Meghan Mccain's comment was crude and unnecessary
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I was of course happy with all of the Democratic pickups in Congress last election, but one in particular pleased me. I worked for Gary Peters in the past, and he won my parents home district, MI-09, in the suburbs north of Detroit. Despite having a professional background in the financial services sector, as a state senator Peters always looked out for the interests of his constituents over the narrow interests of financial firms; year after year he was given stellar marks by labor, environmental and consumer groups.
Today Speaker Nancy Pelosi instructed the Financial Services committee "to examine options that are legally available to recover taxpayer funds of companies that abuse the privilege of taxpayer assistance." At the other end of the National Mall, President Obama called on Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner to do whatever he could to could to block the outrageous bonuses set to be paid to executives of ward-of-the-state insurance firm AIG:
In the last six months, AIG has received substantial sums from the US Treasury. I’ve asked Secretary Geithner to use that leverage and pursue every legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole.
I know he’s working to resolve this matter with the new CEO, Edward Liddy, who came on board after the contracts that led to these bonuses were agreed to last year.
This isn’t just a matter of dollars and cents. It’s about our fundamental values.
Since these bonuses are apparently tied in to some contractual obligations, it may be tricky for the federal government to try to abrogate them. Which is where Peters comes in, with a devious bit of legislation (from a press release, not yet posted):
“It is beyond outrageous that the very people who brought AIG to its knees and helped create the current financial crisis are scheduled to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses while tax dollars keep their company afloat,” said Rep. Peters, a Member of the House Financial Services Committee. “These bonuses are in effect a raid on taxpayer dollars. The legislation I’m proposing will get taxpayers their money back. Congress must act swiftly on this matter to show AIG, other companies receiving federal support and taxpayers that we mean business when we say that tax dollars are not to be used to enrich company executives.”
Congressman Peters’ bill would create a 60 percent surtax on bonuses over $10,000 to any company in which the U.S. government has a 79 percent or greater equity stake in the company. Currently, AIG is the only company that meets this threshold. The 60 percent surtax would be added to the normal income tax rate, meaning that bonuses received this year by AIG executives paying the top 35 percent tax rate would be taxed at 95 percent. The remaining 5 percent would likely be paid in state and local taxes, so taxpayers would fully recover any AIG bonuses paid in 2009.
President Obama wants Secretary Geithner to pursue "every legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole." In addition to being a full-throated statement of principle that our tax dollars shouldn't be enriching banking executives so they can indulge themselves with five-figure lunches in the shadows of Wall Street, Peters' bill would provide another legal avenue for Geithner to claw back the tax dollars that shouldn't go to the irresponsible vultures who helped gamble away the stability of the world financial system.
Yet another example of how elections matter.
I've had it with the "well, it's legal" crap with the AIG bonus payouts. Let's quit being cute about this and lower the boom. We all know AIG needs more money and that won't end any time soon. If they want to play the legal game, let's let the bastards go bankrupt and yes, this will likely destroy some others on Wall Street such as Goldman not to mention others. Let them declare bankruptcy and then get re-started where all previous deals are off. There hasn't been much of an issue with letting unions suffer such consequences and business such as the airlines have renegotiated so maybe it's time we push AIG (and their friends) to the brink and see who wants to scream chicken.
A failed AIG - as much as we all detest this company - is going to bad all around but playing this game is too much. Do the greedy people at AIG really want to be responsible for damaging the US and global economy any more than they've done so far?
With few legal options available, the White House may be forced to add millions of dollars in bonus payments to the outstanding debt owed by American International Group.
Earlier Monday, President Barack Obama expressed his outrage over AIG's payment of $165 million in bonuses, and ordered Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to take all legal measures to block them.
However, sources tell CNBC, that there are few legal options available to the White House.
A U.S. Treasury official said that the Treasury will modify a planned $30 billion capital infusion for AIG to try to recoup hundreds of millions of dollars in controversial bonuses paid by the insurer.
The Treasury is finalizing the terms of its latest rescue package for AIG, announced on March 2, and will attach new provisions to it, the official said. The company was due to pay $165 billion in employee retention bonuses by Sunday to employees of AIG Financial Products, the unit that made bad bets on toxic mortgages and credit default swaps.
BSG purists may not laugh, but at least I promise it's not a real spoiler. Open thread below...
Steve Forbes says that Barack Obama and the Dems are guilty of a "scheme" in passing the stimulus; that's hilarious coming from the guy who wants to pass the "flat tax," which is so regressive that it would do more damage to the "small businesses" Forbes pretends to support than Madoff ever could on top of what he's already done if he were allowed to walk (if you take Fix Noise seriously, you're stupid; sorry, I don't know how else to say it)...
...and I can hardly wait to see what kind of a welcome our friends in the "Great White North" have prepared for Former President Brainless...
I’m pretty much living day-to-day at this point, having been laid off in late 2008. So, the AIG bonus thing has really, really, gotten under my skin.
Here’s how I’m going to spend my St. Patrick’s day:
Tuesday morning, 3/17, I’m going to hop the Chinatown bus in Philly and travel up to NYC. My destination is somewhere around 70 Pine St., which is the location of the AIG building in the financial district of NYC. I expect to be there well before lunchtime.
I don’t know exactly where I’ll be located (wherever security or the NYPD won’t run me off, hopefully), but if you’re in NYC or feel moved to join me, stop by and say “HI” to the man in a black leather jacket holding a poster board that says “Give it back, Mr. Liddy”.
Someone’s gotta start it, and it’s not like I don’t have the time, if you know what I mean.
Of all the ways to get rid of a prosecutor, this is not one of them:
A scorned Denver woman, who police say was working as an escort, now is in jail, accused of trying to have her ex-husband, a Pitkin County prosecutor, killed....On Saturday, Dvir allegedly offered an undercover police officer posing as a hit man $2,000 to kill her former husband, Richard Nedlin, court records say.
...."If the body disappeared that's fine, but I'd prefer it to look like an accident, like stuff his body with cocaine, like an overdose," Dvir said, according to the affidavit. "It's got to be done in a very smart way. I just don't want it to backfire on me."
The couple are in midst of a messy custody battle. Ms. Dvir is entitled to the presumption of innocence and I'm somewhat skeptical because she was set up by a jailhouse snitch, but the charge alone is not likely to go over well in divorce court. And it's definitely not the way to beat your opponent in court.
Then again, they are kind of slow on the uptake.[...]
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No matter how much some folks would like to believe otherwise, you just can’t let go of the past without first addressing it.
Our freshly out-of-office malefactor chieftains and their backers would love for their deeds to vanish into the mists, to be misremembered in text and concealed in myth until all the principals are dead. Other Americans acknowledge that evils were done and lies were told but argue that paying any attention to them will distract us in the "fierce urgency of now" and pull the country apart when unity of purpose is essential for solving our multiple crises. Move on, it is said. Forgive and forget, or at least, forget.
If we take that path, we belie ourselves. Making this choice, we condemn our children to a future in which the vicious misconduct we have witnessed is repeated in some new form and new venue by new leaders telling new lies by means of new and more sophisticated media. Moving on in such fashion, we taint the ideals our nation supposedly holds inviolable. We might as well walk into the National Archives rotunda, smash the glass display cases, take a crap on the Constitution and wipe up with the parchment of the Bill of Rights.
The publication over the weekend of Mark Danner’s US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites in The New York Review of Book has been commented on already by some observers who have been most attentive to torture during the past few years. These include Valtin/Invictus and emptywheel, and by the time what I am now writing is published, Glenn Greenwald, Armando, Andrew Sullivan, Scott Horton and others may well have weighed in.
You can read in Danner’s piece grim excerpts from the report of the International Committee on the Red Cross that he obtained. That report is based on interviews with 14 captives held by the U.S. Here is its essence:
The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
As Danner writes:
Such unflinching clarity, from the body legally charged with overseeing compliance with the Geneva Conventions—in which the terms "torture" and "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" are accorded a strictly defined legal meaning—couldn't be more significant, or indeed more welcome after years in which the President of the United States relied on the power of his office either to redefine or to obfuscate what are relatively simple words.
Last week, David Rose of the Daily Mail conducted an exclusive interview with another of the tortured, Binyam Mohammed. Mohammed had finally been released from Guantánamo after seven years there and in secret prisons in Pakistan and Morocco. He’s accused the British authorities of complicity in his torture. On Friday, the BBC conducted the first broadcast interview with him (starts at the 6:45 minute mark):
Binyam Mohammed: All the questions were done by the Moroccans. They would go out, talk to the Americans, then they would come back and have all their questions ready. And most of the questions which I was asked could not have come from anywhere else but British intelligence. ...
Manel: What did you think when you realized that this was coming from the UK?
Mohammed: I was shocked, ‘cause there I was in Pakistan talking to John on how he’s going to help me.
Manel: That’s the MI5 officer?
Mohammed: Yes, that’s the MI5 officer. And I find out that the way he is going to help me is by forcing the Americans to question me on things which I had no idea about.
Manel: And just to be clear, because this is important, you’ve said you don’t want to talk about what actually happened to you in Morocco, but you have been shown this information at the same time or at a different time to the things that you say were happening to you in Morocco; in other words, the torture.
Mohammed: That was happening at the same time. These photos were coming in, I would say, every maybe three weeks. The torture was going on sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly.
Manel: Are you suggesting that the (MI5) person was involved at any level in the actual torture that you say you went through in Morocco.
Mohammed: Well, to my understanding, and to my belief, if it wasn’t for the British involvement right at the beginning of the interrogations in Pakistan and the suggestions that were made by MI5s to the Americans of how to get me to respond. I don’t think I would have gone to Morocco. It was that initial help that MI5 gave the Americans that led me through the seven years of what I went through.
Manel: ...What do you want to see happen?
Mohammed: Well, I want or prefer ... I want people taking responsibility for what has happened over the seven years. If we just let people do what they want to do, and then not be accountable, that’s opening up the doors to torture and abuse.
Manel: How high should this accountability go?
Mohammed: Well, literally, I think all the way to person who started all this was the President of the U.S. I think he has to take, he has to be taken to trial for what he has done all these seven years.
Manel: And in terms of Britain’s role?
Mohammed: Well, if there is any evidence that the Prime Minister was involved or knew about this, then he should be tried, too.
In her brilliant, cut-to-the-bone book on the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, The Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell quotes the most famous line of Governor John Winthrop: "We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us."
The eyes of all people are upon us. And all they see is a mash-up of naked prisoners and an American girl in fatigues standing there giving a thumbs-up. As I write this, the United States of America is still a city on a hill; and it’s still shining – because we never turn off the lights in our torture prisons. That’s how we carry out sleep deprivation.
Vowell’s book was written while the Cheney-Bush administration was still in office, of course, before Barack Obama told a joint session of Congress that "the United States of America does not torture." He could have made that section of his speech 50% better by saying the United States does not torture anymore. Because everybody knows that America did torture until at least January 19, 2009. And it would have been 100% better if he’d said his administration would seek out those who ordered torture and sought specious legal shields for their actions. But then, had he done so., perhaps not so many in Congress would have given him the same rousing applause.
Much has been made in this bicentennial year of the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln. Of particular note has been his second inaugural speech. This contains those famous words meant to heal: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, ...let us strive on to finish the work we are in, ...to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
As in those dark days just weeks before Lincoln was gunned down, our nation today certainly needs healing. But there’s more it needs. In all the recent talk of Lincoln’s presidency, we rarely hear mention of some other words from that same speech.
"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility."
So it should be for every administration. Each holds the power and should bear the responsibility. But responsibility without accountability means nothing. For the Obama administration to give its predecessor a pass for its misdeeds, to move on as if nothing happened, would be a failure of responsibility. We cannot escape history. Yet that seems to be the new administration’s intent.
Not only does it appear there will be no special prosecutor and no regular prosecutor assigned from within the Department of Justice to handle these crimes, it appears there will be nothing like the Otis Pike-style investigation as in the 1970s. The odds seem against even the weakest tea, the truth and reconciliation commission that Senator Patrick Leahy has proposed. No new witnesses have been called to speak at a second round of the hearing that was held March 4, according to his press office.
Meanwhile, some who followed orders to torture are still serving their terms in the slam, while the order-givers roam free.