March 31, 2009

and we looked
and we passed
through the hallways of shatterproof glass

Melinda Stickney-Gibson, Thinking This Thinking That, 2007

* On Joe Cassano, the man who brought down AIG. excerpt:

"The FBI and federal prosecutors are reportedly closing in on the AIG executive whose suspect investments cost the insurance giant hundreds of billions of dollars. The government is investigating whether or not 54-year old Brooklyn-native Joseph Cassano committed criminal fraud in virtually bankrupting the company."
"Cassano, who lives in London, made more than $300 million running the infamous Financial Products Division of AIG where he, with about a dozen others, committed AIG to insure what turned out to be more than a trillion dollars worth of junk quality loans held by banks."
"After the huge losses became known, Cassano was fired from AIG in early 2008, but he still received a salary of $1 million a month until Congress intervened. AIG has received about a $180 billion in bailout funds so far."
"An ABC News investigation found that Cassano set up some dozens of separate companies, some off-shore, to handle the transactions, effectively keeping them off the books of AIG and out of sight of regulators in the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

"'This is the other very important issue underneath the AIG scandal,' said Blum. 'All of these contracts were moved offshore for the express purpose of getting out from under regulation and tax evasion.'

"And nobody in the United Kingdom was monitoring AIG's actions either, according to a member of Parliament there."

* Thursday At Solly's (11 & U, WDC): The Foreign Press, Sun Committee, and Reversal. Early show, The Foreign Press hits the stage around 8. Free.

* Indie Rockers cover Mr. Neil Young.

* "Your true value depends entirely on what you are compared with." -- Bob Wells

March 30, 2009

human rights
not corporations

iri5, Bob Dylan, cassette tape on canvas, 2009

* Must read article in The Atlantic: The Quiet Coup. excerpt:

"In its depth and suddenness, the U.S. economic and financial crisis is shockingly reminiscent of moments we have recently seen in emerging markets (and only in emerging markets): South Korea (1997), Malaysia (1998), Russia and Argentina (time and again). In each of those cases, global investors, afraid that the country or its financial sector wouldn’t be able to pay off mountainous debt, suddenly stopped lending. And in each case, that fear became self-fulfilling, as banks that couldn’t roll over their debt did, in fact, become unable to pay. This is precisely what drove Lehman Brothers into bankruptcy on September 15, causing all sources of funding to the U.S. financial sector to dry up overnight. Just as in emerging-market crises, the weakness in the banking system has quickly rippled out into the rest of the economy, causing a severe economic contraction and hardship for millions of people.

"But there’s a deeper and more disturbing similarity: elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.

"Top investment bankers and government officials like to lay the blame for the current crisis on the lowering of U.S. interest rates after the dotcom bust or, even better—in a “buck stops somewhere else” sort of way—on the flow of savings out of China. Some on the right like to complain about Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, or even about longer-standing efforts to promote broader homeownership. And, of course, it is axiomatic to everyone that the regulators responsible for 'safety and soundness' were fast asleep at the wheel.

"But these various policies—lightweight regulation, cheap money, the unwritten Chinese-American economic alliance, the promotion of homeownership—had something in common. Even though some are traditionally associated with Democrats and some with Republicans, they all benefited the financial sector. Policy changes that might have forestalled the crisis but would have limited the financial sector’s profits—such as Brooksley Born’s now-famous attempts to regulate credit-default swaps at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, in 1998—were ignored or swept aside."

* Who Knew: Legendary, now 98 years old, UCLA coach John Wooden is into poetry. excerpt:

"Wooden has had a lifelong love of poetry and has been reading, writing and reciting poetry for more than 80 years. He writes poems down many times and recites poems before he goes to sleep."

* "The time to relax is -- when you don't have time for it." -- Sidney J. Harris

March 27, 2009

I'm a twentieth century man
but I dont wanna be here

Martin Ramirez, Man Riding Donkey, 1960-3

Hemingway Dines on Boiled Shrimp and Beer
-- by Campbell McGrath

I'm the original two-hearted brawler.
I gnaw the scrawny heads from prawns,
pummel those mute, translucent crustaceans,
wingless hummingbirds, salt-water spawned.
As the Catalonians do, I eat the eyes at once.
My brawny palms flatten their mainstays.
I pop the shells with my thumbs, then crunch.

Just watch me as I swagger and sprawl,
spice-mad and sated, then dabble in lager
before I go strolling for stronger waters
down to Sloppy Joe's. My stride as I stagger
shivers the islands, my fingers troll a thousand keys.
My appetite shakes the rock of the nation.
The force of my miction makes the mighty Gulf Stream.

For Spicer
-- by Chris Nealon

The light stinks today
at least for your
preferred forms of capture.
has done one
better than me, there is
a compelling yellow
Melville on the wall.
All around me I can hear
part call out to part
and part to whole, you are here
on earth to make me cry.
The light is beautiful.
When I am out of poetry
I am really out of it

-- by Seamus Heaney

There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,
You in your going-away coat speeding ahead
And me, me then like a fleet god gaining
Upon you before you turned to a reed

Or some new white flower japped with crimson
As the coat flapped wild and button after button
Sprang off and fell in a trail
Between the Underground and the Albert Hall.

Honeymooning, moonlighting, late for the Proms,
Our echoes die in that corridor and now
I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones
Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons

To end up in a draughty lamplit station
After the trains have gone, the wet track
Bared and tensed as I am, all attention
For your step following and damned if I look back.

The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field
-- by Richard Hugo

The dim boy claps because the others clap.
The polite word, handicapped, is muttered in the stands.
Isn’t it wrong, the way the mind moves back.

One whole day I sit, contrite, dirt, L.A.
Union Station, ’46, sweating through last night.
The dim boy claps because the others clap.

Score, 5 to 3. Pitcher fading badly in the heat.
Isn’t it wrong to be or not be spastic?
Isn’t it wrong, the way the mind moves back.

I’m laughing at a neighbor girl beaten to scream
by a savage father and I’m ashamed to look.
The dim boy claps because the others clap.

The score is always close, the rally always short.
I’ve left more wreckage than a quake.
Isn’t it wrong, the way the mind moves back.

The afflicted never cheer in unison.
Isn’t it wrong, the way the mind moves back
to stammering pastures where the picnic should have worked.
The dim boy claps because the others clap.

March 26, 2009

Saw you at a party
You asked me to dance
Said music was great for dancing
I don't really dance much
But this time I did
And I was glad that I did this time

Jozsef Bullas, untitled, 2006

* Chris Weigant wonders about having a Science-based drug policy. excerpt:

"In a move to make Obama more accessible and answerable to the public, the White House web site is soliciting questions from the public for Obama to answer on their new 'Open For Questions' page. So, given the opportunity, what question would you ask the president? Personally, I would choose: 'Will drug policy be included in your new science-based approach to government, or will you let politics continue to trump science in this arena?' Because there have been two specific news items in the past few weeks, and while they are almost completely unrelated, they both come from the 'science/politics' debate on drugs. The first is the "morning after" pill, and the second is medical marijuana.

"The morning after pill ("Plan B") was in the news because a federal judge just told the Food and Drug Administration to start selling it over the counter without a prescription to women under the age of 18. In a scathing opinion from the bench, the judge made it clear he believed that the decision to limit the over-the-counter status of the drug to adult women was made for political reasons, not scientific ones. Which the FDA is just not supposed to do. The FDA, under Bush, didn't even want to change the status of Plan B in the first place, they would have been much happier to leave it as a prescription-only drug. But they were forced to act, so they did what they could to continue limiting access to the drug to only the women they deemed fit to buy it without seeing a doctor first. The judge found this improper, and sent it back to the FDA drawing boards, telling them to get it right the second time around."
"The second issue is more politically charged, but that should not be a reason for Obama to shy away from it. The Attorney General made news recently by saying he is not going to go after medical marijuana providers in states that have made medical marijuana legal. While federal law does trump state law, the Obama administration has decided that the specter of Drug Enforcement Agency raids on sick people when we have a crisis on our Mexican border shows the wrong priorities.

"There are actually quite a few questions up on the White House's Open For Questions site right now dealing with this issue, so it will be interesting to see if Obama answers any of them. Many ask outright: why not legalize marijuana, tax it, and regulate it?"
"Scientifically speaking, there is no justification for the continued designation of marijuana on Schedule I. The question is entirely political, to put it another way.

"Which is what President Obama promised to stop doing.

"So, while the Attorney General's announcement that the feds were going to ease up a bit on raiding medical marijuana providers was indeed a welcome development, it simply does not go far enough. The Attorney General has the power to change all of this, without even asking Congress' permission. The same Act states: "the Attorney General may by rule ... transfer between such schedules any drug or other substance...."

"So my question for Obama would be, in full: 'President Obama, since you have promised to start basing government policy on science and not on politics, will you push to allow all women over-the-counter access to Plan B as soon as possible? And seeing as how one-fourth of the states have made medical marijuana legal, how can you justify on scientific grounds the continued listing of marijuana as a Schedule I drug and not under Schedule II? Are you committed to bring your science-based philosophy into the realm of federal drug policy, or will you allow politics to dictate such decisions, as in the recent past?'"

* Detailed Twang has The Soft Boys' Rock and Roll Toilet available for your listening/downloading pleasure.

* "The way to write American music is simple. All you have to do is be an American and then write any kind of music you wish." -- Virgil Thomson

March 25, 2009

I've seen the needle
and the damage done

Marvin Newman, Shadow, 1951

Ted’s Head
- by Rod Smith

So there’s this episode of Mary Tyler Moore where Ted’s trying to get a raise & after finagling and shenaniganizing he puts one over on Lou & gets his contract changed to non-exclusive sos he can do commercials which is not cool w/Lou & the gang because Ted’s just a brainless gimp & it hurts the image of the news to have the anchorman selling tomato slicers & dogfood so Lou gets despondent because the contract can’t be rescinded but then he gets mad & calls Ted into his office & says, “You’re going to stop doing commercials, Ted” & Ted says “why would I do that Lou?” & Lou says “Because if you don’t I’ll punch your face out” & Ted says “I’ll have you arrested” & Lou says “It’ll be too late, your face will be broken, you’re not gonna get too many commercials with a broken face now are you Ted?” & Ted buckles under to force & everybody’s happy, except Ted but he’s so dumb nobody cares & everybody loves it that Lou’s not despondent anymore he’s back to his brustling chubby loud loveable whiskey-drinking football-loving ways. Now imagine if Ted were Lou, if Ted were the boss. You know how incredibly fucking brainless Ted is, but let’s imagine he understands & is willing to use force. That’s the situation we’re now in as Americans.

Do Tell
-- by Frank Stanford

everyone says it's like a dream
is it now
it was a good year for soybeans and love
Miss Lucy took her own life on the levee
with a pistol
she left everything she had
to a gigolo from Memphis
in no time at all
he bought a sailboat
and a whorehouse
and no one
is ever heard of since

-- by Bob Kaufman

Where the string
some point,
Was umbilical jazz,
Or perhaps,
In memory,
A long lost bloody cross,
Buried in some steel cavalry.
In what time
For whom do we bleed,
Lost notes, from some jazzman's
Broken needle.
Musical tears from lost
Broken drumsticks, why?
Pitter patter, boom dropping
Bombs in the middle
Of my emotions
My father's sound
My mother's sound,
Is love,
Is life.

March 24, 2009

figured if he was good
he could get himself to heaven

Lee Balterman, Man With Drink, 50s/60s

* Joe Conason: excerpt:

"[I]t is long past time for the United States, with its international friends and allies, to demand accountability from the long list of tiny countries and principalities, from Andorra and the Cayman Islands to Singapore and Switzerland, where corporations, wealthy clients and unrepentant evildoers hide their assets.

"The big claw-back will reach into quaint islands and mountainous principalities, because the same banks, hedge funds and private equity firms responsible for the world financial meltdown keep their profits in those 'secrecy spaces' -- alongside the ill-gotten gains of numerous drug dealers, dictators and delinquents of every description.

"According to the Government Accountability Office, nearly all of America's top 100 corporations maintain subsidiaries in countries identified as tax havens. As the GAO notes, there could be reasons other than avoiding the IRS to set up branches in places such as Singapore, Luxembourg and Switzerland, where taxes are light or nonexistent and keeping clients' illicit secrets is considered a matter of national pride.

"But what reason other than evasion could there be for Goldman Sachs Group to set up three subsidiaries in Bermuda, five in Mauritius, and 15 in the Cayman Islands? Why did Countrywide Financial need two subsidiaries in Guernsey? Why did Wachovia need 18 subsidiaries in Bermuda, three in the British Virgin Islands, and 16 in the Caymans? Why did Lehman Brothers need 31 subsidiaries in the Caymans? What do Bank of America's 59 subsidiaries in the Caymans actually do? Why does Citigroup need 427 separate subsidiaries in tax havens, including 12 in the Channel Islands, 21 in Jersey, 91 in Luxembourg, 19 in Bermuda and 90 in the Caymans? What exactly is going on at Morgan Stanley's 19 subs in Jersey, 29 subs in Luxembourg, 14 subs in the Marshall Islands, and its amazing 158 subs in the Caymans? And speaking of AIG, why does it have 18 subs in tax-haven countries? (Don't expect to find out from Fox News Channel or the New York Post, because News Corp. has its own constellation of strange subsidiaries, including 33 in the Caymans alone.)

"When the cost of these shenanigans was last estimated two years ago, the U.S. government's annual loss in revenue due to tax avoidance by major corporations and super-rich individuals was pegged at about $100 billion -- considerably more than a rounding error, even today. But of course that is only a rough assessment, as is the estimate of $12 trillion in untaxed assets hidden around the world. Nobody will know for certain until the books are opened and transparency is established.

"Whatever the accurate accounting proves to be, it is certain to exceed hundreds of billions annually worldwide. That is money every country will need badly for years, to repay debt, finance reconstruction, and fund services, as the world economy struggles to revive itself. Even in the developing countries, where incomes are much lower and billionaires tend to be scarce, the annual revenue loss could be as much as $50 billion -- enough to meet the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals (if only the money were not stolen by local elites and wired away to numbered accounts in tax havens).

"None of these tax havens could exist without the connivance or at least the cooperation of the world's most powerful governments, which remain dominated by financial industry lobbyists even now. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has sought greater transparency from the tax havens for years, hearing promises from most and defiance from a few."

* March 2008 article on Ray Davies. excerpt:

"Muswell Hillbillies is my favorite Kinks record, but The Village Green Preservation Society stands out for being so tenaciously removed from its time. Inspired by Dylan Thomas's play Under Milk Wood, the album describes the colorful inhabitants of an unnamed English town. The title track, that toe-tapping ode to Donald Duck and virgins, presents itself as a love letter to the past, but the singer knew very well that the place he was romanticizing wasn't lost so much as imaginary. Kitts quotes Davies' description of the village as 'a fantasy world that I can retreat to. ... It was my own Wizard of Oz land.'

"Davies' other retreat was a very real place: Muswell Hill, the London suburb where he was raised. The heart of the young Davies' world was the front room of his family home. 'After the pubs closed at 11:00 pm,' Kitts writes, Davies' father 'would invite his drinking cronies to join his extended family and children's friends for an after-hours party in what would be the family's overcrowded front room, which, in those largely pre-television days, held the family's old upright piano, the most important piece of furniture in the Davies's home, and a 78 r.p.m. wind-up gramophone.' The parties featured rowdy performances of pop hits and music-hall standards, with Davies's father doing a drunken impersonation of Cab Calloway. As Kitts notes, 'The influence of these parties on the Kinks, particularly the campy Kinks of the early to mid-1970s, is remarkable. Whether consciously or not, it seemed as if Ray was trying to recreate the Saturday night parties of his family's home—complete with chaos, beer, and singalongs.'"

* "It was beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are." -- O. Henry

March 23, 2009

Every so often my father comes over
for a visit he hangs his overcoat and hat
on my hat rack I brief him on recent
developments and serve us coffee
he is surprised that I like to cook
once when he made an omelette
he flipped it in the air much to my delight
and it landed on the floor yes that
was the summer of 1952, he remembered
the high breakers and how fearless
I was running into the ocean anyway
the important thing is to see you doing
so well he said and took his coat and hat
and left before I remembered he was dead

-- by David Lehman

-- in memory of William Robert Fox (July 12, 1944 - March 23, 2002). RIP

March 20, 2009

It's been done so many times I hardly know what it means

Lisa Brotman, Parted, 2008

Waiting and Finding
-- by Jack Gilbert

While he was in kindergarten, everybody wanted to play
the tomtoms when it came time for that. You had to
run in order to get there first, and he would not.
So he always had a triangle. He does not remember
how they played the tomtoms, but he sees clearly
their Chinese look. Red with dragons front and back
and gold studs around that held the drumhead tight.
If you had a triangle, you didn’t really make music.
You mostly waited while the tambourines and tomtoms
went on a long time. Until there was a signal for all
triangle people to hit them the right way. Usually once.
Then it was tomtoms and waiting some more. But what
he remembers is the sound of the triangle. A perfect,
shimmering sound that has lasted all his long life.
Fading out and coming again after a while. Getting lost
and the waiting for it to come again. Waiting meaning
without things. Meaning love sometimes dying out,
sometimes being taken away. Meaning that often he lives
silent in the middle of the world’s music. Waiting
for the best to come again. Beginning to hear the silence
as he waits. Beginning to like the silence maybe too much.

For Those of You Who Don't Know Me
-- by Jessy Randall

"For those of you who don’t know me,"
said the woman, following up competitively
on the group of young lawyers who had started
their toasts the same way, "I am
blah blah, and I've known the groom
since blah blah." And then she talked
about herself and her own life for what
seemed an eternity, massaging the groom’s
shoulders the whole while, practically sticking
her breasts in his ear and licking
his cummerbund right off his tux.
When she finally finished, the bride
pulled her in for a cheek-to-cheek
lipsmack, and then tossed the woman away
as she dribbled off her last order: "You
take good care of him now, you hear!"

Big Fun
-- by Alison Stine

It's been a month since you came on my stomach and there
is starting to miss you. Soap goes on. Sweaters go on.
Bruises go on burgeoning into brown flower-throats.
Elbow. Esophagus. Go on, abandon them. I like bars
that are named unsuspectingly, where you might find
yourself without meaning: Rickshaw Stop, Pete's Candy
Store, the Office, the Pharmacy Bar, the Library, Big
Fun. The ambulance bay is standing wide open, gurney
straps loose, syringes uncorked, each unstuck bandage
a tongue candy-white. Best friends are at the ready for
impulse, for injury. What will he do to her? The others
left marks. Here lover. Here line. I once had an end-stop.
The ultrasound, running over my thighs, rubbed hard to see
the echo. On the screen, a tented city. On the screen,
a clotted vein. In the blood, in the body, I am hard little
stars. Beneath your gaze, I am naked and you understand.
With your head on my stomach, with my tongue in your
hair. Your heart is strong, but you were not there yet.
Salt was not there yet in stripes, in abandon. We were
clothed and in corners. We were making up minds.
For the minds, for the making, for the cloth-bundled
nerves, for the calcium deposits, for the clavicle which
burns, for the red, for the white, for the raw, for the stars,
for the Pharmacy and Rickshaw, for the danger
and the verve, the finish and the verse, I would lie,
I would lie, I would lie down for you. Awwww yeah.

March 19, 2009

Between coral
Silent eel
Silver swordfish
I can't really feel or dream down here

David Berman, from his soon-to-be-released book The Portable February

* TPM timeline: Did AIG and Cassano commit fraud. excerpt:

"AIG chief Edward Liddy endured his anticipated ritual flaying today by Capitol Hill lawmakers angered by those bonuses. But, as Josh has been writing about over at TPM, there's mounting evidence that some current and former AIG execs could have much more to fear than angry questions from Gary Ackerman when all is said and done.

"Since at least June 2008, the Justice Department has been investigating (sub. req.) whether AIG intentionally -- and criminally -- overstated the value of its credit default swaps, hiding its dire position from investors and government regulators. Joseph Cassano -- who during the period at issue ran AIG's financial products unit, AIGFP, which made those disastrous swaps, out of a London office -- has reportedly hired a lawyer in connection with that investigation. Britain's Serious Fraud Office is said to be on the case as well.

"So here at TPMmuckraker, we've spent much of today taking a close look at the reams of evidence contained in news reports, documents submitted to congressional investigations, SEC filings, and civil lawsuits filed by AIG shareholders -- one of which charges that Cassano "hid AIGFP's ballooning exposure from public markets and short-circuited alarms within the AIG organization." And from this mass of data, a clear picture emerges in which Cassano -- aided by other AIG execs, who appear to have given his AIGFP unit broad autonomy within the company -- repeatedly downplayed the risks his unit faced, publicly painting a rosy picture that was at odds with reality. Perhaps most egregiously, he actively shut out voices -- primarily those of AIGFP's own internal and external accountants -- that highlighted potential problems at the unit.

"Here's a rough, and far-from-comprehensive, timeline of events that begins to suggest a level of deliberate fraud and deception on a level that goes beyond what's generally been acknowledged so far.

- 2004: AIG pays $80 million to settle criminal charges brought by the Justice Department against Cassano's unit, AIGFP. The unit had been charged with securities fraud for allegedly helping PNC Financial improve its reported financial results by shifting about $750 million in assets off PNC's balance sheet, in return for lucrative fees. AIG admits to engaging in transactions that violated accounting rules, and signs a deferred prosecution agreement with DOJ, meaning it has to be on its best behavior to avoid charges. The episode suggests that Cassano and AIGFP were, at best, happy to cut corners in the pursuit of profits. (Wall Street Journal, June 2008)

- Late 2005: AIGFP execs, worried about loosening lending standards in the subprime-mortgage market, decide to stop selling credit protection on certain swaps, partly due to "concerns that the model was not going to be able to handle declining underwriting standards," according to one AIG risk expert. In other words, Cassano and his colleagues were aware of the risk even at this early stage. (Wall Street Journal, October 2008)

- Mid 2007: Cassano is still providing assurances that AIGFP's accounting is on the level. Referring to the PNC episode from 2004, Cassano says publicly: 'We made some mistakes in those transactions and we suffered dearly for that ... [T]hat was the only accounting driven transaction we've ever done.' Cassano added that AIGFP had instituted new controls to prevent a recurrence of the problem. (Investor lawsuit, found online via Google cache)

- Aug 9, 2007: Referring to credit default swaps, Cassano tells investors: 'It is hard for us, and without being flippant, to even see a scenario, within any kind of realm of reason that would see us losing $1 in any of those transactions....we see no issues at all emerging. We see no dollar of loss associated with any of that businesss.' (Investor lawsuit)

- Aug 13, 2007: Summarizing those comments, the Wall Street Journal reports: 'Exotic financial instruments linked to subprime mortgages are showing huge losses in debt markets and weighing on companies from lenders to banks to insurers. But not at American International Group Inc. -- or so it's executives say.' In other words, Cassano's representations to investors achieved their goal of reassuring the press and public that AIG was doing fine. (Wall Street Journal, August 2007)

- August 2007: Cassano berates Joseph St. Denis, AIGFP's in-house accountant, for discovering accounting irregularities in a target company's hedge accounts. St. Denis had been brought in specifically to address problems in AIGFP's accounting cited by an auditor. (Letter from St. Denis to House Oversight committee)

- Sept 2007: Cassano tells St. Denis: "I have deliberately excluded you from the valuation of the Super Seniors [ CDS's] because I was concerned that you would pollute the process." St. Denis later told Congress he had no involvement in the process of valuing the CDS portfolio, because Cassano worked to exclude him from that process. (St. Denis letter.)

- Oct 2007: St. Denis resigns. He would later explain to Congress: 'I resigned because on multiple instances beginning in the late summer of 2007, Mr. Cassano took actions that I believed were intended to prevent me from performing the job duties for which I was hired.' (St. Denis letter)

- Nov 6, 2007: Michael Roemer, AIG's chief auditor, informs the firm's audit committee of the reasons St Denis gave for his departure. (St. Denis letter)

- Nov 29, 2007: Accountants for PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PWC), AIG's outside accounting firm, inform AIG CEO Martin Sullivan of their belief that the company has material weaknesses related to the credit default swaps, which could result in future errors on income statements or dislcosures. PWC later said that AIG was not interested in fully understanding the impact of the collateral disputes that at this point had been set off with AIG's counter-parties. (Investor lawsuit)

- December 2007: Cassano, preparing for an upcoming presentation to investors about potential losses associated with the credit default swaps, tells PWC accountants not to interfere. (Investor lawsuit)

- Dec 5, 2007: At that meeting, Sullivan and Cassano assure investors that everything's fine. Sullivan: 'AIG has accurately identified all areas of exposure to the US residential-housing market ... we are confident in out markets and the reasonableness of our valuation methods. Cassano: "It is very difficult to see how there can be any losses in these portfolios.' These statements, in particular, would later be looked by federal investigators as evidence of possible fraud. (Investor lawsuit)

- Jan 2008: In an audit opinion included in an SEC filing, PWC accountants write that AIG did not maintain 'effective internal control over financial reporting' related to its credit default swaps. They assert that "there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of the annual or interim financial statements will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis. (AIG SEC filing).

- Feb 26, 2008 -- In what appears to be an effort to absolve itself of responsibility, PWC accountants declare at an Audit committee meeting, that AIGFP alone conducted the process of valuing 4th quarter assets. (Investor lawsuit)

- Mar 31, 2008: Cassano 'retires' with million dollar a month consulting contract and a $34 million golden parachute. According to one investor lawsuit filed in January, Cassano had earned $280 million over the previous 8 years -- more than AIG's CEO. (Investor lawsuit).

- June 13, 2008: In a statement put out in response to news of the DOJ investigation, AIG declares, 'As is the case throughout AIG, our colleagues [in the financial-products division] have been rigorously focused on transparency and accuracy in all its disclosures. The goal is clear: make sure the numbers are right, whether it's good news or bad news.' (Wall Street Journal, June 2008)"

* Story of the world's biggest diamond heist. long, but worthwhile.

* "I never met anybody who said when they were a kid, "I wanna grow up and be a critic." -- Richard Pryor

March 18, 2009

I do not think the Bible
Ever truly adjusted to electricity

Unknown, Richard Brautigan in North Beach, 1971

Making the Crane
-- by Sandra Beasley

Preparation is the art of leaving lines in:
before you can make a crane you must
invert the valley, low right to high left.
Then you must base the bird, pulling
inside out, outside to middle, and up.
Flip. Repeat. Crease her legs.
Reverse the fold. Define her neck,
define the tail, run the bone knife flat.
Dip each wing down and pull them
apart, flattening her back. If she means
to stay by your dinner plate, press your
mouth to the belly and push the air in.
If she means to fly, grip her head and tail,
pull so she flaps in the sky of your palm.
If she’s good luck, thread a sharp needle
and hang her with her thousand sisters.
When she laughs it is only a crab scuttling
the length of her gullet. When she cries
it is only the weeping of rice against stone.

Clarence Thomas
-- by Klipschutz

Am I the only one who remembers the photograph of Clarence Thomas and his wife in People magazine, sitting on a sofa in their living room reading a Bible, on the heels of his recent confirmation to the Supreme Court? Mr. Poster Dude* for Affirmative Action himself, who seventeen years later gives a speech informing us that we (Americans) are self-indulgent and don’t make the sacrifices our parents and grandparents did. In answer to a question after the speech, Mr. Thomas named Lincoln as his favorite president, but declined to state his favorite color. Is this guy a putz or what? Posing on a sofa pretending to read a Bible? Lecturing his countrymen and women on sacrifice? Hey, he must be doing something right – he has lifetime job security! You don’t find many of those on Craig’s List!

*you won’t see me fall in that trap

Listen: Two pieces read by Richard Brautigan

-- A chapter from In Watermelon Sugar

-- A chapter from A Confederate General From Big Sur

March 17, 2009

I won't ask again
it would not be good
to know what only those
who've earned it would

William DeBilzan, Random Thoughts

* New York Times. excerpt:

"After four bailouts totaling some $170 billion, the American International Group has finally answered some of the questions about where the money went. Unfortunately, the answers have only succeeded in raising many more questions.

"On Saturday, Americans learned that A.I.G. planned to pay $165 million in bonuses to executives and employees in the very division that caused the problems that led to the federal bailouts. Taxpayers have every right to be outraged, and President Obama was right to acknowledge that outrage on Monday, when he vowed to try to stop the payments.

"Mr. Obama’s tough talk, however, contrasted with comments made by his top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, and by the Treasury Department. They had already expressed dismay but said that legally they could do nothing to stop the bonuses, which, in fact, had already mostly been paid on Friday.

"It is frustrating enough for Americans to try to figure out which part of that mixed message reflects the administration’s true position. But the bigger issue is that the bonuses are something of a distraction. Seen by themselves, the payments are huge, but they are less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the money already committed to the A.I.G. bailout.

"Which brings us to the second disclosure of recent days. It was common knowledge that most of the A.I.G. bailout money had been funneled to the company’s trading partners — banks and other financial firms that would have lost big if A.I.G. were allowed to fail. On Sunday, after much prodding by Congress and the public, A.I.G. finally released the partners’ identities, along with amounts paid thus far to make them whole.

"The largest single recipient was Goldman Sachs ($12.9 billion). The amount — hardly chump change even by Wall Street standards — appears to contradict earlier assertions by Goldman that its exposure to risk from A.I.G. was “not material” and that its positions were offset by collateral or hedges. If so, why didn’t the hedges pay up instead of the American taxpayers?
"Taxpayers also need to be told the precise nature of the banks’ dealings with A.I.G. Appearing on '60 Minutes' on Sunday, Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, described A.I.G. as a company 'that made all kinds of unconscionable bets.' Well, on the other side of those bets are the banks that received the bailout money. It is possible that one side of a bet is acting unconscionably and that another side is acting in good faith. But it’s also possible that both sides are trying to play an unseemly game to their own advantage.

"Congress must investigate, and the new disclosures give them enough to get started. Untangling all the entanglements is not only essential to understanding how the system became so badly broken, but also to restoring faith in the government that it is up to the task of fixing it."

* Weird, Italian television interview of Frank Zappa. Must see.

* How to grow a sentence like David Foster Wallace.

* "I used to wake up at 4 A.M. and start sneezing, sometimes for five hours. I tried to find out what sort of allergy I had but finally came to the conclusion that it must be an allergy to consciousness." -- James Thurber

March 16, 2009

we are home

Cara Ober, Pretty Words, 2006

* From Harper's April 2009:

-- Total revenue raised last year by the city of New York from fines on parking violations: $623,979,233

-- Annual budget of the New York City Department of Transportation: $697,786,000

-- Ratio of number of U.S. tenth graders who smoke marijuana in a given month to the number who smoke cigarettes: 11:10

-- Average number of text messages sent or received each month by an American teen: 1,956

-- Average number of brand names a group of mothers mentioned per minute of conversation: 1.3

* The economics of March Madness. excerpt:

"All told, there are six rounds and 64 games of nationally televised and streamed amateur hoops played around the country. To be associated with these athletic rites of spring, companies pay CBS roughly $100,000 for a 30-second spot of advertising in round one and more than $1 million per spot in the finals. CBS itself is paying the NCAA $6.1 billion over 11 years for the right to sell these ad spots and to broadcast the tournament.

"Millions of basketball fans, their friends and associates place bracket bets on each game. Experts estimate that more than $7 billion is wagered on the March tournament, surpassing the $6 billion gambled on the Super Bowl. The Final Four is so popular that it is routinely played at indoor football stadiums and each game is likely to boast attendance above 40,000.

"So, a captivated national audience, a massive television deal and dozens of corporations drooling to get a piece of the action must all add up to a financial bonanza, right? Not quite.

"There are a few winners. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, for instance, makes out quite well. Last year, Madness brought in $548 million from TV rights and an additional $40 million from ticket sales and sponsorships, together representing an eye-popping 96% of all NCAA revenue.

"Amid this cornucopia, the schools themselves are usually the losers. According to the NCAA's latest Revenues and Expenses report, in 2005-06 the median Division I men's basketball team generated revenue of $480,000 and had operating costs of $1.33 million, yielding a net operating loss of $850,000. If capital expenses and full university overhead were included, these results would be even more dismal."

* "An economist is a surgeon with an excellent scalpel and a rough-edged lancet, who operates beautifully on the dead and tortures the living." -- Nicholas Chamfort

March 13, 2009

flyer by stereogab

Three poems by Rod Smith:

The Responsibility of Intellectuals

The sun is not gutted
or out on tour. The back-slap
of facticity is lost
on the F Train or else
available only
in outer space. The people
of Hanover, where they
make Utz, are genuine
with regard to their enthusiasms.
The essential writings
see them & say their adventure.
& yet, somehow unassailed,
is absolutely nothing.
The barber's concerns meld
or mesh with the cosmetologist's.
They are free.
The word pusillanimous
enters a conversation there, in Hanover,
& does not return. It has
gone home. Judgment
regarding this is not
worth a Knicks ticket.
If you place everything
you own in Hanover
it will disappear.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

two airplanes meet
and fall in love.


& is not true

& is not this right.
I am a turnip.


if it all went up in smoke
all perception would be by smell

"you don't trust many people
& the ones you do trust leave"

a poem is a fracas
with a poem is a stew

The Sublime Object of Ideology

A Nestea before the sex show
& a full length sofa bed
to teach the Cantos from--
this represents the temporal
hidden within the temporal.
The grapes though expensive
are "unimpaled."
Liquidity of the mischief,
a moist tint
love song on a breeze I
Do not feel
the high Titanic clockwork
when I touch her
or do I? Book of Life,
a new translation,
please. Pretty please.

March 11, 2009

someone's selling all your heroes
and it seems such a shame

kirstiecat, Dean Wareham playing at the Museum of Contemporary Art superimposed with two shots of Andy Warhol's Paul America

The Couple in the Next Room
-- by John Ashbery

She liked the blue drapes. They made a star
At the angle. A boy in leather moved in.
Later they found names from the turn of the century
Coming home one evening. The whole of being
Unknown absorbed into the stalk. A free
Bride on the rails warning to notice other
Hers and the great graves that outwore them
Like faces on a building, the lightning rod
Of a name calibrated all their musing differences.

Another day. Deliberations are recessed
In an iron-blue chamber of that afternoon
On which we wore things and looked well at
A slab of business rising behind the stars.

Cheops’ Chaos
-- by Geoffrey Cruickshabnk-Hagenbuckle

I’ll believe all idols evil
Every Order false even
Our Father ordure
Preach fevered snakes

Or axe of fire—
How often golden oxen crow

Over drowning men
Again grown sick of love

Anger is a river bird
Consciousness is an emotion

Issues of Genius
-- by Tina Celona

She is competing in a race in which one runs across water in flippers, and sidestrokes with someone else holding on. She is the slowest. Afterwards one tries to buy supper but can only afford U-need-a Biscuits.

She is reading the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and learning about genius.

Every morning she gets up to see her husband off, then goes back to bed. She wakes up around lunchtime and eats. Then goes back to bed until dinner. Then goes back to bed.

Her friend writes to tell her that Nietszche said genius is a fiction forged by those who put it on a pedestal so they don’t have to measure themselves with it, and that she (her friend) has decided she does not believe in genius, nor is interested in the question of genius, that she has decided this recently, if not life would be unlivable.

Gertrude Stein has a thing for genius. She has met three geniuses in her lifetime: Alfred Whitehead, Pablo Picasso, and herself. That is pretty few!

March 10, 2009

where you gonna be
where will you spend eternity
I'm gonna be perfect from now on
I'm gonna be perfect starting now

Ben Duke, Awakening as Self Identity Matrix

* Clusterfuck Nation. excerpt:

"At the risk of confirming my critics' dumbest charge -- that I am a 'doomer' -- the mandate of clarity requires me to ask: to what state of affairs do we expect to recover? If the answer is a return to an economy based on building ever more suburban sprawl, on credit card over-spending, on routine securitized debt shenanigans in banking, and on consistently lying to ourselves about what reality demands of us, then we are a mortally deluded nation. We're done with that, we're beyond that now, we've crossed the frontier and left that all behind, and we'd better get our heads straight about it.

"I maintain that there are countless constructive tasks waiting to occupy us on a long national "to do" list for rebuilding a national economy, but they are way different than the ones currently preoccupying government and the mainstream media. The Obama White House, Congress, and The New York Times are hung up on exercises in futility -- "rescuing" banks and insurance companies that cannot be rescued (because they are hopelessly trapped in "black hole" credit default swaps contracts), and re-starting a 'consumer' binge that was completely crazy in the first place, based, as it was, on a something-for-nothing standard-of-living.

Meanwhile, if the buzz on the blogosphere is a measure of anything -- and I think it is -- then a new consensus is forming out there about where to start doing things differently. Unfortunately after less than two months in office, President Obama finds himself awkwardly behind-the-curve on this. It begins with the understanding that a general bank rescue is hopeless and, going a step further, that the people who caused the train wreck of "innovative" securities have to be prosecuted. The public's collective voice on this is muted but growing. It has been muted by the general air of blackmail that the banks have used to enthrall policy and opinion -- the 'too big to fail' idea -- in effect holding the nation's future for ransom.

Last week, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo hauled Bank of America chief Ken Lewis into his office to explain who, exactly, received an aggregate several billion dollars in bonuses late in 2008 after the US Treasury forked over billions of dollars in TARP money to his bank. That was a good start. Mr. Lewis, being lawyered-up to the max, had the temerity to reply that answering the question would compromise his ability to keep talented people in his employ. For that impertinence alone, Mr. Lewis ought to be dragged over fifteen miles of broken chardonnay bottles behind a GMC Yukon -- but that is not how we do things in American jurisprudence. To be more realistic, a simple indictment would be in order, and then Mr. Lewis can answer this question, and a few others, in the comfort of an air-conditioned courtroom. Ultimately, that might lead to Mr. Lewis becoming the wife of a bodybuilder in one of New York State's houses of correction -- a just outcome that would go far in rejiggering the nation's expectations about how people in authority ought to behave. And such an outcome might lead to the conviction of many other brides-to-be from the Wall Street debutante pool."
"The bigger question for now is whether any of these authorities will act effectively before the public simply goes apeshit and starts burning down Greenwich, Connecticut. The dangerous shift in public mood is liable to occur with shocking swiftness, in the manner of "phase change," where one moment you see a bewildered bunch of flabby clown-citizens vacuously enraptured by 'American Idol,' and the next moment they are transformed into a vicious mob hoisting flaming brands to the window treatments of a hedge funder's McMansion. The moment of opportunity for avoiding that outcome is looking sickeningly slim right now.

"Another thing that President Obama can set into motion anytime -- and pull himself back to the head of the curve of leadership -- is to either by executive order or by proposal to congress, shut down the credit default swap system for a period of time while procedures are drawn up to place all these dubious contracts in a 'clearing' market, where the holders of them will have to come clean about what they're sitting on. The lack of this procedure is allowing zombie banks to hold the United States hostage for never-ending bail-out ransoms. None of these banks are going to survive another six months anyway, so the basic blackmail motif that the whole money system will collapse if ransoms are not paid is a bluff that has to be called sooner or later in any case. So Mr. Obama might as well get on with it.

"Once these two matters are dealt with -- an earnest start-up of prosecutions and disabling the credit default swap blackmail racket -- then perhaps a stressed-out and impoverished public might be induced to not go apeshit and instead get on with the mighty task of rebuilding our nation along lines that have a plausible future."

* Two new recordings from The Foreign Press -- Cutting Into Space and Certain Flowers Persist -- at our myspace page. Check them out.

* "When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained." -- Mark Twain

March 6, 2009

I never knew the bird could fly so low

John Gutmann, The Artist Lives Dangerously, San Francisco, 1938

-- by Mary Margaret Staples

Silliman’s blog

gives me a headache

His poetry

puts me to sleep

Silliman has the charisma

of a train wreck

the fascination

of a not-the-perp creep

Silliman has all the energy

He leaves all the self-doubt for me

Leave it to me to have an enemy

no one knows and who doesn’t know me

Silliman thinks he’s post-post-avant

as if dashes are chasms to leap

Silliman’s blog

gives me a headache

His poetry

puts me to sleep

Kleinzahler jumped bad on Keillor

for confusing a poem and a sermon

A difference of taste – French or German?

To the sick man his Ataturk healer,

the baby his rattle, the stylist her tone,

the soldier his battle, the angel her mercy. . .

Some rumble! No one even got decked!

The pot sticker calling the kettle drum

the N-word, collect

--- back Tuesday

Labels: , , ,

March 5, 2009

I am a racing horse
I am a grazing horse
I am your favorite hors

Julie Blackmon, Baby Toss, 2009

* Cuomo Subpoenas Merrill Top Earners. excerpt:

"New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has issued subpoenas to seven top executives at Merrill Lynch -- executives who earned more than $200 million last year, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

"The subpoenas, issued Wednesday, are part of Cuomo's investigation into whether Bank of America approved the bonus payments just ahead of its takeover of Merrill last year. Bank of America denies the charge, but has resisted Cuomo's efforts to get information about the bonuses, citing employee privacy.

"Merrill Lynch lost $27.6 billion last year, more than half of it in the fourth quarter after the Bank of America takeover was announced. The deal closed on January 1, leaving Bank of America -- which received federal bailout money -- saddled with the huge losses.

"The executives include Thomas Montag, former head of global trading for Merrill Lynch and now a top executive at Bank of America. He received $39 million in pay and millions in Merrill stock last year, according to a person familiar with Merrill Lynch's compensation. Also subpoenaed: investment banker Andrea Orcel, who received $33.8 million in 2008, a slight decline from the $36 million he received in 2007; David Sobotka, who ran the Merrill unit that included its mortgage-backed securities portfolio and suffered billions in writedowns in 2008, but collected $13 million in compensation last year; and former head of corporate strategy Peter Kraus.

"Kraus was recruited from Goldman Sachs in May by former Merrill CEO John Thain, but did not start at Merrill until September, just before the Bank of America takeover was announced. Kraus received $29.4 million from Merrill in 2008, even though his job did not survive the merger."

* angelic dynamo looks like an interesting project. "The idea is to create a
democratic poetry through a poetry magazine called 'Angelic Dynamo'. Simply, the readers vote on poems each week, and the winners are published. The readers become editors and central to the publishing process." check it out.

* "Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear but forgetting where you heard it." -- Laurence J. Peter

March 4, 2009

Money don't get me down but I can't make it last
I bite my nails and if that fails I go get myself stoned
But when I do I think of you and head myself back home


Cold Morning
-- by Eamon Grennan

Through an accidental crack in the curtain
I can see the eight o'clock light change from
charcoal to a faint gassy blue, inventing things

in the morning that has a thick skin of ice on it
as the water tank has, so nothing flows, all is bone,
telling its tale of how hard the night had to be

for any heart caught out in it, just flesh and blood
no match for the mindless chill that's settled in,
a great stone bird, its wings stretched stiff

from the tip of Letter Hill to the cobbled bay, its gaze
glacial, its hook-and-scrabble claws fast clamped
on every window, its petrifying breath a cage

in which all the warmth we were is shivering.

-- by Eamon Grennan

I was watching a robin fly after a finch—the smaller
chirping with excitement, the bigger, its breast blazing, silent
in light-winged earnest chase—when, out of nowhere
over the chimneys and the shivering front gardens,
flashes a sparrowhawk headlong, a light brown burn
scorching the air from which it simply plucks
like a ripe fruit the stopped robin, whose two or three
cheeps of terminal surprise twinkle in the silence
closing over the empty street when the birds have gone
about their business, and I began to understand
how a poem can happen: you have your eye on a small
elusive detail, pursuing its music, when a terrible truth
strikes and your heart cries out, being carried off.

-- by Donald Justice

It’s snowing this afternoon and there are no flowers.
There is only this sound of falling, quiet and remote,
Like the memory of scales descending the white keys
Of a childhood piano -- outside the window, palms!
And the heavy head of the cereus, inclining,
Soon to let down its white or yellow-white.

Now, only these poor snow-flowers in a heap,
Like the memory of a white dress cast down . . .
So much has fallen.

And I, who have listened for a step
All afternoon, hear it now, but already falling away,
Already in memory. And the terrible scales descending
On the silent piano; the snow; and the absent flowers abounding.

March 3, 2009

Genghis Khan
He could not keep
All his kings
Supplied with sleep

Jasper Johns, Target, 1958

* Excerpt from the initial part of a history of Mac's Merge.

"... Merge has a special place in my heart. For me, for a very, very long time, the term “indie rock” literally meant “Superchunk. And bands that sound similar to Superchunk.” My mind was made up about that soon after first hearing Tossing Seeds some time in the early ’90s.

"And I know I’m not alone in my fondness for Merge. In fact, all of us MBV’ers adore Merge, and I’m willing to bet that a substantial portion of you reading this right now feel similarly. That’s why, over the course of the next year, we’re going to devote some time here at MBV to look back at, and celebrate, the wonderful Merge catalog of these last 20 years. We hope you’ll come along for the ride, we hope you’ll join in on the conversations, and most of all, we hope you’ll enjoy all the great music we’re going to drop on you.


"Let us start at the beginning. It’s the summer of 1989… it’s a time when discovering alternatives to the prevalent musical dreck (all due respect to Nelson and E’Nuff Z’Nuff) wasn’t as easy as simply logging onto Hype Machine and downloading to your iPod. Getting your indie rock took a lot of work. The best music out there was out there in the real world, and it was being passed around in the form of tapes and small-batch 7-inches. And that summer of ‘89 marked the first time that the tapes and the small-batch 7-inches from a new label Merge Records began to appear. With a modest goal (putting out stuff by their band, Chunk, and some stuff by their friends), Mac MacCaughan and Laura Ballance launched Merge Records out of a bedroom in Chapel Hill, NC."

* This week, The New Yorker online feature an excerpt from the book David Foster Wallace was working on when he died, as well as Roger Angell's review of the new Joe Torre book.

* "The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something." -- Kurt Vonnegut

March 2, 2009

Listen, the snow is falling

Tim Hall, The Lesson

* Some advice for museums that suck. excerpt:

"My point is if your museum had the Venus de Milo, your museum wouldn’t suck. A priori. And you’d never have to stand up and tell the room your name, the museum you work for, and a little bit about your background before joining in a provocative group exchange session about how to stay relevant by leveraging Flickr.

"But you don’t have the Venus de Milo. So… what do you have instead?

"It’s a fair question. Nay, it’s the question. The Louvre has Venus. What do you have instead? If you can answer that question confidently and concisely without a lot of stimulating-the-following-target-audiences mission statement hooey–and your answer isn’t on SecondLife, then you may be one the few museums that doesn’t suck.

"You’re a museum, right? You’re not an outreach summercamp. You’re not an Imax theatre lobby. You’re not a social networking iPhone app. Be a museum. And try harder not to suck at it.

"You want a real lesson the museum industry can learn from successful web 2.0 initiatives? Be really good at what you’re interested in and other people who are also interested in that will get excited and involved. Be really good at what you’re interested in and other people who aren’t also interested in that… will do something else. Let them." (via)

* Klimbalan posts The Repair Manifesto.

* Listen to Leonard Cohen, live from the Beacon Theater.

* "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." -- Philo of Alexandria