Lanny Breuer’s New Old Job

There’s are things that so obvious the wonder is not that anyone missed it, but that that no one did anything useful about it.

And so we have Lanny Breuer, the man who saved the banking industry from even a single successful prosecution for the 2008 collapse, finally relieved of his position at the Department of Justice, taking a position with the law firm of Covington and Burling. What does Covington and Burling do? They represent large, multinational corporations, like– wait for it– Bank of America, Eli Lilly, General Electric, IBM, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, NASCAR, and Verizon. And Halliburton. And Phillip Morris.

So Lanny Breuer is now working for the banks. But wait– that’s not true.

Lanny Breuer was always working for the banks.

As the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Breuer’s main purpose in life, as he appeared to see it, was to see to it that not a single banker went to jail for the massive frauds that caused the incredible financial collapse of 2008. At the height of his “investigations”, Breuer confided to a banquet hall of lawyers that what kept him awake at night was the fear of what would happen to the banking industry if some bankers were prosecuted.

After a Frontline documentary, “The Untouchables”, revealed the depths and breadth of his indifference to the millions and millions of workers and pension holders whose savings and jobs were ravaged by the intentional frauds committed by the banks, he resigned his position to go back to work for the industry for which he was always working.

The question that must occur to any intelligent American: why should I obey the law?

And Did You Know

Others in my personal hall of infamy of people you never heard of who have caused immense suffering and loss to others:

Janet Reno

Paul Wolfowitz

General Curtis LeMay

People you never heard of who caused a lot of good things to happen (or bad things not to happen)

Paul Martin

Bethany Maclean

The Subcommittee on Authentication of Authenticity

An original painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1981-1983, regarded as his “peak” period, can sell for up to $16 million. No– wait: $29 million.

Basquiat made some money from his own work but artists almost never make the really big money, for two reasons. Firstly, works of art don’t sell for all that much until the artist is dead. Secondly, art is a racket. By “racket”, I mean that nobody really knows what the value of a work of art is until the institutional forces that manage, manipulate, and arrange the art world take hold of it. Basquiat is definitely safely dead, and his works are distinctive, so the art world can now play it’s role. He must be desired to be desired, wanted to be begged, and rare enough to be valuable. But Basquiat’s works will never be as rare as collectors think because it is in no one’s interest to promote the idea that there are a lot of Basquiats out there. [I just heard that someone living in a flooded are of Calgary had an original Van Gogh painting in his house.]


There was, for a time, something called the “Authentication Committee”. You see, a Basquiat is not valuable to anyone because of what it looks like, in spite of utter drivel you will hear:

“he painted a calculated incoherence, calibrating the mystery of what such apparently meaning-laden pictures might ultimately mean” (Marc Mayer, Basquiat in History).


Basquiat paintings are very, very valuable because they, like all other collected art, have become a form of currency. They might as well be currency. Above is a $7 million bill.

I was going to write something snarky about rich people who don’t appreciate real art and only collect it as an investment, and for it’s snob value. That’s probably all true, but there’s not much new to say about it. I was just struck by the idea of an “Authentication Committee”. We all need an Authentication Committee: this is real, this is not real. This is a hoax. This is phony. All of this is phony. Everything is phony. If everything is phony, then everything is real. You need to sort it out for yourself. You need to stand in front of the painting and decide whether or not you find it entertaining in some way. Then you need to decide if it is entertaining to you because it is shocking that people pay a lot of money for it, or because the colors and shapes and design tickle your eye. Or because other people think that it is only entertaining because it cost a lot of money but you are smarter than that. Or because you can see why people pay a lot of money for it but you have no idea why this particular work, and not some other work by a completely unknown artist, is any good. All of our perceptions can be corrupted. All of them matter. None of them do. But then all of them do.

I like the painting. I think it’s original and interesting and expresses something about Basquiat’s desire to express something. I would be willing to pay more than $100 for that painting, if I ever get a chance to buy it.


I love this:

“It hung above a desk in a hotel suite where Coco Chanel lived for more than 30 years and was only discovered to be important last summer, when the hotel shut for a 27-month renovation in the face of stiff competition from newer hotels. ‘It is a magical discovery,’ said Cecile Bernard, a Christie’s expert…'”

The magic, of course, is the fact that this painting was not “important” until an expert from Christie’s got onto her solemn podium of high art and pronounced it so.

The painting is “Le Sacrafice de Polyxene” by Charles Le Brun from the 17th century. It is worth about $650,000.00 (U.S.).

War on Drugs

I am against drug abuse on a deeply personal level, but I am against drug prohibition on every level, personal and political. But it doesn’t matter that I am or that The Wire reflects this, because our political culture cannot and will not produce the selfless courage necessary for a political leader to address the problem honestly. Our political culture only produces politicians and it serves only the relentless ambition of those willing to tell us what we think we want to hear. David Simon, Co-creator of “The Wire”.

Was a war ever fought, for so long, and with such poor results, as the war on drugs?

It was started over 40 years ago by Richard Nixon, as part of his law and order campaign, a successful appeal to middle America, in the belief that more resources and money and manpower could eliminate the scourge of drug addictions. In fact the opposite has happened: drug smuggling, sales, and use are more pervasive than ever before. The initial reduction in the amount of drugs entering the country resulted in increased prices which resulted in increased imports, more dealers, more runners, more robbery and murder, and more addiction. The war on drugs was a compete failure.

Now, in a normal situation, people might look at a program, at it’s goals and methods, and it’s expectations, and decide whether or not it was a success. And if it was a failure, they would abandon that program and try something else.

But the thing about drugs is that America can always imagine that it could be worse. It’s not easy to analyze the drug problem from the point of view of what the untold billions of dollars the war on drugs is costing America could do if they had been spent on treatment instead of interdiction.

As Simon observes, there is almost no politician with the guts to admit that the war on drugs is a complete failure even though, by any reasonable measure, it obviously is. Except, perhaps, for Ron Paul, who has more or less declared that if anyone wants to destroy himself with drugs, why should the government get in the way?

Hysterical Frigid Puritans

Todd Hoffner was a very successful football coach at Minnesota State Mankato. They gave him a cell phone, a Blackberry.

One day, his children, girls aged 4 and 9, and boy 8, came downstairs in towels fresh from a bubble bath (which they had taken together), and demanded he record their performance with his video camera. The towels came off and they danced and played as young children do.

There are actually people in this world who think that children this age running around naked, dancing, and playing, is deviant in some way. I can’t tell you just how sick I think these people are. But I think these people gravitate towards positions of authority: they really think they need to run other peoples’ lives, make decisions for them, and ruin them, if necessary, to further their own egocentric power lusts.

When Todd Hoffner’s cell phone broke, he took it in to the IT Department at Mankato and asked them to recover any photos and videos from it before replacing it. This they did. When some anonymous tiny little smidgeon of an IT technician saw the video, he freaked and called the afore-mentioned authorities, who called the police. Hoffner was escorted off the field in the middle of a practice. He was arrested and charged with making child porn.

Not everybody out there is crazy. Though the prosecutor and the University were absolutely determined to save our society from this terrifying threat to public morality, a judge quickly threw the case out. Sometimes you are more amazed at good sense than at hysteria. I am amazed. She saw exactly what I think any rational person would see: young, innocent children playing, naked. There was nothing pornographic about the videos at all.

The police seized Hoffner’s computers at home and found nothing.

Todd Hoffner’s wife, not surprisingly, ridiculed the charges. After all, it was she who put the kids in the tub together in the first place, naked. She believes the children have a healthy, natural, playful attitude towards their bodies. Many intelligent people believe that.

Hoffner, in an interview with ESPN said this: “You make a simple mistake and it turns your life upside down”. He’s wrong: he didn’t make a mistake. There was not a thing wrong with what he did.

The University human resources department appears to be terrified. They don’t act terrified in public– well, yes they do: they have drawn over themselves a cloak of secrecy. They suspended Hoffner for using the company phone to take personal pictures (no word on the results of their investigations into all of their other staff to see just how many of them have also broken this rule– I’ll bet some HR staff themselves have broken it). Then they fired him for unstated reasons.

I believe they don’t have any reason to fire him except for this: they look like complete idiots. They look like unspeakably stupid hysterical barbaric irrational zealots. And they know it. There is only one way they think they can rescue their reputations: by pretending that they found something else.

And thus, on an NPR site, in the comments, someone says, explaining why they fired Hoffner after a judge found him innocent, “they must have something else: do you think they are stupid?”

Yes, I do.  Oh yes I do!  More than ever.


With all the DNA testing going on and the resultant exonerations of people who have served, in some cases, ten, fifteen, twenty years in prison (and sometimes on death row), it is not unusual to see a DA hunker down and insist, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that the man is guilty, guilty, guilty!

Like the University of Mankato HR staff, they refuse to take responsibility for the massive damage they have done to an innocent man. It’s human nature. It’s a part of human nature that often does more damage than any other trait, because many of these people will stomp over anything and anyone to try to prove that they didn’t recklessly destroy a man’s life on the basis of evidence that any intelligent person could have read differently.

And More on the Assholes at Minnesota State University

Minnesota State destroyed notes from its controversial investigation of Hoffner, and the Minnesota legislative auditor’s office meanwhile said it was “surprised” that the school’s investigator, an affirmative action officer, “destroyed her contemporaneous interview notes” when she conducted an investigation for Richard Davenport, the college’s president.[4][5] The school’s investigator conducted flawed interviews in which questioning was not recorded or conducted under oath.[6][7]   Wiki

Of course they did.

For the record, an arbitrator ruled in Hoffner’s favor and he was reinstated as Head Coach in 2014.  He went on to win the NSIC Championship, whatever that is.

And we just know– we know– that the administrators who destroyed their notes were never punished.

The $37,000 Voice

President Obama recently flew to Chicago to attend a fund-raising dinner. The trip cost $175,000 an hour for Air Force One. The President gets to fly on Air Force One because he is the President and he is not “allowed” to fly on a commercial jet. To attend this dinner you need to give $37,000 to the Democratic Party. The money is not for Obama– he can’t run again. It is for the 2014 mid-term congressional elections.

[By the way, “not allowed” is bullshit.  Politicians love it because they can claim that they are just plain folk, humble and unpretentious, but those damn Secret Service guys insist.  The President and Congress are the government.  They create this policy and then pretend they didn’t even know it existed.]

There are a lot of people– some of them rational– who will insist that it is reasonable to insist that the President fly on Air Force One to any function no matter how private or personal or partisan, because the chief executive of the mighty United States of America must remain in constant contact with his generals and cabinet ministers and congressional leaders and such at all times.

I don’t care how many people insist this is true: it is not. Nor is it true that the President cannot go to a restaurant or park or bar without huge pre-arrangements, security details, block closings, and other ridiculous efforts. Did you know that if he goes into a book store, the Secret Service must clear everybody else out in advance? Is this a genuine security issue, or because the President might be uncomfortable having to chat with a real, live citizen for a change?  Or, more likely, because the President and his acolytes just adore the prestige of being so important, so amazing, so precious, that everyone else must leave the store.

People do believe the security and the privilege are necessary under the pervasive delusion that the President of the United States is a kind of supernatural magical leader of indescribable talent and judgment who cannot be replaced. They believe he is indispensable because it is in the interests of the President and of the Secret Service and the entire security-industrial complex to convince us that he is indispensable. They also believe the security benefits of the President flying around in a gigantic 747 all to himself outweigh the disadvantages.

“The cemeteries are full of people the world could not do without. ” Elbert Hubbard.

The disadvantages are this: your leader is completely out of touch with reality. He exists in a marvelous bubble of insular gratifications and illusions. Every detail of day to day life for most Americans becomes theoretical and abstract.

The truth is that, in a pinch, any number of cabinet officials or Senate or Congressional leaders could fill in for the President without doing any harm to the nation. The truth is that most decisions are are made by functionaries and high-level civil servants and presented to the president mainly for the official imprimatur of an elected authority. Does the president ever, out of the blue, suddenly say something like, “hey, let’s take a look at tv advertising — I’d really like to limit the number of ads that can be shown every hour”? No. It’s more like, “Mr. President, this proposed oil pipeline is generating a lot of opposition from environmentalists. We recommend you sit on it.”

Would I have him take a commercial flight? Absolutely. But I’m a reasonable person. A small, private jet supplied by the Democratic Party would do. He could still be accompanied by a few Secret Service agents, and the local police at his destination could do the rest. Does he need a motorcade to the hall? No, damn it, he does not. And yes, I would have the President of the United States of America get stuck in traffic once in a while because that would tell the world that, first of all, we are democracy and everyone is equal under the law, and, secondly, our leaders are in touch with the concerns of the average voter.

And most importantly: the average person’s idea of what is truly exceptional about famous people is completely and utterly false and needs to be corrected. And once people once again have the impression that leaders are a lot more like you and me than they are like gods, democracy would be healthier.

One More Thing

Once again the conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court, who claim a passion for keeping big government out of our lives when it comes to safety or health, think it would be marvelous to let the police collect and store your DNA even if you haven’t been charged with a crime.

Chinese Hackers

“I don’t need to kill you to get what I want.”

We read that Chinese hackers, once again, are poking around on U.S. government and corporate servers and stealing important data files related to national defense and patented inventions.

I am perplexed. As a computer professional, and a database specialist, I always immediately ask myself how they got in? And then I ask myself, how would I manage a data set that required a very, very high degree of security?

The answer is pretty simple. You don’t expose data like that to an external network.

In the simplest form, this kind of security can be implemented very easily. You locate the files, the applications, the data bases, configurations, libraries, code, whatever, on a local network. You don’t connect it to the internet. All the people working on your project have to be located within your physical network, that is, one or more buildings physically connected by network cable, and not connected to any external modem or line, and certainly without a wireless connection.

I would guess that, from the point of view of industry or government, this might be unacceptable in some way. Anyone working on almost any information technology would need to access the internet often. But what is “unacceptable”? Is opening your information systems to Chinese hackers “acceptable”?

How quickly could we get used to a new acceptable: when you work on a very important project that requires a high level of security, you get off the grid. That’s the way it is. The same way that scientists working in micro bacterial research now have to wear white suits, visors, and gloves and work in sealed rooms, in secure buildings.

I think it can be done. Inevitably, some scientists or engineers will need some information only available on the internet but that can easily be handled by having a physically isolated internet connection to a separate, non-networked computer in the same building. It’s not technically difficult to keep it separate from a LAN. If the information is copied or downloaded, it can be copied onto a flash drive and then transferred to the LAN. Then, even if an employee inadvertently downloaded a virus from the internet, it would have no effect. It won’t be able to connect to a mother ship. The flash drive could be reformatted before ever being used again for extra security. What’s so hard about that?

[It might be argued that all computers nowadays come with built-in wireless connectivity.  But it is possible to build computers without it if there was a demand for it.]

I know: the engineers and scientists will insist they need immediate, continuous access to the internet. If you insist, and the government or industry accedes to this demand, they should quit whining about hackers stealing the data: you have made it available to them.

If you want to rent a car and drive to Italy and park it on the street, please don’t come to me with your crisis about someone stealing your GPS out of your glove compartment– I can tell you right now, that is what will happen. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.

We have bigger problems with China. Today, the “Inside Washington” program with Gordon Peterson and gang decried the fact that the U.S. is not preparing for war with China. Even Mark Shields seemed to believe we should not be conducting war exercises with China while they are trying to steal our data.

I think he’s wrong. I think that is precisely what we should be doing: engaging China, developing relationships, sharing knowledge with them. If you prepare for war, you will have war. If you prepare for peace, you might not.

The great problem with China is caused by us. Walmart, especially, uses China as a vast pool of cheap labour to produce millions of trinkets to be sold cheaply at the mall outside of your town, thereby driving local businesses out of business and driving more and more American workers into minimum wage jobs supporting the dispersal of the products of Chinese productivity and providing the capital China needs to build a navy that can challenge the navy of the country they expect some day to go to war with, the United States. Apple has found a congenial home in China. All the big American corporations are drooling at the possibilities of a billion new customers. That is what drives U.S. foreign policy and anyone who pretends otherwise is running for president.

If you don’t want China to become big and powerful and rich, you will cut Walmart off at the knees. Walmart will then shift their production to Bangladesh or India or Mexico. Maybe a few jobs will come back to America.

Because both sides know two things. Firstly, there is not enough oil in the world for both the U.S. and a future China when it begins to catch up to American industrial might. Secondly, neither country has the moral or rational ability to say: let’s share.

And Furthermore…

If you don’t like the Internet, get off. I mean it. Who asked you on? Who the hell insisted that corporations should be able to store their data on public networks, advertise their products, and sell their services, online? Get off. Lock your LAN up. Disconnect. Use the telephone instead. Use the courier. Fax your information. Send it by carrier pigeon.

There is no divine ordinance that says that governments and corporations must be allowed to store their data on the internet and should expect that information to be secure.

Get off, get off, get off.

One More Thing

I just think I need to take a moment and remind everyone that Wolf Bitzer at CNN said this about Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech: “She hit one out of the park.”

Let’s not forget.