All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.”

John Dugan owes us trillions, and if he can’t pay, I say we have the Mafia (who pay sales taxes, if nothing else) break his legs.

Pat Buchanan: Still crazy.

Speaking of crazy: It’s time to stop giving Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., air time. He handles it worse than I handled Jell-O shots, which is pretty bad.

I wouldn’t call it a “fix,” but it’d definitely be an improvement: NYU online-journalism guru Jay Rosen suggests the Sunday talk shows start fact-checking their guests. Unlike Jay, however, I wouldn’t wait ’til Wednesday to post the corrections. That ought to be happening in real time, online and with live screen crawls.

Speaking of fixes, if we want to fix the terrorism problem, we have to start with the engineers. They’re dangerous, I tell you. Including my brother.

Mashup du jour: This is genius.

Attention, police: You can’t Taser people just because they don’t do what you want them to do anymore. Not that all that many of you were doing that to begin with, just as almost none of you hit people over the head with your batons just for the hell of it. But those few of you who have been doing this are now on legal notice that you need to stop.

Elections have consequences, and the biggest consequence of the 2008 election so far is that the people who worked hardest to elect Barack Obama president have been serially and collectively screwed.

Reasons to freak out: Number of Americans who’ve died this year for lack of health insurance: about 45,000. Number who’ve died from salmonella: about 600. Number who’ve died from terrorism, including all those at Fort Hood: 16. Let’s keep this in mind before we soil ourselves, shall we?

Parker Griffith didn’t just take a congressional seat with him, he also took some of the Alabama Democratic Party’s voter-registration data. His primary is June 1, so get your popcorn early.

And I’ll bet you thought the story of Orly Taitz and the birthers couldn’t get any weirder: BZZZT! Wrong!

OK, maybe the world really WILL end in 2012, because it sure can’t keep going like this: DougJ at Balloon Juice for the win: “Let’s be frank: at this point, there is no real difference between Michelle Malkin and the Washington Post editorial page, none between Marc Ambinder and Matt Drudge, none between the Republican Congressional delegation and RedState. We have Jim DeMint holding up the confirmation of the head of the TSA while simultaneously acting as the point man for Republican criticism of the TSA … and he’s getting a lot of traction in the very liberal media. Maybe there is no value in saying this over and over again, but our public dialog really, really sucks.”

And, finally, just because it’s cool and you deserve a reward for reading this far:

Monday, December 28, 2009 9:09 pm

Odds and ends for 12/27

Hmm, what else can we screw up in a way that screws poor people worst? Hey, I know! The estate tax!

John Fox can have another year if he wants: So say the Panthers, although they’re not talking any kind of contract extension with him now (he has a year left). I have mixed feelings about this, upon which I’ll elaborate in a separate post.

Utterly un-self-aware: Jonah Goldberg presumes to pass judgment on someone else’s competence.

Utterly un-self-aware, cont.: Before Republicans criticize Democrats on national-security issues, they need to take a few history lessons, starting with the 9/11 commission report.

Related memo to Joe Lieberman, on the off-chance that he can read: How ’bout before we start a third war, let’s take a minute and figure out how this would-be airplane bomber got a visa? (Newsweek offers the strong beginning of an explanation.) Because the purview of the Senate Homeland Security Committee you chair does not extend to foreign policy or strategic (let alone tactical) military planning. You ass.

At least one legitimate criticism can be leveled at the Department of Homeland Security, and John Cole levels it.

One thing liberals applaud Obama on: Tightening restrictions not only on lobbying, but also on when and how ex-industry officials can go to work for the government, so that agencies aren’t “captured” by the companies they’re supposed to regulate. Watch that change get undone the second a Republican retakes the White House.

Which is fine, except that I haven’t heard them come up with an alternative solution to the problem: Blue Dogs Bayh, Landrieu and Conrad say cap ‘n’ trade is DOA. Relatedly, chemicals from power plants in their states are killing trees in the mountains of mine.

Your tax dollars at work: Despite the recent removal of caps on taxpayer assistance to Fannie and Freddie, which already totals $111 billion, they’re resuming foreclosures next week. You’re welcome, guys.

Not just no, but, hell, no: Not content to throw women’s rights under the health-care bus, the evangelistas are now trying to get the failed policy of abstinence-only sex education incorporated into health-care reform. Guys, we tried your flavor of Teh Stoopid once already and got a big jump in unwed pregnancy to show for it. Go. Away.

Tremors: The last time Iran got this shaky, the Shah was ousted. That may or may not mean the current regime will fall. But it almost certainly means blood in the streets, much of it likely innocent. Great.

Antiterrorism 101, which means most current and former government officials probably haven’t read it: Spencer Ackerman: “It’s never sufficient just to observe that a terrorist group has a presence in Country X. We have to ask ourselves: what are the conditions that allowed for said terrorist group to take root? If we don’t, we simply can’t devise an effective strategy against the terrorist group; and we come close to guaranteeing that we’ll flail and make the situation worse.”

Saturday, December 26, 2009 10:24 pm

Take my money — please!

That’s basically what President Obama has decided to say to the banking industry, although, strictly speaking, the money in question isn’t his. It’s yours and mine.

Item the first: the CEOs of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are going to be getting between $4 million and $6 million apiece, with tens of millions going to a few other senior executives at both places. This is happening even though both agencies, ostensibly independent, are now, as the result of a combined $111 billion in federal bailout, essentially owned by taxpayers.

In other words, these guys are getting these millions despite being, for all intents and purposes, federal employees. The highest-paid federal employee, the president, makes $400,000, and the incumbent president arguably had a much better year in 2009 than did the CEOs of Fannie and Freddie … even accounting for the fact that he decided it was OK to give millions to the heads of Fannie and Freddie.

The government, to justify this ridiculous scheme, has trotted out the old notion that they need to pay these guys this much to keep them from leaving. To which I respond: Unemployment is over 10 percent, the banking industry has been hard hit, and you’re telling me you couldn’t find people to run these agencies even at the base salary level of $900,000? [insert Belushi Bluto fake sneeze here, which I would do myself if I had the time to scroll through the movie looking for that bit of audio]

Item the second: Up until Thursday, Fannie and Freddie had been operating under caps of $200 billion in federal assistance each. But the administration has removed the caps for at least the next three years.

That’s right. Between now and the end of 2012, Fannie and Freddie can lose as much money as they like, and you, the taxpayer, will be on the hook for every dime of it.

Why would the government do that?

Well, as you know, 1) private banks still have a lot of “nonperforming” home mortgages on their books, and 2) sooner or later, those mortgages are going to have to be entered at their real market value, i.e., zero. If the mortgage is still on the bank’s books when that happens, the bank’s stockholders and bondholders take the hit. But if the bank has somehow managed to sell that mortgage to Fannie or Freddie at some price greater than zero, then the bank’s owners don’t take the hit. You do.

Why would the government do this now? Two reasons.

First, because after Dec. 31, congressional permission would have been required to raise the funding caps. And even this Congress wouldn’t approve eliminating funding caps for Fannie and Freddie. In fact, it’s questionable whether even this Congress would have approved one more dime for Fannie and Freddie.

Second, because, conveniently, Fannie and Freddie currently have no Inspector General, the guy/gal who’s supposed to keep an eye out for — and, we taxpayers hope, prevent — waste, fraud and abuse.

Well, why don’t they have an inspector general?

Glad you asked. They had an acting inspector general, Ed Kelly. But he got pushed out of that job earlier this year under the terms of a law that was pushed through the Congress by then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. That’d be the same Rahm Emanuel who left the House to become Barack Obama’s chief of staff. Which he still is.

But why did Kelly get pushed out?

I don’t have the first idea. But both liberal blogger Jane Hamsher and conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist believe it’s because Kelly was getting too close to some things that happened while Emanuel, before getting elected to Congress, did while sitting on Freddie’s board in 2000-01. Specifically, they believe Emanuel conspired with other board members to misstate Freddie’s earnings to make sure they got paid their bonuses for hitting Freddie’s earnings target. That’s a crime, and if a grand jury isn’t empaneled to investigate it sometime before the 10th anniversary of the related illegal acts — those anniversaries fall in 2010 and 2011 — Emanuel and the others will never be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations.

On its face, what the Obama administration is doing is bad policy. It also looks, to this nonlawyer, a lot like obstruction of justice, fraud and conspiracy, among other crimes.

But it also is incredibly bad politics for the Democrats, for a couple of reasons.

First, people are already mad at the banksters and mad at Obama and his allies (and rightly so) for enabling the banksters. This is only going to make that sentiment worse.

Second, although it’s a fact that Fannie and Freddie have far less to do with the current economic mess than does deregulation, Republicans have been doing their best to blame the mess on F&F. What the Democrats are doing now just plays right into the Republicans’ hands. Not only that, it distracts attention from the facts that 1) Democrats are trying to undo the problems caused by deregulation and 2)  the Republicans have unanimously opposed that effort.

Other than protecting his friends, I don’t know what Obama is trying to do here. But if the Democrats want to hang on to the White House and Congress in 2012, they need to do something about this right now. And if the Republicans aren’t able to make political hay of this without muddying the issue with lying, then they need serious PR help.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 11:21 pm

Odds and ends for 12/22

All that, plus the sense God gave a billy goat: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: anti-science and anti-gay, and therefore a viable GOP candidate for president in 2012.

Countdown: Scott Roeder, accused murderer of Dr. George Tiller, goes on trial Jan. 11, and he’s not going to be allowed to claim that it was legal to kill Tiller to protect innocent lives. Whoever shoots down an unarmed doctor in the middle of his church, without reason or provocation, should get the spike, period.

¡Brava, Ciudad de Mexico!: Mexico City legalizes gay marriage before New York City does. Of course, that’s because the New York State Senate is run by guys I would call bucketheads except that honest walruses everywhere would take exception.

Probably crap: That’s my assessment of Reuters’ claim that its article by Matthew Goldstein on hedge-fund trader Steven Cohen was killed on “journalistic grounds.” You don’t create an investigative team, put someone like Matthew Goldstein on it, assign it a story, nurse that story through the reporting and writing and editing, all the way through the lawyering, and THEN kill it on “journalistic grounds.” Yeah, sure, anything is possible, but by far the likeliest explanation is that something else is going on here that reflects quite poorly on Reuters.

When stupidity becomes a public-health issue: Anyone who would pay Michael Steele a dime to give a speech needs to be quarantined for the public’s good.

Revisionist history: Obama claims he never campaigned on the public option. Unfortunately for him, he did. I guess pointing this out makes me a hater. Oh, well, feel the hate, peeps.

Ten worst things about the 2000s, from Juan Cole. Hint: They all had to do with George Bush.

Three of the ten worst things about this week, captured by Digby in a single post.

The best argument I’ve seen for a public option: The retiring CEO of Cigna, Ed Hanway, is getting $73.2 million. And all he had to do for it was deny a little girl a liver transplant. Forget sick people; will no one think of the poor stockholders here? You can e-mail him your best wishes at H.Edward.Hanway@CIGNA.com. Seriously. I just tried it a few minutes ago, and it worked.*

Requiring people to buy private health insurance: constitutional or not?: Some bona-fide legal scholars have it out on that issue here.

This will be fun. This will be shooting fish in a barrel, with dynamite. But I repeat myself. Andrew Breitbart, who has a long history of not being able to find a fact with both hands and a flashlight, plans to start a media fact-checking Web site soon, thus providing conclusive evidence for my hypothesis that Andrew Breitbart is a liberal plot to make conservatives look stupid.

On the other hand, Digby hates America, or at least American pundits, although given the offense she identifies here, I have to say I hate them, too: “There seems to be an unfortunate requirement in American politics that when pundits and numbers crunchers read the tea leaves and determine to their satisfaction that the contest is over, those they’ve decided are going to lose are required to immediately capitulate, admit they were wrong and join in the celebration of the winner — even if the votes haven’t been cast or the cases haven’t been decided.”

Jiujitsu: Newt Gingrich has been urging Republicans to campaign next year on a pledge to repeal HCR in 2011 if it’s enacted. But Democrats are seeing that as a bad thing for Republicans and are urging their challengers for 2010 to get the GOP incumbents on the record about whether they intend to try to repeal HCR. Interesting.

I think it is time to conclude that the people who are running the SEC are not just incompetent but are actively hostile to the agency’s mission.

For the win: Balloon Juice is having a contest tonight: Name the ten worst Washington Post columnists of the past decade. As it happens, I stumbled my personal No. 1, Charles Krauthammer, on TV earlier tonight. Sick bastard was  complaining because we hadn’t gone to war against Iran already. That’s not just stupid, that’s Evil, the kind of Evil that deserves for its paralyzed ass to wake up in a foxhole surrounded by corpses with no weapon, no comrades in sight, no way to move and the enemy advancing with bayonets fixed. If Krauthammer wants blood that badly, let him drink his own.

Colbert, also for the win: “Folks, there are some things that everybody knows, but nobody says,” one being that the health-care industry is buying the legislation it wants. (Doubt me? Hey, you don’t have to believe me. Believe the stock market.)

Michele Bachmann hates Teh Soshulizm. Sort of: Unfortunately for Michele, evidence has been uncovered that actually she’s quite the welfare queen.

Quote of the day, from Attackerman: “After all, systemic dysfunction doesn’t come from nowhere, and it usually has a constituency.” I don’t know that I’d call that a rule of investigative reporting, but it’s definitely worth remembering.

*I bet you’re wondering what I wrote. Well, I’ll tell you what I wrote. It was this: “Dear Ed: Best wishes on your retirement. I hope it’s a long one. You’re going to need a long one to think up an argument that St. Peter will buy. Love, Lex.” Really.

Monday, December 21, 2009 10:40 pm

Odds and ends for 12/21

Let God sort ‘em out: A new book makes both Bill Clinton and the FBI that went after him look bad.

Release the e-mails: There’s more to know about AIG before we let it off the taxpayers’ hook, and the taxpayers deserve to know it. (More interestting but depressing details here.)

Relatedly: How ’bout we claw back some of that taxpayer money that went through AIG to Goldman Sachs at 100 cents on the dollar, thankyouverymuch?? Goldman was pretty much the only bank in such dire straits at the time that didn’t end up settling for 10 to 13 cents on the dollar from AIG, and now it wants to take that tax money and pay it out in employee bonuses. Homey don’ play dat.

Another banking shock: What determines how suitable a bank is for a federal bailout? Size? Nature of its business? Try … wait for it … political ties to the Federal Reserve. Yup, and there’s gambling going on in this casino, too. So can we just audit the damn thing already?

Decade of (self-) deception: Farewell to the ’00s, in which we begged to be suckered and found no shortage of those eager to accommodate us, from “compassionate conservatism” and Enron to Goldman Sachs and Tiger Woods. One other parallel: None of the hucksters, besides maybe Ken Lay, has been held accountable.

Democrats throwing women under the bus. Again: Tbogg on Twitter, for the win: “Bart Stupak will not be happy until he has had a close personal relationship with more vaginas than Tiger Woods.”

Boulevard of broken dreams promises: Jon Walker walks us past the mileposts of broken Obama campaign promises that constitute the current Senate version of health-care reform.

He just can’t quit you: Jon Walker, who apparently has no commitments in life besides health care reform, offers 35 ways to fix the current Senate bill. I’d say it’s unlikely at best that more than one or two will happen, and quite possibly none of them will. But if nothing else, this is a good road map of the kind of crappy legislation that comes out of unified GOP opposition and an undemocratic Senate hidebound by the filibuster.

Speaking of the filibuster, here’s some interesting background on how its use has grown of late. Memo to the mainstream media: Guilt is not equitably distributable.

Ask and ye shall receive: LA Times blogger Andrew Malcolm wants a caption for this picture. OK, here’s mine: “Andrew Malcolm is such an idiot that I could grab his head and smash it into this table like this and the experience would actually make him smarter.”

Memo to Ceci Connolly: Defining being “smart” in Washington as “disagreeing with what two-thirds of the country wants” doesn’t make you look, well, smart.

Related: Time was, and not all that long ago, a David Broder column, whether you agreed with it or not, would be undergirded by some reporting. Now, not so much. (Besides which, on the substance, what appears to be surprising him is that Congressional Democrats are opposing something that Obama himself opposed. This is wrong, or surprising, or even news, how, exactly?)

John McCain fought Teh Stoopid and Teh Stoopid won: He goes on the teevee to claim, laughably, that Ted Kennedy wouldn’t have liked that health-care reform passed on a partisan vote. He crowns that particularly serving of Teh Stoopid topped with whipped Teh Stoopid with this maraschino Teh Stoopid: “There has never been a major reform accomplished in the history of this country that wasn’t bipartisan.” Uh, John, that’s because there has never before been a major reform that one party unanimously rejected purely on partisan grounds.

Top 10 reasons to kill the Senate health-care bill, from Firedoglake, with background links on each. I don’t know whether the bill should be killed, but I do know there are a lot of things about it I absolutely do not like. (One “bug,” starting the taxes before the benefits take effect, could be sold as a way of reducing the deficit. But I’m unsure of the exact math over the long haul, and whether you choose to look at that item as a bug or a feature, I don’t think it makes much difference in the big picture.)

How I would decide on whether or not to pass the health-care bill (Senate version), if I had a vote: Which saves more lives, passing it or killing it? And by killing it, I mean, “killing it,” not, “killing it and immediately passing some fantasy better version that in the real world may or may not ever happen within my lifetime.” Anyone with a documentable answer to this question is welcome to weigh in.

Conservative of the year: Human Events picks Dick Cheney, although, as more than one pundit has pointed out, the actual, substantial policy differences between Cheney and, say, Barack Obama on foreign-policy and civil-liberties issues are much less than meets the eye.

Kentucky legislator wants to prosecute mothers of alcohol- and drug-addicted newborns: Because treating addicts like criminals instead of people with health problems has done so much to reduce addiction over the years.

Gathering storm: The “shadow pool,” the nation’s pool of homes that haven’t yet gone on the market but are about to because of delinquency/foreclosure, has increased more than 50% in just one year, to about 1.7 million. A lot of those homes are or will be vacant, which spells trouble for their neighbors, too.

Some good news for a change: Obama signed the military appropriations bill, which is good because it contained Al Franken’s amendment barring contractors from forcing employees into arbitration when they get raped. Which, in turn, is good not only for those employees but also because it gives candidates who give a damn about rape victims, be they competing in the GOP primary or in the general election, a big ol’ hammer with which to hit the 40 current incumbent Republican senators over the head.

And more good news: The signed consolidated appropriations bill DIDN’T ban federal funding for needle-exchange programs, the first such bill since 1988. Now that a smidgen of common sense has crept into the War on Some Drugs, expect the end of the world before lunchtime tomorrow.

I don’t know who Drew Westen is, and I don’t know if he’s right. But I do know that his perceptions are remarkably similar to mine.

Thumbsucker: Long journalism pieces that raise lots of Big, Serious Questions — often without offering answers, sometimes because no answers can be found — are known in the journalism biz as “thumbsuckers.” In the era of dying print and shorter attention spans, thumbsuckers are a dying breed, in part because the form is attempted far more often than it is mastered. But here’s a good one, asking whether the GOP has any relevant ideas to contribute to discussion of some of the biggest issues that face us. (My short answer: Yes, but to find them you’ll have to listen to the party members who, right now, aren’t doing most of the talking the public hears.)

Quote of the day, by Jonathan Chait of The New Republic in the thumbsucker linked above: “If government intervention appears to be the answer, [Republicans] must change the question.”

Thursday, December 17, 2009 11:36 pm

Odds and ends for 12/17

All your drones are belong to us: A readily available, $26 piece of software has allowed Iraqi insurgents to intercept video from U.S. Predator drones. The government has known about this flaw since the weapons’ use in the Balkans in the 1990s but never did anything about it because it “assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it.” As Attackerman (h/t) comments, “Arrogance like this gets people killed.”

All our money are belong to the devil, so send us yours: Televangelist Rod Parsley’s Web site sets a Dec. 31 deadline for contributions and urges, “Will you help take back what the devil stole?” The ministry is in financial trouble primarily because it had to pay a $3.1 million judgment to the parents of a 2-year-old whom a teacher at the ministry severely beat.

Bill Gates sez, “Go ahead, make my day tax my estate!”: The Microsoft founder says we shouldn’t let the estate tax expire. I agree with him. Raise the cap, sure. Index for inflation, of course. But scrap? Nuh-uh.

Relatedly, if you have both money and heirs (Hi, Mom!), you might not sleep very well next year.

Wall Street is killing health care: That’s what taking your company public will do. (Previously.) Just ask the newspaper industry.

Odd couple: Sens. John McCain and Maria Cantwell have jointly introduced legislation to reimpose Glass-Steagall standards on banks. Comments HuffPo’s Jason Linkins: “Give McCain and Cantwell a big round of applause for their effort, because in Washington, this seemingly obvious response to the financial crisis is considered the domain of wild-eyed hippies (and Paul Volcker).”

Which raises a damn good question: Why, in Washington, has the obvious become the domain only of wild-eyed hippies and Paul Volcker, and not of the “serious” politicians/bureaucrats/journalists?

Worthwhile related point: Byron Dorgan warned us at the time that within 10 years we’d be sorry we repealed Glass-Steagall. BZZZT! Wrong! We were sorry within nine years.

Speaking of banksters, looks like Ben Bernanke is going to get reconfirmed. Which would be fine if, like a large majority of the American public, he gave the first damn about putting people back to work. But he doesn’t. Memo to Congressional Democrats: You can steal this issue from the Tea Party, or you can let the Tea Party steal your Congressional seats from you. Your call.

On the bright side, for Democrats and the jobless: A $154 billion economic-stimulus bill passed the House … without a single Republican vote. I’m a longtime deficit hawk, but part of the reason that I am is that I understand that there are times when only fiscal policy can jump-start the economy. So you have to balance the budget or run a surplus in good times to be in position to spend in bad times. And as I’ve said before, the biggest problem of the earlier stimulus package was that even at $787 billion, it was only about half as big as it needed to be (second biggest problem was it relied too heavily on tax cuts, not enough on direct spending).

Here are three more questions to be asked about health-care reform, based on public pledges Obama has made in the past. No one who wanted reform in any form or fashion is going to like the answers. Actually, this piece was so good that I’m going to deviate from standard Odds & Ends formatting and quote from it at some length:

I’ll be evaluating the bill according to three principles:

1. When this plan goes into effect, will it bring an end to the battles that health insurance consumers must wage to retain their coverage, or will the practice of rescission continue?

2. When this plan goes into effect, will it bring an end to the long-term, intractable debt that millions of hard-working Americans incur, simply because they get sick, get injured and grow old?

3. When this bill is signed into law, will Obama truly be in the position to say he’ll be the last president to “take up the cause,” or will it be obvious that we’ve only kicked the can down the road, and that more needs to be done?

In truth, the way I see things shaping up, I don’t believe that the eventual reform legislation will achieve any of these things. At the same time, I think that if it makes it to Obama’s desk, he’s going to sign it. But, pursuant to the cause of Not Kidding Ourselves, he’d better not call it a victory.

Sounds about right.

Is the Senate health-care bill comparable to the (successful) Dutch health-care system?: No, not really.

Republicans are crawling back toward sanity: Yesterday, Laura Ingraham was likening health-care reform to the Holocaust. Today, Miss. Gov. Haley Barbour is saying it’s only as bad as Jonestown. Whew. I was really afraid they were going off the deep end.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009 10:50 pm

Odds and ends for 12/15

A way to balance the budget?: For the second straight month, the U.S. Treasury auctioned 1-month T-bills at 0.0% interest. The national budget gets significantly smaller if you whack out interest on the national debt, y’know.

All I want for Christmas is a repeal of Gramm-Leach-Bliley.

BOHICA: As part of “paying off” its multi-billion-dollar loan from the taxpayers, technically insolvent bank holding company Citigroup gets to keep $38 billion in tax credits that regulations normally would require it to give up. That figure will easily overshadow any profit the taxpayers may get from selling Citigroup shares. Merry. Freaking. Christmas.

But maybe Christmas is coming early; or, Who are you and what have you done with Sen. Jim Bunning?: Remember those 15 questions that the Cunning Realist suggested should be asked of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke during his reconfirmation hearings? Unbelievably, a senator asked them. Even more unbelievably, the senator in question was Jim Bunning, heretofore a leading candidate for the title of Biggest Waste of Carbon in the U.S. Capitol.

You may now kiss the D.C. City Council: The District of Columbia has legalized gay marriage. Congress, per the Constitution, gets 30 legislative days to review the law once D.C.’s mayor has signed it, but the Democratic leadership will keep that puppy bottled up until the deadline has safely passed.

No room to talk: Panthers defensive backs Chris Harris and Chris Gamble need to STFU about Patriots WR Randy Moss. While they are having good years, and they did shut Moss down on Sunday, they apparently chose to ignore Wes Welker’s presence on the field. And what really matters is that yet again, the Panthers have failed to achieve consecutive winning seasons, while the Pats almost certainly are going to the playoffs.

Wardrobe police: Is Roy Williams gonna have me thrown out of North Carolina for wearing a Panthers jersey in Chapel Hill?

Shorter Janet Tavakoli: Except for Paul Volcker, the bankers don’t get it.

Brother can you spare your Visa card?: The Miami Herald, which recently laid off 199 people, is now attaching to each article a link through which people can contribute money online … to the paper, not the laid-off employees. The last time I can remember anything like this happening was when I was a kid and Ted Turner went on the air in Charlotte to ask people to send him money to keep Channel 36 on the air. (Yes, that’s Turner Broadcasting’s Ted Turner, and, yes, he repaid it.)

CBS Sports: “If any of our announcers talk about Tiger Woods, we’ll shoot this dog fire them.”

Best banking idea I’ve heard in a while: If Barney Frank has his way, only retail banks will be able to borrow from the discount window. At worst, this gets some banksters off the federal teat. It may even significantly ease the current credit crunch.

Quote of the day: “You’re either part of the solution or you’re a tool of ACORN.” — Conservative Brown, Boy Detective, by Tom Tomorrow.

Smarter Washington Post, please: The Post publishes a bunch of contextually challenged nonsense regarding the national debt. Economist Dean Baker rips them a new one. Yes, the national debt is too high and rising, but the bigger and more urgent problem is joblessness. The Post wants to scrap Social Security and Medicare but just doesn’t have the stones to say so.

Smarter Washington Post, please, cont.: Charles Lane criticizes colleague Ezra Klein’s criticism of Joe Lieberman … while also conceding that Klein’s factual claim is correct. Idiot. All you need to know about Lane is that he was Stephen Glass‘s editor. All you need to know about Klein is that Joe Lieberman finds him bothersome. (But here’s useful background on the contretemps.) Also, I posted the one-word comment “FAIL” on Lane’s blog post earlier; as of 10:30 p.m., it had been deleted, which fact I shortly thereafter commented upon. We’ll see if the 2nd comment stays up.

Smarter judges, please: U.S. District Judge William Duffey tells two Muslim defendants at a sentencing, “I’ll say this, our Gods are very different.” Uh, no, infidel; Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

If you like what Joe Lieberman is doing to health-care reform, wait’ll you see what he has planned for Social Security and Medicare.

Terminated; or, Cue the Limbaugh smears in 3 … 2… 1 …: Arnold Schwarzenegger throws Sarah Palin under the (hybrid?) bus.

Jerome “Swiftboat” Corsi asks,”Could it be that President Obama intends to bankrupt the USA in order to destroy free-enterprise capitalism itself?” Sounds like fun! Let’s play! Could it be that Jerome Corsi is a paranoid psychotic? Could it be that Jerome Corsi wouldn’t recognize the destruction of free-enterprise capitalism THAT’S NOW GOING ON, LED BY INVESTMENT BANKS, if it bit him in the ass? Could it be that Jerome Corsi has a financial motivation to misrepresent what the president is trying to do? Hey, this is fun! I could do this all day!

Paying for your wars: The Greatest Generation, so revered by conservatives, had no problem with this concept; indeed, they inculcated it in their children. So why do today’s Congressional leaders have such a problem?

Why is private health insurance such a bad idea? Let me the Main Street Alliance draw you a picture:

Back from the dead and ready to incriminate?: Some 22 million White House e-mails from the first Bush 43 administration have been “found,” four years and change after they “went missing.” In a perfect world, Karl Rove will be going to prison as a result for having 1) outed undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame and 2) obstructed a criminal investigation into the outing thereof. In the world we live in, we’ll probably find out that the missing $12 trillion in U.S. wealth, much of it sucked out of the home values and retirement savings of the middle class, is now in some Nigerian barrister’s bank account.

Math: About fifteen times as many people die in the U.S. every year as a result of lack of health insurance as died in the 9/11 terror attacks.

No methaqualone for you, says the Methaqualone Nazi!: The new Republican Party-sponsored Web-link shortener, GOP.am, includes this in its terms of use: “If you use it for spamming, illegal purposes or to promote lude content, your GOP.AM URL will be disabled.” Earlier, bloggers and commenters for Balloon Juice were using the site to provide links to bondage sites. Hee.

Thursday, November 5, 2009 10:09 pm

Tell Goldman Sachs to take a f***ing number

Honestly. Not even a real vampire squid would steal flu vaccine from kids.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 10:23 pm

Odds and ends for 10/28

ECONOMY

HEALTH CARE

  • I’ve said before that the cost of malpractice insurance isn’t enough of a factor in health care to justify damaging the legal system with “tort reform” (read: limits on the only real way to punish a lot of actors in the health-care field). At least one doctor agrees with me.
  • Sen. Joe Lieberman represents a state, Connecticut, where 68% of voters favor a public option in health insurance. So, naturally, Lieberman supports it, too — if, by “supports it,” I mean “intends to filibuster it.” This would be the same Joe Lieberman who told his state’s voters in 2006, “[W]hat I’m saying to the people of Connecticut, I can do more for you and your families to get something done to make health care affordable, to get universal health insurance, to make America energy independent, to save your jobs and create new ones.”

AFGHANISTAN

  • The report the outgoing Bush administration prepared on Afghanistan for the incoming Obama administration was put together in one hour. “The upside is that this was one more hour than was spent reviewing the ‘Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside The U.S.’ memo.”

CULTURE WARS

SCIENCE

  • Two years ago, while no one was paying attention, two German scientists broke the speed of light. Or so they say. If true, then Einstein is a putz our whole understanding of time and space will change.

CRIMINAL INSANITY N.E.C.*

There’s a word for such people: sociopaths. I hope there’s soon another word for them: defendants.

*Not Elsewhere Classified

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