Archive for March, 2009

Obama launches (diplomatic) offensive at Iran

President Obama’s taped appearance on Leno last night has gotten a lot of attention, and understandably so. But Obama also taped a more substantial message to the people of Iran, timed for the national holiday of Nowruz. (Nowruz celebrates the first day of spring and is also the first day of the Iranian new year. There’s a nice symmetry to that concept, timing the new year with the season of renewal).

As Obama noted in the message (see below), relations between Iran and the United States have been strained for three decades now. Left as unspoken subtext was the reality that our current dispute with Iran focuses on its nuclear weapons program. Iran has a lot of different motives for seeking nuclear weaponry, among them its sense that it has been denied its rightful place among the nations of the world and that it needs a nuclear capability to fend off potential invasion by the United States.

Obama’s remarks tried to address both problems, in one case directly, in the other …

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House passes stupid bill to tax back bonuses

I’ve been railing about excessive CEO and Wall Street compensation for years. Excessive pay was wrong even before the economy collapsed, and in fact it contributed to the bubble formation by rewarding people for big risks taken with other people’s money. And it is even more wrong now.

But this is really a stupid and unfair bill, driven by political pandering and fear. I hope Washington takes a breath, calms down and reconsiders. Because it is really a stupid bill.

From The Washington Post:

“Congress moved yesterday to levy punitive taxes on bonuses paid by financial firms receiving government aid, threatening to undermine federal efforts to rescue the financial system by driving away participants in the programs.

A quickly assembled House bill was approved 328 to 93. It struck hard at Wall Street’s compensation system, which has come under fire because of the $165 million in bonuses distributed last week by American International Group to executives of the troubled unit that …

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Some of you will enjoy this

new blog.

Others, maybe not so much. (but it is cleverly done, you have to admit.)

Continue reading Some of you will enjoy this »

Israeli soldiers confirm tales of Gaza excesses

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Israeli soldiers and field-grade officers who took part in the invasion of Gaza are now confirming some of the horror stories about Israeli Defense Force behavior during that battle.

Haaretz, here and here:

“Israeli forces killed Palestinian civilians under permissive rules of engagement and intentionally destroyed their property, say soldiers who fought in the offensive.

The soldiers are graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course at Oranim Academic College in Tivon. Some of their statements made on Feb. 13 will appear Thursday and Friday in Haaretz. Dozens of graduates of the course who took part in the discussion fought in the Gaza operation.

The speakers included combat pilots and infantry soldiers. Their testimony runs counter to the Israel Defense Forces’ claims that Israeli troops observed a high level of moral behavior during the operation. The session’s transcript was published this week in the newsletter …

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More on the Jon Stewart/Jim Cramer ruckus

From Reuters:

NEW YORK – NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker fired back at comedian Jon Stewart on Wednesday, saying it was “unfair” and “absurd” for the funnyman to criticize CNBC and question its coverage of financial news.

“Everybody wants to find a scapegoat. That’s human nature,” Zucker said during a keynote address at a media industry conference. “But to suggest that the business media or CNBC was responsible for what is going on now is absurd.”

“Just because someone who mocks authority says something doesn’t make it so,” Zucker said, describing the comedian’s comments as “completely out of line.”

Stewart has blasted CNBC’s reporting of the financial market meltdown, saying the channel was too cozy with corporate chiefs and key government officials.

The comedian has lobbed particularly harsh criticism at CNBC commentator Jim Cramer, and last week invited him for an appearance on the comedy show, where he hammered the guest for his coverage of Wall Street.

“Listen, …

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Unleashing the mob on AIG employees a bad idea

Two points from yesterday’s congressional testimony by Edward Liddy, AIG’s CEO:

1. In his largely reassuring performance, Liddy promised to try to recover at least some of the bonuses that AIG had felt contractually obligated to pay. He also made the important but overlooked point that bonuses had not been paid to those AIG employees who had gotten the company, and the global economy, in so much trouble. Those personnel left the company long ago, Liddy told Congress.
While the taxpayer-funded bonuses are still inappropriate, that revelation did ease the sting.

2. It is part of a politician’s job to act as a vent for public anger; Barney Frank and other members of the committee were all too willing to play that role Wednesday, as has President Barack Obama. But public officials also hold real power, and in expressing public outrage they have a responsibility to measure their response and not overreact.

Liddy warned Frank against an effort to subpoena the names of AIG …

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White House abandons vet-care proposal

From The Hill:

“The White House on Wednesday backed off a controversial plan that would have dramatically altered the way the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) handles insurance claims, after veterans groups staged an all-out fight against such a proposal.

President Obama will not pursue a proposal that would have allowed the VA to charge private insurance companies for the treatment of veterans with service- and war-related injuries. The proposal raised the ire of prominent Democrats on the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs panels. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was the first to announce Wednesday afternoon that the president won’t pursue such a proposal.”

Good. I don’t know where that idea came from or who was behind it, but it was only a matter of time before it was abandoned. That time is apparently now.

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Ah yes….

Continue reading Ah yes…. »

AIG: When everything changes, but nothing changes

There’s only one story this morning: AIG, and all it has come to represent. The maddening excesses; the cool, destructive incompetence of its executives; the galling arrogance of those who insist that they deserve the millions that a distorted, corrupted system showers upon them.

They insist that even now, as the rest of us gaze out over the smoldering wreckage of the economy that they helped create, and people are getting understandably angry.

So what do you do with a justified sense of raw, national outrage, when venting that outrage would be self-destructive? Do we just swallow it and move on?

In a purely rational world, maybe so. This is not that world.

In many ways, this is a problem of boundaries — boundaries between eras, between value systems, between systems, boundaries that we refuse to fully cross. We’re trying to pretend that we’re half-pregnant; we’re trying to pretend that AIG and other major companies aren’t dead, they’re just undead. We’re trying to pretend …

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Details of AIG bonuses aren’t very soothing

Well, some of the details of the AIG bonuses have been released. They aren’t any prettier on closer inspection. In fact, they’re damn ugly.
From The Washington Post:

NEW YORK, March 17 — 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.

The revelation comes a day after Cuomo subpoenaed AIG for information regarding $165 million paid to executives and other workers in the company’s troubled financial products division, chiefly responsible for bringing the insurance giant to the brink of collapse last year. The firm has required $170 billion in government injections.

AIG declined to comment on Cuomo’s letter. But a person familiar with the situation said the company did not want to release the names because of privacy issues and also out of concern for the safety of the …

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