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And, yes, I DO take it personally: 07/26/2009 - 08/02/2009
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Friday, July 31, 2009

Tradesters and banksters continue to enrich themselves ($5B) at our expense

more validation for what we already knew was happening...
Thousands of top traders and bankers on Wall Street were awarded huge bonuses and pay packages last year, even as their employers were battered by the financial crisis.

Nine of the financial firms that were among the largest recipients of federal bailout money paid about 5,000 of their traders and bankers bonuses of more than $1 million apiece for 2008, according to a report released Thursday by Andrew M. Cuomo, the New York attorney general.

At Goldman Sachs, for example, bonuses of more than $1 million went to 953 traders and bankers, and Morgan Stanley awarded seven-figure bonuses to 428 employees. Even at weaker banks like Citigroup and Bank of America, million-dollar awards were distributed to hundreds of workers.


The report suggests that those roughly 5,000 people — a small subset of the industry — accounted for more than $5 billion in bonuses. At Goldman, just 200 people collectively were paid nearly $1 billion in total, and at Morgan Stanley, $577 million was shared by 101 people.

All told, the bonus pools at the nine banks that received bailout money was $32.6 billion, while those banks lost $81 billion.

where's the outrage...?

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tomorrow, the ACLU begins presenting oral arguments in its FISA Amendments Act (FAA) lawsuit

this should be interesting...

from the aclu...

Tomorrow, we’ll be in court presenting oral arguments in our challenge to the unconstitutional FISA Amendments Act (FAA) — the law passed by Congress last year that gave the government virtually unchecked power to intercept Americans’ international e-mails and telephone calls. As you may recall, we filed a lawsuit to stop the government from spying under the FAA less than an hour after the Act was signed into law by President Bush on July 10, 2008.

here's the skinny on the lawsuit...
1. The defendants in our lawsuits (e.g. the people we’re suing) are John (Mike) McConnell, Director of National Intelligence; Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, Director of the NSA and Chief of the Central Security Service; and Michael Mukasey, Attorney General.

2. We’ve filed the case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

3. Our superstar roster of plaintiffs (e.g. the people and groups we’re suing on behalf of) include The Nation magazine, journalists Naomi Klein and Chris Hedges, attorneys David Nevin, Scott McKay, Dan Arshack and Sylvia Royce, and a whole bunch of orgs that run the gamut from Amnesty International to the Global Fund for Women. (You can check out the full list of our plaintiffs online at

4. Three of our main points:

* The FAA violates the Fourth Amendment because it allows the government to gobble up the constitutionally protected communications of American citizens and residents without getting individualized warrants, and without specifying the time, place or length of the surveillance, and not specifying how the info gathered will be disseminated, or how long it’ll be kept. (You know, the who/what/where/when/why.)

* The FAA also violates the First Amendment by chilling lawful expressive speech without adequate justification by authorizing the government to intercept constitutionally protected communications without judicial oversight.

* The challenged law violates the principle of separation of powers by allowing the government to continue surveillance activities even if the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has deemed those activities illegal. (Good idea, right? Asking the government to obey the law?)

this youtube clip, posted a year ago, gives a nice summary...

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The U.S. will send airplane parts to Syria for "the safety of civil aviation"... What about Iran...?

there have been a series of civil aviation disasters in iran dating back to before 2001...
Following is a timeline of aircraft crashes involving Iran in the last 10 years:

Feb. 2, 2000 - An Iranian Air Force C-130 runs out of control while taking off from Tehran airport and crashes into an empty Iran Air A300. Both aircraft are destroyed and all six aboard the C-130 are killed.

May 17, 2001 - A Russian Yak-40 plane carrying 29 people, including Iranian Transport Minister Rahman Dadman and some deputy ministers crashes in northern Iran killing all on board.

Feb. 12, 2002 - An Iran Air Tours Tupolev-154 crashes near the western city of Khorramabad. All 118 aboard are killed.

Dec. 23 - A Ukrainian Antonov An-140 plane crashes into a mountain in central Iran, killing all 46 aboard. Most of the passengers were top Ukrainian and Russian aerospace officials travelling to Iran to test fly an Iranian-built copy of the plane. The crash was blamed on pilot error.

Feb. 19, 2003 - An Iranian Ilyushin-76 troop carrier crashes in southeast Iran killing all 276 Revolutionary Guard soldiers and crew aboard.

Feb. 10, 2004 - A Kish airlines Fokker-50 plane crashes while landing at Sharjah airport in the United Arab Emirates killing 43 of the 45 passengers and crew aboard.

Dec. 6, 2005 - An Iranian Air Force C-130 aircraft with 94 people on board crashes into a 10-storey apartment block in the Shahrak-e Towhid area of Tehran, killing all on board and at least 22 people on the ground.

Jan. 9, 2006 - An Iranian military plane crashes in northwest Iran, killing at least 11 people on board, including several Revolutionary Guard commanders.

Sept. 1 - An Iran Air Tour Tupolev 154 passenger plane catches fire on landing at an airport in the northeastern city of Mashhad, killing 29 people.

Nov. 27 - An Antonov-74 military aircraft crashes shortly after takeoff from a Tehran airport, killing 36 people on board.

Aug. 24, 2008 - A Boeing 737-200 belonging to private Kyrgyz company Itek-Air, chartered by an Iranian company and bound for Iran, crashes at Bishkek airport. Around 70 people, including members of a local teenage basketball team, die.

July 15, 2009 - A Caspian Airlines Tupolev aircraft, carrying 153 passengers and 15 crew from Tehran to Yerevan in Armenia, crashes near the city of Qazvin killing all aboard.

July 24, 2009 - A passenger aircraft with 153 people on board catches fire while landing at Mashhad airport in northeast Iran, killing 17 and injuring 23, the state broadcaster's website quotes an airport official as saying.

it's a pretty grim record, due in no small part to the sanctions the u.s. and, through u.s. pressure, the u.n. security council, has imposed on iran, particularly the ban on selling aircraft and repair parts to iranian aviation companies that's been in place since 1995...

now we learn that that same restriction is going to be eased against syria...

The Obama administration said Tuesday that it would take new steps to ease American sanctions against Syria on a case-by-case basis, the latest sign of a diplomatic thaw.


Under the Syria Accountability Act, as the sanctions are known, the president can work through the Commerce Department to grant exemptions for national security reasons in one of six categories, including one that allows for the sale of airplane parts to ensure safe civil aviation. Under the Bush administration, however, a limited number of such exemptions were granted.

“We are going to look at these waivers, especially on airplane spare parts, and our predisposition is going to be, view them favorably, as opposed to the prior administration’s policy,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.

given the abominable track record for aviation in iran over the past eight years, wouldn't it stand to reason that the great benevolent united states of america might see fit to ease the restriction for iran in the interest of reducing civilian deaths from aviation accidents...?


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Spitzer: "Where is the public's fair payback for playing banker to the bankers?"

eliot spitzer seems to be taking a much more public profile in the last week... it's good stuff and i hope he keeps it up... i'd like to hear a lot more from joseph stiglitz as well...

from the 28 july slate...

Presenting income data is fraught with risks, as there are so many ways to look at any arrangement of numbers. So I will use three sets of data to shed light on the road we have traveled. The single most frequently used measure to gauge income distribution is the Gini coefficient, which ranges from zero to one, with zero representing perfect equality (that is, everyone has the same level of income) and one representing perfect inequality (that is, one person has all the income).

U.S. Gini Coefficient

As a point of reference, the Gini coefficient for Canada is 0.326, for the United Kingdom it is 0.36, for Norway it is 0.258, and for Germany it is 0.283. In fact, the U.S. Gini coefficient is significantly higher than that for any Western European nation.

More textured are the data showing the percentage of total income garnered by each quintile of the population over a particular time frame.

Percentage of Total Income by Population Quintile

Lowest Quintile Middle Quintile Highest Quintile
19674.0 17.343.6
19774.2 16.944.0
19873.8 16.146.2
19973.6 15.049.4
20073.4 14.849.7

The top 1 percent of all income earners garnered 21.8 percent of all income in 2005, up from 8.9 percent in 1976.

Of course, it can be argued that these pure distributional percentages are less meaningful if everybody's absolute income grew substantially over the period of time measured. But that is not the case. In fact, the gap here is quite remarkable:

Mean Household Income

Lowest Quintile Middle Quintile Highest Quintile
1967$8,683 $38,415 $96,725
1977$10,394 $45,323 $110,579
1987$10,706 $45,492 $130,768
1997$11,385 $47,886 $158,128
2007$11,551 $49,968 $167,971

Before 1987, it might have been reasonable to argue that overall income growth was softening the effects of rising inequality. But since then, the rate of overall growth for all but the top quintile has slowed dramatically, with the lowest quintile seeing its income grow by only 7.8 percent in the last two decades, while income for the top quintile grew by 28 percent. And looking at after-tax income, which factors in the impact of favorable tax policy for the rich, the numbers are even starker: Between 1979 and 2004, the top 1 percent of all earners saw their income grow by an astounding 176 percent.

Pretty much no matter how you examine the numbers, they are not encouraging for those in the middle class—and they are even worse for those at the bottom of the income totem pole. Once upon a time, America's income was distributed across the economy like a bell curve, with an increasing share of both population and income converging in the middle. Now a slow but continuous redistribution to the top, with the middle being squeezed, makes the graph look more like a barbell, with a bigger bump at either end—income at one end, population at the other.


The outcry over Wall Street salaries and bonuses is more understandable when you realize that, over the last 40 years, there has been an inexorable shift of wealth and income toward the upper end of the income spectrum. With the return to profitability of many of the institutions that needed bailouts, taxpayers are wondering why we have socialized the risk of failure but allowed the rewards of success to remain private. Where is the public's fair payback for playing banker to the bankers?


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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A dog story from Pakistan

this is the kind of thing that i'd like to see more of... it's human, touching, and brings a compassionate three-dimensionality to what is often seen as sadly one-dimensional, particularly from the perspective of this side of the world...

and, yes, it brought tears to my eyes...

Lost and found: Pamela Constable with Ahu and
some of the Pakistanis who helped her locate the
missing pet. (Courtesy Of The Author)

Ahu & Me: A Dog Is Lost, Hope Is Found In Pakistan

By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 28, 2009

another take-away from this story (besides warm fuzzies), is that there are good-hearted, wonderful people everywhere, just as there are assholes and idiots everywhere...

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Get longer eyelashes but beware the four-hour erection

i've rarely watched tv in the u.s., preferring to catch my favorite u.s. programs in argentina where they play in english with spanish subtitles... i find that commercials in argentina are ever so much more tolerable than the u.s. where the ads seem to get right in your face... argentine commercials are much more fluffy-bunny, mom-dad-kids, and tend to be kind of sweet overall...

now that i've been back in the u.s. for a while, i'm gravitating to my favorite shows and have been not just a tad bit appalled at the commercials i'm seeing, particularly the ceaseless pitches for prescription pharmaceuticals for everything under the sun from sexual dysfunction to mesothelioma to bone loss to longer eyelashes... it's positively disgusting not only how many there, but then to listen to the obligatory side-effects warnings, they become a real horror show: "reports of suicidal thoughts have occurred in an extremely small percentage of users"... great caesar's ghost...! if suicidal thoughts have been a factor with ANY users, it's too many...

maybe something will come of this - or not...

[P]oliticians are taking aim at the 60-second spots that have made viewers familiar with maladies like male urinary urgency and deficient eyelashes — not to mention side effects like four-hour erections.

Representative James P. Moran, Democrat of Virginia, is sponsoring a House bill that would ban ads for prescription sexual aids like Viagra and Levitra from prime-time television, on decency grounds. Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, has said he favors empowering the Food and Drug Administration to bar consumer advertisements for new drugs for an initial period after the F.D.A. approves them — until there has been more real-world experience with the medications.

Meanwhile, Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, has introduced a bill called the Say No to Drug Ads Act. It would amend the federal tax code to prevent pharmaceutical companies from deducting the cost of direct-to-consumer drug advertisements as a business expense.

“You should not be going to a doctor saying, ‘I have restless leg syndrome’ — whatever the hell that is — or going to a doctor saying, ‘I have the mumps,’ ” Mr. Nadler said in an interview. “You should not be diagnosed by some pitchman on TV who doesn’t know you whatsoever.”

i'm sure big pharma will pull out all the stops and deploy every lobbyist they can lay their hands on to stop this in its tracks...

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The perpetrators continue to defend their crimes and their former boss

i don't know about yoo you but i'm getting sick and tired of the parade of self-righteous, former bush administration criminals trying to shake off accountability... for instance...

from an article on john yoo in today's wapo...

Yoo has been traveling across the country to give speeches and counter critics who dispute his bold view of the president's authority. Now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, he engages in polite but firm exchanges with legal scholars over conclusions in their academic work. This month, he wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal defending his actions and labeling critics' arguments as "absurd" and "foolhardy" responses to "the media-stoked politics of recrimination."

michael hayden trying to cover his butt in an op-ed in today's nyt...
The recent report of inspectors general on the President’s Surveillance Program operated by the National Security Agency has led some to make hasty and deeply flawed judgments about the value and legality of what was a critical part of protecting America from further attack after Sept. 11.

The program was crucial in addressing one of the most stinging criticisms of the 9/11 commission — the need to reduce the gap between foreign intelligence and domestic security. This was an especially difficult task, which helps explain both the program’s importance and its sensitivity. The program was lawful, effective and necessary.

The reflexive judgments to the contrary seem hasty at best.

there's only one way to settle this... appoint a special prosecutor, someone with unimpeachable credentials, and let's dig our way to the bottom where i suspect we will find obfuscation, outright lying, illegality, criminality, and legions of victims of state-sponsored terrorism... however, whatever emerges, even if it's complete exoneration, will be better than the mess of unfinished business we have now...

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

The impact of all stops removed violence on returning military

from the colorado springs gazette via atrios...

stories from the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, the "Lethal Warriors"...

[T]he time bomb exploded when [Teresa Hernandez'] son [Anthony Marquez] used a stun gun to repeatedly shock a small-time drug dealer in Widefield [Colorado] over an ounce of marijuana, then shot him through the heart.

Marquez was the first infantry soldier in his brigade to murder someone after returning from Iraq. But he wasn’t the last.


In December 2007, Bressler and fellow soldiers Bruce Bastien Jr., 21, and Kenneth Eastridge, 24, left the bullet-riddled body of a soldier from their unit on a west-side street.

kenneth eastridge speaks...
“The Army trains you to be this way. In bayonet training, the sergeant would yell, ‘What makes the grass grow?’ and we would yell, ‘Blood! Blood! Blood!’ as we stabbed the dummy. The Army pounds it into your head until it is instinct: Kill everybody, kill everybody. And you do. Then they just think you can just come home and turn it off. ... If they don’t figure out how to take care of the soldiers they trained to kill, this is just going to keep happening.”

and then there's this fine litany...
In August 2007, Louis Bressler, 24, robbed and shot a soldier he picked up on a street in Colorado Springs.


In May and June 2008, police say Rudolfo Torres-Gandarilla, 20, and Jomar Falu-Vives, 23, drove around with an assault rifle, randomly shooting people.

In September 2008, police say John Needham, 25, beat a former girlfriend to death.

it's an extremely sobering read but one that shouldn't be all that surprising... these are the natural consequences of a society based on violence and the denial of its impact by our all-too-removed-from-the-stark-reality-of-violence-and-death leaders who like to pretend it simply doesn't exist...

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Bernanke tries to counter criticism of the Fed


the la times, in a long article that purports to limn the details of how bernanke is responding to the growing call for fed scrutiny up to and including its dismantling, instead ends up only trying to elicit sympathy for poor beleaguered ben without bothering to elaborate on what is, imho, well-justified criticism (see previous post)...
[O]dds favor Bernanke to be reappointed by Obama. Bernanke has strong backing from economists and is well regarded in the White House, where he has had a long and good relationship with the president's economics team, including Christina Romer, with whom Bernanke played bridge when they were both teaching at Princeton, and former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers. The latter is often mentioned as a potential candidate for Fed chief, but is generally seen as an underdog because of his forceful style.


With global finances and the Fed's reputation imperiled, Bernanke has asserted his leadership. In addition to dropping its key lending rate to banks to nearly zero interest, the Fed has taken unprecedented action by invoking emergency powers under the 1913 Federal Reserve Act to prop up Bear Stearns Cos., American International Group Inc., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc. and other faltering institutions. Bernanke's Fed has bought hundreds of billions of dollars of government debt to drive down mortgage rates.

ya gotta love the list of impressive "accomplishments" in that last paragraph... "propping up" a.i.g., citi, bear stearns and bofa sure would make the top of MY list of major efforts carefully crafted to help out the mass of u.s. citizenry...

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