Archive for February 10th, 2009
Here we have another scowling Treasury secretary, with a bit more hair than his predecessor, serving up the same fatally flawed approach as before: let’s just throw money at the banks and hope they get better. This is tantamount to using antibiotics to treat gangrene. You waste good medicine and the progression of the rot threatens to kill the patient.
Well, let’s not mince words.
Let us not forget that Paulson did manage to dispense the better part of $350 billion in a blinding show of Mussolini-styled corporatism. The new Treasury secretary exhibits similar Italian fascist tendencies, with even less ability to make the trains run on time.
Naked Capitalism feels the biggest problem with Geithner’s plan is that it gives banks funding on an open-ended basis – with no requirement to write down or sell the “dreck” at the heart of the crisis, which is all their toxic mortgage-backed assets. And it goes easier on bank executives than apparently some in the Obama administration wanted.
Those are legitimate beefs with this plan, no matter how colorfully they are phrased. Don’t expect critics of the Bush bailout to jump up and down about this new approach, either.
Dear Obama Administration,
“In a closely watched case involving rendition and torture, a lawyer for the Obama administration seemed to surprise a panel of federal appeals judges on Monday by pressing ahead with an argument for preserving state secrets originally developed by the Bush administration.
In the case, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian native, and four other detainees filed suit against a subsidiary of Boeing for arranging flights for the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which terrorism suspects were secretly taken to other countries, where they say they were tortured. The Bush administration argued that the case should be dismissed because even discussing it in court could threaten national security and relations with other nations.
During the campaign, Mr. Obama harshly criticized the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees, and he has broken with that administration on questions like whether to keep open the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But a government lawyer, Douglas N. Letter, made the same state-secrets argument on Monday, startling several judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
“Is there anything material that has happened” that might have caused the Justice Department to shift its views, asked Judge Mary M. Schroeder, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, coyly referring to the recent election.
“No, your honor,” Mr. Letter replied.
Judge Schroeder asked, “The change in administration has no bearing?”
Once more, he said, “No, Your Honor.” The position he was taking in court on behalf of the government had been “thoroughly vetted with the appropriate officials within the new administration,” and “these are the authorized positions,” he said.”
There are so many, many, many things wrong with this. For starters, It’s a big, big mistake for any branch of government to have the power to simply declare that whole subjects are out of bounds, without any check on its veracity. We should have learned this from the very first case that established the state secrets privilege: the government said it could not divulge facts central to that case without jeopardizing national security, but when the documents involved were finally declassified, it turned out that it was just covering up for its own mistakes. The Obama administration cannot be expected to have reversed the court decisions on which this power depends in its first few weeks of office. But it can absolutely be expected not to use this power absent truly extraordinary circumstances.
It would be one thing if the state secrets privilege meant only that …
Continue reading. And then write a note to Obama:
Very good post at Balkinization, which begins:
Many of us have been wondering which of the Bush Administration’s disgraceful litigation positions the Obama/Holder DOJ would abandon. Yesterday’s Ninth Circuit hearing in Mohamed v. Jeppesen DataPlan was a newsworthy first start. It’s up there with the maiden voyage of the Titanic and the flight of the Hindenburg. The excellent Glen Greenwald summarizes the bad news here. In brief, DOJ lawyer Douglas Letter astonished the judges on the panel by defending the outrageous Bush abuse of the "state secrets" privilege in a lawsuit by rendition victims against the CIA’s travel service that rendered them. Letter informed the incredulous judges that the new administration had decided to maintain the old administration’s position.
The state secrets privilege is the so-called "nuclear option" in litigation, which makes lawsuits against the government vanish without a trace by declaring unilaterally that all the facts the plaintiffs would use to prove their case are state secrets. With no facts to back the claim, plaintiffs’ cases must be dismissed.
This one is particularly egregious, because most of the facts are well known and well documented through other sources. One question is whether the state secrets doctrine concerns facts or documents. That is: does it mean that government documents cannot be entered into evidence because they are secret? Or does it mean that the underlying facts are "state secrets" that can never be ventilated in an American courtroom, even if they are well known everywhere else in the world and the plaintiff can prove them using publicly available evidence?
The latter position — that the state secrets privilege is a rule about facts, not about evidence — is absurd, but it is the government’s position. It’s absurd, of course, because there is no point in keeping secrets that aren’t secrets any longer. As the ACLU’s Ben Wizner who argued against the government yesterday, said of another godawful state secrets case, "really the only place in the world where Khalid El-Masri’s case could not be discussed was in a federal courtroom. Everywhere else it could be discussed without harm to the nation, but in a federal court before a federal judge there, all kinds of terrible things could happen."
That’s assuming …
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article for the San Francisco Chronicle about the rise of czarism in American politics, and today we get our first taste of what that actually means on policy.
Notice this snippet from the Washington Post about the latest bank bailout scheme, priced at roughly $1.5 trillion:
In announcing the plan, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner will not ask Congress for more funds than the roughly $350 billion that remain in the Treasury Department’s original rescue package for the financial system, though congressional sources said such a request could come later if the new programs are unsuccessful. The rest of the money would come from other government agencies, such as the Federal Reserve.
How can this be a $1.5 trillion plan, that doesn’t ask Congress for any more money? Because the Treasury Secretary is effectively circumventing the legislative branch — i.e. popular democratic channels — and relying on autocratic means of handing over more cash to Wall Street, most prominently, the Federal Reserve.
The reason Geithner has chosen this path is because he knows that Congress would likely reflect the will of a very angry public and either reject or severely reform his bailout plan. So rather than allow public input into the plan via Congress, he’s just going around democracy entirely. Indeed, out of the $9.7 trillion that Bloomberg News estimates is being spent by our government on this economic crisis, just $1.55 trillion (or 15%) will have been explicitly approved by the Congress (the $750 billion TARP and the upcoming $800 billion stimulus). And, of course, of that $9.7 trillion, just 4.6% is being devoted to spending on regular people (as opposed to banks).
I’m sure the official explanation for this behavior is the same tired version of the “emergency requires speed” rationale that has trampled democracy throughout the ages. But that’s a cover for the real motivation: to avoid being stopped by the public.
This is precisely the kind of czarism that’s on the rise in America as we become a kind of authoritarian capitalism. The only question is whether Congress will sit back and take it, or reassert its constitutional role.
Some years back The Wife had a kitty named Stella, a great favorite. One morning The Wife went into the dining room to pick up her stuff to take to work, and Stella suddenly looked very guilty: big round eyes, crouched posture, being very still. The Wife didn’t know what to make of it. When she later went to eat her lunch, she found that one corner of her salmon sandwich had little tiny teeth marks through the plastic sandwich bag at one corner.
First was the endocrinologist. HbA1c is 5.8%, down from 6.1% last time. Very good news. He also liked the idea of the greens-centered diet, and I think I convinced him to watch King Corn.
The to Radio Shack to get some more stereo adapters to hook up the headphones to the stereo and the TV to the stereo. One good tip from the sales guy there: when you have adapters to hook up, take a photo of them with your cellphone so you don’t have to remember the ins and outs (literally) when you get to the store: you can just show the photo.
It’s interesting how adding just one more thing can make a problem MUCH harder. I had four connections to keep track of, and that was a little bit much. Kim Harris, in a Forth class, gave us a little memory dump problem: print the contents of a range of memory. That would have been easy, but he wanted us to provide options to print it in hex, binary, or decimal, and to make the option sticky. Trying to juggle all three possibilities made the problem much harder than it would have been otherwise, especially when trying to write clear code.
Whole Foods had pomegranate juice on sale. Great bargain.
UPDATE: I got the stereo all hooked up. I did get the right adapters. :)
Mantic has discovered a nifty trick in building a good lather using shaving soap in a tub. Take a look.
Mandatory minimum sentences are generally a bad idea because they deprive the judge from considering the case before him and any extenuating circumstances that may be involved. But I think a mandatory 5-year minimum sentence would be quite useful for things like this:
A former UCLA biologist falsified data on biomarkers and treatments for cancer in two journal articles and multiple grant applications, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) reported last week.
According to the ORI notice, Mai Nguyen, an associate professor of surgery at UCLA from 1995-2005, falsified data published in a 2000 Oncology Reports paper, which has been cited 5 times, and a 2001 article in The Lancet, which has been cited 25 times. The papers examined the effect of Livistona chinensis, a Chinese fan palm extract, on mouse fibrosarcoma cells, and the use of basic fibroblast growth factor and vascular endothelial growth factor in nipple fluid as biomarkers for cancer, respectively.
Nguyen also fudged experiments and figures in grant applications submitted to the National Institute of Health, National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, National Cancer Institute, and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases grants, the ORI reported. In one NIH grant, for example, she falsified the number of experiments done and the number of animals used in studies of Livistona’s anticancer effect. In the same grant, she falsely claimed that she used a specific technique to measure uptake of radioactive thymidine.
ORI officials declined to provide further information; as part of the case’s settlement, the ORI was barred from speaking about details not included in its official report.
Roberto Peccei, Vice Chancellor for Research at UCLA, told The Scientist that he was first alerted to potential misconduct in 2000 by…
It’s obscure, but it’s important. Businesses once again trying to grab ownership of everything. Here’s the article, which is an interview. It begins:
Last week, the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act (HR 801) — a bill that would ban public access policies similar to the NIH’s mandate for all taxpayer-funded works to be made freely available within a year of publication — was reintroduced into Congress. The bill’s near-identical precursor, HR 6845, was shelved last year after publishers squared off against public access proponents at a subcommittee hearing in September.
One of the hearing’s four witnesses was Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), who criticized the bill’s negative impact on public access to biomedical information. Joseph spoke with The Scientist today (Feb. 9) about why she continues to oppose the bill, which effectively tweaks the definition of copyright to shift the ownership of scholarly works to publishers instead of authors.
TS: What was your reaction to the bill’s reintroduction?
HJ: It was disappointing to see it reintroduced with the same old arguments that we’ve been hearing for five years, especially after last year’s hearing where there were so many points made against taking this type of a stance.
TS: What new changes are being proposed?
HJ: If US copyright code is amended, any work that falls under this new definition — which basically they’ve defined as anything where a third party has added value in some way — would be covered. It would now be owned by the publisher, not the author. What’s not clear to me under this law is if I submit to a journal and my article is peer reviewed, does that mean that the publisher can claim copyright of my article just because of that? That’s what it looks like.
TS: Why does your organization, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, oppose this bill?
This article seems somehow directed at me. It begins:
My family is moving to another house this coming weekend, and to prepare for the move, we’re going through the entire house and getting rid of stuff we don’t need.
The new house has much less storage, which I’ve decided is a blessing: it means we have to cut things down to the essentials. I’m pretty good at keeping things simple, but things tend to accumulate over time (especially in the kids’ rooms!).
Moving day, btw, is a wonderful time to declutter. I often advocate decluttering in small steps, but sometimes it can be fun to do an entire room at once.
So here’s the method we’re using to declutter each room, one room at a time:
1. Clear a working space, probably in the middle. We’re using our beds in the bedrooms.
I will buy a good office chair. My Staples chair, with added back support, is crumbling away and uncomfortable. So I’m hoping that the book will soon hit the NY Times bestseller list (paperback, nonfiction).
Another excellent article from the Washington Independent‘s Mary Kane:
As the Obama administration launches a new bank rescue plan and prepares to overhaul the financial regulatory system, lawmakers will look closely at the lending practices of major banks and mortgage firms. But some think they also should probe the government-chartered Federal Home Loan Banks, which served as lenders of last resort as the credit crunch intensified – propping up the very banks that made the kind of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis in the first place.
With credit tightening in 2007, the Federal Home Loan Banks played a crucial role in the economy, helping Countywide Financial Corp. and failed subprime lenders IndyMac Bancorp. and Washington Mutual stay alive longer by lending them money when no one else would. The sharp expansion lending, which went mostly unnoticed at the time, was one of many emergency measures used by the government and the private sector to keep the financial system from collapsing.
But the banks also heavily marketed and sold risky mortgages called Option ARMs that let borrowers choose the amount of their monthly payments – loans that now are facing rising defaults and are expected to cause more losses for lenders and investors, even well into 2011, as the loans reset to much higher payments.
The sinking Option ARMs market shows how actions taken during the height of the credit crunch by lesser-known institutions like the Federal Home Loan Banks still have troubling consequences. A banking system that can borrow money cheaply because of its implicit government backing put failing lenders that sold high-risk mortgages on artificial life support, lending out billions of dollars in a short period of time. The huge loans even drew the ire of Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Yet the banks’ actions mostly flew under the radar.
The hard lesson of taxpayer money spent under the Troubled Assets Relief Program has been the need for accountability and openness. Looming foreclosures and defaults for Option ARMs show that other kinds of lending that went on in the thick of the credit crisis also needs to be reviewed – especially as the government moves forward with yet another financial rescue plan.
“People should be looking at this, including Congress,” said Peter Wallison, an American Enterprise Institute fellow who studies financial deregulation and a former general counsel for the Treasury Department. “It’s a very serious problem. The home loan banks kept the Countrywides and the IndyMacs in business. And they were the lenders who were the source of some of the problems we’re having now. Of course taxpayer dollars are at risk.”
In Countrywide’s case,
I like much of what Obama is doing as president, but breaking his promises are not among the things I like. In the campaign, when he voted in favor of telecom immunity shortly after promising that he would not, I was seriously disappointed, and that ended my contributions to his campaign.
As president, I was also disappointed when he appointed lobbyists to high government positions after promising that he would not do that. If you get in the habit of breaking promises, the promises don’t mean all that much. He could have found candidates among the millions who are NOT lobbyists.
But when his Department of Justice took exactly the same stance as the Bush DoJ in Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, using the “state secrets” dodge to hide information, I felt betrayed, frustrated, and angry. There was no need for this. The judge can view the evidence in camera and decide. This is a betrayal of what Obama promised, and it’s a black mark indeed to find that he will continue Bush’s secrecy, non-cooperation, and stonewalling.
I wrote to him about this, and you can too:
You get only 500 characters, and after a couple of botched messages (I accidentally hit “Enter”, which sent the incomplete message), I composed the message in Word and then copied and pasted it into the box.
Please write and get Obama back on track. Thanks.
Businesses, OTOH, love binding arbitration. They pay the arbitrator, after all. And, oddly, arbitrations favor the business 99.8% of the time. I blogged about arbitration, and a comment made there this morning deserves a wide audience:
Really great information – thanks very much for posting it. People need to get outraged by this issue and demand that their Senators and Congressmen take action to legislate against it.
In 2007, I personally lost my career and a fortune when I sued my former employer for breach of contract and fraud with the arbitration company, JAMS. Even though I brought the suit and had a TON of evidence in my favor, my former employer lied both in deposition and in front of the arbitrator. He then had his employees come in and corroborate his story. The arbitrator believed his side over mine and ordered me to pay both his legal fees in addition to my own. It was a devastating blow from which I may never recover. And all perfectly legal. During the course of the arbitration I found out that there were a long string of other former employees who had similar experiences with him – all kept secret by the arbitration process. It’s a cozy relationship for him and others like him – and a travesty of justice.
Get angry, everyone! And let’s get this loophole closed.
When I took the shaving photo, Megs came running in, meowing, “Me! Me!”, so I took her photo as well. She’s just inside the door to the study, looking fierce. I note an eye booger. She hates to have me remove those.
The Wife keeps little stuff—eye drops, lip balm, and the like—in a box beside her bed. The box has a lid, otherwise Molly steals from the box. So last night The Wife comes in to the bed room, and Molly’s on the bed. Molly freezes and looks around with the eyes that say, “I’m caught!” But The Wife thinks nothing of it, and goes on into the bathroom. When she comes out, Molly repeats the guilty performance.
The Wife finds that she left the lid open, and Molly’s been busy stealing stuff and hiding it: the lip balm under the pillow, the eye drops under the blanket, and so on.
More kitty photos and videos in this nice Salon article about cats as pets.
Very good lather—the secret is to rub the brush over the top of the soap somewhat longer than you think is necessary. The brush, then fully loaded, has plenty of soap for a good lather. You may have to add a splash of hot water to the center of the brush to optimize the lather, but maybe not. Experiment.
Em’s Woodstock did well with the Sabini brush, and the Futur deliver a fine shave, as it always does. Blue Floïd provided an excellent finish.