March 2009 Archives
A manifesto from Wired
On the morning of March 29, 1933, dozens of reporters filed into the Oval Office for a press conference with the new president. Franklin Roosevelt had taken office earlier that month amid the greatest economic crisis the US had seen: 5,700 banks had failed, 25 percent of the country was unemployed, and more than half of all mortgages were in default.
Hope for a recovery was dim; the public had lost faith in the entire financial system. The number of American investors had exploded, from a few hundred thousand before 1916 to more than 16 million. Yet few of them understood the investments they held, many of which had proven to be junk. Supposedly sound companies were exposed as pyramid schemes. Of the $50 billion in securities sold in the previous decade, half had become worthless.
And yet, as reporters huddled around his desk, Roosevelt sounded confident. "I have something on the Securities Bill today," he announced. That day, members of his brain trust were on Capitol Hill, submitting a plan that would spark the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission. One overriding concept lay at the center of the legislation: transparency. Louis Brandeis, before becoming a Supreme Court justice, had written an exposé of the financial system for Harper's Weekly, and one passage in particular had lodged in Roosevelt's brain: "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants. Electric lights the most efficient policeman." The proposed bill would require, for the first time, companies to file detailed accounts of their financial health and activity, and bankers would have to report their fees and commissions. As Roosevelt explained it to the reporters around him, the bill "applies the new doctrine of caveat vendor in place of the old doctrine of caveat emptor. In other words, 'Let the seller beware as well as the buyer.' In other words, there is a definite, positive burden on the seller for the first time to tell the truth."
Now, here we are again, 76 years later, facing another crisis of trust that threatens the entire financial system. This time, the issue is no longer a lack of transparency. Since the 1933 Securities Bill, corporate America has been required to disclose a deluge of information in a multitude of ways--10-Ks and 10-Qs, earnings calls and Sarbanes-Oxley-mandated 404s. Between 1996 and 2005 alone, the federal government issued more than 30 major rules requiring new financial disclosure protocols, and the data has piled up. The SEC's public document database, Edgar, now catalogs 200 gigabytes of filings each year--roughly 15 million pages of text--up from 35 gigabytes a decade ago.
But the volume of data obscures more than it reveals; financial reporting has become so transparent as to be invisible. Answering what should be simple questions--how secure is my cash account? How much of my bank's capital is tied up in risky debt obligations?--often seems to require a legal degree, as well as countless hours to dig through thousands of pages of documents. Undoubtedly, the warning signs of our current crisis--and the next one!--lie somewhere in all those filings, but good luck finding them.
Even the regulators can't keep up. A Senate study in 2002 found that the SEC had managed to fully review just 16 percent of the nearly 15,000 annual reports that companies submitted in the previous fiscal year; the recently disgraced Enron hadn't been reviewed in a decade. We shouldn't be surprised. While the SEC is staffed by a relatively small group of poorly compensated financial cops, Wall Street bankers get paid millions to create new and ever more complicated investment products. By the time regulators get a handle on one investment class, a slew of new ones have been created. "This is a cycle that goes on and on--and will continue to get repeated," says Peter Wysocki, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. "You can't just make new regulations about the next innovation in financial misreporting."
That's why it's not enough to simply give the SEC--or any of its sister regulators--more authority; we need to rethink our entire philosophy of regulation. Instead of assigning oversight responsibility to a finite group of bureaucrats, we should enable every investor to act as a citizen-regulator. We should tap into the massive parallel processing power of people around the world by giving everyone the tools to track, analyze, and publicize financial machinations. The result would be a wave of decentralized innovation that can keep pace with Wall Street and allow the market to regulate itself--naturally punishing companies and investments that don't measure up--more efficiently than the regulators ever could.
To Survey Damage Caused By His Presidency
from the Rachel Maddow show: Video segment
JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, GEORGE WASHINGTON
MADDOW: So President Obama says all the right things to "60 Minutes" about the Bush administration's torture policy. And the Obama administration is planning on releasing these torture memos, repudiating the policies, promising to work to change them going forward.
In terms of lining themselves up with the Constitution, how substantive are these moves? Where would you put the Obama administration's policies on these issues as we speak tonight?
TURLEY: Quite frankly, I have to put it very, very low. Yes, the fact that he is having a dialogue with Dick Cheney that he finds irritating is understandable. I mean, Vice President Cheney comes off as sort of the cranky uncle you can't get rid of at Thanksgiving dinner.
But there is more to it than that. And the reason Obama seems very irritated by it is that he is responsible for the conversation. Because he's the one that is blocking a criminal investigation of Vice President Cheney and President Bush and other Bush officials. It is like a bank robber calling up and asking him to debate bank robbery.
President Obama would say, "Listen, fellow. That is a crime."
But of course, he hasn't said that with Dick Cheney. He can't say that.
Instead, he says, "How long will it take for us to reconcile our values?"
These are not just our values. They are the law.
He should be saying what you are describing is a crime. And if he would allow an investigation to well-defined war crimes, Dick Cheney would not be making public statements. He would be surrounded by criminal defense counsel.
And yet the president refuses to allow the investigation of war crimes. And we just found out the international Red Cross, also the definitive body on torture, found that this was a real torture program. And yet, the president is having a debate with the guy over whether it was good policy.
MADDOW: In this case, we keep running up against politics versus law, politics versus law. For the legal case here, is all the president needs to do - the only thing he needs to do is get out of the way of prosecutors who would take this as a matter of law regardless of the politics here?
TURLEY: Rachel, let's be honest here. It is just as bad to prevent the investigation and prosecution of a war crime as its commission because you become part of it. There's no question about a war crime here. There is no need for a truth commission.
You know, some people say, what do you need, a film? We actually had films of us torturing people. So this would be the shortest investigation in history. You have Bush officials who have said that we tortured people. We have interrogators who have said we tortured people. The Red Cross has said it. A host of international organizations have said it.
What is President Obama waiting for? And I'm afraid the answer is a convenient moment. The fact is he has been told by his adviser that it would be grossly unpopular to investigate and prosecute Bush officials. Well, that is a perfectly horrible reason not to follow principle.
When we talk about values, the most important one is that the president has to enforce the laws. He can't pick and choose who would be popular to prosecute.
Should he be appointing a special prosecutor? What should he be doing?
TURLEY: He should be appointing a special prosecutor. There is no question about that. This is the most well-defined and publicly known crime I have seen in my lifetime. There is no debate about it. There is no ambiguity. It is well known.
You've got people involved who have basically admitted the elements of a war crime that we are committed to prosecuting. We don't need a truth and reconciliation commission because we are already reconciled to the rule of law. There is nothing to reconcile to.
What the people have to reconcile are the people who broke the law. They need to reconcile with the law. And he happens to be having a debate with one of those people as if they are talking about some quaint notion of policy.
MADDOW: I wonder, ultimately, if the fact that Dick Cheney continues to talk about this issue and continues to promote it as if it is a solution and something the Obama administration ought to feel ashamed for not having continued will ultimately be the thing that creates the political room the Obama administration feels that they need in order to proceed legally. They may just need to get that mad.
How Wall Street Insiders are Using the Bailout to Stage a Revolution
By Matt Taibbi, RollingStone.com
The global economic crisis isn't about money -- it's about power.
It's over - we're officially, royally fucked. No empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock, which is what happened as of a few weeks ago, when the buffoons who have been running things in this country finally went one step too far. It happened when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was forced to admit that he was once again going to have to stuff billions of taxpayer dollars into a dying insurance giant called AIG, itself a profound symbol of our national decline - a corporation that got rich insuring the concrete and steel of American industry in the country's heyday, only to destroy itself chasing phantom fortunes at the Wall Street card tables, like a dissolute nobleman gambling away the family estate in the waning days of the British Empire.
The latest bailout came as AIG admitted to having just posted the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history - some $61.7 billion. In the final three months of last year, the company lost more than $27 million every hour. That's $465,000 a minute, a yearly income for a median American household every six seconds, roughly $7,750 a second. And all this happened at the end of eight straight years that America devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat to no avail, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society and was unable to spot holes in the national economy the size of Libya (whose entire GDP last year was smaller than AIG's 2008 losses).
So it's time to admit it: We're fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we're still in denial - we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream. When Geithner announced the new $30 billion bailout, the party line was that poor AIG was just a victim of a lot of shitty luck - bad year for business, you know, what with the financial crisis and all. Edward Liddy, the company's CEO, actually compared it to catching a cold: "The marketplace is a pretty crummy place to be right now," he said. "When the world catches pneumonia, we get it too." In a pathetic attempt at name-dropping, he even whined that AIG was being "consumed by the same issues that are driving house prices down and 401K statements down and Warren Buffet's investment portfolio down."
Liddy made AIG sound like an orphan begging in a soup line, hungry and sick from being left out in someone else's financial weather. He conveniently forgot to mention that AIG had spent more than a decade systematically scheming to evade U.S. and international regulators, or that one of the causes of its "pneumonia" was making colossal, world-sinking $500 billion bets with money it didn't have, in a toxic and completely unregulated derivatives market.
Nor did anyone mention that when AIG finally got up from its seat at the Wall Street casino, broke and busted in the afterdawn light, it owed money all over town - and that a huge chunk of your taxpayer dollars in this particular bailout scam will be going to pay off the other high rollers at its table. Or that this was a casino unique among all casinos, one where middle-class taxpayers cover the bets of billionaires.
People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they're not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d'état. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.
The crisis was the coup de grâce: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess. And so the gambling-addict leaders of companies like AIG end up not penniless and in jail, but with an Alien-style death grip on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve - "our partners in the government," as Liddy put it with a shockingly casual matter-of-factness after the most recent bailout.
The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron - a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers.
And yet as relevant as ever.
Matt Taibbi Rolling Stone
There is very little that sums up the record of the U.S. Congress in the Bush years better than a half-mad boy-addict put in charge of a federal commission on child exploitation. After all, if a hairy-necked, raincoat-clad freak like Rep. Mark Foley can get himself named co-chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, one can only wonder: What the hell else is going on in the corridors of Capitol Hill these days?
These past six years were more than just the most shameful, corrupt and incompetent period in the history of the American legislative branch. These were the years when the U.S. parliament became a historical punch line, a political obscenity on par with the court of Nero or Caligula -- a stable of thieves and perverts who committed crimes rolling out of bed in the morning and did their very best to turn the mighty American empire into a debt-laden, despotic backwater, a Burkina Faso with cable.
To be sure, Congress has always been a kind of muddy ideological cemetery, a place where good ideas go to die in a maelstrom of bureaucratic hedging and rank favor-trading. Its whole history is one long love letter to sleaze, idiocy and pigheaded, glacial conservatism. That Congress exists mainly to misspend our money and snore its way through even the direst political crises is something we Americans understand instinctively. "There is no native criminal class except Congress," Mark Twain said -- a joke that still provokes a laugh of recognition a hundred years later.
But the 109th Congress is no mild departure from the norm, no slight deviation in an already-underwhelming history. No, this is nothing less than a historic shift in how our democracy is run. The Republicans who control this Congress are revolutionaries, and they have brought their revolutionary vision for the House and Senate quite unpleasantly to fruition. In the past six years they have castrated the political minority, abdicated their oversight responsibilities mandated by the Constitution, enacted a conscious policy of massive borrowing and unrestrained spending, and installed a host of semipermanent mechanisms for transferring legislative power to commercial interests. They aimed far lower than any other Congress has ever aimed, and they nailed their target.
"The 109th Congress is so bad that it makes you wonder if democracy is a failed experiment," says Jonathan Turley, a noted constitutional scholar and the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington Law School. "I think that if the Framers went to Capitol Hill today, it would shake their confidence in the system they created. Congress has become an exercise of raw power with no principles -- and in that environment corruption has flourished. The Republicans in Congress decided from the outset that their future would be inextricably tied to George Bush and his policies. It has become this sad session of members sitting down and drinking Kool-Aid delivered by Karl Rove. Congress became a mere extension of the White House."
The end result is a Congress that has hijacked the national treasury, frantically ceded power to the executive, and sold off the federal government in a private auction. It all happened before our very eyes. In case you missed it, here's how they did it -- in five easy steps:
RULE BY CABAL
If you want to get a sense of how Congress has changed under GOP control, just cruise the basement hallways of storied congressional office buildings like Rayburn, Longworth and Cannon. Here, in the minority offices for the various congressional committees, you will inevitably find exactly the same character -- a Democratic staffer in rumpled khakis staring blankly off into space, nothing but a single lonely "Landscapes of Monticello" calendar on his wall, his eyes wide and full of astonished, impotent rage, like a rape victim. His skin is as white as the belly of a fish; he hasn't seen the sun in seven years.
It is no big scoop that the majority party in Congress has always found ways of giving the shaft to the minority. But there is a marked difference in the size and the length of the shaft the Republicans have given the Democrats in the past six years. There has been a systematic effort not only to deny the Democrats any kind of power-sharing role in creating or refining legislation but to humiliate them publicly, show them up, pee in their faces. Washington was once a chummy fraternity in which members of both parties golfed together, played in the same pickup basketball games, probably even shared the same mistresses. Now it is a one-party town -- and congressional business is conducted accordingly, as though the half of the country that the Democrats represent simply does not exist.
American government was not designed for one-party rule but for rule by consensus -- so this current batch of Republicans has found a way to work around that product design. They have scuttled both the spirit and the letter of congressional procedure, turning the lawmaking process into a backroom deal, with power concentrated in the hands of a few chiefs behind the scenes. This reduces the legislature to a Belarus-style rubber stamp, where the opposition is just there for show, human pieces of stagecraft -- a fact the Republicans don't even bother to conceal.
"I remember one incident very clearly -- I think it was 2001," says Winslow Wheeler, who served for twenty-two years as a Republican staffer in the Senate. "I was working for [New Mexico Republican] Pete Domenici at the time. We were in a Budget Committee hearing and the Democrats were debating what the final result would be. And my boss gets up and he says, 'Why are you saying this? You're not even going to be in the room when the decisions are made.' Just said it right out in the open."
Wheeler's very career is a symbol of a bipartisan age long passed into the history books; he is the last staffer to have served in the offices of a Republican and a Democrat at the same time, having once worked for both Kansas Republican Nancy Kassebaum and Arkansas Democrat David Pryor simultaneously. Today, those Democratic staffers trapped in the basement laugh at the idea that such a thing could ever happen again. These days, they consider themselves lucky if they manage to hold a single hearing on a bill before Rove's well-oiled legislative machine delivers it up for Bush's signature.
By Matthew Lee
AP - The Obama administration will endorse a U.N. declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality that then-President George W. Bush had refused to sign, The Associated Press has learned.
U.S. officials said Tuesday they had notified the declaration's French sponsors that the administration wants to be added as a supporter. The Bush administration was criticized in December when it was the only western government that refused to sign on.
The move was made after an interagency review of the Bush administration's position on the nonbinding document, which was signed by all 27 European Union members as well as Japan, Australia, Mexico and three dozen other countries, the officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Congress was still being notified of the decision. They said the administration had decided to sign the declaration to demonstrate that the United States supports human rights for all.
"The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world," said one official.
"As such, we join with the other supporters of this statement and we will continue to remind countries of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people in all appropriate international fora," the official said.
The official added that the United States was concerned about "violence and human rights abuses against gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual individuals" and was also "troubled by the criminalization of sexual orientation in many countries."
"In the words of the United States Supreme Court, the right to be free from criminalization on the basis of sexual orientation 'has been accepted as an integral part of human freedom'," the official said.
Gay rights and other groups had criticized the Bush administration when it refused to sign the declaration when it was presented at the United Nations on Dec. 19. U.S. officials said then that the U.S. opposed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but that parts of the declaration raised legal questions that needed further review.
According to negotiators, the Bush team had concerns that those parts could commit the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In some states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; on the federal level, gays are not allowed to serve openly in the military.
It was not immediately clear on Tuesday how the Obama administration had come to a different conclusion.
When it was voted on in December, 66 of the U.N.'s 192 member countries signed the declaration -- which backers called a historic step to push the General Assembly to deal more forthrightly with anti-gay discrimination.
But 70 U.N. members outlaw homosexuality -- and in several, homosexual acts can be punished by execution. More than 50 nations, including members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, opposed the declaration.
Some Islamic countries said at the time that protecting sexual orientation could lead to "the social normalization and possibly the legalization of deplorable acts" such as pedophilia and incest. The declaration was also opposed by the Vatican.
Now what's cooler than this?
LONDON, England -- Scientists in the U.S. are developing a laser gun that could kill millions of mosquitoes in minutes.
The laser, which has been dubbed a "weapon of mosquito destruction" fires at mosquitoes once it detects the audio frequency created by the beating of its wings.
The laser beam then destroys the mosquito, burning it on the spot.
Developed by some of the astrophysicists involved in what was known as the "Star Wars" anti-missile programs during the Cold War, the project is meant to prevent the spread of malaria.
Lead scientist on the project, Dr. Jordin Kare, told CNN that the laser would be able to sweep an area and "toast millions of mosquitoes in a few minutes."
In any case," he added, "The laser is able to distinguish between mosquitoes that go after people and those that aren't dangerous."
He added that other insects would not be affected by the laser's beam.
by David Brooks
Over the centuries, the United States has been most conspicuous for one trait: manic energy. Americans work longer hours than any other people. We switch jobs more frequently, move more often, earn more and consume more.
This energy was first aroused by abundance, by the tantalizing sense that dazzling wealth was available just over the next hill. But it has also been sustained by a popular culture that celebrates commercial ambition. From Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, through Horatio Alger and Norman Vincent Peale, up until Donald Trump and Jim Cramer, popular figures have always emerged to champion the American gospel of success, encouraging middle-class people to strive, risk and make money.
This gospel gets dented during each of the nation's financial crises, but it always returns with a vengeance. The late 19th century was a time of economic turmoil. Yet it was also a time when this commercial creed was preached most fervently. Andrew Carnegie published "The Gospel of Wealth." Elbert Hubbard published "A Message to Garcia," which celebrated industriousness and ambition and sold nearly 40 million copies. The Baptist minister Russell Conwell traveled the country delivering his "Acres of Diamonds" sermon to rapturous audiences more than 6,000 times.
"I say that the opportunity to get rich, to attain unto great wealth, is here now within the reach of almost every man and woman who hears me speak tonight!" Conwell thundered to his audiences. "I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich ... Money is power, and you ought to be reasonably ambitious to have it. You ought, because you can do more good with it than you could without it."
The Great Depression suppressed economic activity, but not the commercial spirit. In the middle of it, Dale Carnegie published "How to Win Friends and Influence People," which promised imminent success and went on to sell more copies than any other book to that point but the Bible. The stagflation of the 1970s didn't discredit capitalism. It gave rise to the supply-side movement and the apotheosis of the entrepreneur.
In short, the United States will never be Europe. It was born as a commercial republic. It's addicted to the pace of commercial enterprise. After periodic pauses, the country inevitably returns to its elemental nature.
The U.S. is in one of those pauses today. It has been odd, over the past six months, not to have the gospel of success as part of the normal background music of life. You go about your day, taking in the news and the new movies, books and songs, and only gradually do you become aware that there is an absence. There are no aspirational stories of rags-to-riches success floating around. There are no new how-to-get-rich enthusiasms. There are few magazine covers breathlessly telling readers that some new possibility -- biotechnology, nanotechnology -- is about to change everything. That part of American culture that stokes ambition and encourages risk has gone silent.
We are now in an astonishingly noncommercial moment. Risk is out of favor. The financial world is abashed. Enterprise is suspended. The public culture is dominated by one downbeat story after another as members of the educated class explore and enjoy the humiliation of the capitalist vulgarians.
Business integrity is difficult to define but you know it when you see it. Don't ignore potential fraud or misconduct. If you see something you believe violates the law or the AIG Code of Conduct - speak up.
The AIG Compliance Help Line is available via telephone or internet 24 hours a day, 7days a week, worldwide. It is operated by an independent third party, so you can feel comfortable voicing your concerns or reporting suspected violations. The telephone number to contact the Help Line is 1-877-AIG-2210 (callers outside the United States should click here for a list of local long distance numbers available in certain countries, or consult your local compliance officials to obtain specific dialing instructions for your country), or you may follow the directions below to submit a report via the internet. If you want to report a threat of violence or other similarly urgent matter, please utilize the Compliance Help Line telephone number instead of filing a report via the internet. If this is a life or death matter, contact the appropriate authorities immediately. Be assured that you will never be retaliated against or punished in any way for reporting your concerns in good faith.
A call for compassion and all world religions core tenant, The Golden Rule, to be brought back to the center of focus.
The Pope is the world's last, great, absolute monarch. He not only controls doctrinal and spiritual affairs, but also the political, social and economic fortunes of his church. And because he's believed to be directly guided by God, his decisions have the ring of absolute truth, which is strangely out of kilter with the democratic tenor of today's world.
BILL MOYERS: While working on a film in Jerusalem, the ancient city where Islam, Judaism and Christianity converge, the connections among that trio of faiths rekindled Armstrong's imagination and led to another new career.
She became one of the foremost, and most original, thinkers on religion in our modern world. Her many popular books include studies of Muhammad and Islam, the crusades, the ambitiously titled A HISTORY OF GOD and her latest, THE BIBLE.
A self-proclaimed "freelance monotheist," Karen Armstrong is now on a mission to bring compassion, the heart of religion, as she sees it, back into modern life.
KAREN ARMSTRONG: Well, my work has continually brought me back to the notion of compassion. Whichever religious tradition I study, I find that the heart of it is the idea of feeling with the other, experiencing with the other, compassion. And every single one of the major world religions has developed its own version of the Golden Rule. Don't do to others what you would not like them to do to you.
You see, the Greeks too, they may have been not religious in our sense, but they understood about compassion. The institution of tragedy put suffering on stage. And the leader of the chorus would ask the audience to weep for people, even like Heracles, who had been driven mad by a goddess and slew his own wife and children.
And the Greeks did weep. They didn't just, like modern western men, wipe a tear from the corner of their eye and gulp hard. They cried aloud because they felt that weeping together created a bond between human beings. And that the idea is you were learning to put yourself in the position of another and reach out, not only to acceptable people, people in your own group, but to your enemies, to people that you wouldn't normally have any deep truck with at all.
Put them out of their misery. It is insane at this point that these idiots just do not get it.
A.I.G. Planning Huge Bonuses After $170 Billion Bailout
By Edmund L. Andrews and Peter Baker
The American International Group, which has received more than $170 billion in taxpayer bailout money from the Treasury and Federal Reserve, plans to pay about $165 million in bonuses by Sunday to executives in the same business unit that brought the company to the brink of collapse last year.
Word of the bonuses last week stirred such deep consternation inside the Obama administration that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told the firm they were unacceptable and demanded they be renegotiated, a senior administration official said. But the bonuses will go forward because lawyers said the firm was contractually obligated to pay them.
The payments to A.I.G.'s financial products unit are in addition to $121 million in previously scheduled bonuses for the company's senior executives and 6,400 employees across the sprawling corporation. Mr. Geithner last week pressured A.I.G. to cut the $9.6 million going to the top 50 executives in half and tie the rest to performance.
The payment of so much money at a company at the heart of the financial collapse that sent the broader economy into a tailspin almost certainly will fuel a popular backlash against the government's efforts to prop up Wall Street. Past bonuses already have prompted President Obama and Congress to impose tough rules on corporate executive compensation at firms bailed out with taxpayer money.
A.I.G., nearly 80 percent of which is now owned by the government, defended its bonuses, arguing that they were promised last year before the crisis and cannot be legally canceled. In a letter to Mr. Geithner, Edward M. Liddy, the government-appointed chairman of A.I.G., said at least some bonuses were needed to keep the most skilled executives.
What a perfect load of crap. Let them go find other jobs, they obviously didn't do well at AIG.
Sensible and straight forward.
by Evo Morales Ayma
THIS week in Vienna, a meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs took place that will help shape international antidrug efforts for the next 10 years. I attended the meeting to reaffirm Bolivia's commitment to this struggle but also to call for the reversal of a mistake made 48 years ago.
In 1961, the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs placed the coca leaf in the same category with cocaine -- thus promoting the false notion that the coca leaf is a narcotic -- and ordered that "coca leaf chewing must be abolished within 25 years from the coming into force of this convention." Bolivia signed the convention in 1976, during the brutal dictatorship of Col. Hugo Banzer, and the 25-year deadline expired in 2001.
So for the past eight years, the millions of us who maintain the traditional practice of chewing coca have been, according to the convention, criminals who violate international law. This is an unacceptable and absurd state of affairs for Bolivians and other Andean peoples.
Many plants have small quantities of various chemical compounds called alkaloids. One common alkaloid is caffeine, which is found in more than 50 varieties of plants, from coffee to cacao, and even in the flowers of orange and lemon trees. Excessive use of caffeine can cause nervousness, elevated pulse, insomnia and other unwanted effects.
Another common alkaloid is nicotine, found in the tobacco plant. Its consumption can lead to addiction, high blood pressure and cancer; smoking causes one in five deaths in the United States. Some alkaloids have important medicinal qualities. Quinine, for example, the first known treatment for malaria, was discovered by the Quechua Indians of Peru in the bark of the cinchona tree.
The coca leaf also has alkaloids; the one that concerns antidrug officials is the cocaine alkaloid, which amounts to less than one-tenth of a percent of the leaf. But as the above examples show, that a plant, leaf or flower contains a minimal amount of alkaloids does not make it a narcotic. To be made into a narcotic, alkaloids must typically be extracted, concentrated and in many cases processed chemically. What is absurd about the 1961 convention is that it considers the coca leaf in its natural, unaltered state to be a narcotic. The paste or the concentrate that is extracted from the coca leaf, commonly known as cocaine, is indeed a narcotic, but the plant itself is not.
Why is Bolivia so concerned with the coca leaf? Because it is an important symbol of the history and identity of the indigenous cultures of the Andes.
The custom of chewing coca leaves has existed in the Andean region of South America since at least 3000 B.C. It helps mitigate the sensation of hunger, offers energy during long days of labor and helps counter altitude sickness. Unlike nicotine or caffeine, it causes no harm to human health nor addiction or altered state, and it is effective in the struggle against obesity, a major problem in many modern societies.
Today, millions of people chew coca in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and northern Argentina and Chile. The coca leaf continues to have ritual, religious and cultural significance that transcends indigenous cultures and encompasses the mestizo population.
Mistakes are an unavoidable part of human history, but sometimes we have the opportunity to correct them. It is time for the international community to reverse its misguided policy toward the coca leaf.
Evo Morales Ayma is the president of Bolivia.
In a way, it's a pretty ruthless business. Weak handwaving, of the sort that Darwin was doing in his theory of inheritance, doesn't cut it and gets chopped apart savagely with the bloody cleaver of experiment. Creationism is far, far weaker than Darwin's 19th century proposal, so you can guess how it fares.
When the proponents of creationism ask that their nonsense be taught in school, there is an implicit expectation that the scientists will put away their implements of destruction and suspend the savagery while their delicate little flower of unsupportable fluff is discussed reverentially. That is not going to happen. If it did, it wouldn't be a science class.
A lesson plan that includes creationism should plainly show that experiment and observation have irrefutably demonstrated that it is now a splintered pile of cack-minded gob****e, wrecked by a century and a half of discovery, and that its supporters now are reduced to pathetically feeble rationalizations that rely almost entirely on people's emotional dependence on the legitimacy of their religious beliefs. A science class isn't the place to rip into airy-fairy religiosity -- we have other venues for that -- but it should uncompromisingly demolish every attempt to link natural, material events to pious metaphysics. If a student comes out of such a class believing that maybe there is still something to the Genesis explanation of the origins of life, then the instructor has not done her job. Her job was to explain with science how the world works, and if anyone wants to smuggle in the seven days and the magic fruit tree and the talking snake, it should be so the teacher can show the students that that is not how it works.
I'm willing to grant creationism an hour or two in the classroom, as long as its role is to be an easy victim, to demonstrate how science can be used to eviscerate bad ideas (I also know from experience that most students find that extremely entertaining, as well as informative). From what I've seen of most of the creationist curricula advanced by these quacks, that isn't what they want. To which we have to say, then it isn't science.
Posted 11 March 2009 09:15 PM Hide Post
They nailed him up. He hung for hours while weeping swept like waves across his bleeding feet.
With heat swollen tongue, he looked down at her and begged her to do it. As his mother, she would have but could not because others pulled her back saying, "No, he must die of his own achievement, he must not be helped."
The weeping continues.
If you could be there, at the crucifixion, would you put an end to his suffering or would you stand and watch him die? What if He asked you to do it?
Would ending it for him in any way change the nature of the transcendence?
By Lise Fisher
Gainesville ,FL -- Boaters planning a trip down the Suwannee River should remember that they'll be sharing the waters with sturgeon, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission cautioned this week. The fish, which can grow to more than 8 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds, have had their share of run-ins with boaters.
Annually, there are reports of incidents where a sturgeon jumping out of the water has hit a boat or boater.Last year, a 4-year-old boy's arm was broken and his father was cut by a jumping sturgeon on the river.
Gulf sturgeon migrate back into the Suwannee River during March and April. Officials are recommending that boaters reduce their speed on the river. This gives boaters more time to react if they do encounter a jumping sturgeon. Signs also are posted at boat ramps along the Suwannee to remind boaters about the sturgeon.
"We will be checking those boat ramps this month to ensure all the signs are still in place, and our officers will be on water patrol during this period and into the summer months in a continued effort to educate boaters on this issue," said Maj. Lee Beach, regional law enforcement commander for FWC's North Central Region.
"Just one person getting hurt is too many. We want people to be aware the sturgeon are returning, and the risk of injury to boaters does exist," Beach said.
The Suwannee appears to support the largest viable population of Gulf sturgeon, with biologists estimating the annual population at 6,500 to 7,500. The adult fish spend eight to nine months every year in the river spawning. It's unknown why sturgeon jump out of the water. The fish have rows of "rock hard" plates along their sides, back and belly.
"When sturgeon and boaters collide, the results can be devastating," said FWC biologist Jeffrey Wilcox.
Two million flights pass through New York's airspace each year. Artist Aaron Koblin used images from his piece, Flight Patterns, to create a Google map representing air traffic across the United States over a 24-hour period. The map displays the flight paths for more than 205,000 aircraft the FAA tracked on August 12, 2008.
Using data provided by FlightView, a service that provides real-time air-travel information, Koblin layers flight patterns by altitude, aircraft model and manufacturer.
Kinda makes our homegrown fundies seem all warm and cuddely, don't it?
Saudis to lash 75-year-old woman for mingling
Widow sentenced to 40 lashes, four months in jail for meeting young men
CAIRO - A 75-year-old widow in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to 40 lashes and four months in jail for mingling with two young men who are not close relatives, drawing new criticism for the kingdom's ultraconservative religious police and judiciary.
The woman's lawyer told The Associated Press on Monday that he would appeal the verdict against Khamisa Sawadi, who is Syrian but was married to a Saudi. The attorney, Abdel Rahman al-Lahem, said the verdict issued March 3 also demands that Sawadi be deported after serving her sentence.
He said his client, who is not serving her sentence yet, was not speaking with the media, and he declined to provide more details about the case.
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The newspaper Al-Watan said the woman met with the two 24-year-old men last April after she asked them to bring her five loaves of bread at her home in al-Chamil, a city north of the capital, Riyadh.
Al-Watan identified one man as Fahd al-Anzi, the nephew of Sawadi's late husband, and the other as his friend and business partner Hadiyan bin Zein. It said they were arrested by the religious police after delivering the bread. The men also were convicted and sentenced to lashes and prison.
Ruling based on 'citizen information'
The court said it based its ruling on "citizen information" and testimony from al-Anzi's father, who accused Sawadi of corruption.
"Because she said she doesn't have a husband and because she is not a Saudi, conviction of the defendants of illegal mingling has been confirmed," the court verdict read.
Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islam prohibits men and women who are not immediate relatives from mingling. It also bars women from driving, and the playing of music, dancing and many movies also are a concern for hard-liners who believe they violate religious and moral values.
Complaints from Saudis have been growing that the religious police and courts are overstepping their broad mandate and interfering in people's lives, and critics lambasted the handling of Sawadi's case.
"How can a verdict be issued based on suspicion?" Laila Ahmed al-Ahdab, a physician who also is a columnist for Al-Watan, wrote Monday. "A group of people are misusing religion to serve their own interests."
Sawadi told the court she considered al-Anzi as her son, because she breast-fed him when he was a baby. But the court denied her claim, saying she didn't provide evidence. In Islamic tradition, breast-feeding establishes a degree of maternal relation, even if a woman nurses a child who is not biologically hers.
Sawadi commonly asked her neighbors for help after her husband died, said journalist Bandar al-Ammar, who reported the story for Al-Watan. In a recent article, he wrote that he felt the need to report the case "so everybody knows to what degree we have reached."
The woman's conviction came a few weeks after King Abdullah fired the chief of the religious police and a cleric who condoned killing owners of TV networks that broadcast "immoral content." The move was seen as part of an effort to weaken the hard-line Sunni Muslim establishment.
There is a story making the rounds of a pool reporter on Air Force One who asked President Obama, "Are you a socialist?" We assume here the reporter was acting in good faith, probably hoping the President would chime in with something newsworthy, or refute a conservative talking point now being broadcast from the exalted head of the Republican Party, AKA, his High Holiness Rush Limbaugh. In recognition of Dday's recommended diary, and in the spirit of that good faith, we offer some context for that reporter, and any others that might be lurking here on a beautiful Sunday evening.
The special 747, designated as Air Force One when the Commander in Chief is onboard, was built to custom order and paid for by US taxpayers. The general design and that specific airplane were enabled by decades of big government spending on aerospace technology. Every nut and bolt in that plane and any other airliner was checked for flight worthiness by government inspectors making it, in GOP parlance these days, a 'socialist' aircraft. As with all domestic flights, it is safely guided from take off to landing by a national network of highly trained government paid air traffic controllers - another "socialist" organization -- utterly dependent on an invention using radio detecting and ranging developed under the administration of a socialist President during World War II. Many of the pilots who fly Air Force One and its Marine counterpart were trained to navigate and fly sophisticated aircraft at considerable taxpayer expense in the military - yet another big government "socialist" enterprise tasked with fighting wars and ensuring the survival of American democracy.
That same reporter in all likelihood attended a public socialist kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school. They may or may not have gone on to a state socialist university. Throughout their life they depended on the local 'socialist' police force, and may even have had occasion to call a socialist hotline alerting the socialist fire department to quickly intervene in all manner of life and death emergencies. The reporter is old enough to remember standing transfixed in horror the day that thousands of those 'socialist' heroes rushed headlong into the burning World Trade Towers, and were ground into socialist pulp in the ensuing collapse before the eyes of millions of horrified viewers watching on television networks created and regulated by a socialist behemoth known as the Federal Communications Commission.
I know nothing about the health of the reporter (And I wish no ill fortune on them), but odds are close to 100 per cent that sooner or later their life, or the life of a loved one, will be improved, prolonged, or saved, again and again, by drugs and treatments developed by big government socialist programs and over seen for safety and efficacy by a big nasty socialist FDA. Those same programs and others like them will likely add, on average, another precious decade or two of life expectancy for the reporter, his friends, and his family.
It's a statistical certainty that the reporter has friends and family spared the grinding poverty and spiraling morbidity that once was synonymous with old age prior to the advent of socialized medicine and social security for the elderly. These programs are so successful that the reporter need not even contemplate them, knowing they will be there when he or she needs them, even if that reporter chooses to faithfully reproduce the talking points of right-wing politicians, each and everyone supported by the state and enjoying the benefits of comprehensive government healthcare provided at taxpayer expense, bitching and whining endlessly about the evils of socialism.
Every week or two, the reporter will probably make sure their paycheck is directly and/or correctly deposited into their online checking account. The internet making this possible is an outgrowth of a Cold War relic, socialism by any other name. And even in the midst of the worst economic meltdown since 1929, the reporter can rest comfortably knowing their hard-earned bank deposits are insured by the full faith and credit of the United States Government. The losses will be socialized, the banks and brokerage houses stabilized, and in the event any of the above fails, the institutions will be nationalized. All modern commerce and the everyday welfare of every citizen in this nation depends on it.
But in closing we should note, in all fairness: the reporter was absolutely well within his or her rights to pose any question, report any answer, or provide any commentary and opinion of their choosing. Because in this country, the press is protected by an enumerated right enshrined in a 'socialist' document written by radical progressives, since defended at enormous cost in the lives and limbs of countless members in the socialist Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, and beginning with a preamble that would stir the collectivist heart of any Marxist: "We the People ..."
65 terabytes of files! Wow.
STOCKHOLM - Police have made a major crackdown on illegal file-sharing by seizing a giant computer server during an apartment raid in a Stockholm suburb, an official said Saturday.
Henrik Ponten, a spokesman at the Swedish Anti-Piracy Bureau, said the server contained about 65 terabytes of files, corresponding to around 16,000 full-length movies.
"The size of the works are gigantic," he said, noting it was one of the biggest pirate server confiscations ever in Sweden.
Police raided the apartment in Brandbergen, in southern Stockholm, in the beginning of February after the anti-piracy bureau filed a report about it, he said.
Ponten said one suspect had been questioned by police, but was released shortly afterward since the confiscation was the main objective of the raid.
"Basically he admitted he was in charge of it (the server)," he said.
According to Ponten the server is part of an international pirate network called "The Scene," providing users of Internet file-sharing sites such as Sweden's The Pirate Bay with extensive access to copyright protected material.
Three Blind Mice
By Charles M. Blow
The Republicans have reached a new low, literally.
According to the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, the percentage of Americans who view the Republican Party positively is at an all-time low. Meanwhile, President Obama's positive rating is at an all-time high, and the Democratic Party's positive rating is near its high.
Why? Because the Republicans have dissolved into a querulous lot of nags and naysayers without a voice, a direction or a clue, and we are not amused.
And who has surfaced as their saviors? Bobby Jindal, Michael Steele and Rush Limbaugh -- the axis of drivel.
Let's start with Jindal, who delivered his now-infamous, numbingly rote response to Obama's national address in a kindergarten cadence. He fumbled his facts and sealed his fate. He then scurried off to Disney World to lick his wounds in a place where they appreciate a character and a fairy tale. Goofy.
As for Steele, the Republicans seem to be suffering from buyers' remorse. They apparently didn't show him the job description. They wanted a wheeling-and-dealing, Rovian maestro. Instead, they got a bobbing-and-weaving, camera-loving mouthpiece.
The only better than watching the Republican party being destroyed by one their loudest mouths would be to have him actually run as the their next presidential candidate, say with Palin as his vp.
Fears of a Clown
by Timothy Egan
Once upon a time, you could drive to the most remote reaches of the United States and escape Rush Limbaugh. But from the Mogollon Mountains of New Mexico to the Badlands of South Dakota, where only the delicious twang of a country tune or the high-pitched pleadings of a lone lunatic came over the AM dial, there is now the Mighty El Rushbo.
As someone who spends a lot of time on the road, I used to find Limbaugh to be an obnoxious but entertaining companion, his eruptions more reliable than Old Faithful. But now that Limbaugh has become something else -- the face of the Republican Party, by a White House that has played him brilliantly -- he has been transformed into car-wreck-quality spectacle, at once scary and sad.
The sweaty, swollen man in the black, half-buttoned shirt who ranted for nearly 90 minutes Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference. He reiterated his desire to see the president of his country fail. He misstated the Constitution's intent while accusing President Obama of "bastardizing" the document. He made fun of one man's service in Vietnam, to laughter.
INSERT DESCRIPTION(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press) Rush Limbaugh.
David Letterman compared him to an Eastern European gangster. But he looked more like a bouncer at a strip club who spent all his tips on one bad outfit. And for the Republican Party, Limbaugh has become very much a vice.
Smarter Republicans know he is not good for them. As the conservative writer David Frum said recently, "If you're a talk radio host and you have five million who listen and there are 50 million who hate you, you make a nice living. If you're a Republican party, you're marginalized."
Polling has found Limbaugh, a self-described prescription-drug addict who sees America from a private jet, to be nearly as unpopular as Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who damned America in the way that Limbaugh has now damned the nation's newly elected leader. But Republicans just can't quit him. So even poor Michael Steele, the nominal head of the Republican Party who dared to criticize him, had to grovel and crawl back to the feet of Limbaugh.
As Krugman points out below, one of the biggest causes of the ongoing inability of our government to stop the economic hemorrhaging is a refusal to accept the N-word. Basically, American are victims of their own capitalist propaganda.
The Big Dither
By Paul Krugman
Last month, in his big speech to Congress, President Obama argued for bold steps to fix America's dysfunctional banks. "While the cost of action will be great," he declared, "I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade."
Many analysts agree. But among people I talk to there's a growing sense of frustration, even panic, over Mr. Obama's failure to match his words with deeds. The reality is that when it comes to dealing with the banks, the Obama administration is dithering. Policy is stuck in a holding pattern.
Here's how the pattern works: first, administration officials, usually speaking off the record, float a plan for rescuing the banks in the press. This trial balloon is quickly shot down by informed commentators.
Then, a few weeks later, the administration floats a new plan. This plan is, however, just a thinly disguised version of the previous plan, a fact quickly realized by all concerned. And the cycle starts again.
Why do officials keep offering plans that nobody else finds credible?
By Adam Liptak
In a major setback for business groups that had hoped to build a barrier against injury lawsuits seeking billions of dollars, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said state juries may award damages for harm from unsafe drugs even though their manufacturers had satisfied federal regulators.
The ruling could have significant implications beyond drug manufacturing. Many companies have sought tighter federal regulation in recent years in part to shield themselves from litigation.
The court, by a 6-to-3 vote, upheld a jury verdict of $6.7 million in favor of a musician from Vermont whose arm had to be amputated after she was injected with an antinausea drug. The drug's manufacturer, Wyeth, had argued that its compliance with the Food and Drug Administration's labeling requirements should immunize it from lawsuits.
Pharmaceutical companies were especially disappointed by Wednesday's decision.
Ronald Rogers, a spokesman for Merck, said, "We believe state courts should not be second-guessing the doctors and scientists at the F.D.A."
Merck was hit with several huge damage awards over its painkiller Vioxx before agreeing to a $4.85 billion settlement in 2007. Allowing juries to make determinations about drug risks, Mr. Rogers said, would cause "mass confusion."
The Supreme Court has been sympathetic in recent years to arguments that federal law should pre-empt state injury suits. Last year, in Riegel v. Medtronic, an eight-justice majority of the court ruled that many state suits concerning injuries caused by medical devices were barred by the express language in a federal law. Wednesday's decision addressed implied pre-emption, a different legal standard.
Drug companies and other businesses, supported by the Bush administration, had hoped the Vermont case would establish broader protections. They relied not on express language in a statute enacted by Congress, as in Riegel, but on what might be implied from federal regulatory standards and policies -- in this case, from the drug agency's authority to approve drug labels.
Producers of goods as different as antifreeze, fireworks, popcorn, cigarettes and light bulbs have sought to take refuge behind federal oversight in recent years to fend off litigation. After Wednesday's decision, those efforts are most likely to succeed if they are based on express language in a Congressional statute or a specific regulatory action that makes compliance with state requirements impossible.
"This narrows the playing field," for implied pre-emption arguments, Mark Herrmann, a corporate defense lawyer in Chicago, said of the decision. "This does not eliminate the playing field."
As scary as you might have thought it was:
In Legal Memos, Clearer View of Power Bush Sought
by Devlin Barrett and Matt Apuzzo
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration threw open the curtain on years of Bush-era secrets Monday, revealing anti-terror memos that claimed exceptional search-and-seizure powers and divulging that the CIA destroyed nearly 100 videotapes of interrogations and other treatment of terror suspects.
The Justice Department released nine legal opinions showing that, following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration determined that certain constitutional rights would not apply during the coming fight. Within two weeks, government lawyers were already discussing ways to wiretap U.S. conversations without warrants.
The Bush administration eventually abandoned many of the legal conclusions, but the documents themselves had been closely held. By releasing them, President Barack Obama continued a house-cleaning of the previous administration's most contentious policies.
"Too often over the past decade, the fight against terrorism has been viewed as a zero-sum battle with our civil liberties," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech a few hours before the documents were released. "Not only is that school of thought misguided, I fear that in actuality it does more harm than good."
The Obama administration also acknowledged in court documents Monday that the CIA destroyed 92 videos involving terror suspects, including interrogations _ far more than had been known. Congressional Democrats and other critics have charged that some of the harsh interrogation techniques amounted to torture, a contention President George W. Bush and other Bush officials rejected.
The new administration pledged on Monday to begin turning over documents related to the videos to a federal judge and to make as much information public as possible.
The legal memos written by the Bush administration's Office of Legal Counsel show a government grappling with how to wage war on terrorism in a fast-changing world. The conclusion, reiterated in page after page of documents, was that the president had broad authority to set aside constitutional rights.
Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted search and seizure, for instance, did not apply in the United States as long as the president was combatting terrorism, the Justice Department said in an Oct. 23, 2001, memo.