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Goldman, Bloomberg and crony capitalism

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
© Reuters
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Commentary: Occupiers arrested, but Mayor Mike dines with Goldman

If ever there was an opportunity for Occupy Wall Street to re-energize and awaken from its winter slumber, it is the let-them-eat - Shake Shack lunch of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the chief executive of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

"Bloomberg visited Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s GS -0.21% headquarters in Manhattan in a show of support after a departing employee [Greg Smith] publicly criticized the firm's culture yesterday," according to a Bloomberg News report.

" 'The mayor stopped by to make clear that the company is a vital part of the city's economy, and the kind of unfair attacks that we're seeing can eventually hurt all New Yorkers,' said Stu Loeser, a spokesman for the mayor."

The mayor also ate lunch with Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein at Shake Shack. For those who don't know, that restaurant is the creation of celebrity chef Danny Meyer. With a plain burger starting at $4.55 and going as high as $8.60, Meyer, whose restaurant empire also includes Union Square Cafe, the Modern and Maialino, has become a kind of gilded Ronald McDonald in Manhattan.

There's just so many things wrong with Bloomberg's visit, it's hard to know where to begin.

Evil Rays

Bell Canada's new Muskoka cell phone towers to be disguised as trees

Image
© Bell Canada
Canada - To the Ontarians who make the annual pilgrimage to cottage country, it may appear that some of the trees have had a growth spurt.

Bell Canada's new cell phone towers, being built in a number of Muskoka communities, will be decked out to appear more like giant white pines than tall eye-sores.

By adding fiberglass branches coming out of the steel 'tree trunks,' Bell hopes to blend the cell phone towers in to the natural forests, according to a Toronto Star story.

"While we are still in the planning stages, we expect to install approximately 20 tree sites throughout many communities in the greater Muskoka area," said Jason Laszlo, Bell spokesperson, to the the Star.

"The equipment comes to the location prefabricated and is assembled on site. When complete, the tree will stand between 25 and 29 metres and will be positioned to blend with existing trees."

Those trees will be showing up in a number of communities in Muskoka, including Brackenring, Foot's Bay, Port Carling East, Port Sandfield, Walker's Point East, Breezy Point Road and Little Joseph Lake.

Wreath

Swiss coach crash: Belgian town holds memorial service



Thousands of people have taken part in a memorial service in northern Belgium for 15 children and two adults killed in a coach crash in a Swiss tunnel.

Two large screens were erected outside the community centre in Lommel because of the large numbers attending.

Of the 28 who died when their coach crashed in Switzerland on 13 March, 17 were from Lommel. Six of the children had Dutch nationality.

Members of the Belgian and Dutch royal families attended the service.
White balloons

Lommel, where 15 of the dead children attended the Stekske primary school, is close to the Dutch border.

The coffins of 14 children and their teacher were brought into the community centre by military escort. Photographs of the two other victims from the Lommel school were also carried in.

Pistol

Trayvon Martin Killing: 911 Tape Reveals Possible Racial Slur by Neighborhood Watchman

Image
© Orlando Sentinel/Red Huber
The Florida police department handling the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by a self-appointed neighborhood watch leader admitted to ABC News tonight that investigators missed a possible racist remark by the shooter as he spoke to police dispatchers moments before the killing.

The admission comes a day after the Justice Department announced that it has launched an investigation of the slaying of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman last month as a possible hate crime.

On a tape of one of Zimmerman's 911 calls the night of the shooting, he is heard saying under his breath what sounds like "f**ing coons." Seconds later he confronted Martin and after a brief scuffle shot him dead.

Pistol

Killing Trayvon Martin: White Sheets Surrounding Florida Teen's Slaying

Image
© Associated Press/Martin Family Photo
In this undated family photo, Trayvon Martin poses for a family photo.
In March 1799 authorities in North Carolina found no fault in a teen fatally shooting a black man after confronting that man about his being on a public road.

In February 2012 authorities in Florida found no fault in a man fatally shooting a black teen after confronting that teen about his being on a public road.

How authorities in Sanford, Florida have handled the fatal February 26th shooting of 17-year-old black teen Trayvon Martin by a town watch operative in Sanford, Florida is sparking outrage nationwide.

That slaying does raise the specter of race-tainted inequities that have roiled through American society since before the formal inception of the United States.

Whistle

Secret Deals, Forclosure Settlements, Stress Tests and Vampire Squid Whistle Blowers: You Just Can't Make This Stuff UP

robo-signing mortgage fraud
© Associated Press
No Hollywood scriptwriter could plot a more implausible story. Here is the plotline sequencing:
  1. Bankers make NINJA loans, securitize them, and sell on to government GSEs
  2. Bankers destroy all the loan documents and begin random and fraudulent foreclosures, throwing millions of innocent victims out on the street
  3. GSEs sue bankers and force them to take back bad mortgages
  4. Bankers sell servicing rights for the same bad mortgages back to GSEs, who overpay
  5. GSEs resell servicing rights to companies run by former GSE officials
  6. Bankers slapped on wrist with puny foreclosure settlement in return for government promise it will never sue them for past foreclosure fraud
  7. Government stress test claims banks are healthy
  8. Bankers get sweet deal, counting mortgage mods for best borrowers toward the settlement
  9. HUD report released demonstrating massive foreclosure fraud that reached to highest levels of banks
  10. Vampire Squid Executive Director fires off resignation letter decrying bankster culture
  11. Banksters walk away scott-free as statute of limitations runs out for criminal behavior
This would have to be a fantasy because no one would ever believe it could have been true.

Beginning in the late 1990s the biggest banks and GSEs created MERS to end-run around county recorders so that they would not have to pay fees to properly register sales of mortgages that would be securitized.

They then proceeded to lose or destroy all (or virtually all) the written documents, broke the chain of title, and screwed up even the electronic records. Nobody knows who owes what to whom, so the loan servicing arms of the biggest banks decided to go on a foreclosure frenzy to seize as many homes at random before anyone found out.

Wolf

Graham James Sentenced to Two Years in Theo Fleury, Todd Holt Sexual Abuse Case

Image
© The Canadian Press/John Woods
Graham James, accused sex offender, arrives at court on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 in Winnipeg for sentencing.
Winnipeg - Outrage across Canada was swift and pointed Tuesday as reviled former junior hockey coach Graham James was sentenced to two years in prison for hundreds of sexual assaults on two of his teenage players.

James's lawyer said his client - "the most hated man in hockey" - got a fair trial, but few seemed to agree that the sentence fit the crime.

A spectator in the Winnipeg courtroom shouted "Yay!" then spat out a more colourful condemnation as James shook his lawyer's hand and was led away in handcuffs to begin serving his sentence.

"Goodbye, you piece of (expletive)," the man said as James was taken into custody.

Talk show phone lines lit up with people expressing harsh views of the sentence. Others took to Twitter to voice their disgust.

Judge Catherine Carlson made James stand up in the prisoner's box to hear his fate. The 59-year-old - looking gaunt, his head closely shaven - showed no emotion, but simply answered "yes" when she asked him if he understood the sentence.

James pleaded guilty in December to repeatedly sexually abusing retired NHL star Theo Fleury and his cousin, Todd Holt, when they played for him in the Western Hockey League in the 1980s and '90s.

"The court is aware that this case has attracted significant public attention and that there is a sense of outrage about these offences. That is understandable," Carlson said in her lengthy sentence summation. "Serious offences were committed against vulnerable victims, with devastating results for those victims.

Magic Wand

Harry Potter Actor Jailed for Rioting in London

Jamie Waylett
© Reuters/Stephen Hird
Actor Jamie Waylett arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in London July 16, 2009.
London - Actor Jamie Waylett, who played Hogwarts bully Vincent Crabbe in six of the Harry Potter films, was jailed for two years on Tuesday for being part of a mob during last summer's riots in London.

Waylett, 22, was found guilty of violent disorder by a jury at London's Wood Green Crown Court, the Press Association reported.

But the actor, who had already admitted swigging from a stolen bottle of champagne during the rioting, was cleared of intending to destroy or damage property with a petrol bomb he was pictured holding.

Waylett, who already had a previous conviction for cannabis possession, was with a gang of at least four people who went into the Chalk Farm area of north London last August on the third day of violence in the capital.

He was captured on CCTV at various points during the evening, often with a hood over his head.

The footage shows him accepting a bottle of champagne from a rioter who had just looted the supermarket he was standing outside.

Judge Simon Carr sentenced the actor to two years for violent disorder and 12 months for handling stolen goods, to run concurrently.

Light Sabers

Unknown Tech Company Fighting Back Against FBI's National Security Letter Gag Order

Big Brother
Last year Twitter was willing to stand up to the feds when they tried to issue a so-called 2703(d) order to try to reveal info about some Wikileaks collaborators. A (d) order is like a warrant, but with fewer privacy protections, but Twitter fought hard to at least let users know that the government was seeking to get their information, in order to allow them to fight back. Of course, the (d) order process is pretty obscure. Much more commonly used is the so-called national security letters (NSLs) process, which is a favorite of the FBI's. The FBI is also well known for abusing NSLs, and despite various slaps on the wrist, appears to continue to use them regularly. Basically, it lets them write a letter demanding information from an intermediary, along with a complete gag order about it.

Wolf

Republicans Are Blocking the Violence Against Women Act

woman with bruised face
© Kayla Bailey/Flickr
There are three reasons some Republicans are trying to block the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act: Gays, immigrants, and Native Americans.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which first passed in 1994 and has been reauthorized twice since then, increased federal penalties for domestic violence and provided funding for groups and services that aid victims of domestic abuse. The bill hit the bipartisan sweet spot of being both tough on crime and oriented toward women's rights. Usually it's reauthorized without much fanfare. This time around, however, several Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), are putting up a fight. Despite the fact that the bill has several Republican sponsors, all eight GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee voted against the bill when the committee considered it last month.