March 16, 2012 archive

Mar 16

New Push for ENDA

In an effort that has been ongoing for about two-decades, there is a new push for a Senate hearing and a committee vote on the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA).  I know I’ve personally been pushing an inclusive ENDA since 1995.

Yes, we know that it is unlikely to get any consideration at all in the House…unless it is negative consideration.  But Tom Harkin is chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and he is a longtime supporter of ENDA.

I hope he will use his chairmanship to organize an ENDA hearing this spring or summer.

–Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work

When there’s nothing else going on, it’s always good to try to get a hearing.  It keeps the ball moving. It keeps reminding everybody that there are some issues that we all know we have to cover eventually.

–Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality

Mar 16

Today on The Stars Hollow Gazette

Our regular featured content-

These featured articles-

This special features for March Madness

This is an Open Thread

The Stars Hollow Gazette

Mar 16

Cartnoon

Crusader vs. the Pirates

Crusader Rabbit Crusade 2 Episode 11

Open Thread

Mar 16

Goldman Sachs “Old Days” Not So Rosy Either

Cross postedfrom The Stars Hollow Gazette

A Goldman Sachs executive resigned in a lengthly and scathing op-ed in the New York Times. Greg Smith worked at Goldman Sachs for 12 years, rising to executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. His latter shreds Goldman Sachs policies and employees:

   To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for […]

   How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.

   What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm’s “axes,” which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your clients – some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t – to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym.

Smith lays the blame for this climate of greed at the feet Goldman’s CRO, Lloyd Blankfein and the company’s president, Gary Cohn.:

When the history books are written about Goldman Sachs, they may reflect that the current chief executive officer, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and the president, Gary D. Cohn, lost hold of the firm’s culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.

Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone asks, like Forbes, should clients fire Goldman:

Banking, and finance, is a business that has to be first and foremost about trust. The reason you’re paying your broker/money manager such exorbitant sums is because that’s the value of integrity and honesty: You’re paying for the comfort of knowing he has your best interests at heart.

But what we’ve found out in the last years is that these Too-Big-To-Fail megabanks like Goldman no longer see the margin in being truly trustworthy. The game now is about getting paid as much as possible and as quickly as possible, and if your client doesn’t like the way you managed his money, well, fuck him – let him try to find someone else on the market to deal him straight.

These guys have lost the fear of going out of business, because they can’t go out of business. After all, our government won’t let them. Beyond the bailouts, they’re all subsisting daily on massive loads of free cash from the Fed. No one can touch them, and sadly, most of the biggest institutional clients see getting clipped for a few points by Goldman or Chase as the cost of doing business.

Speaking at the Atlantic Economy Summet in Washington, DC, former Federal Reserve Chairman, Paul Volker, said that Smith’s letter proves the need for the his rule

“[Trading] is a business that leads to a lot of conflicts of interest. You’re promised compensation when you’re doing well, and that’s very attractive to young people. All these firms can attract the best of American graduates, whether they’re philosophy majors or financial engineers, it didn’t make any difference,” Volcker said.

“A lot of that talent was siphoned off onto Wall Street. But now we have the question of how much of that activity is really constructive, in terms of improving productivity in the GDP,” Volcker said. “These were brilliant years for Wall Street by one perspective, but were they brilliant years for the economy? There’s no evidence of that. The rate of economic growth did not pick up, the rate of productivity did not pick up, the average household had no increase in their income over this period, or virtually no increase.”

Volcker noted that commercial banks hold the money of average Americans, and are insured by the federal government. “Should the government be subsidizing or protecting institutions that…are essentially engaged in speculative activities, often at the expense of customer relations?”

Yves Smith at naked capitalism, who also has been at the Atlantic conference weighed in that those good old days of the ’90’s weren’t as “rosy” as Smith remembers:

Earth to Greg: the old days were not quite as rosy as you suggest, but it is true that Goldman once cared about the value of its franchise, and that constrained its behavior. So it was “long term greedy,” eager to grab any profit opportunity but concerned about its reputation. I knew someone who was senior in what Goldman called human capital management, and even though, in classic old Goldman style, he was loath to say anything bad about anyone, he was clearly disgusted of Lloyd Blankfein and the crew that took over leadership after Hank Paulson, John Thain and John Thornton departed. Before the firm before had gone to some lengths to preserve its culture and was thoughtful about how to operate the firm. One head of a well respected investment bank told me in the mid 1990s: “It isn’t that Goldman has better people. All the top firms have good people. It’s that they make the effort to manage themselves better than anyone else.” That apparently went out the window when Blankfein came in. My contact said all his cohort cared about was how much money they could make in the current year.

Wall St. responded defensively calling Smith a “small timer” having a “midlife crisis“. That “crisis” so far has lost Goldman $2.5 billion in its market value:

The shares dropped 3.4 percent in New York trading yesterday, the third-biggest decline in the 81-company Standard & Poor’s 500 Financials Index, after London-based Greg Smith made the accusations in a New York Times op-ed piece.

Stephen Colbert “disapproves” of Greg Smith, after all Lloyd Blankfeid said Goldman was just doing “God’s work.”

Mar 16

In defense of The Realm

I’ve had my differences with Idi Amin

on civil rights (I heard he put a rat

under a can on some dude’s stomach

and torched it hot.  There’s one way for the rat

to escape).  And some of the things Islam Karimov

has done, to be sure.  Boiling people alive?  

Egads!  I remain a staunch defender

of  liberal values.  That’s why ya gotta

respect…[Self-destructing blue-screen: On!]

when Obama calls in a drone strike

on Afghan civilians, prior to wiping out

the rescuers, and funeral parties attending,

with Hellfires, it shows impeccable restraint.

Vote!  [Self-destructing blue-screen: Off!]

Mar 16

On This Day In History March 16

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 16 is the 75th day of the year (76th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 290 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1802, The United States Military Academy, the first military school in the United States, is founded by Congress for the purpose of educating and training young men in the theory and practice of military science.

Colonial period, founding, and early years

The Continental Army first occupied West Point, New York, on 27 January 1778, making it the longest continually occupied post in the United States of America. Between 1778 and 1780, Polish engineer and military hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko oversaw the construction of the garrison defenses. The Great Hudson River Chain and high ground above the narrow “S” curve in the river enabled the Continental Army to prevent British Royal Navy ships from sailing upriver and dividing the Colonies. As commander of the fortifications at West Point, however, Benedict Arnold committed his infamous act of treason, attempting to sell the fort to the British. After Arnold betrayed the patriot cause, the Army changed the name of the fortifications at West Point, New York, to Fort Clinton. With the peace after the American Revolutionary War left various ordnance and military stores deposited at West Point.

“Cadets” underwent training in artillery and engineering studies at the garrison since 1794. Congress formally authorized the establishment and funding of the United States Military Academy on 16 March 1802,. The academy graduated Joseph Gardner Swift, its first official graduate, in October 1802; he later returned as Superintendent from 1812 to 1814. In its tumultuous early years, the academy featured few standards for admission or length of study. Cadets ranged in age from 10 years to 37 years and attended between 6 months to 6 years. The impending War of 1812 caused the United States Congress to authorize a more formal system of education at the academy and increased the size of the Corps of Cadets to 250.

In 1817, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer became the Superintendent and established the curriculum still in use to this day. Thayer instilled strict disciplinary standards, set a standard course of academic study, and emphasized honorable conduct. Known as the “Father of the Military Academy”, he is honored with a monument on campus for the profound impact he left upon the academy’s history. Founded to be a school of engineering, for the first half of the 19th century, USMA produced graduates who gained recognition for engineering the bulk of the nation’s initial railway lines, bridges, harbors and roads. The academy was the only engineering school in the country until the founding of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1824. It was so successful in its engineering curriculum that it significantly influenced every American engineering school founded prior to the Civil War.

The Mexican-American War brought the academy to prominence as graduates proved themselves in battle for the first time. Future Civil War commanders Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee first distinguished themselves in battle in Mexico. In all, 452 of 523 graduates who served in the war received battlefield promotions or awards for bravery. The school experienced a rapid modernization during the 1850s, often romanticized by the graduates who led both sides of the Civil War as the “end of the Old West Point era”. New barracks brought better heat and gas lighting, while new ordnance and tactics training incorporated new rifle and musket technology and accommodated transportation advances created by the steam engine. With the outbreak of the Civil War, West Point graduates filled the general officer ranks of the rapidly expanding Union and Confederate armies. Two hundred ninety-four graduates served as general officers for the Union, and one hundred fifty-one served as general officers for the Confederacy. Of all living graduates at the time of the war, 105 (10%) were killed, and another 151 (15%) were wounded. Nearly every general officer of note from either army during the Civil War was a graduate of West Point and a West Point graduate commanded the forces of one or both sides in every one of the 60 major battles of the war.

Mar 16

Muse in the Morning

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Muse in the Morning


Early Summer 2

Mar 16

Late Night Karaoke

Mar 16

Protecting the right to protect yourself

I am always amazed at how far career politicians will go to test the bounds of their dignity when confronted with the simple question, “where do you stand on the Second Amendment?”

More often than not, they will provide an abstract answer tailored to placate the audience currently in front of them. Nothing is more disingenuous than a politician with manicured hands standing in a duck blind trying to prove that he believes in the right to bear arms.

I believe that an honest man will never have to worry about remembering what he has said or who he said it to. I believe that the Second Amendment is crystal clear, “The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The Second Amendment is a fail-safe woven into the fabric of our Constitution that ensures the God given rights and freedoms upon which this country was built. The Second Amendment isn’t just about preserving gun ownership, hunting rights, or target sports.

It is about each and every law abiding citizen having the right to play a role in ensuring our collective freedoms. It is the manifestation of our resolve to exercise our right of self-determination. It is a means to protect the lives and liberties of our families and to ensure that our Republic will endure.

Our government goes to great lengths to protect the freedoms of speech, of religion, to peaceably assemble, and frequently does so in situations that bear great public opposition. It defies logic for our government not to protect our right to keep and bear arms with the same zeal as our other Constitutional freedoms.

Sadly, we find ourselves in a society today where The Second Amendment is restricted by over thousands of state and federal regulations. America’s greatness is founded in personal accountability and community awareness. Unnecessary over-regulation does nothing to strengthen our communities, decrease crime, or to ensure our safety.  Overreaching firearms laws do however increase the chance that an otherwise law abiding citizen may overlook an obfuscated regulation and unwittingly become a criminal.

Imagine if the same standards applied to the rights protected by the First Amendment. What if the federal government required a permit to publish a newspaper? Would you pay a fee, and then endure a waiting period to go to the church of your choice? What if your state decided that it was simply going to outlaw public assembly?

To me, the words “keep and bear arms” means that every law abiding citizen is a vehicle through which we collectively preserve the means to protect ourselves.

Concealed carry permits should be issued without any unreasonable hurdles, exorbitant fees, or arbitrary justification. In my home state of Maryland, in order to obtain a concealed carry permit, I need to provide a lengthy application with a non-refundable fee and “documented proof” of threats against my life. A judge will then arbitrarily decide if I deserve the privilege to protect myself.

The years of street experience that I accrued as a law enforcement officer with both the NYPD and the Secret Service imparts a personal perspective regarding the responsibility that carrying a firearm implies. I was raised in the inner city. I didn’t grow up hunting and I had never fired a gun until I was on the police force.

While serving in law enforcement, I shot regularly to maintain a high level of proficiency. I carried a gun every day for 17 years while working. Although I may not be what you would call an avid gun enthusiast, I am a lover of freedom and I do cherish our civil liberties.

The arguments for restricting our Second Amendment rights on the grounds of public safety seem fraudulent at best. Perhaps the goal isn’t to eliminate guns, but is instead a pathway by which to silence the voices of freedom. Either way, the Second Amendment is the only one designed to ensure all of our freedoms and any encroachment upon them are unacceptable.