Daily Archive: 05/11/2012

May 11 2012

This is how you do it.

Greece Moves Closer to a Second Round of Elections

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Friday May 11, 2012 12:55 pm

So we’re headed for a second election. And of course, that’s the reason Tsipras rejected the PASOK offer today. Polling shows that his Radical Coalition of the Left party now leads in a hypothetical second round. That would give him far more leverage and the potential to form the government on his terms. The legacy parties cannot form a government without Tsipras and Syriza, so he holds all the cards.

In fact, Tsipras has already changed the game in Greece. All of the talks about forming a government now start from the proposition of renegotiating the debt deal. That’s a starkly different formulation from what we saw before the election, which basically drew a contrast between the legacy parties that wanted to maintain the deal, and the fringe parties that wanted to cancel it. With the fringe parties basically winning the elections, maintaining the deal is no longer an option.

Of course, this open talk of defying the deal has pushed the country closer to default and a Eurozone exit. In a darkly amusing detail, Reuters notes that many banks, perhaps expecting this moment, “never erased the drachma from their systems” and would be ready to quickly return to the currency if Greece decided to leave the Eurozone.

Well, you may leave something out when you code new, but you hardly ever throw anything away.

May 11 2012

Is It Time For Schneiderman To Walk Away From The Task Force?

It may be past time for New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to walk away from Residential Mortage Backed Securities working group (RMBS) and point it out for the sham that it is. It’s just not working and perhaps never was intended to “work”, from Anna Cuevas at Huffington Post:

Not only have they not done anything, they also have no dedicated website, address, or telephone number. Under the arm of the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the Group planned to have 30 employees within the first few weeks — however, as of this date, the only names associated with the Group are the co-chairs: Lanny Breuer, Stuart Delery, Robert Khuzami, John Walsh, and Eric Schneiderman. While the president deemed that this group would “speed assistance” to homeowners, that assistance has thus far been exceedingly slow or non-existent. [..]

Questions remain and need to be answered. The Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group is the sixth group formed by the administration to address the foreclosure crisis and provide relief to homeowners. Unfortunately, this group, like the others, is not seeing the urgency of the matter — that is, if they do, in fact, exist and are something more than a public relations announcement. As it appears, the new Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group is not working — they don’t even have a place to work from.

Schneiderman tried to put a positive spin on this circle jerk but it’s not easing the growing skepticism. From David Dayen at FDL News Desk:

My point on this was always that the President’s appropriation request and $6 will get you a very expensive cup of coffee at my local Intelligentsia café (seriously, $6 for a cup of coffee?). Presidential budget requests are as ignored in Washington as pledges to not accept lobbyist money, or marital vows. The request didn’t mean anything, and the House Republicans currently putting together the budget were highly unlikely to honor it.

Sure enough, yesterday, the Justice, Science and Commerce appropriations bill, the proper venue for this additional $55 million request, came up for a vote. Maxine Waters tried to include the appropriation for the RMBS working group. And it failed pretty badly. [..]

there’s no chance that the working group gets anything close to this kind of money for at least 4 months, and in all likelihood not at all.

It’s just another example of how the protestations about the legitimacy of the working group fall apart when subjected to the slightest scrutiny.

At naked capitalism, Yves Smith was even more critical of the task force and Schneiderman’s “performance” on Up with Chris Hayes:

The point is that (Iowa AG Tom) Miller was a convenient stooge for the Administration. His job was to maintain the pretense that the effort he was leading was in the public’s interest and moving ahead at a good clip. These weren’t very easy lies to sell and Miller wasn’t very good at pedaling them, but that didn’t matter much. His job was to keep up a certain level of background noise.

But nothing was going to happen unless the Administration wanted it to happen, and for some reason, the powers that be decided in late 2011 that a mortgage settlement would be a useful election talking point. So they saddled up and pushed the foundering deal over the line.

Now that the Administration has traded up from the unknown Miller to the soi disant “Man the Banks Fear Most” Eric Schneiderman, we have the instructive spectacle of watching Schneiderman look more and more Miller-like with every passing day. Admittedly, Schneiderman is far more skilled at passing off Administration canards than Miller, and is also trusted by many progressives, so he can probably run on brand fumes for quite a while. [..]

Schneiderman may be able to get away with this longer than he should, particularly since the plan is likely to be to file a couple of headline-getting but not-seriously-threatening-to-the-banking-oligarchs cases in the weeks before the election. He seems not to have noticed how the Administration has been quick to cast aside its operatives when they are no longer of use to them. In case he has managed not to notice how he is being played, expect him to have a rude awakening by the election.

Read Yves entire article, it’s a scathingly realistic assessment of the Obama administration, the RMBS (could that abbreviation be more appropriate?) and Schneiderman. If Schneiderman doesn’t walk away from this joke, he will lose what little credibility he has left which, at this point, isn’t much.

May 11 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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

New York Times Editorial The Human Cost of Ideology

For more than a year, House Republicans have energetically worked to demolish vital social programs that have made this country both stronger and fairer over the last half-century. At the same time, they have insisted on preserving bloated military spending and unjustifiably low tax rates for the rich. That effort reached a nadir on Thursday when the House voted to prevent $55 billion in automatic cuts imposed on the Pentagon as part of last year’s debt-ceiling deal, choosing instead to make all those cuts, and much more, from domestic programs. [..]

House Democrats offered an alternative bill that would replace the $109 billion sequester by raising taxes on the wealthy, ending oil company tax loopholes and cutting farm subsidies, but it was rejected. Republicans are determined to protect millionaires and defense contractors, no matter the costs to the country.

Paul Krugman: Easy Useless Economics

A few days ago, I read an authoritative-sounding paper in The American Economic Review, one of the leading journals in the field, arguing at length that the nation’s high unemployment rate had deep structural roots and wasn’t amenable to any quick solution. The author’s diagnosis was that the U.S. economy just wasn’t flexible enough to cope with rapid technological change. The paper was especially critical of programs like unemployment insurance, which it argued actually hurt workers because they reduced the incentive to adjust.  

O.K., there’s something I didn’t tell you: The paper in question was published in June 1939. Just a few months later, World War II broke out, and the United States – though not yet at war itself – began a large military buildup, finally providing fiscal stimulus on a scale commensurate with the depth of the slump. And, in the two years after that article about the impossibility of rapid job creation was published, U.S. nonfarm employment rose 20 percent – the equivalent of creating 26 million jobs today.

Amy Goodman: Coal, Foreclosures and Bank of America’s ‘Extraordinary Event’

Shareholder meetings can be routine, unless you are Bank of America, in which case it may be declared an “extraordinary event.” That is what the city of Charlotte, N.C., called the bank’s shareholder meeting this week. Bank of America is currently the second-largest bank in the U.S. (after JPMorgan Chase), claiming more than $2 trillion in assets. It also is the “too big to fail” poster child of Occupy Wall Street, a speculative banking monstrosity that profits from, among other things, the ongoing foreclosure crisis and the exploitation of dirty coal.  [..]

Those gathered inside and outside the Bank of America shareholder meeting this week-homeowners fighting foreclosure, environmentalists, Occupy Wall Street activists-will take note of the president’s change. They are sure to continue their struggles, right through the Democratic National Convention, making it truly an “extraordinary event.”

Robert Sheer: Hope and Hesitation in Obama’s Sudden Conversion

Once again President Barack Obama has come tantalizingly close to being terrific. But his failure of courage on the gay marriage issue, in the end, undermined the point he hoped to make Wednesday. As with his prior rhetorical flashes of principle in denouncing torture, commiserating with the victims of Wall Street fraud and resolving to end unjustifiable wars, he quickly waffled and the result was a continuation of that which is fundamentally wrong.

There is only one essential point to be made about gay marriage: To acknowledge one’s own sexual being and to define the relationships that follow is a basic human right. How dare anyone intrude on a life choice that is not his to make for others? Whether the president’s family knows gay couples who are monogamous and nice to their children has no more to do with the issue than the old argument of enlightened racists in the American South that there were many fine Negroes who were not at all uppity.

Amanda Marcotte: The Real Reason Romney is Struggling with Women Voters

Back in February, things started to look dire for the Romney campaign’s ability to attract female voters. Every day brought another story about Republican attacks on reproductive rights: attacks on insurance coverage for contraception, transvaginal probes, all-male panels called in Congress to discuss contraception, attacks on Planned Parenthood’s funding, and the candidate himself increasingly afraid to say a positive word about contraception when asked directly in the debates. A gender gap opened up between the candidates in the polls, with Obama outpacing Romney with women by 19 points. The Romney campaign responded by trying to change the subject, to jobs and the economy. But if Romney wants to close the gender gap, he should rethink that strategy. After all, the polling data suggests that his stance on economic issues – specifically the size of the safety net and amount of economic support the government provides to citizens – is what’s really hurting him with female voters.

The real war between the sexes may not be over feminism or sex so much as whether or not our tax dollars should go to social spending. Research conducted by Pew in October 2011 showed women support a strong, activist government in much larger numbers than men. On the question of whether the government should offer more services, women said yes by 9 more percentage points than men. The gender gap on social spending remained when pollsters asked about specific interest groups. Women wanted more spending on the elderly than did men by 11 percentage points, more spending on children by 10 percentage points and more spending on the poor by 9 percentage points.

Michael T. Klare: The Energy Wars Heat Up

Conflict and intrigue over valuable energy supplies have been features of the international landscape for a long time.  Major wars over oil have been fought every decade or so since World War I, and smaller engagements have erupted every few years; a flare-up or two in 2012, then, would be part of the normal scheme of things.  Instead, what we are now seeing is a whole cluster of oil-related clashes stretching across the globe, involving a dozen or so countries, with more popping up all the time.  Consider these flash-points as signals that we are entering an era of intensified conflict over energy.

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, Argentina to the Philippines, here are the six areas of conflict-all tied to energy supplies-that have made news in just the first few months of 2012 [. .    .]

May 11 2012

On This Day In History May 11

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 images to enlarge

May 11 is the 131st day of the year (132nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 234 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1934, a massive storm sends millions of tons of topsoil flying from across the parched Great Plains region of the United States as far east as New York, Boston and Atlanta.

At the time the Great Plains were settled in the mid-1800s, the land was covered by prairie grass, which held moisture in the earth and kept most of the soil from blowing away even during dry spells. By the early 20th century, however, farmers had plowed under much of the grass to create fields. The U.S. entry into World War I in 1917 caused a great need for wheat, and farms began to push their fields to the limit, plowing under more and more grassland with the newly invented tractor. The plowing continued after the war, when the introduction of even more powerful gasoline tractors sped up the process. During the 1920s, wheat production increased by 300 percent, causing a glut in the market by 1931.

The Dust Bowl, or the Dirty Thirties, was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands from 1930 to 1936 (in some areas until 1940). The phenomenon was caused by severe drought coupled with decades of extensive farming without crop rotation, fallow fields, cover crops or other techniques to prevent erosion. Deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains had displaced the natural deep-rooted grasses that normally kept the soil in place and trapped moisture even during periods of drought and high winds.

During the drought of the 1930s, without natural anchors to keep the soil in place, it dried, turned to dust, and blew away eastward and southward in large dark clouds. At times the clouds blackened the sky reaching all the way to East Coast cities such as New York and Washington, D.C. Much of the soil ended up deposited in the Atlantic Ocean, carried by prevailing winds, which were in part created by the dry and bare soil conditions. These immense dust storms-given names such as “Black Blizzards” and “Black Rollers”-often reduced visibility to a few feet (around a meter). The Dust Bowl affected 100,000,000 acres (400,000 km2), centered on the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, and adjacent parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas.

Millions of acres of farmland became useless, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes; many of these families (often known as “Okies”, since so many came from Oklahoma) migrated to California and other states, where they found economic conditions little better during the Great Depression than those they had left. Owning no land, many became migrant workers who traveled from farm to farm to pick fruit and other crops at starvation wages. Author John Steinbeck [ later wrote The Grapes of Wrath, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and Of Mice and Men, about such people.

May 11 2012

The President Supports Same Sex Marriage But . . .

Vice President Joe Biden started a storm over marriage equality when he announced on Meet the Press that same sex marriage was OK with him. The press immediately wanted to know if President Obama’s position had “evolved.” The Biden interview was taped on Friday, so the White House was fully aware of what he had said. Finally, after three days of media over kill, the passage of Amendment 1 in North Carolina and the drying up of donations from the LGBT community, Pres. Obama announced that he “personally” supported same sex marriage. But hold your horses, people, this was just his personal opinion, not his political policy. Obama is still refusing to issue an executive order that would ban discrimination of gays, lesbians and transgender workers by federal contractors. From Sam Stein at Huffington Post:

The senior administration officials declined to say whether the president would now push for gay marriage to be part of the Democratic Party’s platform at the convention. They also said they were not changing positions on an Executive Order that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation against federal contractors. The president has said he would not sign that order. [..]

There were, however, reasons why even party officials were insisting, not all that long ago, that the president needed to put this off until after the election. There is concern that support for gay marriage will drive away voters in some conservative-leaning swing states. There is even more concern that Republican operatives can and will use the issue to go after the president.

Letting each state decide on the equality of individuals is not the best idea either. How would individuals have voted in states like Mississippi if they had been given the choice about civil rights? Marriage equality is a federal matter since states are required under the Constitution to recognize marriage contracts from other states. Therefore, they should not be permitted to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples.

Does anyone at this point seriously believe that any of the people who voted for NC’S Amendment 1 will ever vote for Obama, no matter what his stand is on marriage equality? Only time will tell if the campaign donation faucet suddenly opens since it had dried up because of the work place discrimination issue. While it is certainly admirable and, in the case of Obama being a sitting president, momentous, for him to have made an official statement, the President still needs to “walk the walk”, back up his words and sign the anti-discrimnation executive order.