Tuesday Reads

autumn reading1

Good Morning!!

Is is just me or is there just about no important news coming out of Washington DC? We just finished with a horrible crisis in the government, and there’s another one coming up when Congress and the President have to deal with the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling once again. Yet there seems to be very little focus on dealing with this ongoing threat to the country’s ongoing well-being.

This silence on the economic situation makes me nervous. I suspect there’s a lot of planning and discussion behind the scenes on how those in power are going to convince the mass of Americans to give up our social safety net–they’re trying to figure out how to loot Social Security and Medicare.

I don’t think they’re going to be able to do it, because Americans are awake to the possibility now. As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, President Obama still dreams of a “Grand Bargain,” and so do many other powerful people like Pete Peterson, Alan Simpson, and lots of Republican and Democratic politicians. Just look at how Twitter responded when “Fix the Debt” tried to hawk its greedy plans on the social media site recently. Dakiniat wrote about that yesterday too.  So I guess I see the current silence on as the calm before the storm which will hit after all the politicians enjoy their long, relaxing Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations.

Meanwhile, the biggest political story at the moment is the apparent mess that the government made of the Obamacare website. I haven’t tried to get on the site myself, so I don’t really understand what the problems are. But the media is very focused on them. From what I can tell, the biggest problem seems to be that the site is too slow. Today’s Washington Post reports that the government was aware of the problems but went ahead with the site launch despite them.

Days before the launch of President Obama’s online health ­insurance marketplace, government officials and contractors tested a key part of the Web site to see whether it could handle tens of thousands of consumers at the same time. It crashed after a simulation in which just a few hundred people tried to log on simultaneously.

Despite the failed test, federal health officials plowed ahead.

When the Web site went live Oct. 1, it locked up shortly after midnight as about 2,000 users attempted to complete the first step, according to two people familiar with the project.

As new details emerged about early warning signs of serious deficiencies in HealthCare.gov, Obama on Monday gave a consumer-friendly defense of the health-care law, insisting that the problems many Americans have faced in trying to enroll in insurance plans will be fixed quickly.

“There’s no sugarcoating it: The Web site is too slow; people have been getting stuck during the application process,” he said at a White House event.

At the same time, he admonished Republican critics of the federal insurance exchange, saying that “it is time to stop rooting for its failure.”

Obama’s reaction to the problems isn’t getting good reviews, even from supposedly liberal journalists. At the Atlantic, Garrance Franke-Ruta called Obama “Insurance Salesman In Chief.

Of all the things Barack Obama ever expected to be during the course of his life, a television insurance salesman is probably not one of them.

But that’s the role he took on Monday morning in a Rose Garden speech pitching insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s online marketplaces and acknowledging for the first time just how troubled the website to access them is. His remarks failed to address many of the specific concerns raised byreporters and technologists about the gargantuan Healthcare.gov website, and he and provided no new information about what went wrong or how, specifically, it will be fixed.

Instead, his message was more like an infomercial designed for the general public: We know there are problems with the site and we are on it. Meanwhile, we’re offering a great product that will save you money, so keep on trying, even if it’s a little frustrating.

Young_Lincoln_By_Charles_Keck

On yesterday’s Morning Joe,

Washington Post healthcare reporter and commenter Ezra Klein pushed back against the administration’s reference to the problem as bugs and technical problems.“These aren’t glitches, the website, to a first approximation, simply isn’t working” Klein said on Monday’s Morning Joe. Early traffic problems that occurred when the site was overwhelmed by visitors on the first few days may have actually masked the public from the larger problems, he said, like garbled or false information being sent to insurers.

“No one beta-tested the site, which is almost criminal,” the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein said.

“They keep using the word unacceptable. It’s not unacceptable, it’s outrageous,” Mike Barnicle said.“This is the president’s singular achievement, and to be so reticent about the problems that have gone is kind of surprising.”

Politico criticized Obama’s “passive” response to the problems with the website:

Once again, Barack Obama risks looking like a bystander to his own presidency.

Here’s what he did to kick off the week: assemble a crowd in the Rose Garden to hear him repeat how “frustrated” he was about the many problems that plagued the launch of the Affordable Care Act’s website, promise that a “tech surge” was already on its way to set those problems right and implore people to bear with him until they see what the program can do.

Here’s what he didn’t do: explain why those problems weren’t addressed before the Oct. 1 launch, why he didn’t seem to be aware of them before they went very public, or who would be suffering the consequences for any of it. He didn’t apologize. He announced, in broad terms, who would be coming in to help. But he didn’t say anything about who would be shown the exits.

His “nobody’s madder than me” Monday echoed the kinds of statements he’s repeatedly made about problems over the last few months — “Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it” (the IRS scandal), “It’s not as if I don’t have a personal interest” (the NSA scandal), “This is not a world we should accept” (Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons). He puts himself forward as a man frustrated with what’s happened on his watch, promising change, insisting that nothing of the sort could ever happen again.

I have to agree. Obama’s passivity is one of the biggest complaints I have about his presidency–particularly in the way he has (or hasn’t) dealt with the economic crisis.

The New York Times reports that it will take “weeks of work” to fix the website problems, despite the fact that most of the problems have been identified.

In interviews, experts said the technological problems of the site went far beyond the roadblocks to creating accounts that continue to prevent legions of users from even registering. Indeed, several said, the login problems, though vexing to consumers, may be the easiest to solve. One specialist said that as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly.

“The account creation and registration problems are masking the problems that will happen later,” said one person involved in the repair effort.

Personally, I’m finding this all pretty depressing, because it was starting to look like the Democrats could retake the House in 2014. The Obamacare mess isn’t going to help that project.

Today, CNN reported the results of new new poll that found that: 75% say most Republicans in Congress don’t deserve re-election.

A CNN/ORC International survey released Monday also found a majority saying that the Republicans’ policies are too extreme. And according to the poll, Democrats have an 8-point advantage over the Republicans in an early indicator in the battle for control of Congress. But with more than a year to go until the 2014 midterm elections, there’s plenty of time for these numbers to change.

The poll was conducted Friday through Sunday, just after the end of the 16-day partial federal government shutdown that was sparked in part by an effort by House conservatives to dismantle the health care law, which is President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

A majority of those questioned blamed congressional Republicans for the government shutdown and said the President was the bigger winner in the deal to end the crisis.

The survey also found nearly eight in 10 saying the shutdown was bad for the country, and the standoff has led to a loss of confidence and satisfaction in government. And more than seven in 10 think that another shutdown is likely.

I hope Obama gets serious about fixing the Obamacare problems so Republicans can’t get up off the mat.

leaves books

Another big story in the news is the $13 billion penalty the Justice Department is seeking to get from JP Morgan Chase.

From Bloomberg: JPMorgan Guilty Plea Sought by Holder Shows Harder Stance.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon went to Washington almost a month ago to see if U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder would settle a criminal probe of mortgage fraud at the bank if it paid more money to resolve related civil investigations.

Holder’s team, which included Deputy Attorney General James Cole and Associate Attorney General Tony West, said ending the investigation by the U.S. attorney in Sacramento would require the bank to plead guilty to something, according to a person familiar with the talks, which were held in a conference room that was Robert F. Kennedy’s office when he had Holder’s job….

Later, the department proposed the bank plead guilty to making false statements related to sales of toxic mortgage bonds. The bank proposed a nonprosecution agreement, which Holder rejected, the person said. The bank agreed to assist the continuing criminal probe. The negotiation typifies the harder line the Obama administration is taking in its second term.

Well, that’s good news IMHO.

Holder’s refusal to let JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank, escape criminal liability for its mortgage-bond sales, and the move to extract penalties for wrongdoing that led to the financial crisis, may go a long way toward appeasing critics of the Justice Department who have been urging charges against bankers since the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2008….

The effort began on orders from President Barack Obama, who promised in his 2012 State of the Union address to hold banks accountable for their role in helping trigger the deepest recession since the Great Depression. A mortgage task force of prosecutors and regulators set up to carry out the president’s mandate produced the record $13 billion deal, which requires a formal sign-off by both sides.

Great! Let’s hope Obama follows through. Another good sign is that The Wall Street Editorial page is up in arms about the settlement.

The tentative $13 billion settlement that the Justice Department appears to be extracting from J.P. Morgan Chase JPM +0.21% needs to be understood as a watershed moment in American capitalism. Federal law enforcers are confiscating roughly half of a company’s annual earnings for no other reason than because they can and because they want to appease their left-wing populist allies.

The settlement isn’t final and many details weren’t available on the weekend, but we know enough for Americans to be dismayed. The bulk of the settlement is related to mortgage-backed securities issued before the 2008 financial panic. But those securities weren’t simply a Morgan product. They were largely issued by Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, both of which the federal government asked J.P. Morgan to take over to help ease the crisis.

So first the feds asked the bank to do the country a favor without giving it a chance for proper due diligence. The Treasury needed quick decisions, and Morgan CEOJamie Dimon made them in good faith. But five years later the feds are punishing the bank for having done them the favor. As Richard Parsons notes nearby, this is not going to make another CEO eager to help the Treasury in the next crisis. But more pointedly, where is the justice in such ex post facto punishment?

The WSJ complains that banks are being turned into “public untilities.” I think that’s exactly what they should be.

We’d like to see Mr. Dimon fight the charges, but the political reality is that he and his bank don’t have much choice. His board is eager to move on, and the government will only turn the screws harder if he resists. In a post Dodd-Frank world, banks are public utilities and no CEO can afford to resist the government’s demands.

The real lesson of the Morgan settlement isn’t that justice has finally been done to the perpetrators of the crisis. That would require arresting Barney Frank and those in Congress who blocked the reform of Fannie and Freddie, plus the Federal Reserve governors who created so much easy credit.

Hahahahahahahaha!! The oligarchs don’t like it much when the shoe is on the other foot, do they?

I’m already running out of space, so here are a few more headlines link dump style:

CBC News: U.S. drone strikes break international law, report finds

Rolling Stone: U.S. Drone Strikes Violate Laws of War

CBS News: Sparks Middle School student: Gunman said “you ruined my life and now I’m going to ruin yours”

WaPo: Economy added 148,000 jobs in September, jobless rate fell to 7.2 percent

What’s the deal with Facebook?

BBC News: Facebook lets beheading clips return to social network

MacLeans: Facebook now allows teens to post public updates

Time: Keeping Teens ‘Private’ on Facebook Won’t Protect Them

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? Please share your links in the comment thread.


Tuesday Reads, Part II: In Other News….

blues cycle

I’m back with more reads!!

Before I get started with the political news, here a very strange story from Chicago: Urooj Khan Homicide: Chicago Lottery Winner’s Death Re-Classified After Cyanide Poison Discovery

With no signs of trauma and nothing to raise suspicions, the sudden death of a Chicago man just as he was about to collect nearly $425,000 in lottery winnings was initially ruled a result of natural causes.

Nearly six months later, authorities have a mystery on their hands after medical examiners, responding to a relative’s pleas, did an expanded screening and determined that Urooj Khan, 46, died shortly after ingesting a lethal dose of cyanide. The finding has triggered a homicide investigation, the Chicago Police Department said Monday….

In June, Khan, who owned a number of dry cleaners, stopped in at a 7-Eleven near his home in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on the city’s North Side and bought a ticket for an instant lottery game.

Ashur Oshana, the convenience store clerk, told The Associated Press on Monday that Khan said he had sworn off gambling after returning from the hajj, a Muslim pilgrimage, in Saudi Arabia. Khan said he wanted to lead a better life, Oshana said, but Khan bought the tickets that day and scratched off the winner in the store.

“Right away he grabbed my hand,” Oshana said. “He kissed my hand and kissed my head and gave me $100. He was really happy.”

Not long afterwards, Kahn was dead. Now police will likely exhume his body and try to find out who killed him.

clinton
I’m sure you heard that Hillary Clinton went back to work yesterday, and her coworkers gave her a gag gift–a football helmet.

Cheers, a standing ovation and a gag gift of protective headgear greeted Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as she returned to work on Monday after a month-long absence caused first by a stomach virus, then a fall and a concussion and finally a brief hospitalization for a blood clot.

A crowd of about 75 State Department officials greeted Clinton with a standing ovation as she walked in to the first senior staff meeting she has convened since early December, according to those present. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, noting that life in Washington is often a “contact sport, sometimes even in your own home” then presented Clinton with a gift — a regulation white Riddell football helmet emblazoned with the State Department seal, officials said.

She was also given a blue football jersey with “Clinton” and the number 112 — the record-breaking number of countries she has visited since becoming secretary of state — printed on the back. Aides said Clinton was delighted with the gifts but did not try either of them on and the meeting turned to matters of national security and diplomacy.

“She loved it. She thought it was cool. But then being Hillary Clinton, she wanted to get right to business,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

Did you hear about GOP Connecticut State Rep. DebraLee Hovey, who attacked Gabby Giffords for visiting Newtown? From the Hartford Courant:

In content and syntax, state Rep. DebraLee Hovey embarrassed herself, the General Assembly and the state.

Ms. Hovey, a Republican who represents Newtown and Monroe, blasted the visit to Newtown on Friday by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a Democrat, who met privately with local officials and families of victims of the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“Gabby Gifford stay out of my towns!!” Ms. Hovey posted on Facebook over the weekend (misspelling the former Arizona congresswoman’s last name). In the comments thread, Rep. Hovey seemed to complain that she wasn’t invited (she was at a meeting in Florida at the time) and claimed the visit was political: “There was pure political motives [sic].”

How do these loony-tunes get elected? Hovey later offered a pathetic non-apologetic “apology.”

The remarks I made regarding Congresswoman Gifford’s visit were insensitive and if I offended anyone I truly apologize … My comments were meant to be protective of the privacy of the families and our community as we work to move on, and were in no way intended as an insult to Congresswoman Giffords personally. Our community has struggled greatly through this tragedy, and we are all very sensitive to the potential for this event to be exploited for political purposes. This is what I wish to avoid.

What a moronic asshole.
Read the rest of this entry »


Thursday Evening News Wrapup

Afternoon Tea, by Mary Cassat

Good Evening! I’ll start off with some good news. Minkoff Minx has arrived home from the hospital and is doing well. She’ll be resting for I a few days, but she should be back to posting regularly sometime next week. I sure do miss her cheery evening reads! I’m doing my best to fill in again tonight.

It’s been a slow news day, but there are a few things happening even though most of Washington, DC–including Congress and many pundits are on a two-week Easter vacay. Why do they get such long vacations anyway? They only work about three days a week and they accomplish very little.

President Obama has waked up to the reality of women’s electoral power. Today we learned that he thinks it’s high time that Augusta Golf Club, which hosts the Masters Tournament, should start accepting women members.

Not to be outdone, and because he obviously has no original thoughts, Mitt Romney announced that he, too, And he discussed the issue in his usual stuffy manner.

When asked if women should be admitted, the Republican presidential frontrunner responded: “Of course.”

“I am not a member of Augusta. I don’t know if I would qualify. My golf game is not that good,” Romney told reporters after an energy-themed event in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. “Certainly if I were a member, if I could run Augusta, which isn’t likely to happen, of course I’d have women into Augusta.”

Newt Gingrich thinks his wife Callista would be “great member,” and Callista herself tweeted that she “wants in.” No word on how he-man woman-hater Rick Santorum feels about the issue.

Afternoon Tea, by Cezanne

It’s looking like Romney has the Republican nomination all sewn up–he’s even leading in Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania now. But at the Daily Beast, Michelle Goldberg explains why conservatives still want Santorum to stay in the race.

Conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace isn’t convinced. “In the minds of social conservatives, it’s not even close to over,” he says. “The real question is how committed someone like Rick Santorum is to fighting this out all the way to the end. If he’s committed to doing this on a personal level, there’s plenty of social conservatives that will ride him to the finish line.”

Indeed, despite the best efforts of the Republican establishment, many on the religious right are far from ready to accept Romney’s inevitability, or to coalesce behind him. They remain distrustful of his record on abortion, and unsure they can believe his campaign promises. And the harder party elites push Romney on them, the more alienated they become. “The biggest story that everyone in the media has missed this cycle is how frustrated and fed up the Republican Party base is with the Republican Party,” says Deace. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

Goldberg quotes a number of conservative sources who just won’t accept a Romney candidacy and think Santorum to fight to the bitter end at the convention. They sound a lot like Hillary supporters who in 2008 wanted her to take the fight to the convention. Hillary is a loyal Democrat and so she ended up going with the flow, but Santorum is more of a renegade with a lot less to lose than Hillary. In any case, it seems as if the bases of both corporate parties are disgusted with their party elites.

Afternoon Tea Party, by Mary Cassatt

Also at the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky writes that the Supreme Court is “on the ropes.” Back in the ’80s, Conservative starting pushing for “judicial restraint.” But now that the shoe is on the other foot and there is a Conservative majority on the court, suddenly they love the notion of “judicial activism” that they once reviled (just like they now despise the Heritage Foundaton health care plan now that Democrats have written it into law).

John Roberts has to know and see all this. He has to know that Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, who asked federal prosecutors for a homework assignment in the wake of Obama’s remarks—a brief stating the Justice Department’s position on judicial review, that had to be at least three pages, single-spaced!—is making conservatives look silly and cheapening the bench. And he has to know that the court’s reputation will suffer an immense blow if it overturns the mandate. It will be seen by a large majority—even a lot of people who weren’t crazy about the law—as completely political. Remember, they didn’t have to take the case in an election year in the first place. They could have put it off. But the court said it must do this now. If it then overturns the ACA, it will look and smell like a political hit job to many Americans. And the court would be saying to America, “We know what you think, and we don’t give a damn.”

What would happen to the court then? Slowly—no; probably quickly—it will come to be seen by most Americans as just another cesspool of political mud wrestling; just another arena where the rich get what they want while everyone else gets screwed (Citizens United); just one more ideological whorehouse full of patrons pretending to be just the piano player.

Despite what we’re all brought up to believe, nothing about the court is sacrosanct. Lifetime appointments can be changed to fixed-year terms. It’d take some doing, but it can be done. And there’s nothing anywhere that says it has to be nine justices. That’s just tradition, but it’s nowhere in the Constitution. It just needs to be an odd number; could be three or 23. For that matter, Congress could disregard Marbury v. Madison. Yep. It could. Tom DeLay used to speak of this from time to time, back in the dear old Terri Schiavo days. He never specifically invoked M v. M, but, referring to judges who would have let Schiavo die, he said things like they had “thumbed their noses at Congress and the president” and would someday pay. He meant a campaign against judicial review. He never got around to it, having been indicted and convicted and all, but that’s what he meant. There’s nothing to prevent liberals from mounting a similar campaign. So far they’ve has held back by their respect for the institution. But that may soon be gone.

There is a heartbreaking story out of Greece: Pensioner’s Suicide Continues to Shake Greece.

Dimitris Christoulas, a divorced and retired pharmacist, took his life on Wednesday in Syntagma Square, a focal point for frequent public demonstrations and protests, as hundreds of commuters passed nearby at a metro station and as lawmakers in Parliament debated last-minute budget amendments before elections, expected on May 6.

In a handwritten note found near the scene, the pensioner said he could not face the prospect “of scavenging through garbage bins for food and becoming a burden to my child,” blaming the government’s austerity policies for his decision.

The incident has prompted a public outpouring, with passers-by pinning notes of sympathy and protest to trees in the square, as well as comment from politicians across the spectrum. A solidarity rally on Wednesday night turned violent when the police clashed with hooded demonstrators in scuffles that left at least three people injured.

I guess we can look forward to similar tragedies here in the U.S. if Congress succeeds in gutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. And I don’t exempt the Democrats from my cynicism about support for the social safety net among the Villagers.

Speaking of the rich, powerful, and selfish, Jamie Dimon is once again on the top of the heap in terms of CEO compensation. Richard Escrow writes:

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon is still the poster child for today’s morally degraded, self-entitled banker mentality. I don’t know why he keeps talking, but he’s the gift that keeps on giving.

At every major junction in the post-crisis debate about banking, Dimon has stepped in with a perfectly tactless remark that illustrates both the vacuity and the moral corruption of his industry. This week was no exception.

Excrow provides a number of specific examples of Dimon’s and Chase’s lack of ethics. And yet, Dimon is still whining about “excessive” government regulation.

Dimon just complained that regulators “made the recovery worse than it otherwise would have been” — which is not only wrong, but avoids addressing the issue of the recovery’s cause, which was banks like Dimon’s. Dimon added that the government forced banks to de-leverage “”at precisely the wrong time” — which is precisely wrong. The government’s real error was in not breaking up too-big-to-fail banks like Dimon’s.

“Complexity and confusion should have been alleviated, not compounded,” complains Dimon.

So Dimon and his cronies have formed a superpac to intimidate liberal Congresspeople. Please go read the whole article. It’s really frightening.

The domestic terrorist who tried unsuccessfully to blow up a Planned Parenthood office in Wisconsin has explained his motivation.

Francis Grady, 50, spoke to reporters who were covering his first appearance in federal court since the Sunday night attack. The Green Bay Press-Gazette posted video of him walking through the courthouse followed by a short clip of him speaking to reporters outside.

“There was no bomb,” Grady said. “It was gasoline.”

A reporter asked why Grady attacked the clinic.

“Because they’re killing babies there,” he responded.

The newspaper also got more from inside the federal courtroom, where Grady reportedly interrupted the judge to ask, ““Do you even care at all about the 1,000 babies that died screaming?”

“Screaming?” Fetuses that are aborted in the first trimester aren’t “babies,” and they don’t have nervous systems to feel pain or the ability to scream. The ignorance of these people is beyond belief.

Lizzie Borden

Finally, some new evidence has been found in the Lizzie Borden murder case–journals kept by her attorney.

Borden was acquitted in 1892, and much of the evidence in the case ended up with Andrew Jackson Jennings, Borden’s attorney. The two journals, which Jennings stored in a Victorian bathtub along with other evidence from the case, including the infamous “handless hatchet,” were left to the Fall River Historical Society by Jennings’ grandson, who died last year.

The society received the fragile journals about a month ago but won’t be exhibited until they are properly preserved, curator Michael Martins said.

Each journal is about 100 pages. One contains a series of newspaper clippings, indexed using a lettering and number system that Jennings devised. The second contains personal notes that Jennings assembled from interviews he conducted. Some of the individuals interviewed are people mentioned in the newspaper clippings Jennings retained.

“A number of the people Jennings spoke to were people he knew intimately, on a social or business level, so many of them were perhaps more candid with him than they would have been otherwise,” Martins said. “But it’s also evident that there are a number of new individuals he spoke to who had previously not been connected with the case.”

I hope at least some of those links will pique your interest. What stories have you been following this afternoon and evening?