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    • The Cruelty and Stupidity Of Trumpian Homelessness Rhetoric
      From a study by his officials: In the report, “The State of Homelessness in America,” even shelters get some of the blame for increasing the number of people who are homeless.The argument: Some people would be able to find their own housing if they were turned away from shelters. “While shelters play an extremely important role […]
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The Democrats are going to run on “results” in November??

Bart Stupak, poster boy for the "party of results"

I know, I know.  It took me awhile to stop giggling too.  They can’t possibly be serious.  But that’s what PoliticalTicker is claiming.   Swallow your coffee before you read it:

Washington (CNN) – When voters head to the polls in November, the Democratic National Committee would like them to remember Democrats with one word: results.

On Wednesday at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, chairman Tim Kaine revealed his party’s new message and strategy months ahead of the midterm elections. Kaine talked about the efforts with CNN Chief National Correspondent John King in an interview that aired on John King, USA.

Kaine told King that Democrats hope to convince voters they are the party of results. Part of their new strategy will involve pushing that message, helping local candidates, and convincing many of the new voters – that voted for President Barack Obama in the last election – to support Democrats in the midterms.

The DNC chairman said that while the economy still needs improvements, it’s moved from recession to recovery.

Kaine said, “I think the improvement will be noticed by our voters and we’ll be able to make the case to them, do you want to keep climbing or do you want to hand the keys back to the guys who put us into the ditch?”

Yeah, I’m sure that’s what they will be thinking as they head out the door today with their complimentary cardboard box for their stuff and their three month severance packages.

Actually, that’s not what I’ve been witnessing here in the heart of middle class suburbia.  What is happening is that the Republicans in NJ are stirring up an anti-tax rebellion and directing it against hapless teachers.  Why should THEY be getting decent bennies and a steady paycheck when the people footing the bill with their ridiculous property taxes are seeing their industries disappearing and their own lives on the brink of disaster?

Tim Kaine and the Democrats are utterly clueless.  They have no idea what is really going on out here.  Results?  What results?

Was the stimulus package big enough to stave off these drastic cuts in our school districts?

Did Democrats end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Did the Democrats fight hard for the entrepreneurs and small businesses to get the capital they need to start new ventures so people would have jobs?

Did the Democrats soak the rich bankers within an inch of their lives so that they would learn a valuable lesson and the financial catastrophe they brought upon us wouldn’t happen again?

Did Democrats put together an adequate bailout and mortgage restructuring package for strapped homeowners so they wouldn’t throw in the towel and walk away from their obligations?  Did they make it easier for mortgage owners to keep money flowing to the banks to keep them solvent?

Did the Democrats impose some emergency regulations so that bankers would stop gambling away our futures?

Have the Democrat done ANYTHING so far to make sure that no one touches Social Security and that we get our Trust Fund money back from the thieves who took it?

Did the Democrats give us actual health care reform that’s truly universal, affordable, with competition?

Did the Democrats protect womens’ rights and autonomy of her own body?

Did the Democrats fix gender paycheck inequalities for real or did they simply pass a law with no teeth?

Did the Democrats try to protect American workers’ jobs?

I haven’t seen any results.  I’ve seen them turn their backs on their own voters in 2008 in order to elect their lightbringer, an easy win for them.  All they had to do was change the roolz in the middle of the game and cudgel frantic American voters with false accusations of racism to guilt them into voting for one of the most unprepared but nakedly ambitious presidents since George W. Bush.  But it wasn’t enough to make him president.  No, the world had to give him a Nobel prize as well.  What’s next?  A MacArthur genius grant for curing cancer?  Where does he find the time??  The awards must be piling up on his little display etegere, like a bunch of 3rd place martial arts trophies.  Everyone who participates gets a prize for trying.

And the whining.  I can’t stand it.  We are now supposed to believe that a minority party, the Republicans, are responsible for all that has gone wrong.  They stand in the way.  They say no to everything.  Even when Democrats had a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, the Republicans were responsible.  How can that be??  I am trying hard to wrap my head around this concept.  Here’s what I’ve got: 1.) Democrats had a filibuster proof majority in the senate.  2.)Republicans got what they wanted anyway.  3.) Soooo, maybe the problem is actually *in* the Democratic party.   Three names come to mind immediately: Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson and Bart Stupak.  You can throw Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landrieu in there as well but at least they can be leaned on.  Who leaned on Nelson, Lieberman and Stupak?  Those three swaggered all over Congress and Stupak in particular got whatever the hell he wanted.  It was Bart Stupak vs the majority of voters in the USA and Bart won.  BART won.  The Democrats allowed Bart and Obama to screw millions of women out of their personal autonomy and Democrats have the nerve to blame Republicans?

I don’t think Democrats understand the impact of their cowardice.  Women are not a special interest.  Workers have to work to pay taxes.  The financial investment industry is out of control and wrecking havoc around the world.  Our current wars are pointless wastes of lives and money.  Sick children should never have to pass through a gauntlet to get affordable health care.  And we need teachers, even the mean ones who can’t be bothered to address the needs of the gifted.  If they do a good job with the other 98% of the students in their classes, we will have gotten more than our money’s worth.

You want to know what I want to see in the results category?  I want to see real passion on the Floor.  I want to see yelling and screaming.  I want to see the progressives and liberals eat some red meat and throw a fit until the Bart Stupaks in their own party back down.  I want to see eggs thrown and smoke bombs and bloody noses.  I want to see incivility.  I want to see so much fighting in Congress by Democratic representatives on behalf of Americans not in the bonus class that the editorial page of the New York Times faints before it can reach the smelling salts.  I don’t want two Republican parties.  I want to see Democrats actually ACT like Democrats. 

Shove your “party of results” meme until you have some results.  I own my vote.  I don’t give it away for social promotion purposes.  You can’t scare me with the Republican boogie man anymore.  I voted for downticket Dems in 2008 but they haven’t pulled their weight.  If Republicans win this fall, Democrats have themselves to blame and no one else.  It was their responsibility to get things done and they blew it.  They coasted.   This fall, I’m not voting for either party.  I’m voting for a party to be designated later.

And stop calling me for money.

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White House Shuts Barn Door After Horses Escape

Now that the gigantic oil spill has reached the Louisiana coast and now that we know the oil spill may be worse than the Exxon Valdez, the White House, in the person of senior advisor David Axelrod, has announced that no more offshore drilling will be approved until the cause of the leak is investigated.

“All he [Obama] has said is that he is not going to continue the moratorium on drilling but… no additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what happened here and whether there was something unique and preventable here,” White House senior adviser David Axelrod said on “Good Morning America” today, defending the administration’s policy.

Axelrod said no new offshore drilling will go forward until “there is an adequate review of what happened here and what is being proposed elsewhere.”

According to Fox News, Axelrod:

…deflected comparisons with the government’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, telling ABC’s “Good Morning America” that such speculation “is always the case in Washington whenever something like this happens.”

The last time “something like this happened….”

HECK OF A JOB, DAVEY!!

Dorothy Height: “A Matriarch Moves On” (and Hillary in a Hat)

“Dorothy Height: A matriarch moves on”

–Florida Times-Union headline

Dr. Dorothy Irene Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010)

Dorothy Height, In Her Own Words:

In 1929, Height was accepted to Barnard College but denied admission due to an unwritten racial quota of only two black students per a year. From Height’s memoir:

But I couldn’t believe my ears. I was devastated. Since childhood, school had been my love, my life.

[…]

I couldn’t bear to call home and report that I wasn’t going to college after all–that they didn’t want me. Crushed and confued, I went to the Harlem apartment of my sister, Jessie Randolph. We called William, who said, in a positive tone, “There are other schools,” and urged me to call New York University.

[…]

Dean Schaeffer studied the letter. I’ll never forget her eyes as she looked up. She said, “A girl who makes these kinds of grades doesn’t need an application to enroll at NYU.” A ray of hope crept into my heart. She gave me a form. When I filled it out, I was matriculated at NYU. From that day forward I have loved every brick of that university.

The National Council of Negro Women honors Dr. Height:

A photograph of civil rights heroine Dorothy Height in her youth is seen at right on the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women in Washington, Wednesday, April 28, 2010, as her casket is moved to nearby Howard University. Height died April 20 at the age of 98. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

LA Times:

As president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1957 to 1998, she led the group to expand its mission. Her initiatives included training thousands of women — housewives, teachers, office workers, students — to work as community advocates. Back in their own communities, they pushed for better housing, schools and stores. It was a way to help women escape what Height called the “triple bind of racism, sexism and poverty.”

“The triple bind of racism, sexism and poverty” …. Dr. Height, thank you for getting the struggle, on its multiple levels, and for sharing your voice with us.

From Marian Wright Edelman:

Dr. Dorothy Height was a lantern and role model for millions of women and a long-haul social change agent, blessed with uncommon commitment and talent. Her fingerprints are quietly embedded in many of the transforming events of the last seven decades as African Americans, women, and children pushed open and walked through previously closed doors of opportunity.
My organization, Children’s Defense Fund, was blessed to have her serve on our board for over 30 years. When she passed away on April 20 at 98, we all lost a treasure, a wise counselor, and a rock we could always lean against for support in tough times.

“A lantern and role model for millions of women and a long-haul social change agent”… I love that description. Dorothy Height shined on us and blazed trails which generations after hers have been able to take for granted.

Another excerpt (bold and underline emphases are mine):

During the civil rights movement, while so many women were playing vital roles that weren’t featured in the spotlight, Height was always up front with a seat at the table. She was often the only woman in the room with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the rest of the “Big Six” group of male leaders as they planned many key strategies, and she was sitting on the stage–she should have been a speaker–at the historic March on Washington. She led the NCNW membership as active participants in the movement and reminded us that women were its backbone–unseen but strong.

One more:

Through it all, Height’s intellect and strength remained as sharp as her signature sense of style. A musical based on her life was named “If This Hat Could Talk,” and anyone who knew Height and her trademark gorgeous hats understands just how that title was chosen. When Height was awarded her Congressional Gold Medal, then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton began her tribute by saying she had known Height for more than 30 years, since they first began working together on the Children’s Defense Fund’s board–and “just as in those long ago days, today once again, Dr. Height is the best-dressed woman in the entire room.”

Looking at the coverage of the events honoring Height, with pictures of her in her signature hat on display, she still appears to be the best-dressed woman in the room.

Here’s another well-dressed woman… H/T to Still4hill for this photo from Wednesday’s Dorothy Height Memorial:

Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attend a "Community Celebration of Life" memorial for the late civil rights matriarch Dorothy Height at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, Wednesday, April 28, 2010. Her funeral will be held Thursday at Washington National Cathedral. Height died April 20 at the age of 98. (AP Photo/J. Scott)

Could you afford to fight?


“We have the best system of justice that money can buy. How much justice can you afford?”


I was over at Ian Welsh’s blog reading Recissions and Denial of Care Under Obamacare when I saw this:

‘‘SEC. 2712. PROHIBITION ON RESCISSIONS.
‘‘A group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage shall not rescind such plan or coverage with respect to an enrollee once the enrollee is covered under such plan or coverage involved, except that this section shall not apply to a covered individual who has performed an act or practice that constitutes fraud or makes an intentional misrepresentation of material fact as prohibited by the terms of the plan or coverage. Such plan or coverage may not be cancelled except with prior notice to the enrollee,

What’s the most important word in that long-ass sentence? I’ll give you a hint: It starts with an “e” and ends in a “t” with “xcep” in between. That’s what known in legal terminology as a “big fucking loophole” and it’s one of the reasons people despise lawyers.

Now before I go any farther I want to correct a mistake many people (including Ian) make. Rescission is not the canceling of a contract, it is the legal term for the unmaking of a contract. When a contract is rescinded the parties are supposed to be returned to the positions they were in as if the contract was never made. In the case of an medical insurance contract that means the insured is entitled to a refund of all premiums paid and the insurance company gets back whatever benefits it paid out.

So now let me drop a hypothetical on you:

So let’s say your employer provides you with medical insurance through Heartless Bastards of California. You have had your share of the premiums deducted from your weakly paycheck for the past five years but other than a few routine check-ups you didn’t see your doctor.

You hadn’t been feeling well so you went to the doctor and he/she ordered tests which confirmed that you have cancer. The good news is that it’s treatable, but you will need surgery and a year of chemotherapy and you will be unable to work until the treatment is completed.

Left untreated the prognosis is bleak and time is of the essence so the doctor recommends the surgery take place as soon as he obtains pre-approval from Heartless Bastards.

Your doctor promptly sends the bean counters at Heartless Bastards the two reams of paperwork they require for pre-approval and the estimated cost of your treatment is over $100,000 even if everything goes right. This causes an immediate review of your account by the legal department at Heartless Bastards. The review includes comparing the answers on your original application to the ones you gave your doctor (he sent them a copy of your entire medical file) and there are some discrepancies between the two sets of answers.

Two days later you get a certified letter from Heartless Bastards stating that they have reviewed your account and are rescinding your coverage based on fraud and/or material misrepresentation. They have enclosed a $10,000 check for the refund of your premiums, and the small print on the back just above the place for your endorsement states that signing and cashing the check constitutes a waiver of all claims against them.

What would you do?

Depending on the discrepancies in your answers Heartless Bastards may or may not be able to justify rescission and they gave you prior notice as section 2712 requires. But what if they just ignored the law?

Let’s say you had a stroke that put you in the hospital for over a month and left you permanently disabled.

Your medical bills for just the first month after the stroke total over $100,000 and the meter is still running. You didn’t have the foresight to purchase a private disability policy and you only have modest savings so you have to rely on Social Security Disability. This means you will suffer a big drop in income even though your rent/mortgage won’t change and your creditors will still expect payment each month.

Then you get that certified letter from Heartless Bastards saying that they are rescinding your policy based on fraud because you got the dates slightly wrong about some minor illness you had two decades ago. You didn’t get prior notice and their reasons for rescission are specious, but they do it anyway.

Then you begin receiving bills from every doctor, hospital, lab, ambulance company, pharmacy and/or other medical service provider that participated in your care and treatment. Each of those bills states that your insurance company has rejected the provider’s claim for services rendered and refused payment and therefore you are liable and they want their money right fucking now.

You’re broke and disabled. Any attorney willing to represent you will want a hefty retainer up front – they don’t take contingency fees on cases like this.

What are you gonna do about it?

Many people will give up, which is what those Heartless Bastards are counting on. Oh, they don’t really want to see you die, they just don’t want to pay your medical bills. It’s nothing personal, they are only fucking you over because their incomes go up if they do.

The bean counters and shysters receive raises and bonuses based on how many claims they successfully avoid paying. There is no incentive for them to do what is just and moral. They tell their feeble consciences that you will qualify for Medicaid or that you can file bankruptcy or something.

If your bills do get picked up by Medicaid then the taxpayers will pay for your treatment. This is commonly called “socialized medicine” everywhere except for all the rest of the countries in the world.

If you successfully discharge your medical bills through bankruptcy or by dying then the cost of your treatment gets passed on to the patients who have money in the form of increased fees.

Until we are willing to treat health care as a privilege for those who can afford it the poor will keep incurring costs that they cannot afford to pay. Whether we pay via taxes or by increased fees, one way or the other society foots the bill.

Obamacare forces people to purchase medical insurance through private insurance companies. It doesn’t provide them with any assistance if they need to fight those companies in court. Most people don’t have a lawyer on retainer but every insurance companies has a whole bunch of them sleazebags on their payroll.

They know most people won’t hire an attorney and file suit. They use legal terminology in their paperwork that is intended to intimidate people and convince them they can’t win. It’s often a bluff – in many cases just a letter from an attorney can get them to reverse course and pay the claims. But how many people have an attorney to write that letter for them? How many will simply give up without a fight?

The insurance companies are gaming the system in order to maximize their profits. Bad faith rescission and denial of claims are two of the tactics that they use. They will keep using those tactics as long as they are effective, and they will only act morally if is more profitable than acting immorally.

We cannot rely on regulatory agencies because that merely encourages regulatory capture and/or bribery. As we already see with numerous government agencies the enforcement departments are underfunded and they are managed by former employees/agents of the companies being regulated. It doesn’t matter what laws and regulations are on the books if they are not enforced.

The best way to disincentivize bad-faith rescission and denial of claims is to fight fire with fire. Since we privatized the payment of health care we should privatize the enforcement of the laws and regulations governing health care insurance. What do health insurance company bean counters fear most?

Lawyers (aka “ambulance chasers”)

More specifically, lawyers who will collect their fees and/or exemplary (punitive) damages directly from the insurance companies if they win their cases.

Right now there is every incentive for the insurance companies to cheat and few negative consequences if they get caught.

In my original hypothetical the insurance company wanted to avoid paying $100,000 in claims so they returned $10,000 in premiums and rescinded the contract. Technically you could say the net to them is zero – they got nothing and paid nothing.

But they avoided losing $90,000 which is a lot more than zero. If they are unsuccessful in their attempt at rescission they are still no worse off than they were originally. IOW – they have nothing to lose and something to gain by cheating.

What if the insurance company was subject to punitive damages and would have to pay the attorney’s fees of the people unsuccessfully tried to fuck over? In that scenario if the insurance company acted in bad faith and was unsuccessful they would not only have to pay the $100,000 in medical claims but also as much or more again in attorney fees and possibly several times that amount as exemplary damages.

IOW – they have a little to gain but a lot to lose by cheating.

Attorney fee awards are a way to finance legal representation for those people whose cause is just but whose wallet is empty. They also force the bean counters to increase the weight of the “risk” portion of their “risk/benefit analysis.”

Exemplary damages are intended to punish civil wrongs, such as where an auto manufacturer discovers a dangerous defect in one of their cars but does not issue a recall notice because they calculated it would be cheaper to pay off the dead and injured victims than it would be to fix the defect.

I realize that this is all pie-in-the-sky dreaming on my part and it will never happen. We all know there is no way that Obama and the Democratic Congress are gonna bite the hands that feed them. The health insurance companies bought them fair and square and like all honest politicians they will stay bought.

Besides, nobody likes lawyers anyway.

But since I’m day-dreaming about wild and crazy ideas to solve our health care problems, let me tell you of one idea that’s even wilder and crazier.

It’s “single-payer,” or as some people call it “Medicare for all.”

Single-payer is health insurance for everyone through a single government run insurance pool out of which the fees for medical services and cost of drugs are paid.

Single-payer health insurance collects all medical premiums/taxes and then pays for all services through a single government agency. It IS NOT socialized medicine – health care providers and pharmaceutical companies remain private rather than public.

Crazy stuff, huh? That’s the kind of bizarre and twisted ideas you come up with when you have a cannabis card and use it regularly.

Unfortunately, single payer was taken off the table by the Democrats at the beginning of the health care reform process and the A-list bloggers sat silently when it happened.

The Democrats and their A-list shills decided to use the “public option” as a negotiating ploy and by doing so they were successful in passing an old Republican plan with zero Republican votes.

But old things are historic, right?


If I won the lottery: OPEN THREAD

Every once in a while a story comes along that makes you smile.  For me, it was the recent story of Christopher Shaw’s epic lottery win.  Chris is the kind of guy you want to win the lottery.  Down on his luck, with less than $30 bucks in the bank, this 27 year-old will now be able to replace his missing two-front teeth…and of course of few other things, with his $258 million dollar lottery winnings.  In the video above, Chris returns to the convenience store where he worked to check his numbers and claim his prize.

His story made me wonder just what I would do if I won the lottery.  How about you?  What would you do with all that money?

We could all use a bit of fanciful daydreaming at this point.

This is an open thread.

Wednesday Morning News

Good Morning Conflucians!!

What an interesting week we’re having so far. Mmm, love me some greed on wall street. And between the New Wall Street (don’t look at the man behind the curtain) Dem party and the Batshit Crazy (socialist, or now mexican, under every rock) Repub party, no one is noticing that our ship is headed straight for the iceberg. But never mind, we’ll fix that by bailing out the iceberg consortium. So let this be a bit of a distraction with some other news.

Laughter acts like exercise:

Dr. Lee S. Berk, a preventive care specialist and psychoneuroimmunology researcher at Loma Linda University’s Schools of Allied Health (SAHP) and Medicine, and director of the molecular research lab at SAHP, Loma Linda, CA, and Dr. Stanley Tan have picked up where Cousins left off. Since the 1980s, they have been studying the human body’s response to mirthful laughter and have found that laughter helps optimize many of the functions of various body systems. Berk and his colleagues were the first to establish that laughter helps optimize the hormones in the endocrine system, including decreasing the levels of cortisol and epinephrine, which lead to stress reduction. They have also shown that laughter has a positive effect on modulating components of the immune system, including increased production of antibodies and activation of the body’s protective cells, including T-cells and especially Natural Killer cells’ killing activity of tumor cells.

Their studies have shown that repetitious “mirthful laughter,” which they call Laughercise©, causes the body to respond in a way similar to moderate physical exercise. Laughercise© enhances your mood, decreases stress hormones, enhances immune activity, lowers bad cholesterol and systolic blood pressure, and raises good cholesterol (HDL).

As Berk explains, “We are finally starting to realize that our everyday behaviors and emotions are modulating our bodies in many ways.” His latest research expands the role of laughter even further.

A clown a day will keep the doctor away.

The fun part of social networks is when you’re engaged in the social hunt:

Kevin Wise, an assistant professor of strategic communication at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, studied people’s habits when they navigate Facebook. Wise says previous studies on social networking sites involved merely surveying study participants. Wise conducted his study differently.

“Rather than asking people to report their uses of Facebook, we wanted to see them in action,” Wise said. “We wanted to see if there is a way to categorize Facebook use, not based on what people say about it, but what they actually do when they are using it.”

Wise categorized participants’ actions into two different groups: social browsing and social searching. He defines social browsing as navigating the site without a targeted goal in mind. Wise says people use social browsing when they survey the general landscape, such as their newsfeed or wall, without looking for specific information. Wise defines social searching as searching the social networking site with the goal of finding certain information about a specific person, group, or event.

Wise found that participants tended to spend much more time on social searching than social browsing. Not only did participants spend more time on social searching, but they seemed to enjoy it more as well.

“We found a more positive response from participants during social searching, or when they had homed in on a particular target,” Wise said. “Ultimately, it appears that Facebook use is largely a series of transitions between browsing the environment, then focusing in on something interesting or relevant.”

So hunting your friends and acquaintances is what we like to do. Nothing like a good hunt to start off the morning.

Some progress in fuel cell research:

A new form of platinum that could be used to make cheaper, more efficient fuel cells has been created by researchers at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Houston. The process, described in the April 25th issue of Nature Chemistry, could help enable broader use of the devices, which produce emissions-free energy using hydrogen.

“This is a significant advance,” said scientist Anders Nilsson, who conducts research at the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences, a joint institute between SLAC and Stanford University. “Fuel cells were invented more than 100 years ago. They haven’t made a leap over to being a big technology yet, in part because of this difficulty with platinum.”

Fuel cells hold significant promise for clean energy because the cell’s only byproduct is water. But current fuel cell designs can require as much as 100 grams of platinum, pushing their price tags into the thousands of dollars. By tweaking platinum’s reactivity, the researchers were able to curtail the amount of platinum required by 80 percent, and hope to soon reduce it by another 10 percent, greatly trimming away at the overall cost.

“I think with a factor of ten, we’ll have a home run,” Nilsson added.

We launched a secret min shuttle the other day:

The X-37 has had a long and chequered development history. It was built by Boeing’s “Phantom Works” advanced-concepts shop, originally for NASA – though it had Air Force heritage from the beginning, drawing heavily on the USAF’s X-40 experiments.

NASA saw the craft as a potential “lifeboat” for the International Space Station, but that requirement wouldn’t really call for a winged re-entry vehicle: the ISS lifeboat is in fact a common-or-garden Soyuz capsule – perhaps now to be replaced at some point by an American Orion salvaged from the ruins of the Constellation moonbase programme. Neither has wings, or any real need for them.

So we no longer want much of a civilian manned space program, but a military one is just fine and good. Alrighty then.

So our lovely senators have noticed the recent changes from Facebook:

Last week, Facebook launched some major new products, including social plugins, its Like button for the web, and its Open Graph API. It also launched a product that has some serious privacy issues: ”Instant Personalization”, which automatically hands over some of your data to certain third-party sites as soon as you visit them, without any action required on your part. I’ve previously discussed at length why I think this could lead to a major backlash. And now four Democratic US Senators — Charles Schumer, Michael Bennet, Mark Begich and Al Franken — are calling on Facebook to change its policies.

This morning the senators sent a letter addressed to Mark Zuckerberg that details these issues (they’ve also separately reached out to the FTC, urging it to establish more rules around social networks). Here are the senators’ three main concerns, along with my own commentary:

1. Publicly available data. Facebook’s expansion of publicly available data to include a user’s current city, hometown, education, work, likes, interests, and friends has raised concerns for users who would like to have an opt-in option to share this profile information. Through the expanded use of “connections,” Facebook now obligates users to make publicly available certain parts of their profile that were previously private. If the user does not want to connect to a page with other users from their current town or university, the user will have that information deleted altogether from their profile. We appreciate that Facebook allows users to type this information into the “Bio” section of their profiles, and privatize it, but we believe that users should have more control over these very personal and very common data points. These personal details should remain private unless a user decides that he/she would like to make a connection and share this information with a community.

We all know how they’re all about protecting us from large powerful corporations. I believe Facebook and related organizations will recognize this for what it is, the Senators have noticed new players making big money, and they want their cut. Wonder how I’ve become so cynical.

The Arizona’s new “papers please” law may hurt H-1B workers:

H-1B workers in Arizona that can’t immediately prove they’re working in the U.S. legally may find themselves detained by police or even jailed under the state’s new immigration law.

Legal experts said that an H-1B worker questioned by a police officer that has “reasonable suspicion” about his or her immigration status could be arrested while doing nothing more than going to a restaurant, grocery shopping or even taking a walk around the block if they don’t have their H-1B papers at the ready.

Federal immigration law requires that all non-U.S. citizens, including H-1B workers, have documentation showing that they are in this country legally, but visa workers are rarely asked to produce their papers at any time or place, said legal experts.

Many visa holders aren’t likely to carry valuable and hard-to-replace paperwork on them at all times for practical reasons — they could be lost or stolen. Under the new Arizona law, though, every police officer becomes, in effect, an immigration enforcement agent that can demand the paperwork at any time.

The main documents that foreign workers would need to show if asked include their I-94 card, which shows their lawful status, and most likely their passport.

Immigration experts noted that there are a number of ways that an H-1B worker can be in this country legally, but not have the paperwork to prove it.

For example, a worker could be carrying an expired I-94 card while waiting for new paperwork from U.S. immigration authorities, a process that could take months. Under current laws that worker could be in the U.S. legally even though the paperwork doesn’t reflect it, said Gregory A. Wald, an attorney at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP. “Is a police officer in Arizona going to understand that?”

Here are a few stories related to the evils of Powerpoint. I can attest to this myself. First up, how the main enemy from the militaries point of view isn’t the terrorists, but in fact Powerpoint:

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown a PowerPoint slide in Kabul last summer that was meant to portray the complexity of American military strategy, but looked more like a bowl of spaghetti.

“When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” General McChrystal dryly remarked, one of his advisers recalled, as the room erupted in laughter.

The slide has since bounced around the Internet as an example of a military tool that has spun out of control. Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

Famous information designer Edward Tufte agrees:

In corporate and government bureaucracies, the standard method for making a presentation is to talk about a list of points organized onto slides projected up on the wall. For many years, overhead projectors lit up transparencies, and slide projectors showed high-resolution 35mm slides. Now “slideware” computer programs for presentations are nearly everywhere. Early in the 21st century, several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint were turning out trillions of slides each year.

Alas, slideware often reduces the analytical quality of presentations. In particular, the popular PowerPoint templates (ready-made designs) usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis. What is the problem with PowerPoint? And how can we improve our presentations?

And finally here’s another article on how Powerpoint makes you dumb:

In August, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board at NASA released Volume 1 of its report on why the space shuttle crashed. As expected, the ship’s foam insulation was the main cause of the disaster. But the board also fingered another unusual culprit: PowerPoint, Microsoft’s well-known ”slideware” program.

NASA, the board argued, had become too reliant on presenting complex information via PowerPoint, instead of by means of traditional ink-and-paper technical reports. When NASA engineers assessed possible wing damage during the mission, they presented the findings in a confusing PowerPoint slide — so crammed with nested bullet points and irregular short forms that it was nearly impossible to untangle. ”It is easy to understand how a senior manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation,” the board sternly noted.

PowerPoint is the world’s most popular tool for presenting information. There are 400 million copies in circulation, and almost no corporate decision takes place without it. But what if PowerPoint is actually making us stupider?

This year, Edward Tufte — the famous theorist of information presentation — made precisely that argument in a blistering screed called The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. In his slim 28-page pamphlet, Tufte claimed that Microsoft’s ubiquitous software forces people to mutilate data beyond comprehension. For example, the low resolution of a PowerPoint slide means that it usually contains only about 40 words, or barely eight seconds of reading. PowerPoint also encourages users to rely on bulleted lists, a ”faux analytical” technique, Tufte wrote, that dodges the speaker’s responsibility to tie his information together. And perhaps worst of all is how PowerPoint renders charts. Charts in newspapers like The Wall Street Journal contain up to 120 elements on average, allowing readers to compare large groupings of data. But, as Tufte found, PowerPoint users typically produce charts with only 12 elements. Ultimately, Tufte concluded, PowerPoint is infused with ”an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.”

The Supremes will tackle an interesting case about disclosure and transparency in a case about ballot measures:

In a high-profile legal challenge, the U.S. Supreme Court will today tackle questions about freedom of speech, the nature of signing petitions for ballot measures, the public’s right to know and the government’s interests in preserving the integrity of the election process.

Depending on the scope of the court’s ruling, ripples could be felt not only among the other 23 states that utilize ballot initiative and referenda (only one of which does not have public disclosure of information about petition signers), but potentially also in the arenas of campaign finance disclosure, public availability of voter registration lists and the open caucus systems used in some states to select party nominees.

“This case holds the potential to unravel decades of court precedent upholding the importance of meaningful disclosure in educating voters about how money is being spent to influence their votes on Election Day,” Paul Ryan, an attorney at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, told OpenSecrets Blog.

The Center for Responsive Politics, which filed an amicus brief with the court that supported neither party but implored justices not add any new impediments to campaign finance disclosure, will attend and cover today’s oral argument at the Supreme Court.

And finally, a bit more about the terrible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:

Rear Adm Mary Landry, who is in charge of the government clean-up effort, said work on sealing the leaks using several robotic submersibles could take months.

About 1,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) of oil a day are gushing into the sea.

An investigation has been ordered into the cause of the leak, which began when an oil rig exploded and sank last week.

The joint investigation, by the interior and homeland security departments, will have the power to compel witnesses to testify, and will look into possible violations by the operators of the rig, Transocean.

Eleven of the rig’s workers are still missing and presumed dead in the disaster off the Louisiana coast.

Workers on a nearby oil platform were evacuated by the US authorities on Monday after the oil slick came dangerously close.

The leaks – about 5,000ft (1,525m) under the surface – were found on Saturday, four days after the Deepwater Horizon platform, to which the pipe was attached, exploded and sank.

The resulting oil slick now has a circumference of about 600 miles (970km) and covers about 28,600 sq miles (74,100 sq km).

British oil company BP, one of the firms operating the rig, has not been able to activate a device known as a blow-out preventer, designed to stop oil flow in an emergency.

That’s a bit of the news today. Chime in with what you’re hearing. Tell some jokes. Post something silly. We need to laugh. Even more than usual.

Was Obama Wall Street’s BIGGEST Short?

Blankfein (left) and Jamie Dimon (center) at the White House, March 2009

You gotta love Lloyd Blankfein for finally telling it like it is.  Wall Street thinks we’re all suckers.  If you don’t specifically ask whether a security or CDO is crap, shitty or junk, they have no obligation to tell you.  That’s not their job.  They just sell the stuff.  It’s the 2010 version of “I just take orders”.  There’s got to be another Milgram experiment just waiting for a post doc in yesterday’s hearings.

Here are some gems from Lloyd:

Levin asked Blankfein if Goldman has to disclose to investors in securities it sells that the firm plans to take and keep the short side of the transaction.

“I don’t think we have to tell them,” the chief executive replied. In addition, he said that when underwriting a securities offering, Goldman has an obligation to conduct thorough due diligence and provide full disclosure of the assets and risks involved in the deal.

Mortgage-related securities that Goldman underwrote and sold delivered the specific exposure that clients wanted, Blankfein explained. “There are a lot of opinions about how a security will perform against the market it’s in.

“Investors we’re dealing with on the long or the short side know what they want,” he continued. “If they ask the salesperson their opinion, they have a duty of honesty. But we’re selling securities all the time that are weak. The same securities that were the subject of those comments can probably be bought today for pennies on the dollar.”

and this from the NY Times:

Mr. Blankfein was asked repeatedly whether Goldman sold securities that it also bet against, and whether Goldman treated those clients properly.

“You say betting against,” Mr. Blankfein said in a lengthy exchange. But he said the people who were coming to Goldman for risk in the housing market got just that: exposure to the housing market. “The unfortunate thing,” he said, “is that the housing market went south very quickly.”

Senator Levin pressed Mr. Blankfein again on whether the his customers should know what Goldman workers think of deals they are selling, and Mr. Blankfein reiterated his position that sophisticated investors should be allowed to buy what they want.

Mr. Blankfein was also pressed on the deal at the center of the S.E.C. case. He said the investment was not meant to fail, as the S.E.C. claims, and in fact, that the deal was a success, in that it conveyed “risk that people wanted to have, and in a market that’s not a failure.”

Risk.  That’s what Goldman Sachs was selling.  It was all wrapped up in a pretty fiction of established Wall Street investment houses, where bankers arrive at their offices in chauffered limos and eat in luxurious dining facilities and work out in gold plated gyms.  It all looks very clubby.  But the reality was that these people were running a giant Monte Carlo casino using the hard earned retirement funds of carpenters and other working class people.

Behind the plush digs and $600 suits and cottages on The Pond are a bunch of guys with serious gambling addictions.

Sometime back in 2006 as housing prices peaked and started to decline some of them must have started to get a little concerned.  In fact, Michael Lewis, who wrote The Big Short, says that outsiders looking in had the bankers’ number in 2003-2004.  It was March 2007 when the money started to drain away in earnest.

So, when did Wall Street decide to short the presidential election?

Think about it:  Many of the people on Wall Street should be at Gambler’s Anonymous.  in 2007, they were about to lose everything if they couldn’t find suckers to play their games and cover their bets.  Politics could have had a big influence on how much of a hit they actually had to take.  Charlie Ledley, the garage-band head fund guy with a conscience who actually tried to explain the bets to the SEC, was concerned with his own short positions.  He naively thought that if the federal government came to the rescue of homeowners, his CDS’s would be worthless.  As it turned out, the government bailed out the banks instead so Charlie made out big.  The CDO’s are still crap.

But if you are a Wall Street banker, you have to account for all kinds of possibilities.  Picture the following three scenarios:

1.) A Republican wins.  His party saw what happened during the last financial meltdown 80 years ago.  That New Deal thing was a disaster for his party.  He’s not going to make that mistake.  Screw Keynes, enter The Great Depression 2.0.  Oddly, Wall Street is probably not too keen on this idea.  You can’t play the game if you don’t have easy marks on the other side of the bet.  Depressions severely depress the number of easy marks.

2.) Democrat #1 wins.  But she’s too much of a New Dealer type.  She’s got mortgage bailout written all over her.  That would mean regulation and mortgages will be adjusted and bankers will have to take a loss.  That’s too much reality.  She’s like frickin’ rehab.  And besides, there’s always that remote possibility that the people who took out “liar’s loans” will suddenly have stupendous wage increases just in the nick of time when their 2 year teaser rate is up.  It could happen.  So, no, Democrat #1 is out.

3.) Democrat #2 is narcissistic one-trick pony with a pregnant mistress.  Nominating him means the Republican wins.  Moving on.

4.) Democrat #3.  Ooooo, this one is intriguing.  Did Wall Street court him or did he court Wall Street?  Recklessly ambitious type.  Muy simpatico.  He certainly looks like he could fit into Wall Street.  He wants to “form multi-disciplinary task forces to re-engineer our core processes so that we’re a world class organization”.  He speaks their language.  It’s meaningless, of course, and they all know that way down deep inside.  It’s code.  He’ll scratch their backs if they scratch his, to the tune of $900K in campaign contributions from Goldman Sachs employees alone.  With Dem #3, it will be an exciting spin of the wheel.  They’ll get close to the edge, probably a little too close for comfort, but in the end, they’ll be able to walk away with big profits, big bonuses and they can keep on playing.  This guy is an enabler.  Double down.

Obama sure made a lot of campaign money from Wall Street.  His small donors accounted for something like 30% of his campaign stash.  You don’t get a cool billion to run for president without making a lot of banker friends.  It was their biggest short.

In light of that very real possibility, can we on the left finally dispense with the idea that Obama was the Change! agent?  Lots of money will get you a very good PR firm with all of the marketing, astroturfing and social engineering you can eat.  Maybe he’s not the civil rights hero, politically brilliant, 11 dimensional chess playing, post partisan Messiah everyone thought he was.  Maybe he was just the best hedge Wall Street ever made and nothing more than that.  You can stop pinning your hopes and dreams on him.

As Lloyd would say, “the investment was not meant to fail, as the S.E.C. claims, and in fact, that the deal was a success, in that it conveyed “risk that people wanted to have, and in a market that’s not a failure.””

The Obots bought it and made suckers of us all.

Extra: Michael Lewis has a lengthy piece in Slate where he plays his tiny violin for the bond market traders who are suddenly getting blamed for everything they do.

Simon Johnson at BaselineScenario.com has a piece about how some parts of Europe have slipped into “emerging market” status overnight and how the rest of the world is turning their eyes to Obama for comfort and guidance to stem the ensuing panic.  Good luck with that.