Three Quick Friday Hits

September 18, 2009

  • Three interesting items appeared in the New York Times today – here is the first…

    Compared with the immense size of the stimulus program, the actual number of arrests so far has been microscopic. Earl E. Devaney, the chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the watchdog for stimulus money, said recently that federal prosecutors were looking at only nine stimulus-related cases, including accusations of Social Security fraud and of businesses improperly claiming to be owned by women and members of minorities.

    “Quite frankly, I’m a little surprised it’s that small,” Mr. Devaney testified recently before the Senate, explaining that his office passes along questionable expenses to the various federal inspector general offices following the money, as well as to the Department of Justice. “I know, from talking to them, they’re very interested in sending some very loud signals early, as often as they can, with this money.”

    The small number of cases is partly a function of how much stimulus money has been spent so far, and how it has been spent. While more than $150 billion of it has been pumped into the economy, according to a recent report by the White House, some $62.6 billion of that was in the form of tax cuts. Of the rest, $38.4 billion was sent to states for fiscal relief; $30.6 billion was spent to help those affected by the recession by expanding unemployment benefits and other safety-net programs, and $16.5 billion was spent in areas like infrastructure, technology and research.

    It should have been about $62 billion in infrastructure and $16.5 billion in tax cuts, but what’s done is done.

    And as noted here, FBI Director Robert Mueller has issued a warning about potential fraud arising in the future over the “stim.” Mueller has also issued warnings about mortgage and white collar business fraud in the past, which is probably the prudent thing to do. Basically, I wouldn’t read too much into his warning today by itself, unless further evidence of “stim” fraud arises of course.

  • Here is the second item, including the following…

    LOS ANGELES — Government auditors reported Thursday that the effort to secure the Mexican border with technology and fences has fallen years behind schedule, will cost billions of dollars extra in maintenance costs and has no clear means of gauging whether illegal crossings have been curtailed.

    Mark Borkowski, who directs the Secure Border Initiative for the Department of Homeland Security, stood by the program as “transformational,” but did not challenge the findings. “We are as frustrated as anybody is” with the setbacks, Mr. Borkowski said in an interview.

    The report, by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s watchdog, said the department had fallen about seven years behind its goal of putting in place the technology the Bush administration had heavily promoted when it announced the Secure Border Initiative in 2005.

    And by the way…

    The apprehension of illegal immigrants at the border has fallen to lows not seen in decades, but scholars and Mexican officials say the recession and the lack of jobs in the United States have contributed to the drop.

    So aside from despoiling habitat, there really is no way to gauge whether or not the “fence” is any good, is there? Pathetic.

  • And speaking of environmental disasters, here is the third story…

    WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is investigating whether a former secretary of the interior, Gale A. Norton, violated the law by granting valuable leases to Royal Dutch Shell around the time she was considering going to work for the company after she left office, officials said Thursday.

    The officials said investigators had recently turned up information suggesting that Ms. Norton had had discussions while in office with Royal Dutch Shell about future career opportunities. In early 2006, Ms. Norton’s department awarded three tracts in Colorado to a Shell subsidiary for shale exploration. In December 2006, she joined Shell as the company’s general counsel in the United States for unconventional oils, a company spokeswoman said.

    The existence of a federal criminal investigation was first reported Thursday by The Los Angeles Times.

    Ms. Norton, 55, was President George W. Bush’s first interior secretary. In that job, she was an ally of Vice President Dick Cheney in the administration’s general approach of opening up more federal lands for energy exploration.

    Gaylie, Gaylie, how does your garden grow (I mean, before the ground beneath it is ripped apart for natural gas exploration, leaving it utterly useless).

    By the way, this post celebrating Norton’s resignation from Interior three years ago contains a link to an Inquirer Op-Ed from Norton claiming that it’s “time for the denial to end” on drilling in the Alaska Natural Wildlife Refuge.

    If Norton is eventually found guilty, I have an idea for her sentencing (speaking of “the mountains she loves so much”). As someone who should have acted as a steward of the environment, I believe she should be forced to parachute into the Rockies with food and water rations for about a week, along with a Swiss army knife. From that point, she’s on her own.

  • Male Bashing At The Inky? “Y” Not?

    April 15, 2009

    Yes, this actually appeared on the pages of Philadelphia’s newspaper conservative house organ of record today (from here)…

    Guys, if you are between 18 and 50 and work in finance, do your country a favor: Get a handle on the potential economy-killer that’s running through your veins, and have yourself tested.

    We need to know if you’re a carrier of toxic testosterone.

    Not all of you are financial accidents waiting to happen. But some of you are operating at levels that require serious adult supervision.

    We know how you hate pain, so let me assure you that it won’t hurt. Just a simple saliva test, and we can tell if you are high-risk. I can even recommend a doctor.

    See, the author is arguing here that “toxic testosterone” is behind the near-ruin of our financial markets.

    Gee, silly me; I thought it was due to lax-to-non-existent government oversight, continued inflation of the housing bubble long beyond the point where any life form with more than a single cell of brain matter knew it would burst (advocated notably by our supposed financial geniuses including former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan), and buyers either obtaining home mortgages without even the slightest qualifications or borrowing relentlessly against the ever-shrinking equity of their property.

    But it’s all the fault of males only because of that dreaded testosterone! A-HA!

    Given that supposed revelation, I hate to break the news to Susan Antilla of Bloomberg, but here it is; women are guilty of financial indiscretions also.

    As noted here, former John McCain campaign adviser (and retired eBay Executive) Meg Whitman “received a ‘package’ worth $10 million in 2007, including $787,936 for personal air travel, and still draws $1.2 million a year as a ‘special adviser’.”

    OK, I’ll grant you that that doesn’t exactly qualify as a financial “indiscretion.” However, does anyone think Whitman rates a package like that given the fact that, while with eBay, she bought the Internet calling service Skype for $2.6 billion, and Skype has only made back $551 million as a result (noted here)?

    The link above to the prior post concerning Whitman also tells us the tale of Carly Fiorina, another former McCain adviser and former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, whose compensation was slashed from $10 million in 2002 to $6 million in 2003 due to “poor performance,” though she still walked away with a $42 million severance package in 2005.

    And this tells us of former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, who was elected in 1992 with the help of “voter suppression tactics” admitted by Ed Rollins, her campaign manager at the time. She also cut the workforce of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, resulting in Whitman earning a grade of “c minus” from “a coalition of environmental and public-policy groups” for her handling of environmental issues.

    Also, upon completion of her term as governor, she formed the Whitman Strategy Group and took the chemical company FMC as her first client, which was responsible for cleaning up arsenic-contaminated soil (FMC was responsible for 136 Superfund sites across the country … and had been subject to 47 EPA enforcement actions, according to Source Watch).

    (Yes, I know we’re here to talk about financial indiscretions, and these don’t directly qualify. However, I think it shows that high-profile women know how to use and abuse power at least as well as men.)

    And last but certainly least, this tells us how former Bushco Interior Secretary Gale Norton bailed as soon as her financial exposure to a certain Jack Abramoff was revealed in the cold light of day.

    Oh, and did I mention that, in the article, Antilla appears to endorse the idea of men taking female hormones “to tone down…aggression”?

    Perhaps a bit of “toxic testosterone” was at work in some of the money market machinations Antilla is talking about. But only a bit.

    Besides, toxic punditry beats that by a mile.

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