Daily Archive: 07/17/2012

Jul 17 2012

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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New York Times Editorial: The Power of Anonymity

Two years ago, Congress came within a single Republican vote in the Senate of following the Supreme Court’s advice to require broad disclosure of campaign finance donors. The justices wanted voters to be able to decide for themselves “whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.” [..]

The ability to follow the money has never been this important since the bagman days of the Watergate scandal. But when the Democratic Senate majority made a fresh attempt to enact a disclosure bill on Monday, the measure was immediately filibustered to death by Republicans, like other versions.

Dean Baker: California Gold Rush? Righting Underwater Mortgages

Ever since the housing bubble collapsed, the Federal government has refused to take major initiatives to help underwater homeowners. As a result, we are likely to see close to one million foreclosures both this year and next, with the numbers only gradually slipping back to normal levels by the end of the decade.

The inaction cannot be attributed to a lack of opportunity. At the time the TARP bailout was being debated in the fall of 2008 many progressive members of Congress wanted to have a provision that would at least temporarily alter bankruptcy law to allow judges to rewrite the terms of a mortgage.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: The Slick “No Labels” Plan to Duck Debate, Cut Social Security and Coddle the 1%

The Jeff Daniels character from The Newsroom would know what to ask the operators of an allegedly “grass roots” group called “No Labels”:

“Why won’t you publish your list of donors?”

“What’s wrong with having legislators debate the issues publicly? Isn’t that how representative democracy works?”

“How can you call yourself ‘centrist’ when so many of your ideas are unpopular, and in fact are too conservative for most Tea Party members?”

He might have another question, too:

“What’s wrong with labels? Don’t they let us know what we’re buying?”

The Newsroom is fiction, of course. But then, so is “No Labels.” It’s the creation of overpaid political insiders who work hand in glove with longtime opponents of Social Security and Medicare, pushing the agenda of the wealthiest among us by exploiting the public’s understandable frustration with gridlocked government.

Gary Younge: The Democrats Can’t Lecture Romney About Firing People

Obama himself has never challenged the kind of rapacious capitalism he is desperate to associate with his opponent

Following the stock market crash of 1987 the US House subcommittee on telecommunications and finance needed an expert to explain the underlying impulses that had brought capitalism to the brink. So they asked a criminal. Dennis Levine, once a prominent player in mergers and acquisitions, was coaxed out of prison in New Jersey, where he was serving two years for insider trading, in return for a Big Mac, fries and a chocolate shake.

After explaining how the market was rigged, he was asked what the government should do about it. “You need to send out a slew of indictments, all at once, and at 3pm on a sunny day, have federal marshals perp walk 300 Wall Street executives out of their offices in handcuffs and out on the street with lots of cameras rolling,” he said. “Everyone else would say: ‘If that happened to me, my mother would be so ashamed.’ “

Mark Weisbrot: Ecuador Should Grant Political Asylum to Wikileaks Founder v

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London, where according to Ecuadorian authorities he is “under the protection of the Ecuadorian state,” as he awaits the government’s decision on his application for political asylum. If you have been relying on the mass media for information about why he is there or what he is being protected from, you may have no idea what is going on.

Much of the media has reported or given the impression that Assange is facing “charges” in Sweden and is therefore avoiding extradition from the UK to that country.  In fact, Julian Assange has not been charged with any crime.

Instead, he is only wanted for questioning by a Swedish prosecutor.  Now, why can’t he simply be questioned in the UK where he is?  Try to find the answer to that question in all the “news” reporting on the case.  Former Stockholm Chief District prosecutor Sven-Erik Alhem testified that the decision of the Swedish government to extradite Assange is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate,” because he can be easily questioned in the UK.  These simple facts make it clear that the Swedish attempt to extradite Assange has nothing to do with any criminal investigation.

Chris Hedges: The Battle of Blair Mountain

Joe Sacco and I, one afternoon when we were working in southern West Virginia on our book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt,” parked our car on the side of a road. We walked with Kenny King into the woods covering the slopes of Blair Mountain. King is leading an effort to halt companies from extracting coal by blasting apart the mountain, the site in the early 1920s of the largest armed insurrection in the United States since the Civil War.

Blair Mountain, amid today’s rising corporate exploitation and state repression, represents a piece of American history that corporate capitalists, and especially the coal companies, would have us forget. It is a reminder that citizens have a right to resist a corporate machine intent on subjugating them. It is a reminder that all the openings of our democracy were achieved with the toil, anguish and sometimes blood of radicals and popular fronts, from labor unions to anarchists, socialists and communists. But this is not approved history. We are instructed by the power elite to worship at approved shrines-plantation estates erected for wealthy slaveholders and land speculators such as George Washington, or the gilded domes of authority in the nation’s capital.

Jul 17 2012

Meet Your Billionaire Owners

The Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United v Federal Election Commission opened the flood gates for millions of dollars of donations to political campaigns with virtually no oversight and no control. The Court sent the message that it was up to Congress to require disclosure of donations to political campaigns. So far, that has not worked out so well. But some members if the traditional and nontraditional media have taken the matter into their own hands and made public the names of the largest donors to mostly the coffers of the GOP and their radical agenda.

Most of those donors are billionaires who have only their own wealth and self-interest at heart over the needs and rights of the 99.9%. Yeah, damned some of those puny millionaires, too.

ProPublica, an independent, non-profit investigative internet news site along with PBS’ Frontline did an expose of one of those billionaires, formerly one of the most secretive, Sheldon Adelson. The article takes a look at Mr. Adelson’s casino holdings in Macau and possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act:

Where competitors saw obstacles, including Macau’s hostility to outsiders and historic links to Chinese organized crime, Adelson envisaged a chance to make billions.

Adelson pushed his chips to the center of the table, keeping his nerve even as his company teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in late 2008.

The Macau bet paid off, propelling Adelson into the ranks of the mega-rich and underwriting his role as the largest Republican donor in the 2012 campaign, providing tens of millions of dollars to Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and other GOP causes.

Now, some of the methods Adelson used in Macau to save his company and help build a personal fortune estimated at $25 billion have come under expanding scrutiny by federal and Nevada investigators, according to people familiar with both inquiries.

Internal email and company documents, disclosed here for the first time, show that Adelson instructed a top executive to pay about $700,000 in legal fees to Leonel Alves, a Macau legislator whose firm was serving as an outside counsel to Las Vegas Sands.

The company’s general counsel and an outside law firm warned that the arrangement could violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It is unknown whether Adelson was aware of these warnings. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act bars American companies from paying foreign officials to “affect or influence any act or decision” for business gain.

Federal investigators are looking at whether the payments violate the statute because of Alves’ government and political roles in Macau, people familiar with the inquiry said. Investigators were also said to be separately examining whether the company made any other payments to officials. An email by Alves to a senior company official, disclosed by the Wall Street Journal, quotes him as saying “someone high ranking in Beijing” had offered to resolve two vexing issues – a lawsuit by a Taiwanese businessman and Las Vegas Sands’ request for permission to sell luxury apartments in Macau. Another email from Alves said the problems could be solved for a payment of $300 million. There is no evidence the offer was accepted. Both issues remain unresolved.

Steve Engelberg, managing editor at ProPublica, talks with Rachel Maddow about the reporting in a new ProPublica/Frontline PBS collaboration looking into the questionable dealings behind the Macau-based casino fortune of big-money Republican donor Sheldon Adelson

Jul 17 2012

LIBOR: Past Time to Investigate the NY Fed

Wall St. is a high crime area and the criminals are allowed to run free.

~Dennis Kelleher~

Back in May of 2009, Eliot Spitzer, former New York State Attorney General, aka “The Sheriff of Wall St,”, wrote this article for Slate after the revelation that New York Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Stephen Friedman’s “purchased some Goldman stock while the Fed was involved in reviewing major decisions about Goldman’s future.” In the article he called into question just who it is that selects the person who sits at the head of the table:

A quasi-independent, public-private body, the New York Fed is the first among equals of the 12 regional Fed branches. Unlike the Washington Federal Reserve Board of Governors, or the other regional fed branches, the N.Y. Fed is active in the markets virtually every day, changing the critical interest rates that determine the liquidity of the markets and the profitability of banks. And, like the other regional branches, it has boundless power to examine, at will, the books of virtually any banking institution and require that wide-ranging actions be taken-from raising capital to stopping lending-to ensure the stability and soundness of the bank. Over the past year, the New York Fed has been responsible for committing trillions of dollars of taxpayer money to resuscitate the coffers of the banks it oversees. [..]

So who selected Geithner back in 2003? Well, the Fed board created a select committee to pick the CEO. This committee included none other than Hank Greenberg, then the chairman of AIG; John Whitehead, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs; Walter Shipley, a former chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, now JPMorgan Chase; and Pete Peterson, a former chairman of Lehman Bros. It was not a group of typical depositors worried about the security of their savings accounts but rather one whose interest was in preserving a capital structure and way of doing business that cried out for-but did not receive-harsh examination from the N.Y. Fed.

The composition of the New York Fed’s board, which supervises the organization and current Chairman Friedman, is equally troubling. The board consists of nine individuals, three chosen by the N.Y. Fed member banks as their own representatives, three chosen by the member banks to represent the public, and three chosen by the national Fed Board of Governors to represent the public. In theory this sounds great: Six board members are “public” representatives.

So essentially, we have the thieves guarding the vault. Willie Sutton would have loved this.

That brings us to the LIBOR scandal and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s role. In his currentSlate article, Mr. Spitzer again reiterates the growing need to investigate the NY Fed. and Mr. Geithner. What did he know? When did he know it? Why didn’t he refer it to the Justice Department?

The New York Federal Reserve knew about Libor games being played by the banks years ago and seems to have done precious little about it-except perhaps send a memo parroting the so-called reform ideas proposed by the banks themselves. Then nothing more. No prosecutions, no inquiries of the banks to see if the illegal behavior had stopped-just a live-and-let-live attitude.

Apparently, as Mr. Geithner had testified during his confirmation hearing for Treasury, he didn’t see himself as a “regulator.” Yet, that is the most important part of the NY Federal Reserve. But then look who chose him as Fed president:

Hank Greenberg of AIG and John Whitehead of Goldman Sachs–these companies that got bailed out-were on the NY Fed committee that made Tim Geithner their president.

No conflict of interest there? Wow.

MR. Spitzer believes that it is time for the NY Fed to be investigated:

Was there a similar conflict of interest when the New York Fed apparently did nothing adequate about the Libor games? Well, look who was on the board: Dick Fuld of Lehman fame; Sandy Weill of Citibank; Jeff Immelt of GE-the largest beneficiary of the Fed’s commercial paper guarantees; and, of course, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, whose bank’s London derivative trades and Libor involvement make his role on the board even more absurd.

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone contributing editor, and Dennis Kelleher, president and CEO of Better Markets Inc., join “Viewpoint” host Eliot Spitzer to assess the scope of the unfolding Libor scandal given news that the U.S. Justice Department is building criminal cases and expects to “file charges against at least one bank later this year,” according to The New York Times.

Lets just say that I agree with Atrios, don’t hold your breath for either an investigation or prosecutions.

Jul 17 2012

On This Day In History July 17

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

July 17 is the 198th day of the year (199th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 167 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1998, a diplomatic conference adopts the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, establishing a permanent international court to prosecute individuals for genocide, crime against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (often referred to as the International Criminal Court Statute or the Rome Statute) is the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). It was adopted at a diplomatic conference in Rome on 17 July 1998 and it entered into force on 1 July 2002. As of March 2011, 114 states are party to the statute. Grenada will become the 115th state party on 1 August 2011. A further 34 states have signed but not ratified the treaty. Among other things, the statute establishes the court’s functions, jurisdiction and structure.

Under the Rome Statue, the ICC can only investigate and prosecute in situations where states are unable or unwilling to do so themselves. Thus, the majority of international crimes continue to go unpunished unless and until domestic systems can properly deal with them. Therefore, permanent solutions to impunity must be found at the domestic level.

History

Following years of negotiations aimed at establishing a permanent international tribunal to prosecute individuals accused of genocide and other serious international crimes, such as crimes against humanity, war crimes and the recently defined crimes of aggression, the United Nations General Assembly convened a five-week diplomatic conference in Rome in June 1998 “to finalize and adopt a convention on the establishment of an international criminal court”. On 17 July 1998, the Rome Statute was adopted by a vote of 120 to 7, with 21 countries abstaining.[5] The seven countries that voted against the treaty were Iraq, Israel, Libya, the People’s Republic of China, Qatar, the United States, and Yemen.

On 11 April 2002, ten countries ratified the statute at the same time at a special ceremony held at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, bringing the total number of signatories to sixty, which was the minimum number required to bring the statue into force, as defined in Article 126. The treaty entered into force on 1 July 2002; the ICC can only prosecute crimes committed on or after that date. The statute was modified in 2010 after the Review Conference in Kampala, Uganda, but the amendments to the statute that were adopted at that time are not effective yet.

The Rome Statute is the result of multiple attempts for the creation of a supranational and international tribunal. At the end of 19th century, the international community took the first steps towards the institution of permanent courts with supranational jurisdiction. With the Hague International Peace Conferences, representatives of the most powerful nations made an attempt to harmonize laws of war and to limit the use of technologically advanced weapons. After World War I and even more after the heinous crimes committed during World War II, it became a priority to prosecute individuals responsible for crimes so serious that needed to be called “against humanity”. In order to re-affirm basic principles of democratic civilisation, the alleged criminals were not executed in public squares or sent to torture camps, but instead treated as criminals: with a regular trial, the right to defense and the presumption of innocence. The Nuremberg trials marked a crucial moment in legal history, and after that, some treaties that led to the drafting of the Rome Statute were signed.

UN General Assembly Resolution n. 260 9 December 1948, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, was the first step towards the establishment of an international permanent criminal tribunal with jurisdiction on crimes yet to be defined in international treaties. In the resolution there was a hope for an effort from the Legal UN commission in that direction. The General Assembly, after the considerations expressed from the commission, established a committee to draft a statute and study the related legal issues. In 1951 a first draft was presented; a second followed in 195] but there were a number of delays, officially due to the difficulties in the definition of the crime of aggression, that were only solved with diplomatic assemblies in the years following the statute’s coming into force. The geopolitical tensions of the Cold War also contributed to the delays.

Trinidad and Tobago asked the General Assembly in December 1989 to re-open the talks for the establishment of an international criminal court and in 1994 presented a draft Statute. The General Assembly created an ad hoc committee for the International Criminal Court and, after hearing the conclusions, a Preparatory Committee that worked for two years (1996-1998) on the draft. Meanwhile, the United Nations created the ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and for Rwanda (ICTR) using statutes-and amendments due to issues raised during pre-trial or trial stages of the proceedings-that are quite similar to the Rome Statute.

During its 52nd session the UN General Assembly decided to convene a diplomatic conference for the establishment of the International Criminal Court, held in Rome 15 June-17 July 1998 to define the treaty, entered into force on 1 July 2002.

Jul 17 2012

About that Hoax

U.S. drought biggest since 1956, climate agency says

The National Climatic Data Center is reporting that over 70% of the country are experiencing “abnormally dry or worse conditions”.

That’s double one year ago, according to agency statistics.

The hot, dry weather has taken its toll on agriculture, with 30% of the corn planted in the leading 18-corn producing states reported in poor or very poor conditions as of last week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even while flat earthers scream foul, statistics and evidence continue to mount that we are experiencing a warming pattern and extreme weather conditions that can’t be explained away by wishful thinking.

More below.