Archive for January 9th, 2013
Nicholas Confessore in the NY Times:
When Jim McCrery, a former Louisiana congressman, urged lawmakers last month to pursue entitlement cuts and tax reform, he was introduced on television as a leader of Fix the Debt, a group of business executives and onetime legislators who have become Washington’s most visible and best-financed advocates for reining in the federal deficit.
Mr. McCrery did not mention his day job: a lobbyist with Capitol Counsel L.L.C. His clients have included the Alliance for Savings and Investment, a group of large companies pushing to maintain low tax rates on dividend income, and the Win America Campaign, a coalition of multinational corporations that lobbied for a one-time “repatriation holiday” allowing them to move offshore profits back home without paying taxes.
In Washington’s running battles over taxes and spending, Mr. McCrery and his colleagues at Fix the Debt have lent a public-spirited, elder-statesman sheen to the cause of deficit reduction. Leading up to the fiscal negotiations, they set up grass-roots chapters around the country, met with President Obama and his aides, and hosted private breakfasts for lawmakers on Capitol Hill. In recent days, Fix the Debt has redoubled its efforts, starting a new national advertising campaign and calling on Mr. Obama and Congress to revise the tax code and reduce long-term spending on entitlement programs.
But in the weeks ahead, many of the campaign’s members will be juggling their private interests with their public goals: they are also lobbyists, board members or executives for corporations that have worked aggressively to shape the contours of federal spending and taxes, including many of the tax breaks that would be at the heart of any broad overhaul. While Fix the Debt criticized the recent fiscal deal between Mr. Obama and lawmakers, saying it did not do enough to cut spending or close tax loopholes, companies and industries linked to the organization emerged with significant victories on taxes and other policies.
“Some of these folks who are trying to be part of the solution have also been part of the problem,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning advocacy group, and a former economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “They’ve often fought hard against the kind of balance that we need on the revenue side. Many of the people we’re talking about are associated with policies that would make it a lot harder to fix the debt.”
Sam Nunn, a former Democratic senator from Georgia who is a member of Fix the Debt’s steering committee, received more than $300,000 in compensation in 2011 as a board member of General Electric. The company is among the most aggressive in the country at minimizing its tax obligations. Mr. McCrery, the Louisiana Republican, is also among G.E.’s lobbyists, according to the most recent federal disclosures, monitoring federal budget negotiations for the company.
Other board members and steering committee members have deep ties to the financial industry, including . . .
The last batch was so good that I’m going to have to make them again, soon. New wrinkles:
Instead of 1/3 c blackstrap molasses and 1/3 c brown sugar, I’m going with 2/3 c blackstrap molasses.
I’m adding a tablespoon of Penzey’s Ham Soup Base to the liquid.
I’m adding a tablespoon of cocoa powder to the liquid.
I’ll continue with the ham shank and 2 pork hocks method in lieu of bacon.
I’m going to time it so that the beans cook overnight and then rest during the day, reheated for dinner. They are so much better when they age a bit.
I just watched (again) The Bourne Ultimatum, getting ready for the upcoming release on DVD of The Bourne Legacy. Interesting: the plot hinges on a grave secret: the CIA is covertly running an assassination program that has killed some American citizens (6 in number). The Director of the CIA and the head of the program know that they must keep this secret at all costs, for if word gets out they will go to prison—but word does get out and at the end of the movie we see a Senate investigation in full swing.
Only in reality, of course, the assassination program is indeed run by the CIA but proudly espoused by our President, who picks the targets personally, and with no due process or trial—and, indeed, without any judicial review whatsoever, and without legislation authorizing it (that is, it is a program created and run entirely within the Executive branch, with no oversight or participation by the Judiciary or Legislative branches, done purely on presidentially assumed authority), and has acknowledge killing American citizens.
No outrage, no Senate investigation, no ability to get information on the program.
Quite a switch from the movie’s premise—but of course, that was 7 years ago. Back when George W. Bush was president. We have a new president now, one with special ideas of how the government works and how, if the president does it, it’s legal. The arguments that support and justify the program? Sorry. They’re secret. How American citizens are nominated and selected? Sorry. That’s secret.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oil Industry and OK) continues to insist that global warming is simply a hoax. But it’s a very well-orchestrated hoax. For example, see this report from the Environment News Service:
The year 2012 was warmest year for the continental United States since record keeping began 107 years ago, the U.S. National Climatic Data Center announced today.
The U.S. Climate Extremes Index indicated that 2012 was the second most extreme year on record for the nation, marked by historic drought, wildfires, hurricanes and storms.
The index, which evaluates extremes in temperature and precipitation, as well as landfalling tropical cyclones, was nearly twice the average value and second only to 1998.
The year consisted of a record warm spring, second warmest summer, fourth warmest winter and a warmer-than-average autumn, said the Center, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The 2011/12 winter season was nearly non-existent for much of the eastern half of the nation. The three months from December 2011 through February 2012 were marked by near-record warmth across the U.S.-Canada border, the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast, limiting seasonal snowfall there. Many locations had near-record low snowfall totals for the winter season.
Early spring brought much of the same, when the continental U.S. had its warmest March on record, with a monthly temperature 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit above average.
The average temperature for 2012 was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit – 3.2 degrees F above the 20th century average, and 1.0 degrees F above 1998, the previous warmest year.
Last year was the 15th driest year on record for the nation, with an average precipitation total of 26.57 inches, 2.57 inches below average.
At its peak in July, the drought of 2012 parched 61 percent of the nation, with the Mountain West, Great Plains, and Midwest experiencing the most intense drought conditions.
The dry conditions allowed . . .
Continue reading. At the very least, it would be interesting to know how the hoaxers (and who are they?) managed to pull this off.
Pam Martens in Wall Street on Parade explains how it’s yet another fix for the financial industry:
On Monday, the Obama administration gave the press the following stories to convey to their readers: the nomination of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense; the nomination of John Brennan as Director of the CIA; $20 billion in foreclosure settlements with 11 banks with scant details provided; and the appointment of Geoffrey Aronow as the General Counsel of the SEC.
On a heavy news day, corporate business media frequently travel as a herd of elephants with their trunks wrapped securely around the tail of the fellow in front. Thus, when it came to reporting the new top lawyer at the SEC, corporate business media led with the fact that Aronow had been the former head of enforcement at another regulator – the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).
As it turns out, Aronow’s days at the CFTC consisted of a four-year post from 1995 to 1999. Before and after that time, he has been a corporate lawyer representing people and companies who are the subject of enforcement actions by Wall Street regulators. Before joining the CFTC, Aronow was a partner at Arnold & Porter from 1988 to 1995. He rejoined the firm after leaving the CFTC and worked there from 1999 to 2004 when he joined Heller Ehrman LLP. He worked at Heller Ehrman from 2004 to 2008 when he left to become a partner in the Washington D.C. office of Bingham McCutchen LLP in August 2008. Aronow has been a partner at Bingham McCutchen since 2008.
Aronow has been representing a unit of one of the big four accounting firms, KPMG, in one of the most critical and controversial matters currently before the SEC. Last month the SEC charged the Chinese affiliates of the big four accounting firms, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PwC as well as a unit of accounting firm BDO with violating the US Securities Exchange Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The laws require foreign public accounting firms to provide the SEC with their work papers involving any US-traded company when requested to do so by the SEC. The firms refused to comply with U.S. law on the basis that it conflicts with Chinese law which prohibits foreigners from gaining access to accounting work papers, effectively eliminating the ability of the SEC to sleuth out accounting frauds by Chinese companies.
This is no small matter as evidence of massive accounting frauds on the part of Chinese companies is escalating. Since 2006, the SEC has been stripping the SEC registration status of dozens of Chinese firms that were issuing false financial statements or failing to file the legally required accounting reports with the SEC. Frequently, those Chinese companies were represented by the Chinese affiliates of the big four accounting firms. Deregistrations eliminate the ability of the Chinese firms to trade on U.S. exchanges. (Most of the companies were trading on Nasdaq.) The SEC has already deregistered four dozen firms and has investigations pending against dozens more.
Aronow’s law firm is not just any law firm where the big four accounting firms are concerned. According to Bingham McCutchen’s web site, it . . .
Retaliation is never pleasant: the knowledge that one’s own actions prompted the retaliation kind of stings. Iran now is striking back: Nicole Perlroth and Quentin Hardy write in the NY Times:
The attackers hit one American bank after the next. As in so many previous attacks, dozens of online banking sites slowed, hiccupped or ground to a halt before recovering several minutes later.
But there was something disturbingly different about the wave of online attacks on American banks in recent weeks. Security researchers say that instead of exploiting individual computers, the attackers engineered networks of computers in data centers, transforming the online equivalent of a few yapping Chihuahuas into a pack of fire-breathing Godzillas.
The skill required to carry out attacks on this scale has convinced United States government officials and security researchers that they are the work of Iran, most likely in retaliation for economic sanctions and online attacks by the United States.
“There is no doubt within the U.S. government that Iran is behind these attacks,” said James A. Lewis, a former official in the State and Commerce Departments and a computer security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Mr. Lewis said the amount of traffic flooding American banking sites was “multiple times” the amount that Russia directed at Estonia in a monthlong online assault in 2007 that nearly crippled the Baltic nation.
American officials have not offered any technical evidence to back up their claims, but computer security experts say the recent attacks showed a level of sophistication far beyond that of amateur hackers. Also, the hackers chose to pursue disruption, not money: another earmark of state-sponsored attacks, the experts said.
“The scale, the scope and the effectiveness of these attacks have been unprecedented,” said Carl Herberger, vice president of security solutions at Radware, a security firm that has been investigating the attacks on behalf of banks and cloud service providers. “There have never been this many financial institutions under this much duress.” . . .
Interesting article by Dan Cossins in The Scientist:
Non-monogamous male lab mice are not natural fathers, but they do provide parental care when housed together with their mates and pups for a few days. Now, scientists in Japan have demonstrated that when both parents are separated from the pups, the mother communicates through ultrasonic vocalisations (USVs) and odor cues to stimulate the father to provide parental care when the offspring are returned. So it seems that when the mother fears for her pups, she tells the father to get involved. The findings were published today (January 8) in Nature Communications.
“We have shown before that male mice having been fathers for 5 days are ready for pup care, while fathers with 1 day of pup experience are not,” said Günter Ehret, a neurobiologist at the University of Ulm in Germany, who was not involved in the research. “This study suggests that not only the pups stimulate the males to become caring father after 5 days of contact, [but also] that the pup’s mother signals to the father that the pups may need help.”
Haruhiro Higashida and colleagues at Kanazawa University in Japan set about trying to find out precisely what motivates male mice to become active parents by studying pup retrieval behavior. When a new mating pair is continuously housed together with the pups, sires gathered and tended to pups very infrequently for the first 3 to 5 days, but then began showing signs of parental care. If at that point they are separated from the pups for 10 minutes and co-housed with the mother, sires displayed retrieval behavior when reunited with the pups. But male mice housed alone in a new cage during pup separation did not, suggesting the cues come from the pups, the mothers, or both. . .
I am dismayed by Obama’s nomination of John Brennan, one of the architects (unindicted, of course) of the US torture program, in which prisoners of the US were systematically subjected to torture, with some tortured to death (three at Guantánamo (more info here), at least one in Afghanistan and also at Abu Ghraib). Obama has clearly thrown in his lot with the torturers and those instigating the torture by refusing to investigate or even to hold accountable the CIA official who openly bragged of destroying evidence.
But the CIA’s general institutional breakdown goes beyond that, as Ted Gup writes in his Op-Ed in the NY Times:
IN the last week, the American public has been reminded of the Central Intelligence Agency’s contradictory attitude toward secrecy. In a critique of “Zero Dark Thirty,” published last Thursday in The Washington Post, a former deputy director of the C.I.A., Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., defended the use of waterboarding and said that operatives used small plastic bottles, not buckets as depicted in the film, to carry out this interrogation method on three notable terrorists. On Sunday, The New York Times reported on the Justice Department’s case against a former C.I.A. officer, John C. Kiriakou, a critic of waterboarding who faces 30 months in prison for sharing the name of a covert operative with a reporter, who never used the name in print.
The contrast points to the real threat to secrecy, which comes not from the likes of Mr. Kiriakou but from the agency itself. The C.I.A. invokes secrecy to serve its interests but abandons it to burnish its image and discredit critics.
Over the years, I have interviewed many active and retired C.I.A. personnel who were not authorized to speak with me; they included heads of the agency’s clandestine service, analysts and well over 100 case officers, including station chiefs. Five former directors of central intelligence have spoken to me, mostly “on background.” Not one of these interviewees, to my knowledge, was taken to the woodshed, though our discussions invariably touched on classified territory.
Somewhere along the way, the agency that clung to “neither confirm nor deny” had morphed into one that selectively enforces its edicts on secrecy, using different standards depending on rank, message, internal politics and whim.
I am no fan of excessive secrecy, or of prosecuting whistle-blowers or leakers whose actions cannot be shown to have damaged American security. The C.I.A. needs secrecy, as do those who place their lives in the agency’s hands, but the agency cannot have it both ways.
What message did it send when George J. Tenet, its former director, refused to explain the intelligence debacle involving nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but later got a seven-figure book contract and became a highly paid speaker? How is it that Milton Bearden, a former covert operative, got agency permission to write a book (“The Main Enemy”) with a New York Times reporter? What of the many memoirs written by ex-spooks like Robert Baer (“See No Evil,” and, with his wife, another former C.I.A. operative, “The Company We Keep”), Tony Mendez (“The Master of Disguise”), Lindsay Moran (“Blowing My Cover”), Melissa Boyle Mahle (“Denial and Deception”) and Floyd L. Paseman (“A Spy’s Journey”)?
These works help us understand the shadowy business of intelligence gathering, but collectively they may be undermining the credo of espionage: it is not a spectator sport. And how do we explain the profusion of former C.I.A. operatives who are now on-air pundits?
There was a time at the C.I.A., not so long ago, when the notion of cashing in on one’s access to secrets was considered contemptible. How, then, does one explain how Chase Brandon, a former C.I.A. covert operative, became the agency’s liaison with Hollywood (“Mission Impossible III”)? And what of the International Spy Museum, a for-profit entity in Washington headed by a former covert C.I.A. officer, Peter Earnest? (The museum gift shop’s most popular T-shirt says “Deny Everything.”)
The agency can be quite creative in evading its own strictures on secrecy. When I was researching a book on covert operatives killed in the line of duty — a book the C.I.A. tried to persuade me not to write — a senior agency employee called me. He gave me the ISBN number and part of the title of an obscure book, and advised me to find a copy. When I did, I saw what he had left out of the title: the name of a deceased covert operative. Why? So he could pass a polygraph test if asked if he had ever given a reporter the name of an operative. All that training in tradecraft, and it was used to evade the very secrecy it was designed to protect.
Now consider Mr. Rodriguez. As recently as 2005, national security reporters were told that they could not use his full name — unusual for someone at such a senior position — though he was no longer in the field and was overseeing covert operations from Washington. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, even reporters can be prosecuted for unmasking operatives. So journalists complied and referred to Mr. Rodriguez simply as “Jose.” Mr. Rodriguez oversaw — and then ordered the destruction of videotapes that documented — the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. He is now a published author and public speaker. The agency has no apparent problem with that; after all, he is defending not only his own handiwork but also the agency’s. . .
David Sirota points out the dismaying nonresponse from the White House in response to their own petition mechanism and promises. Obama continues to disappoint. Sirota writes in Salon:
Nearly two months ago, after my fellow Coloradans voted to legalize marijuana in our state, I filed a simple White House petition that garnered headlines and enough signatures to mandate an official substantive response from the president’s staff. The request in the petition, which you can read here, was not that the president support a new federal law imposing pot legalization on all states. Instead, I and eventually 46,000 other people asked the president to merely support new bipartisan congressional legislation to change federal law so that it formally permits states — if they choose — to end the war on pot within their borders.
Late last night, the White House finally decided to respond by deploying its drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, to make some serious news. The same drug czar who once declared that “legalization is not in my vocabulary nor is it in the president’s vocabulary” now concedes that America is “in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.”
For those pushing to end the Drug War, that declaration alone from a spokesman for the president of the United States is nothing short of historic — and it represents the success of major political pressure. Indeed, as Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority, said in response to the White House’s announcement: “It makes a difference when marijuana legalization gets more votes than your boss does in an important swing state.”
However, even as that “serious national conversation” intensifies, there is bad news about where the president seems to be positioning himself in the discussion. That’s because of what Kerlikowske had to say — or not say — about the specific question in the petition.
Rather than answer the petition’s request that President Obama support the congressional legislation at hand, Kerlikowske only said “the Justice Department is reviewing the legalization initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington.” He then points concerned citizens to the president’s previous interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters in which Obama said he does not support legalization of marijuana. But, tellingly, that interview never addresses whether the president supports legislation to give states, and not the federal government, explicit authority to legalize it on their own within their own state borders.
This part of the White House response to the petition can be interpreted in one of two ways — each not encouraging. Either it is a wholesale refusal to respond to citizens’ request or, arguably worse, it is an outright rejection of the petition’s central request.
If you see the response as a non-response — as a refusal to actually deal with the specific issue at hand — then first and foremost, we are witnessing the administration make a total mockery out of the very petition system that the Obama White House cites as proof of its supposed populist appeal and grassroots cred. If this is what’s going on, it would be difficult to overstate the arrogance inherent in setting high thresholds for voters to merely get a response from their government, and for that same government to then ignore those voters when they happen to exceed that threshold. Basically, this would be Washington’s latest way of proudly — almost cheerily — giving Americans the big middle finger, expecting us to somehow not notice that we just got flipped off.
Just as important, though, is . . .
A very nice shave today. First, of course, the lather: I have truly mastered Mike’s Natural shaving soaps: just use more water than I use with other soaps, and the lather’s fine. The little Vie-Long horsehair brush did a fine job, and I do like the fragrance of this Rose & Cedarwood soap. Really a lovely lather.
Then the long-toothed variant of the Gillette NEW, holding a Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge blade. I have the idea that the long-toothed version is the earlier model, but in any case it seems to provide a smoother, better, more comfortable shave than the short-toothed version. Really quite a nice shave, and as I feel my face now, it is BBS.
Geo. F. Trumper’s Spanish Leather is a classic, and quite enjoyable.
And I’m doing another walk today. I find I walk better with a task to accomplish, so I’m walking a package to the library.