Friday, June 29, 2007

THE INVISIBLE HAND

From Harper's, June 2007

From a December 22 dialogue between James J.

Cramer and Aaron Task on "Wall Street Confidential,"
a video feature of TheStreet.com, a financial
news site founded by Cramer, a former hedge-fund
manager and the host of CNBC' s Mad Money. Research
in Motion, a Canadian company that markets
BlackBerry wireless communication devices, experienced
growth of more than 60 percent in its stock price
over the past year.

AARON TASK: Again today we have a misdirection
from the futures. Is this just because of
the holiday season?
JAMES J. CRAMER: When I was short at my
hedge fund-meaning I needed the market
down-I would create a level of activity beforehand
that could drive the futures. It
doesn't take much money. Or if I were long,
and I would want to make things a little bit
rosy, I would go in and take a bunch of
stocks and make sure they were higher,
maybe commit five million in capital to do
it, and I could affect the market. That's a
strategy very worth doing. I would encourage
anyone who is in the hedge-fund business to
do it, because it's legal, and it's a very quick
way to make money, and very satisfying. It's
a fun game, and it's a lucrative game. By the
way, no one else in the world would ever admit
that, but I don't care.
TASK: That's right, and you can say it here.
CRAMER: I can. I'm not going to say it on TV.
TASK: Well, on a related note, there are so
many more hedge funds today than when
you were managing your hedge fund. Does
that make it tougher?
CRAMER: You've really got to control the market.
You can't let it lift. When you get a Research
in Motion, it's really important to use
a lot of your firepower to knock that down,
because it's the fulcrum of the market today.
You can't create, yourself, an impression that
a stock's down. But you do it anyway, because
the SEC doesn't understand it. So, I
mean, that's the only sense that I would say
it's illegal. But a hedge fund that's not up a
lot really has to do a lot now to save itself. So
this is different than what I was talking about
at the beginning. This is just blatantly illegal.
But when your company may be in doubt because
you're down, I think it's really important
to foment an impression that the Research
in Motion isn't any good, because
Research in Motion is the key today. So you
would hit this guy and that guy, and when
you would see a guy who's bidding, you would
wipe out that guy very quickly. It would be
fabulous, because it would beleaguer all the
moron longs who are also keying on Research
in Motion. When your company is in survival
mode, it's really important to get the
people talking as if there's something wrong
with RIM. Then you would call the Journal
and you would get the bozo reporter on Research
in Motion. And you would feed him a
rumor that Palm's got a killer it's going to
give away. These are. all the things you must
do on a day like today, and if you're not doing
it, maybe you shouldn't be in the game.
TASK: Okay, another stock that a lot of people are
focused on right now seems to be Apple-
CRAMER: Yeah, with Apple it's very important to
spread the rumor that both Verizon and AT&T
have decided they don't like the phone. That's
a very easy one to do because-you also want
to spread the rumor that it's not going to be
ready for Macworld-and this is very easy, because
the people that write about Apple want
that story, and you can claim that it's credible
because Apple doesn't-
TASK: Right, they're not going to comment.
CRAMER: You just create an image that there's
going to be news next week that's going to
frighten everybody. This is what's really going
on under the market that you don't see.
TASK: And that nobody else talks about except you.
CRAMER: Right, but what's important when
you're in hedge-fund mode is to not do anything
remotely truthful, because the truth is
so against your view that it's important to
create a new truth, to develop a fiction.
TASK: SO you're talking about the mechanics of
the market-
CRAMER: Well, the mechanics are much more
important than the fundamentals.
TASK: Well, okay, but in terms of the fundamentals-
CRAMER: Who cares about the fundamentals?
Look at what people can do. The great thing
about the market is that it has nothing to do
with the actual stocks. Now look, maybe two
weeks from now buyers will come to their senses
and realize everything they heard was a liebut
then again Fannie Mae lied about their
earnings for six billion dollars, so you know-
TASK: Right, and Bristol-Myers lied.
CRAMER: It's just fiction and fiction and fiction.
I think it's important that people recognize
that the way the market really works is to
have that nexus: hit the brokerage houses
with a series of orders that can push it down,
then leak it to the press, and then get it on
CNBC-that's also very important. Then
you have sort of a vicious cycle down. It's a
pretty good game, and it can pay for a percent
or two.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

White House Is Subpoenaed on Wiretapping

Bear in mind that the subpoenas were refused on the old "executive privilege" stonewall, but all Congress needs to do is assert that it is investigating a federal crime to get around that bullshit. For this, spines will be required and Congress has shown precious little of those (well we got minimum wage bumped up to poverty level, right?!).--Pete


The move put Senate Democrats squarely on a course they had until now avoided, setting the stage for a showdown with the Bush administration over one of the most contentious issues arising from the White House’s campaign against terrorism.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the committee, said the subpoenas seek documents that could shed light on the administration’s legal justification for the wiretapping and on disputes within the government over its legality.

In addition, the panel is seeking materials on related issues, including the relationship between the Bush administration and several unidentified telecommunications companies that aided the N.S.A. eavesdropping program.

The panel’s action was the most aggressive move yet by lawmakers to investigate the wiretapping program since the Democrats gained control of Congress this year.

Mr. Leahy said Wednesday at a news conference that the committee had issued the subpoenas because the administration had followed a “consistent pattern of evasion and misdirection” in dealing with Congressional efforts to scrutinize the program.

“It’s unacceptable,” Mr. Leahy said. “It is stonewalling of the worst kind.”

The White House, the vice president’s office and the Justice Department declined Wednesday to say how they would respond to the subpoenas.

“We’re aware of the committee’s action and will respond appropriately,” said Tony Fratto, White House deputy press secretary.

“It’s unfortunate that Congressional Democrats continue to choose the route of confrontation,” Mr. Fratto added.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Cheney said his office would respond later, while a Justice Department spokesman said, “The department will continue to work closely with the Congress as they exercise their oversight functions, and we will review this matter in the spirit of that longstanding relationship.”

Under the domestic eavesdropping program, the N.S.A. did not obtain warrants before listening in on phone calls and reading e-mail messages to and from Americans and others in the United States who the agency believes may be linked to Al Qaeda. Only international communications — those into and out of the country — were monitored, according to administration officials.

The Senate panel’s action comes after dramatic testimony last month by James B. Comey, former deputy attorney general, who described a March 2004 confrontation at the hospital bedside of John Ashcroft, then attorney general, between Justice Department officials and White House aides over the legality of the wiretapping program.

Before Mr. Comey’s testimony, the White House had largely been able to fend off aggressive oversight of the N.S.A. wiretapping since it was first disclosed in December 2005. The Republican-controlled Congress held hearings last year, and even considered legislative proposals to curb the scope of the eavesdropping. But Mr. Cheney repeatedly pressured Republican Congressional leaders to pull back.

When the Democrats won the 2006 midterm elections, many observers predicted that the N.S.A. program — which a federal judge declared unconstitutional — would be one of the first Bush administration operations to undergo new scrutiny. But in January, the administration announced that it was placing the program under the legal framework of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a move it had previously refused to consider.

The Democrats have largely focused on objections to the Iraq war in their first months in power, and have appeared reluctant to take aggressive steps to challenge policies on harsh interrogation practices, secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons and domestic wiretapping for fear of being labeled soft on terrorism.

For instance, at a confirmation hearing on June 19 for John A. Rizzo as general counsel of the C.I.A., no member of the Senate Intelligence Committee directly challenged the agency’s secret detention or harsh interrogation practices.

Mr. Rizzo successfully dodged tougher questions by saying he preferred to answer them in closed session. The Senate Intelligence Committee has conducted closed-door oversight of the wiretapping, but it has not been as aggressive as the Judiciary Committee in publicly challenging the administration over it.

But Mr. Comey’s testimony has given Democrats an opening to argue that they are focusing on the legal issues of the program, rather than on the merits of monitoring the phone calls of terrorist suspects.

“The Comey testimony moved this front and center,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who is a member of the Judiciary Committee. “Alarm bells went off. His testimony made it clear that there had been an effort to circumvent the law.”

The Senate panel has been asking the administration for documents related to the program since Mr. Comey testified. But the White House had not responded to a letter from Mr. Leahy and Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the panel. As a result, the panel voted 13 to 3 last Thursday to authorize Mr. Leahy to issue the subpoenas, with three Republicans voting in favor of issuing them. Separately, the House Judiciary Committee has also threatened to issue subpoenas for the same documents.

The wiretapping is just one of several legal issues on which Congress and the administration are squaring off. For example, the White House is under pressure to respond to subpoenas issued two weeks ago by the House and Senate Judiciary Committees for witnesses and documents related to the dismissal of federal prosecutors. Thursday is the deadline for the White House to turn over documents linked to Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, and Sara M. Taylor, the former White House political director.

If the White House fails to produce the material, the House and Senate could begin a process leading to contempt resolutions to force compliance. Meanwhile, Mr. Cheney is in a separate standoff with Congress and the National Archives over his office’s refusal to follow an executive order concerning handling of classified documents.

Mr. Cheney declared that his office did not have to abide by the order that all executive branch offices provide data to the Archives about the amount of material they have classified. His office said that he is not a member of the executive branch, because he is president of the Senate.

David Johnston and Scott Shane contributed reporting.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Please take the time to voice your opposition to the hatred disguised as divine morality spewing from the evangelical, fascist theocrats who know that the Matthew Shepard Act would curtail their vile, divisive diatribes. May they all burn (metaphorically, kinda) in the hells of their own making.--Pete

Call your representatives now and tell them to support the Matthew Shepard Act.--Pete

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hamas: 'We were forced to do it'

Published Jun 24, 2007

The worldwide imperialist establishment and its media blame Hamas for staging a coup against the Palestinian unity government, a government dissolved and replaced by Fatah. To give our readers a more accurate picture, a statement from Hamas follows, excerpted from www.Manartv.com.lb (June 16).


“Hamas does not want to seize power,” said the group’s politburo chief Khaled Mershaal. “We are faithful to the Palestinian people.”

Mershaal added: “What has happened in Gaza is an emergency measure to deal with a state that wanted to impose itself on everybody ... we were forced to take this emergency measure. We did not want to take it but we were forced to do it. ... We want brotherhood with the sons of the Fatah movement. This was not a confrontation with Fatah. Our crisis is not with Fatah.”

“The people [of Gaza—JC] were suffering from chaos and lack of security and this treatment was needed,” Meshaal continued. “The lack of security drove the crisis toward explosion.”

“Abbas has legitimacy,” Meshal said. “There’s no one who would question or doubt that he is an elected president, and we will cooperate with him for the sake of national interest.”

Meshaal called upon Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo to help mediate talks between Hamas and Abbas, to act “as an umbrella to hold the national Palestinian dialogue to approach a Palestinian accord.”

Meshaal said that a national unity government is the only solution, and that Abbas’ dissolution of the unity government “will not remedy the situation ... and will not solve the problem. There will be no two governments and no division of the homeland.”

Meanwhile Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said, “The appointment of Salam Fayyad as a head of the emergency government is a coup against [Hamas’] legitimacy ... We ask President Abbas to withdraw the decision in order to preserve the integrity of our people.”


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Bill Oh,Really? gets schooled by a bright 16-year-old...

Surprise, surprise!

Billy-boy then proceeds to call him a pinhead, which was washed from future airings, but is perfectly plain right here.--Pete



From Newshounds:We watch FOX so you don't have to!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

We Think You're Crazy, Embarassingly...

Inside the Green Zone Bubble

Living inside Baghdad’s Green Zone seems to encourage a dangerous disconnect between its occupants—American or Iraqi—and the chaotic and violent reality outside its bounds. American journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran takes a sobering look inside for the UK paper The Sunday Times.



read more | digg story

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Twenty Things You Should Know About Corporate Crime

By Russell Mokhiber, AlterNet
Posted on June 16, 2007, Printed on June 23, 2007
http://www.alternet.org/story/54093/

The following is text from a speech delivered by Russell Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter to the Taming the Giant Corporation conference in Washington, D.C., June 9, 2007.

20. Corporate crime inflicts far more damage on society than all street crime combined.

Whether in bodies or injuries or dollars lost, corporate crime and violence wins by a landslide.

The FBI estimates, for example, that burglary and robbery -- street crimes -- costs the nation $3.8 billion a year.

The losses from a handful of major corporate frauds -- Tyco, Adelphia, Worldcom, Enron -- swamp the losses from all street robberies and burglaries combined.

Health care fraud alone costs Americans $100 billion to $400 billion a year.

The savings and loan fraud -- which former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh called "the biggest white collar swindle in history" -- cost us anywhere from $300 billion to $500 billion.

And then you have your lesser frauds: auto repair fraud, $40 billion a year, securities fraud, $15 billion a year -- and on down the list.

19. Corporate crime is often violent crime.

Recite this list of corporate frauds and people will immediately say to you: but you can’t compare street crime and corporate crime -- corporate crime is not violent crime.

Not true.

Corporate crime is often violent crime.

The FBI estimates that, 16,000 Americans are murdered every year.

Compare this to the 56,000 Americans who die every year on the job or from occupational diseases such as black lung and asbestosis and the tens of thousands of other Americans who fall victim to the silent violence of pollution, contaminated foods, hazardous consumer products, and hospital malpractice.

These deaths are often the result of criminal recklessness. Yet, they are rarely prosecuted as homicides or as criminal violations of federal laws.

18. Corporate criminals are the only criminal class in the United States that have the power to define the laws under which they live.

The mafia, no.

The gangstas, no.

The street thugs, no.

But the corporate criminal lobby, yes. They have marinated Washington -- from the White House to the Congress to K Street -- with their largesse. And out the other end come the laws they can live with. They still violate their own rules with impunity. But they make sure the laws are kept within reasonable bounds.

Exhibit A -- the automobile industry.

Over the past 30 years, the industry has worked its will on Congress to block legislation that would impose criminal sanctions on knowing and willful violations of the federal auto safety laws. Today, with very narrow exceptions, if an auto company is caught violating the law, only a civil fine is imposed.

17. Corporate crime is underprosecuted by a factor of say -- 100. And the flip side of that -- corporate crime prosecutors are underfunded by a factor of say -- 100.

Big companies that are criminally prosecuted represent only the tip of a very large iceberg of corporate wrongdoing.

For every company convicted of health care fraud, there are hundreds of others who get away with ripping off Medicare and Medicaid, or face only mild slap-on-the-wrist fines and civil penalties when caught.

For every company convicted of polluting the nation’s waterways, there are many others who are not prosecuted because their corporate defense lawyers are able to offer up a low-level employee to go to jail in exchange for a promise from prosecutors not to touch the company or high-level executives.

For every corporation convicted of bribery or of giving money directly to a public official in violation of federal law, there are thousands who give money legally through political action committees to candidates and political parties. They profit from a system that effectively has legalized bribery.

For every corporation convicted of selling illegal pesticides, there are hundreds more who are not prosecuted because their lobbyists have worked their way in Washington to ensure that dangerous pesticides remain legal.

For every corporation convicted of reckless homicide in the death of a worker, there are hundreds of others that don’t even get investigated for reckless homicide when a worker is killed on the job. Only a few district attorneys across the country have historically investigated workplace deaths as homicides.

White collar crime defense attorneys regularly admit that if more prosecutors had more resources, the number of corporate crime prosecutions would increase dramatically. A large number of serious corporate and white collar crime cases are now left on the table for lack of resources.

16. Beware of consumer groups or other public interest groups who make nice with corporations.

There are now probably more fake public interest groups than actual ones in America today. And many formerly legitimate public interest groups have been taken over or compromised by big corporations. Our favorite example is the National Consumer League. It’s the oldest consumer group in the country. It was created to eradicate child labor.

But in the last ten years or so, it has been taken over by large corporations. It now gets the majority of its budget from big corporations such as Pfizer, Bank of America, Pharmacia & Upjohn, Kaiser Permanente, Wyeth-Ayerst, and Verizon.

15. It used to be when a corporation committed a crime, they pled guilty to a crime.

So, for example, so many large corporations were pleading guilty to crimes in the 1990s, that in 2000, we put out a report titled The Top 100 Corporate Criminals of the 1990s. We went back through all of the Corporate Crime Reporters for that decade, pulled out all of the big corporations that had been convicted, ranked the corporate criminals by the amount of their criminal fines, and cut it off at 100.

So, you have your Fortune 500, your Forbes 400, and your Corporate Crime Reporter 100.

14. Now, corporate criminals don’t have to worry about pleading guilty to crimes.

Three new loopholes have developed over the past five years -- the deferred prosecution agreement, the non prosecution agreement, and pleading guilty a closet entity or a defunct entity that has nothing to lose.

13. Corporations love deferred prosecution agreements.

In the 1990s, if prosecutors had evidence of a crime, they would bring a criminal charge against the corporation and sometimes against the individual executives. And the company would end up pleading guilty.

Then, about three years ago, the Justice Department said -- hey, there is this thing called a deferred prosecution agreement.

We can bring a criminal charge against the company. And we will tell the company -- if you are a good company and do not violate the law for the next two years, we will drop the charges. No harm, no foul. This is called a deferred prosecution agreement.

And most major corporate crime prosecutions are brought this way now. The company pays a fine. The company is charged with a crime. But there is no conviction. And after two or three years, depending on the term of the agreement, the charges are dropped.

12. Corporations love non prosecution agreements even more.

One Friday evening last July, I was sitting my office in the National Press Building. And into my e-mail box came a press release from the Justice Department.

The press release announced that Boeing will pay a $50 million criminal penalty and $615 million in civil penalties to resolve federal claims relating to the company’s hiring of the former Air Force acquisitions chief Darleen A. Druyun, by its then CFO, Michael Sears -- and stealing sensitive procurement information.

So, the company pays a criminal penalty. And I figure, okay if they paid a criminal penalty, they must have pled guilty.

No, they did not plead guilty.

Okay, they must have been charged with a crime and had the prosecution deferred.

No, they were not charged with a crime and did not have the prosecution deferred.

About a week later, after pounding the Justice Department for an answer as to what happened to Boeing, they sent over something called a non prosecution agreement.

That is where the Justice Department says -- we’re going to fine you criminally, but hey, we don’t want to cost you any government business, so sign this agreement. It says we won’t prosecute you if you pay the fine and change your ways.

Corporate criminals love non prosecution agreements. No criminal charge. No criminal record. No guilty plea. Just pay the fine and leave.

11. In health fraud cases, find an empty closet or defunct entity to plead guilty.

The government has a mandatory exclusion rule for health care corporations that are convicted of ripping off Medicare.

Such an exclusion is the equivalent of the death penalty. If a major drug company can’t do business with Medicare, it loses a big chunk of its business. There have been many criminal prosecutions of major health care corporations for ripping off Medicare. And many of these companies have pled guilty. But not one major health care company has been excluded from Medicare.

Why not?

Because when you read in the newspaper that a major health care company pled guilty, it’s not the parent company that pleads guilty. The prosecutor will allow a unit of the corporation that has no assets -- or even a defunct entity -- to plead guilty. And therefore that unit will be excluded from Medicare -- which doesn’t bother the parent corporation, because the unit had no business with Medicare to begin with.

Earlier, Dr. Sidney Wolfe was here and talked about the criminal prosecution of Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Connecticut-based maker of OxyContin.

Dr. Wolfe said that the company pled guilty to pushing OxyContin by making claims that it is less addictive and less subject to abuse than other pain medications and that it continued to do so despite warnings to the contrary from doctors, the media, and members of its own sales force.

Well, Purdue Pharma -- the company that makes and markets the drug -- didn’t plead guilty. A different company -- Purdue Frederick pled guilty. Purdue Pharma actually got a non-prosecution agreement. Purdue Frederick had nothing to lose, so it pled guilty.

10. Corporate criminals don’t like to be put on probation.

Very rarely, a corporation convicted of a crime will be placed on probation. Many years ago, Consolidated Edison in New York was convicted of an environmental crime. A probation official was assigned. Employees would call him with wrongdoing. He would write reports for the judge. The company changed its ways. There was actual change within the corporation.

Corporations hate this. They hate being under the supervision of some public official, like a judge.

We need more corporate probation.

9. Corporate criminals don’t like to be charged with homicide.

Street murders occur every day in America. And they are prosecuted every day in America. Corporate homicides occur every day in America. But they are rarely prosecuted.

The last homicide prosecution brought against a major American corporation was in 1980, when a Republican Indiana prosecutor charged Ford Motor Co. with homicide for the deaths of three teenaged girls who died when their Ford Pinto caught on fire after being rear-ended in northern Indiana.

The prosecutor alleged that Ford knew that it was marketing a defective product, with a gas tank that crushed when rear ended, spilling fuel.

In the Indiana case, the girls were incinerated to death.

But Ford brought in a hot shot criminal defense lawyer who in turn hired the best friend of the judge as local counsel, and who, as a result, secured a not guilty verdict after persuading the judge to keep key evidence out of the jury room.

It’s time to crank up the corporate homicide prosecutions.

8. There are very few career prosecutors of corporate crime.

Patrick Fitzgerald is one that comes to mind. He’s the U.S. Attorney in Chicago. He put away Scooter Libby. And he’s now prosecuting the Canadian media baron Conrad Black.

7. Most corporate crime prosecutors see their jobs as a stepping stone to greater things.

Spitzer and Giuliani prosecuted corporate crime as a way to move up the political ladder. But most young prosecutors prosecute corporate crime to move into the lucrative corporate crime defense bar.

6. Most corporate criminals turn themselves into the authorities.

The vast majority of corporate criminal prosecutions are now driven by the corporations themselves. If they find something wrong, they know they can trust the prosecutor to do the right thing. They will be forced to pay a fine, maybe agree to make some internal changes.

But in this day and age, in all likelihood, they will not be forced to plead guilty.

So, better to be up front with the prosecutor and put the matter behind them. To save the hide of the corporation, they will cooperate with federal prosecutors against individual executives within the company. Individuals will be charged, the corporation will not.

5. The market doesn’t take most modern corporate criminal prosecutions seriously.

Almost universally, when a corporate crime case is settled, the stock of the company involved goes up.

Why? Because a cloud has been cleared and there is no serious consequence to the company. No structural changes in how the company does business. No monitor. No probation. Preserving corporate reputation is the name of the game.

4. The Justice Department needs to start publishing an annual Corporate Crime in the United States report.

Every year, the Justice Department puts out an annual report titled "Crime in the United States."

But by "Crime in the United States," the Justice Department means "street crime in the United States."

In the "Crime in the United States" annual report, you can read about burglary, robbery and theft.

There is little or nothing about price-fixing, corporate fraud, pollution, or public corruption.

A yearly Justice Department report on Corporate Crime in the United States is long overdue.

3. We must start asking -- which side are you on -- with the corporate criminals or against?

Most professionals in Washington work for, are paid by, or are under the control of the corporate crime lobby. Young lawyers come to town, fresh out of law school, 25 years old, and their starting salary is $160,000 a year. And they’re working for the corporate criminals.

Young lawyers graduating from the top law schools have all kinds of excuses for working for the corporate criminals -- huge debt, just going to stay a couple of years for the experience.

But the reality is, they are working for the corporate criminals.

What kind of respect should we give them? Especially since they have many options other than working for the corporate criminals.

Time to dust off that age-old question -- which side are you on? (For young lawyers out there considering other options, check out Alan Morrison’s new book, Beyond the Big Firm: Profiles of Lawyers Who Want Something More.)

2. We need a 911 number for the American people to dial to report corporate crime and violence.

If you want to report street crime and violence, call 911.

But what number do you call if you want to report corporate crime and violence?

We propose 611.

Call 611 to report corporate crime and violence.

We need a national number where people can pick up the phone and report the corporate criminals in our midst.

What triggered this thought?

We attended the press conference at the Justice Department the other day announcing the indictment of Congressman William Jefferson (D-Louisiana).

Jefferson was the first U.S. official charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Federal officials alleged that Jefferson was both on the giving and receiving ends of bribe payments.

On the receiving end, he took $100,000 in cash -- $90,000 of it was stuffed into his freezer in Washington, D.C.

The $90,000 was separated in $10,000 increments, wrapped in aluminum foil, and concealed inside various frozen food containers.

At the press conference announcing the indictment, after various federal officials made their case before the cameras, up to the mike came Joe Persichini, assistant director of the Washington field office of the FBI.

"To the American people, I ask you, take time," Persichini said. "Read this charging document line by line, scheme by scheme, count by count. This case is about greed, power and arrogance."

"Everyone is entitled to honest and ethical public service," Persichini continued. "We as leaders standing here today cannot do it alone. We need the public’s help. The amount of corruption is dependent on what the public with allow.

Again, the amount of corruption is dependent on what the public will allow."

“"f you have knowledge of, if you’ve been confronted with or you are participating, I ask that you contact your local FBI office or you call the Washington Field Office of the FBI at 202.278.2000. Thank you very much."

Shorten the number -- make it 611.

1. And the number one thing you should know about corporate crime?

Everyone is deserving of justice. So, question, debate, strategize, yes.

But if God-forbid you too are victimized by a corporate criminal, you too will demand justice.

We need a more beefed up, more effective justice system to deal with the corporate criminals in our midst.

Russell Mokhiber is the editor of Corporate Crime Reporter.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/54093/

Bush: The Musical

Relive Bush’s soiled legacy to the tune of Abba’s “Waterloo.” If ever there was a man who could carry off the line “I feel like I win when I lose,” it’s our president. Via Truthdig

Thursday, June 21, 2007

ONLY 10 OF 1,000 U.S. STAFFERS AT BAGHDAD EMBASSY SPEAK ARAB

ABC NEWS BLOTTER - Of the 1,000 U.S. employees at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, only 10 have a working knowledge of Arabic, according to the State Department. . . The report found that more than one-third of public policy diplomacy positions at Arabic language posts were filled by people who did not speak the language at the designated level.

http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/

Felton Community Resists Water Giant

Felton is a bucolic community deep in the Santa Cruz mountains about 40 miles from mi casa.--Pete

by Christina Aanestad
Monday Jun 18th, 2007 6:58 PM
Residents in the town of Felton, California are using eminent domain to buy back their water supply from a private water company called American Water. Residents complain of price gouging and poor customer service.

The small community of Felton is going toe to toe with the nations largest private water compnay. American Water serves some 18 million customers in 29 states, including California, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, and Ohio. 82 year old Milton Nielsen lives on social security with his son in Felton, California. After a water pipe broke on his property he received a water bill for over 4,000 dollars.

"I got that bill and I almost fell over."

After complaining to American Water about his bill, they agreed to cut the bill in half, requiring Nielsen to pay over 2 thousand dollars for water he never used.

"I wouldn't ask them to give me a hand if I was dying of thirst in the desert. That's how crooked these people are."

Nielsen says his last water bill was 162 dollars, more than double what he paid before American Water bought the system in 2002. This steep increase is why the community of Felton has now voted overwhelmingly to buy their water system back.

But the company refuses to sell. Kevin Tilden, spokesperson for Cal Am Water,American Water's California division, says price increases are necessary to maintain the decades old water system.

"Water standards are changing, for water quality, the EPA standards are changing. There's some investment needed to keep up with that. But also our water systems are generally 40 to 100 years old and there's a certain amount of maintenance and replacement needed to keep them reliable and current."

Tilden says the company's prices are comparable to those in nearby water districts and actually lower than some, like the community of Davenport, where residential water bills are over a thousand dollars every year.

The San Lorenzo Valley Water District shares the same water source as Felton. Barbara Springer a member of Felton's FLOW, Friends of Locally Owned Water says SLV's water rates are half what she pays American Water.

"For 40 units for SLV water district you'd be paying about 118 dollars for two months. For Cal Am, we're paying about 275 dollars for the same amount of water."

The people of Felton plan to use eminent domain to buy back their water system BUT American Water has spent millions resisting. Springer says the rate increases are not going to pay for
maintenance, but to pay for American Water's corporate overhead.

"SLV water district is managed right here in the San Lorenzo Valley, that's it. Cal Am has a layer of management in Monterey California, a layer of management in New Jersey, they have another layer in Essen, Germany, so we're paying for all those multiple layers and significant private corporate salaries."

Felton isn't the only community to battle American Water. The city of Chicago waited months for broken fire hydrants to be fixed; and communities in Ohio fought back rate increases for brown tap water from American Water.

Victoria Kaplan of Food and Water Watch, says there's a conflict with private companies owning public resources like water.

"Private water companies are accountable to their share holders not the public they serve."

Last year, American Water's parent company, German based RWE announced it was selling American Water in order to focus on energy. But, Food and Water Watch released RWE board meeting minutes that show American Water has faulty infrastructure that would take over 200 years to replace and its outdated pipe system is leaking nearly 20 to 30% of water in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Minutes also state that regulations on arsenic and mercury contamination are getting tougher to meet, suggesting that RWE is selling American Water to offload a potential liability. RWE declined to comment for this feature.

Kaplan says the Bush Administration's cuts in public services are accelerating water privatization.

"What this does is it puts communities that need to improve their water system in a position where they're searching for the funding to do so, that enables private corporations like American Water to get their foot in the door and make their argument for doing the job. But, private companies like American Water have not been able to get the job done and get the job done well."

That's why Food and Water Watch is working to introduce legislation to establish a federal water trust, that would finance the nations water system. Meanwhile, the community of Felton and American Water have their first eminent domain court hearing later this month. From Felton, California, I'm Christina Aanestad reporting For FSRN.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Megacorp Columbia Forces Frightening Legal Precedent

By Annalee Newitz
Posted on June 19
http://www.alternet.org/story/54643/

It's no big surprise that entertainment megacorp Columbia is suing more file sharers. But there is something quite shocking about its latest infringement lawsuit against Web site TorrentSpy.com.

With this lawsuit, Columbia is attempting to do nothing short of changing the way evidence is gathered via the legal discovery process. That means the entertainment industry has finally figured out a way to screw everybody in the United States -- not just the geeks using peer-to-peer software.

Columbia is suing TorrentSpy for infringement because the site makes it easy for people to find information about where to download illegal copies of movies owned by Columbia.

TorrentSpy doesn't make the movies themselves available -- it offers a search engine that locates files people can download via the file-sharing program BitTorrent. The suit says the guys who own the site are "inducing" others to infringe, as well as gaining secondary benefits from infringement because the site's popularity and ad sales are boosted by pirates.

Here's where things get hairy. During discovery, the period in a lawsuit in which both sides gather evidence, Columbia ordered TorrentSpy to hand over its user logs, electronic records of what people have done on the site.

The problem is that TorrentSpy doesn't keep user logs. So Columbia's lawyers came up with a freaky, technically dubious argument. They claimed that TorrentSpy had technically been keeping logs anyway because user data passed through the Web site computer's RAM -- the part of the computer's memory that never gets written to disk and saved. The mere fact that the data had flashed through the RAM was enough to make it discoverable, the lawyers claimed.

But all that stuff in RAM was gone. So how to get it back? Columbia's lawyers told the judge that the owners of TorrentSpy could start keeping user logs during the discovery process and in essence re-create the missing logs.

This was hugely controversial because discovery is only supposed to apply to already existing evidence. You can't order witnesses or defendants to start gathering data today for you to subpoena in the future. But the judge, Jacqueline Chooljian, went for Columbia's argument about the RAM: if the data had been in RAM for even a nanosecond, it existed in the past and was therefore subject to discovery.

The ramifications of this decision are far-reaching indeed. If the California ruling holds -- it's in the appeals stage right now -- Columbia may have created a legal loophole that allows lawyers to order people to generate new evidence during discovery.

Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Fred von Lohmann, who has been following the case, told me via e-mail, "Because the ruling is based on the notion that ephemeral RAM copies are 'records' subject to preservation and production in litigation, it reaches deep into many businesses.

For example, if you have a VOIP-based phone system (where conversations appear momentarily in RAM in your data center), are you responsible for recording every phone call for potential disclosure in litigation? What about IM conversations? Does everything created by a computer become a 'producible' record, just because it's digital and therefore must rely on RAM?"

While the case is on appeal, TorrentSpy won't have to start tracking its users. But if the appeal fails, TorrentSpy will have to spy on its customers to produce evidence. There is one hopeful sign: the judge has requested that TorrentSpy not hand over the unique IP addresses of its customers in logs, so the evidence can't be used to go after individuals. However, the precedent of asking companies to create logs as evidence may remain in place.

Does this mean that the discovery process could become a way to wiretap parties to a lawsuit? After all, as von Lohmann points out, VoIP companies preserve phone conversations in RAM for a few brief seconds.

One could easily imagine a plaintiff arguing that a VoIP company should start keeping audio files of all the phone calls between two parties to a case, since those audio files should have existed before. As a result, the plaintiff will have access to everything those parties say to each other after the lawsuit has been brought. Unfair? You bet. Legal? According to Judge Chooljian, yes.

If you're worried about government-issued wiretap orders, maybe it's time to start worrying about Hollywood-issued ones too.

Annalee Newitz (annalee@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who has a hell of a lot of information about you stored in her short-term memory.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Are Romney's Five Sons Gay?

By Guest Blogger
Posted on June 18, 2007, Printed on June 19, 2007
http://www.alternet.org/bloggers/guest/54542/

This post, written by Howie Klein, originally appeared on Down With Tyranny!

Although Romney has flip flopped on everything else that has come up, one issue he does seem firm on is support for the occupation of Iraq and for Bush's disastrous escalation policies. When I woke up this morning, CNN seemed to be in the midst of a "Mitt Romney Day" series of mini-interviews with the slippery Mormon. Some are even calling the perpetual 4th placer "the frontrunner," because he has so much money to spend in Iowa and New Hampshire. The Mormons, a wealthy and secretive cult, will spend any amount to get one of their own in control of the White House.

This morning when CNN asked him why none of those strapping, toothy Romney brothers who he's tried to make the face of his Iowa campaign have served in the Iraq occupation he loves so much, he had a rather bizarre response: "Each of my five sons gave two years of their life to the service of their church, and I consider that service to be laudable. But I very highly value those who serve in the military. But it is a volunteer military and I hope that we keep it that way." Each of his five sons, aside from being a cult member trying to proselytize among the Maoris, Bantus, Tutsis and the French, is also a multimillionaire-- thanks to daddy's vulture-capital "investment" buy-out business-- so they don't have to "volunteer" to protect the nation-- or whatever Romney, Cheney and Bush claim our soldiers are doing in Iraq. Instead they can grow the very profitable Mormon business model which can then re-invest in candidates like... Mitt Romney.

I should stop putting Romany down and pray the Rupugs nominate him. Hillary would beat him by 20 points, despite Craig and Josh and Matt and Ben and Tagg and Togg and Twerp.

UPDATE FROM MY FRIEND JOHNNY

Not to mention Winkin, Blinkin', Nodd, Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Merrill, Lynch, Smith and Barney

HMM . . . DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL?

by Ken

Let's see, five strapping lads (okay, there's the one kind of funny-loooking one), no doubt all patriots, and yet none of them finding his way clear to serve in the military. What could that be?

What? All five of them? Are there any nekkid beefcake photos, like of their pops?

Howie Klein was president of his freshman class, drove to Afghanistan and Nepal, became the president of Reprise Records and started a blog called Down With Tyranny!. He's always hated tyrants.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/bloggers/guest/54542/

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Whore-ifying Impact of Media Misogyny

By Lucinda Marshall

http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2007-06/18marshall.cfm

In an unfortunate recent interview, former CBS news anchor Dan Rather offered his take on why CBS news has taken a plunge in the ratings, opining that, "(T)he mistake was to try to bring the 'Today' ethos to the evening news and to dumb it down, tart it up in hopes of attracting a younger audience."

No mention of Charles Gibson's past on Good Morning America and of course Rather stipulates that he has the highest regard for Katie Couric. Uh huh. As columnist Ann Althouse pointedly asks,

"1. Is Rather insinuating that having a female newscaster is part of the process of "tarting up" the news? I know he doesn't precisely make that connection, but, to me, it's just glaring that the word "tart" means prostitute.

2. Why on earth does it matter what time the news is on? If something is wrong for the evening news, why isn't it just as wrong for the morning news? I think what is unstated is that only women are watching those morning shows, so the standards are lower."

It is worth remembering that when Couric was hired, there was all this hoopla about her credentials and America being ready for a woman news anchor. And now CBS' Les Moonves says that numbers show that just a few months later we're not? Oh and by the way, let's also not forget that CBS's numbers were already in the toilet when Couric took over the evening news slot.

We will probably never know if Katie Couric is a creditable news anchor because she is attempting to survive in an atmosphere where the white male powers that be in newsrooms everywhere consistently sensationalize the news, asking us to believe that Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton are just as important as the Iraq war and global warming. As Jon Stewart recently pointed out on The Daily Show, CNN cut away from a story about General Peter Pace's resignation to go live to the courtroom where Ms. Hilton was getting in a car, they even went so far as to call in an expert, Tommy Chong (as in Cheech and..) to comment on the case. Not a shining example of having your priorities straight.

So are the news gate-keepers pushing tartiness? A recent AP piece proclaimed "Porn is becoming the ideal of what's sexy", explaining, "(T)he message is clear: In today's world, sex doesn't just sell. The pervasiveness of porn has made sexiness -- from subtle to raunchy -- a much-sought-after attribute online, at school and even at work." If that isn't blatant enough, try the new "Anchorwoman" reality show that will, as Jenn Pozner explains on the WIMN's Voices Blog, "feature a busty blonde bikini model and former WWE wrestler as an on-air anchor of KYTX Channel 19, a local CBS affiliate in Tyler, Texas." Not much room for doubt there.

Nonetheless, there is a case to be made that despite the language used, the key point is that the dumbed down tripe that passes as news these days is unacceptable. But it is also true that media sexism is alive and well and tartifiction as Mr. Rather so (dis)gracefully put it is hardly the only form of media misogyny which has many guises including ridicule, exclusion, discounting, discrimination, etc. Not only is that damaging to women but it creates a deliberately distorted view of the world that harms us all. And that is a crucial issue and to lose sight of it in the discussion of 'yes, but what he really meant to say…' only perpetuates the misogyny.

Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org. Her work has been published in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad including, Counterpunch, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, The Progressive, Countercurrents, Z Magazine , Common Dreams, In These Times and Information Clearinghouse. She also blogs at WIMN Online and writes a monthly column for the Louisville Eccentric Observer.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Real Ronald Reagan - not the bizzaro-world version

[The Colonel John R Stingo award goes to all those journalists who have been crediting Ronald Reagan with the end of the Cold War - given in memory the late New York columnist who, as AJ Liebling put it, never permitted "facts to interfere with the exercise of his imagination."

http://prorev.com/2007/06/real-ronald-reagan.htm

The claim that Reagan won the Cold War is pure rightwing propaganda. The Soviet Union had long been far weaker than many American leaders knew, or wished to acknowledge, thanks to CIA gross overestimates of its economy. The Soviet Union was brought down by a number of factors including the inherent weaknesses of dictatorship and ethnic divides that eventually forced its breakup.

William Blum: "[George Kennan], the former US ambassador to the Soviet Union, and father of the theory of 'containment' of the same country, asserts that 'the suggestion that any United States administration had the power to influence decisively the course of a tremendous domestic political upheaval in another great country on another side of the globe is simply childish.' He contends that the extreme militarization of American policy strengthened hard-liners in the Soviet Union. 'Thus the general effect of Cold War extremism was to delay rather than hasten the great change that overtook the Soviet Union.'"

For a change of pace here are some real quotes by and about Reagan]

"A tree's a tree. How many more do you need to look at?" Ronald Reagan (Governor of California), quoted in the Sacramento Bee, opposing expansion of Redwood National Park, March 3, 1966

"All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk." Ronald Reagan (Republican candidate for president), quoted in the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press, February 15, 1980

"It's silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas." Ronald Reagan (candidate for Governor of California), interviewed in the Fresno Bee, October 10, 1965

"...the moral equal of our Founding Fathers." President Reagan, describing the Nicaraguan contras, March 1, 1985

"Fascism was really the basis for the New Deal." Ronald Reagan, quoted in Time, May 17, 1976

"...a faceless mass, waiting for handouts." Ronald Reagan, 1965. (Description of Medicaid recipients.)

"Unemployment insurance is a pre-paid vacation for freeloaders." California Governor Ronald Reagan, in the Sacramento Bee, April 28, 1966

"We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry every night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet." Ronald Reagan, TV speech, October 27, 1964

"Reagan's only contribution [to the subject of the MX missile] throughout the entire hour and a half was to interrupt somewhere at midpoint to tell us he'd watched a movie the night before, and he gave us the plot from War Games, the movie. That was his only contribution." - Lee Hamilton (Representative from Indiana) interviewed by Haynes Johnson, Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years

"An amiable dunce" - Clark Clifford (former Defense Secretary)

"Poor dear, there's nothing between his ears." - British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

"...like reinventing the wheel." - Larry Speakes (Reagan's former press secretary) describing what it was like preparing the President for a press conference, Speaking Out: The Reagan Presidency from Inside the White House

"He has the ability to make statements that are so far outside the parameters of logic that they leave you speechless" - Patti Davis (formerly Patricia Ann Reagan) talking about her father, The Way I See It

"I have flown twice over Mount St. Helens. I'm not a scientist and I don't know the figures, but I have a suspicion that one little mountain out there, in these last several months, has probably released more sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere than has been released in the last ten years of automobile driving or things of that kind." --Ronald Reagan, quoted in Time magazine, October 20, 1980. (According to scientists, Mount St. Helens emitted about 2,000 tons of sulfur dioxide per day at its peak activity, compared with 81,000 tons per day produced by cars.)

"Approximately 80 percent of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation. So let's not go overboard in setting and enforcing tough emission standards for man-made sources." --Ronald Reagan, quoted in Sierra, September 10, 1980

"I've said it before and I'll say it again. The U.S. Geological Survey has told me that the proven potential for oil in Alaska alone is greater than the proven reserves in Saudi Arabia." --Ronald Reagan, quoted in the Detroit Free Press, March 23, 1980. (According to the USGS, the Saudi reserves of 165.5 billion barrels are 17 times the proven reserves--9.2 billion barrels--in Alaska.)

"Trains are not any more energy efficient than the average automobile, with both getting about 48 passenger miles to the gallon." --Ronald Reagan, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, May 10, 1980. (The U.S. Department of Transportation calculates that a 14-car train traveling at 80 miles per hour gets 400 passenger miles to the gallon. A 1980 auto carrying an average of 2.2 people gets 42.6 passenger miles to the gallon.)

"I know all the bad things that happened in that war. I was in uniform four years myself." --President Reagan, in an interview with foreign journalists, April 19, 1985. ("In costume" is more like it. Reagan spent World War II making Army training films at Hal Roach Studios in Hollywood.)

"We think there is a parallel between federal involvement in education and the decline in profit over recent years." --President Reagan, quoted in USA Today, April 26, 1983

"What we have found in this country, and maybe we're more aware of it now, is one problem that we've had, even in the best of times, and that is the people who are sleeping on the grates, the homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice." --President Reagan, defending himself against charges of callousness on Good Morning America, January 31, 1984

MORE ON THE REAL RONALD REAGAN

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Who Are the 10 Closeted Gay Republicans in Congress?

By Guest Blogger
Posted on June 15, 2007, Printed on June 16, 2007
http://www.alternet.org/bloggers/guest/54252/

This post, written by Howie Klein, originally appeared on Down With Tyranny!

This evening I went to the L.A. County Library's author's series, ALOUD, to hear Daniel Hurewitz, who wrote Bohemian Los Angeles and the Making of Modern Politics and Stuart Timmons, who wrote Gay L.A.-- A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics and Lipstick Lesbians. There was a great deal to savor and enjoy but what inspired me to run home and get to google was a mention of Frank Shaw, who was elected mayor of L.A. in 1933. "Unfortunately, he would eventually go into the history books as having led the most corrupt city administration in Los Angeles history" and he was the first U.S. mayor successfully recalled from office.

What brings him up these 70 years since that recall was his behavior while trying to deflect the public approbation resulting in his unconscionable corruption. He turned the L.A.P.D. loose on the 'til then unmolested gay community, the first time-- though not the last-- they would be scapegoated by an ambitious and crooked politician.

Before heading over to the Library I saw a New York Times story about a less socially divisive reaction to gay people, not in California, where we are currently burdened by a corrupt and Neanderthal Republican governor, but from Massachusetts, where the state legislature struck down attempts by right-wing loons driven insane by hollow interpretations of Bronze Age superstitions, to outlaw same-sex marriage.

"In Massachusetts today, the freedom to marry is secure," Gov. Deval Patrick said after the legislature voted 151 to 45 against the amendment, which needed 50 favorable votes to come before voters in a referendum in November 2008.

Massachusetts is the only state in America with full marriage equality. I guess it isn't a coincidence that Massachusetts also boasts one of only two openly gay members of Congress, Barney Frank (whose district, by the way, has a smaller percentage of gay people than the state in general).

In their May issue OUT Magazine featured "The Power 50" (they're obsessed with inane lists) and as part of that they interviewed Barney: "Out On The Hill-- Coming Out Didn't Stop Barney Frank From Becoming One of America's Most Powerful Politicians." One question stood out; actually, no questions stood out. One answer did though.

OUT: Are there closets full of closet cases on Capitol Hill?
Barney: "Sure. There are probably five or seven in the House and at least three senators.

Next question? Nope; they just let it drop. So, I had to turn to "Washington's Most Dangerous Man," my pal Mike Rogers to try to get to the bottom of this. Mike's web site, blogActive, makes a habit of exposing the worst of the hypocrites, the ones with the consistently homophobic voting records who also participate in closeted gay sex, the only kind Republicans approve of.

Mike is ultra cautious. He wants multiple sworn statements from participants and clear pictures before he'll out anyone, no matter how viciously anti-gay they are. Mike totally blew the cover of Virginia wingnut Ed Schrock, now retired, and for years has been helpful in getting out the information on Mark Foley (F-FL), also retired, and three who are still hiding in their closets, David Dreier (R-CA), James McCrery R-LA), and Larry Craig (R-ID).

Craig is a senator and surely one of the 3 Barney was referring to since he outed him on the Bill Maher show last year. And the others? Well, most people in DC who know about these things feel that Miss McConnell (R-KY) doesn't just act that way; he's as gay as any panicky right-wing closet case you never want to meet. Ditto for Lindsey Graham (R-SC). That's the easy part. Everyone knows about McConnell, Graham and Craig. What about all those House members?

Well, that's tougher. Dreier hardly even counts as being in the closet any longer since it's so widely known that he's gay, even in his own district... although no one ever speaks about it out loud. And McCrery thinks he inoculated himself by marrying his secretary and stashing her away somewhere deep in Louisiana. We've had some speculation about ex-high school wrestling coach Denny Hastert but the male prostitute who says he had sex with him was too embarrassed to be publicly identified. And people are pretty suspicious, for good reason, about Patrick McNutcase (R-NC). And the other 3? Mike's gone mum on me; but I know he's got some hot investigations he's tying up. Of course, Larry Flynt is trying to get to the bottom of all this too.

Howie Klein was president of his freshman class, drove to Afghanistan and Nepal, became the president of Reprise Records and started a blog called Down With Tyranny!. He's always hated tyrants.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/bloggers/guest/54252/

Head of the Justice Department under investigation by the Justice Department. A dispatch from Bizarro-world

"It's remarkable that he's under investigation and that he's still attorney general," said Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law. "At some point, it can no longer be done internally. This cannot be done by Gonzales's subordinates."

Read the rest of the article

I know. Let's impeach him and then the rest of the reptilian hordes! Let's have us a goddam party!--Pete

Sgt Pepper must die!

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? It's meant to be a classic album, but all you can hear is a load of boring tripe ... we've all felt that way. And so have the musicians we asked to nominate the supposedly great records they'd gladly never hear again

Interviews by Paul Lester
Friday June 15, 2007

Guardian

Tupac Shakur All Eyez On Me
Nominated by Mark Ronson, producer

This was Tupac's biggest record, and is seen by rap fans as the greatest latterday hip-hop album. But I've never got the cult of Tupac. Sure, he was in a lot of pain but he never said anything particularly clever - Notorious B.I.G. was far superior. People really related to the emotion in his voice, but it didn't resonate with me. No one would doubt Tupac's "realness" - he was shot nine times, for God's sake, and he began recording this album hours after being released from prison - but it doesn't compare to Biggie. Dr Dre produced it, and I didn't rate his production, either.

Problem was, Tupac was so prolific. He would write 50 songs in a weekend. Maybe he knew he was going to die, so he recorded relentlessly. I bought it at the time because it had one song on it that I'd play in clubs, but one out of 20 isn't great. In fact, there are 27 tracks on it - it started the trend of putting loads of songs on rap albums. Tupac wasn't up there with Dylan - Dylan was a brilliant poet. Eminem is probably the Dylan of rap, whereas Tupac just sounded like he was whining.

Nirvana, Nevermind
Nominated by Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips

It's better to be overrated than underrated. Besides, it's not the musicians' fault Nevermind is overrated - it's the public's, or the critics'. But you don't find yourself ever longing to listen to it, because there were - still are, in fact - so many mediocre bands that sound like it, that you're constantly experiencing it. I never get out Nevermind and think: what great production, what great songs. Nevermind had a poisonous, pernicious influence. It legitimised suffering. The sainthood of Kurt Cobain overshadows the album: Kurt's lyrics, his attitudinising and navel-gazing, were hard to separate from the band's image. You can never just hear the record. For me, Bleach and In Utero are superior. Even the album cover seems cheap: that stupid dollar bill just seems to have been airbrushed in there. If Alice in Chains had done it, we'd have thought it was a joke, but because it was Nirvana we thought it was oh-so-clever. If you think you're going to hear an utterly original, powerful and freaky record when you put on Nevermind, as a young kid might, Christ you're going to be disappointed. You're going to think, "Who is this band that sounds just like Nickelback? What are these drug addicts going on about?"

The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
Nominated by Luke Pritchard of the Kooks

Of all the albums that get written about as "classics", this one least deserves it. Having said that, it contains one of the greatest songs ever written: God Only Knows, which is melancholic yet uplifting, pure yet fucked-up. But the rest of the record is a total let-down - I felt that way from the very first listen. Pet Sounds is a million miles away from Sgt Pepper or Dark Side of the Moon. I do appreciate the lyrics, and I know it's an album about getting older, but as a concept album, it doesn't quite add up. Good tunes, yes - Wouldn't It Be Nice is a great pop song - but most of the other tracks just don't resonate for me. I apologise unreservedly to everyone who loves every word and note, every last crackle, on this album, but that's how it is. Oh, and it's got the worst sleeve of any major album, ever. Feeding time at the zoo? I don't think so.

The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses
Nominated by Eddie Argos of Art Brut

They're totally overrated. Plus they covered Scarborough Fair. I don't understand why people still play their music in nightclubs - it makes me really angry. When I'm drunk in a club I usually end up arguing with the DJ who's playing them. The Stone Roses were an awful, awful band. They were uncharismatic, their lyrics are nonsensical and their music is dreary. Also, we have them to thank for Oasis, although at least Noel Gallagher is funny and Liam is a bit of a pop star. The Roses make me think of kids older than me swaggering around with bowl haircuts and affecting Manchester accents. It makes my skin crawl. And all their fans are so smug: "Oh, you don't understand it." I do understand it! It's ridiculous that it regularly gets voted in at the top of those "greatest British album ever" polls. They spawned a new thug-boy pop culture.

The Strokes, Is This It
Nominated by Ian Williams of Battles

The Strokes were just rich kids from uptown New York; the children of the heads of supermodel agencies who formed a rock band and thought they deserved respect because of that. Suddenly the downtown, older form of punk rock got co-opted by the system. If ever there was a point where Gucci and rebellion were married together, it was right there. The Strokes have, basically, been responsible for five or six years of a new form of hair metal, in the guise of something more tasteful. Their music is post-9/11 party music because it came out that week and everybody wanted to dance. They're seen as the rebirth of rock in the UK - but it's a very conservative, old-fashioned idea of rock for the 21st century. As for their punk credentials, I'm not going to say anyone's more authentic than anyone else ... But the Strokes are the new Duran Duran; the new decadence for the new millennium.

Television, Marquee Moon
Nominated by Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand

People expect us to love Television the way they think we love Gang of Four and were influenced by them - but we don't and we weren't! Marquee Moon is one of those records that I thought I loved, but it was only after a few years I realised I didn't love the album, just the first 10 bars of the title track, which are pretty astonishing. Those guitars that play off each other and the way the instruments go into wonderful places and the guitars are totally insane and that big cascade of drums - it's incredible. Then your attention wanders. You know when a boring guy is explaining to you the technical spec of a car, the fuel injection system and the leather seats, and his voice becomes so much background noise? Once I took the needle off this record, I realised I hadn't heard it at all. But what annoys me is the way people pontificate over the album; it's one of those staples of student halls of residence. People wax lyrical about it, but the reason it's so popular is because it's a prog rock album its okay to like. Because the words "punk" and "New York" and "1977" are associated with it, it's deemed cool. Really, though, they're a band who give guys who like 20-minute guitar solos an excuse. They were the Grateful Dead of punk, and I always hated all that jam-band stuff. They have the ethos of a jam-band but the aesthetic of a New York outfit. If anything, the Strokes took the look of Television, the aesthetic - and the Converse sneakers - and ignored the jam-band aspect. They took those first 10 bars of Marquee Moon and did something great with it! Tom Verlaine's lyrics didn't have much impact on me. I'm always uneasy when singers in bands profess to be poets - they can veer into pomposity and pretentiousness. But I've got to be careful: I once said something about Jim Morrison and the Doors, about their pseudo-poetry, and immediately all these articles on the internet appeared saying, "Kapranos slams Morrison!" I'm not slamming Television - I respect them. But Marquee Moon is an album I admire more than enjoy.

The Beatles, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Nominated by Billy Childish, prime mover of British garage rock

I was a big Beatles fan - I had a Beatles wig and Beatles guitar when I was four - so I know what I'm talking about, but Sgt Pepper signalled the death of rock'n'roll. Rock'n'roll is meant to be full of vitality and energy, and this album isn't. It sounds like it took six months to shit out. The Beatles were the victims of their success. This is middle-of-the-road rock music for plumbers. Or people who drive round in Citroens - the sort of corporate hippies who ruined rock music. I bought it the day it came out: it was ideal for a seven-year-old. These days, well, it's my contention that it represents the death of the Beatles as a rock'n'roll band and the birth of them as music hall, which is hardly a victory. The main problem with Sgt Pepper is Sir Paul's maudlin obsession with his own self-importance and Dickensian misery. (Paul McCartney is the dark one in the Beatles, not John Lennon, because he writes such depressing, scary music.) It's like a Sunday before school that goes on forever. It's too dark and twisted for anyone with any light in their life. Then again, when he tries to be upbeat, it rings false - like having a clown in the room. The best thing about the album was the cardboard insert with some medals, a badge and a moustache. But the military jackets they wore on the front made them look like a bunch of grammar-school boys dressed by their mummy. When I was in Thee Mighty Caesars we did a rip-off of the sleeve for an album called John Lennon's Corpse Revisited, featuring the Beatles' heads on stakes. This isn't the greatest album ever made; in fact, it's the worst Beatles album up to that point. Live at the Star Club trounces it with ease.

Abba, Arrival
Nominated by Siobhan Donaghy, former Sugababe turned solo artist

I love the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Burt Bacharach, all those great pop melody-writers, but there's something about Abba that I hate. Maybe it's going to parties with shit DJs for most of my childhood that has made me hate them. Abba were forced on people from my generation, so there's a natural resentment towards them. Through my mum I discovered Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, and if I'd done that with Abba maybe I'd have appreciated their brilliant pop songs. On Arrival, the particularly annoying songs are Dancing Queen, Knowing, Me Knowing You and Money, Money, Money. And if we're talking about the reissue, you can add Fernando. Nick Hornby may well say they're part of the canon now, but I still don't have to listen to them. Yes, they wrote some of the catchiest melodies of all time. But then, The Birdie Song is catchy, too.

Arcade Fire The Neon Bible
Nominated by Green Gartside of Scritti Politti

People who enjoy this album may think I'm cloth-eared and unperceptive, and I accept it's the result of my personal shortcomings, but what I hear in Arcade Fire is an agglomeration of mannerisms, cliches and devices. I find it solidly unattractive, texturally nasty, a bit harmonically and melodically dull, bombastic and melodramatic, and the rhythms are pedestrian. It's monotonous in its textures and in the old-fashioned, nasty, clunky 80s rhythms and eighth-note basslines. It isn't, as people are suggesting, richly rewarding and inventive. The melodies stick too closely to the chord changes. Win Butler's voice uses certain stylistic devices - it goes wobbly and shouty, then whispery - and I guess people like wobbly and shouty going to whispery, they think it signifies real feeling. It's some people's idea of unmediated emotion. I can imagine Jeremy Clarkson liking it; it's for people in cars. It's rather flat and unlovely. The album and the response to it represent a bunch of beliefs about expression and truth that I don't share. The battle against unreconstructed rock music continues.

Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon
Nominated by Tjinder Singh of Cornershop

This album is a sort of lab experiment, put together by scarf-wearing university types. There's a certain irony in a song like Money that takes pot-shots at greedy corporations, when this album made so much money. There's also irony in these super-wealthy elite prog musicians positing themselves against The Man, having a go at the machine. The light shows, all the technology and white-coated technicians at their disposal, make them very much part of the machine. I appreciated the early stuff Pink Floyd did with Joe Boyd, but this is a bloated concept album that made punk necessary. It says, "What a crazy world it is!" and "Everyone's demented!" It's meant to be imbued with the spirit of Syd Barrett, God rest his soul. I'm amazed that it's up there in the pantheon, because I can't see any virtue in it whatsoever. Lyrically, it's banal and doesn't say anything beyond "greed is bad". Radiohead are the 21st-century Floyd, which says it all really.

The Doors LA Woman
Nominated by Craig Finn of the Hold Steady

In America when you're growing up, you're subjected to the Doors as soon as you start going to parties and smoking weed. People think of Jim Morrison as a brilliant rock'n'roll poet, but to me it's unlistenable. The music meanders, and Morrison was more like a drunk asshole than an intelligent poet. The worst of the worst is the last song, Riders on the Storm: "There's a killer on the road/ His brain is squirming like a toad" - that's surely the worst line in rock'n'roll history. He gave the green light to generations of pseuds. A lot of people told him he was a genius, so he started to believe it. The Velvets did nihilism and darkness so much better - they were so much more understated; what they did had subtlety, whereas the Doors had little or none: they were a caricature of "the dark side". I actually like Los Angeles, but the Doors represent the city at its most fat, bloated and excessive. Morrison's death does give rock some mythic kudos, but that doesn't make me want to listen to the music. In fact, if it comes on the radio, I change the station.

The Smiths Meat Is Murder
Nominated by Jackie McKeown of 1990s

I'm a Smiths fan and I like most of their records, but this is the weakest link in the canon. With the debut and The Queen Is Dead, you could cut up Morrissey's lyrics and they could be pages from the same book. For Meat Is Murder, he seemed to make a list of topics to write about. It was a protest album, which defeats the idea of Morrissey as romantic. The cool-guy cover with Meat Is Murder written on his helmet rams it down your throat. The title track is offensive, not least because of the loud, gated drums and 80s production that you get on Huey Lewis and the News records. Morrissey was obviously suffering from a loss of nerve or lack of faith when he wrote these songs. It took him years to write the first album in his bedroom. By the second album, he started panicking and pointing fingers at teachers at school and thinking up things like, "Oh, meat is murder and, oh, we're going to get attacked by thugs in Rusholme." Barbarism Begins at Home is where the Smiths betray their jazz-funk session-guy roots; it's absolutely treacherous to listen to, even if it was brilliant fun to record. You can just see the rolled-up jacket sleeves. It's everything Morrissey hated. Meat Is Murder is Red Wedge music for sexless students. It's like being stuck in a lift with a Manchester University Socialist Workers' Party convention.

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band Trout Mask Replica
Nominated by Peter Hook, ex-New Order and Joy Division

Steve Morris, New Order's drummer, was a great fan of his, but Beefheart was one of those things I found unlistenably boring. I desperately wanted to like it because Steve loved it so much, but I had to admit defeat. Ian Curtis found it easier to convert us to the Doors, put it that way. Trout Mask wasn't a work of untutored genius, it was untutored crap. When you're beginning as a musician, people try to educate you with music like this, but I never understood the allure of Captain Beefheart. I certainly didn't last all four sides. There are very few records I gave up on, apart from Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music and Trout Mask Replica. It sounded like somebody taking the piss. But then, I've never been a great fan of jazz, and this erred on the selfish side of jazz. It sounds like you feel when you've taken the wrong drugs, like going to your mate's dope party on speed. I'd listen to it with my head in my hands. Trout Mask was highly regarded by post-punk bands because of its idiosyncratic approach to rhythm and song construction - but those bands were full of shit, weren't they? I wouldn't have put it at the front of my record pile to impress people; it would have been at the back with my Alvin Stardust and Bay City Rollers records that they sent me from the record club I belonged to at the time. These days, I would rather listen to the Bay City Rollers than Beefheart.

What kind of heathen dislikes the Velvet Underground and Nico?
Novelist and music lover Ian Rankin gives his reasons

This is a sacred cow but that doesn't mean it can't be turned into hamburger. You can start before you even listen to the music. The front of the album bears the name Andy Warhol and a yellow banana - there's no mention of the band whatsoever. The back of the album says it was produced by Andy Warhol alongside the Velvets, so straight away I'm annoyed. It's one of the worst-produced albums of all time - put it on a modern hi-fi and you'll think: this sounds like shit. It's muddy, the volume comes and goes, the guitars are all out of tune, as is the viola. John Cale is one of the great Welshmen, but the viola on Venus In Furs sounds like a Tom and Jerry sound effect. And Nico's voice is flat throughout - she sings English the way I sing German. Talk about looks being everything: she was a supermodel trying to sing in a rock band, but she couldn't sing - she gave good dirge.

It all flags up that the Velvet Underground were just part of Warhol's circus, his Factory; just another product. Once you start thinking about the Velvets being part of that, the notion of them waiting around for the man is ludicrous. As far as introducing the idea of nihilism to rock, the first Doors album, which came out the same year, was far better produced, far darker, and more nihilistic. Ditto the first Mothers of Invention album. Those two were from the west coast; the Velvets were from New York. And this was New York trying too hard. There's a line in Venus in Furs about "ermine furs adorn imperious". Those are four words that should never appear in a rock song and here they are put together. And the last two tracks are completely unlistenable: The Black Angel's Death Song and European Son, which constitute 11 minutes and one fifth of the album.

Nevertheless, as Brian Eno said, almost no one bought this album but the ones who did put a band together, so it was important - as the beginning of the black raincoat brigade.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Iraq violence up since troop increase

More attacks occur in areas that had been relatively peaceful before the U.S. buildup, the Pentagon reports.
By Peter Spiegel
Times Staff Writer

June 14, 2007

WASHINGTON — Violence in Iraq rose slightly in the three months ended in May because of increased attacks in cities and provinces that had been relatively peaceful before the Bush administration's troop buildup, the Pentagon reported Wednesday.

The intense focus on Baghdad and western Iraq by newly arriving U.S. troops pushed insurgent groups into other regions, causing a rise in violence in northern and eastern provinces such as Diyala and Nineveh, the Pentagon said in a quarterly report to Congress on Iraqi security.

The U.S. military repeatedly has touted decreases in sectarian and insurgent killings in Baghdad and Al Anbar province, which have been the focus of the so-called surge that has added 28,500 combat and support troops. U.S. officials have acknowledged problems in Diyala, and the report for the first time documents that rising violence there and in other outlying provinces has largely offset gains in Iraq's center. Overall, the average of more than 1,000 attacks each week represented a 2% increase from the preceding three months.

The report is the first in a series of Pentagon evaluations to cover a period that encompasses the troop buildup. The report contains frequent caveats, noting that additional forces were still arriving during the February-to-May period evaluated, and it repeatedly asserts that it is too early to draw firm conclusions about the buildup.

But the rise in violence elsewhere reveals an early trend that could further complicate the Bush administration's goals in Iraq. U.S. military plans do not include deploying additional troops in outlying provinces, despite calls by some commanders for more forces to deal with the rise in insurgent attacks in those places.

According to the report, Shiite Muslim fighters affiliated with radical cleric Muqtada Sadr have been moving south over the last three months, contributing to a "significant increase in attacks" on coalition forces in the city of Basra and inflaming inter-Shiite factionalism in the region.

The report documents the movement of significant numbers of Sunni insurgents linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq, confirming anecdotal reports of Al Qaeda fighters leaving Al Anbar and setting up new bases in Diyala province, where U.S. military officials have requested more troops.

But the report also shows that the violence has moved beyond the well-publicized flare-ups in Diyala. In Mosul, the country's third-largest city, Iraqi forces have been able to maintain security with minimal U.S. assistance, but the report says insurgent and terrorist groups have increased the frequency and intensity of their attacks against police.

The same is true in the northern city of Tall Afar, once touted by the White House as a case study in how its new counterinsurgency plan could be effective. There, Sunni extremists linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq have attempted to reignite sectarian conflicts through a series of "high-profile attacks against civilians," the study says.

Similar problems are reported in the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk and the Sunni stronghold of Baqubah.

"Outside Baghdad and Anbar, reductions in coalition force presence and reliance upon local Iraqi security forces have resulted in a tenuous security situation," the report says. "Sectarian violence and insurgent attacks still involve a very small portion of the population, but public perceptions of violence have adversely affected reconciliation and contribute to population migration."

The report holds out hope that the recent move by Sunni sheiks in Al Anbar province to work with the U.S. military to fight Al Qaeda insurgents also could be achieved in Diyala, where discussions are underway with residents on how to counter Al Qaeda-linked attacks.

The report highlights the striking decrease in the number of civilian deaths in Baghdad and Al Anbar provinces through May, but notes that the decline in sectarian killings may be only temporary. In fact, U.S. military officials have noted a rise in such slayings, but they occurred too recently to be covered by the report.

The report reflects the growing frustration within the Pentagon over the continuing failure of the Iraqi government to use the troop increase as an opportunity to enact legislative reforms aimed at reconciliation.

Although the report holds out hope that a new law divvying oil revenue could soon be passed, it all but concedes that no other major piece of legislation will be approved before September, when the administration is expected to unveil its formal evaluation of the surge.

The study says reform of Iraq's draconian de-Baathification laws, which U.S. officials see as key to bringing disaffected Sunnis back into the political process, appears to be stalled.

Similarly, legislation setting a date for provincial elections — another move seen as central to empowering Sunnis — is expected to be delayed until fall, the report says.

"Reconciliation remains a serious unfulfilled objective," the report says.

The report is comparatively upbeat regarding the performance of the Iraqi army in the new security push, finding that though initial battalions deployed to Baghdad were short troops, battalions arriving later had more soldiers.

The Iraqi government occasionally has intervened politically in the army's operations, however. The report says some government officials have bypassed the chain of command to order specific army operations, some of which were designed to pursue sectarian goals.

Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the U.S. Army commander who until last month headed the training of Iraqi units, said he expected the readiness of deploying Iraqi units to decline as the Baghdad security plan unfolded, because the most capable battalions were the first to be sent.

"We could leave those units in Baghdad for a much longer period of time, thereby reducing the turbulence and probably making the tactical fight a little cleaner," Dempsey said Wednesday at a Pentagon news conference.

"We learn enormous lessons when we move them around. We learn about what their leaders are capable of, we learn about the degree of reliability and loyalty."

--peter.spiegel@latimes.com