Archive for March 14th, 2010
Doyle McManus writes today about a town hall meeting between Blue Dog Democratic congressman Jason Altmire and a group of tea partiers. The Senate healthcare bill, he told them, doesn’t have a public option and doesn’t raise income taxes:
But the conversation ran aground when he asked a fundamental question: Shouldn’t the government help low-income people afford basic health insurance?
"No!" most of the visitors shouted.
"Some of you are never going to agree with me," Altmire said.
It’s true! Some people are just never going to agree.
And that’s OK, what with this being a democracy and all. But I’ll say this: at least the tea partiers are being honest. Most elite conservatives — the ones who write for magazines or get elected to national office — like to tap dance around the question of the poor, pretending that things like tort reform or "more skin in the game" will make everything OK. They know perfectly well it isn’t true, but it’s politically incorrect to say that they don’t consider this a big deal, so they don’t.
But not the tea partiers. It’s not that they don’t understand that the poor often have to go without health insurance, it’s that they just don’t care. Not if fixing it requires the use of tax dollars, anyway. In a way, this is bracing. It’s also, I fear, an attitude that going to become more openly acceptable among mainstream conservatives in the near future as they discover that a big part of their base applauds the idea of dispensing with the tap dancing. Fasten your seat belts.
I am rewatching the Rome part of Engineering an Empire. This is such a great series—I just ordered three copies of the complete series: one for me, two for gifts (not to anyone reading this, I’m sorry to say).
At any rate, the film focuses on various emperors, and in seeing the segment on Nero, I was forcibly reminded of Dick Cheney. Not that Cheney has plumbed the depths so deeply as Nero (but then, how do you measure?), but that the personality of the one strongly resembles the personality of the other. Take a look, see if you agree.
Clearly illegal acts were done. Ryun Chittum at the Columbia Journalism Review has a great article, including a fascinating video clip of reporters talking about the story. The article begins:
Will Repo 105 be the Chewco and JEDI of this crisis, and are we finally about to see some people on Wall Street go to jail?
Yesterday’s blockbuster 2,200 page report on Lehman Brothers by a court-appointed examiner shows Lehman Brothers executives moving $50 billion in toxic assets off-balance-sheet to deceive investors about its financial health. Finally it seems it’s taken Anton Valukas and $38 million to put the scandal in the scandal. Shades of Enron, as Wall Street Journal reporter Peter Lattman said on the paper’s “News Hub” webcast this morning.
[Click link to see the video – LG]
Expect to be reading about the repercussions of this report for a good long while. Already there’s lots of thread to pull on here. Take your pick, from Dick Fuld and Erin Callan of Lehman (no wonder Callan wouldn’t talk to Fortune) to accounting firm Ernst & Young to British law firm Linklaters all the way up to JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup to its counterparties. The FT’s James Mackintosh has a good rundown of the “Lehman perp walk” here.
Essentially what Lehman did was make its balance sheet look much better than it actually was by taking those $50 billion in assets and arranging short-term transactions just before the end of each quarter—all so it wouldn’t have to report that it held these assets.
The Journal is good to put this up high in its front-pager:
In one instance from May 2008, a Lehman senior vice president alerted management to potential accounting irregularities, a warning the report says was ignored by Lehman auditors Ernst & Young and never raised with the firm’s board.
That’s pretty damning.
All this makes it worthwhile to visit Jonathan Weil’s excellent column on Lehman’s fraud from last month—one that looks quite prescient now.
It is so widely accepted that Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s balance sheet was bogus that even former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson can say it in his new memoir. And still, the government hasn’t found anyone who did anything wrong at the failed investment bank.
How could that be, 17 months after Lehman collapsed and sent the global credit crisis into overdrive? While Congress and the White House dither about reforming the U.S. financial system, the wheels of justice are grinding so slowly, if at all, that it seems there’s no appetite in Washington for holding Wall Street executives accountable for anything.
Spin these questions forward for the press with what we know now: Why did it take a court-appointed examiner to uncover this rather than the Justice Department—or even the press itself? …
The problem, of course, is that all this occurred in the past, and Obama and Holder strongly believe that crimes committed in the past should be ignored so we can look to the future. So don’t hold your breath waiting for prosecutions. Obama doesn’t believe in prosecuting criminals who had the foresight to commit their crimes in the past.
Bad news about Google’s bike maps. Paul McDougall at Information Week:
Google’s new mapping service for bike riders is drawing guffaws and worse from New Yorkers who liken the California-based search giant to a clueless tourist who thinks the Battery’s up and The Bronx is down.
"A helmet may not be enough to protect cyclists from Google Maps’ latest feature," declared the New York Post, in a story published Thursday.
Google’s bike maps are "filled with potentially fatal flaws, including routes that cut across Central Park’s treacherous transverse roads and steer cyclists through truck-riddled thoroughfares," the Post said.
Post reporters who tried out the service noted several instances where Google either sent them on the wrong route or put them in harm’s way from careening yellow cabs or multi-ton delivery vehicles even though safer routes were available.
Among the problems uncovered by the Post were directions that put cyclists onto stretches of Central Park off limits to two-wheelers, across the wrong side of the George Washington Bridge, and also onto a number of streets and avenues filled with dangerous traffic.
A Google spokesperson acknowledged to the newspaper that the maps are imperfect and said the company, which operates from a leafy campus in Mountain View, Calif., is working to improve its knowledge of Gotham.
Google introduced the new service, an add-on to Google Maps, with a blog post Wednesday from product manager Shannon Guymon. Without a hint of irony, Guymon said Google didn’t want to roll out the service until it was perfect…
No, not Zez Confrey‘s number:
And here’s the original Kitten on the Keys:
Hey, this guy’s good! Check this out:
And I should include my father’s favorite: Nola, by Fritz Arndt:
And here’s Les Paul, playing it on three tracks:
I had no idea of the police outreach program to get guns into the hands of criminals. Devlin Barrett reporting for AP:
Two guns used in high-profile shootings this year at the Pentagon and a Las Vegas courthouse both came from the same unlikely place: the police and court system of Memphis, Tenn.
Law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that both guns were once seized in criminal cases in Memphis. The officials described how the weapons made their separate ways from an evidence vault to gun dealers and to the shooters.
The use of guns that once were in police custody and were later involved in attacks on police officers highlights a little-known divide in gun policy in the United States: Many cities and states destroy guns gathered in criminal probes, but others sell or trade the weapons in order to get other guns or buy equipment such as bulletproof vests.
In fact, on the day of the Pentagon shooting, March 4, the Tennessee governor signed legislation revising state law on confiscated guns. Before, law enforcement agencies in the state had the option of destroying a gun. Under the new version, agencies can only destroy a gun if it’s inoperable or unsafe.
Kentucky has a similar law, but it’s not clear how many other states have laws specifically designed to promote the police sale or trade of confiscated weapons.
A nationwide review by The Associated Press in December found that over the previous two years, 24 states — mostly in the South and West, where gun-rights advocates are particularly strong — have passed 47 new laws loosening gun restrictions. Gun rights groups are making a greater effort to pass favorable legislation in state capitals.
John Timoney, who led the Philadelphia and Miami police departments and served as New York’s No. 2 police official, said he doesn’t believe police departments should be putting more guns into the market.
"I just think it’s unseemly for police departments to be selling guns that later turn up," he said, recalling that he had once been offered the chance to sell guns to raise money for the police budget.