Gary Ackerman’s phony bluster: He and Congress pals deserve blame; his own district hard hit by Bernie Madoff

It’s time to stop pinning the “news” tag on Gary Ackerman‘s angry outburst at the SEC yesterday for not stopping Bernie Madoff.

Perhaps the most entertaining part of the House hearing, yes. But while the New York Democrat yelled at the SEC, whistleblower Harry Markopolos spoke more softly but cut deeper the day before.

Ackerman’s five minutes of fame passed the audio-visual test, but not the smell test.

The SEC deserves harsh criticism. But when it comes to the Madoff scandal — and the role of the SEC in trying to control Wall Street’s conniving bankers — Congress stinks it up too by consistently undermining the SEC.

More on that in a minute, but first, more on Ackerman:

There are 14,000 brokerage accounts that make up the latest list of Madoff’s victims — “Swindler’s List,” as L.A.’s Jewish Journal and others call it — and 2,000 of them are Long Island-based, Newsday reports. That’s one in seven, and the largest cluster of Long Island suckers — 600 of them — is in Great Neck. And Great Neck is one of the most influential towns in Ackerman’s Congressional district, which stretches along Long Island Sound’s “Gold Coast” of rich people. Nassau County itself is the nation’s 10th-richest county.

Yesterday, I pointed out Ackerman’s standing as an ardent loyalist of the Jewish lobby AIPAC loyalist (and a past recipient of campaign money from Madoff). And Madoff, as we well know, leaned heavily on his own Jewishness.

Philip Weiss (the former Observer columnist who got hounded out of there because he dared to write provocatively about Israel) noted that in December 2008 in “Madoff and the Israel lobby.” Weiss quoted one of his readers as remarking that “the Madoff event may be the greatest example of intelligent people being blinded by ethnocentrism I’ve ever seen.”

It’s no wonder that Ackerman was so pissed off at the SEC. He couldn’t blame Madoff’s wealthy victims, who, after all, are his constituents. He may not have known that Madoff himself was a monumental goniff, but he and other Jewish Democrats knew very well who the prominent party fundraiser was. No-brainer that Ackerman put on a good TV show; no brains if you think it’s consequential news.

Instead of looking at the cameras, Ackerman should be looking in the mirror, notes Seeking Alpha, the largest stock-market blog (and hailed in 2007 by Time as one of the top 50 websites).

The New York-based outlet aimed at investors puts the blame where much of it should be. In “Congress Should Look in the Mirror Before Attacking the SEC,” GT McDuffy notes:

It’s far too easy to blame the SEC for the Bernie Madoff fiasco — or anything else. In fact, it’s way too convenient. And, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) yesterday blaming the SEC for undermining the confidence Americans have in the financial markets is outrageous.

Mr. Ackerman, how dare you.

It is the SEC’s job to investigate and enforce — yet they do so under, and within, the laws and regulations set forth by Congress. Period.

McDuffy is just getting warmed up. And I’m going to include a lengthy excerpt. Just as James Lieber‘s must-read “Up in Smoke: What Cooked the World’s Economy?” in my own paper probed and poked at Wall Street’s machinations, McDuffy jabs at Congress for its role in the fiasco.

The differing perspectives of the two pieces sketch a good portrait of the Wall Street crime scene. Ackerman’s incredulity was phony, as McDuffy’s credible screed points out. Hence, this long excerpt from McDuffy:

It is Congress that has allowed generations of Wall Street executives and lobbyists to operate, unchecked, within a culture of greed and arrogance — arrogance that allowed the monolithic investment firms to gamble with the taxpayers’ money and lose billions due to incompetent trading and reckless investment decisions- only to then have these same firms come running back to the same taxpayers to be bailed out — and using their insider proxies on the Hill to do so.

It is Congress that, to this day, has never provided the SEC with sufficient funding and manpower to be able to effectively investigate and enforce the markets.

It is Congress that set up the rules for the mortgage market — and let their own mortgage children, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, wield havoc within the mortgage industry right under their noses.

It is Congress that let hedge funds run wild, manipulating every market on the planet. And continue to do so.

It is Congress that failed to regulate the un-Godly dark world of the derivatives market.

It is Congress that seems to only tackle any or all of the above once it becomes politically-correct to placate their tax-paying constituents — and only seems to even begin making a legitimate attempt at it — if there is a “TV-op” attached in the process.

And, it is Congress which loves to grand-stand on national television before taxpayers and levy blame on everyone but themselves for what is wrong.

You don’t have to be Jewish to understand where much of the blame for the Madoff scandal and other Wall Street shenanigans should be levied.


Tom cries ‘Uncle’! Daschle’s exit an embarrassing end to Obama’s embarrassing decision to pick him

Tom Daschle‘s quick exit from the health-care Cabinet job is just proof that he was a poor choice for the job.

If the guy can’t get it together enough to wipe his nose clean after rubbing it against the rear of society schmuckettes like Catherine Reynolds, then he’s not the person to tackle the extraordinarily tricky job of cleaning up the health-care mess.

He should just return to his destiny: playing off his former job in Congress to lobby his former Congress pals on behalf of rich clients.

Daschle wasn’t a notable senator in the first place, despite his high post in the Democratic Party heirarchy. Teddy Kennedy or Paul Wellstone he wasn’t.

Barack Obama did take responsibility for the Daschle embarrassment and did admit that he, the president, screwed up, but it was Daschle who screwed up his own nomination to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.

All he had to do was come clean to Obama or Obama’s vetters, and this wouldn’t have happened. Actually, he could have just paid his taxes in the first place. But hubris isn’t exclusive to Wall Street bankers or pro athletes. Former senators often think that they, too, are above the law or the law’s consequences.

Obama’s screw-up came when he picked Daschle in the first place — unless Obama wanted a weak-sister guy like Daschle in there. All of this leaves murky the question of what exactly the Obama regime has in mind for health care.

The last time a Democratic administration came to power, Bill Clinton turned the health-care issue over to Hillary Clinton, who, true to her conservative roots, immediately reneged on her vow to supporters and advisers to consider a national health-care plan. Instead, she relied on the inherently corrupt health-care industry — not the doctors, but the insurers — and any hope of a cleaner, fairer, more inclusive national health-care plan that wouldn’t be controlled by the middlemen (the insurers) was doomed. (Click here for my February 2005 rant about this; you’ll have to scroll down a little ways to get to it.)

In any case, good-bye, Daschle. Don’t let the revolving door hit you on your way into and out of government offices.

The rest of you, however, are welcome to stay right here and click on the following items…


CBS: ‘Bailed-Out Bank Nixes Lavish Vegas Junket: After Outcry From Capitol Hill, Wells Fargo, Which Got $25B In Taxpayer Money, Calls Off Gathering’

CBS: ‘MySpace Boots 90,000 Sex Offenders: N.C. Attorney General Demands That Much Larger Facebook Follow Suit’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Obama puts salary cap on bailout businesses’

President Obama will announce a crackdown on Wall Street fat cats on Wednesday, setting a $500,000 cap on executive compensation for companies getting taxpayer bailouts, a senior administration official said Tuesday night.


Wall Street Journal: ‘Obama on Defense as Daschle Withdraws’

…One of President Barack Obama’s closest political confidants and early mentors, Mr. Daschle had been tapped to spearhead the effort to overhaul the nation’s health-care system. But concerns arising from Mr. Daschle’s failure to pay more than $100,000 in taxes on time, coupled with tax problems involving two other cabinet nominees, threatened both the administration’s health-care agenda and the credibility of Mr. Obama’s pledge to raise the ethical standards of Washington.

Mr. Daschle’s sudden withdrawal came two weeks to the day after Mr. Obama took office, and 24 hours after the president told reporters that he “absolutely” stood by his nominee. The abrupt move stands to potentially dent the reputation for steadiness and managerial prowess that the 47-year-old president had cultivated over a smoothly run campaign and a transition to power that boasted of a swift vetting and nomination of top aides.

Brooklyn Paper: ‘Macy’s to Brooklyn workers: You’re safe for now’

N.Y. Times: ‘Despite Vow, Target of Immigrant Raids Shifted’

Federal immigration officials had repeatedly told Congress that among more than half a million immigrants with outstanding deportation orders, they would concentrate on rounding up the most threatening — criminals and terrorism suspects.

Instead, newly available documents show, the agency changed the rules, and the program increasingly went after easier targets. A vast majority of those arrested had no criminal record, and many had no deportation orders against them, either.

NBC News: ‘Obama to Limit Executive Pay at Companies Getting Aid’

President Barack Obama will announce today that he’s imposing a cap of $500,000 on the compensation of top executives at companies that receive significant federal assistance in the future, responding to a public outcry over Wall Street excess.

Any additional compensation will be in restricted stock that won’t vest until taxpayers have been paid back, according to an administration official, who requested anonymity. The rules will force greater transparency on the use of corporate jets, office renovations and holiday parties as well as golden parachutes offered to executives when they leave companies.

Bloomberg: ‘”Failed” Wall Street Means Biggest Rules Rewrite Since 1930s’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Blago’s sideshow visits Late Show

If David Letterman is the typical juror, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich should get ready for prison food.


N.Y. Daily News: ‘Tax would be curtains, Broadway tells Gov’

N.Y. Times: ‘In Shattered Gaza Town, Roots of Seething Split’ (Ethan Bronner)

The fighting in El Atatra tells the story of Israel’s offensive, with each side giving a very different version of events.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Stimulus Brings Out City Wish Lists’

Most cities want stimulus funds for roads and sewers. But others are using a kitchen-sink strategy, asking for neon signs or a frisbee golf course.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Plans Emerge for New Troop Deployments to Afghanistan’

Senior U.S. commanders are finalizing plans to send tens of thousands of reinforcements to Afghanistan’s main opium-producing region and its porous border with Pakistan, moves that will form the core of President Barack Obama’s emerging Afghan war strategy….

Virtually none of the new troops heading to Afghanistan will go to Kabul or other major Afghan cities. By contrast, when the Bush administration dispatched 30,000 new troops to Iraq as part of the so-called surge, the bulk of the new forces went to Baghdad….

The deployments, part of a planned doubling of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, are almost certain to spark heavier casualties and push the war squarely onto the public agenda. “I hate to say it, but yes, I think there will be [more U.S. casualties],” Vice President Joe Biden said on CBS Sunday. “There will be an uptick.”

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Man with pigeons in his pants gets nabbed at airport’


Bloomberg: ‘Clean-Coal Debate Pits Al Gore’s Group Against Obama, Peabody’

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and his Alliance for Climate Protection say clean-coal technology is a fantasy.

Peabody Energy Corp., the biggest U.S. coal producer, says another prominent Democrat has pledged to make the technology a reality: President Barack Obama.

The Gore-Obama split illustrates a growing debate in the U.S. as the new president attempts to deliver on his promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the country 80 percent by 2050. Depending on who’s speaking, coal is either the villain or part of the solution.

N.Y. Times: ‘As Iraqis Tally Votes, Former Leader Re-emerges’

Ayad Allawi, the first prime minister selected after the Americans handed power back to Iraqis in June 2004, has made a comeback in the provincial elections, unofficial preliminary returns indicate, setting himself up as a potential rival to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Time Warner Falls Into the Red’


New Yorker: ‘Another Country: James Baldwin’s flight from America’

Bloomberg: ‘Cohen’s Hedge Fund Taxes Can’t Fix Connecticut’s Fallen Revenue’

Connecticut, the wealthiest U.S. state with per capita income of $54,117 in 2007, has profited from its proximity to Wall Street since rail lines from the city reached north to Fairfield County more than a century ago. According to Forbes magazine, the state’s richest residents now are hedge fund managers including Steven Cohen and Paul Tudor Jones, who live and work in and around Greenwich. Cohen earned $900 million in 2007 while Jones made $300 million, according to Institutional Investor magazine’s Alpha publication.

Newsday: ‘Fortunoff Shutters NYC Store, Stoking Bankruptcy Rumors’


Wall Street Journal: ‘Iran’s Report of Satellite Launch Stirs U.S. Concern’


Wall Street Journal: ‘Ticketmaster Is Near Deal With Live Nation’

Ticketmaster and Live Nation are close to an all-stock merger to form the world’s dominant concert promotion, ticketing and artist-management company.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Detroit Reels as Auto Sales Skid’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Dissed as kid, Spitz pimp cries’


A one-man crime wave from Massachusetts road-tripped it to Columbia University every weekend for the past two months — stealing wallets from gymnasium lockers and a dozen laptops, the Post has learned.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Border-Fence Project Hits a Snag’


‘Markopolos Blasts SEC for “Financial Illiteracy”‘

From the Wall Street Journal:

Fraud investigator Harry Markopolos blamed the Securities and Exchange Commission’s “financial illiteracy” for failing to heed his warnings about money manager Bernard Madoff.

Mr. Markopolos had warned the SEC for nearly a decade that Mr. Madoff was operating a Ponzi scheme. Mr. Markopolos is set to testify before a House committee Wednesday, and 311 pages of his written testimony became public Tuesday evening.

N.Y. Times: ‘Witness on Madoff Tells of Fear for Safety’

House Committee on Financial Services: ‘Assessing the Madoff Ponzi Scheme and Regulatory Failures’ (Today’s hearing, featuring Markopolos and government officials)


Sitting target: Schumer blasts Madoff with elephant gun

MSNBC captured Schumer’s spiel today about the Madoff scandal.

Today’s Senate Banking Committee hearing on the Bernie Madoff scandal was a perfect chance for pols to grab at the golden ring of video clips, and it looks as if the winner was…New York’s own Chuck Schumer!

If you missed the dog-and-pony show, you didn’t miss much new in the way of news. But the New York Times live-blogged it and noted Schumer’s shtick:

10:27 a.m.: Elephant in the room: Senator Charles E. Schumer calls the fraud “a punch in the gut” to the financial system and castigates the S.E.C. for its failure to uncover the scheme. He likens the actions to a giant elephant standing in a small room next to the S.E.C. for decades and “not only did they not see the elephant, they didn’t even smell the peanuts on his breath,” Mr. Schumer says.

Pretty good, Chuck, but what about the taste of Madoff in your own mouth?

Madoff and his family have given tens of thousands of dollars to Schumer’s election campaigns, according to Federal Election Commission records, but I guess those small amounts weren’t enough to prompt him to conduct due diligence on Madoff.

You have to wonder, though, how Schumer couldn’t have known, or at least suspected, that Madoff was a goniff. After all, Schumer has deep, deep ties in the city’s Jewish establishment. The state’s senior senator probably knows a goodly number of Madoff’s investors by name, and Madoff, as we know, was a staunch Democratic Party fundraiser during the very time that Schumer has controlled a large part of the party’s campaign treasure chest.

But today’s hearing gave Schumer a chance to tsk-tsk, and he ran-ran with it.

Aside from Dick Cheney‘s hunting partners, has there ever been an easier target to hit than Bernie Madoff?

But if you really want to see how it’s done, check out Marie Brenner‘s web-only piece on Vanity Fair.

An elegant piece of writing, “Madoff in Manhattan” peers deep inside what the mag calls the “thorny issues of class and religion.”


‘Times’ declares war on news, gets right in your grille — for a change

The Times as Jimmy Cagney and the reader as Mae Clarke. It’s about time.

A banner day for the New York Times.

Newspapers that don’t go out for blood are worthless. The Times often should be itself flayed because it so often doesn’t take full advantage of its tremendous resources and usually undeserved clout and instead exudes arrogance and condescension.

This morning, however, its reporters slapped on their fedoras and got the goods, and their editors snapped out of it, rolled up their Brooks Brothers sleeves, and laid it on us.

Like Jimmy Cagney shoving a grapefruit into Mae Clarke‘s face in The Public Enemy (1931), Ethan Bronner‘s “U.N. and Red Cross Add to Outcry on Gaza War” calls a war a war and shoves the details into your face during your breakfast before you have time to take your first sip of coffee:

“International aid groups lashed out at Israel on Thursday over the war in Gaza, saying that access to civilians in need is poor, relief workers are being hurt and killed, and Israel is woefully neglecting its obligations to Palestinians who are trapped, some among rotting corpses in a nightmarish landscape of deprivation”.

You can see that Bronner’s piece doesn’t fiddle around with the paper’s usual stiff, officious lede followed by some boring, pseudo-analytical claptrap about how something affects decision-makers.

Bronner’s second paragraph is the kind of thing you usually see as the lede of such a story:

“The United Nations declared a suspension of its aid operations after one of its drivers was killed and two others were wounded despite driving United Nations-flagged vehicles and coordinating their movements with the Israeli military. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called for an investigation by Israel for a second time in a week after the more than 40 deaths near a United Nations school from Israeli tank fire on Tuesday”.

The paper’s still not up to speed on the fact that many Jews, both here and in Israel (particularly in Israel), are angrily opposed to the war on Gaza.

The peace movement among Jews gets prominent play in the vibrant Israeli press and in other outlets around the world. But not in the U.S. media.

However, you can always go to New York’s own Forward, thank G-d, where the indefatigable Nathan Guttman‘s “Peace Groups Lose First Major Gaza Challenge On Capitol Hill: Attempts by Activists To Shape Resolution Come Up Short” opens a window on news that most of the rest of the U.S. press routinely ignores.

Enough of the negative stuff about negative stuff: The Times does deserve another kudos or two or three: Another example of today’s fired-up Times is a Paris dispatch from veteran Alan Cowell, “Gaza Children Found With Mothers’ Corpses”:

“The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it had discovered “shocking” scenes — including small children next to their mothers’ corpses — when its representatives gained access for the first time to parts of Gaza battered by Israeli shelling. It accused Israel of failing to meet obligations to care for the wounded in areas of combat”.

Years ago, Cowell did a bang-up job writing such pieces day after day for the Times from apartheid-era South Africa. Now he’s filing stuff about apartheid-era Israel.

Even the paper’s editorial page this morning took off its kid gloves, dismissed its manservants and maids, and unleashed a sneer or two at its fellow Establishment members. Labeling the confirmation hearing for the new Secretary of Health and Human Services a “cuddly welcome for Mr. Daschle,” the editorial board climbed down from the pedestal it has built for itself and started punching at the incoming Obama regime:

“…The hearing before a Senate health committee was mostly a love-fest as senators from both parties expressed admiration for their former Senate colleague….

Unfortunately, the hearing did not tell us much at all about how the incoming Obama administration intends to pay for its emerging health care programs or how, for all of his smoothness at the hearing, Mr. Daschle will deal with the very real and very big differences his team has with Republicans on this and other vital issues.

Instead, the senators avoided asking such tough questions, and Mr. Daschle bent over backward to reassure Republicans that he would not try to ram anything too unpalatable down their throats….”

A welcome dose of cynicism instead of the expected deadly dull civility and caution.

Yes, there are still some nits to pick in the Times, but this morning the paper emits a louder buzz than usual.

Tally-ho! Release the hounds! The paper usually acts more like C. Montgomery Burns hounding the beleaguered folk in Springfield. This morning, it’s dogging a newspaper’s proper targets.

While you’re wiping the grapefruit off your face, click on these items, front-loaded this morning only with other Times pieces, most of which have surprisingly hard-hitting, newsy ledes…


N.Y. Times: ‘Latinos Recall Pattern of Attacks Before Long Island Killing’

N.Y. Times: ‘Senate Allies Fault Obama on Stimulus’

N.Y. Times: ‘As His Inmates Grew Thinner, a Sheriff’s Wallet Grew Fatter’

N.Y. Times: ‘Fatal Avalanches Rattle Ski Country in the West’

N.Y. Times: ‘Bill Easing Unionizing Is Under Heavy Attack’

N.Y. Times: ‘Nationwide Inquiry on Bids for Municipal Bonds’

“The federal investigation that prompted Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico to withdraw his nomination as commerce secretary offers a rare glimpse into a long-simmering investigation of possible bid-rigging, tax evasion and other wrongdoing throughout the municipal bond business.

Three federal agencies and a loose consortium of state attorneys general have for several years been gathering evidence of what appears to be collusion among the banks and other companies that have helped state and local governments take approximately $400 billion worth of municipal notes and bonds to market each year”.

N.Y. Times: ‘For BlackBerry, Obama’s Devotion Is Priceless’

Bloomberg: ‘Excrement, Insulation, Bike Paths Trim CO2 Emissions in Cities’

Wall Street Journal: ‘A Wolfe in Regulator’s Clothing: Drug Industry Critic Joins the FDA’


Bloomberg: ‘Brokers Disdain Toaster Salesmen in Bank America’s Merrill Deal’


Wall Street Journal: ‘Business Warms to Obama, but Frictions Loom on Climate’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Gotti hit man dips his foe in acid, but loves mommy’


Wall Street Journal: ‘Wall Street Is Big Donor to Inauguration’


N.Y. Daily News: ‘Brooklyn Nets Arena cutbacks? Bruce Ratner scales back plans; Star architect Frank Gehry may go’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Lehman Brothers Plans Private-Equity Spinoff’



Wall Street Journal: ‘Bailout Pact Of GM, U.S. Would Block A UAW Strike’

Bloomberg: ‘London Boom Time Bill Comes Due as Bankers Buy Coffee on Credit’


N.Y. Daily News: ‘I snapped & whacked her: Chilling confession in Linda Stein slay aired’



Wall Street Journal: ‘Hedge-Fund Middlemen Get Pinched’



Wall Street Journal: ‘Chevron Warns of Hefty Drop in Earnings’

Bloomberg: ‘Billion-Dollar U.S. Verdicts Vanish After Appeals, New Rulings’


Bloomberg: ‘Obama Must Tackle Fannie, Freddie’s Federal Ties’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Panel Steps Up Criticism of Treasury Over TARP’

Bloomberg: ‘Al-Jazeera Said to Mull Bid for English Soccer’s Mideast Rights’

Bloomberg: ‘Madoff’s Three-Bedroom Riviera Retreat Belied Ponzi Scheme Role’

Bloomberg: ‘Merkin Intimidated Co-Op Board While Building Funds Madoff Lost’


Bloomberg: ‘Uma Thurman No Help to Arpad Busson in Madoff Fraud’s Nightmare’

Wall Street Journal: ‘U.S.: Madoff Had $173 Million in Checks’

Bloomberg: ‘Madoff Con Hits Boston, Home to Victim Shapiro, Ponzi’


Ponzi schemer Norman Hsu claims stories about Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff are ‘prejudicial’

Hot Air’s Ventilators sing “Runaround Hsu.”

If you hunger for a good snicker and you’re somewhat of a news junkie, what’s better than a concise roundup of the best Bernie Madoff news stories — the good parts, the adjectives, the apoplexy?

Look no further than a December 22 court document in the case of another Ponzi schemer and Democratic Party fundraiser, Norman Hsu.

The Clinton pal is facing trial in Manhattan Federal Court, but his lawyer is pleading for at least a 60-day delay to let the publicity about Madoff subside. Too prejudicial to Hsu, the lawyer argues.

Thanks to the Smoking Gun, you can glom the court doc, which rests under the headline “Obama and That Other Ponzi Scheme: President-elect’s name may emerge in Norman Hsu fraud trial.”

Hsu’s lawyer has a point. As the court papers indicate, the Madoff scandal even prompted the New York Times to proclaim that the country has been “engrossed in an orgy of scandal.”

Not sure whether the Times would even know an orgy if it saw one, but yes, we have been getting fucked. No, we haven’t been enjoying it.

Reading about it is a lot safer than letting someone like Madoff or Hsu touch you in a “bad” place — like your wallet.


Blagojevich called Obama a ‘motherfucker’

The criminal complaint announced this morning against Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich is fucking incredible, as the governor would say.

Too stupid and testosterone-crazed to not talk on the phone about influence-peddling, Blago let it all hang out, if you believe the complaint. Blago even pulled that well-spoken young man Barack Obama into his orbit.

In fact, this may be the first public document in which the words “motherfucker” and “president-elect” appear right next to each other in the same sentence. See page 63 of the federal complaint laid on the governor by that ever-feisty Patrick Fitzgerald:



Daily Flog: For the recession, some remedial English lessons

You load 16 tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. But the standard weights and measures are so out of whack that, in Britain, 20 billion of their pounds probably won’t outweigh those 16 tons that Wall Street’s bankers carelessly offloaded on us.

At least the Brits are trying, even though it means even more debt. Yes, there’s big news from Parliament today: a $30 billion stimulus plan to bail out commoners. But you wouldn’t know it by the U.S. press outlets, most of which grossly underplayed the Labor government’s scheme announced by Chancellor Alistair Darling.

No Henry Paulson, he. In the slowest race on record, the British beat us to a bailout of ordinary folk from the crisis dumped on us by Wall Street’s collapse (check out the Guardian‘s “Obama v Darling: the plans compared” video.)

Over here, Barack Obama won’t even commit to rescinding George W. Bush‘s brazen tax cuts for the rich that his handlers enacted in the early daze of the current GOP regime.

And the American way, apparently, is to talk about helping “consumers” — that’s how we suckers are viewed by Wall Street types like Paulson, according to our press (see the New York Post‘s “Paulson Works to Ease Consumer Credit Crunch.”)

Paulson wants to help Detroit sell us even more vehicles. In Britain, the government at least pays lip service by often referring to us as “people,” not “consumers.”

OK, we’re in transition and Obama hasn’t even taken over yet. But over there, the Yanks aren’t coming, so the Brits are robbing Peter the rich guy to pay Paul the plumber. The question is whether Obama is listening. Or is he listening to your pay-me-and-other-average-Americans-no-mind guys like Larry Summers?

So far, at least Obama’s words are soothing — and we saw how important even words are when Rudy Giuliani was portrayed as keeping it cool right after 9/11. In “Team Obama promises huge jolt to economy,” the Guardian‘s Ewen MacAskill writes:

Asked about speculation that his package will cost between $700bn (£460bn) and $1tr, Obama declined to put a figure on it. He said it was necessary not only to have a thriving Wall Street but a thriving main street too. “We are going to do what is required to jolt this economy back into shape,” the president-elect said.

Speaking at a press conference in Chicago, Obama signalled that he is moving at speed to try to reassure nervous markets as well as the public. His team would begin work straight away. “We do not have a minute to waste,” he said.

It was a confident performance that contrasted with a short, stumbling appearance by President George Bush in Washington hours earlier to confirm federal help for the Citigroup bank.

Progressive or regressive, that’s the question about our new regime, in light of the conservative Clintonian Democrats with whom Obama’s surrounding himself.

In Britain, that question’s been answered by the Labor government’s plan (see the Guardian‘s glance). It calls for massive government borrowing, but it’s a progressive agenda where the citizenry are concerned.

Gordon Brown and his henchman Darling laid out an attack that includes a tax hike for the richest 1 percent of Britons and a higher tax on gasoline. Plus an order to banks to delay foreclosures. Plus more help to homeowners in making mortgage payments. Plus an increase in child-care benefits. Plus £1.3 billion to help the unemployed. Plus a cut in the sales tax. Plus a vow to use government power to stop utilities from gouging their customers.

Plus higher taxes on such vices as national health insurance, alcohol, and tobacco (unfortunately, three things that are necessary for us to survive the onrushing Great ’08 Depression). And this conscionable move, as the Washington Post‘s Kevin Sullivan reports in a story buried on page A8:

Darling, in his annual pre-budget address to the House of Commons, said the government also planned to dramatically increase borrowing to fund massive public spending on hospitals, schools, transportation and environmental projects.

So far, we’re talking about the opposite approach in Britain to the recession. Shoring up social services, a higher tax on the rich? Doesn’t sound like corporate welfare to me. What’s wrong with those people? What, is Sheila Bair running Britain’s bailout?

The Labor government didn’t announce its plan to a roomful of respectful reporters. Sitting only a few feet away from Darling and Brown, the Tories jeered them. (Don’t you just love parliamentary democracy?)

More from the WashPost story:

Opposition leaders immediately attacked the government’s plans as reckless and misguided, especially its intention to fund an aggressive spending program by increasing its overall borrowing to $117 billion this year and $177 billion, or 8 percent of gross domestic product, next year.

“The chancellor has just announced the largest amount of borrowing ever undertaken by a British government in the entire history of this country,” George Osborne, the Conservative Party’s chief spokesman on economic issues, told lawmakers in response to Darling’s report. “To pay for it he has placed a huge unexploded tax bombshell timed to go off underneath the future economic recovery.”

Not much talk these days about who’s at fault for this mess. (By the way, can we please put that old antisemitic canard about “international bankers” to rest? We didn’t get into this mess because of them. The villains are Wall Street’s bankers. Thank you.)

Now see this Oklahoman-American Jew’s links to other news …


Washington Post: ‘$30 Billion Stimulus Announced In Britain: Plan Cuts Sales Tax, Boosts Borrowing for Major Public Projects’

Guardian (U.K.): ‘Team Obama promises huge jolt to economy’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Big Players Scale Back Charitable Donations’

“As the recession deepens, the future of charities that depend on corporate donations is becoming more uncertain.”

N.Y. Post: ‘It’s About Time! Paulson Finally Makes Move to Help Consumers’

New Yorker: ‘Thinking Big: The promise of universal health care’ (Steve Coll)

Guardian (U.K.): ‘US intelligence “kept files on Tony Blair’s private life”, claims ex-US navy operator’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Chrysler Workers Fret Buyout Deadline’

“Chrysler workers are torn between accepting a buyout now or hoping to survive involuntary separations expected at year’s end.”

N.Y. Times: ‘Economic Slump May Limit Moves on Clean Energy’

“A poor global economy and plunging prices for coal and oil are upending plans to curb the use of fossil fuels.”

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Cops nab man who drove 3,000 miles to shoot wife in church’

N.Y. Times: ‘Saving Citi May Create More Fear’

“The government’s bailout of Citigroup could lead other banks to take bigger risks.”

Irish Times: ‘Democratic triumph heralds realignment in US politics’

THE ELECTION of 2008 is history, but the battle over what it meant has just begun. Conservative analysts have insisted that although the Democrats achieved a sweeping victory, it does not indicate a fundamental change.

“America is still a centre-right country,” as John Boehner, the House Republican leader, insisted soon after the votes were counted.

N.Y. Times: ‘For Lobbyists, No Downturn, Just a Turnover’

“Republican lobbyists are feeling the demand for their services plummet as Democrats ascend in Washington.”

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Teacher and her pet’

“A Queens teacher, 37, fired for bedding a 17-year-old male model is suing to win back her job. He was no student, she says.”


It’s not a wonderful life

Because my money’s in Citibank, which is now on the verge of going under, I feel like going down there and joining the panicky crowd to demand my money back.

I’ll yell and shake my fist and insist on an explanation why my bank is going down the tubes despite the fees I pay for everything. And the ATM will just stare back at me, like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

There is no George Bailey reminding me how my bank deserves my trust.

There’s only Henry Paulson — who gave Citibank $25 billion in bailout money before the bank’s current crisis — telling me and everyone else who’s not a Wall Street big cigar, “Tough luck.”

It’s not a wonderful life. And I’m not Saudi Prince Alwaleed.

And the U.S. is not No. 1 — at least for much longer.

For the latest details on how the U.S. meltdown is, like, bumming out the world, see this morning’s Washington Post story “Financial System Suffers Relapse: Shattering Lull, Fears of Deep Recession Roil Markets.”

The one place where commerce is on the upswing is on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where Henry Waxman upended longtime chairman John Dingell. See my item yesterday, and read this morning’s WashPost perspective-filled story, in which Paul Kane writes:

If beleaguered U.S. automakers did not have enough problems, Michigan Rep. John D. Dingell, their greatest congressional champion, was dethroned yesterday as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee by Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, an advocate of stiff measures against global warming.

This is the first big muscle-flexing by the Obama team — it shows that he has the power to keep his fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill in line. There’s no doubt it signals real change and reform, because that’s Waxman’s history. But does the Waxman victory really signal Barack Obama‘s environmentalism or is it payback?

During the Democratic primary, Dingell cast his lot with Hillary Clinton, while his superdelegate wife, GM lobbyist Debbie Dingell, supported Obama.

Who did Waxman cast his lot with? As the Australian outlet ABC pointed out in June, in an extensive interview with Waxman on its Lateline show:

[B]efore the primaries were over, Mr Waxman endorsed Barack Obama for his party’s presidential nomination, a significant boost for the black Senator who needs to bolster his vote among the Jewish community. In his endorsement, Congressman Waxman said Senator Obama has the experience, judgment and integrity to bring real reform to Washington.

Not speaking of real reform, the Washington Post reports this morning in an oh-by-the-way fashion:

Meanwhile, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) is on track to be nominated for the job of secretary of state after Thanksgiving, transition aides said.

Guess Obama just can’t resist leftovers.

If your hopes of “change” were high, that news is the stuff of deflation.

And speaking of throwing away hard-earned capital: While you ponder how safe my money — and I suppose yours, too, if you want to be selfish about it — is in Saudibank (er, Citibank) . . .



Times (U.K.): ‘Recession stalks the world’s economies’ ‘Remember The Spitzer Whore? What Does She Think About Stuff?’

Ashley Dupré is now so famous that she’s got her own episode of 20/20 coming up where she gets to reveal that she doesn’t feel responsible for Eliot Spitzer‘s resignation, the emotions she experienced as the scandal unfolded and the way that she feels ‘connected’ to Eliot Spitzer’s wife — which we think might be code for crabs or syphilis or something, though we couldn’t say for certain. . . .

But what of the future? Well, even though she’s so famous that she could probably live quite comfortably on a handful of blowjobs a year now, in the interview Ashley Dupré reveals that she has actually quit whoring to concentrate on establishing her singing career full-time.

ABC (Australia): ‘Henry Waxman joins Lateline

Washington Post: ‘Kafka of the Cubicle: Japanese Cartoonist Chronicles the Indignities Endured by Young, Dutiful, Sad Office Drones’


A gang of racist Long Island teens went on a “cowardly” weeklong mission of hate, striking innocent Hispanics with their fists and BB gun pellets before they fatally stabbed an Ecuadorian immigrant on his way to a watch a movie with a friend, officials claimed yesterday.

Times (U.K.): ‘Citigroup meets to consider rescue options’

BBC: ‘US global dominance “set to wane” ‘

US economic, military and political dominance is likely to decline over the next two decades, according to a new US intelligence report on global trends.

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) predicts China, India and Russia will increasingly challenge US influence.

It also says the dollar may no longer be the world’s major currency, and food and water shortages will fuel conflict.

Washington Post: ‘Obama Team Springs Leaks’

Reuters: ‘Thousands protest in Iraq against U.S. troops pact’

Washington Post: ‘Video Game Technology Gives Veterans New Lease on Life’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Queens jail guards face assault rap’

Washington Post: ‘Falling Prices Raise a New Fear: Deflation’

Slate: ‘Obama’s White House, Clinton’s Team: Who’s (loyal to) who in the Obama administration — an interactive chart’

Slate: ‘How To Read the Quran: A new translation captures the confusion’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Inspector in crane disaster snubs deal’



State secret: Is it Secretary’s Day for Hillary?

Will Barack Obama really hire Hillary Clinton to take dictation? Is he that into tragedy?

The view at Foggy Bottom is still murky. But it always has been. The low-lying D.C. neighborhood first earned that moniker because of fog and industrial smoke. Then the high-lying State Department HQ moved in, and the nickname gained even more credibility.

So just imagine Hillary Clinton ensconced in Foggy Bottom. She’ll never be in Obama’s inner circle, and she’ll always be a pretender to his throne, so why should he name her and give her control of a huge part of the national machinery? She and her staff would be nothing if not passive-aggressive in their dealings with Obama’s crew. Why would he want more smoke blown at him from Foggy Bottom?

Internal dissent is one thing. As a lifelong practitioner, I’m all for it. But it’s something else altogether to hire a supremely self-aggrandizing pol who constantly works to undercut your authority and is your chief rival in the party and who would try to impose her own agenda — just for the sake of its not being yours, that it would be hers. You’ve worked with people like that, haven’t you? That wouldn’t seem to be the kind of drama that Obama desires.

He doesn’t strike me as a King Lear. So why would he want to hire the wife of our former King Leer?

Maybe it’s all a charade by him and his crew to allow her to save face — she’ll finally say thanks for the gracious “offer” but her country needs her more in the Senate or some such B.S. like that.

Or maybe it’s Hillary’s crew that keeps spreading the word that she’s in line for the job, and Obama’s crew has shrewdly decided to just let them keep doing it if that’s what it takes for Hillary to save face and for the party to keep from fracturing.

Don’t forget: The country is officially in a recession, and an increasingly poorer and more fed-up populace already spells trouble for the Democrats for the mid-term elections in 2010. Even Jesus couldn’t pull us out of this economic disaster by then, so you know that Congressional Democrats are already nervous about their new “mandate” for “change.”

In any case, the newest immigrant to D.C. is both more intriguing than Clinton and less full of intrigue — at least from Obama’s perspective. She’s Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, who’s lined up to be the Homeland Security chief.

Janet be nimble. Check out the quick take on her in Phoenix New Times, which gave her a “Best Politician” award in 2006:

Janet Napolitano’s the hands-down champion when it comes to political maneuvering around here. The mere fact that a woman who comes across as this butch can get elected governor and, before that, attorney general in Arizona (of all places) is testament to her political IQ. Plus, she’s a bleedin’ Democrat!

Somehow she’s been able to avoid all the hot-button issues, or make us think she cares hugely about them without really doing much, and now the pollsters have declared her unbeatable . . .

Seems like a shrewd move by the Obama team: A female governor from a border state where immigration is a hot issue is now in charge of protecting the nation from terror.

And it could be a lot worse. Maybe a Republican would have chosen her exact opposite, the cartoonish Phoenix-based sheriff Joe Arpaio, for the job. For those who don’t know, Arpaio is the notoriously hardline, publicity-grabbing Maricopa County lawman who runs what he proudly proclaims as the toughest jail system in the country. Being cruel to Mexicans and other people of color comes naturally to him.

In real life, Arpaio is a cross between Deputy Dawg and Barney Fife, without either of those characters’ loveability. Arpaio was nothing but an ex-DEA-flunky crank when he used to pester reporters in Phoenix in the ’80s — before Arizonans mystifyingly gave him a gun.

Remember Bernie Kerik, who had his five minutes in the D.C. sun as George W. Bush‘s putative Homeland Security czar? Joe Arpaio makes Bernie Kerik seem like Dwight D. Eisenhower.

As far as we know, controversy is not Janet Napolitano’s middle name.

Judging by the way she skirts around things, she won’t make waves. She’s even more colorless than Tom Ridge, and she’ll carry out whatever task Rahm Emanuel gives her.

Here’s your task: Click on these . . .



N.Y. Daily News: ‘Dog takes car for run and crashes into L.I. shop’

N.Y. Times: ‘After Losses, Pensions Ask For a Change’

“Some of the nation’s biggest companies want Congress to roll back rules requiring them to put more money into pension funds.”

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Team Obama thinks Hillary Clinton’s people to blame for State speculation’

Register (U.K.): ‘Google tells the world how to talk: Received Pronunciation not received, Scots scotched’

N.Y. Times: ‘Teenagers’ Internet Socializing Not a Bad Thing’

L.A. Times: ‘Antiwar groups fear Barack Obama may create hawkish Cabinet’

Register (U.K.): ‘German bawdy house offers free entry for life: Willing punters queue for promotional brothel tattoo’

Washington Post: ‘Stocks Slump As Signs Point To Harder Times: Key Indicators Suggest Deep Recession’

MarketWatch: ‘Saudi Prince boosting Citi stake to 5 Percent’

Bloomberg: ‘Alwaleed Buys Citigroup Stock as Loss Exceeds Buffett’

Washington Post: ‘Auto Execs Fly Corporate Jets to D.C., Tin Cups in Hand’ (Dana Milbank)

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Fine to quadruple amputee — in days’

“She went to an ER suffering from what she thought was just a kidney stone, but a medical nightmare left her a quadruple amputee. Tabitha Mullings claims doctors failed to diagnose an infection that has literally eaten her alive.”

N.Y. Times: ‘New York Police Fight With U.S. on Surveillance’

N.Y. Times: ‘Web Sites Wage Holiday Price Wars’

Washington Post: ‘Let the Guy Smoke: Obama Is Probably Fibbing About Giving Up Cigarettes. That’s Okay.’ (Michael Kinsley)

Register (U.K.): ‘Homework late? Blame Russian hackers: Teachers wise up to tech-based yarns’

N.Y. Times: ‘Discussions With Clintons as Obama Creates Team’

L.A. Times: ‘L.A. councilman seeks to protect celebrities from paparazzi’

L.A. Times: ‘Prop. 8 gay marriage ban goes to Calif. Supreme Court’

L.A. Times: ‘World grapples with pirate problem’

Register (U.K.): ‘Filesharing ambulance chasers get into the gay smut racket’


Putting Hillary Clinton in her place — and that doesn’t mean the State Department

Keep hiring those Clinton administration veterans, Obama. The more of them you hire, the less likely that Hillary Clinton will be named Secretary of State.

If Barack Obama does appoint her Secretary of State, he would no longer be the agent of “change.” He would just be small change.

It’s Obama’s dime, but maybe he’s simply protecting his party base and trying to assuage Congressional Democrats by making nice with her. This allows Hillary to save face — which is the most important thing in the world to her, anyway — by now accepting another post in the new administration, perhaps ambassador to the U.N.

And making it seem that it’s solely her decision to not become Secretary of State.

Maybe Obama has already filled his quota of Clinton vets, and there’s simply no room for Hillary. Unlikely.

More likely: Obama and his troops are simply playing the public and press by strongly intimating that Hillary will get the job while at the same time spreading the word that hubby Bill’s unsavory post-presidential globe-trotting would disqualify her from the post.

It could be America’s good fortune that Bill Clinton has been such a smarmy international greed hog since he left the White House. This morning’s New York Times story, “Many Dealings of Bill Clinton Under Review,” smacks of a clever game of “leaks” by Obama’s crew to the establishment press:

Mr. Clinton’s postpresidential life as a globe-trotting philanthropist, business consultant and speech-giver poses the highest hurdle for Mrs. Clinton to overcome if President-elect Barack Obama chooses to nominate her as secretary of state, according to aides of the Clintons and Mr. Obama.

The Obama transition team is focused on the wide array of Mr. Clinton’s postpresidential activities, some details of which have not been made public. This list includes the identity of most of the donors to his foundation, the source of some of his speaking fees — he has earned as much as $425,000 for a one-hour speech — and his work for the billionaire investor Ronald W. Burkle.

Propping up that suspicion of the Obama gang’s sophisticated game-playing is that the future chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has in fact been always closer to Obama than to the Clintons.

Emanuel’s close friendship with David Axelrod (a close friend of Obama’s) matters more than Emanuel’s previous ties to the Clinton Administration. Emanuel is Obama’s guy, not the Clintons’ guy.

And at least at the U.N., Hillary’s shortcomings as a diplomat wouldn’t matter too much, because she wouldn’t be the person in charge of setting foreign policy.

Putting her at the U.N. would keep her out of D.C. and let her keep a New York base. In D.C., she would be overwhelmed in importance by Obama’s Chicago-based gang. And she wouldn’t be hovering around D.C. as a publicity- and power-seeking distraction to Obama.

On the East River, she would be the No. 1 tugboat captain. And her celebrity could even be a boon at the U.N., where the top officials from each country focus mainly on schmoozefests while U.N. bureaucrats work hard at the actual and important tasks of trying to peacekeep and feed people and issue global warnings about global warming.

Even with all her weaknesses, Hillary’s presence at the U.N. could help repair relations with the rest of the world because she would be following such Bush regime schnooks as John Bolton (who is opposed to the very existence of the U.N.) and John Negroponte, former destabilizer of Latin America way back in earlier GOP administrations.

Even someone as querulous as I am would be an improvement over either of them.

“Change” does not include putting Hillary Clinton in charge of the vast machinery of the powerful State Department. Another Clinton schmuckfest is not what the voters wanted.

And why would Obama appoint his chief rival in the party to such a powerful post, unless he’s merely keeping his seat warm for a future Hillary stab at the presidency?

That seems highly unlikely. After all, he won the presidency by scooting past the Democratic Party’s anointed candidate and seizing the nomination. What does he really owe the party except to keep peace within it so that he can get his legislative agenda through?

In other words, now is not the time for him to piss off Democrats in Congress.

Doesn’t make sense to make Hillary the Secretary of State. OK, OK, maybe I don’t make sense either. But I’m not the person who has vowed to “change” things. I never promised you a new Rose Garden.

Foreclosing on this one-way conversation and moving on . . .


Slate: ‘Obama’s New Toy: Snazzy new technology isn’t enough to bring transparency to the White House’

Haaretz: ‘Israeli official: U.S. can halt Iran nuclear program with dialogue’

McClatchy: ‘Eco-urinals’ problem: they’re complicated (and they stink)’

Barack Obama’s election as U.S. president and the world financial crisis present an opportunity to halt the Iranian nuclear drive through diplomacy, Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin said Monday.

Iran, for example, has been stung by lower global oil prices in recent months.

Bloomberg: ‘U.S. Auto Chiefs Renew Aid Push With Passage in Doubt’

McClatchy: ‘Company that bungled Baghdad embassy repeats in Gabon’

Haaretz: ‘Killing of crime boss Alperon seen as “earthquake” for Israel underworld’

Haaretz: ‘Study: Israeli bank not obliged to return cash to Holocaust victims’ heirs’

McClatchy: ‘Gasoline prices have plunged. So why is no one cheering?’

Slate: ‘The Subprime Good Guys: These mortgage lenders loan to poor people, strengthen communities, and are still making a profit. How do they do it?

Slate: ‘Five Million Dead and Counting: The disaster in Congo is all the more tragic because it was utterly avoidable’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Obama Hires More Clinton White House Veterans’