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Archive for February 2010

Madoff whistleblower says SEC still too timid

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Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Financial regulators have not fully learned their lessons despite missing the massive fraud engineered by Bernard Madoff, said the man who tried for years to raise the alarm about Madoff’s scheme.

The warning from Harry Markopolos carries the weight of the fame he gained a year ago, including an appearance before Congress to blast the Securities and Exchange Commission for ignoring his tips that something was amiss with Madoff’s investment management business and its years of amazingly consistent profits…

Even now, “The SEC is nowhere near aggressive enough,” Markopolos, 53, told Reuters. “It still has the mind-set where it will only enforce securities law instead of enforcing ethics…”

His book calls for sweeping changes at the SEC such as firing half the agency’s staff and doubling the pay of many positions to attract the best talent. Markopolos would also move the agency out of Washington.

Madoff came onto his radar when Markopolos worked at a Boston money manager and was asked to design a math program to replicate Madoff’s eerie string of returns…

Unable to do so, Markopolos concluded that Madoff was up to no good and debated with colleagues over whether Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme — one where early investors are paid with money from new clients — or was illegally “front-running” orders from clients.

Markopolos reported Madoff to the SEC several times over a number of years. But the agency famously passed up the tips, leading to a public flogging before Congress and a devastating follow-up report by the agency’s inspector general…

Much of the SEC’s staff is too inexperienced to catch sophisticated financial wrongdoing, and too often the agency settles cases without getting defendants to admit guilt, he writes.

I like this guy’s style. Of Madoff he says, “The Death Penalty was too good for him.”

His book comes out this week. I’d love to see him sit down with Charlie Rose on Bloomberg TV and elaborate on the bureaucrats who couldn’t be bothered to act on behalf of the citizens of this land.

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Written by Ed Campbell

February 28, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Crosby honoured to carry torch in Halifax

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November 18, 2009

In August, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain paraded the Stanley Cup through the streets of Halifax, just a few kilometres away from his home town of Cole Harbour, N.S.

Yesterday – November 18th – Sidney Crosby returned again to Halifax, this time to jog a 300-metre leg of the Olympic Torch Relay through the city’s downtown core.

For Crosby, it was a chance to take advantage of what he afterward called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to share the Olympic spirit with his fellow Nova Scotians.

“I just got really lucky that we weren’t playing on this night and that we were heading somewhat in the direction of Halifax,” he said, in reference to Pittsburgh’s game in Ottawa tonight. “It’s something I felt fortunate to be able to do, and I didn’t want to pass the opportunity up…”

As an 18-year-old rookie in 2006, Crosby was considered too young by Canada officials to join the veteran-laden squad in Turin. Though he was in the midst of what would be a 102-point campaign, Crosby sat on the sidelines watching an offensively challenged Canadian team sputter to a seventh-place finish.

But Canada’s figurative torch has now been passed. In Vancouver, Crosby will be expected to provide both scoring and leadership in his first Olympic tournament. On top of that, he will be performing in front of Canadian fans demanding nothing less than a gold medal…

“It’s easy not to think that far out, to be honest,” he said. “This is something where you’re in the moment, and you’re just proud to experience it.

“We all realize as Canadians that there will be expectations, but I just really tried to enjoy this moment.”

Today, Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal – in overtime – to give Canada the Gold Medal in Olympic Hockey.

Not too shabby for a kid considered too young to be on the team, last time round, eh?

Written by Ed Campbell

February 28, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Poland admits participation in CIA rendition program

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The Polish authorities have for the first time admitted their involvement in the CIA’s secret programme for the rendition of high-level terrorist suspects from Iraq and Afghanistan.

After years of stonewalling, Warsaw’s air control service confirmed that at least six CIA flights had landed at a disused military air base in northern Poland in 2003.

“It is time for the authorities to provide a full accounting of Poland’s role in rendition,” Adam Bodnar, of the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, said…

For years, European and human rights investigators have believed Poland played a key role in the secret renditions programme, which became a human rights scandal for the George Bush administration…

Scandal as far as the minority of progressive Americans and whole of the world was concerned. For most Americans, the government did it. Must be OK.

The Polish authorities told the investigators they were not aware of flight data that would reveal the traffic in kidnapping.

But following a freedom of information campaign from the Helsinki Foundation and the New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative, the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency released flight data showing that at least two of the aircraft used in the CIA operations flew from Kabul and Rabat, in Morocco, to Szymany at least six times between February and September 2003…

“[The Polish aviation authority] collaborated with the CIA by accepting the task of navigating these disguised flights into and out of Szymany airport without adhering to the requirements of international flight planning regulations.

“The most remarkable aspect is that the Polish government, which maintained for more than four years that no such records existed – or that, if they did, they were untraceable – has now provided an apparently comprehensive list of these landings, compiled and presented in an orderly and coherent fashion.”

Must be an election coming soon enough that “transparency” gets a chance – for a while.

Meanwhile, anyone wonder why this didn’t receive much coverage in the American Free Press? See anything about this admission on any of the Fair and Balanced TV networks?

The month’s mendacity award goes to Kwasniewski, Poland’s president at the time who now admits he knew of the flights – but, didn’t know the prison(s) existed. Uh-huh.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 28, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Anthropomorphism and Dehumanization

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People talk to their plants, pray to humanlike gods, name their cars, and even dress their pets up in clothing. We have a strong tendency to give nonhuman entities human characteristics (known as anthropomorphism), but why..?

The term anthropomorphism was coined by the Greek philosopher Xenophanes when describing the similarity between religious believers and their gods — that is, Greek gods were depicted having light skin and blue eyes while African gods had dark skin and brown eyes…

Anthropomorphism carries many important implications. For example, thinking of a nonhuman entity in human ways renders it worthy of moral care and consideration. In addition, anthropomorphized entities become responsible for their own actions — that is, they become deserving of punishment and reward.

Although we like to anthropomorphize, we do not assign human qualities to each and every single object we encounter. What accounts for this selectivity? One factor is similarity. An entity is more likely to be anthropomorphized the more similar it appears to humans (for example, through humanlike movements or physical features like a face). Various motivations may also influence anthropomorphism. For example, lacking social connections with other people might motivate lonely individuals to seek out connections from nonhuman items. Anthropomorphism helps us to simplify and make more sense of complicated entities…

Anthropomorphism in reverse is known as dehumanization — when humans are represented as nonhuman objects or animals. There are numerous historical examples of dehumanization including the Nazis’ persecution of Jews during the Holocaust and torture at the Abu-Ghraib prison in Iraq. These examples also suggest that those engaging in dehumanization are usually part of a cohesive group acting against outsiders — that is, individuals who feel socially connected may have an increased tendency towards dehumanization.

The authors note, “Social connection may have benefits for a person’s own health and well-being but may have unfortunate consequences for intergroup relations by enabling dehumanization.”

Too often, we only seem to move from egregious behavior – to being a mob.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Shabab Islamists ban UN food aid in Somalia

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Kids in refugee camp play with buckets while waiting for food
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permisssion

Al-Shabab, the Somali Islamist opposition group, has announced it will stop World Food Programme (WFP) operations in Somalia.

The armed group said on Sunday that food distributed by the UN agency had disadvantaged local farmers and accused the WFP of being politically motivated…

“The contractors working with WFP must avoid collaborating … anyone working with the agency will be seen serving the interest of WFP”…

Last August, the WFP estimated that Somalia was facing its worst humanitarian crisis since the famine of 1991/1992, with half the population – 3.64 million people – in need of outside assistance.”

Nevertheless, in November 2009, the Shabab imposed 11 conditions on UN agencies and non-government groups working in the country, insisting they stay out of Islamic affairs and pay a tax, or jiziya, of at least 20,000 dollars every six months.

The WFP stopped working in southern Somalia in January, announcing it had suspended distribution of food aid after months of attacks and extortion by rebels…

The Shabab has been fighting the government and its African Union allies alongside Hezb al-Islam, a smaller and more political group.

There is little precedent to expect anything other than inhuman policies from right-wing, sectarian nutballs. From the Inquisition to Al Qaeda, religious concerns over power and profits have always trumped humanity.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 28, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Crime, Culture, Religion

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Pentagon will permit troops access to social media

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Veterans Day Parade – NYC – 1975

Long skittish about forums such as Facebook and Twitter, the U.S. Department of Defense says that it is now OK with social networking services and other interactive Web 2.0 applications. A memorandum released Friday makes it official policy that the agency’s nonclassified network will be configured to provide access to Internet-based capabilities across all Defense components, including the various combat branches.

That’s not to say that the Pentagon is embracing all of the free-wheeling nature of blogs, tweets, and online video. Soldiers, sailors, and airmen will still be expected to refrain from activities that could compromise military actions or undercut readiness.

“Commanders at all levels and heads of DoD components will continue to defend against malicious activity on military information networks, deny access to prohibited content sites (e.g., gambling, pornography, hate-crime related activities), and take immediate and commensurate actions, as required, to safeguard missions (e.g., temporarily limiting access to the Internet to preserve operations security or to address bandwidth constraints),” the Defense Department said in a news release.

The Pentagon says it recognizes that social networks, among other Web capabilities, are useful tools for interaction both within the Defense Department and between the agency and the general public. It is also satisfied with the balance it has struck between network security and use of Internet-based tools…

The military has been using social-networking tools for some time, but policies have not always been consistent across the branches, and officials over time have wavered on how much they were willing to let individuals engage with the likes of blogs, YouTube, Facebook, and the like.

As long as it means I can continue to ignore them. Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc., that is.

The Pentagon is always “interesting”.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 28, 2010 at 6:00 am

No news is good news!

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Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

With the Vancouver Games nearly over, officials here are breathing a sigh of relief that no major doping scandals have overshadowed the events. Still, they say, it would be naïve to think that every athlete who competed here did so with natural talent alone.

To determine just how clean the athletes at these Games have been might take eight years, Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said Saturday, on his way to watch the final day of speedskating.

“The final verdict on the Vancouver Games will be in 2018,” he said. “We cannot test everything today. That’s why we keep the samples for eight years time.”

When the Games close Sunday, more than 2,000 tests would have been conducted on athletes’ urine and blood samples. Those samples are then placed into storage.

If a new scientific test to detect doping becomes available — perhaps for transfusing your own blood, a doping method which is currently undetectable — those samples can be retested. If positive tests come back, an athlete can be sanctioned. If he or she had won an Olympic medal, that medal can be stripped from them.

Several athletes from the 2008 Beijing Games learned that the hard way…

Before the Games began, the World Anti-Doping Agency said that more than 30 athletes were barred from competing in Vancouver after violating antidoping rules. The agency did not identify the athletes or the sports they compete in. Additional information about those athletes did not emerge during these Olympics.During the Games, nearly everything went quiet on the doping front…

There is nothing sensational to report,” Arne Ljungqvist, head of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission, said Thursday of the doping testing here.

Bravo!

Written by Ed Campbell

February 28, 2010 at 2:00 am

Congratulations to Team Canada

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Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Special congratulations to Team Canada for their victory in Men’s Curling at the Vancouver Olympics.

Warmest greetings to our Canadian readers.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 27, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Republican halts unemployment, health payments

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Just another example of how democracy is not permitted in the U.S. Senate.


Bunning of Kentucky says “No” – once again
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Resorting to an old-fashioned one-man filibuster, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) is blocking an extension of unemployment benefits and health insurance payments for hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Americans because of his concerns over the federal budget deficit.

The programs are set to expire at midnight Sunday, and the Senate’s inaction could delay payments.

Democratic and Republican leaders had agreed to pass a one-month extension through a process known as unanimous consent, in which no formal vote was required. But Bunning’s objection means the bill can’t go forward. The extension had been passed by the House and was ready to be signed into law…

“The simple fact of the matter is that this is an emergency situation and should be treated as such,” said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).Bunning has refused to yield as a wave of senators criticized him…

The White House joined in Friday, with spokesman Robert Gibbs saying, “These are the type of games that the American people fail to understand.”

Bunning is retiring to country club life in Kentucky. I think he has enough stashed from his career in Congress to skip the typical lobbyist gig after he’s out of office.

OpenSecrets.org says he’s worth between $½ million an $1 million. Think that’s enough for him to feel comfortable?

Written by Ed Campbell

February 27, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Giant predatory shark fossil unearthed in Kansas

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Critter probably looked like this Nurse Shark – but BIGGER

The fossilised remains of a gigantic 10m-long predatory shark have been unearthed in Kansas.

Scientists dug up a gigantic jawbone, teeth and scales belonging to the shark which lived 89 million years ago.

The bottom-dwelling predator had huge tooth plates, which it likely used to crush large shelled animals such as giant clams.

Palaeontologists already knew about the shark, but the new specimen suggests it was far bigger than previously thought…

Dr Kenshu Shimada of DePaul university in Chicago, Illinois, US found the fossilized remains of the shark in rocks known as the Fort Hays Limestone in Kansas.

“Kansas back then was smack in the middle of an inland sea known as the Western Interior Seaway that extended in a north-south direction across North America,” says Dr Shimada…

“Although it represents a fraction of the entire body of the shark, the jaw fragment is gigantic. The estimated jaw length was almost 1m long, and that would suggest that the shark was likely at least 10m in length,” says Dr Shimada.

No doubt, our flat-Earth and creationist cousins in Kansas presume this is just leftover from the last catfish fry.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 27, 2010 at 3:00 pm

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