Daily Archive: 02/23/2012

Feb 23 2012

Guilty For Being Muslim

It has been known since last Summer that the New York City Police Department has has an intelligence unit coached by, and in conjunction with, the CIA which focuses on the Muslim community. This is being done even tough the CIA is prohibited from spying domestically on Americans. It was revealed in an Associated Press report that besides targeting Muslim communities, mosques and businesses inside the five boroughs, the surveillance has extended to Newark, New Jersey] (pdf) and Long Island (pdf).

The NYPD has been dispatching undercover officers called “rakers,” into minority neighborhoods to monitor daily life in bookstores, bars and other local common places, reported The Associated Press, citing a “months-long” investigation. Informants called “mosque crawlers,” monitored sermons and imams. Intelligence officers reportedly also gathered information on cab drivers and food cart vendors. [..]

The AP also reported that the NYPD operates far outside its borders in New Jersey and surrounding regions and targets ethnic communities, mainly Muslims, in specific ways that no federal agency could without violating civil liberty laws.

In October the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) filed a motion challenging the partnership in court to determine whether the spying operations violates an existing court order from 1971, revised in 2003, that restricted the NYPD’s ability to conduct surveillance targeting political and religious activity.

“The NYPD’s reported surveillance of local Muslim communities raises serious questions concerning whether the Police Department has violated court-ordered restrictions on its ability to spy on and keep dossiers on individuals,” said NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg. “In order to know whether the NYPD is violating the court order, we need a more complete explanation of the NYPD’s surveillance practices.”

The NYPD has an ugly history of racial profiling in black and Hispanic communities:

In 2010 alone, the NYPD engaged in more than 600,000 stop-and-frisks searches; 84% of those stopped were of black or Latino. Time and again, police officers have used force when stopping blacks or Latinos. Half of these stops have been cited as “furtive movements”, a label that portrays black and brown people as clandestine. The stop-and-frisk widespread problem that is racially discriminatory under the ostensible excuse that the practice is necessary in fighting crime. Sadly, this procedure has not proved to reduce crime or make the city any safer.

The department has gone as far as monitoring Muslims who change their names

The NYPD monitors everyone in the city who changes his or her name, according to internal police documents and interviews. For those whose names sound Arabic or might be from Muslim countries, police run comprehensive background checks that include reviewing travel records, criminal histories, business licenses and immigration documents. All this is recorded in police databases for supervisors, who review the names and select a handful of people for police to visit.

The program was conceived as a tripwire for police in the difficult hunt for homegrown terrorists, where there are no widely agreed upon warning signs. Like other NYPD intelligence programs created in the past decade, this one involved monitoring behavior protected by the First Amendment.

Earlier this week, AP reported that the NYPD had monitored Muslim students all over the Northeast:

One autumn morning in Buffalo, N.Y., a college student named Adeela Khan logged into her email and found a message announcing an upcoming Islamic conference in Toronto.

Khan clicked “forward,” sent it to a group of fellow Muslims at the University at Buffalo, and promptly forgot about it.

But that simple act on Nov. 9, 2006, was enough to arouse the suspicion of an intelligence analyst at the New York Police Department, 300 miles away, who combed through her post and put her name in an official report. Marked “SECRET” in large red letters, the document went all the way to Commissioner Raymond Kelly’s office. [..]

Police trawled daily through student websites run by Muslim student groups at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers and 13 other colleges in the Northeast. They talked with local authorities about professors in Buffalo and even sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip, where he recorded students’ names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed. [..]

Though the NYPD says it follows the same rules as the FBI, some of the NYPD’s activities go beyond what the FBI is allowed to do.

Kelly and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg repeatedly have said that the police only follow legitimate leads about suspected criminal activity.

But the latest documents mention no wrongdoing by any students.

Glen Greenwald rightfully notes the “hallmark of a Surveillance State is that police agencies secretly monitor and keep dossiers on not only those individuals suspected of lawbreaking, but on the society generally, including those individuals about whom there is no suspicion of wrongdoing.” and he calls out the blatant lies of Mayor Michael Bloomberg:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has long claimed – preposterously – that the NYPD does not target communities for survillence based on their religion, but as AP notes:  “In one section of the  report, police wrote that the largest immigrant groups in Newark were from Portugal and Brazil. But they did not photograph businesses or churches for those groups.” That’s because “‘No Muslim component within these communities was identified,‘ police wrote.” In the wake of this latest evidence, Bloomberg seemed to abandon that denial, shifting instead to justification: “The police department goes where there are allegations. And they look to see whether those allegations are true,” said the Mayor. “That’s what you’d expect them to do. That’s what you’d want them to do. Remind yourself when you turn out the light tonight.”

No, Mr. Bloomberg, you do not make us safer by violating our rights and the laws of this country. This is not the sign of a healthy society, as Glenn concludes:

the essential expression of the American Surveillance State: we can and will know everything about what you do, and you will know virtually nothing about what we do. In a healthy society, that formula would be reversed: the citizenry (with rare exceptions) would know most everything about what their government does, while the government would know nothing about what citizens do in the absence of well-grounded suspicion that they have done something wrong. Yet here we have the NYPD wandering outside of its jurisdiction in order to spy on the innocuous activities of a community of a religious minority (not even the Newark Mayor was informed about this), and the most disturbing part of it all is how common it now is.

Somebody needs to rein in Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD.

Feb 23 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”.

Robert Reich: Corporations Don’t Need a Tax Cut, So Why Is Obama Proposing One?

The Obama administration is proposing to lower corporate taxes from the current 35 percent to 28 percent for most companies and to 25 percent for manufacturers.

The move is supposed to be “revenue neutral” – meaning the Administration is also proposing to close assorted corporate tax loopholes to offset the lost revenues. One such loophole allows corporations to park their earnings overseas where taxes are lower.

Why isn’t the White House just proposing to close the loopholes without reducing overall corporate tax rates? That would generate more tax revenue that could be used for, say, public schools.

It’s not as if corporations are hurting. Quite the contrary. American companies are booking higher profits than ever. They’re sitting on $2 trillion of cash they don’t know what to do with.

New York Times Editorial: Reform and Corporate Taxes

The corporate tax system is a mess. The United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, but too many businesses still don’t contribute their fair share of revenue, in large part because of numerous loopholes, subsidies and other opportunities for tax avoidance. While some industries and companies pay little or no tax because they qualify for generous breaks or have really good lawyers, others are taxed heavily.

There is no doubt that a system that is more competitive, more efficient – the current mind-numbing complexity makes planning far too difficult – and more fair would be a plus for the economy. President Obama’s framework for business tax reform, released on Wednesday, is a welcome start for a much-needed debate on comprehensive tax reform. But we already have two big concerns.

Juan Cole: How the FCC Can Take the Money Out of Politics

The Federal Communications Commission should forbid television broadcasters from charging for campaign ads, and we, the public, should peacefully demonstrate outside the FCC offices at 445 12th Street SW, in Washington, D.C., until it does so.

Like the water or the air, the spectrum over which broadcasters transmit their wares is a finite resource that everyone depends on, and which needs to be regulated by government to prevent chaos and hoarding. But in licensing some corporations to dominate the airwaves, Congress inevitably excluded others. I can’t start a radio broadcast from my home because it would interfere with licensed stations. Because choosing some voices over others is inherently unfair, Congress in the Radio Act of 1927 and the Communications Act of 1934 established a general requirement that broadcasters act in the “public interest, convenience and necessity.” This conception of broadcasters as public trustees has been repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court. The FCC could easily invoke this requirement to demand that campaign commercials be aired gratis.

Amy Goodman: New Obama Campaign Co-Chair: ‘The President Is Wrong’

“The president is wrong.” So says one of the newly appointed co-chairs of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

Those four words headline the website of the organization Progressives United, founded by former U.S. Sen., and now Obama campaign adviser, Russ Feingold. He is referring to Obama’s recent announcement that he will accept super PAC funds for his re-election campaign. Feingold writes: “The President is wrong to embrace the corrupt corporate politics of Citizens United through the use of Super PACs-organizations that raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations and the richest individuals, sometimes in total secrecy. It’s not just bad policy; it’s also dumb strategy.” And, he says, it’s “dancing with the devil.”

Gail Collins: Four Dudes and a Table

The 20th Republican debate! I have now spent more time watching the Republican presidential candidates on television than two seasons of “Downton Abbey.” Perhaps it would be easier if Newt Gingrich wore a tuxedo.

Also, I am pretty sure the folks at Downton Abbey never spent an episode arguing about earmarks. Republicans, why are we still discussing earmarks? If the American people cared passionately about earmarks, wouldn’t they have elected John McCain?

My personal favorite debate moment on Wednesday night was when the candidates were asked to describe themselves in one word and Newt Gingrich said “cheerful.” Not an adjective you frequently hear when Newt is the topic, but you do appreciate the aspiration, particularly when Mitt Romney went for “resolute.”

Robert Sheer: The Gang That Couldn’t Bomb Straight

Here we go again. With the economy showing faint signs of life and their positions on the social issues alienating most moderates, the leading Republican candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, have returned to the elixir of warmongering to once again sway the gullible masses. The race to the bottom has been set by Newt Gingrich, the most desperate of the lot, who on Tuesday charged that “The President wants to unilaterally weaken the United States,” because his administration has dared question the wisdom of Israel attacking Iran and proposes a slight reduction in the bloated defense budget.

Let the good times roll with a beefed-up military budget justified by plans to invade yet another Muslim country. As Paul warned during the South Carolina primary debate as his presidential rivals threatened war with Iran: “I’m afraid what’s going on right now is similar to the war propaganda that went on against Iraq.” Indeed, the shouting match over which of the other GOP candidates most wants a war with Iran is in sync with the last Republican president’s 2003 invasion.

Feb 23 2012

Obama’s Re-Election Isn’t Looking So In-the-Bag

FDL’s Jon Walker posted a telling entry regarding the chances of any of the GOP candidates against Obama in November.  It’s telling in that the numbers show the race well within traditional GOP election-theft margins.

It wouldn’t be this damned close if Obama governed like a progressive instead of the fascist he is.

Yes, Obama is a fascist.  Deal with it.

How else do you explain Obama’s war on whistleblowers, his appointment of someone to the Supreme Court who believes in unfettered executive power, his illegal war to overthrow the Libyan government and his disastrous push for regime change in Iran (not to mention his desire to arm pro-U.S. “rebels” in Syria), his targeting of public education, Social Security, and Medicare for deep cuts, his health insurance bailout written by and for the insurance industry, and his corporate-favoring tax policies, among other offenses?

Obama won the 2008 election with a large enough margin that not even the normally insurmountable election fraud tactics of the GOP could rig the contest in its favor.  This year, however, having governed like the far right Republican he is, Obama could still very well lose to whichever batshit-crazy Nazi-wannabe gets his party’s nomination.

Harry Truman once wrote, “Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican all the time.”  This political truism remains just as solid today as when it was first stated.  So why do Democrats insist on blocking this fundamental truth from their thought processes?

It’s because they don’t really care about winning or holding on to nominal power.  As the second major political party serving as Wall Street’s lap dogs, their control of government, or lack thereof, changes not one significant policy, does not alter the status quo so much as one iota.  That is exactly as Democrats like it, having permanently tethered their prospects to those of their corporate paymasters.  They get all the perks of having some measure of political power with none of the responsibility that comes with it, while their alleged opponents get all the blame for policies they support and enable at every chance.  Why ruin that by passing and implementing legislation that would deprive their masters, and themselves, of power?

So Barry Obama may not win in November despite the flood of Wall Street cash that is greater than what is being raised by all of his GOP “rivals” combined.  He will, of course, have no one but himself to blame.  Nevertheless, expect the blame for his loss come November to fall on what passes for the American left.

Feb 23 2012

I’m lying to you now.

Tom Miller, HUD Officials Laugh at Schneiderman Publicly

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Wednesday February 22, 2012 8:55 am

Whether you believe in Eric Schneiderman’s ability to deliver a legitimate investigation on mortgage securitization fraud or not, you have to admit that the united front on opposition to a settlement on foreclosure fraud collapsed the moment that he agreed to helm that federal investigatory task force. He immediately separated “pre-bubble” and “post-bubble” conduct, allowing for a settlement on the latter while he joined the investigation on the former. And eventually, every other AG on the Democratic side fell in line, as they didn’t have New York as an anchor to stay out of a settlement.

That’s just what happened. And now we have HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Iowa AG Tom Miller, head of the executive committee that settled on foreclosure fraud, clowning Schneiderman on the record, saying that he got next to nothing in exchange for his holdout.



There is no guarantee that the settlement will lead to the maximum amount of $32 billion in principal reduction that Donovan hypes. In fact, the government’s own press release only guarantees “at least $10 billion” in principal reduction. Needless to say, even the high-end amount is next to nothing relative to the scale of the problem for underwater borrowers. And according to this article, Geithner was won over when he learned that the program would not be “overly punitive.” We’ve chronicled the numerous ways in which the banks make out very easy on the deal, and can even profit off it.



Wow. This is on the record, with Miller saying that the release only looks like it was tailored to Schneiderman’s specifications. Miller, by the way, was announced today as one of President Obama’s re-election campaign co-chairs.

Schneiderman has promised that he would walk away from the task force if he found it insufficient, with his co-chairs slow-walking the investigation. With the task force barely begun, here’s the head of the state settlement and insiders close to Donovan just out-and-out clowning him, alleging that Donovan bait-and-switched him. We’re waiting for that walk-away any time now.

HUD Continues Defense of Allowing HAMP Modifications as Part of the Foreclosure Fraud Settlement

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Wednesday February 22, 2012 11:06 am

The pushback from the Administration on one particular story arising from the foreclosure fraud settlement has been pretty intense. You cannot say that Shahien Nasiripour doesn’t have the attention of HUD.

Today, they devoted an entire blog post (unsigned, from “HUD Public Affairs”) to refuting Nasiripour’s story in the Financial Times (which they don’t link, so I will) about how bank servicers can count HAMP modifications toward the “credits” in the foreclosure fraud settlement. But really they only refute the title of Nasiripour’s story.



HUD also leaves key questions unanswered in their post. They say that “if a servicer receives a HAMP incentive of 40 cents for every dollar of principal reduction, it can receive credit at the applicable rate on the remaining 60 cents… in no event can the servicer receive more under the settlement than it would have in the absence of HAMP incentives.” But does this include the additional HAMP incentive for the borrower staying current? Also, isn’t it the investor, not the servicer, who receives incentive payments in the principal reduction plan inside HAMP?

In addition, if this is coming on line with the settlement over the next 6-9 months, as eligible underwater borrowers are identified, why would any servicer in the short term do a principal reduction through HAMP? As HUD says in their post, “most HAMP modifications do not include principal reduction.” That, of course, is why it has such a high re-delinquency rate (up to 30% of borrowers go delinquent within 18 months), because the modifications that servicers perform in HAMP are unsustainable. The entire point of the new HAMP tweaks was to encourage more principal reduction. So why add an incentive to delay principal reduction for 6-9 months?

HUD claims that they could not have exempted HAMP from the settlement, because “it would have freed (servicers) from HAMP’s extensive compliance regime, reporting requirements, and borrower-protection features.” This is a non sequitur. You could very easily have put those compliance guidelines into the settlement. It would have been a simple copy-paste. HUD answers this by saying that “it would make it less likely that HAMP-eligible borrowers would receive principal reduction.” I’m not following the logic there at all. You could just include the evaluation and reporting requirements across all loans as part of the settlement.

And it goes without saying that, until there are terms on a sheet of paper that everyone can read, these claims by HUD just aren’t entirely credible. We don’t know what’s in the settlement yet. That’s a factual statement.

I’ll say this, the criticism appears to be getting to HUD. Some Connecticut lawmakers savaged the miniscule $2,000 check to foreclosure victims (which the Attorney General of the state, who was on the settlement’s executive committee, characterized as $1,500 – what does he know that we don’t?) that’s part of the settlement. Heck, even Pat Robertson is calling for corrupt bankers to be put in jail, citing the experience of Iceland. It must be lonely defending this settlement.

Feb 23 2012

On This Day In History February 23

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 23 is the 54th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 311 days remaining until the end of the year (312 in leap years).

On this day in 1954, a group of children from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, receive the first injections of the new polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk.

Though not as devastating as the plague or influenza, poliomyelitis was a highly contagious disease that emerged in terrifying outbreaks and seemed impossible to stop. Attacking the nerve cells and sometimes the central nervous system, polio caused muscle deterioration, paralysis and even death. Even as medicine vastly improved in the first half of the 20th century in the Western world, polio still struck, affecting mostly children but sometimes adults as well. The most famous victim of a 1921 outbreak in America was future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then a young politician. The disease spread quickly, leaving his legs permanently paralyzed.

Poliomyelitis, often called polio or infantile paralysis, is an acute viral infectious disease spread from person to person, primarily via the fecal-oral route The term derives from the Greek polios, meaning “grey”, myelos, referring to the “spinal cord”, and the suffix -itis, which denotes inflammation.

Although around 90% of polio infections cause no symptoms at all, affected individuals can exhibit a range of symptoms if the virus enters the blood stream. In about 1% of cases the virus enters the central nervous system, preferentially infecting and destroying motor neurons, leading to muscle weakness and acute flaccid paralysis. Different types of paralysis may occur, depending on the nerves involved. Spinal polio is the most common form, characterized by asymmetric paralysis that most often involves the legs. Bulbar polio leads to weakness of muscles innervated by cranial nerves. Bulbospinal polio is a combination of bulbar and spinal paralysis.

Poliomyelitis was first recognized as a distinct condition by Jakob Heine in 1840. Its causative agent, poliovirus, was identified in 1908 by Karl Landsteiner. Although major polio epidemics were unknown before the late 19th century, polio was one of the most dreaded childhood diseases of the 20th century. Polio epidemics have crippled thousands of people, mostly young children; the disease has caused paralysis and death for much of human history. Polio had existed for thousands of years quietly as an endemic pathogen until the 1880s, when major epidemics began to occur in Europe; soon after, widespread epidemics appeared in the United States.

By 1910, much of the world experienced a dramatic increase in polio cases and frequent epidemics became regular events, primarily in cities during the summer months. These epidemics-which left thousands of children and adults paralyzed-provided the impetus for a “Great Race” towards the development of a vaccine. Developed in the 1950s, polio vaccines are credited with reducing the global number of polio cases per year from many hundreds of thousands to around a thousand. Enhanced vaccination efforts led by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Rotary International could result in global eradication of the disease.

Eradication

While now rare in the Western world, polio is still endemic to South Asia and Nigeria. Following the widespread use of poliovirus vaccine in the mid-1950s, the incidence of poliomyelitis declined dramatically in many industrialized countries. A global effort to eradicate polio began in 1988, led by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and The Rotary Foundation. These efforts have reduced the number of annual diagnosed cases by 99%; from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to a low of 483 cases in 2001, after which it has remained at a level of about 1,000 cases per year (1,606 in 2009). Polio is one of only two diseases currently the subject of a global eradication program, the other being Guinea worm disease. If the global Polio Eradication initiative is successful before that for Guinea worm or any other disease, it would be only the third time humankind has ever completely eradicated a disease, after smallpox in 1979 and rinderpest in 2010. A number of eradication milestones have already been reached, and several regions of the world have been certified polio-free. The Americas were declared polio-free in 1994. In 2000 polio was officially eliminated in 36 Western Pacific countries, including China and Australia. Europe was declared polio-free in 2002. As of 2006, polio remains endemic in only four countries: Nigeria, India (specifically Uttar Pradesh and Bihar), Pakistan, and Afghanistan, although it continues to cause epidemics in other nearby countries born of hidden or reestablished transmission.