Daily Archive: 10/25/2010

Oct 25 2010

Punting the Pundits

Punting the Punditsis 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.

Robert Fisk: The shaming of America

Our writer delivers a searing dispatch after the WikiLeaks revelations that expose in detail the brutality of the war in Iraq – and the astonishing, disgraceful deceit of the US

As usual, the Arabs knew. They knew all about the mass torture, the promiscuous shooting of civilians, the outrageous use of air power against family homes, the vicious American and British mercenaries, the cemeteries of the innocent dead. All of Iraq knew. Because they were the victims.

Only we could pretend we did not know. Only we in the West could counter every claim, every allegation against the Americans or British with some worthy general – the ghastly US military spokesman Mark Kimmitt and the awful chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Peter Pace, come to mind – to ring-fence us with lies. Find a man who’d been tortured and you’d be told it was terrorist propaganda; discover a house full of children killed by an American air strike and that, too, would be terrorist propaganda, or “collateral damage”, or a simple phrase: “We have nothing on that.”

Of course, we all knew they always did have something. And yesterday’s ocean of military memos proves it yet again. Al-Jazeera has gone to extraordinary lengths to track down the actual Iraqi families whose men and women are recorded as being wasted at US checkpoints – I’ve identified one because I reported it in 2004, the bullet-smashed car, the two dead journalists, even the name of the local US captain – and it was The Independent on Sunday that first alerted the world to the hordes of indisciplined gunmen being flown to Baghdad to protect diplomats and generals. These mercenaries, who murdered their way around the cities of Iraq, abused me when I told them I was writing about them way back in 2003.

Glenn Greenwald: The Nixonian henchmen of today: at the NYT

After Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, exposing the lies, brutality and inhumanity that drove America’s role in the Vietnam War, President Nixon and Henry Kissinger infamously plotted to smear his reputation and destroy his credibility. . . .

This weekend, WikiLeaks released over 400,000 classified documents of the Iraq War detailing genuinely horrific facts about massive civilian death, U.S. complicity in widespread Iraqi torture, systematic government deceit over body counts, and the slaughter of civilians by American forces about which Daniel Ellsberg himself said, as the New York Times put it: “many of the civilian deaths there could be counted as murder.”

Predictably, just as happened with Ellsberg, there is now a major, coordinated effort underway to smear WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, and to malign his mental health — all as a means of distracting attention away from these highly disturbing revelations and to impede the ability of WikiLeaks to further expose government secrets and wrongdoing with its leaks.  But now, the smear campaign is led not by Executive Branch officials, but by members of the establishment media.  As the intelligence community reporter Tim Shorrock wrote today on Twitter:  “When Dan Ellsberg leaked [the] Pentagon Papers, Nixon’s henchmen tried to destroy his reputation. Today w/Wikileaks & Assange, media does the job.”

Guardian UK: The Observer:  ‘A Moral Catastrophe’: The Final Reasons for Going to War are Being Swept Away

The allegations of allied complicity in torture point to a complete moral failure

There was no single reason why Britain and the US went to war in Iraq. The motives that inspired George W Bush and Tony Blair have been variously dissected, analysed and psychoanalysed. It is too early for history to have formed a settled view on the war, but the case that it was a monumental error gets ever more compelling.

Most of the official justifications for war, on grounds of security from terror and weapons of mass destruction, have been discredited. The only element of moral authority left in the decision might be that Saddam Hussein ran a murderous regime, characterised by torture and extra-judicial killing. It could indeed have been the duty of western powers to intervene against such atrocity. But the western occupiers quickly became complicit in atrocities of their own, as new leaked military documents reveal.

Oct 25 2010

Fierce Advocate

Joe Sudbay rocks.

Reporter told Dem. running for RI Gov. that Obama won’t campaign for him

by Joe Sudbay (DC) on 10/25/2010 08:57:00 AM

So, we’re all supposed to be urging Democrats to vote, you know, not whine and gripe and groan. Then, we see something like this:

President Obama will not endorse the Democratic candidate for governor, Frank T. Caprio, when he comes to Rhode Island to support other Democratic candidates, the White House said Sunday.

Monday Morning Open Thread

by Joe Sudbay (DC) on 10/25/2010 07:53:00 AM

The President is heading to Rhode Island today. First, he’s doing an event on small business and the economy at the American Cord & Webbing in Woonsocket. Then, he’s heading to Providence to do two events for the DCCC. There’s an open seat in Rhode Island and the Democrat is the gay mayor of Providence, David Cicilline. There’s also a three-way race for Governor in Rhode Island. According to the Providence Journal:

President Obama will not endorse the Democratic candidate for governor, Frank T. Caprio, when he comes to Rhode Island to support other Democratic candidates, the White House said Sunday.

Oct 25 2010

Death In The Time Of Cholera

Haiti, ravaged for centuries and suffering long before its enormous, destructive earthquake, now braces for a huge cholera epidemic.  The cholera epidemic on Saturday had already killed more than 200 and there are more than 2600 reported cases.  Today the news is still bad.  The NY Times reports:

Diarrhea, while a common ailment here, is a symptom of cholera. And anxiety has been growing fiercely that the cholera epidemic, which began last week in the northwest of Haiti, will soon strike the earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.

Oct 25 2010

Puzzled?

Monday Business Edition

H/T to letsgetitdone of Firedog Lake and Corrente for pointing out this 2 part piece by Bill Black and Randall Wray over at Huffington Post.

It’s rather long but well worth the read as is letsgetitdone’s commentary on it-

Democratic politicians profess to be puzzled about why people don’t recognize all the current Democratic Congress has done for them. But, if, in fact, they are puzzled, and not just lying about it, then this only reflects on how out of touch they are.

There is not one big issue area in which Congress has acted in the past two years where their legislative outcomes have been fair to the middle class and to working people generally. And that’s why people are so unhappy. Not because they’re stupid. Not because they’re ignorant. And not because their understanding of Washington is deficient.

It is just true that Administration and Democratic efforts in bailing out the banks, passing the stimulus bill, passing the credit card reform bill, passing its health care reform and its finreg bills, and continuing unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed, have all ended in unjust legislative outcomes. People know that. They can sense and see the basic unfairness of the system and its bias toward those who are wealthy and powerful at the expense of other Americans.

Foreclose on the Foreclosure Fraudsters, Part 1: Put Bank of America in Receivership

William K. Black and L. Randall Wray

Posted: October 22, 2010 02:08 PM

Our first proposition is this: The entities that made and securitized large numbers of fraudulent loans must be sanctioned before they produce the next, larger crisis. Second: The officers and professionals that directed, participated in, and profited from the frauds should be sanctioned before they cause the next crisis. Third: The lenders, officers, and professional that directed, participated in, and profited from the fraudulent loans and securities should be prevented from causing further damage to the victims of their frauds, e.g., through fraudulent foreclosures. Foreclosure fraud is an inevitable consequence of the underlying “epidemic” of mortgage fraud by nonprime lenders, not a new, unrelated epidemic of fraud by mortgage servicers with flawed processes. We propose a policy response designed to achieve these propositions.



This nation’s most elite bankers originated and packaged fraudulent nonprime loans that destroyed wealth — and working class families’ savings — at a prodigious rate never seen before in the history of white-collar crime. They created the worst bubble in financial history, echo epidemics of fraud among elite professionals, loan brokers, and loan servicers, and would (if left to their own devices) have caused the Second Great Depression.

Nothing short of removing all senior officers who directed, committed, or acquiesced in fraud can be effective against control fraud. We repeat: Foreclosure fraud is the necessary outcome of the epidemic of mortgage fraud that began early this decade. The banks that are foreclosing on fraudulently originated mortgages frequently cannot produce legitimate documents and have committed “fraud in the inducement.” Now, only fraud will let them take the homes. Many of the required documents do not exist, and those that do exist would provide proof of the fraud that was involved in loan origination, securitization, and marketing. This in turn would allow investors to force the banks to buy-back the fraudulent securities. In other words, to keep the investors at bay the foreclosing banks must manufacture fake documents. If the original documents do not exist the securities might be ruled no good. If the original docs do exist they will demonstrate that proper underwriting was not done — so the securities might be no good. Foreclosure fraud is the only thing standing between the banks and Armageddon.

The second piece deals with 3 objections.

Foreclose on the Foreclosure Fraudsters, Part 2: Spurious Arguments Against Holding the Fraudsters Accountable

William K. Black and L. Randall Wray

Posted: October 24, 2010 11:53 PM

Who is Guilty?

Let us deal with the “borrower fraud” argument first because it is the area containing the most erroneous assumptions. There was fraud at every step in the home finance food chain: the appraisers were paid to overvalue real estate; mortgage brokers were paid to induce borrowers to accept loan terms they could not possibly afford; loan applications overstated the borrowers’ incomes; speculators lied when they claimed that six different homes were their principal dwelling; mortgage securitizers made false reps and warranties about the quality of the packaged loans; credit ratings agencies were overpaid to overrate the securities sold on to investors; and investment banks stuffed collateralized debt obligations with toxic securities that were handpicked by hedge fund managers to ensure they would self destruct.

Macro Effects and Culpability

What is important to understand, however, is that the financial sector is largely culpable for the generation of speculative frenzy, the creation of the “financial weapons of mass destruction”, and the transformation toward financial fragility that finally collapsed in 2007. In the aftermath we lost 10 million jobs and millions of homeowners lost their homes. The “collateral damage” inflicted by the SDIs (Systemically Dangerous Institutions) is now endangering tens of millions of American families — most of whom played no role in the speculative euphoria. Almost half of American homeowners are already underwater or on the verge of going under. In short, it was Wall Street that turned our homes over to a financial casino — and so far virtually all the losses have been suffered on Main Street.

Can the Frauds be Foreclosed?

The assertion that the SDIs cannot be resolved because of their size is unsupported. Very large institutions have already been resolved both in this country and abroad. The “too big to fail” (TBTF) doctrine has always been unproven, dangerous, and counter to the law. An institution that is not permitted to fail faces obvious adverse incentive problems. It also destroys healthy competition with institutions that are not considered TBTF. It encourages risk-taking and fraud. And it subverts the law, which requires that insolvent institutions must be resolved.

Business News below.

Oct 25 2010

On This Day in History: October 25

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

October 25 is the 298th day of the year (299th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 67 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1774, the First Continental Congress sends a respectful petition to King George III to inform his majesty that if it had not been for the acts of oppression forced upon the colonies by the British Parliament, the American people would be standing behind British rule.

Despite the anger that the American public felt towards the United Kingdom after the British Parliament established the Coercive Acts, called the Intolerable Acts by the colonists, Congress was still willing to assert its loyalty to the king. In return for this loyalty, Congress asked the king to address and resolve the specific grievances of the colonies. The petition, written by Continental Congressman John Dickinson, laid out what Congress felt was undo oppression of the colonies by the British Parliament. Their grievances mainly had to do with the Coercive Acts, a series of four acts that were established to punish colonists and to restore order in Massachusetts following the Boston Tea Party..

Passage of the Acts

In Boston, Massachusetts, the Sons of Liberty protested against Parliament’s passage of the Tea Act in 1773 by throwing tons of taxed tea into Boston Harbor, an act that came to be known as the Boston Tea Party. News of the event reached England in January 1774. Parliament responded with a series of acts that were intended to punish Boston for this illegal destruction of private property, restore British authority in Massachusetts, and otherwise reform colonial government in America.

On April 22, 1774, Prime Minister Lord North defended the program in the House of Commons, saying:

The Americans have tarred and feathered your subjects, plundered your merchants, burnt your ships, denied all obedience to your laws and authority; yet so clement and so long forbearing has our conduct been that it is incumbent on us now to take a different course. Whatever may be the consequences, we must risk something; if we do not, all is over.

The Boston Port Act, the first of the acts passed in response to the Boston Tea Party, closed the port of Boston until the East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea and until the king was satisfied that order had been restored. Colonists objected that the Port Act punished all of Boston rather than just the individuals who had destroyed the tea, and that they were being punished without having been given an opportunity to testify in their own defense.

The Massachusetts Government Act provoked even more outrage than the Port Act because it unilaterally altered the government of Massachusetts to bring it under control of the British government. Under the terms of the Government Act, almost all positions in the colonial government were to be appointed by the governor or the king. The act also severely limited the activities of town meetings in Massachusetts. Colonists outside Massachusetts feared that their governments could now also be changed by the legislative fiat of Parliament.

The Administration of Justice Act allowed the governor to move trials of accused royal officials to another colony or even to Great Britain if he believed the official could not get a fair trial in Massachusetts. Although the act stipulated that witnesses would be paid for their travel expenses, in practice few colonists could afford to leave their work and cross the ocean to testify in a trial. George Washington called this the “Murder Act” because he believed that it allowed British officials to harass Americans and then escape justice. Some colonists believed the act was unnecessary because British soldiers had been given a fair trial following the Boston Massacre in 1770, with future Founding Father John Adams representing the Defense.

The Quartering Act applied to all of the colonies, and sought to create a more effective method of housing British troops in America. In a previous act, the colonies had been required to provide housing for soldiers, but colonial legislatures had been uncooperative in doing so. The new Quartering Act allowed a governor to house soldiers in other buildings if suitable quarters were not provided. While many sources claim that the Quartering Act allowed troops to be billeted in occupied private homes, historian David Ammerman’s 1974 study claimed that this is a myth, and that the act only permitted troops to be quartered in unoccupied buildings. Although many colonists found the Quartering Act objectionable, it generated the least protest of the Coercive Acts.

The Quebec Act was a piece of legislation unrelated to the events in Boston, but the timing of its passage led colonists to believe that it was part of the program to punish them. The act enlarged the boundaries of what was then the colony of “Canada” (roughly consisting of today’s Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario as well as the Great Lakes’ American watershed), removed references to the Protestant faith in the oath of allegiance, and guaranteed free practice of the Roman Catholic faith. The Quebec Act offended a variety of interest groups in the British colonies. Land speculators and settlers objected to the transfer of western lands previously claimed by the colonies to a non-representative government. Many feared the establishment of Catholicism in Quebec, and that the French Canadians were being courted to help oppress British Americans.

Oct 25 2010

Even Frank Rich Sorta Gets It

While Krugman kind of wienies out.

What Happened to Change We Can Believe In?

By FRANK RICH, The New York Times

Published: October 23, 2010

No matter how much Obama talks about his “tough” new financial regulatory reforms or offers rote condemnations of Wall Street greed, few believe there’s been real change. That’s not just because so many have lost their jobs, their savings and their homes. It’s also because so many know that the loftiest perpetrators of this national devastation got get-out-of-jail-free cards, that too-big-to-fail banks have grown bigger and that the rich are still the only Americans getting richer.

This intractable status quo is being rubbed in our faces daily during the pre-election sprint by revelations of the latest banking industry outrage, its disregard for the rule of law as it cut every corner to process an avalanche of foreclosures. Clearly, these financial institutions have learned nothing in the few years since their contempt for fiscal and legal niceties led them to peddle these predatory mortgages (and the reckless financial “products” concocted from them) in the first place. And why should they have learned anything? They’ve often been rewarded, not punished, for bad behavior.



The real tragedy here, though, is not whatever happens in midterm elections. It’s the long-term prognosis for America. The obscene income inequality bequeathed by the three-decade rise of the financial industry has societal consequences graver than even the fundamental economic unfairness. When we reward financial engineers infinitely more than actual engineers, we “lure our most talented graduates to the largely unproductive chase” for Wall Street riches, as the economist Robert H. Frank wrote in The Times last weekend. Worse, Frank added, the continued squeeze on the middle class leads to a wholesale decline in the quality of American life – from more bankruptcy filings and divorces to a collapse in public services, whether road repair or education, that taxpayers will no longer support.

This is the real “moral hazard”.  Krugman misses the point-

Falling Into the Chasm

By PAUL KRUGMAN, The New York Times

Published: October 24, 2010

If Democrats do as badly as expected in next week’s elections, pundits will rush to interpret the results as a referendum on ideology. President Obama moved too far to the left, most will say, even though his actual program – a health care plan very similar to past Republican proposals, a fiscal stimulus that consisted mainly of tax cuts, help for the unemployed and aid to hard-pressed states – was more conservative than his election platform.



What we do know is that the inadequacy of the stimulus has been a political catastrophe. Yes, things are better than they would have been without the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: the unemployment rate would probably be close to 12 percent right now if the administration hadn’t passed its plan. But voters respond to facts, not counterfactuals, and the perception is that the administration’s policies have failed.



Is there any hope for a better outcome? Maybe, just maybe, voters will have second thoughts about handing power back to the people who got us into this mess, and a weaker-than-expected Republican showing at the polls will give Mr. Obama a second chance to turn the economy around.

So more “but the Republicans are worse” Obama/DNC bullshit.  How motivating.

What evidence is there that, without holding Democrats accountable, their policies will change?

None.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  Zero.

What about those “negative consequences” from Democratic losses?

With about a week to go before Election Day, what signs do you see that Democrats or Barack Hussein Obama and his Administration intend to implement policies any different at all from the Bush Lite ones they tried in the last 2 years that have already failed?

Oct 25 2010

Morning Shinbun Monday October 25




Monday’s Headlines:

Secret war at the heart of Wikileaks

USA

Political freak show that does little credit to US democracy

Pro-Republican Groups Prepare Big Push at End of Races

Europe

Peter Bossman becomes Eastern Europe’s first black mayor

Merkel facing opposition over plans to change Lisbon Treaty

Middle East

Flies show al-Qaeda’s grip on Iraq

Some Question Insistence on Israel as Jewish State

Asia

Bomb kills five at Sufi shrine in Pakistan

That’s a wrap – kimono-making art may face end

Africa

Guinea hits wall of ethnic loathing

Sudan government ‘committed to January referendum’

Latin America

Cholera outbreak in Haiti ‘stabilising’

Election Day could bring historic split: Democrats lose House, keep Senate



By Karen Tumulty

Washington Post Staff Writer

Monday, October 25, 2010; 12:10 AM  


The question around Washington today is not whether Nov. 2 will be a difficult day for the Democrats who control Congress, but rather how bad it will be.

Increasingly, it looks like the answer depends on which chamber of Congress you’re following.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report now estimates that more than 90 Democratic House seats are potentially in play; on the Republican side of the aisle, it estimates that only nine appear in jeopardy. As a result, most leading forecasters say it is more likely that Republicans will win the 39 House seats they need to take control.

Oct 25 2010

Pique the Geek 20101024: Essential Elements: Mercury

Most people think of mercury as nothing but a toxic nuisance.  Actually, that is far from the truth.  While mercury is toxic in many situations, modern life as we know it would be essentially impossible without that element.  It is also a material known from antiquity, and has drawn the interest of learned folks since then.

Mercury is unique in that it is the only metal to be a liquid at room temperature.  Actually, it is liquid from around minus 39 degrees Celsius to around 360, so it has a almost a 400 hundred degree liquid phase.  That is also sort of odd, since many metals have much longer liquid ranges.

Let us investigate this unique material, and see how it impacts our lives.  You might be surprised.

Oct 25 2010

Prime Time

Faux says they have Phillies/Giants, but that ain’t true.  No more Baseball ’til Wednesday.  There is Throwball, a grudge match if you like, the Favres @ Green Bay.  New Amazing Race.

Later-

Adult Swim– new Childrens Hospital and Metalocalypse.  New Venture Brothers, The Silent Partners (last week’s episode, Assisted Suicide summary).

Zap2it TV Listings, Yahoo TV Listings

Oct 25 2010

Evening Edition

From Yahoo News Top Stories

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 Epidemic fears grow as cholera hits Haiti capital

by Clarens Renois, AFP

2 hrs 42 mins ago

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – Haiti’s cholera crisis deepened Sunday as the first cases in the capital raised fears the epidemic could infiltrate Port-au-Prince’s squalid tent cities and spawn a major health disaster.

More than 250 people have died and thousands have been infected, but those numbers could soar if cholera reached the camps where hundreds of thousands live in awful conditions after being displaced by January’s earthquake.

Cholera is primarily passed on through contaminated water or food and could spread like wildfire through the unsanitary tent cities, where displaced families bathe outside, do laundry and share meals in close quarters.