Daily Archive: 12/17/2012

Dec 17 2012

Meet Tim Scott, the Newest Senator

Shortly after the election, South Carolina’s junior senator and Tea Party hero, Jim DeMint announced his resignation to become the head of the right wing Washington based think tank, The Heritage Foundation. That left it to the Tea Party governor, Nikki Haley, to appoint someone to fill the remaining two years of DeMint’s senate term. Gov. Haley stated that she would not appoint a “place holder” but would look for a person who would be a viable candidate for a full term in 2014. Today the governor announced her decision, overlooking polling favorite and native son Stephen Colbert, appointing the African American freshman US Representative Tim Scott to the seat.

David Dayen at FDL News reports:

Scott becomes the first African-American Senator since Roland Burris left in 2010, and the first African-American representing the South in the Senate since Reconstruction (there have only been six other African-American Senators total in the history of the country). Gov. Haley made the announcement at the State House in Columbia a short while ago:

Mr. Scott, 47, offers a unique story and background, one that is in scant supply in the Republican Party right now. Raised by a single mother, he was, by his account, a lost child who struggled with school and with life until a Chick-fil-A franchise owner took him on as a protégé and schooled him in conservative principles.

“Coming from a single-parent household and almost flunking out of high school,” Mr. Scott said in 2010, during his bid for the House, “my hope is I will take that experience and help people bring out the best that they can be.”

As David notes, don’t let Mr. Scott’s background fool you and links to this article at Think Progress:

By Scott Keyes on Dec 17, 2012 at 9:46 am

Tim Scott is America’s newest senator today after getting tapped by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) to fill the vacancy left by former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). DeMint announced this month that he was leaving the Senate to head up the Heritage Foundation, an arch-conservative think tank in Washington DC.

Though DeMint left big, controversial shoes to fill for Republicans, few conservatives will be disappointed with Scott’s record. Elected to Congress just two years ago in the Tea Party wave, Scott has already garnered headlines for his plan to impeach President Obama, his legislation to cut off union members’ children from food stamps, and his defense of Big Oil.

Here’s a quick look at Scott’s record:

  • Floated impeaching Obama over the debt ceiling. As the debt ceiling debate raged in the summer of 2011 because of the intransigence of Tea Party freshmen like Scott, the nation inched perilously close to defaulting on its obligations. One option discussed by some officials to avoid that scenario was for the president to assert that the debt ceiling itself was an unconstitutional infringement on the 14th Amendment. However, Tim Scott told a South Carolina Tea Party group that if Obama were to go this route, it would be an “impeachable act.”
  • Proposed a bill to cut off food stamps for entire families if one member went on strike. One of the most anti-union members of Congress, Scott proposed a bill two months after entering Congress in 2011 to kick families off food stamps if one adult were participating in a strike. Scott’s legislation made no exception for children or other dependents.
  • Wanted to spend an unlimited amount of money to display Ten Commandments outside county building. When Scott was on the Charleston County Council, one of his primary issues was displaying the Ten Commandments outside the Council building. According to the Augusta Chronicle, Scott said the display “would remind council members and speakers the moral absolutes they should follow.” When he was sued for violating the Constitution and a Circuit Judge’s orders, Scott was nonplussed: “Whatever it costs in the pursuit of this goal (of displaying the Commandments) is worth it.”
  • Defended fairness of giving billions in subsidies to Big Oil. Scott and his Republican allies in Congress voted repeatedly last year to protect more than $50 billion in taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil corporations. When ThinkProgress asked Scott whether it was fair to do that, especially at a time when oil companies are earning tens of billions in profit every quarter, the Tea Party freshman defended the industry: “fair is a relative word,” said Scott.
  • Helped slash South Carolina’s HIV/AIDS budget. As a state representative, Scott backed a proposal to cut the state’s entire HIV/AIDS budget, despite the fact that South Carolina ranks in the top-third of reported AIDS cases. The cuts were ultimately included in the state’s budget, impacting more than 2,000 HIV-positive South Carolinians who needed help paying for their medication.

If you thought that the Senate couldn’t possibly be any worse, oh my, were you wrong. Now more that ever, the Senate needs to reform filibuster.

Dec 17 2012

Now They Are “Too Big To Jail”

Last summer it was revealed that one of the world’s largest banks based, HSBC, base in Britain, had been laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels and skirting US government bans against financial transactions with Iran and other countries that aid Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. In a stunning move during a hearing before the  Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations chief compliance officer, David Bagley, took the blame and resigned.

Last week the federal government and New York State announced a settlement with HSBC:

In a filing in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, federal prosecutors said the bank had agreed to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement and to forfeit $1.25 billion. The four-count criminal information filed in the court charged HSBC with failure to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program, to conduct due diligence on its foreign correspondent affiliates, and for violating sanctions and the Trading With the Enemy Act.

“HSBC is being held accountable for stunning failures of oversight – and worse – that led the bank to permit narcotics traffickers and others to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through HSBC subsidiaries, and to facilitate hundreds of millions more in transactions with sanctioned countries,” Lanny A. Breuer, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement. [..]

HSBC, based in Britain, has also agreed to pay the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, one of the bank’s central regulators, an additional $500 million as part of a civil penalty. The Federal Reserve will be paid a $165 million civil penalty. [..]

HSBC also entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Manhattan district attorney’s office. As part of that agreement, HSBC admitted that it violated New York State law.

Just like the mortgage and banking fraud that was uncovered during the financial crisis, there will be no criminal charges. The fines that were levied are tantamount to about five weeks of income for the bank. Contributing editor for the Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi points out the outrageous incongruity of this settlement:

If you’ve ever been arrested on a drug charge, if you’ve ever spent even a day in jail for having a stem of marijuana in your pocket or “drug paraphernalia” in your gym bag, Assistant Attorney General and longtime Bill Clinton pal Lanny Breuer has a message for you: Bite me. [..]

The banks’ laundering transactions were so brazen that the NSA probably could have spotted them from space. Breuer admitted that drug dealers would sometimes come to HSBC’s Mexican branches and “deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller windows.”

This bears repeating: in order to more efficiently move as much illegal money as possible into the “legitimate” banking institution HSBC, drug dealers specifically designed boxes to fit through the bank’s teller windows. [..]

Though this was not stated explicitly, the government’s rationale in not pursuing criminal prosecutions against the bank was apparently rooted in concerns that putting executives from a “systemically important institution” in jail for drug laundering would threaten the stability of the financial system. The New York Times put it this way:

   Federal and state authorities have chosen not to indict HSBC, the London-based bank, on charges of vast and prolonged money laundering, for fear that criminal prosecution would topple the bank and, in the process, endanger the financial system. [..]

So there is absolutely no reason they couldn’t all face criminal penalties. That they are not being prosecuted is cowardice and pure corruption, nothing else. And by approving this settlement, Breuer removed the government’s moral authority to prosecute anyone for any other drug offense. Not that most people didn’t already know that the drug war is a joke, but this makes it official.

Apparently this settlement has garnered some bipartisan concerns from Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Charles Grassley. In separate statements released from their offices, they criticized the Justice Department for not sending a stronger message to the banking industry. Sen. Grassley said it best:

   The Department has not prosecuted a single employee of HSBC-no executives, no directors, no AML compliance staff members, no one. By allowing these individuals to walk away without any real punishment, the Department is declaring that crime actually does pay. Functionally, HSBC has quite literally purchased a get-out-of-jail-free card for its employees for the price of $1.92 billion dollars.

   There is no doubt that the Department has “missed a rare chance to send an unmistakable signal about the threat posed by financial institutions willing to assist drug lords and terror groups in moving their money.” One international banking expert went as far as to argue that, despite the “astonishing amount of criminal behavior” from HSBC employees, the DPA is no more than a “parking ticket.”

But, as David Dayen at FDL News notes there are crickets from certain key senators:

Matt Stoller makes a very good point here: where is Patrick Leahy on this? He has made no public statement on the HSBC case, despite being the co-author of the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, which was supposed to deliver funds toward prosecuting fraudulent big bank activity (it never actually did). Grassley, a co-author, has spoken out. Why not Leahy?

Matt Taibbi sat down with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez at Democracy Now to discuss the settlement:

Transcript can be read here

Now, not only are the banks “too big to fail“, they are “too big to jail.

 

Dec 17 2012

Mental Illness: A Cause Near and Dear to Me

This is actually a revision to a post i first wrote back in 2007, but it’s still just as pertinent (and pretty much unlearned) today as it was then and always has been… Also, to be clear, it’s going to take a lot of things to help prevent the now seemingly constant shootings we have here, including smart and serious gun control laws being enforced, better mental health awareness and parity, and perhaps even looking at our culture as a whole. I am only addressing that which has directly affected my life.

This post is about an issue near and dear to my heart as well as important in the wake of the Connecticut, Portland, and Aurora shootings, as well as all the other recent instances of mass shootings and suicides recently.

Often the first reaction in the wake of such incidences is shock; shock that it happened, and shock that the person could do what they did. But after all the surrounding knowledge comes to light, it’s really not that surprising that it happened or that the person in question could do it. Such is mental illness; only visible when we choose to see it.

Dec 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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: That Terrible Trillion

As you might imagine, I find myself in a lot of discussions about U.S. fiscal policy, and the budget deficit in particular. And there’s one thing I can count on in these discussions: At some point someone will announce, in dire tones, that we have a ONE TRILLION DOLLAR deficit.

No, I don’t think the people making this pronouncement realize that they sound just like Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.

Anyway, we do indeed have a ONE TRILLION DOLLAR deficit, or at least we did; in fiscal 2012, which ended in September, the deficit was actually $1.089 trillion. (It will be lower this year.) The question is what lesson we should take from that figure.

Dana Milbank: At the mercy of backbenchers

To hear House Speaker John Boehner tell it, President Obama is a veritable Stephen Colbert.

“It’s clear that the president’s just not serious,” Boehner said at his weekly news conference in the House TV studio Thursday.

“The White House is so unserious,” he said a moment later.

“Here we are at the 11th hour, and the president still isn’t serious,” he repeated.

Boehner is right – seriously. The administration hasn’t been treating the “fiscal cliff” talks as a substantial negotiation, and for one very good reason: It’s not clear it has anybody to negotiate with.

At the White House and on Capitol Hill, a fear is growing that Boehner is not in a position to negotiate a successful deal, because if he strikes the kind of compromise needed to solve the fiscal standoff, he may well lose the support of his House GOP caucus – and possibly his job as speaker.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: A Still, Small Voice

From a tragic weekend, a return to the daily grind of politics. Our hearts may not be in it, but the challenge is undying and the struggle is one: to protect each other and preserve our humanity in the face of relentless forces. [..]

Last year in Africa I heard the story of a nine-year-old girl who took her own life rather than face the horrors in her village. Her voice has spoken to me ever since, informing the work of my days with the graphic immediacy of her experience. Now the children of Newtown speak to millions of us. For me the voice of Newtown will alway be the voice of that friend of a friend’s daughter. From now on she will always be a still, small voice in my life.

As mournful as they are, we need those voices. Without them we become soulless purveyors of numbers and facts, debating-team members with no stake in the outcome other than the desire to win an argument.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: Now is the time for meaningful gun control

We should mourn, but we should be angry.

The horror in Newtown, Conn., should shake us out of the cowardice, the fear, the evasion and the opportunism that prevents our political system from acting to curb gun violence.

How often must we note that no other developed country has such massacres on a regular basis because no other comparable nation allows such easy access to guns? And on no subject other than ungodly episodes involving guns are those who respond logically by demanding solutions accused of “politicizing tragedy.”

It is time to insist that such craven propaganda will no longer be taken seriously. If Congress does not act this time, we can deem it as totally bought and paid for by the representatives of gun manufacturers, gun dealers and their very well-compensated apologists. A former high Obama administration official once made this comment to me: “If progressives are so worked up about how Washington is controlled by the banks and Wall Street, why aren’t they just as worked up by the power of the gun lobby?” It is a good question.

Eugene Robinson: Ready to jump from the ‘fiscal cliff’

Are you as sick of the “fiscal cliff” as I am? Actually, that’s a trick question. You couldn’t possibly be.

Having to read and hear the constant blather about this self-inflicted “crisis” is an onerous burden, I’ll admit. But just imagine having to produce that blather. Imagine trying to come up with something original and interesting to say about a “showdown” that has all the drama and excitement of, well, a budget dispute.

As if this weren’t bad enough, it happens that both of the protagonists – President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner – have reasons to wait until the last possible moment to agree on a deal. Obama believes time is on his side, and Boehner (R-Ohio) needs to show the troops that he will fight on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets. This could go on past Christmas, at which point many of us will be looking for a real cliff to jump from.

Juan Cole: Questions I Ask Myself About the Connecticut School Shooting

I ask myself, “Why?”

Why do U.S. cable news networks intensively cover these mass shootings, making it the only story for a day or two and prying into every detail of them, when they aren’t interested in preventing them from happening again through banning semiautomatic weapons?  Is it just, like, a natural disaster to them?

Why don’t the news anchors or discussants ever bring up the simple fact that between 1994 and 2004, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994: The Federal Assault Weapons Ban prohibited assault weapons?  The prohibition was not unconstitutional.  Congress foolishly put in a 10-year sunset provision, and of course Bush and his Republican Congress allowed it to expire.

Why doesn’t anyone blame George W. Bush for these mass shootings?  He’s the one who led the charge to let the assault weapons ban expire.  Why aren’t the politicians in Congress who take campaign money from assault weapons manufacturers ever held accountable by the public?

Dec 17 2012

On This Day In History December 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.

December 17 is the 351st day of the year (352nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 14 days remaining until the end of the year

On this day on 1865, the first two movements of Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony”, Symphony No. 8 in B minor, is performed in Vienna, Austria.

(The symphony) was started in 1822 but left with only two movements known to be complete, even though Schubert would live for another six years. A scherzo, nearly completed in piano score but with only two pages orchestrated, also survives. It has long been theorized that Schubert may have sketched a finale which instead became the big B minor entr’acte from his incidental music to Rosamunde, but all the evidence for this is circumstantial.[1] One possible reason for Schubert’s leaving the symphony incomplete is the predominance of the same meter (three-in-a-bar). The first movement is in 3/4, the second in 3/8 and the third (an incomplete scherzo) also in 3/4. Three consecutive movements in exactly the same meter rarely occur in the symphonies, sonatas or chamber works of the great Viennese composers (one notable exception being Haydn’s Farewell Symphony).

Dec 17 2012

Happy Birthday, Ludwig

There is no authentic record of the date of Ludwig von Beethoven‘s birth; however, the registry of his baptism, in a Roman Catholic service at the Parish of St. Regius on 17 December 1770, survives. The Ode to Joy is the fourth and last movement of the 9th Symphony, his last. Keep in mind, he was almost totally deaf when this was written.

Premiere

Beethoven was eager to have his work played in Berlin as soon as possible after finishing it, since he thought that musical taste in Vienna was dominated by Italian composers such as Rossini. When his friends and financiers heard this, they urged him to premiere the symphony in Vienna.

The Ninth Symphony was premiered on 7 May 1824 in the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna, along with the Consecration of the House Overture and the first three parts of the Missa Solemnis. This was the composer’s first on-stage appearance in 12 years; the hall was packed. The soprano and alto parts were interpreted by two famous young singers: Henriette Sontag and Caroline Unger.

Although the performance was officially directed by Michael Umlauf, the theatre’s Kapellmeister, Beethoven shared the stage with him. However, two years earlier, Umlauf had watched as the composer’s attempt to conduct a dress rehearsal of his opera Fidelio ended in disaster. So this time, he instructed the singers and musicians to ignore the almost totally deaf Beethoven. At the beginning of every part, Beethoven, who sat by the stage, gave the tempos. He was turning the pages of his score and beating time for an orchestra he could not hear.

There are a number of anecdotes about the premiere of the Ninth. Based on the testimony of the participants, there are suggestions that it was under-rehearsed (there were only two full rehearsals) and rather scrappy in execution. On the other hand, the premiere was a great success. In any case, Beethoven was not to blame, as violinist Joseph Böhm recalled: “Beethoven directed the piece himself; that is, he stood before the lectern and gesticulated furiously. At times he rose, at other times he shrank to the ground, he moved as if he wanted to play all the instruments himself and sing for the whole chorus. All the musicians minded his rhythm alone while playing”.

When the audience applauded-testimonies differ over whether at the end of the scherzo or the whole symphony-Beethoven was several measures off and still conducting. Because of that, the contralto Caroline Unger walked over and turned Beethoven around to accept the audience’s cheers and applause. According to one witness, “the public received the musical hero with the utmost respect and sympathy, listened to his wonderful, gigantic creations with the most absorbed attention and broke out in jubilant applause, often during sections, and repeatedly at the end of them.” The whole audience acclaimed him through standing ovations five times; there were handkerchiefs in the air, hats, raised hands, so that Beethoven, who could not hear the applause, could at least see the ovation gestures.

The words are taken from the “Ode to Joy“, a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785 and revised in 1803, with additions made by the Beethoven.

h/t Bluegal aka Fran at Crooks and Liars for the reminder

Dec 17 2012

The Overhyped Fiscal Myth

Bruce Bartlett and Yves Smith on Overhyping the Fiscal Cliff

Bruce Bartlett and Yves Smith join Bill in a discussion about why Washington insiders are talking about the deficit crisis instead of the jobs crisis.

Transcript can be read here.

H/T Yves Smith at naked capitalism:

I had fun in this conversation with conservative Bruce Bartlett, even though he stole some of my best lines (like Obama not being a liberal). Bartlett is in exile from the Republican party for saying things like Keynesian deficits stimulate the economy (after doing research and finding he couldn’t debunk it based on data) and unions help promote higher wages.

Repeat after me, “Austerity is bad.