Tuesday, March 31, 2009
From the Land of No Surprises
The Israeli military announced Monday that it's closed its swift criminal investigation into two explosive allegations by its soldiers that army units intentionally killed Palestinian civilians during the recent offensive in Gaza.Whoa! Who could have seen that coming?
After talking to soldiers who made the claims, Israeli military investigators concluded that the two incidents never took place and that the young men who made the allegations had embellished the stories during a seminar at a military preparatory school.
Yes I know they are alleged to be on our side
The massive programs designed to rescue the nation's financial sector are operating without adequate oversight, with vague goals and limited disclosure of their details to the taxpayers who are paying for them, government watchdogs told a Senate panel Tuesday.And even if we won't get any useful answers, we just might get our moneys worth from them.
The Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, was launched in the midst of last fall's collapse of the nation's banking system and is designed to get loans flowing to businesses and individuals.
But "without a clearer explanation" about parts of the program, "it is not possible to exercise meaningful oversight over Treasury's actions," said Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law School professor who leads a special congressional oversight panel monitoring the TARP program. Her comments came in a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the bailout program.
Noting that TARP passed Congress six months ago, Warren said that her group has repeatedly called on the Treasury Department to provide a clear strategy for the program — and that "the absence of such a vision hampers effective oversight."
R.I.P. Addie Polk
Drug addled pedophile leaving New York
Rush Limbaugh, in the midst of a tirade on Monday's radio show against New York Governor David Paterson's tax increases, denounced the state and announced that he was vacating it immediately.Please Rush let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Several times if possible.
Limbaugh, who claims that he pays per-diem city and state New York taxes, said that he would sell his New York condominium and visit the state as little as possible:
"And I try to go as little as possible. If it weren't for hurricanes down here, I would never go up there. New York is the escape valve in case hurricanes are showing up in our area, because of the loss of electricity
A great new investment!
Now you can trade your two Ponzis for a Madoff (MAY'-dawf).Given the fertile ground of Wall St., this line could be bigger than baseball.
The Topps Co. Inc. says jailed Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff will be featured this summer in a set of trading cards dubbed the "world's biggest hoaxes, hoodwinks and bamboozles." The New York-based marketer of entertainment products says the cards show scoundrels and villains such as Enron, D.B. Cooper and Charles Ponzi.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Another piece of evidence
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.And the guiding hand behind this particular portion of the public trust.
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.
The agency refused to say how much of the new investment strategy has been implemented or how the fund has fared during the downturn. The agency would only say that its fund was down 6.5 percent - and all of its stock-related investments were down 23 percent - as of last Sept. 30, the end of its fiscal year. But that was before most of the recent stock market decline and just before the investment switch was scheduled to begin in earnest.
No statistics on the fund's subsequent performance were released.
However, 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."A pity his former employer screwed the pooch and he was not able to wade back in and "share the wealth".
Quote of the Day
"I don't thing the American people, nor would I – be content until we hear the click of the handcuffs on his wrists,"Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Ca.) speaking of the anticipated fate of uber-hustler Joe Cassano of AIGFP, who didn't even tell his bosses what he was doing.
Stand with Dr. Dean
Join with us to work for real healthcare coverage, you can sign up here.
And the beat goes on
City officials and housing advocates here and in cities as varied as Buffalo, Kansas City, Mo., and Jacksonville, Fla., say they are seeing an unsettling development: Banks are quietly declining to take possession of properties at the end of the foreclosure process, most often because the cost of the ordeal — from legal fees to maintenance — exceeds the diminishing value of the real estate.A real lose-lose situation that doesn't have to be.
The so-called bank walkaways rarely mean relief for the property owners, caught unaware months after the fact, and often mean additional financial burdens and bureaucratic headaches. Technically, they still owe on the mortgage, but as a practicality, rarely would a mortgage holder receive any more payments on the loan. The way mortgages are bundled and resold, it can be enormously time-consuming just trying to determine what company holds the loan on a property thought to be in foreclosure.
In Ms. James’s case, the company that was most recently servicing her loan is now defunct. Its parent company filed for bankruptcy and dissolved. And the original bank that sold her the loan said it could not find a record of it.
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.
Othello Act 3, scene 3, 155–161
Monday Music Blogging
Oh Yeah, Happy Birthday Eric Clapton
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Dickwahd said the torture was a success
When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.Turned out badly for Dickwahd, too. Those were the last good videos he received. He had to settle for reading reports of US soldiers electrocuted in the shower to get his jollies after that.
The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.
In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.
I can see why the Bushoviks didn't do diplomacy
You can read it here.
Is one of these a good reason for you
Trying to buy health insurance on your own and have gallstones? You'll automatically be denied coverage. Rheumatoid arthritis? Automatic denial. Severe acne? Probably denied. Do you take metformin, a popular drug for diabetes? Denied. Use the anti-clotting drug Plavix or Seroquel, prescribed for anti-psychotic or sleep problems? Forget about it.All the insurance companies have lists of illnesses and conditions that are grounds for automatic denial, what the public does not know is how all encompassing the lists are. When severe acne and sleep apnea will disqualify you, you know that one man who has been denied for his conditions is speaking the truth when he says "Basically, they're taking only the healthy so they can get the fattest profits. If you really need insurance, then you can't get it." But when the CEO needs a bigger bonus, he has no trouble jacking up the premiums.
What's more, you can discover that if you lie to an insurer about your medical history and drug use, you will be rejected because data-mining companies sell information to insurers about your health, including detailed usage of prescription drugs.
You go where the business is
According to the suit, representatives of Bank of America worked directly out of Mr. Cosmo’s West Hempstead office, which was about 30 miles from the branch where Agape and Mr. Cosmo maintained their bank accounts. In addition, Bank of America provided on-site representatives at Agape with bank equipment and computer systems that allowed direct access to the bank’s accounts and systems, the suit said.As long as you "make your numbers" each month, we can overlook a few problems, right?
“Essentially, Bank of America established a fully functional bank branch manned by its own representatives within Agape’s offices, which is contrary to normal banking practices,” the lawsuit said. As a result, the bank’s representatives had “actual knowledge” that Mr. Cosmo was “diverting money to his own account” and “engaging in virtually no legitimate business whatsoever.”
In a complaint filed against Mr. Cosmo in January by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, the government contends that from 2004 to 2008, Mr. Cosmo operated a fraudulent trading scheme in which investors were solicited to provide short-term bridge loans but that the money instead went into commodities trading contracts that lost money.
Hiassen takes a look at taxes and Ohio's Boner
If you're rich and think nobody loves you anymore, meet Rep. John Boehner.And no, Carl does not call Boner a crook, he knows you are smart enough to see what is being done.
He's the House minority leader from Ohio who is anchoring the opposition to President Barack Obama's proposed tax hikes on households making more than $250,000 a year.
Although my family falls into that category, I never asked Boehner to take up our cause. The idea of paying higher taxes doesn't make me want to turn cartwheels, but I understand why it's necessary. The math is pretty basic.
One of the richest guys on the planet, Warren Buffett, says he's totally cool with Obama's tax plan, even though it would personally cost him millions of dollars -- which he can afford.
We may safely assume that Buffett doesn't require, or want, any politicians out crusading on his behalf. Yet most rich people aren't as famous or influential as the iconic Omaha investor, and some of them are glad to have a friend in John Boehner.
And he's one friendly dude, if you've got money.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
This ought to keep them quiet
A combined force of American and Iraqi Army troops and National Police descended on Fadhil, a Sunni neighborhood and former insurgent stronghold in central Baghdad, and arrested the head of Fadhil’s Awakening Council, Adil al-Mashhadani, on terrorism charges, according to Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi security forces in Baghdad.Those with a vested interest in thinking they were right about Iraq will say this is the reason why we must stay. Like the Bushoviks, they are wrong, this is a prime reason why we should get out completely. The Iraqis have something to settle amongst themselves and the longer we hang around the more expensive, in all ways, it will be.
Many of the Awakening groups recently have complained about mistreatment and warned that some of their followers might switch back to supporting Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown extremist group believed by American intelligence to have foreign leadership. Mr. Mashhadani has been a strong critic of the failure of the Iraqi authorities to incorporate Awakening Council fighters into Iraqi security agencies, as had been promised.
Fifteen Iraqis were wounded in the fighting, according to a high-ranking police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. American officials did not respond to requests for information.
Five Iraqi Army soldiers were also taken hostage, according to two officials in the Ministry of Interior, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were also not authorized to speak to reporters. The officials said the Iraqi Army called off the fighting to negotiate for the soldiers’ release. Awakening Council members demanded Mr. Mashhadani’s release in exchange for the soldiers’ freedom, the officials said.
It was the first time that disputes between the Sons of Iraq and the authorities have erupted into armed clashes in Baghdad.
"Lou Dobbs would become a suicide bomber"
Just because Obama won't do it
A high-level Spanish court has taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation against six former Bush administration officials, including former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, on whether they violated international law by providing a legalistic framework to justify the use of torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an official close to the case said.Is there anything more shamefull than seeing another country take action against your criminal elements when you won't? And Spain does have legal standing in this matter.
The case was sent to the prosecutor’s office for review by Baltasar Garzón, the crusading investigative judge who ordered the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The official said that it was “highly probable” that the case would go forward and that it could lead to arrest warrants.
The complaint under review also names John C. Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who wrote secret legal opinions saying the president had the authority to circumvent the Geneva Conventions, and Douglas J. Feith, the former under secretary of defense for policy.
The other Americans named in the complaint were William J. Haynes II, former general counsel for the Department of Defense; Jay S. Bybee, Mr. Yoo’s former boss at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and David S. Addington, who was the chief of staff and legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Spain can claim jurisdiction in the case because five citizens or residents of Spain who were prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have said they were tortured there. The five had been indicted in Spain but their cases were dismissed after the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that evidence obtained under torture was not admissible.Five terrist cases poisoned by Bushie stupidity, a layer of comfort on top of our shame.
Matt Taibbi responds to Jake DeSantis
DeSantis has a few major points. They include: 1) I had nothing to do with my boss Joe Cassano's toxic credit default swaps portfolio, and only a handful of people in our unit did; 2) I didn't even know anything about them; 3) I could have left AIG for a better job several times last year; 4) but I didn't, staying out of a sense of duty to my poor, beleaguered firm, only to find out in the end that; 5) I would be betrayed by AIG senior management, who promised we would be rewarded for staying, but then went back on their word when they folded in highly cowardly fashion in the face of an angry and stupid populist mob.Matt goes on with a bit more erudition but never lets his knife get dull. Read it and enjoy.
I have a few responses to those points. They are 1) Bullshit; 2) bullshit; 3) bullshit, plus of course; 4) bullshit. Lastly, there is 5) Boo-Fucking-Hoo. You dog.
O what a friend we have in Andrew Cuomo
Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said Thursday afternoon that he was widening his investigation of the American International Group to examine whether its trading counterparties improperly received billions of dollars in government money from the troubled insurer.Will the feds join in or try to stop him? The $164 Trillion question.
Those counterparties include Goldman Sachs, which received $12.9 billion, as well as Société Générale of France and Deutsche Bank of Germany, which each received nearly $12 billion.
“Our investigation into corporate bonuses has led us to an investigation of the credit default swap contracts at A.I.G.,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “CDS contracts were at the heart of A.I.G.’s meltdown. The question is whether the contracts are being wound down properly and efficiently or whether they have become a vehicle for funneling billions in taxpayers dollars to capitalize banks all over the world.”
Friday, March 27, 2009
Want to save money
So call your Senator and tell him or her that being sick of subsidizing Wall St, you want them to support Bernie bill so you won't get sick on insurance subsidies as well.
The most fiscally conservative option for reform, single payer slashes private insurance overhead and bureaucracy in medical settings, saving over $400 billion annually that can be redirected into clinical care.
"This is excellent news for the nation's health," said Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program and a past president of the American Public Health Association. "There is now an affordable cure for our dysfunctional health care system. In the face of our present economic calamity, this is an urgent necessity."
Highlights of the bill include the following:
- Patients go to any doctor or hospital of their choice.
- The program is paid for by combining current sources of government health spending into a single fund with modest new taxes amounting to less than what people now pay for insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.
- Comprehensive benefits, including coverage for dental, mental health, and prescription drugs.
- While federally funded, the program is to be administered by the states.
- By eliminating the high overhead and profits of the private, investor-owned insurance industry, along with the burdensome paperwork imposed on physicians, hospitals and other providers, the plan saves at least $400 billion annually - enough money to provide comprehensive, quality care to all.
- Community health centers are fully funded, giving the 60 million Americans now living in rural and underserved areas access to care.
"We are confident that Sen. Sanders' bill will accelerate the national drive for the only reform that we know will work," Young said. "A majority of physicians endorse such an approach.
- To address the critical shortage of primary care physicians and dentists, the bill provides resources for the National Health Service Corps to train an additional 24,000 health professionals.
You know you made a big mistake
Hats off to President Obama for making a gutsy and correct decision on Afghanistan. With many of his supporters, and some of his own advisers, calling either for a rapid exit or a “minimal” counterterrorist strategy in Afghanistan, the president announced today that he will instead expand and deepen the American commitment. He clearly believes that an effective counterterrorism approach requires an effective counterinsurgency strategy, aimed not only at killing bad guys but at strengthening Afghan civil society and governing structures, providing the necessary security to the population so that it can resist pressures from the Taliban, and significantly increasing the much-derided “nation-building” element of the strategy. The United States, he argues, has to help the Afghan people fulfill “the promise of a better future,” by rooting out government corruption, helping the elected government provide basic services, fighting the narcotics trade, and, in general, advancing “security, opportunity, and justice.” This is the opposite of a “minimal” approach.Pour in the money, guns and someone else's sons, we will tame these savages in no time. Someone should remind Obama that the Kagan politics may be of the Right, but their ideas have never been right yet.
Hey! It's working!
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Paul Krugman presents a fable of Wall St.
Underlying the glamorous new world of finance was the process of securitization. Loans no longer stayed with the lender. Instead, they were sold on to others, who sliced, diced and puréed individual debts to synthesize new assets. Subprime mortgages, credit card debts, car loans — all went into the financial system’s juicer. Out the other end, supposedly, came sweet-tasting AAA investments. And financial wizards were lavishly rewarded for overseeing the process.And with this fable he hopes to show us that it was not just a failure of regulation, but of the entire structure of the financial sector. Will anyone listen?
But the wizards were frauds, whether they knew it or not, and their magic turned out to be no more than a collection of cheap stage tricks. Above all, the key promise of securitization — that it would make the financial system more robust by spreading risk more widely — turned out to be a lie. Banks used securitization to increase their risk, not reduce it, and in the process they made the economy more, not less, vulnerable to financial disruption.
Sooner or later, things were bound to go wrong, and eventually they did. Bear Stearns failed; Lehman failed; but most of all, securitization failed.
The Boston Phoenix rises again
Rush Limbaugh, mocked as "Jabba the Nut" by free weekly Boston Phoenix, has been selected as the ugliest man of the year by the paper. The 99 runner-up unsexiest men of the year can be viewed at this link.Now doesn't that feel better? Cruise on over to their website and enjoy more goodies, like this.
"America’s ugliest moment of 2009? Rush Limbaugh, his man-boobs a-jiggle, bouncing at the CPAC podium to bask in the sickly glow of conservatism’s orgy of greed, avarice, and arrogance," the paper writes. "Here, at last, was the shining image of the 21st century Republican Party: a leeringly rich Baby Boomer squatting at the top of the mountain, reaping his jollies from the suffering of those at the bottom, praying for the failure of hope.
"If this hypocritical and morally repugnant reformed Oxy junkie wants to discuss “failure,” maybe we should talk about his career as an NFL commentator — or the last time he detoxed off prescription smack," they add.
"CNBC's Jim Cramer is the Jenna Jameson of financial reporting: the more the economy took it in the rear, the louder his screams of ecstasy became,"
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Tom Toles Thursday
Obama wants to regulate the hedge funds
Pat Oliphant drew a cartoon
"Pat Oliphant's outlandish and offensive use of the Star of David in combination with Nazi-like imagery is hideously anti-Semitic," Abraham Foxman said in a statement released Wednesday. "It employs Nazi imagery by portraying Israel as a jack-booted, goose-stepping headless apparition. The implication is of an Israeli policy without a head or a heart."Pretty accurate description of the Israeli military action during the recent ethnic cleansing in Gaza. What are they so upset about?
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Just seems right for the CIA and the DEA
All you need to know about Geithners "Cash for Trash"
Both Citi and BofA each have received $45 billion in federal rescue cash meant to help prop up the economy and jumpstart the housing market.If I were a suspicious sort, I would wonder just how much they expect Mr Geithner to overpay for their "Misunderstood Assets"? Unless they have already settled on a number.
But the banks' purchase of so-called AAA-rated mortgage-backed securities, including some that use alt-A and option ARM as collateral, is raising eyebrows among even the most seasoned traders. Alt-A and option ARM loans have widely been seen as the next mortgage type to see increases in defaults.
One Wall Street trader told The Post that what's been most puzzling about the purchases is how aggressive both banks have been in their buying, sometimes paying higher prices than competing bidders are willing to pay.
Recently, securities rated AAA have changed hands for roughly 30 cents on the dollar, and most of the buyers have been hedge funds acting opportunistically on a bet that prices will rise over time. However, sources said Citi and BofA have trumped those bids.
Rachel & Jane take a Bayh
Hedge funds lost money last year
As major markets and economies careened downward last year, 25 top managers reaped a total of $11.6 billion in pay by trading above the pain in the markets, according to an annual ranking of top hedge fund earners by Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine, which comes out Wednesday.
James H. Simons, a former math professor who has made billions year after year for the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, earned $2.5 billion running computer-driven trading strategies. John A. Paulson, who rode to riches by betting against the housing market, came in second with reported gains of $2 billion. And George Soros, also a perennial name on the rich list of secretive moneymakers, pulled in $1.1 billion.
Of course, their earnings were not unscathed by the extensive shakeout in the markets. In a year when losses were recorded at two of every three hedge funds, pay for many of these managers was down by several million, and the overall pool of earnings was about half the $22.5 billion the top 25 earned in 2007.
Throw a tomato for Christ
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Some musical advice
Maybe they should call it Mount Piyush
Republicans have an idea
Congressional Republicans are telling Dick Cheney to go back to his undisclosed location and leave them alone to rebuild the Republican Party without his input.I say leave the man alone, let him speak.
Congressional Republicans are telling Dick Cheney to go back to his undisclosed location and leave them alone to rebuild the Republican Party without his input.
Displeased with the former vice-president's recent media appearances, Republican lawmakers say he's hurting GOP efforts to reinvent itself after back-to-back electoral drubbings.
Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) said, “He became so unpopular while he was in the White House that it would probably be better for us politically if he wouldn’t be so public...But he has the right to speak out since he’s a private citizen.”
Another House Republican lawmaker who requested anonymity said he wasn’t surprised that Cheney has strongly criticized Obama early in his term, but argued that it’s not helping the GOP cause.
The legislator said Cheney, whose approval ratings were lower than President Bush’s during the last Congress, didn’t think through the political implications of going after Obama.
Cheney did “House Republicans no favors,” the lawmaker said, adding, “I could never understand him anyway.”
Two for Twosday
Torture on Rachel
Monday, March 23, 2009
From the pen of Mike Lukovich
Dear Mr Geithner, you still don't get it
We want Wall St. to once again be a part of America.
It appears the public is tired
NASA's online contest to name a new room at the international space station went awry. Comedian Stephen Colbert won.As usual in rigged elections, management reserves the right to throw out the rightful winner.
The name "Colbert" beat out NASA's four suggested options in the space agency's effort to have the public help name the addition. The new room will be launched later this year.
NASA's mistake was allowing write-ins. Colbert urged viewers of his Comedy Central show, "The Colbert Report" to write in his name. And they complied, with 230,539 votes. That clobbered Serenity, one of the NASA choices, by more than 40,000 votes. Nearly 1.2 million votes were cast by the time the contest ended Friday.
NASA reserves the right to choose an appropriate name. Agency spokesman John Yembrick said NASA will decide in April, but will give top vote-getters "the most consideration."
He said it before and he is saying it again
One Afghan war already a failure
US and coalition efforts to eliminate the massive opium poppy trade in Afghanistan have failed under tremendous waste, according to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.How much of the crop could we buy up for $800 Million?
"The United States alone is spending over 800 million dollars a year on counter-narcotics. We have gotten nothing out of it, nothing," Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said, at the Brussels Forum conference.
"It is the most wasteful and ineffective programme I have seen in 40 years in and out of the government," the new US representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan told an audience of senior world politicians and experts.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Monday Music Blogging
But will they ever let us see "pickin' time"?
h/t to Maha for the idea.
It's a good thing Tasers are non-lethal
A Bay City police news release says officers answered a report of an early morning fight on Sunday. The statement says two males were arguing in an apartment, and one of them "attempted to fight the officers."He was 15 years old.
Police say officers Tasered him, and his reaction led them to immediately call for emergency medical help. He was pronounced dead at Bay Regional Medical Center.
One area of lending is thriving
Banks nationwide hold $41 billion in loans to directors, top executives and other insiders, a portfolio that experts say should be stripped of secrecy.In a time of tightened credit you would expect insiders to turn to the source of credit that knows them best. The real question are they good loans and are they on terms that someone outside the bank would receive. Remember the great deals Neal Bush was involved in with Silverado? This is one aspect of bank lending that should be completely open to the public. If an insider doesn't like it, they can always go to another bank.
Insider lending to directors is particularly troublesome because it could cloud the judgment of people charged with protecting shareholders and overseeing bank management, the experts say...
..Insider loans, ranging from home mortgages to multimillion-dollar lines of credit for big companies, are legal but are largely shrouded from public scrutiny.
Banks don't have to explain increased insider lending. They don't have to disclose individual loan amounts or terms for any insiders, including executives. Directors and their businesses, often the largest insider borrowers, are completely shielded. Directors must approve insider loans greater than $500,000, so they sometimes vote on loans for each other or the executives they oversee.
Insider favoritism is against the law. Bankers and regulators say the loans are subject to greater scrutiny to ensure insiders aren't getting better terms and are creditworthy.
But top corporate governance experts contend that insider lending carries serious potential for conflict of interest among bank officials and must be stripped of secrecy. They argue that lending to directors, the watchdogs of management, must be revealed so shareholders can gauge their independence. And disclosure should be paramount for banks receiving government aid, said Ed Lawrence, a University of Missouri-St. Louis finance professor and co-author of a 1989 study that was a rare look at insider lending.
The Charlotte Observer has a companion piece to this one that more closely looks at the doubling of insider loans at Bank of America recently.
Over objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify—and publicly release—three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the "enhanced" interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for use against "high value" Qaeda detainees. The memos, written by Justice Department lawyers in May 2005, provide the legal rationale for waterboarding, head slapping and other rough tactics used by the CIA. One senior Obama official, who like others interviewed for this story requested anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, said the memos were "ugly" and could embarrass the CIA.The CIA should be embarrassed, they more than anyone should have known torture does not work.
What goes around, comes around
While a few big firms, such as Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase, have curtailed their campaign giving, others are quietly doling out cash to select members of Congress, particularly those who serve on committees that oversee TARP. In recent filings with the Federal Election Commission, the political action committee for Bank of America (which got $15 billion in bailout money) sent out $24,500 in the first two months of 2009, including $1,500 to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and another $15,000 to members of the House and Senate banking panels. Citigroup ($25 billion) dished out $29,620, including $2,500 to House GOPWhip Eric Cantor, who also got $10,000 from UBS which, while not a TARP recipient, got $5 billion in bailout funds as an AIG "counterparty." "This certainly appears to be a case of TARP funds being recycled into campaign contributions," says Brett Kappell, a D.C. lawyer who tracks donations. (A spokesman for Cantor did not respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for Hoyer said it's his "policy to accept legal contributions.")Steny may be right about it being legal, after all he and the others do write the laws. It is simply irritating as hell that these whores sell themselves so cheap. Hell, Dave Vitter probably paid more for an evening of "diaper madness".
One way to save money
Holly Swift of Owls Head, Maine, was on the mend from her surgery in late July 2006 when she was contacted by the bank and told that she was fired. Asked the cause of her dismissal, Bank of America told her simply, “job abandonment.” She was confused. Her physician had complied with all of the bank's requests for information about her ongoing limitations and reasons for being out of work. Not only were all her papers in order; Swift was within the 26 weeks short term disability leave allowed under bank policy.It is a sad situation for Ms. Swift but fortunately senior management does not have to face such perils. Summary termination is reserved for the peons.
The recommendation by U.S. Magistrate Margaret Kravchuk dealt with breaking down the false assertions made by Bank of America after her dismissal. Kravchuk named as “circumstantial evidence of bias” that the occupational health nurse at Bank of America who oversaw Swift's short term disability leave was “consistently evaluated in terms of her ability to control costs related to disability leave.” In the court document, Kravchuk added, “Bank of America misrepresented to the Maine Human Rights Commission the fact that it had marked Swift as ineligible for rehire.”
Saturday, March 21, 2009
When Frank Rich AND MoDo think the pooch is going to need the Vaseline.
The Obama administration will call for increased oversight of executive pay at all banks, Wall Street firms and possibly other companies as part of a sweeping plan to overhaul financial regulation, government officials said.Executive pay may be a favorite whipping boy, but reinstating Glass-Steagall would be a much more salubrious act.
The outlines of the plan are expected to be unveiled this week in preparation for President Obama’s first foreign summit meeting in early April.
Officials said the proposal would seek a broad new role for the Federal Reserve to oversee large companies, including major hedge funds, whose problems could pose risks to the entire financial system.
It will propose that many kinds of derivatives and other exotic financial instruments that contributed to the crisis be traded on exchanges or through clearinghouses so they are more transparent and can be more tightly regulated. And to protect consumers, it will call for federal standards for mortgage lenders beyond what the Federal Reserve adopted last year, as well as more aggressive enforcement of the mortgage rules.
Bill M meets Bernie S and KO
Yeah! Fuck Reality!
Matt Taibbi writes about the shitpile
The best way to understand the financial crisis is to understand the meltdown at AIG. AIG is what happens when short, bald managers of otherwise boring financial bureaucracies start seeing Brad Pitt in the mirror. This is a company that built a giant fortune across more than a century by betting on safety-conscious policyholders — people who wear seat belts and build houses on high ground — and then blew it all in a year or two by turning their entire balance sheet over to a guy who acted like making huge bets with other people's money would make his dick bigger.And when you have finished reading, you will have tears in your eyes as you pick up your pitchfork and torch and head out to join the other peasants.
That guy — the Patient Zero of the global economic meltdown — was one Joseph Cassano, the head of a tiny, 400-person unit within the company called AIG Financial Products, or AIGFP. Cassano, a pudgy, balding Brooklyn College grad with beady eyes and way too much forehead, cut his teeth in the Eighties working for Mike Milken, the granddaddy of modern Wall Street debt alchemists. Milken, who pioneered the creative use of junk bonds, relied on messianic genius and a whole array of insider schemes to evade detection while wreaking financial disaster. Cassano, by contrast, was just a greedy little turd with a knack for selective accounting who ran his scam right out in the open, thanks to Washington's deregulation of the Wall Street casino. "It's all about the regulatory environment," says a government source involved with the AIG bailout. "These guys look for holes in the system, for ways they can do trades without government interference. Whatever is unregulated, all the action is going to pile into that."
Bob Rubin to be bailed out by his favorite buttboy Tim Geithner
The plan to be announced next week involves three separate approaches. In one, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will set up special-purpose investment partnerships and lend about 85 percent of the money that those partnerships will need to buy up troubled assets that banks want to sell.But you don't have to believe me, even Paul Krugman thinks this is so-o-o bad that he has two posts up today here and here, explaining much more coherently than I can why this is a dreadful plan. And why it has been a dreadful plan every time it has been brought up.
In the second, the Treasury will hire four or five investment management firms, matching the private money that each of the firms puts up on a dollar-for-dollar basis with government money.
In the third piece, the Treasury plans to expand lending through the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, a joint venture with the Federal Reserve.
James K Galbraith has his take on the plan at Firedoglake.
Is AIG's regulated insurance business a fraud, too
James K Galbraith explains the hole we are in
Lower than dogs
According to the squad leader: "The sharpshooter saw a woman and children approaching him, closer than the lines he was told no one should pass. He shot them straight away. In any case, what happened is that in the end he killed them.This defense was not valid at Nuremburg, why is it still being used? The Israeli military has said it will investigate reports of this and similar action during the recent ethnic cleansing in Gaza. That is equivalent to Dick Cheney investigating Scooter Libby.
"I don't think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given. And the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to ... I don't know how to describe it .... The lives of Palestinians, let's say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way," he said.
How to identify worthless, incompetent management
In a recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing, former Halliburton unit KBR complained that it will be at a “competitive disadvantage” to win “large-scale” international contracts because it is being forced to comply with U.S. laws.They were not required to disgorge profits, perhaps because they were unable to generate any. They obviously never heard of the old saw, "Bad business is good business to lose".
Last month, KBR pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and admitted that it paid $180 million in "consulting fees" to two agents for use in bribing Nigerian government officials to win a lucrative construction contract for the Bonny Island natural gas liquefaction plant while former Vice President Dick Cheney headed the corporation. KBR paid a $402 million fine as part of its plea deal.
How did the financial meltdown happen?
Friday, March 20, 2009
Pity the "poor" AIG exec
The A.I.G. executive who was nicknamed “Jackpot Jimmy” by a New York tabloid walked up the driveway toward his bay-windowed house in Fairfield, Conn., on Thursday afternoon. "How do I feel?” said the executive, James Haas, repeating the question he had just been asked. “I feel horrible. This has been a complete invasion of privacy."Did his lip just quiver a little? Maybe it will when he reads what his neighbor said about him.
Mr. Haas walked on, his pink shirt a burst of color on a slate-gray afternoon. The words came haltingly. "You have to understand,” he said, “there are kids involved, there have been death threats. ..." His voice trailed off. It looked as if he was fighting back tears.
"I didn’t have anything to do with those credit problems,” said Mr. Haas, 47. “I told Mr. Liddy” — Edward M. Liddy, the chief executive of A.I.G., the insurance giant — “I would rescind my retention contract.”
He ended the conversation with a request: “Leave my neighbors alone.”
Jean Wieson, who has lived down the block for 24 years, had stopped her car in front of Mr. Haas’s house before he arrived home. She was angry about the millions of dollars in bonuses paid to its executives, the credit-default swaps that brought American International Group to its knees, the $170 billion the federal government has spent to prop it up. "It makes me absolutely sick," she said. "It’s despicable. It’s disgusting what these people have done. They should be forced to give every cent back."And like a good neighbor....
Many Germans have made a hobby of searching for and collecting World War II relics scattered across the country. The victims, two good friends, are reported to have acquired a metal detector for just that purpose.You can find bombs and shells, but if you mess with them you will pay for it, if you survive.
According to German media reports, the two men, both aged 40, had made a small backyard campfire and consumed a few beers before apparently deciding to take a closer look at one of their recent finds. A short time later neighbors heard an explosion.
One of the two was killed immediately, while the other was transported by helicopter to a Berlin hospital where he is being treated for life-threatening injuries.
It is not yet clear how the men were in possession of the explosive device and Lange said that it had not yet been determined if the men had sawed, drilled or tampered in any other way with the explosive.
Depending on the outcome of the investigation the surviving victim could find himself charged with illegally igniting heavy explosives.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Thursday night blues
Big D, as in Dumbass
Some schools have counsellors to settle disputes between students. But South Oak Cliff high school in Dallas preferred another, more direct method: bare-knuckle fighting inside a steel cage.At least on was smart enough not to mix students and staff.
According to a 2008 report obtained by the Dallas Morning News, staff at the school sanctioned the use of "the cage" - a section of the boys' changing room barricaded by wire mesh and steel lockers - to settle disputes and bring unruly students under control.
In one incident, according to the report compiled by the local school district, the school principal at the time, Donald Moten, told staff to place two fighting pupils, "in the cage and let 'em duke it out".
On another occasion, according to the report, a member of the school's security staff tried to fight a student in the cage, but the principal intervened.
Quote of the Day
How we deal with the future attacks of this organization and its cohorts could well seal our fate, for good or bad. Osama bin Laden and his brain trust, Aman al-Zawahiri, are counting on us to produce the bad. With people such as Cheney assisting them, they are far more likely to succeed.Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff
Andy Cuomo has the power
Mr. Cuomo, the New York attorney general, won a legal battle on Wednesday to compel Bank of America, which bought Merrill in December, to provide his office with the names of the Merrill employees with the 200 largest bonuses. Mr. Cuomo said he would make the names public as early as Thursday.Watch them scurry now, cockroaches hate daylight.
He also vowed to identify publicly the employees who had received bonuses at the American International Group, whose payouts prompted an uproar, and to work with other financial companies that have received taxpayer dollars to consider disclosing more about employee compensation.
UPDATE: Andy got the names from AIG as well.
On the other hand you are likely to move soon if you live near evil smelling anarchists like Grover Norquist. But you knew that.
The PSA blood test, used to screen for prostate cancer, saves few lives and leads to risky and unnecessary treatments for large numbers of men, two large studies have found.So because prostate cancer either grows so slowly you won't have to worry or it grows so fast you can't do anything about it, the test is irrelevant. But what about all those years of my doctor sticking his greasy finger up my ass?
The findings, the first based on rigorous, randomized studies, confirm some longstanding concerns about the wisdom of widespread prostate cancer screening. Although the studies are continuing, results so far are considered significant and the most definitive to date.
The PSA test, which measures a protein released by prostate cells, does what it is supposed to do — indicates a cancer might be present, leading to biopsies to determine if there is a tumor. But it has been difficult to know whether finding prostate cancer early saves lives. Most of the cancers tend to grow very slowly and are never a threat and, with the faster-growing ones, even early diagnosis might be too late.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Harry Nilsson is timeless
That's a lot of shit!
Liddy also offered lawmakers a hard number that's long been the subject of speculation. He said the face value of the transactions made by its Financial Products division that still haven't been unwound — or paid off — is $1.6 trillion. That dwarfs the roughly $100 billion of taxpayer money that flowed back through to investment banks, hedge funds and other financial players to pay off bad bets by AIG.I'm not sure that, if we taxed every Republican every dollar they ever stole, we could pay that off before the end of Obama's second term.
Bernie the Gonif's CPA arrested
Prosecutors say the 49-year-old Friehling essentially rubber-stamped Madoff's books for 17 years, serving as Madoff's auditor from 1991 through 2008 while operating from a discreet building in suburban New York.Well, whadaya know, another no work, big paycheck job. No wonder his firm was a one man shop. Now we wait to see if the prosecution can flip this little man who probably does not want to spend 105 years in a "pound you in the ass" prison.
Authorities said that if Friehling had done his job, Madoff's financial statements would have shown his company owed tens of billions of dollars to his customers and was insolvent.
"Mr. Friehling's deception helped foster the illusion that Mr. Madoff legitimately invested his clients' money," said acting U.S. Attorney Lev L. Dassin.
The relationship between the accountant and Madoff was so cozy that Friehling and his family pulled $5.5 million from accounts with Madoff since 2000 and had a balance of more than $14 million as recently as November. Prosecutors said it's a conflict for accountants to have such large sums invested with clients.
Quote of the Day
Their mythology starts with the false premise that these are irreplaceable geniuses,Andrew Cuomo, New York State Attorney General, describing how a fraud begins.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
When you are knocking on 60's door
Kenny Boy Jr wants his bonus back
Bank of America Corp. could pay back its $45 billion in government capital by late this year or early next year depending on the economy, chief executive Ken Lewis said in an interview today with the Observer.If he meets or beats his original estimate, he will be running some kind of scam for sure. Trouble is, there is no one in BOA management smart enough to come up with a new and acceptable long term fraud, not even with the Merrill & Countrywide people added in.
The Charlotte-based bank may also pay back the government's money piecemeal, Lewis said. He has previously said he is eager to return the money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program but that it would likely take two to three years to pay off the debt. The capital infusion has come with intense public scrutiny and restrictions on executive compensation and shareholder dividends.
Want to fix CNBC?
When Andy goes looking
Seventy-three employees of troubled American International Group received more than $1 million in bonuses under contracts that guaranteed them 100 percent of their 2007 pay in 2008 regardless of performance, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said...And just as with Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, Andy is pushing for the names of these lucky duckies who were given retention bonuses, including 11 who decided not to be retained. Nothing says "Fuck you" like taking the money and running.
..."These payments were all made to individuals in the subsidiary whose performance led to crushing losses and the near failure of AIG," Cuomo said in a letter today to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. "Thus, last week, AIG made more than 73 millionaires in the unit which lost so much money that it brought the firm to its knees, forcing a taxpayer bailout. Something is deeply wrong with this outcome."
On Saturday the LCSO, along with the LaGrange Police Department and Kinston Department of Public Safety located approximately 23 pounds of marijuana at the Family Dollar Store in La Grange.Nope, "It was about the only thing in the store you couldn't buy for $1."
Quote of the Day
“The first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them if they’d follow the Japanese model and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say I’m sorry, and then either do one of two things — resign, or go commit suicide.”Sen Charles Grassley R-Iowa, putting forth one fine idea.
Top O' the Marning to Ye
And the rest of the day to these fine musicians
Monday, March 16, 2009
Some people are very pissed
“In the last six months, A.I.G. has received substantial sums from the U.S. Treasury,” Mr. Obama said. He added that he had asked Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner “to use that leverage and pursue every single legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole.”Discount the payment to AIG by the amount of the bonuses and require repayment at face value, a time honored loan method.
Later in the day, a White House official disclosed that the administration would use a pending $30 billion installment for A.I.G. to recoup the $165 million in retention payments to A.I.G. employees in the business unit that brought the company to the brink of collapse last year.
“Treasury will be using this facility to address the excessive retention payments made to the A.I.G. Financial Products employees, which Treasury found to be completely unacceptable given that A.I.G. is already surviving on taxpayer funds,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Treasury will be adding provisions to its new facility aimed at making taxpayers whole for the amounts of the offensive payments.”
The attorney general is seeking the list of employees who will receive these bonuses, as well as their job information and performances. Mr. Cuomo said that the company had failed to heed a previous request for this list.Just about every derivative contract would be in violation of the spirit of the fraudulent conveyance laws.
Mr. Cuomo is also demanding the contracts guaranteeing these bonuses and the names of individuals who developed and negotiated the agreements.
A spokeswoman for A.I.G. told DealBook in an e-mailed statement: “We are in ongoing contact with the Attorney General and will respond appropriately to the subpoena.”
During the call, he said that he is not seeking to “micromanage” private businesses.
Mr. Cuomo is already seeking information on bonus payments made by Merrill Lynch just before it was acquired by Bank of America and before it reported a worse-than-expected multi-billion dollar loss.
In both cases, Mr. Cuomo said he is trying to determine whether the bonuses were in violation of New York State’s fraudulent conveyance laws or other securities laws.
The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a secret report that the Bush administration's treatment of al-Qaeda captives "constituted torture," a finding that strongly implied that CIA interrogation methods violated international law, according to newly published excerpts from the long-concealed 2007 document.People may deny and quibble and try to obfuscate but the simple truth is that Bush and Cheney ant their minions have shamed and dishonored our country with their crimes.
The report, an account alleging physical and psychological brutality inside CIA "black site" prisons, also states that some U.S. practices amounted to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." Such maltreatment of detainees is expressly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.
The findings were based on an investigation by ICRC officials, who were granted exclusive access to the CIA's "high-value" detainees after they were transferred in 2006 to the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The 14 detainees, who had been kept in isolation in CIA prisons overseas, gave remarkably uniform accounts of abuse that included beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and, in some cases, waterboarding, or simulating drowning.
Don't look to Europe for help
Why is Europe falling short? Poor leadership is part of the story. European banking officials, who completely missed the depth of the crisis, still seem weirdly complacent. And to hear anything in America comparable to the know-nothing diatribes of Germany’s finance minister you have to listen to, well, Republicans.So the various countries have about as much leadership as the Republican Party and, as Dr Paul also shows, healthcare and unemployment benefits are mitigating the disaster. Maybe we should look over there for some lessons.
But there’s a deeper problem: Europe’s economic and monetary integration has run too far ahead of its political institutions. The economies of Europe’s many nations are almost as tightly linked as the economies of America’s many states — and most of Europe shares a common currency. But unlike America, Europe doesn’t have the kind of continentwide institutions needed to deal with a continentwide crisis.
This is a major reason for the lack of fiscal action: there’s no government in a position to take responsibility for the European economy as a whole. What Europe has, instead, are national governments, each of which is reluctant to run up large debts to finance a stimulus that will convey many if not most of its benefits to voters in other countries.
Monday Music Blogging
Sunday, March 15, 2009
A I G names 20 largest counterparties
What good is a troop increase in Afghanistan
As expected, they did miss it
When we can't compete with a comic in terms of speaking truth to power, then it's more clear than ever that journalism in the US has lost its way. It comes as no surprise then when, as newspapers crumble around the country, a report like the one released by the Pew Research Center this week says that only 33% of people would miss their local newspaper "a lot." When you lead with a story about an interview that happened on a comedy show--and it's the very same story that almost everyone else is leading with as well--what's to miss?A very doable proposition, if it wouldn't offend the corporate owners.
What's to miss--the refrain is always repeated--is the investigative reporting that helps to keep our leaders honest, our water clean, our businesses pure. What's to miss is people asking fearless questions to those that need them asked. What's to miss is the deep pockets that can fund a reporter to dig and dig and dig until she's able to uncover some fragile truth. And yes, that stuff is vital to the functioning of a democracy. It also, let's speak the truth here, doesn't happen very often.
Traditional news organizations have nothing to lose right now. Why not take a gamble at the one thing they haven't tried: being fearless. Stewart would probably appreciate the company.
15 minutes of Will W. Farrell
Dickwahd al-Cheney can't stop lying
"I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11," Cheney said.Poor old Dickwahd can't seem to understand that the nation got tired of being lied to year after year.
"I think that's a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles," he said, though that stance is bitterly opposed by civil rights campaigners.
"President Obama campaigned against it all across the country. And now he is making some choices that in my mind will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack."
For those parading today
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Frank Rich pens an obituary for the Culture Wars
When Barack Obama ended the Bush stem-cell policy last week, there were no such overheated theatrics. No oversold prime-time address. No hysteria from politicians, the news media or the public. The family-values dinosaurs that once stalked the earth — Falwell, Robertson, Dobson and Reed — are now either dead, retired or disgraced. Their less-famous successors pumped out their pro forma e-mail blasts, but to little avail. The Republican National Committee said nothing whatsoever about Obama’s reversal of Bush stem-cell policy. That’s quite a contrast to 2006, when the party’s wild and crazy (and perhaps transitory) new chairman, Michael Steele, likened embryonic stem-cell research to Nazi medical experiments during his failed Senate campaign.Frank goes on to make several comparisons between current events in the Bush Depression and similar events during the other Depression. Seems that, then and now, people had little use for stuff and nonsense when they have more important things to worry about.
What has happened between 2001 and 2009 to so radically change the cultural climate? Here, at last, is one piece of good news in our global economic meltdown: Americans have less and less patience for the intrusive and divisive moral scolds who thrived in the bubbles of the Clinton and Bush years. Culture wars are a luxury the country — the G.O.P. included — can no longer afford.
Despite being bailed out with more than $170 billion from the Treasury and Federal Reserve, the American International Group is preparing to pay about $100 million in bonuses to executives in the same business unit that brought the company to the brink of collapse last year.Paying extra to the guys who made AIG a wholly owned subsidiary of the US of A. Unbefuckinglievable! Better to axe their bonuses and if they don't like it, they can explain in open court why what they did is worth so much money when it failed so badly.
An official in the Obama administration said Saturday that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner had called A.I.G.’s government-appointed chairman, Edward M. Liddy, on Wednesday and asked that the company renegotiate the bonuses...
..The bonuses will be paid to executives at American International Group’s Financial Products division, the unit that wrote trillions of dollars’ worth of credit-default swaps that protected investors from defaults on bonds backed by subprime mortgages.
New Rules - Piyush gets p3wnd
Now this is what we want to see more of
Across the country, attorneys general have already begun indicting dozens of loan processors, mortgage brokers and bank officers. Last week alone, there were guilty pleas in Minnesota, Delaware, North Carolina and Connecticut and sentences in Florida and Vermont — all stemming from home loan scams.It remains to be seen how many big fish they can land, but according to one lawyer, “We’ll all sing the stupidity song,” a soon to be popular tune.
With the Obama administration focused on stabilizing the banks and restoring confidence in the stock market, it has said little about federal civil or criminal charges. But its proposed budget contains hints that it will add to this weight of litigation, including money for more F.B.I. agents to investigate mortgage fraud and white-collar crime, and a 13 percent raise for the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Notable Quote for Today
“They are long on criticism and short on a plan, They have a communications strategy instead of an economic one.”Rhambone, the White House chief of staff, highlighting obvious Republican efforts to block the budget without offering an alternative.
Joe Conason dissects their efforts.
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