Category Archives: You’re Not Helping!

Black Socks, Black Cleats And Black Shin Guards

Our enthusiasm for the sport aside, this seems to go beyond even the 1919 Black Sox Scandal:

Football is being used as a vehicle for money laundering, according to an agency responsible for tracking the proceeds of crime.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) report warns football is at risk from criminals buying clubs, transferring players, and betting on the sport.

It also provides a rare insight into tax evasion in British football.

The report also raises concerns over human trafficking, corruption, drug trafficking and tax crime in the sport.

My Fair VP

This time, a coordinated message but Vice-President Biden still sounds off key:

President Obama branded Wall Street bankers “shameful” on Thursday for giving themselves nearly $20 billion in bonuses as the economy was deteriorating and the government was spending billions to bail out some of the nation’s most prominent financial institutions.

“There will be time for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses,” Mr. Obama said during an appearance in the Oval Office with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. “Now’s not that time. And that’s a message that I intend to send directly to them, I expect Secretary Geithner to send to them.”

. . .

Mr. Obama’s message on Thursday was reinforced by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who pledged in an interview with CNBC and The New York Times that the government would spend the remaining $350 billion of the troubled assets money “wisely and prudently and transparently.”

Mr. Biden said that he, like the president, was outraged by reports of large bonuses going to Wall Street executives.

“I’d like to throw these guys in the brig,” he said. “They’re thinking the same old thing that got us here, greed. They’re thinking, ‘Take care of me.’”

Maybe You Forgot About The 2003 Dividend Tax Cut?

Ron Suskind’s “telling lessons” illustrate the genesis of the 2003 Dividend Tax Cut and Sarbanes-Oxley, which is to say, the Administration acted quickly to address structural flaws in the financial system:

The Federal Reserve chairman and senior economic officials of the Bush administration solemnly filed into the large conference room of the Treasury Department. There was a sense of urgency, an understanding that drastic action — restructuring the financial landscape of corporate America — was desperately needed.

. . .

The crisis of that moment was the implosion of Enron, Global Crossing and other companies. Along with conflicts of interest and criminally creative bookkeeping, the culprit was often a combination of financial complexity and insanely expensive compensation packages.

Enron is long gone, but this episode — as much a warning for our financial security as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was to the threat of wider terrorism — carries some telling lessons as our best minds struggle now to save the economy.

The meeting, recounted to me by Paul O’Neill, Mr. Bush’s first Treasury secretary, and several other participants, was something of a showdown. Everyone came armed for battle, none more than Mr. Greenspan and Mr. O’Neill, who railed that day like a pair of blue-suited Jeremiahs. Their colloquy on economic policy and corporate practice, which began when they were senior officials in the Ford administration, had evolved over three decades.

To the surprise of many younger men in the room, the duo opened by reminiscing about a bygone era when the value of a company’s stock was assessed by how strong a dividend was paid. It was a standard that demanded tough, tangible choices. Everything, of course, came out of the same pot of cash, from executive compensation and capital improvements to the dividend — which could be spent by a shareholder or reinvested in more company stock as a show of support.

In contrast to dividends, Mr. Greenspan intoned, “Earnings are a very dubious measure” of corporate health. “Asset values are, after all, just based on a forecast,” he said, and a chief executive can “craft” an earnings statement in misleading ways.

Speaking with a hard-edged frankness rarely heard in public — and seeing that those assembled were not sharing his outrage — Mr. Greenspan slapped the table. “There’s been too much gaming of the system,” he thundered. “Capitalism is not working! There’s been a corrupting of the system of capitalism.”

Mr. O’Neill, for his part, pushed to alter the threshold for action against chief executives from “recklessness” — where a difficult finding of willful malfeasance would be necessary for action against a corporate chief — to negligence. That is, if a company went south, the boss could face a hard-eyed appraisal from government auditors and be subject to heavy fines and other penalties. By matching upside rewards with downside consequences — a bracing idea for the corner office — Messrs. O’Neill and Greenspan hoped fear would compel the titans of business to enforce financial discipline, full public disclosure and probity down the corporate ranks.

But they were in the minority. . . .

The Wrong Way To Encourage People To “Live Green” . . .

. . . is using the example of being forced to set your thermostat at 60 as “a teachable moment”:

Conservationists swoon at the possibility of it all. Here in Alaska, where melting arctic ice and eroding coastlines have made global warming an urgent threat, this little city has cut its electricity use by more than 30 percent in a matter of weeks, instantly establishing itself as a role model for how to go green, and fast.

Comfort has been recalibrated. The public sauna has been closed and the lights have been dimmed at the indoor community pool. At the library, one of the two elevators was shut down after someone figured out it cost 20 cents for each round trip. The thermostat at the convention center was dialed down eight degrees, to 60. The marquee outside is dark.

Schoolchildren sacrifice Nintendo time and boast at show-and-tell of kilowatts saved. Hotels consult safety regulations to be sure they have not unscrewed too many light bulbs in the hallways. On a recent weekday, all but one of the dozens of television screens on display at the big Fred Meyer store were black — off, that is.

Yet even as they embrace a fluorescent future, the 31,000 residents of Juneau, the state capital, are not necessarily doing it for the greater good. They face a more local inconvenient truth. Electricity rates rocketed about 400 percent after an avalanche on April 16 destroyed several major transmission towers that delivered more than 80 percent of the city’s power from a hydroelectric dam about 40 miles south.

“People are suddenly interested in talking about their water heaters,” said Maria Gladziszewski, who handles special projects for the city manager’s office. “As they say, it’s a teachable moment.”

Life in modern times is better than any other time in history because we have electricity to do these things. If that’s what conservationists “swoon” at then, sorry, I’m not there with them. Let the kids play Nintendo — it’s better than sitting in a dark, cold room in Juneau.

Please, tell me this doesn’t sound like one of the establishing shots in “Children of Men”:

With the first bills based on the increased rate scheduled to be sent out this week, fear is in the air. So is the laundry. Dryers eat up watts, and local stores ran out of clothespins because so many people started hanging their laundry outside. Never mind that it rains 220 days of the year and rarely gets truly warm here amid the fjords and forests of the Inside Passage.

“It takes about two days to get them dry,” Linda Augustine, 66, an elementary school teacher, said as she used plastic clothes hangers to dry blue jeans and T-shirts under the awning on the back porch of her mobile home. “And I don’t iron my clothes now. You massage them to get the wrinkles out while they’re still on the hanger.”

Meeting the energy challenge of the 21st century!

“It’s Like An Airplane”

Maybe you trust this man to make smart environmental policy? I wouldn’t:

Representative Anthony D. Weiner, Democrat of Brooklyn and Queens, drives a 2008 Chevrolet Impala, leased for $219 a month. Representative Michael R. McNulty, a Democrat from the Albany area, gets around in a 2007 Mercury Mariner hybrid, a sport utility vehicle, for $816 a month.

“It gets a little better than 25 miles a gallon,” Mr. McNulty said.

Charles B. Rangel, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is not so caught up in the question of gas mileage. He leases a 2004 Cadillac DeVille for $777.54 a month. The car is 17 feet long with a 300-horsepower engine and seats five comfortably.

“It’s one of the bigger Cadillacs,” Mr. Rangel, of Harlem, said cheerfully this week. “I’ve got a desk in it. It’s like an airplane.”

Modest or more luxurious, the cars are all paid for by taxpayers. The use of a car — gas included — is one of the benefits of being a member of the House of Representatives.

There are few restrictions on what kind of car the members can choose, and there is no limit on how much they can spend. But the benefit can be politically sensitive, given the growing concerns about automobile emissions and an economy that has left many people struggling to pay for the rapidly rising cost of gas, which was averaging $3.63 a gallon nationwide earlier this week.

Not only does the federal government pick up the cost of the lease and the gas, but also general maintenance, insurance, registration fees and excess mileage charges. The perk itself may draw heightened attention in the coming weeks as members of Congress consider proposals to address gas prices, including one to suspend temporarily the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon.

Congressional records show that about 125 members of the House make use of the benefit, which has been in place since at least the 1980s and is part of the allowance provided for their office operations. They include Representatives Charlie Melancon of Louisiana (2007 Chevy Tahoe), Bobby L. Rush of Illinois (2007 Lincoln Navigator) and Alcee L. Hastings of Florida (2006 Infiniti M45).

The Senate does not permit its members to lease cars with public money.