Wednesday Reads: Obama Talks, BP Rigs, and Looney does a bit of soul searching.

Good Morning!

President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan yesterday:

President Obama Visits Kabul to Sign Partnership with Afghanistan – NYTimes.com

…the document Mr. Obama signed with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan during the whirlwind visit was formally titled the “Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement.” It is meant to address the United States’ role even after the American-led alliance ends its combat role in 2014.

You can read the text of the Presidents speech here:

Text – Obama’s Speech in Afghanistan – NYTimes.com

The latest out of the mouths of Romney supporters, and by that I am talking the kind of supporters who show that support with moola. Via Think Progress:

Former Bain Capital Director And Top Romney Donor Pens Book Calling For Even More Income Inequality 

Income inequality in the United States has skyrocketed over the last several decades and especially since the Great Recession, so much so that it is now worse than in Ivory Coast and Pakistan. It may even be worse than it was in Ancient Rome, a society built on slave labor.

That income inequality is crushing the middle class and its political power. But don’t tell that to Edward Conard, a top donor to presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney who gained notoriety during the campaign as a million-dollar mystery donor who set up a shell company to shield his identity. Conard, a former director at the Romney-founded Bain Capital, is working on a new book in which he argues that income inequality is a good thing, and what the U.S. really needs is more of it, the New York Times’ Adam Davidson reports…

Romney’s Former Bain Partner Makes a Case for Inequality – Here is the article that is mentioned up top. I wanted to bring this chunk of crap to your attention first…I wonder what Dak will think about Conrad’s explanation of what happened in 2008:

Every once in a while, this system breaks down. For one reason or another, the savers panic and demand all their money back. This causes a massive problem because the money isn’t sitting at the bank; it’s out in the world in the form of long-term loans. “A lot of people don’t realize that what happened in 2008 was nearly identical to what happened in 1929,” he says. “Depositors ran to the bank to withdraw their money only to discover, like the citizens of Bedford Falls” — referring to the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” — “that there was no money in the vault. All that money had been lent.”

In 2008 it was large pension funds, insurance companies and other huge institutional investors that withdrew in panic. Conard argues in retrospect that it was these withdrawals that led to the crisis — not, as so many others have argued, an orgy of irresponsible lending. He points to the fact that, according to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, banks lost $320 billion through mortgage-backed securities, but withdrawals disproportionately amounted to five times that. This stance, which largely absolves the banks, is not shared by many analysts. Regardless, Conard told me: “The banks did what we wanted them to do. They put short-term money back into the economy. What they didn’t expect is that depositors would withdraw their money, because they hadn’t withdrawn their money en masse since 1929.”

Conard concedes that the banks made some mistakes, but the important thing now, he says, is to provide them even stronger government support. He advocates creating a new government program that guarantees to bail out the banks if they ever face another run. As for exotic derivatives, Conard doesn’t see a problem. He argues that collateralized-debt obligations, credit-default swaps, mortgage-backed securities and other (now deemed toxic) financial products were fundamentally sound. They were new tools that served a market need for the world’s most sophisticated investors, who bought them in droves. And they didn’t cause the panic anyway, he says; the withdrawals did.

Hmmmmm…Wasn’t there a song in Mary Poppins about causing a “run on the bank” with some old white guys singing about the importance of saving your toppins?

Anyway, here is the money quote from the Think Progress article:

Unlike his former colleagues, Conard wants to have an open conversation about wealth. He has spent the last four years writing a book that he hopes will forever change the way we view the superrich’s role in our society. “Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong,” to be published in hardcover next month by Portfolio, aggressively argues that the enormous and growing income inequality in the United States is not a sign that the system is rigged. On the contrary, Conard writes, it is a sign that our economy is working. And if we had a little more of it, then everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would be better off. This could be the most hated book of the year.

Conard instead argues that income inequality helps everyone because investors grow wealthy by creating products that benefit the 99 percent. Though that is certainly true to an extent, Conard’s line of thinking leads to the supply-side policies that are proven failures at “growing the pie” for everyone. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, for instance, were supposed to create jobs and spark economic growth for everyone. They did neither, instead saddling the nation with unsustainable debt and deficits that Republicans are now using to justify massive budget cuts to programs that benefit the lower- and middle-classes.

And while investors like Conard made luxuries available to some Americans, they also bankrupted companies and left workers without jobs, pensions, or health care. Bain Capital, in fact, made billions of dollars for people like Romney and Conard while bankrupting nearly a quarter of the companies in which it invested.

Moving on to Texas, Ralph posted a comment yesterday about the decision which benefited Planned Parenthood. I had hoped it was a good thing, but then Republican Judge Jerry Smith Blocks Pro-Planned Parenthood Order Just Hours After It Was Issued

Yesterday afternoon, a federal trial court in Texas granted a preliminary injunction preventing the state from cutting off women’s health funds to Planned Parenthood. The trial court’s opinion was written by Judge Lee Yeakel — a George W. Bush appointee — and it is 24 pages long, including substantial analysis of difficult constitutional doctrines such as the scope of the First Amendment right to free speech and the “unconstitutional conditions” doctrine. Significantly, the Bush-appointed trial judge was concerned that Texas stripped funds from Planned Parenthood because it disapproved of the organization’s advocacy in favor of women’s health — a direct attack on Planned Parenthood’s First Amendment rights if Yeakel is correct.

This morning, less than 24 hours after Yeakel handed down his decision, Judge Smith handed down a two sentence decision of his own:

IT IS ORDERED that appellant’s motion for stay pending appeal is GRANTED pending further order of this court. This order is entered by a single judge pursuant to FED. R. APP. P. 8(a)(2)(D).

Several things are significant about this very brief order. First, Judge Smith is a court of appeals judge, and it is very rare for an appeals judge to act alone in this way. Federal appeals courts almost always act as three judge panels, and for very good reason. Judge Yeakel is no less a federal judge than Judge Smith, and he is no less competent that Smith to interpret the Constitution. A court of appeals’ legitimacy generally flows from the fact that it brings more minds to a legal question than a trial court — but this cannot happen when a single judge acts alone.

This is a very unusual turn of events…

More importantly, it’s unlikely that Smith gave his order much thought at all before handing it down. Judge Yeakel handed down his order weeks after this case was filed, and he produced a 24 page explanation of why it was justified. Smith spent, at most, a few hours — and he offered no explanation whatsoever.

If nothing else, today’s order highlights the foolishness of Smith’s partisan tantrum several weeks ago. Unusual orders — even unusual orders handed down by single judges — are sometimes justified even if the legal reasoning behind such an order is not immediately apparent. Nevertheless, the legitimacy of such orders flows from the public’s trust that they are motivated by obedience to the law and not by partisanship, ideology or personal grievances. Judge Smith thumbed his nose at that trust when he lashed out at Obama last month, and undermined the legitimacy of the entire judiciary in the process.

I know that we have discussed the new drilling permits given to BP, well here is an update on that: BP to Erect 3 More Rigs in the Gulf

You read that correctly. Two years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 people and spilling nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the company got the go-ahead to build three new rigs in the region.

A BP representative—Bernard Looney—said that “after much soul-searching,” abandoning the undeveloped submarine oil fields would constitute “walking away” from “a key component of our future.” He said BP would work hard to prevent “such an accident from ever happening again.”

Looney, yup…you read that guy’s name correctly, the only response I have about this “soul searching” comment is…WTF?

There’s a new sheriff in town: Richard Myers Named New Sanford Police Chief Amid Discord Between Officials, Cops

(Well, technically he is not a sheriff, but it had a good ring to it. )

Sanford officials have selected a new interim police chief following several shakeups in the department in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting. Norton Bonaparte, the city manager, picked Richard Myers, a former chief of police in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Appleton, Wisc., to be the town’s new top cop.

He replaces Bill Lee…and we all know what happened on his watch.

Myers’ hiring comes amid growing tension between the department and city government, as officers and city officials have complained that Lee has been unfairly treated.

According to one city official, nearly 40 police officers met privately with the mayor and the city commission to voice their anger over the decision to force Lee from the department. Velma Williams, the city’s lone black commissioner, characterized the tone of the meeting as rancorous.

“They disrespected me and they disrespected the mayor,” she said.

Community leaders and many black residents said that Bonaparte jeopardized his political future by dragging his feet in making a decision on Lee’s fate early on. While the police chief serves at the pleasure of the city manager, the city manager serves at the pleasure of the city commission.

There were some separation agreements in the works between Bonaparte and Lee, and not only that, the letter that Lee gave as resignation had a questionable tone.

Williams said the April 23 vote was called moments after the group received the letter.

“When we arrived there at 4 o’clock, none of us had seen the letter of resignation,” Williams said.

Williams, who voted to accept Lee’s resignation, said that she voted on it sight unseen and didn’t read it until she arrived home later that night. But had she read it at the meeting, she said, “I wouldn’t have voted in support of Lee, but I would have said, ‘There’s no way that I can vote one way or another on this particular letter of resignation.'”

She said that when she and the other commissioners finally did read through Lee’s letter, red flags started going up. Among them, the letter seems to imply that Lee is being forced out and stipulates that he has violated no laws and that he would willingly return to his position if asked to do so.

Excerpts from Chief Lee’s resignation letter read in part:

It was an honor to be selected to serve the City of Sanford as its Chief of Police. Since taking the position, it is clear that while working with the men and women of the Sanford Police Department, we have moved the organization toward becoming a more effective and professional organization capable of providing a higher level of service to our community. Through this process, I have seen an increase in the morale of the men and women at the Department.

I have followed the law and acceptable law enforcement practices in performing my duties and responsibilities and have not taken any action or engaged in any conduct that would adversely impact the men and women of the Police Department, who so diligently and bravely serve the citizens of Sanford. I am willing, ready and able to continue to perform the duties of Chief of Police for the City of Sanford and have not been found to have committed any wrongdoing. However, in response to the City Manager’s suggestion that I resign from my position and solely to allow the city to move beyond recent events, I have decided that I can no longer serve as Police Chief.

Williams said of the letter, “You don’t say in your letter of resignation that they are forcing you out. Once people read it, people were in awe about what was in there, wondering, ‘What kind of resignation is that?'”

There are some who are questioning the choice of Myers, because Myers has issues:

Yet Myers comes to Sanford’s beleaguered police department with baggage of his own.

According to reports, Myers was forced out of the Colorado Springs police department in 2011 upon news of two scandals there, one of which involved an officer arrested for molesting children and another in which an officer lied to get an ex-boyfriend arrested.

That does not instill confidence does it?

Sanford interim police chief: Sanford hires interim police chief Richard Myers -According to this article from Orlando Sentinel:

…controversy surrounded much of Myers’ time in Colorado Springs, including the arrest of two officers, one of whom was charged with molesting children. Another controversy involved a botched sting at the restaurant chain Hooters. In June 2011, officers cited a waitress for serving an intoxicated patron. However, a video raised questions about whether the officers had lied in a report. The officers were cleared of any wrongdoing.

Myers resigned in October, and The Gazette, a newspaper in Colorado Springs, reported that Myers was forced out of the job as a result of the mayor’s desire to “change direction.” Myers then became interim chief in Manitou Springs, Colo., a suburb of Colorado Springs.

Sanford officials have scheduled a news conference for Friday morning at City Hall to introduce Myers. He will be the fifth person to act as police chief in Sanford in the past two years.

I guess time will tell.

Anyway, that is all I can muster this morning. What is going on in your world this morning?


Monday Evening Reads: Bill Clinton’s Advice, Romney and Rubio, George Zimmerman, and Stupid Republicans

Good Evening! It hasn’t been a particularly busy news day, but I have a few updates for you tonight.

According to Politico, the Obama campaign is changing it’s attacks on Mitt Romney based on some suggestions from Bill Clinton. The original approach was to paint Romney as a man without a moral or ideological “core.” Clinton, according to Politico argued that it would be better to focus on

Romney’s description of himself as a “severe conservative,” to deny him any chance to tack back to the center, according to three Democrats close to the situation.

“[Clinton] said he thought Romney’s positions on the issues would ultimately be the best way to attack him,” said a Democrat briefed on the details of an amiable Nov. 9 meeting in Clinton’s Harlem office that included Axelrod, Democratic National Committee Executive Director Patrick Gaspard and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.

“That’s what we are doing, but it doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t do the etch-a-sketch, flip-flop moments when they occur and we will,” added the operative — who says Obama’s campaign likely would have emphasized Romney’s conservative tilt once the primary was over, anyway.

But Clinton’s advice, buttressed by Benenson’s polling, has clearly gained traction internally since the end of Romney’s four-month primary ordeal.

Well, I can’t imagine a more expert political consultant than Bill Clinton, can you?

A new report from the Pew Hispanic Center shows that the number of illegal immigrants coming from Mexico has been falling because of the lack of jobs in the U.S. NY Daily News:

Roughly 6.1 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants were living in the U.S. last year, down from a peak of nearly 7 million in 2007, according to the Pew Hispanic Center study released Monday. It was the biggest sustained drop in modern history, believed to be surpassed in scale only by losses in the Mexican-born U.S. population during the Great Depression.

Much of the drop in illegal immigrants is due to the persistently weak U.S. economy, which has shrunk construction and service-sector jobs attractive to Mexican workers following the housing bust. But increased deportations, heightened U.S. patrols and violence along the border also have played a role, as well as demographic changes, such as Mexico’s declining birth rate.

In all, the Mexican-born population in the U.S. last year — legal and illegal — fell to 12 million, marking an end to an immigration boom dating back to the 1970s, when foreign-born residents from Mexico stood at 760,000. The 2007 peak was 12.6 million.

The New York and Pennsylvania primaries will be held tomorrow, but there isn’t much excitement about them anymore. Other states voting tomorrow are Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island.

In Pennsylvania, Romney was campaigning with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Without overshadowing Romney, Rubio on Monday hammered home the former Massachusetts governor’s position on Iran and helped Romney attack President Barack Obama’s energy policy.

In a brief question-and-answer session with reporters, Romney said he’d consider Rubio’s immigration proposal to find a way to allow young people who came to the country illegally as children to stay here if they’re in school or the military.

It sounds like the Obama campaign should get busy pinning Romney down on the cruel immigration policy he has been pushing throughout the primaries.

Romney also tried to appeal to younger voters by joining Obama in backing a bill to prevent doubling of student loan interest rates.

ASTON, Pa. — As the White House ramps up its push to woo young voters by urging Congress to head off a scheduled increase in student loan interest rates, GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney struck back Monday, throwing his support behind an extension of the current rates at a campaign event outside Philadelphia.

The former Massachusetts governor made the announcement at a press availability with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the first joint appearance of Romney and the Florida Republican whose name is often floated as a top choice for his running mate.

“There’s one thing that I wanted to mention, that I forgot to mention at the very beginning, and that was that particularly with the number of college graduates that can’t find work or that can only find work well beneath their skill level, I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans,” Romney said at the end of a seven-minute joint news conference with Rubio.

I have a few updates on the Trayvon Martin case. At one minute after midnight, George Zimmerman was let out of jail after posting bail. He will be going to a undisclosed location, reportedly outside of Florida.

Wherever George Zimmerman went after he was released on bond from a Florida jail, a sensitive GPS device will pinpoint his location for authorities and alert them if he drifts even a few feet away from where he is allowed.

Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, went into hiding Monday as he awaits trial. He must pay an $8-a-day fee to use the device, which is generally used to track people charged in domestic violence cases.

George Zimmerman leaves Seminole County Jail with unidentified man

According to the WaPo,

Local LA Bail Bonds companies whose clients have worn the same device used to pinpoint Zimmerman said it is highly sensitive and can send messages to authorities in real-time….

Seminole County Sheriff’s officials are offering few details on how Zimmerman will be specifically monitored, other than to say the device he is wearing has the same 24/7 capabilities it uses to track accused domestic violence offenders. Zimmerman may be residing outside of Florida for safety reasons.

The monitoring program has been in use since 2003 in Seminole and provides “real-time monitoring of an offender’s movements and is capable of monitoring anywhere in the U.S.,” according to a sheriff’s office news release.

Later this morning, Sanford, FL police chief Bill Lee, who has been on leave with pay, submitted his final resignation; but the move was rejected by the Sanford city commissioners at a hastily-called meeting.

Earlier Monday, the city announced in a statement that a separation agreement had been reached with Lee to resign. If it was approved by the City Commission, it would have taken effect at midnight.

But by a 3-2 vote, the commission opted not to accept the proposed deal, which would have permanently dismissed Lee from the job and given him a severance package. Two commissioners had questioned the fairness of Lee losing his job, while Mayor Jeff Triplett said he preferred to wait possibly several months for the results of an investigation into Lee and his department….

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Martin’s family, criticized the commission for not letting Lee step down.

“Sanford residents deserve quality leadership in law enforcement who will handle investigations fairly for all people,” he said. “If Chief Bill Lee recognized that his resignation would help start the healing process in Sanford, city leadership should have accepted it in an effort to move the city forward.”

Sanford City Manager Norton N. Bonaparte had supported the resignation.

Benjamin Crump also criticized George Zimmerman and his defense attorneys over a photo of Zimmerman’s head with two small cuts with blood coming out of them.

An attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family believes their son’s shooter is lying about injuries he sustained the night he killed the unarmed 17-year-old.

“If this is any indication of what’s to come, then the lying has already begun,” attorney Ben Crump told reporters on Sunday, while promoting a documentary at the Florida Film Festival on another case….

“When you look at those pictures and you see those two little cuts on his head, that is not consistent with your head being pounded into the pavement,” said Crump. “Objective evidence, evidence we can see and touch, is more important than whatever George Zimmerman says because we have to remember Trayvon Martin isn’t here to tell us his version of what happened.”

Crump pointed to the 911 call where someone is heard screaming before the fatal gunshot.

Democrats in Congress have been pushing for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, but Texas Sen. John Cornyn says that Democrats are just trying to ‘score cheap political points.’ with their efforts to renew the bill.

Republicans oppose the current reauthorization bill because it would allow battered undocumented immigrants to claim temporary visas, and expand protections to same sex couples and Native American tribes.

All eight Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against renewing the law and Democrats were quick to denounce them, linking their opposition to the bill to the so-called “war on women.”

“The law was enacted to protect and serve the interests of crime victims, not to help a political party fire up its base,” Cornyn continue. “Moreover, to argue that a minor policy disagreement indicates a lack of sensitivity toward battered women is simply beyond the pale.”

In Missouri, a Republican woman who is running for the senate against current Sen. Claire McCaskill says she is “not sure” what the Violence Against Women Act is.

Former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, a Republican now hoping to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), said recently that she was unfamiliar with the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the landmark anti-domestic violence legislation whose re-authorization is now stalled in the Senate….

A video released today by the Missouri Democratic Party shows a man asking Steelman about VAWA at a campaign event. Steelman replies, “I’m not sure what that is because I’m not serving right now.” He asks again, “you haven’t really heard about it?” And she confirms, “no, not really.”

The John Edwards trial has been getting a lot of attention today too. Chris Cillizza calls it a “final public flogging.”

What stories have you been following today?


Breaking: Sanford Police Chief Steps Down “Temporarily”

Sanford, FL police chief Bill Lee

From CNN broadcast news: Bill Lee, the police chief of Sanford Florida announced just a short time ago that he will "temporarily remove" himself from his job until the investigation into the shooting of Trayvon Martin and his deeply flawed handling of the case is complete. That doesn't seem like enough to me. Lee needs to resign or he must be fired outright.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

Embattled Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. has stepped down from his post “temporarily” this afternoon, brought down by a firestorm of criticism over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old.

“My role as the leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation,” Lee said in a brief statement. “It is apparent that my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process.

“Therefore, I have come to the decision that I must temporarily relieve myself from the position as police chief for the city of Sanford,” Lee said.

“I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to a city which has been in turmoil for several weeks.”

Sorry, Bill. It’s time for you to go. No one is going to be satisfied with half measures after you’ve done nothing for more than three weeks.

Chicago Tribune:

City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr., said the city was taking the proper steps to ensure the investigation is sound, and the judicial process can run its course.

“What the city wants most for the family of Trayvon Martin is justice,” he said, adding that city officials would hold regular news briefings to update the press on developments in the case.

Lee, 52, has insisted his agency did a fair and thorough investigation, but black leaders, those in Sanford as well as NAACP national president Benjamin Todd Jealous, said he had to go.

Lee’s failure to arrest admitted shooter George Zimmerman has angered millions of Americans.

That decision has sparked a backlash of outrage. Hundreds of thousands of people have called for Zimmerman’s arrest. It started with Trayvon’s family but now includes members of Congress.

Protesters have staged rallies in Sanford, New York, Miami and Tallahassee. One, featuring Al Sharpton, is scheduled for 7 p.m. today in downtown Sanford and is expected to draw thousands.

The parents of Trayvon Martin are currently meeting with officials in the U.S. Justice Department. There will be a new conference following the meeting.

I will post more links in the comments as they become available. Please post anything you are hearing too!