Thursday, September 29, 2016

Book Report: Eat Drink and Remarry, by Margo Howard

Margo Howard
Depressing affairs of state (we made a punny, get it?) and the office of Douglas County Clerk of the District Court John Friend have conspired to make us tardy in handing in our book report on Eat, Drink and Remarry.
     After noticing a tweet we sent about something Howard covered in her book (She follows @AKSARBENT) she offered to send us a copy, which was on our reading list anyway. We declined, not because we can't be bought (and cheaply), but because reading a library copy already cheated Howard out of a royalty and we weren't going to make the situation any worse. (Howard hardly needs the dough, but still...)
     We thought the book would be a madcap, irreverent romp through Howard's four marriages, but the breakup of any marriage, no matter how civil, and especially when children are involved, is never a frivolous thing and Howard (at the end of the day) is a serious person, not a Kardashian, though she probably does get more fun out of life than you do. (Also, she doesn't write endless, run-on sentences, like we do.)
     Her books aren't like her daily flow of witty, pitiless twitter comments (@Margoandhow), although in either she is as likely to wickedly mock herself as anyone else.
     Consider her marital memoir more of a "Here's the chronicle of my three divorces and my cool analysis of what I did wrong so you don't have to go through the same thing, toots."
     AKSARBENT's mom, who also went through three marriages before finding "Mr. Right #4," could have benefited from the counsel, but she was learning about marriage via the school of hard knocks a few years earlier than Ms. Howard.
     We think you should get Eat, Drink and Remarry before you read one more weightless, ghost-written-by-a-hack, self-serving celebrity memoir filled with numbskull name-dropping and contrived, cliched and peekaboo sexual titillation.
     (Howard, who was once baby-sat by Liz Taylor, can drop names too, but unlike most well-known people who flog books about themselves, she is a crackerjack writer.)
She also has experience in marital woes as a (retired) popular advice columnist who routinely sprinkled her answers with entertaining and witty snark while somehow managing to mock neither the advice seeker nor the problem before offering a workable solution, when possible.
     Even Howard's more successful mother, Ann Landers, didn't usually pull off as much flair as her daughter — or Miss Manners' Judith Martin, for that matter — regularly mustered in her answers. (The obvious retort to any idiot who would accuse Howard of being the mere beneficiary of nepotism would be: "Why don't you try actually reading her stuff, fool, and you'll realize that talent often runs in families.")
     In the book, Howard addressed that baseless charge of nepotism made when she worked as a columnist for a Chicago paper that competed with the one for which her mother worked, explaining that pedigree never works in journalism. This is absolutely true: readers don't care to whom you're related. If you don't have the chops, they won't read you and that's a fact, Jack.
     As for the book's sober wisdom, we'll leave you with this particularly insightful excerpt, though we could have chosen half a dozen others. (The excerpt probably exceeds the 75-word review limit, but Howard is not the litigious type, as long as you don't push her too far.)
     Though I may not have been aware of what I was doing, I had put myself through the test of deciding when enough is enough. Over the years countless readers wrote to me, asking, in essence, "How do you know when things are unfixable, and how do you know when enough is enough?" All marriages, certainly, involve putting up with things you wish were different, making allowances and figuring out where irritants fit on the importance scale. Sometimes a rocky marriage can be repaired, and sometimes it can't. I think a person knows when it's not worth trying anymore if, in the dark of night, they just know that anything would be better than what's going on. Making that determination is not unlike the Supreme Court decision regarding pornography: you may not be able to define it, but you know it when you see it.

NU Regent Hal Daub is "not pleased" that Coach Riley backed 3 football players' free speech right to kneel during National Anthem

Daub denied saying that three black players "had better get kicked off the team." The Lincoln Journal Star says he said exactly that and quoted him. What Riley said that displeased Regent Daub was this:
"Nobody is going to see this in the same way, just like I think that's the way that's going out there in the world right now. So there's going to be a ton of different opinions and that's what, it's like I said after the game, that's what makes America what it is. People have a right to their thoughts and opinions."
Daub's remarks:
     “It’s a free country,” Daub told the Journal Star on Tuesday. “They don’t have to play football for the university either.
     "They know better, and they had better be kicked off the team."
     Daub later denied saying that the players should be removed from the team in a phone call to the Journal Star, but he stood by his other comments on the players.
     "They won’t take the risk to exhibit their free speech in a way that places their circumstance in jeopardy, so let them get out of uniform and do their protesting on somebody else’s nickel," he said.
     “Those publicity seeking athletes ought to rethink the forum in which they chose to issue their personal views at the expense of everyone else."     Reacting to those comments and others, Regents Chairman Kent Schroeder of Kearney, a former Nebraska Air National Guard member and pilot, said any proposal to limit students' free speech -- even on the playing field -- "will not see the light of day."
    According to the Journal-Star, NU President Hank Bounds University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds "completely opposes" imposing any actions against the players and NU Board of Regents Chairman Kent Schroeder said any speech-limiting proposal, even on the playing field, "will not see the light of day."
     We don't know what homophobic jerkwad Daub will propose next, but we hope it isn't that playing the National Anthem should be mandatory not just at sporting events, but at the opera, ballet, symphony hall, on Broadway, and at cinemas.
     Regarding the peculiarly U.S. custom of starting athletic contest with the National Anthem, Guy Mainella said: "It’s a game we’re about to watch, not the Battle of Iwo Jima."
     AKSARBENT has thought Hal Daub to be among America's most revolting and craven politicians since the 1970s, when he ran his infamous "typewriter" ad against then Rep. John Cavanaugh.
     In it he accused Cavanaugh of furthering the homosexual agenda (whatever that is) in a Legal Services Corporation vote. That vote was on a GOP bill or amendment to deny Legal Services Corporation (government-provided lawyers to the indigent) representation to any gay person suing for abridgement of their rights simply because they were gay.
     The action was a GOP ploy to enable it to run ads like Daub's against Democrats who defeated the amendment. Eventually, when Reagan was elected in 1980, with Daub on his coattails, Daub and the GOP got their way.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

How to avoid serving as a juror on the Garcia case without really trying

The grammatically challenged summons issued by $94,000-a-year Douglas County Clerk of the District Court, John Friend, came several weeks ago: for the first time in our life (we use the royal we and our) our presence was being requested requisitioned for jury duty; that presence to commence at 8:30 am, an hour several hours past our bedtime.
     We have anger issues from the getgo with governmental overlords who mess with our sleep. We would argue against taking this interference lying down, but that would play right into the elegantly manicured day fascist hands of Douglas County Clerk of the District Court, John Friend.
     While we certainly don't take the obligations of the Republic lightly, we're sick and tired (mostly tired) of all this first-degree discrimination, especially by the so-called JUSTICE system, when we are already subject to all manner of injustice, including, but not limited to:
  • UPS drivers who can't (or won't) read mailbox addys and instead knock on your door asking where other people live and then return to ask if they can leave their packages with you
  • Jehovah Witnesses who knock on your door,
  • Mormons who knock on your door
  • Baptists who knock on your door
  • Assorted lazy fucks who don't knock on your door — but honk repeatedly outside your neighbor's door, upon which they should be knocking tapping lightly
     Yes, yes, we know jury duty isn't really obligatory — one may always opt for incarceration for contempt of court — but we doubt our chances of day sleeping in county jail are better than trying to do so discretely in a jury box.
     So we showed up at 8:30 AM, and were surprised to see more than 200 other draftees, in "business casual." (By the way, French students: if you want a real-life demonstration of "casual," you should see how lawyers, judges, bailiffs and Douglas County Clerk of the District Court John Friend pronounce voir dire.)
     We saw dozens of potential jurors, those evidence weighers on whom the success of our court system vitally depends, show up at 1701 Farnam, instead of at the newer building at 1819 Farnam, which was the address on the document sent to them.
     Signs directed them to the correct building.
     The signs were not hand-lettered, strong evidence that this happens a lot, which is a disturbing comment on the gene pool of Omaha's jury pool.
     That five jury trials start this week in Douglas County, three more than average, doesn't entirely explain the inflated number of jurors summoned. Another fact does: this is the week that the Trial of the Year starts.
     That case would be the one of a pissed-off Creightonian, Dr. Anthony Garcia, charged with stabbing the housekeeper of another Creighton University doctor, and his son, to death, and coming back five years later to fatally shoot a different Creighton doctor and stab his wife to death. Also, he tried to get into the house of a third Creighton doctor while she was home.
     (Why yes! That 2009 episode of Law and Order that you may have seen did rip off this crime as its plot, but only the first serial killing installment, not the 2013 sequel.)
     Such cases cause prosecutors and defense attorneys to go through prospective jurors during voir dire like Creighton (Nebraska's most expensive college) goes through the money of its students' parents.
     WOWT said 136 potential jurors were rousted for the Garcia trial. Since 5% percent of America is nocturnal, that means Douglas County Clerk of the District Court John Friend screwed over almost 6.8 day sleepers for the Garcia trial alone.
     While in line at the metal detector we pondered other important questions:
  • What if we're assigned to the Big One?
  • How many weeks might that drag on?
  • What is the IRS mileage compensation formula the county uses?
  • Why don't they pay for parking in a garage?*
  • Does the #16 bus stop closer to our house than the #18?
  • If you're caught "resting" in the jury box, will you be carted off to county jail, where the trial-awaiting Dr. Garcia claimed he was sexually assaulted by five guards?
  • If you button-holed (not prison slang) Garcia, would he admit he did it?
  • Is it possible to sleep during the day in jail?
  • Is juror pay of $35 a day even minimum wage?
  • Would one make more money doing laundry behind bars, if jailed for contempt of court, than one would be paid for jury duty?
  • Where does the county get off, according to the sign on its metal detector, claiming it isn't responsible for any damage to anything it makes you put through its machine?
     Happily, we were not selected for the Big One, but were sent to a civil case. The judge congratulated us on lucking out and not having to spend six weeks on That One, which most assuredly would have involved the viewing of photographs no one except a forensic pathologist would want to see.
     Next came jury selection, to see which of us the opposing attorneys could mutually agree would be the most gullible, pliable, stupid, amenable to their well-reasoned, well-funded arguments in a case involving snooty public school bureaucrats in a pissing contest with a large corporation which may or may not have been gorging itself too greedily at the public trough.
     The bailiff, while pointing at the lectern, told us to stand by the "podium" while we introduced ourselves.
     The play-fight attorneys thanked for us coming, in the manner that a pipeline company land agent thanks you for signing their easement offer after threatening you with eminent domain condemnation had you refused.
     The attorneys told us how valuable our contributions were! Then they sat down at their big table, with the coffee and the bottled water that jurors are not allowed to have.
     We had no idea what the judge was drinking, but he seemed friendly enough until he saw a juror prospect glancing down at what His Honor took to be a cellphone, at which time he proved how fast someone in a black robe can turn on you. (Yours truly was not the offender.)
     One of the attorneys asked our group if any of us were prejudiced against litigation in general, as some jurors are. We were so tempted to ask this: if one hates both of the litigious parties in a lawsuit equally, why would one be particularly biased toward either?
     We say "tempted to ask" because we were too sleepy to get the words out.
     In the end, it didn't matter. We were not selected in any case, for this case, and our recess was permanent. 
     Leo Adam Biga, a much better writer than the one you're reading, got rejected too, which pleased us to no end, unless he is a nocturnal fellow traveler, in which case we childishly, malevolently and jealously would have wanted him to serve.)
     As we exited the courthouse, we waved at the weird outdoor statue of MLK in his robe, channeling the sculptor's apparent dream of how some repressed Flying Nun inside Dr. King might have busted out into the open.
     As for us, we were free at last to hole up with our pillow.
*In Lincoln, a parking lot is provided for jurors. In Omaha they have to pay their own parking, are not reimbursed, and are told not to use metered parking. In Lincoln, jurors are paid 2-3 weeks following the case on which they serve. In Omaha, the delay is at least four weeks. Thanks, John Friend, Douglas County Clerk of the District Court! And good luck on your reelection!

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

The best place in Omaha to read Margo Howard's marital memoir

Enlarge this image by clicking on it and it will look much less like shit.
The four-story atrium in downtown's Dale Clark Library is impressive, but it's the huge expanse of glass on every floor overlooking Eugene Leahy Mall to the east (East?) that is the real draw, especially on a rainy Saturday.
     Regrettably, Mayor Stothert thinks an office tower would be a better use of the library's prime real estate, but then regrets and Mayor Stothert go together like Tonto and the Lone Ranger.
     The cops don't like all the police calls to the area around the library on account of some rowdy homeless people who are irresistably incited by books and librarians to misbehave.
     Especially those librarians who won't provide lists of people with library cards or what they read to the police.
     For their part, librarians don't like city officials dumping on the homeless, who they say don't cause any more problems than "regular" patrons.
     As for Margo's book, Eat Drink, and Remarry, we're already on page 130 and we have to say it isn't what we expected; it's better. When we're done, we'll do a book report (update: now done.)
     We noticed that Eat, Drink and Remarry is shelved with some heady company — just 3° of separation from Robert Graves's bio of A.E. Houseman. The H-O's have it! (Extraneous hyphen inserted to avoid an ugly misunderstanding.)
      Which reminds us: on page 90, Margo wrote about having been mistaken for a working girl in a hotel lobby (mistaken seems to us to be a rather charitable way of excusing having been treated like one, but whatever; what we liked was the demo of how efficiently Howard, usually a fast-on-the-uptake thinker, shot the guy down.)
     The biggest omission in the book, so far, is Howard's glaring failure to provide the mugshot of her arrest in Cape Cod for clamming without a license. Please note that in this superficial whine, we mock neither the law which surely has very good reasons for licensing clamdiggers, nor Howard, who probably was unaware of the statute and doubtless was not a prime mover in any possible overharvest of Bay State bivalves.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Eagerly-anticipated GH5 announced by Panasonic at Photokina

Panasonic started all this with the remarkable GH2, the hacking of which made the camera into a photographic cult. The company incorporated some of the spec improvements by the hacks into the GH3. The current GH4 was the first popular 4k video/still hybrid camera.
uring its development of the GH5, the company even consulted Nick Driftwood, author of several of the more popular hacked GH2 profiles. How's that for really listening to your customers? Can you imagine Canon consulting anyone connect to the Magic Lantern Canon hack?

     In respect of the GH5, AKSARBENT is even more impressed by the 4:2:2 10-bit, broadcast-quality video recording to an internal card than the 6k stuff, but here's the announcement:

Panasonic Develops the World's First*1
4K 60p/50p Video Recording Digital Single Lens
Mirrorless Camera LUMIX GH5 Featuring '6K PHOTO'*2

Panasonic today announced that it has developed a new Digital Single Lens Mirrorless (DSLM) Camera LUMIX GH5 that is capable of recording smooth, high-precision 4K 60p/50p and faithful 4:2:2 10-bit 4K video*3 for the first time in the world*1.
      It also features '6K PHOTO'*2 which extracts approx.18-megapixel still images from ultra high-quality video with approx. 9 times the pixel count of Full-HD. The new LUMIX GH5 is scheduled for commercialization and introduction to the global market in early 2017.
     Panasonic has been committed to the development of innovative digital cameras under the theme "Create a new photo culture in the digital era." The world's first Digital Single Lens Mirrorless camera DMC-G1 was introduced in 2008*4 and the subsequent DMC-GH1 achieved the world's first Full HD video recording in 2009*5.
     In 2014, Panasonic introduced the DMC-GH4, which realized 4K 30p/25p video recording for the first time in the industry*6. At the same time, Panasonic proposed a new and unique method of photography 'called 4K PHOTO' which allows users to capture fleeting photographic moments that even the eyes cannot catch in 4K resolution at 30 fps to save as high-quality photos.
      As a result, the DMC-GH4 is highly acclaimed for its exceptional performance in both photography and videography by a wide range of professional users worldwide – not only photographers but also cinematographers in the film production field, as well as emerging photo/video-hybrid creators.
      By advancing Panasonic technologies, such as digital signal processing and heat dissipation, and packing them into the compact, lightweight body of a Digital Single Lens Mirrorless camera, the LUMIX GH5 enables 4K 60p/50p and 4:2:2 10-bit 4K video recording*3, which has never before been achieved*1. With this unprecedented video recording performance, Panasonic aims to further capitalize on the strength that it has achieved in the film production industry.
     In the LUMIX GH5, the conventional '4K PHOTO' function is dramatically advanced to form '6K PHOTO'*2 which lets the user cut a still image out of ultra high-quality 18-megapixel video with approx. 9 times the pixel count than Full-HD. Taking advantage of its high-speed, long-time burst shooting capability, spur-of-the-moment shots can be saved in beautiful photos with higher resolution that complies with larger-sized printing by substantially increasing the resolution from approx.8-megapixel (4K PHOTO) to approx.18-megapixel (6K PHOTO*2) Furthermore, approx.8-megapixel 4K PHOTO can be captured at 60 fps.
     The LUMIX GH5 goes on show at Photokina 2016, which will be held at Koelnmesse, Germany, through 20-25 September in 2016, together with the new LEICA DG VARIO-ELMARIT F2.8-4.0 Lens Series. Achieving both high optical performance and a compact size, the LEICA DG VARIO-ELMARIT F2.8-4.0 Lens Series includes a new 12-60mm standard zoom lens, 8-18mm wide zoom lens and 50-200mm telephoto zoom lens that will be showcased as a reference exhibit at the Panasonic booth.
      The latest information on LUMIX GH5 will be updated at the following web page:
*1 For a Digital Single Lens Mirrorless camera, as of 19 September, 2016 (Panasonic survey).
*2 "6K PHOTO" is a high speed burst shooting function that cuts a still image out of a 4:3 or 3:2 video footage with 18-megapixel
(Approx.6000 x 3000 effective pixel count) that 6K image manages.
The name '6K PHOTO' is tentative.
*3 In 4K/30p, 25p, 24p, 23.98p video recording.
*4 For a Digital Interchangeable Lens System Camera, as of 12 September, 2008 (Panasonic survey).
*5 For a Digital Single Lens Mirrorless camera, as of 3 March, 2009 (Panasonic survey).
*6 For a Digital Single Lens Mirrorless camera, as of 7 February, 2014 (Panasonic survey).

•Leica is a registered trademark of Leica Microsystems IR GmbH.
•ELMARIT is a registered trademark of Leica Camera AG.
•Details of the product specifications, the date of release and the price are yet to be advised.

The way Hillary tells it, you'd think the CFPB took down Wells Fargo. That's bullshit

Here's what Clinton said in her "Open Letter to Wells Fargo Customers,"
The CFPB worked with local authorities and enforced the law – assessing its highest penalty ever, and bringing the bank’s illegal activity into the national spotlight.
     Clinton is indeed the mistress of spin. It wasn't the CFPB that exposed Wells Fargo. It wasn't even L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, who commendably went after Wells Fargo before the feds did and before California's Attorney General did anything. It was L.A. Times reporter E. Scott Reckard who wrote the first newspaper story documenting the abuses at Wells Fargo, in 2013, and you should read what he wrote! And so should whoever hands out Pulitzer Prizes.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Disgraced Wells Fargo exec whose division opened 2 million fake accounts is an NU Foundation trustee

It's bad enough that the University of Nebraska Lincoln College of Business Administration bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award on Carrie Tolstedt two years ago, even as the extent of rampant fraud in her Wells Fargo Community Banking fiefdom was being discovered (and kept quiet) by the bunko bank. She departs Wells Fargo with a golden parachute of up to $125,000,000 plus year end 2016 bonus, pending the invocation of any "clawback" approved by the Wells Fargo Board.
     According to the NU Foundation's website, she is also a trustee of the university's foundation.
     She should immediately be removed.
     Granted, trustees "are not involved in making business or operation decisions for the foundation," but the massive betrayal of millions of customers by a ruthless executive who pocketed millions in bonuses approving Draconian cross-sell quotas to thousands of low-level employees who resorted to what Wells Fargo itself called "sandbagging" in order to keep their jobs cannot possibly "serve an important role as [an ambassador] of the university and its foundation."
     Any NU foundation board member who doesn't understand this should step down and get a different hobby.

The University of Nebraska and/or its foundation need to do several things:

1. Remove Carrie Tolstedt as an NU Foundation trustee
2. Assure the public that no phony Wells Fargo accounts were opened in the name of any University or University Foundation entity
3. The University of Nebraska must immediately rescind Tolstedt's Lifetime Achievement Award. Her "achievements" make the ethics of any University who continues to honor her highly suspect
4. Close any Wells Fargo accounts and divest itself of any investments in Wells Fargo or under the control of Wells Fargo financial advisors
5. Transfer those accounts to Nebraska-based financial institutions wherever possible


In 2014, UNL gave Wells Fargo's phony account division ruler its Lifetime Achievement Award

Above: our commentary superimposed on graphic
elements from UNL College of Business Administration's
web promotion of its 2014 awards luncheon.
In 2014 the University of Nebraska College of Business Administration honored Nebraskan Carrie Tolstedt with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
     Tolstedt, from Kimball, NE, worked in Omaha for Norwest, which bought Wells Fargo in 1994 in a "merger" and kept the name. (Wikipedia: Wells Fargo retains Norwest's pre-1998 stock price history, and all pre-1998 SEC filings are under Norwest, not Wells Fargo.)
     Tolstedt was in charge of community banking at Wells Fargo, supervising 94,000 people who worked in retail banking. 5300 of them were fired for opening "ghost" accounts under the names of about 2,000,000 Wells Fargo customers without their knowledge or consent from 2011 to 2015. Tolstedt knew about the widespread fraud in her division (prompted by killer cross-selling quotas) since 2013.
     The unauthorized accounts cost Wells Fargo customers $2.6 million in fees and prompted overdraft charges in some cases. The added credit cards damaged the credit ratings of Wells Fargo customers.
     She departs Wells Fargo with a golden parachute of up to $125,000,000 plus year end 2016 bonus, pending the levying of any "clawback" approved by the Wells Fargo Board.
     Before helping to present the awards, Dr. Donde Plowman, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean of the College of Business Administration, had this to say:
These six business leaders and the corporation we honored today are inspiring to all of us,” said Plowman. “Each of them lift us up and inspire us to start something.
     Well, Dr. Plowman, we certainly agree with you that Tolstedt started something. As for you, we hope you're inspired to speak sentences in which the verbs agree with their subject, i.e., "Each of them lifts us up and inspires us..." 
     At that ceremony feting Wells Fargo's queen of sandbagging, UNL's College of Business Administration also gave out one of its very prestigious Corporate Leadership Awards — to Nelnet, about which it had the following to say:
     Jeff Noordhoek, chief executive officer, received the Corporate Leadership Award on behalf of Nelnet. The award recognizes excellence in Nebraska-based companies that are successful, dynamic and have a high level of commitment to their communities, customers and employees...
     Nelnet operates in four business segments and adheres to a strong set of customer and community-centric values.
Having remembered some Nelnet news stories from back in the day, we looked up the company in Wikipedia, which has a lot more to say about Nelnet than its admirers at the University of Nebraska did:
     In February 2007, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo launched an investigation into alleged deceptive lending practices by student loan providers, including The College Board, EduCap, Nelnet, Citibank, and Sallie Mae.
     The New York Times reported in August 2007 that Jon Bruning, Nebraska Attorney General, allowed Nelnet to be forgiven the $1 million settlement the company reached with Bruning in April 2007. Nelnet was accused of industry wide kickbacks, improper inducements, and gifts from student loan providers to colleges and universities. Nelnet agreed to provide $1 million to the state in support of a national financial aid awareness campaign. Bruning decided in August 2007 to forgive Nelnet its $1 million obligation after the company announced that it had reached a separate $2 million settlement with New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
     Nelnet has also made financial contributions to United States congressional campaigns, including a contribution from Nelnet and Union Bank & Trust Company of $16,100 to Jon Bruning, Nebraska Attorney General, for his Senate election campaign.
     A United States Department of Education audit revealed that from 1993 to 2007, Nelnet had utilized a loophole in federal tax legislation that allowed the company to receive a higher interest rate on specified loans, generating $278 million from taxpayers. Nelnet disputed the findings of the audit through a letter written to the United States Department of Education letting them know of this loophole, and ultimately, U.S. Department of Education ruled that Nelnet would keep the $278 million.
      The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in August 2010, that Nelnet settled a case for $55 million. The suit was filed by a former Department of Education researcher named Dr. Jon Oberg. Nelnet and other lenders were accused of defrauding taxpayers of billions of dollars in student loan subsidies. The largest student lender in the country, Sallie Mae, is also listed as a defendant in the case.

Hillary Clinton’s Open Letter to Wells Fargo Customers

Hillary Clinton in Omaha with Warren Buffett, whose
holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, is Wells Fargo's
largest stockholder. Buffet isn't talking to either KETV or
Fox News about the Wells Fargo scandal or his huge
investment in the bank

Dear Wells Fargo Customers,
     In America, we have faith that when we open up a checking account, we aren’t opening ourselves up to being scammed.  Whether you use a local credit union or community bank or one of the big national chains, we take it for granted that those institutions are fulfilling this basic responsibility to their consumers.
     That’s why I was deeply disturbed when, last week, we found out that Wells Fargo had engaged in widespread illegal practices over many years.  The bank secretly opened up millions of accounts for customers without their consent – betraying their customers, misusing their personal information and leading many to be slapped with unjust fees and other charges. Today, Wells Fargo’s CEO will appear before Congress. He owes all of you a clear explanation as to how this happened under his watch.
     There is simply no place for this kind of outrageous behavior in America.
     Our economy depends on a strong and safe banking system to help keep it moving.  But even after Americans spent years working hard to recover from the Great Recession, the culture of misconduct and recklessness that preceded that crisis too often persists.
     I have a plan to address it.
     First, we need to defend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  The unfair and abusive practices at Wells Fargo remind us that we need tough watchdogs looking out for customers.  The CFPB worked with local authorities and enforced the law – assessing its highest penalty ever, and bringing the bank’s illegal activity into the national spotlight.
     Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and Wall Street lobbyists are desperate to dismantle this effective agency, which is dedicated solely to protecting consumers from unfair and deceptive practices.  I won’t let them put the CFPB under their thumb.  I’ll protect the CFPB and make sure it can continue its essential work on behalf of the American people.
     Second, we need real consequences when firms on Wall Street break the law. This past week, we learned that one of the Wells Fargo executives that oversaw the division that ripped off its customers left the bank – not with a pink slip, but with a $125 million payout.  It’s hard to imagine that top executives were unaware of a problem that involved thousands of the firm’s employees.  After all, they imposed sales targets and compensation incentives in ways that led to this behavior.  And it’s frustrating that a bank can simply pay a fine and keep doing business as usual – with massive compensation for the executives responsible.  That compensation should be clawed back.
     I’ve put forward an agenda to enhance accountability on Wall Street. Executives should be held individually accountable when rampant illegal activity happens on their watch.  Their compensation should take a hit if their companies pay major fines.  And they must face appropriate legal consequences if they break the law.
     Third, we need to make sure that no financial institution is too big to manage.  I’ll put additional safeguards in place to address the risks that the big banks continue to pose to our system.  And if any bank can’t be managed effectively, it should be broken up.
     I’ll appoint regulators who will stand with taxpayers and consumers, not with big banks and their friends in Congress.  I’ll fight hard to make sure that Wall Street is working for Main Street – not the other way around.
     We need to keep pushing to make the financial system safer and fairer. Let’s do it together.
Hillary Clinton

Saudi cluster bombs are killing Yemeni kids, so Sens Sasse and Fischer voted to sell them more arms

Yesterday, 27 senators (4 Repubs, 22 Dems and Bernie) voted to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia, that beach paradise whose citizens brought America the Arab Oil Embargo in the 1970s and the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001. Sasse and Fischer helped defeat the resolution.
     Apparently, the Saudis haven't been using American weapons very nicely, unless you consider dropping cluster bombs on Yemeni schools and hospitals nice.
     The usual GOP suspects (McCain et al) claim the Saudis MUST do this because IRAN! Meaning Yemen's civil war is really a proxy war directed by Iran. The Intercept begs to differ:
     At least 40 members of Congress (not including anyone from Nebraska) weren't buying that bullshit and said so in a letter to Obama in August (click to enlarge):

     If you're still wondering why so many in the Middle East hate America, it may not be because of our freedoms, but because of the unprecedented amount of arms your senators Sasse and Fischer allow to be sold to every bloodthirsty Middle East faction.
     Here's what Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said (not included in the video excerpt below):
     Murphy argued that all of the Saudi bombs, provided by the US, are being dropped on civilians and Yemen's Houthi faction, rather than being used against “our sworn enemy, Al-Qaeda.”
     This war has given opportunity for Al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS/ISIL) to grow in leaps and bounds, he said.
     “How can you say you’re serious about strangling ISIL when the textbooks that are produced inside Saudi Arabia are the very same textbooks that are handed out to recruit suicide bombers?" Murphy asked on the Senate floor.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Warren Buffett still mum on Wells Fargo scandal though his company is its biggest shareholder

On Tuesday, pols from both sides of the aisle lit into Wells Fargo chairman John Stumpf (while the cameras were running.) Elizabeth Warren was on fire. Wells Fargo seems unrepentent, as it just showered a golden parachute of $125,000,000 on the retiring head of its consumer banking division. She will also be eligible for an end-of-year bonus.
Via Politico:
     "The only way that Wall Street will change is if executives face jail time when they preside over massive fraud. We need tough new laws to hold corporate executives personally accountable."
     During her line of questioning at the Senate Banking Committee hearing, Warren argued that Stumpf had personally profited from the bankers opening up the fake accounts. She read from quarterly meetings where Stumpf had personally used growth in the number of individual customers accounts to justify the value of the bank.
     "You squeezed your employees to the breaking point so they would cheat customers and you could drive up the value of your stock and put hundreds of millions of dollars in your own pocket," Warren said. "And when it all blew up, you kept your job, you kept your multimillion dollar bonuses, and you went on television to blame thousands of $12 an hour employees who were just trying to meet cross sell quotas that made you rich."
     To meet draconian sales quotas in order to keep their jobs, more than 5,000 (now fired) Wells Fargo employees opened unauthorized ghost accounts for at least 2,000,000 customers over at least the last five years, in the process damaging the credit ratings of untold account holders by adding unrequested credit cards to the ones they already had and costing some overdraft fees generated by unauthorized transfers of funds.
     Warren Buffett was asked about the scandal earlier this week by Omaha World-Herald writer Steve Jordan, because Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns 10% of Wells Fargo — 500 million shares. Buffett did not respond to Jordan's inquiry, made for his "Warren Watch" column — the foremost ongoing chronicle of the Warren Buffett cult of personality, which runs regularly in the World-Herald, now owned by Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett's company. According to KETV, Buffett also refused to comment on the mess to Fox News, saying he would reserve comment until after the election. (Huh?)
    Jordan's column quoted Omaha money manager Russ Kaplan's speculation that Buffett may even be buying more Wells Fargo shares at current prices, which have dropped this month by 10% and are down more than 20% from last July. Wells Fargo has been paying shareholders a 3% annual dividend, considerably more than the interest it pays depositors on many premium accounts.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Seth Meyers fricassees Donald Trump over birther backpedaling

Damn! If Seth Meyers keeps this up, there will be no reason to miss Jon Stewart any longer...

Monday, September 19, 2016

No one has cost the USA's 40 million smokers more money than Hillary Clinton: at least $90 billion so far

About 40 million people in the USA still smoke cigarettes and they still get socked by legislators looking to fund virtually every pet program except smoking cessation.
     From 2000-2012, the feds and state governments increased cigarette taxes more than 120 times (thank you for that statistic, Phillip Morris), despite the fact that the Journal of the American Medical Association said (way back in 1989) in a study on sin taxes:
"On balance, smokers probably pay their way at the current level of excise taxes on cigarettes... in contrast, drinkers do not pay their way..." (JAMA. 1989;261:1604-1609)
      Conversely, the CDC loves to portray smokers as economic parasites, purportedly costing $300 billion per year in health care and lost productivity. (The CDC never mentions who gets all the Medicare, pension and Social Security money smokers forgo by checking out early. Or how much nonsmokers cost on their way to the grave by living long enough to get Alzheimers. Or how much nonsmokers benefit from hugely-taxed $15-a-pack cigarettes in New York City. Or how much the Mafia makes from smuggling cigarettes from North Carolina into the Big Apple for people trying to avoid the sky-high taxes the CDC encourages.)
     But we digress.
     No one in the country has cost smokers more than Hillary Clinton.
     Case in point: her campaign ads brag about how she won health care for eight million children, presumably all by her little self. That would be 1997's S-CHIP program, for which she held no press conference and for which she did not testify before Congress (Ted Kennedy did credit her for working behind the scenes.)
     We're not petty; we won't belabor Hillary's bold claim that she "won" health care for poor kids.
     What we can't ignore is that that Hillary's campaign ads do not tell you who ended up paying for the S-CHIP program. We're sure Hillary would be quite happy if you assumed the entire village footed the bill, but alas, only the smokers in the village got dunned by Mrs. Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Orrin Hatch, et al.
     That original S-CHIP program cost the federal government about $40 billion, financed entirely by a very large increase in tobacco excise taxes — but nothing like what Hillary had in store for smokers 12 years later.
     By 2009 Clinton was in the Senate, the CHIP program was reauthorized, and again smokers (and only smokers) had to pay the $50 billion bill for the extension to the children's health care. This time, the increase in the federal tobacco excise tax was 159%.
     In case you need to be reminded, Hillary's tax kitty is ruthlessly regressive. Smokers tend to be poor, and Hillary's preferred way of funding her pet program is a narrowly-focused consumption tax which efficiently targets the nicotine-addicted and impoverished.
     Those 90 billion dollars of tobacco excise tax increases, divided by, say, the current count of 40,000,000 smokers, amount to 2,250 per person, since 1997.

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

USAF "Tops In Blue" gets canned

The Group's 2012 "Tour From Hell" resulted in two command-directed investigations.
     Problems included:
  • July: Electrocution of a technical sergeant in Kuwait by a temporary power board. He was released in after 24 hours of hospital observation.
  • October 28th: $71,000 in damage to 7.5-ton tractor jacknifed by the same technical sergeant.
  • October 29th: Extensive damage to a trailer rented to replace the one wrecked the day before when another driver backed the replacement into a lamp post.
  • Rampant sexual harrassment, mostly of women, but including a male master sergeant who kept hitting on a male senior airman, "explicitly saying what he'd like to do to him," according to written testimony by a female senior airman.
  • The same senior airman said an unnamed tech sergeant often bragged to her about beating a first lieutenant with a crowbar, which she said further intimidated and scared her.
The performing group, six decades old, was shut down September 1, according to Air Force Times:
     Tops in Blue has become a source of controversy in recent years, with some airmen saying it was a waste of time and money that didn't do much to entertain the rank-and-file. Some airmen claimed their commanders ordered them to attend Tops in Blue performances, a claim backed up by some disgruntled former Tops in Blue members, who also told Air Force Times they felt the show was out of date and wasted money on costumes -- enough for multiple changes -- and musical instruments that sat unplayed and uncared for in storage.
     Until late 2015 -- when Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James first launched a survey to find out how airmen really felt about it and then suspended the 2016 tour Air Force officials maintained the band was a morale-booster and great recruiting tool, beloved by current and former airmen and their families, as well as commanders, and "represents an outstanding value to the Air Force."

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Gen. Don Bacon's biggest campaign lie: his TV claim that the USAF's honor code means it doesn't lie. His Air Force has been telling whoppers for 68 years

Related: read about USAF Gen. Don Bacon's very conspicuous silence regarding Sen. Deb Fischer's sleazy vote to hide Air Force B-21 development costs from the public.

Retired Air Force General Don Bacon's new TV campaign ad to unseat Rep. Brad Ashford says: "The Air Force has an honor code. We will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate anyone who does."
     Brave words from a man steeped in the culture of the U.S. Air Force, for years a poster child of budget-busting waste in government (example: the B-22 program) and disingenuous, untruthful excuses about such wretched excess. Bacon's preposterous claim that the Air Force doesn't lie is itself a huge lie.
     The Air Force has been lying to the public since it was one year old, in 1948. Its first whopper was to the wives of airmen killed in a B-29 crash, which resulted in the evidentiary rule precedent of the so-called "state secrets privilege," which has been used ever since by the U.S. government to stonewall citizen inquiries and to hide misconduct by playing the "threat to national security" card to dismiss lawsuits:
     In United States v. Reynolds (1953), the widows of three crew members of a B-29 Superfortress bomber that had crashed in 1948 sought accident reports on the crash, but were told the release of such details would threaten national security by revealing the nature of the bomber's top-secret mission. The Supreme Court ruled that the executive branch could bar evidence from the court if it deemed that its release would impair national security. In 1996, the accident reports in question were declassified and released, and when discovered in 2000 were found to contain no secret information. They did, however, contain information about the poor condition of the aircraft itself, which would have been very compromising to the Air Force's case.
Bacon TV ad about Air Force "honor" and truthfulness
     Recently, when the press began to get wind of the fact that the hugely expensive and horribly broken F-35, designed to replace the F-15, was actually quite a dog in dogfights, General Don Bacon's Air Force pulled out all the stops to fool the public by coaching airmen on how to deceptively answer skeptical inquiries about the colossal cost ($400,000 per helmet!) and poor performance of the plane. From Popular Mechanics:
     In response to the potential question "I heard this aircraft can't dogfight, and it's not maneuverable. Is that true?" the document blasts reports about the F-16 versus F-35 dogfights.
     "The F-35 is designed to be comparable to current tactical fighters in terms of maneuverability, but the design is optimized for stealth and sensor superiority. News reports on the F-35's performance against an F-16 was an early look at the F-35's flight control authority software logic, and not an assessment of its ability in a dogfight situation [...] There have been numerous occasions where a four-ship of F-35s has engaged a four-ship of F-16s in simulated combat scenarios and the F-35s won each of those 4 v 4 encounters because of its sensors, weapons, and stealth technology."
     To be fair, these "guidance documents" are not uncommon in the military, and mainly meant for PR flacks. Still, the document states that "wings will also identify pilots and maintainers who are proficient at telling the F-35 story and are willing to lend their name and image to the effort."
     What makes this surprising is that it contradicts some of the Air Force's own internal documents found in July, which blasted the F-35 for multiple failures. For instance, the F-35's poor maneuverability in a dogfight was because, according to the test pilot, "the F-35 was at a distinct energy disadvantage." That's not something you can fix with better "flight control authority software logic."
Some "honor code," Don.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

NCAA yanks 7 championships from NC over antigay, antitrans HB2 law

The mayor of Greensboro calls the trail of economic wreckage to North Carolina wreaked by antigay, antitrans GOP legislation a "man-made recession."
     Below is NBC's report on the ongoing trainwreck:

Monday, September 5, 2016

Perp in AKSARBENT home invasion now in protective custody

Small animals, be they rats, squirrels or other species, all sound alike to us when they wail in distress. We assumed, upon hearing the heretofore mentioned small furry screams just ahead of our charging cat, that a rat had someway made its way onto the premises but it turned out to be a kit (baby rabbit).  They're fast, so we sighed and headed to Home Depot for a trap, which is complicated to set and whose instructions we can no longer find.
     Hope we can remember, in years, how to work it (We should take a picture on an old 2 mb memory card and tape it to the box.)
     During his stay, Fluffy wasn't hungry but was quite thirsty and eagerly lapped up water in an empty tuna can. Then he went inside the trap (open on both sides) to hang out, ignoring sliced carrots, spinach and a strawberry. He just looked at us. After we verbally encouraged him to avail himself of the spread we carefully draped on the pressure plate to trigger the trap, he continued to look at us.
     Desperate circumstances call for desperate measures, so we got a mop and SMOOTHLY and NONCHALANTLY poked the exterior release, dropping and locking the doors. Fluffy didn't even flinch, continuing to regard us noncommittally.
     Fluffy is big enough to fend for himself, foodwise, but too small to escape murderous felines, so we didn't free him immediately, delivering him instead to a neighbor who keeps rabbits and who has extra cages. (He's wild and can't be housed with domesticated rabbits.) In a month or so, when he's bigger and faster, he'll be released from protective custody.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

'Am I in heaven? All I see are virgins!' Dunk tank 'Muslim' insulted Trumpies at RNC Convention

It was part of a Hulu special featuring Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Via JoeMyGod. There was also a gay couple at the dunk tank, but they weren't particularly funny.

No, it wasn't your hangover. An earthquake hit Omaha this morning

Pawnee, Okalahoma
AKSARBENT wondered why its couch jostled this morning shortly after 7, but we blamed a rumbling semi.
     It wasn't a semi, it was an magnitude 5.6 earthquake in Pawnee, Oklahoma, felt as far north as North Dakota.
     We were disappointed to have slept through a minor earthquake in San Francisco years ago, so we're glad we were awake for this one.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Well, no wonder Rupert's boys aren't exactly crazy about Roger Ailes!

If the rumours are true about Fox media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's sons having engineered Ailes' ouster after the Fox News babes started busting his chops, it would appear that the junior Murdochs were not unprovoked by the elderly tyro.

Somehow, Roger Ailes gay-baiting the sexual orientation of his boss's son isn't quite as entertaining as when Paul Newman's character did it in Slapshot: