Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Last night, Reuters reported that President Obama has authorized “secret support for Syrian rebels.”

President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, sources familiar with the matter said.

Obama’s order, approved earlier this year and known as an intelligence “finding,” broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad.

This and other developments signal a shift toward growing, albeit still circumscribed, support for Assad’s armed opponents – a shift that intensified following last month’s failure of the U.N. Security Council to agree on tougher sanctions against the Damascus government.

The White House is for now apparently stopping short of giving the rebels lethal weapons, even as some U.S. allies do just that.

There’s much more at the link.

Yesterday, the House responded to the Senate’s passage of a bill to extend the Bush tax cuts for incomes of $250,000 or less by passing their own bill to extend all of the cuts, including those for the super-rich.

The Republican-led House of Representatives voted Wednesday to extend expiring George W. Bush-era tax cuts at all income levels for another year, a pre-election statement of the GOP’s unyielding opposition to raising taxes for any taxpayer.

Th 256 to 171 vote to preserve tax cuts first enacted during the Bush administration and renewed in 2010 since then fell largely along party lines, though 19 Democrats voted with Republicans to extend the tax cuts. One Republican was opposed.

It came after the House rejected a Democratic alternative, also largely on a partisan 170 to 257 vote, that would have preserve tax cuts for income up to $250,000 but allowed them to expire for the wealthy.

You probably heard that Fed Chair Ben Bernanke once again has refused to do anything new to stimulate employment.

According to its statement, the Fed won’t take any additional steps at the moment to boost the economy. No quantitative easing. No bold nwe statements. No trying to reduce mortgage rates further. The central bank’s forecast of “exceptionally low” interest rates through 2014 remains unchanged from its last report in June….

On the other hand, the committee’s statement does note that Fed officials are still poring over recent (and troubling) economic data. Growth has “decelerated” of late, with the U.S. economy expanding at a mere 1.5 percent pace in the second quarter of 2012. And the unemployment rate remains stuck at 8.2 percent. Meanwhile, inflation is expected to remain “at or below” the Fed’s target over the medium term. So is that enough to warrant more stimulus? The FOMC statement says, basically, ask us when we meet again in September:

The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments and will provide additional accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions in a context of price stability.

There’s an interesting article at Bloomberg Businessweek about Bernanke and the Fed: Bernanke, the Reluctant Revolutionary. The article makes a point that Dakinikat has often expressed:

Because of its demonstrated competence in crisis management, Bernanke’s Fed is being pulled into solving problems that the White House and Congress should be dealing with but aren’t. Housing? Under Bernanke the Fed has bought mortgage-backed securities to make loans cheaper and boost home sales. The fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax hikes that threatens the economy at the start of 2013? The Fed’s loose money policies, by stimulating growth, are compensating at least partially for the chilling effect on hiring and investment that fears of the cliff are already causing.

It’s a lot, and Bernanke argues that too much is being put on the Fed’s shoulders. “Monetary policy is not a panacea,” he told the Joint Economic Committee of Congress on June 7. “It would be much better to have a broad-based policy effort addressing a whole variety of issues. I leave the details to Congress, which has considered many of these issues. I’d feel much more comfortable if Congress would take some of this burden from us and address those issues.”

It’s a lengthy piece, so if you’re interested do read the whole thing.

Early yesterday, the judge in the George Zimmerman case, Kenneth Lester, denied the defense motion that he “disqualify” himself “because of alleged bias.”

In the motion asking George Zimmerman’s judge to step down, Florida’s rules required Judge Lester to “determine only the legal sufficiency of the motion.” Zimmerman’s motion failed that test, Judge Lester wrote in his ruling.

But the judge did not further explain why he found the motion insufficient. That’s likely because Florida’s rules explicitly state: “No other reason for denial shall be stated, and an order of denial shall not take issue with the motion.”

Zimmerman’s motion had accused Judge Lester of making opinionated remarks about evidence and “advocat[ing] for Mr. Zimmerman to be prosecuted for additional crimes” in his July 5 order setting bail.

Poor George.

There’s quite a bit of news about Mitt Romney, but for some reason I’m resistant to writing about him at the moment. Amazing, huh? So I’m just going to quickly list some articles that you may want to take a look at.

You probably heard about the Brookings report that gives the kiss of death to Romney’s tax plan. The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery (who leans right) covered it yesterday, and even she couldn’t sugarcoat it. Study: Romney tax plan would result in cuts for rich, higher burden for others

The study was conducted by researchers at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, who seem to bend over backward to be fair to the Republican presidential candidate. To cover the cost of his plan — which would reduce tax rates by 20 percent, repeal the estate tax and eliminate taxes on investment income for middle-class taxpayers — the researchers assume that Romney would go after breaks for the richest taxpayers first.

They even look at what would happen if Republicans’ dreams for tax reform came true and the proposal generated significant revenue through economic growth.

None of it helped Romney. His rate-cutting plan for individuals would reduce tax collections by about $360 billion in 2015, the study says. To avoid increasing deficits — as Romney has pledged — the plan would have to generate an equivalent amount of revenue by slashing tax breaks for mortgage interest, employer-provided health care, education, medical expenses, state and local taxes, and child care — all breaks that benefit the middle class.

“It is not mathematically possible to design a revenue-neutral plan that preserves current incentives for savings and investment and that does not result in a net tax cut for high-income taxpayers and a net tax increase for lower- and/or middle-income taxpayers,” the study concludes.

That should be the end of it, but of course many Americans don’t care about facts. Naturally, the Romney campaign says the study is “biased.”

There’s a very harsh assessment of Team Romney at Foreign Policy. Too Much Baggage: Mitt Romney needs to fire his foreign-policy team. Yesterday. I’m not going to excerpt from the piece, because it’s important to read the whole thing. I highly recommend it!

Michael Kinsley has a very good piece on Romney’s endless complaints about the supposed lack of respect President Obama (and by extension other liberals) for his supposed “success.”

Jared Diamond, the author of one of the books Romney referenced in his speech in Israel, says he was misquoted: Romney Hasn’t Done His Homework.

MITT ROMNEY’S latest controversial remark, about the role of culture in explaining why some countries are rich and powerful while others are poor and weak, has attracted much comment. I was especially interested in his remark because he misrepresented my views and, in contrasting them with another scholar’s arguments, oversimplified the issue.

It is not true that my book “Guns, Germs and Steel,” as Mr. Romney described it in a speech in Jerusalem, “basically says the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there. There is iron ore on the land and so forth.”

That is so different from what my book actually says that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it. My focus was mostly on biological features, like plant and animal species, and among physical characteristics, the ones I mentioned were continents’ sizes and shapes and relative isolation. I said nothing about iron ore, which is so widespread that its distribution has had little effect on the different successes of different peoples. (As I learned this week, Mr. Romney also mischaracterized my book in his memoir, “No Apology: Believe in America.”)

And here’s the closing paragraph:

Mitt Romney may become our next president. Will he continue to espouse one-factor explanations for multicausal problems, and fail to understand history and the modern world? If so, he will preside over a declining nation squandering its advantages of location and history.

Please go read it. There’s much much more excoriation of Willard’s lies. Bwaaaaaahahahahahahaha!

Michael Kinsley has a great piece on Romney’s endless complaints about Americans who supposedly don’t respect his supposed “success.”

Romney’s ‘success’ problem: Is getting ahead in the U.S. simply a matter of brainpower and hard work, as the GOP candidate says? And if so, is everyone else stupid and lazy? Here’s just a bit of it:

Romney worries that Americans are losing their appreciation of success, as evidenced by President Obama’s desire to reduce the rewards of success by raising taxes on high incomes. He sees in this not just a bigger tax bill for successful people but an insult as well. An alternative perspective is that any successful person who feels personally insulted by a request from the president to share a bit of it is, in the immortal words of Liberace, crying “all the way to the bank” (or, to quote someone else, “a master of the fancied slight”).

You might also ask yourself: If Obama is insulting successful people by suggesting that their success doesn’t necessarily result entirely from their own hard work and brainpower, doesn’t that mean that Romney is insulting the vast majority of folks who are unsuccessful (by Romney’s exalted standard) by implying that they are lazy and stupid? If your success is entirely your own achievement, then your lack of success is entirely your own fault.

Finally, Haaretz is basically saying that Romney is Netanyahu’s puppet. Most of the article is for subscribers only, but here’s a screenshot of the page.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


Breaking: Judge Revokes George Zimmerman’s Bond

Judge Kenneth Lester

A short time ago, Florida Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Lester revoked accused murderer George Zimmerman’s bond and ordered him to surrender himself to authorities within 48 hours, because he lied about his financial resources. The prosecution also revealed that Zimmerman had failed to turn over a second passport that was in his possession, but the judge didn’t include that in his reasons for revocation of bail. The defense says it’s all “just an innocent misunderstanding.” New York Newsday:

Prosecutors said in a motion that 28-year-old George Zimmerman and his family misled them about his finances when testifying during a bail hearing that allowed him to be released from jail on a $150,000 bond. Prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda asked for the revocation during a hearing to help determine if prosecutors and the defense can stop the public release of certain documents in the case.

During the bond hearing in April, Zimmerman’s relatives testified they had limited funds. Zimmerman’s attorney said several days later that he had discovered his client had raised more than $200,000 from a website. At the time of the hearing, about $135,000 had been raised, and that money wasn’t disclosed at the bond hearing.

“This court was led to believe they didn’t have a single penny,” said Prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda. “It was misleading and I don’t know what words to use other than it was a blatant lie.” ….

Prosecutors also said in the motion that Zimmerman didn’t disclose he had a second passport. Zimmerman turned his passport over to the court at the bond hearing as a measure that would prevent him from fleeing the country.

I’ll update if I get any more information.

UPDATE 1: According to the Miami Herald,

Prosecutors said they have recordings of phone conversations between Zimmerman and his wife while Zimmerman was in jail in which they discussed moving money from a PayPal account set up to collect money for Zimmerman’s defense. But Zimmerman’s wife testified at her husband’s bond hearing that she was unaware of any additional money available for her husband’s defense — what prosecutors now call a lie.

Um… yep, that’s a lie alright.

UPDATE 2: According to ABC News, Zimmerman and his wife also talked on the phone about the second passport he had in a safe deposit box.

In recordings of conversations released today during a court hearing, Zimmerman and his wife, Shelly Zimmerman, cryptically talk about his second passport in a safety deposit box they shared.

Although one of his passports was due to expire in May, prosecutors said today, Zimmerman applied for a second passport, informing the State Department that the original had been lost lost or stolen.

In some of the phone calls between the two, she is at a credit union that was linked to his PayPal account and speaking to a teller. The prosecution said that despite being in jail, Zimmerman was “intimately involved in the deposit and transfer of money into various accounts.”

In certain cases, Bail Bonds in Mesa, AZ will be expected to be exchanged for the Bonds dispersed by that institution; this is in addition to the required initial payment.

In the conversations Zimmerman and his wife speak in code — reducing the amounts in their financial accounts by a factor of 1,000. Prosecutors said the couple knew that their jailhouse conversations were likely being recorded.

Zimmerman had $135,000 in his bank account on the day of his bond hearing, when his entire family claimed he was broke. Wow! Are they ever stupid.