Subtle Sunset Hallucinations…

~~By InsightAnaltyical-GRL

Feeling like you want to get away out of this world?   Here’s a little trip…

Subtle Sunset Hallucinations: Pictures of a Trip of the Imagination

Enjoy!!!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

CREW’s Top Ten Scandals of 2009 (Including Some That May Have Slipped Under Your Radar, But Which Will Keep on Giving!)

~~By InsightAnalytical-GRL

What better way to end 2009 with a snappy overview of the “top ten” ethics scandals of the year!

Citizens for Responsiblity and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has put together a review of some of some of the high points, along with CREW’s wishes for the new year.

Of course, there’s the TARP/executive pay bonuses,  the SEC’s failure to catch Madoff  as he ripped off clients (starting way back in 1992), and a few sex scandals involving the likes of Gov. Mark Sanford and Senator John Ensign.  Then there was the political corruption of  Reps. Charlie Rangel and John Murtha with transgressions ranging from failing to pay taxes to shady pay-to-play schemes.

But there a few other items that may have slipped under your radar.

Here’s a sampling (the report is in PDF format):

CREW’S TOP TEN SCANDALS OF 2009

Public Corruption Prosecutions Were So 2009.
In 2009, the Supreme Court accepted three cases challenging honest services law, a provision in the federal mail-fraud statute making it illegal for public or private employees to “deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.” This statute is a critical prosecutorial tool for fighting public corruption, having been used to convict former Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) and a large number of those involved in the Jack Abramoff scandal. During oral arguments, the Supreme Court justices focused on all the ways the statute can misapplied, strongly suggesting they plan to limit the statute’s breadth, if not hold it unconstitutional. Already, the prosecutors
handling the case of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich have indicated they will re-indict the governor to delete the honest services fraud counts. In addition, Rep. Jefferson plans to ask a court to give him a new trial, though he was convicted of other charges in addition to honest services fraud.

CREW’s holiday wish: For the honest services fraud statute to remain intact so the law can continue to be used to convict the likes of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Jefferson.

Ah, what would the year be like with the Roberts Supreme Court pulling some sort of crap?

And then there’s this:

What, The FEC Is Supposed to Enforce (Not Gut) Campaign Finance Laws?
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is failing in its mandated mission to administer and enforce regulations governing the financing of federal elections. Violations of federal campaign finance law are likely to go unpunished thanks to the partisan deadlock that has rendered the FEC ineffectual. With three Republican and three Democratic appointees, the FEC consistently fails to take action against even the most egregious violations. As The Washington Post said in an op-ed on June 15th: “The three Republican appointees are turning the commission into The Little Agency That Wouldn’t: wouldn’t launch investigations, wouldn’t bring cases, wouldn’t even accept settlements that the staff had already negotiated.”

By not taking action against federal candidates who break the rules, the FEC is encouraging unethical campaign tactics that privilege money over principle. The FEC commissioners’ failure to take their oversight mission seriously threatens to undermine campaign finance laws and further flood the electoral process with money. With a lack of campaign finance oversight, political influence on Capitol Hill will be bought by the highest bidder and the common good will be sacrificed to special interests.

CREW’s holiday wish: A restructured FEC with an odd number of commissioners, as opposed to  he current even number of six, would go a long way to ending the deadlock and allow the FEC to effectively enforce campaign finance laws.

Gee, where’s all that “bipartisanship” when you need it??

All in all, it was a banner year for scandals, but it looks like the stage is set for some of them to staying around as the “gifts that keep on giving.”

…including one that’s just revving up!   Ever hear of the “Caribbean Caucus?”  From the Miami Herald:

Feds probe banker Allen Stanford’s ties to Congress

The ties between indicted banker Allen Stanford and members of Congress — including millions in contributions and weekends in five-star Caribbean resorts — are now the subject of a sweeping federal investigation.

Lots of money floating around over the years to some familiar names: the powerful Republican Pete Sessions, John Sweeney, Gregory Meeks, Donald Payne, Phil Crane, the Republican National Committee, the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, the G.W. Bush inaugural committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and more…

Won’t that make a great start to 2010??

P.S.–HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!!!

‘Tis the Season for a Senate Full of Pissed-off People and Obama’s “Parody Of Leadership”

~~By InsightAnalytical-GRL

The irony is just too much to ignore!  In this season of “joy” and “love” many of us are pissed off, including the jerks in the U.S. Senate.  Of course, the bigger irony is Mr. Hope and Change, who ran against all that nasty partisan rancor, has exhibited such a lack of leadership that the crap has mushroomed into a state of more partisanship than ever!

And it’s clear enough even for The New York Times, which published this story a couple of days ago:

Senate Debate on Health Care Exacerbates Partisanship

Published: December 20, 2009

WASHINGTON — Nasty charges of bribery. Senators cut off midspeech. Accusations of politics put over patriotism. Talk of double-crosses. A nonagenarian forced to the floor after midnight for multiple procedural votes.

In the heart of the holiday season, Senate Republicans and Democrats are at one another’s throats as the health care overhaul reaches its climactic votes. A year that began with hopes of new post-partisanship has indeed produced change: Things have gotten worse.

Enmity and acrimony are coursing through a debate with tremendous consequences for both sides as well as for the legislative agenda in the months ahead.

Should Democrats prevail, it will put an exclamation point on an eventful first year of their control of Congress and the White House and leave Republicans on the Napoleonic side of what one predicted could be President Obama’s Waterloo. A Republican victory would invigorate an opposition party that was back on its heels at the beginning of 2009 and would strike a crushing blow to Democrats and their claims to governing.

The toxic atmosphere is evident on the floor, on television talk shows and in the hallways of the Capitol.

Poor Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter is lamenting the horrible atmosphere (as well as his own probable regrets that he didn’t stay a Republican?)…

Obama has let the whole affair turn into a food fight.  Aloof  through months of this unfolding mess, probably really crapping in his pants now about the state of his Presidency.

So, we’re all just plain stuck in the morass of a country that is a shell of what it was.

Sigh.

On the subject of leadership, Robert Samuelson has a column excoriating our beloved leader. From The Washington Post (my bolding):

Passing health reform could be a nightmare for Obama

By Robert Samuelson

Monday, December 21, 2009

Barack Obama’s quest for historic health-care legislation has turned into a parody of leadership. We usually associate presidential leadership with the pursuit of goals that, though initially unpopular, serve America’s long-term interests. Obama has reversed this. He’s championing increasingly unpopular legislation that threatens the country’s long-term interests. “This isn’t about me,” he likes to say, “I have great health insurance.” But of course, it is about him: about the legacy he covets as the president who achieved “universal” health insurance. He’ll be disappointed.

snip

So Obama’s plan amounts to this: partial coverage of the uninsured; modest improvements (possibly) in their health; sizable budgetary costs worsening a bleak outlook; significant, unpredictable changes in insurance markets; weak spending control. This is a bad bargain. Health benefits are overstated, long-term economic costs understated. The country would be the worse for this legislation’s passage. What it’s become is an exercise in political symbolism: Obama’s self-indulgent crusade to seize the liberal holy grail of “universal coverage.” What it’s not is leadership.

Not just a “nightmare” for Obama, Mr. Samuelson. I don’t know what you would put in it’s place, but I agree, this is just a load of crap.

Well, “he’ll be disappointed.”  He won’t be any more disappointed that all of us who watched this fiasco in it’s nascent stages during the 2008 primaries and on to the White House.  His and the Democrats’ “goals” basically boil down to further entrenching our “business-oriented, non-system,” with a stamp of approval on crapping on women thrown in for good measure,  and who the hell cares about health care??  Republicans see it as a great way to win back power, but you think they would change much for YOUR benefit???  HAH!!  (See what’s going on in New Jersey with Republican governor-elect Christie?  Sounds EXACTLY like Bush…)

What a complete waste of a golden opportunity, post-Bush.

Do Democrats ALWAYS have to screw it up??

Dollar Watch: Middle East Gulf Exporters Create Their Own “Petro-Currency”

~~By InsightAnalytical-GRL

Oops.  Looks like some more movement in the “let’s-dump-the-dollar” game.

Seems like the oil-producing states of the Middle East have made some moves. According to the Telegraph (U.K.):

Gulf petro-powers to launch currency in latest threat to dollar hegemony

“The Gulf monetary union pact has come into effect,” said Kuwait’s finance minister, Mustafa al-Shamali, speaking at a Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) summit in Kuwait.

The move will give the hyper-rich club of oil exporters a petro-currency of their own, greatly increasing their influence in the global exchange and capital markets and potentially displacing the US dollar as the pricing currency for oil contracts. Between them they amount to regional superpower with a GDP of $1.2 trillion (£739bn), some 40pc of the world’s proven oil reserves, and financial clout equal to that of China.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar are to launch the first phase next year, creating a Gulf Monetary Council that will evolve quickly into a full-fledged central bank.

The Emirates are staying out for now – irked that the bank will be located in Riyadh at the insistence of Saudi King Abdullah rather than in Abu Dhabi. They are expected join later, along with Oman.

MORE

Earlier in the year, we posted about other moves to dump the dollar.  See below for some relevant posts.

The Gulf pact faces hurdles internally (Saudia Arabia will dominate and Saudi needs will come first and may leave the other states on the short end) as well as from the outside:

Ben Simpfendorfer, Asia economist for RBS and an expert on the Middle East, told the FIKR conference that the rise of China had paradoxically disrupted the case for pan-Arab economic integration.

There was a natural fit ten years ago between rich oil state and low-wage manufacturers in Egypt and Syria, but cheap exports from China have forced poorer Arab states to retreat behind barriers to shelter their industries. “The rationale for a single currency has become weaker,” he said.

We’ll have to see what transpires.  Just wanted to bring you up to date on the latest rumblings.

Related Posts

The Scanner–International Edition, March 24, 2009: Say Goodbye to the Dollar? China, Russia Proposing a New World Currency for “Non-Credit” Based Economies, Echo G-20 Agenda of Expanding IMF; China Will “Consider” Buying IMF Bonds; 10th China Develpment Forum Underway (UPDATE 1X–Geithner Supports China Proposal??)

Russia-China Proposals; “Rebalancing” Global Currency Reserves: Why the U.S. Can’t Take Anything for Granted Re: the Dollar (March 27, 2009)

HEADS UP! It’s HERE! The New World Currency Design, Presented to the G-8 Delegations (With Pics) (July 13, 2009)

As China (And Other Countries, Too) Makes Non-dollar Trade Deals Around the World, Maybe Americans Should Seek Safety in the Reincarnation Bank (July 31, 2009)

Yuan on the Way to Becoming an Alternative Reserve Currency & Obama’s Off to China to INSIST That the Chinese Play Nice (November 12, 2009)

Did Drug Money Save the Banks??

~~By InsightAnalytical-GRL

As if things couldn’t get even MORE bizarre…

The Guardian/Observer is reporting that the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime suspects that “$352bn in criminal proceeds was effectively laundered by financial institutions” during the 2008 banking crisis:

Drug money saved banks in global crisis, claims UN advisor

snip

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were “the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.

This will raise questions about crime’s influence on the economic system at times of crisis. It will also prompt further examination of the banking sector as world leaders, including Barack Obama and Gordon Brown, call for new International Monetary Fund regulations. Speaking from his office in Vienna, Costa said evidence that illegal money was being absorbed into the financial system was first drawn to his attention by intelligence agencies and prosecutors around 18 months ago. “In many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital. In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system’s main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor,” he said.

Some of the evidence put before his office indicated that gang money was used to save some banks from collapse when lending seized up, he said.

Apparently, evidence of the drug money going to banks has come from officials in Britain, Switzerland, Italy and the US.

The British Bankers’ Association wants to see the evidence and maintains that central banks provided the liquidity to keep the system afloat.

It will be interesting to see if Costa’s suspicions get any attention here in the U.S.

Imagine, “money laundering”  to save the economic system…

Who pays back THOSE “loans”??

Remember Mark Penn, of the Hillary ’08 Campaign?? (Guess Who Got Stimulus Money…)

~~By InsightAnalytical-GRL

Here’s a nugget from The Hill.com:

Mark Penn’s two firms awarded millions from stimulus for public relations work

According to the story,

A contract worth nearly $6 million in stimulus funds was awarded by the Obama adminstration to two firms run by Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s pollster in 2008.

Federal records show that a contract worth $5.97 million, part of the $787 billion stimulus Congress passed this year, helped preserve three jobs at Burson-Marsteller, the global public-relations and communications firm headed by Penn.

Burson-Marsteller won the contract to work on a public-relations campaign to advertise the national switch from analog to digital television. Nearly $2.8 million of the contract was awarded through a subcontract to Penn’s polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland, according to federal records.

Federal records also show that a former adviser to President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign received nearly $70,000 from that contract to help alert viewers in difficult-to-reach communities that their televisions would soon no longer receive broadcast signals.

MORE

Specifically, the Obama adviser worked on the ad messaging aimed at Hispanics, only 39 days before the digital transition on June 10.

Just this past Tuesday, Republicans John McCain and Tom Coburn held a news conference to complain that the advertising campaign was a waste of taxpayer dollars.

However,

McCain and Coburn did not show any indication that they knew two Democratic political strategists received funding through the grant.

Hey, I guess that means that Republicans don’t really read large stimulus bills, either!!

…And, of course, Republicans NEVER waste taxpayer dollars, either!

Sigh. This game is getting so old…

But, the question that lingers about Hillary Clinton and whether we assume that this is part of a deal Hillary Clinton cut with Obama after the 2008 primaries were over. I guess I would lean toward that assumption!

Sarah Palin…”Constrained,” But Maybe Not How You Think…

~~By InsightAnalytical-GRL

Sarah Palin was in New Mexico a few days ago pushing her book out in Roswell a few days ago.  (I have to admit, I find the title “Going Rogue” a bit odd, considering she’s not all that rogue in MY book…shaking off public office to run around the country seems pretty much in vogue…see John Edwards and even Barack Obama, who abandoned the Senate to run for President right quick…and, pols with higher aspirations all write books before their runs these days, don’t they?)

Anyhow, a writer for the Albuquerque Journal came up with a very interesting piece regarding Palin in Saturday’s paper (December 5, 2009). Although it’s behind the subscriber firewall (but try the link below, you might be able to access it) I do want to share some of this, because it really is a serious piece about Palin in that it tries to really figure out WHO she is.

Last year I was dazzled by Palin and didn’t enjoy seeing her trashed anymore than I liked seeing Hillary Clinton trashed. However, I’ve been off the Palin bandwagon for quite awhile now. While I admired her spunk, I always felt a bit uncomfortable with her politics. I really left the train when she quite her job as governor of Alaska.  Frankly, that’s when I saw the “quite and run” thing kicking in, which leaves a sour taste my mouth these days. She doesn’t seem much different than Edwards or Obama on that score.

But this piece by Thomas J. Cole, entitled “The Constrained Vision, Palin-Style” is quite thought provoking.  Cole didn’t attend the book signing Roswell, but he did buy the book and read it…and thought about it.  As he opens his piece, ” I went in search of Sarah Palin this week.” (I’m guessing the “unleashed” Sarah Palin…)

Cole says he wanted to gain a deeper insight into Palin’s views and found it on page 385:

I wanted to know what informs her positions, the ideas that are the building blocks of her politics, the philosophies that would guide her in making the serious decisions required of these serious times.
I found what I was looking for on Page 385.
Palin wrote: “I do believe in a few timeless and unchanging truths, and chief among those is that man is fallen. This world is not perfect, and politicians will never make it so. This, above all, is what informs my pragmatic approach to politics.”
She then hitches her wagon to the “constrained” political vision as explained by economist and commentator Thomas Sowell in his book “A Conflict of Visions,” first published in 1987.
Politicians with the constrained vision believe that human nature is flawed, that war, poverty and crime, for example, are inevitable and that our flaws cannot be fixed.
Those politicians believe in building institutions that constrain the flaws of human nature and in leaving it to the public to express their interests in free markets.
On the other hand, as Sowell tells it, politicians with the “unconstrained” vision seek to explain our flaws and believe that institutions can cause them. They believe that government can decide what it is in the public’s interest.
“Commonsense Conservatives (that’s what Palin calls herself) deal with human nature as it is with its unavoidable weaknesses and its potential for goodness,” she wrote.
“We don’t trust utopian promises from politicians. The role of government is not to perfect us but to protect us — to protect our inalienable rights.”

MMM…so, we’re all “fallen.”  This “constrained” viewpoint makes me shudder. “Constraining the flaws of human nature” makes me think of a lot harsh things…including the Republican Party, which is back to their “purity” testing again these days…Sounds pretty “perfecting” to me.  The language, the word “fallen” makes my mind immediately wander into religious territory, a la Adam and Eve.  Sort of give me the creeps, but maybe that’s just my own bias?

Cole then muses on how this sort of thinking would apply to current issues:

Let’s take the health care debate.
Politicians with the constrained vision believe that if Americans wanted more affordable health care, they would get it by expressing that interest in the marketplace.
Politicians with the unconstrained vision believe the public interest lies in reducing health care costs, having more Americans covered and not forcing people into bankruptcy because of medical bills.
On the issue of the economy, there would be no more Chrysler or General Motors under the constrained political vision. Through the marketplace, the public had decided it wasn’t in its interest to save the companies and their tens of thousands of jobs.
Politicians with the constrained vision don’t believe in addressing the abuses on Wall Street that led to our financial crisis or in stemming the tide of home foreclosures.
On the evening of Palin’s book signing in Roswell, President Obama addressed the nation on his plan for Afghanistan.
Palin wrote on her Facebook page that evening that she supported Obama’s action, although she wanted him to commit more troops.
Her position wasn’t surprising, given that politicians with the constrained vision believe making war is unavoidable and rational because that’s just what countries do.

This article is an interesting jumping off point from which to examine Palin’s views.  For liberals who seem to have jumped on her bandwagon, it should give pause.

Beyond the folksy demeanor and “common sense” image, there ARE ideas.  And these ideas must be scrutinized just like those of any politician. It’s a mixed bag, of course.

I probably agree with about 10% of the “constrained” views discussed in the above quote.  But most of it…the blind faith to “the marketplace” (abuses and all) and the “war thing”–well, that just seems to be the same old Republican bit that I really can’t stomach.

So, “Going Rogue” sounds catchy, but it rings as false as “Hope and Change” to me…Lots of things to think about…

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