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And, yes, I DO take it personally: 03/29/2009 - 04/05/2009
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Saturday, April 04, 2009

It was in the boardrooms and the CEO offices where the fraud began - and continues

read it (or watch it) and weep...
The Best Way To Rob A Bank Is To Own One

By Bill Moyers
Video - Audio and Transcript

The financial industry brought the economy to its knees, but how did they get away with it? With the nation wondering how to hold the bankers accountable, Bill Moyers sits down with William K. Black, the former senior regulator who cracked down on banks during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. Black offers his analysis of what went wrong and his critique of the bailout

Click Here To Watch The Video


Broadcast PBS - April 3, 2009

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

For months now, revelations of the wholesale greed and blatant transgressions of Wall Street have reminded us that "The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One." In fact, the man you're about to meet wrote a book with just that title. It was based upon his experience as a tough regulator during one of the darkest chapters in our financial history: the savings and loan scandal in the late 1980s.

WILLIAM K. BLACK: These numbers as large as they are, vastly understate the problem of fraud.

BILL MOYERS: Bill Black was in New York this week for a conference at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice where scholars and journalists gathered to ask the question, "How do they get away with it?" Well, no one has asked that question more often than Bill Black.

The former Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention now teaches Economics and Law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. During the savings and loan crisis, it was Black who accused then-house speaker Jim Wright and five US Senators, including John Glenn and John McCain, of doing favors for the S&L's in exchange for contributions and other perks. The senators got off with a slap on the wrist, but so enraged was one of those bankers, Charles Keating — after whom the senate's so-called "Keating Five" were named — he sent a memo that read, in part, "get Black — kill him dead." Metaphorically, of course. Of course.

Now Black is focused on an even greater scandal, and he spares no one — not even the President he worked hard to elect, Barack Obama. But his main targets are the Wall Street barons, heirs of an earlier generation whose scandalous rip-offs of wealth back in the 1930s earned them comparison to Al Capone and the mob, and the nickname "banksters."

Bill Black, welcome to the Journal.

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: I was taken with your candor at the conference here in New York to hear you say that this crisis we're going through, this economic and financial meltdown is driven by fraud. What's your definition of fraud?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Fraud is deceit. And the essence of fraud is, "I create trust in you, and then I betray that trust, and get you to give me something of value." And as a result, there's no more effective acid against trust than fraud, especially fraud by top elites, and that's what we have.

BILL MOYERS: In your book, you make it clear that calculated dishonesty by people in charge is at the heart of most large corporate failures and scandals, including, of course, the S&L, but is that true? Is that what you're saying here, that it was in the boardrooms and the CEO offices where this fraud began?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: How did they do it? What do you mean?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, the way that you do it is to make really bad loans, because they pay better. Then you grow extremely rapidly, in other words, you're a Ponzi-like scheme. And the third thing you do is we call it leverage. That just means borrowing a lot of money, and the combination creates a situation where you have guaranteed record profits in the early years. That makes you rich, through the bonuses that modern executive compensation has produced. It also makes it inevitable that there's going to be a disaster down the road.

BILL MOYERS: So you're suggesting, saying that CEOs of some of these banks and mortgage firms in order to increase their own personal income, deliberately set out to make bad loans?


BILL MOYERS: How do they get away with it? I mean, what about their own checks and balances in the company? What about their accounting divisions?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: All of those checks and balances report to the CEO, so if the CEO goes bad, all of the checks and balances are easily overcome. And the art form is not simply to defeat those internal controls, but to suborn them, to turn them into your greatest allies. And the bonus programs are exactly how you do that.

BILL MOYERS: If I wanted to go looking for the parties to this, with a good bird dog, where would you send me?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, that's exactly what hasn't happened. We haven't looked, all right? The Bush Administration essentially got rid of regulation, so if nobody was looking, you were able to do this with impunity and that's exactly what happened. Where would you look? You'd look at the specialty lenders. The lenders that did almost all of their work in the sub-prime and what's called Alt-A, liars' loans.


BILL MOYERS: So if your assumption is correct, your evidence is sound, the bank, the lending company, created a fraud. And the ratings agency that is supposed to test the value of these assets knowingly entered into the fraud. Both parties are committing fraud by intention.

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Right, and the investment banker that — we call it pooling — puts together these bad mortgages, these liars' loans, and creates the toxic waste of these derivatives. All of them do that. And then they sell it to the world and the world just thinks because it has a triple-A rating it must actually be safe. Well, instead, there are 60 and 80 percent losses on these things, because of course they, in reality, are toxic waste.

BILL MOYERS: You're describing what Bernie Madoff did to a limited number of people. But you're saying it's systemic, a systemic Ponzi scheme.

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Oh, Bernie was a piker. He doesn't even get into the front ranks of a Ponzi scheme...

BILL MOYERS: But you're saying our system became a Ponzi scheme.

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Our system...

BILL MOYERS: Our financial system...

WILLIAM K. BLACK: Became a Ponzi scheme. Everybody was buying a pig in the poke. But they were buying a pig in the poke with a pretty pink ribbon, and the pink ribbon said, "Triple-A."

and there ya have it...

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Takin' A Break

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Read Juan Cole's "Top Ten Ways the U.S. is Turning Afghanistan into Iraq"


as i'm looking out my window at kabul's qall e-fatullah neighborhood and as disaffected as i'm feeling today anyway, i'd substitute "obama" in the headline for "u.s."... anywayz, it's worth a read...

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Yee-Ha...! Some prisoners at Bagram will come under U.S. court jurisdiction


this is good news and long, long overdue... (btw, as i type this, i am sitting at my desk in kabul, approximately 60km south of bagram...)
A federal judge ruled on Thursday that prisoners in the war on terror can use U.S. civilian courts to challenge their detention at a military air base in Afghanistan.

U.S. District Judge John Bates turned down the United States' motion to deny the right to three foreign detainees at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have the right to challenge their detention in court. But the government had argued that it did not apply to those in Afghanistan.

Bates said the cases were essentially the same and he quoted the Supreme Court ruling repeatedly in his judgment and applied the test created by it to each detainee. It is the first time a federal judge has applied the ruling to detainees in Afghanistan.

Bates considered the requests of four detainees asking to be released, but he reserved judgment on one detainee, Haji Wazir, because he is an Afghan citizen and releasing him could create "practical obstacles in the form of friction with the host country." He ordered Wazir and the government to file memos addressing those issues.

The other three detainees are from outside Afghanistan -- Fadi al Maqaleh of Yemen, Amin al Bakri of Yemen and Redha al-Najar of Tunisia.

All four of the detainees in this case were captured outside Afghanistan but have been held at the airfield for six years or more. Bates wrote that the determination to hold them as enemy combatants is part of a process even more inadequate at Bagram than it is at Guantanamo.

the detention center at bagram, mostly due to distance, has been much less in the public eye than guantánamo although, as the last line in the snippet above states, the process at bagram is "even more inadequate" than at guantánamo... all of these extra-legal hell-holes need to come under the careful eye of the u.s. justice system and it's about time it's happening...

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Juan Cole on the new Israeli Foreign Minister

it ain't pretty...
Avigdor Lieberman, the Moldovan night club bouncer, is now foreign minister of Israel. The world has had a lot of fun laughing at the pronouncements of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who stands falsely accused of threatening to wipe Israel off the face of the map. But Ahmadinejad has protested that it would be wrong to kill large numbers of civilians.

In contrast, Lieberman has threatened to wipe at least two countries, Egypt and Palestine, off the map. Monstrously, he suggested bombing the Aswan Dam, which would have the effect of murdering all 80 million Egyptians and sweeping them into the Mediterranean in a vast continental African tsunami.

Lieberman promptly announced on assuming office that the Mideast peace process is dead. Well, at least we have an outbreak of frankness.

Whereas Ahmadinejad was humiliated by Columbia University president Lee Bollinger on his visit to that university, which provoked public protests, Lieberman's acceptance into the Israeli government has been greeted mildly and he was allowed to come to the Brookings Institution and meet with Bill and Hillary Clinton. Lieberman is an Central/Eastern European ultra-nationalist in the mold of Slobodan Milosevic and Jorg Haider, and it is shameful that he was allowed into the government and more shameful that this travesty has passed without a peep in the civilized world.

i suggest that you go read the complete post on professor cole's weblog to get the full picture of lieberman's outrageous, deeply offensive, and seriously disturbing past pronouncements...

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The corporate state - grab your pitchforks and be unruly

william greider talking with bill moyers, bill moyers journal via alternet...
WILLIAM GREIDER: What we ought to be seeking, the goal of reform, and government aid, is creating a new financial and banking system, of many more, thousands more, smaller, more diverse, regionally dispersed banks and investment firms. That's first obligation is to serve the economy and serve society. Not the other way around. What the administration's approach may be doing is consecrating too big to fail, for starters. Which, of course, everybody in government denied was the policy until the moment arrived. And secondly, and this will sound extreme to some people, but I came to it reluctantly. I fear what they're doing, not intentionally, but in their design is setting the crown for a corporate state.

BILL MOYERS: A corporate state?

WILLIAM GREIDER: A corporate state. And by that I mean a rather small but very powerful circle of financial institutions the old Wall Street banks, famous names. But also some industrial corporations that bought banks. Or General Electric, which is already half of big financial capital, GE Capital. And that circle will be our new Wall Street club. Too big to fail. Yes, watched closely by the Federal Reserve and others in government, but also protected by them. And that's a really insidious departure. To admit that and put it into law. And then think of all those thousands of smaller banks. How are they going to perform against these behemoths that have an inside track to the government spigot? And for just ordinary enterprise in general? Before you even get to the citizens. How are citizens supposed to feel about that? And I-- my point is, in this situation, with if the leading banks and corporations are sort of at the trough, ahead of everybody else in Washington, they will have the means to monopolize democracy. And I mean that literally. Some of my friends would say, hey, that already happened.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, the corporate state is here.

WILLIAM GREIDER: The corporate state is here. And I'd say, let's not argue over that. The fact is, if the Congress goes down the road I see them going down, they will institutionalize the corporate state in a way that will be severely damaging to any possibility of restoring democracy. And I want people to grab their pitch forks, yes, and be unruly. Get in the streets. Be as noisy and as nonviolently provocative as you can be. And stop the politicians from going down that road. And let me add a lot of politicians need that to be able to stand up. Our President needs that to be able to stand up.

as some have pointed out, and rightfully so, getting "unruly" carries risks of its own, namely setting the stage for repressive crackdowns under the guise of "maintaining social order"... taking to the streets might just be walking into a trap... just sayin'...

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Can we get back to the basics...?

all the major world religions agree, so let's knock this crap the hell off, shall we...?

courtesy of tom at information clearing house...

Brahmanism: This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.: Mahabharata 5:1517

Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.: Matthew 7:12

Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. Sunnah

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.: Udana Varga 5:18

Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowmen. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.: Talmud, Shabbat 31:a

Confucianism: Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not unto others that you would not have them do unto you.: Analects 15:23

Taoism: Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss.: T'ai Shag Kan Ying P'ien

Zoroastrianism: That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good: for itself. : Dadistan-i-dinik 94:5

and this would be so difficult because...?

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Minnesota, the one Senator state

i've been kinda sorta following the epic drama of the minnesota senatorial election recount... i essentially lost interest once it became apparent that the proceedings were going to drag out ad infinitum... i simply do not understand why, with votes being cast nearly five months ago, this couldn't have been resolved by the end of the year at the latest...
A three-judge state panel convened to review an election contest brought by former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman (R) in his race against entertainer Al Franken (D) has dealt the Republican a serious setback in its ruling this afternoon.

The panel will allow the consideration of only 400 wrongly rejected absentee ballots to be reviewed and possibly counted -- making it very difficult for Coleman to make up the 225-vote deficit he currently carries.


The ballots will be opened, sorted and potentially counted by the Minnesota Secretary of State on April 7. It remains unclear how many of the 400 votes will actually be counted. It's also unknown whether Coleman will appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, which is within his rights.


National Republicans have pledged to fight -- and filibuster -- any attempt to seat Franken as the 59th Democratic Senator in the 111th Congress prior to Coleman exhausting his legal rights.

... [W]atch to see whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) moves forward with seating Franken or whether he continues to wait Coleman out.

leaving minnesota with only one senator during perhaps one of the heaviest periods of critical votes in the nation's history seems to me to be a gross violation of everything the democratic process stands for, and i just don't get why that's been allowed to happen... i know coleman and the repubs are determined to fight to the death and will appeal all the way to the supreme court if necessary, but that still doesn't explain why the courts could not have made a serious effort to fast-track the process...

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Aid to Afghanistan... I'm sure Hillary is talking about attacking the symptoms rather than the disease...


i read this as i sit here in kabul, working for a "civilian" aid program...
The billions of dollars spent in U.S. aid to Afghanistan over the past seven years have been largely wasted, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday.

"For those of you who have been on the ground in Afghanistan, you have seen with your own eyes that a lot of these aid programs don't work," she said. "There are so many problems with them. There are problems of design, there are problems of staffing, there are problems of implementation, there are problems of accountability. You just go down the line."


Since 2006, the U.S. Agency for International Development has spent more than $5 billion in Afghanistan, according to figures on the agency's Web site. Clinton oversees USAID, which has boasted a number of success stories, including building hundreds of schools, distributing 60 million textbooks and vaccinating 90 percent of children against polio. But a report by Oxfam last week charged that much of the U.S. aid in Afghanistan is wasted on consulting costs, subcontractor fees and duplication.

Clinton's blunt comments on past aid programs -- which appeared to also indict the broader international effort -- will probably raise the bar for the administration's aid programs. "We are scrubbing every single civilian program," she said. "This is part of my mission as secretary of state. We are looking at every single dollar as to how it's spent and where it's going and trying to track the outcomes. We want to see real results."

i would be the very last person to argue that aid programs in afghanistan have been a resounding success... far, far from it... however, i would also be the last one to voice one iota of confidence that those in washington have any ability whatsoever to discriminate between the aid programs that have added value and those that haven't... so, what hillary says means to me is that they're going to jump in and "scrub" programs wholesale in the time-honored tradition of attacking the symptoms rather than the disease...

also, it's definitely worth noting that she doesn't mention the much more staggering sums "wasted" on military expenditures...

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

A highly personal perspective on Afghanistan


a friend of mine, perhaps motivated by my presence here in afghanistan, has been taking a much greater interest in the situation here... i received an email from him just this morning asking me if i would "connect the dots" for him... here's what i wrote back...
i don't know what the picture is on the puzzle box-top, my friend... i only have some pieces, same as you...

the only things i know for certain are that virtually every one of my afghan colleagues are smart, committed, open-minded, warm, friendly, compassionate people who would like nothing better than to have some peace and stability in their country so that they can get on with their lives...

most folks i know are devout muslims who reject extremism in all forms, be it islamic, christian, or jewish... they respect people of different beliefs and want that respect reciprocated... they have a hard time understanding the tendency of westerners to demonize islam across the board... they see christian and jewish extremists behaving in equally violent ways but understand that doesn't mean that christians or jews as a whole should be condemned...

people here work very hard to keep body and soul together... they are savvy business people who have been at it since well before marco polo stopped through the neighborhood, and are pragmatic enough to go with what works...

they feel powerless to change a system that seems to have them in its tight grip and they define that system as their own leaders who are out for themselves rather than the common good and are intent on raking in as much as they can before the door slams shut and they know it will sooner or later; the taliban who cannot bear the thought of people making choices that don't align with their fundamentalist beliefs and who want to destroy the infidels who advocate individual choice; and the current occupying power who they see as just one more big dog that blew in to town in pursuit of its national interests, interests that very little to do with the welfare of the common folk...

they are deeply frustrated but, nonetheless, they keep on keepin' on... about 2/3 of them are taking classes of one sort or another - english, computer, etc., and a large chunk of that number are in university degree programs, either at kabul university or the american university of afghanistan... some work all day and take classes at night... some of the drivers and guards work all night and take classes during the day... there are three former fulbright scholars on the project staff... i am a one-man academic counseling and letter of recommendation factory, having written letters to brandeis, univ. of maryland, univ. of texas, univ. of kent in the uk, and unr... i probably do 3-4 off-the-cuff, micro-seminars of 15-20 mins. each per day on various topics ranging from iso standards to leadership to communication and facilitation skills... they have an insatiable hunger for learning and see education as the most important thing besides food and shelter for moving their country forward...

that's my highly personal perspective, but it's my story, and i'm stickin' to it...


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The Prez asks GM CEO to step down and also reportedly intervened to stop the massacre in Gaza

hmmmm... maybe there's more going on behind the scenes than i thought...

general motors...

The chief executive of struggling US car company General Motors - Rick Wagoner - has agreed to step down.

He will leave his post immediately at the request of the White House, a government official confirmed.


In an interview with US broadcaster CBS, President Obama said the firms must do more to justify further aid, saying "they're not there yet".

"We think we can have a successful US auto industry," the president said.

"But it's got to be one that's realistically designed to weather this storm and to emerge - at the other end - much more lean, mean, and competitive than it currently is.
seymour hersh on obama's role in gaza...
Even before his inauguration, Hersh notes,"the Obama transition team also helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops."

and that step in the right direction, naturally, didn't please the dark lord...
When former Vice President Dick Cheney learned that Obama had been putting pressure on the Israelis, he angrily disparaged him as "pro-Palestinian" and described him as someone who would "never make it in the major leagues."

hersh also thinks obama is going to play a major role in moving things forward in that benighted region...
"The differences between Obama’s Syria policies and those of the Administration of George W. Bush have attracted relatively little attention," Hersh writes, recalling Bush's long list of preconditions for any improvement in US-Syrian relations and mockery of Syrian President Bashar Assad for believing that he holds the key to peace in the region.

According to Hersh's sources, Syria is eager for peace with Israel and is backed in this by "Arab leaders who are invested in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process." In addition, the failure of Israel's campaign in Gaza to dislodge the Hamas government has given Assad room to negotiate without seeming to be appeasing Israel.

Assad himself emailed Hersh last winter to say, "We still believe that we need to conclude a serious dialogue to lead us to peace" and to note that he believes a personal meeting with President Obama would be essential. Obama, for his part, has expressed a willingness to meet with Assad without preconditions.

some cause for cautious optimism...? let's fervently hope so...

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