Daily Archive: 02/01/2012

Feb 01 2012

The Mortgage Settlement: More Lies

Nothing is as it seems and all the optimism about how the mortgage settlement with the banks was about to be sealed with a kiss turns about to be premature. With a deadline of February 3 for states to declare whether they are joining the settlement, some major questions have been raised about just what the definition of “narrow” is for the Obama administration.

From Yves Smith at naked capitalism.

Yet More Mortgage Settlement Lies: Release Looks Broad, Not Narrow; Other States Screwed to Bribe California to Join

While there is every reason to believe there has been some improvement in terms due to the resistance of Schneiderman and other state attorneys general (Beau Biden of Delaware, Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Kamala Harris of California), the notion that, per Mike Lux, “the settlement release is tight” appears to be patently false.

Since there has yet to be any disclosure of the draft terms, we can’t be certain, but a reading of a letter sent by Nevada’s Masto gives plenty of cause for pause. Reaching inferences from her 38 questions is a Plato’s cave exercise, but some of the items seem pretty clear. [..]

Yves explains the concerns that the banks would be released of liability of not just robosigning but chain of title securitizations and origination issues. She then get to the latter from Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto who submitted a letter to settlement negotiators

Most of her queries are sufficiently technical so as to make it hard to guess with any certainty as to what the language of the agreement might be, but two questions at the top stood out:

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

This certainly looks as if Masto sees the origination release as broad. Asking for an itemization of what is NOT included suggests a lot seems to be included.

But this is the whopper:

Photobucket

From early on, we have stressed that this is a cash for release deal, and this looks like a VERY big release. The banks will pay an amount into the fund, and all issues relating to robo-signing and foreclosure will be released by the AGs: the banks will have a state level release from all bad assignment/transfer issues. [..]

Remember, bank executives piously swore in 2010 that they stopped robosigning, yet their firms continue to engage in that practice.

Then there is the matter of trying to bribe California’s AG Kamala Harris back into the fold by giving California 60% of the $25 billion. She notes this article from the Financial Times by Shahien Nasiripour

   California, home to the largest US property market, spurned an offer of roughly $15bn in lower monthly mortgage payments and reduced loan balances for its residents in talks to settle allegations of mortgage-related misdeeds by leading US banks…

   California would have received more than half of about $25bn of aid that would be available to borrowers in a nationwide deal under discussion to settle allegations that banks illegally seized homes using faulty documentation.

   Deal terms, sent to state attorneys-general late last week after nearly a year of talks between the banks and various states and federal agencies, did not include guaranteed minimums for any other states, people familiar with the matter said. Various state officials said they were unaware of the California offer.

Yves notes that AG Masto in question #24 asks for clarification of how much each state would receive.

I agree with Yves that it’s hard to imagine how any attorney general could sign onto this agreement and begs to question why Florida’s AG Pam Bondi would be pushing California to sign on to this and not pushing for a better settlement for the homeowners of her state. Masto certainly did her homework as David Dayen at FDL News Desk noted:

n other words, Masto did her homework and saw this settlement as little more than a framework, without specificity on the release, the level of relief on a per-state basis, and the level of enforcement. Or, in other words, everything. And by the way, they want an answer by the end of the week. That’s clear at the end of Masto’s letter, where she writes: “Because there is a sign-on deadline of February 3, 2012, I need this information as soon as possible to allow my office to continue to evaluate the proposal on behalf of the state of Nevada.”

Every AG should be asking these same questions including Eric Schneiderman.

And that leads to the question of Eric Schneiderman and his motivations for sitting on the sideline and not opposing what appears to be a walk from liability for the banks and screw the homeowners. This is a very disappointing development and it won’t win Obama any votes either.

Feb 01 2012

Obama’s War on the Internet: Trans-Pacific Partnership

Just when you thought that the Obama administration’s assault on the Internet and his plan to censor free speech and creativity couldn’t be worse, Obama gets more creative. Meet the “son of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)”, the Trans-Pacific Partnership which could impose even stricter provisions than ACTA.

From TechDirt

… we were noting calls from the industry for the USTR (US Trade Representative) to negotiate a hardline in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which involves a bunch of Pacific Rim countries …

Apparently, the US government has already indicated that it will not allow any form of weakening of intellectual property law for any reason whatsoever in this agreement. In fact, the USTR has directly said that it will only allow for “harmonizing” intellectual property regulations “strictly upwards,” meaning greater protectionism. Given the mounds of evidence suggesting that over protection via such laws is damaging to the economy, this is immensely troubling, and once again shows how the USTR is making policy by ignoring data. This is scary.

Both ACTA and TPP are backed by the US Business Coalition whose members include the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufactures of America, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Motion Picture Association of America. There’s that guy Dodd again. These are some of the issues that they want TPP to address and how they would effect you and the Internet. Rashmi Rangnath rrom the policy blog Public Knowledge highlights the demands:

  • Temporary copies: The US Business Coalition paper urges TPP countries to include a provision requiring protection for temporary copies. Temporary copies are copies made when you access webpages, or music, or any other content on the Internet. In addition, your computer makes transient copies, such a buffer copies, in the course of replaying such content. These copies have no value independent of the ultimate use they facilitate – your viewing of the movie or listening to the music. Treating them as worthy of copyright protection allows rights holders to claim additional rents where none are due.
  • Circumvention of digital locks: The paper urges TPP countries to prevent circumvention of digital locks. The WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT) were the first international instruments to impose this obligation on countries. Within the U.S., these treaties were cited as the reason for the enactment of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The harms caused by the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions have been well documented. In a nutshell, while on the one hand the DMCA attempts to prevent copyright infringement by prohibiting an infringer from breaking digital locks (ex: locks used on DVDs) on the other hand, it also prevents lawful uses (ex: preventing you from breaking the locks on the DVD you purchased to play it on your computer running on Linux).
  • Copyright terms: The paper urges the TPP to provide for longer copyright terms. Current copyright term in the U.S. is life of the author plus 70 years. The TRIPS agreement, which is the baseline IP agreement to which most countries adhere, requires a copyright protection for life of the author plus 50 years. …

    Too often, copyright owners lose interest in works whose commercial lives have ended; works become obscure; and historians, educators and documentarians interested in using the work cannot do so because they cannot find the owner to seek permission to use the work. All of this warrants a reassessment of the proper copyright term, not an extension of current copyright terms.
  • Statutory damages: The paper urges TPP to include a provision on statutory damages, ostensibly similar to the U.S. statutory damages regime. As PK and its allies have pointed out, the U.S. statutory damages regime has led to excessively large damages awards. This regime has resulted in discouraging reliance on fair use thereby stifling innovation because of the threat of a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

The coalition suggests many other worrisome provisions such as requiring ISPs to act as copyright cops and treating individual infringers with the same severity as large-scale pirates.

The author of this article makes particular note that the Obama administration has been very careful not to share the text of the “agreement with the public while it was given to the corporate insiders and the nations involved in the negotiations.

What was that President Obama said about “transparency”? Is this what he means when he says that he values the Constitution?  

Feb 01 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”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day

For some of us on the left, we were never invited to the “party.”

Taylor Marsh: The Party’s Over

There’s a reason Obama reelect doesn’t have a slogan.

All they’ve got is a question: Are you in? [..]

George W. Bush inspired the rise of the Tea Party, so one hoped that Barack Obama’s repeated applications of conservatism would unleash a requisite uprising on the left. However, there has been no challenge to Pres. Obama, with progressives in Congress and outside groups again and again rallying for him, while choosing to ignore his choice of conservatism over progressivism.

Pres. Obama can’t find a reelection slogan because his 2012 campaign boils down to the reality that “hope and change” has been reduced to “Republicans are worse.”

That’s not good enough for me anymore.

Katrina venden Heuvel: Eric Schneiderman: The Right Man, the Right Moment

In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama announced what Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect, describes as maybe “the most fateful political and economic development of the election year”-the formation of an inter-agency task force to finally investigate the mortgage and lending practices that led to the collapse of the economy and trillions of dollars in lost wealth, with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman named as co-chair.

It remains to be seen whether Schneiderman will be given the extensive resources and manpower he needs to conduct a thorough and aggressive investigation, or if the Wall Street faction within the Administration will stonewall the process. But I’m confident in this: Schneiderman is the right man for the job and he’s not about to let himself be co-opted for the President’s reelection bid. Throughout his career he’s been a steadfast champion of causes because they are right, not because they are popular or politically expedient. He’s been successful because he works to move voters closer to his positions, and sets a course toward a better future and better possibilities. If he’s being obstructed, he’ll let people know.

Maria Margaronis: European Summit: German Austerity Blues

“Nein! Nein! Nein!” roars today’s headline on Ta Nea, Greece’s largest circulation daily, over a caricature of Angela Merkel controlling a map of Greece with puppet strings. This is not just the usual Greek rage against the EU’s austerity measures: Last Friday the Financial Times made public a German proposal to take over Greece’s finances so extreme as to look like parody. In order to receive the next tranche of its bailout, the document explains, Greece would have to agree a “transfer of national budgetary sovereignty” to a European commissar, “preferably through constitutional amendment,” making an absolute commitment to service its debt before spending public funds on anything else

Merkel has since backed off from the document, but whoever leaked it obviously wasn’t aiming at a warm, candle-lit atmostphere between Greece and Germany at the ongoing negotiations for a write-down of Greece’s private sector debt, or at today’s European summit in Brussels (where there’s also a general strike in progress against austerity measures). Once again, the Greek crisis is at the heart of the talks, though it’s not on the published agenda. The official business on the table includes the new European fiscal compact, due to be signed in March, which would punish states that exceed fixed deficit and debt levels and has been described by one official as a plan to outlaw Keynesianism; and measures to promote growth and create jobs, especially for the young, who are now being tagged as a “lost generation.”

Amanda Marcotte: In Bad Faith: New Study Further Underscores Lack of Truth in Anti-Choice Claims

One of the most frustrating parts of dealing with the modern conservative movement is their incredibly practiced disingenuousness. From a bunch of white people denying racism while pushing racist policies to a bunch of straight people claiming that they want to ban gay marriage not because they hate gays, but because they love “traditional marriage,” the constant pose of the modern right winger is one of bad faith.

Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to the anti-choice movement. Despite arsons, vandalism and occasional assassinations, anti-choice activists demand the right to label their movement “non-violent.” And despite the fact that the movement is organized by religious people whose religion teaches that women should be constrained to traditional gender roles and that sex outside of marriage (or for pleasure instead of procreation) is wrong, anti-choicers cry foul if you suggest that their activism against women’s liberation or sexual freedom somehow is rooted in opposition to women’s liberation or hostility to sex.

Renee Parsons: What Happened to the War Powers Act?

On Sunday night’s 60 Minutes program, Scott Pelley opened an interview with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta with the question, “How many countries are we currently engaged in a shooting war?” Surprised by the question, Panetta, who laughed heartily as if Pelley had just told him a really humorous knock-knock joke that tickled his funny bone, responded ‘that’s a good question. I have to stop and think about that.” Panetta proceeded to answer “we’re going after al Qaeda wherever they’re at…. Clearly, we’re confronting al Qaeda in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, North Africa….” In case you’re wondering, yes, Panetta confirmed that US troops are in Pakistan.

Pelley’s question could not have been more clear just as Panetta’s answer was unequivocal. What neither Pelley nor Panetta, who received a law degree from Santa Clara University Law School, mentioned was that for the US to be ‘engaged in a shooting war,’ not to mention more shooting wars than he could recount, without congressional approval is not only unconstitutional but is a clear violation of the War Powers Act of 1973.

Michelle Chen: Amid ‘Turnaround Agenda,’ Teachers, Communities Overshadowed by Corporate Reforms

The conversation about school reform in Washington is replete with big ideas–glossy proposals for “accountability,” putting the “students first,” fixing “broken” schools, all in hopes of making America “competitive” again.

Yet our schools are poorer than ever, and in many communities, the child poverty has deepened while test scores have stagnated. The experts leading the education reform debate have failed to draw a simple equation: a system with adequate resources does better than one without.

The gap in the logic has widened as state governments press school districts to conform to new standards–or else. States are gunning for a competitive grant fund known as “Race to the Top,” which the White House dangles as an incentive to restructure school systems. This hyped-up free-market reform rhetoric seeped into President Obama’s suggestion to “offer schools a deal” in his State of the Union address.

Feb 01 2012

On This Day In History February 1

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.

February 1 is the 32nd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 333 days remaining until the end of the year (334 in leap years).

On this day in 1896, the opera La Bohème receives its premiere in Turin.

La Bohème is an opera in four acts by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, based on Scènes de la vie de bohème by Henri Murger. The world premiere performance of La Bohème was in Turin on 1 February 1896 at the Teatro Regio and conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini. Since then La Bohème has become part of the standard Italian opera repertory and is one of the most frequently performed operas internationally. According to Opera America, it is the second most frequently performed opera in the United States, just behind another Puccini opera, Madama Butterfly. In 1946, fifty years after the opera’s premiere, Toscanini conducted a performance of it on radio with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. This performance was eventually released on records and on Compact Disc. It is the only recording of a Puccini opera by its original conductor.

Origin of the story

According to its title page, the libretto of La bohème is based on Henri Murger‘s novel, Scènes de la vie de bohème, a collection of vignettes portraying young bohemians living in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840s. Although usually called a novel, it has no unified plot. Like the 1849 play by Murger and Thèodore Barrière, the opera’s libretto focuses on the relationship between Rodolfo and Mimi, ending with her death. Also like the play, the libretto combines two characters from the novel, Mimi and Francine, into a single Mimi character.

Much of the libretto is original. The main plots of acts two and three are the librettists’ invention, with only a few passing references to incidents and characters in Murger. Most of acts one and four follow the novel, piecing together episodes from various chapters. The final scenes in acts one and four, the scenes with Rodolfo and Mimi, resemble both the play and the novel. The story of their meeting closely follows chapter 18 of the novel, in which the two lovers living in the garret are not Rodolphe and Mimi at all, but rather Jacques and Francine. The story of Mimi’s death in the opera draws from two different chapters in the novel, one relating Francine’s death and the other relating Mimi’s.

The published libretto includes a note from the librettists briefly discussing their adaptation. Without mentioning the play directly, they defend their conflation of Francine and Mimi into a single character: “Chi puo non confondere nel delicato profilo di una sola donna quelli di Mimi e di Francine?” (“Who cannot detect in the delicate profile of one woman the personality both of Mimi and of Francine?”) At the time, the novel was in the public domain, Murger having died without heirs, but rights to the play were still controlled by Barrière’s heirs.

Feb 01 2012

Portal to Mars

Deadline Writer

Deadline Writer

Writer, Writer…

Dear Sir or Madam

will you read my piece?

It took me moments to write

will you look at least?

It’s based on a short diary

In a blog linked here

I don’t have a job

So I want to be a Deadline Writer

Deadline Writer

It’s a shitty story

of some shitty men

And general public

doesn’t understand

Their sons are working

for the Wall Street Mob

It’s a steady gig

But you want to be a Deadline Writer

Deadline Writer

It’s a thousand page hits

give or take a few

A little less

if it’s unique views

There are no two sites

That support the same style

I’ll have to change it round

If I want to be a Deadline Writer

Deadline Writer

You need the content

I give up the rights

It could make a million

for you overnight

If you just ignore it

I will have a fit

I need attention

And I want to be a Deadline Writer

Deadline Writer

Feb 01 2012

“File-Sharing and Monetization Aren’t Mutually Exclusive”

Neil Young is right – piracy is the new radio

As an artist who probably makes a substantial income from licensing his music, you might think Neil Young would frown on piracy and file-sharing, but that appears not to be the case, according to an interview he gave at the Dive Into Media conference in Los Angeles. Instead of railing against file-sharers, Young called piracy “the new radio” because it’s “how music gets around.” The musician’s comment puts a lot of the hysteria about copyright infringement into perspective – as we’ve pointed out before, file-sharing and monetization aren’t mutually exclusive, and in many cases a certain amount of so-called “piracy” can actually be good for business, as authors, musicians and even game developers have come to realize.

Feb 01 2012

Florida Republican Primary Open Thread

Sigh, by the lateness and brevity you can see my general level of interest.  Polls just closed in the eastern part of the State, but they won’t report results until the panhandle closes at 8 pm ET.

Many outlets are releasing their exit polling and all I have to say about the whole fiasco is this- Gingrich, win or lose, is doing far, far better than the high priced pundits predicted before South Carolina.

They’re idiots.  They don’t know anything.

Elite my ass.  You’re objectively less informed and dumber if you watch them so why do you do it?

If you want to kill brain cells my best advice is to get really drunk.  Power drill lobotomies also work.

(Note: Easily imitable acts are satire and intended to be interpreted sarcastically, not seriously.  I do not advocate home brain surgery.)