Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 7:17 pm

Hypothesis testing, lynching-Robert-Benmosche edition

Filed under: Evil,I want my money back. — Lex @ 7:17 pm
Tags: ,

Never, ever underestimate the capacity of rich douchebags to be rich douchebags.

Today’s example is Robert Benmosche, who took over as CEO of insurance giant AIG (which has a subsidiary here in Greensboro) after 2008, when only about a billion metric assloads of taxpayer money kept AIG from going bankrupt. Here’s what The Wall Street Journal quotes him as saying:

The uproar over bonuses “was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitchforks and their hangman nooses, and all that — sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.”

OK, let’s test that hypothesis. Our null hypothesis is that if we got out our hangman’s nooses and pitchforks and took Robert Benmosche out and bound him hand and foot and gave him a bilateral orchiectomy (which was a pretty common feature of lynchings in the Deep South) and then put the noose around Benmosche’s neck and hauled him up high enough to do the air dance (perhaps waiting until he was already dead to set him afire, or perhaps not), he would actually think that lynching was quite a bit worse than taking grief from ordinary taxpayers who are watching him stuff himself in a way that could only have been made possible with the money of said taxpayers, while their own incomes drop year after year after year.

Our alternative hypothesis, the one we’re testing here, the one that Benmosche is propounding, is that we’d do all these things to Benmosche and he would notice no difference. None. Both experiences would seem equally awful to him.

So, Robert, want to put your alternative hypothesis to the test? I’ll be happy to write up the results for an academic journal.

Now, some of you, probably white guys my age or older, are saying, c’mon, that’s not all that bad. I’m tired, so I’ll let Alex Pareene school you:

Aggrieved white men of America, here’s a little tip from your old pal “historical consciousness”: People being mean to you is not remotely equivalent to genocidal violence. You are not at any risk of ever facing anything close to an actual lynching. It is not effectively legal for people to murder you. If someone did murder you, the state would attempt to arrest and punish them. If you wouldn’t claim to be the victim of a “genocide,” don’t claim to be the victim of a lynch mob.

Words have meanings. The era of lynchings is one of the darkest points in American history. The Tuskegee Institute, one of a few organizations that attempted to count all documented American lynchings, lists 3,445 black victims of lynch mobs between 1882 and 1968. Almost 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress during those years. Three passed the House. None passed the Senate. Lynchings were effectively state-sanctioned and they continued happening well into the 20th century. The last known survivor of a lynching attempt only just died in 2006 — one month after Richard Cohen’s column about his mean emails.

To compare being the target of protest or criticism to the shameful, horrific, common practice of lynching — or to think you can append some idiotic modifier like “digital” and use the phrase to mean whatever you want — isn’t just ignorant. It cheapens the phrase, strips it of meaning, and dilutes the awfulness, and the appalling recentness, of a great generational crime against black Americans.

I’m in a bad mood, so if you try to argue with this, I might just delete the comment and block your ass.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010 8:42 pm

Free enterprise for thee, government bailout for me

Filed under: I want my money back.,We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:42 pm
Tags:

AIG screws the taxpayers yet again:

AIG originally agreed took a deal from the Fed that was on the same terms as a private sector funding that failed to raise enough dough: effectively 11.5%, secured by all the subsidiaries of the company. The plan, which management agreed to, was that the divisions would be sold and the proceeds would repay the borrowings, and management was confident it could do so.

Now this was a dandy solution to a bad situation. And no, I’m not being ironic. The remedy was suitably punitive. No executive would want to get in a AIG type mess and be required to dismantle his company. The interest rate was high, thus keeping pressure on AIG to move expeditiously as well as providing taxpayers with a decent return. And from a systemic risk standpoint, breaking up AIG was a plus, since it would cut a TBTF entity down to size.

But AIG was able to slip the leash. Its cheery assurances that it could divest divisions proved hollow. It came back to Uncle Sam and managed to get both more money and a reduction in interest rate. In deal land, this is called a free concession and is a sign of chumpdom (the Treasury press releases tried to imply that the government got more, but when you already have a senior lien on all the assets, there’s nothing more to get, save maybe throwing out the board, which would have been a good gesture). The argument was that the interest payments would damage AIG, but all that suggested was that the interest payments be deferred, not reduced. Oh, and in case you weren’t paying attention, the financial deal was retraded not once, but three times.

Your diligent Administration also installed three trustees to oversee AIG, and since they were all professional board members, they were the last people you’d expect to rock the boat by asking Elizabeth Warren style tough questions. They were thus easily rolled when new CEO Robert Benmoshe took the reins and retraded the deal yet again, with the imperial announcement that AIG would not seek to repay the loans via divestiture. This was an act of unbelievable intransigence; no private sector majority owner would tolerate such backtalk from a hired hand.

Yet not an official word was said in opposition, since the Administration bought or hid behind the canard that Benmoshe would be hard to replace. And given that AIG has a lot of cross-company exposures (divisions lending to each other) one wonders whether dismembering the company might yield more accounting improprieties, which would mean the divisions were worth even less than thought, which would reveal that the taxpayer loans were unlikely to be repaid in full.

This is all going on with the acquiescence of the “anti-business” Obama administration.

Funny, isn’t it, how creative and accommodating the Treasury can be when dealing with large distressed firms, and its skill seems to evaporate when contending with underwater homeowners.

Now, the fact that AIG is attempting this and the government is letting it get away with it is bad enough. Worse still is why AIG is doing this: It apparently is not financially healthy enough to meet the terms to which it originally, and pretty enthusiastically, agreed. That being the case, any reasonable person would be justified in asking whether AIG is, in fact, solvent and concluding that the odds are excellent that it is not. And you know what that means: more bailouts on the horizon.

If I were a politician and I couldn’t get elected running against crap like this, I’d take up needlepoint or something.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010 7:44 pm

Financial-regulation reform?

Eh, not so much.

Thursday, June 17, 2010 9:51 pm

Kill it

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 9:51 pm
Tags: ,

Shorter Jonathan Weil: Given our corrupt Congress, if you don’t want your tax money going to banksters, AIG must die.

As the great and wise philosopher Al Capone is reputed to have said upon being told that taking down rival “Bugs” Moran would mean killing dozens of other gangsters, I’ll send flowers.

Saturday, May 22, 2010 6:00 pm

“The system worked.”

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 6:00 pm
Tags: , ,

Bloomberg:

Federal prosecutors won’t bring charges against former American International Group Inc. executive Joseph Cassano related to the insurer’s collapse, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

The Justice Department found after a two-year investigation that there was insufficient evidence to charge Cassano, who was the former chief executive officer of AIG’s Financial Products division, the person said.

The Justice Department and civil investigators from the Securities and Exchange Commission were examining comments made in 2007 by Cassano and other AIG executives. They were probing whether executives misrepresented the value of AIG’s portfolio of “super senior” credit-default swaps, which insured bond losses tied to the U.S. housing market.

Keep in mind:

Cassano’s London-based unit managed $2 trillion in derivative trades tied to bonds, currencies, commodities and stocks. He told investors in December 2007 that “it is very difficult to see how there can be any losses in these portfolios.”

By Feb. 28, 2008, AIG posted what was then its biggest quarterly loss, writing down $11.1 billion on the swaps.

But, no, investors certainly were not misled in any way. No fraud to see here, folks. Move along.

AIG’s collapse cost taxpayers almost $200 billion, and only God and the Federal Reserve know how much was funneled through AIG to Goldman Sachs to cover Goldman’s losses at 100 cents on the dollar and preserve its executives’ bonuses.

My favorite part: Cassano’s lawyer telling Bloomberg, “The system worked.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 11:13 pm

Speaking, as I was earlier, of “Oh, please, oh, please” …

… is SIGTARP — the Special Inspector General at the Treasury Department who is responsible for rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in the federal bank bailout, going to throw the book at Tim Geithner??

[Neil Barofsky] has also criticized Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner in reports and in congressional testimony for his handling of the process by which insurance giant American International Group Inc. was saved from insolvency in 2008, when Geithner was head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The secrecy that enveloped the deal was unwarranted, Barofsky says, adding that his probe of an alleged New York Fed coverup in the AIG case could result in criminal or civil charges.

In Senate Finance Committee testimony on April 20, Barofsky said SIGTARP would investigate seven AIG-linked mortgage-related securities similar to Abacus 2007-AC1, the instrument underwritten by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. that is at the center of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit filed against the investment bank on April 16.

Leading the Charge

“I’ve been in contact with the SEC,” he told the committee. “We’re going to coordinate with them, but we’re going to lead the charge. We’re going to review these transactions.”

Barofsky and Geithner’s offices have gone toe-to-toe over AIG, alleged lax oversight of TARP funds and even over the question of whom Barofsky reports to.

Barofsky, a former federal prosecutor who was once the target of a kidnapping plot by Colombian drug traffickers, says he’s also looking into possible insider trading connected to TARP.

But that’s absurd, because no American banker would be such a cad and bounder as to run out and buy stock in his own bank before word of an impending federal bailout of that bank became public, would he?

Naaah.

A Patriots’ Day call to arms

I’m way late to this, but it’s so good it’s still worth repeating in its entirety even as parts get overtaken by events. The author is MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan:

This letter is a call to (electronic) arms on Patriots’ Day.

Mr. President, please show the American people the AIG emails.

In the wake of the disclosures associated with Friday’s government fraud accusations against Goldman, Sachs & Co., one of our nation’s wealthiest, largest and most politically well-connected banks, it is inexcusable the U.S. government still refuses to release the thousands of emails that exist between AIG and Goldman Sachs.

Unlike the Icelandic volcano, this was no natural disaster. Trillions of dollars have been defrauded from the U.S. taxpayer by a banking scam run by the top 1% of our country.

The mark for this con game has been and continues to be every teacher, cop, firefighter, nurse, conservative saver, small investor, student and retiree. People whose pensions, homes, jobs and monthly retirement stipends have been and continue to be deprived — so these people can use our government to transfer money from your work to themselves.

We also know that the same people responsible for this failed system are STILL RUNNING IT, leaving obvious conflicts of interest everywhere you turn.

But the American people still have one tremendous ally in not letting them get away with the fraud — a SEC law that forces these companies to keep records of all of their communications coupled with the most sophisticated, extraordinary ability to use 21st century technology to quickly harvest relevant information out of billions of pieces of data.

And even by barely scratching the surface, this is what we already find:

A Goldman Sachs vice president accused of fraud, writing “more and more leverage in the system, The whole building is about to collapse anytime now…

An S&P ratings agent saying “Let’s hope we are all wealthy and retired by the time this house of cards falters.”

Our government is in a position to grant access to a vast pool of information that could answer so many questions about why all our money was taken. But flush with money from these potentially fraudulent institutions, politicians have systematically gutted the very people charged with investigating these crimes.

As a final insult, they provide 23.7 trillion in direct and implied support for these bankers to keep bonusing themselves billions, yet offer a paltry 0.0000003% of that amount to investigate how this incredibly un-American event happened in the first place.

To add insult to injury, we the people now OWN the company at the center of much of the alleged fraud. Currently, you, the U.S. taxpayer, own 80 percent of AIG and there are now 5 people who represent us as trustees at the company.

Please Mr. President,

Show the American people the AIG emails. Many are suffering, our young are without work, our middle class is stuck in houses they can’t sell, making it impossible to move to new jobs for the future of our country, and our retirees who, at their most vulnerable, find the custodians of their life savings as either crooks or suckers for the bankster scams.

As our president, you are in charge of AIG. That means that without even a court order, the American people can see every email and it is long past due for you to release those 10 years of AIG emails to the people.

Today, in honor of our ongoing fight against tyranny, let’s send a plea to all our elected officials, Treasury Secretary and president to fulfill their custodial obligation to those they represent and show the American people the AIG emails.

And just to prove a point, look into your old email files and find some innocuous email from the past 10 years to attach to the bottom… perhaps if we show them ours, they will show us theirs.

Here is how to do it:

Your Representative http://www.house.gov/

Your Senator http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

President Barack Obama

Thursday, March 18, 2010 9:50 pm

What a fool believes

Twenty years ago this spring, I had the second-best vacation of my life (best was Italy in ’97) in the kind of place where, if I had my druthers, I’d spend all my domestic vacations: a beach where there’s not much to do outdoors except lie in the sun, read and drink. And while on this vacation, among the things I read was Liar’s Poker, Michael Lewis’s combination of memoir and journalism about New York investment banking in the 1980s. I picked up the title because the PR agency I worked for in New York back in the day had had investment banks among its clients, and I was curious to learn a little more about the culture than I’d been able to at the time.

(Lewis, as it happens, has a new book out and was on “60 Minutes” Sunday night. I hope that segment is online.)

If there’s one thing you take away from Liar’s Poker, it is the massive, overwhelming sense of entitlement that pervades the industry. To hear Lewis tell it, these people, many of whom — like Lewis — fell into the industry almost by accident, really do believe that they are the Masters of the Universe (to use the phrase from Tom Wolfe’s novel about i-bankers, Bonfire of the Vanities). They really think that they make the economy possible and that they are, if anything, sadly underpaid.

If you wonder how America’s finance industry could have screwed the pooch so thoroughly for the past couple of decades, how it is even possible, then read Liar’s Poker. You will come face to face with people who not only have a grossly overinflated sense of their own competence but also an utter inability to recognize, let alone learn from, their mistakes.

And so it is that we learn that the Masters of the Universe at AIG think they deserve way more money than they’ve gotten for blowing up the economy:

During the national furor that erupted last year after American International Group paid more than $165 million in bonuses, the voices of those vilified for receiving the payments remained silent, at least in public.

But behind closed doors, employees at AIG’s Financial Products division — the very unit whose trading had hastened the insurance giant’s collapse — were defiant, saying they were merely getting what they were due, recoiling at public accusations that they were behind their capitalizing on the company’s massive taxpayer bailout.

“I will stand behind every action I have taken in this company from Day One,” one employee said, according to a newly obtained transcript of a conference call the division’s head held last March with some of his staff. …

But when another employee asked whether the staff would be getting a second round of bonuses promised for March 2010, his colleagues burst into laughter, apparently considering this a preposterous notion amid the public outrage.

Yet they did see that money, at least most of it. Last month, under a deal in which employees agreed to take a cut in their upcoming retention bonuses in return for an accelerated payment, AIG paid out about $100 million to employees at the firm. AIG is scheduled to pay the last of the bonuses this month.

Even so, neither time nor money has softened the employees’ feelings of wrongful persecution and their anger over becoming the subjects of scorn and ridicule. Seldom was that sense of victimhood more clear or more visceral than in the conference call of March 23, 2009. …

The employees said that the corporate leaders who had driven the firm into the ground were already gone from the company. Those who had remained behind to help clean up the mess and repay the taxpayer bailout were due their compensation, they told Pasciucco.

“You made a commitment to us, and we made a commitment to you. And for anybody to look beyond that, as the politics and the media are at the moment, is missing the point,” said an employee. “You can’t expect us to just roll over and ignore that commitment because there is a bunch of immoral bigots that intend us to do something different. It’s not going to happen.”

Another was even more irate, lashing out at the public for scapegoating AIG employees. “To be honest with you, I really hope it blows up. I think the U.S. taxpayer deserves to lose a trillion dollars over this thing for the way they have behaved.”

So let me get this straight. You turned a full third of my retirement savings and about 30% of my kids’ college money into vapor, and yet I’m an “immoral bigot” who “deserves to lose a trillion dollars”?

My response to this mindset isn’t printable on a PG-13 blog. Fortunately, Brad at Sadly, No! speaks for me:

My general reaction: Just quit, you [expletives]. Try taking around your résumés to other firms if you’re so convinced in your own inflated sense of self-worth. But this is just a guess — when you go in for an interview with another company, having five years’ experience of selling credit default swaps in AIG’s Financial Products division isn’t going to help you get a job. … I wouldn’t hire you to vacuum my rugs or take out my garbage.

I wouldn’t hire you to wipe my ass.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 11:57 pm

Odds and ends for 2/3

Penn State “Climategate” scientist cleared of falsifying data: Three of four charges are dropped, including one claiming he destroyed e-mail; the investigating committee decides it isn’t competent to assess the fourth and punts to a different committee.

Eated: The FDIC closed six banks Friday, bringing the total for the month to 15. Six was the total for the month of January a year ago.

A cautionary note about the strong 4th quarter of GDP: Never, in 50+ years’ worth of data, has a quarter’s GDP growth of 5.7% coincided with a drop in private hours worked (-0.5%). Not sure what that means, but given that we know that productivity growth right now is being driven by layoffs, not capital investment or technological advances, and that 90% of that GDP growth was attributable to stimulus spending only, something’s fishy here.

Lessons from the AIG meltdown from one bureaucrat who sat at the table: I suspect that his conclusions are good because of, not in spite of, the fact that he worked for a state and not the feds.

Contributing factors vs. “but for” factors: Barry Ritholtz divides contributing factors from “but for” factors in deciding how much blame to apportion where for the economic crisis. What’s a “but for” factor? But for X, the crisis wouldn’t have happened. His three major but-for factors? “Ultra-low [interest] rates; unregulated, non-bank subprime lenders; ratings agencies slapping AAA on junk paper.” What about Fannie and Freddie? Contributors, yes, but not but-fors because they arrived so late to the subprime game.

MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan carves the president a well-deserved new one. Perhaps he hasn’t heard what happened to Ashley Bancroft when she did the same to his predecessor. Who’s she, you ask? Indeed.

If the Democrats had the brains God gave a billy goat, this wouldn’t be happening, but Republican pollster Frank Luntz has laid out a strategy for Republicans to use in fighting financial reform, and I’m pretty sure that because of previous Democratic inaction, Luntz’s strategy will work.

David Rosenberg (via Zero Hedge) says this is all far from over: “We ran some simulations to see what would have happened in 2009 without all the massive amounts of fiscal and monetary stimulus. Instead of real GDP contracting 2.4% for all of 2009, it would have been close to a 4.0% decline. And, as for the last two ‘positive quarters’ — well, Q3 would have been -1.0% QoQ [quarter over quarter] at an annual rate and -1.5% for Q4 (as opposed to the +5.7% annualized print). Still no sign of organic private sector growth and here we have the Fed discussing exit strategies and the Obama team about to soak it to the rich (for anyone who makes over $250k). This is what is otherwise known as a ‘low quality’ recovery.” On the bright side, at least he puts paid to all this “The stimulus didn’t help!” nonsense.

James Fallows explains how circumstances now prevent the traditional conception of bipartisanship from functioning in American politics (at least in Congress). I understand all this — quite well, in fact. Indeed, millions and millions of ordinary Americans understand all this probably as well as Fallows does. The question is: Why is it that so many of the people whose job it is to understand this — David Broder, Chris Matthews, Maura Liaason, and I could go on and on and on — do not understand this? Relatedly, because they do not understand this, why do they still have jobs? Digby gets it: “Can anyone argue that the village just sees all electoral losses as a result of the losing party failing to be “centrist” and “bipartisan” enough?  It doesn’t matter what  the real factors are that drove the electorate.”

Way-cool animated model of the solar system: Go here for hours of family fun!

Thursday, January 28, 2010 9:24 pm

We wuz robbed; or, “These CDOs have ‘cliff risk,’ as in falling off of one.”

On Wednesday, an unredacted list was finally released of what toxic assets the New York Federal Reserve took off AIG’s hands in 2008 for 100 cents on the dollar of our money. Financier Janet Tavakoli has reviewed the list and tells us what we can learn from it.

How badly did this deal screw taxpayers? Horribly:

… at the time of the November 2008 buyout, some CDOs had implied prices of around 60 cents on the dollar. Others had implied prices of around 20 cents on the dollar. Not revealed by the new report is that many of the assets backing some of the CDOs have a high risk of severe or total principal loss (many have actual losses). These CDOs have “cliff risk,” as in falling off of one. (There is currently no reliable secondary market, and similar CDOs have traded as low as one penny.) [To clarify, that’s not one penny on the dollar, that’s one penny per security — Ed.]

Among her other findings:

  • Although AIG’s Joe Cassiano has claimed that the company was out of the mortgage-security protection business by the end of 2005, about 14 percent of the CDO tranches, nominally constituting $21 billion of the $62 billion in assets the New York Fed bought from AIG, originated later.
  • Although Blackrock’s managed investments included a AAA-rated June 2007 CDO that had deteriorated to C (junk) status by December 2008, Blackrock got no-bid contracts to manage investments that the New York Fed bought from AIG.
  • The high-dollar bailout of AIG, the insistence that the situation was too critical to allow for negotiations, and the subsequent secrecy all directly and significantly benefited Goldman Sachs.

She adds:

The fact that the Fed and SEC suppressed potentially explosive facts is bad enough, but the delay in making the information public has given interested parties a window of opportunity to cover their tracks by dumping the worst of the assets, thus hiding them forever from public view.

Suppressing the details of AIG’s trades made it easier for AIG’s counterparties to cover-up profiteering and then exploit public funds. If details of these trades had been made public in September 2008, a reasonable negotiator would have demanded that the billions of dollars that had been extracted from AIG (including the $7.5 billion Goldman extracted by then) should be recharacterized as a loan.

Instead, the Fed gifted tens of billions of dollars to banks that supplied the financing for bad loans that damaged the U.S. economy. More than that, these banks engaged in suspect deals that covered up losses and allowed them to continue to report apparent “profits” and pay inflated bonuses. Meanwhile, their securitization activities continued to harm the economy during a period at which the United States was at war.

Goldman is not solely responsible, but it had a large role in AIG’s crisis and a unique position of conflicted interest and influence over the terms of the bailout. Now that the crisis is over, this issue should be reopened, and billions in collateral should be clawed back to pay down public debt, before Goldman Sachs pays more than $16 billion in taxpayer subsidized bonuses to its employees.

And this, folks, was only one bailout.

During his State of the Union address Wednesday night, President Obama reportedly said, “I don’t want to punish the banks.” I think MikeElk speaks for roughly 300 million Americans when he asks why the hell not.

I’ll go a step further: Mr. President, I don’t give a damn what you don’t want. What matters is what we want and what the law says we are owed: Investigations. Indictments. Convictions. Restitution. You want to stimulate the economy? Create the biggest freakin’ law-enforcement task force in this country’s history and turn them loose on the banksters.

Oh, and one other thing we want, Mr. President: fines so big those jackals will never get out from under them. Because tens of millions of Americans will never get out from under what they did. They ought to know, at least, what that feels like.

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:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 12:17 am

Odds and ends for 1/25

Enron may be dead, but its ghost continues to mess with us: “White House and Congressional Democratic leaders say they now believe that they have the 60 votes needed to block a filibuster of Mr. Bernanke’s reappointment.” … “… strategy on the Bernanke confirmation was being led by former Enron lobbyist Linda Robertson, who is viewed as an effective advocate for the banking chief on Capitol Hill.” But don’t worry — the president’s going on TV Wednesday night to assure us he feels our pain.

Heckuva job, Bernanke: The Fed is required by law  (12 U.S.C. § 225a) to manage monetary policy so as to create jobs for as many people as possible. True story. It also is required to report semiannually on what steps it has taken to comply with this and other requirements. What did its most recent report say about creating jobs? Not bloody much. So explain to me again why this guy should get another four years in the job.

You can pay me now or pay me (a lot more) later: Cutting early-childhood programs hurts jobs now, costs society more later, research shows. My experience covering politics leads me to believe that the kind of people who oppose this sort of spending are not, in general, the type who tend to be convinced by science/research, but, what the hell, I’ll post it anyway.

Yo, Pat, it wasn’t the devil who cursed Haiti. It was Thomas Jefferson. (h/t: Jill)

How could we help Haiti long-term? Cancel its debt, for one thing.

If anything more progressive than the Senate health-care bill is politically dangerous for Democrats, then why is the guy charged with getting Democrats elected to Congress telling Obama and the Senate to shove it?: Maybe because he has seen this polling. Retiring Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., on the other hand, clearly has not.

Memo to HuffPo: Your games are no fun when you let the irony-impaired play. (h/t: Beau)

Holy crap: December existing-home sales, expected to be down 10% (or, per Goldman, 15% at worst), were in fact down 16.7% from November, the biggest one-month decline in history.

Speaking of real estate, the biggest real-estate transaction in history has gone into default. Corollary: Apparently it’s OK for real-estate giant Tishman Speyer to walk away from its debts, but don’t try this with your underwater home, kids.

Prisoner’s dilemma, in that everyone who doesn’t work for Goldman Sachs is kind of a prisoner of everyone who does: Goldman Sachs’s chief bull, Jim O’Neill, has gotten somewhat ursine. So does that mean that they know the economy’s going to get worse because they’re running it, or does it mean they want us to think they think it’s getting worse so that they can bet on improvements, engineer those improvements, and win? Decisions, decisions.

Priorities in a post-peak-oil reality, from James Kunstler: “The money that went into propping up the automobile companies could have been used to rebuild the entire railroad system between Boston and the Great Lakes, and the capital squandered on AIG and its offshoot claimants could have rebuilt everything else the rest of the way to Seattle. Is it really so hard to imagine what history requires of you?”

Classifying information to cover up a crime is, itself, a crime. So it makes me very curious to know not only what about the New York Fed’s plans to bail out AIG was kept secret from the SEC on “national-security” grounds, but also why that was done.

Health-care reform: a pictorial timeline (w/generous dollops of snark).

Shorter Michael Barone: How DARE we let the people who actually know what they’re doing decide things? Bonus Stoopid: He talks about knowing how to “manipulate words” like it’s a BAD thing.

We are a polarized nation, and because that’s the case, anyone hoping to prevail in an off-year election probably needs to forget about trying to appeal to the “broad middle” because there ain’t one.

Question for Sen. Bill Nelson: What, exactly, does “the left” control? Because it sure ain’t the White House, Congress or the Supreme Court.

Memo to Andrew Breitbart: Insisting that your questions are serious is no substitute for asking serious questions.

Memo to Harold Ford: Hell, no, we’re not going to cut taxes for you and your rich friends. In fact, jackhole, you’re lucky this country does not tax Stoopid. Hey, do me a favor, dude: PLEASE run for Senate from New York with that platform. I could do with a laugh.

The stimulus saved 1.2 million jobs, but the government needs to do even more, according to a USA Today survey of 50 economists.

They say hope is not a plan, but apparently, for the Obama administration (shorter WaPo), hope was a plan. Oy.

Which is more of a plan than Congressional Democrats have on finance reform.

If you’re going to believe Hitler was a leftist, then you also have to believe … Oh, the places you’ll go!

How to steal a trillion (and a half): John Hussman explains how it’s done.

Pity the rich and their oh, so difficult lives.

Prince Charles is part switchblade. Almost literally.

Friday, January 22, 2010 8:21 pm

Odds and ends for 1/22

Double dip: There were 482,000 new unemployment claims for the week ending 1/16, which was 36,000 more than the previous week and 42,000 more than expected. Worse, new emergency unemployment claims, for those who’ve exhausted regular benefits, were up 652,364 to 5,654,544. If this is a green shoot, it’s the kind of green you see when things are rotting.

Theft of a lifetime: The chief strategist for a major international bank accuses the U.S. and U.K. central banks of conspiring to steal wealth from their respective countries’ middle classes. It’s actually a little more complicated than that, but only a little.

Risky business: President Obama has proposed ending proprietary trading by bank holding companies to reduce the level of risk in the market and, therefore, the risk that taxpayers will have to bail out more banks, something Paul Volcker supports. Banks have protested that this is unnecessary on the grounds that prop trading really isn’t a big part of their business (Goldman Sachs puts its prop-trade revenue at 10% of the total). However, observes Zero Hedge with a nice little chart, “the market begs to differ.” Goldman’s own analysis suggests that while prop trading accounts for perhaps 10% of Bank of America’s revenues, because of prop trading’s high margins it accounts for up to 45% of BAC’s earnings. If that’s true, BAC stock, which is supposed to double in price by the end of 2011, could fall 50% instead.

Related: Real conservatives like Obama’s proposal. American “conservatives,” however, not so much.

So, will Goldman Sachs stop being a bank holding company so that it can continue its proprietary trading?: Probably, although it’s kind of in a pickle because currently it has almost 21 billion reasons not to.

Best health-care reform political analysis. Ever: I don’t think it’s correct on the substance, but whether it is or not, I just love the pretty words: “The only path to national health care reform is to pass the Senate bill. Unless Nancy Pelosi and the House leadership can herd three distinct groups of cats — the Blue Dogs, the Stupak coat-hanger crowd and the progressives — HCR is going down in flames, quite possibly for another generation. This is where we’re at. It sucks. It also blows, a seemingly self-canceling phenomenon that is only witnessed in the rarest, most [rear-end]-tasting conditions. And we are witnessing such conditions this very day — a perfect storm of sucking and blowing. That said, if passing the Senate bill verbatim is a once-in-a-lifetime Suckicane meeting a Category 5 Blowphoon head-on, then NOT PASSING ANYTHING AT ALL takes us into the Bruckheimer-Emmerich territory of summer blockbuster-class suckstinction-level blowvents.”

Quote of the day, from Matt Taibbi, on the prop-trading restrictions: “Obviously this is good news, but what I find irritating about it is that the government only starts listening to its voters once the more corrupt option turns out to be untenable.” Yo, Matt, that ain’t true only about banking, either.

The New York Fed and AIG: A timeline, by Bloomberg. Nice.

People thought Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t ruin the Wall Street Journal. People were wrong, although the author concedes the problem is a bit more nuanced than he first claimed.

So if Glenn Beck isn’t talking about going after progressives through the political process, then what’s he talking about? Because when you say you’re going after your political opponents like the Israelis went after Eichmann, you probably know your audience understands that what awaited Eichmann was a gallows.

Barney Frank may actually have a good idea: Blowing up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and creating a new system of housing finance. F&F didn’t cause as much of the current housing-bubble crisis as most of their critics claim, but they did contribute, oh, yes, they did.

And they say this like it’s a bad thing: ABC thinks there may not be enough votes in Congress to reconfirm Ben Bernanke. Let’s hope they’re right. Bernanke is a big reason we’re in as much trouble as we are right now.

They’re the Christian Taliban, they’re stone (no pun intended) killers, and they’re based in Newark: Yeah, that’s right: Read about the connections between the PrayforNewark social-action group, the bill in Uganda to execute gays, and the Dominionist movement in the U.S. These are scary people.

If this had been my daughter, the lawsuit would’ve been filed before the sun went down: TSA employee plants bag of white powder in college student’s carry-on luggage. Plenty of witnesses — who were afraid to speak up. Excellent! Just what you want when you’re trying to prevent terrorism — people who see something hinky but are afraid to speak up for fear of being arrested!

Apparently they can use lasers to zap away fat!: Which sounds cool, and I am so on board (assuming I can find the money) … just as soon as they figure out where the fat goes.

Odds and ends for 1/21

Does Rielle Hunter know?: Former presidential candidate John Edwards finally admits that he is the father of a former campaign staffer’s daughter. I would say “Stop the presses!” except that the presses stopped on this one a long time ago.

One last party before the walls come down: Morgan Stanley has earmarked 62% of revenues for employee compensation. Not earnings, revenues. Which is good if you’re an employee, because there were no earnings; the company posted an annual loss for the first time in its 74-year history. Goldman Sachs will be paying its employees a comparatively modest 36% of annual revenue, although that amounts to 121% of earnings. Question: What do the (non-employee) stockholders think of this?

What part of “all” did you not understand?: Rep. Darrell Issa, ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is asking committee chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., to hold Federal Reserve Bank of New York officials in contempt for turning over only some, but not all, subpoenaed documents relating to the AIG bailout. Zero Hedge, which has been on this subject for close to a year, helpfully offers some other questions Issa could raise.

Why do teabagger leaders hate America?: Tea Party leader arrested on first-degree rape charge; search turns up stolen Army grenade launcher; YouTube video features him planning to be a “domestic terrorist.”

Remind me again who’s not being bipartisan enough?: I happen to think the proposed commission is a horrible idea, if not unconstitutional, but still: Congressional Republicans have demonstrated repeatedly that they cannot take “yes” for an answer. Jackasses.

So. Um. Troops to Haiti — why, exactly?: Two possibilities, neither flattering.

OK, maybe the Mayans were right: Quoth DougJ at Balloon Juice, “With unlimited corporate money fueling crazed Nixon-style anger, things are going to get very, very ugly.”

I sort of want to know what exactly Spencer is talking about and I sort of don’t.

Finally, the people who know what they’re talking about get a turn: Obama pushes a Paul Volcker-backed plan to limit the size of banks, so as to eliminate the possibility of “too big to fail.” The idea here is to reduce the taxpayer’s exposure to any privately incurred risk in the financial industry. And that’s a good idea. (Know who else thinks so? Mark Zandi, the guy who advised McCain’s presidential campaign on economics.)

Purse v. policy-making: The pants-wetters want the Khalid Sheikh Muhammad trial not to be held in civilian court. Congressional Republicans are plotting to get some moron Dems to go along with them on barring funding for it. Now, why is it that the existing appropriation is in such a condition that that approach is even possible? And who would know enough about the appropriations process to have made this possible to begin with? Hint: it ain’t anyone with an R after his name.

As Alannis said, this could get messy: Sen.-elect Scott Brown got a lot of support from teabaggers, and he very quickly and publicly blew them off. We know how Rush reacts to that treatment. Let’s see how the teabaggers do.

And people wonder why I think Christianists and Islamists are essentially the same species.

Ethnic profiling won’t help: “An additional concern, [a Senate Intelligence Committee report] says, ‘is a group of nearly 10 non-Yemeni Americans who traveled to Yemen, converted to Islam, became fundamentalists, and married Yemeni women so they could remain in the country.’ One U.S. official, it reports, described them as ‘blond-haired, blue-eyed types’ who ‘fit a profile of Americans whom al-Qaeda has sought to recruit over the past several years.'”

Related: More pants-wetting. C’mon, America, man/woman up, will ya?

And even more pants-wetting, called out by Digby: “Everyone seems to forget that a year ago, Obama only had 58 votes in the Senate and everyone was in a state of near hysteria over his massive institutional power and soaring mandate. Now he has 59 and he’s suddenly impotent.”

As we turn more security operations in Afghanistan over to that country, we need to beware of residual problems.

AWOL pirate: Well, skull of pirate. Skull of total butt-kicking 14th century German pirate Klaus Störtebeker, who — and I must admit this even though I’m from North Carolina — makes Blackbeard look like Richard Simmons. Reward.

Awwww: Shiba Inu puppycam!

Monday, January 18, 2010 8:53 pm

Odds and ends for 1/18

Memo from the NY Times to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission: Public hearings are good, but subpoenaing documents is better. Yup. Banksters committed fraud on a massive scale. This commission isn’t a law-enforcement agency, but what it finds can help Justice and SEC investigators do their jobs. In fact, it may force them to do their jobs, which a mere sense of duty has not, so far, sufficed to do.

More from the FCIC: The head securities regulator for the state of Texas testifies about how the feds have kneecapped state investigators/investigations, not because they would do a better job but to protect the very people they’re supposed to be regulating. Biggest. Fraud. In. History.

Memo to right-wing nuts (and anyone else, although I suspect only the wingnuts would be stupid enough to try this): Do not invite journalists into your home, sit for an interview and then demand their tapes at gunpoint, because your ass will go to prison and your wallet will go to the journalists. Having once covered the Klan, I’m taking particular satisfaction in the outcome of this case.

The Fed elides oversight and political meddling because it thinks you and I are too stupid to know the difference. Stupid Fed.

Darrell Issa wants Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson to testify about the AIG bailout. So do I, but Issa has a little more leverage than I do. Uh, Democrats, that slamming sound you hear is Issa walking out the back door with your populist mandate for 2010.

More fraud uncovered: This time, short-sale fraud. And wonder of wonders, it’s CNBC that has uncovered it. Memo to Mary Schapiro: When CNBC looks both more honest and more industrious than the SEC, then you are officially Teh Suck.

For once, J.P. Morgan outperforms Goldman Sachs … if, by “outperform,” you mean, “directs an even more inexcusably large percentage of its total revenues to banker bonuses”64 percent of revenues. Not of profits, of revenues. Remember, Morgan, like the other 37 banks reviewed by the WSJ, has significant amounts of crap disguised as assets on its balance sheets, and even more crap off the sheets that soon will have to be moved onto the sheets. And are the banks setting aside capital to cover the inevitable write-downs? No, they’re buying helicopters and Hamptons houses.

If voters could vote on Obama’s financial appointments they way they can vote on Chris Dodd, Obama would be paging a lot of empty offices. For good reason.

Liberal academia? Yes — because conservatives choose disproportionately not to become college professors. These findings, albeit not yet published, are consistent with some earlier research.

Who killed Pat Robertson? Why, it was Lily Coyle, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (2nd letter down), with a clue.

Freedom’s just another word for no one left to screw: Retiring Sen. Chris Dodd could be scrapping the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency before he goes.

Well, it’s a step: The U.S. releases the names of 645 detainees at Bagram. Good. But some  of those people have been held for years without even being told why. Not good.

PhrMA theatens to blow up health-care reform. A friend of mine has proposed that any attempt to make a profit off health care should be made a crime. I think that’s extreme, but when stuff like this happens, I understand the anger that gives rise to such suggestions.

Dawn Johnsen might say torture is illegal. Therefore, she cannot possibly be allowed to run Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, or else the terrorists win.

Memo to special prosecutor John Durham: In the marathon investigation of the destruction of CIA torture videos, the DFHs are eating your lunch. Bet they aren’t charging the government as much as you, too.

All of a sudden, “conservatives” are in favor of privacy. And it’s interesting how the kind of privacy they favor dovetails neatly with protecting them from being held accountable for their actions. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

If you’re following Perez v. Schwarzenegger and it sounds awfully like Dover v. Kitzmiller, well,  there’s a reason for that: In both cases, science is/was under siege. Science won in Dover. Let’s see what happens in Perez.

Republicans, having fed off the productive among us for so long, are now simply outraged that one of their own is doing it to them. More specifically, their cynical selection of Michael Steele as national chairman to try to appeal to African American voters now means that even though he needs firing and is daring them to fire him, they can’t do it.

Why does Rush Limbaugh hate the troops? And why do the troops continue to air him on Armed Forces Radio when he hates them?

More map pr0n! Geocurrents has created a map blog tied to news events.

Thought for the day: Requiring drug tests for welfare recipients makes sense only if we also drug-test recipients of federal earthquake relief, tax credits and bank bailouts. Despite what you may have been told, your odds of getting into Heaven do NOT increase in direct proportion to the number of times you kick poor people.

“Never (annoy) a walrus.” Because if you do, the bucket is the least of your problems.

Thursday, January 14, 2010 9:57 pm

Odds and ends for 1/14

First, the important stuff: Links where you can contribute to Haiti earthquake relief:

Oxfam
American Red Cross
AmeriCares
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders

As in most other major disasters, the main thing these organizations need right now is money.* Their experts will know how best to spend it, what’s needed where, etc. In other words, right at the moment, rounding up clothing or canned food or bandages or what-have-you, although certainly well-intentioned, is less helpful than giving these groups the resources to do what they know best how to do. As they identify particular needs, they’ll publicize them.

Anything you can give will help. And please give something. The suffering there is already horrendous, and it will quickly get even worse than most of us can possibly imagine.

*Unless you have a helicopter.

OK, then …

HUNGRY vampire squid: Goldman Sachs didn’t get just 100 cents on the dollar on its exposure to AIG, courtesy of the taxpayers. No, by reselling its AIG credit-default obligations while knowing the taxpayers were going to bail out AIG, but before that info became public, it effectively got more. About $1.2 billion more.

Which is a big part of the problem: Pat Robertson is far more important than you will ever be.

Remember, she reads every newspaper, too: Glenn Beck: Who’s your favorite Founding Father? Sarah Palin: All of ’em.

Which dinosaur?: A shark described as “dinosaur-sized” attacked and apparently ate a swimmer Tuesday off Cape Town, South Africa. But they didn’t say whether they meant this dinosaur or this one.

Lighter backpacks: Obviously, colleges are going to switch to electronic textbooks to save students money. That move now has a deadline in California: 2020, which seems a bit far off considering that almost two-thirds of the roughly 13,000 textbook titles published by the six largest U.S. publishers already are available electronically.

“If you are watching this video, then I have been murdered by the president of Guatemala hit men I hired myself”: A UN commission concludes that the “assassination” of a lawyer, alleged in a posthumous video to have been ordered by Guatemala’s president, actually was arranged by the lawyer himself in an attempt to destabilize the government. Dude, if you wanted him out, why not just run against him?

You know that scene in “Waterworld” where Kevin Costner drinks his own pee?: The astronauts are feeling his pain.

China vs. Google: Is it really China vs. the U.S.? And was this hack attack, if not a cyber-Pearl Harbor, at the least a dangerous breach of national security?

Senate health-care bill: “A teacher tax, not a Cadillac tax.”

Related: Who needs Republicans when the unions are just as willing to screw the middle class?

Um, ‘cuz they’re, I don’t know, WHORES?!?: Retiring Republican Rep. John Shadegg, asked whether he supports a public option: “Well, you could better defend a public option than you could defend compelling me to buy a product from the people that have created the problem. America’s health insurance industry has wanted this bill and the individual mandate from the get go. That’s their idea. Their idea is, ‘Look, our product is so lousy that lots of people don’t buy it. So we need the government to force people to buy our product.’ And stunningly, that’s what the Congress appears to be going along with. Why would they do that?”

Except it wasn’t hindsight, jackass: I could’ve told you this on Jan. 20 and saved everyone a lot of time: Harry Reid has just now figured out that Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, was never going to vote for health-care reform.

AIG tick-tock: Firedoglake, which has published valuable analysis on such issues as torture and the Scooter Libby case by means of creating documented timelines, applies the technique to the federal government’s bailout of AIG (and its use of AIG to indirectly bail out Goldman Sachs), working with a cache of e-mails obtained and posted online by The New York Times. FDL cautions that it ain’t complete, and I haven’t even begun reading it yet, but if you’re interested in the subject, this is sure to be a valuable resource.

Speaking of torture: The brother of the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates is caught on videotape torturing and attempting to murder a guy he thought had screwed him in a business deal, but the court let him off anyway after he claimed he was too whacked on medication to know what he was doing. I’ll just say he must have been pretty damn whacked to run over a guy repeatedly without actually quite managing to, you know, kill him.

SCOTUS vs. the U.S.: As I suggested on Monday, the Supreme Court isn’t going to sign off on anything that could be a basis for its having to allow itself to be televised someday. Jackasses. Go ahead and keep talking about how this court’s majority is so strict-constructionist and all, but speak up: I’m going to have trouble hearing you over my own laughter.

Allegany County, Maryland, needs more alligators: Andy says so, and he’s there so he should know.

The Internet — the greatest collection of knowledge in history: How can I make my chicken taste just like the junk they serve at school?

Rupert Murdoch: plagiarist.

Teddy Pendergrass: RIP.

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!


Friday, January 8, 2010 11:26 pm

Odds and ends for 1/8

Wellnow. AIG, Tim Geithner and PricewaterhouseCoopers could all be in trouble. I don’t know much about PwC, but as far as the other two go, trouble couldn’t happen to a more deserving pair. Unfortunately for Democrats, AIG and Geithner are now their problem, as at least some recognize.

And regarding Geithner, etc., this Republican says “amen”: Says “washunate”: “If we [Democrats] don’t clean house, Republicans eventually will. … We are at the bizarre point now where situations that should be case studies for everything that’s wrong with the crony capitalism of the Reagan-Bush era are being turned into defend-the-ramparts or remember-the-Alamo entrenchment by Democratic leaders.”

NO MASterCard!: Consumer borrowing plunged by a seasonally adjusted all-time record $17.5 billion in Novemer.

Freemasonry unveiled!: And it’s not nearly as entertaining as Dan Brown would have us believe.

Evidence that Teh Sm4rt Kid2 aren’t going into journalism: Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter suggests that President Obama meet personally with Dick Cheney to tell him to STFU ask him to stop bad-mouthing administration terrorism policy. Pshyeah. The only reason Obama should meet personally with Dick Cheney is to personally clap him in irons and haul his war-criminal ass off The Hague. (“Clap him in irons.” I love that phrase. So pirate.)

Jackassery unveiled!: The manager and assistant manager of Maricopa County, Ariz., will testify before a federal grand jury against Joe Arpaio, the unrepentantly abusive, bigoted thug currently occupying the office of sheriff.

People ask me why I think private, for-profit health insurers are a mistake: This is one reason why.

As she has done in the past on Republican apologists for Plamegate, Marcy Wheeler is laying a hurting on the Obama administration’s main academic apologist for its health-care reform plan.

Another hold on Ben Bernanke, this one from Byron Dorgan, at least until Bernanke opens the Fed’s books. Good! So good, in fact, that Teddy Partridge thinks we should replace Geithner with Dorgan. More background on Dorgan here. Remember, Dorgan is not only the person who said it would take us less than a decade to regret repealing Glass-Stegall, he’s also the guy who was warning us of the dangers of “too big to fail” — in 1974.

Love’s Labors Lebowski’ed: Nance (actually, strictly speaking, some of Nance’s commenters) and others have been bugging me for years to see The Big Lebowski. And it’s not that I don’t want to, but I just haven’t had, or made, the opportunity. But it now appears that I’m going to have to rent it or something just so that I can fully enjoy this.

Another fight the Obama team appears likely to try to back down from: ‘Net neutrality. At some point, some presidential candidate is going to have to openly run against corporate lobbyists (and win by about 20 million popular votes, so that there’s no question about a mandate), or else there will never be the political will to put these weasels back in their cages.

Shorter Ellen Malcolm, departing head of the pro-choice lobbying group Emily’s List, as channeled by Jane Hamsher: “Every single person we elected [to Congress] is determined to vote for the biggest setback to abortion rights in my lifetime, and I don’t want to be here and eat s— for it from big donors when it happens.”

And, finally, yes, I’m probably going to have to watch this: (OK, Vimeo had a trailer for the new “A-Team” movie up today that looked really, really cool, but it has been taken down.)

Sunday, January 3, 2010 9:44 pm

Odds and ends for 1/3

Cliff May really wishes his penis were bigger.

Why it’s important to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court in New York City, by Cynthia Kouril: “Treat him like what he is, a common criminal. Not a great boogeyman, not an arch criminal, not a martyr, just a guy who could not make a success in life living within the social contract and resorted to life on the wrong side of the law. Or in other terms, a failure.”

“People who suck … at analyzing events in real time really, really shouldn’t try to do it a year in advance”: John Derbyshire, Katherine Jean Lopez, Mark Hemingway and especially Jonah Goldberg, call your office. It’s called “reporting,” guys. Learn it. Love it. Live it. Hell, just try it once.

We’re the land of Joyce, but we don’t like to talk about that much.: In the Republic of Ireland it is now punishable by a 25,000-Euro fine (about $40KUSD) to commit blasphemy, defined as “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion.” This is just a power grab by some “religious” earthly authorities. Memo to, just for starters, the Roman Catholic Church: Given all your pedophile priests and abusive nuns in Ireland alone, you’ve got bigger fish to fry. Memo to Muslims: I know you want to try to pull this same crap at the global level, but don’t hold your breath.

“Danger, Will Robinson!”: The aforementioned Cynthia Kouril also goes through the string of AIG e-mails recently released and finds that some of those e-mailers are facing, shall we say, significant legal exposure. Interesting how one blogger attorney is laying more prosecutorial groundwork than the SEC.

A moment in time, not a long-term shift: Micah Sifry examines how and why Obama has let down his base. Digby thinks he’ll pay a political price. I think she’s right … and that Congressional Dems will, too, first.

And about those Congressional Dems: They need to listen carefully to what White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanual says and then do the exact opposite.

The good news: New unemployment claims came in at 432,000 for the week ending 12/26, down 22,000 from the week before and lower than expected.

The bad, and more significant, news: The number of people receiving emergency unemployment compensation — money for people whose regular unemployment benefits have been exhausted — hit an all-time record of 4.2 million in November. For the week ended Dec. 12, the number of new EUC claims came in just under 192,000, bringing the overall total to 4.5 million. With numbers like those, consumers won’t be driving any recovery for a long, long time to come.

Follow the money: The Labor Department claims that X number of Americans are unemployed and receiving unemployment or EUC payments. However, cash-flow reports from the Treasury Department suggest that the amount of money going out for such payments would mean that either check amounts have gone up — which hasn’t happened — or the number of people receiving such payments is actually 32% higher than Labor says. That means that if the “official unemployment rate” is roughly 10%, the actual unemployment rate may be more like 13%.

Privacy is so 1984: In case you didn’t know already, police can obtain info from your cell-phone carrier on where you are (or, to be precise, where your phone is) whether or not you have the GPS function enabled, and they don’t need a warrant to do it. The only way you can hide your phone’s location effectively is to remove the battery.

The Bush White House expected congressional Republicans to obstruct justice: So says Alberto Gonzalez in this Esquire interview (how did I miss this earlier?): “We should have abandoned the idea of removing the U. S. attorneys once the Democrats took the Senate. Because at that point we could really not count on Republicans to cut off investigations or help us at all with investigations. We didn’t see that at the Department of Justice. Nor did the White House see that. Karl [Rove] didn’t see it. If we could do something over again, that would be it.”

Fannie and Freddie really are to blame, Marla Singer says, but not in the giving-mortgages-to-poor-black-people-who-shouldn’t-have-gotten-them way that some conservative pundits are arguing. No, it’s worse than that.

What do you call one investment banker out the door? A good first step: A senior AIG officer quits rather than accept a federally imposed salary limit of $500,000 a year. Door. Ass. Of course, for some unfathomable reason the federal “pay czar” let her keep the $2.8 million in severance she claimed she was entitled to, but, hey, at least we’ve called one bankster’s bluff. Sort of.

Speaking of bankers, if you have a money-market fund, you might want to put that money someplace safer because the government may be ending instant redeemability.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 11:07 pm

Odds and ends for 12/23

Psych! That $45 million in bonuses that AIG executives promised earlier this year to return? Ain’t happening.

Climate-change treaty murder mystery solved: It was China in Copenhagen with an attitude, but at least one witness survived. China’s playing a dangerous game: The average elevation of Shanghai (pop. 20 million) is only 13 feet above sea level.

House to Senate: Oh, no, you di’nt!: Three House Democratic leaders, including the Rules Committee chairwoman, who gets to decide what does and does not constitute an acceptable conference bill, are saying they won’t sign off on anything without a public option. Wellnow. This is about to get interesting.

Republicans are still riding the crazy train: Now they’re complaining that the health-care bill’s death panels can’t be abolished even if the rest of the bill is repealed. There’s a flaw in that logic, but I can’t quite put my finger on it….

Republicans are still riding the crazy train, cont.: Not content to lie, Sarah Palin is now lying about her lie.

Out of the frying pan …: Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama’s 5th Congressional District switched parties from Democrat to Republican this week. I speculated on Facebook and elsewhere that he’d get primaried by a more-conservative-than-thou candidate next year, not realizing that there already are three other Republicans in that race. That oughta be entertaining. For those of you keeping score at home, the primary is 6/1/10 and a runoff, if needed, will be 7/13/10.

This is not a trick question: What could bring liberal Firedoglake blogger Jane Hamsher and drown-government-in-a-bathtub conservative Grover Norquist together? The idea that Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, during his service on the Freddie Mac board in 2000-01, may have violated his fiduciary obligations, then used his subsequent election to Congress and current role to prevent any investigation. They want Emanuel to quit, they want a criminal investigation before the 10-year statute of limitation kicks, and they want to prevent the showering of almost $1 trillion on Freddie, which currently lacks an inspector general and other appropriate oversight. Presented with that information, so do I. Here’s a petition you can sign.

A multi-voice oral history of Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of Dow Jones, produced by GQ, comes off as more circular firing squad. Nobody, but nobody, ends up looking good, and only former managing editor Marcus Brauchli comes close.

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.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009 11:33 pm

Odds and ends for 12/9

The seat’s hot and he ain’t even in it yet: Bank of America’s chief risk officer, Greg Curl, considered a leading candidate to succeed Ken Lewis as CEO, is under investigation by the New York attorney general for his role in what BofA shareholders were and weren’t told about the bank’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch.

Your incompetence. Let me show you it: Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker calls for the return of Glass-Steagall and tells the Wall Street Journal’s Future of Finance Initiative, a group of financiers and policy makers, “Your response [to the economic crisis], I can only say, is inadequate. You have not come anywhere close.”

Quote of the day, also from Volcker at this session: “I wish somebody would give me some shred of evidence linking financial innovation with a benefit to the economy.” For good measure, he said the best financial innovation of the past 25 years was the ATM. (Which actually was introduced earlier … but, hey, forget it, he’s rolling.)

Bonus quote of the day, from Gavin M. at Sadly, No!, characterizing hinky academic Stanley Fish: ” …oleoresinous of eye, exuding cheap 1970s tenure …”

Congressman Alan Grayson to Fed Chair Ben Bernanke: Dude, you’re screwing the taxpayers directly AND committing tax fraud!

Oh, snap!: Dick Cheney (laughably) claims trying terrorism suspects in New York will generate more terrorism and calls it treason, so Alan Grayson tells him to “STFU.” This will give Official Washington another case of the vapors, but when Cheney himself once told a senator on the Senate floor to “go [have sex with] yourself,” he really has no room to whine and neither does anyone else.

Crying poor: AIG’s general counsel is leaving because she can’t make it on $500,000 a year. Given her track record of driving companies into ditches, I’m sure she’ll be snapped up in no time. And, yes, I’m being snarky — twelve digits’ worth of my tax money going into AIG in one year entitles me — but, no, I’m not being snarky about her getting snapped up in no time.

“Extreme victimisation,” but not in the way he thinks: Britain slaps a 50% tax on bankers’ bonuses. Will the U.S. follow suit?

Memo to Howard Kurtz: There’s a reason we call you Howie the Putz. And you’re soaking in it.

Well, yeah, if, by “socialism,” he means “a scary word that conservative wankers scream to try to scare people”: Charles Krauthammer calls environmentalism “the new socialism.”

Well, the federal government can just rock *me* to sleep tonight: The TSA posts some of its most sensitive security information on the Internet. But let’s talk about White House party crashers. Or Tiger Woods.

Sauce for the goose other gander: Paul Wolfowitz lost his job for trying to line up a job for his girlfriend. Will Max Baucus?

Zero tolerance for zero tolerance: Confronted with indisputable evidence of an on-screen error, Fox News decides to abandon its zero-tolerance policy for on-screen errors.

Sarah Palin, Woman of the Year?: Pollak says it could happen.

Monday, December 7, 2009 9:57 pm

Odds and ends for 12/7

It’s not a game, but somebody forgot to tell the Labor Department:

The real Climategate. ‘Nuff said.

Remembering Mark Pittman: This guy was the real deal.

And if we follow this line of logic to its painfully obvious conclusion, we learn …: Warren Buffett thinks federally subsidizing a competitor of his Business Wire would be bad. How long before he concludes the same thing about subsidizing another of his key investments, Goldman Sachs?

Fire ’em. And lock ’em up: Someone at the FDIC is passing inside information. Mary Schapiro needs to be fired, beaten and driven across the landscape like a mangy bison.

Clarity: This is bizarre, in a good way — Zero Hedge and Google have formed a partnership to, among other things, translate government financial info into plain English.

Your flawed premise. Let me show you it: Two (out of the more than 6,000) members of the Academy of Motion Picture Whozawhatsis call for Al Gore’s Oscar to be rescinded in light of the hacked e-mails about global warming. Which would be fine except that Al Gore never got an Oscar. The Oscar went to the director of “An Inconvenient Truth.” Who was not Al Gore.

Opaque is the new transparent: A government meeting on open records and transparency is closed to the media and public. Write your own punchline.

Bummer: Obama rules out drugs, hookers as economic stimuli. Dang.

Someone remind me again who the terrorists are?: AIG execs threaten to walk out en masse if they don’t get their bonuses. Door. Ass. Quoth Digby: “This could be Obama’s equivalent of Reagan and the air traffic controllers if he wants it to be.” Precisely.

Well, yeah, if, by “narrow, ideological interest group” you mean “three-fourths of voters”: Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., says only a few politically motivated people want a public option for health insurance.

How did I miss this?: Slate had a “Write Like Sarah Palin” contest. On the down side, to be competitive I’d’ve had to drink at least a case in one sitting.

Silenced: Former Guantanamo prosecutor Morris Davis, who once resigned rather than run what he thought was a rigged system of justice at Guantanamo, has been fired from the Library of Congress for continuing to criticize the military-commission system publicly and calling former AG Mike Mukasey out for the pants-wetting anti-American baby he is. The ACLU has taken Davis’s case. Good.

Blessings: Former Fox “News” host Eric Burns counts his: “I have several. Among them is that I do not have to face the ethical problem of sharing an employer with Glenn Beck.”

Quote of the day: From Balloon Juice’s John Cole, on “bipartisan” health-care reform: “You know, as much as our national political chattering classes are enamored with the baby Jesus, I find it amazing that none of them ever managed to hear the story of King Solomon. … every Senator apparently [is] eager to rush home to show off their half of the bloody baby.”

Quote of the day runner-up: From Doc at First Draft, on the Dallas Morning News’ plan to have its news editors reporting to advertising execs: “You can say that there’s a line that’s drawn and that we don’t cross it. That’s all fine and good, but when you keep moving the line the way the DMN has now, you are never sure if you’ll cross the line or the line will cross you.”

Uh, dude?: Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., nominated his girlfriend to be a U.S. attorney. That’s not good, but as Marcy points out, Baucus is responsible for an even bigger screwing than that.

So, Bowl Championship Series, how’s that Jenna Jameson-led abstinence campaign going?: Former Bush White House spokesliar Ari Fleischer compares the current college-football bowl system, now despised by a miniscule 85% of Americans, to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade as an irreplaceable tradition.

Inevitable headline: Doh!: Cartoon character C. Montgomery Burns outpolls Rudy Giuliani in NYC mayoral race.

Monday, November 30, 2009 10:56 pm

Odds and ends for 11/30

Somebody make this guy a senator: Vermont’s Bernie Sanders on reappointing Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Fed: “No, I absolutely will not vote for Mr. Bernanke. He is part of the problem. (If) he’s the smartest guy in the world, why didn’t he do anything to prevent us from sinking into this disaster that Wall Street caused and which he was a part of?” Now all we need is 50 more just like him.

More Sanders, just because it’s so damn refreshing to hear someone standing up to banksters on behalf of taxpayers: “If the taxpayers of this country have spent $700 billion bailing out Wall Street because they are too big to fail, why is it that 3 out of the 4 largest financial institutions today are bigger than they were before the bailout, why is it ok that 4 large financial institutions write half the mortgages, two thirds of the credit cards, and control 40% of the deposits. The bottom line to me is that the middle class in this country is collapsing. We have seen this trend downward for many many years. We need a new direction. We need President Obama to take this country in a new way,new economic policies and you don’t appoint the same old guys if you’re going to do that.”

Relatedly: Fifteen questions the Senate Banking Committee should ask Bernanke but probably won’t.

Shorter McKinsey: The European commercial real estate market to the contrary, 2 + 2 != 5. Even shorter McKinsey: If you own a dime of European commercial real-estate financing, you’re so screwed.

Sex scandals can be/Grounds for excellent haiku/Enter this contest: Talking Points Memo is having a contest to see who can submit the best haiku about one (or more) of 2009’s political sex scandals. Send yours to talk@talkingpointsmemo.com.

AIG? Is not, after all this talk of bonuses for its employees, out of the woods, which means taxpayers aren’t, either. Sigh.

Sarah Palin’s “bus” tour? Also included some trips by chartered private jet. Which would be fine if she’d just, you know, either said that up front or not even made mode of travel an issue. But no.

Even Republicans think Newsweek’s Jon Meacham is an idiot: Meacham said Cheney should be the GOP presidential nominee in 2012. But a WashPost poll of Republicans finds that only one respondent out of about 800 — 0.125% — thinks Cheney best represents Republican principles. And when respondents were asked an open-ended question about who the nominee should be, no one suggested Cheney.

Memo to John Harris of Politico: Explain to me again why thinking rationally about how to solve the country’s problems is a bad thing. Because we tried that whole deciding-with-the-gut thing already and look where that got us.

Reason No. 5,677 why Obama ought to do the right thing on Afghanistan, rather than what Republicans say he should do, courtesy of Andrew Sullivan: “If he ramps up Afghanistan and delays Iraq withdrawal, he will lose his base. If he does the full metal neocon as he is being urged to, he should not be deluded in believing the GOP will in any way support him. They will oppose him every step of every initiative. They will call him incompetent if Afghanistan deteriorates, they will call him a terrorist-lover if he withdraws, they will call him a traitor if he does not do everything they want, and they will eventually turn on him and demand withdrawal, just as they did in the Balkans with Clinton.”

Because if we don’t know about it, then we don’t have to do anything about it: The Supreme Court, overruling an appeals court, lets the Obama administration keep secret some photos of torture. Dammit. We will regret this ruling, and probably sooner rather than later.

Monday, November 23, 2009 9:56 pm

Odds and ends for 11/23

  • Critics of the health-care reform bills complain that the government will start paying for it years before people actually begin to receive services. And that’s a valid complaint. But if it all started together, wouldn’t they be complaining about that, too, because that would represent a failure to get the money in place first?
  • House Appropriations Chairman David Obey warns the president that if the U.S. wants to send more troops to Afghanistan, he won’t approve funding (which could be $40B) without a “war surtax” to pay for it. Obey absolutely opposes sending more troops, so that’s what this is really about for him, but the fact is, we shouldn’t be paying for wars off budget, as we have been doing.
  • There’s a huge bloc of voters out there for the grabbing for any politician willing to champion consumers’ rights and fight stuff like this.
  • A couple of months old but still noteworthy: Almost 1 in 4 U.S. households has suffered a layoff during the current recession; 44% have either lost a job or had their wages or hours cut; 53% of those polled (including majorities of both Republicans and Democrats) call unemployment the nation’s top problem; 51% said this year’s stimulus bill was the right thing to do and 81% said Obama has not done enough to help the economy.
  • How did I miss this — and when did Muammar el-Qaddafi go to work for The Onion? (h/t: Jill)
  • Some people just flat shouldn’t be allowed to be cops. Joe Apaio is definitely one of them.
  • Yet more on how the Fed, and Tim Geithner in particular, screwed up its handling of AIG. If it seems like I’m harping on this subject, it’s because I think it contains important lessons that I’m terrified we’re not going to learn.
  • Sewage? You’re drinking it, and there’s almost a 1-in-10 chance it made you sick last year.
  • Congresswoman and raving lunatic Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., says she can’t understand “why the Democratic Party would be opposed to me.” The appropriate question is why any sentient life form would not be opposed to her.
  • And, finally, advice for journalists, from Athenae at First Draft: “Mourning the death of hard news? Go do some.”

Most concise explanation I’ve seen …

… of why Tim Geithner ought not be on my payroll.

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 8:54 pm

Odds and ends for 10/27

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 8:06 pm

Employee compensation

Filed under: You're doing WHAT with my money?? — Lex @ 8:06 pm
Tags: ,

I know a lot of people whose pay effectively has been cut 5% through furloughs. And I know some people whose pay effectively has been cut 20% by 20% pay cuts. And I know some people, including myself, whose pay effectively has been cut 100% by virtue of no longer having a job.

So I’m a little puzzled as to why the new CEO of AIG, a company 80% owned by the American taxpayer, a company that claimed a “profit” this past quarter only on the backs of the American taxpayer, a company whose main function for the past year appears to have been hoovering money out of the American taxpayer and distributing it to Goldman Sachs, has to be paid $7 million a year.

But wait, I hear some of you saying, more than half that’s in stock, not cash. Yeah, and how much would that stock be worth if the taxpayer weren’t propping it up?

Pay this guy $500K. (The president of the United States only gets paid $400,000 a year, and he has certainly had a better year than the CEO of AIG.) Give him a meal allowance with at least some tenuous connection to everyday reality. (Eating lunch at McDonald’s every once in a while probably won’t actually kill you. Not directly, anyway, especially if you order the chicken wrap or something.) Make his butt fly coach. Even under those terms, there are still plenty of competent people who would kill to have the job. If he wouldn’t want it under those conditions, let’s hire one of them.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 9:11 pm

Shame shortage

Clearly, money ain’t the only thing they’re running low on at AIG:

American International Group Chief Executive Edward Liddy will speak out against criticism of the insurer’s employees on Wednesday and talk about the company’s future plans, the Wall Street Journal said.

Liddy will speak to a U.S. House oversight committee and ask for a better partnership with the government, according to the paper.

“Rampant, unwarranted criticism of AIG serves only to diminish the value of our businesses around the world,” the paper quoted Liddy’s prepared testimony.

Yeah, Ed, that’s exactly the kind of behavior that’s going to wind down all that “rampant, unwarranted criticism.”

Tell you what, Ed. If you’ll undo ruining the economy, throwing millions of people out of work, tanking the stock market, destroying people’s college and retirement savings and contributing greatly to the general financial and human misery arising from the situation in which we now find ourselves, I’ll reconsider some of my “rampant, unwarranted” criticism.

And Condition No. 1 for “a better partnership with the government” is you repay the $170 billion you owe it, jackass. ‘Til then, I don’t want to hear another damn word out of your mouth.

UPDATE: In the comments, Fred reminds me of a quasi-related subject I’d meant to blog about and forgot: Rep. Alan Grayson gives the Fed inspector general a pop quiz, and she flunks. Badly:

(More on Grayson earlier, here.)

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