Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cartoon of the Day


Pat Oliphant, NYTimes

All Hail the Hail


The sun had been shinning and the temperate was a warm, springlike 74 degrees. A sudden clap of thunder was all the warning for the torrential rains -- and hail -- that came with force and just as suddenly stopped. The layer of hailstones in the yard was the only sign left behind.

That and the toad that we saw later walking along the path in our backyard, emerging from his winter hibernation.

Exposed

Shortly after John McCain picked the now infamous Sarah Palin from Alaska as his running mate, I began looking around for information about her. It was then that I first discovered The Mudflats, which I have found to be an interesting, informative and reliable resource for all things Palin. See, Change, Republican Style and Valley Girls.

Like Palin's view of Russia from her house, the Mudflats was also my window into Alaska, a distant state that I frankly knew little or nothing about before Sarah's first ya betcha. Since then, I've often checked back to see what was happening in Palinland, via Mudflats.

Even after the election, with the Palin-Be-Gone wager I had with one of my LLWL colleagues, Out of the Spotlight, I visited the site to check in on Palin news. Like me, AK Muckraker was Anonymous. I have no idea (nor is it any of my business) why. Everyone has their reasons.

As I noted several years ago, in I Hardly Knew You:

I keep an anonymous persona because many of my business relationships and clients are conservative and I certainly can't have my blog impact my work. Of course, some of my clients know that I'm liberal, but we don't often discuss politics. Also, the law is a funny business, and I don't want my political views to distract from my representation of my clients in any way. A client surely doesn't need opposing counsel to be more difficult when negotiating a transaction because they strongly object to the views of their attorney. Based upon my experience of personalities of lawyers, I'm sure that it could happen.

Of course, anyone who knows me who reads my blog could fairly easily figure out who I am. Which is why only a few close friends (and the LLWL* of course) even know that I have a blog.

Whatever her reason for anonymity, I can certain relate. For that reason, I was dismayed to learn that an Alaskan state representative (Democrat no less) had revealed the real identity of AK Muckraker. Blogger identity exposed by Alaskan Rep. Mike Doogan. And Rep. Doogan did so solely to be vindictive because she had once written a piece that was critical of him. See Famed Anonymous Anti-Palin Blogger 'Outed' by Lawmaker.

After being exposed in this way, AK Muckraker wrote an essay about the dastardly deed by Doogan, In Exposing the Identity of Mudflats, Rep. Mike Doogan Exposes Himself. Regarding her decision to remain anonymous, she says:

It said in my “About” page that I choose to remain anonymous. I didn’t tell anyone why. I might be a state employee. I might not want my children to get grief at school. I might be fleeing from an ex-partner who was abusive and would rather he not know where I am. My family might not want to talk to me anymore. I might alienate my best friend. Maybe I don’t feel like having a brick thrown through my window. My spouse might work for the Palin administration. Maybe I’d just rather people not know where I live or where I work. Or none of those things may be true. None of my readers, nor Mike Doogan had any idea what my personal circumstances might be. But that didn’t seem to matter.
The only good thing to come out of this is the outpouring of good wishes to AKM and bad PR for Doogan. In The Darkness.. Let There Be Links.. If I didn't hate the cold so much, I'd be tempted to move to his district just for the pleasure of voting against him. But, I may not have to, since he may have exposed himself and won't need any help from me.

(LLWL = Lady Lawyers Who Lunch, a/k/a my officemates)

Doctor No


With all of the shunning of (Democratic) politicians who don't tow the line of official Catholic orthodoxy by the Catholic Church, it won't be long before the Church turns on the medical profession.

After the Pope condemned the use of condoms, as fostering the spread of HIV/AIDS, the medical journal The Lancet strongly objected, Medical journal says Pope distorting condom facts:

A prestigious medical journal on Friday accused Pope Benedict of distorting scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine by saying that condoms increase the spread of AIDS.

The Lancet in an editorial called on the Pope to retract the comments made last week, saying anything less would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates fighting to contain the disease.

"When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record," the editorial said.

"By saying that condoms exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS, the Pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on the issue."

During his first visit to Africa, the Pope told reporters that AIDS is a problem that "cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms; on the contrary, they increase it."

The comment ignited a firestorm of criticism from health officials, activists and politicians who criticized that view as unrealistic, unscientific and dangerous.

Why pick on just the politicians who support these positions? Why not go to the source of the problem? In addition to being responsible for the sins of contraception and abortion, medicine and doctors are responsible for all kinds of medical treatments. After all, doctors and medical professionals are the same people who cure the sick, which obviously interferes with God's plans. That is, if prayer can't save you, it clearly means it's your time to go. So, I think its time for doctors to be added to the list of the verboten.

In other words, I think the Church needs to take a stand here. No good Catholic, at the risk of ex-communication, should be permitted to see a doctor or other medical professional. To do otherwise would certainly be, as that keeper of the faith Scranton Bishop Martino would say, “cooperating with ... evil.”

(Picture via Mirth, Musings, & More)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Signed, Sealed, Delivered


It's the last part of the Stevie Wonder song that's been causing us problems at the office. It all started last week, when we realized that our mail delivery had substantially slowed. Then, one day, we had no mail at all. With the number of people in the office, this only happens on holidays, when there isn't any mail delivery.

A call to the post office revealed the problem -- our mail had been deliberately stopped. Our local postmaster had decreed that the address we had used for the nine years we occupied the office was no longer sufficient. He then decided that all of the businesses in our building needed to change suite numbers. Of course, neither he or anyone else at the post office bothered to tell us about this beforehand, so our mail ended up being returned to sender as undeliverable.

No mail -- including payments from clients, bills from vendors and correspondence related to various pending legal matters, including from the courts. In this economy, a prolonged denial of our mail delivery could put a number of small businesses out of business.

Our efforts to deal with the postmaster were rebuffed. We requested that he put the new requirements in writing and explain the necessity for the change, as well as provide us with a phase-in period before ceasing our mail delivery. He laughingly refused to do anything. He basically read his role as being the "master" and forgot about the "mail" part. So, we spent much of this past week filing complaints, contacting the postal service and our representatives, trying to restore our delivery.

Imagine our surprise when one of the LLWL picked up her Inky Thursday morning, to discover that Hateful Harrison, our postmaster, was featured in a piece by Daniel Rubin. In Dog stops mail; customer howls, Rubin describes the travails experience by a neighborhood who also stopped receiving their mail delivery when postmaster John Harrison abruptly changed the delivery rules for them. The column reports:

[S]even households received "Dear Postal Customer" letters, informing them their delivery might be suspended due to safety concerns. They learned they needed to install mailboxes at the curb so carriers could reach them without having to leave their trucks.

And that was the last day mail was distributed to this old pocket of Whitemarsh Township.

Bart Levy relies on the mail to receive legal papers and rent checks from tenants who live in his properties.

He said postmaster John B. Harrison had told him he couldn't put a box just anywhere; the Postal Service would have to come out and determine the safest location. This investigation, Levy said he had been told, would take an unspecified amount of time.

After Levy, a lawyer, brought suit, concern about a dog was used as justification for the new rule, although Rubin discovered that the dog was in fact fenced in. It took the lawsuit to reach a resolution among the parties that restored mail delivery.

Of course, our tales of mail woe were merely a microcosm of the mail madness that enveloped Philly last year. See, e.g. Complaints about service piling up - like mail that isn't being delivered and Docs blast delays in the mails. For the whole Philly Daily News series on the mail tales, see Dead letters.

Perhaps it was the bad press from the article, along with our complaints and letters, but our mail finally resumed by week's end, even if it was lighter than usual.

So, at least we can finally sing "Signed, Sealed & Delivered" with Stevie & Beyonce:

It's Mine, All Mine

I admit that I was tempted, when I read about the new Kindle. I had been reading about it and then I saw one a few weeks ago. See What is the Floss?. I'm a committed techie after all. I lust for the newest gadget. In fact, I always have to look for a new gadget to lust for.

Other than the ouch price of the Kindle -- $359, which merely gives you the e-book reader, which then allows you read books/magazines once you've purchased them for an additional cost, my biggest beef with the Kindle is the fact that you can't share what you have on it. If I "buy" an e-book or magazine, I want to be able to pass it on, much the same way I do now with hard copies.

As my husband & I discussed the other day, I can't even share a story with him, without having to pass on the Kindle to him. Of course, if he has it, I don't -- which sorta defeats the purpose of this handy take-it-with-you device.

As a piece in Slate observed, The amazing Amazon Kindle is bad news for the publishing industry:

In exchange for this convenience, though, the Kindle locks you down with more rules than the Army Field Manual. The Kindle won't let you resell or share your books. Anything you buy through the reader is fixed to your Amazon account, readable only on the Kindle or other devices that Amazon may one day deem appropriate. (The company has hinted that it'll build an iPhone app that can read Kindle books.) Even worse, you can buy books for your Kindle only from Amazon's store. Indeed, the device makes it difficult to read anything that's not somehow routed through Amazon first—you can surf the Web on the Kindle, and you can convert some of your personal Microsoft Word or text files to the device's format, but doing so is slow and not very reliable. In order to read blogs, magazines, newspapers, and books, you've really got to go through Amazon's store first.
Along with the non-sharing, the Amazon lock-in is bothersome. For example, Google Books offers free classic e-books, but they aren't accessible through the Kindle. It's was that very proprietary lock-in that has caused me to avoid most things Sony and may put a damper on the embers of my Kindle lust.

The Christian Science Monitor also discusses the "dangers of digital commodification" in a piece by Emily Walshe, a librarian & professor, Kindle e-reader: A Trojan horse for free thought:

For now, though, Kindle is on fire in the marketplace. Who could resist reading "what you want, when you want it?" Access to more than 240,000 books is just seconds away. And its "revolutionary electronic-paper display ... looks and reads like real paper."

But it comes with restrictions: You can't resell or share your books – because you don't own them. You can download only from Amazon's store, making it difficult to read anything that is not routed through Amazon first. You're not buying a book; you're buying access to a book. No, it's not like borrowing a book from a library, because there is no public investment. It's like taking an interest-only mortgage out on intellectual property.

* * * *

Why is this important? Because Kindle is the kind of technology that challenges media freedom and restricts media pluralism. It exacerbates what historian William Leach calls "the landscape of the temporary": a hyper mobile and rootless society that prefers access to ownership. Such a society is vulnerable to the dangers of selective censorship and control.

Digital rights management (DRM), which Kindle uses to lock in its library, raises critical questions about the nature of property and identity in digital culture. Culture plays a large role – in some ways, larger than government – in shaping who we are as individuals in a society. The First Amendment protects our right to participate in the production of that culture. The widespread commodification of access is shaping nearly every aspect of modern citizenship. There are benefits, to be sure, but this transformation also poses a big-time threat to free expression and assembly.

Even bigger concerns arise with a digital transformation. Books are more "permanent" than digital technology (and less easily susceptible to alteration). Finally -- and most importantly, is the issue of control over access. As Walshe notes:

Print may be dying, but the idea of print would be the more critical demise: the idea that there needs to be a record – an artifact of permanence, residence, and posterity – that is independent of some well-appointed thingamajig in order to be seen, touched, understood, or wholly possessed.

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture," Ray Bradbury once said. "Just get people to stop reading them."

Access equals control. In this case, it is control over what is read and what is not; what is referenced and what is overlooked; what is retained and what is deleted; what is and what seems to be.

All in all, I think I'll skip the Kindle, at least until I'm comfortable with the resolution of these issues. Until then, this techie is happy with a book in hand.

(CSM article via buzzflash on Twitter)

Cartoon of the Day


David Mills, Courtoons

Quote of the Day

It's been a tough week for Barack Obama and Friday [couldn't come soon] enough.

Iran says it will sit down with its long-time foe at a U.S.-sponsored conference on Afghanistan. Financial markets at home and around the world are rebounding and leading domestic economic indicators like factory orders and home-sale prices are showing some signs of life. The most damaging thing his critics can say about his second prime-time news conference, watched by some 40 million people, is that he was too professorial. And billions of dollars of stimulus money are flowing into states and cities with the promise of jobs creation and infrastructure improvements.

Worse yet, there is a feeling in some quarters if the bottom has not been reached in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression then perhaps the bottom is finally coming into view.

Then there is the fact that in a mere two months Obama has been more accessible -- doing real town-hall meetings, going online to answer questions and out in public hanging with ordinary folks-- than his predecessor was in eight years.

I ask you: How bad can it get?

Shaun Mullen of Kiko's House, Barack Obama's Positively Awful Week

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cartoon of the Day


Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal Constitution

The Wolf Shuts the Door



When I first heard the news yesterday morning of the possibility that the firm might dissolve, I have to admit that I was shocked. Sources: Wolf Block partners to discuss dissolving firm.

After all, Wolf Block was a legal institution in Philly, a large firm established over 100 years ago, as a way to counter the anti-semitism that prevailed at the time in the venerated white shoe (WASPY) firms. As noted in Wolf Block Dissolves:

The 300-lawyer Wolf Block was formed in 1903 by Morris Wolf and Horace Stern, two Jewish lawyers who could not get work at Philadelphia’s elite law firms. The firm rose in prominence during the first half of the 20th Century along with the local Jewish business community. It was able to attract some of the nation’s top Jewish law school graduates until other firms changed their hiring practices in the late 1960s.
I suppose, to some extent, it had become an anomaly once the raison d'etre no longer existed. Yet, it survived and thrived for many years. At this point, as noted by the Business Journal Wolf Block decides to dissolve:
[T]he firm has 287 lawyers and 400 support staff, with 156 local lawyers and 255 local staff. The firm has roughly half of its lawyer count in Philadelphia with about 60 lawyers in Roseland, N.J., and more than 40 in New York and smaller sites in Cherry Hill, N.J., Harrisburg, Pa, Boston and Wilmington.
By yesterday afternoon, however, its days were numbered. As the Inky reports, Wolf Block law firm will dissolve:

Hit hard by defections of top lawyers and tight credit markets, partners at Wolf Block voted this afternoon to disband the 106-year-old law firm, a Philadelphia institution that for generations played a central role in the city's civic, legal and governmental affairs.

The decision was made during an emotional partners meeting at the firm's Center City offices. Lawyers from offices in other cities were video-conferenced in.

Like many other firms, Wolf Block had been hit by a sharp fall-off in revenue as credit markets seized last fall and the housing market collapsed. But the firm also had been plagued with defections by top fee generators and faced further defections in the coming months.

It appears that the demise of the firm was due, in large part, to the fact that some of the partners were grumbling that they weren't making enough. Sound Wall Street enough for you? The Holy Grail for Big Law, PPP (Profits Per Partner) "fell 18.5 percent from $502,000 to $409,000 and the average compensation for partners dropped by 19.7 percent from $400,000 to $321,000 in 2008." After all, who could be expected to survive on that? Not the big boys -- they deserve the big bucks to go with all they bring to the firm.

The other major impediment was the fact that the annual line of credit renewal was coming up and personal guarantees would be required by the Bank, as noted by the Legal Intelligencer, Wolf Block to Close Its Doors:

One source familiar with the firm's financial situation said Wolf Block sought in late 2008 an extension of its line of credit with Wachovia. After some back and forth, it was eventually decided that the line of credit would have to be personally guaranteed by each partner. That didn't go over well and a number of partners announced they would leave before signing such a deal, the source said.

Ultimately, Wachovia -- now owned by Wells Fargo -- extended the line until March 31 without mandating the partners personally guarantee it. But by that time, the source said, a large number of attorneys, including all of the New York office, said they would be moving to Cozen O'Connor. Some put the number close to 100 attorneys while others said it was still fluid and was probably lower.
The death knell, however, was apparently the missed paycheck or draw:

A former Wolf Block partner said the year-end distribution of partner profits was “almost non-existent,” creating a loss of confidence in the current management team, which then moved to get the firm back on track with its credit line. Firms need to take a line of credit out with banks to pay operating expenses at the start of each fiscal year until receivables come in from clients.

But more concerns arose on March 1, when former partners said Wolf Block partners did not receive their monthy stipend, called a draw, electronically that day. Instead, it was delivered manually as a check a few days later, indicating the firm might have had some financial problems.

Looks like the firm's Chairman, Mark Alderman, and a number of other lawyers may be bolting over to Cozen, which personality-wise, is probably the best fit for them. One of my client's was involved in a contentious partnership split-up matter with them a few years ago and it was particularly ugly among both the clients and the lawyers on both sides. Based upon the reputation of many of the W/B lawyers, I'm sure that more than a few lawyers in town are intoning that old meme: it couldn't happen to a nicer (more deserving) bunch of guys.

Missed paychecks, grumblings about who deserves what, guarantees on the line -- all bring back bad memories of the dissolution of a former firm many years ago (of course, at that time, I was one of the big income producers and generators supporting some of my lazy ass partners). The last place in the world I'd want to be right about now would be W/B, with the infighting and scrambling, as the firm winds down.

UPDATE (3/25): One point I didn't mention, which is really the worst part of the news (other than the demise of a legal institution in the city) of W/B's closing, is the fact that the legal environment couldn't be worse for out of work lawyers right now. Except for those lawyers with a book of business, as I've mentioned before, times are tough. As noted by the Inky, Wolf Block lawyers face difficult job-hunting climate:
From an employee's perspective, the announcement Monday that Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen L.L.P. would soon be closing its doors couldn't have come at a worse time.

Law firms in Philadelphia and across the nation have been trimming lawyers and staff for months, and jobs are in short supply.

Yet for lawyers with a deep base of clients, and there are many of those at Wolf Block, there likely will be many suitors.

'I would say that for lawyers with solid business generation, they are going to be highly sought after,' said Sheldon Bonovitz, the former chairman of Center City's 650-plus lawyer Duane Morris firm. 'For those that don't, they likely will have a hard time, unless they are part of a group.'
Those are the people who have really been hurt by the firm's decision to shutter its doors.

Finally, a good retrospective on the firm can be found here, Wolf Block's end marks an era's passing.

(Photo via JD Journal)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Celebrations



Whatever with the past has gone,
The best is always yet to come.

- Lucy Larcom


Another birthday for our daughter, PhillyAngel

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cartoon of the Day


Matt Davies, The Journal News

Cacophony of Complaints


Everybody's angry. Republicans, Democrats, Liberals & of course, those nutty people on the Right. Fingers pointed, pitchforks raised, death threats, the blame game is in full gear. The anger, frustration and fear -- no terror -- about the financial crisis have reduced us to a babbling bunch of babies.

Our troubles are deep, the solution uncertain and the resolution a long time off. Of course, it has taken us 20 years or so to reach this critical point, and although we understand that at some level, we want the problems solved now. Obama may have had nothing to do with creating the crisis, but we expect him to fix it immediately, now that we've actually acknowledged that it's happened.

Congress, who preceded the Obama Administration, is perfectly happy to demand that the Administration come up with the fix without any assistance from that august legislative body, other than to fail to provide the laws requested by the Administration. Despite that they are more than happy to accuse him of not dealing with the issues needed to fix the problems we face. The GOP, of course, is sitting on the sidelines, doing its Christian duty, by praying for us all. Unfortunately, the prayers are for the failure of fix proposed by Obama, since that is the only savior for the party of NO. See The End is Near.

The overall signal from all sides, to mix a few metaphors, is that you shouldn't listen to the "rosy forecasts," since the hard times have only just begun. Why the Banking Crisis Is Far From Over.

Even those pundits I respect and admire are harshly critical of the Administration's efforts to fix the economy. See e,g., Booman Tribune who has been exploring this issue, Catching the Populist Wave and A Response to a Response.

For example, according to Frank Rich, Obama isn't fully channeling the anger of the mob and is faced with his own Katrina moment. Has a ‘Katrina Moment’ Arrived?. It seems that he and other liberals believe that it is necessary to stoke the fires of fury, not calm them. The virtues of public anger and the need for more. While I agree in principle with their views, that the corruption that was created by the failure to regulate the financial industry for many years has caused or contributed to the depression we are in, and surely the the situation needs to be corrected, but stirring up fear and anger will not fix the immediate depressed economy, it will only exacerbate it.

Before the Administration's financial plan is even released, never mind implemented, Paul Krugman has warned us of it's failure. Despair over financial policy. See also, Bigger Than the Both of Us. John Cole of Balloon Juice sums it up the chorus of liberal complainers about the Administration's plan aptly, The Geithner Plan:

If this were a medical emergency, it appears it would look something like this:

The Illness- reckless and irresponsible betting led to huge losses
The Diagnosis- Insufficient gambling.
The Cure- a Trillion dollar stack of chips provided by the house.
The Prognosis- We are so screwed.

While I must say that more than anyone, I trust Krugman, I'm not totally convinced that his way is the one true way either. If I was sure that Obama's proposal would fail, that's one thing, but I'm willing to guess that there is more than one answer to the problem.

What does concern me is the the cacophony of complaints itself is creating the crisis of confidence that will definitely exacerbate or prolong the economic disaster we are in. Part of the way out is to instill a form of confidence in the banks, the market, the economy. That can't happen in this corrosive environment that we're mired in.

Last week, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke made a comment that I thought was especially pertinent. Whatever you think of his economic policies, his observations on 60 Minutes struck me:

"What are the dangers now? What keeps you up at night?" Pelley asked.

"I think the biggest risk is that, you know, we don't have the political will. We don't have the commitment to solve this problem, and that we let it just continue. In which case, you know, we can't count on recovery," Bernanke said.

The Fed estimates the wealth of American families fell 18 percent in 2008, the worst since the Great Depression. (Emphasis added)

Bad enough the GOP and right wing pundits are ranting, but the cries of the left are contributing to the din. The tenor & level of vitriol is disturbing -- you would think that the Obama Administration is the enemy, intentionally determined to crater the country. To destroy the government, to finish the job begun by the Bush Administration.

The best thing that the Obama Administration has going for it is the fact that it has shown the naysayers in the past, who have questioned the wisdom of a position adopted by Obama, that his vision often works when given time. That's precisely how he got to be President against all odds. While he's only been President for a minute, during the campaign, Obama's team has consistently taken a longer view of a situation and has often been correct, despite misgivings from the left and condemnation from the right. Recall the moaning and groaning that preceded the passage of the stimulus package. What a Loser. Because of this, if for no other reason, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Obama Looks for Calm in a Firestorm.

Finally, unlike other bloggers on both the left & right who are sure of the correctness of their opinions, I know that I certainly don't have a better plan that I'm sure will succeed over any other proposal.

(Edited)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spitfire


Once all the hoopla (and snickers) died down, it wasn't a big surprise that the so-called charges against Eliot Spitzer ended up being much ado about nothing.

After last year's revelation that he had been involved with an escort service, Spitzer resigned as Governor of New York (he's a Democrat after all). In November, the announcement that no laws were violated after all, as the Huffington Post reported, Spitzer Won't Face Charges:

Federal prosecutors said Thursday that they will not bring criminal charges against Eliot Spitzer for his role in a prostitution scandal, removing a legal cloud that has surrounded the former New York governor since his epic downfall eight months ago.

U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said investigators found no evidence that Spitzer or his office misused public or campaign funds for prostitution. Investigators found that Spitzer solicited high-priced call girls, but federal prosecutors typically do not prosecute clients of prostitution rings.

Coincidentally, Spitzer was in the process of investigating the sub-prime mortgage mess when he was busted for cavorting with hookers, Elliot Spitzer - The First Patsy in the Meltdown:

Former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer was cleared in the first week of November this year of a fairly serious offense against the Mann Act, a Federal Offense as opposed to a State Offense, which prohibits 'the transportation of people 'across state lines for the purposes of prostitution'.

Well, they didn't really clear him; they just 'declined to prosecute'.

Why? The Bush administration's job was done: It has been universally accepted that the political assassination of Elliot Spitzer was engineered by the Bush administration because of his public accusations against the United States Federal Reserve Bank and the top Wall Street bankers and lending institutions of a predatory lending practice called 'sub-prime' mortgaging.

See also, The $200 billion bail-out for predator banks and Spitzer charges are intimately linked.

But now with Fall of the House of Wall Street Usher, Spitzer has re-emerged to remind us of his attempt to warn us of the danger, Spitzer on AIG: I told you so:

Eliot Spitzer has a few words to say about the AIG bonus brouhaha: I told you so.

The former New York governor battered American International Group with charges of corruption long before his own dizzying downfall in a prostitution scandal. He has used this latest financial scandal to strike his old populist, Sheriff of Wall Street themes and, just maybe, mend his reputation -- though critics contend that he bears a share of the blame for the insurance giant's historic near-collapse.

Spitzer says the AIG bonus issue is "penny ante" compared to the billions of the insurer's bailout money funneled to bad banks, and that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner owes America an explanation, quickly.
As Spitzer wrote in Slate, The real scandal at AIG is the not the bonuses. It's the payments to counterparties.:

Everybody is rushing to condemn AIG's bonuses, but this simple scandal is obscuring the real disgrace at the insurance giant: Why are AIG's counterparties getting paid back in full, to the tune of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars?

For the answer to this question, we need to go back to the very first decision to bail out AIG, made, we are told, by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, then-New York Fed official Timothy Geithner, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke last fall. Post-Lehman's collapse, they feared a systemic failure could be triggered by AIG's inability to pay the counterparties to all the sophisticated instruments AIG had sold. And who were AIG's trading partners? No shock here: Goldman, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, and on it goes. So now we know for sure what we already surmised: The AIG bailout has been a way to hide an enormous second round of cash to the same group that had received TARP money already.

It all appears, once again, to be the same insiders protecting themselves against sharing the pain and risk of their own bad adventure. The payments to AIG's counterparties are justified with an appeal to the sanctity of contract. If AIG's contracts turned out to be shaky, the theory goes, then the whole edifice of the financial system would collapse.

In an excellent piece, Melina at Brilliant at Breakfast explores the role of Spitzer, the Bush Administration and Wall Street shenanigans, in He's Back...The Return of Elliot Spitzer....:

Spitzer may be as "disgraced" as any anonymous sex loving Republican loser, but America is known for its great second acts, and we may be witnessing the curtain rising on Spitzer's. Today in Slate Elliot Spitzer has a short op-ed that speaks volumes about what is going on, and indirectly, if you follow the money, what happened to him. Plainly stated, Spitzer brings the AIG Ponzi Scheme one step closer to the revered establishment when he explains how the bailout money was funneled straight into the top players, with Goldman Sachs being the name that comes up again and again. These top players already got bailout money, and Goldman is looking at zero losses at this point, while regular Americans are being asked to make concessions or just plain losing everything. here are the biggest financial entities in the world, making billions on what appears to have been nothing but air traded back and forth, and having gutted the American people they are walking away with 100% return to their stockholders. In return AIG seems to think that its appropriate to pay themselves bonuses with the leftover funds. This leaves AIG still a wobbly shell with no plan of how to go forward, and the threat of the collapse of all of the world's financial markets still up in the air. So, what was all that bailout money for? Apparently to make sure that no one at Goldman or the other few top firms in the hand-out-line lost anything!

* * * *
This is country that Spitzer is familiar with; he has been a terrible liability to entities that, under the Bush administration, were allowed to literally gut the country and its citizens. All of this seems to have been part of the Bush Administration's own Ponzi Scheme, which figured that the illusion of an ownership society, terrified of the "terraism" and steeped in the me, me, me, culture would look the other way while they finished clearing out the vault. Beyond that, it's clear that the media hyped housing bubble encouraged the house flip mentality and the idea that anyone could be rich. The idea of the lottery dropping on our own heads made us more protective of the rich, because we might one day be one....or look, we could be one with no money down, if we could just balance that on this, and flip that house!!

* * * *
Spitzer has been fighting these guys and asking questions all along. Coincidentally, right after the WSJ editorial appeared on Valentine's Day 2008, Spitzer was caught up in what was an extremely unusual sting. So unusual is an investigation like this that it seems almost like it was a set-up; and considering where it all came from and how it all came down, it might well have been.

It seems that Spitzer's bank was investigating expenses under the auspices of the newer Homeland Security laws of the Bush administration. Greg Palast wrote about this compellingly, and in light of how the whole thing is shaking out now, and what Spitzer said back then about this financial mess and what he tried to DO about it, Palast had a pretty good early grasp on what had gone down. So now, with Spitzer poking his head up from the underground of "healing his family," at this most compelling of moments, its probably worthwhile for Americans to screw their heads on straight and forget the details of the hooker, and look at what Spitzer was working on when he was taken down. We might all find ourselves wanting to thank the egotistical crime fighter who cant keep it in his pants.
But, of course, you would have to believe that the Bush Administration would be capable of using partisan politics for illegal ends, to cover up the fraudulent and unethical activities of Wall Street, to think that the of persecution of Spitzer was done intentionally to get him out of the way.

And, if you believe that, you might even think thatthe financial disaster that has befallen us might have been prevented or at a minimum, lessened, if he hadn't been stopped.

Cartoon of the Day


Walt Handelsman, Newsday

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Twitter Here, Twitter There, Twitter Everywhere


What looked like a chirp from one errant twitterer has apparently become a veritable chorus of twittering jurors.

No sooner did twitter make its way into the courthouse in Arkansas where a juror posted messages about a case, then it happened again -- in a high profile case here in Philly. I had just finished writing about the first twittering juror the other day, All A Twitter, when the issue arose in the trial of former state Senator Vince Fumo.

Shortly before his guilty verdict of 137 counts for crimes of conspiracy, fraud, obstruction of justice and related offenses, the defense moved for the dismissal of a juror who posted about the case on Facebook and Twitter. Fumo: Jury says "Guilty" 137 times. Although the court denied the motion and the jury announced its resounding guilty verdict shortly after, it certainly will be part of the sure to follow appeal.

The juror in the Fumo case made various vague comments throughout the trial, but the judge found that the postings were harmless error. As noted by the Inquirer, the impact of the postings on appeal is uncertain, Judge finds blogging by juror benign, but legal opinion varies:

"Thou shalt not Twitter."

That's what Edward Ohlbaum, a Temple University law professor, suggested should be the 11th Commandment of proposed jury instructions for the courts in the Internet Age.

That was Ohlbaum's reaction yesterday to the blogging juror, Eric Wuest, 35, of Collegeville, who had posted status updates on Facebook and Twitter social networking Web sites about the federal corruption trial of former state Sen. Vincent Fumo since last September.

While prominent attorneys agreed new jury instructions are necessary, they were split about whether issues raised by the blogging juror were appealable.

* * * *

Attorney David Rudovsky, senior fellow of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said, "Courts generally will not overturn a verdict unless there was improper conduct and prejudice toward the defendant.

"Here it appears there's been improper conduct," he added, but "it's not clear the defense has been able to show prejudice toward the defendant."

Both Rudovsky and Ohlbaum called an appeal a long shot.

Members of the Federal Defender Association believe an appeal is warranted.

Felicia Sarner, supervisory assistant federal defender in the trial unit, said the juror "breached his duty to keep comments confidential. . . . He was provoking questions."

Brett Sweitzer, assistant federal defendant in the appeals unit, said, "At the very least, the juror should have been taken off the panel. Set the clock back and start over.

"All you need to know is there was blatant misconduct."
While it's true that the articles don't provide all the details about what occurred, this case sounds a bit like the earlier case I mentioned, where the actual comments were less inflammatory than the mere idea of a juror writing about the case on the internet. Just the thought of it raises major issues.

On the other hand, before it is deemed to adversely impact a trial, the standard requires more than a visceral reaction. Max Kennerly discusses the burden required in, Does The Fumo Juror's Twittering Warrant A Mistrial?:

Here, however,the situation is a little different: while particular tweets (say, "he's guilty as sin, ain't nothin' gonna change my mind") might provide "substantial evidence" of "jury nullification" or "a refusal to deliberate," twittering alone isn't necessarily "substantial evidence" itself of any particular misconduct.

Sure, the jury is instructed to keep the content of deliberations secret, but it doesn't seem the juror revealed any content, other than the cryptic reference to a "big announcement" on Monday, which itself doesn't reveal any content other than the jury being close to a resolution.

Moreover, there's the bigger question of: so what? The Third Circuit still hasn't settled on a standard for removing a juror. Suffice to say it's not easy . . .
What is more of a concern is internet use generally by jurors to do research about the case and/or the parties outside the confines of the evidence presented at trial. The NYTimes describes the phenomenon, As Jurors Turn to Web, Mistrials Are Popping Up:

Last week, a juror in a big federal drug trial in Florida admitted to the judge that he had been doing research on the case on the Internet, directly violating the judge’s instructions and centuries of legal rules. But when the judge questioned the rest of the jury, he got an even bigger shock."

Eight other jurors had been doing the same thing. The federal judge, William J. Zloch, had no choice but to declare a mistrial, a waste of eight weeks of work by federal prosecutors and defense lawyers.

“We were stunned,” said a defense lawyer, Peter Raben, who was told by the jury that he had been on the verge of winning the case. “It’s the first time modern technology struck us in that fashion, and it hit us right over the head.”

It might be called a Google mistrial. The use of BlackBerrys and iPhones by jurors gathering and sending out information about cases is wreaking havoc on trials around the country, upending deliberations and infuriating judges.

* * * *
Jurors are not supposed to seek information outside of the courtroom. They are required to reach a verdict based on only the facts the judge has decided are admissible, and they are not supposed to see evidence that has been excluded as prejudicial. But now, using their cellphones, they can look up the name of a defendant on the Web or examine an intersection using Google Maps, violating the legal system’s complex rules of evidence. They can also tell their friends what is happening in the jury room, though they are supposed to keep their opinions and deliberations secret.
I have to say I'm somewhat surprised by the fact that jurors have cell phones and BlackBerrys in the courtroom -- maybe the rules are different for jurors than other visitors. I thought they had to be checked at the door of the courthouse. In any event, obviously, the courts need to re-work jury instructions to emphasize the dos and don't of appropriate behavior in the connected, internet age. Other than that, the same results will occur as did before. Some will violate whatever the rules are and most will try to comply.

(Cartoon via John Cole, TheTimes-Tribune)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!


I'm shocked. Shocked, I tell you. The Bishop of Scranton, Joseph Martino, did not cancel St. Patrick's Day.

Happy St. Pádraig's day!

For more on St. Patrick, see Suzie-Q.

_____________

To alcohol! The cause of... and solution to... all of life's problems.

-- Homer

Somebody Up There Likes Me


The Ides of March marked the end of the Palin-Be-Gone Wager with my LLWL colleague.

As I noted recently, Sarah Palin had dropped off the scene, leaving the gossip-mongers free to concentrate their efforts on her daughter Bristol and ex, Levi. See Out of the Spotlight.

Now that the deadline has passed (without declaration of a clear winner), Sarah has ascended to front stage yet again.

First off, she is the cover girl & subject of a (not very flattering) piece in next month's Portfolio (pictured above). As The Huffington Post reports:

Joe McGinniss' cover story, 'Pipe Dreams,' focuses on Palin's failure to build a gas pipeline in Alaska. The subhed reads:

Forget 'Drill, baby, drill.' Sarah Palin says she's building a $40 billion gas pipeline, which even President Obama wants. The only problem: It isn't there. And it's her fault.
And then, there's the news that Sarah has made it after all -- in the comics, at least. CNN reports the news, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin enter the world of comic books:


Move over Wonder Woman and Lois Lane - Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin are breaking into the world of comic books.

Washington-based publisher Bluewater Productions released a series of comic books featuring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on March 11. The company says it has already sold 7,500 copies of each to distributors.

* * * *
Then they decided that Hillary Clinton's story needed to be told.

"She was the first [major] female presidential candidate, so we just started with [her], and there was so much interest in it," said Jason Schultz, executive vice president of Bluewater Productions.

The first two issues in Female Force, already released, feature Clinton and Palin. The next two will feature Caroline Kennedy and First Lady Michelle Obama.

The Michelle Obama comic is expected to be released in April, and has pre-sold 28,000 copies.
Then comes word that she's the featured speaker at a June dinner sponsored by the House and Senate Republican campaign committees. Sarah Palin, star of GOP dinner.

Or not. As noted in The Protecters of the Palin Brand:

There is no brand in Republican politics as powerful -- or as tenuous -- as that of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

She is simultaneously the hottest commodity on the Republican fundraising circuit and a figure of ridicule among Democrats (and even many Independents) who believe that her status as a national figure is entirely undeserved.

Even Palin and her political team seem to be struggling somewhat with how much or little to expose her at the national level.

Witness the odd back and forth over the past 24 hours regarding her involvement in the annual Republican House-Senate fundraising dinner in June.

Yesterday afternoon the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a joint press release touting Palin as the keynote speaker at their fundraising dinner on June 8 in Washington. Then the governor's spokesman told the Anchorage Daily News that the NRSC and NRCC were mistaken in announcing Palin as the keynoter, insisting that she had agreed to no such thing.

Finally, back on the home front, things aren't looking so good for the Sarah. Her approval ratings have dropped from 55% in August of 2007 to 20% as of March 13, 2009. Palin’s Approval Index Continues to Erode in Her Home State. No wonder she's trying to make a comeback back in the lower 48. I'm just thankful that her timing was to do it right after the wager deadline passed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sarah-Be-Gone

Note: Newer posts are below.

I'm soliciting votes on the future (past) of Sarah Palin. The Question is: Is it time for Sarah-Be-Gone? If you answered, Who is Sarah Palin, you are just the person for me.

Please read my post, Out of the Spotlight, regarding the Palin Voting Gadget (on left) to see what the contest is all about. Oh, and vote (especially is the answer is she's history).

(Image via Superstar Morons)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Ides of March


Today is the day. March 15th. The Ides of March.

The Ides of March is the first day of the Roman New Year.It also marks the first day of spring in the Roman calendar.

On this day in history, Julius Caesar was warned by soothsayers to "beware of the Ides of March". Apparently, he did not heed the warning strongly enough as he was stabbed by Marcus Brutus on the Ides of March in 44 BC.

It is definitely not a lucky day for some.

As the Chicago Trib notes, Beware the Ides of March, when superstition reigns:
A word of warning to those who believe in lucky numbers, auspicious colors and star-crossed dates: beware. The Ides of March are upon us.

Only those familiar with history or William Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar” readily may recognize the reference to March 15, the day of JuliusCaesar’s assassination in 44 B.C. The Roman calendar designated monthly Ides, or midpoint, days that fell either on the 13th or 15th day, depending on the month.

After Caesar’s untimely exit, superstitious Romans well may have avoided launching a business, marriage or other important venture on a date so cloaked in doom it eventually entered the lexicon as a metaphor for impending catastrophe.
More importantly for me, it's also the last day for determining the winner of the LLSL wager: wither Sarah.

Perhaps the answer is best found in Sarah Palin's day. As People Magazine reports, she spent the day selling Girl Scout cookies at a supermarket in Juneau. Sarah Palin Says Daughter Bristol 'Doing Just Great'.

I'd say that's hardly the kind of celebrity that was predicted by my wager buddy. She should have heeded the advice: Beware the Ides of March!

Of course, rather than face her likely loss, my colleague left town for a week, supposedly to go on vacation. I think she needs to make a detour through Scranton on her way home to pick up the pizza.

All A Twitter

When I first read this post, captioned "What a Twit" via How Appealing, my initial thought was that Twitter had invaded the jury room and had compromised deliberations.

The linked AP story made it sound like a juror had been twittering about the case during the jury's deliberations:

A building materials company and its owner have appealed a $12.6 million verdict against them, alleging that a juror posted messages on Twitter.com during the trial that show he's biased against them.

The motion seeking a new trial was filed Thursday on behalf of Russell Wright and his company, Stoam Holdings. It claims juror Johnathan Powell sent eight messages - or 'tweets' - to the micro-blogging Web site via his cellular phone.

According to the motion, one posting listed the company's Web address and read in part: 'oh and nobody buy Stoam. Its bad mojo and they'll probably cease to Exist, now that their wallet is 12m lighter.'

Another described what "Juror Jonathan" did today: "I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else's money."

In his motion, filed in Washington County Circuit Court in Fayetteville, lawyer Drew Ledbetter wrote that the messages show Powell "was predisposed toward giving a verdict that would impress his audience."

See also, Juror's Tweets Prompt New Trial Request.

However, based upon later reports, it appears that the juror in question, Johnathan Powell, did his "tweeting" before and after the trial, not during. First of all, he sent out a tweet saying he had been picked for jury duty and had spent some time researching what's involved. Sounds like he was trying to do his civic duty, not compromise it. Afterward, he posted about the verdict. See Twittering Juror Explains Posts and An interview with the juror “who tweets”.

Here's what he twittered:

"Juror Jonathan" sent the following eight tweets out through Twitter before, during and after the case, according to the motion for a new trial.

Those messages were:

• "Well, I finally got called for jury duty. It is kinda exciting"

• "trying to learn about Jury duty for tomorrow, but all searches lead me to Suggestions for getting out if it, instead of rocking it"

• "I guess Im early. Two Angry Men just wont do"

• "Im the only one who brought toys: my laptop and a book"

• "I got selected!"

• "And the verdict is ... Penguin Eds can not make fries"

• "So Jonathan, what did you do today? Oh nothing really, I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else's money"

• "oh and nobody buy Stoam. Its bad mojo and they'll probably cease to Exist, now that their wallet is 12m lighter. http://www.stoam.com"
The fact that his ruminations about jury duty and the case itself came before and after the case makes all the twitter to be much ado about nothing. Just a bunch of twitter-twatter.

As Anne Reed, who blogs about juries and jury trials at Deliberation concludes, The One Simple Rule When Jurors Go Online, Powell's conduct didn't violate any rules:

He's right. There's nothing wrong with his 'tweets'. If we weren't so busy making the issue of jurors on the Internet more difficult than it needs to be, this story would never have gotten any play and Johnathan would be sleeping just fine.

One simple rule

Little band of people who read this blog, we can resolve this issue once and for all if we just tell every lawyer and judge we know that there is One Simple Rule for handling every case in which jurors access the Internet. One Simple Rule. Here it is:

If the juror had done the same thing off line, what would we do?

She reviews the circumstances of each tweet & concludes he's OK, since "after the verdict, he can say anything he wants to. It is, as they say, a free country."

And this gives me an excuse to post Jon Stewart's Twitter skit:






















In the end, I think The Next Web called it: "This will make an interesting Law and Order one day…"

Cartoon of the Day


Tom Toles, NYTimes

Time to Go

The Washington Post has penned a totally disingenuous piece on the appointment of US Attorneys by the Obama Administration. Fusing the Bush firing scandal in 2007 with the traditional post-election replacement of US Attorneys, the Post suggests that Obama should not exercise his prerogative upon assuming office.

In How Obama Will Handle U.S. Attorney Posts Remains Unclear, Carrie Johnson implies that the appointment of a new contingent of US Attorneys, which is standard procedure upon the election of a new President, is somehow unseemly or unethical:

One of the better spoils of winning the presidency is the power to appoint nearly 100 top prosecutors across the country. But filling the plum jobs has become a test of competing priorities for President Obama. While he pledged bipartisanship during his campaign, replacing the cadre of mostly conservative U.S. attorneys would signal a new direction.

When President Bill Clinton took office, he fired all U.S. attorneys at once, provoking intense criticism in the conservative legal community and among career lawyers at the Justice Department.

President George W. Bush took a different approach, slowly releasing several of the prosecutors but keeping in place Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, while she pursued terrorism cases and a politically sensitive investigation of Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.

Obama has not made clear how he will build his own corps of prosecutors, a group that shapes an administration's approach to law enforcement and is critical to its smooth operation.
A new direction? You've got to be kidding! On the contrary, with the subversion of the Department of Justice by the Bush Administration with partisan hacks, a clean house is needed now more than any other transition in the past.

Nor would this be anything other than the way it's always done. As Talk Left explained in 2007 during the US Attorney scandal, How U.S. Attorneys Get Appointed:
The job has always been a political plum. The U.S. Attorney is nominated by the President, based on recommendations from the Senators in the particular District. Almost without exception, the appointee is from the President’s political party. When a new President is elected, we get new U.S. Attorneys.

The Assistant U.S. Attorneys get to stay, under civil service rules. They can't be ousted because of political reasons.

* * * *

The Administration should have decided in 2004, following Bush's re-election, which U.S. Attorneys it wanted to replace. In 2005, all U.S. Attorneys were subject to replacement. In fact, all of them are expected to submit their letters of resignation and either be retained or have their resignation letters accepted.

In 2007, there should be no replacements, except for any U.S. Attorneys who proved to be unqualified. The fact that the Bush Administration is trashing the reputations of U.S. Attorneys it once endorsed for the job, in a non-election year raises considerable questions.

U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President. There is no reason to replace them in a non-election year, except for malfeasance. If it turns out that the fired U.S. Attorneys did nothing wrong, but were replaced anyway in a non-election year, then the Bush Administration has overstepped its bounds.

* * * *

Once appointed, the U.S. Attorney is not supposed to be a political hack. He or she, like every prosecutor, is supposed to make decisions to ensure that justice is done.

In her article, Johnson also neglects to point out that Bush may not have fired all of the US Attorneys immediately, as Clinton did, but he did do so within a few months. See Does The President Get To Decide Who Will Be US Attorneys?.

Merely because Obama has expressed a desire to work with the GOP does not obligate him to maintain the baggage of his predecessor. See Bush League Leftovers. Especially in this situation, as I written about many times before. It's a Crime. That is, Bush is the man who forced out a number of Republican US Attorneys that he had previously appointed, who were too considered to be too independent for refusing to target partisan political vendettas, as desired by the Bush Administration. See e.g., House on Fire. And let us not forget that parade of characters Bush put into these positions. Remember Monica Goodling? Close, but no Cigar. How about Rachel Paulose, the US Attorney from Minnesota, who caused several Assistant US Attorneys to demote themselves rather than work with her, before she eventually left when her "reign of terror" was being investigated. 7 Deadly Sins. See also, The Face of a "Loyal Bushie".

And then, of course, there's Mary Beth Buchanan, the US Attorney from Pittsburgh, who is referred to in the Post piece, who has refused to do the right thing & tender her resignation:
Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, who oversaw a recent FBI raid of fundraisers close to Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), told local reporters after the November election that she did not plan to voluntarily resign.

Buchanan had held top political jobs in the Bush Justice Department, where she directed the office of violence against women and led the unit that oversees the nation's U.S. attorneys. She is a member of the conservative Federalist Society legal group and cultivated close connections to former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), an advocate for antiabortion and Christian groups.
Because of my ties to Pittsburgh, I have followed the Cyril Wecht case for some time, which has been prosecuted by Buchanan amid claims of political prosecution. The Party's Out of Step. As I noted in another essay on Buchanan's refusal to leave, Bush League Leftovers:
I've written about Mary Beth Buchanan before and her adherance to the GOP party line, The Devotee. In fact, the partisan prosecution of Cyril Wecht of Pittsburgh earned the ire of former Governor Dick Thornburgh, a Republican, who testified in Congress against conduct of Buchanan. The Party's Out of Step. And the fact that she's a crony of former Senator Santorum -- need I say more? She was, of course, in good company in a department stacked with the likes of [Alice Martin of Birmingham] and other disreputible US Attorneys. See The Face of a "Loyal Bushie".
I have only one thing to add: Fire her ass!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cartoon of the Day


Jim Morin, The Miami Herald

That's Not the Way It's Supposed To Be

I'm sure mostly everyone has seen The Daily Show's interview of Jim Cramer by Jon Stewart by now, which had been hyped for some time and has been the "talk of the town" afterward.

As many people have noted, it was not at all what I expected. Based upon the build-up, I thought I might be a little like the Stewart-Colbert-Conan showdown from last year, with Cramer & Stewart tussling a little bit and then kissing & making up. Instead, it was a seriously pointed indictment of the genre, where the Cramers acted as cheerleaders for the market rather than providing the public an informative, watchdog role of Wall Street.

Here's the full interview:



The uncut version of the Cramer interview is a must see (rather than the Show's cut down version). Unfortunately, this interview may well be "Exhibit A" as to why journalism is fairing so poorly (even before the economic downturn). It takes a "comedian" like Jon Stewart to do the work of journalists -- print or otherwise. Newspapers have become scriveners, reprinting press releases, rather than providing independent reporting (calling out the prevaricators). And TV news? Pure entertainment. Not much difference between Meet the Press and Entertainment Tonight, other than the fact that one deals with Hollywood and the other DC.

Glenn Greenwald likewise remarks upon the fallacy of the financial reporting programs (which applies to straight reporting as well -- a la the lack of critical reporting in the run up to the War). When Cramer tries to justify his bad calls, saying he was misled by the CEOs of the companies, Stewart calls him on it, There's nothing unique about Jim Cramer:

That's the heart of the (completely justifiable) attack on Cramer and CNBC by Stewart. They would continuously put scheming CEOs on their shows, conduct completely uncritical "interviews" and allow them to spout wholesale falsehoods. And now that they're being called upon to explain why they did this, their excuse is: Well, we were lied to. What could we have done? And the obvious answer, which Stewart repeatedly expressed, is that people who claim to be "reporters" are obligated not only to provide a forum for powerful people to make claims, but also to then investigate those claims and then to inform the public if the claims are true. That's about as basic as it gets.
As the LATimes observes in its aptly captioned piece, Jon Stewart can be funny -- until he's interviewing you:
Forgoing his typically caustic humor, a serious and at times angry Stewart eviscerated Cramer for jocularly discussing how to manipulate the stock market and slammed CNBC as an ineffective watchdog of Wall Street.

In the process, the host of "The Daily Show" provided one of those memorable television moments that distill the public mood -- in this case, angst about the economy's swift decline. Stewart also displayed the tough interviewing skills that belie his insistence that he's merely an entertainer.
* * * *
The much-hyped showdown between the two men grew out of a bit last week on "The Daily Show" in which Stewart satirized CNBC's coverage of the market as overly credulous. But by the end of Cramer's appearance on the late-night program Thursday, the episode was being cast as a triumph for Stewart and a public relations disaster for CNBC, which airs Cramer's show, "Mad Money."

James Fallows of the Atlantic declared that Stewart "has become Edward R. Murrow," while Rick Aristotle Munarriz of the investor website the Motley Fool concluded that "financial journalism's biggest celebrity looked defeated." Stewart even got a shout-out from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who praised him for asking "a lot of tough questions."

" 'The Daily Show' has delivered a reminder of the need for independent-minded journalism -- and in the process rendered CNBC a laughingstock to many casual viewers that might not have afforded the channel much thought previously," Brian Lowry wrote on Variety.com.
Stewart was certainly on target, as the Times noted:
Stewart, who pressed Cramer about comments he made during a 2006 interview with TheStreet .com in which he casually discussed how to manipulate stock prices.

"I understand you want to make finance entertaining," the comedian said. "But it's not a . . . game. And when I watch that, I can't tell you how angry that makes me."

Stewart acknowledged that his ire was aimed more broadly at CNBC and the financial press in general for not alerting the public to the market's highly leveraged structure.

"To pretend that this was some sort of crazy once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that nobody could have seen coming is disingenuous at best and criminal at worst," he said.
My husband, who has always considered my devotion to Stewart/Colbert to be odd, watched the Cramer interview yesterday and admitted that he had a new admiration for Stewart, as an intelligent, serious, compassionate journalist.

And thanks to Andrew Sullivan, he can peruse some of Stewart's other rants on the media, The Accidental Activist:
Jon Stewart has, of course, been on the warpath with his fellow media stars for many years now. A reader offers some helpful links: the Crossfire showdown, the Blitzer take-down, the worst interview in Chris Matthews' life, and the sinking of Jonah's whale. Good times.
I guess it just confirms why Jon Stewart has been considered one of the most trusted names in journalism. See Who You Gonna Trust?. He's earned it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cartoon of the Day


Steve Kelley, Times-Picayune

Off The Radar

It's another Friday the 13th. Second in a row, no less. I don't think I'm even leaving the house today, just in case.

I've already had my share of bad tech karma yet again (with a dose of bad karma generally, for good measure). First off, my work computer died earlier this week (after my back-up program went on the fritz not too long ago). That same day, my iPhone was not working due to some technical problems AT&T was having in Maryland & Pennsylvania. I experienced intermittent service on a few other days as well.

To take my mind off things, I figured I'd turn my attention to one of my favorite topics -- my wager with one of the LLWL on the fickle fate of Sarah Palin. See Out of the Spotlight. At least on that front, my luck seems to be going my way.

Of course, as I mentioned the other day, the Bristol Break-up is all the news. One of the LLWL gang sent me a link to a gossip website, Crazy Days and Nights, which had its own take on the split, Levi & Bristol Break Up:

Come on. All of you thought Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston were going to last forever didn't you? From what I have read today it didn't even last until the birth of their baby. It seems to have ended right about the time that Levi's mom was arrested for drugs. Since then, depending on who you believe, Levi and Bristol have been model parents and Levi has seen his son everyday, or you could choose to believe that the Palin family considers Levi's family to be white trash and so Levi is not allowed to have his son at his house. Or, you could go to the other extreme which is that Levi's family are a bunch of money hungry pigs cashing in on the Palin name.

* * * *
I think we all know they probably stayed together longer then they would have if it wasn't for being in the spotlight. I bet they had already broken up prior to the Vice President announcement because there are just too many stories about both of them cheating to not be believed. When it comes down to it they are just two teenagers who had a kid and broke up. Happens everyday. It just so happens one grandparent is facing serious time in jail for drugs and the other grandparent wants to run for President in 2012.
Now this little dust-up would ordinarily be of no concern to anyone other than the involved families, if not because of who she is. Since she comes from a "family values" conservative family, it has caused no end of glee in the liberal community, because it highlights the hypocrisy of the conservatives, who would have been all over Bristol if she were the daughter of a Democratic politico.

To temper that view, the great conservative, Jon Swift, counters that this is irrelevant, Why Bristol Palin Is Different, noting:
Why is Bristol Palin different? She is different because she is a conservative.

It's different when unmarried teenage mothers come from conservative, wealthy Christian families. Although it would be preferable if her child had a father, even a white trash one, she will still be able to raise her child with the kinds of values that liberals, poor people, gays and non-Christians would not be able to give to their little bastard children who are destined to become our future criminals. Why are conservatives so reluctant to point out this obvious fact?

* * * *
Why can't we unequivocally state there should be different standards for liberals and conservatives? One of the problems with liberalism is that they believe everyone is the same and that all morality is relative. But if there is anything that conservatives reject it is the idea of moral equivalency. When America tortures a terrorist suspect that is not the same as when a terrorist tortures someone. Killing civilians in a war or accidentally executing the innocent is not the same as abortion. Denying gays the right to marry is not the same as outlawing miscegenation. Giving corporations tax cuts is not the same as welfare. David Vitter and Larry Craig are not the same as Bill Clinton. Liberals are always trying to confuse us by making false analogies but conservative ideology is based on rejecting false equivalencies and making important distinctions. So we shouldn't be reluctant to say that indeed it is different when a conservative teenager has a child out of wedlock and an inner-city liberal teenager does. We should have the courage of our convictions and not play the liberal game of moral equivalency. Instead of trying to explain away Bristol's pregnancy we should be defending it, holding her up as an example of the difference between liberal teenage unwed mothers and conservative teenage unwed mothers. Because just as it is true that, as Richard Nixon once said, "When the President does it, that means it is not illegal." when a good Christian conservative has a child out of wedlock, that means it's not immoral.
Certainly sums up the philopophy of the GOP correctly.

However, Palin the mother isn't looking so good right about now to the "family values" crowd, so she's nowhere to be found. That, to me, is the best part of the story, since it forces Sarah Palin to hide out -- just in time for our wager to be decided.

Finally, what really made my day was the Countdown piece on the Palin split up. Keith Olbermann may have clinched it for me, in this segment by saying that Sarah Palin has been off the radar lately:


Check it out at the 3:53 mark. For my LLWL pal, listen & get ready to take the pizza order.