Archive for March, 2009


“X-rated is not the same as porn”

On Sunday Britain’s  Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith had to apologize for her hubby’s torrid entertainment choices after it was revealed that five X-rated movies were charged to her parliamentary expense account. Ah, but no worries it was a mistake, because:  

“X-rated is not the same as porn,” the spokewoman said, refusing to elaborate. She spoke anonymously in line with government policy and would not release the names of the X-rated movies.

There you have it, a defense we could expect from our perverted politicos. Maybe we should take a lesson from the UK’s play book. Turns out they have their own anti-sleaze watchdog group, maybe they can keep an eye on the hubby while he’s in the doghouse.

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It is time the word “prosecution” be injected into the stimulus package, if you know what I mean. This maybe the tip of the iceberg.

Source: The Raw Story, The Boston Globe

Just months before the start of last year’s stock market collapse, the federal agency that insures the retirement funds of 44 million Americans departed from its conservative investment strategy and decided to put much of its $64 billion insurance fund into stocks.

Switching from a heavy reliance on bonds, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation decided to pour billions of dollars into speculative investments such as stocks in emerging foreign markets, real estate, and private equity funds. …

Analysts expressed concern that large portions of the trust fund might have been lost at a time when many private pension plans are suffering major losses. The guarantee fund would be the only way to cover the plans if their companies go into bankruptcy.

Asked whether the strategy was a mistake, given the subsequent declines in stocks and real estate, Millard said, “Ask me in 20 years. The question is whether policymakers will have the fortitude to stick with it.”

And who was responsible, exactly?

Charles E.F. Millard, the former agency director who implemented the strategy until the Bush administration departed on Jan. 20, dismissed such concerns. Millard, a former managing director of Lehman Brothers, said flatly that “the new investment policy is not riskier than the old one.” …

Notes Talking Points Memo’s David Kurtz: “A finance professor who had previously advised the agency not to make the switch away from bonds compared the move to an insurance company writing policies to cover hurricane damage and then investing the premiums in beachfront property.”

TPM’s Josh Marshall, meanwhile, sees the move not as incompetence but possibly as part of a more general move by the Bush Administration to push more money into the stock market (a la their failed Social Security ‘private accounts’ bid).

“The [Fund] decided to put most of its $64 billion of reserves into stocks,” Marshall notes. “And already by September 2008, i.e., before the bottom really fell out on Wall Street, the stock portfolio had already lost 23%. That percentage must be much higher today.

“One of the big drives behind Social Security privatization was the desire to find more money — in the case of Social Security, a lot more money — to keep the fires burning on Wall Street,” he adds. “Not just more fees for the people handling the money, but more money to keep pushing asset values higher. This looks like the same thing just using slightly different means.”

Official used to be NYC City councilman, NY Post columnist

Exactly who was Millard? He used to be a Republican City Councilman from the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and was tapped by then-NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to head the Economic Development Corporation in 1995.

He also wrote syndicated columns for the New York Post, such as this piece maligning the lawyerfor a terrorist, Omar Abdel Rahman, who he called a “terror-aiding lawyer.”

Mt. Redoubt’s March 26, eruption plume as seen from space. The Plume was estimated at 65,000 ft.
Photo: Alaska Volcano Observatory”]Image courtesy of the National Weather Service Image Creator: Dehn, Jonathan
Image courtesy of the National Weather Service Image Creator: Dehn, Jonathan[More on Image above: Ash cloud seen in the geostationary MTSAT data, courtesy of the National Weather Service. We are at the extreme edge of the view for the satellite which is over the equator in Asia. Image Date: March 26, 2009 17:30:00 UTC

 

Mt. Redoubt’s continued eruptions have many in the region on alert. Ash from the volcano has dusted communities surrounding the volcano and Seismic signals have been indicating “discrete earthquakes” since the latest large eruption began at roughly 09:24 AKDT (17:24 UTC).

Environmentalists are becoming increasingly concerned regarding the condition of a near-by Chevron oil storage facility. Chevron was at first reluctant to divulge the volume of oil held in the facility’s tanks but after pressure from concerned parties the company announced that over 6 million gallons of oil remained in the tanks according to Environment News Service. The latest information regarding the most recent eruption:

A large eruption of the Mt. Redoubt volcano occurred at 9:24 this morning local time, shooting a plume of ash and gas 65,000 feet into the air, according to National Weather Service reports and the observations of aircraft pilots.

The eruption sent a mudflow down the Drift River valley that was detected by seismic instruments at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

An evacuated Chevron oil storage facility containing six million gallons of Cook Inlet crude is situated near the mouth of the Drift River where it empties into Cook Inlet. Official reports have not clarified whether or not the Drift River oil storage facility has sustained any damage.

Mt. Redoubt is still at Aviation Color Code – RED
Volcano Alert Level is at ” WARNING”

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 Have you or someone you know ever been burned by ATM/Debit fees you don’t understand? Turns out there is a reason for that.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Source: the Center for Responsible Lending
Prevailing overdraft practices artificially drive up fees

Banks and credit unions now enroll many of their account holders into the most expensive option for covering overdrafts—an option customers generally don’t want and didn’t ask for—and leave them without the information they need to protect their funds. Under these systems, financial institutions routinely approve uncovered transactions without warning their customers of a deficit in their accounts, and charge an average $34 fee for each incident, even when the uncovered purchase is for just a few dollars.

Fees vastly outweigh shortfalls

Almost half of all overdrafts (46%) are triggered by debit cards at the ATM or the point of sale. These overdrafts could be easily prevented with a warning or denial. Most debit point-of-sale overdrafts are small, averaging less than half this $34 fee, meaning that these overdraft loans cost nearly $2 for every dollar advanced to cover the shortfall.

Unfair practices

Unfair practices include holding deposits longer than necessary and clearing daily transactions from the highest to the lowest, which often allows the bank to charge more fees than are warranted. Banks and credit unions are collecting $17.5 billion per year in abusive overdraft fees, higher even than the $15.8 billion extended in funds to cover the overdrafts.

Weigh in on the issue here and Say “No” to Gotcha Bank Fees.
Visit CRL for more consumer protection information.

Leave it to Rachel Maddow to finally have a discussion regarding the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) aka the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act. Mainstream media is too focused on finger-pointing and punditry to discuss the details. Oh and if the Gramm sounds familiar to you, the “Gramm” is Phil Gramm, former Texas senator, John McCain’s campaign advisor during the 2008 presidential campaign and yes, the same man who called us American’s feeling the effects of the recession “whiners” (ah hem). In short Gramm’s legislation, the GLBA, allowed for commercial banks to branch out and get into the investment banking business. GLBA also enabled the financial behemoths we now know as Citigroup, Bank of American, Wells Fargo and JP MorganChase, to name a few. But apparently as Rachel points out in the video some senators saw problems down the road but the GOP choose to ignore.

To be fair, it wasn’t just the GLBA that caused this massive meltdown but the legislation certainly was a recipe for disaster. Add in some greed, some deregulated aspects of the banking industry that was  previously regulated, throw in some credit default swaps and some OTC’s, fast forward to the present day and “voila”, meltdown central. Well, its really not that simple but like you I’m looking for answers. Here are a couple of issues of interest, consider GLBA’s legislative history for starters, the legislation passed along party lines:

The banking industry had been seeking the repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act (which estabvlished the FDIC) since the 1980s, if not earlier. In 1987 the Congressional Research Service prepared a report which explored the case for preserving Glass-Steagall and the case against preserving the act.

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Here is an interesting prespective on the stimulus package that has merit.

I ran across an interesting post on Andrew Sullivan’s site, the Daily Dish that got me to thinking about gas prices especially considering no new oil fields have been discovered since the 70’s.

Last week, rig count in the US stood at 1170. But that is a bit misleading. 78.3% of those rigs were drilling for Natural Gas. So only 241 rigs, land, offshore, deepwater included, were looking for oil. An additional 119 rigs (out of 299) were looking for oil in Canada.

By contrast, there were 1020 rigs international. Of these 792 were drilling for oil. Read more.

If this is true, we have 21.7% of our rigs looking for oil the other 78.3% looking for natural gas, what is the precentage of oil produced from those rigs? Does anyone know? I’m looking now. I guess this explains why US gas prices shoot up over night?or Maybe not. But with only 241 rigs out of 1170 looking for oil wouldn’t this affect production, pricing and what is the point of maximum production based on the number of rigs? Remember the peak oil theory? Umm

North Carolina’s National Guard and their families got some much needed support recently from Gov. Perdue and  the state of NC. For starters the state believes the opening of the NCNG training facility in Butner will  be more  convenient and economical for the troops which means keeping families closer together.

(About the Video: Support for our National Guard, Town Hall Website, Governer Perdue announces additional support for North Carolina’s National Guard and their families)

From Rep. Miller’s Press Release:

Rep. Brad Miller (NC-13) delivered remarks at the dedication ceremony for the new Camp Butner Barracks Facility which is part of troop training improvements for the North Carolina National Guard (NCNG).

The Congressman secured nearly $1.4 million in funding for the NCNG training site at Camp Butner in the FY09 Military Construction Appropriations Bill. Camp Butner already had a housing shortage and training at the site has quadrupled over the last five years, increasing the need. The new construction will minimize costs for the NCNG by providing economical and convenient housing for troops.

             (About the Video: NCNG Rollover Training at Camp Butner)

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Partial Transcript from Crooks and Liars:

Maddow: One of the remarkable things about the similarities between the different prisoner’s descriptions is not just that it implies that they couldn’t have all come up with the same story. It also implies that this was a very organized situation. This is not rogue CIA officers taking the gloves off and deciding what to do in the moment. What do you know? What do you believe we know about the level of coordination between officials at these black sites and officials in Washington who might have pursued this as a matter of policy?

Danner: Well we know first of all that the interrogators were in constant touch with their superiors at CIA headquarters in Langley, VA. In fact there is one of the interrogators of Abu Zubaydah Mr. John Kiriakou gave an interview to ABC News that is, you can find on the Internet in which he detailed this rather extensively. I quote from this report in which Mr. Kiriakou essentially says every time we had to use a new procedure, if we had to him him, slap him, whatever you would have to cable headquarters and get approval from the Deputy Director of Operations which is a very high position in the CIA.

Meanwhile the Director of Central Intelligence at the time, this was the spring and summer of 2002 in the case of Abu Zubaydah, was George Tenet who was traveling across the river every day to principles meetings at the White House. The principles committee includes the National Security Adviser, then Condoleeza Rice, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of State Colin Powell, the then Attorney General John Ashcroft, the highest law enforcement official in the United States of course. All of whom were briefed on this day by day. Not least because George Tenet apparently was worried that he would get stuck with this.

Danner’s full account of the Red Cross report, US Torture: Voices from the Black sites,the ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody by the International Committee of the Red Cross is chilling. Danner’s opening paragraph reads like the opening statement by the prosecution in a criminal trial.

We think time and elections will cleanse our fallen world but they will not. Since November, George W. Bush and his administration have seemed to be rushing away from us at accelerating speed, a dark comet hurtling toward the ends of the universe. The phrase “War on Terror”—the signal slogan of that administration, so cherished by the man who took pride in proclaiming that he was “a wartime president”—has acquired in its pronouncement a permanent pair of quotation marks, suggesting something questionable, something mildly embarrassing: something past. And yet the decisions that that president made, especially the monumental decisions taken after the attacks of September 11, 2001—decisions about rendition, surveillance, interrogation—lie strewn about us still, unclaimed and unburied, like corpses freshly dead.

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