Sunday, March 29, 2009

How I Spent My Day

I stood on Potrero Hill for nearly six hours today, waiting for this shot. A film crew was in town, shooting a TV pilot for a potential series called Trauma, and word was out that there would be a big explosion on Hwy. 280 sometime this afternoon. The window was supposed to be between 1:00 and 4:00, but it actually happened at just a few minutes before 6:00. Along with another dozen other photographers and videographers or so, I was able to capture this shot after hours of waiting.

Then I was featured on one of the local TV news shows (KRON 4), and misquoted by the local paper. Sheesh.

(Cross-posted at Pixels at an Exhibition)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Indictment of SS Doctors

This is a copy of a letter recently written by someone very close to me who lives in Southern California. She sent copies to Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and David Dreier (her local Representative). If this is typical of what most Southern California applicants face when applying for Social Security relief, then the system needs to be completely overhauled. And if this was just an isolated incident, then these two doctors need to be decertified and possibly prosecuted. This is just chilling.

March 16, 2009

Dear Mr. Spencer,

I applied for Social Security benefits in January and was scheduled for two different examinations at the same medical office, OMNI Diagnostic Services in Covina, CA. I am writing today to express my concerns about the doctors who performed these examinations as well as the state of the office itself.

The first, a mental exam, was performed by Dr. Jason Yang. I believe this doctor was under the influence of drugs at the time I was in his office. One of my siblings was involved with methamphetamines some years ago, and I can easily recognize a speed freak when I see one. Dr. Yang spoke so rapidly I could barely understand him; he repeated his phrases over and over, his pupils were dilated and he behaved like a person who was "spaced out". His exam room was dirty and cold. The walls were cracked and gouged, the one picture hung lopsided, and everything looked chipped or broken. The restroom in the lobby was filthy, smelly, and completely unstocked. Nothing was done about it even after several patients complained. It was a frightening and unsettling experience.

The second, a bone and joint exam, was performed by Dr. Zaven Bilezikjian. That morning I had taken a shower, changed my bed linen, and vacuumed one small room. I was in so much pain I could barely stand it. This man was sarcastic, contemptuous, and rude. At one point, when I acted uncomfortable, he asked me what was wrong. I tried to explain that I am uneasy when being touched. He wouldn't let me finish what I was saying and, very meanly, accused me of not being in pain at all and threatened to stop the exam. He asked me when my chronic pain began, and when I told him it was about ten years ago he sarcastically said, "Oh, you've been in pain for ten years and you haven't sought treatment? Right." He walked out of the room as I was trying to tell him that I have sought treatment in the past. A Dr. Holtzapple in Eugene, Oregon told me in 2001 that I probably have fibromyalgia, but that there was no test to diagnose it. Dr. Bilezikjian wouldn't allow me to finish my sentences, didn't listen, and very obviously didn't care about what I had to say. I would think that input from the patient would be critical in such an exam, but apparently this doctor does not. He was very cold and unkind at a time when just a little warmth and patience would have gone a long way.

I called the Social Security office several times after these exams, left messages, and asked to see different doctors. My calls were never returned and my request was ignored. I just found out that I am being denied benefits.

I applied for benefits because I desperately need help; I don't feel I can work right now and I need Medi-Cal so that I can see a physician. I am afraid to leave my home by myself, I am anxious and frightened to be around people that I don't know, and I am in such constant physical pain that I cannot even keep my house clean or keep up with the laundry. My therapist of over a year has moved away and I was told by the clinic that they cannot provide me another one at this time. My psychiatrist has informed me that I can no longer receive samples of the medications she has prescribed because the clinic itself is no longer receiving samples. I cannot afford the medications and subsequently have been without for several weeks now. This does not help my state of mind in the least. After both of those "examinations" I left that clinic sobbing, feeling humiliated, violated, outraged, and near-suicidal. I wouldn't allow these doctors to examine my dead dog. Apparently they were hired to say just what SS wants them to say and never mind the real conditions of the patients.

My hope is that this letter will bring about an investigation of the clinic and the doctors that work there.

name redacted

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Time To Crack Down On Corporate Tax Avoiders

The Mighty Joe Conason on yesterday's

AIG is chump change -- let's find corporate America's hidden billions
It's time to reform offshore banking, and see what untaxed wealth big business is hiding in overseas tax shelters.

By Joe Conason

Mar. 23, 2009 |

The popular urge to claw back the bogus bonuses paid by American International Group is irresistible and fully justified, but should the Treasury someday retrieve every single bonus dollar, that total of $165 million will make no difference to anyone except a few disgruntled traders. From the jaded perspective of the financiers, the uproar over the AIG bonuses may provide a welcome distraction from far more important (and lucrative) abuses in the world's offshore tax havens.

So rather than continue arguing over chump change, it is long past time for the United States, with its international friends and allies, to demand accountability from the long list of tiny countries and principalities, from Andorra and the Cayman Islands to Singapore and Switzerland, where corporations, wealthy clients and unrepentant evildoers hide their assets.

The big claw-back will reach into quaint islands and mountainous principalities, because the same banks, hedge funds and private equity firms responsible for the world financial meltdown keep their profits in those "secrecy spaces" -- alongside the ill-gotten gains of numerous drug dealers, dictators and delinquents of every description.

According to the Government Accountability Office, nearly all of America's top 100 corporations maintain subsidiaries in countries identified as tax havens. As the GAO notes, there could be reasons other than avoiding the IRS to set up branches in places such as Singapore, Luxembourg and Switzerland, where taxes are light or nonexistent and keeping clients' illicit secrets is considered a matter of national pride.

But what reason other than evasion could there be for Goldman Sachs Group to set up three subsidiaries in Bermuda, five in Mauritius, and 15 in the Cayman Islands? Why did Countrywide Financial need two subsidiaries in Guernsey? Why did Wachovia need 18 subsidiaries in Bermuda, three in the British Virgin Islands, and 16 in the Caymans? Why did Lehman Brothers need 31 subsidiaries in the Caymans? What do Bank of America's 59 subsidiaries in the Caymans actually do? Why does Citigroup need 427 separate subsidiaries in tax havens, including 12 in the Channel Islands, 21 in Jersey, 91 in Luxembourg, 19 in Bermuda and 90 in the Caymans? What exactly is going on at Morgan Stanley's 19 subs in Jersey, 29 subs in Luxembourg, 14 subs in the Marshall Islands, and its amazing 158 subs in the Caymans? And speaking of AIG, why does it have 18 subs in tax-haven countries? (Don't expect to find out from Fox News Channel or the New York Post, because News Corp. has its own constellation of strange subsidiaries, including 33 in the Caymans alone.)

When the cost of these shenanigans was last estimated two years ago, the U.S. government's annual loss in revenue due to tax avoidance by major corporations and super-rich individuals was pegged at about $100 billion -- considerably more than a rounding error, even today. But of course that is only a rough assessment, as is the estimate of $12 trillion in untaxed assets hidden around the world. Nobody will know for certain until the books are opened and transparency is established.

Whatever the accurate accounting proves to be, it is certain to exceed hundreds of billions annually worldwide. That is money every country will need badly for years, to repay debt, finance reconstruction, and fund services, as the world economy struggles to revive itself. Even in the developing countries, where incomes are much lower and billionaires tend to be scarce, the annual revenue loss could be as much as $50 billion -- enough to meet the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals (if only the money were not stolen by local elites and wired away to numbered accounts in tax havens).

None of these tax havens could exist without the connivance or at least the cooperation of the world's most powerful governments, which remain dominated by financial industry lobbyists even now. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has sought greater transparency from the tax havens for years, hearing promises from most and defiance from a few.

But in reality almost nothing was accomplished until last year, when U.S. law enforcement authorities began to pursue Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) executives with criminal indictments. The UBS probe led to a settlement last month that included a fine of $780 million and an agreement to provide information about tens of thousands of American clients maintaining secret accounts at that huge bank.

Over the past several years, however, the trend has gone the other way, with abuse of bank secrecy and the expatriation of investment and profits growing rapidly. On the tiny island of Jersey in the English Channel, for instance, the authorities responded to political pressure from hedge funds, which have placed more than $80 billion in deposits there, by establishing a "zero regulation regime" last year that literally removed all restrictions and reporting on financial transactions. Jersey's counterparts in Guernsey and the Cayman Islands responded by assuring the hedge funds that they, too, would consider abolishing all regulation.

Perhaps the UBS case indicates a change in that unwholesome trend and a renewed willingness on the part of American authorities to crack the tax havens -- which was not a priority, to put it mildly, of the Bush administration. As a senator, Barack Obama supported legislation to break open the secret financial regimes, by retaliating against countries and principalities that refuse to cooperate. Now Congress and the White House should pass such legislation and make breaking the tax havens a high priority in partnership with the European Union, the OECD and World Bank. They could start by threatening to outlaw transactions between American banks and financial institutions in any country that rejects new rules for transparency and reciprocal information.

If Americans want to make the authors of our misery pay up, then the auditors must go where the money is, as Willie Sutton might have explained -- and take hundreds of billions back.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Krugman On the Bailout

From today's NY Times:

Financial Policy Despair

Over the weekend The Times and other newspapers reported leaked details about the Obama administration’s bank rescue plan, which is to be officially released this week. If the reports are correct, Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, has persuaded President Obama to recycle Bush administration policy — specifically, the “cash for trash” plan proposed, then abandoned, six months ago by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

This is more than disappointing. In fact, it fills me with a sense of despair.

After all, we’ve just been through the firestorm over the A.I.G. bonuses, during which administration officials claimed that they knew nothing, couldn’t do anything, and anyway it was someone else’s fault. Meanwhile, the administration has failed to quell the public’s doubts about what banks are doing with taxpayer money.

And now Mr. Obama has apparently settled on a financial plan that, in essence, assumes that banks are fundamentally sound and that bankers know what they’re doing.

It’s as if the president were determined to confirm the growing perception that he and his economic team are out of touch, that their economic vision is clouded by excessively close ties to Wall Street. And by the time Mr. Obama realizes that he needs to change course, his political capital may be gone.

Let’s talk for a moment about the economics of the situation.

Right now, our economy is being dragged down by our dysfunctional financial system, which has been crippled by huge losses on mortgage-backed securities and other assets.

As economic historians can tell you, this is an old story, not that different from dozens of similar crises over the centuries. And there’s a time-honored procedure for dealing with the aftermath of widespread financial failure. It goes like this: the government secures confidence in the system by guaranteeing many (though not necessarily all) bank debts. At the same time, it takes temporary control of truly insolvent banks, in order to clean up their books.

That’s what Sweden did in the early 1990s. It’s also what we ourselves did after the savings and loan debacle of the Reagan years. And there’s no reason we can’t do the same thing now.

But the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, apparently wants an easier way out. The common element to the Paulson and Geithner plans is the insistence that the bad assets on banks’ books are really worth much, much more than anyone is currently willing to pay for them. In fact, their true value is so high that if they were properly priced, banks wouldn’t be in trouble.

And so the plan is to use taxpayer funds to drive the prices of bad assets up to “fair” levels. Mr. Paulson proposed having the government buy the assets directly. Mr. Geithner instead proposes a complicated scheme in which the government lends money to private investors, who then use the money to buy the stuff. The idea, says Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser, is to use “the expertise of the market” to set the value of toxic assets.

But the Geithner scheme would offer a one-way bet: if asset values go up, the investors profit, but if they go down, the investors can walk away from their debt. So this isn’t really about letting markets work. It’s just an indirect, disguised way to subsidize purchases of bad assets.

The likely cost to taxpayers aside, there’s something strange going on here. By my count, this is the third time Obama administration officials have floated a scheme that is essentially a rehash of the Paulson plan, each time adding a new set of bells and whistles and claiming that they’re doing something completely different. This is starting to look obsessive.

But the real problem with this plan is that it won’t work. Yes, troubled assets may be somewhat undervalued. But the fact is that financial executives literally bet their banks on the belief that there was no housing bubble, and the related belief that unprecedented levels of household debt were no problem. They lost that bet. And no amount of financial hocus-pocus — for that is what the Geithner plan amounts to — will change that fact.

You might say, why not try the plan and see what happens? One answer is that time is wasting: every month that we fail to come to grips with the economic crisis another 600,000 jobs are lost.

Even more important, however, is the way Mr. Obama is squandering his credibility. If this plan fails — as it almost surely will — it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to persuade Congress to come up with more funds to do what he should have done in the first place.

All is not lost: the public wants Mr. Obama to succeed, which means that he can still rescue his bank rescue plan. But time is running out.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I've Always Believed This Myself...

Friday, March 13, 2009


Wonder what the former Worstest Preznit EVAR is up to now that he's no longer in charge of running the country into the ground? Here you go.

(h/t to my good friend Ken Scott for this image.)

Monday, March 09, 2009

Other Peoples' Art

Brock Keeling over at SFist is rapidly becoming my new BFF. He is without a doubt a fan of my photography (which, as you may or not have noticed, has become my primary focus these days -- no pun intended). At this point, I'm not sure which one of us should be sending the other a paycheck, or springing for drinks at HiDive or The Saloon.

Anyway, other people created this ephemeral public art; I just took pictures of it.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Mother Of The Beast

I heard last night that Barbara Bush was recovering from heart surgery yesterday, and I think I speak for millions of like-minded people out there when I say... Barbara Bush has a heart?!?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Limbaugh Party

It's been some time since I posted anything here, for a number of valid -- and some perhaps not so valid -- reasons (busy, sick, otherwise occupied, disinterested, etc. etc., take your pick), but I wanted to jump in here tonight before I read this somewhere else and post my thoughts about the way to rebrand and revitalize the Republican party.

Why? Because I care. Oh, yes I do. After all, what good are the Harlem Globetrotters without the Washington Generals?

Anyway, my simple suggestion is that, from now on, the party formerly known as the Republicans, the GOP, be identified as the Limbaugh Party. That's it. That's all. As of the past couple months, it has become more and more obvious that the de facto leader of the conservative movement is the fat, bigoted, lying, drug-addicted radio host known to his dittohead legions as Rushbo, the man to whom all Republican members of Congress defer (and to whom they apologize if they happen to somehow offend him).

The Limbaugh Party. I want you all to repeat it, use it, spread it around. From this day forward, in this space at the very least, we will refer to the two factions in Washington, DC, as the Democratic Party and the Limbaugh Party.

All of you, now, please, go forward and spread the word.
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