12/21/2011 archive

Winter Solstice: Return of the Sun

The shortest day, the longest night, for those of us who reside in the Northern climes Winter Solstice is here. The sun reaches is most Southern destiny and touches for but a moment, the Tropic of Capricorn and immediately reverses her course. That moment will occur on December 22 at 12:30 AM EST.

The Winter Solstice is a special night for those who practice the craft and has a rich history from many cultures. In old Europe, it was known as Yule, from the Norse, Jul, meaning wheel. It is one of the eight holidays, or Sabbats, that are held sacred by Wiccans and Pagans around the world. In Celtic traditions it is the battle between the young Oak King and the Holly King:

the Oak King and the Holly King are seen as dual aspects of the Horned God. Each of these twin aspects rules for half the year, battles for the favor of the Goddess, and then retires to nurse his wounds for the next six months, until it is time for him to reign once more.

Often, these two entities are portrayed in familiar ways – the Holly King frequently appears as a woodsy version of Santa Claus. He dresses in red, wears a sprig of holly in his tangled hair, and is sometimes depicted driving a team of eight stags. The Oak King is portrayed as a fertility god, and occasionally appears as the Green Man or other lord of the forest.

The re-enactment of the battle is popular in some Wiccan rituals.

As we prepare for the longest night, we decorate our homes with red, green and white, holly, ivy, evergreen and pine cones. We honor the solar year with light. We place candles in the windows facing the North, South, East and West to ward off the darkness and celebrate the return of the sun/ With the setting sun, fires are lit in hearths and fire pits and kept burning to keep us warm until Sol returns at dawn.

There is food a plenty, roasts and stews and winter vegetables and sweets, chocolate and peppermint candy, apples and oranges and sweet breads. All these reminding us of the last harvest, the gifts of Gaia, Mother Earth and the hunts by Hern of the Wild Hunt. Of course there will be honeyed and spiced wine and hearty, dark beers, some made by friends who will join the festivities.

What ever your beliefs, or none, may the traditions and celebrations bring you peace and joy. Blessed Be. The Wheel Turns.

Cranberry Canes

A holiday tradition at my house, I enjoy them any time of year.

Cranberry Canes are basically a stuffed yeast bread roll up, like a Cinnamon Roll.  It’s the presentation of twisting the prepared strips and putting a crook at one end that gives them their distinctive appearance.  There are 3 basic elements-


Scald 1 Cup Milk, cool to lukewarm
In a large bowl combine:

4 Cups Unsifted All Purpose Flour

1/2 Cup Sugar

1 Teaspoon Salt

1 Teaspoon Grated Lemon Zest

Cut in 1 Cup (2 Sticks) Margarine until like coarse meal
Dissolve 1 Package of Dry Yeast in 1/4 Cup Warm Water
To Flour Mixture add Yeast, Milk, 2 Beaten Eggs.  Combine lightly, dough will be sticky.
Cover dough tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.  When ready to bake prepare filling.


In a pot or pan combine:

3 Cups finely chopped Cranberries (about 2 12 oz. bags, freeze before chopping)

1 Cup Rasins (about a 16 oz box)

2/3 Cup Chopped Pecans

2/3 Cup Honey

3 Teaspoons Grated Orange Zest

2 Cups Sugar

Bring to a smimmer over Medium heat.  Cook for about 5 minutes.  Cool.


A basic buttercream flavored with some frozen concentrated Orange Juice.


Divide dough in half.  On a floured board roll out the half into an 18″ x 15″ rectangle.
Spread half the filling on the dough.  Fold dough into a 3 layer strip 15″ long and about 6″ wide.
Cut dough into 1″ strips.
Holding the ends of each strip twist lightly in opposite directions.  Pinch ends to seal.  Place on greased baking sheet, shaping the top of each strip to form a cane.
Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
Bake in a hot oven, 400 degrees, 10 to 15 minutes or until done.
Cool on racks and frost.

The Spiral Dance To The Bottom

Round and round, downward, repeating the same mistakes, shoveling good money after bad, all to save themselves.

ECB lends Europe’s banks a massive €489 billion over unprecedented 3-year period

FRANKFURT, Germany – The European Central Bank flipped its credit tap wide open Wednesday to help Europe’s troubled banking system, allowing hundreds of nervous banks to take out a record €489 billion ($639 billion) in loans.

The move was the biggest ECB infusion of credit into the banking system in the 13-year history of the shared euro currency. It aimed to keep the Europe’s debt crisis from choking off credit to businesses – since a credit crunch could cause a continent-wide recession that would make the debt loads hanging over the 17 nations that use the euro even harder to pay.[..]

Although the ECB credits can help banks and the economy get through the crisis, they don’t attack the cause of Europe’s problems – too-large amounts of government debt – or convince markets that European governments can get a grip on their public finances. And it doesn’t remove one of the main reasons why banks remain wary of lending to each other – their thin levels of capital reserves against potential losses.

All that means despite the massive influx of cash, Europe’s debt crisis will still be churning in the New Year.

Spain awaits a painful dose of medicine

It was an election victory the polls had predicted. Second guessing what policies Mariano Rajoy will pursue has not been so easy. Behind his centre right party is a huge parliamentary majority, ahead of him what seems to be a contagious European disease, debt.

Healing the Spanish economy teetering on the edge of recession will be painful, where, when and how will the medicine be administered?

He has promised deep spending cuts announcing he aims to cut the budget deficit by 16.5 billion euros in 2012 and yet such action needs to be balanced against measures to stimulate growth.

Successful Spanish Debt Auction

PARIS – Spain’s borrowing costs plummeted Tuesday at a debt auction, helping to lift the euro and stocks, as the European Central Bank began rolling out a new lending program that could encourage banks to buy euro-zone government bonds. [..]

The central bank’s policy move “is something very big,” Mr. Fransolet said, but he questioned whether it represented “a complete change of direction” for the euro zone.

“I think you need a lot of other things,” he said. With a huge round of government debt up for refinancing next year, he added, “The jury is still out.”

In a reminder of the sword hanging over the heads of European leaders, Fitch Ratings warned that the AAA rating it has assigned to the debt issued by the euro-zone bailout vehicle, the European Financial Stability Facility, “largely depends on France and Germany retaining their AAA status.”

Italian economy shrinks by 0.2% fuelling recession fear

Italy’s economy shrank by 0.2% in the three months to the end of September, fuelling fears of a recession in the eurozone giant.

The figures, released by the country’s official statistical agency, Istat, show the first contraction in the Italian economy since 2009.

Italy’s government has predicted the economy will contract by 0.4% in 2012.

Earlier this month, the government announced an austerity plan to “save Italy”.

The package of emergency austerity measures included raising taxes on the assets of the wealthy, increasing pension ages, and a major drive to tackle tax evasion. Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti also said he would give up his own salary as part of the effort.

However, analysts expect Italy’s economy will struggle for some time yet.

Moody’s gives UK high scores but warns of ‘challenges’

Ratings agency Moody’s has given the UK high scores for economic governance but warns the country it faces “formidable and rising challenges”.

In its annual guidance for investors, Moody’s says the UK has “significant structural strengths” and deserves its top AAA rating.

But it says weakness in the eurozone could hold back growth and weaken the government’s debt-cutting plans.

Rating agency opinion affects the cost of borrowing.

This is only because England has a sovereign currency

On the other side of the globe from Herr Prof.Krugman:

I’ve been reluctant to weigh in on the Chinese situation, in part because it’s so hard to know what’s really happening. All economic statistics are best seen as a peculiarly boring form of science fiction, but China’s numbers are more fictional than most. I’d turn to real China experts for guidance, but no two experts seem to be telling the same story.

Still, even the official data are troubling – and recent news is sufficiently dramatic to ring alarm bells.

The most striking thing about the Chinese economy over the past decade was the way household consumption, although rising, lagged behind overall growth. At this point consumer spending is only about 35 percent of G.D.P., about half the level in the United States.

So who’s buying the goods and services China produces? Part of the answer is, well, we are: as the consumer share of the economy declined, China increasingly relied on trade surpluses to keep manufacturing afloat. But the bigger story from China’s point of view is investment spending, which has soared to almost half of G.D.P.

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”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day

Ruth Marcus: Extremism in the pursuit of judges

In Newt Gingrich’s America, states that balked at desegregating their schools could have ignored the Supreme Court with impunity.

In Gingrich’s America, if the Supreme Court struck down the individual mandate to obtain health insurance, a reelected President Obama would be free to ignore the ruling and order the mandate enforced.

These are not far-fetched extrapolations of Gingrich’s views. They derive directly from his arguments for curbing the power of what he views as a “grotesquely dictatorial” judiciary.

At the center of his critique is Cooper v. Aaron, the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1958 ruling ordering the desegregation of the Little Rock schools, and rejecting Arkansas officials’ defiance of the mandate to desegregate.

Amy Goodman: Bradley Manning and the Fog of War

Accused whistle-blower Pvt. Bradley Manning turned 24 Saturday. He spent his birthday in a pretrial military hearing that could ultimately lead to a sentence of life … or death. Manning stands accused of causing the largest leak of government secrets in United States history.

More on Manning shortly. First, a reminder of what he is accused of leaking. In April 2010, the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks released a video called “Collateral Murder.” It was a classified U.S. military video from July 2007, from an Apache attack helicopter over Baghdad. The video shows a group of men walking, then the systematic killing of them in a barrage of high-powered automatic fire from the helicopter. Soldiers’ radio transmissions narrate the carnage, varying from cold and methodical to cruel and enthusiastic. Two of those killed were employees of the international news agency Reuters: Namir Noor-Eldeen, a photojournalist, and Saeed Chmagh, his driver.

Renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers that helped end the war in Vietnam and who himself is a Marine veteran who trained soldiers on the laws of war, told me: “Helicopter gunners hunting down and shooting an unarmed man in civilian clothes, clearly wounded … that shooting was murder. It was a war crime. Not all killing in war is murder, but a lot of it is. And this was.”

Katrina vanden Heuvel; The change I believe in

When President Obama was elected more than three years ago, many progressives had great expectations for what would follow. Many wanted to believe that one person, in one flying presidential leap, could transform the mess our political system had become. That he, alone, could deliver.

Three years later, progressives have learned the hard way that this isn’t, and never will be, the case. Democratic presidents succeed at advancing progressive causes when independent progressive movements push them to do so. Success at the ballot box is not a victory in and of itself. True victory comes when vibrant, sustainable movements create an energy around ideas that the White House has to chase. Those movements can be built on hope, but they are sustained with engagement of the kind that can outlast any given battle, any given term and any given presidency.

Maureen Dowd: Separation of Newt and State

Just when you thought Newt couldn’t get any more grandiose, he leaps in to save freedom of religion in the most religiously free place on earth.

On his Web site Tuesday, he urgently vowed to establish a White House commission “On Day One” of his presidency (heaven forefend) “to examine and document threats or impediments to religious freedom in the United States.”

Watching his numbers falling in Iowa, he doubled down on his unconstitutional assault on “activist judges,” saying he would investigate “the extent to which courts throughout the U.S. are undermining the First Amendment and misconstruing the historical basis for religious freedom in America.”

Donna Smith: Un-Happy Holidays for Seniors and the Disabled – Here’s Your Donut

It isn’t sugar plums dancing in their dreams for America’s seniors and disabled who are covered by the Medicare program.  It’s donuts.  Donut holes into which many fall at this time of the year as they reach the maximum limits of the first tier of “Part D” prescription drug benefits.

I watched my 67-year-old husband trudge up the driveway on a recent morning as I pulled away.  He had just showed me the printout of his drug costs for the year.  He’s reached the Medicare Part D donut hole by using more than $3,000 in prescription benefits.  He is disheartened because  his costs tripled at just the time of the year when grandfathers like to be thinking about other things instead of how to manage the cost of their prescriptions or which drugs can be cut in half and still do some good to get through to January 1 and a new benefit year.

Michelle Chen: With Anti-Immigrant Law, Alabama is Again Ground Zero for Civil Rights

It’s not often that human rights and business profits line up on the same side of a political debate, but Alabama is a special place. The Cotton State was not only ground zero for some of the worst abuses under Jim Crow; it was also the flashpoint for early struggles that fused economic empowerment with civil rights, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Today, Alabama is once again a focal point for racial and class struggles, ignited by an anti-immigrant law that tests our definitions of economic citizenship in a world of fluid borders.

The law, HB 56, mirrors many of the “copycat” anti-immigrant bills that have gone viral in state legislatures from Arizona to Indiana. It would impose onerous identification requirements that encourage police to arrest and detain anyone who couldn’t present the right papers. Although some of the harsher provisions were blocked by a federal court earlier this year, the legislation (signed into law in June) still threatens to further demonize immigrants and to crystallize the racist ideology driving a two-tier economy, where the privileges of the elite are subsidized by the vicious exploitation of the 99 percent.

Laura Flanders: Singing the Recall Carol in Wisconsin

Solidarity singers faced down a new set of state policies intended to regulate and put a price on assembly and free speech at the Wisconsin state capitol, Monday.

Solidarity sing-alongs began at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison on March 11, 2011, and they’ve continued at noon every weekday since. Last Friday, the Capitol supposedly set up new rules for access to state buildings, the new policy requires permits for gatherings of 100 or more outside the Capitol, while permits are needed for gatherings inside of four or more people. Both need to be applied for seventy-two hours in advance of the event and there’s a $50 charge per hour, per police officer deployed. Solidarity Sing-Along participants say the policy is directed specifically at their singing, but at noon Monday the singers were there-in unusually large numbers and high spirits-encouraged by news that in just one month, more than half a million signatures have been gathered to recall Governor Scott Walker.

A Lump of Coal

Obama and Geithner: Government, Enron-style

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

POSTED: December 20, 10:06 AM ET

The notion that what Wall Street firms did was merely unethical and not illegal is not just mistaken but preposterous: most everyone who works in the financial services industry understands that fraud right now is not just pervasive but epidemic, with many of the biggest banks committing entire departments to the routine commission of fraud and perjury – every single one of the major banks, for instance, devotes significant manpower to robosigning affidavits for foreclosures and credit card judgments, acts which are openly and inarguably criminal.

Banks and hedge funds routinely withhold derogatory information about the instruments they sell, they routinely trade on insider information or ahead of their own clients’ orders, and corrupt accounting is so rampant now that industry analysts have begun to figure in estimated levels of fraud in their examinations of the public disclosures of major financial companies.

Beyond that, as Jeff points out, Obama is simply not telling the truth about the supposedly insufficient penalties available to regulators. Employing the famous "mistakes were made" use of the passive tense, Obama copped out in his December 6 speech by saying that “penalties are too weak.” As Jeff points out, what Obama should have said is that “the penalties my own regulators chose to dish out were too weak”

What makes Obama’s statements so dangerous is that they suggest an ongoing strategy of covering up the Wall Street crimewave. There is ample evidence out there that the Obama administration has eased up on prosecutions of Wall Street as part of a conscious strategy to prevent a collapse of confidence in our financial system, with the expected 50-state foreclosure settlement being the landmark effort in the cover-up, intended mainly to bury a generation of fraud.

Geithner and Obama are behaving like Lehman executives before the crash of Lehman, not disclosing the full extent of the internal problem in order to keep investors from fleeing and creditors from calling in their chits. It’s worth noting that this kind of behavior – knowingly hiding the derogatory truth from the outside world in order to prevent a run on the bank – is, itself, fraud!

Obama and Geithner are engaged in the same sort of activity, only they’re trying to prevent a run not on an individual bank, but the entire American financial services sector. Geithner seems really to believe that if fraud were aggressively policed, and the world made aware of the incredible extent of the illegality in our markets, that international confidence in the American financial sector would plummet and our economy would suffer – and suffer, incidentally, on Barack Obama’s watch.

(B)y taking a dive on fraud, and orchestrating mass cover-ups like the coming foreclosure settlement fiasco, what they’re doing instead is signaling to the world that not only are our financial markets corrupt, but our government is broken as well.

The problem with companies like Lehman and Enron is that their executives always think they can paper over illegalities by committing more crimes, when in fact all they’re usually doing is snowballing the problem so completely out of control that there’s no longer any chance of fixing things, thereby killing the only chance for survival they ever had.

This is exactly what Obama and Geithner are doing now. By continually lying about the extent of the country’s corruption problems, they’re adding fraud to fraud and raising such a great bonfire of lies that they probably won’t ever be able to fix the underlying mess.

Too little, too late.

Nevada AG Masto Sues LPS for Document Fraud

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Friday December 16, 2011 12:16 pm

LPS did commit the document fraud. But they did it on behalf of mortgage servicers. So you can figure out the next step up the chain here. Masto is closing in on the big banks in a similar fashion as Martha Coakley did in Masachusetts.

LPS stands accused of a “pattern and practice of falsifying, forging and/or fraudulently

executing foreclosure related documents.” Nevada is a non-judicial foreclosure state, so these documents typically were the ones sent to county recording offices. But they were used as the basis for the foreclosure, and the documents were indeed fraudulent. So these are wrongful foreclosures, and thousands of them. The suit alleges that LPS forced employees to notarize up to 4,000 of these fraudulent documents every day. To get this done, they demanded their employees engage in forgery, to keep up the speed on the document processing, and they had their employees notarize documents without knowing the underlying material or without even witnessing the original signing, which is the purpose of notarization.

And LPS lied about this, time and again, attributing the irregularities to “clerical errors” or other back office mistakes. Instead, this was policy. They cut corners to maximize profits and emphasize speed. And that included illegal document fraud.

Masto alleges other violations in the suit, including a kickback scheme whereby Nevadans paid for “attorney’s fees” that went right back to LPS. And by the way, this is not some fly-by-night organization; LPS is the industry leader in providing document processing for foreclosures. They do over half of all the foreclosure documents in the country. And nobody should believe that this sweatshop type of atmosphere was somehow limited to Nevada.

Masto asks in the suit for $5,000 per violation (remember they signed thousands of fraudulent documents every day) and $12,000 per violation if it was directed against an elderly or disabled person. Masto also wants a special monitor to “ensure that deceptive documents and practices are corrected and improper foreclosures are remediated.”

Harris Sues Fannie and Freddie for Information in Mortgage Investigation

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Wednesday December 21, 2011 6:16 am

Kamala Harris, the Attorney General of California, sued government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over information on foreclosures in California. Rather than the endpoint of the investigation, this is the beginning of it; Harris wants information out of Fannie and Freddie that they have so far been unwilling to provide.

The lawsuits in foreclosure fraud all have their own specialized nature. Martha Coakley has taken on the big banks for stealing homes. Beau Biden sued MERS. Eric Schneiderman is focusing on securitization. Catherine Cortez Masto charged LPS with systematic document fraud. And now Harris has targeted Fannie and Freddie. This puts her in conflict with the FHFA, an independent agency that has at times acted on its own, suing 17 banks over representations and warranties claims and even sharing information between its inspector general and Schneiderman. An FHFA attorney said the volume of information Harris requested was “staggering” and questioned whether Harris had the ability to issue the subpoenas.

The importance of settling that question is obvious: if states can investigate Fannie and Freddie, even if they are under the auspices of a federal conservator, then they have access to the misdeeds of mortgage giants that currently own or guarantee over half of the market. The SEC did just bring civil fraud charges against former Fannie and Freddie CEOs and other executives on securities fraud, but Harris is looking into specific acts against borrowers in her state. If the subpoenas are upheld here, it could open the floodgates.

Meanwhile, there will be no settlement from Tom Miller and his crew by Christmas, as they miss yet another deadline. In fact, the banks are increasing their demands, essentially wanting immunity from CFPB regulations on past mortgage origination. So to those who say that we need a settlement to provide immediate aid to borrowers, well, there isn’t going to be any settlement, because the banks don’t want to give up more than a pittance and they want release from practically all liability.

Tom Miller Can’t Even Lie Well Anymore: Not Only No Deal By Christmas, As Promised, But Banks Upping Demands Even As Attorneys General Leave Table

Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We’ve commented previously on Tom Miller as the contemporary exemplar of what in the 1960s was called a credibility gap. Readers no doubt know that he is the lead negotiator on behalf of the state attorneys general in what was formerly called the 50 state attorney general [mortgage] settlement. (Notice separately how the state AGs are providing cover for several Federal banking regulators, HUD and the Department of Justice, which are also parties to this deal).

A partial recap: Miller started by promising criminal prosecutions, then reneged. He has refused to do investigations, then had the temerity to try to claim they took place). He said there would not be a big waiver on mortgage liability, when as we discussed, that was the only thing Miller & Co. could offer that would get a deal to the numbers he had unwisely committed himself to (north of $20 billion). And several state attorneys general have walked from the deal precisely because they object to the plan in motion: a big release for an impressive-sounding number, when they have an inadequate idea of how much questionable activity is being forgiven.

On this Day In History December 21

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 21 is the 355th day of the year (356th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 10 days remaining until the end of the year. This is a frequent day for the winter solstice to occur in the northern hemisphere and summer solstice to occur in the southern hemisphere.

On this day in 1968, Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, is successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, Jr., and William Anders aboard.

Apollo 8 was the first human spaceflight to leave Earth orbit; the first to be captured by and escape from the gravitational field of another celestial body; and the first crewed voyage to return to planet Earth from another celestial body-Earth’s Moon. The three-man American crew of mission Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders became the first humans to directly see the far side of the Moon, as well as the first humans to see planet Earth from beyond low Earth orbit. The 1968 mission was accomplished with the first manned launch of a Saturn V rocket. Apollo 8 was the second manned mission of the Apollo program and the first manned launch from the John F. Kennedy Space Center.

Originally planned as a second Lunar Module/Command Module test in an elliptical medium Earth orbit in early 1969, the mission profile was changed in August 1968 to a more ambitious Command Module-only lunar orbital flight to be flown in December, because the Lunar Module was not ready to make its first flight then. This meant Borman’s crew was scheduled to fly two to three months sooner than originally planned, leaving them a shorter time for training and preparation, thus placing more demands than usual on their time and discipline.

After launching on December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 took three days to travel to the Moon. It orbited ten times over the course of 20 hours, during which the crew made a Christmas Eve television broadcast in which they read the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis. At the time, the broadcast was the most watched TV program ever. Apollo 8’s successful mission paved the way for Apollo 11 to fulfill U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the Moon before the end of the decade.

Happy Hanukkah