Monday, August 25, 2008

BBC NEWS | Africa | Sudan 'kills refugees in Darfur'

BBC NEWS | Africa | Sudan 'kills refugees in Darfur': "Sudanese troops have opened fire inside a Darfur refugee camp, leaving 27 people dead, a rebel group has said.

Some 100 government trucks surrounded the Kalma camp, home to some 90,000 people who have fled their homes in Darfur, a rebel spokesman told the BBC.

There is no independent confirmation of the reports but international sources have been told that Sudan wants to disarm the camp's residents.

More than two million people have fled five years of conflict in Darfur.

Ahmed Abdel Shafie, who heads a faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army, told the BBC that the government wants to force people to leave the camp."

Another rebel leader puts the number of those killed higher. Abdel Wahed Mohamed al-Nur, said that 50 people had been killed.

"This really is a catastrophe. People are being killed while the world just watches," he said.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Seriously, maybe we are little less stupid?

CHURCH AND STATE.... About a week ago, at the candidate forum at Saddleback Church, the Rev. Rick Warren kicked off the event with a fairly straightforward message: "We believe in the separation of church and state, but we do not believe in the separation of faith and politics."

As it turns out, a growing number of Americans disagree.

For the first time in more than a decade, a narrow majority of Americans say churches should stay out of politics, according to a poll released today by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The results suggest a potentially significant shift among conservative voters in particular. In 2004, 30% of conservatives said the church should stay out of politics while today 50% of conservatives today express that view.

Conservatives are now more in line with moderates and liberals when it comes to their views on mixing religion and politics. "Similarly, the sharp divisions between Republicans and Democrats that previously existed on this issue have disappeared," Pew reports.

The results are encouraging, and more than a little surprising. In the decade between 1996 and 2006, Pew Forum surveys showed a stable trend -- a narrow majority of Americans wanted houses of worship to be publicly engaged in policy debates. Now, the numbers have reversed, and a narrow majority wants ministries to "stay out."

There's bound to be debate as to how this trend developed, but my best guess would be a combination of public disgust for the religious right movement and the unpopularity of George W. Bush, who has been enthusiastic in mixing religion and politics.

That said, I suppose the next politically salient question is how this might affect the 2008 race. The conventional wisdom suggests Barack Obama has been more proactive in adding a religious component to his campaign than John McCain, which might help the Democrat connect with the faithful.

But what if, after eight years of Bush, voters are moving in the other direction?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hell yes we need this!

Friends with benefits

They're there for you in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad -- and yet where the law is concerned, your friends don't mean squat. According to The Boston Globe, however, some scholars think this should change: They think that friendship should be granted legal recognition, with some of the rights and privileges restricted to family expanded to include designated friends.

"These could be invoked on a case-by-case basis," explains the Globe, "eligibility to take time off to care for a sick friend under an equivalent of the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example. Or they could take the form of an official legal arrangement between two friends, designating a bundle of mutual rights and privileges ... One scholar even suggests giving friends standing in the tax code, allowing taxpayers to write off certain 'friend expenditures.'" The result would be, as Laura Rosenbury, a law professor at Washington University, put it, legally recognized "friends with benefits."

I think some aspects of the idea would be more of a bureaucratic hassle than they'd be worth, like the idea of adapting the tax code to allow for "friend expenditures." But others make good sense; as Jane Gross points out in a related article in the New York Times, having a legal arrangement with a friend would be very beneficial for single, childless people worried about who might care for them in old age. As the Globe points out, "If a person is incapacitated and has no functional familial relationships, friends are not typically permitted to make medical decisions, unless designated in advance. Hospitals often restrict visitors to kin, or allow family members to vet visitors, which can cause anguish when friends and families come into conflict."

That's why David Chambers, a law professor at the University of Michigan, suggests "permitting people to register as 'designated friends' with mutual benefits and obligations. The friends would have the right (and duty) to make financial and medical decisions on each other's behalf in case of incapacitation; they'd have the same medical leave and testimonial privileges as spouses; and if one died without a will, the other would be entitled to a share of the estate."

So what do you think? In an age where more and more Americans are single and childless, does it make sense to grant legal rights to their friends? Or are there certain rights and privileges that should be reserved for family members and spouses?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

55 men netted in 8-month Calif. child porn probe - Yahoo! News

55 men netted in 8-month Calif. child porn probe - Yahoo! News: "LOS ANGELES - Authorities say a California sheriff's deputy and an attorney were among 55 men charged with possessing child pornography after an eight-month investigation.

The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles says the suspects used peer-to-peer networks to exchange graphic images and videos, then stored the files.

U.S. attorney's office spokesman Thom Mrozek (tom MROH'-zek) says San Luis Obispo County Deputy Bryan Jon Goossens and attorney Thomas Merdzinski of San Bernardino are among those charged."

NC man dies after waiting 22 hours at hospital - Yahoo! News

"RALEIGH, N.C. - A mental patient died after workers at a North Carolina hospital left him in a chair for 22 hours without feeding him or helping him use the bathroom, said federal officials who have threatened to cut off the facility's funding.

The state sent a team Tuesday to help Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro draft new procedures to ensure patients receive proper care."

Career women are their own worst enemies: study - Yahoo! News

"Women did not create the glass ceiling, the invisible barrier blamed for limiting their ability to earn what they're worth, but they help maintain it," Goodson said.

"Being able to draw attention to your contributions and competencies at work has become an important part of modern career management, and it is something most women are still unwilling or unable to do as consistently as their male counterparts," she added.

Goodson's research found that while most men had no qualms about touting their contributions, and even sometimes lying about them, women still cling to the myth that self-promotion is "socially unacceptable," "unlady-like" and "morally suspect."

Friday, August 15, 2008

The world might suck, but Boston rocks!

Daily Kos: Two Boston Sheet Metal Workers Put Selves In Harm's Way to Rescue Commuter: "The story of the Labor Movement is filled with millions of stories, many of which are never reported.

This week, one of those stories was.

Yesterday, two members of Sheet Metal Workers Local 17 in Boston were honored for rescuing a commuter who had fallen onto the train tracks at Boston's North Station.

The commuter, a man in his mid 50's, had stumbled off the platform and fallen five feet onto the tracks with his arms resting inches away from the 600 volt third rail.

The two sheet metal workers, A.J. Pugliese, Jr. and Robert Johnson, Jr. heard the shouts for help from several commuters standing on the platform. In a video released by the MBTA, the two men are seen springing into action while risking their own safety by crossing the electrified third rail and dragging the unconscious commuter to safety."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The world continues to suck....

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A man barged into the Arkansas Democratic headquarters and opened fire Wednesday, fatally shooting the state party chairman before speeding off in his pickup. Police later shot and killed the suspect after a 30-mile chase

LAVONIA, Ga. - When police finally searched the squat white mobile home where they say a man held his family captive for three years, the place was so filthy and bug-infested that one officer had to wear a gas mask and another refused to continue.

Finally, a real time thought: Beyond credit card loans, when you are raising senior debt at 6.5%, as Citigroup (C) did yesterday with it's $3 billion senior debt issue, I am not sure what you can finance with a positive spread in today's market. Regrettably, the days of capital destructive debt issuance have begun.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Intel Shows You How a QSERP Works

In just one year (2005) Intel Corp. moved $200 million of deferred IOU obligations from their high-income executives’ non-qualified deferred compensation pension into the rank-and-file’s pension plan through a QSERP. And then turned right around and "contributed" $187 million back in cash to the plan – which they then claimed as a tax deduction.

So when an executive retires, Intel won’t have to pay him/her – the tax-deferred workers’ pension plan will. And that $187 million Intel "contribution" generated an immediate tax break of $65 million for Intel.

That means that you, as a taxpayer, not only just helped compensate Intel’s already wealthy executives retirement, but also got stuck covering the lost revenue resulting from Intel’s $65 million tax write-off. And that was just for one year.

Additionally bothersome is the fact that Intel manipulated the IRS rules so that well over 50% of the tax-deferred money in their rank-and-file pension plan (which is supposed to be designated for worker-bees) is now dedicated to compensating just 4% - that’s right, just 4% of Intel’s entire work force ... the high-income executives.

Plus those rich executives, rather than being required by the law to pay taxes on what they would have withdrawn from their own non-tax deferred pension plans, are now able to roll their wealth over into an IRA – thus further sheltering their money. And that cost you, the taxpayer, even more lost revenues.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Of course they knew...

S&P emails slammed mortgage debt products: report - Yahoo! News: "CHICAGO (Reuters) - Analysts at Standard & Poor's Rating Services warned against mortgage-related debt products in internal e-mails that, in one case, called the complex financial deals 'ridiculous,' the Wall Street Journal reported in its weekend edition."

In one email message, an S&P analyst called a mortgage or structured finance deal "ridiculous" and wrote "we should not be rating it."

In another email, an S&P manager said ratings agencies were helping to create an "even bigger monster -- the CDO (collateralized debt obligation) market. Let's hope we are all wealthy and retired by the time this house of card falters."

Friday, August 01, 2008

The nearly unbearable speed of things

It has seemed to me that ones life has a cadence to it and mine has the unfortunate quality of going along an enjoyable rhythm for awhile and then dashing into an unpleasant mix of Mozart, Slayer & the angry Sinead O'Connor.

And since I am trying to be both present in the moment and approach life with compassion, this most recent bout of dissonance seems only more frustrating. The meditation and change in philosophy is forcing me to reckon with trains of thought long since discarded.

I struggle much more concretely on a daily basis to decide how I want to operate in the world and while I understand its necessary, I get frustrated because I thought a lot of this work was done, but it is not and maybe it is never really done and that is the essence of this thing we call life. and well goody fucking who. It is demotivating to think that anytime you feel like you are doing it right its really just a brief pause on that particular plateau and there is no apex of the mountain. I am tired.