Monday, November 26, 2007

Public Service?

CNN: Lott to resign by the end of the year

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, intends to resign by the end of the year and join the private sector, sources tell CNN.

Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, is serving his fourth term in the U.S. Senate.

Lott, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, is expected to make the announcement Monday in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

A senior Republican source close to Lott said one reason for the decision is the new lobbying restrictions on former lawmakers.

A law kicks in on January 1 that forbids lawmakers from lobbying for two years after leaving office. Those who leave by the end of 2007 are covered by the previous law, which demands a wait of only one year.

Lott, the Republican whip, was elected last year to a fourth term in the Senate. His term lasts until 2012.

So the good Senator just couldn't wait till the end of his term to go be a lobbyist. So the people of Mississippi got less than a quarter of the term they voted him in for (and the replacement will be on the very bottom of the seniority ladder). Now it probably is true that they're better off without someone who would leave them high and dry like that but still....

So much for honor and public service and all that claptrap, the man's got money to make.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bloomberg: Public School Funds Hit by SIV Debts Hidden in Investment Pools

Hal Wilson smiles at the blue numbers on his desktop screen. His money is yielding 5.77 percent. For the chief financial officer of Florida's Jefferson County school board, that means the $2.7 million of taxpayer funds he's placed in the state's Local Government Investment Pool is earning more on this October day than it would get in a money market fund.

And Wilson says he knows the Florida officials who manage the funds of the 1,559-student district have invested them wisely.

``We're such a small school district,'' Wilson, 55, says. ``We don't have the time or staff for professional money management. They have lots of investment advisers. It's risk free and easy.''

It may be easy, but it's not risk free. What Wilson didn't know in October -- and what thousands of municipal finance managers like him across the country still haven't been told -- is that state-run pools have parked taxpayers' money in some of the most confusing, opaque and illiquid debt investments ever devised.

These include so-called structured investment vehicles, or SIVs, which are among the subprime mortgage debt-filled contrivances that have blown up at the biggest banks in the world......

Among the places caught up in the SIV and subprime snarls are Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Montana and King County, Washington. Public funds hold $1 billion of defaulted asset- backed commercial paper, including $273.5 million from SIVs.

Montana entrusted $465 million, or 19 percent of its $2.5 billion investment pool, to SIVs.

Nobody knows how much more pain is coming. State funds could lose hundreds of millions of dollars, says Lynn Turner, chief accountant of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from 1998 to 2001.

Wall Street peddled toxic waste to many, many bagholders. Cities and States are just some of the victims. These local governments are going to face massive losses in their investment portfolios just as they face declining tax revenues and increased expenditures in the economic slowdown. I bet it's going to play well in the Mudville Gazette: "School loses millions on subprime investments".

Wall Street is the next Detroit, they are building their legions of burned customers now. All of the institutions who purchased something toxic that their rep at the Wall Street Banks said was safe are going to remember this. Even if it cannot be proved, they will remember this as fraud. The big boys should go to Detroit and ask them what it's like to sell to a cynical customer base that does not believe what you say about the quality and safety of your products, if they listen at all.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Freedom is on the March...

CNN: Saudi court ups punishment for gang-rape victim

A court in Saudi Arabia increased the punishment for a gang-rape victim after her lawyer won an appeal of the sentence for the rapists, the lawyer told CNN.

The 19-year-old victim was sentenced last year to 90 lashes for meeting with an unrelated male, a former friend from whom she was retrieving photographs. The seven rapists, who abducted the pair and raped both, received sentences ranging from 10 months to five years in prison.

The victim's attorney, Abdulrahman al-Lahim, contested the rapists' sentence, contending there is a fatwa, or edict under Islamic law, that considers such crimes Hiraba (sinful violent crime) and the punishment should be death.

"After a year, the preliminary court changed the punishment and made it two to nine years for the defendants," al-Lahim said of the new decision handed down Wednesday. "However, we were shocked that they also changed the victim's sentence to be six months in prison and 200 lashes."

The judges more than doubled the punishment for the victim because of "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media," according to a source quoted by Arab News, an English-language Middle Eastern daily newspaper.

Judge Saad al-Muhanna from the Qatif General Court also barred al-Lahim from defending his client and revoked his law license, al-Lahim said. The attorney has been ordered to attend a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Justice next month.

Good to know that the Bush administration is focused on democracy and human rights. Our good friends the Saudis have played their nasty little games while hiding behind Uncle Sam's legs.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Nation Formerly Known as America

Yahoo News: Intel official: Expect less privacy
WASHINGTON - As Congress debates new rules for government eavesdropping, a top intelligence official says it is time that people in the United States changed their definition of privacy.

Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people's private communications and financial information.

Kerr's comments come as Congress is taking a second look at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Lawmakers hastily changed the 1978 law last summer to allow the government to eavesdrop inside the United States without court permission, so long as one end of the conversation was reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S.

The original law required a court order for any surveillance conducted on U.S. soil, to protect Americans' privacy. The White House argued that the law was obstructing intelligence gathering because, as technology has changed, a growing amount of foreign communications passes through U.S.-based channels.

The most contentious issue in the new legislation is whether to shield telecommunications companies from civil lawsuits for allegedly giving the government access to people's private e-mails and phone calls without a FISA court order between 2001 and 2007.

Some lawmakers, including members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, appear reluctant to grant immunity. Suits might be the only way to determine how far the government has burrowed into people's privacy without court permission.

The committee is expected to decide this week whether its version of the bill will protect telecommunications companies. About 40 wiretapping suits are pending.

The central witness in a California lawsuit against AT&T says the government is vacuuming up billions of e-mails and phone calls as they pass through an AT&T switching station in San Francisco.

Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, helped connect a device in 2003 that he says diverted and copied onto a government supercomputer every call, e-mail, and Internet site access on AT&T lines.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed the class-action suit, claims there are as many as 20 such sites in the U.S.

So the government now believes it has the prerogative to listen in on your phone calls, read your e-mails, and track your internet use without trifling with probable cause, much less a warrant. To top it off this is the same crowd that believes they have the right to grab you off the street and "disappear" you, possibly sending you who knows where for who knows how long, where you have no rights, and if they ever deign to let you go you have no legal recourse. I remember a titanic struggle against such a regime back in the 80s. I guess Bush decided the wrong side won.

Congress pwned by Media Giants

Ars Technica: New bill would punish colleges, students who don't become copyright cops
A massive education bill (747-page PDF) introduced into Congress contains a provision that would force colleges and universities to offer "technology-based deterrents" to file-sharing under the pain of losing all federal financial aid. Section 494 of the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007 is entitled "Campus-Based Digital Theft Prevention" that could have just as easily been called "Motion Picture and Recording Industry Subsidies," as it could force schools into signing up for subscription-based services like Napster and Rhapsody.

Under the terms of the act, which is cosponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), schools will have to inform students of their official policies about copyright infringement during the financial aid application and disbursement process. In addition, students will be warned about the possible civil and criminal penalties for file-sharing as well as the steps the schools take to prevent and detect illicit P2P traffic.

That's not all: schools would have to give students an alternative to file-sharing while evaluating technological measures (i.e., traffic shaping, deep packet inspection) that they could deploy to thwart P2P traffic on campus networks. Many—if not most—schools already closely monitor traffic on their networks, with some (e.g., Ohio University) blocking it altogether, and the bill would provide grants to colleges so they could evaluate different technological solutions.

The most objectionable part of the bill is the part that could force schools into signing up for music subscription services. In order to keep that beloved federal aid money flowing, universities would have to "develop a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property."

So basically Colleges and Universities will be forced to spend valuable money guarding the Media industry's property or to cut students off from the internet to avoid losing financial aid. I thought the Credit Card issuer profit maximization act (Bankruptcy Reform) was pathetic. Every single bought and paid for Congressman should be charged with receiving bribes (maybe I'm simple minded, but when someone gives a lawmaker money and in exchange ghostwrites the laws I don't see the subtle distinction).

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Congress finally draws a Line in the Sand

They can't stop the war, they can't muster the will to get working families' kids health insurance, but when Bush vetoed pork by God that cannot stand

It makes you wonder.....

....whether all these poisonous Chinese products coming over are accidents.

CNN:Millions of toys recalled; contain 'date rape' drug

Millions of Chinese-made toys have been pulled from shelves in North America and Australia after scientists found they contain a chemical that converts into a powerful date rape drug when ingested. Two children in the U.S. and three in Australia were hospitalized after swallowing the beads.

The lead paint deal I thought was just a matter of being cheap (and in part due to intricate and ever changing web of subcontractors and suppliers used by Chinese businesses which thwarts accountability). This seems like a different critter. I'm glad the kids are mostly too old to want toys this Christmas.