Sunday Reads: Anticipation of Stop and Frisk for Cotton Candy

$(KGrHqUOKj8E6,2h5192BOp(YVVQT!~~60_35Good Morning

We are freezing our banjo playing fingers off up here in the Georgia mountains.  Winter took an awfully long time to get here.

I guess you can tell by the image on the left, one of our stories this morning is about the Heinz merger deal. S.E.C., Suspecting Insider Trading, Freezes Account Over Heinz Merger

Regulators froze a Swiss account at Goldman Sachs on Friday after unearthing activities suggestive of insider trading in the $23 billion acquisition of H. J. Heinz, taking an abrupt action after one of the biggest deals in recent years.

The action, by the Securities and Exchange Commission, illustrates the temptation that such big takeovers may present. Despite a number of prominent crackdowns on insider trading, regulators continue to uncover cases involving traders who spin confidential tidbits into illicit profits ahead of deals.

Ya know what? I bet any of these greedy white-collar crooks get away with crimes that would land most of us in prison. Then you have those people who get treated like criminals, just because of the color of their skin. Take this news out of New York City…Forest Whitaker given the ‘stop and frisk’ inside NYC deli in false theft allegation…No freakin’ kidding!

“See, not even an Academy Award can stop a Black man from being criminalized…”


God almighty, if it’s not the police it’s shopkeepers shaking down The Scary Black Man. And apparently it doesn’t matter if you’re an Academy Award winning actor. Forest Whitaker was on the Upper East Side and deigned to step into Milano MarketNewsOne:

TMZ reports that Whitaker said he was falsely accused of lifting an item off the store’s shelf and subsequently frisked by an employee. An eyewitness told the entertainment site that the Academy Award winner was frisked in plain view of everyone.

Of course, the shake down produced nothing belonging to the store and Whitaker left the establishment angry and embarrassed.

TMZ was told this by Whitaker’s rep:

“This was an upsetting incident given the fact that Forest did nothing more than walk into the deli. What is most unfortunate about this situation is the inappropriate way store employees are treating patrons of their establishment.  Frisking individuals without proof/evidence is a violation of rights.”

“Forest did not call the authorities at the request of the worker who was in fear of losing his employment. Forest asked that, in the future, the store change their behavior and treat the public in a fair and just manner.”

Damn, nothing ever surprises me. For another look at race in today’s climate…h/t Tennessee Guerrilla Woman: Emory president holds up “three-fifths” compromise as noble, honorable

In a shockingly horrible column, the president of Emory University held up the “Three-Fifths Compromise” — the deal between Northern and Southern states which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person — as a shining example of political compromise at its best.

In his “from the president” column — titled “As American as … Compromise” —  in the winter issue of Emory magazine, president James Wagner writes about the fiscal cliff and the importance of keeping one’s mind open to other points of view. All standard president’s letter dullness so far, right?

Then comes this:

One instance of constitutional compromise was the agreement to count three-fifths of the slave population for purposes of state representation in Congress. Southern delegates wanted to count the whole slave population, which would have given the South greater influence over national policy. Northern delegates argued that slaves should not be counted at all, because they had no vote. As the price for achieving the ultimate aim of the Constitution—“to form a more perfect union”—the two sides compromised on this immediate issue of how to count slaves in the new nation. Pragmatic half-victories kept in view the higher aspiration of drawing the country more closely together.

Some might suggest that the constitutional compromise reached for the lowest common denominator—for the barest minimum value on which both sides could agree. I rather think something different happened. Both sides found a way to temper ideology and continue working toward the highest aspiration they both shared—the aspiration to form a more perfect union. They set their sights higher, not lower, in order to identify their common goal and keep moving toward it.

So under Wagner’s formulation, one of the basest and demeaning political deals of American history, if not the basest, is an example of working toward a “highest aspiration.” Counting slaves as three-fifths of a person becomes an example of American politicians setting their sights high!

Wagner is no history professor…his specialty is Electrical Engineering. I’ve got a couple of takes on Wagner’s position:

From Erik Loomis,  Almost Verbatim Emory University President James Wagner: “The 3/5 Compromise is a Model to Which We Should Aspire. Also, the Liberal Arts are Like Slaves and Should Be Treated As Such” – Lawyers, Guns & Money

The president of Emory University evidently lacks people to make sure he doesn’t say insane, horrible things.

Take a quick look at his point of view. And be sure to look through the comments on that LGM post.

Raw Story takes a different approach, also citing Gawker comment on Wagner’s statements: University president: ‘Three-Fifths’ slavery agreement example of ‘pragmatic’ compromise

Wagner’s invocation of the agreement as a “lesson of our forebears” was immediately criticized on social media on Saturday; Salon also called “shockingly horrible” ; and Gawker suggested that same day that The Affordable Care Act, the Voting Rights Act, or “Do all homework, you get to watch The Simpsons” would have been more appropriate examples of political compromise.

As stated in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution, the agreement mandated that, “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

The agreement was abandoned after the abolition of slavery, as mandated by the 13th Amendment.

I agree with TGW on this one...she says:

Amazing. An amazingly stupid thing to say. Emory University does not need this and neither does Atlanta or this already bad-mouthed region.

Moving on to immigration: Report: White House immigration bill in the works would lay out an 8-year path to legal status

The White House is circulating a draft immigration bill that would create a new visa for illegal immigrants living in the United States and allow them to become legal permanent residents within eight years, according to a report published online Saturday by USA Today.President Barack Obama’s bill would create a “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” visa for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. The bill includes more security funding and requires business owners to adopt a system for verifying the immigration status of new hires within four years, the newspaper said.

USA Today reported that the bill would require that immigrants pass a criminal background check, submit biometric information and pay fees to qualify for the new visa. Immigrants who served more than a year in prison for a criminal conviction or were convicted of three or more crimes and were sentenced to a total of 90 days in jail would not be eligible. Crimes committed in other countries that would bar immigrants from legally entering the country would also be ineligible.

Those immigrants who pass the requirements can apply for a visa, and work on getting their green card within eight years.

Another bit of news from the swamp, this time a group of Democrats have put their feelings on Medicare/Social Security cuts down on paper. Majority of House Democrats Call on President Obama to Reject Benefit Cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security Benefits

107 House Democrats, a majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives, wrote President Obama today, urging him to reject any proposals to cut benefits millions of American families depend upon through Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The letter was led by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL),Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), and Rep Donna Edwards (D-MD).

The Members specifically singled out “Chained CPI”—a proposal to reduce Social Security benefits by changing the way inflation is calculated—and raising the Medicare retirement age as policies they oppose.

“A commitment to keeping the middle-class strong and reducing poverty requires a commitment to keeping Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid strong,” the Members said in the letter. “We urge you to reject any proposals to cut benefits, and we look forward to working with you to enact approaches that instead rely on economic growth and more fair revenue-raising policies to solve our fiscal problems.”

Full letter to Obama can be found at the above link. At least someone is making a case for their constituents…

Just a few more links for you. There is reason to believe a suspected serial killer has been caught:  Man Charged in Killings of 2 Women in Missouri

A Kansas City-area man was arrested Saturday in the killings of two prostitutes whose bodies were found posed on the sides of rural Missouri roads nearly a year apart.

At a news conference Saturday night, authorities said Derek Richardson, 27, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abandonment of a corpse. His bail is set at $2 million. It wasn’t immediately known whether he has an attorney.

“We absolutely stopped a person who was going to kill again,” said Kansas City police Sgt. Doug Niemeier, adding that authorities will search across the United States to ensure there weren’t other victims.

Police say they know Richardson has traveled around the US, they are now investigating other crimes that may be connected.

And over in Japan, someone is sending out golden packages worth a total of $250,000…Golden gifts sent to tsunami-hit Japan port

People in a small Japanese fishing port that was devastated by the 2011 tsunami have been receiving gold bars in the post from an anonymous benefactor.

Packages containing gold bars started turning up in Ishinomaki, in Miyagi prefecture, about 10 days ago.

I’ve got two space stories for you, one is in connection with the huge meteor that struck Russia a couple of days ago. Dismissed as Doomsayers, Advocates for Meteor Detection Feel Vindicated

For decades, scientists have been on the lookout for killer objects from outer space that could devastate the planet. But warnings that they lacked the tools to detect the most serious threats were largely ignored, even as skeptics mocked the worriers as Chicken Littles.

Well, the sky was literally falling in the outskirts of the Ural Mountains…

No more. The meteor that rattled Siberia on Friday, injuring hundreds of people and traumatizing thousands, has suddenly brought new life to efforts to deploy adequate detection tools, in particular a space telescope that would scan the solar system for dangers.

A group of young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who helped build thriving companies like eBay, Google and Facebook has already put millions of dollars into the effort and saw Friday’s shock wave as a turning point in raising hundreds of millions more.

“Wouldn’t it be silly if we got wiped out because we weren’t looking?” said Edward Lu, a former NASA astronaut and Google executive who leads the detection effort. “This is a wake-up call from space. We’ve got to pay attention to what’s out there.”

Hot rocks falling from the heavens are not the only thing out there in the darkness of space, there is a cloud bursting with color relatively near us that holds something dark indeed.  Cotton Candy Cloud Hides Baby Black Hole

Composite image of supernova remnant W49B

This looks like the explosion of a cotton candy Death Star (run by evil space clowns, perhaps?) but it is the remains of a star’s death. This colorful cloud is a supernova remnant, seen in infrared, radio, and x-ray light… and at its center may hide one of the galaxy’s youngest black holes.

Located 26,000 light-years away in the northern constellation Aquila, W49B is a snapshot of the shockwaves from a star that went supernova an estimated 1,000 years ago (not including the time it took for its light to reach us). Several observation methods and instruments were used to create the technicolor image above – X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory shown in blue and green, radio data from the National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array in pink, and infrared and optical data from the Palomar Observatory in orange and yellow — but put all together, one feature becomes glaringly obvious.

This thing is a mess.

Typically supernova remnants have a roughly circular or shell-like shape, generally seen as a ring of bright material surrounding the dense burnt-out core of a star. The ring is bright because it’s composed of interstellar gas and dust that’s being violently ionized by the spreading force of the supernova. Ionized material gives off many forms of radiation, detectable in various wavelengths by observatories on the ground as well as in space.

W49B isn’t a ring, though. It’s a sloppy barrel shape that indicates an uneven, asymmetrical eruption, hinting that the original star didn’t go peacefully into this good night.

That Discover article calls this star corpse a black hole, and if that turns out to be the case,

…would be the galaxy’s newest black hole — at least as far as what’s been discovered so far. A mere thousand years old, an alleged black hole at the heart of W49B would have just been born in the night sky around the same time that Vikings were first setting foot on North American shores.

The paper on W49B was published in the Feb. 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.Read more on the Chandra X-ray Observatory website here.

Y’all try and stay warm today, and let us know what you are reading and thinking about today.


Friday Reads

victorian girl

Good

Morning!

I really don’t intend this to be a post about Republican crazy but we’re going to start out with that subject.  Let’s hope this post morphs into something else by the time I’m done.

Apparently it took a female Republican to come up with the most vicious way to punish women who had the audacity to get themselves raped.

Wednesday, state representative Cathrynn Brown of New Mexico introduced a bill whose sheer audacity makes Todd Akins look as harmless as an ill-informed teenager groping his way through puberty.

The proposed legislation, House Bill 206, would make it illegal for a woman to have an abortion after being raped because the fetus is evidence of the crime. A women who does choose to have an abortion would be charged with the third-degree felony of “tampering with evidence,” which carries up to a three year prison sentence in New Mexico.

As the bill states:

“Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.

In other words, Brown just said to rape victims: give birth to this baby or you’ll go to jail.

Crazy Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says the “GOP is a populist party’ and is the party of the middle class.  Whoa, something in that exorcism must be causing him to have some kind of flash back.  Here’s Tiger Beat on the Potomac:

“We must quit ‘big,’” he said. “We are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes or big anything. We must not be the party that simply protects the well off so they can keep their toys … We are the party whose ideas will help the middle class, and help more folks join the middle class.”

He called repeatedly for a reorienting of the party’s focus from the Beltway to state capitols.

“We believe in planting the seeds of growth in the fertile soil of your economy, where you live, where you work, invest, and dream, not in the barren concrete of Washington,” he said. “If it’s worth doing, block grant it to the states. If it’s something you don’t trust the states to do, then maybe Washington shouldn’t do it at all. We believe solving problems closer to home should always be our first, not last, option.”

Well, he did explain one of the ways he’s made everything worse down here along with that call out to states being able to do what ever they want which sounds remarkably like returning reinstating Jim Crow and expanding Jane Crow.

The Louisiana governor suggested “re-thinking nearly every social program in Washington” in a speech to members of the Republican National Committee gathered here.

“If any rational human being were to create our government anew, today, from a blank piece of paper – we would have about one fourth of the buildings we have in Washington and about half of the government workers,” he said, according to a copy of the speech obtained in advance by POLITICO. “We would replace most of its bureaucracy with a handful of good websites.”

I’ve been caught in one of his website hells as well as the result of his passion for getting rid of every service that a government more efficiently provides. Things have been replaced by endless phone trees and decidedly unhelpful websites.  It ain’t pretty or compassionate.  It’s more like being thrown into Somalia.

So, here’s a good time to talk about some interesting facts about Dung Beetles.   This is from the National Geographic which should send out a crew to figure out if there’s any sign of intelligent life in Republican held state houses through out the country.  Dung Beetles evidently have a keener sense of the right way to go than Republicans as they navigate via the Milky Way.

Talk about star power—a new study shows that dung beetles navigate via the Milky Way, the first known species to do so in the animal kingdom.

The tiny insects can orient themselves to the bright stripe of light generated by our galaxy, and move in a line relative to it, according to recent experiments in South Africa.

“This is a complicated navigational feat—it’s quite impressive for an animal that size,” said il_fullxfull.403267997_ydu1study co-author Eric Warrant, a biologist at the University of Lund in Sweden.

Speaking of moving balls of dung around, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has wimped out on Filibuster reform.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have come to a deal on filibuster reform. The deal is this: The filibuster will not be reformed. But the way the Senate moves to consider new legislation and most nominees will be.  Here’s an explanation from Beltway Bob errrr Ezra Klein.

What will be reformjfk_relaxing_outside_mouse_pads-p144021643615572926envq7_400ed is how the Senate moves to consider new legislation, the process by which all nominees — except Cabinet-level appointments and Supreme Court nominations — are considered, and the number of times the filibuster can be used against a conference report. You can read the full text of the compromise, which was sent out to Senate offices this morning, here (pdf).

But even those reforms don’t go as far as they might. Take the changes to the motion to proceed, by which the Senate moves to consider a new bill. Reid seemed genuinely outraged over the way the process has bogged down in recent years.

“What the Republicans have done is turn the motion to proceed on its head,” he argued. “It was originally set up to allow somebody to take a look at a piece of legislation. What the Republicans have done is they simply don’t allow me to get on the bill. I want to go to it on a Monday, they make me file cloture, that takes till Tuesday. Then it takes two days for the cloture vote to ‘ripen,’ so now it’s Thursday, and even if I get 60 votes, they still have 30 hours to twiddle their thumbs, pick their nose, do whatever they want. So, I’m not on the bill by the weekend, and in reality, that means next Monday or Tuesday.”

But the deal Reid struck with McConnell doesn’t end the filibuster against the motion to proceed. Rather, it creates two new pathways for moving to a new bill. In one, the majority leader can, with the agreement of the minority leader and seven senators from each party, sidestep the filibuster when moving to a new bill. In the other, the majority leader can short-circuit the filibuster against moving to a new bill so long as he allows the minority party to offer two germane amendments. Note that in all cases, the minority can still filibuster the bill itself.

Mary Jo White has been appointed to head the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by President Barack Obama.

Currently the head of litigation at Debevoise & Plimpton, a private law firm, Ms White will add a female voice to Mr Obama’s second-term team, which is so far dominated by men. More importantly, the former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York has experience policing Wall Street, which fell under her jurisdiction. Mr Obama has slammed bankers for their role in the financial crisis and ensuing recession. The choice of Ms White seems to signal his resolve in getting tough with the banks.The appointment is not without controversy. Ms White has benefited from the revolving door between public service and private practice. In the aftermath of the crisis, financial firms sought the assistance of former regulators with strong ties to the government. In a scathing article on Bloomberg‘s website, Jonathan Weil notes that Ms White participated in the defence of many people and institutions at the heart of the financial collapse. In October 2008 she was cited in a critical report by the SEC’s inspector general for receiving “relevant information” that was not publicly available. Some will ask whether she is truly a poacher turned gamekeeper or simply setting herself up for another lucrative turn through the revolving door.Mr Obama, for one, is convinced he is getting the “tough-as-nails prosecutor”. By putting Ms White at the SEC, he has suggested that the agency’s priority is enforcement. But a bigger challenge may come from the sprawling Dodd-Frank legislation, and its many gaps and contradictions. Much of the next chairman’s time should be devoted to rethinking how America’s capital markets are structured, and deciding how that vision will be translated into the numerous rules the SEC is required to write under Dodd-Frank’s sloppy mandates. Ms White, in other words, has a big job ahead of her.

Well, today’s post sorta took an interesting turn didn’t it?  It went from crazy Republicans to wimpy Democrats with one little mention of the only smart and honest shit pusher in between.  Well, at least the pictures are fun to look at.

What’s on your blogging and reading list today?


Major New Boston Globe Article Recounts Circumstances of Romney’s Bain Departure

I know everyone is focused on the Colorado shooting, but I feel as if I need to post this new information about Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital.

New interviews and public records research by Boston Globe reporters Beth Healy and Michael Kranish make it clearer than ever that Romney was still in control of the company during his “leave of absence” to manage the 1999 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Interviews with a half-dozen of Romney’s former partners and associates, as well as public records, show that he was not merely an absentee owner during this period. He signed dozens of company documents, including filings with regulators on a vast array of Bain’s investment entities. And he drove the complex negotiations over his own large severance package, a deal that was critical to the firm’s future without him, according to his former associates.

Indeed, by remaining CEO and sole shareholder, Romney held on to his leverage in the talks that resulted in his generous 10-year retirement package, according to former associates.

“The elephant in the room was not whether Mitt was involved in investment decisions but Mitt’s retention of control of the firm and therefore his ability to extract a huge economic benefit by delaying his giving up of that control,” said one former associate, who, like some other Romney associates, spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the company.

Romney originally planned to take a leave of absence, while contributing part-time to Bain. It was agreed that “five managing directors” would be in charge while he was away. Romney was technically no longer involved in investment decisions, but he had legal control of the firm.

Basically, Romney wanted a huge golden parachute, and retaining control of Bain gave him leverage. He was still the boss, even if he had let go of micromanaging every new project and decision. The reporters talked to

James Cox, a professor of corporate and securities law at Duke University, [who] said Bain’s continued reference to Romney as CEO and sole shareholder indicated that Romney was still the final authority. Moreover, Cox said, Romney would likely have been updated regularly about Bain Capital’s profits while he was negotiating his severance package. As a result, Cox said, Romney’s statement that he had no involvement with “any Bain Capital entity” appears “inconsistent” with his actions.

“If he is 100 percent owner, I just find it incredible that what I would call ‘big decisions’ — acquisitions, restructuring, changes in business policy — that they would not have passed on to him on an informational basis, not asking for formal approval but just keeping him in the loop,” Cox said.

Romney’s departure left Bain in a somewhat chaotic state. The remaining partners were worried about their ability to raise funds for takeovers without their former boss. Some of the partners chose to leave Bain and begin their own firms “rather than go through the limbo transition.”

I seems quite clear that Romney has lied on disclosure forms on which he has stated that after February 11, 1999 he “was not involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way.”

What I can’t understand is why he didn’t just lay out all these facts and simply deal with any criticisms about investments that Bain made between 1999 and 2002. He benefited financially from those decisions anyway–and is still benefiting from Bain investments. But now he looks dishonest as well as ruthless toward workers who suffered when Bain outsourced their jobs or drove their employers into bankruptcy.

CNN also published an important article about Romney and Bain today. The author is Roberta Karmel, a former SEC commissioner who is now Centennial Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School. Karmel has been quoted in the Boston Globe’s previous articles on Romney’s separation from Bain. Karmel explains in detail why Romney can’t avoid responsibility for Bain between February 11, 1999 and early 2002 when he officially resigned as CEO and presumably transferred some of his shares to the new managing partners.

The contradictory representations in the Government Ethics Office and SEC filings are at best evasive and at worst a violation of federal law. A federal statute — 18 U.S.C. § 1001 — provides that anyone who “in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully — (1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact; (2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” shall be fined or imprisoned. Violations of federal securities laws, including the making of false statements in a 13D filing, are independently punishable under the securities laws….

Romney is not now claiming his 13D filings were inaccurate or false, but he is claiming that although he was chief executive officer, managing director, chairman and president of Bain Capital, he was not really there, but in Utah managing the Winter Olympics. Nevertheless, he was earning more than $100,000 in salary from Bain. Since he will not release his income tax returns for 1999-2002, we have no idea how high this salary really was.

If Romney was not “involved” in the operations of Bain Capital, why was he being paid? As sole shareholder, why did he keep himself on as CEO? Also, at least with respect to the Stericycle deal, he invested as an individual along with the Bain entities. Why is Romney’s story about his relationship to Bain and its investment activities at odds with the documents his firm filed?

There’s much more, so if you’re interested, be sure to check out the entire article. I assume the Obama campaign will quickly latch onto this new information. Will Romney try to explain, or will he continue to resort to the “pathos of the plutocrat” as described in Paul Krugman’s latest column–whining because he isn’t getting the deference that he feels is his due as one of the super-rich? Krugman:

Like everyone else following the news, I’ve been awe-struck by the way questions about Mr. Romney’s career at Bain Capital, the private-equity firm he founded, and his refusal to release tax returns have so obviously caught the Romney campaign off guard. Shouldn’t a very wealthy man running for president — and running specifically on the premise that his business success makes him qualified for office — have expected the nature of that success to become an issue? Shouldn’t it have been obvious that refusing to release tax returns from before 2010 would raise all kinds of suspicions?

By the way, while we don’t know what Mr. Romney is hiding in earlier returns, the fact that he is still stonewalling despite calls by Republicans as well as Democrats to come clean suggests that it could be something seriously damaging.

Anyway, what’s now apparent is that the campaign was completely unprepared for the obvious questions, and it has reacted to the Obama campaign’s decision to ask those questions with a hysteria that surely must be coming from the top. Clearly, Mr. Romney believed that he could run for president while remaining safe inside the plutocratic bubble and is both shocked and angry at the discovery that the rules that apply to others also apply to people like him. Fitzgerald again, about the very rich: “They think, deep down, that they are better than we are.”

Stay tuned….


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

Well, we’ve always known Pat Robertson was a little off.  Reconcile all his throw back ideas about women and the GLBT community with his views on decriminalizing marijuana, I dare you!!

“I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol,” Mr. Robertson said in an interview on Wednesday. “I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”

Mr. Robertson’s remarks echoed statements he made last week on “The 700 Club,” the signature program of his Christian Broadcasting Network, and other comments he made in 2010. While those earlier remarks were largely dismissed by his followers, Mr. Robertson has now apparently fully embraced the idea of legalizing marijuana, arguing that it is a way to bring down soaring rates of incarceration and reduce the social and financial costs.

“I believe in working with the hearts of people, and not locking them up,” he said.

Rush has lost at least 50 advertisers after his horrendous, personal attacks on a university student exercising her first amendment rights. Just what kind of advertisers does the big blowhard have left?  Well, he’s picked up an online dating service for married people interested in extramarital relations. There’s your family values for you!!!

Advertisers learned something about Rush Limbaugh’s demographic this week.

“Here we thought lots of pleasant, upstanding people were listening to and enjoying the rational things Rush had to say,” dozens of companies said. “Apparently not.”

It turns out that people who really, truly still enjoy Rush Limbaugh’s show are — how do I put this? — jerks.

At least that’s what the new advertisements moving into the vast empty lot of Rush Limbaugh, Inc., implies. “Ah,” you say, as a rat runs over your foot and several people offer payday loans and try to sell you watches from their trench coats. “This place seems to have gone downhill somewhat.”

So far, he’s picked up AshleyMadison.com, the site where you go to cheat on your wife, and another Web site that is explicitly for sugar-daddy matchmaking.

Republicans in the House have basically gone after finance regulators in a way that would basically change one of the major mandates of the Fed’s economic stabilization mandate and the SEC’s ability to police the markets for fraud.  The FED suggestions are outrageous.  They would completely stop the FED’s ability to stimulate the economy and would change the composition of the FED board from economists to the Bank’s District Presidents who are answerable to their member banks. 

The bill, which will be formally introduced later this week by Congressman Brady, would eliminate the employment leg of the dual mandate, requiring the Federal Reserve to focus only on price stability.

The legislation would also restructure the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). The bill would give permanent seats on the committee to the twelve regional Federal Reserve bank presidents, who are chosen by regional Federal Reserve Bank directors. Those boards are composed of private citizens.

While Mary Shapiro of the SEC has been begging for more money to regulate Wall Street, this bill would remove more funds.

Yesterday, SEC chairman Mary Schapiro begged Congress to increase the agency’s funding, arguing that “the rapidly expanding size and complexity of the markets presents enormous oversight challenges.” Representative Barney Frank, ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, offered a bill to provide that funding—and Republicans voted lockstep to trash it.

Republicans on the committee offered the perverse argument that since the SEC has repeatedly suffered oversight breakdowns in the past, it’s not entitled to additional funding. Representative Jo Ann Emerson, a Missouri Republican and member of the House Appropriations Committee, echoed this argument in the hearing with Schapiro yesterday:

“I think this body is reticent to throw more money at the SEC until ya’ll have proven that you have addressed the structural problems from within…in a comprehensive way,” [Emerson said]. “Since 2001, SEC’s budget has increased over 200 percent. Despite this tremendous growth in resources over the past decade, the SEC failed to detect Ponzi schemes such as Madoff and Stanford, the U.S. financial system nearly collapsed, and judges continue to question SEC settlements and regulations.”

Further starving a regulatory agency that’s already clearly unable to handle its massive mission is not a terribly convincing argument—one would have to truly believe the SEC is completely capable of policing Wall Street but simply suffering from “structural problems,” as Emerson asserts. (To give a sense of the very real funding problems, JPMorgan Chase—only one of the 35,000 entities the SEC is tasked with regulating—spends four times the entire SEC budget on information technology alone).  But it’s the only argument Republicans have—the SEC is funded entirely by fees from the financial industry, so Republicans can’t carp about the deficit.

None of these folks seem to have any idea about what caused the financial crisis nor how much the underfunding and disabling of regulators and regulators have played into all these problems  It’s really disheartening.

Meanwhile, Romney has told a university student that students going to cheap schools they could afford would be better than government student loans.  BTW, where are there cheap schools now?

Mr. Romney was perfectly polite to the student. He didn’t talk about the dangers of liberal indoctrination on college campuses, as Rick Santorum might have. But his warning was clear: shop around and get a good price, because you’re on your own.

“It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that,” he said, to sustained applause from the crowd at a high-tech metals assembly factory here. “Don’t just go to one that has the highest price. Go to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education. And hopefully you’ll find that. And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”

There wasn’t a word about the variety of government loan programs, which have made it possible for millions of students to get college degrees. There wasn’t a word urging colleges to hold down tuition increases, as President Obama has been doing, or a suggestion that the student consider a work-study program.

And there wasn’t a word about Pell Grants, in case the student’s family had a low enough income to qualify. That may be because Mr. Romney supports the House Republican budget, which would cut Pell Grants by 25 percent or more at a time when they are needed more than ever.

Instead, the advice was pretty brutal: if you can’t afford college, look around for a scholarship (good luck with that), try to graduate in less than four years, or join the military if you want a free education.

Robert Scheer writes about Dennis Kucinich who will leave Congress after his term finishes.  His district was merged with Marcy Kaptur’s and she won on Tuesday. It’s an interest profile for a quirky politician.

Kucinich never competed in that way. He has been a national symbol of resistance to excessive government power and waste. He also has been a champion of social justice. His has been a rare voice, and one way or another it must continue to be heard. Simply put, when it came to the struggle for peace over war, Dennis was the conscience of the Congress. And he was always at the forefront in defending the rights of unionized workers who once formed the backbone of a solid middle class and who are now threatened with extinction.

Kucinich will surely be back for another turn in public life. As he put it in our Playboy interview:

“I appreciate Woody Allen’s humor because one of my safety valves is an appreciation for life’s absurdities. His message is that life isn’t a funeral march to the grave. It’s a polka.”

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Left Behind

The Great Recession of 2007-2008 took out some one in every sector of the economy.  Worst hit, however, was the housing sector where the financial contagion was hatched by folks betting on the forever upward trend in real estate prices.  Prices and sales of homes have plummeted. However, the government focused clearly on reviving the same group of people that were most responsible for the damage.  Both the Bush and Obama administrations have raptured Wall Street while leaving US families behind.  Granted, many homeowners jumped into loans they could not afford and bought houses at price levels that should’ve sent them clear warning symbols.  But remember, even the most sophisticated investors–like AIG and Lehman Brothers–got sucked into the mortgage and housing madness.  You can’t exactly expect every home owner to read through the fine print and look for trends in underlying home values using the Case-Shiller Index. Buying a home is an emotional process.  Investing is supposed to be the cautious practice.

So, what’s really different between this housing crisis and the two previous, similar crises that happened during the Great Depression and Savings & Loan crisis is that there is no vehicle to redress homeowners’ wiped-out balance sheets and foreclosure problems.  There has been largess all over the place for banks and other financial institutions.  During the 2008 elections, then-candidate Hillary Clinton emphasized the important role of the HOLC during the Great Depression and argued that something akin to it should be considered today.  The purpose of the HOLC was to renegotiate mortgages so that people could stay in their homes.  The HOLC was dismantled in 1951 when the last of its assets–dating from as late as 1935–were liquidated.

There were some efforts by the Obama administration that accompanied the Bush 43 TARP program to try to get private financial institutions to renegotiate loans in lieu of foreclosure, but those programs have failed miserably.  At least the SEC is beginning to look into possible criminality leading to the financial crisis like the role of rater Standard & Poor’s in overrating toxic mortgage-backed securities. Still, the victims of these practices have had little to no relief.  The NYT reminds us today that many homeowners need help. We should be further reminded that the overall economy will not improve until the housing market stabilizes.

Tens of millions of Americans are being crushed by the overhang of mortgage debt. And Congress and the White House have yet to figure out that the economy will not recover until housing recovers — and that won’t happen without a robust effort to curb foreclosures by modifying troubled mortgage loans.

Instead of pushing the banks to do what is needed, the Obama administration has basically urged them to do their best to help, mainly by reducing interest rates for troubled borrowers. The banks haven’t done nearly enough. In many instances, they can make more from fees and charges on defaulted loans than on modifications.

The administration needs better ideas. It can start by working with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-run mortgage companies, to aggressively reduce the principal balances on underwater loans and to make refinancing easier for underwater borrowers. If the president championed aggressive action, and Fannie and Freddie, which back most new mortgages, also made it clear to banks that they expect principal reductions, the banks would feel considerable pressure to go along.

The housing numbers are chilling. Sales of existing homes fell in July by 3.5 percent, while prices were down 4.4 percent in July from a year earlier. In all, prices have declined 33 percent since the peak of the market five years ago, for a total loss of home equity of $6.6 trillion.

There’s no letup in sight. Currently, 14.6 million homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, and nearly half of them are underwater by more than 30 percent. At present, 3.5 million homes are in some stage of foreclosure. Nearly six million borrowers have already lost their homes in the bust.

There are 10 states where basically no one is buying a house. That’s a pretty good indicator of a still sick market. What’s most appalling is that on top of these statistics comes the story about how much money the creators of both the housing bubble and the housing crash were bailed out by both the FED and the Federal Government.  The FED’s main purpose is to stabilize the financial system and thet basically did what they had to do under the charter they were given, but the numbers are beyond astounding.   None of these institutions were punished for their bad decisions or fined.  The SEC and the FED seem toothless in the face of such perfidy.

Citigroup Inc. (C) and Bank of America Corp. (BAC) were the reigning champions of finance in 2006 as home prices peaked, leading the 10 biggest U.S. banks and brokerage firms to their best year ever with $104 billion of profits.

By 2008, the housing market’s collapse forced those companies to take more than six times as much, $669 billion, in emergency loans from the U.S. Federal Reserve. The loans dwarfed the $160 billion in public bailouts the top 10 got from the U.S. Treasury, yet until now the full amounts have remained secret.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s unprecedented effort to keep the economy from plunging into depression included lending banks and other companies as much as $1.2 trillion of public money, about the same amount U.S. homeowners currently owe on 6.5 million delinquent and foreclosed mortgages. The largest borrower, Morgan Stanley (MS), got as much as $107.3 billion, while Citigroup took $99.5 billion and Bank of America $91.4 billion, according to a Bloomberg News compilation of data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, months of litigation and an act of Congress.

“These are all whopping numbers,” said Robert Litan, a former Justice Department official who in the 1990s served on a commission probing the causes of the savings and loan crisis. “You’re talking about the aristocracy of American finance going down the tubes without the federal money.”

The FED is mandated with stabilizing the financial system.  It’s sole connection to borrowers is to ensure truth in lending laws are applied which still leaves borrowers stuck reading the fine print.  The  Federal Government, however, has a completely different mandate.  There’s a lot of fuzziness surrounding the idea of  promoting the general welfare.  I’m pretty sure that letting business put a market on steroids then helping them recover while letting home owners swing in the wind isn’t promoting any one’s general welfare.   However, the government has chosen to stabilize mortgage investors while still leaving the actual market for houses in a declining state.  Then, they wonder why the economy is so bad.  Folks with declining incomes and wealth do not go on spending sprees.  They retreat.

There is so much unfinished business left over from the 2007-2008 financial crisis it’s hard to know where to start the complaints.   It’s one of the major reasons for budget shortfalls all over the country.  But, you wouldn’t know that if you listen to political rhetoric.  Again, undoing the damage that caused the problems from the start would be a lot more judicious than creating additional ones. We don’t need deficit commissions.  We need to deal with the root causes of the current deficit.  That would be too many wars, too many tax cuts, and way too many people who don’t have jobs and homes because Wall Street broke the economy.