Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 9:56 pm

Satire: for adults only

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns!,Fun — Lex @ 9:56 pm
Tags: ,

Well, not really, but perhaps it should be:

This study investigated biased message processing of political satire in The Colbert Report and the influence of political ideology on perceptions of Stephen Colbert. Results indicate that political ideology influences biased processing of ambiguous political messages and source in late-night comedy. Using data from an experiment (N = 332), we found that individual-level political ideology significantly predicted perceptions of Colbert’s political ideology. Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements.

This reminds me of how Donald Wildmon and the American Family Association first crossed my radar a quarter-century ago: Wildmon got upset with NBC because the “rock group” Spinal Tap performed on “Saturday Night Live.” Uh, Don, buddy? It’s satire ….

Monday, April 27, 2009 8:52 pm

An epidemic … of idiocy

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:52 pm
Tags: ,

Looks like that swine-flu outbreak that has spread from Mexico to some parts of the U.S. could be a real problem. It also looks like some people who should have known better have left us more vulnerable to it than we needed to be:

When House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long championed investment in pandemic preparation, included roughly $900 million for that purpose in this year’s emergency stimulus bill, he was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans.

Obey and other advocates for the spending argued, correctly, that a pandemic hitting in the midst of an economic downturn could turn a recession into something far worse — with workers ordered to remain in their homes, workplaces shuttered to avoid the spread of disease, transportation systems grinding to a halt and demand for emergency services and public health interventions skyrocketing. Indeed, they suggested, pandemic preparation was essential to any responsible plan for renewing the U.S. economy.

But former White House political czar Karl Rove and key congressional Republicans — led by Maine Senator Susan Collins — aggressively attacked the notion that there was a connection between pandemic preparation and economic recovery.

Now, as the World Health Organization says a deadly swine flu outbreak that apparently began in Mexico but has spread to the United States has the potential to develop into a pandemic, Obey’s attempt to secure the money seems eerily prescient. …

But can a flu pandemic really have economic consequences?

Uh, duh:

On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that a national “public health emergency” had been declared. Notably, the second question at the White House press conference on the emergency had to do with the potential impact on the economic recovery.

On Monday, the question began to be answered, as Associated Press reported — under the headline: “World Markets Struck By Swine Flu Fears” — that: “World stock markets fell Monday as investors worried that a deadly outbreak of swine flu in Mexico could go global and derail any global economic recovery.”

Before U.S. markets opened, the Wall Street Journal reported: “U.S. stock futures fell sharply Monday as the outbreak of deadly swine flu stoked fears that a possible recovery in the global economy could be derailed.”

And whom do we have to thank for this happy state of affairs? Primarily, Karl Rove and Maine Senator Susan Collins, a “moderate” Republican. More broadly, every Republican senator and representative who jumped on this part of the stimulus package as being somehow unrelated to economic recovery. Collins even brags about her role on her Senate Web site. And Senate Democrats tolerated this behavior, even knowing that the need was real, instead of acting like grownups and doing the hard work of protecting the country.

There’s a pattern here. Remember Bobby Jindal’s ridiculing the need for federal money for volcano monitoring? How’s that workin’ out for ya, Bobby?

UPDATE: Shorter Michael Steele: I don’t understand what “preparedness” means.

Pandemics in the Web 2.0 age

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 6:01 pm
Tags: ,

Swine flu on Twitter.

Friday, April 24, 2009 8:32 pm

Guilt, disseminated

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:32 pm
Tags: ,

Shorter Roger Cohen: We’re all guilty, so none of us is.

Problem is, Roger, not all of us are guilty. Not all of us agreed, “Hey, yeah, let’s torture the bejeebers out of those scary brown people!”

The headline of the piece is “No Time for Retribution.” Quite right. It’s time, instead, for justice. And no, Roger, they’re not the same thing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 9:41 pm

You could hate this part of AIG, or you could just be glad it’s profitable

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 9:41 pm

Me, I’m going with the hating:

Civilian workers who suffered devastating injuries while supporting the U.S. war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan have come home to a grinding battle for basic medical care, artificial limbs, psychological counseling and other services.

The insurance companies responsible for their treatment under taxpayer-funded policies have routinely denied the most serious medical claims. Those insurers — primarily American International Group (AIG) — recorded hundreds of millions of dollars in profits on this business. …

The insurance system for civilian contractors has generated profits for the providers, primarily AIG, the war zone’s dominant player. Insurers collected more than $1.5 billion in premiums paid by U.S. taxpayers and have earned nearly $600 million in profit, according to congressional investigators.

A military audit deemed AIG’s premiums “unreasonably high.”

Insurance companies initially rejected 44% of claims from contractors involving serious injuries and more than half of all claims related to psychological stress, records show. As a result, civilians maimed or traumatized in the war zone often must wage lengthy court battles for medical care and benefits.

The high denial rate is partly due to government rules that give insurers only 14 days to decide the validity of a claim. Insurers often reject first and investigate later.

This is worse than the VA’s disability compensation-and-pension program, and that’s pretty damn bad.

Crime upon crime

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 9:37 pm

First we find out that al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was waterboarded 183 times in the single month of March 2003. So much for the effectiveness of waterboarding. But beyond that, if you waterboard someone that much, you’re either a pervert or you’re seeking a specific confession or admission. (That’s what the Spanish Inquisition used it for — eliciting confessions, true or otherwise.)

Let’s assume, for the purposes of discussion, that our interrogators were not simply perverts. So, in March 2003, with war with Iraq approaching, what specific confession or admission might U.S. interrogators have been seeking from this guy, the “mastermind” behind 9/11? Oh, I don’t know, how ’bout this:

The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would’ve provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and Saddam’s regime.

Now, keep in mind that absent provocation, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a country with which we were at peace, was, itself, a war crime. So you have U.S. personnel committing war crimes, at the behest of senior administration officials, to gin up false grounds for another war crime. Nice.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 9:56 pm

Uh, we didn’t quite mean what we said

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 9:56 pm

Turns out that although the Obama administration isn’t hot on prosecuting those who carried out torture, they haven’t ruled out prosecuting those who justified and ordered it. A coupla thoughts:

  • “Haven’t ruled out prosecuting” isn’t the same as “will prosecute.” It just kicks the can down the road. The U.S. is obligated under its own and international law to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute these cases. This new administration pledged to abide by the law. Let’s see it.
  • If forced to choose, I’d rather prosecute those who ordered/justified torture than those who actually carried it out. But we shouldn’t have to choose; our own legal system specifically rejected the Nuremberg defense — “I was only following orders” — a long time ago. Moreover, the lower-level bad guys in one administration who get off scot-free or with a slap on the wrist seem to have a knack for showing up at even higher levels and in even more dangerous positions in later administrations. A felony conviction or two would go a long way toward curing that syndrome.

They came, they read, they conquered, cont.

Filed under: Salute!,Victoria — Lex @ 8:33 am
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Victoria is on her school’s Battle of the Books team. In Battle of the Books, teams from different schools compete to answer questions about books on a preassigned reading list. Earlier, her team won a scrimmage against one of the local private schools. On Monday, her team came in first in the district, topping 29 other schools. Yay, team!

Monday, April 20, 2009 8:48 pm

Jane Harman: the new Rod Blagojevich?

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 8:48 pm

The California Democrat has been caught on a wiretap in what appears to be an agreement to try to get charges against Israeli agents reduced in exchange for help getting the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee (she didn’t get it).

At first glance, it seems creepy that the government is wiretapping a congresscritter. But in this case, the target of the wiretap was an (unnamed) Israeli agent, not Harman, and the tap was installed under a warrant duly issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. So it was all by the book.

And at the end of the conversation, Harman was recorded as saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”

You wish, lady.

And here’s the kicker: Apparently investigators were ready to move against Harman until Alberto Gonzalez nixed it on the grounds that the administration would need Harman’s help in defending its illegal warrantless wiretapping program. Which they got.

Impeach Jay Bybee

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:27 pm
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John Yoo’s name might be better known in the context of the torture memos, but the guy who ultimately was in charge of preparing those memos was Jay Bybee. Bybee was rewarded for his service to the Bush administration by a lifetime appointment to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate confirmed him, but that was before his role in justifying torture became public knowledge.

Bruce Ackerman makes a strong case for impeaching Bybee. The Los Angeles County Democratic Party approved a pro-impeachment resolution unanimously, and the state party will be considering one.

Even if Bybee is impeached, there are at least two reasons why he might well not be convicted and removed from office: 1) He might be able to mount an effective defense; and 2) it would take a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict him, and the odds that at least 34 senators approve of torture are actually pretty high.

But impeaching him is still the right thing to do. At the very least, the debate would be enlightening. More importantly, anyone who would conjure up memos like those, documents that say, without any justification, that it’s OK to violate U.S. and international law, has no business even holding a law license, let alone sitting in judgment of others on one of the highest courts in the land.

Any movement to impeach likely would begin in the House Judiciary Committee, and as it happens, two Triad representatives, Republican Howard Coble and Democrat Mel Watt, sit on that committee. Please contact them and ask them to begin the process of removing a torture enabler from the bench.

Thursday, April 16, 2009 9:56 pm

More torture documents

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 9:56 pm

The four Bush Administration memos justifying torture have been released in accordance with a court order. Names of specific CIA officials mentioned therein are redacted, although I don’t know why those names are even in there in the first place: These were legal opinions, not intelligence records. But whatevs.

Shorter Obama: The torturers were only following orders. Where have we heard that before?

UPDATE: I’d forgotten this USA Today/Gallup poll from February, which found that almost two-thirds of Americans want an investigation of war crimes — about 40 percent favoring a criminal investigation and about 25 percent favoring a noncriminal investigation (e.g., a truth-and-reconciliation commission or something similar). So this is not just a partisan issue.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 10:31 pm

Yes, we have no bananas

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 10:31 pm

Slavering approval of our economic program — by Zimbabwe. Bonds as a guaranteed non-risk asset class. Stress tests that are neither stressful nor tests. From The Barricade Blog, it’s the Top 10 Signs that You Are Living in a Banana Republic!

If censorship = damage, damage = ?

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 10:23 pm

One of the most popular memes in the early days of widespread Internet availability to consumers was the notion that the ‘Net would empower free-speech movements worldwide because “the Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

Which raises the question: How does the Internet interpret damage? I don’t know of a good metaphor for the answer, but unfortunately, the routing-around? Not so much.

Worse still, apparently it’s entirely possible that what happened in the Bay Area was a deliberate attempt to try to map choke points by which widespread Internet service disruptions could be created with relatively little effort.

This is scary because, on a number of levels, the Internet has become as important as the electrical grid. And it highlights the need for a significant upgrade in ‘Net infrastructure, an area that deserved a far bigger chunk of the stimulus package than it got (which, as far as I can tell, was essentially zero).

Monday, April 13, 2009 4:33 pm

Obama’s always right!

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 4:33 pm
Tags: ,

Or maybe not.

They were crimes when Bush did ’em. They’re crimes now. And criminals must be punished, Democrat and Republican alike.

Your tax dollars at work

Shorter Elizabeth Warren, on the banking bailout: Treasury is lying. Taxpayers are getting ripped off. And the lack of transparency isn’t a bug, it’s a big damn feature.

I’m so glad he’s safeguarding the Constitution

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 3:34 pm

Shorter Clarence Thomas: Rights are overrated.

Shorter banking industry

Filed under: You're doing WHAT with my money?? — Lex @ 2:33 pm

“It’s un-American for the US Government to try to save the banking system in spite of the fact that the people running it are such short sighted, greedy, self centered jackasses that they refuse to be saved unless they get to [mess] things up all over again. (Oh, and make a killing doing it.)”


Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 2:06 pm
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In the world of sci-fi/fantasy writing, my friend Andy Duncan is running with the big dogs. Woohoo!

Friday, April 10, 2009 9:09 pm

Do as I say …

I’m a little late to this disturbing tactic by the Obama administration: continuing to use the same “state secrets” argument that the Bush administration did to try to shield itself from lawsuits. There’s a pretty blatant hyprocrisy visible here:

Last Friday, Obama’s Justice Department infuriated some legal observers by invoking the “state secrets privilege” in a lawsuit [filed by the Electronic Fronter Foundation] against the government over warrantless wiretapping. As multiple legal experts told reporter Zachary Roth, this means the Obama administration has now adopted one of Bush’s most controversial legal tools — the invocation of national security to justify government secrecy and shield it from legal action.

Obama attacked Bush’s use of it during the campaign. Indeed, Obama’s campaign Web site still identifies Bush’s use of the tactic as a “problem” that created undo “secrecy” and needs to be changed.

Certainly, invoking “state secrets” will be justified at times. But a judge ought to allow it only after the most stringent review, with the strongest presumption toward making things public, and with any restrictions as narrowly tailored as possible. That didn’t happen during the Bush years, I have no reason to think that’s what’s happening now, and I am disturbed that the Obama administration appears to think that whatever it’s doing now is good enough.

But what’s even more disturbing is that the Obama folks are pushing an argument that not even the Bush folks attempted: They’re saying that under the Patriot Act, the government is immune from lawsuits (under, say, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) over illegal surveillance unless the government itself chooses to disclose what it has. Glenn Greenwald has more here.

Novel though that argument is, it makes a mockery of both existing statutes and the Bill of Rights. The courts need to slap it down, hard. I wish I were optimistic that they would do so.

Even if the Obama folks have the best of intentions, they will someday be succeeded by folks who do not. The first tactic is a dangerous tool whose use ought to be strictly circumscribed. The second ought to be tossed out entirely.

Simple answers to simple questions (special zombie edition)

Q: What kind of bank can pass the feds’ “stress test” yet still need more taxpayer money?

A: Zombie banks that should be nationalized.

Q: What kind of stress test is a test that all 19 of the nation’s biggest banks can pass even though some of them obviously are in a world of hurt?

A: A zombie test.

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

Wednesday, April 8, 2009 10:19 pm

Be afraid

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 10:19 pm
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Eric Boehlert connects some extremely disturbing dots. I’ll quickly concede that proving cause and effect, as opposed to mere correlation, is next to impossible in these cases. But it’s also worth remembering that the last time we went through a period of such overheated radical-right rhetoric, we got Tim McVeigh and Eric Rudolph out of it.

Relatedly, David Neiwert, whose Orcinus blog has long patrolled the shadowy frontier between the far right and the bat-feces-insane right, has a new book out, “The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right.” I’m looking forward to reading it, although I don’t think I’ll enjoy it.

Money to burn

Filed under: You're doing WHAT with my money?? — Lex @ 9:55 pm

Suppose the government offers a tax credit to companies that use renewable fuels mixed with fossil fuels like diesel. Cool, right? Uh, try perverse:

Thanks to an obscure tax provision, the United States government stands to pay out as much as $8 billion this year to the ten largest paper companies. And get this: even though the money comes from a transportation bill whose manifest intent was to reduce dependence on fossil fuel, paper mills are adding diesel fuel to a process that requires none in order to qualify for the tax credit. In other words, we are paying the industry–handsomely–to use more fossil fuel. “Which is,” as a Goldman Sachs report archly noted, the “opposite of what lawmakers likely had in mind when the tax credit was established.”

The massive tax subsidy has … caused a stir in the paper industry, which is struggling to stay profitable in the teeth of the recession. “Everybody’s talking about it,” paper industry analyst Brian McClay told me. “In the US and elsewhere in the world–in Canada and Brazil and Chile and Europe.”

On March 24 International Paper (IP) announced it had received its first check from the IRS for a one-month period this past fall. The total? A whopping $71.6 million. “It’s probably close to a billion a year of cash,” McClay said. “If you look at the economics of this business, to make that kind of money today you’d have to be on another planet.” IP’s stock rose 12 per-
cent on the news.

Of course it did.

So how’s this work? Like this:

Since the 1930s the overwhelming majority of paper mills have employed what’s called the kraft process to produce paper. Here’s how it works. Wood chips are cooked in a chemical solution to separate the cellulose fibers, which are used to make paper, from the other organic material in wood. The remaining liquid, a sludge containing lignin (the structural glue that binds plant cells together), is called black liquor. Because it’s so rich in carbon, black liquor is a good fuel; the kraft process uses the black liquor to produce the heat and energy necessary to transform pulp into paper. It’s a neat, efficient process that’s cost-effective without any government subsidy. …

By adding diesel fuel to the black liquor, paper companies produce a mixture that qualifies for the mixed-fuel tax credit, allowing them to burn “black liquor into gold,” as a JPMorgan report put it.

This is bad enough on its face: It increases fossil-fuel use. It adds to pollution. It unnecessarily puts the public’s money into private hands.

There’s one other problem with it, which, as a former newspaperman with friends still in the business, I take personally. Rising newsprint costs have been cited as a factor in newspaper layoffs nationwide. So the taxpayers are now subsidizing newspaper layoffs.

And CEOs wonder why people don’t trust corporations.

… and they would deserve it

A couple of posts down, I speculated that Citi may be a takeover target for the Feds. Here’s some evidence that it should be: the apparent, and utter, cluelessness of its new chairman:

Citigroup Inc.‘s new board chairman, Richard Parsons, said financial institutions are being targeted for creating the nation’s financial crisis, but they aren’t the only ones responsible.

“Everybody participated in pumping up this balloon. Now the balloon has deflated,” he said Monday. “Everybody, in reality, has some part of the blame. But it’s much more in the culture to find a villain and vilify the villain.”

Besides banks, there was reduced regulatory oversight, loans to unqualified borrowers were encouraged and people took out mortgages or home-equity loans they couldn’t afford. …

” … to demonize the bankers alone for creating this financial meltdown is both inaccurate and shortsighted.”

Now, it is technically true that all these factors contributed to the now-deflated balloon. But it is also true that the most damage has been done by bank holding companies like Citi and other nonbank (i.e., essentially unregulated) financial institutions, who got themselves way overleveraged and then looked to the taxpayers for a bailout.

And their mistakes weren’t limited to overleveraging themselves: A lot of lenders committed outright fraud.

But here’s my favorite part:

“Any time you have these financial crises, the bad news seems to overwhelm all the good news,” he said. “But within the envelope, Citigroup is still a very powerful, vibrant, highly profitable, good bank.”

That little gem comes after this little bit of the story:

Citigroup has suffered five straight quarters of losses, including $8.29 billion in the fourth quarter alone.

It has received $45 billion in bailout aid, and the government also agreed to cover a portion of losses on hundreds of billions of troubled assets and loans as Citi looks to right itself.

“Vibrant, highly profitable”?? Heck, forget his disingenuous spin. He should be fired because he can’t even count.

Meter this

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 9:45 pm
Tags: ,

I’m a little late to this, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless because it’s the kind of thing that needs wide publicity … so it can be viciously nipped in the bud.

Time Warner Cable, which has no competition in this market, has made Greensboro one of four test markets nationally for metering Internet usage and surcharging accordingly. (The others are Rochester, N.Y., and Austin and San Antonio in Texas. Interestingly, all four are noted for their vibrant online communities.) My Internet account is with Earthlink, but Earthlink uses TWC’s coax to get into my house, so I’d be affected.

$1-dollar-per-gigabyte surcharges would begin accruing at the 5-gigabytes-per-month level. That’s not much if you download movies (particularly high-def ones), as many people do, or do a lot of online gaming. (Additional information here, here.) If you’re curious about your usage and your Internet service provider doesn’t give you a way to monitor it, you can download a free program here to check it. It’s not clear, but I think you’d need to put a copy on every computer on your network and then sum them.

In this thread, commenter Ged makes the case that this plan has less to do with Time Warner’s costs of providing service than it does with driving customers away from Netflix, et al., and toward Time Warner services. Thread host Ed Cone points out that last-mile delivery really is an issue, but it seems a very flimsy excuse for this particular plan.

If you’re in Greensboro and on Facebook, there’s an opposition group here that you can join. A Stop Time Warner site also has been created, although at this writing nothing’s up yet. There doesn’t look like there’s much the city of Greensboro (with which TWC has a franchise agreement) can do, but at least one congresscritter is riled about it, which is good.

We need to stop this. I would grudgingly accept the right metering plan, one that balances the company’s need to make a profit with a realistic understanding of how the Internet is used, but this is far and away the wrong one.

UPDATE: Ben Hwang has more here on why this is such a wrong call and what TWC might actually be up to.

How easily we throw around words like “barbaric”

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 9:43 pm

Watch this and weep. If you wonder what “cultural genocide” means, this’ll show you.

(h/t: Jill)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009 9:21 pm

AIG and Citi in the government’s crosshairs?

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 9:21 pm
Tags: , , ,

Could be:

Elizabeth Warren, chief watchdog of America’s $700bn (£472bn) bank bailout plan, will this week call for the removal of top executives from Citigroup, AIG and other institutions that have received government funds in a damning report that will question the administration’s approach to saving the financial system from collapse.

Warren, a Harvard law professor and chair of the congressional oversight committee monitoring the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (Tarp), is also set to call for shareholders in those institutions to be “wiped out”. “It is crucial for these things to happen,” she said. “Japan tried to avoid them and just offered subsidy with little or no consequences for management or equity investors, and this is why Japan suffered a lost decade.” She declined to give more detail but confirmed that she would refer to insurance group AIG, which has received $173bn in bailout money, and banking giant Citigroup, which has had $45bn in funds and more than $316bn of loan guarantees.

Warren also believes there are “dangers inherent” in the approach taken by treasury secretary Tim Geithner, who she says has offered “open-ended subsidies” to some of the world’s biggest financial institutions without adequately weighing potential pitfalls. “We want to ensure that the treasury gives the public an alternative approach,” she said, adding that she was worried that banks would not recover while they were being fed subsidies. “When are they going to say, enough?” she said.

Relatedly, some circumstantial evidence (very circumstantial, I should caution) that Citi’s days as an independent entity may be numbered.

“Becoming a banana republic”

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 9:18 pm
Tags: ,

Simon Johnson, a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, says that where oligarchy is concerned, there’s no such thing as American exceptionalism:

In its depth and suddenness, the U.S. economic and financial crisis is shockingly reminiscent of moments we have recently seen in emerging markets (and only in emerging markets): South Korea (1997), Malaysia (1998), Russia and Argentina (time and again). In each of those cases, global investors, afraid that the country or its financial sector wouldn’t be able to pay off mountainous debt, suddenly stopped lending. And in each case, that fear became self-fulfilling, as banks that couldn’t roll over their debt did, in fact, become unable to pay. This is precisely what drove Lehman Brothers into bankruptcy on September 15, causing all sources of funding to the U.S. financial sector to dry up overnight. Just as in emerging-market crises, the weakness in the banking system has quickly rippled out into the rest of the economy, causing a severe economic contraction and hardship for millions of people.

But there’s a deeper and more disturbing similarity: elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.

The former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund may seem an unlikely person to be suggesting that the U.S. financial system be overhauled and its influence weakened … but then he has seen that work in other countries, so who knows?

Monday, April 6, 2009 10:44 pm

They didn’t just know …

Filed under: I want my religion back. — Lex @ 10:44 pm
Tags: ,

… they knew, and were covering it up, 50 years ago:

As early as the mid-1950s, decades before the clergy sexual-abuse crisis broke publicly across the U.S. Catholic landscape, the founder of a religious order that dealt regularly with priest sex abusers was so convinced of their inability to change that he searched for an island to purchase with the intent of using it as a place to isolate such offenders, according to documents recently obtained by NCR. …

Fitzgerald’s convictions appear to significantly contradict the claims of contemporary bishops that the hierarchy was unaware until recent years of the danger in shuffling priests from one parish to another and in concealing the priests’ problems from those they served.

It is clear, too, in letters between Fitzgerald and a range of bishops, among bishops themselves, and between Fitzgerald and the Vatican, that the hierarchy was aware of the problem and its implications well before the problem surfaced as a national story in the mid-1980s.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles archdiocese, reacting in February to a federal investigation into his handling of the crisis, said: “We have said repeatedly that … our understanding of this problem and the way it’s dealt with today evolved, and that in those years ago, decades ago, people didn’t realize how serious this was, and so, rather than pulling people out of ministry directly and fully, they were moved.”

Shorter Mahoney: “In 1952, no one in the Roman Catholic Church realized that buggering children was a crime.”

Jesus wept.

In case you thought Senate Republicans were serious about law and order, or even burdened by the slightest trace of human decency …

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 10:37 pm

please let me disabuse you of that notion:

Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era. A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to “go nuclear” over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public. The source says these threats are the principal reason for the Obama administration’s abrupt pullback last week from a commitment to release some of the documents. A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.

Incredibly, although I freely concede that it grows less incredible by the day, the Obama administration is going along with this, at least for now:

… in the past week, questions about Obama’s commitment to transparency have mounted. On April 2, the Justice Department was expected to make public a set of four memoranda prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel, long sought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy organizations in a pending FOIA litigation. The memos, authored by then-administration officials and now University of California law professor John Yoo, federal appellate judge Jay Bybee and former Justice Department lawyer Stephen Bradbury, apparently grant authority for the brutal treatment of prisoners, including waterboarding, isolated confinement in coffin-like containers, and “head smacking.” The stakes over release of the papers are increasingly high. Yoo and Bybee are both targets of a criminal investigation in a Spanish court probing the torture of five Spanish citizens formerly held in Guantánamo; also named in the Spanish case are former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and three other Bush lawyers. Legal observers in Spain consider the Bush administration lawyers at serious risk of indictment, and the memos, once released, could be entered as evidence in connection with their prosecution. Unlike the torture memos that are already public, these memos directly approve specific torture techniques and therefore present a far graver problem for their authors.

The release of the memos that the Senate Republicans want to suppress was cleared by Attorney General Eric Holder and White House counsel Greg Craig, and then was stopped when “all hell broke loose” inside the Obama administration, according to an article by Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff. Newsweek attributes internal opposition to disclosure of the Bush-era torture memos to White House counterterrorism adviser and former CIA official John O. Brennan, who has raised arguments that exposure of the memoranda would run afoul of policies protecting the secrecy of agency techniques and has also argued that the memos would embarrass nations like Morocco, Jordan, Pakistan, Tunisia and Egypt, which have cooperated closely with the CIA in its extraordinary renditions program. Few informed independent observers, however, find much to credit in the Brennan objections because the techniques are now well-known, as is the role of the cooperating foreign intelligence services—any references to which would in any event likely be redacted before the memoranda are released. Moreover, the argument that the confidence of those engaged in torture—serious criminal conduct under international and domestic law—should be kept because they would be “embarrassed” if it were to come out borders on comic.

The Justice Department source confirms to me that Brennan has consistently opposed making public the torture memos—and any other details about the operations of the extraordinary renditions program—but this source suggests that concern about the G.O.P.’s roadblock in the confirmation process is the principle reason that the memos were not released. Republican senators have expressed strong reservations about their promised exposure, expressing alarm that a critique of the memos by Justice’s ethics office (Office of Professional Responsibility) will also be released. “There was no ‘direct’ threat,” said the source, “but the message was communicated clearly—if the OLC and OPR memoranda are released to the public, there will be war.”

To which I say: Cry “havoc” and let slip the dogs. Letting the pro-torture senators filibuster will not be the political equivalent of suffering a nuclear attack — as long as you actually make them filibuster, Harry Reid, and don’t just count votes and then give up.

I think the nation would be enlightened by seeing debate on the nominations continue, for days, even, with pro-torture senators having to stand up live on C-SPAN and defend the indefensible while the morality caucus calls them out on this hideous obstruction of justice. As a great and wise philosopher once said, oh, please, throw me in that briar patch. I won’t say the loss of some key nominations, if they are ultimately lost, would be a small price to pay, but it would finally get debate about torture, and holding those responsible for it accountable, on national television, where it should have been years ago.

UPDATE: Oh, this Brennan guy? He was the same guy who originally was considered to head the CIA but withdrew after anti-torture bloggers started raising hell about him. His self-pitying withdrawal letter included this memorable phrase, “It has been immaterial to the critics that I have been a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration such as the pre-emptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding …”

If he’s so anti-torture, he’s got a funny way of showing it. (h/t: dday)

Cue the torches and pitchforks …

Filed under: You're doing WHAT with my money?? — Lex @ 10:10 pm
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… and here are only two reasons why.

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