Kailua Village Business Improvement District
Update from Kailua Village Business Improvement District
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Historic Kailua Village is Open For Business
Sights and sounds along Alii Drive this Sunday morning all point to life returning to normal here in Historic Kailua Village. Just two days after the tsunami athletes were gathering at Kailua Pier for a swim - run event. Great to see.
Though the lobby, restaurant and ground floor shops at the King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel sustained serious water damage, General Manager Jak Hu's positive outlook was infectious. "We'll change out these carpets and get the lobby back into top shape very soon." None of the upper floors were damaged and the hotel remains open.
Apart from a handful of shops with damaged glass windows and doors, many of the retail shops along Alii Drive cleaned up deposits of sand and ocean debris and re-opened yesterday. Several shops at Kona Inn reported that they were fine - just waiting for electrical power to be restored.
The makai side of the Kona Inn, including the Kona Inn Restaurant, did sustain damage. Workers have already replaced some decking and were on the job again early today. Many other restaurants including Bubba Gump's, Fishhoppers, Huggo's, and Humpy's were open for business - some as early as Friday afternoon.
Kailua Village BID crews were out in force on Saturday removing more sand than anyone could have imagined. We are delighted to report that the new interpretive signs and publication racks all
KVBID Crews were on the job Saturday joining others in clean-up efforts up in the Village.
survived unscathed. With the influx of salt water everywhere, landscaping along Alii Drive is going to look a lot worse for the next few weeks. Most of the plants will recover from the "salt burn" but it may take some time.
Kokua Kailua Village Stroll is scheduled for Sunday, March 20 from 1 to 6 p.m. It will go on as planned. We may need to adjust near the north end (Kailua Pier) where the sidewalk is damaged and we will continue to monitor that throughout the week. Please plan to participate and show your support for Village merchants and restaurants.
We understand the Kailua Pier will undergo an assessment on Monday. As we learn more, we will continue to share information with you.
The Hawaii County Council convened a special council meeting in Kona late yesterday to receive briefings on damage reports. These damage reports are important to document and will be used to meet criteria for federal funding.
Finally, a huge mahalo to Mayor Kenoi, Deputy Managing Director Wally Lau, Department of Public Works chief Warren Lee and scores of county workers who gave us 110%. The task was herculean and they got the job done.
Mark this as the beginning of the end for Twitter. You can force a direction of something after you allowed to grow organically and on its own so long.
One reason Twitter grew so fast was that there so many way to use it.
News Corp. tried to change the course of MySpace.
Kailua Village Business Improvement District
Update from Kailua Village Business Improvement District
Friday, March 11, 2011
First and foremost, we are pleased to report that residents, employees and visitors in Historic Kailua Village and surrounding areas are safe. Hawaii County Police proactively sealed off Alii Drive and apart from obvious safety concerns, this was necessary to protect private property. Alii Drive reopened about 4 p.m. today.
We have reports that some stores lost their plate glass windows and doors, the Kailua seawall and walkway are heavily damaged, and the restaurant, lobby and pool area at King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel were flooded. As the day and evening continues, more reports of damages will arrive. We know there are businesses with little or no damages. There is sand throughout the Village and it probably entered many ground floor businesses. We also know there are businesses with much more serious damage.
Mahalo to everyone for your outpouring of voluntary assistance. We sincerely appreciate it, but the immediate priority was to allow time and space for heavy equipment on Alii Drive to begin the clean up job. The County of Hawaii has already done a wonderful job in responding.
The County Department of Research and Development and Council member Angel Pilago called early today to offer help for those property owners and businesses in need. The first step will be to inventory damages. We are sure you have already started, so please carefully document your losses. More information on a process to collect this information and other next steps will be forthcoming.
Finally, we know that we enjoy a deep sense of community and a resilience of which we can be proud. As our businesses begin to re-open in Historic Kailua Village (and many already have), the best way to support our community is to remember to buy locally.
KAILUA VILLAGE BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT
Marco pushed an update to Instapaper today: Instapaper 3.0. And oh, say, this is interesting:
Nobody knew when or why to use Stars, so I've renamed them to Likes to clarify their purpose. Generally, you should Like articles that you think are interesting and that you might recommend to others. [...] You can now browse your friends' Liked items to find great articles to read.
(via @djacobs)Tags: Instapaper Marco Arment
Two key facts about Twitter and Facebook.
1. Twitter's mistake was building a product they didn't really use. I've never seen it work out well when the top guys at a company aren't passionate users of their own product. They can be quirky, that just comes out in the product. Gates and Windows. Jobs and the Mac. Marc Andreessen and Netscape. Etc etc. When the people who run Twitter get on stage and talk about their product, it's very different from the thing we're using. You can feel the discomfort. It's distant. It also comes through in the decisions they've made re business models.
2. Facebook can only rise so far because they're hiring from the same talent pool as all the other Silicon Valley companies. They all think they're going to be different, and for a while they are. Until they grow so big that everything that was different about them gets diluted. Eventually the singular Silicon Valley Company takes over. I remember when Apple was young, their execs were the most wonderful people in the world. Almost as if "wonderful" was a technical term. They were thinking about taking over and running third world countries after their Apple options vested. Seriously (and I'm not making fun of them). But they all fall to earth, and become the foundations and plaster for the next upstart.
Are we in a bubble? Yes, this is a bubble. All the frenzied startup activity and still the VCs raise more money to invest. Not enough inventory. We need more young people to play the role of entrepreneur. It's so analogous to the real estate bubble where the only bad bet was to own the actual real estate because that was so real. The money was being made off the lies. In this bubble the people who are going to get hurt are the legions of young people. Most of them aren't entrepreneurs. As a percentage of the population, the people who really have the drive and fortitude to stick it out is infinitesmal. But that isn't the myth -- it's also like the housing boom where everyone could be a home owner. In 2011 every young person can be an entrepreneur, esp if he or she knows how to code. That's the bubble, right there.
After a long and arduous offseason, the beginning of Cactus and Grapefruit League play has officially ushered in the 2011 season. For prospect junkies like myself, Spring Training is one of the more exciting portions of the MLB season; an opportunity to watch the future of the game alongside future members of the Hall of Fame.
Sometimes, however, there are simply way too many players to follow. In any given Spring Training game you are bound to see a slew of players with completely unfamiliar names, and jersey numbers that edge triple-digits and more appropriate for an NFL lineman or receiver.
But if you were to take a few minutes to scan each team’s respective roster – that’s right, numbers 1 through 99 – you’d naturally assume that many of these players are bound for greatness. Or at least their names would lead you to believe so…
When I hear names like Buster Posey, Brooks Conrad, Skip Schumaker and Clete Thomas, my first thought is, “That lucky bastard was predisposed to a solid, big league career.” Although I’m fully aware that a great baseball name is in no way correlated with actual success, its power to distinguish a player is undeniable.
Therefore, I feel compelled to highlight some of Spring Training’s best names – believe me, there are some good ones – as well as some of the worst and most ridiculous. If I’ve overlooked any gems, be sure to comment and I’ll add it to our list.
Bubba Bell (Billy Wayne Bell), RF, Boston Red Sox
With a name like Bubba, you’d better be a damn good ball player or have the ability to wrestle a fully-grown alligator into submission.
Ryne Reynoso, P, Boston Red Sox
Personally, I still prefer Renee Russo.
Tucker Barnhart, C, Cincinnati Reds
After completing boarding school, Barnhart spent several years yachting on the Mediterranean Sea, probably while wearing something with a monogram.
Daniel Dorn, LF, Cincinnati Reds
Poor Daniel…if only he played for the Tribe. Imagine the potential marketing ploy!
(Robert) Cord Phelps, 2B, Cleveland Indians
You know you’re a baseball player if you willingly go by Cord when your name is Robert.
(Allan) Cutter Dykstra, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers
Considering that he’s the seed of Lenny, I’m pretty sure that the IRS will soon forcefully repossess the name Cutter.
Tagg Bozied (Robert Tanois Taggert Bozied), 1B/3B/OF, Philadelphia Phillies
This guy is a broadcaster’s dream, and at the same time, a potential nuisance for Phillies’ fans. I can already hear the call of his first big league home run: “Tagg tagged it!” Rough.
Charlie Furbush, P, Detroit Tigers
I’ve got nothing here. Charlie unanimously wins the blue ribbon.
Brad Hand, P, Florida Marlins
I think it’s safe to assume that Brad has been tormented his entire life, which still doesn’t compare to the endless ridicule that Furbush has endured.
Michael Dubee, P, Pittsburgh Pirates
The son of the Brewers’ pitching coach Rich Dubee, Mike apparently enters the game to Bob Marley’s, “One Love,” and has a wardrobe that consists of strictly tie-dye.
Tobi Stoner, P, New York Mets
The second that Tobi becomes a mainstay in the big leagues, his jersey will surely grace the front window of every New York headshop.
Mark Hamburger, P, Texas Rangers
Mark’s name gives a whole new meaning to the expression, “Meat.”
This is a pretty a compelling write up. I've always said that I am spiritual, but not religious. Interesting read.
Posted:02 Mar 2011 05:00 AM PST
I was chatting with some missionaries the other day.
In due course, our dialogue about the “truth” of spirituality arrived at the same place it always arrives: religious beliefs are ultimately given credence on the basis of personal experiences. The divine is not replicable or demonstrable in a test-tube hypothesis: it must boil down to some kind of personal encounter or feeling of God.
But this was oh so extremely difficult for my missionary friends to admit. Why? Because if a believer declares their spiritual experiences and emotions exclusively correspond to one true God, they also inherently declare that the experiences and emotions of people in other religions are delusional fabrications. This leaves many believers (in any religion) in an awkward, circular, unavoidable logic position that nobody wants to get stuck defending:
My experience affirms the truth. Their experience is an emotional hoax. The truth about Yahweh/God/Allah has been predestined for me to discover in the Tenakh/Bible/Quran… and I know this is true because I’ve experienced it. Since their experience does not match my experience, I know their experience is false. End of argument.
This is why most religious debates disintegrate into this kind of rhetoric: “Our community is enlightened. Your community is brainwashed.” Everybody is using the profundity of personal, spiritual experience, and the emotive conviction of divine revelation to prove the same point: the “other people” are lost in a blinding sea of fallacy and deception.
The only way forward in religious dialogue (and therefore, arguably, the only way forward to peace on our planet) is to nurture a kind of discussion that transcends this fruitless banter about who is right and who is wrong. Yes: everybody thinks that they are closest to the truth. Ok, good. Check. Now how do we live together peacefully? That is the question.
Sent from the wild (somewhere other than my desk)
WHY ISN’T WALL STREET IN JAIL?
Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer.
“Everything’s fucked up, and nobody goes to jail,” he said. “That’s your whole story right there. Hell, you don’t even have to write the rest of it. Just write that.”
I put down my notebook. “Just that?”
“That’s right,” he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. “Everything’s fucked up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there.”
Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world’s wealth – and nobody went to jail. Nobody, that is, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant and pathological celebrity con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people.
The rest of them, all of them, got off. Not a single executive who ran the companies that cooked up and cashed in on the phony financial boom – an industrywide scam that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities – has ever been convicted. Their names by now are familiar to even the most casual Middle American news consumer: companies like AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. Most of these firms were directly involved in elaborate fraud and theft. Lehman Brothers hid billions in loans from its investors. Bank of America lied about billions in bonuses. Goldman Sachs failed to tell clients how it put together the born-to-lose toxic mortgage deals it was selling. What’s more, many of these companies had corporate chieftains whose actions cost investors billions – from AIG derivatives chief Joe Cassano, who assured investors they would not lose even “one dollar” just months before his unit imploded, to the $263 million in compensation that former Lehman chief Dick “The Gorilla” Fuld conveniently failed to disclose. Yet not one of them has faced time behind bars.
Instead, federal regulators and prosecutors have let the banks and finance companies that tried to burn the world economy to the ground get off with carefully orchestrated settlements – whitewash jobs that involve the firms paying pathetically small f ines without even being required to admit wrongdoing. To add insult to injury, the people who actually committed the crimes almost never pay the fines themselves; banks caught defrauding their shareholders often use shareholder money to foot the tab of justice. “If the allegations in these settlements are true,” says Jed Rakoff, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, “it’s management buying its way off cheap, from the pockets of their victims.”
To understand the significance of this, one has to think carefully about the efficacy of fines as a punishment for a defendant pool that includes the richest people on earth – people who simply get their companies to pay their fines for them. Conversely, one has to consider the powerful deterrent to further wrongdoing that the state is missing by not introducing this particular class of people to the experience of incarceration. “You put Lloyd Blankfein in pound-me-in-the-ass prison for one six-month term, and all this bullshit would stop, all over Wall Street,” says a former congressional aide. “That’s all it would take. Just once.”
But that hasn’t happened. Because the entire system set up to monitor and regulate Wall Street is fucked up.
Just ask the people who tried to do the right thing.
HERE’S HOW REGULATION of Wall Street is supposed to work. To begin with, there’s a semigigantic list of public and quasi-public agencies ostensibly keeping their eyes on the economy, a dense alphabet soup of banking, insurance, S&L, securities and commodities regulators like the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), as well as supposedly “self-regulating organizations” like the New York Stock Exchange. All of these outfits, by law, can at least begin the process of catching and investigating financial criminals, though none of them has prosecutorial power.
The major federal agency on the Wall Street beat is the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC watches for violations like insider trading, and also deals with so-called “disclosure violations” – i.e., making sure that all the financial information that publicly traded companies are required to make public actually jibes with reality. But the SEC doesn’t have prosecutorial power either, so in practice, when it looks like someone needs to go to jail, they refer the case to the Justice Department. And since the vast majority of crimes in the financial services industry take place in Lower Manhattan, cases referred by the SEC often end up in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Thus, the two top cops on Wall Street are generally considered to be that U.S. attorney – a job that has been held by thunderous prosecutorial personae like Robert Morgenthau and Rudy Giuliani – and the SEC’s director of enforcement.
The relationship between the SEC and the DOJ is necessarily close, even symbiotic. Since financial crime-fighting requires a high degree of financial expertise – and since the typical drug-and-terrorism-obsessed FBI agent can’t balance his own checkbook, let alone tell a synthetic CDO from a credit default swap – the Justice Department ends up leaning heavily on the SEC’s army of 1,100 number-crunching investigators to make their cases. In theory, it’s a well-oiled, tag-team affair: Billionaire Wall Street Asshole commits fraud, the NYSE catches on and tips off the SEC, the SEC works the case and delivers it to Justice, and Justice perp-walks the Ass hole out of Nobu, into a Crown Victoria and off to 36 months of push-ups, license-plate making and Salisbury steak.
That’s the way it’s supposed to work. But a veritable mountain of evidence indicates that when it comes to Wall Street, the justice system not only sucks at punishing financial criminals, it has actually evolved into a highly effective mechanism for protecting financial criminals. This institutional reality has absolutely nothing to do with politics or ideology – it takes place no matter who’s in office or which party’s in power. To understand how the machinery functions, you have to start back at least a decade ago, as case after case of financial malfeasance was pursued too slowly or not at all, fumbled by a government bureaucracy that too often is on a first-name basis with its targets. Indeed, the shocking pattern of nonenforcement with regard to Wall Street is so deeply ingrained in Washington that it raises a profound and difficult question about the very nature of our society: whether we have created a class of people whose misdeeds are no longer perceived as crimes, almost no matter what those misdeeds are. The SEC and the Justice Department have evolved into a bizarre species of social surgeon serving this nonjailable class, expert not at administering punishment and justice, but at finding and removing criminal responsibility from the bodies of the accused.
The systematic lack of regulation has left even the country’s top regulators frustrated. Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant for the SEC, laughs darkly at the idea that the criminal justice system is broken when it comes to Wall Street. “I think you’ve got a wrong assumption – that we even have a law-enforcement agency when it comes to Wall Street,” he says.
In the hierarchy of the SEC, the chief accountant plays a major role in working to pursue misleading and phony financial disclosures. Turner held the post a decade ago, when one of the most significant cases was swallowed up by the SEC bureaucracy. In the late 1990s, the agency had an open-and-shut case against the Rite Aid drugstore chain, which was using diabolical accounting tricks to cook their books. But instead of moving swiftly to crack down on such scams, the SEC shoved the case into the “deal with it later” file. “The Philadelphia office literally did nothing with the case for a year,” Turner recalls. “Very much like the New York office with Madoff.” The Rite Aid case dragged on for years – and by the time it was finished, similar accounting fiascoes at Enron and WorldCom had exploded into a full-blown financial crisis.
The same was true for another SEC case that presaged the Enron disaster. The agency knew that appliance-maker Sunbeam was using the same kind of accounting scams to systematically hide losses from its investors. But in the end, the SEC’s punishment for Sunbeam’s CEO, Al “Chainsaw” Dunlap – widely regarded as one of the biggest assholes in the history of American finance – was a fine of $500,000. Dunlap’s net worth at the time was an estimated $100 million. The SEC also barred Dunlap from ever running a public company again – forcing him to retire with a mere $99.5 million. Dunlap passed the time collecting royalties from his self-congratulatory memoir. Its title: Mean Business.
THE PATTERN OF INACTION toward shady deals on Wall Street grew worse and worse after Turner left, with one slam-dunk case after another either languishing for years or disappearing altogether. Perhaps the most notorious example involved Gary Aguirre, an SEC investigator who was literally fired after he questioned the agency’s failure to pursue an insider-trading case against John Mack, now the chairman of Morgan Stanley and one of America’s most powerful bankers.
Aguirre joined the SEC in September 2004. Two days into his career as a financial investigator, he was asked to look into an insider-trading complaint against a hedge-fund megastar named Art Samberg. One day, with no advance research or discussion, Samberg had suddenly started buying up huge quantities of shares in a firm called Heller Financial. “It was as if Art Samberg woke up one morning and a voice from the heavens told him to start buying Heller,” Aguirre recalls. “And he wasn’t just buying shares – there were some days when he was trying to buy three times as many shares as were being traded that day.” A few weeks later, Heller was bought by General Electric – and Samberg pocketed $18 million.
After some digging, Aguirre found himself focusing on one suspect as the likely source who had tipped Samberg off: John Mack, a close friend of Samberg’s who had just stepped down as president of Morgan Stanley. At the time, Mack had been on Samberg’s case to cut him into a deal involving a spinoff of the tech company Lucent – an investment that stood to make Mack a lot of money. “Mack is busting my chops” to give him a piece of the action, Samberg told an employee in an e-mail.
A week later, Mack flew to Switzerland to interview for a top job at Credit Suisse First Boston. Among the investment bank’s clients, as it happened, was a firm called Heller Financial. We don’t know for sure what Mack learned on his Swiss trip; years later, Mack would claim that he had thrown away his notes about the meetings. But we do know that as soon as Mack returned from the trip, on a Friday, he called up his buddy Samberg. The very next morning, Mack was cut into the Lucent deal – a favor that netted him more than $10 million. And as soon as the market reopened after the weekend, Samberg started buying every Heller share in sight, right before it was snapped up by GE – a suspiciously timed move that earned him the equivalent of Derek Jeter’s annual salary for just a few minutes of work.
The deal looked like a classic case of insider trading. But in the summer of 2005, when Aguirre told his boss he planned to interview Mack, things started getting weird. His boss told him the case wasn’t likely to fly, explaining that Mack had “powerful political connections.” (The investment banker had been a fundraising “Ranger” for George Bush in 2004, and would go on to be a key backer of Hillary Clinton in 2008.)
Aguirre also started to feel pressure from Morgan Stanley, which was in the process of trying to rehire Mack as CEO. At first, Aguirre was contacted by the bank’s regulatory liaison, Eric Dinallo, a former top aide to Eliot Spitzer. But it didn’t take long for Morgan Stanley to work its way up the SEC chain of command. Within three days, another of the firm’s lawyers, Mary Jo White, was on the phone with the SEC’s director of enforcement. In a shocking move that was later singled out by Senate investigators, the director actually appeared to reassure White, dismissing the case against Mack as “smoke” rather than “fire.” White, incidentally, was herself the former U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York – one of the top cops on Wall Street.
Financial regulators have evolved into a bizarre species of social surgeon, expert at finding and removing criminal responsibility from the bodies of the accused.
Pause for a minute to take this in. Aguirre, an SEC foot soldier, is trying to interview a major Wall Street executive – not handcuff the guy or impound his yacht, mind you, just talk to him. In the course of doing so, he finds out that his target’s firm is being represented not only by Eliot Spitzer’s former top aide, but by the former U.S. attorney overseeing Wall Street, who is going four levels over his head to speak directly to the chief of the SEC’s enforcement division – not Aguirre’s boss, but his boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. Mack himself, meanwhile, was being represented by Gary Lynch, a former SEC director of enforcement.
Aguirre didn’t stand a chance. A month after he complained to his supervisors that he was being blocked from interviewing Mack, he was summarily fired, without notice. The case against Mack was immediately dropped: all depositions canceled, no further subpoenas issued. “It all happened so fast, I needed a seat belt,” recalls Aguirre, who had just received a stellar performance review from his bosses. The SEC eventually paid Aguirre a settlement of $755,000 for wrongful dismissal.
Rather than going after Mack, the SEC started looking for someone else to blame for tipping off Samberg. (It was, Aguirre quips, “O.J.’s search for the real killers.”) It wasn’t until a year later that the agency finally got around to interviewing Mack, who denied any wrongdoing. The four-hour deposition took place on August 1st, 2006 – just days after the five-year statute of limitations on insider trading had expired in the case. “At best, the picture shows extraordinarily lax enforcement by the SEC,” Senate investigators would later conclude. “At worse, the picture is colored with overtones of a possible cover-up.”
EPISODES LIKE THIS help explain why so many Wall Street executives felt emboldened to push the regulatory envelope during the mid-2000s.
Over and over, even the most obvious cases of fraud and insider dealing got gummed up in the works, and high-ranking executives were almost never prosecuted for their crimes. In 2003, Freddie Mac coughed up $125 million after it was caught misreporting its earnings by $5 billion; nobody went to jail. In 2006, Fannie Mae was fined $400 million, but executives who had overseen phony accounting techniques to jack up their bonuses faced no criminal charges. That same year, AIG paid $1.6 billion after it was caught in a major accounting scandal that would indirectly lead to its collapse two years later, but no executives at the insurance giant were prosecuted.
All of this behavior set the stage for the crash of 2008, when Wall Street exploded in a raging Dresden of fraud and criminality. Yet the SEC and the Justice Department have shown almost no inclination to prosecute those most responsible for the catastrophe – even though they had insiders from the two firms whose implosions triggered the crisis, Lehman Brothers and AIG, who were more than willing to supply evidence against top executives.
In the case of Lehman Brothers, the SEC had a chance six months before the crash to move against Dick Fuld, a man recently named the worst CEO of all time by Portfolio magazine. A decade before the crash, a Lehman lawyer named Oliver Budde was going through the bank’s proxy statements and noticed that it was using a loophole involving Restricted Stock Units to hide tens of millions of dollars of Fuld’s compensation. Budde told his bosses that Lehman’s use of RSUs was dicey at best, but they blew him off. “We’re sorry about your concerns,” they told him, “but we’re doing it.” Disturbed by such shady practices, the lawyer quit the firm in 2006.
Then, only a few months after Budde left Lehman, the SEC changed its rules to force companies to disclose exactly how much compensation in RSUs executives had coming to them. “The SEC was basically like, ‘We’re sick and tired of you people fucking around – we want a picture of what you’re holding,’ ” Budde says. But instead of coming clean about eight separate RSUs that Fuld had hidden from investors, Lehman filed a proxy statement that was a masterpiece of cynical lawyering. On one page, a chart indicated that Fuld had been awarded $146 million in RSUs. But two pages later, a note in the fine print essentially stated that the chart did not contain the real number – which, it failed to mention, was actually $263 million more than the chart indicated. “They fucked around even more than they did before,” Budde says. (The law firm that helped craft the fine print, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, would later receive a lucrative federal contract to serve as legal adviser to the TARP bailout.)
Budde decided to come forward. In April 2008, he wrote a detailed memo to the SEC about Lehman’s history of hidden stocks. Shortly thereafter, he got a letter back that began, “Dear Sir or Madam.” It was an automated e-response.
“They blew me off,” Budde says.
Over the course of that summer, Budde tried to contact the SEC several more times, and was ignored each time. Finally, in the fateful week of September 15th, 2008, when Lehman Brothers cracked under the weight of its reckless bets on the subprime market and went into its final death spiral, Budde became seriously concerned. If the government tried to arrange for Lehman to be pawned off on another Wall Street firm, as it had done with Bear Stearns, the U.S. taxpayer might wind up footing the bill for a company with hundreds of millions of dollars in concealed compensation. So Budde again called the SEC, right in the middle of the crisis. “Look,” he told regulators. “I gave you huge stuff. You really want to take a look at this.”
But the feds once again blew him off. A young staff attorney contacted Budde, who once more provided the SEC with copies of all his memos. He never heard from the agency again.
“This was like a mini-Madoff,” Budde says. “They had six solid months of warnings. They could have done something.”
Three weeks later, Budde was shocked to see Fuld testifying before the House Government Oversight Committee and whining about how poor he was. “I got no severance, no golden parachute,” Fuld moaned. When Rep. Henry Waxman, the committee’s chairman, mentioned that he thought Fuld had earned more than $480 million, Fuld corrected him and said he believed it was only $310 million.
The true number, Budde calculated, was $529 million. He contacted a Senate investigator to talk about how Fuld had misled Congress, but he never got any response. Meanwhile, in a demonstration of the government’s priorities, the Justice Department is proceeding full force with a prosecution of retired baseball player Roger Clemens for lying to Congress about getting a shot of steroids in his ass. “At least Roger didn’t screw over the world,” Budde says, shaking his head.
Fuld has denied any wrongdoing, but his hidden compensation was only a ripple in Lehman’s raging tsunami of misdeeds. The investment bank used an absurd accounting trick called “Repo 105” transactions to conceal $50 billion in loans on the firm’s balance sheet. (That’s $50 billion, not million.) But more than a year after the use of the Repo 105s came to light, there have still been no indictments in the affair. While it’s possible that charges may yet be filed, there are now rumors that the SEC and the Justice Department may take no action against Lehman. If that’s true, and there’s no prosecution in a case where there’s such overwhelming evidence – and where the company is already dead, meaning it can’t dump further losses on investors or taxpayers – then it might be time to assume the game is up. Failing to prosecute Fuld and Lehman would be tantamount to the state marching into Wall Street and waving the green flag on a new stealing season.
THE MOST AMAZING NON-case in the entire crash – the one that truly defies the most basic notion of justice when it comes to Wall Street supervillains – is the one involving AIG and Joe Cassano, the nebbishy Patient Zero of the financial crisis. As chief of AIGFP, the firm’s financial products subsidiary, Cassano repeatedly made public statements in 2007 claiming that his portfolio of mortgage derivatives would suffer “no dollar of loss” – an almost comically obvious misrepresentation. “God couldn’t manage a $60 billion real estate portfolio without a single dollar of loss,” says Turner, the agency’s former chief accountant. “If the SEC can’t make a disclosure case against AIG, then they might as well close up shop.”
As in the Lehman case, federal prosecutors not only had plenty of evidence against AIG – they also had an eyewitness to Cassano’s actions who was prepared to tell all. As an accountant at AIGFP, Joseph St. Denis had a number of run-ins with Cassano during the summer of 2007. At the time, Cassano had already made nearly $500 billion worth of derivative bets that would ultimately blow up, destroy the world’s largest insurance company, and trigger the largest government bailout of a single company in U.S. history. He made many fatal mistakes, but chief among them was engaging in contracts that required AIG to post billions of dollars in collateral if there was any downgrade to its credit rating.
St. Denis didn’t know about those clauses in Cassano’s contracts, since they had been written before he joined the firm. What he did know was that Cassano freaked out when St. Denis spoke with an accountant at the parent company, which was only just finding out about the time bomb Cassano had set. After St. Denis finished a conference call with the executive, Cassano suddenly burst into the room and began screaming at him for talking to the New York office. He then announced that St. Denis had been “deliberately excluded” from any valuations of the most toxic elements of the derivatives portfolio – thus preventing the accountant from doing his job. What St. Denis represented was transparency – and the last thing Cassano needed was transparency.
Another clue that something was amiss with AIGFP’s portfolio came when Goldman Sachs demanded that the firm pay billions in collateral, per the terms of Cassano’s deadly contracts. Such “collateral calls” happen all the time on Wall Street, but seldom against a seemingly solvent and friendly business partner like AIG. And when they do happen, they are rarely paid without a fight. So St. Denis was shocked when AIGFP agreed to fork over gobs of money to Goldman Sachs, even while it was still contesting the payments – an indication that something was seriously wrong at AIG. “When I found out about the collateral call, I literally had to sit down,” St. Denis recalls. “I had to go home for the day.”
After Cassano barred him from valuating the derivative deals, St. Denis had no choice but to resign. He got another job, and thought he was done with AIG. But a few months later, he learned that Cassano had held a conference call with investors in December 2007. During the call, AIGFP failed to disclose that it had posted $2 billion to Goldman Sachs following the collateral calls. “Investors therefore did not know,” the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission would later conclude, “that AIG’s earnings were overstated by $3.6 billion.”
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, they’re just not telling people,’ ” St. Denis says. “I knew. I had been there. I knew they’d posted collateral.”
A year later, after the crash, St. Denis wrote a letter about his experiences to the House Government Oversight Committee, which was looking into the AIG collapse. He also met with investigators for the government, which was preparing a criminal case against Cassano. But the case never went to court. Last May, the Justice Department confirmed that it would not file charges against executives at AIGFP. Cassano, who has denied any wrongdoing, was reportedly told he was no longer a target.
Shortly after that, Cassano strolled into Washington to testify before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. It was his first public appearance since the crash. He has not had to pay back a single cent out of the hundreds of millions of dollars he earned selling his insane pseudo-insurance policies on subprime mortgage deals. Now, out from under prosecution, he appeared before the FCIC and had the enormous balls to compliment his own business acumen, saying his atom-bomb swaps portfolio was, in retrospect, not that badly constructed. “I think the portfolios are withstanding the test of time,” he said.
“They offered him an excellent opportunity to redeem himself,” St. Denis jokes.
IN THE END, OF COURSE, IT WASN’T just the executives of Lehman and AIGFP who got passes. Virtually every one of the major players on Wall Street was similarly embroiled in scandal, yet their executives skated off into the sunset, uncharged and unfined. Goldman Sachs paid $550 million last year when it was caught defrauding investors with crappy mortgages, but no executive has been fined or jailed – not even Fabrice “Fabulous Fab” Tourre, Goldman’s outrageous Euro-douche who gleefully e-mailed a pal about the “surreal” transactions in the middle of a meeting with the firm’s victims. In a similar case, a sales executive at the German powerhouse Deutsche Bank got off on charges of insider trading; its general counsel at the time of the questionable deals, Robert Khuzami, now serves as director of enforcement for the SEC.
Another major firm, Bank of America, was caught hiding $5.8 billion in bonuses from shareholders as part of its takeover of Merrill Lynch. The SEC tried to let the bank off with a settlement of only $33 million, but Judge Jed Rakoff rejected the action as a “facade of enforcement.” So the SEC quintupled the settlement – but it didn’t require either Merrill or Bank of America to admit to wrong doing. Unlike criminal trials, in which the facts of the crime are put on record for all to see, these Wall Street settlements almost never require the banks to make any factual disclosures, effectively burying the stories forever. “All this is done at the expense not only of the shareholders, but also of the truth,” says Rakoff.
Goldman, Deutsche, Merrill, Lehman, Bank of America . . . who did we leave out? Oh, there’s Citigroup, nailed for hiding some $40 billion in liabilities from investors. Last July, the SEC settled with Citi for $75 million. In a rare move, it also fined two Citi executives, former CFO Gary Crittenden and investor-relations chief Arthur Tildesley Jr. Their penalties, combined, came to a whopping $180,000.
Throughout the entire crisis, in fact, the government has taken exactly one serious swing of the bat against executives from a major bank, charging two guys from Bear Stearns with criminal fraud over a pair of toxic subprime hedge funds that blew up in 2007, destroying the company and robbing investors of $1.6 billion. Jurors had an e-mail between the defendants admitting that “there is simply no way for us to make money – ever” just three days before assuring investors that “there’s no basis for thinking this is one big disaster.” Yet the case still somehow ended in acquittal – and the Justice Department hasn’t taken any of the big banks to court since.
All of which raises an obvious question: Why the hell not?
Gary Aguirre, the SEC investigator who lost his job when he drew the ire of Morgan Stanley, thinks he knows the answer.
Last year, Aguirre noticed that a conference on financial law enforcement was scheduled to be held at the Hilton in New York on November 12th. The list of attendees included 1,500 or so of the country’s leading lawyers who represent Wall Street, as well as some of the government’s top cops from both the SEC and the Justice Department.
Criminal justice, as it pertains to the Goldmans and Morgan Stanleys of the world, is not adversarial combat, with cops and crooks duking it out in interrogation rooms and courthouses. Instead, it’s a cocktail party between friends and colleagues who from month to month and year to year are constantly switching sides and trading hats. At the Hilton conference, regulators and banker-lawyers rubbed elbows during a series of speeches and panel discussions, away from the rabble. “They were chummier in that environment,” says Aguirre, who plunked down $2,200 to attend the conference.
Aguirre saw a lot of familiar faces at the conference, for a simple reason: Many of the SEC regulators he had worked with during his failed attempt to investigate John Mack had made a million-dollar pass through the Revolving Door, going to work for the very same firms they used to police. Aguirre didn’t see Paul Berger, an associate director of enforcement who had rebuffed his attempts to interview Mack – maybe because Berger was tied up at his lucrative new job at Debevoise & Plimpton, the same law firm that Morgan Stanley employed to intervene in the Mack case. But he did see Mary Jo White, the former U.S. attorney, who was still at Debevoise & Plimpton. He also saw Linda Thomsen, the former SEC director of enforcement who had been so helpful to White. Thomsen had gone on to represent Wall Street as a partner at the prestigious firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell.
Two of the government’s top cops were there as well: Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Robert Khuzami, the SEC’s current director of enforcement. Bharara had been recommended for his post by Chuck Schumer, Wall Street’s favorite senator. And both he and Khuzami had served with Mary Jo White at the U.S. attorney’s office, before Mary Jo went on to become a partner at Debevoise. What’s more, when Khuzami had served as general counsel for Deutsche Bank, he had been hired by none other than Dick Walker, who had been enforcement director at the SEC when it slow-rolled the pivotal fraud case against Rite Aid.
“It wasn’t just one rotation of the revolving door,” says Aguirre. “It just kept spinning. Every single person had rotated in and out of government and private service.”
The Revolving Door isn’t just a footnote in financial law enforcement; over the past decade, more than a dozen high-ranking SEC officials have gone on to lucrative jobs at Wall Street banks or white-shoe law firms, where partnerships are worth millions. That makes SEC officials like Paul Berger and Linda Thomsen the equivalent of college basketball stars waiting for their first NBA contract. Are you really going to give up a shot at the Knicks or the Lakers just to find out whether a Wall Street big shot like John Mack was guilty of insider trading?
“You take one of these jobs,” says Turner, the former chief accountant for the SEC, “and you’re fit for life.”
Fit – and happy. The banter between the speakers at the New York conference says everything you need to know about the level of chumminess and mutual admiration that exists between these supposed adversaries of the justice system. At one point in the conference, Mary Jo White introduced Bharara, her old pal from the U.S. attorney’s office.
“I want to f irst say how pleased I am to be here,” Bharara responded. Then, addressing White, he added, “You’ve spawned all of us. It’s almost 11 years ago to the day that Mary Jo White called me and asked me if I would become an assistant U.S. attorney. So thank you, Dr. Frankenstein.”
Next, addressing the crowd of high-priced lawyers from Wall Street, Bharara made an interesting joke. “I also want to take a moment to applaud the entire staff of the SEC for the really amazing things they have done over the past year,” he said. “They’ve done a real service to the country, to the financial community, and not to mention a lot of your law practices.”
Haw! The line drew snickers from the conference of millionaire lawyers. But the real fireworks came when Khuzami, the SEC’s director of enforcement, talked about a new “cooperation initiative” the agency had recently unveiled, in which executives are being offered incentives to report fraud they have witnessed or committed. From now on, Khuzami said, when corporate lawyers like the ones he was addressing want to know if their Wall Street clients are going to be charged by the Justice Department before deciding whether to come forward, all they have to do is ask the SEC.
“We are going to try to get those individuals answers,” Khuzami announced, as to “whether or not there is criminal interest in the case – so that defense counsel can have as much information as possible in deciding whether or not to choose to sign up their client.”
Aguirre, listening in the crowd, couldn’t believe Khuzami’s brazenness. The SEC’s enforcement director was saying, in essence, that firms like Goldman Sachs and AIG and Lehman Brothers will henceforth be able to get the SEC to act as a middleman between them and the Justice Department, negotiating fines as a way out of jail time. Khuzami was basically outlining a four-step system for banks and their executives to buy their way out of prison. “First, the SEC and Wall Street player make an agreement on a fine that the player will pay to the SEC,” Aguirre says. “Then the Justice Department commits itself to pass, so that the player knows he’s ‘safe.’ Third, the player pays the SEC – and fourth, the player gets a pass from the Justice Department.”
When I ask a former federal prosecutor about the propriety of a sitting SEC director of enforcement talking out loud about helping corporate defendants “get answers” regarding the status of their criminal cases, he initially doesn’t believe it. Then I send him a transcript of the comment. “I am very, very surprised by Khuzami’s statement, which does seem to me to be contrary to past practice – and not a good thing,” the former prosecutor says.
Earlier this month, when Sen. Chuck Grassley found out about Khuzami’s comments, he sent the SEC a letter noting that the agency’s own enforcement manual not only prohibits such “answer getting,” it even bars the SEC from giving defendants the Justice Department’s phone number. “Should counsel or the individual ask which criminal authorities they should contact,” the manual reads, “staff should decline to answer, unless authorized by the relevant criminal authorities.” Both the SEC and the Justice Department deny there is anything improper in their new policy of cooperation. “We collaborate with the SEC, but they do not consult with us when they resolve their cases,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer assured Congress in January. “They do that independently.”
Around the same time that Breuer was testifying, however, a story broke that prior to the pathetically small settlement of $75 million that the SEC had arranged with Citigroup, Khuzami had ordered his staff to pursue lighter charges against the megabank’s executives. According to a letter that was sent to Sen. Grassley’s office, Khuzami had a “secret conversation, without telling the staff, with a prominent defense lawyer who is a good friend” of his and “who was counsel for the company.” The unsigned letter, which appears to have come from an SEC investigator on the case, prompted the inspector general to launch an investigation into the charge.
When Citigroup was nailed for hiding $40 billion in liabilities from investors, the SEC fined two Citi executives. Their combined penalty: a whopping $180,000.
ALL OF THIS PAINTS A Disturbing picture of a closed and corrupt system, a timeless circle of friends that virtually guarantees a collegial approach to the policing of high finance. Even before the corruption starts, the state is crippled by economic reality: Since law enforcement on Wall Street requires serious intellectual firepower, the banks seize a huge advantage from the start by hiring away the top talent. Budde, the former Leh man lawyer, says it’s well known that all the best legal minds go to the big corporate law firms, while the “bottom 20 percent go to the SEC.” Which makes it tough for the agency to track devious legal machinations, like the scheme to hide $263 million of Dick Fuld’s compensation.
“It’s such a mismatch, it’s not even funny,” Budde says.
But even beyond that, the system is skewed by the irrepressible pull of riches and power. If talent rises in the SEC or the Justice Department, it sooner or later jumps ship for those fat NBA contracts. Or, conversely, graduates of the big corporate firms take sabbaticals from their rich lifestyles to slum it in government service for a year or two. Many of those appointments are inevitably hand-picked by lifelong stooges for Wall Street like Chuck Schumer, who has accepted $14.6 million in campaign contributions from Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and other major players in the finance industry, along with their corporate lawyers.
As for President Obama, what is there to be said? Goldman Sachs was his number-one private campaign contributor. He put a Citigroup executive in charge of his economic transition team, and he just named an executive of JP Morgan Chase, the proud owner of $7.7 million in Chase stock, his new chief of staff. “The betrayal that this represents by Obama to everybody is just – we’re not ready to believe it,” says Budde, a classmate of the president from their Columbia days. “He’s really fucking us over like that? Really? That’s really a JP Morgan guy, really?”
Which is not to say that the Obama era has meant an end to law enforcement. On the contrary: In the past few years, the administration has allocated massive amounts of federal resources to catching wrongdoers – of a certain type. Last year, the government deported 393,000 people, at a cost of $5 billion. Since 2007, felony immigration prosecutions along the Mexican border have surged 77 percent; nonfelony prosecutions by 259 percent. In Ohio last month, a single mother was caught lying about where she lived to put her kids into a better school district; the judge in the case tried to sentence her to 10 days in jail for fraud, declaring that letting her go free would “demean the seriousness” of the offenses.
So there you have it. Illegal immigrants: 393,000. Lying moms: one. Bankers: zero. The math makes sense only because the politics are so obvious. You want to win elections, you bang on the jailable class. You build prisons and fill them with people for selling dime bags and stealing CD players. But for stealing a billion dollars? For fraud that puts a million people into foreclosure? Pass. It’s not a crime. Prison is too harsh. Get them to say they’re sorry, and move on. Oh, wait – let’s not even make them say they’re sorry. That’s too mean; let’s just give them a piece of paper with a government stamp on it, officially clearing them of the need to apologize, and make them pay a fine instead. But don’t make them pay it out of their own pockets, and don’t ask them to give back the money they stole. In fact, let them profit from their collective crimes, to the tune of a record $135 billion in pay and benefits last year. What’s next? Taxpayer-funded massages for every Wall Street executive guilty of fraud?
The mental stumbling block, for most Americans, is that financial crimes don’t feel real; you don’t see the culprits waving guns in liquor stores or dragging coeds into bushes. But these frauds are worse than common robberies. They’re crimes of intellectual choice, made by people who are already rich and who have every conceivable social advantage, acting on a simple, cynical calculation: Let’s steal whatever we can, then dare the victims to find the juice to reclaim their money through a captive bureaucracy. They’re attacking the very definition of property – which, after all, depends in part on a legal system that defends everyone’s claims of ownership equally. When that definition becomes tenuous or conditional – when the state simply gives up on the notion of justice – this whole American Dream thing recedes even further from reality.
YOU HAVE TO WONDER WHY A RED-BLOODED - 02.14.11 - SI Vault
YOU HAVE TO WONDER WHY A RED-BLOODED - 02.14.11
In the summer of 2007 Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden flew seven hours from Tampa to Spokane. There he rented a car and drove 44 miles east to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. His traveling partner was Bruce Allen, the Bucs’ general manager, and they carried with them two footballs and a pair of new cleats. Shortly after 6 p.m. the duo walked into Capone’s, a sports bar in Coeur d’Alene where people gather to watch Broncos games, play pool and drink $3 Molsons.
Ten minutes later Jake Plummer and his wife, Kollette, walked in. Gruden rose and mustered all of his considerable charm, pumping Jake’s hand and telling him how excited he, Jon Gruden, guru of quarterbacks, was to sit down and talk football with Jake Plummer, the ultimate gunslinger. Beers were consumed, pizzas were ordered. By and by, Gruden and Allen made their pitch. Two months earlier the Buccaneers had made a trade with the Broncos for the rights to Plummer, even though he had announced that he was retiring from the NFL at age 32. In doing so, Plummer not only walked away from the game in his prime—he’d led the Broncos to the AFC Championship Game a season earlier—but also turned down the $5.3 million he would’ve earned during the 2007 season.
Gruden leaned in and started selling. Join us in Tampa Bay, he said, and with our defense and your leadership we’ll have a shot at the Big One. Come to Florida, he said, and you’ll be the hero you could never be in Denver in the shadow of John Elway. And then the kicker: Sign with us, Gruden whispered, and we’ll donate a million dollars to your Alzheimer’s foundation.
Plummer looked at the two men, considered the offer and said, “That sounds sweet, man.” Then he took a swig of his beer. As he did, he couldn’t help but notice that, under the table, Allen had extended his fist to Gruden, who gleefully tapped it with his.
Jake Plummer never went to Tampa Bay, of course, just as he never offered his services to any other NFL team. Upon retiring in March 2007, he held a press conference at the Denver Athletic Club. Grasping a lectern, he told a crowd of reporters that he was “running away from the game” but not in “fear or fright.” He credited his teammates for his success, invoked his friend Pat Tillman and pointed to his chest and promised that “there will not be a jersey with an NFL patch here.” He said he was excited to move on and “take on new challenges,” because “life is grand, life is exciting.” Then, without taking questions, Plummer bid goodbye and walked down the hall to play a doubles handball match with his brother Eric.
And after that? Well, after that Jake Plummer pretty much disappeared, at least by the standards of modern pro athletes. He moved to Sandpoint, a town of 8,300 people in northern Idaho, a short drive from the Canadian border, where he lives five minutes from Eric and within an hour of his dad, Steve. So far Plummer hasn’t surfaced to do TV commentary or Dancing with the Stars or tweet or scribble his signature at an autograph show. He hasn’t hinted at a comeback, and other than to promote handball, a game his family holds near and dear, he has kept his distance from the media.
Still, in the wake of another Super Bowl, people might think about Plummer on occasion and wonder, What the hell was he thinking? After all, when asked to name their dream job, American men overwhelmingly choose pro athlete over movie star or president of the United States. And no pro athlete is as mythologized as the quarterback. He’s Joe Namath guaranteeing a Super Bowl victory, Joe Montana lofting perfect spirals, Tom Brady squiring the most beautiful woman on the planet. Who in his right mind would walk away from such a job? Who requests a wake-up call from the American Dream?
Jake Plummer is amped up. It is a fall weekend in 2010, and in a few minutes he’ll be playing a pro-am handball match. From his rumpled blue sports bag he pulls out a Ziploc bag full of white pellets, tosses two into his mouth and takes a swig of beer from a red plastic cup. “I know it looks nasty,” he says of the spearmint-gum-and-Bud-Light combo, “but it really wakes me up.”
Properly jazzed, Plummer hops onto the court and engages in a spirited warmup, leaping and raising his knees high and smacking his hands together. He is wearing a faded white T-shirt that says wonder bread, cutoff gray sweatpants, thick gray sweat socks and a grungy white headband. His hair is long and stringy, his beard robust. He looks as if he just wandered off the Appalachian Trail. Until he starts throwing, that is. Right-, then lefthanded, Plummer fires the small, hard rubber ball against the front wall of the court, loosening up his arm. The ball detonates with remarkable violence. Crack! Crack! Watching him, lean and agile and powerful at 6’ 2” and about 195 pounds, it’s hard not to conclude that, at 35, Jake Plummer could still be a damn good NFL quarterback.
In an hour Plummer will leave the court drenched in sweat and on his third T-shirt, grinning like a man at his own wedding and high-fiving his teammate. In 12 hours he will be at a bar with 20-odd handball players, acting as host and designated driver as they regale one another with tales of kick serves and back-wall shots and lives lived in translucent 30-by-40-foot glass boxes. And in 30 hours Plummer will be at his modest summer lake house outside Coeur d’Alene, with his dogs and his wife and his infant son, and he will be drinking a Molson and talking about why he left the NFL. But that is all to come. For now, let’s go back to the last thing most Denver fans remember about Jake Plummer.
Screw it, thought Plummer, I’m going to win this thing. It was the last game of the 2006 season, against the lowly 49ers, and he had been summoned from the Broncos’ sideline. Only a month earlier coach Mike Shanahan had benched Plummer, a 10-year veteran, in favor of a strong-armed but immature rookie, Jay Cutler. The team, which had been 7—4, faltered. One season removed from the AFC Championship Game, Denver was on the verge of missing the playoffs.
At first Plummer, who’d been an All-Pro only a season earlier, had been angry about the demotion. Ever the optimist, though, he soon noticed a silver lining. Suddenly he could simply revel in the grandeur of the game, in the sights and smells of the stadium. He spent pregame warmups playing football golf with fellow backup Preston Parsons. He ate hot dogs at halftime, joked with fans. For 14 years he’d started every game for his college and pro teams, other than the first few of his freshman and rookie seasons. So now he could finally breathe in the world. “I was like, Man, this is a blast,” he says. “I didn’t study the game plan, I didn’t have a clue what was going on.”
Then, in the second quarter of the 49ers game, Cutler was sidelined by a crushing hit. So here was Shanahan, calling in Plummer. Shanahan, who had questioned Plummer’s work ethic even though he was one of the team’s best-conditioned players, who had ignored warnings by other players not to switch quarterbacks. (Even Cutler, after his first start, told Plummer the team would have won had he played, according to Stefan Fatsis’s book A Few Seconds of Panic.) What’s more, though Shanahan didn’t know it, Plummer had made up his mind to retire after the season.
So how can you blame Plummer for doing what he did next—for going out on the field and trying to win the damn thing? “I just went for broke,” Plummer says. “I remember Mike Bell went down for like a 60-yard play. And the first guy to pick him up was me. I was running alongside him. I was so psyched. I was running around, shouting at the other team, ‘Jake the F——— Snake is back!’”
Parsons remembers the electricity, the stirrings of another Plummer comeback. “And he was doing it by basically saying f—- you to the coach,” says Parsons. “Which is something all players wish they could do but no one has the guts to.”
With a chance to extend the Broncos’ 3—0 lead, Plummer says, “I rolled out to my left, made a guy miss and was like, Ah, there goes Javon Walker, and I just heaved a Hail Mary.” Plummer pauses. “And he trips, and the safety intercepts it.”
With that, the magic was bottled. Shanahan put Cutler back in, but not before trying to chastise Plummer, who walked past, ignoring his coach. Quarterbacks coach Pat McPherson then walked over. “Gosh, you just really can’t make that throw,” he told Plummer. And that’s how Plummer’s football career ended, some would say fittingly: with a desperation pass picked off.
A few months later he retired, having achieved a 39—15 regular-season record as the Broncos’ starter. His former agent, Leigh Steinberg, applauded the move. “I have virtually never met an athlete who willingly walked away from sports,” says Steinberg, who at one point represented roughly half the quarterbacks in the NFL. “The courage and integrity is in knowing when you’ve had enough and being able to walk away from all the conventional markers of success. The courage is in choosing family and dignity over artificially extending a career just for the money. We should laud Jake Plummer for standing up for the best in American values.”
Others saw it differently. “Good riddance,” wrote Milo F. Bryant of the The Gazette in Colorado Springs. Bernie Lincicome of the Rocky Mountain News went further. “If Plummer is willing to run away from $5 million or so … his spirit is as weak as his arm.” Then Lincicome accused Plummer of “contradicting the soul of competition.” He wrote, “We can accept that in ourselves but not in our heroes.”
What is a hero? Who decides who qualifies as one? Growing up, Jake Plummer had a hero—two of them, actually. The third of three boys, Jake was included in every game his brothers, Eric and Brett, played, be it football, basketball or some contest improvised on the spot. To this day the trio (Brett is three years older than Eric, who is three years older than Jake) cannot gather without competing; when they went backpacking in the Sierras last fall, they played Frisbee golf at 10,000 feet.
Home was Smiley Creek, a town of 50 in the foothills of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. Steve Plummer worked as a lumber wholesaler while his wife, Marilyn, taught at the two-room schoolhouse. (Steve and Marilyn split when Jake was eight years old but remain good friends.) Life was lived by certain rules, passed down and enforced by Marilyn’s mother, Hazel Sounders, the matriarch of the family: Judge people by their deeds, not their appearance or status. Treasure friends and family. Look out for your own.
Handball became the family game after Steve learned it at the lumber warehouse, which had a makeshift wood court that was shorter, narrower and lower than a regulation handball court. (Indoor handball is played on the same court as racquetball, with nearly identical rules.) The warehouse pushed 100° during the summer and was cold as hell in winter, but both of Steve’s bosses played, so he did too. Soon he was good enough to win the C division at a local tournament, then the B, the A and finally, in 1976, the Idaho state open championship.
All the Plummer boys were athletes. Brett ran track at Brown and held the school record in the 800 meters. Eric was a safety in high school, then played club handball at Montana, making the national quarterfinals in 1990 and ‘91 despite being the only player on the team, which tells you all you need to know about both Eric’s determination and the popularity of handball.
And Jake? He’d always been the little brother who got pushed around, though he had an intense competitive streak. When he was 11, in Pop Warner, he made more than 20 tackles in one game, becoming so wrapped up in the competition that between plays he burst into tears of excitement. In high school he excelled despite his wiry frame, and in 1993 Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder ruined a new pair of $300 shoes slogging through a snowstorm to reach the Plummer household. (Years later Jake would send Snyder a pair of Florsheims. “It was the least I could do,” he says.) Six games into the ‘93 season Jake was starting as a true freshman for the Sun Devils, cocksure at 6’ 2” and 170 pounds. In ‘97 he and the team’s other cult hero, a relentlessly attacking linebacker named Pat Tillman, led ASU to within 100 seconds of a national title in the Rose Bowl.
Plummer became the golden boy of the football-mad Southwest. Handsome and charismatic, he seemed to embody the go-go spirit of the region. His legend only grew when he was drafted by the hometown Cardinals, and in his debut in the seventh game of the season he entered midway through the fourth quarter and led the team on a 98-yard scoring drive, completing four of six passes for 89 yards. (The Cardinals lost in OT, but no one paid that much mind.) Fans adored him, the media praised his poise, and Bill Walsh declared, “I see Jake having a Montana-like career, including the Super Bowls.” Not yet 25, Plummer was, as Cardinals wideout Chad Carpenter told SI at the time, “like a god.” Said Carpenter, “We go to a restaurant and people stand up and clap when he walks by. No wonder he’s a hermit.” (Not entirely. In June 1997, before his rookie season with the Cardinals, Plummer pleaded no contest to misdemeanor disorderly conduct and was sentenced to two years’ probation after four women at a Tempe nightclub accused him of groping them.)
Plummer’s friendship with Tillman began at ASU and deepened with the Cardinals. Plummer was the team’s come-hell-or-high-water leader, always scrambling and throwing tons of interceptions but also guiding the Cardinals to their first playoff victory in 51 years. Tillman was the undersized ball-of-fury safety who laid out opponents as if they’d just snatched his mother’s purse. The two men were similar in many ways: Both shunned the spotlight, each was one of three brothers, both questioned authority and treated teammates like family.
Even though he was older, Plummer at times felt as though Tillman were his big brother. Tillman came to Plummer’s football camp in Boise, Idaho, and spent nights cooking dinner at the home of Jake’s Aunt Sue, all the while encouraging his friend to think critically. Plummer respected how, when Tillman disagreed with someone, he would say, “That’s f——- up. Why do you believe that?” If the person gave a persuasive reason, Tillman was O.K. with it, but he hated being passive.
In the spring of 2002 Tillman quit football to join the Army. In January ‘04, after his first stint in Afghanistan, he returned to the U.S. on leave. That same month Eric Plummer entered a handball tournament in Seattle after a decade away from the game. He felt nervous, but then he heard fans chanting his name. He turned around to see Jake and Tillman, clapping and roaring. At the sight Eric teared up (which he still does when he tells the story). After the match the three men headed to a dark bar off Pike Place Market and stayed deep into the night drinking beers and solving the world’s problems. It would be the last time either Jake or Eric saw Tillman.
In April 2004 Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. Two weeks later, at the funeral, Jake walked to the podium wearing a suit and, in honor of his friend, flip-flops. He had been mulling what to say for weeks, and though at the time he meant the words as a testimonial to his friend, in hindsight they hinted at the path Plummer would choose. “I was in the store the other day and I saw PEOPLE magazine, and it had the cover of the 50 most beautiful people in the world, or America, and there was a picture of Pat,” Plummer said. “It was kind of ironic because I really looked and said, What is beauty? Is beauty a pretty face, a nice smile, flowing hair, nice skin? Not to me, it’s not. To me beauty is living life to higher standards, stronger morals and ethics and believing in them, whether people tell you you’re right or wrong. Beauty is not wasting a day. Beauty is noticing life’s little intricacies and taking time out of your busy day to really enjoy those little intricacies. Beauty is being real, being genuine, being pure with no facade—what you see is what you get. Beauty is expanding your mind, always seeking knowledge, not being content, always going after something and challenging yourself.”
In closing, Plummer said, “I believe that to really honor Pat, we should all challenge ourselves. No more I’m going to do this or I’m going to do that. Do it. As Pat would say, probably, ‘Get off your ass and do it.’ Why, you ask, should we honor him this way? Because that’s what Pat did his whole life.”
We all have dreams. Jake Plummer’s was to hold a handball tournament. Not some big-time sponsored tournament but the kind at which everyone hangs out and drinks beer and has a great time. So three years ago, after he retired, that’s what he did. In October he presided over the third annual Plummer Family Helluva Handball Bash at a modest athletic club in Coeur d’Alene, an hour from his home in Sandpoint.
It is Thursday, the day before the tournament, and Jake is posting fliers at a Days Inn. Wherever he goes, he walks in a semihurry, bent forward like a boy shouldering an overstuffed backpack, head jutting out. Today he’s wearing cargo shorts, gray sneakers and a flannel shirt, which is pretty much what he always wears, unless it’s cold, and then he wears cargo pants.
Plummer is disarmingly laid-back, the Dude from The Big Lebowski as a former All-Pro. He douses his sentences with “sweet,” “man,” “s—-” and “dude,” enjoys playing the bongos (a Saturday-night tournament tradition) and becomes tremendously excited about seemingly mundane topics. Here he is talking to a couple of handballers about massage therapy: “I’m doing Rolfing now. You ever do Rolfing? No? You gotta do it. Oh, man, they dig in with their elbow, really working it out. [He pantomimes churning into someone’s lats.] It’s awesome.”
In part because of his appearance but mostly because of his demeanor, Plummer is able to live in relative anonymity. One of his handball friends, Tye Barlow, tells how, a couple of years ago in Sandpoint, Plummer was volunteering for Meals on Wheels, and the organization ran into funding problems. The woman in charge put a hand on Plummer’s shoulder. “Jake, I’m sorry, we’re out of money this month. But keep track, and we’ll pay you for your gas.”
“Don’t worry about it,” replied Plummer.
She insisted. Again, Plummer assured her it was O.K. “No, Jake, you don’t even have a job!” she said sternly. “You have to keep track of your miles. You need the money.”
“I played in the NFL for a little while,” Plummer said. “I’m O.K.”
Dumbstruck, the woman appraised the scruffy man who’d been delivering food for months. “You’re that Jake Plummer?”
So, yeah, Plummer’s not big on announcing his celebrity. Later in the tournament weekend, at a bar with a bunch of handballers, he is twice elbowed out of the way by a chubby guy in his 20s who is wearing a Tim Tebow Broncos jersey and is intent on getting to the bathroom. Only at the end of the night, tipped off by his friends, does Fat Tebow come over and announce that he is a huuuge fan of Jake Plummer. Plummer smiles, accepts the compliment and then gives the kid grief for not wearing a Kyle Orton jersey.
Plummer’s quest to be a regular guy is one reason he loves handball: No one in the sport treats him like a star. This was never more important to him than when he played in Denver, where he was relentlessly compared with Elway, who’d retired in 1998 after leading the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl titles. Plummer signed with Denver as a free agent in 2003, and surrounded by elite talent for the first time, he flourished, finishing the season with a career-best 91.2 passer rating and leading the Broncos to a wild-card berth. The following season he matched or surpassed a handful of Elway’s passing records. But Plummer also did things Elway never did. Like flipping off a fan, getting into a traffic dispute with another driver, and berating a Denver gossip columnist for writing about his relationship with Kollette, whom he’d just begun dating. Before the AFC Championship Game in ‘06 Plummer met the press with shoulder-length hair and a scraggly beard, wearing jeans and a white undershirt. Lincicome called him Jake the Flake, while others preferred Jake the Mistake. Fans on talk radio wondered whether, if the Broncos made the Super Bowl, Plummer would screw it up.
Then again, while he was in Denver, Plummer also started that Alzheimer’s foundation. (His grandfather Elwood Davis died of the disease.) He went to the animal shelter to walk dogs. (Upon leaving Denver, he wrote the shelter a personal check for 10 grand.) He befriended a boy who lost his father on 9/11, and he continued calling the boy and his sister for five years. Still, all that many fans saw was his public demeanor. “I don’t react the best way every single time to certain situations,” Plummer told The New York Times then, “but I think people see that I’m genuine and true, and they appreciate that.”
His teammates certainly did. Running back Mike Anderson told The Denver Post, “He puts on no airs. I love the guy. I’d go to battle for the guy every day of the year.”
From the start, however, Shanahan and Plummer clashed. One wanted complete control; the other thrived only if not subject to it. “Shanahan used to kill me,” says Plummer. “If I was 23 of 30 with two touchdowns, he’d say, Why didn’t you go 25 for 30 with three touchdowns? I was like, We’re beating someone by 21 points, how much more do you need to beat them by?”
Plummer needed an escape, and he found one when he began receiving letters that said, “We know about your dad. You should come down to the Denver Athletic Club and play handball.” So he did. There, a bunch of old-timers beat the crap out of him—which, of course, Plummer loved. “It was so cool,” he says. “They wouldn’t take it easy on me. I was the quarterback of the Denver F——— Broncos, and it didn’t matter. It was great.”
So in February and March, after the NFL season, he’d play for hours at the DAC. When Broncos workouts rolled around and the team started running sprints, Plummer would coast in, not even breathing hard. “What the hell have you been doing?” his bent-over teammates would ask.
“Playing handball,” he’d reply.
Those same guys from the DAC now travel to Jake’s tournament. So do another 100-plus recreational players and a dozen or so of the best pros in the world. Despite this, the tournament is exceedingly low-key. The day before it begins, there are no signs or fliers at the athletic club in Coeur d’Alene. Asked who is in charge, the club manager says simply, “Jake.”
This is not an exaggeration. Plummer actually runs his tournament. He lugs in groceries, wheels in kegs, sets the match schedule and brings Gatorade to the players. Sometimes he does all this while cradling his four-month-old son, Roland, in one arm, though not like a football.
Around him swirl old men in goggles, scarily fit women in spandex, and sweaty, unshaven guys with knee braces. Handball calls to mind seniors with sun-wrinkled backs swatting at balls on New York City and Miami blacktops, and there are plenty of those types, men with hands like shovels, creased and calloused. The pros, however, are young and for the most part superbly conditioned. None make a real living off the sport—the only one on hand who tries is top-ranked Dave Chapman, and he runs clinics and sells DVDs. The game is top-heavy; while Plummer is one of the top 200 players in the world, in terms of talent he is the equivalent of a Division III player competing against NBA stars.
When it comes to enthusiasm, however, Plummer has few peers. Here he is at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, flitting between matches and marveling at the play. Now he’s at Court 3, pointing at a skinny blond guy with a buzz cut. “This kid here, he’s one of my favorites. When he started, someone gave him a pair of yellow work gloves, like you’d use for digging a ditch, and they’d fall off when he hit, so that’s why he’s always hitting with closed hands. Watch!”
Then Plummer is at the upstairs courts, watching the women’s matches, telling everyone that they have to see this because the women are a-ma-zing. And now he’s watching the pros and talking about the athleticism of the top guys. “It’s like Randy Moss or Charles Woodson, right? Right?”
When it’s Jake’s turn to play, he has a hard time switching modes. His first doubles match is on Saturday morning, when he is paired with a veteran pro named Danny Armijo, whose nickname is the Hand because of his preternatural ability to return shots. Armijo is something of a goofball and, at 48, a handball lifer, having turned pro at 15. Single, with a mop of brown hair and a soul patch, he is known to call WPH founder Dave Vincent before tournaments and leave voice mails such as, Hey, this is Dan. I’m having trouble with my joints. [Pause.] Because of the humidity, you see, I’m having trouble lighting them.
While Armijo warms up, Plummer hurries around trying to locate a keg of beer because what kind of tournament would he be running if he didn’t have beer for the competitors at 10:30 a.m.? Once the match starts, Plummer is everywhere. He dives and lunges and whales at the ball. He is quite good, but what’s most striking is that while in the NFL he looked small and agile, here he looks large and at times awkward. This is more the fault of the sport than of Plummer; because handball requires quick lateral movement and broad court coverage, it’s not a tall man’s game. Only one player over six feet has ever won a world title.
Plummer and Armijo split the first two games with their opponents and prevail in a tight third-game tiebreaker that is transfixing. Indeed, handball can be a gorgeous game, full of impossible shots made over the shoulder, through the legs or in mid-pirouette, all delivered with either hand. To watch the lower-level players, though, is to see the game for what it is: a difficult sport with a high barrier to entry, especially physically. Those who play the sport know this but still hold out hope. Nearly everyone at the tournament wants handball to get big. Except Plummer. He wants to help the sport, is happy to lend it his name and money and hold this tournament and put up the players at his lake house, but one reason he loves handball is that it’s not the NFL. “I can go anywhere and play handball with some guy and have an instant bond,” Plummer says, “and feel like, Hey, man, you’re a good dude. And he may not be, but it feels that way. There’s a community.”
To Plummer, the eternal sandlot player as a quarterback, sports are worth playing only if they’re fun. After retiring from the NFL, he approached handball seriously, aiming to go pro. He practiced hard, cut his hair, got the gear and, ultimately, became frustrated. Every couple of months he’d blow up on the court, then go back home, where Kollette would stare at him and say, “Why are you playing handball?” After a few seconds he would grudgingly answer, “To have fun.” And then he’d go and apologize profusely to whomever he’d yelled at.
This continued until Plummer decided to stop caring so much. “And not only did I enjoy it a lot more,” he says, “but I got better right away.” Indeed, Barlow describes Plummer’s demeanor during handball as akin to “a runner’s high.”
Football can still trigger that high for Plummer, but now it’s in his role as volunteer assistant coach for Sandpoint High. In 2009, after a dominant regular season, Sandpoint fell behind by three scores during the state championship, and Plummer saw his players’ defeated adolescent faces. So he began stalking the sideline, shouting, “Hey, get up! C’mon, you guys. You’re going to miss this.”
The boys stared back at him blankly. What are we going to miss? Plummer waved his arms, raised his voice. “Watch this,” he said, eyes wide. “This is happening.” And then, after a good play, “You feel it? You feel it?” And the boys, not sure what they were supposed to feel but now enthused, would answer Yeahhhh! and Plummer would shout right back: “We’re coming back, boys! We’re coming back! But you have to believe. Let them know how you feel.”
Soon the whole bench was standing and yelling, and then the team was coming back. One score, two scores. And in the end Sandpoint came within a minute of pulling out a victory. That it failed didn’t matter to Plummer. Now the boys understood. Now they felt it.
Only a handful of pro football players have left the game in their prime—Barry Sanders, Tiki Barber, John Frank. More common is the athlete who can’t bring himself to cut the cord, whether he’s graceful about it (Jerry Rice) or subjects his fans and teammates to a protracted, sometimes embarrassing ordeal (Brett Favre).
Even those who leave when they should don’t necessarily do so easily. “People say, What about Troy Aikman or John Elway?” says Steinberg, the agent. “And I would tell them that they didn’t represent that player and weren’t part of the phone calls during the first year of retirement, when he desperately wanted to come back.”
Steinberg, who represented Plummer from 1997 till 2001, considers him to be the exception. “He would be one of the minuscule few that I could see living a completely fulfilled life away from sport. He was one of the most internally centered athletes I’ve ever met. He had the perfect temperament for being a leader, because he was as close to an egoless major star as I’ve seen.”
Nate Jackson, who played tight end for the Broncos alongside Plummer for three years, says fans can’t imagine how hard it is to maintain a sense of self in the NFL. “Everywhere you go, people are telling you, Can I take your picture?” says Jackson. “But that world is not real. It’s a weird little bubble. If you’re smart and pay attention, you know it’s bogus, and even then it’s hard to move on. But Jake was able to maintain his own identity outside the game.”
True to form, Plummer turned down endorsements and wasn’t the type to hold golf tournaments or sit for photo shoots. (The only reason he sat for this story is to help promote handball.) “I’m here to play football and win games,” he told the Rocky Mountain News in 2006. “If [fans] turn on me, it doesn’t mean I don’t go out there and play as hard as I can. I’ve always done that. I always will.”
Privately, Plummer’s friends wondered if it wouldn’t be the worst thing for him to go along with the Superstar Quarterback script once in a while, but that wasn’t who he was. “Jake’s such a giving person,” says Parsons, who backed him up in Arizona and Denver, “but he didn’t want people to know. He got such a bad rap. They’ll say he’s a jerk, he flipped off fans. Well, s—-, you know how many players want to flip off fans at some point? Every one of them. Jake’s just the only one who didn’t care enough to actually do it.”
On Sunday the Helluva Handball tournament finishes shortly after noon. Chapman wins the singles title, while Eric Plummer loses in the doubles final. (Jake and Armijo lost in the second round, in a tiebreaker.) Once the equipment is packed, Jake loads the family’s rickety old Jeep, the one that on startup roars like a garbage truck, and heads out with a carload of pro handball players. He drives south for 20 minutes, then winds down a two-lane road past barns and horses and pine trees. Finally he turns a corner and arrives at his rustic lake house.
Inside there are no signed helmets, game balls or oversized portraits of Plummer. Instead there are photos of the lake, a goofy carved wooden moose with his legs crossed, and pictures of Jake and Kollette at their wedding, held on a rocky outcropping in front of 25 people a half mile down the lake. There are also two energetic, frequently wet, Frisbee-toting dogs, Ray and Kosi, both of whom were adopted from a shelter. It is here, where Plummer spends his summers, that he says he feels most at peace. During his football career, on the day before he had to leave for camp, he would stand hip-deep in the water, staring out at the peaks ringing the lake, and cry.
Four days earlier, when the handball pros first arrived, Jake took them out in his boat. When two of the handballers decided to take a dip in the lake, Plummer initially demurred, having forgotten his bathing suit, then changed his mind. “S—-, you’re right,” he said. “What am I thinking, bringing you guys out here on my boat and not going in the water with you!” So he stripped down to a pair of black compression shorts and leaped off the back of the boat into the 57° water. Later he deemed the experience “awesome.”
Today it’s more mellow. Cornhole is played. Frisbees are tossed. Coronas are consumed. Plummer spends a good 10 minutes futilely looking for horseshoes he is sure are buried somewhere out on the beach. Then he’s off to the kitchen to chop green peppers alongside his mom and his aunt, stopping every few minutes to make goofy faces at little Roland, who is in for a life of manly activities with his father. (Jake is already planning road trips for when Roland turns three.) Kollette, who is slim and pretty and as reserved as Jake is effusive, sits nearby preparing tortillas for tacos.
With dinner prep complete, Plummer is finally ready to talk about football. Heading to the beach, he grabs two Molsons, pulls up a pair of folding lawn chairs and aims them at the sunset. Sitting there, looking out at the lake, he starts talking. Of how he still has his knees, how he can run five miles without pain, how he spends afternoons in the hammock with Roland, how he can go backpacking with his brothers and spend weekends with his parents. He talks of how he misses some things about football, such as “throwing the ball on the run and coming out of the tunnel and the celebration and the screaming when you score a touchdown, and the other things that come out and you don’t know where they come from.” But he also talks of how his buddy Steve Christensen, an equipment manager with the Cardinals, used to call coaches Sperm because “they all come from that same pool of sperm—you know, two-a-days in the summer, the same you’re-never-good-enough mentality.” And he talks of how, if the Broncos had won it all in 2006, when he was having “a blast,” he says, “I would have been on a jet plane, gone—that would have been a great way to leave.” (Plummer says he made the actual decision to quit midway through that season.)
And why did he leave? Plummer thinks for a moment. “You gotta understand,” he says, “I loved playing in the NFL. I put my heart and soul into it. And at that point, especially after Pat [Tillman died], it was like, there’s so much more to do in life.” He pauses. “And people go, What, it’s the NFL! I even told Gruden, ‘Hey, I used to watch your games and check the stats. Your quarterback would throw like three picks, and you guys would still win. Now, you don’t think I don’t want to play for you guys? I can come down there and throw all the picks I want, and we’re going to win. But you know what, I still don’t want to play for you. It’s not against you. It’s because I don’t want to play. And I don’t want to do that to you. If I’m not willing to play, I’m not going to give what you need from me in order to succeed, and that’s cheating you and that’s cheating all those other players. I can’t do that.’”
But what about the money? Plummer would have received $5 million even if he’d been a backup, which isn’t exactly the worst gig in the country. Everybody knows pro athletes never turn down money, that it’s a measuring stick for success and self-worth and status.
Plummer puts down his beer. “Yeah, I left five million on the table, but they paid me like 30 already,” he says. “What was I going to do with five more? You know? S—-. I know what it’s like to grow up with hardly anything, and now they’d paid me all this money. I mean, I have some things I enjoy doing, but basically I could live on a budget like most every other normal American does. I don’t spend money. But it never was about money. I played ball because I loved it. That’s the beauty of handball, too. These guys want to make big contracts and all this stuff. But once you get into that realm of sports, there’s just a control factor that might take the unstructured fun out of it. You know, the pure joy of it.”
By now a few of the handball players have wandered over, and Plummer tells the story of his first big contract, in 2003. How his agent called him on a Friday night to update him on the negotiations. “He calls at 10:30, and I’m already in bed,” remembers Plummer. “And he’s like, Hey, we got them at eight, but I think we can get more.
“And I’m like, Eight what?
“And he’s like, Eight million.
“I’m like, What? You’ll get more?”
Plummer cracks up, incredulous. “I said, ‘I’m going to bed, man, I need to get ready to play. Call me when you’re done in the morning. This is ridiculous.’ Like what … the … f—-! I play a sport! I do the same stuff you guys do”—here Plummer gestures at the handball pros—”but I can throw a ball. I mean there are so many people who could probably do what I did but never had the opportunity or the guidance or the breaks.”
As for the life he left? In the four years since Plummer retired, the Broncos have gone 27—37. Shanahan was fired in ‘08. And last year a columnist for The Gazette suggested the “perfect candidate” for the Broncos’ QB, a player who was “efficient,” “knows how to win” and is “popular in the locker room”: Jake Plummer.
Gruden, for his part, eventually gave up on Plummer. “I’ve called, I’ve written, I’ve gone to see him… . I did everything I could,” he said in 2008. Reached in December as rumors swirled that he might take over the 49ers, Gruden chuckled. “Good old Jake the Snake,” he said. “If I got the Snake, I might still be coaching. He definitely walked away from the game too soon.” But, Gruden added, “the guy has a lot of values. Maybe he was just more advanced than me. I’m looking at right now, and he was looking down the road.”
As for Lincicome and his ideal of the athletic hero, look at some of those who bore the mantle when Plummer retired in 2007: Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, LeBron James. Now? Now they’re deemed too egotistical, too unethical or too uncaring. They try to redeem themselves through Nike ads, using press conferences and p.r. firms to try to remake their images. Then, when all else fails, they try to win us back the only way they know how, through championships.
Heroes? Role models? Plummer doesn’t see the point talking about them. He’s more than happy to discuss the things that are important to him, like his friends, his family and the joy he gets from sports. He’ll play an impromptu game of handball with a couple of random 16-year-olds, as he did at 11 p.m. on the Friday of his tournament in the near-empty athletic club, laughing and sweating. He’ll say, “I love you, Dad,” every time he parts ways with his father. He’ll walk you to your car, ask about your kids, buy the first round, give someone a ride home. But that’s not heroic; that’s just being a decent person.
And where’s the glory in that?
Pass the Butter.. Please. This is interesting ... Margarine was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys. When it
killed the turkeys, the people who had put all the money into the
research wanted a payback so they put their heads together to
figure out what to do with this product to get their money back.
It was a white substance with no food appeal so they added the
yellow coloring and sold it to people to use in place of butter.
How do you like it? They have come out with some clever new
flavorings. DO YOU KNOW.. The difference between margarine and butter? Read on to the end...gets very interesting! _ Both have the same amount of calories. Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams;compared
to 5 grams for margarine. Eating margarine can increase heart
disease in women by 53% over
eating the same amount of butter, according to a recent Harvard
Medical Study. Eating butter increases the absorption of many other
nutrients in other foods. Butter has many nutritional benefits where
margarine has a few and
only because they are added! Butter tastes much better than margarine and it can enhance
the flavors of other foods. Butter has been around for centuries where
margarine has been around for less than 100 years. And now, for Margarine.. Very High in Transfatty acids. Triples risk of coronary heart disease.
Increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the
bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol)
Increases the risk of cancers up to five times. Lowers quality of breast milk. Decreases immune response. Decreases insulin response. And here's the most disturbing fact.... HERE IS THE PART THAT
IS VERY INTERESTING! Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE away from being
PLASTIC...and shares 27 ingredients with PAINT. These facts alone were enough to have me avoiding margarine for life
and anything else that is hydrogenated (this means hydrogen is
added, changing the molecular structure of the substance). You can try this yourself: Purchase a tub of margarine and leave it open in your garage or
shaded area. Within a couple of days you will notice a couple of
things: * no flies, not even those pesky fruit flies will go near it (that
should tell you something) * it does not rot or smell differently because it has no
nutritional value; nothing will grow on it. Even those teeny
weeny microorganisms will not a find a home to grow. Why? Because
it is nearly plastic. Would you melt your Tupperware
and spread that on your toast? Share this with your Friends.....(if you want to butter them up)! Chinese Proverb: When someone shares something of value with you
and you benefit from it, you have a moral obligation to share it
Pass the BUTTER PLEASE, and forward to family and friends whose
health you hold dear…
The 1960s and 70s were the golden age of magazines. Why?
- Lots of people wanted to read them
- The newsstand could only hold a few of them (barrier to entry permits some to win)
- The winners had no trouble selling ads because they had motivated readers, in quantity
- The cost of making one more edition of the magazine was relatively low
Enter tablets. To some, it feels like the dawn of a new golden age. People page through apps like Wired and gasp at the pretty pictures and cool features. Surely, we're going to recreate that moment.
Here's the problem, and here's how Apple is making it much worse:
The newsstand is infinite. That means that far more titles will have far fewer subscribers. There are more than 60,000 apps on the newsstand. Hard to be in the short head when the long tail is so long...
plus, the cost of each issue is far higher, because it costs a lot more to pay a videographer, a video editor, a programmer, etc. than it does to pay John Updike to write 4,000 words...
plus, advertisers are harder to come by, because the number of readers is always going to be lower than it was back then, and the ads are easier to skip.
Of course, the good news is that the publisher doesn't have to pay for paper, so the profit on each subscriber ought to be way higher. Except...
Except Apple has announced that they want to tax each subscription made via the iPad at 30%. Yes, it's a tax, because what it does is dramatically decrease the incremental revenue from each subscriber. An intelligent publisher only has two choices: raise the price (punishing the reader and further cutting down readership) or make it free and hope for mass (see my point above about the infinite newsstand). When you make it free, it's all about the ads, and if you don't reach tens or hundreds of thousands of subscribers, you'll fail.
In a rare glitch, John Gruber got Apple's decision about the 30% subscription task completely wrong. By his logic, Apple would have been just as good for its users if the tax was 60%.
For content to be fabulous, for tablets to be more than game platforms, folks like Apple need to do two things:
- Reward creators instead of taxing them.
- Create promotional channels so that curated great stuff (not merely things from big companies) has a chance to reach a mass audience.
The web has been a hotbed of siloed content, of deep dives for small audiences. The large scale stuff, though, has tended to be mostly about gossip and other quick reads that's cheap to produce. Tablets offer a new chance to create content worth paying for. Paving the way for that to happen is a smart move for anyone who cares about the audience and the devices.
Data for Hawaii show that the five most populous places and their 2010 Census counts are Urban Honolulu, 337,256; East Honolulu, 49,914; Pearl City, 47,698; Hilo, 43,263; and Kailua, 38,635. Pearl City grew by 54.0 percent since the 2000 Census. Hilo grew by 6.1 percent and Kailua grew by 5.8 percent. Percent change data are not available for Urban Honolulu and East Honolulu census designated places because they were established after the 2000 Census.
The largest county is Honolulu, with a population of 953,207. Its population grew by 8.8 percent since 2000. The state’s other four counties include Hawaii county, with a population of 185,079 (increase of 24.5 percent); Maui, 154,834 (increase of 20.9 percent); Kauai, 67,091 (increase of 14.8 percent); and Kalawao, 90 (decrease of 38.8 percent).
This is how I feel, I’ve been trimming my contacts down to those that really matter.
http://inoveryourhead.net)" style="color: #888; font-size: 22px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-weight: normal; text-decoration: none;">How to Survive the Social Crash
Posted: 23 Feb 2011 08:18 AM PST
I have to leave the house right now so I’m going to publish this post early. It is not polished, but I think the ideas are strong. If that means it gets ignored, whatever.
I am not a real investor– just a writer who wants to survive from one bubble to the next.
But today, I am pretty confident a social crash is coming. Whether you agree or not, it’s important that you read this.
We think all of this social stuff is building value for us– building wealth for some and just well-being for others. This is somewhat true– but I suspect we are overvaluing what it can do for us– most of us anyway.
It is true that there is a massive population going social online, but this growth might just be building value for established companies like Facebook. A few of us are making money off of it, but many people are at the bottom of this pyramid and will be left without anything to show for it at the end.
Because most people are not financially invested in this space, the bubble will not leave people broke. But it will leave people thinking they’ve wasted a few years of their lives.
If you’re like most people, you did not start here early, which means you’re closer to the bottom of the pyramid than the top. So it’s possible you’re being had.
But I want you to avoid this, and I will endeavour here to show you how.
But first, why.
“Friends” are valueless. Well, maybe. I’ve written before that audience is an asset, but is it really? Most of your “friends” on Facebook, if you’re a typical social media douche, will never do anything for you except social proof your popularity, an effect which is blunted over time anyway as more people realize the reality of the situation.
I view the hyperinflation of friends the same way I see the valuation and false growth of companies based on inflated/purchased ComScore traffic stats. They convince those with money to spend, or those not savvy enough to tell the difference. But eventually valuations become so unreasonably high that they are unbelievable to even the uneducated.
This collective “A-ha!” moment is when the bubble bursts. It’s when we all call bullshit on online friends, comments, and connections as a reason to know someone– online, that is.
Most startups have no business model. I worked for a startup in the late 90′s with a great idea but no business model or revenue (it was an early Google Maps type thing). It was very interesting but the decline was evident. The model was clearly to get bought.
I had a discussion with an angel/VC type the other day who is very smart. I asked him why people do this instead of, say, real estate. One of his answers was “ego.”
I think another may be that people now feel that anyone can do it. This collective sentiment is based on watching regular guys be able to develop massive followings, but it’s common to all bubbles to find an “anyone can do it” mentality. Think housing, dot-com, and many others.
Everyone is looking for the “next” Facebook or Twitter. This is probably the question I get the most often from conference attendees, as many of you probably know. Possibly many of you are looking for it or are trying to build it. God bless you and I hope you do well.
But it’s likely that the “next” anything will not be social at all.
What’s really interesting is that Facebook, Twitter, etc actually benefit from this inflation. Their valuations are not public and therefore don’t impact the public at large, but those of us inside here will definitely feel it, especially if we work in the space.
Now to the next question. How do you avoid a crash?
You must exit. This means convert to cash.
Your assets must be diversified. You cannot sit there with your Twitter expertise– you, and your company, must do more.
Your assets must be real. They must be outside this space– or if they’re in it, they must provide actual profit.
If you do not have the ability to do any of these things, your personal stock may plunge– soon.
There are those who know how to really turn networks into an income stream, by the way. They are called SALESPEOPLE.
Do you consider yourself a salesperson? This is not most of us. Most people are anxious about turning weak ties into money, but for some, it may be necessary.
So your options are to step out, or to learn to create value from what you have built by stretching your social contract to include selling to them.
Final note. During the dot-com bubble, some very interesting people emerged. I think of Frank Schilling, who is quoted as saying that, after the dot-com crash, everyone just went back to using the internet every single day. And this is where Frank picked up over 300,000 dropped, and valuable, domain names– while everyone thought they were valueless.
Now, he lives in the Cayman Islands earning… well, let’s just say a lot.
There will always be people who survive crashes, or who grab undervalued assets and use them effectively to make a killing, one way or another.
But there are many more people who think “everything will be fine” and who walk along with people all the way off the cliff.
The choice as to which kind you will be, of course, is yours.
Small kitchens have to get smart about their use of space, and this often means hiding appliances or kitchen tools. Then, surprise! They pop up, slide out, or emerge from an unexpected place. We love kitchens that have secrets and surprises. Here are a few great details from our archives. There are hidden vents, an oven that opens in a very unexpected way, and a genius cutting board installation.Read Full Post
You may have already seen the email below and the attached information. I’m simply forwarding to everyone in my address book so I’m sorry for any duplication.
If you haven’t seen this however, it concerns legislation that could be heard as early as this coming Tuesday. Right now, Rep. Chang does not want to add this to the list to be heard, perhaps due to (rather minor) restrictions placed upon developers. But it’s really a no-brainer. In order to start towards this reality of securing and preserving this coastline without having to buy it, it’s only a matter of the cost of passing legislation and the will and courage to do so. With the State in such debt we couldn’t do this any other way, likely for many years to come, if not decades. We as the state taxpayers already own this land, but we have to exercise our voice to ensure its use is defined clearly and for our collective benefit.
If it’s important to you to preserve the shoreline and water for all public activities, along with preventing future devastating impacts to the ecosystems such as what happened via run-off during Hokulia’s grading work, please take the few minutes to cut/paste email addresses and the wording below. The members of the committee need to represent us as we wish to be represented.
URGENT- Please email TODAY must be on the agenda by this Tuesday sample email below
Please forward to Friends and Family
Please Email members of the Water Land and Ocean Resources Committee and ask them to
PUT ON THE AGENDA
Bill 1385- Relating to Coastline Preservation on the Big Island on all state owned lands
To preserve almost 100 MILES OF HAWAII ISLAND SHORELINE FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS.
This Bill was introduced by Representative Denny Coffman. To Read the text of Bill 1385 and to see a map of the almost 100 miles of shoreline to be preserved go to www.dhecht.com Information sheet attached.
TALKING POINTS: Bill 1385 will protect almost 100 miles of coastline on Hawaii Island by preserving ocean access, protect the reefs from sedimentation and protecting habitat for ocean species, protect the Ala Kahakai Trail, protect over 35 cultural sites along the Trail, link the 4 National Parks, provide room to build a parallel trail for hiking and biking for residents and visitors, that could be the foundation of an eco-tourism industry and provide jobs for people of our island.
ASK THE COMMITTEE TO PUT THIS ON THEIR AGENDA Today
SUPPORTERS: We have requested letters of support from 20 groups island wide. So far we have the support of the State of Hawaii Democratic Party’s Environmental Caucus, Surfrider Foundation, the Kona Hawaiian Civic Club. The Hawaii County Council will be hearing a resolution introduced by Councilmember Brenda Ford soon.
SAMPLE EMAIL- CUT AND PASTE THIS EMAIL AND SEND TODAY!!
repchang@Capitol.hawaii.gov, rephar@Capitol.hawaii.gov, repcabanilla@Capitol.hawaii.gov, repcarroll@Capitol.hawaii.gov, repchong@Capitol.hawaii.gov, email@example.com,repherkes@Capitol.hawaii.gov, repito@Capitol.hawaii.gov, repmorita@Capitol.hawaii.gov, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, repthielen@Capitol.hawaii.gov, firstname.lastname@example.org
SUBJECT: BILL 1385- COASTLINE BUFFER ZONE ON THE BIG ISLAND- YES!
Aloha Chairman Chang and committee members of the Water, Land and Ocean Resources Committee:
I support Bill 1385, which creates a 2,000-foot buffer zone on all state owned lands on the Big Island, preserving almost 100 miles of our coastline. IT is my hope that by passing this Bill you will help to preserve the Ala Kahakai Trail, numerous cultural sites along the trail, our reefs and fishing habit and coastline access. Please hear this Bill as soon as possible.
We are very lucky to have 4 Big island reps on committee, If these representatives are from your district please make sure you stress that you are a voter in that district.
1. Chair Chang from South Hilo, Waiakea Kai, Kaumana, Keaukaha and
2. Nakashima from Kohala and Hamakua and Hilo,
3. Herkes from South Kona and Ka’u,
4. Coffman from Kona.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
1. Do you have a group that we can meet with to get a letter or support?
2. Hand out the attached information sheet.
3. Read the text of the Bill at www.dhecht.com and download the map.
4. Can we put your name on the Angels List to be kept informed?
5. Would you be a key person to keep other people in your email contacts informed?
A few years ago I wrote about the need for fractional horsepower HTTP servers. Today, they exist. We take them for granted. They're everywhere. Now we're ready to go to the next level. The fractional horsepower news network.
If you recall, the fractional horsepower idea originated with Steve Jobs. That's how he rationalized the Apple II, which people had a hard time understanding because we were in the Big Iron period of computers. He was selling a small computer that looked like a typewriter. He argued, correctly, that people needed computers, not just huge companies and public institutions and the military. I was saying the same thing so when I saw the Apple II, I knew it was for me. Without a moment's hesitation.
When I fell in love with the web, it was the same thing. Here was networking so simple anyone could do it. And look what happened. Everyone did it! Yeah. So what comes next after the web? Ahhh. That's the thing. I think it's the news network. And I think we're still in the Big Iron phase there, but about to enter the Fractional Horsepower stage.
I had dinner the other night with Joe Hewitt who works at Facebook and was one of two guys who started Firefox (the other being Blake Ross). We get together to talk every few months. It's interesting because Joe is so smart, and in some ways reminds me of myself 25 years ago. In other ways we're vastly different. Joe is quiet and I'm anything but. He's quiet but when he speaks he says interesting things.
He suggested that Time may have known what they were doing when they chose Mark Zuckerberg as man of the year. I stopped in my tracks to ponder that. I suppose it's possible. Could have they forseen what would happen in Egypt? I don't see how. But it's an interesting question.
Zuck is just the current last guy in the chain of people who made this all work. There will be more. So it's okay to focus on the individuals, it's the natural human thing to do, but -- it would be like focusing on the gold miners instead of the mine. Or the mystery of why men needed gold to bootstrap an economy. And why we needed an Internet to get us to stand up for each other. The naysayers are right to say the spirit always existed in us, but sometimes magic happens, and it tends to happen when new empowering technology comes fully online.
However, please, before the glow wears off, let's think about what's next.
It's great that Facebook and Twitter did so much for us. But the despots will figure out how to work around them both technically and politically. They're too easy to disrupt. Facebook could go down on its own, the same way Julian Assange can be discovered to wear dirty socks, have four children, and be unkind to cats (in someone's opinion). This justifies shutting his servers off and putting him in jail. (Sorry for the sarcasm.)
They can do the same with Facebook that they do with Assange. There's all kinds of crazy stuff you can do at a firewall to make one site appear to be having technical problems. Real technical problems (but fake ones nonetheless). There are consultants calling on generals all over the world, right now, selling them wonderful Internet dashboards that selectively and randomly make sites appear to have problems of their own, not caused by the government.
Anticipating this, we have to create communication networks on the Internet that require that the whole Internet be cut off in order for them to be cut off. The reason is simple. The people who are being manipulated will know they're being manipulated. In a centralized social space, there could easily be doubt. I know this is a complicated idea, but the intellects are at work, I promise you. They are smart, we have to be smart too.
It's important that people learn to manage their own infrastructure. It's going to happen, but we can do it. We can make servers much easier to set up and maintain, and do more stuff that's meaningful to people like the people in Egypt fighting for freedom. By spreading out we're harder to stop.
The development of the Amazon and Rackspace clouds (and probably others I haven't looked at yet), and virtualization, have made it easy, almost shrinkwrap-easy for people to setup and run servers. Now it's up to guys like Joe and me (and you!) to create server software for those users.
In my new EC2-for-Poets howto (version 2), at the end you're left with your own news aggregator, one that you could share with a workgroup or a community. This is the beginning of a news system that scales down to very small and focused communities. We've got a few users, some real hearty souls, who are working with me step by step. And I just invited a very respected geek friend, Joe Moreno, to join the community and he did. Very slowly, one step at a time.
These moon mission projects are the best. When we know what we're doing has immediate relevance, that's when it's the most fun to create new stuff. The most important thing now is to create something small, fun and easy, a fractional horsepower news network.
A fractional horsepower news network. To me that's the most beautiful idea I've ever heard.
Posted: 29 Jan 2011 05:00 AM PST
Before my morning coffee I have about as much personality as a traffic pylon.
The morning brew is a ritual, pilgrimage, and sacred passage — it is the rite from which the day may henceforth begin. The aroma of the ante meridiem percolation beckons the awakening, the effervescent arousal of the mind to all that lay ahead.
Thus, morning coffee is something of a metaphor for world peace. The religions of others may not involve worship at the alters of caffeine in the sacred, Swiss waters of frothy, roasted beans, but it is precisely because I know the importance of my own rites and practices that I can affirm the importance of the rituals, pilgrimages and sacred passages of others.