Blogs

Awards, Not Bonuses

| Wed Feb. 11, 2009 1:54 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Wed Feb. 11, 2009 1:08 PM EST

AWARDS, NOT BONUSES....What do two failed investment banks that have received $60 billion in federal bailout cash do when they merge? Pay their people more! Sam Stein reports:

The soon-to-be-merged financial giants — Morgan Stanley and Citigroup's Smith Barney — announced the payments during an internal conference call last week, but warned advisers against describing them in terms that would cause PR headaches.

"There will be a retention award. Please do not call it a bonus," said James Gorman, co-president of Morgan Stanley. "It is not a bonus. It is an award. And it recognizes the importance of keeping our team in place as we go through this integration."

Yeah, there's nothing more important than keeping all these folks in place. There are so many other lucrative opportunities for them in the rest of the financial industry, after all. Yeesh.

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Fallen Soldiers

| Wed Feb. 11, 2009 1:53 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Wed Feb. 11, 2009 12:06 PM EST
FALLEN SOLDIERS....Following a question at Monday's press conference, the Obama administration is reviewing a longstanding policy that prevents the media from photographing flag-draped coffins being returned from war zones:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested today that he was open to allowing the media to photograph the flag-draped coffins of fallen soldiers as their bodies and remains are returned to the United States.

"If the needs of the families can be met and the privacy concerns can be addressed, the more honor we can accord these fallen heroes, the better," Mr. Gates told reporters.

That's the right attitude. I've been in favor of allowing reporters to record the return of fallen soldiers for years, and the Bush administration stand on this never made any sense to me. Yes, of course the pictures could be used to stoke antiwar sentiment, but the same can be said for any war-related photography. At the same time, they can also do just the opposite. But in a democracy, this is all irrelevant anyway. These are American soldiers fighting an American war, and the American public has a right to see the price of that war. This is a policy that deserves to be overturned forthwith.

(Slight) Good News in the Israeli Elections: Obama Might Be Forced To Intervene

| Wed Feb. 11, 2009 1:09 PM EST

When the chief political correspondent of Ha'aretz says that the Israeli elections have produced a "big mess," you know there's trouble. And that's how Akiva Eldar put it during an interview conducted shortly after exit polls indicated that Tzipi Livni and her centrist Kadima party won 28 Knesset seats to the 26 won by Likud, led by hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu. (Likud ended up winning 27 seats.) You can hear the interview here.

Eldar said he was "confused" by the results, which place tipping-point power in the hands of ultra-hardliner Avigdor Lieberman's radical right/rabid nationalist party, Yisrael Belteinu, which won 15 seats. (Labor finished fourth with 13 seats.) But Eldar did note that these results had a slightly positive element, given that Netanyahu and Likud had been predicted to place first: "The good news is that Tzipi Livni [who supports negotiating toward a two-state solution]...ended up with a couple of more Knesset seats than Netanyahu. That's a big surprise." But it seems unlikely she will be able to form a government. One possible--probable?--outcome is a government dominated by Netanyahu, who will owe plenty to Lieberman and his fanatics. "The next government," Eldar noted, "will have to include the...radical right party [and] that will paralyze it." Translation: there will be no peace process.

But Eldar saw another small--make that, very small--bit of good news in that.

Dobson's Focus on the Family Out-Hates the Mormons

| Wed Feb. 11, 2009 12:16 PM EST

Guess who is just as bad (and possibly worse) than intolerant, fundamentalist Mormons? Intolerant, fundamentalist Christians. The Colorado Independent has the story:

Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family gave $727,250 in cash and services to the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 campaign in California, according to records released by the California secretary of state, including a $100,000 check in late October, just days before the evangelical media empire announced it planned to lay off nearly 20 percent of its employees.

While there has been public scrutiny of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its attempts to influence the campaign to reverse a California Supreme Court ruling allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, Focus on the Family and related donors pumped more than six times as much as the Mormon church did into the ProtectMarriage.com campaign, records show.

In sum, the Independent reports, Focus on the Family and its sister groups gave a stunning $1.25 million to the Yes on 8 movement, including $50,000 in seed money a year before the election. It is worth noting that the largest benefactor supporting Proposition 8 was not Focus on the Family. It was the Knights of Columbus, the Connecticut-based political arm of the Catholic Church.

For more on where the Christian Right is taking the country, see our cover package "God and Country."

Livni or Netanyahu? Israeli Prime Minister TBD by Radical Lieberman (Not That One)

| Wed Feb. 11, 2009 5:28 AM EST
After Israel's  tight election for prime minister Kadima Party moderate Tzipi Livni is now just ahead of right-wing Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu (with 28 vs. 27 seats in the Knesset). But the real power sits with rising radical Avigdor Liebermanan ultra-conservative who wants to establish a blanket denial of all Arabs for citizenshipwho can throw his support to either to determine who becomes prime minister. (He said he's open to talking with both but will no doubt side with fellow hard-liner Netanyahu.)


This is not good news.

Sirius XM Prepares for Possible Bankruptcy

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 9:25 PM EST

Sirius XM, the satellite broadcaster who only recently combined their previously-competitive channel offerings and cut a whole bunch of the popular stations, suddenly has an even more uncertain future. The company is preparing for a possible bankrupty filing, which "could come within days," according to the New York Times. However, this may just be a crazy high-stakes cat-and-mouse game with EchoStar/Dish Network bigwig Charles Ergen, who controls a whole bunch of Sirius' bulging debt. Ergen would apparently have to make a formal offer to purchase the company sooner than later if he wanted to avoid the bankruptcy mess, so it's kind of like Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin (formerly in charge of former Party Ben employer CBS awesome radio!) is saying pony up or watch us go bye-bye. Gutsy!

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Are Non-Stick Chemicals And Aging Dads More Dangerous To Babies Than Cocaine?

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 8:21 PM EST
Last week the New York Times printed good news about a worrisome issue in childhood development. As it turns out, children whose mothers used cocaine during pregnancy have only slightly lower IQ scores than children whose mothers didn't use. The difference between the children's scores was so low it was deemed "scientifically insignificant." In fact, the effect of alcohol on the fetus is more detrimental than cocaine's, while tobacco's is about the same. But potential parents have some other science to consider this week. In the latest issue of Human Reproduction scientists found that women with higher levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs, or the chemicals that make products "non-stick") in their blood had more trouble getting pregnant. Women with higher levels of the two main chemicals—PFOA and PFOS—were up to 154 percent more likely to be infertile. Exposure is a particular problem for developed countries like the US, where eight percent of women of childbearing age have consulted a doctor about infertility. And, like we've said before, Teflon is forever.

Men's Health Worst Foods: Healthy List or Sneaky Ad?

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 7:16 PM EST
Image by flickr user Matt NichollsFrom Men's Health magazine comes a list of the worst foods in America of 2009. By "worst" Men's Health means worst for your body; by "food" the magazine means products or menu items. The list is basically a catalog of the fattest prepared foods in America.

Topping said list is Baskin Robbins' infamous Large Chocolate Oreo Shake, which with 2,600 calories (about 400 more calories than I consume in a day) and 263 grams of sugar (that's equal to about 18 cupcakes), is essentially a heart attack in a disposable cup. Ian Froeb at the St. Louis Riverfront Times tried the Oreo Shake last month and found the taste and color somewhat wanting:

The Six Worst Tax Cuts in the Senate's Stimulus

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 7:00 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Tue Feb. 10, 2009 7:00 PM EST

After a week of debate and a round of stumping from President Obama, the Senate passed its version of the economic stimulus package on Tuesday afternoon.

The bill outlines $840 billion in spending and tax relief, and just after the votes were tallied, Citizens for Tax Justice released its list (PDF) of the six worst tax cuts—costing $123 billion more than the House bill—in the Senate's stimulus:

Today's Healthcare News

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 6:19 PM EST

TODAY'S HEALTHCARE NEWS....Just in case you've been getting a little too optimistic about the prognosis for serious healthcare reform this year, here's a couple of pieces of light reading to bring you down to earth.

First up, the Wall Street Journal explains that a $1.1 billion provision in the stimulus bill to fund research comparing medical treatments is in trouble. Why? Because pharma and device companies don't really want anyone finding out just how effective their treatments are. Full story here.

Second, Michelle Cottle deconstructs a story about a lobbying war over electronic medical records. Pretty much everyone from Tom Daschle to Newt Gingrich is in favor of this, so what's the problem? Answer: drug companies want to make sure that privacy provisions don't prevent them from paying hospitals and pharmacies to hawk their latest wonder drugs to their customers. Full post here.

Just another day in the healthcare trenches. I can hardly wait til we get to the hard stuff.