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And, yes, I DO take it personally: 08/09/2009 - 08/16/2009
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"Everybody's worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there's a really easy way: stop participating in it."
- Noam Chomsky
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And, yes, I DO take it personally

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The economy - from the disastrous to the obscene

financial meltdown still lurks...
Wall Street’s biggest banks may be roaring back to life, but trouble still lurks in corners of the financial industry that remain plagued by a legacy of bad investments.

On Friday, Colonial BancGroup, a large lender that rode the excesses of the nation’s real estate boom, was seized by federal regulators, making it the largest bank failure of 2009 and one of the most costly since the collapse of IndyMac Bancorp last year.

Regulators simultaneously brokered a rapid sale of its branches and deposits to BB&T Corporation of North Carolina, a regional bank that has emerged from the financial crisis as one of the industry’s strongest players. The failure is expected to cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation about $2.8 billion.

Regulators also closed four other small banks on Friday in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona, bringing the total number of bank failures to 77 this year. Banking analysts say that the number of failures could easily reach several hundred in the next 18 months as rising commercial real estate losses take their toll.

while obscene bonus payouts fly in formation with taxpayer bailouts...
Senior Obama administration officials were wrestling on Friday with how to handle an explosive executive pay issue involving two traders’ compensation package of nearly $130 million that Citigroup says is exempt from government review.

Citigroup’s decision leaves top White House and Treasury Department officials unable to do much about some of the highest-paid employees at the deeply troubled bank just two months after the administration announced, with great fanfare, the appointment of an official to crack down on lucrative payouts at companies that have become wards of the state.

On Friday, Citigroup, which is facing a government deadline, submitted the pay packages for its 25 senior executives and highest-paid employees. People involved in that process said Citi advised the Treasury that an energy trader named Andrew J. Hall, due $98 million, was exempt from federal review, and so was a second unidentified trader who received more than $30 million.

Mr. Hall, 58, and the other trader were paid under an employment contract signed last October, said a person briefed on the contract who was granted anonymity because of not being authorized to disclose the information. That was before a law went into effect instructing the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, to examine the pay packages of top executives at companies that received exceptional bailout assistance from the government.

a $98M pay package...?!?! unbelievable...!

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Ashraf Ghani is changing the game of presidential politics in Afghanistan


it's tempting for me to fall into the "anybody but karzai" mindset just like i once did with my "anybody but bush" mantra, but i've got to say, the two main rivals for karzai's seat as the afghan president, abdullah abdullah and ashraf ghani, give me hope for the country...

i happen to have worked with mr. ghani's niece, one extremely sharp, selfless and committed woman, and she has often told me, such is the depth of her respect for her uncle, she would crawl on her hands and knees for many kilometers over broken glass to have the opportunity to work once again with him as she did when he was at the afghanistan finance ministry...

Ashraf Ghani, the most educated and Westernized of Afghanistan’s presidential candidates, is shaking up the campaign before Thursday’s election in unusual ways.

A former finance minister with a background in American academia and at the World Bank, Mr. Ghani, 60, says he is trying to change politics in Afghanistan. Using television and radio, Internet donations and student volunteers, as well as traditional networks like religious councils, he is seeking to reach out to young people, women and the poor, and do the unexpected: defeat President Hamid Karzai.


Mr. Ghani has been one of the most influential figures involved in building the current Afghan state. Appointed finance minister in 2002, he instituted a centralized revenue collection scheme, and oversaw the flow of billions of dollars of foreign assistance into the war-torn country.

Yet his scrupulousness made him enemies and, disillusioned with official corruption and Mr. Karzai’s leadership, he left the cabinet in 2004.


His main drawback is his aloofness. When serving in the cabinet, he came under criticism that after 24 years living away from Afghanistan, nearly half his life, he was out of touch with the people and too abrasive in his dealings with his fellow Afghans.

He left the country in the 1970s to study at the American University of Beirut, went on to earn a doctorate in anthropology at Columbia in 1982, and taught at Johns Hopkins University. In 1991, he joined the World Bank.

Like other Western-educated technocrats, he encountered on his return the resentment of those Afghans who had had no chance to leave and had suffered 30 years of war and privation.

But he says that is changing. He has sought to get closer to the Afghan people by holding an open house for the last 18 months and says he has received over 100,000 people from all over the country, which has informed the development of his policies.

“It has been the largest seminar in my life and I have been the sole student,” he said. “I connect back to the people because I have heard them, and I have heard some very harsh things. It’s been a relationship.”

also, given what i've read about abdullah abdullah (see my july 24 post here), i think that between the two of them, afghans may have some excellent options for replacing karzai who, imho, has amply demonstrated his incompetency and corruption...

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Robert Parry - "The overriding question has become whether the United States ... is on the verge of losing its sanity"

it's been way, way too long since i have posted something from robert parry and that's not because i don't hold his reporting in high regard... it's simply because so much of what he has to say is an affirmation of or an expansion on what i already know... (yeah, i know, that's a lame excuse since most of the stuff i post on falls into that category anyway...)

anyway, here's mr. parry deploring our national laissez-faire approach to insisting on the truth...

When a supposedly “moderate” Republican like Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa endorses the crazed view of the “deathers” who claim that President Barack Obama’s health-care plan would promote euthanasia, it is clear that the nation’s problem is bigger than any one legislative battle, even one as big as health reform.

The overriding question has become whether the United States – as a representative democracy – is on the verge of losing its sanity.


Some rational Americans, it seems, have their own erroneous beliefs that justify inaction. Over the years, I’ve often heard the hopeful slogans that “the truth will out” or that “the pendulum will swing back,” when the reality is that there are no automatic mechanisms for stopping lies and distortions.

Truth is a battle, much as democracy is. Bringing truth to light requires resources and infrastructure, as well as personal honesty and courage. That is especially true when the other side in the battle has opted for a strategy of falsehoods and exaggerations – and has assembled both powerful artillery and well-trained mercenaries to carry out what it calls “information warfare.”

In such a conflict, there is no guarantee or even a likelihood that the “truth will out,” at least not on its own. Nor is there any reason to believe some mythical pendulum will restore a normal order.

What I have seen during more than three decades in Washington is that many truths remain effectively hidden, even if technically they have been revealed. A rare moment of truth-telling can be easily overwhelmed by a steady barrage of falsehoods and an infusion of well-calibrated doubts.

as i commented on mr. parry's blog, i am of the opinion that the u.s. has already lost its sanity...

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"Complex issues require world class reporting" - d'oh

a step in the right direction...

from raw story...

Radio talk show hosts offer little more than "noise" and "predictable" opinions -- so they won't be invited to talk on CNN shows anymore, says an exclusive report at MediaBistro's TV Newser blog.

Blogger Chris Arlens reports: "TVNewser has learned, and a CNN spokesperson confirms, that in his morning editorial meeting today, CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein asked his show producers to avoid booking talk radio hosts."

Continues Arlens, "'Complex issues require world class reporting,' Klein is quoted as saying, adding that talk radio hosts too often add to the noise, and that what they say is 'all too predictable.'"

ok, fine, cnn... now let's see some "world class reporting" on complex issues... it ain't been much in evidence for a very, very long time...

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Establish a false premise and force your opponents to debunk it - "Are you still beating your wife?" [UPDATE: There will be blood]

kent nerburn blogs articulately on the insane trap we've allowed ourselves to fall into - YET AGAIN...!
The Republicans could have just as easily made the argument that by funding health care we are putting our troops in harm’s way, or curtailing our space program, or taking food out of our school children’s mouths. But they didn’t. They went to the single most frightened group available, and their only real, viable base — old white people. “Obama will tell you when you have to die,” they said. And then they used the absolutely brilliant technique of inciting these folks to go to Town Hall meetings and shout out. It was brilliant because Town Hall meetings are small venues. Had they said, “get out on the streets,” or “stand with signs on street corners,” like the Democrats do, it would have failed, because the tiny nature of the protests would have been revealed by scale. It’s always better to have a small theater completely full than a big theater half empty, and by flooding the Town Hall meetings with people who are incited to behave in an uncharacteristically uncivil manner, they make it look like both the scale and the intensity of the opposition is greater than it is.

It’s a perfect technique for a party with small numbers. It is contained demagoguery, spurred on by a small handful of angry white male radio folks like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and Glenn Beck, who can increase their influence exponentially through the use of radio and television, and make the mainstream media run toward the argument because the media, as it is currently configured, always goes toward the loudest noise.

Ergo, we have a false premise, and a very threatening one at that, being promoted from behind the scenes by vast amounts of money, amplified exponentially by select media operatives, and carried forward by a small group of people who are being manipulated into action because they are very frightened by what that false premise portends.

The media, unable to resist going toward loud noises, reports the noise as if it’s a ground swell, and the Democrats do their part by continuing to think that rationality will win the day. Did they forget that this same Republican machine was able to paint John Kerry as anti-American and George Bush as a war patriot?

Thus, the Democrats have fallen for one of the oldest demagogic tricks in the book: Establish a false premise and force your opponents to debunk it, because if you argue a wrong premise, you lose. Witness “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

i love the part about the media being "unable to resist going toward loud noises"...


i ran across the following shortly after putting up this post...

terence heath
writing on the campaign for america's future blog...

It's clear now. There will be blood. It will take someone being seriously injured or killed before GOP leadership speaks up, if then. There will be blood.

It doesn't take a psychic to predict this. It just takes a look at the escalating rhetoric. To anyone familiar with the tactics of terror, is clear where this is going. First there is the threat of violence. It may be spoken, or it may not. It may be as simple as a hanging noose. The intended effect is the same: to put the target on notice to shut up, stay in his or place, and don't dare challenge the status quo.

It is delivered, often, with a smile that implies not merely a willingness to do harm, but perhaps even a desire to do so — "I will hurt you, and I will enjoy doing it."


There will be blood. Turning up the heat and stirring the pot already brimming with fear, lies, anger and violence will all but ensure that.

If Republicans continue to either stand silent or cheer on the mob we can assume one of three things: (a) they don't know what fire they're playing with, (b) it's what they want, (c) or — for the sake of ideology — they're willing to risk it.

my concern is this... if the threat of violence turns to actual violence, it could not only spread like an out-of-control fire tearing through sagebrush and scrub in a high wind, the kind we see all too often here in the high desert, it could also require an armed, national response to put it down, and where will that leave us...? for those of us who squirmed through eight years of the bush regime's toying with dictatorial powers, sidestepping the posse comitatus law, and carrying out the arrest and indefinite detention of american citizens, this development is, under a democratic president amazingly enough, even more alarming...

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wednesday sunset photoblogging

there's something about sunsets on the high desert... some are only pretty good, some are pretty damn good, and some are positively fan-frigging-tastic...


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Primum non nocere is a Latin phrase that means "First, do no harm."

uh, hello...? while it may not be the exact wording from the hippocratic oath...
The origin of the phrase is uncertain. The Hippocratic Oath includes the promise "to abstain from doing harm" ... but not the precise phrase. Perhaps the closest approximation in the Hippocratic Corpus is in Epidemics: "The physician must...have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm"

regardless, it's a fundamental principle of health care providers, a principle that seems to have been summarily tossed aside by these two characters...

from raw story

There's an article in today's New York Times about Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell, two military retirees and psychologists with no expertise on al-Qaeda, no foreign language skills, no experience in real interrogations, and with no relevant degrees ("...their Ph.D. dissertations were on high blood pressure and family therapy").

Nevertheless, these two seemingly managed to cash in on America's "global war on terror."

With little more than their psychology credentials and "an intimate knowledge of a brutal treatment regimen used decades ago by Chinese Communists," the pair, known as "Doc Mitchell" and "Doc Jessen" built "a thriving business that made millions of dollars selling interrogation and training services to the CIA," per the Times piece.

The article details the torture and interrogation of terror suspect Abu Zubaydah, described at the time as al-Qaeda's No. 3, by Doc Mitchell and Doc Jessen:

In late July 2002, Dr. Jessen joined [Dr. Mitchell] in Thailand. On Aug. 1, the Justice Department completed a formal legal opinion authorizing the SERE methods, and the psychologists turned up the pressure. Over about two weeks, Mr. Zubaydah was confined in a box, slammed into the wall and waterboarded 83 times.

The brutal treatment stopped only after Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen themselves decided that Mr. Zubaydah had no more information to give up. Higher-ups from headquarters arrived and watched one more waterboarding before agreeing that the treatment could stop, according to a Justice Department legal opinion.

while we're engaged as a nation in the great debate over the future of our health care, it would be wise to keep in mind just how steeped in venality some of our health care providers have become...

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nothin's grabbin' me

this must be one of those "dog days" of summer...


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Monday, August 10, 2009

In the words of the torture memos...

the impact is much greater when hearing the actual words read from the pages of a memo written by jay bybee who had been tasked with justifying the use of torture by the bush administration...

from the aclu via information clearing house...

ACLU video features prominent figures like Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone and a 9/11 family member reading from one of the infamous Bush administration legal memos used to justify the use of torture against detainees in U.S. custody. The video calls for accountability and the restoration of the rule of law.

The video includes appearances by Oliver Stone, 9/11 family member Patricia Perry, actors Rosie Perez, Noah Emmerich, John Doman and Reg E. Cathey, and musical composer Philip Glass, among others, reading directly from a memo authored by Jay Bybee, former head of the Justice Departments Office of Legal Counsel under the Bush administration. The memo was released in April as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Absolutely disgusting: $38.5B for U.S. banks in overdraft fees in 2009

now, let's see the breakdown on service fees including atm fees...
US banks stand to collect a record $38.5bn in fees for customer overdrafts this year, with the bulk of the revenue coming from the most financially stretched consumers amid the deepest recession since the 1930s, according to research. The fees are nearly double those reported in 2000.

The finding is likely to increase public hostility towards the financial sector, which has been under political pressure to ease the burden on consumers by increasing credit availability and lending more fairly after being bailed out by taxpayers.

god, i am so-o-o-ooo deathly sick and tired of stories about how much we're being ripped off by banks, how they're pretty much outright stealing from us, and then when they start scraping the bottom of the barrel, they up their fees, and go begging to congress who gives them still more of our money... and as i'm typing this, i'm watching an american express commercial that's pushing how amex is gung-ho behind the "reinvention of american business"... gag me with a spoon...

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Big War, Big Energy, Big Jesus, Big Israel, Big Brainwash, and Big Brother

i know he probably figures it's all rolled up in "Big Energy," but i would still add Big Bidness Business...

jeff huber writing in the american conservative via information clearing house...

The American warmongery, a confluence of Big War, Big Energy, Big Jesus, Big Israel, Big Brainwash, and Big Brother, is trying to entangle us in a state of constant armed conflict that will carry on into the next American century. There's no need for anyone to challenge our hegemony; all they have to do is sit back and watch us collapse under the weight of our own stupidity.

if you bother to read history, the u.s. has been involved in wars for pretty much its entire history and war, as we know, is an extremely lucrative business...

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