SEC Chief: Staying calm a "signal achievement"; Madoff a "big asterisk"The head of the Securities and Exchange Commission has denied any responsibility for the U.S.'s current economic woes. From a December 24th article in the Washington Post (as are all quotes in what follows except where noted):
Christopher Cox, the embattled chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, is defending his restrained approach to the financial crisis, saying he has provided steady leadership as Wall Street's main regulator at a time when other federal regulators have responded precipitously to upheaval in the markets.I don't know about anybody else, but I'm certainly not pleased that my investments in financial institutions have tanked, due in large part, as I understand it, to widespread deception and misinformation about the true value of assets on these institutions' books as well as the risks involved. How can this possibly not be the SEC's job? I'm supposed to evaluate these things myself?
... Cox said... that he had responded properly to the broader financial crisis given the information he had. Confronted with a barrage of criticism from lawmakers, former officials and even some of his staff, Cox said he took pride in his measured response to the market turmoil.He also said that "the SEC is not a safety and soundness regulator" despite the fact that the very first sentence in the SEC's statement on what it does says, "The mission of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation."
Further evidence that the SEC has not been doing its job appears in a New York Times article from yesterday titled "Federal Cases of Stock Fraud Drop Sharply," which notes that there have been only 133 prosecutions for securities fraud in the first 11 months of this year, versus 437 in 2000 and a high of 513 in 2002 while the number of investigations leading to such prosecutions has dropped from 69 in 2000 to just 9 in 2007.
Furthermore he implied that failure to do anything about the biggest Ponzi scheme in history was no more than a footnote to an otherwise highly successful tenure.
[T]he SEC, by its own admission, failed to detect an alleged $50 billion fraud by Bernard L. Madoff that may be the largest Ponzi scheme in history.
I Pray on Christmas
I had never heard this song until a few days ago, despite Harry Connick, Jr. being one of my favorite male singers. I hope you enjoy it too! Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Cool Kwanzaa, Sunny Solstice, or whatever it is you celebrate!
Drug Discounts for All Pennsylvanians on All Drugs at All Drugstores
A fellow technical professional I met last night at Philly–TPNG was handing out cards that provide any PA resident with discounts on all prescription drugs at all pharmacies in PA. I quote from a follow-up e-mail he sent to the group today:
This is a FREE program for the residents of Pennsylvania and it provides an alternative pricing option for prescription medicines.While this doesn't help me immediately (I'm enrolled in a plan that allows me to mail-order 90-day supplies, which are cheaper than the 30-day supplies offered under this plan), it appears to offer savings potential to anyone who is not covered by a prescription plan and even to some people who are so covered, as the discounted price might well be lower than the co-pay.
The website also provides links to a medication pricing calculator that will show the nearby pharmacies at which the drugs you need are cheapest.
Bagosora convicted for Rwandan genocideIn the 1996 Presidential election, I voted for Robert Krueger, rather than either Bill Clinton or Bob Dole. Krueger had served Clinton as Ambassador to Burundi, then to Botswana. While primarily symbolic of the repugnance I felt for voting for either of the mainstream candidates, I picked Mr Krueger for a very important reason.
Earlier that year while serving in Burundi, a county of inconsequential strategic importance to the U.S. with the poorest and most unhappy people in the world, at significant personal risk1, Mr Krueger tried to draw attention to the horrific human rights abuses that were occurring in that country, whose ethnic make-up and conflicts mirrored those of neighboring Rwanda. A significant part of the Rwandan genocide of 1996 took place in Burundi against Burundi Hutus. Because of his commitment to human rights and against genocide, and specifically because of his commitment to the people of Burundi and his willingness to do something, Robert Krueger is one of my heroes2.
All of which is a bit of a personal lead-in to today's news that a United Nations court in Tanzania sentenced Theoneste Bagosora, the former Rwandan Minister of Defense who organized the genocide, to life in prison along with two co-defendants, for genocide and crimes against humanity. He was responsible for over 800,000 people dying in 90 days, as well as for the death of a former Rwandan prime minister and 10 Belgian peacekeepers. There are too many former (and current) leaders in the world who are guilty of such crimes and still free. Let this be an example of what can happen to those who would abuse their fellow human beings, and a beginning to doing away with such evil in the world.
1 In 1995, while in Burundi, his convoy was ambushed.
2 Mr Krueger and his wife co-wrote a book about their time in Burundi called From Bloodshed to Hope in Burundi: Our Embassy Years During Genocide.
Car czarWhat on earth makes anyone think that a government appointee would be any better at ensuring the viability of the auto industry than a carefully selected and knowledgeable executive whose first duty to his or her board, stockholders, employees and customers is to ensure the viability of the business? In fact, it seems pretty obvious that anybody with a proven—or even with a high likelihood of having—ability to do so would already be running an auto company. Not that the executives we've seen have necessarily done a good job (and to the extent they haven't, others have stepped in to fill the gap: Honda, Subaru, Toyota, Volvo, etc.). I'm just asking we wouldn't expect government to do worse than the capitalists.
Furthermore, let's call this what it is: nationalization of the auto industry. To nationalize, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language means, "To convert from private to governmental ownership and control." In what sense is this not what we're considering?
A joke and a true story from our Obama Change brunch
Today a group of us formerly associated with the Obama campaigns's Baederwood (Jenkintown/Abington) office, held a brunch, the ostensible purpose of which was to take photos of us each holding a sign naming the issue on which we most stood with President-Elect Obama (mine was "Civil Liberties" but at my feet I also had my protest placard I've been using for years that says "Pray for Peace"). Mostly what we did though was share our hopes, aspirations and stories with each other.
Gail told a joke. It's shortly after the Inauguration. A man walks up to the White House and tells the guard he's there to see George Bush. The guard says, "He doesn't live here anymore" and the man leaves. Next day, same thing. "I'm here to see George Bush." "He doesn't live here anymore." The man leaves again. Third day, same thing yet again. "I'm here to see George Bush." "He doesn't live here anymore," but this time the guard adds, "This is the third day you've been here asking the same question and I've given you the same answer all three days. Why do you keep coming back and asking it?" And the man replies, "Because it sounds so wonderful!"
Another of the attendees had been at the Bush anti-Inaugural in 2000. They were protesting at the Supreme Court building, where five of the nine justices had essentially appointed Bush president despite the fact that he lost the election (at least this was this man's opinion). At one point he got so angry he started kicking at the steps leading up to the courthouse. A security guard rushed over and asked, "What are you doing?" When he heard the explanation, the security guard leaned over and whispered, "Would you please kick it for me too?"
Six points of general consensus among the reporters, strategists and analysts that were present at the Dole Institute.I'd say that's it in a nutshell!
WSJ: Rename Homeland SecurityWow! Finding something I want to blog about in the Wall Street Journal twice in one day! Peggy Noonan has a piece titled "At Least Bush Kept Us Safe". About this statement, which is not hers but "more or less" a quote of what some apparent Republicans were saying at a Christmas gathering she attended in Northern Virginia, Noonan says,
It is unknown, and perhaps can't be known, whether this was fully due to the government's efforts, or the luck of the draw, or a combination of luck and effort. And it not only can't be fully known by the public, it can hardly be fully known by the players at all levels of government.I agree—it can't be known. Personally I'm inclined to assume it's largely been the luck of the draw. Partly because I'm pretty sure if anything major had been thwarted, somebody would have made sure the press found out about it (those that did make the press all seem to have turned out to have been overblown). And partly because thinking that it was the government's effort makes it all that much easier for government to justify continuing the abuses of the last 7+ years in the name of Homeland Security.
Which brings me to the first point I want to emphasize in Noonan's article:
What's at stake for him [Obama] is two words. When Republicans say, in coming years, "At least Bush kept us safe," Democrats will not want tacked onto the end of that sentence, "unlike Obama."I don't always agree with Peggy Noonan, but on this I'm with her 100%, and have been saying the same since 25 November 2002.
The second point was even more of an aside in the article:
At such a gathering a month ago, there would have been some angry mutterings at John McCain, but not now. He's come quietly back to the Senate, where one of his colleagues told him of an amazing thing. The colleague had been touring the young democracies of Eastern Europe during the American election, and he found it wasn't so much Barack Obama that immediately knocked out observers but Mr. McCain's concession speech. This is the first American transfer of power they'd seen in eight years, and they couldn't get over the peacefulness and grace with which Mr. McCain accepted the people's verdict. "It really impressed them," the colleague told Mr. McCain, and later me. It gave them a template, a guide to how the older democracies do it.Nice! I'm glad. It was graceful, kind and an excellent model for peaceful transfers of power in a democracy [also via The Daily Beast's Cheat Sheet].
First Prohibition, the Wall Street Journal is running an op-ed calling for the end of the current prohibition against certain drugs.
Today is the 75th anniversary of that blessed day in 1933 when Utah became the 36th and deciding state to ratify the 21st amendment, thereby repealing the 18th amendment. This ended the nation's disastrous experiment with alcohol prohibition.Amen! Sensible legalization of drugs would immediately and dramatically reduce the crime rate and at the same time free up prosecutors to go after the real bad guys [via The Daily Beast's Cheat Sheet].
Physics for Future Presidents
Subtitled The Science Behind the Headlines, this book, by Richard A. Muller, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, addresses the problem of how the president of the United States, with a blizzard of issues to deal with daily, can stay informed on scientific and technological developments that have an impact on society, when even scientists can hardly keep up with the influx of new research discoveries. It based on a course Muller's been teaching for years that was voted "best course on campus." Physics News Update 878 [← invalid link as of original post; should be valid shortly] says about the book that it:
... uses no equations or detailed mathematical description. Instead it imparts a commonsense, but accurate, appreciation of certain technological hazards and opportunities.
On memoryMe and my friends—those close to my age anyway—have been continually complaining about our gradual loss of memory for at least a decade now. But today I found an article, An Infinite Loop in the Brain by Samiha Shafy [from Spiegel Online via The Daily Beast Cheat Sheet], that enlightened me a little, convincing me that a good and accurate memory is not always something to be desired:
[Jill] Price can rattle off, without hesitation, what she saw and heard on almost any given date. She remembers many early childhood experiences and most of the days between the ages of 9 and 15. After that, there are virtually no gaps in her memory. "Starting on Feb. 5, 1980, I remember everything. That was a Tuesday...."
NFL: Refs make a horrible callFive minutes into the Bears-Colts game, Chicago coach Lovie Smith challenged the refs' call that Indianapolis player Courtney Roby was down by contact at his own 22-yard line after returning a punt from 3 years inside his own end zone. The replay showed he had tripped over his own player and clearly fumbled the ball. It was also clearly impossible to determine who had recovered this fumble from the replay footage shown on TV.
The referee ruled that the play stood as called and charged the Bears with a time-out. The commentators speculated that he ruled the way he did only because he hadn't been able to tell who recovered the fumble. I doubted that. I figured it was because despite the fumble, whistles had been blown before any recovery and therefore the ball would remain with Chicago. Shortly thereafter, the TV crew got word from the replay booth that it had been ruled the way it was for the very reason they had speculated.
What appalls me about this call is that despite Lovie Smith being totally correct in asserting that it had been a fumble, the fact that the refs had blown the call cost Chicago a time-out. Why couldn't they uphold his challenge, but admit that they couldn't determine who had recovered it and therefore had no choice but to allow Indianapolis to keep the ball? At least that way Chicago wouldn't have been penalized for the refs' mistake.
Why I Hate Politics
Last night, Jon Stewart had a segment on The Daily Show that perfectly illustrates the reasons for my disgust with the current political climate (by current I mean the last 20 years or so). While it unquestionably has a liberal slant—thus reinforcing my own prejudices—a similar segment could have been produced with a conservative slant.
At one point, I was very enthusiastic about Barack Obama, in large part because I thought he could make a major contribution to changing this climate. I went so far as to actively campaign for him in the PA primary last spring. But as time goes on, I'm less and less convinced that he's much different from the rest of them. There are other more important reasons for my newly found lack of enthusiasm—his vote in favor of the FISA Amendment Act after promising to support a filibuster against it and his desire to continue making war in Afghanistan—but his willingness to take the low road at times rather than the high one is certainly a significant factor. Over the last 20 years I've often written in a candidate rather than vote for any formally nominated candidates. Still, I'll probably still vote Obama-Biden rather than go for a third-party candidate or a write-in [there's a list of about 60 possible write-in candidates near the bottom of this page] but with much reduced expectations.
Last Thursday I was invited to attend this roundtable at Arcadia University in Glenside, PA. Senator Obama's campaign was represented by four of his foreign policy advisers, impressive people all: Denis McDonough, Susan Rice, Paul Bucha and Richard Danzig. It re-inspired my strong desire to see Senator Obama become next President of the United States.
There was a limited opportunity for the audience to participate. I had several things I wanted to say and had my hand up to get the microphone the whole time, but never got it. So I'm posting my thoughts here. My ideas are certainly not original or new. Mr Bucha came close to making the first of these points himself on Thursday. The second—perhaps others as well—reflects a position that Senator Obama has already taken. And the third was briefly alluded to in another question asked that day.
(1) War on Terror: I believe one of the biggest mistakes President Bush made after 9/11 was to declare this a "War". For one thing it raises the status of the vile people who committed this heinous act far beyond what they deserve. Al Qaeda is obviously not a nation against whom we can make war. We should be treating them as nothing more than the uncommon criminals that they are.
More importantly, there is no way to define how we will know when this "war" has concluded. If there was thing I thought we had learned from Vietnam, it was that we must have clear and measurable objectives before we go to war. Apparently not.
Mr Bucha made a similar comment about the Iraq War and added that U.S. citizens have not been called upon to make any sacrifices for that war. I disagree. The one thing we have been asked to sacrifice and, unfortunately, seem all too willing to give up, is our civil liberties. Invoking the War on Terror helps make this possible. We'd be far less willing to give up these liberties in the name of catching criminals hidden away in the remote mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
(As a side note, this is the big problem with things like a War on Drugs as far as I'm concerned: they can't be won -- and for that matter we can't even lose and know that we're done with them.)
(2) Nuclear Weapons: It's been almost two decades since the Cold War ended. The U.S. still maintains a stockpile of almost 10,000 nuclear weapons. While this is about half what we had at the end of the Cold War, it's still a huge number. In the same period of time, the Russian stockpile has been cut by more than 90%, from well over 30,000 to a little over 3,000. I'm sure this is a very complicated topic and that an analysis such as mine is overly simplistic.
I also know that Senator Obama would pursue nuclear arms reductions. Nevertheless I would like to hear this receive much more emphasis.
(3) Military Draft: I vividly recall watching on TV as lottery numbers being drawn for the first time while I was attending Occidental College (where my education enabled me to obtain a student deferment). My birthday drew #197, and when I learned from my local draft board that they were only going up to a number slightly lower, I dropped my student deferment at home on Christmas break, becoming 1-A for a few days. A few days later, on January 1st, I was reclassified 1-H—not currently subject to processing for induction—and thus avoided any military service in the Vietnam Era.
One questioner at the roundtable on Thursday alluded to the role the draft played in bringing about the end of the Vietnam War. For decades after Vietnam I opposed any kind of military draft. But during the Bush years I have completely reversed my position. I now believe that a necessary pre-condition for this nation ever going to war should be the institution of a widespread draft with minimal possibilities for obtaining deferments. Doing so would ensure that we, the people, support any such war. And if things get out of hand, as they have in Iraq, an on-going draft would help bring about the kind of pressure to end the war that we saw in the late 60s and early 70s.
Ten things you should know about John McCain (but probably don't)
[Extracted rom a 5 Apr 2008 e-mail from MoveOn.org.]
1"The Complicated History of John McCain and MLK Day", ABC News, April 3, 2008
2"Buchanan: John McCain 'Will Make Cheney Look Like Gandhi'", ThinkProgress, February 6, 2008
3"McCain More Hawkish Than Bush on Russia, China, Iraq", Bloomberg News, March 12, 2008
4"McCain Sides With Bush On Torture Again, Supports Veto Of Anti-Waterboarding Bill", ThinkProgress, February 20, 2008
5"McCain says Roe v. Wade should be overturned", MSNBC, February 18, 2007
6"2007 Children's Defense Fund Action Council(R) Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard", February 2008
7"McCain: Bush right to veto kids health insurance expansion", CNN, October 3, 2007
8"Beer Executive Could Be Next First Lady", Associated Press, April 3, 2008
9"McCain Says Bank Bailout Should End `Systemic Risk'", Bloomberg News, March 25, 2008
10"Will McCain's Temper Be a Liability?", Associated Press, February 16, 2008
11"Famed McCain temper is tamed", Boston Globe, January 27, 2008
12"Black Claims McCain's Campaign Is Above Lobbyist Influence: 'I Don't Know What The Criticism Is'", ThinkProgress, April 2, 2008
13"McCain's Lobbyist Friends Rally 'Round Their Man'", ABC News, January 29, 2008
14"McCain's Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam", Mother Jones Magazine, March 12, 2008
15"Will McCain Specifically 'Repudiate' Hagee's Anti-Gay Comments?", ThinkProgress, March 12, 2008
16"McCain 'Very Honored' By Support Of Pastor Preaching 'End-Time Confrontation With Iran'", ThinkProgress, February 28, 2008
17"John McCain Gets a Zero Rating for His Environmental Record", Sierra Club, February 28, 2008
Obama's misstatement regarding the Iraq War
I watched Senator Obama with Chris Matthews on Hardball tonight (watch the video of it here). Senator Obama stated that the Iraq War has gone on longer than World War II, World War I and the Civil War (28:10–28:28 in the video). With regard to World War II, this is correct only with regard to the length of U.S. involvement (7 December 1941 - 15 August 1945, 1,347 days). We reached that length of involvement in Iraq on 25 November 2006.
World War II is generally considered to have run from 1 September 1939 to 15 August 1945 (2,175 days). The Iraq War will have lasted as long on 2 March 2009. Despite what I expect to be Senator Obama's upcoming election to the Presidency, U.S. troops will surely still be in Iraq on that date.
Conflict in the European theater of World War II—the shortest portion of that war—lasted 2,076 days. For the Iraq War to be longer it would have to be continuing as of 23 November 2008 (which in all likelihood it unfortunately will be).
On 7 July 1937 Japan invaded China. One could reasonably argue this as the beginning date of World War II, in which case the length of World War II would be 2,961 days. For the Iraq War to last that long, conflict would have to continue till 27 April 2011. I pray that U.S. troops are long gone by then.
This repeats the essence of an e-mail I just sent the Obama campaign.6 Apr 2008 15:45 Eastern time UPDATE:
Added a link to youtube video of Obama's appearance on Hardball.
The value of Democratic candidates winning "swing" states' primaries
The New York Times has an article today headlined "Democrats in a Fight to Define ‘Winner’". In it, among other statements is this one: "Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, has focused on her victories in states with the most Electoral College votes, like Ohio and California." What does this have to do with the likelihood of her winning the state in the general election? The races she's won are primary elections, i.e. she had the most votes among self-identified Democrats (plus, in certain states, with some number of non-Democratic crossover voters, who chose among the Democratic candidates for various reasons). The fact that she won the Democratic primary in George Bush's home state by a little over 3½% has only marginal relation to her ability to win Texas in the general election. This is especially true given Obama's demonstrated ability to attract Republicans and Independents.
Lately there has been a lot of discussion about how Democratic superdelegates ought to determine which candidate they will support to become their nominee for President. To me it seems quite obvious and simple: they should use their best judgement based on whatever criteria they deem important. Personally I hope such criteria will be in for what is in the best interests of the party and the nation—candidates' positions, abilities and character; probability of success in the general election—rather than what is in their own personal interest—which candidate will offer them a position in their administration, should they be elected. The Democratic party purposely does not prescribe how superdelegates should make this decision. There are no rules; there are not even guidelines.
Partly because this is what I think superdelegates will do, but also because superdelegates have tended in the past to support establishment candidates, I have been predicting since early January (after the New Hampshire primary) that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee [full disclosure: using similar logic I predicted at the same time that Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee, although one could say there were no establishment candidates among the Republicans). I still think this outcome is somewhat likely. I hope I am wrong, because of the three remaining candidates for President, Obama is the only one I would vote for in the general election. My vote will not go to Clinton, if she's nominated.
I remain optimistic however, since the odds makers—who back their predictions up with their own real money—are currently favoring Obama. Here are the odds as of today from oddschecker.com:
Finally, for anyone interested in learning more about superdelegates, I recommend A Brief History of Superdelegates, a post by poblano1 (whoever he or she is) over at Daily Kos. Only partly a history, it's also an analysis and concludes with an argument for why Democratic superdelegates in 2008 should support the winner of "the popular will of Democratic voters and caucus goers," who will presumably be Barack Obama. Even if you don't agree with the argument, it's worth reading for the history. It summary, it gives the four rationales espoused at the time the concept of superdelegates was created (1982) [parenthetical comments are mine]:
1 poblano has a rather interesting website of his or her own: fivethirtyeight.com, a "new, semi-continually updated blog on polling and electoral math for the 2008 general election," 538 being the number of electors in the Electoral College.
Federal laws against prostitution
The news that a Federal wiretap picked up a phone conversation of Eliot Spitzer's in which he arranged a visit to a prostitute raises some questions that I haven't seen addressed anywhere. Why is the Federal government investigating prostitution? How can Federal laws against prostitution be constitutional? Given charges of money laundering and the fact that the IRS is involved, there are clearly other Federal laws that are alleged to have been broken. But there is also apparently a Federal law against prostitution; this New York Times article names two people "charged with a conspiracy to violate federal prostitution laws."
The 10th amendment to the Constitution of the United States says, in full, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Where in the Constitution is the power to regulate prostitution given to the Federal government? The commerce clause perhaps? I wouldn't be surprised if this were the justification. After all, this prostitution ring was international in scope, with multiple places of business in the United States. But as with so many applications of this controversial clause I see this as another unwarranted usurpation of power by the Feds. Is this what the writers of the Constitution had in mind? That the U.S. government would be prosecuting prostitutes and their johns? I doubt it.