Please visit the new home of Majikthise at bigthink.com/blogs/focal-point.

402 posts categorized "Weblogs"

February 28, 2009

Recommended reading


-Democratic residents of Illinois' Fifth Congressional District, you have the opportunity of a political lifetime to vote for Tom Geoghegan on March 3! A truly pathetic turnout is expected for this special election, so the margin of victory will be very slim, probaly less than 1500 votes. Remember, when your neighbors stay home, your vote counts more. Cast your unusually valuable ballot for universal healthcare and pensions. [G-Spot/Observer]

-Disunite There: Harold Meyerson chronicles the civil war within one of the nation's most innovative and progressive unions, UNITE HERE. [Prospect]

-In other union disunity news, United Healthcare Workers-West is trying to split with the SEIU, over an issue that also divides UNITE and HERE, namely: Is it okay for union officials to cut deals with management whereby the bosses agree to allow a union to form in exchange for concessions from workers? SEIU and UNITE say yes, UHW-W and HERE say no. [MoJo]

-Sen. Roland Burris nimbly vaults over a dolly full of garbage to escape awkward questions from the press. [WaPo]

-The architects of the alleged Stanford Ponzi scheme went to church, drank protein shakes, and cultivated a clutch of adolescent protegees. [NYT]

-Contractors enslave guest workers to sustain US troops in Iraq. [Salon]

-The Snuggie: How infomercials made an over-sized backwards polar fleece bathrobe into a marketing sensation. [NYT]

-Obama and Holder have announced that the federal government is no longer going to raid medical marijuana growers in the 13 states where the cultivation of marijuana for medicine is legal. [Gawker]

February 05, 2009

Laura Flanders, Janeane Garofalo, and me on GRITtv

On Monday, I was a guest on the Laura Flanders Show on GRITtv along with comedian and activist Janeane Garafalo, and journalist Danny Schecter.

Our discussion was about what separates out-and-out frauds like Bernie Madoff from the architects of the subprime crisis and other Wall Street miscreants who managed to get rich by recklessly gambling away other people's money.

Morally, I'd say there's not much difference between Madoff and the folks who hyped liar loans so they could sell the debt out the back door, knowing they'd have made their quick buck before anyone realized that the people who bought the houses and the people who bought that debt were totally fucked when the former inevitably failed to pay the latter. Legally, some of these hucksters may have been on firmer ground than Madoff, but that in itself doesn't make them more ethical.

Nor is there much difference between Madoff and the credit raters who misrepresented bad securities as sound investments because they wanted the rating commission from the crooks who created the securities. Both were motivated by greed, but the corrupt credit raters ultimately ruined far more innocent people.

The irony that I was getting at in the segment was that Bernie Madoff managed to get away with the financial equivalent of a chain letter by falsely claiming to be part of the ostensibly legitimate but virtually unregulated world of hedge funds.

In reality, Madoff wasn't managing a hedge fund or investing in anything, he was running a classic Ponzi scheme. But when Madoff intimated he was making astonishing returns by trading billions of dollars worth of over-the-counter derivatives, few could contradict him because the trades he was alluding to would have been private and unregulated anyway.

We now know that Madoff's apparent financial wizardry was just a front. His methods were old fashioned Ponzi tactics: recruit new marks and divide up their money amongst your existing investors. As long as you can keep up the recruiting rate and your existing investors don't cash out en masse, you can appear to generate amazing rates of return without actually investing in anything.

I was pretty nervous being on TV with Janeane, but I guess I didn't screw up too badly because I got invited back to the Laura Flanders show.

January 13, 2009

Congratulations to Driftglass, 2008 Weblog Awards' Best Individual Blogger

Thanks to all the readers who voted for me in the 2008 Weblog Awards for best individual blogger. I came in fourth in a field of ten with 9.8% of the vote.

Congratulations to my fellow liberal blogger, Driftglass, for running away with first place and an amazing 32.6% of the vote.

August 18, 2008

Announcement: Majikthise to cover presidential race for Firedoglake

I have a very exciting announcement to make: Starting this afternoon, I will be covering the 2008 presidential race at Firedoglake's Campaign Silo.

Campaign Silo is a reported blog. So, I'm counting on you guys to send me your tips.

As many of you know, I have a special affection for documents. Last month, I was the first to publish a photo of Randy Scheunemann, Stephen Payne, and Ahmed Chalabi. If you have some juicy files you'd like to pass along, please send them to the email address on the sidebar.

I will be blogging from the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Stay tuned for dispatches and photos.

August 11, 2008

Citibank VP fired for pseudonymous blogging

Citigroup vice president Michael J. McCarthy was recently fired for blogging.

His blog, Take a Report, is a bunch of locker room babble. It's sexist, homophobic, and generally crude. Mostly, the McCarthy posts clothed pictures of women and makes snarky comments about their bodies. It's gross, but it's pretty tame by internet losers standards.

McCarthy, a self-proclaimed fat guy who blogs under the pseudonym "Large" amuses himself and his 60,000 daily visitors by ridiculing the bodies of female strangers.

He's male privilege personified, but I'm inclined to stick up for him on general principle. McCarthy's pathetic habits are his own business.

If Citigroup will fire a VP for blogging, every blogger's job is at risk. Pam Spaulding writes:

While McCarthy’s blog is pretty rank, Citigroup cited “behavior that violated the firm’s code of conduct and policies,” even though he never blogged about his employer, mentioned Citigroup or identified himself. You can be fired for blogging about your job, using your work computer or its network for personal matters, on your lunch hour—and even for blogging at home in many states, unless there is explicit permission to do so. Case law has usually sided with the employer.

Ostensibly, McCarthy was fired for accessing and promoting his blog at work, but I don't buy it. Almost certainly, it was the content of the blog that motivated Citibank to go looking for evidence that he'd blogged at work.

McCarthy lost his job after Citigroup, the biggest U.S. bank by assets, determined that he was using his computer at work to access and promote the site, said a person with knowledge of his ouster. [Bloomberg, emphasis added]

Notice that even Bloomberg's anonymous source stops short of accusing McCarthy of blogging at work. The ex-trader is only alleged to have accessed and promoted the blog on company time.

Nobody alleges that McCarthy was logging in and writing posts while he was supposed to be working.  Presumably a lot of other Citigroup employees also read McCarthy's blog at work and, as far as we know, they haven't all been fired for it. "Promoting" the site could be something as trivial as sending a link to a friend using a company email account.

I've seen an employer elide blogging and surfing to justify a firing before. The University of Alabama at Birmingham used the same studied vagueness against former university editor Roger Shuler.

Here's how the HR language game works: Implying that an employee regularly blogged at work suggests that he's a chronic goof off who might well deserve the boot for slacking. Whereas, if you say you fired a longtime salaried employee for a little web surfing, people are going to ask questions.

There may well be more to McCarthy's firing than meets the eye. Bloomberg reports that he was scheduled to speak at a major banking industry gathering. The story seems to imply that he was invited to talk about the blog. It's also unclear whether he accepted the invitation before or after he was fired.

If McCarthy was scheduled to speak about his blog and he was fired after he accepted the invitation, he deserved to get fired. A vice president of a bank should not be lecturing other bankers about online catcalling at an industry gathering.

McCarthy's indiscretions could have serious implications for Citigroup. The company has faced sex discrimination lawsuits in the past. McCarthy tried to remain anonymous. But once the bank found out that a VP was maintaining a catcalling blog, they may have had some legal responsibility to investigate and act on their findings. 

Setting aside the particulars of the McCarthy case, there's still a larger issue here. It is completely unreasonable for employers to be able to fire employees for blogging on their own time. Blogging on company time shouldn't be judged more harshly than playing solitaire, making paper clip sculptures, or using an office phone to call the babysitter. Obviously, people deserve to get fired for overdoing this things--but we all know that minor infractions are the norm, even for diligent employees. 

Currently, non-work related internet access is management's "get rid of emloyee free" card. The rules tend to be vague and therefore to give management vast discretion. I often wonder whether they want employees to do a certain amount of surfing at work so they have a pretext to fire them at will.

There's a fiction is that employers provide internet strictly for work and that any non-work-related use is dereliction of duty. At this point, most workplaces treat internet access for salaried employees as an amenity as well as a tool, like an office phone. Employers install phones in every cube, even for employees who have no phone-related duties. Despite pretenses to the contrary, the web now serves a similar function for the average office worker.

Obviously, employers have the right to set whatever rules they want for the use of company resources including the web and the phone. If a company wants to ban all web surfing at work, they're entitled to do so. What's unacceptable is treating the internet as an amenity to be used with discretion until you want to fire someone and then selectively enforcing the rules to get rid of them.

Employees should push HR to write realistic, specific, fair guidelines for the use of computer resources. Lawmakers need to protect employee free speech by protecting the rights of employees who blog on their own time.

July 19, 2008

Questionners at Lessig Keynote

AUSTIN, TX.

Participants lining up to ask questions of keynote speaker Larry Lessig at Netroots Nation.

See more Netroots Nation pictures.

Re-Caffeination Rush


Re-Caffeination Rush, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

AUSTIN, TX.

Bloggers scramble to ingest caffeine before the Saturday afternoon sessions at Netroots Nation.

Code Pink Protester


Code Pink Protester, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

AUSTIN, TX.

Protester at the Nancy Pelosi/Al Gore event at Netroots Nation, Saturday morning.

Larry Lessig


Larry Lessig, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

AUSTIN, TX.

Law professor and activist Larry Lessig, father of the Creative Commons, addressing Netroots Nation on how to solve the democracy problem--the systemic influence of money in politics.

Gore & Pelosi


Gore & Pelosi, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

AUSTIN, TX.

Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi on stage at the Netroots Nation talk back session.