Goldman Sachs and people backing it make me sick

July 13, 2009

Goldman Sachs is back to the old ways of the financial services sector in the US, making money on high risk, reports The New York Times.

It seems like it is back to the old days of champagne and caviar for the company in its new avatar as a holding bank, as the company plans to dish out large bonuses to its employees, even as most other people in the US are without jobs or tightening their belts.

On Wall Street, where money is the ultimate measure, Goldman is both revered and reviled, says the New York Times. Not unexpectedly the company’s share price is on the upswing.

Meanwhile, there are dark hints that the bank may be using its old-boy network to benefit from the US government, according to Matt Taibbi in the RollingStone

The bail out of AIG benefited Goldman Sachs, as AIG payed back a large loan from Goldman Sachs after receiving the bail out. And Goldman Sachs, now a beneficary of a deposit guarantee scheme of the US government, has had access to cheap funds to invest.

What sickens me, and I am sure a lot of other people around the world is that it seems to be business as usual in the US for the banks.

We could now be heading towards yet another financial crisis that could hit the whole world. Why ? Because the Barack Obama administration in the US has not pushed through quickly enough measures to regulate the financial services sector and all its various offspring like hedge funds.

Obama sermonizes to the world at large, in Ghana, in the Middle East, and even in Europe. But when it comes to delivery he seems to be up against the financial and business elites Robert Kuttner writes about in the Squandering of America.

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Brands are arbiters of quality on the Internet

June 29, 2009

Knowledge, news, music, opinion shall be free (as unfettered). That was the promise of the Internet, and bloggers were expected to deliver on that promise.

What followed was utter chaos, irresponsible reporting, plagiarizing without batting an eyelid, and an overload of information. The dark underbelly of society was showing on the Internet.

Wikipedia suddenly became less reliable. People very often edited entries on Wikipedia to suit their personal agendas, and the users’ only hope for accuracy is that some other guy got there before him and corrected the inaccuracy.

Folks, even bloggers, now need help to negotiate the labyrinth of the Internet to find information that is quotable and credible. Hence most bloggers now quote what are considered long-established credible sources, such as The New York Times, CNN, and The Wall Street Journal, and a few new online credible sources of information.

A lot has been written about Twitter. Like email when it started, Twitter is a great way to get the message out. But as spammers and frauds started using email, the message was increasingly questionable.

That is happening to Twitter as well……I don’t know who is my source of information on Twitter, whether he is reliable, whether he was at all in Iran while updating me on the youth unrest in that country after the elections.

Most of the time it is not hard core information I get on Twitter, but some vague reports from equally diffuse people on what they are eating now, how they are feeling at the moment, or what car they are driving.

Many times people themselves are filtering information to put them in a good light, or promote themselves. After all this is the age of personal brand building, and any channel is useful.

In 2007, I had written that although the Internet had made expression free, whether the expression was in the form of writing, art or music, there would still be needed gatekeepers to the Internet who would separate the wheat from the chaff.

See article titled ” Finding gold on the Net is a long shot”.

It was expected then that new brands would emerge to play counsellors and guides to Internet users. The “Long Tail” had created opportunities of all sorts of online purveyors of music, news, and other forms of art, by lowering the cost of inventory, distribution, and marketing.

But the gold rush to the Internet left people gasping for some guidance on how to avoid the trash. Already they were suffering from clutter and information overload.

eMusic, for example, focused on the “Long Tail”, and tried to build a music download brand around that. Leading newspapers set up blogs aiming to be arbiters of quality in both formal news reporting, and the more informal world of blogs.

The upshot is that a mix of new and old brands have emerged as gatekeepers to the Internet. That makes navigating the Internet for quality and reliable stuff more reliable.

But to a large extent it has also robbed the Internet of its fierce democracy. Once again the big brands – a few – will decide what goes through its filters. Once again smaller purveyors of content will have to kow-tow to the big brands or go unnoticed, and end up in some corner on YouTube.


Who will rein in the CIA if not the Supreme Court ?

October 10, 2007

By refusing to hear the appeal from Khaled El-Masri, an illegal detainee of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), the US Supreme Court may have passed up an opportunity to rein in the CIA, and restore faith in the American way of life. El-Masri had appealed after the decision of lower courts not to hear his case against the CIA on national security grounds.

Last week, the New York Times revealed that a 2005 Justice Department memo endorsed interrogation techniques were some of the harshest ever used by the CIA. They included head-slapping, exposure to freezing temperatures and simulated drowning, known as water-boarding.

That was torture by any interpretation of the term, but frankly pales in its audacity and brutality when compared to the alleged torture of El-Masri under a CIA program called “extraordinary rendition”.

To get around US federal and international conventions, the CIA is said to have invented the concept of “extraordinary rendition”, the unlawful kidnapping of foreign citizens, and their transfer to secret prisons in countries that have little regard for human rights and legal niceties.

Suspects are detained and interrogated either by US personnel at US-run detention facilities outside US sovereign territory or, alternatively, are handed over to the custody of foreign agents for interrogation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In both instances, interrogation methods are employed that do not comport with federal and internationally recognized standards, ACLU added.

El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese origin, by his account was abducted in Macedonia in 2003 and flown to Afghanistan for interrogation, under the “extraordinary rendition” program. The 44-year-old alleges he was tortured during five months in detention, four months of which were spent in a prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, nicknamed the “salt pit”.

On his flight to Afghanistan, he says, he was stripped, beaten, shackled, made to wear “diapers”, drugged and chained to the floor of the plane.

By his account, he was finally released in Albania after the Americans realized they had got the wrong man. For a copy of El-Masri’s petition before US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia see here.

There are a number of people kidnapped tortured by the CIA under “extraordinary rendition”, according to civil liberties unions. Some were probably terrorists, but that does not make “extraordinary rendition” justified. If the US and other free countries do not follow norms of fair play, detention, and interrogation, and instead look for subterfuges, they will lose the high moral ground they have taken with regard to the terrorists. The free world is appearing to be just a brutal as the terrorists.

Rather than give the CIA cover under the “state secrets” privilege, US courts should have seized the opportunity to bring some accountability into the CIA and the US government.

There are dangerous man at large, and not all of them are Islamic terrorists. Some of them are in the pay of the US government.

Related article:

They torture prisoners in Myanmar, Iran, and yes the US