05/15/2011 archive

Poor Goldman Sachs, Those Laws Are Just Too Confusing

Poor Goldman Sachs. According to Megan McArdle, one of the Atlantic Monthly’s Wall St apologists, argued on CNN’s Your Money in a debate with Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi that the laws were too confusing and it would be too hard to figure out ig they did anything wrong. While conversely,  she insinuates that those who the toxic assets were sold to should have known what they were buying. Let’s blame the victims.  Megan even admits that she hasn’t read all the documents while Taibbi has. How does Megan have any credibility on this is beyond comprehension. Here are some of the “high” points from the transcript of the video:

MCARDLE: What we have to do is disclose. It’s perfectly legal for a dealership to sell me a car I’m not going to like or that’s too expensive for me. It’s not legal for them to sell me a car that’s not what they represented it as.

And we set certain legal minimum standards and that’s what happened here. At least, John Losera and all the devils who are here argues that he actually has gone through these documents and says that a lot of these things were disclosed. That in fact Goldman laid out in very lengthy detail all of the ways in which this could go wrong. I haven’t read the disclosure documents personally.

TAIBBI: I have.

MCARDLE: There are two competing versions of the story.

VELSHI: Matt, you’ve read them?

TAIBBI: Well, I’ve read all the documents in this report and I’ve also talked to some of the principals in this entire story. I definitely know some of the client that is Goldman was talking about were completely blindsided by the fact that, for instance.

They were buying assets out of Goldman’s own book when they were told that Goldman was buying these assets off the street. They definitely did not make key disclosures that they were legally obligated to make.

The People vs. Goldman Sachs

By Matt Taibbi

A Senate committee has laid out the evidence. Now the Justice Department should bring criminal charges

They weren’t murderers or anything; they had merely stolen more money than most people can rationally conceive of, from their own customers, in a few blinks of an eye. But then they went one step further. They came to Washington, took an oath before Congress, and lied about it.

Thanks to an extraordinary investigative effort by a Senate subcommittee that unilaterally decided to take up the burden the criminal justice system has repeatedly refused to shoulder, we now know exactly what Goldman Sachs executives like Lloyd Blankfein and Daniel Sparks lied about. We know exactly how they and other top Goldman executives, including David Viniar and Thomas Montag, defrauded their clients. America has been waiting for a case to bring against Wall Street. Here it is, and the evidence has been gift-wrapped and left at the doorstep of federal prosecutors, evidence that doesn’t leave much doubt: Goldman Sachs should stand trial.

What’s so hard to fathom, Megan? They committed fraud and then lied about the fraud. Lloyd Blenkenfein isn’t too big for a cell next to Bernie Madoff. The Justice Department and Eric Holder needs to get its act together.

Rant of the Week: Lawrence O’Donnell

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) thinks that the right to health care is slavery and that the police could come to his house to “conscript” him to treat patients. If the right to health care makes doctors, nurses, et al, slaves, then the Constitution which bans slavery, enslaves lawyers. Rand, you really should have read the document that you took an oath to uphold, some libertarian you are.

Obama Misses the Point, Caves to Drill, Baby, Drill

President Obama in his Saturday address to the nation, announced another cave to the right

. . the administration would begin to hold annual auctions for oil and gas leases in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve, a 23-million-acre tract on the North Slope of Alaska.

. . accelerate a review of the potential environmental impact of drilling off the southern and central Atlantic coast and will consider making some areas available for exploration. The move is a change from current policy, which puts the entire Atlantic Seaboard off limits to drilling until at least 2018.

. . provide incentives for oil companies to more quickly exploit leases they already hold. Tens of millions of acres onshore and offshore are under lease but have not been developed.

Not one of these actions will lower the price of gas at the pump or create jobs or cure our dependency on foreign oil, most of which comes from our northern neighbor, Canada. The cost of gas at the pumps is under direct control of the oil companies that are still being subsidized by tax payers even as they rake in billions in profits and use tax loop holes to pay no US taxes, instead they are receiving refunds. Crude oil prices are manipulated by speculation on the open market with little regulatory control by the government or the SEC. That so-called “revolutionary” Financial Regulation Bill is a sham. Just look at rising banking fees and your credit card bill, look at your shrinking pay check and the rise in cost of food, clothing and health care. I suggest you have a bucket handy.

Yes, tax payers are angry about the price of gas but we are also opposed to more drilling for limited resources that will not solve the immediate problem. Long term, we need to be investing in green energy, renewable solutions not investing in the oil companies. Short term, rein in the oil companies and speculators.

Americans are angry at the President for not regulating the speculators and oil companies. Americans are angry at for gouging at the pump.

Asked who is to blame, most Americans point to speculators and oil companies for the recent increase in gas prices, and three-quarters say that oil companies profits are too high.

Sixty-one percent of respondents say oil companies deserve a great deal of blame for prices, while 27% say they deserve some blame. Oil speculators also figure prominently in the blame game, with 59% saying they deserve a great deal of blame, while 31% say they deserve some blame.

Americans are angry with President Obama because again caves to the right and corporatists while ignoring what the American people are telling him and congress. Ignore us at your peril.

What do you mean ‘We’ Kimosabe?

Photobucket(h/t vastleft @ Corrente)

The L-Word

Liberals have been failing to live up to their ideals for centuries, but we mustn’t give up on liberalism.

By Peter Clarke, Slate

Posted Saturday, May 14, 2011, at 7:54 AM ET

George Washington himself, that unillusioned soldier and great patriot, extolled “the benefits of a wise and liberal Government” and advocated “a liberal system of policy”. There was not only political principle but political expediency in proclaiming oneself motivated by liberal ideas in that era. The fact that the American Revolution was made in terms of this political prospectus helps explain its ultimate success. There were simply too many Britons who felt that the colonists actually had the better of the argument-they were the better liberals. For British Whigs, too, looked back reverently on canons of government that extolled liberty in thought, speech, religion, government and trade alike. It was part of the heritage of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Indeed, for some more incendiary spirits on both sides of the Atlantic, the Good Old Cause of republican virtue was at stake.

Coalition is, of course, a current problem for Liberals. It could be said that every successful political party is itself a coalition, the broader-based the better. This was what gave the Liberal party such traction in British politics in the Gladstonian era; and what sustained the New Liberals of the succeeding generation, with comparable electoral triumphs in the era of Herbert Henry Asquith and Lloyd George, was again the party’s ability to adapt itself to new social forces. The tacit electoral alliance with the early Labour party was not actually called a coalition, though in some ways it served as such. The point was that, in all but a few constituencies, Liberals and Labour did not oppose each other; and in the House of Commons a Liberal government was sustained by what contemporaries called a Progressive Alliance, including both Liberals and Labour. This is an instructive formula: almost the opposite of the current arrangements, which simultaneously implicate Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats in a basically Tory government while permitting their partners in Westminster to undermine them in the country. The current failure of this strategy could not have been clearer when, in a referendum held less than a week before the two parties marked a year in coalition on May 11, British voters overwhelmingly rejected the more [proportional voting system that Lib-Dems had hoped would be one of their chief rewards.

What has Losurdo got against liberalism? He resolutely exposes the internal contradictions of a doctrine that ostensibly upheld freedom, autonomy and self-government, yet failed in practice to universalise its own ethic. The presence of Calhoun in his canon alerts us early on to one important dimension. For Calhoun, steeped in the political culture of the antebellum American south, simultaneously coupled his liberal defence of individual and states rights with an explicit defence of slavery, which excluded blacks from the exercise of these great principles. Was this just the same old one-eyed hypocrisy that we expect of politicians?

There is, in fact, more to the book than this. It shows how slavery was legitimised within the liberal canon all the way back to Locke. And it gets worse. Once slavery could no longer be defended, the same liberals who now made a big deal out of its abolition promptly turned to excluding and repressing former slaves in slightly more subtle ways, such as indentured labour. And not just across the colour line, but also countenancing the oppression of workers closer to home when they, too, got uppity. It was the liberal economists, from Smith onwards, so Losurdo assures us, who shackled the working class by demonising early trade unions and who then turned their hard faces on some of the consequences of their inviolable free market, whether in the form of pauperism in Britain or famine across the Irish sea.

Did these great liberal thinkers really have no answers to the social problems of their day? Well, Locke thought compulsory churchgoing for the poor might be one remedy. So the best defence of the liberals against the charge of racism might be their willingness to inflict on their own kith and kin most of the indignities normally visited on slaves. But “master-race democracy”, excluding blacks or Arabs alike, remains a significant indictment. Chapter by chapter, one liberal after another is knocked off his plinth. “Compared with the liberal tradition,” Losurdo writes, “Nietzsche proved more lucid and consistent.”

Conservatives will enjoy reading this book as a demolition job. They will turn to it in hopes of finding an intellectual arsenal with which to bombard their opponents. They will take advantage of a moment when the historic political affiliation of many liberals in the Anglosphere has become a love that dare not speak its name. But liberals, too, should read this book as part of the task of reconstruction. This task, of course, cannot be accomplished simply in intellectual terms but the message that liberalism needs to be inclusive in its claims and its constituency alike is one with a current significance that is truly international.

On This Day In History May 15

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 image to enlarge

May 15 is the 135th day of the year (136th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 230 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1776, the Virginia Convention instructs its Continental Congress delegation to propose a resolution of independence from Great Britain, paving the way for the United States Declaration of Independence.

The Virginia Conventions were a series of five political meetings in the Colony of Virginiaduring the American Revolution. Because the House of Burgesses had been dissolved in 1774 by Royal Governor Lord Dunmore, the conventions served as a revolutionary provisional government until the establishment of the independent Commonwealth of Virginia in 1776.

The fifth convention began May 6, 1776 and met in Williamsburg. On May 15, the convention declared independence from Britain and adopted a set of three momentous resolutions: one calling for a declaration of rights for Virginia, one calling for establishment of a republican constitution, and a third calling for federal relations with whichever other colonies would have them and alliance with whichever foreign countries would have them. It also instructed its delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to declare independence. Virginia’s congressional delegation was thus the only one under unconditional positive instructions to declare independence; Virginia was already independent, and so its convention did not want their state, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, to “hang separately.” According to James Madison’s correspondence for that day, Williamsburg residents marked the occasion by taking down the Union Jack from over the colonial capitol and running up a continental union flag.

On June 7, Richard Henry Lee, one of Virginia’s delegates to Congress, carried out these instructions and proposed independence in the language the convention had commanded him to use: that “these colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.” This paved the way for the American Declaration of Independence, which also reflected the idea that not one nation, but thirteen free and independent states were aborning on the east coast of North America.

The convention amended, and on June 12 adopted, George Mason‘s Declaration of Rights, a precursor to the United States Bill of Rights. On June 29, the convention approved the first Constitution of Virginia, which was also the first written constitution adopted by the people’s representatives in the history of the world. The convention chose Patrick Henry as the first governor of the new Commonwealth of Virginia, and he was inaugurated on June 29, 1776. Thus, Virginia had a functioning, permanent, republican constitution before July 4, 1776 — uniquely among the thirteen American colonies.

Get me my fainting couch!

In Greece, austerity kindles deep discontent

By Anthony Faiola, The Washington Post

May 13

The protests are an emblem of social discontent spreading across Europe in response to a new age of austerity. At a time when the United States is just beginning to consider deep spending cuts, countries such as Greece are coping with a fallout that has extended well beyond ordinary civil disobedience.

The anarchist movement in Europe has a long, storied past, embracing an anti-establishment universe influenced by a broad range of thinkers from French politician and philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon to Karl Marx to Oscar Wilde. Defined narrowly, the movement includes groups of urban guerillas, radical youths and militant unionists. More broadly, it encompasses everything from punk rock to WikiLeaks.

The rolling back of social safety nets in Europe began more than a year ago, as countries from Britain to France to Greece moved to cut social benefits and slash public payrolls, to address mounting public debt. At least in the short term, the cuts have held back economic growth and job creation, exacerbating the social pain.

In Britain, for instance, 10 activists formed the UK Uncut group in a North London pub late last year, spawning a national wave of civil disobedience against spending cuts, bankers’ bonuses and tax evasion by the rich. During a March protest, they used Twitter and text messages to organize a “flash mob” that saw hundreds occupy and vandalize London’s famous Fortnum & Mason’s food store. In recent months, other actions have forced at least 100 bank branches across Britain to temporarily close.

“There is a sense of general injustice, that the government bailed out capitalism and the citizens are footing the bill while the capitalist system is running like nothing ever happened,” said Bart Cammaerts, an expert in anarchist movements at the London School of Economics. “And yet, things have happened. There are more taxes, less services, and anger is emerging from that tension.”

“They are taking everything away from us,” Ganiaris said. “What will happen when I finish law school? Will I only find a job making copies in a shop? Will I then need to work until I’m 70 before I retire? Will I only get a few hundred euros as pension? What future have I got now?”

As in many countries in Europe, fascist and far-right parties are strengthening, engaging in an increasing number of attacks against immigrants.

What a Banana Republic looks like

There are other signs of course and if you happen to be Belarussian I apologize for characterizing your country this unfavorably.

It could happen to anybody.

Belarus Presidential Runner-Up Sentenced to Prison

By JAMES MARSON, The Wall Street Journal

MAY 14, 2011, 6:59 P.M. ET

The runner-up in President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election in Belarus was sentenced Saturday to five years in prison, a decision expected to deepen the authoritarian leader’s rift with Western governments.

Andrei Sannikov had been arrested following an anti-government demonstration after the polls closed on Dec. 19. Baton-wielding police broke up the largely peaceful gathering in central Minsk and detained about 700 people as the president was being declared the landslide winner over nine rivals.

Mr. Lukashenko was credited with 80% of the vote, to Mr. Sannikov’s 2.4%. International election observers said the vote count was seriously flawed.

Punting the Pundits: Sunday Preview Edition

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.

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

The Sunday Talking Heads:

This Week with Christiane Amanpour: Ms. Amanpour has an exclusive interview with South Carolina’s Republican Tea Bag governor, Nikki Haley.

Need I say more?

On a more serious topic, the economy, she talks with Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair, Former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman and former Congressional Budget Office Director and McCain economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin about the battle over taxes and government spending.

Top foreign policy voices Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations, Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution and Anthony Shadid of The New York Times weigh in on the turbulent Arab spring.

The round table with the usual right wing suspects, George Will, Cokie Roberts and ABC News Political Director Amy Walter

Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer: House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) discusses his plans to address the debt limit.

Plus: More from the CBS News Town Hall with President Obama on the Economy

The Chris Matthews Show: This week’s guests are Norah O’Donnell, MSNBC Chief Washington Correspondent, Howard Fineman, The Huffington Post Senior Political Editor, Michael Duffy, TIME Magazine Assistant Managing Editor and Katty Kay, BBC Washington Correspondent. They will bat these questions around:

Which leading GOP candidate has the political chops to conquer his flaw?

Is the cost of a college education still worth the price?

Meet the Press with David Gregory: Republican Presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich will be giving an exclusive interview.

The rountable guests Columnist for the Washington Post, EJ Dionne; columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan; senior political analyst for Time Magazine, Mark Halperin;  White House Correspondent for the New York Times, Helene Cooper;  and chief political writer for the New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai.

The NYT’s really scraped the bottom with right winger Bai

State of the Union with Candy Crowley: The human hybrid turtle, talks = on raising the debt ceiling, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell demanded spending cuts and changes to Medicare and Medicaid as part of the deal. Also, Rep, Paul Ryan (R_WI) will spread more of his toxic economic budget nonsense.

Former Clinton senior adviser and spokesman Joe Lockhart and former Bush strategy and policy adviser Michael Gerson will discuss the GOP presidential race.

Adm. Dennis Blair (Ret.) and Amb. John Negroponte will discuss Adm. Dennis Blair (Ret.) and Amb. John Negroponte.

Fareed Zakaris: GPS: Condoleezza Rice and Eric Schmidt join Fareed to argue the consequences of L’Affaire de bin Laden.

David Cay Johnston: Ryan’s $34 Trillion Tax Folly

If repairing your car cost 18 percent of your income, would you buy a new car? Of course you would.

Now imagine that your mechanic tried to persuade you to keep the jalopy with a clever tax argument: The costs of your annual car tax and registration would decline over time, saving you money. Keep the car long enough and you would save a third of a year’s income just in taxes.

That sounds appealing, unless you stop to think about how much more you would pay for repairs as your vehicle ages and breaks down ever more often.

Now imagine that your mechanic’s savings estimate relied on data that could be analyzed to determine how much of your tax savings would be offset by higher repair costs, but he did not give you those figures. So you do the analysis and find out that for every dollar of tax you save, you would spend $5 to $8 on repairs.

How would you react? Would you laugh out loud at your mechanic? Or get mad? Or walk away in disgust at his lack of candor? Would you not only buy a new car, but also look for a trustworthy mechanic?

This analogy describes the “roadmap” for future taxes and spending on Medicare being marketed by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Ryan is touting his plan to replace Medicare, the universal healthcare plan for older Americans, with a form of defined contribution plan. Ryan would replace universal care with a subsidy for older Americans to pay for health insurance in the private marketplace.

Robert Fisk: Why No Outcry over These Torturing Tyrants?

Christopher Hill, a former US secretary of state for east Asia who was ambassador to Iraq – and usually a very obedient and un-eloquent American diplomat – wrote the other day that “the notion that a dictator can claim the sovereign right to abuse his people has become unacceptable”.

Unless, of course – and Mr Hill did not mention this – you happen to live in Bahrain. On this tiny island, a Sunni monarchy, the al-Khalifas, rule a majority Shia population and have responded to democratic protests with death sentences, mass arrests, the imprisonment of doctors for letting patients die after protests and an “invitation” to Saudi forces to enter the country. They have also destroyed dozens of Shia mosques with all the thoroughness of a 9/11 pilot. But then, let’s remember that most of the 9/11 killers were indeed Saudis.

Ralph Nader: End the Land Mine Plague

Everyday around the world innocent people, many of them children, are killed or injured by millions of unexploded land mines and cluster bombs. Some of the cluster bomblets look like candy or a toy which attract a child in a field, orchard, schoolyard or by the roadside.

Powerful aggressor nations are responsible for most of these anti-personal weapons being laid from land or by air. Most recently, Libya’s rulers laid mines on the outskirts of Ajdabiya as part of its battle against the resistance.

In 2006, Israel laid huge numbers of cluster bombs in southern Lebanon each of which contains lethal bomblets. For many months after the ceasefire, the United Nations could not get Israel, to provide its cluster bomb algorithms to UN experts so they could safely neutralize these heinous weapons. In that period many Lebanese, adults and children, became cluster bomb casualties. (Visit http://www.atfl.org and see the Cluster Bomb Victims photo gallery.)

Rania Khalek: In America, Being Poor is a Criminal Offense

It takes a special kind of bully to target the most vulnerable and neediest families in society, which millionaire politicians like to argue are draining America’s treasury.  I am referring to Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), who recently introduced a bill that would require states to implement drug testing of applicants for and recipients of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.  This is reminiscent of Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) failed legislation last summer to drug test the unemployed and those receiving other forms of government cash assistance, which ultimately died in the Senate.  So far, Boustany’s proposal is following the same fate as Hatch’s, but around the country states are taking matters into their own hands.

In at least 30 state Legislatures across America, predominately wealthy politicians are quite impressed with themselves for considering bills that would limit the meager amount of state help given to needy families struggling to make ends meet.  Many have proposed drug testing with some even extending it to recipients of other public benefits as well, such as unemployment insurance, medical assistance, and food assistance, in an attempt to add more obstacles to families’ access to desperately needed aid.

Art Levine: GOP-Style Democrats Slash DC Budget: Homeless, Poor Children at Risk

Except for white Republicans in Congress opposed to home rule, few people outside of Washington, DC – and even some white liberals who live in the District – bother to pay much attention to Washington’s local political battles.

But that changed briefly last month, when Mayor Vincent Gray and six members of the city council were arrested in high-profile protests against a Republican-driven federal budget deal that prevents the city from spending its own funds on abortions for low-income women. Congress has traditionally had authority over the Democratic-run District’s budget, but rarely directly interferes in spending. “Why are we the sacrificial lamb?” Gray had asked. Progressive media outlets praised Gray for seeming to stand up to Republicans and their distorted budget priorities.

Yet Mayor Gray and much of the rest of the city council are moving on their own to make the city’s disabled, youngest and neediest citizens the sacrificial lambs of the proposed new city budget, with two-thirds of the cuts targeting the poor. It’s yet another troubling sign of the rightward shift of state and national Democratic Party leaders. It’s a trend that can be seen everywhere, from Democratic legislators in Massachusetts voting to strip public employee unions of the right to bargain collectively to national Democrats meekly accepting GOP messaging on deficit cuts and tax breaks for the rich. Here in Washington, city services are already so strained before the proposed cuts that even families with young children seeking emergency shelter are routinely turned away, and, instead, are often given bus tokens to ride the buses all night with their toddlers and infants.

Six In The Morning

IMF chief held on suspicion of sexual assault on N.Y. hotel worker

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, is taken off a plane about to leave JFK, arrested and charged in the attack on a chambermaid in his luxury suite.

By Geraldine Baum, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

May 15, 2011, 12:07 a.m.

Reporting from New York– Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, was hauled off a flight about to leave JFK airport for Paris on Saturday and arrested on allegations he sexually assaulted a maid in a Times Square-area hotel, a police spokesman said.

Strauss-Kahn, who is also an important figure in French politics, was taken to the Harlem headquarters of the Manhattan Special Victims Unit, which investigates rape and other sex crimes. He was charged with committing a criminal sexual act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment in connection with a sexual assault on a chambermaid in the luxury suite of a midtown Manhattan hotel, said Paul Browne, deputy New York City police commissioner.

If Only Ensign Had Listened

Just last month, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) resigned from the Senate after having decided that he would not run for re-election in 2012. Under investigation of the Senate ethics committee for charges stemming from an extramarital affair that led to bribery and FEC violations, Ensign made the announcement to resign May 3. The ethics committee released its report and has referred the case to the Justice Department

Tom Coburn Helped Cover Up John Ensign Affair: Senate Ethics Report

John Ensign Lied To FEC, Violated Campaign Finance Laws, Obstructed Investigation: Senate Ethics Panel

Panel Says Senator Was Warned on Illegality of Act

As Gaius Publius at AMERICAblog says,

Senate ethics complaints almost never come down to a resignation; it’s a ruler to the wrist and they move on.

It seems that John Ensign is the exception. If what Rachel Maddow says in the following report is true, this is a genuinely horrible human being, a sorry specimen – and not in a good way, since he’s apparently not sorry at all. Be prepared to be appalled.

A terrible human being. How did you fail thee? Let me count the ways. The horrid story starts at 5:05 in the clip. First it’s lurid, then turns cruel, then criminal.

Ensign couldn’t keep his pants on and figured he could buy his way out of the hole he had dug himself. Now he has ruined the lives of two families and stands to be indicted. Let’s see what transpires regarding Sen. Tom Coburn’s involvement and facilitation of this sordid C Street debacle.

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