Thursday Reads: Crisis in Cyprus, The End of the “Creative Class” Dream, the Grand Betrayal, and Other News

coffee break

Good Morning!!

There’s quite a bit of news on the Cyprus crisis this morning. But first, last night Joe Weisenthal posted this assessment of how bad things had already gotten: In Just Days A Modern Economy Has Been Set Back 50 Years, And It May Never Be The Same Again. That’s a quote from Ciaran O’Hagan of Société Générale in Paris. Weisenthal writes:

According to reports, Cyprus will try again tomorrow to cobble together some kind of bank bailout bill that can pass parliament.

Cyprus needs to raise another 5.8 billion euros, which it could do from some combination of deposit taxes, Russian money, and pension nationalization.

None of the options are good, but until it’s done, banks will likely have to remain closed, a situation that can’t go on much longer.

This is a stunning turn of events for a modern Eurozone nation.

This morning, the news broke that the European Central Bank (ECB) has given Cyprus an ultimatum. Bloomberg reports:

The European Central Bank said it will cut Cypriot banks off from emergency funds after March 25 unless the Mediterranean island agrees on a bailout with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

“The Governing Council of the European Central Bank decided to maintain the current level of Emergency Liquidity Assistance, ELA, until Monday, 25 March 2013,” the Frankfurt- based ECB said in an e-mailed statement today. “Thereafter, ELA could only be considered if an EU/IMF program is in place that would ensure the solvency of the concerned banks.”

The Cypriot parliament this week rejected a proposed levy on bank deposits to raise 5.8 billion euros ($7.5 billion), which euro-area finance ministers backed as a condition for the country’s bailout. A bank holiday in Cyprus has been extended to March 25, giving policy makers until Monday to find a compromise to prevent a collapse of the country’s banks.

“With this statement, the ECB put even more pressure on European finance ministers and the Cypriot government to come up with a deal,” said Juergen Michels, chief euro-area economist at Citigroup Inc. in London. “But we’ll have to see whether they’ll actually follow through with their threat if there’s no deal by Monday and policy makers decide to further extend the bank holiday.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Cyprus Parliament Unanimously Rejects Bailout Plan

Cyprus bailout Cypriots

Well, they did it. Matthew Boesler at Business Insider:

The Cypriot parliament has voted against the controversial bank bailout deal hatched with the EU over the weekend, reports Bloomberg.

36 voted no.

19 abstained from voting.

No one voted in favor of it.

The vote was held in a show of hands.

The big part of the bailout plan that has everyone up in arms: a controversial decision to apply haircuts to depositors, which essentially amounts to an expropriation of a certain percentage of money from everyone’s bank account.
That includes insured depositors – those with up to 100,000 euros in the bank – whose funds, up to now, were widely considered sacrosanct.

Now what? Your guess is as good as mine.

I imagine Russia is likely to play a role in this situation going forward, so I found some reactions to the bailout proposal from Vladimir Putin at The Brisbane Times. He wasn’t happy with the deal, which would have removed around 10% of the value of accounts held by many Russians.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin called the proposed levy ”unfair, unprofessional and dangerous”, and his finance minister suggested Moscow could withdraw a €2.3 billion loan made to Cyprus in 2011. The bank levy was partly intended by Brussels and Berlin to prevent European Union taxpayers spending billions propping up the ill-gotten gains of Russia’s super-rich in Cypriot accounts.

Russian deposits in Cyprus, which offers attractive interest rates and asks few questions, are estimated at €20 billion, meaning Russian corporate and individual investors could lose up to €2 billion in one fell swoop.

Russia’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said: ”We had an agreement with colleagues from the eurozone that we’d co-ordinate our actions. So, we will consider the issue of restructuring of the loan taking into account our participation in the co-ordinated actions with the European Union to help Cyprus.”

Other Russian officials tried to allay fears by publicly announcing that whatever happens in Cyprus, the Russian financial system will remain stable.

Merkel stole

I guess Angela Merkel is going to have to come up with another plan or else dream up some better threats.

Obviously this is a fast-moving story, but I’ll include links to the very latest headlines below and then post updates in the comments.

Financial Times: Stocks fall as Cyprus uncertainty mounts

Miamai Herald: Give Cyprus more time, Greece tells EU

Bloomberg: S&P 500 Falls for Third Day as Euro Weakens on Cyprus

Bloomberg: German Stocks Decline Before Cyprus Votes on Bank Levy

Guardian UK: Crisis deepens as Cyprus MPs reject savings tax


New Stage in Eurozone Crisis: Cyprus Forced to Cover Bailout from Individual Bank Deposits

Lines formed at ATMs in Cyprus after news of bank levy broke

Lines formed at ATMs in Cyprus after news of bank levy broke

This is a topic on which I know very little, but I thought we should have a thread on it anyway.

On Saturday morning, news broke that the terms of a bailout of banks in Cyprus would require a levy on individual depositors–including those holding small accounts. People immediately rushed to ATMs to withdraw as much cash as possible before the deal was voted on. The most accessible article I found on this is by Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns blog, posted at Alternet: Hell Breaks Loose in Europe as Banking Crisis Unfolds: Depositors’ Money May Be Seized.

Saturday morning we learned that after hours of tense negotiation, Europe has hammered out a 10bn euro “bailout” of Cyprus. I put the term bailout in quotes because the key feature of this deal is the bail-in of Cypriot depositors to the tune of 5.8bn euros, about a third of Cyprus’ GDP. This means that depositors went to sleep on Friday night and woke up Saturday to find that their money, deposited safely in Cypriot banks, had been seized and used to “bail out” the country. While the bail-in became official EU bank rescue policy during the Spanish crisis last summer, bank depositors were never mentioned at that time. I see this as an extreme measure which, if the European banking crisis continues elsewhere, will have very negative implications for bank depositor confidence in other European periphery countries.

There has since been a revision in the amounts to be deducted–I’ll get to that later on.

Back to Harrison:

Cyprus’ finance minister Michalis Sarris said large deposit withdrawals would be banned. Jörg Asmussen, a German member of the ECB board and a key ally of Angela Merkel, added that the part of the deposit base equivalent to the actual bail-in levies would be frozen immediately so the funds could be used to pay for the “bailout”….

Some of the bailout lenders like the IMF had actually been calling for Cyprus to seize all deposits larger than 100,000 euros. So this falls well short of those demands. Nonetheless, a rubicon has been crossed. Not only are senior bank debt lenders now on the hook before a single penny of European Union loans or guarantees flow to busted eurozone countries, but so are subordinated debt holders and so are even depositors. As an EU citizen, you must now believe that any lending exposure you have to a bank whether as a bond lender or deposit lender can be seized and confiscated by government, no matter how small the exposure. The FT notes that “[e]ven Ireland, whose banking sector was about as large relative to its economy as Cyprus’ when it was forced into a bailout in 2010, never considered such a measure.

Read much more at the Alternet link.

Here’s an FAQ on the crisis published at Fortune earlier tonight. The scary introductory paragraphs after the jump:

Read the rest of this entry »


Saturday Late Morning Reads

groucho reading newspaper

Good Morning!!

Last night I watched an old Marx Brothers movie–Monkey Business. It’s been years since I’ve watched one of their movies, and I’d forgotten how much fun it can be. Laughter really is the best medicine. Wouldn’t it be great if we could see a movie with the Marx Brothers making people like Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and David Gregory look like complete idiots?

Not that Republicans need Groucho, Chico, or Harpo to highlight their idiocy, as you can see from this story at TPM: CPAC Event On Racial Tolerance Turns To Chaos As ‘Disenfranchised’ Whites Arrive

The session, entitled “Trump The Race Card: Are You Sick And Tired Of Being Called A Racist When You Know You’re Not One?” was led by K. Carl Smith, a black conservative who mostly urged attendees to deflect racism charges by calling themselves “Frederick Douglass Republicans.”

Disruptions began when he started accusing Democrats of still being the party of the Confederacy — a common talking point on the right….Disruptions began when he started accusing Democrats of still being the party of the Confederacy — a common talking point on the right.

But “things really went off the rails” in the question and answer session.

Scott Terry of North Carolina, accompanied by a Confederate-flag-clad attendee, Matthew Heimbach, rose to say he took offense to the event’s take on slavery. (Heimbach founded the White Students Union at Towson University and is described as a “white nationalist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.)

“It seems to be that you’re reaching out to voters at the expense of young white Southern males,” Terry said, adding he “came to love my people and culture” who were “being systematically disenfranchised.”

Smith responded that Douglass forgave his slavemaster.

“For giving him shelter? And food?” Terry said.

At this point the event devolved into a mess of shouting.

It sounds just like a Marx Brothers movie, without the jokes. There’s much more at the link–you have to read it to believe it.

More on CPAC from Gay activist and talk radio host Michaelangelo Signorile: Brian Brown, NOM Leader, At CPAC: Prop 8 Challenge Is ‘Biggest Strategic Mistake’ of Gay Rights Movement

A day before GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio reversed his position and came out for marriage equality, Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), insisted conservatives are rallying against gay marriage and that “if the Republican Party abandons traditional marriage, there is no Republican Party.” He also predicted that California’s Proposition 8 will be upheld by the Supreme Court, which is hearing arguments on the case later this month, calling the decision by gay advocates to challenge Prop 8 “the biggest strategic mistake the supporters of same-sex marriage ever have made.”

“I think people are excited [about traditional marriage],” Brown said in an interview on my SiriusXM OutQ radio program, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., on Thursday. “[Florida Senator] Marco Rubio just stood up there and said, ‘Just because I’m for traditional marriage doesn’t make me a bigot.’ And everyone stood up and cheered. The grass roots of conservatism are absolutely united behind traditional marriage. Folks I’m seeing here are absolutely committed.”

You can listen to the whole interview at the HuffPo link.

marx bros reading1

I liked TBogg’s rude comment on Portman’s overnight conversion: Honey, I’m Homo.

If you think the rapidity with which a Republican politician, who was previously against equal rights for gays, suddenly switches sides once he discovers that Teh Ghey has invaded his happy All-American home is impressive, you should see how quickly they embrace abortion as a God-given right the moment their daughter announces that she has been knocked up.

By a black guy.

Jonathan Chait has a longer, more carefully reasoned discussion of Portman’s hypocrisy. Here’s the conclusion:

It’s pretty simple. Portman went along with his party’s opposition to gay marriage because it didn’t affect him. He thought about gay rights the way Paul Ryan thinks about health care. And he still obviously thinks about most issues the way Paul Ryan thinks about health care.

That Portman turns out to have a gay son is convenient for the gay-rights cause. But why should any of us come away from his conversion trusting that Portman is thinking on any issue about what’s good for all of us, rather than what’s good for himself and the people he knows?

Exactly.

As for Paul Ryan, he claims that “Democrats’ budget puts US on path ‘straight into debt crisis.'” From The Hill:

Ryan used the weekly GOP address to promote the budget plan bearing his name, saying it will benefit Americans worried about jobs and the cost of living, those trying to keep up with the cost of healthcare and younger workers hoping for a secure retirement. “And for taxpayers fed up with the status quo, we will cut wasteful spending,” he said….

Ryan took aim at President Obama and Senate Democrats, saying the tax increases in a proposal from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) only “fuel more spending.”

“We know where this path leads—straight into a debt crisis, and along the way, fewer jobs, fewer opportunities, and less security,” Ryan said, painting a desperate image of rising interest rates and inflating debt payments.

“Our finances will collapse,” he warned. “You think this can’t happen here? Just look at Europe.”

harpo-gookie

WTF?! Europe’s problems are being exacerbated by austerity! Is this guy for real? Here’s what the Tax Policy Center has to say about Mr. Ryan’s “budget.”

House GOP Would Need $5.7 Trillion in Tax Hikes to Offset Ryan Rate Cuts

House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) fiscal plan promises to balance the federal budget in 10 years, make major cuts in income tax rates for both individuals and corporations, and raise the same amount of revenue as current law. If House Republicans want to do all three, they will have to eliminate trillions of dollars in popular tax preferences.

The Tax Policy Center estimates that cutting individual rates to 10 percent and 25 percent, repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax and the tax increases included in the Affordable Care Act, and cutting the corporate rate from 35 percent to 25 percent would add $5.7 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. Thus, if House Republicans want to cut these taxes and still collect the revenues they promise, they’d have to raise other taxes by $5.7 trillion.

The tax cuts described in Ryan’s budget would generate a huge windfall for high-income taxpayers. On average, households would get a cut of $3,000. But those in the top 0.1 percent of income, who make $3.3 million or more, would get a whopping $1.2 million on average–a 20 percent increase in their after-tax income.

By contrast, middle-income households would get an average tax cut of about $900. Those in the bottom 20 percent (who make $22,000 or less) would get $40 and one-third of them would get no tax cut at all.

Some important caveats here: TPC did not estimate the revenue effects of a Ryan tax proposal since the budget does not include an actual plan. Rather, it modeled generic tax cuts that follow the outline of what his budget describes. And because his plan does not identify any tax increases, TPC modeled only the tax cuts.

Some budget. Here’s Matthew O’Brien at The Atlantic: Paul Ryan’s $5.7 Trillion Magic Trick

I’m not really a fan of magic, but I’m even less of one when it’s politicians doing the tricks.

That’s why I’ve had some less-than-nice things to say about Paul Ryan’s latest budget. Like its previous iterations, it explicitly says how he wants to cut taxes, but says nothing about how he wants to pay for it. Instead, Ryan uses a magic asterisk. He merely waves his hand, and says he’ll cut enough tax expenditures to pay for all of his tax cuts. He just can’t tell us what any of these tax expenditures are. Not a single one.

This is some pretty expensive hand-waving….this magic asterisk is worth about $1 trillion more than before. Ryan keeps the same tax cuts he had last year, but he assumes these same cuts will raise an extra 0.5 percent of GDP in revenue. In other words, it’s the same magical budgeting we’ve come to know from Ryan — but now with even more magic!

It’s particularly magical for the top 1 percent of households. The chart below from the Tax Policy Center shows the percent change in after-tax incomes for each income group from Ryan’s tax cuts. That’s what comforting the comfortable looks like.

There’s much more (with charts) at the link.

Now here’s some good news–if it holds up: Federal Judge Finds National Security Letters Unconstitutional, Bans Them. From Wired:

Ultra-secret national security letters that come with a gag order on the recipient are an unconstitutional impingement on free speech, a federal judge in California ruled in a decision released Friday.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ordered the government to stop issuing so-called NSLs across the board, in a stunning defeat for the Obama administration’s surveillance practices. She also ordered the government to cease enforcing the gag provision in any other cases. However, she stayed her order for 90 days to give the government a chance to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We are very pleased that the Court recognized the fatal constitutional shortcomings of the NSL statute,” said Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a challenge to NSLs on behalf of an unknown telecom that received an NSL in 2011. “The government’s gags have truncated the public debate on these controversial surveillance tools. Our client looks forward to the day when it can publicly discuss its experience.”

The telecommunications company received the ultra-secret demand letter in 2011 from the FBI seeking information about a customer or customers. The company took the extraordinary and rare step of challenging the underlying authority of the National Security Letter, as well as the legitimacy of the gag order that came with it.

The national security letters are one of those holdovers from Bush that the Obama administration has defended in court. Please read the whole article if you have time–there’s a lot of good background info. Here’s the press release from the EFF. Who knows what will happen on appeal or if the case makes it to the Supreme Court, but this is very good news.

chico marx reading

Finally, we can look forward to some more insanity from the CPAC crowd today–Ted Cruz will be closing out the conference with his keynote speech–and before that there’ll be a whole assortment of mixed Republican nuts. From NPR:

It’s the last day of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, which will culminate in a keynote address by up-and-coming Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. As NPR’s David Welna reports,

“Though he’s only been a senator since January, this will be the third year Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is addressing CPAC. This former Texas solicitor general and Tea Party favorite got top billing at the conference after aggressively questioning former GOP senator Chuck Hagel during Hagel’s confirmation hearing to be secretary of defense.”

Also scheduled to speak are Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Newt Gingrich, Rep. Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin. (CPAC has the full schedule on its website.)

Sorry this post is so late–I hope everyone hasn’t given up on me already. If anyone is out there, please share your recommended links in the comments. I look forward to clicking on them!

Have a great weekend!


Saturday Reads: Mitt the Twit, The Churchill Bust, And Much More

President Barack Obama shows Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom a bust of Sir Winston Churchill in the private residence of the White House, July 20, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Good Morning!

Mitt Romney’s gaffetastic journey began before he even arrived in London when the Telegraph published this now-infamous article based on interviews with some Romney “advisers” who indicated that Mitt would Mitt would “restore ‘Anglo-Saxon’ relations between Britain and America.” The advisers also said that Romney would

seek to reinstate the Churchill bust displayed in the Oval Office by George W. Bush but returned to British diplomats by Mr Obama when he took office in 2009. One said Mr Romney viewed the move as “symbolically important” while the other said it was “just for starters”, adding: “He is naturally more Atlanticist”.

Romney claims he “does not know who these advisers are,” but he apparently agrees with them about the Churchill bust because last night

he told a group of more than 200 supporters in [a] hotel in the heart of London…[that] he is “looking forward” to returning the bust of Winston Churchill to the White House after it was sent back to Great Britain by President Obama.

Mitt the Twit told these supporters [actually wealthy banksters involved in the LIBOR scandal] that he was deeply impressed by the statue of Churchill in London.

The GOP candidate, who suffered a brutal day of press after he suggested that he wasn’t sure the London Olympics would go off without a hitch, spoke highly of the British monuments — singling out the Churchill statue — that he said he got a firsthand look at while stuck in traffic — likely caused by the Olympic Games.

“You live here, you see the sites day in and day out, but for me as I drive past the sculpture of Winston Churchill and see that great sculpture next to Westminster Abbey and Parliament and with him larger than life, enormous heft of that sculpture suggesting the scale of the the grandeur and the greatness of the man, it tugs at the heart strings to remember the kind fo [sic] example that was led by Winston Churchill,” said Romney, speaking in a ballroom at the Mandarin Oriental hotel on the edge of Hyde Park.

Boy, he really laid it on thick, didn’t he? But Mitt the Twit was misinformed, as were the “advisers” that he says he doesn’t know. It turns out that the Churchill bust never left the White House! The White House put up a “fact check” post to clear up the misinformation, although they studiously avoided mentioning Romney.

Lately, there’s been a rumor swirling around about the current location of the bust of Winston Churchill. Some have claimed that President Obama removed the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and sent it back to the British Embassy.

Now, normally we wouldn’t address a rumor that’s so patently false, but just this morning the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer repeated this ridiculous claim in his column. He said President Obama “started his Presidency by returning to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office.”

This is 100% false. The bust still in the White House. In the Residence. Outside the Treaty Room.

So where did that story about a bust being removed from the Oval Office come from?

The White House has had a bust of Winston Churchill since the 1960’s. At the start of the Bush administration Prime Minister Blair lent President Bush a bust that matched the one in the White House, which was being worked on at the time and was later returned to the residence. The version lent by Prime Minister Blair was displayed by President Bush until the end of his Presidency. On January 20, 2009 — Inauguration Day — all of the art lent specifically for President Bush’s Oval Office was removed by the curator’s office, as is common practice at the end of every presidency. The original Churchill bust remained on display in the residence. The idea put forward by Charles Krauthammer and others that President Obama returned the Churchill bust or refused to display the bust because of antipathy towards the British is completely false and an urban legend that continues to circulate to this day.

I’m sure this won’t stop Nowhere Man from claiming otherwise, since he appears to delight in lying about just about everything.

Here’s a brief video of some of the reactions to Romney in the London tabloids

I won’t bore you with many more tales of Romney’s European vacation, but I really liked this piece in the Guardian by Jonathan Freedland: Britain is an easy date. So how did Mitt Romney mess up so badly?

For an American politician, Britain is an easy date: just praise the country as a steadfast ally, mention Churchill a couple of times and we’ll roll over. Yet somehow Romney managed to provoke both the prime minister and the capital’s mayor – both fellow conservatives who should regard a Republican nominee as a kindred spirit – into public rebukes. That takes some doing. So what explains how an accomplished politician, with the resilience to have prevailed in a bruising primary campaign, could mess up so badly? The answer says a lot about Romney – and a fair bit about the dire state of today’s Republican party.

In the first category comes the observation that, despite having sought the presidency twice and served as a state governor, Romney is not really a politician at all – not in the Bill Clinton sense of someone who thinks, talks and breathes politically, constantly calculating the likely impact of both words and deeds. Instead Romney speaks and acts like the chief executive he was for so long, whether of private equity firm Bain Capital or the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics of 2002.

As we’ve learned in recent weeks, thanks to the likes of Barclays’ Bob Diamond or G4S’s Nick Buckles, corporate titans, so used to the nodding appreciation of yes men, can lack elementary tact and diplomacy, failing to weigh their words for tone, timing and likely reception. Technically, nothing in what Romney said about London 2012 was especially contentious – if, that is, he were merely the former CEO of the 2002 Games speaking privately to Coe a month ago. But for a man who seeks to be the lead partner in the US-UK alliance, speaking on the day before the Olympic flame was lit, it was a diplomatic disaster.

It’s surely CEO thinking too which has led Romney to refuse to release all his past tax returns, even though President Obama has published his in full. CEOs recoil from such personal transparency, while politicians know they will have to succumb eventually and so had better get it over with. Above all, their exorbitant pay means the elite chief executive class is habitually and unavoidably out of touch with everyone else. It is the Romney of the 1% who could smilingly tell an audience in hard-pressed Detroit that his wife has “a couple of Cadillacs”, beaming again today as his wife referred to the “horses”, plural, she owns (including one competing in the Olympic dressage event, providing a picture-perfect image of elitism for his opponents to feast on).

I thought that was a very insightful assessment.

In other news, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota “being evaluated for depression, ‘gastrointestinal issues'”

This one is for Pat: Katherine Jackson Returns Home, Paris Jackson Tweets About It.

I’m not sure I understand everything that happened, but Katherine Jackson says she needed a rest and so she went to Arizona, getting rid of her cell phone so she wouldn’t be bothered. But there’s something else going on:

While Michael’s will gave Katherine custody of his children and a 20 percent stake in his massive estate, her husband, Joe Jackson, and the eight surviving Jackson siblings were completely cut out. Some of the siblings have reportedly been exploring a move to have the will invalidated by arguing that Michael was in New York on the day that the document was notarized in Los Angeles.

In a video that surfaced earlier this week, Janet Jackson is seen trying to take a cell phone away from Paris, 14, and berating her niece for using her phone to tweet about family business. That video leaked after Janet, Jermaine and Randy Jackson reportedly attempted to persuade Paris and Prince, 15, to leave Katherine’s home on Monday. Both resisted and a short time later, sheriff’s deputies arrived to break up a scuffle between Randy, Jermaine Jackson and TJ.

MTV has more detail on the family fracas via TMZ:

Sources tell TMZ that Randy, Jermaine and Janet Jackson entered the home uninvited and then tried to coerce Michael’s children, Paris, Prince and Blanket, into coming with them to Arizona where their grandmother Katherine has been staying.

Sources say that Paris resisted the intervention and apparently things got violent. Allegedly, Janet slapped Paris and yelled, “You’re a spoiled little bitch!” to which Paris responded with a slap and told Janet, “This is our house. Not the Jackson family house. Get the f–k out!”

TMZ shares that Trent Jackson (Joe Jackson’s nephew who deals with Katherine’s daily affairs) put Randy in a headlock and punched Jermaine in the mouth. Tito Jackson was reportedly trying to get temporary guardianship of Michael’s kids.

And I thought my family was dysfunctional!

There may be a breakthrough in the Eurozone crisis. Reuters:

Stocks rallied on Friday on expectations the European Central Bank will tackle high borrowing costs hitting Spain and Italy, but the euro pared gains on market uncertainty about the specific action to be taken.

The benchmark S&P 500 closed at its highest since early May, climbing further after Bloomberg News said ECB President Mario Draghi will meet with Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann to discuss several measures, including bond purchases, to help the euro zone.

The French and German governments said they are “determined to do everything to protect the euro zone” and its single currency. The joint statement echoed similar remarks by Draghi on Thursday, but in comments on Friday, Germany’s Bundesbank pushed back against Draghi’s pledge.

Tim Geithner will also meet with Schaeuble and Draghi next week in Germany.

The meeting with Schaeuble will take place on the German island of Sylt in the afternoon of July 30, and the session with Draghi will be held that evening in Frankfurt, the Treasury Department said in a statement today.

The Treasury said the meetings will be closed to the press, with a photo opportunity before the Schaeuble meeting. A Treasury official with knowledge of the matter said that Geithner and Schaeuble won’t hold a news conference after the meeting.

The Guardian has a live blog with updates on the ongoing crisis.

Bobby Knight hit the Google top stories list last night, because Neil Reed, the former IU basketball player who was choked by Knight during practice, has died at age 36.

In March 2000, Reed accused Knight of choking him during a practice in 1997. When video of the practice surfaced backing Reed’s claim, Knight, a Hall of Fame coach who was known for his angry outbursts as well as his success, was put on zero-tolerance notice by Dr. Myles Brand, then the university president. That September, Knight was fired after a student said he had grabbed his arm.

Reed transferred to Southern Mississippi shortly after the choking incident and played there in the 1998-99 season.

He is survived by his wife, Kelly, and two daughters.

So sad that he was known for that horrible incident and then died so young. When I first saw Knight’s name on the list, I thought maybe he had died.

Finally, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to hold a fundraiser for Scott Brown in August. Get this:

A spokesman for Bloomberg, Stu Loeser, says the mayor’s top reason for supporting Brown is the senator’s opposition to a proposal backed by the National Rifle Association that would allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines.

Loeser said Warren’s tough stance on Wall Street regulation was not the basis for the endorsement.

Hahahahahaha!! Somehow I doubt that Warren is a big NRA supporter….

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

On Sunday during his “get to know the regular people” bus tour, Mitt Romney expressed “amazement” at a gas station in Pennsylvania where you could order “hoagies” using a touch-screen.

At a campaign stop in Pennsylvania on Sunday, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee told a crowd that he had been astonished by a touch screen computer used to order food at the Wawa gas station chain….

“I was at Wawas,” Romney explained. “I went in to order a sandwich. You press a little touchtone keypad, alright? You just touch that and, you know, the sandwich comes up. You touch this, touch this, touch this, go pay the cashier. There’s your sandwich. It’s amazing!”

The ordering system has been there for 10 years. Of course this reminded everyone of the apocryphal story about out-of-touch patrician George H.W. Bush being amazed by a supermarket scanner.

Poor Mitt. In another article on Romney’s bus tour, James Fallows makes fun of the candidate’s habit of expressing surprise by saying “oh my goodness!”

Romney’s trademark small-talk exclamation, “Oh my goodness!” seems completely genuine. But I am trying to think of the last time I heard a 21st-century person use that phrase — as opposed to all the other possibilities, which when you think about it range from coarse to profane. (Jeez louise, WTF, Holy shit, and on through a long list you can fill in yourself.) When combined with his Don-Draper-in-the-’50s very dapper personal style, it adds to a retro atmosphere that some people will find reassuring and appealing and others will find odd.

Well I have to admit that I often say “oh my goodness!” too. Maybe I’m out of touch then–or maybe it’s a Midwestern thing. I got in the habit of saying that when taking care of my nephews. John McWhorter at The New Republic also thinks Romney’s “verbal stylings” are strange. Romney is also guilty of using “g” words like gosh, golly, and gee, which McWhorter says are substitutes for taking the name of “god” in vain.

Gee, gosh, and golly are all tokens of dissimulation. They are used in moments of excitement or dismay as burgherly substitutions, either for God and Jesus—words many religious people believe should not be “taken in vain”—or for words considered even less appropriate. Fittingly, they even emerged as disguised versions of God (gosh and golly) and Jesus (gee; cf. also jeez). This was in line with how cursing worked in earlier English. The medieval and even colonial Anglophones’ versions of profanity were to express dismay or vent pain by swearing—“making an oath”—to God or related figures considered ill-addressed in such a disrespectful way. The proper person at least muted the impact with a coy distortion, à la today’s shoot and fudge. Hence zounds (first attestation: 1600), as in by his (Christ’s) wounds; egad for Ye God (1673); and by Jove (1598). To increasing numbers of modern Americans, the G-words are unusable outside of quotation marks, be these actual or implied, rather like the word perky.

Well, gee, I use that one sometimes too, though not “gosh” or “golly.” So maybe I’m as much of an anachronism as Romney. Of course I’ve been known to swear also. I really think saying the “g” words might be a Midwestern mannerism.

Robert Shrum says Mitt Romney reminds him of Thomas E. Dewey, who was expected to beat Harry Truman in 1948, but didn’t. Check it out. I found it interesting.

It appears that police are suspicious about the drowning death of Rodney King. An autopsy has been done, but the results haven’t been released yet. There was no obvious evidence of foul play, but apparently King was a very avid swimmer. There are also conflicting reports of sounds from King’s backyard right before his body was found. Reuters:

King’s fiancée, Cynthia Kelly, a juror in the civil suit he brought against the city of Los Angeles, “didn’t give any indication he was unhappy or that there was an issue.” He said King was known to swim frequently and at all hours.

Shepherd said Kelly told investigators that, shortly before the drowning, she had been inside the house talking with King off and on through a sliding glass door that leads to a patio beside the pool.

At some point, she told them, she heard a splash, prompting her to run outside to find him at the bottom of the deep end. Unable to swim well herself, she called emergency 911 for help.

The Los Angeles Times, in an online account on Monday, cited a next-door neighbor, Sandra Gardea, 31, as saying she heard the sound of a man sobbing from King’s back yard in the two hours before police say he was found in the pool.

The Times also reported that Gardea heard King’s fiancée trying to coax him back into the house.

“It wasn’t like an argument,” she told the newspaper. “She was just saying, ‘Get in the house. Get in the house.'” Gardea said she heard a splash a few minutes later.

Very mysterious.

The prosecution in the Trayvon Martin case has released calls between George Zimmerman and his wife when he was in jail the first time.

The recordings show that from his jail cell, Zimmerman gave his wife step-by-step instructions on how to change a password and clear security questions so she could move money, gave her orders to withdraw specific amounts and directed her to pay the bills.

Prosecutors allege the couple was moving money out of an Internet PayPal account that was awash with donations for Zimmerman, who’s charged with second-degree murder in one of the most racially-charged criminal cases in the country. He shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, in Sanford Feb. 26.

The couple spoke in code, according to prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda. In the calls Zimmerman makes repeated reference to “Peter Pan,” an apparent reference to PayPal.

And neither Zimmerman or his wife ever refer to more than $100,000, talking instead about amounts generally totaling “10 dollars” and “20 dollars.” Prosecutors say those were references to $10,000 and $20,000.

Shellie was careful to move less than $10,000 at a time, to avoid triggering attention from the feds.

The tapes of six conversations were released Monday, as were bank statements from the Zimmermans’ accounts at a credit union. The statements show repeated transfers to and from the account in amounts just under $10,000. On April 24, for example, there were 8 transfers of $9,999.00 into Shellie Zimmerman’s account. Banks and financial institutions are required to file “suspicious activity reports” in such cases, according to Jack Blum, a Washington lawyer who specializes in money laundering.

Structuring the money in such a way is not itself illegal, he says, if the money isn’t from an illicit source. But, he says, it shows “a guilty mind.”

“What they’ve done,’ Blum said, “is they’ve given the prosecutors, on a silver platter, evidence of guilty intent.”

This one should probably be at the top of this post, but gee golly gosh and my goodness! I thought the other stories were more fun to read–so gosh darn it, what the heck!

Obama, Putin meet on Syria at G-20 summit.

Meeting for nearly two hours on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Mexico, the two presidents tried to focus mostly on areas of agreement — even when it came to areas of disagreement, such as Syria.

The U.S. wants Syrian President Bashar Assad out of power. Russia, which sells arms to Syria, has blocked United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for tough sanctions and leaving the door open to military intervention.

“We agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war and the kind of horrific deaths that we’ve seen over the last several weeks,” Obama said after his first meeting with Putin following his return to the presidency this year. “We pledged to work with other international actors, including the United Nations, Kofi Annan and all interested parties, in trying to find a resolution to this problem.”

Putin was upbeat following the meeting, which went on much longer than planned and covered the full range of issues between the two nations. “From my perspective, we’ve been able to find many commonalities pertaining to all of those issues,” he said.

I’m glad it was Obama negotiating and not Romney. Otherwise, we might be at war with Russia by now.

The New York Times has a piece on what Europe will do now that the Greeks have voted for austerity.

BERLIN — After Greek elections eased fears that the country’s exit from the euro zone was imminent, attention turned Monday to an even bigger challenge: restoring the economic body to health with Greece still in it.

A respite from market pressure early Monday proved to be short-lived, as investors shifted their attention from political infighting in Athens to the larger question of whether European leaders could find a more lasting solution to a debacle now well into its third year.

But even though Brussels had been hoping for the victory by Antonis Samaras and his center-right New Democracy Party, the yearned-for result, paradoxically, may weaken Europe’s determination to take more radical steps to avert a meltdown.

German hard-liners were emboldened by the victory, viewing it as an endorsement of the drive for structural adjustment in Greece and elsewhere in Southern Europe through further austerity. As a result, the vote may delay concerted pro-growth steps by central banks and governments around the world, as well as the hard choices within Europe over deeper integration that are likely to prove necessary in the long run.

Much more at the link.

There’s lots of talk around the ‘net about the upcoming SCOTUS decision on the health care law. Scalia appears to be signaling that it may go down. You can read about what might happen if parts of the bill found unconstitutional here, here, and here.

Ronan Farrow with mother Mia

Woody Allen’s son Ronan (who looks exactly like Mia Farrow) celebrated father’s day by tweeting “Happy father’s day — or as they call it in my family, happy brother-in-law’s day.” And Mother Mia retweeted it. Ouch!

Woody and Ronan have been estranged for years since his parents split and because Woody was dating (and later married) Soon-Yi Previn, Mia’s adopted daughter, Ronan’s step-sister. He has been quoted in the past as saying, “He’s my father married to my sister. That makes me his son and his brother-in-law. That is such a moral transgression.” [….]

Ronan, named Satchel Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow when he was born in 1987, is the sole biological child of Woody and actress Mia Farrow. He is currently serving as special adviser to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues and director of the State Department’s Global Youth Issues office.

Finally, Roger Clemens was found not guilty yesterday, and honestly I’m glad. He probably did use steroids late in his career, but the prosecution couldn’t prove it. Thousands of players did it, and I think it was terrible; but the Justice Department has much more important things to do than making examples out of baseball players (and former presidential candidates for that matter). Clemens will go down in history as one of the greatest pitchers ever. He certainly is one of the best ever to play for the Red Sox.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Saturday Morning Reads

Good Morning!!

Yesterday was a pretty busy news day for a Friday. So if you’ve had your sugar bombs and coffee, let me fill you in on the latest before you head outside to enjoy a beautiful June day. The weather folks are saying this will be a nice weekend around the country.

Yesterday the President announced an executive order telling the Department of Homeland Security not to deport children who were brought to the U.S. illegally and have grown up here and gone to school here. These are the young people who would be eligible to stay here and have a path to citizenship under the “Dream Act” if Republicans in Congress would stop blocking the legislation.

In a move that seemed to be aimed at Hispanics whose enthusiasm for voting in the November 6 election could be crucial to Obama’s re-election chances, the president acted to potentially protect 800,000 people from deportation proceedings for at least two years.

Obama, who previously was reluctant to impose such an order even as Republicans in Congress blocked immigration reform bills he supported, called his action “the right thing to do.”

His announcement was on the 30th anniversary of a Supreme Court decision that said children of illegal-immigrant parents were entitled to public education in the United States.

Right wingers–including Mitt Romney–are of course calling the move “political,” but so what? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Politicians make political decisions. Duh! But if they’re doing the right thing, I don’t care what their motivation is. The LA Times published some basic information for people who want to know what this change means to them.

During the President’s announcement of the policy change at a press availability in the Rose Garden, a wingnut blogger from The Daily Caller, rudely broke into Obama’s speech with an offensive question. David Graham at the Atlantic:

An extremely unusual occurrence happened today as President Obama spoke at the White House. The president was offering a statement on his executive order suspending deportations for certain illegal immigrants brought here as children….when a reporter started heckling him and shouting questions.

The reporter has been identified as Neil Munro of the Daily Caller, a conservative online news outlet run by Tucker Carlson….

Interrupting the president mid-speech is considered a serious breach of etiquette, and Obama’s reaction shows how peeved (and probably taken aback) he was. Munro, and the Daily Caller, have immediately come in for harsh criticism by a wide range of journalists, including conservative ones. The problem isn’t that Munro was asking tough questions; it’s that he interrupted the commander-in-chief to ask them and in doing so guaranteed that none of the assembled press would be able to ask any serious questions — since it’s fairly clear that Munro’s query was intended as provocation.

I have video of the confrontation, but youtube seems to be down at the moment. I’ll put it up again later if I can. Munro yelled “Why do you favor foreigners over Americans?” Then when Obama responded, he proceed to argue and then yell while Obama was speaking. Pretty unprofessional for a so-called “journalist.”

Even Bill O’Reilly condemned the wingnut hack’s behavior, along with Fox News talkers Shep Smith and Chris Wallace.

At CNN, Dean Obeidallah says this type of behavior by wingnuts is part of an overall effort to “delegitimize” Obama’s presidency.

A reporter from a right-wing media outlet heckled President Obama — not once, but twice — on Friday as he was unveiling a new immigration policy. If this shocks you, you haven’t been paying attention. This is simply the latest page from the right’s playbook to delegitimize Barack Obama’s presidency.

Some may dismiss it as an isolated incident, but it’s not. It goes much deeper. Believe me, I know hecklers — I’m a stand-up comedian. If someone heckles me once, it can be a mistake: too many drinks, overcome by emotion, etc. But when you heckle twice, you have an agenda.

BTW, Munro is an Irish immigrant. So what is his problem?

A quick perusal of Munro’s Twitter feed reveals he does not hide his contempt for President Obama. His tweets range from claims that Obama is using NASCAR and country music to attract “white non-college voters,” to slams of Michelle Obama, to allegations that Obama is racially discriminating against blacks in his White House hiring practices.

But this is all not about Munro — he is just a small cog in the right’s campaign to diminish the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency. I’m not talking about people disagreeing with policies. I mean specifically the campaign to paint Barack Obama as less than American — as an “other”–as someone whose presidency is not entitled to the same respect as that of the presidents who came before him.

OK, maybe I’m spending too much time on this, but I guess I’m a bit old fashioned. I believe in respecting the office of the President. I think it’s very important for the White House press corps to behave respectfully, while at the same time asking tough questions. In this case, Munro’s behavior led to the press conference being cut off before more responsible reporters could ask questions.

I have some other news for you, and I’ll give it to you quickly so you can get out an enjoy your day.

The send-off for Mitt Romney’s bus tour of “small-town America” was overshadowed by Obama’s announcement.

After weeks of gaining momentum amid a spate of bad economic news that has shaken Obama’s reelection campaign, Romney was faced with a classic demonstration of how the White House can use its power to reset the agenda.

For hours, Romney tried to ignore the news. Finally, after a rally here with a ragtime band playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in a town-square gazebo, Romney made a statement that struck a radically different tone from the hard-line approach he took on illegal immigration during the Republican primaries.

“I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis so they know what their future would be in this country,” he told reporters outside of his campaign bus.

“I think the action that the president took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution, because an executive order is of course just a short-term matter. It could be reversed by subsequent presidents. I’d like to see legislation that deals with this issue.”

But he made no commitment to supporting any particular option.

Of course not. Just more meaningless huffing and puffing from an old stuffed suit.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg expects “sharp disagreement” in the Supreme Court over the Affordable Care Act.

The LA Times reports: Egypt revolution losing steam as military asserts power

Germany could be in trouble if Greece opts out of the Euro.

Why can’t the Euro nations agree on a plan? In Germany, the situation is being compared to Titanic, one of the greatest disasters in history.

Since Euro Zone is like the Titanic heading for an iceberg called Greece, there’s plenty of concern on the first-class deck called Germany. If Greece goes down, it can take even Europe’s biggest economy with it.

“I believe Europe is right in a crossroads right now,” Gerhard Hofmann, director of the German Cooperative Bank Group, told CBS News.

How the shock waves will hit the U.S. if it happens.

The NYT says Obama is “looking to Merkel” for aid and comfort.

A collapse of the euro could derail America’s fragile recovery and doom Mr. Obama’s re-election hopes. So the president finds himself in the strange position of having forged a relationship with Ms. Merkel that is perhaps the best he has with any foreign leader, but that has not yet resulted in the chancellor’s agreeing to what Mr. Obama thinks must be done in Europe: an American-style bailout and fiscal stimulus.

Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel will meet again Monday at a Group of 20 summit meeting in Mexico, with the stakes for Europe even higher than they were last month. With Greece holding elections on Sunday that could precipitate its exit from the European currency union — the nightmare feared by the financial markets — Mr. Obama may be running out of time to make his case.

And there is no indication Ms. Merkel is any more inclined to heed his advice. In a speech to the German Parliament on Thursday, she said the world should not expect Berlin to be Europe’s savior, rejecting calls to create euro bonds to share the debt burden of the Mediterranean countries.

Boy is she ever stubborn. And she seems determined to bring the entire world economy crashing down. Mitt Romney must love her.

A new study suggests that Gay Men Have Evolutionary Benefit For Their Families.

Henry Hill with Goodfellas star Ray Liotta

Finally, Henry Hill has died. He was the “wise guy” who was the inspiration for Martin Scorcese’s “Goodfellas.” Hill was only 69, and died from health problems related to smoking.

Henry Hill, the infamous mob informant whose life of crime was chronicled in the film classic “GoodFellas,” was the first to admit that he did “a lot of bad things back then.”

“I shot at people. I busted a lot of heads, and I buried a lot of bodies,” he told the London-based Daily Telegraph in 2010. “You can try to justify it by saying they deserved it, that they had it coming, but some just got whacked for absolutely no reason at all.”

….

Henry Hill, the infamous mob informant whose life of crime was chronicled in the film classic “GoodFellas,” was the first to admit that he did “a lot of bad things back then.”

“I shot at people. I busted a lot of heads, and I buried a lot of bodies,” he told the London-based Daily Telegraph in 2010. “You can try to justify it by saying they deserved it, that they had it coming, but some just got whacked for absolutely no reason at all.”

RIP, Henry.

Have a fabulous Saturday, and if you’re reading anything interesting today, please share!