Friday, March 29, 2013

So long (I hope for only a little while) Soledad O’Brien. And please, please don’t stop doing what you were doing.

I was shaving this morning when, from the next room, I heard Soledad O’Brien say farewell on her morning CNN show. Her gig there is over.

You barely needed a pulse to be aware, for several weeks, that it was coming. It had been all over the news. But for just a minute I turned off my electric razor to listen. The emotional sensation was something like squeezing the hand of an old friend who is about to be wheeled into a room down the corridor for neurosurgery. Will she survive?  Will what makes Soledad uniquely Soledad survive? Will she resume what she was doing somewhere else?

As you might gather from this, I like her, although to tell you the truth, I grew to like her slowly, and perhaps even a bit grudgingly.

She had been less than a major player at NBC, where I’d occasionally catch her and surf past her. When she showed up on CNN, sometime back in 2005, I was underwhelmed.

Her voice sounded squeaky to me. Perhaps something sexist still lingered in my own verge-of-dotage view of the world. But what I thought is, “They can’t be serious. She’s a minor player who sounds like Minnie Mouse.”

Minnie Mouse indeed! As she proved, interview after interview, she was the mouse that roared. No, I take that back. She was truth’s tiger. Just take a look at this interview (below) with John Sununu, in the role of a Romney Campaign propagandist, during the last election

Among all the people who conduct interviews on television, O’Brien is the only one I can think of who regularly pushed back against the baloney and unabashed falsehoods that political spinmeisters too often get away with. Others made an effort to do this on CNN and other networks, too, but particularly against seasoned pros who lie for a living, the efforts have been mostly puny.

On the other hand, trying to get a lie past Soledad O’Brien must be like trying to throw a pork chop past a starving hyena.

She clearly did her homework before each interview. And when the politicians threw out their fastball lies, she caught them and threw them right back at the politicians. Sometimes they’d ignore her contradictions and try to talk over her. She wouldn’t put up with it. She kept at the liars, confronting them with what the real facts were.

That’s just the opposite of what most news interviewers appear to be doing these days, letting the lies sail into the camera and also into the public consciousness. Too many interviewers, either under-briefed or under-aggressive, simply move on to the next question somebody has listed for them to ask.

O'Brien's morning competition couldn’t, or didn’t stop their interview subjects from lying. Matt Lauer, for example, doesn't seem to know a straight-shooter from a curveball pitcher. At least, not that I’ve ever seen. Sometimes I've asked myself, 'Where in the world is Matt Lauer?" not when he was doing one of his travel features, but when he was doing studio interviews. Even some of the “serious” Sunday morning interviewers like Bob Schieffer have either let the lies fly by like floating creampuffs, or offered such agreeably gentle questioning of what his guests said that you could easily miss that there was reason to be dubious..

Evidently, Jeff Zucker, the infotainment executive who was behind the Today Show for many years before moving to CNN, has something else in mind for CNN. I am not pleased, although not ready to beat Soledad’s replacement into the mud before she even starts, as at least one blogger has. Let’s at least give Kate Bolduan a chance before we kick and stomp her.

That said, I suspect Soledad will be hard to replace. The truth needs to be respected, and Soledad is among the few broadcast news interviewers who unequivocally know how to respect truth with tenacity.

Monday, March 25, 2013

“The bankers have rioted again, Joeren. We must punish the poor to make a horrible example."

Never trust a Dutchman named Jeroen, Or even a Dutchman who uses the alternative spelling of Joran. Hans? He’s fine. Ditto Joop, Jan, Bastien, Laurens and Maartin.

But when you get to a Jeoren or Joran, watch your back! Not to mention your neck. And your pocketbook.

First there was Joran van der Sluit, who in all probability murdered Natalie Halloway on the Caribbean Dutch island of Aruba. And even if he didn’t, according to an interview he gave (and later retracted) with Greta Van Susteren, he sold Halloway into sexual slavery.

Van der Sluit may have gotten away with that one, but before you know it he was arrested, tried and convicted in Peru on charges of robbing and killing another young women.

Now we have Jeroen Dijsselbloem, a Dutch financial type who heads up the Eurozone finance ministers. Kindly Mr. Dijsselbloem suggeseted, according to an article in Reuters, that when European banks begin to fail, “euro zone officials would turn to the bank's shareholders, bondholders and uninsured depositors to contribute to its recapitalization.”

He didn't say a word about clawing back a nickel from the money launderers (in the case of Cypress) or their co-conspirators, the bankers, who helped create the problem. In other words, we must punish the innocent and the poor by confiscating their money to atone for the sins of the rich.

Please understand that, at least the way I plough my way through the news reports, most of the depositors weren’t necessarily guilty of anything more malfeasant than putting their paychecks into their checking accounts so they cold pay their rent and grocery bills. Ditto most of the shareholders and bondholders, I must assume, were simply making investments. Although some segments of each category might be complicit in a bank failure (for example, there might be foreign money launderers who are also depositors, or shareholders who elected directors who chose the CEO) the really bad guys are the bankers and money launderers who participated in these fiascos, most recently the fiacso in Cypress.

You'd think you’d want to punish those guys. Oh wait a second! You say they’re very rich and powerful and you don’t want to mess with them? Nevermind then. Decapitate the wretched poor! If you don't, they'll probably only reproduce anyway.


One of these guys is Jeroen, the other is Joran. One of them assaults young women, sometimes kills them, and may have sold one into sexual slavary. The other assaults bank depositors to confiscate part of their savings, which helps to kill national economies and stock market gains, ruining everyone's retirement dreams while punishing the innocent. For ten points of extra credit, determine which is which and write an essay explaining how you arrived at your decision. 
WARNING: The order in which these photographs was placed may constitute a trick question. 
Or maybe not.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sociopaths, vandals, break-in artists and The Atlantic Wire

The Atlantic Wire, the online publication of a magazine I once venerated, has leaped to the defense of Matthew Keys, 26 years old, who has been fired from his editorial job at Reuters in New York after an indictment. The indictment charges that Keys hacked the Los Angeles Times website with help from the infamous hacking group Anonymous.

And there was a bit more to it than that, according to a Reuters story:
The indictment charged Keys with three criminal counts, including conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer. The indictment said that he promised to give hackers access to Tribune Co websites and that a story on the Tribune's Los Angeles Times website was later altered by one of them. 
 A gush of sympathy for the malicious

Remarkably, this act, which was malicious vandalism at the very least, has created an outpouring of sympathy for the perpetrator “You can’t help but feel bad for Adam Keys,” began an article by Adam Clark Estes in The Atlantic Wire.

Estes complains, “Here’s a media enthusiast who suddenly finds himself potentially unemployed and facing up to 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines for a few keystrokes.”

Wow, if the degree of a crime’s gravity (or depravity) depends on how many times you manipulate a finger or two stroking some keys, maybe we should let off mass murderers who only finger the trigger of their semi-automatic weapons ten or twenty times.

Moreover, it turns out that Keys may have been motivated by wanting revenge for his dismissal from the Los Angeles Times. Even hacker sympathizer Estes admits, “It was probably a bad idea to tell Anonymous hackers to ‘go fuck some shit up’ after giving them login credentials for the Tribune Company.”

That’s malicious intent, if you ask me. It's not terribly far from a disgruntled corporate or postal employee who gets fired and returns to his workplace with a weapon, also to wiggle his finger a few times and "fuck some shit up."

Count on Congress to do the wrong thing

Remarkably, even right wing Repubican California Congressman Daryl Issa, usually a law-and-order fanatic, has jumped in to launch an “investigation” relating to the suicide of another criminally-charged hacker, Aaron Swartz, in January.

Similarly, Congresswomen Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, is pumping for an “Aaron’s Law” that would keep prosecutors from being mean to these poor babies who hack into other peoples’ property.

How serious is hacking?

Forget, for a moment, that one of the greatest threats this nation faces is from cyberatttack. Forget that, just as the United States set back Iran’s nuclear development by hacking into their nuclear labs and destroying centrifuges, some hacker can do something similar to the United States’ capacity for defense, manufacturing, banking, the financial markets, air traffic control and the power grid. Or to steal industrial secrets, as China evidently has been doing.

Fact is, it doesn’t matter whether the hacker happens to be an economic rival, a mortal enemy of this nation, or just an arrogant twenty-something trying out “a few keystrokes” to see what will happen. The damage to property, income an reputation is the same, regardless of intent.

Sociopaths, vandals and break-in artists

However, I’ll go beyond that, and suggest that these hacker vandals are little more than sociopaths, unsympathetic to the plight of individuals, small businesses, or the public at large, which can be harmed in a variety of ways by their “innocent” games. You may feel sympathetic now to a hacker facing a long sentence for messing with a newspaper. But what if the next hacker gets into your stock brokerage account and bankrupts you just for the hell of it? Or removes all the cash from your bank account? Or puts statements on, say, your Facebook page, allegedly written by you, that make you look like a sexist, or a racist, or a rapist?

I speak out against hacking from personal experience. I maintain a website for my freelance writing business under my own name, which I don’t openly advertise on this blog for what I hope are obviously valid reasons. In February, my website was hacked, and began sending out, I gather, thousands of spam e-mails under my name. That certainly couldn’t have helped either my reputation or my income.

I learned about this when my web hosting company contacted me, informed me that as my own webmaster I was responsible for the spam, and that I’d better disinfect my website, or else. Their time-consuming over-the-phone tech support, for an hour or more at a time, proved unequal to the problem. After many hours of trying to remove malicious code on my own, I had to hire a consultant to fix the problem.

A personal toll of money and misery

Well, it took the consultant, a large website design company, about a week to get the mess cleaned up. That set me back $1,900. If the money had been taken directly from my wallet by a thief, instead of indirectly by the actions of a hacker, the act would have been grand larceny.

Meanwhile, backing-and-forthing among the consultant, me and the web host contributed to destroying a vacation I happened to be in the midst of when this happened.

Who hacked me and why? I don’t know. Nor do I know how what the hacker did was any different than someone who smashes a window of your home to let himself in, deliberately turns up the stereo full blast to annoy your neighbors, and then spray paints grafitti on your walls and defecates on your pillow.

Sure, nobody gets “hurt,” in the physical sense of the word. But the break-in artist (or hacker) has done serious emotional and financial damage to you for no reason at all. If you came home one night, and found someone in the process of doing what I’ve just described, I suspect you’d be legally justified in shooting the intruder dead.

So why shouldn’t hacking be considered a serious crime worthy of a long stay in prison? It’s the wanton act of a sociopath, and sociopaths need to be locked up early, before they do increasingly greater damage to society.

Matthew Key and his ilk get no sympathy from me. And shame on The Atlantic for letting its web creature, The Atlantic Wire, support blatantly antisocial behavior.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Here's another example of how the United States of America has become a corruptocracy, while permitting big business to rob you (and this nation) blind

The following is lifted from a proxy statement, received this week from AT&T. A stockholder is seeking to make the company report to stockholders the details of all political contributions. AT&T recommends voting against the proposal.

(Full disclosure: I’m a small stockholder in AT&T, which is how I became aware of this stuff in the first place.) Says AT&T:
Political contributions, where permitted, are an important part of the regulatory and legislative process. AT&T is in a highly regulated industry, and the Company’s operations are significantly affected by the actions of elected officials at the local, state and national levels, including rates it can charge customers, its profitability, and even how it must provide services to competitors. It is important that your Company actively participate in the electoral and legislative processes in order to protect your interests as stockholders.
After reading that, can you possibly wonder why the majority of Congressmen, Senators and even state and local legislators could be mistaken in broad daylight for whores? Or why many, Republican and Democrat alike, are so crooked they could hind behind corkscrews? Or even why you phone bills are so high, with politicians bribed with "contributions" to let AT&T charges you whatever it thinks it can get away with before you bleed to death?

Blame much of it on Citizens United

Corrupt influence in politics has always been bad, but the U.S. Supreme Court decision that money is speech in the Citizens United Cases sealed the doom of democracy in the United States of America. Because now there's no limit to how much and who AT&T and other companies can pay off to make the law go just the way they want it.

And if you’re an AT&T stockholder and think AT&T’s political contributions are good for your investment, have another think. The political influence of the corporation’s top executives allows them to rip you and me off (as well as their employees) for many tens of million of dollars, which they use to line their own pockets.

Executive toys to go with the money

For example, according to the same proxy statement, the CEO of ATT alone receives a total annual compensation package of $19,000,000.00. (If you're getting dizzy from all the zeros, that's nineteen million bucks. A year.) That doesn't include compensation for his chief operations officer, chief financial officer, and other "C-suite" greed-a-holics. And with all that dough, they’re trying to up their compensation. Moreover, that’s only the cash part. The CEO and his fellow senior executive ripoff artists also receive playthings and cash for playthings…
…including an automobile allowance and maintenance, which is an important recruiting and retention tool; club memberships (we allow Company- owned memberships, but do not pay country club fees and dues for executive officers), which afford our executives the opportunity to conduct business in a more informal environment; home security for the safety and security of our executives; tax preparation, estate planning, and financial counseling, which allow our executives to focus more on business responsibilities; and executive disability benefits. The financial counseling benefit provides financial counselors to executives, which helps the Company by ensuring that our executives understand and comply with plan requirements. We provide our executives communications, broadband/TV and related products and services, which are offered by AT&T at little or no incremental cost. We permit our executives to use Company aircraft for personal reasons, which allows for the efficient use of their time and for them to privately conduct Company business at any time. However, beginning in 2013, the CEO will be required to reimburse the incremental Company cost of all such personal usage. Other Executive Officers are also required to reimburse the incremental cost of their personal usage unless the CEO decides otherwise on a case-by-case basis.

Poor babies ! Ninteen million bucks a year and they can’t even afford their own cars and burglar alarms. Or tax lawyers. And it's so-ooo hard to retain these guys.

It's not just a disease. It's an epidemic.

I wish I could tell you this is an exceptional case, but I read lots of proxy statement and I gotta tell you, it’s commonplace.

So bend over, America, and enjoy getting raped.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Ahem, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, I’d like to recommend a new roommate for you

I’ll get to Lindsay Graham in a few paragraphs, and to why I can’t seem to stop wishing somebody would punch him in the face. But first, let me explain why New York City has such a big stake in seeing Osama Bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, put on trial not in Guantanamo, but blocks from Ground Zero.

New York’s stake in
Abu Ghayth’s fate

It seems like every New Yorker knew someone, or at least knew someone who knew someone, who died in the 9-11 attack. And even if you were simply passing through, at the time, you’d have to be devoid of any of your senses not to be aware of the attack’s impact on the lives of New Yorkers.

The walls of many subway station stairwells were papered with scores of heartbreaking home-made handbills, run off on computer printers, showing faces of missing loved ones and pleas to help find them. The handbills would give desperate descriptions: the missing man or woman’s name, age, weight, the company they worked for, the tower they worked in. The photographs alone could make a strong man weep. You’d see a daddy playing with his two little girls. A young couple, close together, clearly in love. A young woman holding her cat. A grandmother. A father. A son. A daughter. 

And after a while you knew they were dead, all dead. Some were lucky enough to die almost instantly. Others were roasted to death in the debris. Or crushed to death. Or burned to death. They were our friends. Our family. Our colleagues. Our neighbors.

Downtown, at the Ground Zero site, firemen, and rescue workers, and ironworkers picking through the debris would find pieces of those people. A severed foot still inside a smoldering shoe. A grotesquely wounded human head, separated from a still-missing body. An arm.  It got so bad for the guys lifting concrete and girders by hand to get to body parts, that in the St. Paul's church where they fitfully napped between shifts on lower Broadway, these big, hardhat working guys had to be given teddy bears to hug as they lay weeping on cots or pews trying to shut the images out of their minds and sleep.

What would a “New York Jury” do?

This week, Sulaiman Abu Ghayth was captured. And transported in chains to New York. And arraigned in a Federal Court to a charge of conspiring to kill Americans – Americans who, in this particular case, were mostly New Yorkers.

New Yorkers deserve the right to listen to the evidence, then declare a verdict, and hand that verdict over to a New York judge who will toss Sulaiman Abu Ghayth into some dark hellhole of a maximum security prison where he can spend the rest of his miserable life rotting in the chilly gloom.

We earned the right to do this. We earned it by losing friends. By losing relatives. By losing colleagues. By living with the horror, and the grief, and the loneliness, and the rage that followed 9-11. And by stepping out of our front doors, for months after 9-11, and smelling the awful odor that was something like burning rubber or melting insulation, coming from the World Trade Center site whenever the wind was blowing in the right direction.

We earned the right to have our proxies on the jury stare narrow-eyed at Abu Gayth, and come back from the jury room, the air reeking this time not of melting insulation but of sangfroid and vengeance served cold.

Senator Graham, butt out

But leave it to the Republicans, not atypically led by the simpering Senator Graham, to complain about trying the accused criminal where the crime was done. Although he and other Republicans fumble for a rationale to lock the guy away in Guantanamo, where he will be perceived by many as a victim of a lawless state, the Republicans’ real reason is simply to make propaganda against the President. Which is remarkably similar to what Abu Gayth did for Bin Laden.

"We believe the administration's decision here to bring this person to New York City, if that's what's happened, without letting Congress know is a very bad precedent to set," Graham sniveled the other day during a press conference with one of his co-snivelers, Republican Senator Kelly Ayote of New Hampshire.

Ayote added, “the last thing in the world we want to do, in my opinion, is put them in civilian court. This man should be in Guantanamo Bay.”

Right. Where he can be either forgotten or perceived as a martyr to a lawless government. Where the world’s press cannot conveniently cover his trial and conviction and help spread word to those who would do us harm that if you choose to destroy us, we will either kill you as we did Bin Laden, or throw you in a hole for the rest of what only a very few would thereafter call a life.

Trust New Yorkers. We will see to it, if America leaves it up to us, thatAbu Gayth will find his hole. It’s just too bad we can’t throw Lindsay Graham in there with him.

Monday, March 04, 2013

These two kooks are each holding a violent and lethal weapon, capable of mowing down school children and teachers. (Just ask Baltimore school officials)

Look, I’m about as in favor of gun control as anybody can get. I think there are too many nuts supporting the free flow of weapons intended to kill – and often used that way against innocent people, by accident or deliberately.

But sometimes I worry more about the nuts on my own team that I do about the people armed to the teeth because they expect imminent invasion by The Forces Of Evil.

A case in point: In Baltimore, school officials expelled a seven year old kid because he had a breakfast pastry. Not only that, but he had chewed it into the shape of a gun!

Well, sort of a gun. Evidently he was trying to chew it into a mountain, but his toothy pastry sculpture skills aren’t quite up to Leonardo da Vinci. Or even Lenny the sculpture chewer. You can’t make this stuff up.

I mean, holy crap! Is that terrifying or not? Remember, inside these pastries is a tasty goo. It might be or cherry, or apple, or strawberroo. Uh, I mean strawberry. By pointing a breakfast pastry at, say, a teacher and repeating the words “bang bang” you might blow a hole the size of a strawberry through her heart with the sticky jam.

The reason I believe the NRA exhortation to stop banning guns and just arrest the nuts is crazy is, the nuts are so plentiful we’d have to arrest every third American. Most especially everybody running our nation’s school systems. In the Mount Carmel Area School District of Northumberland, PA,  they’ve even expelled a sweet little girl for "terrorism" when she talked about shooting herself and a classmate with bubbles from a pink “bubble gun.” 

A royal razz to officials of the Park Elementary School in Baltimore, who now seem to have reduced the charges against their seven-year-old pastry-chewing terrorist to "using food to make an inappropriate gesture." A grave juvenile crime if ever there was one.

And a double royal razz to school officials in the Mount Carmel Area School District in Pennsylvania. They're evidently so terrified by bubbles, they not only socked a girl who’s nearly a baby with a violence charge that can go on her lifetime record – and threatened her with prison (speak of terrorism!) – but also, once their bullying of a little child was disclosed, they hid like cowards behind the skirts of their own version of an official secrets act by declaring they are not permitted to discuss “disciplinary actions.”

Photograph by Bruce Silverman, circa 1970-something.