Friday, October 31, 2008
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By Naomi Klein The Guardian, Friday October 31 2008
In the final days of the election many Republicans seem to have given up the fight for power. But don't be fooled: that doesn't mean they are relaxing. If you want to see real Republican elbow grease, check out the energy going into chucking great chunks of the $700bn bail-out out the door. At a recent Senate banking committee hearing, the Republican Bob Corker was fixated on this task, and with a clear deadline in mind: inauguration. "How much of it do you think may be actually spent by January 20 or so?" Corker asked Neel Kashkari, the 35-year-old former banker in charge of the bail-out.
When European colonialists realised that they had no choice but to hand over power to the indigenous citizens, they would often turn their attention to stripping the local treasury of its gold and grabbing valuable livestock. If they were really nasty, like the Portuguese in Mozambique in the mid-1970s, they poured concrete down the elevator shafts.
Nothing so barbaric for the Bush gang. Rather than open plunder, it prefers bureaucratic instruments, such as "distressed asset" auctions and the "equity purchase program". But make no mistake: the goal is the same as it was for the defeated Portuguese - a final, frantic looting of the public wealth before they hand over the keys to the safe.
How else to make sense of the bizarre decisions that have governed the allocation of the bail-out money? When the Bush administration announced it would be injecting $250bn into US banks in exchange for equity, the plan was widely referred to as "partial nationalisation" - a radical measure required to get banks lending again. Henry Paulson, the treasury secretary, had seen the light, we were told, and was following the lead of Gordon Brown.
In fact, there has been no nationalisation, partial or otherwise. American taxpayers have gained no meaningful control over the banks, which is why the banks are free to spend the new money as they wish. At Morgan Stanley, it looks as if much of the windfall will cover this year's bonuses. Citigroup has been hinting it will use its $25bn buying other banks, while John Thain, the chief executive of Merrill Lynch, told analysts: "At least for the next quarter, it's just going to be a cushion." The US government, meanwhile, is reduced to pleading with the banks that they at least spend a portion of the taxpayer windfall for loans - officially, the reason for the entire programme.
What, then, is the real purpose of the bail-out? My fear is this rush of dealmaking is something much more ambitious than a one-off gift to big business: that the Bush version of "partial nationalisation" is rigged to turn the US treasury into a bottomless cash machine for the banks for years to come. Remember, the main concern among the big market players, particularly banks, is not the lack of credit but their battered share prices. Investors have lost confidence in the honesty of the big financial players, and with good reason.
This is where the treasury's equity pays off big time. By purchasing stakes in these financial institutions, the treasury is sending a signal to the market that they are a safe bet. Why safe? Not because their level of risk has been accurately assessed at last. Not because they have renounced the kind of exotic instruments and outrageous leverage rates that created the crisis. But because the market will now be banking on the fact that the US government won't let these particular companies fail. If they get themselves into trouble, investors will now assume that the government will keep finding more cash to bail them out, since allowing them to go down would mean losing the initial equity investments, many of them in the billions. (Just look at the insurance giant AIG, which has already gone back to taxpayers for a top-up, and seems likely to ask for a third.)
This tethering of the public interest to private companies is the real purpose of the bail-out plan: Paulson is handing all the companies admitted to the programme - a number potentially in the thousands - an implicit treasury department guarantee. To skittish investors looking for safe places to park their money, these equity deals will be even more comforting than a triple-A from Moody's rating agency.
Insurance like that is priceless. But for the banks, the best part is that the government is paying them to accept its seal of approval. For taxpayers, on the other hand, this entire plan is extremely risky, and may well cost significantly more than Paulson's original idea of buying up $700bn in toxic debts. Now taxpayers aren't just on the hook for the debts but, arguably, for the fate of every corporation that sells them equity.
Interestingly, mortgage fund giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac both enjoyed this kind of unspoken guarantee before they were nationalised at the start of this crisis. For decades the market understood that, since these private players were enmeshed with the government, Uncle Sam could be counted on to always save the day. It was, as many have pointed out, the worst of all worlds. Not only were profits privatised while risks were socialised, but the implicit government backing created powerful incentives for reckless business practices.
With the new equity purchase programme Paulson has taken the discredited Fannie and Freddie model and applied it to a huge swath of the private banking industry. Again, there is no reason to shy away from risky bets, especially since the treasury has made no such demands of the banks (apparently it doesn't want to "micromanage".)
To further boost market confidence, the federal government has also unveiled unlimited public guarantees for many bank deposit accounts. Oh, and as if this were not enough, the treasury has been encouraging the banks to merge, ensuring that the only institutions left will be "too big to fail", thereby guaranteed a bail-out. In three ways, the market is being told loud and clear that Washington will not allow the financial institutions to bear the consequences of their behaviour. This may be Bush's most creative innovation: no-risk capitalism.
There is a glimmer of hope. In answer to Senator Corker's question, the treasury is indeed having trouble dispersing the bail-out funds. So far it has requested about $350bn of the $700bn, but most of this hasn't yet made it out the door. Meanwhile, every day it becomes clearer that the bail-out was sold to the public on false pretences. Clearly, it was never really about getting loans flowing. It was always about doing what it is doing: turning the state into a giant insurance agency for Wall Street, a safety net for the people who need it least, subsidised by the people who will most need state protections in the economic storms ahead.
This duplicity is a political opportunity. Whoever wins on November 4 will have enormous moral authority. It should be used to call for a freeze on the dispersal of bail-out funds, not after the inauguration but right away. All deals should be renegotiated, this time with the public getting the guarantees.
It is risky, of course, to interrupt the bail-out process. Nothing could be riskier, however, than allowing the Bush gang their parting gift to big business - the gift that will keep on taking.
• A version of this column first appeared in The Nation (www.thenation.com)
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Two companies that can't sell their cars asks US taxpayers for $10 billion to merge into an even bigger company that can't sell cars.
Neither GM or Chrysler can sell their cars, so they thought it would be a great idea to create one company that can't sell their cars.
As far as capitalism goes this is pretty much the death of that particular theology.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
By Natasha Boncompagni and Tatiana Boncompagni
The job of a Private Banker was a lot like that of a quarterback: With Brett Favre-like precision (on a good day that is) we threw the ball to whichever division of the bank was appropriate for the client's need.
For example, if a client wanted to set up a tax deferred vehicle to pay for their grandchild’s college tuition, I’d set them up on call with one of our Trust and Estates officers. Whether Junior was able to get into the family’s Ivy League legacy, was thankfully not my problem. Likewise, if I thought a client should consider buying a piece of art in order to diversify their investments, I’d set them up for a lunch with one of our Art Advisors. A lot of my clients wanted to explore alternative investments in private equity and hedge funds, and I had built my own sub-specialty in that area over the years. I enjoyed helping people feel more secure about their finances (and thus future), but I also thrived on the challenge of uncovering interesting investment opportunities for my clients.
That said, I knew enough to know that in my current state, I was in no condition to be managing my divorce settlement money. I was going through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ grief cycle in what felt like the Valleyfair roller coaster Excalibur from my childhood: At one moment I was in such denial that I half expected my phone to ring and John to be on the other end. And the next, I wanted to rip Parsnip’s perfect little body apart, limb by limb, and deliver it to John in a Bergdorf Goodman shopping bag. I was clearly not in a place to be managing anybody's money, let alone my own— which is why I set up the meeting with Thorne Van Buren (no relation to the President).
So far my new private banker, hadn’t impressed me. Thorne spoke with a locked jaw, wore rimless glasses and (I suspected) dyed the hair around his temples gray so he would look older. He dressed in monogrammed French cuffed shirts, bespoke suits (with the first button on the sleeve undone so there was no mistaking it for off the rack) and wore the same shoes my ex-husband John did. On the wall of his office were diplomas from Deerfield, a prep school in Massachusetts, and Harvard, and on his desk there was a black and white, studio-quality picture of himself and his skinny blonde wife. Thorne seemed to be capable enough, but I didn’t feel like I was a priority to him. I only had fifteen million, which for a guy used to dealing with clients worth upwards of a hundred million, was small potatoes. He also seemed better suited to dealing with male clients, or at least ill suited to dealing with me, a woman who knew her LIFO (last in, first out) from her FIFO (first in, first out) and how to calculate the right WACC (weighted average cost of capital) for a DCF (discounted cash flow) analysis in less time than it took his secretary to pour a glass of Pellegrino.
Thorne’s assistant met me in the lobby and took me up to the top floor of the building, where CountryBank kept its executive conference rooms. The room I was in had had sweeping views over midtown and two Warhol silk screens of dollar signs on the interior walls. I took a seat at the circular black glass conference table and spent five minutes pushing down my cuticles with my thumbnail before Thorne appeared in the doorway.
And when he did, he was talking on his iPhone, an inexcusable offense as far as I was concerned.
“No, there’s no way I’m signing up for one more charity,” Thorne was hissing into his phone. “Listen to me, Marissa. We can’t. And as long as you’re going to spend the next week moping about your missed photo ops, I’ll tell you now that I’ve canceled the trip to Cap d’Antibes.”
“Do you want me to come back later?” I asked loudly, scooping my Ralph Lauren crocodile purse from off the floor.
Thorne jumped, surprised to see me seated in the conference room already, and told his wife he had to go. Walking toward me, he offered his hand.
“You’re looking well, Marcy,” he said, his lock jaw voice even more grating than I had remembered. Today he was dressed in pinstripes, a pink dress shirt and a purple tie shot through with chartreuse stripes.
“You too, Thorne,” I said.
“Like the Warhol room?” he asked, gesturing toward the silk screens. He watched my face, waiting for me to express my amazement and appreciation for the art on the walls. It was obvious he’d forgotten that I had worked in a bank and knew that all major financial institutions housed expensive art in their executive rooms.
“Well, that depends on what you’ve worked up for me,” I said, sitting back down in my seat.
“Oh great stuff, great stuff.” He unbuttoned his suit jacket and took a seat before sliding a slim pitch book across the table to me. “Take a look.”
Eager to begin thumbing through his recommendations, I opened it and studied the first page, which showed a pie chart illustrating the allocation of my assets right now. It was all one color, red, and marked “cash.” The subsequent pages offered three different investment scenarios: most conservative, mid range and aggressive.
The more I read, the more upset I became. Thorne’s pitch book was an obvious boiler pate template, with my name and amount of assets under management simply inserted in the appropriate places. Did he really expect me to pay a management fee for something that any standard asset allocation program could whip out in 5 minutes?
I closed the book, laid my pen on top of it and gazed at Thorne across the table.
“I know what you’re thinking. Where’s the Manolo Blahnik shoe allocation?” he said, tipping his head back and chortling.
“No Thorne, what I actually was thinking was, why on earth is this so plain vanilla? For what your proposing to charge me, I was hoping I’d see something a little more inspired today.”
He laughed again and adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose. “Now Marcy, this is a very balanced portfolio.”
“Are you serious?!” I squawked back.
He swiveled around to retrieve a porcelain plate loaded with pastel-colored macaroons and placed it on the table between us. If Thorne thought a dish of delicious looking cookies was going to keep me from serving him his favorite appendage to him on a stick, he was very wrong.
“It’s a geriatric allocation and you know it,” I said stridently. “I’d give this to a seventy year old retiree.”
“Actually Marcy, that’s not a bad comparison. Think about it. You’re pretty much retired, right? You’re not going to work again are you?”
“What gave you the impression that I was never going to work again?” I sputtered. I hated that he leaped to that conclusion. He never would have said that to me if I were a man.
“Alright, let me rephrase that,” he said, snarkily. “It’s not like you’re expecting to receive another windfall, are you? Or is there a Husband Number 2 in the wings?”
I’d worked with enough chauvinists during my investment banking days at Bloomington Mutual to know that getting offended by their remarks served no purpose. The only thing these guys respected was balls, and I was about to show him mine.
“Funny one,” I said, chuckling gamely. I adopted his same condescending tone. “Now Thorne, if you’re done with the stand-up act, do you think we can get back to talking about my money?
He opened the pitch book and turned to the equities section. Pointing at one of the pie charts, he said, “Did you see the Biotech section?”
“Yeah, but you’ve got a Principle Protected Note on it,” I parried.
“That’s because with a PPN you’re not in danger of losing anything, you put in while at the same time you’re getting exposure to a very sexy sector,” he shot back.
“First of all, I know how PPNs work,” I said calmly. “And second, I don’t think I’m at the age that I need to be wearing training wheels. If we’re going to take a position, let’s take a position.”
He offered me a few different options, none of which I found exciting or particularly intelligent. As a last ditch attempt to appease me, he threw me a low- volatility equity Long-Short fund that happened to be seeded by Zenith Capital, as in my ex-husband John’s employer. I nixed that idea straight away. Then I stood up and told Thorne that I would take his recommendations under consideration but was overall less than satisfied with them.
“These are good, solid allocations considering your life circumstances. You may not be thrilled with your options now, but in the long run you’ll be happy you played it safe,” he said.
I collected my handbag and pitch book and stood up from the table. “The last person who said that to me was my husband, and look where that got me.”
“From my perspective, it looks like it got you fifteen million dollars richer,” he grinned.
And that’s when I made up my mind that I would rather lose every single penny of my money, rather than let Thorne Van Buren get his pasty little hands on it.
I CAN'T WAIT TO READ THE REST!
And more about the drama between the sister co-authors.
Monday, October 27, 2008
2. And then came the Assumptions
3. And the Assumptions were without form
4. And the Plan was without Substance
5. And darkness was upon the face of the Workers
6. And the Workers spoke among themselves saying, 'It is a crock of shit and it stinks!'
7. And the Workers went unto their Supervisors and said, 'It is a crock of shit and we cannot live with the smell.'
8. And the Supervisors went unto their Managers saying, 'It is a container of organic waste, and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it.'
9. And the Managers went unto their Directors, saying, 'It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength.'
10. And the Directors spoke among themselves, saying to one another, 'It contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very strong.'
11. And the directors went to the Vice Presidents, saying unto them, 'It promotes growth, and it is very powerful.'
12. And the Vice Presidents went to the President, saying unto him, 'It has very powerful effects.'
13. And the President looked upon the Plan and saw that it was good
14. And the Plan became Policy
15. And that is how shit happens.
Keith Wibel, an investment adviser at Foothills Asset Management in Tempe, Ariz., has an article in Barron's (paid subscription required) which argues that bonds might well beat stocks over the next decade. Here's his reasoning, followed by some quick comments and how to translate his views into practice using ETFs:
- The long-term rate of earnings growth is about 6.1%.
- S&P 500 earnings are currently (end-'04) $58.55.
- In a decade, S&P 500 earnings will likely be about $105.85.
- Earnings have flucuated by about 2.3% annually around their long-term growth rate.
- So in 2014 earnings will be in the range of $85.02 to $131.17.
- Over the last 55 years, the US market's P/E ratio has averaged 16.4.
- The market's P/E ratio has fluctuated by plus or minus 7.0 times earnings during that period.
- So in the 2014, expect a P/E ratio of 9.4 to 23.4 times earnings.
- Combine the earnings and P/E ranges, and the 2014 value for the S&P 500 falls out at 761.59 to 3069.14.
- That would imply an average return of minus 1.7% per year to plus 12.2% per year for the next decade.
- "The base case scenario calls for the S&P 500 Index to be at 1735.94, a yearly 4.1% rate of appreciation. Adding dividend income of 1.9% to the appreciation yields a total return of 6.0% per year -- something between minus 1.7% and plus 12.2% a year."
- Given that 10 year Treasuries are currently yeilding 4.2%. That's only 1.8% less than the expected return on stocks, yet exposes investors to less risk and volatility.
Mr. Wibel's conclusion is that investors should opt for balanced stock-bond portfolios, and should expect lower returns than has historically been the case. And he adds that investors heading into retirement will need 20% more savings if expected returns are 6% rather than 8%.
A few quick comments on this. Mr Wibel avoids any fundamental analysis. But others have used his reasoning, in combination with fundamental analysis, to come to more pessimistic conclusions. Jeremy Grantham, for example, has argued that profit margins (and therefore earnings) are currently way above trend, so expecting 6% growth in profits is unrealistic. And many people have pointed out that the US economy is running on borrowed money (huge trade and budget deficits), with consumer spending propped up by house price increases fueled by low interest rates, and that isn't sustainable. Any retrenchment would imply slower earnings growth and stock returns.
On top of that, the US population is aging, and that's sure to have an impact on economic growth. See Alan Greenspan's recent comments on this, for example.
If you're convinced that US stock returns will be meagre over the next decade, what's the best way to invest?
- Keep your investment costs extremely low - ETFs are a good way.
- Buy index ETFs that track emerging markets, since they are expected to produce higher returns than US stocks. Look at EEM and VWO.
- Make sure your portfolio includes bonds as well as stocks. You can do that with ETFs as well: look at SHY, TLT and TIP, for example.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Those two are (drum roll):
Sarah Palin photos McCain couldn't stop: Palin with automatic weapon, on a Harley, and in a hooker mini skirt.
Fake images of Sarah Palin is swamping the Internet.
Initially I was like, whatever, but seriously, are there really THAT many testosterone filled men out there who simply can't get enough of Palin and whatever she's wearing? Or is it the women checking out the competition?
I'm starting to think those $150,000 the RNC dropped on her clothing might just have been the best investment this campaign ever did.
Writing a blog and watching what people read is like getting a wake-up call about humanity.
And really, that wake-up call makes it pretty clear that the "distinction" between humans and animals is pretty much something humans have made up.
Anyway, fascinating to see that so many have so much interest in Sarah Palin's alleged mini skirts and leather skirts and Harley's and whatever fake pictures with Palin's head that might be out there.
Waxman: In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working.
Greenspan: Absolutely, precisely. You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I guess some of those posts, even though they are over a year old, never stop attracting readers . . .
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
John has left a new comment on your post "Former US AstraZeneca CEO Lars Bildman: Craziest B...":
As someone who was very close to Mr. Bildman over a 4 year period, he had his issues like we all do but, provided a wonderful working enviroment for his employee's. I was with him during all of the events that occurred off site during my tenure. Each and every woman named in the Businessweek article never said no to his advances and willingly had relations with him. All the woman talked privately with me about the money they would get from Astra should he be exposed. Simply, in the business world and a a CEO at Astra...he was a genius. I was his Security Manager from 1992-1996.
A woman who smells of rotting fish has been diagnosed with a rare genetic condition after 30 years of being dismissed as a hypochondriac.
The 41-year-old suffered decades of bullying and low self-esteem because of her pungent odour, but doctors refused to take her complaints seriously, believing she was a hygiene neurotic.
She has now been diagnosed with trimethylaminuria, a genetic condition that affects the smell of sweat, breath and urine.
The condition – also known as fish malodour syndrome – is incurable, but the patient from Perth, Australia has been able to seek counselling and support from fellow sufferers.
Professor John Burnett, head of pharmacology at the University of Western Australia, said that the case was a warning to doctors not to dismiss conditions that appear minor but have a great impact on the psychological health of patients.
"After experiencing ridicule, distress, shame, anxiety and low self esteem during her school years, she first consulted a doctor about the problem at the age of 17, then again two years later, followed by a further four doctors over the next 20 years," he wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia.
"Now having a name for her condition she found an internet-based support foundation and referred herself for genetic counselling," he added.
Trimethylaminuria is a genetic mutation that causes the body to produce too much trimethylamine, a compound found in fish. Particular foods, medication and hormones can exacerbate the condition.
Patients "experience shame and embarrassment" and "fail to maintain relationships", Prof Burnett said.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
Pfizer, however, hasn't been bailed out (except by U.S. tax code) so perhaps no one should be upset that winning District Managers allegedly get to spend $3,000 during a one hour shopping spree over at Bloomingdales?
Many Pfizer employees, however, appear to disagree.
"He will be required to register as a sex offender and is not likely to be able to resume his career," according to The Day.
That might be an understatement.
Today, Lahde passed along his "goodbye" letter, a missive on everything from greed to economic philosophy:
Today I write not to gloat. Given the pain that nearly everyone is experiencing, that would be entirely inappropriate. Nor am I writing to make further predictions, as most of my forecasts in previous letters have unfolded or are in the process of unfolding. Instead, I am writing to say goodbye.
Recently, on the front page of Section C of the Wall Street Journal, a hedge fund manager who was also closing up shop (a $300 million fund), was quoted as saying, "What I have learned about the hedge fund business is that I hate it." I could not agree more with that statement. I was in this game for the money. The low hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking. These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy, only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.
There are far too many people for me to sincerely thank for my success. However, I do not want to sound like a Hollywood actor accepting an award. The money was reward enough. Furthermore, the endless list those deserving thanks know who they are.
I will no longer manage money for other people or institutions. I have enough of my own wealth to manage. Some people, who think they have arrived at a reasonable estimate of my net worth, might be surprised that I would call it quits with such a small war chest. That is fine; I am content with my rewards. Moreover, I will let others try to amass nine, ten or eleven figure net worths. Meanwhile, their lives suck. Appointments back to back, booked solid for the next three months, they look forward to their two week vacation in January during which they will likely be glued to their Blackberries or other such devices. What is the point? They will all be forgotten in fifty years anyway. Steve Balmer, Steven Cohen, and Larry Ellison will all be forgotten. I do not understand the legacy thing. Nearly everyone will be forgotten. Give up on leaving your mark. Throw the Blackberry away and enjoy life.
So this is it. With all due respect, I am dropping out. Please do not expect any type of reply to emails or voicemails within normal time frames or at all. Andy Springer and his company will be handling the dissolution of the fund. And don't worry about my employees, they were always employed by Mr. Springer's company and only one (who has been well-rewarded) will lose his job.
I have no interest in any deals in which anyone would like me to participate. I truly do not have a strong opinion about any market right now, other than to say that things will continue to get worse for some time, probably years. I am content sitting on the sidelines and waiting. After all, sitting and waiting is how we made money from the subprime debacle. I now have time to repair my health, which was destroyed by the stress I layered onto myself over the past two years, as well as my entire life -- where I had to compete for spaces in universities and graduate schools, jobs and assets under management -- with those who had all the advantages (rich parents) that I did not. May meritocracy be part of a new form of government, which needs to be established.
On the issue of the U.S. Government, I would like to make a modest proposal. First, I point out the obvious flaws, whereby legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past eight years, which would have reigned in the predatory lending practices of now mostly defunct institutions. These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen. This is an outrage, yet no one seems to know or care about it. Since Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith passed, I would argue that there has been a dearth of worthy philosophers in this country, at least ones focused on improving government. Capitalism worked for two hundred years, but times change, and systems become corrupt. George Soros, a man of staggering wealth, has stated that he would like to be remembered as a philosopher. My suggestion is that this great man start and sponsor a forum for great minds to come together to create a new system of government that truly represents the common man's interest, while at the same time creating rewards great enough to attract the best and brightest minds to serve in government roles without having to rely on corruption to further their interests or lifestyles. This forum could be similar to the one used to create the operating system, Linux, which competes with Microsoft's near monopoly. I believe there is an answer, but for now the system is clearly broken.
Lastly, while I still have an audience, I would like to bring attention to an alternative food and energy source. You won't see it included in BP's, "Feel good. We are working on sustainable solutions," television commercials, nor is it mentioned in ADM's similar commercials. But hemp has been used for at least 5,000 years for cloth and food, as well as just about everything that is produced from petroleum products. Hemp is not marijuana and vice versa. Hemp is the male plant and it grows like a weed, hence the slang term. The original American flag was made of hemp fiber and our Constitution was printed on paper made of hemp. It was used as recently as World War II by the U.S. Government, and then promptly made illegal after the war was won. At a time when rhetoric is flying about becoming more self-sufficient in terms of energy, why is it illegal to grow this plant in this country? Ah, the female. The evil female plant -- marijuana. It gets you high, it makes you laugh, it does not produce a hangover. Unlike alcohol, it does not result in bar fights or wife beating. So, why is this innocuous plant illegal? Is it a gateway drug? No, that would be alcohol, which is so heavily advertised in this country. My only conclusion as to why it is illegal, is that Corporate America, which owns Congress, would rather sell you Paxil, Zoloft, Xanax and other additive drugs, than allow you to grow a plant in your home without some of the profits going into their coffers. This policy is ludicrous. It has surely contributed to our dependency on foreign energy sources. Our policies have other countries literally laughing at our stupidity, most notably Canada, as well as several European nations (both Eastern and Western). You would not know this by paying attention to U.S. media sources though, as they tend not to elaborate on who is laughing at the United States this week. Please people, let's stop the rhetoric and start thinking about how we can truly become self-sufficient.
With that I say good-bye and good luck.
All the best,
One year ago I predicted Pfizer would pay a $400 million settlement for Celebrex/Bextra. Today Pfizer announced they would pay $894 million.
According to Pfizer, "today’s announcement follows favorable rulings in which federal and New York state court judges overseeing a majority of the personal injury cases ruled that the plaintiffs’ lawyers failed to present reliable scientific evidence to prove Celebrex can cause heart attacks or strokes at its most commonly prescribed dose. These rulings would have likely limited the scope of these cases had the litigation continued. By settling these matters now, the parties are minimizing the future cost and disruption inevitably associated with litigation."
“We are pleased by the favorable rulings we have achieved in this litigation and believe that now is the right time to resolve these matters,” said Amy W. Schulman, senior vice president and general counsel of Pfizer. “Inevitably, litigation can be distracting and putting these matters behind us helps our shareholders and, most importantly, patients and doctors.”
My own thoughts: Pfizer settled this litigation at a fraction of the cost Merck ended up paying for Vioxx. This is not so much a reflection of Vioxx having had an even worse side effect profile than Celebrex but a more skillful handling of this case by Pfizer. After all, Bextra was also taken off the market, just like Vioxx.
Pfizer clearly has a new sheriff in town and her name is Amy Schulman. She doesn't carry the emotional baggage of oldtime Pfizerites and appears to approach litigation with a certain pragmatism. For Pfizer, that is good news.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
What the audience said at Palin's rally . . . you won't see this on U.S. television netoworks. It is just too upsetting.
John McCain claimed there are always "fringe elements" at any rally. Well, there seems to be "fringe states," like Ohio, in the U.S. as well.
Of course, this is not covered by the major networks. But the rest of the world is watching. This was reported by the Al-Jazeera network from a Palin rally in Ohio.
Anyone scared yet of what could happen in the U.S.?
In a letter to AIG's board of directors, Cuomo demanded the company stop ``extravagant'' expenditures and recover millions of dollars in unreasonable payments, or face legal action.
Cuomo cited a $5 million bonus and a $15 million ``golden parachute'' AIG awarded its chief executive officer in March. Martin Sullivan was AIG's CEO at the time. Cuomo said the company also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ``luxurious retreats'' for executives, including an overseas hunting party and a golf outing.
``The party is over,'' Cuomo said today at a press conference on Wall Street in lower Manhattan. ``No more hunting trips. No more luxury resorts. They are not going to have the party and leave the hangover for the taxpayers.''
by John Dolan
Little did I know that when I lost everything last year, I was doing research. At the time I thought it was just stupidity or bad luck or both. But now that the economy’s crashing, it turns out I’ve been out there gathering valuable tips for millions of new paupers.
And let me clarify, I’m talking real poverty.
My wife and I fell through many layers of poverty in a few months. First we revisited the genteel poverty known to grad students, the sort of poverty where you have scary dreams about the rent and eat a simple, wholesome diet towards the end of the month. But we fell right through that into the sort of Dickensian privation spoiled first-worlders like me never expected to experience. That’s the kind of poverty a lot of people are going to be experiencing soon—because I’m here to tell you, it can happen here and it can happen to you. And it’s remarkably unpleasant. You may be saying “Duh!” here but you’re probably not imagining the proper sort of unpleasantness. So I’ll try to lay out what to watch for, how to hunker down when it’s not just a matter of cutting back or selling your second car but having no car at all, having no money for heat or food.
All the things we learned are going to seem pretty obvious, but remember that it’s very hard to think clearly when your life has collapsed. These are what they call the old verities, the truths of life before the middle class was (briefly) in session:
Warmth. Above all you need to have a dry warm place to sleep. We had only an unheated boat, and that was not enough. We woke up to the thump of sea ice banging against the hull and realized that the old world was still very much in session. When we finally fled to stay with family, we stayed in our blankets up against their gas fireplace for weeks. You won’t even want food much after a while. You’ll want heat itself, not the chemical middle man. You are going to realize that cold is the most frightening thing in the world. In older English dialects, “to starve” meant “to freeze.” You will see why.
Car. Got one? Maybe you should sell it. Cars drain the last dollars out of you. And there’s something worse: cops can smell desperation, and they hate the poor. I didn’t use to hate cops much, except drug cops, but God, I hate them now. The real purpose of cops is to keep poor people off the roads. That’s their only real goal. On my way to an interview for a job that could have gotten us out of the gutter, a cop stopped me because my insurance was two weeks overdue—for the simple reason we didn’t have money to pay it. She gave me a $600 ticket for that, plus $120 for not having an updated address on my driver’s license. Then she called for a tow truck and told me, “So, a lesson learned here today!” as I watched my car towed away and trudged off with our terrified dog down a typical Western suburban road: four lanes of fast traffic with no sidewalks. Are you poor? The cops are your enemy now. Accept it. The car is how they’ll try to get you. Sell it if you can—which is to say, if there’s any decent public transportation—hah!—where you live.
Shame. As in, forget about it. Shame is an affectation. I don’t even need to say this, really. Once you’ve experienced actual cold and hunger, your good old Ouldivai Gorge mammal body and brain will take over, and believe me, shame won’t be a problem.
You’ll also find that most of the social stuff is easier than you’d expect. These people are in show biz in a way; they have to be, just to survive. Makes them lively. And though I suppose it all depends on where you are when you lose out, in my experience they’re not especially violent. They talk about it a lot, but so do all the white jocks I ever met, and in neither case does anything actually happen. They’re flinchy people, mainly, who spend a lot of time waiting for things. When you’re waiting, you get very frustrated but you don’t want to shake things up. So they’re tense, bitter, sociable, gossipy and treacherous—a fine cross-section of the population. After waiting around with them in line at the local food bank, sharing “how I ended up here” stories and hanging out with them around a propane heater trying to stay warm, I relaxed a lot. They’re not going to mug you. They are going to try to get any cash you have, and God did they get a huge chunk of our last resources, but it was friendly, schmooze-based extortion, just like in the middle-class world. All that was missing was the deodorant.
Food Banks. These places, usually in the basement of a church (because churches are the only public institutions in the new suburbs of western North America) hand out baskets of groceries every week or, more often, two weeks. You have to wait a long time, so learn your refugee skills. Come early, get a number first, and be nice-but-pushy. It’s a delicate operation being nice-but-pushy, but you’ll learn it. The “nice” part is because you need to ask people for help and advice; you’re not rich enough to be solitary any more. The pushy part is simple: it’s to prevent you from being ignored. So always talk to people, but never show money or mention it, if you have any.
Antidepressants. Get on them right away, if you’re not already. If you are, up your dose. Because it’s going to hurt. Doesn’t matter how much Marxist theory you’ve absorbed, doesn’t matter that you can put your fall into global context; it’s happening to YOU now, and it’s going to hurt like you wouldn’t believe. You’re an American, and you share that culture’s values whether you like it or not. So you define yourself by your job, car and house. When they go, you’re going to hate yourself. Don’t even bother arguing about it. It’s going to happen. Just take the damn Prozac. Would you refuse a coat in Siberia? Refusing Prozac after falling into poverty makes about as much sense. Tom Cruise can go fuck himself. Prozac saved our lives. I won’t go into the sordid details but really, I don’t think we’d be here now if Saint Prozac hadn’t extended a sacred hand to us.
So the second you slip beneath genteel poverty toward the street, find the nearest Free Clinic, and don’t be deterred by the smell of the crowd in the waiting room. Smell is going to be a problem for you at first but after a few weeks you won’t mind, because you smell too and so does everyone around you. If you want a break from the relentless olfactory fact of being around unwashed large mammals, sidle up to somebody who smokes. That’s the one good thing about cigarettes, and it may be why losers all smoke. Don’t smoke just for that, though. Cigarettes are insanely expensive and turn lots of poor people into cringing beggars.
How do you tell your story? That’s going to matter, because you’ll be brooding about what went wrong 24/7.whether you want to or not. And you’ll find that explaining one’s great fall is a vital skill among the fallen, as well as a deeply satisfying pastime. This raises the issue of denial, a vital and deeply misunderstood mechanism. Denial, like Kurtz said about Terror, is your friend…or it is an enemy to be feared. You need some denial to keep your ego from being crushed completely. Your ego is going to get very sick, now that you’re nobody. It’s easy to be polite and self-deprecating when you’re winning. I used to be like that. You can’t afford that when you’re being crushed. Like the Cable Guy says, it’s prison rules. You have to demand respect if you expect to get it. The alternative is to dwindle away and disappear. Those antidepressants will help you deny the facts, but don’t be shy about doing ego-exercises, boasting practice, to reawaken that playground ego that so many of us polite middleclass types allowed to atrophy. You’re going to need it.
On a practical level, the question is what to jettison. And I’m not just talking about things. If you have kids…well, God help you; I can’t give advice here, because luckily we didn’t. But we did, unfortunately, have a dog, a big clumsy puppy we got just before everything fell apart. We probably should have given her up. Growing up in an atmosphere of terror and cold and self-hatred, she turned out to be a very weird, unhappy dog. I’ve had lots of dogs before this, back when I was comfy, and they were all nice suburban dogs, Frisbee-catching pals. This one’s a feral freak. Now that we have a warm place to live it’s almost fun watching her reactions, the way she flinches and sniffs at every noise, smell or flash of color, but I know she’d have been happier getting adopted by some family that complains about what a pain it is having just four bedrooms.
Besides, if you have a dog you’re cutting down on your chances of getting a job. This one howls when she’s left alone, another legacy of her traumatic puppyhood, so one of us had to stay with her most of the time. It was like being handcuffed to the wretched unheated ex-fishing boat we were living on.
The boat was another contributor to our debacle; it was something else we should have sold off right away, even at a 90% loss. The idea behind that damn boat was that instead of paying the insanely high west-coast rents, we’d live on the boat for free. This is a very bad idea. Any idea you have of retreating to some simple, free habitation should be regarded with deep doubt. The thing is, you can’t get back to the comfortable, heated world from a place like that boat. No internet. You need the net if you’re ever going to claw your way back. You need a working shower, which that boat lacked. Otherwise you develop that look, that smell you first encountered in the Free Clinic waiting room. It’s not a good look, job-wise. Maybe if we’d gotten rid of the dog I’d have had a chance.
But you lose more than that. You change completely, more than you realize, to the point that even if you get a break you can’t grab it. After months of applying for teaching jobs without even getting answers, the perfect job opened up for me at a local college. It was half creative writing, half teaching literature and composition, all my specialties. But when the interview started I realized I was no longer someone who could talk the quiet, polite, oblique version of self-promotion demanded by academic hiring committees. I was too deeply, permanently spooked by our condition. I was just plain wrong, unhireably wrong in every way. No hot water on the boat, and I needed to shave the graying wisps of hair on my big bald head, so I’d shaved in the McDonald’s men’s room on the way to the interview, with a cheap Bic shaver. You can guess the results: it looked like a bobcat had tried to roost on my scalp, and been evicted after a violent struggle. The used sport coat we’d spent our last $20 of Visa credit on at Value Village didn’t seem to fit nearly so well, once I was inside that humming, immaculate classroom where the interview was held. And I had become a louder, more desperate, excessive person. When I tried to sound positive, it came out furious. When they asked me, as I’d known they would, why someone who’d taught at bigger universities wanted to come to this small rural campus, I said truthfully, “I’d rather teach here in the forest than at Stanford.” It didn’t come out enthusiastic, it came out strident. After months of being a bum, I was the wrong volume, the wrong temperature. I could feel the job slipping away, and in fact they hired a local guy who was friends with the director, even though my cv kicked his cv’s ass.
You’ll find that if you want to get back into that quiet, odor-free, polite world, you’re going to have to decompress for a few months. What happened to us is that we fled, found a basement apartment on borrowed money, and stayed there, keeping the heat on high for months. Then we were ready to try again for a job.
It took that long to calm down, quiet down, lose a little of the bitterness. Yes, you’re going to be very bitter. You can’t hate yourself all the time; you have to switch off now and then and blame somebody else. In fact, somebody else may damn well be to blame. Just make sure the bitterness doesn’t keep you awake. To enable yourself to sleep, take long walks. Shout curses at the world if you need to, just keep walking. And no matter what, don’t sell your sleeping bag. I had a North Face down bag, and learned to love it way, way more than I loved myself.
Sleep is an antidepressant almost as good as Prozac. And it’s free. The time to worry is when you wake up after a couple of hours screaming. That happened to me after five months, and that’s when I broke down and asked my brother for a loan. That’s where this story diverges from a real street story: I had an out. And believe me, I took it. Should have taken it sooner, in fact.
If you have an out—a relative or friend who can lend you money to find a place to live—take it now. And as soon as you get an offer—some old friend has a ski cabin nobody’s using, or a small unit behind their house—take it, as long as it’s heated.
The old world is very much alive, and has it in for you. Do anything to keep it from killing you. The only reason I haven’t endorsed crime here is that from what I saw, paupers are not in a good position to try it. Like so much else, crime is for the big people.
This article first appeared in AlterNet.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
More than half of foreign companies and about 42 percent of U.S. companies paid no U.S. income taxes for two or more years in that period, the report said.
During that time corporate sales in the United States totaled $2.5 trillion, according to Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who requested the GAO study.
The report did not name any companies. The GAO said corporations escaped paying federal income taxes for a variety of reasons including operating losses, tax credits and an ability to use transactions within the company to shift income to low tax countries.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Published Online: 07/10/2008
There is now another chapter to the whistleblower suit filed by a former Pfizer executive as it relates to alleged off-label promotion.
US District Judge Patti Saris in Boston refused to throw out completely a suit by Dr Peter Rost – a vice-president of marketing at Pfizer until he was dismissed in 2005 – that contends that Pharmacia (now Pfizer) violated the Federal False Claims Act by fraudulently promoting the human growth hormone, Genotropin (somatropin), for unapproved uses, such as treating short stature in children who did not have growth hormone deficiency and for combating ageing in adults.
The judge will allow Dr Rost to proceed with his allegations of false claims for paediatric uses, but not the other indication. She agrees with Pfizer's contention that allegations of false claims for adult anti-ageing use are deficient, according to the September 18th opinion filed.
"We are pleased that the court significantly limited the claims that Dr Rost can pursue against Pharmacia for its conduct that pre-dated Pfizer's acquisition in 2003," Pfizer said in a statement. The company further noted that the US Justice Department declined to pursue the false claims allegations years ago.
The suit has a long history. It was initially filed in June 2003, and accuses Pfizer's Pharmacia unit of wrongly accepting federal reimbursement for the unapproved uses. Dr Rost alleges that as a result of Pharmacia's practice hundreds and possibly thousands of false claims based on off-label prescriptions were reimbursed by federal Medicaid and other federal health care programmes in violation of the False Claims Act.
The Massachusetts district court dismissed the suit last November on grounds that it failed to specify details of the alleged fraud. A federal appeals court last year overturned the lower court's dismissal of the suit, allowing Dr Rost to file an amended complaint (Scrip Online, November 23rd, 2007).
The amended complaint, filed in January, contends that more than 200 false claims were submitted to both Medicaid and other federal programmes from citizens of Indiana, and covered short statue without growth hormone deficiency and for "small for date". The suit contends that neither of these is a "medically accepted indication" supported by citations in the drug compendia during the time period covered by the action.
In a motion to dismiss the amended complaint filed in February, Pfizer states that Dr Rost's "only significant ‘new' allegation consists of a list that purports to be claims data for Genotropin with ‘short stature' diagnosis codes for certain unnamed Indiana patients." Pfizer argues that this is plainly insufficient under what is known as Rule 9(b) of the False Claims Act, which demands that fraud claims have sufficient specificity. Pfizer further stated: "Because Rost does not plead the who, what, where, when and how of any alleged fraud, his allegations are insufficient as a matter of law under Rule 9(b)". There was also a footnote citing the fact that "Rost cannot escape Rule 9(b)'s requirements by alleging that subsequent discovery might unearth false claims ... the First Circuit held in Karvelas that a 'qui tam relator [whistleblower] may not present general allegations in lieu of the details of the actual false claims in the hope that details will emerge."
But in her September 18th opinion, Judge Saris said that "Dr Rost's amended complaint satisfies Rule 9(b)'s heightened pleading requirement".
The judge added that, for the time being, the Court will permit discovery only relating to the sales and marketing region that includes Indiana. "If the discovery shows that kickbacks were paid to the doctors who then made off-label prescriptions, and that this sales region was following national directives, the court will expand the scope of discovery nationwide," she stated. All fact discovery relating to the Indiana sales region shall be completed by February 15th, 2009, and this will be followed by the filing of expert reports and depositions. Judge Saris said that all motions for summary judgment shall be filed by June 15th, 2009.
Industry watchers have suggested that it is significant that Dr Rost has shown that it is possible to clear Rule 9(b) of the False Claims Act, and proceed toward discovery.
Story in NY Times.
Have we all be conned by conmen?
Hat tip PharmaGossip.
One line or two. Yes or no. Pregnancy tests are binary by their very nature. So when I found p-Teq's USB Pregnancy Test Kit which is chock full of extra scientific information, I knew I had to write about this . . .
The process starts off like most pregnancy tests. You pee on a stick, specifically the absorbent test strip at one end. But everything's different after that first step. Remove the cap from the other end of the stick (cleverly provided to keep you from accidentally contaminating the wrong end) to reveal the USB connector. Pop it in your computer. The power from your USB port starts the electrospray ionization process, creating a spectrograph of the various masses for your analysis.
You don't actually get to see the spectrograph yourself. The mass analysis happens inside the device. And p-Teq's device only analyzes for specific chemical makeups, so you don't have to worry about this thing busting you for that "poppy seed bagel" you had yesterday. The mass spectrometry software on the device comes with several sequenced hormones, including hCG (human Chorionic Gonadotropin), hCG-H (hyperglycosylated hCG - for detection before your first missed period), and LH (luteinizing hormone - for detection of your most fertile days). I like the fact that it does all three. After all, if you're not pregnant and you wanna be, you need to know if now's the time to be gettin' it on.
While most home tests can detect a level of 15-50 mIU/mL of hCG, the enhanced methodology of the USB Pregnancy Test Kit can detect 5-50 mIU/mL, and will show you the exact concentration via its friendly onscreen interface. In addition, the LCD display on the device itself will light up and show you the symbol of a baby, no baby, or multiples and your Estimated Delivery Date based on the concentration of hCG, hCG-H, and LH in your urine. So you can clear your calendar in advance.
After you're done reviewing your test results, just pop the device out of your computer and change the test strip. The display will remain lit for five minutes and then automatically power off.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Still think the market is "rational" or more like a crazy casino?
More in Stockmarket Meltdown.
Friday, October 10, 2008
CEO: Chief Embezzlement Officer.
CFO: Corporate Fraud Officer.
BULL MARKET: A random market movement causing an investor to mistake himself for a financial genius.
BEAR MARKET: A 6-to-18 month period when the kids get no allowance, the wife gets no jewelry, and the husband gets no sex.
P/E RATIO: The percentage of investors wetting their pants as the market keeps crashing.
BROKER: What my broker has made me.
VALUE INVESTING: The art of buying low and selling lower.
STANDARD & POOR: Your life in a nutshell.
STOCK ANALYST: Idiot who just downgraded your stock.
STOCK SPLIT: When your ex-wife and her lawyer split your assets equally between themselves.
FINANCIAL PLANNER: A guy whose phone has been disconnected.
MARKET CORRECTION: The day after you buy stocks.
CASH FLOW: The movement your money makes as it disappears down the toilet.
YAHOO: What you yell after selling your online stock to some poor sucker for $240 per share.
WINDOWS 2000: What you jump out of when you're the sucker who bought Yahoo at $240 per share
INSTITUTIONAL INVESTOR: Past-year investor who's now locked up in an asylum.
PROFIT: An archaic word no longer in use.
Apart from a brief interlude during the era of the Vikings, we have pretty much kept to ourselves, sitting on a rock in the middle of the ocean.
During the last 3 decades of last century we managed to build up a fairly nice and open economy, where everyone had equal opportunity to succeed, get educated, get taken care of if they got sick, with politicians which were unable to do much damage as everyone pretty much agreed how things should be.
We were given access to the European Economic Area in the early 90's, which was generally regarded as the diet version of the European Union, where we would become members shortly.
This gave us access to the European markets, opened up the free flow of finance, gave our best and brightest the opportunity to go forth and seek their fortune in foreign lands, and for a while things worked fine.
Some of our eccentric quirks turned out to be good PR, and Björk and Sigur Rós suddenly became famous. Our smarter side was put to use in creating successful high technology products, where we enabled people that had lost legs to run in the Olympics, other people to play massively multiplayer online games and we suddenly found that we could create stuff that worked, was useful and people all over the world were willing to buy.
So we didn't pay as much attention to our politicians as we should have, who seemed mired in the politics of the last century, not of the century to come.
That turned out to be a big mistake, one which will cost us dearly.
In their squabbles for domestic power, blatant pandering to their own constituents, and general ineptness (in their defence, they're not well paid), they kept on with business as usual, while a handful of businessmen - and their cronies - started business unusual.
The privatisation of our banks was handled by the politicians in the usual manner, with one bank going to members in good standing of the long-ruling Independence Party, and the other to members in good standing of the equally long-ruling Progressive Party (which nagging tongues claim is neither).
Since we were used to lax regulation, so as not to hinder the political parties to give tidbits to their members, we didn't really put in place a pesky regulatory scheme to keep checks and balances on the entire system, and the schemes we put in place were ignored when needed.
The newly privatised banks were quickly turned into international powerhouses, fueled by cheap loans, mostly foreign. The third bank, which was private to begin with, also took advantage of cheap loans to grow.
Meanwhile, we used the Icelandic Central Bank as a retirement home for politicians we needed to get rid of from the political scene, as throughout the history of the Central Bank it had never really needed to do anything and therefore was considered to be a safe place to store them, maintaining their delusion of grandeur and allowing them to double dip into their pensions while still being on the government payroll.
Before we knew it the owners of the three banks had broken faith with the rest of us, refused to travel with us, pay taxes with us or live amongst us, preferring to live in London and fly up occasionally in their private jets, and while here drive around in Bentleys and Range Rovers, which they apparently impulse bought - all black, unless it was for the wife, then white.
They were careful to spread the wealth, hiring lots of people at 3 to 30 times normal wages, sponsored concerts of international stars and seemed to have unlimited opportunities. Before this, the only major concerts we'd seen were Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin in the early 70s, Smokie in the late 70's, one Clash concert in the early 80s and a tour of the Israeli guys from the Eurovision song contest who sang the Hubba Hulle Hulle Hulle song.
So we were dazzled.
Our prime minister got into occasional fights with the nouveau riche, who - after buying all the media companies (and adding some more) - explained that he was just jealous.
The prime minister got sick, nearly lost an election, and was put out to pasture as the Head Honcho of the Icelandic Central Bank, a process we had used before with little damage.
So when it turned out that the couple of handful of super-rich Londoners had in effect built a Ponzi scheme, we were ill equipped to deal with it.
The chief of the Central Bank was the politician that hadn't wanted to put in place all the pesky rules and regulations when he privatized the banking system. He had run a relaxed and lax oversight system.
Our new prime minister is the former second in command of the politician in the Central Bank, and it is not clear to us - or to him - or to the politician in the central bank whether the changing of the guard has really taken place.
Our finance minister is a veterinarian who lost internal elections in his party to a guy recently convicted of fraud involving public funds.
Our foreign minister, the only person in Icelandic politics strong enough to stand up to the old guard, was diagnoced with benign cancer in the brain and was rushed into surgery in New York and banned from travelling for a few weeks, so she is out of action.
So when the whole scheme imploded due to the international credit crunch, we didn't really know what hit us.
Suddenly all of our banks failed.
Suddenly we found out that we - as a nation - were responsible for sizable sums that the super rich had gotten people in other nations to deposit with them, without having asked us for permission.
We suddenly found that it was generally not a good idea to have on the front line people who had been selected to be there due to their quality of seeming harmless.
People who are so overwhelmed by the position they're in that they cannot even do the obvious and inevitable; say they're sorry and ask for help.
People who are willing to go to Putin's Russia to bail us out - that bastion of civilization, human rights and good will to all men.
So for that, the damage this has caused, the money lost, and the misery caused, we'd like to say:
We're sorry, please help.
P.S. The super rich have left in their private jets. You'll find them in London - with their, our and parts of your wealth.
"We were just talking about that this morning on the floor," said Congressman Edwin Castro, who heads the leftist Sandinista congressional bloc in Nicaragua. "We think the Bush administration should follow the same policies that they and the International Monetary Fund have always told us to follow when we have economic problems — a structural adjustment that requires cutting government spending and reducing the role of government.
"One of our economists was telling us that Bush has just implemented communism for the rich," Castro said.
No one in Latin America has been making more hay of Bush's turnabout than Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, a self-proclaimed socialist who is the U.S.'s biggest headache in the region.
"If the Venezuelan government, for example, approves a law to protect consumers, they say, 'Take notice, Chavez is a tyrant!'" Chavez said in one of his recent weekly television shows.
"Or they say, 'Chavez is regulating prices. He is violating the laws of the marketplace.' How many times have they criticized me for nationalizing the phone company? They say, 'The state shouldn't get involved in that.' But now they don't criticize Bush for having nationalize . . . the biggest banks in the world. Comrade Bush, how are you?"
The audience laughed and Chavez continued.
"Comrade Bush is heading toward socialism."
Faced with growing criticism, the pharmaceutical industry has adopted a new code of ethics. Will this self-policing increase consumer safety, improve the industry's relationship with doctors and ultimately stem legislation?
Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on CN8 The Comcast Network, The American Law Journal addresses "The Pharmaceutical Industry: Is A New Code of Ethics Enough?" Taped at the Drexel Unviersity Anthony J. Drexel Picture Gallery in Philadelphia, attorney host Christopher Naughton welcomes attorneys Stephen Sheller of Sheller, P.C., Raymond Williams of DLA Piper and former pharmacuetical executive Dr. Peter Rost.
The new code, among other items, limits gifts to doctors, imposes stricter speaking/consulting arrangements and requires stricter training of sales representatives. It does not, however, endorse divulging doctors' names or monetary remuneration pertaining to clinical trials.
"Pharmaceutical companies are reassessing their marketing technicques," says Williams. "It is as much about negative perception as it is about policy."
"The American public doesn't trust drug companies," says Rost, "and they have to do more than rehash old guidelines."
The American Law Journal broadcasts every Sunday night at 6:30 p.m. on CN8, The Comcast Network and is available free on demand--click here for the website.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
David Talbot reports on what would have been the crowning achievement of Alaskan Independence Party founder Joe Vogler had he not been first killed in a plastic explosives deal gone bad:
Vogler's greatest moment of glory was to be his 1993 appearance before the United Nations to denounce United States "tyranny" before the entire world and to demand Alaska's freedom. The Alaska secessionist had persuaded the government of Iran to sponsor his anti-American harangue.
That's right ... Iran. The Islamic dictatorship. The taker of American hostages. The rogue nation that McCain and Palin have excoriated Obama for suggesting we diplomatically engage. That Iran.
The following year, Todd and Sarah Palin attended the AIP convention, and Todd Palin joined the party shortly thereafter.
Impose a national banking “holiday” closing all U.S. banks or restrict and ration cash withdrawals and the cashing of checks or drafts. President Franklin Roosevelt used this authority in 1933 to closet the U.S. banking system after a run of bank failures.
Shut down all stock and commodity exchanges. President Wilson invoked this authority in 1914 to shut down U.S. financial markets for four months.
Impose punitive taxes on inbound or outbound foreign investments. President Kennedy invoked this authority in 1962 to shrink U.S. capital deficits and support the U.S. dollar.
Investigate, regulate, or prohibit the importing, exporting or holding of currency, securities or precious metals. President Franklin Roosevelt used this authority in 1933 to order the sale of all privately held gold in the United States to the federal government. President Nixon invoked similar authority in 1972 to end the ability of foreign central banks to exchange U.S. dollars for gold.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
A 20-year-old Tennessee man has been indicted for hacking into an e-mail account of U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, according to court records.
David C. Kernell was indicted Tuesday on a single charge of accessing a protected computer by a grand jury in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in Knoxville. The indictment, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a US$250,000 fine, was unsealed Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Kernell, from Knoxville, turned himself into law enforcement authorities and is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday. He is the son of Mike Kernell, a Democratic state representative from Memphis.
The three-page indictment alleges that Kernell gained access to a Yahoo e-mail account used by Palin, the Republican governor of Alaska, on about Sept. 16. Palin was named Senator John McCain's vice-presidential running mate in August.
The next day, the Wikileaks.org published several screen shots of Yahoo e-mail messages, e-mail addresses of Palin family members and associates, and other data that hackers claimed to have obtained from Palin's private account.
A hacking group known as Anonymous claimed to have gained access to Palin's email@example.com account and sent the information to Wikileaks, which acts as an anonymous clearinghouse for leaked documents.
"Governor Palin has come under criticism for using private email accounts to conduct government business and in the process avoid transparency laws," Wikileaks wrote in a note accompanying the material. "The list of correspondence, together with the account name, appears to re-enforce the criticism."
Bloggers had fingered Kernell as a suspect after linking him to the online name "rubico," used by the hacker who claimed to have accessed Palin's Yahoo account. Rubico claimed to have accessed the account by using Yahoo's password reset feature and answering security questions with publicly available information, and the indictment supports that claim. He guessed correctly that Palin had met her husband at Wasilla High.
The indictment alleges that Kernell posted screenshots of Palin's e-mail messages, e-mail addresses of her family members, pictures of her family and at least one mobile phone number to the 4chan.org Web site. It's unclear in the indictment how the information came to Wikileaks from 4chan.org, an image-based bulletin board.
Another person also reset the account's password and was able to access Palin's e-mail account, the indictment said.