Wall Street’s bonus army pulls bank robbery; Al Jazeera’s Josh Rushing joins his U.S. mates in Afghanistan

In “Taliban resurgence pushes troops to change tack,” Al Jazeera‘s Josh Rushing joins U.S. troops on the frontline in Afghanistan. Watch this and then ask yourself: Why isn’t this as freely available on your cable as CNN or Fox News? And yes, you’ve heard Rushing’s name; he’s the former Marine flack during the Iraq invasion who was featured in the documentary Control Room and then defied the Pentagon by talking about his experiences with Al Jazeera. Now he works for Al Jazeera.

Unlike Wall Street’s short-sellers, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but capitalism is not dead, despite the moaning and groaning from Davos to D.C.

The International Monetary Fund predicts that the global economy will come to “a virtual halt.” No, not yet and not for everybody. For evidence, see “What Red Ink? Wall Street Paid Hefty Bonuses” in the Times:

Despite crippling losses, multibillion-dollar bailouts and the passing of some of the most prominent names in the business, employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year.

That was the sixth-largest haul on record, according to a report released Wednesday by the New York State comptroller.

While the payouts paled next to the riches of recent years, Wall Street workers still took home about as much as they did in 2004, when the Dow Jones industrial average was flying above 10,000, on its way to a record high.

On the other hand, you can say that capitalism is in trouble, judging by the surprisingly cynical, lively tone of Ben White‘s above story.

In fact, this is one of the rare moments when a Times story is sharper and more skeptical than the tabloids’ stories on the same topic. Compare this morning’s Daily News story: “City takes hit as Wall St. bonuses cut.” Or the Post‘s: “WALL STREET BONUSES DROP TO LOWEST IN 30 YEARS.”

Yes, the fact that the bonuses sharply fell indicates trouble on Wall Street. But the main thing it indicates is that the bonuses in past years have been staggeringly unconscionable and are now falling back to being merely unconscionable.

In any case, Barack Obama, the nation’s first Kenyan-Kansan president, has already used his bully pulpit to preach social responsibility and rail against greed. Looks as if he might have to summon these Wall Street gangsters to the basketball court and posterize them. You know, add them to his In-Your-Facebook.

And you can just ignore the caterwauling by Capitol Hill’s Republicans about Obama’s stimulus plan. Even the Wall Street Journal reports that corporate types look favorably on Obama’s package.

For those of us accident victims bleeding after being run over on Wall Street or gasping for breath at the foot of Capitol Hill, that stimulus package can’t come too soon. The depression is finally hitting home: I almost dropped my laptop when I heard that profits earned by my Sony baby daddy dropped by 95 percent. Poor little laptop overheats as it is.

If yours still works (and if you’re reading this, it is), click on these items…



Members of the MTA board were called “callous” and “oppressors” at a fare hearing in Brooklyn last night that drew nearly 500 people.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Continuing Jobless Claims Hit Record’

N.Y. Times: ‘What Red Ink? Wall Street Paid Hefty Bonuses’

Despite crippling losses in 2008, employees at financial companies in New York collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year.


N.Y. Daily News: ‘Mobster put body in acid, then gave boss the finger — in soup’


Astroland Park’s popular Rocket won’t be blasting out of Coney Island after all. City officials confirmed yesterday that the park’s longtime operator, the Albert family, has donated…

N.Y. Times: ‘House Passes Stimulus Plan Despite G.O.P. Opposition’

Without a single Republican vote, President Obama won House approval for an $819 billion economic plan as Democrats sought to temper their own differences.

Wall Street Journal: ‘U.S. Moves to Aid Credit Unions’

Bloomberg: ‘Gore Says Stimulus Package’s Investments Will Help Combat Global Warming’

N.Y. Post: ‘DA: #!@ ATT’Y $CAMMED SICK

It takes a special kind of thief to get Morgy this mad. Manhattan’s gentlemanly district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, yesterday needed a pair of profanities to describe a big-shot…

N.Y. Times: ‘Youth Charged With More Attacks on Latinos’

The seven defendants in the deadly assault on Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant, are accused of assaulting or attempting to assault a total of eight other Latino men.


The wealthy Upper West Side woman charged with bilking $80 million from Fortune 500 firms is complaining that she can’t live without her Rolex, Warhol and MontBlancs…

Bloomberg: ‘Mitchell’s Firm Lobbied For Dubai’s Ruler to Help Quash Camel Jockey Suit’

George Mitchell, President Barack Obama’s special Middle East troubleshooter, was chairman of a law firm that was paid about $8 million representing Dubai’s ruler in connection with a child-trafficking lawsuit.

CBS: ‘CIA Officer In Algeria Accused Of Rape’

N.Y. Times: ‘Backers of Mayoral School Control Face Resistance’


N.Y. Daily News: ‘15,000 school jobs may go: Klein’

N.Y. Times: ‘Friends, Until I Delete You’

As your circle of friends on Facebook widens, you may wonder if there’s an etiquette to “defriending” someone, just in case.

FOX: ‘Curvy Kim Kardashian Thinks Curvy Jessica Simpson “Looks Hot”‘

N.Y. Times: ‘On Iraq, Obama Faces Hard Choices’

In redefining the nation’s mission in Iraq, President Obama must decide between abandoning a campaign promise and risking a rupture with the military.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Chinese Premier Blames Recession on U.S. Actions’

CBS: ‘LA Cardinal Subject Of Federal Probe’

N.Y. Times: ‘Stimulus Package’s Components Vary in Speed and Efficiency’

The impact of the $819 billion economic stimulus package will be felt within weeks once the final version becomes law, but estimating its effectiveness is far more complex.

N.Y. Times: ‘After the War on Terror’ (Roger Cohen)

In his first White House televised interview, with the Al Arabiya news network, President Obama buried the lead: The war on terror is over.

N.Y. Times: ‘Blagojevich to End Boycott of His Own Trial’

N.Y. Times: ‘White House Unbuttons Formal Dress Code’

N.Y. Times: ‘Musicians Hear Heaven in Tully Hall’s New Sound’

‘JPMorgan Exited Madoff-Linked Funds Last Fall’

From the Times:

…the bank suddenly began pulling its millions out of [funds that invested with Madoff] in early autumn, months before Mr. Madoff was arrested, according to accounts from Europe and New York that were subsequently confirmed by the bank. The bank did not notify investors of its move, and several of them are furious that it protected itself but left them holding notes that the bank itself now says are probably worthless.


He’s “The Prisoner of Park Avenue.”

Bernie Madoff is whining to anyone who’ll listen that he’s being held captive in his palatial penthouse and unable to traipse around the Big Apple as he did before being busted for running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, a source familiar with the scam artist told the Post.

“I’m a prisoner in my own house!” Madoff fumed. “I can’t go anywhere! I’m stuck here all day!”…

In recent days, The Post has learned, private contractors have been moving at the request of federal authorities to install wiretaps on Madoff’s apartment phones and computers.

“If he surfs the Web or makes a call, it’s going to be tracked,” a source said.

NY1: ‘Queens Warehouse May Be Linked To Madoff Scheme’

Bloomberg: ‘Madoff’s Tactics Date to 1960s When Father-in-Law Was Recruiter’

Bloomberg: ‘Ex-Madoff Worker Objects to $58,000 Bill for Boss’s Mercedes’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Painting the Scene of Madoff’s Operation’

Forbes: ‘Wells Fargo becomes the first major U.S. bank to report Madoff-related loan losses’

CNBC: ‘Accused Swindler Cosmo Owed Thousands to Mob’


Caroline Kennedy and ‘Daily News’ columnist Michael Daly: The princess and the pea-brain

Michael Daly‘s column has to be a put-on. If it’s not, then give him an “F” for fatuous.

In “Let’s make Caroline Kennedy our special envoy to Washington,” the self-serious Daily News scribe fights back his tears about Caroline Kennedy‘s withdrawal from the Senate appointment race and opines:

Maybe our mayor can now make her a kind of special city envoy to Washington in these difficult times ahead.

She will still have a deep connection with our new President, one of whose daughters now sleeps in Caroline’s old room at the White House.

Christ, at least make sure she votes a few times before we make her our “ambassador.”

I’m not attacking the Kennedys or rich people. Ever since Chappaquidick, Teddy Kennedy has worked hard in the trenches as a senator. And Jackie O took on big cultural battles, leading the successful fight to save and restore Grand Central Station.

Now we have a huge crisis on our hands. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers are being fired, and basic social services are being slashed, feeding a downward spiral.

There are a million fires that need to be put out — and I don’t mean the problems faced by Carnegie Hall, which is slashing its schedule and budget. Yes, that’s a shame, but stay away from that “cause,” Princess Caroline.

Do some public service before you’re anointed as our ambassador. If you have celebrity capital (and you do), then start spending it to help goad other rich New Yorkers (and there are still plenty of them) into helping their increasingly desperate fellow residents.

Do something noblesse before we oblige you.

As for Daly, one of his readers, hjo4, said it best in a cranky 7 a.m. post:

Special Envoy give me a break there are thousands of New Yorkers without the Kennedy name or connections who commit themselves to New York and NewYorkers whether it be our children in education, mentoring or being a role model or be it our Senior citizens they do this from their heart, they are the “unsung heroes” perhaps if you want to appoint a “Special Envoy” I suggest you turn an eye to one of those citizens I’m sick of people making those whose family fortunes was made questionably and off the backs of others still receive special treatment. Turn to the average Joe who does good deeds from their heart Those are the special envoys we need.

For news of other deeds, click on these items…


Bloomberg: ‘Palestinians Sift Gaza’s Rubble After Shelling for Pieces of Former Lives’


Wall Street Journal: ‘Obama Freezes Top Staff Pay’

President Barack Obama, on a busy first full day in office, announced a wage freeze for top White House staff, waded into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and prepared to issue executive orders Thursday — including one to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay within a year.

He also issued the strictest rules to date on lobbying activities for members of the administration and met with his national security team to begin the process of withdrawing troops from Iraq.

In an unusual moment that was not part of his team’s extensive planning for day one, Mr. Obama also retook the oath of office. That came after Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and then Mr. Obama, spoke one of the words out of order during the swearing in on Tuesday.

N.Y. Daily News: ‘After 24 hours, change is real’

On his first full day, President Obama kept campaign promises by going after Gitmo and toughening ethics standards.


N.Y. Daily News: ‘HIL SEAT BLUES’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Let’s make Caroline Kennedy our special envoy to Washington’


Bloomberg: ‘Avril Lavigne, Radiohead Shift to YouTube as Illegal Downloading Persists’

Musicians and managers are turning to BlackBerry phones and YouTube videos to solve a problem that just won’t go away: illegal downloads of digital tracks.

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Carnegie Hall shrinks schedule, slashes budget’

The landmark arts venue announced Wednesday that it will cut its upcoming schedule by 10% and slash its budget by $4 million.

Vanity Fair: ‘Farewell to All That: An Oral History of the Bush White House’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘MTA kickback susp eyed for shredding evidence’

Bloomberg: ‘Obama Needs “Yes We Can” From Overseas to Help Lead World Out of Recession’

The U.S. led the global economy into its worst recession in at least a quarter century. Now the rest of the world is looking to Barack Obama to lead the way out. The trouble is, even the incoming commander-in-chief of the biggest economy can’t do it alone.



Vanity Fair: ‘The Ultimate Bubble?’

Bloomberg: Nokia, Intel Slump Hammers Israeli Economy as Cease-Fire Curbs Rocket Risk’


Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards project is in such financial upheaval that the developer is now trying to cut back on much-needed transit improvements, which he promised in exchange for approval for…

Wall Street Journal: ‘China Fourth-Quarter GDP Confirms a Major Slowdown’

Harper’s: ‘Did Bush’s Terrorist Surveillance Program Really Focus on American Journalists?’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Nationalization Fears Grow as U.K. Banks Struggle’

Wall Street Journal: ‘What if Uncle Sam Takes Over Your Bank?’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Mother of little Adolf: No abuse here’

A Jersey mom who gave her three children Nazi-friendly names says she lost custody after being wrongly accused of abuse.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Parsons Named Citi Chairman’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Crisis Q&A: What “Bank Nationalization” Means For You’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Obama Inauguration Sets Record for Private Jets’

Wall Street Journal: ‘EBay’s Growth Stalls as Shoppers Pull Back’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Even in Test Form, Windows 7 Leaves Vista in the Dust’ (Walter S. Mossberg)

…In my tests, even the beta version of Windows 7 was dramatically faster than Vista at such tasks as starting up the computer, waking it from sleep and launching programs.

And this speed boost wasn’t only apparent in the preconfigured machine from Microsoft, but on my own Sony, which had been a dog using Vista, even after I tried to streamline its software. Of course, these speed gains may be compromised by the computer makers, if they add lots of junky software to the machines. Windows 7 is also likely to run well on much more modest hardware configurations than Vista needed….

Compatibility with hardware and software, which was a problem in Vista, seems far better in Windows 7 — even in the beta. I tried a wide variety of hardware, including printers, Web cams, external hard disks and cameras, and nearly all worked fine.

I also successfully installed and used popular programs from Microsoft’s rivals, such as Mozilla Firefox, Adobe Reader, Apple’s iTunes, and Google’s Picasa. All worked properly, even though none was designed for Windows 7.

Wall Street Journal: ‘More Than X Marks the Spot’

A scholar studying graffiti culture watches for cops, invents a ‘tag’ and wields a spray can himself.

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Hudson Yards could be in jeopardy’

If negotiations fall through between the MTA and the Related Cos., the project may never be built.

‘Madoff’s Chosen People — What Can and Can’t Be Said Out Loud’

In a provocative HuffPost piece, Larry Gellman writes:

…My fellow Jews love to write and talk about how horrible Madoff is and how much damage he has done to the Jewish people. Some have even compared him to Hitler which is scary because it means that money has become so important today that someone who steals money and swindles people is comparable to a person who engineered the murder of six million people….

Reuters: ‘Columbia says it lost $3 million tied to Madoff’

CNBC: ‘Former Madoff Accountant Claims He Is a Victim Too’

Bloomberg: ‘Santander’s Madoff Sales Mean “Catastrophe” for Teacher, Vendor’

Banco Santander SA sold Bernard Madoff investments to a teacher and a street vendor, not just to wealthy private banking clients in Spain and Latin America.

Branch managers channeled customers with money from property sales or inheritances to private banking salespeople, lawyers for the investors said.

Bloomberg: ‘Madoff Clients May Recoup More Losses Through Taxes Than Suits’

Bloomberg: ‘Madoff Scandal May Lead to New Rules on Adviser Accountability’



Entering a new phrase: Barack Obama’s inaugural address

Eire on the side of the new president: There’s no one as Irish as Bearach O’Bama.

Too short to be an oratorio, Barack Obama‘s inaugural speech (video) proved nevertheless that as an orator he’s got handle.

That guy can speak. Notwithstanding our gratitude to George W. Bush for the past eight years of malaprops, listening to the new president yesterday was like going to the dentist for a deep cleaning followed by a thorough rinse.

Can barely even taste George now, can you?

Yes, the nation will have to endure several root canals, but for now, the public seems numb with delight about having a president who can speak our language and sounds like a grownup.

Considering that Obama will have to deliver more bad news to Americans than any other president in memory, we’re fortunate that he’s such a skilled and inspiring speaker.

It was already gratifying that we’ll have a president who loves to play basketball. (As a former ballboy for the Phillips 66ers, I feel a special tug in the new president’s direction.) But it’s clear that no matter how much Obama likes to dribble, as a speaker he never drools.

One of the better analyses — up to a point — of Obama’s inaugural address was Thomas DeFrank‘s piece in the Daily News:

Whatever triumph and travail lie ahead, Barack Obama has already delivered the most critical 2,401 words of his presidency.

It was part sermon, part tutorial, part call to arms, well-packaged and elegantly delivered.

Yet for all the inspiring, hopeful flourishes of his 18-minute inaugural address, Obama also served up a stark, tough-love message:

Grow up, guys. No more of the same old partisan, gridlocked, dog-eat-dog baloney or we’re all doomed.

He declared war not just on global terrorists but on “the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and wornout dogmas, that for too long have strangled our politics.”

Yes, Obama’s speech was so stirring and well-delivered that it made even the most hardened cynics’ knees buckle.

And DeFrank’s analysis is smoothly written. But let’s not get carried away about what DeFrank says about our having to “grow up.”

We will not grow up — and by “we” I mean politicians and their “same old partisan, gridlocked, dog-eat-dog baloney.” That will always be around, and every incoming president has to give us the same encouragement to pull together and forget the partisanship.

Yes, Obama had to say that, but partisanship is what democracies are made of, and other parts of Obama’s speech were more memorable — like when he said:

“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.”

You heard him. He actually included “non-believers” in there. What a refreshing change from the Bush regime, which tried to ram its evangelical nonsense down our throats.

Obama gave the obligatory shout-out to God, and I’m sure She’s happy about that, but he actually directed a conciliatory phrase right at the Muslim world. Astonishing.

The new president, you might notice, pointedly did not portray the planet as the battleground of a comic-book-style “clash of civilizations.” Instead, he actually tried to promote the idea that no matter what, we’re all human.

Leave aside the lingering doubts that Dick Cheney is one of us. You have to hope that those words of Obama’s will get under our skin and stay there.

Now, Obama, get to work on that New Great Depression.

And you out there: Start clicking on these items…unless you have to get back to work…if you still have a job…



Wall Street Journal: ‘President Obama Urges Unity Amid “Raging Storms” of War and Recession’

N.Y. Times: ‘Rejecting Bush Era, Reclaiming Values’

Though couched in indirect terms, the inaugural address was a stark repudiation.


N.Y. Post: ‘Fatal Kitty Toss’

N.Y. Times: ‘Hope Mixes with Doubt as World Reacts’

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Queens housing market hit hard’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Bush: ‘”We Led With Conviction”‘

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Market tumbles 330 points on bank jitters’

On a day when America welcomed a new president, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 4 percent as investors worried that the worst is yet to come for banks.

FOX: ‘Obama Administration Moves to Halt Guantanamo Trials’

Hours after taking office, the president orders military prosecutors in Guantanamo war crimes tribunals to seek a 120-day halt in all pending cases.


Crain’s New York Business: ‘Report: Thousands of BofA layoffs coming this week’

Bank of America Corp. is expected to cut thousands of jobs in its capital markets business starting this week, and many will likely come from New York, a report says.

N.Y. Times: ‘Top Newsday Editors Return to Work After Dispute’

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Is Cablevision meddling in Newsday’s coverage?’

Newsday: ‘Knicks center Eddy Curry slapped with sex suit’

Newsday: ‘Lawsuit filed against Eddy Curry (Warning: Explicit language)’

N.Y. Post: ‘NEWSDAY EDITORS “MISSING”‘ (Keith Kelly)

N.Y. Times: ‘Trials for Parents Who Chose Faith Over Medicine’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Tax Issue Won’t Derail Geithner: Senators Are More Concerned With How Treasury Nominee Will Help Fix Economy’

Timothy Geithner will call for a comprehensive and aggressive approach to tackling the U.S. financial crisis when he appears Wednesday at hearings on his confirmation as Treasury secretary, while also trying to assure lawmakers that he simply erred by failing to pay some payroll taxes earlier this decade.

At the hearing, Mr. Geithner will likely be grilled over his tax missteps and his role in helping to craft the Bush administration’s financial-sector rescue. But senators’ seeming reluctance to derail his confirmation while the economy is sputtering and the lending freeze is worsening makes it likely he will be confirmed for the cabinet post….

Some lawmakers, including many Republicans, are also relieved to finally have someone to deal with other than [Hank] Paulson, whose handling of the financial rescue angered many on Capitol Hill.

“Republican leaders think that Mr. Geithner was one of President Obama’s better cabinet selections. They believe they’ll be able to work with Mr. Geithner and have honest conversations,” said Sam Geduldig, a financial-services lobbyist and former aide to Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader.

N.Y. Times: ‘In Albany, Higher Taxes for the Rich Expected’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Kennedy Has Seizure at Inaugural’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Senate Confirms Raft of Cabinet Picks’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Chrysler-Fiat Deal Needs U.S. Loans’

‘Prosecutors Focus on Madoff’s Point Man’

From the Wall Street Journal:

As a key lieutenant to money manager Bernard Madoff for more than 30 years, Frank DiPascali Jr. said he headed stock-options trading and was the point man for investment-advisory clients who were told he executed their trades.

Now, he is a potential point man in the investigation of a Ponzi scheme that Mr. Madoff has told prosecutors he carried out over decades, according to a criminal complaint and people familiar with the matter, potentially bilking investors out of $50 billion….

Mr. DiPascali hasn’t been charged with wrongdoing. His lawyer, Marc Mukasey, declined to comment about Mr. DiPascali’s role with Mr. Madoff except to say that he had frequent contact with investors.

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Madoff victims likely to get little money back’

Investors in the alleged Ponzi scheme face a long and complicated legal process in order to recover funds.



Cardinal calls Gaza ‘concentration camp’ — lit up by white phosphorus, observers say

Al Jazeera report on white phosphorus in Gaza.

As Chico Marx said, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

That’s easy when it comes to Gaza. The Jewish state’s brutal use of white phosphorus — alleged over the weekend by observers on the ground dispatched by NYC-based Human Rights Watch — is lighting up the landscape.

However, most of the U.S. press (a notable recent exception is Newsweek) has its usual blind spot when it comes to Israel’s war on Gaza. As the Daily News noted late last week in “‘Concentration camp’ Gaza stirs fire”:

Relations between the Holy Land and the Holy See were tense Thursday night after a leading Vatican cardinal compared the besieged Gaza Strip to a concentration camp.

“Defenseless populations are always the ones who pay,” Renato Cardinal Martino told the Italian daily Il Sussidiario. “Conditions in Gaza increasingly resemble a big concentration camp.”

That drew a furious denunciation from Israeli officials, who said the comment was “based on Hamas propaganda.”

Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, the son of Holocaust survivors, called on the Pope to apologize to Israel.

Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, defended his comments.

“They can say what they want, but the situation in Gaza is horrible,” he told the newspaper La Repubblica.

Confirming that is Human Rights Watch, whose observers belie Hikind’s claim that the brutality in Gaza is propaganda.

In fact, it’s even worse than the cardinal says, according to HRW.

You question the watchdog group’s credibility? HRW broke several major stories of U.S. atrocities in Iraq — including the horrific tale of the American soldiers in Fallujah who proudly called themselves the “Murderous Maniacs” and admitted to kicking the shit out of Iraqis just for the fun of it. (See my September 2005 item “U.S. Soldiers Reveal New Torture Tales.”)

Now, here’s what HRW says about what’s going on:

On January 9 and 10, 2009, Human Rights Watch researchers in Israel observed multiple air-bursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over what appeared to be the Gaza City/Jabaliya area.

Israel appeared to be using white phosphorus as an “obscurant” (a chemical used to hide military operations), a permissible use in principle under international humanitarian law (the laws of war). However, white phosphorus has a significant, incidental, incendiary effect that can severely burn people and set structures, fields, and other civilian objects in the vicinity on fire. The potential for harm to civilians is magnified by Gaza’s high population density, among the highest in the world.

“White phosphorous can burn down houses and cause horrific burns when it touches the skin,” said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch.

If the Nazis had had white phosphorus — the 21st century version of napalm — they would have used it against the Jews.

Now for less bad news…


N.Y. Times: ‘Adding to Recession’s Pain, Thousands to Lose Jobless Benefits’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Retail Bankruptcy Wave Expected’

N.Y. Times: ‘Storm Sinks Indonesian Ferry, 250 Feared Dead’

Bloomberg: ‘U.S. Consumers Keep Autos Longer, Shun Showrooms as Cuts in Payrolls Mount’

Drivers rattled by the worst U.S. labor market since World War II are hanging on to old autos longer instead of buying new models, threatening to crimp sales again in 2009 after demand plummeted to a 16-year low.


N.Y. Post: ‘Sex, Drugs & Death at Luxe Hotel’

A Long Island banana mogul at the center of a deadly sex romp at a tony Midtown hotel lives a double life – married suburban dad and…

Wall Street Journal: ‘Obama Plans To Keep Estate Tax’

Obama and congressional leaders plan to move soon to block the estate tax from disappearing in 2010.

N.Y. Times: ‘Obama Signals His Reluctance to Look Into Bush Policies’

Barack Obama indicated that he was unlikely to authorize a broad inquiry into Bush administration programs like domestic eavesdropping.

N.Y. Times: ‘Democrats Look for Ways to Undo Late Bush Administration Rules’

Harper’s: ‘The $10 trillion hangover:
Paying the price for eight years of Bush’ (Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes)


Wall Street Journal: ‘New Playing Field In Electric Car Push’

Fewer barriers in electric-car production have leveled the playing field for newcomers hoping to compete against established car makers.


Mayor Bloomberg’s crackdown on motorists who abuse official parking placards has snared a slew of detectives and investigators who work for the city’s prosecutors, the Post has learned…

N.Y. Times: ‘In Emphasis on Economy, Obama Looks to History’

Harper’s: ‘A Farewell to Dick Cheney’

Dick Cheney is the man that James Madison was warning us about.

Harper’s: ‘Harper’s Index: A retrospective of the Bush era’

Bloomberg: Paulson Bailout Fails to Give Taxpayers Buffett’s Terms With Goldman Sachs

Henry Paulson‘s bank bailouts, done under “great stress” during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, failed to win for U.S. taxpayers what Warren Buffett received for his shareholders by investing in Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

The Treasury secretary made 174 purchases of banks’ preferred shares that include warrants to buy stock at a later date. While he invested $10 billion in Goldman Sachs in October, twice as much as Buffett did the month before, Paulson gained certificates worth one-fourth as much as the billionaire, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The Goldman Sachs terms were repeated in most of the other bank bailouts.

Salon: ‘Bill Moyers on Israel/Gaza’ (Glenn Greenwald)

N.Y. Times: ‘Citi Is Urged to Replace Chairman’

Regulators are pressing Citigroup to shake up its board and replace its chairman in an effort to restore confidence in the beleaguered bank.

Newsweek: ‘If Obama is Serious: He should get tough with Israel’ (Aaron David Miller)


Gov. Paterson joined an estimated 10,000 Israel supporters in Midtown yesterday to proclaim the Gaza offensive an act of self-defense. “We recognize the right of the state of Israel to…

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘Eyeless in Israel’

N.Y. Times: ‘Few in U.S. See Jazeera’s Coverage of Gaza War’

Tel Aviv-based journalist Lisa Goldman takes the Israeli press to task over its coverage of the Gaza campaign. “For the most part, Gaza as a place inhabited by human beings has been ignored,” she writes of Israeli media coverage.

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘Timeline: The Gaza Strip, From Disengagement to Operation Cast Lead’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Israel hints at end of Gaza operations’

Israeli leaders hinted Sunday the Gaza assault might soon wind down, even as thousands of fresh reservists joined the battle and infantry units pushed toward the crowded heart of Gaza City.

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Analysis: Ceasefire hinges on Egypt closing smuggling routes’

The Nation: ‘Can Labor Revive the American Dream?’

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘If at First You Don’t Succeed: Hasidic Singer, Subject of Rabbinic Ban, Tries Again’

Hasidic singing sensation Lipa Schmeltzer was set to perform last March before a crowd of thousands at Madison Square Garden’s WaMu Theater in New York. The concert, a charity fundraiser, was billed as “The Big Event.”

Then, less than three weeks before the concert date, 33 ultra-Orthodox rabbis — including some of the community’s most prominent figures — issued an edict banning attendance. The event, they warned, was likely to cause “ribaldry and lightheadedness.”

Deferring to the rabbis, organizers promptly canceled the concert. The ban, however, roiled the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, world, sparking an unusual public outcry in a community known for its scrupulous obedience to rabbinic authority.

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘What Happens to Gaza When the Fighting Stops?’

Nation: ‘Moral Blindness on Gaza’ (Robert Scheer)

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘Fact or Fiction?: The Story of the Fake Holocaust Memoir’

A children’s book based on Herman Rosenblat‘s Holocaust love story, which was recently exposed as a hoax, was pulled from bookstores. The East Village Mamele explains the scandal to her daughter.

N.Y. Daily News: ‘ABC’s hidden cameras unveil anti-immigrant prejudice’

Investment News: ‘Morgan Stanley, Citi in retail merger talks’

Nation: ‘Israel: Boycott, Divest, Sanction’ (Naomi Klein)

To end the bloody occupation, Israel must be the target of the same kind of global movement that finally ended apartheid in South Africa.

Nation: ‘Toward Peace in Gaza’

Investment News: ‘Rubin retires from Citi’

Nation: ‘Caroline and Me’ (Katha Pollitt)

Caroline Kennedy would like to be a senator. I don’t blame her. So would I!

Especially if Governor Paterson could just waft me into office, and I didn’t have to, um, you know, campaign. I’ll bet some parts of the job are really fun, and it’s public service, which is so uplifting. You think I’m joking, but every argument that has been advanced for Kennedy is just as true for me. She’s a mother, a writer, a person with no electoral experience or, so far as we know, longstanding interest in acquiring any–me too! She has more kids; I’ve written more books–I’d say it averages out.

Nation: ‘Obama Anoints Kaine, Praises (And Snubs?) Dean’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Big shakeup at fatal psych ward’

Fox News: ‘”Victims” of Madoff Scandal Do Math, Realize They Profited’

From Fox News: “Hundreds and maybe thousands of investors in Madoff’s funds have been withdrawing money from their accounts for many years. In many cases, those investors have withdrawn far more than their principal investment.” And more:

“I had a call yesterday from a guy who said, ‘I’ve taken out more money then I originally put in, but I still had $1 million left with Madoff. Should I file a $1 million claim?'” said Steven Caruso, a New York attorney specializing in securities and investment fraud.

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Madoff vics: Let him rot in jail’

Madoff’s victims say it’s outrageous that he has been allowed to serve house arrest in his cushy East Side pad.

N.Y. Times: ‘Eight Years of Madoffs’ (Frank Rich)

Wall Street Journal: ‘Madoff Prosecutors Push Back Deadline’

Federal prosecutors bought more time to focus on their investigation of Bernard Madoff’s alleged $50 billion fraud scheme after they reached a deal with Mr. Madoff’s lawyers to delay the deadline to bring an indictment in the criminal case against him.

Prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan had faced a deadline Monday to convince a grand jury to indict the New York money manager on fraud charges or show at a public court hearing that there was “probable cause” to arrest him, but Mr. Madoff’s lawyers agreed Friday to give the government until mid-February to do so.

Delaying any indictment gives prosecutors time to investigate Mr. Madoff and others without having to prepare for trial, or negotiate a deal in which he agrees to plead guilty to certain charges in exchange for a lower prison sentence, says Anthony Barkow, a former federal prosecutor.

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘AJCongress Crippled by Madoff Scandal’

Telegraph: ‘”Hellishly hot” sauce dedicated to Bernard Madoff’

Wall Street Journal: ‘New Ponzi Case Pursued’

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission brought civil charges against a Pennsylvania man accused of running a $50 million Ponzi scheme since at least February 1995.

Gothamist: ‘Bernie’s Weekend at Home, Before Judge’s Decision’

N.Y. Times: ‘GMAC Chairman With Ties to Madoff Steps Down’

Gawker: ‘Marc Rich Lost “Insignificant” Millions to Madoff’

N.Y. Times: ‘New Description of Timing on Madoff’s Confession’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Madoff Brother, at Arm’s Length?: Peter Was No. 2 and Close to Bernard; Investigators Now Scrutinizing Role’

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Bernie Madoff’s bagman had everything to lose’

J. Ezra Merkin, former chairman of national lender GMAC, crashes to earth as the second biggest conduit for Bernard Madoff’s alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Funds of Funds & Madoff: “Like Presiding Over the Long-Term Funeral”‘

Advanced Trading: ‘Fund-of-Hedge Funds Lacked Technology to Avoid Madoff Losses’

Investment News: ‘Madoff scam hurts Mackenzie Financial’ ‘Activist Gunning For Yeshiva Board’

A hedge fund is campaigning to fire the board of Yeshiva University because of its investment with Bernard Madoff. ‘Commentary From Our Publisher: Bernie, We Hardly Knew Ya’ ‘Merkin Liquidation Stymied By NYU’ ‘Woman Tied to Madoff in Hiding’


Lemon aid: Please bail out Edsel!


Who cares that the Edsel’s grille looked as if it were sucking a lemon?

In a piece dripping with acid of the citric variety, this morning’s Daily News showcases some of Detroit’s best blunders.

“Crash & Burn: Detroit’s Biggest Lemons of All Time” offers a photo tour of the Edsel and 14 other relics, just to prepare you for the continuing sob stories by the people who now run the relics that are called Ford, Chrysler, and GM.

The Daily News list is clever and not as predictable as you’d think, because it includes Detroit disasters from all eras, including the Aveo and the Prowler.

But here’s the problem: The Pinto and Chevette, for example, were clunky, and the Corvair was stylish but dangerous, but the Edsel was only stupid. Compared with today’s bland vehicles, the Edsel was not clunky. In fact, let me get behind the wheel of the ’58 model pictured above.

Ford may go bankrupt, but the Edsel must live on. In fact, if Ford does go under, its relics will only get more valuable. For the first time, even the Pinto would appreciate in value.

You might want to shop around for one of these lemons. When they foreclose on your house, at least you’ll have a car to sleep in.

While I go out to beg spare change for gas money for these ancient Detroit guzzlers, stick to your keyboard and click …


Register (U.K.): ‘Tell Santa to bring more assault rifles: America tools up for the inauguration’

Guardian (U.K.): ‘Rice tells Islamabad US expects “robust” response to Mumbai attacks’

US secretary of state arrives in Pakistan hoping to ameliorate growing tensions with retribution-seeking India.

N.Y. Times: ‘Mumbai Attack Is Test for Pakistan on Curbing Militants’

BBC: ‘Italy Confronts Puppy Smugglers’ (video)

Italy has launched a campaign calling for a Europe-wide effort to stamp out the illegal trafficking of dogs and other pet animals.

The credit crunch has given an added incentive for smugglers to import expensive breeds, which remain in high demand.

N.Y. Times: ‘A Rush Into Refinancing as Mortgage Rates Fall’

Wall Street Journal: ‘U.S. Makes a House Call’

Register (U.K.): ‘Human rights court rules UK DNA grab illegal’


National Post (Canada): ‘Crossing the blue line: The NHL relishes bloody noses, but won’t tolerate Sean Avery’s mouth’

BBC: ‘Australia MPs “face breath tests”‘

Politicians in an Australian state could be breathalysed before voting after reports of bad behaviour by MPs.

In the latest incident, New South Wales MP Andrew Fraser resigned from his frontbench role after shoving a female MP after attending a Christmas party.

In September, state police minister Matt Brown resigned after allegedly dancing in his underpants at a drunken party in his parliamentary office.

Several MPs have now backed a proposal to supply breath test kits.


A retired NYPD cop attended the 20th reunion of his Brooklyn Catholic school — and later told cops he was shocked to find a teacher who had sexually abused him still working at the school.

Philip Repaci, 38, broke his 23-year silence to file charges.

Register (U.K.): ‘Windows patching abysmal, and getting worse’

Fewer than one in 50 Windows PCs are fully patched, according to stats from users of Secunia’s new patching tool, which suggest surfers are becoming even more slipshod with applying patches over the last year.

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Police may throw flag on team’

The Giants knew Plaxico Burress shot himself minutes after it happened — but the team didn’t report the incident for 8 hours.

Reuters: ‘US must halt spread of nuclear, bio weapons — Biden’

Financial Times (U.K.): ‘Alarm raised on threat of mass assault’

Terrorist organisations would succeed in using weapons of mass destruction within five years unless the world community “acts decisively”, according to a congressionally mandated commission set up to scrutinise WMD after the September 11 attacks.

“It is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013,” according to the report, released yesterday by the commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism.

Washington Post: ‘Napolitano Calls Fighting Terror “Top Priority” ‘

Council on Foreign Relations: ‘The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal’

Washington Post: ‘Treasury Weighs Action on Mortgage Rates: Intervention Would Aim to Buoy the Housing Market by Forcing Down the Cost of Loans’

Register (U.K.): ‘”Faith-based” investment firm fingers holiday’s most sinful games: Holy @&$#’

Washington Post: ‘UAW Offers Detroit Concessions’

With Senate hearing on bailout set this morning, union retreats on health care, jobs bank.

Agence France Presse: ‘Intelligence bodies rush to avoid Mumbai blame: experts’

India’s intelligence agencies have descended into “civil war” following the Mumbai attacks that exposed the country’s vulnerability to terrorism, analysts and experts said.

The country’s various security bodies have long refused to communicate and now blame each other for failing to act on information that could have thwarted the terror strikes, they said.

A week after the attacks, and amid mounting public anger, reports are emerging that intelligence agencies knew India’s financial capital may be targeted by extremists.

The Hindu (India): ‘Ex-Pakistan Army officers, ISI trained Mumbai attackers: NYT’

BBC: ‘Huge cut in UK interest rates’

The Bank of England has cut interest rates by one percentage point from 3 percent to 2 percent, their lowest level since 1951.

Washington Post: ‘Obama Policymakers Turn to Campaign Tools: Network of Supporters Tapped on Health-Care Issues’

Barack Obama‘s incoming administration has begun to draw on the high-tech organizational tools that helped get him elected to lay the groundwork for an attempt to restructure the U.S. health-care system.

Former senator Thomas A. Daschle, Obama’s point person on health care, launched an effort to create political momentum yesterday in a conference call with 1,000 invited supporters culled from 10,000 who had expressed interest in health issues, promising it would be the first of many opportunities for Americans to weigh in.

The health-care mobilization taking shape before Obama even takes office will include online videos, blogs and e-mail alerts as well as traditional public forums. Already, several thousand people have posted comments on health on the Obama transition Web site.

AP: ‘Fla. congresswoman accidentally hangs up on Obama’

When a man sounding remarkably like President-elect Barack Obama called a Florida congresswoman Wednesday, she assumed it was a crank call.

So Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen hung up. But, the Miami Herald reports, this was no prank.

“I thought it was one of the radio stations in South Florida playing an incredible, elaborate, terrific prank on me,” Ros-Lehtinen told the newspaper. “They got Fidel Castro to go along. They’ve gotten Hugo Chavez and others to fall for their tricks. I said, ‘Oh, no, I won’t be punked.'”

BBC: ‘France unveils huge stimulus plan’

Register (U.K.): ‘Berlusconi plans to use G8 presidency to “regulate the internet”‘



Daily Flog: Break out the campaign! Party at the Waldorf!

Count the ways that Americans are cooked: Obama and McCain roast, the markets boil dry, Google sops up the gravy.

At last we have a slogan for this century’s depression: United We Fall! Last night was a celebration of our one-party system, and what a party it was.

The Al Smith Dinner at the Waldorf was a prime example of the lame leading the blind.

Were the candidates themselves cooking?

My colleague Roy Edroso delivered the best post-dinner punch line:

But seriously, folks, these guys kinda suck. We give the edge to McCain, but that’s like saying Jeff Foxworthy is funnier than Bill Engvall.

Oh, SNAP! Still haven’t gotten a review of the dinner from the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests.

But after you take a look at the photo of Cardinal Egan heartily laughing with John McCain and Barack Obama and you read the New York Times tiresome recap (like everyone else’s) of the jokes, browse SNAP’s library of stories about abused altar boys and shuttered churches in poor areas. Or go straight to a reprint of a 2003 Times story, “Cardinal Egan Spurns Members of Review Board Studying Abuse.”

That one’s a real knee-slapper.

At least Obama and McCain were funnier than John Kerry was at the 2004 dinner. Actually, Kerry didn’t even get a chance to display his humorless personality because Egan didn’t invite the candidates. That was because of the Catholic Kerry’s stance on abortion.

And in 1996, the candidates weren’t invited because Cardinal O’Connor was pissed off at Bill Clinton over abortion.

Good thing 2001 wasn’t a presidential election year, Wall Street being bombed and all.

This year, Wall Street’s bombing itself, and more (but slower) deaths can only result from the resulting depression into which we’re sinking.

Speaking of leftovers . . .


McClatchy: ‘3rd-party debate’s only confirmed participant: the moderator’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Where you sit says a lot about where you stand at annual Al Smith dinner’

Politico: ‘McCain, Obama try to be funny…on purpose’

Washington Post: ‘Life’s Basics More of a Stretch: Inflation, Stagnating Pay Squeeze Low-Wage Workers’

McClatchy: ‘ “Birthplace of Flight” is on bleeding edge of job losses’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Financial Crisis May Diminish American Sway’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Oil’s Slide Deepens as Downturn Triggers Sharp Drop in Demand’

BBC: ‘US industrial output down sharply’

McClatchy: ‘Google’s Net Climbs 26 Percent’

McClatchy: ‘Private sector loans, not Fannie or Freddie, triggered crisis’

BBC: ‘European shares lose early gains’

BBC: ‘China press freedoms due to end’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Nude portrait of Sarah Palin hung in Chicago tavern’

BBC: ‘Police battle police in Brazil’

Slate: ‘Dubya, Stoned’


Daily Flog: Desperate McCain embraces socialism

The only things we have to sneer at are candidates themselves. In a move even more desperate than the unprecedented, frantic steps federal officials are taking to stanch a hemorrhaging economy, John McCain promised last night a new era of GOP-style socialism for Americans.

When the forensics are finally done on last night’s “town hall” debate, when we have time to step back and look at this campaign, we’ll just have to snicker in disbelief.

Sure, we might have to do it while sitting curbside in front of our foreclosed homes.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Laura Meckler and Christopher Cooper recorded the instant history this way:

Republican Sen. John McCain used the second presidential debate to call for a $300 billion effort to help financially troubled homeowners stay in their homes, an attempt to counter an economic crisis that has largely benefited his rival, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.

Under the Arizona lawmaker’s plan, the government would buy the mortgages of homeowners who cannot afford their monthly payments to help prop up the troubled U.S. housing market. The campaign said it would be implemented using authority granted in the $700 billion rescue plan just passed by Congress.

The plan would represent a large new federal expenditure from a candidate who has typically railed against big government.

We’re accustomed to corporate welfare — for the latest example, see Helen Kennedy‘s item in this morning’s Daily News:

Just six days after sticking taxpayers with an $85 billion bailout, AIG’s top executives dropped $500,000 whooping it up at a swanky California beach resort.

But welfare for people, not executives?

No matter what McCain vowed, promised, pledged last night, one thing is certain: There would no way in hell that any GOP administration would ever actually implement a bailout for average Joes and Janes. (That doesn’t mean that the Democrats will do it.)

You can take that to the bank — if you can find one standing.

At least you still have a computer, so start clicking . . .


Wall Street Journal: ‘Housing Pain Gauge: Nearly 1 in 6 Owners ‘Under Water’

Washington Post: ‘Retirement Savings Lose $2 Trillion in 15 Months’

Salon: ‘This town hall didn’t help John McCain’

Wall Street Journal: ‘U.S. Rewrites Financial Playbook: Agencies Employ Ad Hoc, Rapid-Fire Policy Making; No Time for Second-Guessing’


International Herald Tribune: ‘Dangerous spent fuel returned to US’

N.Y. Times: ’30 Civilians Died in Afghan Raid, U.S. Inquiry Finds’

Ethics Daily: ‘Palin Stuck Between Rock and Tube of Lipstick’

The Register (U.K.): ‘Yahoo! engineer arrested in Indian terror swoop’

The Register (U.K.): ‘US Army gets eco-conscious, preps mega solar plant: Get in da choppah, Mother Nature!!’

The Register (U.K.): ‘US brain trust: Beware of trawling-for-terrorist apps’

The Register (U.K.): ‘Net game turns PC into undercover surveillance zombie: Smile, your webcam has been clickjacked’

Evening Times (Scotland): ‘Laughing taxi driver knocked cyclist off bike’

Slate: ‘Bogus Trend of the Week: Dudes With Cats’ (Jack Shafer)


Dawn (Pakistan): ‘Quake survivors now forgotten’

Beijing Morning News: ’38 Hummers Block Traffic in Shenyang’

China Digital Times: ‘Satire: The Sanlu Incident Is Another Poisoned Arrow Targeting Our National Industry From the Imperialist Reactionaries!’

Dawn (Pakistan): ‘Blasts rock Lahore market; 7 injured’

N.Y. Times: ‘In Blow to Bush, Judge Orders 17 Guantanamo Detainees Freed’


Daily Flog: Wall Street’s little piggies don’t want to go mark-to-market; meanwhile, more huffing and puffing

The Senate grabbed hold of the Cash for Crash bill and finally came up with a workable version — one that may work for the Wall Street crapshooters but likely not for the rest of us, who are simply loaded dice in the palms of their hands.

Part of the complex maneuverings supposedly aimed at keeping the country from sliding into Great Depression II revolves around “mark-to-market accounting” of the assets that Wall Streeters have played with to the point of, literally, no return.

Yeah, like you, I have only a hazy understanding of this. Those who are financially alliterate are welcome to read this morning’s New York Post story “PIGGY POLS IN HOG HEAVEN WITH PORK-PACKED PACT.” Daphne Retter’s funny, funky take brings a little light to an otherwise dark day of journalism:

Here, little piggies!

Congressional deal-brokers yesterday slopped a mess of pork into the $700 billion financial rescue bill passed by the Senate last night — including a tax break for makers of kids’ wooden arrows — in a bid to lure reluctant lawmakers into voting for the package

Stuffed into the 451-page bill are more than $1.7 billion worth of targeted tax breaks to be doled out for a sty full of eyebrow-raising purposes over the next decade.

More to the point of your financial future and such no-longer-arcane topics as mark-to-market accounting, lower your eyebrows, peer through this morning’s financial fog and try to grab for this guidepost: Bankers and conservative Republicans (including former anti-populace populist Newt Gingrich) favor the abandonment of mark-to-market accounting rules. To which auditors, big investors, and consumer groups reply, “Are you out of your friggin’ minds?”

Think of it like the nursery rhyme that goes, “This little piggy went to market . . .”, and add some huffing and puffing by wolves that may eventually knock down millions of American homes.

In the present case, these little piggies went to mark-to-market, and now they want to remove that accounting rule so they can instantly wipe out their losses on the books and resume playing their Neverland gambling games with our money.

In essence, the new Senate version of the bailout bill would let Wall Streeters lie even more about the value of the assets they’re trading and set us up for a rerun of the Enron scandal.

That should help things.

Or maybe the financial system is so fouled up and so wedded to its inherently corrupt trading instruments and practices that abandoning mark-to-market accounting really would help restart the credit markets and protect you from foreclosure.


And where has Wall Street’s mayor, Mike Bloomberg, been in all this? I pointed to Bloomberg’s culpability on September 23, and now the New York Times is dipping its toe into the topic. The Times, of course, is making excuses for him. See this morning’s “Mayor’s Stewardship Is Mixed, Fiscal Experts Say.”

Enough on Bloomberg and more on the important mark-to-market piece of the corporate-bailout bill below, but first . . .


Wall Street Journal: ‘Fed Considers Rate Cut as Recession Fears Mount’

Slate: ‘How to Debate a Girl, and Win’ (Dahlia Lithwick)

BBC: ‘Tanzania disco stampede kills 19’

N.Y. Times: ‘Stopping a Financial Crisis, the Swedish Way’

Jurist: ‘Ohio to proceed with absentee voting after courts rule on registration requirements’

N.Y. Times: ‘Surveillance of Skype Messages Found in China’


N.Y. Times: ‘Studios Sue to Bar a DVD Copying Program’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Bombs Hit Shiite Worshippers in Baghdad’


Wall Street Journal: ‘Analyzing the “Twelve Tribes of Politics” ‘

McClatchy: ‘What’s in that Senate bill? Something for everyone.’

Agence France Presse: ‘Enron-era accounting reforms blamed in financial crisis’

Far Eastern Economic Review: ‘The Great Crash of China’

Back to the dust-up over the new bailout bill’s endorsement, in effect, of abandoning mark-to-market accounting:

Over at, John R. Simpson issues a fire-and-brimstone warning: “New ‘bailout’ tactic would let fat cats cook books.”

Stirring the pot, today’s Wall Street Journal story “Momentum Gathers to Ease Mark-to-Market Accounting Rule” explains things pretty well. Elizabeth Williamson and Kara Scannell craft a succinct lede:

The banking industry and a band of lawmakers have used the scramble to salvage the financial-markets rescue plan to give new life to an industry push to avoid billions in further write-downs with the stroke of a regulatory pen.

It would just further cloud matters for me to try to paraphrase this, so here’s how Williamson and Scannell lay it out:

A proposal contained in the revised financial-rescue bill the Senate considered Wednesday reaffirms the Securities and Exchange Commission’s existing authority to suspend “mark-to-market” accounting. The language was meant to send a message to the agency to re-evaluate the issue.

The practice, adopted in the aftermath of the savings-and-loan collapse in the 1980s, pegs the value of assets to their current market price, rather than the price paid for them. Banks have complained the strict application of mark-to-market rules has forced them to write down billions of dollars worth of mortgage-related securities, intensifying the squeeze in the credit markets.

Critics of the proposed changes to the “mark to market” rules say gains created by easing the rules would be illusory and would delay resolving genuine doubts about the value of mortgage assets that has caused the recent crisis in confidence.

As Bloomberg’s Jesse Westbrook reported Tuesday, conservative Republicans might very well have supported the House version of the bailout bill if the SEC had suspended mark-market accounting rules.

For background, see “Auditors Resist Effort To Change Mark-to-Market,” in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, in which Judith Burns wrote:

U.S. accounting firms, which had been silent on the $700 billion financial-rescue package rejected by the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday, are opposing congressional efforts to scrap mark-to-market accounting rules. . . .

Some House members advocate scrapping mark-to-market accounting altogether as a way to help lenders holding mortgage loans and securities whose value have fallen sharply. Consumer groups have balked at the idea, and accounting firms are about to jump in as well, fearing such a change could deceive investors about the value of troubled loans and mortgage-backed assets.

Let the staggeringly diverse gaggle of opponents of abandoning mark-to-market accounting speak for themselves. This is what they told the WSJ‘s Burns and Bloomberg’s Westbrook:

“It’s just bad for investors,” said Beth Brooke, global vice chair at Ernst & Young LLP, in Washington, D.C. “Suspending mark-to-market accounting, in essence, suspends reality.”

“It’s absolute idiocy,” said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America. “Allowing companies to lie to investors and lie to themselves is not the solution to the problem, it is the problem.”

“Suspending the mark-to-market prices is the most irresponsible thing to do,” said Diane Garnick, who helps oversee more than $500 billion as an investment strategist at Invesco Ltd. in New York. “Accounting does not make corporate earnings or balance sheets more volatile. Accounting just increases the
transparency of volatility in earnings.”

Still unclear? In NPR’s “Senate OKs Bailout Package, House to Vote Friday,” Dina Temple-Raston tries to explain:

Although senators approved the bailout plan, lawmakers aren’t out of the woods yet. Conservative Republican members of the House are still calling for some sort of mandatory insurance program that financial firms would be required to buy, but it is unclear how the program would work.

They have also asked for the Securities and Exchange Commission to suspend mark-to-market accounting rules and instead require bank regulators to assess the real value of troubled assets.

Mark-to-market accounting essentially allows Wall Street firms to value (or “mark”) the assets in their portfolio based on current market prices. The problem, critics say, is that under that accounting rule, sliding home prices affect not just the value of mortgages that are defaulting but of all mortgages — and therefore, of all mortgage-backed securities.

That, in turn, affects how much capital firms are required to have on hand to cover their debt exposure. And to raise that capital, firms end up having to sell other assets — which drives the price of those assets down, too. In other words, they say, mark-to-market accounting can lead to a downward spiral.

House Democrats have been opposed to both a change in mark-to-market accounting rules and to the insurance provision. It is unclear how they will work out those differences or how much the House will tinker with the bill when they get it. That said, the sense on the Hill is that everyone wants to get the vote behind them, key lawmakers say.

That’s reassuring that our lawmakers — like pro athletes and philandering pols — want to pull out the hackneyed reasoning to say that all they want to do is get their past mistakes “behind them.” In real time, however, the train is still hurtling down the track toward us.


Daily Flog: The Wall Street bear, the Capitol Hill bull; Kucinich irrelevant but his bailout plan isn’t

Running down the press:

Face it: Capitol Hill’s bailout schemes are Marxist. The only question is which Marx: Groucho or Karl?

House Finance Committee Chairman Barney Frank opts for the former.

His tragicomic analysis last weekend came in a Wall Street Journal story that is one of the finest pieces of journalism yet on the bailout maneuverings. Read the September 29 story for free on The Australian site; here’s the key passage, which you may have seen but bears repeating:

Democrat Senator Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Finance Committee, became frustrated that Mr Paulson appeared to be arguing for softer language on the executive-pay rules, arguing that executives at these companies shouldn’t be handsomely paid.

“Let’s not get emotional,” Mr Paulson responded, according to someone in the room.

Mr Paulson also objected to language that would give a new oversight board power to control how the new program would be run. “All we’re talking about is having Groucho, Harpo, and Chico watching over Zeppo,” said Rep. Frank, before Democrats backed off.

By the time the meeting ended around 5.30pm in Washington, lawmakers were breaking up into smaller working groups. Sandwiches and pizza were delivered later in the evening. Many lawmakers continued grazing on a big bowl of pistachios in Speaker Pelosi’s office.

Nuts to them.

The best bailout plan so far may be the one pushed by Dennis Kucinich, whose House floor speech calling for a real bailout for the doomed majority of Americans was cut off by the Democratic leadership.

Kucinich’s clever plan is aimed at protecting millions of Americans after — no matter what manner of bailout Congress approves — the shit inevitably rolls downhill from Wall Street.

See “Kucinich: Bailout Must Protect Home Ownership” — on his own site because even the press belittles Kucinich and other little guys — for his letter to Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank and backup material from an Emory University prof. And see his full September 30 statement, reproduced in the tiny Cleveland Leader.

Kucinich is this century’s H. Ross Perot — but unlike Perot, Kucinich has a social conscience.

Speaking of those who don’t: What the “free-market” advocates won’t face is that their 21st century corporate-welfare plan is also straight from Karl Marx.

As Martin Masse of Toronto’s National Post business page noted on September 29 in ‘Bailout marks Karl Marx’s comeback: Marx’s Proposal Number Five seems to be the leading motivation for those backing the Wall Street bailout’:

In his Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, Karl Marx proposed 10 measures to be implemented after the proletariat takes power, with the aim of centralizing all instruments of production in the hands of the state. Proposal Number Five was to bring about the “centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.”

If he were to rise from the dead today, Marx might be delighted to discover that most economists and financial commentators, including many who claim to favour the free market, agree with him.

Indeed, analysts at the Heritage and Cato Institute, and commentators in the Wall Street Journal . . . have made declarations in favour of the massive “injection of liquidities” engineered by central banks in recent months, the government takeover of giant financial institutions, as well as the still stalled US$700-billion bailout package. Some of the same voices were calling for similar interventions following the burst of the dot-com bubble in 2001.

Hail, Freedonia!

But that jingoistic pledge of allegiance to the “Land of the Spree, and the Home of the Knave” that Groucho ran into the ground in the Depression-era Duck Soup (1933) won’t help the average American hang onto the commune he or she bought with an adjustable-rate mortgage.

Angry voters deluged Congress earlier this week when details of the first corporate-welfare bailout were revealed — see this morning’s New York Times story “Labeled as a Bailout, Plan Was Hard to Sell to a Skeptical Public.”

Now the market has staged a revival and a revised bill faces a vote later today in the Senate, but the pols — only a few weeks from the election — wised up, refusing to reveal its details until shortly before the vote.

We no doubt will eventually be trampled by Wall Street’s raging bulls — once the bailout bill restores their dominion over the bears — but things could always be worse. As the Times reports this morning in “Stampede in India Kills at Least 147”:

A religious festival in northern India turned into a horrific deadly crush on Tuesday as thousands of Hindu pilgrims stampeded at a temple shrine, piling into one another on a treacherous walkway slick with spilled coconut milk. Officials said at least 147 people, mostly men, suffocated.

Television showed dead pilgrims strewn on the narrow walkway near the Chamunda Devi temple, at the southern edge of the 15th-century Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur, in the western state of Rajasthan. It was the second deadly religious tragedy in the past few months in India, where pilgrim stampedes are not uncommon. The victims were suffocated as they rushed down a narrow path from the temple 150 yards above, officials said.

Tuesday was the first day of a nine-day festival called Navratra that celebrates nine incarnations of the Hindu mother goddess Durga. Between 2,000 and 3,000 pilgrims were present when the stampede began about 6 a.m.

Don’t cry over spilled coconut milk; today’s another day. While you try to steer clear of Wall Street’s latest incarnation of a corporate-welfare bill, have another triple-shot espresso and take a break for some browsing . . .


N.Y. Daily News: ‘Murders send city crime rate upwards’

Scotsman: ‘Teenager in £7 million lottery win toasts luck with beans’

AP: ‘Pentagon announces 2009 deployments to Iraq’

BBC: ‘Iraq remains “locked in conflict” ‘

Washington Post: ‘Bush’s Warnings of Danger Are No Longer as Powerful’


N.Y. Daily News: ‘Third term, Mayor Bloomberg? That’s rich!’

Slate: ‘The Black President: A 1926 Brazilian sci-fi novel predicts a U.S. election determined by race and gender’

Scotsman: ‘How predicted empty hives would mean end of the world’

N.Y. Times: ‘Bloomberg Said to Seek Third-Term Bid’

Register (U.K.): ‘Movie giants sue RealNetworks over DVD copying software’

BBC: ‘US drone “kills six” in Pakistan’

Jurist: ‘Ex-CIA official pleads guilty to wire fraud in defense contract corruption case’

Washington Post: ‘Those Up for Reelection Have Explaining to Do’

BBC: ‘Bail-out hope sends shares higher’

Register (U.K.): ‘Boffins dreaming of white Xmas at Martian North Pole’

Register (U.K.): ‘Elvis has left the border: ePassport faking guide unleashed’

Register (U.K.): ‘Secret Service camera bought on eBay’

Register (U.K.): ‘Nasty web bug descends on world’s most popular sites’

St. Petersburg Times (Fla.): ‘Outcry raised over voter ID law’

Jurist: ‘US Senate approves expiration of moratorium on offshore oil drilling’

BBC: ‘Canada PM faces plagiarism claim’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘911 call led to loopy Heather Locklear arrest’

nineMSN (Australia): ‘Wealthy investors hoard bullion’

Slate: ‘Your DVD Player Sleeps With the Fishes’



Daily Flog: America’s King Henry; money bailout for Wall Street but no bailout from Mets’ bullpen




Please recall what Mr. Dooley said a century ago: “Trust everybody, but cut the cards.” Especially when people like Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson are wheeling and dealing.

Under the bailout, we won’t need to appoint Mike Bloomberg our economic czar. (He’ll be free to change NYC’s law and remain our mayor.)

Paulson would no longer be just another Cabinet member. He would become King Henry.

That’s not hyperbole if you believe that bullshit walks while money talks. Your money. Which he would use, at his discretion (not yours or your elected officials’) to bail out his Wall Street pals. As the N.Y. Post puts it: “YOUR $700 BIL TO THE RESCUE.”

Paulson’s control over your money would be unprecedented. In “Treasury Would Emerge With Vast New Power,” the N.Y. Times‘s Floyd Norris writes:

Rarely if ever has one man had such broad authority to spend government money as he sees fit, with no rules requiring him to seek out the lowest possible price for assets being purchased.

You become the Belgian Congo, and he becomes your King Leopold, controlling your financial resources. Instead of keeping the loot, he’ll hand it off to bankers; hopefully he won’t cut off your hands.

Who elected this guy? Under the bill, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs can auction off assets, or he can just simply set prices. Every pension fund, bank, broker, pol will have to kiss his butt. Weak “oversight” panels would supposedly keep an eye on him, but that wouldn’t amount to much control over Paulson’s power. Norris adds:

Mr. Paulson can choose to buy from any financial institution that does business in the United States, or from pension funds, with wide discretion over what he will buy and how much he will pay. Under most circumstances, banks owned by foreign governments are not eligible for the money, but under some conditions, the secretary can choose to bail out foreign central banks.

Leave aside regime frontman George W. Bush‘s brief public P.R. appearance early this morning on the White House lawn. It was supposed to soothe bankers and traders and big investors, but it didn’t calm any of them, based on early action in the markets this morning.

What will matter to them is what Paulson says and will do. He’s about to become the most powerful man in America. No exaggeration. Just follow the money — and the guy who will control it.

What really went on in the private meetings that resulted in a bailout plan that would give the unelected Paulson more direct power over the nation’s money than FDR had during Depression I?

Which leads to this question: Are Dick Cheney and Bush as paranoid and vain as Richard Nixon? Please say yes.

Then we’d have videotape of at least some of those private meetings Paulson conducted to hammer out the Cash for Crash bill. Maybe we’d even have video of Paulson going down on Nancy Pelosi in the White House to plead for a bailout of his Wall Street pals.

It probably wouldn’t be the first time that Hank Paulson has been secretly taped in the White House. Before launching his career as an investment banker, Paulson was an aide to John Ehrlichman during Watergate. He’s certainly familiar with private meetings in the White House about how to bail out an administration. Maybe he even sat in on some of those famous meetings of the coverup conspirators more than 30 years ago.

To refresh your memory, here’s a snippet from the momentous July 16, 1973, Watergate hearing:

SAMUEL DASH, Watergate Committee Chief Counsel: If either Mr. Dean, Mr. Haldeman, Mr. Ehrlichman, Mr. Colson had particular meetings in the Oval Office with the president on any particular dates that have been testified before this committee, there would be a tape recording with the president of that full conversation, would there not?

ALEXANDER BUTTERFIELD, former Nixon aide: Yes, sir.

Mr. DASH: So if one were, therefore, to reconstruct the conversations at any particular date, what would be the best way to reconstruct those conversations, Mr. Butterfield, in the President’s Oval Office?

Mr. BUTTERFIELD: Well, in the obvious manner, Mr. Dash — to obtain the tape and play it.

Play it again, Sam.

But first…


Scotsman (U.K.): ‘Judgment day for world economy’


Telegraph (U.K.): ‘Belief in God “really can relieve pain”‘

Register (U.K.): ‘ “I can see dinosaurs from my back porch”: Palin-tology and the threat to science teaching’

IAN (Indo-Asian News Service): ‘Attack against Christians will not be tolerated: Dikshit’

N.Y. Times: ‘Holiday Bombings Kill 27 in Baghdad’

Slate: ‘The End of the BSD: A Wall Street icon falls’

McClatchy: ‘Anger at bailout turns on fat salaries for Wall Street execs’

Register (U.K.): ‘How an Italian judge made the internet illegal’

McClatchy: ‘Rescue package aside, economy faces deep challenges’


Slate: ‘Tie Goes to Obama: Neither candidate won a clear victory’

Telegraph (U.K.): ‘Miriam Margolyes’ lesbian confession gave her mother a stroke’

Jurist: ‘Pastors challenge US ban on political campaign activity by tax-exempt groups’

Bloomberg: ‘European Lenders Get Bailouts as U.S. Crisis Spreads’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Lehman’s Demise Triggered Cash Crunch Around Globe’

McClatchy: ‘Bailout plan faces a tough vote in Congress today’

Telegraph (U.K.): ‘US warship challenges Somalia pirates’