Category Archives: Stinking Scumbags

The Sanctimonious NCAA

There have been innumerable stories and opinion pieces written about the scanctions the NCAA dropped on the Penn State football program, but two of the strongest paragraphs come from Joe Nocera's opinion piece in the New York Times:

What was most galling about Emmert’s news conference (Note: Emmert is the current president of the NCAA) was its sanctimony. He kept talking about the “values” that athletics was supposed to embody, about how college sports is supposed to be an integral part of academic life, and how it should never overwhelm the mission of the university. “Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” he said.

But at big-time sports schools, football is always placed ahead of everything else. The essential hypocrisy of college sports is that too many athletes are not real students — and no one cares. Coaches make millions and lose their jobs if they fail to win. Universities reap millions by filling stadiums and making attractive television deals. They serve as the minor leagues for the pros. Everybody knows this — including the N.C.A.A. The notion that the Penn State case is going to change all of college sports is absurd. College football almost can’t help but corrode academic values. Nothing that happened on Monday is going to change any of that.

 

Jerks Like These

My personal take on the collapse of the housing sector of our economy is that we have wasted way too much time trying to place blame on our own perceived bogeymen.  It's human nature: when something goes wrong the first thing we want to do is figure out whose fault it is and then yell for them to be punished severely. 

The problem with assigning blame in the housing meltdown is that there are so many people and institutions to blame, and just about everybody is picking their own bad guy based on their own preconceptions. If you're somebody who sees people who use social services as leeches on the rest of us then you're quite likely to lay the blame at all the people who took out loans they couldn't pay, and you may not even consider that when people took out those loans they could pay them but then lost a job and the situation changed.  If you're somebody who sees the world through a "the Man is out to screw all of us" lens then you're likely to lay the blame at the feet of all the corrupt banksters who are funding their corporate jets by defrauding regular ol' working slobs like you and me.  If you're someone who thinks all government is bad then you're likely to blame the entire fiasco on Fannie and Freddie. Funny thing is, you're all right.

So it would seem that assigning blame doesn't help us much because the entire system has been corrupted, but without at least trying to hold people accountable we set ourselves up to do this all over again. We need to make sure that when we do find people behaving badly that we do whatever we can to make sure they don't do it again and that we let the rest of society know that if they behave in the same way then truly painful consequences await them.  For this reason I don't think it's enough to reach financial settlements with institutions that packaged toxic loans and sold them as if they weren't the crap they really were; I think you have to go after the people who made those decisions and punish them individually.  Of course it will be difficult, but until you hit people where they live you aren't going to do much to prevent it from happening again. 

Probably the biggest mistake we could make would be treating this as a purely legal issue, because until we instill ethical and moral societal norms we will have done nothing to deal with our systemic problems. People who behave ethically do not make loans to people they are almost certain will eventually default, nor do ethical people walk away from a mortgage when their bet on the property value doesn't pan out.  That's why I find people like this guy profiled in today's Wall Street Journal to be our society's true jerks:

When Chris Hanson bought his $875,000 luxury condominium in Scottsdale, Ariz., four years ago, he could afford the $90,000 down payment.

He said he had no difficulty paying the $5,000 monthly mortgage on the three-bedroom unit, which has floor-to-ceiling windows and views of Camelback Mountain. The condo is in a gated complex with a gym and pool.

And, true to his word, he didn't miss a single payment—until last month. Concluding that the home, now worth about half of what he paid, won't recover its value for at least 10 years, Mr. Hanson decided to walk away.

"It's a no-brainer once you do the math," said the 27-year-old real-estate investor.

He plans to let the lender foreclose on the home and rent an even nicer unit in either the same complex or one nearby, which he figures will cost less than half of his monthly mortgage payment…

Mr. Hanson runs an investment firm that buys up foreclosed properties and resells them. He said the company buys two to three homes a week at prices ranging from $15,000 to $1 million; they've recently expanded into distressed multifamily homes. He said he realized months ago his home would take years to recover its value but decided only six weeks ago to stop making payments.

He worried that wrecking his sterling 800 credit score would make it harder to run his business. But, in the end, he said he decided it was worth the risk.

To make my point, Mr. Hanson should have to worry about more than his credit score as a consequence of his behavior.  Part of me would love to see him go to jail, but more than anything I'd like to live in a society that would make his public shame so great that he'd never even consider walking away. Of course as long as man has inhabited the Earth we've had bad apples, but somehow I think our society has enabled far more of them than is even remotely acceptable.

Is BP Burying Oil?

According to this post at FastCompany.com BP is being accused of dumping sand on top of oil from the Gulf Spill at a beach in Louisiana.  Below is the video they posted showing oil sandwiched between different layers of sand.  The oil was exposed by erosion caused by the hurricane/tropical storm that blew through the gulf earlier this week. Obviously there needs to be confirmation by an independent scientific expert, but if the story is proved true it will be next to impossible to believe anything that BP says about the spill.

Not Easy to Go on the Lam if You’re This Guy

DumbconThe guy pictured to the left is a convict in Utah who is accused of killing a corrections officer during an escape attempt.  He was free for a part of one morning, but can you imagine this guy trying to go underground for any amount of time?  I don’t think dying his hair would do much good.

More evidence that this guy is probably a few bricks shy of a full load: he managed to tick off his fellow white supremacists in the prison system so he was being held in a single-bed cell for his own protection.  Even in prison this guy’s gonna stand out so I don’t think he’ll have a real positive incarceration experience.

That’d Buy a Lot of Space Rocks or Pinhole Cameras

When I was a kid my mom signed me up for a couple of Saturday classes at the Smithsonian Institution.  One was a photography class where we made our own pinhole cameras and then traipsed around the Hirshhorn Gallery taking our pictures and then developing them ourselves in a darkroom.  The other was a nature drawing class that taught me how to draw a beaver that looked suspiciously like an elephant (I’ve always preferred the abstract).  The Smithsonian was also the destination for countless school field trips and excursions when friends or family visited from out of town, all for free.  Well the classes weren’t free, but the excursions were.

Now it looks like the guy running the show for the last several years, Lawrence Small, tried his best to ruin the free museum party for everyone (Source: Washington Post).  To wit:

Former Smithsonian secretary Lawrence M. Small took nearly 10 weeks
of vacation a year during seven years running the vast museum complex
and was absent from his job 400 workdays while earning $5.7 million on
outside work, according to an independent commission report to be
released today.

The Smithsonian’s second-ranking official, Sheila
P. Burke, was absent from her job as deputy secretary for 550 days
while earning $10 million over six years on non-museum work…

Small, while taking substantial time off, earned his full salary —
$915,568 his last year on the job — because he was permitted unlimited
leave. Burke, who also had no restrictions on leave, earned $400,000 in
her last year on the job. The terms of Burke’s employment were known in
most instances only to Small and Burke. Information about Burke’s
outside employment and activities on more than a dozen nonprofit boards
and commissions was not shared with the Board of Regents, the report
found.

Small resigned in March and Burke announced her resignation on Monday on the eve of the independent review report.

The
investigators found that "Mr. Small placed too much emphasis on his
compensation and expenses." Small’s compensation far exceeded that of
prior Smithsonian secretaries — 42 percent higher than his
predecessor’s when he began in 2000 and 250 percent higher when he left
seven years later.

Small "aggressively guarded each and every
element of what he viewed as his rightful compensation package,"
including his $150,000-a-year housing allowance. Small’s contract
stated that the allowance was meant to compensate Small for his use of
his home for job-related entertainment, but the review board determined
that it was "simply additional salary."

The Post article goes on to point out that Small’s exhorbidant salary was justified by his stellar fundraising, but the report actually shows that yearly fundraising had fallen during his tenure and some of the biggest fish he was credited with landing were actually landed by his predecessor.  In other words the guy was an overrated bum, and I’m willing to bet all those members of the Smithsonian Associates program are a bit peeved right about now.

Bankers are Giving Lawyers a Run for Their Money

I’m beginning to believe that bankers have supplanted ambulance-chasing lawyers as the slimiest sharkskin-suit-wearing industry in the country.  Actually, they may be in a tie with health insurers (see my post about that), but right now I’m thinking the bankers are in the lead.

Here’s what has my dander up today: When we got back from San Francisco we had a message from Chase saying we’re late on our last car payment.  This confused Celeste because we’ve been paying with autodrafts from our bank account for four years, or the entire lifespan of the car loan.  When she called Chase back they said that if we’d read the fine print of our loan we would have known that they don’t accept autodrafts for the last payment.  Okay, fine.  So Celeste asks the very unfriendly bank rep why we’re hearing about this only now that the payment is 90 days late and we’ve been put in collections?  The rep’s reply is that she can only handle payment, not answer customer service questions.

It gets better.  Celeste asks how much we owe.  The rep says she needs our bank information before she can answer any questions.  Huh?  After Celeste asks again the woman gives her the amount and they take care of the payment information, which by the way requires a $15 processing fee.  Huh?  (Celeste truly has a knack for getting the asshole reps).

Before she gets off the phone with the bank’s collection-dolt Celeste gets a customer service number, calls it and enters into banker-logic zone. The customer service rep asks her for our address to verify that he’s talking to the right person.  When she gives him the address he says that it is the wrong address.  Bingo, they never got our change of address when we moved two years ago, which probably explains why we didn’t get a late notice on the final payment.  Yet they were able to track us down for collection purposes.  Nice.  Eventually he’s able to confirm Celeste’s identity using other information and Celeste, who is absolutely fanatical about protecting our credit score, asks how we can get this cleared off our records.  After all we’ve never been late on a payment for the entire lifetime of the loan, and obviously there was a mix up with our change of address.  His answer was to give her a fax number to send a letter to and then wait seven days for their verdict.  Huh?

Here’s my problem.  The bank is probably within their rights, technically, to treat us like this but in the real world they are behaving reprehensibly.  We’d obviously been good customers for four years, but they’re treating us like criminals because of an honest mix up?  And who’s to say it’s our fault?  If they could track us down for collection couldn’t they have done the same for a courtesy call reminding us that an autodraft wouldn’t be accepted for our final payment?  Assholes. 

We’re not the only ones feeling this way about the banks.  Greensboro blogger David Hoggard has some thoughts about banks (he compares them unfavorably with payday lenders) and there’s a very good Frontline piece on the credit card industry that is enlightening to say the least.   It’s not just the credit card side of the industry that’s sullying its reputation; let’s not forget the banks’ investment branches involvement in the dotcom debacle.  With the loosening regulation of financial institutions I think things might get worse before they get better and ironically I think our best hope is, gag, the lawyers.  Hopefully we’ll get some class-action cases going that will have the bankers begging for re-regulation from that den of thieves otherwise known as Congress.

Oh, good Lord.

Iraq for Sale

If there’s one area that I think most people can agree on the war, whether they’re ‘fer it or agin’ it, I think most would agree that profiteers are the lowest of the low.  There’s a new movie out (and yes it looks like it was made by some lefties) that I’m hoping comes out on Netflix soon or I’ll end up buying it.  It’s called Iraq for Sale and if you visit the site you’ll find that there’s a blog and all kinds of other information to be had there.

I’ve often written about the soaring real estate prices in DC throughout the late 90s and early 00s, but they didn’t really take off until after 9/11.  The late 90s could be explained by the tech explosion (many people don’t realize how much of the internet/telecomm infrastructure was based in the DC area) but I think the early 00s can only be explained by the huge run up of defense spending after 9/11 and through the beginning of the war.  DC has always grown rapidly during wars, but I think this expansion was particularly sharp because of all the money flowing to contractors who then created very high paying jobs (contractors pay their people much better than the government/military pays theirs).

I want to see this film, but I also want to see more hard hitting reporting done on the contractors.  Some of these companies are making HUGE money on the war, much more so than in past conflicts because so much more work that used to be done by military personnel is being done by contractors.  I want to see how the money is being spent with contractors, what the contractors are delivering in return and exactly how much lucre some of these companies’ executives are getting at the cost of American blood.  Personally I think it’s a non-partisan issue, and if some people see that kind of questioning as an attack on certain leaders of the country then I’d say that’s a tacit acknowledgement of exactly what many of us suspect is going on. 

Screw it, I’ll just say it: George, Dick and Don’s friends are getting awful fat off of this little adventure in Iraq.

Will We Have Fall Cleaning in November?

I bring you a few stories of government malfeasance that should bolster a drive for ousting a bunch of the stinkin’ scumbags who are running our country these day.  We have a great opportunity this November and we should take it.  And don’t be fooled by party affiliations since the scumbags are running rampant in both parties.

First up is this story (thanks to Lex Alexander over at the Greensboro N&R and his personal blog, Blog on the Run for this one) about four auditors at the Interior Department who are suing oil and gas companies under the Fair Claims Act after they were told by superiors not to pursue oil and gas companies for royalties that the government was owed.  From the article:

In two of the lawsuits, two senior auditors with the Minerals
Management Service in Oklahoma City said they were ordered to drop
their claim that Shell Oil had fraudulently shortchanged taxpayers out
of $18 million.

A third auditor, also in Oklahoma City, charged
that senior officials in Denver ordered him to drop his demand that two
dozen companies pay $1 million in back interest.

And in a suit
that was filed in 2004, Mr. Maxwell charged that senior officials in
Washington ordered him not to press claims that the Kerr-McGee
Corporation had cheated the government out of $12 million in royalties.

On Wednesday, Interior officials denied that the agency had suppressed
any valid claims and implied that the auditors simply wanted a share of
any money recovered through their lawsuits.

“If these auditors
believed there were fraud and or false claims on the part of the
companies they were auditing, they should have followed the proper
procedures,” the Interior Department said in a written statement.
“Instead, they opted to pursue private lawsuits under which, if they
prevail, they could receive up to 30 percent of the monies recovered
from the companies.”

In defying their own agency, the Interior
Department’s auditors sued the oil companies under a federal law,
called the False Claims Act, that was created to allow individuals to
expose fraud against the government. People who successfully recover
money for the government in such cases are entitled to a portion. A
losing company is required to pay triple the amount of recovered money
as well as back interest — potentially more than $120 million in the
cases brought by the auditors…

In their suits, the auditors contend that they had no choice but to
go outside the agency because their supervisors ordered them to “cease
work” on five separate investigations and drop their claims.

Documents recently unsealed in Mr. Maxwell’s case against Kerr-McGee,
which is scheduled for trial in November, show that federal officials
abandoned his claims at almost the same moment that state auditors in
Louisiana reached the same conclusions as Mr. Maxwell.

Under
federal regulations, companies are supposed to pay the federal
government a royalty of 12 percent or 16 percent on oil and gas they
extract from federal lands or coastal waters.

Mr. Maxwell’s job was eliminated in 2004. He received a settlement from the government and is now living in Hawaii.

I love the Interior Department’s defense: they say that the auditors are in it for the money, yet the auditors wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if they hadn’t been given orders to not pursue the companies in the first place.  Why would they even bring the lawsuit if there was a chance that they could be caught out in such an obvious ploy?  It will all come out in court and I’m pretty confident that even if the auditors don’t win (who knows what kind of technicalities might pop up) we’ll see substantial evidence that supports their claims that they were told by superiors to stand down.

Next up is the story of two of our more nefarious Senators trying to suppress an effort to bring a little more sunlight onto the Senates pork-barrel spending operations. Sen. Byrd of West Virginia and Sen. Stevens of Alaska both sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee and both put a secret hold on legislation that would (will?) create a database of pork barrel spending.  From the piece:

It’s all about a bill by Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican,
who wanted to put more details about federal spending in the hands of
Americans. Coburn, with co-sponsorship from Democrat Sen. Barrack Obama
of Illinois, wants the federal government to establish a searchable
database that would allow Americans to track all federal grants and
contracts.

That, Coburn and Obama figured, would make it more
likely that obscure pork-barrel expenditures, buried deep in omnibus
appropriations bills, could be rooted out by a concerned public and
examined on their individual merits. Senate majority leaders Bill
Frist, R-Tenn., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., gave the measure their
bipartisan backing.

In the tradition of the Senate, however,
somebody exercised his privilege to put a hold on the bill and keep it
from going to the floor. Who it was wasn’t explained because, again in
the tradition of the Senate, he kept his name secret. In all, not a
strong endorsement for openness and accountability.

That’s when
the bloggers went to work, beginning with Porkbusters.org, which
deputized the nation to begin interrogating all 100 senators. The
appeal went out for citizens to aask their own senators, flat out, if
they were or weren’t behind the mysterious hold. As the replies came
back, Porkbusters.org kept an online scorecard, tabulating who had and
who had not denied responsibility for the hold.

It took only a
few days for the culprit–two of them, actually–to be revealed. No
surprises to learn that Republican Sen. Ted "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens
of alaska and West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, the record holder for
bacon brought home, were behind the hold.

Byrd and Stevens have
harrumphed unconvincing explanations that they just wanted time to
study the measure. What a coincidence. That’s what citizens want to do
with federal grants and contracts.

Remember what I said about this being bi-partisan scumbaggery?  These two are well known for this kind of crap, but really they’re just a representative sample.  After all who can forget about the revelations coming from the Abramoff scandal?  To wit:

Former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced to five years and 10 months
in prison on March 29, after pleading guilty to fraud, tax evasion and
conspiracy to bribe public officials in a deal that requires him to
cooperate in an investigation into his dealings with members of
Congress. Sources familiar with the federal probe have told The Post
that half a dozen lawmakers are under scrutiny, along with Hill aides,
former business associates and government officials.

The scandal prompted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio) to give up their leadership posts, and on Sept. 15, 2006, Ney pleaded guilty to charges
stemming from the scandal. Two of Abramoff’s former business partners
have pleaded guilty. Three men have been arrested in the slaying of Gus Boulis, who sold Abramoff and partners a fleet of Florida casino ships in the fall of 2000. Another former Abramoff associate, David H. Safavian — most recently the top contracting official in the White House Office of Management and Budget — was convicted for lying about his dealings with Abramoff.

Really the Abramoff thing is just getting going, and it will be interesting to see how many more people he brings down. 

This post could go on forever if I tried to detail all the nasty goings-on in Congress and the Executive Branch of our government, but I think these samples give us a nice representative sample of what’s going on.  The question is will we as citizens do something about it in November?

This is What’s Wrong With America’s Leaders

There’s an article in Time about House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi which I think perfectly highlights what’s wrong with America’s leadership.  From the article:

The 66-year-old San Francisco lawmaker is an aggressive, hyperpartisan
liberal pol who is the Democrats’ version of Tom DeLay, minus the
ethical and legal problems of the former Republican House leader. To
condition Democrats for this fall’s midterm elections, she has employed
tactics straight out of DeLay’s playbook: insisting other House
Democrats vote the party line on everything, avoiding compromise with
Republicans at all cost and mandating that members spend much of their
time raising money for colleagues in close races. And she has been
effective. House Democrats have been more unified in their voting than
at any other time in the past quarter-century, with members on average
voting the party line 88% of the time in 2005, according to
Congressional Quarterly. That cohesion enabled Democrats to hasten
President Bush’s slide in the polls when they blocked his plan to
reform Social Security by allowing retirees to eschew guaranteed
benefits in favor of private accounts. Bush’s approval rating remains
depressed–38% in a TIME poll last week–and the Democrats are in their
best position to win the House since Republicans took control of it in
1994.

I don’t know about you but I don’t vote for anybody to go to Congress and vote the party line.  I vote for them with the expectation that they will go to Congress and vote their conscience, for what they think is best for the country.  Hell, I don’t even expect to agree with them all the time, but I do expect them to do what they think is in the best interest of the country and there’s no way they can do that if they vote the party line. 

Is there anyone in our country’s leadership who isn’t serving a political party, PAC or donor interest before they’re serving the country?  I swear at this point I’d trust a room full of convicted felons before I’d trust this bunch.  Why?  Because the felon’s aren’t smart enough to get away with robbing me blind (they did get caught after all) while members of Congress, with the exception of folks like Duke and Delay, are smart enough to get away with it and somehow get re-elected.  I’d rather deal with people who try to stab me in the front than those who keep nicking me in the back.

Now you know why I continue to proudly proclaim myself an independent with a capital "I".