I’m going to begin with an article I came across yesterday while reading the Guardian. It’s about a story from 2006 that I remembered and sometimes think about–a woman whose skeletonized body was found in her apartment three years after she died.
On 25 January 2006, officials from a north London housing association repossessing a bedsit in Wood Green owing to rent arrears made a grim discovery. Lying on the sofa was the skeleton of a 38-year-old woman who had been dead for almost three years. In a corner of the room the television set was still on, tuned to BBC1, and a small pile of unopened Christmas presents lay on the floor. Washing up was heaped in the kitchen sink and a mountain of post lay behind the front door. Food in the refrigerator was marked with 2003 expiry dates. The dead woman’s body was so badly decomposed it could only be identified by comparing dental records with an old holiday photograph of her smiling. Her name was revealed to be Joyce Carol Vincent.
How could such a thing happen? So often we hear sad stories like this and never get any answers to our questions. In this case, filmmaker Carol Morley decided to find out who Joyce Carol Vincent was, and she has made a documentary about her quest called Dreams of a Life. She writes:
In a city such as London, home to 8 million people, how could someone’s absence go unnoticed for so long? Who was Joyce Vincent? What was she like? How could she have been forgotten?
News of Joyce’s death quickly made it into the global media, which registered shock at the lack of community spirit in the UK. The story ran on in the British press, but still no photograph of Joyce appeared and little personal information.
Soon Joyce dropped out of the news. I watched as people discussed her in internet chatrooms, wondering if she was an urban myth, or talking about her as though she never mattered, calling her a couch potato, and posting comments such as: “What’s really sad is no one noticed she was missing – must have been one miserable bitch.” And then even that kind of commentary vanished.
But I couldn’t let go. I didn’t want her to be forgotten. I decided I must make a film about her.
She began by placing advertisements in newspapers asking anyone who knew Joyce to come forward. It turned out that Joyce had lots of friends over the years. She had been engaged to be married before she died, and she had also spent some time in a battered women’s shelter. Eventually, Morley was able to talk to many people who had known Joyce. She describes her journey in the Guardian article. It’s an amazing story, and I hope you’ll go read the whole thing.
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Thursday Reads: Villagers Turn On Obama, Texas Tornadoes, West TX Investigations, and Boston Bombing NewsPosted: May 16, 2013
It’s beginning to look like Obama’s second term is pretty much over before it begins. We’re facing years of Republican scandalmongering and “investigations” of a president who won’t fight back or even fight for his own favored legislation or judicial and government appointments.
What is Obama actually doing every day? Does he spend the time he isn’t fund-raising or doing meaningless public appearances deciding which “extremist” to drone strike next? Because he certainly doesn’t seem to be governing.
Maybe I’m wrong. Who knows. All I know is that the Villagers are finished with him. We got the news yesterday from Politico’s top gossip mavens Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen in one of their trademark “Behind the Curtain” posts: D.C. turns on Obama.
The town is turning on President Obama — and this is very bad news for this White House.
Republicans have waited five years for the moment to put the screws to Obama — and they have one-third of all congressional committees on the case now. Establishment Democrats, never big fans of this president to begin with, are starting to speak out. And reporters are tripping over themselves to condemn lies, bullying and shadiness in the Obama administration.
Buy-in from all three D.C. stakeholders is an essential ingredient for a good old-fashioned Washington pile-on — so get ready for bad stories and public scolding to pile up.
Really? if powerful Democrats weren’t “big fans” of Obama, why did they work their asses off to hand him the nomination in 2008 when they could just as easily have chosen Hillary Clinton?
Of course the “establishment Democrats” that Vandehei and Allen choose to quote in their piece are hardly current insiders, as Charles Pierce pointed out:
Not to minimize the inherent political savvy of Chris Lehane, one anonymous former Obama aide, one anonymous “longtime Washingtonian,” or Vernon Jordan — who, I admit, I’d thought had long gone off to peddle influence in the Beyond — but I think they’re pretty much camouflage here for the fiery tantrum summoned up by the authors.
(And, not for nothing, but “longtime Washingtonian” may well be the beau ideal of TBOTP sourcing. They should make it the company motto. And the two presiding geniuses are going to be shocked one morning when they look in the mirror and see Sally Quinn staring back at them.)
Nevertheless, the Villagers certainly pay more attention to Vandehei and Allen’s pontifications than Pierce’s. Here’s a little more of their venom:
Obama’s aloof mien and holier-than-thou rhetoric have left him with little reservoir of good will, even among Democrats. And the press, after years of being accused of being soft on Obama while being berated by West Wing aides on matters big and small, now has every incentive to be as ruthless as can be.
This White House’s instinctive petulance, arrogance and defensiveness have all worked to isolate Obama at a time when he most needs a support system. “It feel like they don’t know what they’re here to do,” a former senior Obama administration official said. “When there’s no narrative, stuff like this consumes you.”
Even Greg Sargent acknowledges that Politico probably speaks for the DC establishment, particularly the corporate media.
Thursday Reads: Banks Reopen in Cyprus; An End to “Too Big to Fail” Banks (?); Vagina-Phobia; and Much MorePosted: March 28, 2013
The banks have opened in Cyprus with controls on how much depositors can withdraw.
Joe Weisenthal posted updates at his Business Insider blog:
At 6:00 AM ET, banks in Cyprus reopened their doors for the first time since March 16.
However, the crowds have been orderly.
Everyone is wondering whether there will be a huge run on the banks.
So far? Not yet.
This is likely due to a set of capital controls that have been imposed on the banks. Specifically, Cypriot depositors cannot withdraw more than 300 euros per day from any one bank. Also, checks cannot be cashed.
These controls will be in place for seven days.
See more Twitter updates and photos at the link. International Business Times has some details about the capital controls that are supposed to prevent bank runs. In addition to the withdrawal limit, depositors can’t cash checks unless they come from another country.
In the meantime, non-cash payments or money transfers are banned unless they are related to a number of conditions.
These conditions include commercial transactions, payroll, living expenses and tuition fees.
If commercials transactions are less than €5,000, there are no restrictions, but payments above this amount and up to €200,000 will be subject to a 24-hour decision making process, in order to determine whether the liquidity of the bank would be able to incur such a withdrawal.
Transfers for paying employees will also still be allowed but relevant documents would have to be presented in order to prove the money is being used to pay staff.
Transactions on credit or debit cards are also capped at €5,000 euros per month.
According to the Wall Street Journal, some large depositors seemingly had advance knowledge of what was going to happen in Cyprus and moved their money out of the country weeks before the crisis.
The chairman of the Committee for Institutions in the Cypriot Parliament, Deputy Dimitris Syllouris, said he had submitted a letter to the Central Bank of Cyprus demanding an investigation into account holders who moved large sums of cash out of the country in the weeks ahead of Cyprus’s chaotic bailout talks…
He said he had received information about individuals and businesses moving money out of Cyprus weeks ahead of the bailout deal—a move that wouldn’t be illegal but could imply that some depositors had warning that negotiations for a bailout could, for the first time in the financial crisis that has rattled the euro zone, take a cut out of regular bank deposits.
Asked whether his suspicions focused on one specific group of depositors, he said “politicians, all sorts of people, and bankers themselves are no better.”
Outflows from Cyprus were increasing from moderate levels from January until March 15, the officials said. Last week—especially after March 19, when the Cypriot Parliament rejected the first bailout deal that would have imposed a one-time levy on large deposits—the outflows under the central bank’s exemptions went up significantly, they said.
Several hundred million euros, but less than a billion euros, left the country despite the bank closures, according to one official.
At Bloomberg, Clive Crook says Cyprus’ Plan B is Still a Disaster.
The new deal has removed the craziest part of the agreement reached March 16 — the plan to default on deposit insurance. Let’s not dwell any further on that insanity. But the new plan still has features that, seen in any other context, would surely arouse surprise.
For instance, the so-called troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund wanted to be sure that the new debt Cyprus is about to take on will be sustainable — meaning, presumably, that Cyprus will be able to repay it. Yet, by writing down high- value deposits, the revised plan will also cause a sudden contraction of the Cypriot banking system, and thus of the whole Cypriot economy, which depends on banking to an unusual degree.
He concludes that,
Bailout fatigue says: “The Cypriots got themselves into this mess, and they should get themselves out. We’ll lend them a bit more, but only if we’re sure they’ll pay us back.” Cyprus didn’t get itself into this mess. It joined the euro system in 2008 with low public debt and a clean bill of health from EU governments (back then, not a word was said about shady Russians). Its banks are in trouble not because they accepted too many overseas deposits but because they bought too many Greek bonds — an investment sanctified by international banking rules (which called such investments riskless) that was destroyed by the EU’s ham-fisted resolution of Greece’s threatened default.
Europe’s sense of “we’re all in this together” seems to have evaporated entirely. Now one has to ask not merely what the euro is for, but what the EU itself is for.
Back in the U.S.A.,
Simon Johnson has an interesting post at the NYT’ “Explaining the Science of Everyday Life” blog: The Debate on Bank Size Is Over.
While bank lobbyists and some commentators are suddenly taken with the idea that an active debate is under way about whether to limit bank size in the United States, they are wrong. The debate is over; the decision to cap the size of the largest banks has been made. All that remains is to work out the details.
To grasp the new reality, think about the Cyprus debacle this month, the Senate budget resolution last week and Ben Bernanke’s revelation that — on too big to fail — “I agree with Elizabeth Warren 100 percent that it’s a real problem.”
Policy is rarely changed by ideas alone and, in isolation, even stunning events can sometimes have surprisingly little effect. What really moves the needle in terms of consensus among policy makers and the broader public opinion is when events combine with a new understanding of how the world works. Thanks to Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio; Senator Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, and many other people who have worked hard over the last four years, we are ready to understand what finally defeated the argument that bank size does not matter: Cyprus.
I can’t briefly summarize the gist of Johnson’s piece, so if you’re following this story, please read the whole thing. Could he really be right about limits on “to big to fail or prosecute banks.” I sure hope so!
In other news,
It has been an ugly campaign so far, but I have a feeling it’s about to get a lot uglier. Mitt Romney gave an interview to USA Today yesterday. The article is mostly focused on Romney’s complaints about Obama’s supposedly negative campaign against him and how he intends to fight back.
“There are plenty of weaknesses that I have, and I acknowledge that,” Romney says. “But the attacks that have come have been so misguided, have been so far off target, have been so dishonest, that they surprised me. I thought they might go after me on things that were accurate that I’ve done wrong, instead of absurd things.”
He ticks off the examples he has in mind. “The Harry Reid attack, ‘Oh, he hasn’t paid taxes in 10 years.’ Ridiculous,” he says of an allegation that the Democratic Senate majority leader attributed to an unnamed friend. “The attack about how Romney’s responsible for this woman who died … and the vice president’s comments about ‘chains.’ Really? The White House just keeps stepping lower and lower and lower, and the people of America know this is an important election and they deserve better than they’ve seen.”
As if the small percentage of his income that Romney pays in taxes and the multiple tax havens he uses to keep his taxes low aren’t issues. But here comes the “obvious air raid siren.” Actually, it’s a twofer. The interviewer asks Romney about the utterly false claims he has been making that Obama “gutted” the welfare work requirement and about his recent “joke” about Obama’s birth certificate.
Romney defends the welfare ads as accurate, accusing Obama of offering state waivers as a political calculation designed to “shore up his base” for the election. He denies he was trying to stoke discredited questions about Obama’s birthplace when he said at a Detroit rally Friday that no one had ever asked him for his Michigan birth certificate.
“I understand some people don’t think we should ever joke,” Romney says, saying he was just being “human” and “spontaneous.” He argues that his attacks have been based on policy while Obama has attacked him on more personal fronts. The president’s team has tried “to minimize me as an individual, to make me a bad person, an unacceptable person,” he says.
Obama’s “base” presumably being poor black welfare recipients? And we’re supposed to believe that Romney couldn’t talk about being born and raised in Michigan without also talking about his birth certificate? Please. This is the kind of crap we’re going to be hearing from now on unless polls demonstrate it isn’t working. It’s jarring to it coming from the nominee himself instead of the VP candidate or a surrogate, but Romney clearly has no shame at all.
I know most of you have already seen this, but I’m going to post Chris Matthews’ rant about Romney’s race baiting from today’s Morning Joe show.
Matthews is absolutely right on, but notice how the rest of the talking heads patronize him and minimize the reality of what the Romney campaign is doing. Here’s what Pierce had to say about it:
If you can tear yourself away from the attempts of the hosts to tut-tut-my-good-man the whole thing to death — and poor Tom Brokaw, who freaking covered the civil-rights movement and knows good and well which party latched on to the wrong side of those events and rode them to glory, looks as though he might have a stroke — listen carefully to what Matthews says. He links the birther joke to the welfare commercials, which any thinking analyst would do, since they came hard, one upon the other, and since that was the only hymn in the modern Republican hymnal Romney had not yet sung to the approval of the choir — he’d warmed up on the melody when he was ripping up Rick Perry on the issue of immigration — his campaign was bound to get around to it eventually. Priebus dismisses the birther comment as “an attempt at levity,” and chides Matthews for failing to have a sense of humor….
“We’ve gotten to a point in politics where any moment of levity is frowned upon by guys like you…It’s a moment of levity. Everybody gets it.”
Somehow, the truthless welfare commercials, which are the really deafening sirens in the current moment, disappeared from the dialogue and never come up again. There was yet another blow-up later when Priebus smirked about the president’s alleged “European” policies, and Matthews went up the wall again, calling what Priebus said “insane,” while Mika Brzezinski suggested that everyone “work on tone.” She has her work cut out for her down here, I’ll tell you that.
Pierce thinks Matthews will be “disciplined” for his outburst. I not so sure. Matthews has been talking about the race baiting for awhile now. But most of the corporate media outlets are not going to deal with the race issue in an honest and up-front way. They’re even having trouble calling Romney out on his bald-faced lies.