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Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

Journal Archives

From J.P. Morgan to Jamie Dimon

New York is a wonderful town — if you run a mega bank. Because for over a century, the Big Six banks and their leaders have dominated not just the U.S. banking industry, but American and global finance, traversing the power corridor between the White House and Wall Street to help themselves, their families and their friends in good times and bad, in partnership with the President.

But in the process of placing personal enrichment over the public interest and fair practices, particularly in recent years, they have created an atmosphere where the next big crisis is not a question of if, but of when. History has shown that absent true reform, those holding the power and the money can and will wreak havoc on the rest of the population.

For the first 80 years of the 20th century, four families largely controlled the nation’s top three banks: Morgan, Aldrich, Stillman and Rockefeller. National, financial and foreign policy was fashioned through personal connections to the Presidents — forged through blood, marriage, mentorships and connections made at Ivy League colleges, and through social activities like yachting, golfing, ranch barbeques and exclusive parties and clubs.

In October 1907, Manhattan was struck by a major bank panic. People from Fifth Ave. to Harlem rushed to extract their money from the Knickerbocker Trust Company because one of its leaders had made a horrendous bet on copper, which precipitated a wider panic. A fear of greater ramifications caused the “Trust-Buster,” President Teddy Roosevelt, to turn to the one man he believed could help — a banker, J.P. Morgan.



The Perversity of Profiling

By Laura W. Murphy, Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Hina Shamsi, Director, ACLU National Security Project at 2:19pm

The Justice Department is considering revised racial profiling guidance that, if issued, could set back race relations and basic fairness in this country. We hope that it does not make that mistake.

The New York Times on Thursday reported that “long-awaited revisions to the Justice Department’s racial profiling rules would allow the F.B.I. to continue many, if not all, of the tactics opposed by civil rights groups, such as mapping ethnic populations and using that data to recruit informants and open investigations.” In light of the Obama administration’s recent and deservedly lauded criminal justice policy reforms, we had expected it would take a far different approach to racial profiling than this. After all, revisions to racial profiling rules that retain loopholes permitting racial, religious, and national origin profiling are not the reforms that Americans need and deserve.

The Justice Department guidance that urgently needs revision was issued in 2003 by Attorney General John Ashcroft. The Ashcroft Guidance bans racial profiling, which it condemns as discriminatory, “not merely wrong, but also ineffective,” and “patently unacceptable.” Despite these strong words, the Ashcroft Guidance contains gaping holes: It does not prohibit profiling based on religion or national origin and permits racial, religious, and ethnic profiling in national security investigations and at the nation’s borders.

The Ashcroft Guidance’s loopholes thus gave federal law enforcement express permission to discriminate against America’s minorities. And wrongful discrimination in the national security and border contexts quickly spread to others. Government records obtained by the ACLU showed the FBI mapped minority communities around the country based on crude and false stereotypes about their propensity to commit crime. The targeted communities include Arab Americans in Michigan, African Americans in Georgia, Chinese and Russian Americans in California, and Latino Americans in multiple states.

Mapping is just one part of the problem.


SEC Blocking Update to Electronic Privacy Laws

By Sandra Fulton, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:36pm
During the long, hard fight to bring the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) into the 21st century, advocates have run into the most unlikely of opponents: the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Yes, the SEC—the agency charged with regulating the securities industry—has brought the ECPA update to a screeching halt. Yesterday the ACLU, along with the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Tax Reform and the Center for Democracy and Technology, sent the agency a letter calling them out on their opposition.

ECPA, enacted in 1986, is the main statute protecting our online communications from unauthorized government access. Unfortunately, as our lives have moved online the law has remained stagnant, leaving dangerous loopholes in our privacy protections. A broad coalition including privacy and consumer advocates, civil rights organizations, tech companies, and members of Congress from both parties has been pushing for an update. Strong bipartisan legislation to update the law has over 200 sponsors and is making serious headway in Congress. Even the Department of Justice—the law enforcement agency with arguably the most to lose in such an update—testified that some ECPA loopholes need to be closed.

But the SEC is pushing back—essentially arguing that they should get to keep one of the loopholes that have developed as the law has aged. When ECPA was passed in 1986, Congress developed an elaborate framework aimed at mirroring existing constitutional protections. Newer email, less than 180 days old, was accessible only with a warrant. Based on the technology of the time, older email was assumed to be “abandoned” and was made accessible with a mere subpoena. Similarly, another category of digital records, “remote computing services,” was created for information you outsourced to another company for data processing. Seen as similar to business records, it could also be collected with a subpoena under the law.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. Now we keep a decade of email in our inboxes and "remote computing services” has morphed into Facebook keeping all our photos or Microsoft storing our Word documents in their cloud. Suddenly the SEC can access content in way it never could before.



Thought Secure, Pooled Pensions Teeter and Fall

The pensions of millions of Americans are being threatened because of trouble in a part of the retirement world long considered so safe that no one gave it a second thought.

The pensions belong to people in multiemployer plans — big pooled investment funds with many sponsoring companies and a union. Multiemployer pensions are not only backed by federal insurance, but they also were thought to be even more secure than single-company pensions because when one company in a multiemployer pool failed, the others were required to pick up its “orphaned” retirees.

Today, however, the aging of the work force, the decline of unions, deregulation and two big stock crashes have taken a grievous toll on multiemployer pensions, which cover 10 million Americans. Dozens of multiemployer plans have already failed, and some giant ones are teetering — including, notably, the Teamsters’ Central States pension plan, with more than 400,000 members.

In February, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal multiemployer insurer would run out of money in seven years, which would leave retirees in failed plans with nothing.



The crooks aren't going to be satisfied until we all are destitute.

Weekend Toons!







Mentally Ill





On climate change, expect the worst

Mario Molina and Bob Litterman

For far too long, our national debate about climate change has been about "yes or no:" Is human-caused climate change real? That debate should now end. Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening. If 97 of 100 doctors told you that your child's health was at serious risk without surgery, how long would you wait for the other three to get on board?

The next debate is about how we should respond. Those decisions should be supported by the best information climate science can give us about what's already happening, what's likely to happen in the future and – importantly – what might happen.

Let's start with what's already happening. Temperatures are going up. Ice sheets are melting. Sea level is rising. The patterns of rainfall and drought are changing. Heat waves are getting worse as is extreme precipitation. The oceans are acidifying. All of these impacts have social and economic costs. But we must also consider what science tells us as we conduct this unprecedented experiment with the world's climate system: expect the unexpected.

As global temperature rises, the risk increases that one or more important parts of the Earth's climate system will experience changes that may be abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible with massively disruptive and large-scale impacts. As one example, we could experience abrupt losses from both major ice sheets in Antarctica, precipitating rapid and irreversible sea level rise all around the globe. Will that happen? It's unlikely, but the point is that it might. And the risk increases as global temperature goes up.



Franken’s Campaign Against Comcast Is No Joke


WASHINGTON — For Senator Al Franken, the political became personal at a “Saturday Night Live” cast party, of all places.

It was there in New York two years ago that Mr. Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, ran into Lorne Michaels, the creator of the NBC show and his former boss when he was a writer and performer there. Mr. Michaels was chatting with Brian L. Roberts, the chief executive of Comcast, which had recently acquired NBCUniversal in a deal that Mr. Franken opposed.

“I fought to prevent this!” Mr. Franken blurted out to the two men.

It was a potentially awkward moment that Mr. Franken defused with the kind of blustery humor that delighted audiences during his years as an entertainer. “We all had a laugh, fun was had by all, and I went on,” he said in an interview.

But for Mr. Franken, antitrust issues involving big companies are no joking matter. The man who created such famous “Saturday Night Live” characters as the self-help guru Stuart Smalley is now a serious policy wonk and a self-made expert in antitrust matters like price-fixing and monopolization.



Creepy Bill Kramer story

By Kristin Hansen

In 2009, Governor Jim Doyle signed the indoor smoking ban. Republicans ranted and railed, predicting wide spread closure of bars and restaurants and general state-wide chaos. (This has since been proved completely false, of course – restaurant and bar business is actually up.) One of the chief purveyors of that rant was State Rep. Bill Kramer. It was one of his main points in a Doyle attack speech delivered to the Waukesha Kiwanis Club, of which I was the president at the time.

As president, it was not my job to invite speakers, but it was my job to open the meetings, deliver club news, and welcome the speakers. I did so politely, even when they were there to talk about things I disagreed with – a courtesy that was extended among all members. We had conservative and liberal members, and we worked together to raise money for charity and learn about our community.

Kramer’s speech was the usual political presentation – they’re wrong, we’re right, etc. Nothing newsworthy there. But he got especially agitated about the smoking ban. He was red-face and nearly hysterical, telling us that this was just the worst thing to happen to small business in the history of the state and that “mom and pop taverns” would be forced to close because nobody would go out if they couldn’t smoke.

I raised my hand, and told him that as an asthma sufferer I was looking forward to being able to go to any restaurant, without worrying about smoke. I asked about the employees who are forced to inhale smoke all day or night, etc. He just stared at me. I think that he thought since he was in Waukesha he wouldn’t be challenged on anything. Finally, he told me that it was people like me who hated freedom, that if I didn’t like smoke I should stay home, and that when we had massive job loss because of all the businesses closing it would be the fault of people like me.

But that isn’t the point of this story. What happened at the end of the meeting is.

Read more from Journal Sentinel: http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/purple-wisconsin/253112431.html

Bet he wouldn't have done that to a big man. He likely would have ended up with a fist in the face.

God just wants some credit, so he's suing Equifax

Give God some credit. He might own a cash-for-gold store, but a New York man says he can't get credit because his first name is God.

God M. Gazarov is suing credit bureau Equifax because, despite two years of trying to resolve the issue over the phone and online, he is shown as having no credit history, said Gazarov's lawyer, James Fishman.

"He has credit denials as a result of this," Fishman said.

Gazarov, a 26-year-old naturalized citizen, owns the pawnshop Gold Hard Cash LLC in Brooklyn, but can't get more than a $500 credit line with Capital One because of the Equifax glitch, the suit alleges.



Another Legal Setback For SeaWorld: Trainers Must Stay Out Of Orca Tanks

by Melissa Cronin

A petition filed by SeaWorld asking a federal appeals court to overturn a safety violation issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been denied -- meaning that the park’s trainers will not be allowed to interact with killer whales during performances -- a move that is seen as a major step forward for both animal and trainer safety at the marine parks.

Animal advocates have applauded the decision, saying that not only are trainers safer, but the whales are free from the stress that comes along with having humans constantly interacting with and touching them.

The ruling is the culmination of a three-year legal battle that began after the February 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau at the SeaWorld’s Orlando park, the central incident of the documentary "Blackfish." OSHA alleged that SeaWorld had violated safety standards, and ordered that trainers maintain a minimum distance or a physical barrier between themselves and orcas. The violation was issued under the “general duty clause” of the Occupational Safety and Health Act -- usually used in citing industries without established safety standards.

SeaWorld appealed this violation, as David Kirby of TakePart reported back in November, when Eugene Scalia (son of United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia) represented the marine park in court:

Scalia also argued that physical contact with killer whales is as critical to his client’s core business as blocking and tackling are to professional football. By banning trainer-to-orca contact at SeaWorld, he argued, the government was irreparably changing and undermining the “premise of its business model.” OSHA’s restrictions were akin to telling "the NFL that close contact would have to end,” Scalia said, adding that the NFL saw more player injuries on any given Sunday than had occurred at SeaWorld in the past 22 years.


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