Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 28th, 2010

Zombie banks will die (again)?

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Mary Bottari at

My recollection is a bit hazy. How does one kill a zombie exactly? Do you stake it? Cut off its head? Nationalize it? Perhaps it’s time to ask the experts at Bloomberg News.

Lost in the haze of the hoopla surrounding the insurance reform bill was some big news on the financial reform front. On March 19, Bloomberg won its lawsuit against the Federal Reserve for information that could expose which “too big to fail” banks in the United States are walking zombies and which banks were merely rotting.

Bloomberg, which has done some of the best reporting on the financial crisis, is also leading the charge on the fight for transparency at the Federal Reserve and in the financial sector. While many policymakers and reporters were focusing their attention on the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout bill passed by Congress, Bloomberg was one of the first to notice that the TARP program was small change compared to the estimated $2-3 trillion flowing out the back door of the Federal Reserve to prop up the financial system in the early months of the crisis.

Way back in November 2008, Bloomberg filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking the Fed what institutions were receiving the money, how much, and what collateral was being posted for these loans. Their basic argument: when trillions in taxpayer money is being loaned out to shaky institutions, don’t the taxpayers deserve to know their chances of being paid back?

Not according to the Fed. The Fed declined to respond, forcing Bloomberg to sue in Federal Court. In August of 2009, Bloomberg won the suit. With the backing of the big banks, the Fed appealed, and this month, Bloomberg won again. A three judge appellate panel dismissed the Fed’s arguments that the information was to protect "confidential business information” and told the Fed that the public deserved answers.

The Fed is the only institution in the United States that can print money. It can drag this case out as long as it wants, but isn’t it a bid odd that taxpayer dollars are being used to keep information from the taxpayers?

After an unexpectedly rocky confirmation battle, Ben Bernanke kicked off his new term as Fed Chair in February with pledges of openness and transparency…

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Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 7:41 pm

Fascinating leak

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Or, rather, series of leaks gathered up into a story by the redoubtable Charlie Savage, reporting in the NY Times. The question always is, of course, who’s doing the leaking? and in furtherance of what agenda? Are they preparing to fold? and are wanting amnesty?

The story so far:

Senior lawyers in the Obama administration are deeply divided over some of the counterterrorism powers they inherited from former President George W. Bush, according to interviews and a review of legal briefs.

The rift has been most pronounced between top lawyers in the State Department and the Pentagon, though it has also involved conflicts among career Justice Department lawyers and political appointees throughout the national security agencies.

The discussions, which shaped classified court briefs filed this month, have centered on how broadly to define the types of terrorism suspects who may be detained without trials as wartime prisoners. The outcome of the yearlong debate could reverberate through national security policies, ranging from the number of people the United States ultimately detains to decisions about who may be lawfully selected for killing using drones.

“Beyond the technical legal issues, this debate is about the fundamental question of whom we are at war with,” said Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor who specializes in war-power issues. “The two problems most plaguing Obama in the war on terrorism are trials for terrorists and taking the fight beyond Afghanistan to places like Pakistan and Yemen. This issue of whom we are at war with defines both of them.”

In the years after the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Bush claimed virtually unlimited power as commander in chief to detain those he deemed a threat — a view so boundless that his Justice Department once told a court that it was within the president’s lawful discretion to imprison as an enemy combatant even a “little old lady in Switzerland” who had unwittingly donated to Al Qaeda.

But President Obama and his team, which criticized such claims as an overreach, have sought to demonstrate that the executive branch can wage war while also respecting limits imposed on presidential power by what they see as the rule of law.

In March 2009, the Obama legal team adopted a new position about who was detainable in the war on terrorism — one that showed greater deference to the international laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, than Mr. Bush had. But what has not been known is that while the administration has stuck to that broad principle, it has been arguing over how to apply the body of law, which was developed for conventional armies, to a war against a terrorist organization.

An examination of that conflict offers rich insight into how the team of former law professors and campaign lawyers, nearly all veterans of the Clinton administration, is shaping important policies under Mr. Obama.

In February 2009, just weeks after the inauguration, John D. Bates, a federal judge overseeing several cases involving detainees in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, asked a provocative question: …

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Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 7:16 pm

Thought on the current Catholic crisis

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The crisis in this case is a crisis of the organization, and the interesting thing to note is the tenor of its response. In an authoritarian system, the prime imperative is thought control, for if that is lost, it’s game over. The last serious time the Catholic church (as an organization) faced such a crisis—and how it responded—is now known as the Protestant Reformation, which ushered in a new view of individual autonomy, responsibility, and accountability—the very ideas behind the criticisms of the Catholic church’s response to the current crisis. If the church (organization) devotes all its efforts at protecting itself and attacking those who have raised questions, then we may be on the verge of the next.

It does occur to me—as it probably has to most family men—that the Catholic hierarchy in general, but the Vatican in particular, misjudged how the laity feel when they learn that their own sons (and daughters, but for the most part sons) may have been victims.

UPDATE: Here’s an example of the rumblings.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

David Brooks: Wanker of the Day

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Let’s see. Ms. Pelosi is the mother of five children and seven grandchildren. She has been involved in politics her entire life and when her youngest child became a senior in high school she decided to run for political office herself. She has been a member of the House since 1987. She worked hard and rose to eventually become Minority Leader and now the first female Majority Leader. She has been quite effective in that office. When the President said he wanted health care reform passed by July 31st, she said okay and delivered. She remained strong all last Fall and into the Spring and delivered again last week. Brava Madame Speaker.

Last night on the Newshour, Bobo kind of grudgingly admits that she is an effective leader, but then says "Maybe she got it from her father or brother." He goes on to say maybe it’s just in her blood. I don’t know? Maybe it’s because in her 70 years on the planet she has worked hard and learned a few things along the way? Even with her girly bits? Nah. Must of gotten it from her brother who has not held office since 1971, or her father who died in 1987. Certainly nothing she accomplished on her own.

If not WOTD, certainly a Grade A Asshat.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 5:12 pm

The corruption in the Catholic church runs deep

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And it goes way back. Check out this story in the LA Times by Tracy Wilkinson, which begins:

He hobnobbed with Mexico’s rich and famous, cut lucrative real estate deals and was rumored to travel on occasion with a briefcase full of cash. He fathered at least one child, molested seminarians and boys and is said to have boasted that he had the pope’s permission to get massages from young nuns.

And all the while the conservative priest was building one of the most influential organizations in the Roman Catholic Church.

Two years after the death of the Rev. Marcial Maciel, a Mexico native, scandals continue to unfold: Just the other day in Mexico City, two brothers came forward, claiming tearfully that not only was Maciel their father, he had also sexually abused them.

Buffeted by the string of revelations, Maciel’s powerful Legion of Christ is fighting for its survival in Rome, the headquarters of the church. But here in Mexico, where the Legion has long-standing ties with the ruling class and an expansive network of elite schools, the organization remains strong.
Rather than the desertions that some branches of the Legion have experienced in the United States and elsewhere, student enrollment in Legionary schools in Mexico grew by 6% to 8% last year, spokesman Javier Bravo said.

The order’s assets are estimated by some to be worth $20 billion.

"Obviously there has been a lot of suffering and surprise from what we have learned about the founder," Bravo said. "Obviously Father Maciel was a great part of our founding period. But he will have to be reconsidered as an instrument rather than a model."

A few days after Bravo spoke to The Times, the Legionaries issued their most comprehensive apology to date for Maciel’s "reprehensible" behavior. "Though it causes us consternation," the statement says, "we have to say that these acts did take place."

As the Catholic Church is rocked by scandals about abusive priests and the failure of its hierarchy to confront them, Maciel in many ways embodies the insidiousness of the problem.

Maciel was dogged for years by allegations that he sexually molested young men studying to be priests, had affairs with women and was a drug addict. He evaded sanction thanks in large part to the privileged status granted him by the late Pope John Paul II. Only in 2006 did John Paul’s successor, Benedict XVI, discipline Maciel by ordering him to stop functioning as a priest; by then, Maciel was 85 [and, presumably, was no longer bringing in so much money and so many recruits — the church’s main priority, from all evidence – LG].

Maciel was popular at the Vatican because the Legion was one of the fastest growing orders in the Catholic Church, able to produce wealth and recruit priests at a time of declining memberships and severe shortages in the clergy — and because it espoused the conservative brand of Catholicism that recent popes have favored.

Today the Legionaries, as they are known, operate in nearly 40 countries with 800 priests, 2,600 seminarians and a lay branch called Regnum Christi ("Christ’s Kingdom") that has more than 75,000 members.

Though blessed by John Paul, the Legion had detractors the world over who, quite apart from the abuse allegations, criticized the secretive group’s cult-like practices. Seminarians were cut off from their families, their mail routinely intercepted; barred from criticizing Maciel and instructed to report anyone who did; and made to adhere to a military-style discipline. A cult of personality developed around Maciel, revered as a hero destined for sainthood.

In Mexico, the key to Maciel’s success was his ability to …

Continue reading. I fear the overriding priorities of the Catholic church are mainly to protect its reputation and its officials and to gather money and influence.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law, Religion

The abuse was bad, but the first priority is to protect the Church’s reputation

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And that means protecting the Pope’s reputation, so circle the wagons and deny as much as possible for as long as possible. That seems to be the Church’s attitude and response. Frank Bruni in the NY Times:

Of the many heartbreaking details in the latest round of outrage over child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, one stands out as particularly emblematic: a tidy window into Church leaders’ mindsets; a bracing glimpse of what went wrong.

It traces back to 1975, when the Rev. Sean Brady, now a cardinal at the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, was tending to two boys who had been molested by a priest. By Cardinal Brady’s own admission, he did not report what had happened to the authorities. It was his understanding, he said, that the church would not want that. Instead, the boys — one 14, one just 10, both surely reeling — were forced to sign an oath that such notification would never be made.

It is doubtful that pledge helped them heal, or that he or anyone else in the church thought it might. It certainly did not safeguard other children, many of whom the priest went on to molest.

But it served a purpose and illustrated a priority: to insulate the church from outside interference and condemnation. And it distilled the church’s profound defensiveness toward the secular world, a longstanding posture and a prominent theme in abuse cases that have recently attracted attention.

The church’s fundamental and deliberate separation from secular society — in terms of how it sees its mission, protects itself and interprets human misbehavior — explains much of its leaders’ response, or lack thereof, to the child sexual abuse crisis. Time and again they have sought to police their own ranks in their own ways, due largely to fears of persecution that are embedded in the very genesis of the Church, supported by much if its history and evoked by its signal symbol: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

There are enemies of the faith, no question. And so there is a powerful impulse to protect it that can override all else — that can lead to Pope Benedict XVI’s edict in 2001, when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and leading the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that exhorted bishops worldwide to aggressively report abuse cases directly to the Vatican but offered no comparable encouragement for them to report crimes to the police.

There is also a decidedly nonsecular response to wrongdoing that paves the way for second and third chances — and serial abuse. In the secular world, the molestation of a child is labeled a crime, and a heartfelt apology for it doesn’t obviate jail time. In the Catholic Church, it is discussed as a sin, to be confessed and then, by the grace of God, forgiven. Penitence may well supplant punishment.

“There’s the idea that you can reform yourself and be forgiven and that any confession is a true confession if you believe in your heart that you’re not going to do it again,” said David France, author of the 2004 book Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal. That is one of the beauties of the faith, and the fury of journalists and prosecutors can come across as an assault on it.

David J. O’Brien, a professor at the University of Dayton who specializes in Catholic history, said that the church had so often perceived itself to be at odds with, and under siege by, the world around it that when it seemingly let down a few defenses with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, “There was a funny column by someone that asked: what will we do if we have no enemies? We won’t know who we are because we’ve always defined ourselves as over and against others.”

Professor O’Brien and other Catholic experts noted that in Europe, the continent that harbors the Vatican and has produced every pope of the modern era, there has been a pronounced history of sometimes vicious anti-clericalism, including attacks on the Catholic Church during the French Revolution and threats posed by Communist and totalitarian governments in the early 20th century.

“Certainly, Pope John Paul II had that experience,” said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington, referring to Benedict’s predecessor, under whom the child sexual abuse crisis initially festered. “His experience in Poland was that the secret police would accuse priests of sexual abuse and other crimes just to hassle them.”

Meanwhile, in the United States, the Catholic Church has at times …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 1:52 pm

Study shows compulsive eating shares addictive biochemical mechanism with cocaine, heroin abuse

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It’s surprising that science still studies these issues. As I understand it, you just eat less and move more and Bob’s your uncle. Still, there are things like this:

In a newly published study, scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have shown for the first time that the same molecular mechanisms that drive people into drug addiction are behind the compulsion to overeat, pushing people into obesity. The new study, conducted by Scripps Research Associate Professor Paul J. Kenny and graduate student Paul M. Johnson, was published March 28, 2010 in an advance online edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The study’s startling findings received widespread publicity after a preliminary abstract was presented at a Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago last October. Articles heralding the new discovery appeared in news publications around the world, focusing on the point obese patients have been making for years – that, like addiction to other substances, junk food binging is extremely difficult to stop.

The study goes significantly further than the abstract, however, demonstrating clearly that in rat models the development of obesity coincides with a progressively deteriorating chemical balance in reward brain circuitries. As these pleasure centers in the brain become less and less responsive, rats quickly develop compulsive overeating habits, consuming larger quantities of high-calorie, high-fat foods until they become obese. The very same changes occur in the brains of rats that overconsume cocaine or heroin, and are thought to play an important role in the development of compulsive drug use.

Kenny, a scientist at Scripps Research’s Florida campus, said that the study, which took nearly three years to complete, confirms the "addictive" properties of junk food.

"The new study, unlike our preliminary abstract, explains what happens in the brain of these animals when they have easy access to high-calorie, high-fat food," said Kenny. "It presents the most thorough and compelling evidence that drug addiction and obesity are based on the same underlying neurobiological mechanisms. In the study, the animals completely lost control over their eating behavior, the primary hallmark of addiction. They continued to overeat even when they anticipated receiving electric shocks, highlighting just how motivated they were to consume the palatable food."

The scientists fed the rats a diet modeled after the type that contributes to human obesity—easy-to-obtain high-calorie, high-fat foods like sausage, bacon, and cheesecake. Soon after the experiments began, the animals began to bulk up dramatically.

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Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

The Right’s conflicted attitude toward the Constitution

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Faiz Shakir at ThinkProgress:

The Tea Party movement loves to express its affection for the Constitution. The Los Angeles Times writes, “Adherence to what supporters deem to be a strict interpretation of constitutional principles is a key tenet of the tea party movement.” Yesterday’s Tea Party rally in Searchlight, NV, for instance, was filled with imagery of the Constitution. Protesters carried signs that read “I honor the Constitution” and “What about the Constitution don’t you understand?” Rally attendee Norman Halfpenny, a 77-year old retired Marine Corps veteran, said, “We need to get our Constitution back.”

In her speech at the rally, Sarah Palin of course paid homage to the Constitution. “Our vision for America is anchored in time-tested truths that the government that governs least governs best, that the Constitution provides the path to a more perfect union —it’s the Constitution,” she exclaimed. And so it’s extremely puzzling that Palin introduced this new attack line against President Obama yesterday:

In these volatile times when we are a nation at war, now more than ever is when we need a commander-in-chief, not a constitutional law professor lecturing us from a lectern.

Ironically, the crowd cheered wildly at Palin’s line. Watch it:

Perhaps the Tea Partiers feel more comfortable with an “MBA President” who leads the country into economic and international crises.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government

Marion Nestle applauds Jamie Oliver

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Take a look at what she writes in her blog:

I’m not much of a TV-watcher but from what I’ve been hearing about Jamie Oliver’s new series, I thought I had best take a look.

Don’t miss it.  Get your kids to watch it with you.

Oliver, in case you haven’t been paying attention, went to Huntington, West Virginia (ostensibly the obesity capital of the world), TV crew in hand, to reform the town’s school lunch program.

Take a deep breath.  Try not to get turned off by Oliver’s statement that “the food revolution starts here” (no Jamie, it doesn’t).  Try not to cringe when he calls the food service workers “girls” and “luv” (OK, it’s a cultural problem).  Remember: this is reality TV.

With that said, let’s give the guy plenty of credit for what he is trying to do: cook real food.  What a concept!

And let’s cut him some slack for what he is up against: USDA rules that make cooking too expensive for school budgets, entrenched negative attitudes, widespread cluelessness about dietary principles as well as what food is and how to cook it, and kids who think it is entirely normal to eat pizza for breakfast and chicken nuggets for lunch, neither with a knife and fork.

What impressed me most is that Oliver is going about addressing these barriers in exactly the right way.  From my observations of school food over the years, the key elements for getting decent food into schools are these:

  • A principal who cares about what kids eat
  • Teachers who care about what kids eat
  • Parents who care about what kids eat
  • Food service personnel who not only care what the kids eat, but also know the kids’ names.

For a school food program to work, all of these elements must be in place.  That’s why the school food revolution must be achieved one school at a time.

Watch Oliver go to work on these elements in this one school.

Teacher that I am, for me the most moving – and hopeful – sign was …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 12:46 pm

Dusty Foggo’s Girlfriend, John Rizzo, and the Salt Pit

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More from Marcy Wheeler:

The AP story on the Salt Pit death makes it clear that–at a time when Dusty Foggo was Executive Director of CIA–he was involved in an internal review of the death.

The current U.S. official insisted that the case was adequately scrutinized. The official also said a CIA accountability review board was held in connection with the death.

The CIA declined to discuss whether the two agency officers cited in the inspector general’s report were punished.

But when the case was put before Kyle D. Foggo, the CIA’s third-ranking officer at the time, no formal administrative action was taken against the two men, said two former intelligence officials with knowledge of the case.

This review must have happened some time after fall 2004, when Foggo started in the ExDir position (it seems to have been a follow-on to the CIA IG Report). That means that Foggo’s decision not to act against any of the people in the Salt Pit killing came at around the same time that his girlfriend was hired at CIA’s Office of General Counsel over the objections of staffers within OGC. That’s significant because among the people in the chain of authorization between the Bybee Memo and the torture was then OGC head John Rizzo, who intervened to make sure Foggo’s girlfriend got and stayed hired.

Details of how Foggo got his girlfriend hired appeared in the sentencing documents for his conviction in the Brent Wilkes/Duke Cunningham case (they were included not just to show Foggo’s corruption, but also because, over the course of the case, Foggo had repeatedly claimed to be happily and faithfully married).

As William Mitchell of the CIA Inspector General’s office described, Foggo’s girlfriend, ER, was at first rejected by OGC because she had previously been investigated for having an affair with her boss (elsewhere the sentencing materials include Foggo’s claim that “she didn’t fuck him”), and then destroyed evidence to cover up the affair. But after OGC rejected her application, Foggo harassed the Managing Associate General Counsel of CIA, who then passed on Foggo’s concern to then Acting General Counsel John Rizzo: …

Continue reading. Strange that Obama is so protective of these guys.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 12:44 pm

A new strategy normalizes blood sugars in diabetes

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Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston have identified a new strategy for treating type 2 diabetes, identifying a cellular pathway that fails when people become obese. By activating this pathway artificially, they were able to normalize blood glucose levels in severely obese and diabetic mice. Their findings will be published online by Nature Medicine on March 28.

Epidemiologists have long known that obesity contributes to type 2 diabetes. In previous work, researcher Umut Ozcan, MD, in Division of Endocrinology at Children’s, showed that the brain, liver and fat cells of obese mice have increased stress in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), a structure in the cell where proteins are assembled, folded into their proper shapes, and dispatched to do jobs for the cell. In the presence of obesity, the ER is overwhelmed and its operations break down. This so-called "ER stress" activates a cascade of events that suppress the body’s response to insulin, and is a key link between obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Until now, however, researchers haven’t known precisely why obesity causes ER stress to develop. Ozcan and colleagues now show that a transcription factor that normally helps relieve ER stress, called X-box binding protein 1 (XBP-1), is unable to function in obese mice. Instead of traveling to the cell nucleus and turning on genes called chaperones, necessary for proper ER function, XBP-1 becomes stranded.

Probing further, the researchers found the reason: XBP-1 fails to interact with a protein fragment called p85, part of an important protein that mediates insulin’s effect of lowering blood glucose levels (phosphotidyl inositol 3 kinase or PI3K). Ozcan’s group identified a new complex of p85 proteins in the cell, and showed that normally, when stimulated by insulin, p85 breaks off and binds to XBP-1, helping it get to the nucleus.

"What we found is, in conditions of obesity, XBP1 cannot go to the nucleus and there is a severe defect in the up-regulation of chaperones," says Ozcan. "But when we increase levels of free p85 in the liver of obese, severely diabetic mice, we see a significant increase in XBP1 activity and chaperone response and, consequently, improved glucose tolerance and reduced blood glucose levels."

When people are obese, the insulin signaling that normally increases free p85 is impaired, leading to more ER stress and more insulin resistance, ultimately leading to type 2 diabetes. But Ozcan thinks this vicious cycle can be circumvented through strategies that increase levels of free p85. His group is taking further steps to activate this novel pathway to create new treatment strategies for type 2 diabetes.

Source: Children’s Hospital Boston

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

Trusting business: The finance industry

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William Selway and Martin Braun in Bloomberg:

JPMorgan Chase & Co., Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.and UBS AG were among more than a dozen Wall Street firms involved in a conspiracy to pay below-market interest rates to U.S. state and local governments on investments, according to documents filed in a U.S. Justice Department criminal antitrust case.

A government list of previously unidentified “co- conspirators” contains more than two dozen bankers at firms also including Bank of America Corp.,Bear Stearns Cos., Societe Generale, two of General Electric Co.’s financial businesses and Salomon Smith Barney, the former unit of Citigroup Inc., according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on March 24.

The papers were filed by attorneys for a former employee of CDR Financial Products Inc., an advisory firm indicted in October. The attorneys, as part of their legal filing, identified the roster as being provided by the government. The document is labeled “list of co-conspirators.”

None of the firms or individuals named on the list has been charged with wrongdoing. The court records mark the first time these companies have been identified as co-conspirators. They provide the broadest look yet at alleged collusion in the $2.8 trillion municipal securities market that the government says delivered profits to Wall Street at taxpayers’ expense.

“If the government is saying they are co-conspirators, the government believes they have sufficient evidence that they can show they were part of the conspiracy,” said Richard Donovan, a partner at New York-based law firm Kelley Drye & Warren LLP and co-chair of its antitrust practice. Donovan isn’t involved in the case.

The government’s case centers on investments known as guaranteed investment contracts that cities, states and school districts buy with the money they receive through municipal bond sales. Some $400 billion of municipal bonds are issued each year, and localities use the contracts to earn a return on some of the money until they need it for construction or other projects.

The Internal Revenue Service sometimes collects earnings on those investments and requires that they be awarded by competitive bidding to ensure that governments receive a fair return. The government charges that CDR ran sham auctions that allowed the banks to pay below-market interest rates to local governments.

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Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 12:39 pm

The Salt Pit and the Bybee Memos

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While President Obama continues to avert his eyes, more information comes out. Marcy Wheeler at her blog:

The AP has a long article out providing details behind the Salt Pit death of a detainee named Gul Rahman–a former militant associated with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who was captured on October 29, 2002 at the home of Hekmatyar’s son-in-law, Dr. Ghairat Baheer, along with the Baheer and three others. A week later, Rahman was separated from the others. On November 20, he was doused with water and left in 36 degree cold, only to die a few hours later.

Aside from finally providing details on a story that has long been know, the story is interesting for the way it shows the how the CIA’s torture system fit with DOJ’s approvals in the Bybee Memos. The Rahman death shows that CIA’s managers (probably in the Counterterrorism Center) were involved in direct guidance on a technique that got someone killed. That technique was specifically not approved in the Bybee Two memo. But when CTC worked to exonerate the guy in the field–the manager of the Salt Pit–they pointed to the intent language of the Bybee One memo, and claimed that anything short of intending severe pain could not qualify as torture. Ultimately, CIA’s managers used the Get Out of Jail Free Card that John Yoo had written them to prevent accountability when they gave approval for a technique that got someone killed.

Gul Rahman died from water dousing

The AP describes how, in response to Rahman’s resistance to US guards (he threw a latrine bucket), he was subjected to stress positions and dousing.

At one point, the detainee threw a latrine bucket at his guards. He also threatened to kill them. His stubborn responses provoked harsher treatment. His hands were shackled over his head, he was roughed up and doused with water, according to several former CIA officials.

The exact circumstances of Rahman’s death are not clear, but the Afghan was left in the cold cell on the morning of Nov. 20, when the temperature dipped just below 36 degrees. He was naked from the waist down, said two former U.S. officials familiar with the case. Within hours, he was dead.

Though the AP doesn’t say it, the language used here makes it clear CIA thought of this as water dousing–a technique that would not be approved by DOJ for use until August 26, 2004. After Rahman died, the CIA tried to invent the Legal Principles document as a way to authorize murder and other crimes, but Jack Goldsmith would go on to not only refuse to consider that document OLC authorization, but to refuse to approve water dousing specifically in March 2004.

In other words, three years and our third review of this case later, and DOJ still hasn’t decided whether wetting someone down in close to freezing temperatures is a crime, even though this was a torture technique that DOJ had not approved at the time.

The Salt Pit manager relied on the advice of his superiors

Now, the guy who wet down Rahman apparently wasn’t working off a list of approved techniques. Rather, he was asking for guidance from his superiors.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 10:48 am

Excellent (and succinct) response to a complex question

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Andrew Sullivan hits the nail squarely on the head: the Second Vatican Council indeed affirmed that the Catholic laity function as the mystical body of Christ and are as immune from error (the laity as a whole) as is the Pope (with the Pope’s infallibility restricted to matters of faith and morals and ex cathedra pronouncements: he doesn’t simply drip infallibility—in fact, there’s a wonderful story told about Cardinal Gibbons on his return from the First Vatican Council (1869-70), which declared the Pope’s infallibility (for which Cardinal Gibbons voted): On being asked if he really thought the Pope was absolutely infallible, he replied, “Well, he called me ‘Cardinal Gaboons.'” 🙂 ). Sullivan’s post:

A reader writes:

In the later of section of Bishop Morlino’s letter that you didn’t include in your quote, he explains — correctly, I believe — that Roman Catholicism is based on a theory of apostolic succession, in which only members of the Church hierarchy have “authority” to define Catholic positions because only they have been called by Jesus Christ: “That’s what we mean when we say that the Church is Apostolic. The bishop is a true Apostle insofar as he teaches with the Holy Father, and the priest is a true Apostle insofar as he teaches with the bishop — that’s how it works.” As a Lutheran, I don’t accept this theory, myself, but it strikes me as a fairly complete, even airtight, answer to your many criticisms of the Pope and the Church.

You’ve been suggesting that bishops have to be “accountable,” that they have “moral authority” only to the extent that they satisfy the rest of us (at least, satisfy ordinary Catholics) that they’re conducting themselves morally. In other words, you’re assuming that the source of their authority lies in common values, the wider community, or some other human agency. This, however, is not Church teaching. To the Church, authority comes not from humans but from Jesus Christ — who, conveniently enough, speaks to humankind through the Church (NOT the Bible — that’s a Protestant view — but only the Bible as the Church interprets it), which means that as a practical matter, the Church hierarchy is not, and does not propose to be, accountable to anyone but itself.

I understand why you reject this view. Modern people in general reject it. But that’s because modern people are heirs of the Protestant Reformation. What you’ve essentially been saying is that the Catholic Church, too, needs to act and think in Protestant terms. If it doesn’t, you say, you wonder how it will “survive.” OK, but if it follows your wishes, it will survive only as another denomination of Protestantism. So, really, it faces a choice between two kinds of non-survival: further shrinkage into a tiny rump of pre-modernists who accept unaccountable authority (that’s what you seem to be warning against), and the disappearance of what makes it distinctively Catholic in favor of a surrender to Protestant modernity (that’s what the bishops seem to be resisting — and understandably so, I think).

Three words: Second Vatican Council. It mattered. It means that the faithful also have a role to play in our church, because we are the church.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 10:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Interesting chart

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From a post by Paul Rosenberg at OpenLeft, based on a Harris Interactive Poll:

If you want, you can chant “Correlation is not causality” as you examine the chart.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 10:33 am

The Catholic Church is a Criminal Enterprise

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Matt Taibbi:

The Holy See’s reaction to both stories has been swift. An unsigned editorial this week in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano attacked the New York Times by name, accusing the paper of willfully ignoring the “truth” of Ratzinger/Benedict’s record and of attempting “to instrumentalize, without any foundation in fact, horrible episodes and sorrowful events uncovered in some cases from decades ago.” The media, it continued, showed a “despicable intent of attacking, at whatever cost, Benedict XVI and his closest collaborators.”

Earlier in the week, New York’s archbishop, Timothy Dolan, used his blog to dismiss the New York Times reports and defend the pontiff’s record by arguing that authorities outside the church also are culpable. Stories about sexual abuse by priests were “fair” if “unending,” he wrote. But he condemned the media for portraying child sexual abuse “as a tragedy unique to the church alone. That, of course, is malarkey.”

via A pope with a problem –

Anyone who’s interested in losing his lunch should read the above-mentioned blog entry by New York archbishop Timothy Dolan in defense of Pope Benedict; the archbishop’s incredibly pompous and self-pitying rant is some of the most depraved horseshit I’ve ever seen on the internet, which is saying a lot.

One expects professional slimeballs like the public relations department of Goldman Sachs to pull out the “Well, we weren’t the only thieves!” argument when accused of financial malfeasance. But I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I read through Dolan’s retort and it dawned on me that he was actually going to use the “We weren’t the only child molesters!” excuse. Dolan must have very roomy man-robes, because it seems to me you’d need a set of balls like two moons of Jupiter to say such a thing in public and expect it to fly. But this is exactly what Dolan does; he bases his entire defense of the Church on the idea that others are equally culpable. The relevant section of his piece:

What adds to our anger over the nauseating abuse and the awful misjudgment in reassigning such a dangerous man, though, is the glaring fact that we never see similar headlines that would actually be “news”:  How about these, for example?

–    “Doctor Asserts He Ignored Abuse Warnings,” since Dr. Huth admits in the article that he, in fact, told the archdiocese the abusing priest could be reassigned under certain restrictions, a prescription today recognized as terribly wrong;

–    “Doctor Asserts Public Schools Ignored Abuse Warnings,” since the data of Dr. Carol Shakeshaft concludes that the number of cases of abuse of minors by teachers, coaches, counselors, and staff in government schools is much, much worse than by priests;

–    “Doctor Asserts Judges (or Police, Lawyers, District Attorneys, Therapists, Parole Officers) Ignored Abuse Warnings,” since we now know the sober fact that no one in the healing and law enforcement professions knew back then the depth of the scourge of abuse, or the now-taken-for-granted conclusion that abusers of young people can never safely work closely with them again.

The most revolting part of this response is the last bit about how “no one knew… back then” the depth of the scourge of abuse, or the fact that child molesters cannot be allowed near children ever again once caught. Dolan is trying to get us to focus on the 1962 case, but the truth is that as recently as this last decade, the Church’s doctrinal office elected to proceed with church trials for less than 10% of the 3000 cases of abuse reported to them between the years of 2000 and 2010.

And just a few days after this blog entry of Dolan’s, the Times would come out with another story indicating that the current Pope, then a Cardinal named Joseph Ratzinger, seems to have quashed an effort to bring a serial child abuser named Lawrence Murphy to a church trial. The inaction of Ratzinger’s office resulted in Murphy being allowed to die “in the dignity of the priesthood,” which was his wish as expressed in a letter to then-Cardinal Ratzinger in January 1998.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 10:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Kevin Drum’s list of books

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Kevin Drum has a good list, with some of my own favorites included. Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 10:23 am

Posted in Books

Why politicians don’t value political science

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Very interesting post by Andrew Sullivan, quoting Ryan Sager:

Ryan Sager’s guess:

[M]y theory of why no one in politics likes to think about political science: because it renders them powerless. How do you do your job as a political consultant when the truth is that 90% of the success or failure of what you do will be determined by the unemployment rate? If you’re a political journalist, how do you write a story every day for a year (or three years, given our current presidential election system) saying, essentially, “Well, the fundamentals still make it exceedingly likely the president will be reelected.” If you’re a politician… well, then you’re a sociopath anyway, so perhaps it’s not worth getting into this scenario too deeply.

And then there’s the fact that so many political scientists are quant-wonks you’d run from if you met them in a Starbucks. And, yes, I have a PhD in political "science".

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 10:20 am

Science can answer moral questions

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Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 10:15 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Happiness and Selfishness: A Paradox

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Interesting post by Shankar Vedantam, a science reporter with the Washington Post and a Nieman fellow at Harvard University.

In the Dictator Game, a volunteer is given a certain goodie — raffle tickets, lottery tickets, money etc — and asked to divide it among a group of people that includes himself or herself. No one in the rest of the group has recourse to discussion or appeal, so the volunteer effectively plays “dictator.”

In this Hidden Brain Puzzle, you are given 100 lottery tickets and asked to share them with three other people. You can keep all 100 — and improve your odds of winning the raffle — or divide the tickets equitably. No one will know what you did, so this is entirely between you and your conscience. You are then asked whether being happy or sad makes it more likely for you to make a selfish decision.

I based this puzzle on an interesting experiment recently conducted by Hui Bing Tan and Joseph P. Forgas involving the Dictator Game. They measured whether volunteers reported feeling happy or sad and asked them to play the dictator game with 10 raffle tickets. They found that happy people tended to be far more selfish than sad people. Happy people were much more likely to hog the raffle tickets, rather than share them with others, whereas sad people were far more likely to think about the feelings of others. The result meshes with a growing body of work that suggests that while happiness feels great for us individually, it seems to have less than salutary effects on the hidden brain when it comes to thinking about the perspectives and feelings of others.

In an article published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the researchers write, “ The kind of mood effects on selfishness demonstrated here may have important implications for real-life behaviors in romantic relationships, organizational decisions, and many other everyday situations where decisions by one person have incontestable consequences for others. Interestingly, our results further challenge the common assumption in much of applied, organisational, clinical and health psychology that positive affect has universally desirable social consequences. Together with other recent experimental studies, our findings confirm that negative affect often produces adaptive and more socially sensitive outcomes.”

How does this research square with your own experience? Are you a more generous person when you are a sadder person?

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2010 at 9:55 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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