Thursday, August 20, 2009
|AP / Susan Walsh|
The good judge smelled a rat.
"Was there some sort of ghost that performed these actions?" New York federal Judge Jed S. Rakoff demanded to know Monday in rejecting a deal that would let Bank of America off the hook in yet another banker bonus scandal. The Securities and Exchange Commission had charged the bank with covering up for outrageous bonuses given out at Merrill Lynch as the bank acquired the failed stockbrokerage, and now it was letting the bank off the hook with a chicken-feed fine.
"Do Wall Street people expect to be paid large bonuses in years when their company lost $27 billion?" the judge asked, and Lewis J. Liman, the lawyer for Bank of America, assured him they do: "My God! Bonuses on Wall Street? It is not a matter of surprise."
But for those of us less sophisticated in the ways of Wall Street, it is a surprise that Merrill Lynch executives were rewarded for failure at the same time Bank of America was using $45 billion in taxpayer funds to take over the brokerage house. Six hundred ninety-six executives who helped run Merrill into the ground were granted more than a million bucks each.
BofA lawyer Liman attempted to put an egalitarian spin on this government-sponsored welfare for the superrich by pointing out that all told, another 39,000 Merrill employees averaged only $91,000 in bonuses, but the judge wasn't having it: "I'm glad you think that $91,000 is not a lot of money; I wish the average American was making $91,000."
That's the point; the average American is paying for the banking debacle not only in taxes for the bailout but with lost jobs and homes. Yet the SEC, which is supposed to be protecting the ordinary citizen's interests, decided to give BofA execs a bye. The question is why Bank of America and Merrill failed to inform their shareholders that such payoffs were part of the deal. The details of the bonuses were known to BofA CEO Kenneth Lewis and other top bank executives but not mentioned in the merger agreement or proxy statements sent to the company's shareholders for approval.
There is apparently no path blazed by George W. Bush that Barack Obama will not eagerly follow. Surges, assassinations, indefinite detention, defense of torture, senseless wars and rampant militarism -- in just a few short months, we've seen it all.
To this dismaying record of complicity and continuity, we can add an increasing direct involvement in the horrific, hydra-headed conflict in Somalia, whose latest round of fiery hell was instigated by the American-backed invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia in late 2006. Under Bush, U.S. forces were deeply and directly enmeshed in the murderous action, dropping bombs on fleeing refugees, "renditioning" other refugees to the tender mercies of Ethiopia's notorious prisons, and even sending in death squads to clean up after missile strikes and bombings. (For background, see "Silent Surge: Bipartisan Terror War Intensifies in Somalia.")
The result of that intervention has been the deaths of thousands of innocent people, the displacement and ruination of hundreds of thousands, and the creation of what many experts call the most dire humanitarian crisis in the world today. It has also resulted in the empowerment of violent sectarian groups and criminal gangs, who have stepped forth to fill the gaps of the fledgling state that the American-Ethiopian "regime change" operation destroyed.
So what do we see from the administration of "hope and change"? We see -- wait for it -- a new "surge" of direct American involvement in the war, with Obama's most ferocious war hawk -- sorry, his top diplomat -- Hillary "The Obliterator" Clinton leading the charge. As Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com reports, Clinton has pledged to double the recently announced supply of American weapons to Somalia's "transitional government" -- a weak reed cobbled together by Western interests from various CIA-paid warlords and other factions, and now headed, ironically, by the former leader of the aforementioned fledgling state overthrown by Washington. (Yes, it is hard to tell the players without a scorecard -- or even with one. But if you follow the weapons and the money, you can usually tell who is temporarily on which side at any given moment.)
Clinton, bellicose as ever, accompanied the shipment of 80 tons of death-dealing hardware with a heavy dose of the wild fearmongering rhetoric we've come to know so well in this New American Century. As AP reports, she declared that the radical faction al-Shabab, now leading the insurgency against the transitional government, has only one goal in mind: bring in al Qaeda and destabilizing the whole entire world.
Yes, dear hearts, once again the survival of the planet -- not to mention the sacred American way of life -- is under imminent threat from a gang of evil maniacs; a threat requiring the urgent enrichment of the U.S. arms industry -- sorry, I mean the urgent intervention of American know-how. For as the history of American foreign policy in the last 60 years has clearly shown us, there has never been an internal conflict in any country of the world that was not actually, deep down, a direct threat to all the sweet American babies sleeping in their cribs.
Washington's punditocracy is in mourning over the death of right-wing columnist Robert Novak, with many warm remembrances about his outsized personality and his supposed love of reporting. But Novak often served as a dishonest propagandist and would have been condemned in a healthy journalistic world.
For instance, not only did Novak disclose the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame in 2003 in line with a White House campaign to discredit her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for criticizing the deceptions behind the Iraq invasion but Novak continued a jihad of lies against Wilson and Plame for the next several years.
In one such attack on March 22, 2007, Novak reprised right-wing myths that had been disseminated about the Plame-gate case to protect the political flanks of President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other participants in the anti-Wilson campaign.
Despite containing a litany of lies, Novak's column was uncritically published in the Washington Post's editorial section, which even cribbed from Novak's disinformation for use in the Post's own ugly attacks on Wilson, whose principal sin appears to have been that he was the first Washington insider to accuse Bush of having "twisted" the WMD intelligence on Iraq.
The March 22 column stands out as a particularly notable measure of Novak's dishonesty because it came almost four years after Wilson began challenging Bush's false claims about Iraq allegedly seeking yellow-cake uranium from Niger. Novak's article was not some early rendition of a story that wasn't fully understood; it was a premeditated act of lying in defense of a cover-up.
Should we be giddy or terrified?
I am no fan of the Huffington Post. Its journalistic ethics are questionablesee Nico Pitney prearranging a question with the White House and HuffPost's repurposing of other sites' intellectual property; its thirst for page views often overshadows any cultural standardssee "Ashley Greene NUDE PHOTOS: Naked Pics of Twilight Star" and "Sisters or Mother and Daughter? Hot Hollywood Moms (PHOTOS, Poll)." Its aesthetic, all capital letters and stock photography, may as well be from 1999see the home page that Slate's Jack Shafer immortally called "ugly like a bleeding painted DayGlo." The site is anathema to what I hope to see from the future of journalism.
I'm sharing my HuffPo distaste so you know that I don't take the following statement lightly: On Monday, Huffington Post unveiled the future of journalism.
Huffington Post has released a new feature called HuffPost Social News. It's a partnership with Facebook that tracks what Huffington Post articles you and all of your Facebook friends are reading, commenting on, and voting on. It uses a technology called Facebook Connect, Facebook's most unheralded weapon in the battle for ownership of everything we do online. Connect basically serves as a conduit between Facebook and another Web site, allowing data to be sent between the two. Facebook sends profile information. In return, the site sends details on what the user is doing. Web sites, of course, have always tracked what pages their users visit. Now HuffPost is broadcasting that information to all of your friends. It has become a loudmouthed Big Brother.
Once a HuffPost reader logs into Huffington Post with her Facebook accountmore on how she does this in a secondthe site starts tracking everything she does on any huffingtonpost.com page. The site is also tracking all of her Facebook friends who have also logged on to Huffington Post. All of this can be seen by you and your friends on a page that looks like a mashup of Huffington Post and a Facebook wall feed. This makes for an intriguingly muted kaffeeklatsch: Everybody knows what everybody's reading, but nobody necessarily has to talk about it. A layer of news has been placed on top of the social network. Now not only can you know what your freshman-year roommate did on Friday night, you also can find out what she read right before she left the house.
It's the personal element that makes HuffPost Social such an intriguing and promising experiment. The point of reading news is not just to keep abreast about what's happening in the world, it's to keep up with what your friends know is happening in the world. Reading and watching news is an inherently social process; to have a debate, you have to have a shared set of facts. (Or at least that's how it's supposed to work.)
If the entering college class of 2013 had been more alert back in 1991 when most of them were born, they would now be experiencing a severe case of déjà vu. The headlines that year railed about government interventions, bailouts, bad loans, unemployment and greater regulation of the finance industry. The Tonight Show changed hosts for the first time in decades, and the nation asked "was Iraq worth a war?"
Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List. It provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college. It is the creation of Beloit's Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and Emeritus Public Affairs Director Ron Nief. It is used around the world as the school year begins, as a reminder of the rapidly changing frame of reference for this new generation. It is widely reprinted and the Mindset List website at http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/ receives more than 300,000 hits annually.
As millions of students head off to college this fall, most will continue to experience the economic anxiety that marked their first two years of life just as it has marked their last two years of high school. Fears of the middle class--including their parents--about retirement and health care have been a part of their lives. Now however, they can turn to technology and text a friend: "Momdad still worried bout stocks. urs 2? PAW PCM".
Members of the class of 2013 won't be surprised when they can charge a latté on their cell phone and curl up in the corner to read a textbook on an electronic screen. The migration of once independent mediaradio, TV, videos and CDsto the computer has never amazed them. They have grown up in a politically correct universe in which multi-culturalism has been a given. It is a world organized around globalization, with McDonald's everywhere on the planet. Carter and Reagan are as distant to them as Truman and Eisenhower were to their parents. Tattoos, once thought "lower class," are, to them, quite chic. Everybody knows the news before the evening news comes on.
Thus the class of 2013 heads off to college as tolerant, global, and technologically hip and with another new host of The Tonight Show.
The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2013
Most students entering college for the first time this fall were born in 1991.
- For these students, Martha Graham, Pan American Airways, Michael Landon, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, The Dallas Times Herald, Gene Roddenberry, and Freddie Mercury have always been dead.
- Dan Rostenkowski, Jack Kevorkian, and Mike Tyson have always been felons.
- The Green Giant has always been Shrek, not the big guy picking vegetables.
- They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
- Margaret Thatcher has always been a former prime minister.
- Salsa has always outsold ketchup.
- Earvin "Magic" Johnson has always been HIV-positive.
- Tattoos have always been very chic and highly visible.
- They have been preparing for the arrival of HDTV all their lives.
- Rap music has always been main stream.
- Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream has always been a flavor choice.
- Someone has always been building something taller than the Willis (née Sears) Tower in Chicago.
- The KGB has never officially existed.
- Text has always been hyper.
- They never saw the "Scud Stud" (but there have always been electromagnetic stud finders.)
- Babies have always had a Social Security Number.
- They have never had to "shake down" an oral thermometer.
- Bungee jumping has always been socially acceptable.
- They have never understood the meaning of R.S.V.P.
- American students have always lived anxiously with high-stakes educational testing.
- Except for the present incumbent, the President has never inhaled.
- State abbreviations in addresses have never had periods.
- The European Union has always existed.
- McDonald's has always been serving Happy Meals in China.
- Condoms have always been advertised on television.
- Cable television systems have always offered telephone service and vice versa.
- Christopher Columbus has always been getting a bad rap.
- The American health care system has always been in critical condition.
- Bobby Cox has always managed the Atlanta Braves.
- Desperate smokers have always been able to turn to Nicoderm skin patches.
- There has always been a Cartoon Network.
- The nation's key economic indicator has always been the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
- Their folks could always reach for a Zoloft.
- They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.
- Women have always outnumbered men in college.
- We have always watched wars, coups, and police arrests unfold on television in real time.
- Amateur radio operators have never needed to know Morse code.
- Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Latvia, Georgia, Lithuania, and Estonia have always been independent nations.
- It's always been official: President Zachary Taylor did not die of arsenic poisoning.
- Madonna's perspective on Sex has always been well documented.
- Phil Jackson has always been coaching championship basketball.
- Ozzy Osbourne has always been coming back.
- Kevin Costner has always been Dancing with Wolves, especially on cable.
- There have always been flat screen televisions.
- They have always eaten Berry Berry Kix.
- Disney's Fantasia has always been available on video, and It's a Wonderful Life has always been on Moscow television.
- Smokers have never been promoted as an economic force that deserves respect.
- Elite American colleges have never been able to fix the price of tuition.
- Nobody has been able to make a deposit in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).
- Everyone has always known what the evening news was before the Evening News came on.
There should be a SPECIAL Darwin Award for Pamela Pilger, the crazy lady who yelled "Heil Hitler" to an Israeli Jew in Las Vegas the other day at the health care town meeting, I'm sure she needs no further introduction, we've all seen her act like a complete fool in this clip.
But have you seen this one? Gawker posted this hilarious… well, at least unintentionally comic video of Pilger being interviewed about her "political views" before the meeting started. This lady is one SERIOUSLY stupid human being. She fits into the category of "so stupid she doesn't know how stupid she is." How do I know this? Because her husband has "two, no three jobs" and he doesn't have health insurance… and she is still against universal coverage! Amazing but true. How much dumber could you be than Pamela Pilger?!?!?! She's the new low IQ poster child!
But I ask you, how is it possible that the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh can convince these poor dumbasses to be against the very things that would actually benefit them the most—guaranteed health care in a cruel fuckin' world—in the one life they'll ever get?!?! It boggles the mind. Pamela Pilger in her staggering stupidity is a one-woman microcosm of the wider conservative KNOW-NOTHING mindset these people have. Facts? Who cares about FACTS? THIS is who is fighting against health care for all, a woman whose very own husband lacks coverage!
WHY ARE THE MEDIA PAYING ATTENTION TO THE OPINIONS OF FUCKING IDIOTS?
The latest Electric Power Monthly Report released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows net U.S. electrical generation from renewable sources (biomass, geothermal, solar, hydro, and wind) reached an all-time high in May of 2009, comprising 13% of the total electrical generation for the month.
Renewable sources for May '09 generated 40,395,000 Megawatt hours (Mwh), 7.7% higher than for May of 2008, and thus far the highest figure ever reported by the EIA.
Total generations for all sources, including fossil and renewable, was down for May of 2009 from the previous year by 4.1%, representing the third-largest percentage decline in national power generation since 1974.
Of the 13% from renewable for May of '09, 9.4% came from conventional hydropower and 3.6% from non-hydro renewables. From that 3.6% of non-hydro, 1.8% came from wind, 1.3% from biomass, 0.4% from geothermal, and 0.3% from solar thermal and photovoltaics (the numbers are rounded). Compared to May of 2008 wind net generation increased by 12.5% (with generation increases in the state of Iowa representing 52.2% of the national increase). Conventional hydro increased by 10.2% from May of 2008, and solar thermal and photovoltaics were up 3.5%.
Coal generation fell by 14.8% and petroleum liquids by 8.3% from May of 2008 to May of 2009. This is the fifth consecutive month of historically steep declines in coal-fired generation as compared with the same month from the previous year.
But rather than continue to engage in this tiresome battle, I say let's fight fire with fire, or at least brimstone with brimstone. Let's agree to teach the bible in all of its bloody, misogynous, murderous, fratricidal glory. Let's teach our impressionable children the following facts about the word of god:
It's OK to kill a slave, because he is nothing but property, but only as long as he does not die from a beating until at least one day later.
If in need of a little extra income, a father could simply sell his daughter. And of course a female slave is worse off than a male slave; a male slave is automatically freed after 6 years; the woman is never freed.
The penalty for cursing your parents is death. Perhaps this is not such a bad idea...
If a woman presents herself as a virgin but is not, on the wedding night, she is to be taken to her father's house and stoned to death. Notice that men do not suffer such a fate. Coincidentally, only men wrote the 66 books that constitute the bible. Women might have fared better with a bit more gender diversity in authorship.
Of the exclusively male homosexual acts prohibited by the bible, the penalty for any transgression is death. (Nothing in the bible prohibits lesbian sex).
God seems to kill people simply for disobeying his word; to get on his good side, these passages in the bible tell how to sacrifice bulls, rams and goats to atone for sins and please god.
But don't think only the Old Testament is nasty and brutish.
Jesus is no man of peace by his own words: Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I come not to send peace, but a sword.
Jesus will tear families apart: brother will kill brother, father will kill child, and children will kill parents. That is all OK because it is more important to love Jesus, as we learn next:
A man's foe shall be they of his own household. Jesus tells us here that if we love our mother and father more than him, we are not worthy. Now there are some family values!
Jesus condemns entire cities to dreadful deaths and eternal damnation because they did not like his sermons.
Jesus supports the Old Testament view that disobedient children should be killed, and then criticizes the Jews for not following that law.
Jesus says that we should fear God since he has the power to kill us and then torture us forever in hell; classic effort by religion to frighten people into belief
If we didn't get the point in Luke, John tells us here that if you don't believe in God, you will feel his wrath forever in hell. Again, not a loving God, but one to be feared as mean and spiteful.
Let us also teach our kids about the amazing inconsistencies in the bible about critical issues. The many authors, none of whom ever met Jesus, can't even agree on when Jesus was born.
Here Matthew claims that Jesus was born when King Herod was alive:
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king..."
Matthew goes on to say Joseph and Mary only returned to Egypt with their infant son after Herod died. The timing is unambiguous.
Luke claims that Jesus was born when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, which did not take place until at least ten years after Herod's death.
He specifically mentions the time Mary is pregnant with Jesus when Caesar Augusts imposes a new tax when Cyrenius was governor of Syria; but he did not become governor of Syria until at least 10 years after Herod died.
So even with the most generous interpretation, Matthew and Luke differ by more than 10 years on the year Jesus was born. That diminishes the credibility of both given that they cannot even get correct this basic bit of biography.
Genesis is equally confusing, giving us two completely different accounts on the creation of man between two passages just a stone's throw apart one chapter away. On the one hand we are told god made Adam, anesthetized him to extract a rib from which he made Eve, and sewed him back up, completing the world's first surgical procedure. We are then informed that no, in fact god made Adam and Eve at the same time. Specifically,
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
But wait, that is not quite right. We are told just a few passages later that god made only Adam first, and then Eve.
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
The bible cannot even get the story of creation right. If Adam had his rib removed for nothing we could be witnessing the first case of medical malpractice.
Now a luxury retirement community in Orange County, Laguna Woods Village, whose residents have discovered pot's benefits, has made weed easier to obtain by establishing its own pot collective.
The community set up its collective because, although there are thousands of clinics in the state selling marijuana, none were convenient to the residents, some of whom have very limited mobility.
For the greatest generation, taught to believe that marijuana was as addictive and deadly as drugs such as heroin, the reality has come as a pleasant surprise to many. NPR reports on the epiphany of a 73-year-old Leisure World resident and synchronized swimmer who found it effective in countering her nausea.
The fact that the retirees are receiving recommendations to try pot for their ills from their peers leads me to believe that the use of it on the West Coast has reached a critical mass. We could well see demand for legalization, at least for medical reasons, swell among the retiree community across the country.
Undercover Baltimore police officer Dante Arthur was doing what he does well, arresting drug dealers, when he approached a group in January. What he didn't know was that one of suspects knew from a previous arrest that Arthur was police. Arthur was shot twice in the face. In the gunfight that ensued, Arthur's partner returned fire and shot one of the suspects, three of whom were later arrested.
In many ways, Dante Arthur was lucky. He lived. Nationwide, a police officer dies on duty nearly every other day. Too often a flag-draped casket is followed by miles of flashing red and blue lights. Even more officers are shot and wounded, too many fighting the war on drugs. The prohibition on drugs leads to unregulated, and often violent, public drug dealing. Perhaps counterintuitively, better police training and bigger guns are not the answer.
When it makes sense to deal drugs in public, a neighborhood becomes home to drug violence. For a low-level drug dealer, working the street means more money and fewer economic risks. If police come, and they will, some young kid will be left holding the bag while the dealer walks around the block. But if the dealer sells inside, one raid, by either police or robbers, can put him out of business for good. Only those virtually immune from arrests (much less imprisonment) -- college students, the wealthy and those who never buy or sell from strangers -- can deal indoors.
Six years ago one of us wrote a column on this page, "Victims of the War on Drugs." It discussed violence, poor community relations, overly aggressive policing and riots. It failed to mention one important harm: the drug war's clear and present danger toward men and women in blue.
Drug users generally aren't violent. Most simply want to be left alone to enjoy their high. It's the corner slinger who terrifies neighbors and invites rivals to attack. Public drug dealing creates an environment where disputes about money or respect are settled with guns.
In high-crime areas, police spend much of their time answering drug-related calls for service, clearing dealers off corners, responding to shootings and homicides, and making lots of drug-related arrests.
One of us (Franklin) was the commanding officer at the police academy when Arthur (as well as Moskos) graduated. We all learned similar lessons. Police officers are taught about the evils of the drug trade and given the knowledge and tools to inflict as much damage as possible upon the people who constitute the drug community. Policymakers tell us to fight this unwinnable war.
Only after years of witnessing the ineffectiveness of drug policies -- and the disproportionate impact the drug war has on young black men -- have we and other police officers begun to question the system.
Cities and states license beer and tobacco sellers to control where, when and to whom drugs are sold. Ending Prohibition saved lives because it took gangsters out of the game. Regulated alcohol doesn't work perfectly, but it works well enough. Prescription drugs are regulated, and while there is a huge problem with abuse, at least a system of distribution involving doctors and pharmacists works without violence and high-volume incarceration. Regulating drugs would work similarly: not a cure-all, but a vast improvement on the status quo.
Legalization would not create a drug free-for-all. In fact, regulation reins in the mess we already have. If prohibition decreased drug use and drug arrests acted as a deterrent, America would not lead the world in illegal drug use and incarceration for drug crimes.
Drug manufacturing and distribution is too dangerous to remain in the hands of unregulated criminals. Drug distribution needs to be the combined responsibility of doctors, the government, and a legal and regulated free market. This simple step would quickly eliminate the greatest threat of violence: street-corner drug dealing.