CRF Blog

BlackPast.org

by Bill Hayes

The web site BlackPast.org is the “Online Reference Guide to African American History.” It has more than 10,000 pages on the history of African Americans and others of African ancestry around the world.

The site is divided into three main areas, each with many resources:

  • African American History
  • African American History in the West
  • Global African History

Rendezvous With Destiny

by Bill Hayes

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, David Nasaw reviews Rendezvous with Destiny: How Franklin D. Roosevelt and Five Extraordinary Men Took America into the War and into the World by Michael Fullilove.

Roosevelt had little faith in the competence or loyalty of his appointed ambassadors and the State Department’s career diplomats, most of whom, he thought, were Republicans and out of tune with his priorities. To gather intelligence and administer his foreign-assistance programs, he substituted his own representatives for State Department officials, thoroughly disrupting established lines of authority. [more]

Chart of the Day: NSA Monitoring Practices

Infographic: NSA Monitoring Practices Face Stiff Opposition | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?

by Bill Hayes

Writing in the New York Review of Books, Jed S. Rakoff, a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York, asks: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?

While officials of the Department of Justice have been more circumspect in describing the roots of the financial crisis than have the various commissions of inquiry and other government agencies, I have seen nothing to indicate their disagreement with the widespread conclusion that fraud at every level permeated the bubble in mortgage-backed securities. Rather, their position has been to excuse their failure to prosecute high-level individuals for fraud in connection with the financial crisis on one or more of three grounds:

First, they have argued that proving fraudulent intent on the part of the high-level management of the banks and companies involved has been difficult. It is undoubtedly true that the ranks of top management were several levels removed from those who were putting together the collateralized debt obligations and other securities offerings that were based on dubious mortgages; and the people generating the mortgages themselves were often at other companies and thus even further removed. And I want to stress again that I have no opinion whether any given top executive had knowledge of the dubious nature of the underlying mortgages, let alone fraudulent intent.

But what I do find surprising is that the Department of Justice should view the proving of intent as so difficult in this case. Who, for example, was generating the so-called “suspicious activity reports” of mortgage fraud that, as mentioned, increased so hugely in the years leading up to the crisis? Why, the banks themselves. A top-level banker, one might argue, confronted with growing evidence from his own and other banks that mortgage fraud was increasing, might have inquired why his bank’s mortgage-based securities continued to receive AAA ratings. And if, despite these and other reports of suspicious activity, the executive failed to make such inquiries, might it be because he did not want to know what such inquiries would reveal?

This, of course, is what is known in the law as “willful blindness” or “conscious disregard.” It is a well-established basis on which federal prosecutors have asked juries to infer intent, including in cases involving complexities, such as accounting rules, at least as esoteric as those involved in the events leading up to the financial crisis. And while some federal courts have occasionally expressed qualifications about the use of the willful blindness approach to prove intent, the Supreme Court has consistently approved it. As that Court stated most recently in Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S.A. (2011): “The doctrine of willful blindness is well established in criminal law. Many criminal statutes require proof that a defendant acted knowingly or willfully, and courts applying the doctrine of willful blindness hold that defendants cannot escape the reach of these statutes by deliberately shielding themselves from clear evidence of critical facts that are strongly suggested by the circumstances.”

Thus, the department’s claim that proving intent in the financial crisis is particularly difficult may strike some as doubtful. [more]

The Challenge for Chicago’s Mayor

by David De La Torre

In Rahmbo’s toughest mission, The Economist looks at whether Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel can keep the city from economic disaster.

After years of overpromising and underfunding, Chicago has the worst pension gap of any big American city. Its debts are rising even as its population shrinks. Rahmbo’s mission is to save Chicago from financial ruin. Unlike previous mayors, he is trying. It is not making him popular.

On June 9th Mr Emanuel won a modest but encouraging victory when the governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, signed a pension- reform bill the mayor had championed. It covers 61,000 city- government workers and retirees, out of a total of nearly 100,000. It will hurt: employees must chip in 29% more for a smaller pension, though the retirement age will not be raised. Taxpayers, meanwhile, must stump up an extra $50m a year for the next five years.

Some unions say they will sue to block the reform. Even if the bill survives, Mr Emanuel’s hardest tasks lie ahead. [more]

Iraqi Kurds Closer to Petro State of Their Own

by Bill Hayes

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Iraqi Kurds Are Closer to Petro State of Their Own.

A force of a few thousand jihadist fighters stunned the world with their June 9 capture of Mosul, the biggest city in Iraq after Baghdad. Flush with looted cash, helicopters, and Humvees, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) soon turned to another target: the oil-rich city of Kirkuk about 100 miles away. As in Mosul, Iraqi government forces stationed in and around the city deserted en masse as the first militants approached. This time, though, the jihadists were sent into retreat as well, repelled by thousands of Peshmerga, or Kurdish troops, who streamed into the area on the heels of the fleeing Iraqi forces. The Kurds of Iraq have always disputed control of multi-ethnic Kirkuk by rulers based in Baghdad. On June 12 they finally took the city and surrounding province for themselves — taking an enormous step toward independence and the long-foretold breakup of Iraq. [more]

Rehash of an old Social Security lie

by Bill Hayes

In Rehash of an old Social Security lie, Los Angeles Times business columnist explains how Social Security is financed.

As I’ve written before, when you hear people … talk as though the country can’t afford to pay back the money by redeeming the bonds in the trust fund, what you’re hearing is the sound of the wealthy preparing to stiff the working class. If the income tax has to be raised to turn those T-bonds into cash for payment of benefits over the next couple of decades, that’s how the rich will be made to repay the people who lent them the money. Some people love to claim that the government has “stolen” the trust fund. The correct reply to that is: “Not yet.” [more]

How Denver is tackling the student debt problem

by Bill Hayes

As part of his series titled “Where America Works,” Fareed Zakaria reports on How Denver is tackling the student debt problem.

Wikipedia: where truth dies online

by Bill Hayes

In Wikipedia: where truth dies online for Spiked, Nigel Scott takes aim at Wikipedia.

Wikipedia may be the ultimate devolved business model. Its content is generated by unpaid and largely uncontrolled volunteers. Its management structure is almost non-existent. Editors earn ‘brownie points’ by obsessively editing as many different pages as possible, preferably in subjects that they know nothing about. Specialist knowledge is frowned upon and discouraged. Those with the best understanding of Wikipedia’s procedures join together to bully and sideline newcomers.

To the casual reader, much of Wikipedia appears adequate, but be warned, nothing can be trusted. If your life depends on it, go elsewhere. Search engines have given us the power to instantly uncover source material that used to take weeks of library research to find – if it was available at all. Sources can be biased, but at least with other sources you know who has written what you are reading. With Wikipedia, you do not. Everyone has an agenda, but with Wikipedia you never know who is setting it. [more]

Global Opposition to U.S. Surveillance and Drones, but Limited Harm to America’s Image

by Bill Hayes

In a new survey based on a number of opinion polls, the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project reports that the world opposes U.S. surveillance and drones, but limited harm has been done to America’s image.

Revelations about the scope of American electronic surveillance efforts have generated headlines around the world over the past year. And a new Pew Research Center survey finds widespread global opposition to U.S. eavesdropping and a decline in the view that the U.S. respects the personal freedoms of its people. But in most countries there is little evidence this opposition has severely harmed America’s overall image. [more]

Pew Opp Drones

Carrying On

by Bill Hayes

In Carrying On for the New York Times Book Review, Miranda Seymour reviews The Love-charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War by Lara Feigel.

In September 1939, a hastily prepared Britain declared war on Germany. A year later, after an air attack on Berlin, Hitler carried out his threat of revenge against “the capital of the British Empire.” The blitz, which would continue until May 1941, had begun.

It seems particularly appropriate, in a lovingly researched book that focuses on the experiences of five writers living in London during those suspenseful months, that one of the first urban casualties of the onslaught was a literary one. On Sept. 9, 1940, Virginia Woolf’s London apartment was hit by an unexploded bomb. A week later, the bomb went off, blowing up the entire house and destroying the celebrated Hogarth Press. Woolf’s suicide followed six months later. [more]

‘Chinatown’ in real life

by Bill Hayes

In  ‘Chinatown’ in real life for the Los Angeles Times, Gary Polakovic looks at the state of California water 40 years after the classic movie Chinatown.

[S]cientists know that California and the Southwest have experienced mega-droughts, lasting for decades. Today, no one has a plan should such droughts recur. And yet recur they almost certainly will. UCLA researchers found that such “perfect droughts” coincide with periods of warming temperatures. And the climate models and data point to one consistent conclusion: The Southwest will be much warmer and drier in the near future. State officials expect the Sierra snowpack to diminish by 25% in 35 years.

Unless we stop playing make-believe, the words of the fictional L.A. politician in the opening scene of “Chinatown” will prove prescient: “We live next door to the ocean, but we also live on the edge of a desert. Los Angeles is a desert community; beneath this building, beneath every street there’s a desert, and without water, the dust will rise up and cover us as if this place never existed.” [more]

Technology Quarterly

by David De La Torre

The Economist’s Technology Quarterly features the following articles:

Rahm Emanuel’s War on Drugs

by Bill Hayes

In Rahm Emanuel’s War on Drugs, Bloomberg Businessweek reports on lawsuits by states and cities against the makers of addictive painkillers.

State and local officials have asked the Food and Drug Administration to stop opioid makers from marketing the drugs for long-term pain management, but the FDA hasn’t acted and neither have the drugs’ manufacturers. So local governments are taking pharmaceutical companies to court. Civil lawsuits filed in the past month by Chicago and California’s Santa Clara and Orange counties accuse Purdue and four other drugmakers of soft-pedaling the risks of the medications. Both suits seek to force “defendants to cease their unlawful promotion of opioids and to correct their misrepresentations” as well as pay unspecified damages. [more]

Jon Meacham on Polarization in Politics

by Bill Hayes

Sitting in for Charlie Rose, Jon Meacham interviews David Brooks of the New York Times and presidential historian Michael Beschloss on polarization in politics.