The Difference between Obama and the Republicans

Robert Scoble recently wrote, in a comment to his G+ thread on the news blowing up around PRISM, that President Obama “hasn’t exactly been met with love and flowers by the Republicans for the past few years. Shows there still is a difference.”

Sadly I have to disagree. The President hasn’t gotten love or flowers from the GOP because he isn’t a member. If he was elected at the head of the GOP ticket, their response to his proposals would’ve been very different.

In fact we can look back to public statements by GOP Congressional leaders around 2010, they said that from their party’s perspective every single piece of legislation and appointment coming down from the White House should be dead on arrival. In other words the quality of the item being voted on was totally irrelevant.

Efforts like PRISM, and let’s remember that the Administration didn’t feel it needed any new legislation to authorize this monster, are being criticized by Republicans. But if it wasn’t PRISM, if the President had proposed a new MPG standard that treated trucks like cars or sent Secretary of State Kerry to launch a Kissinger-style shuttle diplomacy with the warring parties in Syria, the result would be no different; the GOP Congressmembers and pundits would be out in force telling us how bad this is for America.

Because how can anything proposed by the Democrats be good for America.

Letters to Congress: Stop muzzling Bruce Schneier

I sent this today to my Congressperson, Anna Eshoo, after reading Congressional Testimony on the TSA:

Congresswoman Eshoo,

I was extremely disappointed to read that Bruce Schneier was removed AT THE REQUEST OF THE TSA the from the witness list of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s hearing on the successes and challenges associated with Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, the Transportation Worker Credential Card (TWIC), and other security initiatives administered by the TSA.

As a senior member of Congress I hope you will make every effort to reverse this blatantly self-serving ploy by the TSA to avoid an embarrassing public airing of their poor, possibly corrupt work.

I’m not a person who thinks the Federal government can do nothing right, I’ve always voted for Democrats and try to avoid conspiracy theories. However I do feel the TSA has generally been a monumental waste of money, producing trivial results at huge cost in money and inconvenience.

Again I hope you will use your office to have Bruce Schneier, one of America’s greatest resources on real security, testify for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and further to help improve our government by bringing about a total reform of the TSA.

Bill Lazar

10 Questions for President Obama and his re-election

While the crowd of clowns pursue the GOP nomination, President Obama is unopposed on the Democratic side (as we would expect). Though I expect to vote for him or not at all I would love to get answers to a few questions on positions he’s taken during his first term.

  1. Why has your Administration continued, and even increased, the use of top secret classifications, national security letters and similar dark side tools?
  2. Related: Why is Bradley Manning being prosecuted?
  3. Why are former partners and employees of Goldman Sachs so prominent in your Administration?
  4. Why has your Administration not acted on the Too Big To Fail financial institutions? That is, pushed for legislation and/or regulatory changes that would make them no long Too Big. If anything, these corporations are now even larger and potentially bigger catastrophes waiting to happen!
  5. Iran, North Korea and Pakistan still have nuclear weapons or the capability to build them. Why?
  6. Why is your Administration opposed to medical marijuana and legalization of marijuana and other recreational drugs?
  7. Why isn’t your Administration moving to better protect the environment from fraking and similar resource extraction technology?
  8. Why did your Administration participate in the secret ACTA treaty negotiations?
  9. Why is your Administration extraditing Richard O’Dwyer for creating a website that simply links to shared files, even though the site itself did not offer any shared files?
  10. Why is your Administration, via the DHS, monitoring the Internet for political dissent?

Note: “National security” in and of itself, with no further elaboration is not a sufficient answer to any of the above.

Johnny 99 and the 99 Percent

Well they closed down the auto plant in Mahwah late that month
Ralph went out lookin’ for a job but he couldn’t find none
He came home too drunk from mixin’ Tanqueray and wine
He got a gun shot a night clerk now they call’m Johnny 99

This classic Springsteen song from the Nebraska album went running through my head this morning. Now it’s true that America has always had some significant number of folks barely scraping by–Bruce wrote this 30+ years ago when we were passing through a nasty time with steel mills and factories shutting down all over the country–but seeing news reports showing that one in two Americans are poor or low income makes me think this country has turned a corner. We’re in a bad place, people.

On one end of the spectrum we get the Occupy movement and on the other the Tea Party. Both are fueled by the disparity in income and outcomes, though I like to think one is backed by love and optimism while the other by hate and fear. When Bruce wrote Johnny 99 the average CEO made 40-50 times what the average worker at the same company earned; today the difference has increased an order of magnitude, to 450-500X and this is simply not sustainable.

Well the city supplied a public defender but the judge was Mean John Brown
He came into the courtroom and stared young Johnny down
Well the evidence is clear gonna let the sentence son fit the crime
Prison for 98 and a year and we’ll call it even Johnny 99

Most Americans, naively as it turns out, thought that this could be dealt with through the political process. The two parties would balance each other and in the end act in the best interests of the majority. The two movements are recognition that we’ve been naive and that the political process has been captured by Wall Street and other massively wealthy families. How else do you explain Barack Obama’s actions in supporting ACTA, SOPA, NDAA and the unconstitutional use of police powers as well as his administration’s unwillingness to hold individuals criminally liable for the many acts of corporate fraud behind huge ‘settlements’ the SEC and DoJ have made?

I’m surprised we aren’t seeing more crime by men and women desperate after losing their jobs, homes and semblance of a normal life. The most likely explanations are that most people:

(a) are good and even when desperate not willing to take from others, and,
(b) have been distracted by the bread and circuses of false crises spread through modern media, Twitter and Facebook.

But there’s a limit to how long these two factors will stand in the way and I think we’ll reach it all too soon.

Now judge judge I had debts no honest man could pay
The bank was holdin’ my mortgage and they was takin’ my house away
Now I ain’t sayin’ that makes me an innocent man
But it was more ‘n all this that put that gun in my hand

The ultra-wealthy are unwilling to be discrete. From apartments selling for $88 million to baseball players getting $250 million dollar contracts to the ridiculous antics of the Kardashian family, well, a father seeing this crap and then looking at a wife and baby he can barely afford to feed all sleeping in a beat up old car isn’t going to be too far from deciding some people have too much money and some not enough.

The Tea Party have taken a smart approach, much smarter than I’d have expected. Copying tactics from a previous generation of Republican activists they worked from the bottom up, getting control of local and regional party organizations before the national leadership noticed it. From there they got the likes of Michelle Bachman into Congress and into the Republican Presidential field as a candidate to be taken seriously. Which strikes me as an amazingly good job considering that Bachman is, after all, a complete nut.

The Occupy movement is eschewing the mainstream political arena entirely, recognizing that beyond having been co-opted by the money and drug-like high afforded national politicians the process itself cannot in any reasonable amount of time deliver the necessary changes. This is demonstrated by the widespread use of riot police to suppress Occupy camps and marches with the police action coordinated at the Federal level. Which is, sadly, another way that Barack Obama has disappointed many of the people who supported and voted for him.

Then throw in the onrushing climate change disaster, the looming nuclear threats from Iran, North Korea and Pakistan and the inability of manymost people to see the 18 wheelers running straight at them.

Where this will all end I can’t say. If any of the Sad Sacks who comprise the current GOP field beat Obama next November I think we’ll find out sooner rather than later but even the re-election of Obama is unlikely to defer for long a violent and sad future for many Americans and our companions on this small globe.

At least I get to listen to Bruce for as long as the power grid lets me keep a charge.

Pierce the Corporate Veil: Companies are People too

[Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.]

The corporation is one of the greatest intellectual innovations, enabling activity on a scale otherwise impossible and, I’m convinced, leading to technical and social developments centuries faster than would otherwise be possible.

Historically one of the great aspects is that liability is limited to the corporation and its assets, enabling entrepreneurs and investors to take risks building new technologies and exploring new geographies, from the Erie Canal to Hollywood to Silicon Valley.

But the corporation is not a Platonic Ideal, perfect in conception and required to be unfettered by restriction. Corporations are a tool conceived by and composed of imperfect humans and subject to all the fallibilities of same; how we organize and regulate must and should evolve as circumstances and our understanding change.

So today I assert that the time has come to reduce the liability shield corporations afford its executives. When companies pay multi-million and multi-billion dollar settlements in criminal investigations and civil suits the executives responsible must pay a personal price. After all a corporation doesn’t build a plant that dumps toxic waste or decide that some securities are so solid that insuring them is literally without risk, humans who work for them do.

Matt Taibbi, I think, pointed out that since its founding in 1869 the US Government has bailed out Goldman Sachs 14 times and the companies innovations have lead directly to the last five major recessions/depressions. But no Goldman Sachs executive has gone to prison or suffered much more than a (slightly) reduced annual bonus.

In 2008 we–the American taxpayers and, to be fair, the Chinese and other foreigners who buy our government bonds–put trillions of dollars into Goldman Sachs, AIG, Citi Bank and the other large financial companies so our economy wouldn’t collapse. These banks were “too big to fail” and the people in government and on Wall St who make such decisions turned on the cash firehose.

What the powers did not do, though, was rectify the problem of them being too big to fail but made them even bigger by merging, for instance, Citi with Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan with Bear Stearns.

What they also did not do is bring criminal charges against any executives responsible for such horrendous decisions. Even when independent investigations by ProPublica and others uncovered massive illegal activities in the Magnetar and Hudson Mezzanine offerings, billions of dollars of outright fraud, when the investment banks paid hundreds of millions in fines and restitution, not a single executive at Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan was held personally responsible.

This has to change. When a small number of executives can make decisions that end up putting millions out of work or thousands out of their homes, those individuals need to be held accountable. The nearly impermeable corporate veil must be loosened and I propose this:

When a company agrees to a settlement, criminal or civil, of more than $50 million or 10% of annual revenues in the year the actions in question took place (or the last year, when multiple years) the CEO and two other executives most closely involved in approving the actions are to be held personally accountable. At the very least they must pay a fine equal to their total compensation for any year in which the actions occurred and depending on certain criteria which I’ll leave unspecified here the fines increase to 150 or 200% of that amount. If the settlement is over criminal actions (e.g., SEC, FDA, etc. investigations) then the executives should also serve jail or prison time equivalent to a Class A felony.

Would such changes make companies far less likely to settle investigations and lawsuits? Of course but if the evidence, as in the Goldman Sachs/Abacus case is strong enough to command a $550 million dollar fine I expect its strong enough to win a conviction.

After all, corporations are increasingly claiming all the rights of real people as in Citizens United and other children of Southern Pacific Railroad vs. Santa Clara County. They should suffer the same consequences if they do wrong. Frankly I think this is one change the folks involved in Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party ought to agree on.

The Race

I’m running a race between a bullet and the carcinoma
Telling ugly truths from the pulpit of a concert stage
Won’t have to face the aftermath of my derision
No time, there’s no time left, no time left to waste.

I hardly believed what I heard from the doctor
Can’t be my time yet to go away
Guess all those years of livin’ hard
Had a price after all to pay, a mighty price to pay.

So let me tell you child, what knowledge I have gleaned
There’s no one worth your pity and no one worth your hate
No one who needs your bullet, no one who needs your fist
Everyone needs your hand, everyone needs your love.

I’m running a race between a bullet and the carcinoma
Telling ugly truths from the pulpit of a concert stage
Won’t have to face the aftermath of my derision
No time, there’s no time left, no time left to waste.

The talking heads on your screen sure love their voice
Sayin’ what they will to get attention, all the hard emotions
Crank up the volume on their spittle, the volume on their rage
I cry to see the crowds they gather round.

Look closely at what they’re pitching and find the meat inside
Don’t stop on your first reaction, keep thinking for yourself
Is he asking you out of greed, appealing to your fear
Or is she asking you out of optimism, hope and love?

Tribes don’t matter
Clans don’t matter
States don’t matter
Countries don’t matter
Religions don’t matter

People… people… people matter

Now I’m running a race between a bullet and the carcinoma
Telling ugly truths from the pulpit of a concert stage
Won’t have to face the aftermath of my derision
No time, there’s no time left, no time left to waste.

Remember, you’re what matters and you’ve got no time to waste.

The USMNT and the Gold Cup

From a SportsFilter discussion of Bill Barnwell’s Grantland article:

In general, I agree with the article though winning this Gold Cup would have been useful as entry ticket for the next Confederations Cup. If Bradley’s strategy had gotten us the trophy I could accept the roster choices.

As it did not there are definitely questions. For instance, why not play three young defenders plus Boca or Cherundolo for a bit of maturity? Putting those two as the first choice fullbacks meant a complete lack of pace out wide since our so-called wingers were constantly cutting inside; 4-6-0 was more like 4-3-3-0 with no one except Adu consistently getting wider than the 18 yard box.

Edu has consistently not gotten the playing time I think he’s earned from Bradley despite his club form. Jones hasn’t shown me the ability to do the offensive business required from his position, so I’m just not getting the decision.

I think the author doesn’t take injuries sufficiently into account though. With healthy Stuart Holden, Charlie Davies, Tim Chandler, and Jozy not going out so early the team would have been much younger and pacier. Add in Edu over Jones and I honestly think that team would’ve steamrolled the Gold Cup.