Daily Archive: 08/09/2012

Aug 09 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”.

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Dean Baker: The Fed, Ben Bernanke and the rotten Libor

Ben Bernanke had an obligation as Fed chair to expose and stop the rigging of inter-bank lending rates.

The case of the rigged Libor turns out to be the scandal that just keeps on giving. It reveals a great deal about the behaviour of the Federal Reserve Board and central banks more generally.

Last month, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke gave testimony before Congress in which he said that he had become aware of evidence that banks in the UK were rigging the Libor – the inter-bank lending rate and one of the primary benchmarks for short-term interest rates – in the autumn of 2008. According to Bernanke, he called this to the attention of Mervyn King, the head of the Bank of England. Apparently Mervyn King did nothing, since the rigging continued, but Bernanke told Congress there was nothing more that he could do.

The implications of Bernanke’s claim are incredible. There are trillions of dollars of car loans, mortgages and other debts, in the United States, tied to the Libor. There are also huge derivative contracts whose value depends on the Libor at a moment in time. People were winning or losing on these deals not based on the market, but rather on the rigged Libor rate being set by the big banks.

Michael T. Klare: The Coming Hunger Wars: Heat, Drought, Rising Food Costs, and Global Unrest

The Great Drought of 2012 has yet to come to an end, but we already know that its consequences will be severe. With more than one-half of America’s counties designated as drought disaster areas, the 2012 harvest of corn, soybeans, and other food staples is guaranteed to fall far short of predictions. This, in turn, will boost food prices domestically and abroad, causing increased misery for farmers and low-income Americans and far greater hardship for poor people in countries that rely on imported U.S. grains. [..]

At this point, the focus is understandably on the immediate consequences of the still ongoing Great Drought: dying crops, shrunken harvests, and rising food prices. But keep an eye out for the social and political effects that undoubtedly won’t begin to show up here or globally until later this year or 2013.  Better than any academic study, these will offer us a hint of what we can expect in the coming decades from a hunger-games world of rising temperatures, persistent droughts, recurring food shortages, and billions of famished, desperate people.

Glen Ford: Where Will the US Strike Next in Africa?

Under the direction of the United States, the UN Security Council recently extended sanctions for another year against the northeast African nation of Eritrea. The country of 6 million people, nestled against the Red Sea, is on America’s hit list. In the imperial double-speak of Washington, Eritrea is described as a “destabilizing” force in the region – which simply means the government in Asmara has refused to buckle under to U.S. military domination of the Horn of Africa. [..]

Eritrea’s real sin is to be one of the very few nations in Africa that do not have military relations with AFRICOM, the U.S. war machine. That puts a bulls-eye on her back, along with Zimbabwe and Sudan, which U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice demanded be blockaded and bombed back in the George Bush administration. Barack Obama’s Africa policy is an extension and expansion of Bush’s aim to militarize the continent, and the much older U.S. policy to create chaos and horrific human suffering in those regions it cannot directly control. In practice, Obama’s doctrine is the same as Bush: “You are either with us or against us.”

Gail Collins: The Wacky Primary Voters

Missouri Republicans have just nominated a Senate candidate who appears to believe that the government’s college student loan program is the equivalent of Stage 3 cancer. Actually, he said “the Stage 3 cancer of socialism,” which is perhaps not the exact same thing. But I believe you get the idea.

This was a week after Texas Republicans nominated a Senate candidate who is worried about protecting the world’s golf courses from the United Nations. Republicans, I think you need to get a grip. [..]

Next week we have Wisconsin, where former Gov. Tommy Thompson, the guy everyone expected the Republicans to nominate for the Senate, is in trouble thanks to a challenge from – yes! – the Tea Party. And will Connecticut Republicans nominate a former congressman with a reputation for bipartisanship or a businesswoman whose claim to fame is building a professional wrestling empire? Duh.

Paul Krugman: US Conservatives Pile on the Excuses

The commentators Mike Konczal and Jonathan Chait both had good blog posts recently on “You didn’t build that,” the statement President Obama made during a speech in July that, deliberately misinterpreted, has dominated right-wing discourse these past few days. But I think both of them missed a couple of tricks.

The first is that both in effect shrugged their shoulders over the fact that for several days running the central theme of the Romney campaign has rested on a complete lie.

I understand; going on about the dishonesty can get boring. But we should step back often to look at this remarkable spectacle. I really don’t think there’s been anything like this in American political history: a presidential campaign with a pretty good chance of winning that is based entirely on cynical lies about what the sitting president has said. No, Mr. Obama hasn’t apologized for America; no, he hasn’t denigrated achievement. Yet take away those claims, and there’s nothing left in Mitt Romney’s rhetoric.

Michael Wolff: Never Forget Who Profits Most in $2 Billion Presidential Campaign

Campaign fundraising’s reality is that donors large and small end up disappointed. So cui bono? The media and media buyers

What does all this money, in the most well-funded presidential race ever, buy?

There’s the $750m for the president; $800m for Mitt Romney; and then there’s a couple of hundred more in Super Pac funds.

What do the people putting up all this dough in politics actually get? Or maybe a better question: how do people keep falling for this? [..]

Sheldon Adelson has been one of the big spenders during this campaign (by some estimates, his spend may go to $100m), first for Newt Gingrich, and now for Romney, accompanying the Republican candidate and his entourage on their recent trip to Israel. This might be what Adelson wants: some big-man travel, some personal press, a sense of bully-boy insinuation into Israel-US relations, some faith-based pride. But does he get real influence?

Jim Hightower: The People’s Choice! Only, Not Really

If you thought right-wing politicos couldn’t get any goofier, take a peek at Texas on “Cruz Control.”

Ted Cruz is America’s latest tea party darling, having just pulled off a political contortion in Texas that few would’ve thought humanly possible: He got to the right of Gov. Rick Perry! The “Oops” governor is himself a former tea party darling who’s such a far-out know-nothing that he’s renowned for putting the goober in gubernatorial. By the time of last week’s Republican runoff election in Texas, however, Cruz had squinched himself Houdini-like into even farther-out political positions than Perry has taken, thus wowing the tealeaf crowd and defeating the guy whom Perry was backing to be the Party’s nominee for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

How far out is he? One of the white-hot talking points Cruz used to fire-up the narrow extremists who now control the Texas GOP is that he will, by God, defend America’s golf courses! You might not have realized that golf course defense is a burning national issue crying out for the attention of U.S. senators, but such keen vigilance on even the most unimaginable threats to our nation is the kind of stuff that makes Cruz a tea party fave.

Aug 09 2012

Fines Not Commensurate with the Crime

The fines that are being levied against banks and companies for investment fraud, fraudulent advertising, money laundering and the like are large but come nowhere near the cost to tax payers and investors. Since these fines are but a fraction of the profits that these criminals reap, the fines won’t deter them from repeating the offense. Nor does it help that as part of the settlement the company and its employees are let off the hook for criminal wrongdoing.

Glaxo Agrees to Pay $3 Billion in Fraud Settlement

In the largest settlement involving a pharmaceutical company, the British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay $3 billion in fines for promoting its best-selling antidepressants for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data about a top diabetes drug, federal prosecutors announced Monday. The agreement also includes civil penalties for improper marketing of a half-dozen other drugs. [..]

Part of the civil settlement also includes claims that the company overcharged the government for drugs. Glaxo did not admit any wrongdoing in the civil settlement.

Despite the large amount, $3 billion represents only a portion of what Glaxo made on the drugs. Avandia, for example, racked up $10.4 billion in sales, Paxil brought in $11.6 billion, and Wellbutrin sales were $5.9 billion during the years covered by the settlement, according to IMS Health, a data group that consults for drugmakers.

In the New York Times article, Patrick Burns, spokesman for the whistle-blower advocacy group Taxpayers Against Fraud, stated, “So a $3 billion settlement for half a dozen drugs over 10 years can be rationalized as the cost of doing business.” Also, Eliot Spitzer, former New York State Attorney General who sued GlaxoSmithKline in 2004 over allegations about the drug Paxil, was quoted as saying that “What we’re learning is that money doesn’t deter corporate malfeasance, The only thing that will work in my view is C.E.O.’s and officials being forced to resign and individual culpability being enforced.”

In another case, Morgan Stanley, an international investment firm, has agreed to pay a fine of $4.8 million with no admission of wrongdoing for electricity price-fixing said to cost consumers $300 million. Justice department officials said that it sends a message to the banking industry. What message would that be?

The government said the arrangement allowed KeySpan to withhold substantial electricity generating capacity from the market, driving prices higher for consumers, and generated $21.6 million of net revenue for Morgan Stanley.

U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan said he shared the concerns of state officials and the AARP, a nonprofit serving people 50 and older, that any settlement should have reflected the harm to consumers and forced Morgan Stanley to give up the $21.6 million.

“Given the government’s stark allegations of manipulative conduct against Morgan Stanley, disgorgement of $4.8 million is a relatively mild sanction,” Pauley wrote. “There is a risk that a large financial services firm like Morgan Stanley could view such a modest penalty as merely a cost of doing business.

“But despite this court’s misgivings, the government’s decision to settle for less than full damages is entitled to judicial deference, particularly in view of the novelty of the government’s theory.”

The judge also rejected the AARP argument that the $4.8 million be returned to consumers, in part because sending it instead to the U.S. Treasury served the public interest.

So the consumers are left holding the bag, particularly the financially stressed elderly and poor, while the Morgan Stanley and Keyspan continue business as usual concocting new ways to break the law.

If whistleblowers can reveal it, why can’t the government prosecute it? The claim by the Obama administration that it’s too hard to find the evidence to pin on an individual just rings too hollow. It may be hard but it is possible with subpoenas and little more effort. It is well past time we held the criminals responsible for breaking the laws and stop prosecuting those who expose it.

Aug 09 2012

What to Do When Liberal SCOTUS Justices Think Corporations are People Too

Cross posted in Orange and Voices on the Square

I don’t know what to do. This is pretty daunting and I think half of the Democratic electorate still thinks that most of the dissenting 4 Liberal SCOTUS Justices voted against Citizen’s United because they reject corporate person-hood. They didn’t yet somehow we’re all pretending they did using it as a rallying cry in this election. I have to wonder why.

After all, Corporate person-hood is the basis as to why our so called Representative Democracy is bought and a sham, really. It started with how the 14th amendment to free African American slaves passed after the Civil War was used for this pernicious purpose as documented in The Corporation.

Our fake Representative democracy has been bought for quite some time even before Citizen’s United made things worse. In Glenn Greenwald’s piece about the Chick Fil-A controversy he gave us an important reminder too often overlooked in this campaign and overall talk of swinging the Roberts Court back.

Free speech and donations

Leave aside the fact that all 9 justices of the Supreme Court – from the most liberal to the most conservative – believe, and in Citizens United said, that corporations have free speech rights under the First Amendment, and that restrictions on how they spend their money for political advocacy can violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause.

Aug 09 2012

It’s Getting Warmer

It’s getting warmer and that appears to be the trend. Is it too late to so something? What are the consequences? Is there the political will to take action? Naomi Wolf exams those questions in this article from The Guardian about the impact of the current American drought, the American phenomenon of climate change denial and the effects of “political polarization” on public opinion:

America has led the world in climate change denial, a phenomenon noted with amazement by Europeans, not to mention thinking people around the world. Year after year, the US has failed to sign global treaties or curb emissions, even as our status as a source of a third of the world’s carbon emissions goes unchanged. [..]

But could our denial be cracking, this summer, as, in the heartland – that most iconic of American landscapes – broiling temperatures injure humans and cook fish in the water? This summer a crisis has occurred (though one that, again, is seldom reported on in terms of our outsize contribution to the disaster), as midwestern farmers lost vast swaths of their corn crop to scalding heat and drought. In the American unconscious of wishful ignorance, this disaster and loss was to be borne, as usual, by other people far away. [..]

But we face some serious problems in rising out of our torpor. In “Shifting Public Opinion on Climate Change: An Empirical Assessment of Factors Influencing Concern over Climate Change in the US, 2002-2010“, John Wihbey shows that Gallup surveys reveal Americans’ level of concern varying widely [..]

Wihbey and colleagues’ study found that this fluctuation was caused by, among other factors, political polarization. In other words, when one party says global warming is a crisis and the other says all that is nonsense, and there is no cooperation between political elites at both ends of the spectrum, the net result is apathy.

What is even more ominous, is how China and India have manipulated carbon credits to make a profits from the production of HFC-23, a gaseous byproduct of a coolant that causes global warming and is used in air-conditioners and then destroying it:

When the United Nations wanted to help slow climate change, it established what seemed a sensible system.

Greenhouse gases were rated based on their power to warm the atmosphere. The more dangerous the gas, the more that manufacturers in developing nations would be compensated as they reduced their emissions.

But where the United Nations envisioned environmental reform, some manufacturers of gases used in air-conditioning and refrigeration saw a lucrative business opportunity.

They quickly figured out that they could earn one carbon credit by eliminating one ton of carbon dioxide, but could earn more than 11,000 credits by simply destroying a ton of an obscure waste gas normally released in the manufacturing of a widely used coolant gas. That is because that byproduct has a huge global warming effect. The credits could be sold on international markets, earning tens of millions of dollars a year. [..]

What was intended to fix the problem of hydro-chlorofluorocarbons has now created its own major problem:

The United Nations and the European Union, through new rules and an outright ban, are trying to undo this unintended bonanza. But the lucrative incentive has become so entrenched that efforts to roll it back are proving tricky, even risky.

China and India, where most of the 19 factories are, have been resisting mightily. The manufacturers have grown accustomed to an income stream that in some years accounted for half their profits. The windfall has enhanced their power and influence. As a result, many environmental experts fear that if manufacturers are not paid to destroy the waste gas, they will simply resume releasing it into the atmosphere. [..]

Some Chinese producers have said that if the payments were to end, they would vent gas skyward. Such releases are illegal in most developed countries, but still permissible in China and India. [..]

Already, a small number of coolant factories in China that did not qualify for the United Nations carbon credits freely vent this dangerous chemical. And atmospheric levels are rapidly rising.

Wall St. also has their grubby paws in this, too. Goldman Sachs invested in carbon credits and a coolant factory in Monterrey, Mexico, that receives carbon credits is 49 percent owned by Honeywell. So these companies, especially in China and India, are holding the world hostage. Pay up or we kill the climate faster.

James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies joined Eliot Spitzer, host of “Viewpoint” to discuss how heat waves are a indicator of global warming.

“If we continue with business as usual this century, we will drive to extinction 20 to 50 percent of the species on the planet,” Hansen says. “We are pushing the system an order of magnitude faster than any natural changes of climate in the past.”

“We’re gonna have to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and that is not as difficult as you think. If we would just make fossil fuels pay for their true cost to society, we could begin to move to different energies and energy efficiency,” Hansen contends. “We should be collecting a fee from fossil fuel companies that gradually rises over time and 100 percent of that money should be distributed to the public, not one dime to the government. If we did that, the people who do better than average in limiting their fossil fuel use will actually get more in this dividend than they would pay in increased energy prices.”

NASA’s James Hansen warns escalating climate crisis requires intervention

Aug 09 2012

On This Day In History August 9

No worries.  Crossposted from DocuDharma.

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

August 9 is the 221st day of the year (222nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 144 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1974, one day after the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford is sworn in as president, making him the first man to assume the presidency upon his predecessor’s resignation. He was also the first non-elected vice president and non-elected president, which made his ascendance to the presidency all the more unique.

Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. (born Leslie Lynch King, Jr.; July 14, 1913 – December 26, 2006) was the 38th President of the United States, serving from 1974 to 1977, and the 40th Vice President of the United States serving from 1973 to 1974. As the first person appointed to the vice-presidency under the terms of the 25th Amendment, when he became President upon Richard Nixon’s  resignation on August 9, 1974, he also became the only President of the United States who was elected neither President nor Vice-President.

Before ascending to the vice-presidency, Ford served nearly 25 years as Representative from Michigan’s 5th congressional district, eight of them as the Republican Minority Leader.

As President, Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, marking a move toward detente in the Cold War. With the conquest of South Vietnam by North Vietnam nine months into his presidency, US involvement in Vietnam essentially ended. Domestically, Ford presided over what was then the worst economy since the Great Depression, with growing inflation and a recession during his tenure. One of his more controversial acts was to grant a presidential pardon to President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal. During Ford’s incumbency, foreign policy was characterized in procedural terms by the increased role Congress began to play, and by the corresponding curb on the powers of the President. In 1976, Ford narrowly defeated Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination, but ultimately lost the presidential election to Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Following his years as president, Ford remained active in the Republican Party. After experiencing health problems and being admitted to the hospital four times in 2006, Ford died in his home on December 26, 2006. He lived longer than any other U.S. president, dying at the age of 93 years and 165 days.

Aug 09 2012

XXX Olympiad- Day 16

UConn Huskies

UConn Husky, symbol of might to the foe.

Fight, fight Connecticut, It’s vict’ry, Let’s go. (go. go. go)

Connecticut UConn Husky,

Do it again for the White and Blue

So go--go--go Connecticut, Connecticut U.

C-O-N-N-E-C-T-I-C-U-T

Connecticut, Conneticut Husky, Connecticut Husky

Connecticut C-O-N-N-U!

C’mon, sing along.  You know you want to.

They still have one game to play, but today we’ll be saying goodbye to Women’s Football and Women’s Water Polo where the ladies have Gold Medal prospects.

Broadcast Schedule

Time Network Sport Competitors
8 am Vs. Women’s Football (Bronze) (Medal) FRA v CAN
9 am MS Equestrian (Individual Dressage Final) (Medal) all
10 am NBC Synchronized Swimming RUS v USA
10 am Vs. Wrestling (Women’s 55kg, 72kg) all
10:30 am NBC Canoe/Kayak (Flatwater, Men’s 1000m C-2 & K-4, Women’s 500m K-1 & K-2, Final) (Medal) all
10:30 am Vs. Taekwondo all
11 am MS Men’s Field Hockey GER v AUS
11 am NBC Swimming (Women’s 10Km Final) (Medal) all
11:30 am NBC Rhythmic Gymanasics (Individual All-Around) all
11:30 am Vs. Women’s Basketball USA v AUS
noon NBC Track & Field (Men’s 4x400m) all
12:30 am MS Women’s Handball NOR v KOR
1 pm NBC Swimming (Women’s 10Km Final) (Medal) all
1 pm NBC Rhythmic Gymanasics (Individual All-Around) all
1:30 pm NBC Women’s Water Polo (Bronze) (Medal) AUS v HUN
2 pm MS Men’s Beach Volleyball (Bronze) (Medal) LAT v NED
2 pm Vs. Women’s Football (Final) (Medal) USA v JPN
3 pm NBC Women’s Water Polo (Final) (Medal) USA v ESP
3 pm MS Taekwondo (Semifinal) all
4 pm NBC Men’s Beach Volleyball (Final) (Medal) BRA v GER
4 pm MS Women’s Basketball (Semifinal) FRA v RUS
5 pm Vs. Wrestling (Women’s 55kg, 72kg Finals) (Medal) all
5 pm CNBC Various (Taekwondo, Women’s Boxing Finals, Women’s Handball Semifinal) (Medal) ESP v MNE
6 pm Vs. Men’s Field Hockey NED v GBR
7:30 pm Vs. Olympics TBA
8 pm NBC Prime Time (Track & Field (Men’s 200m Final), Diving (Women’s Platform Final), Cycling (Men’s BMX Quarterfinals), Women’s Volleyball Semifinal) (Medal) USA v KOR
12:30 am NBC Late Night (Track & Field, Women’s Javelin Final, Women’s Volleyball Semifinal) (Medal) BRA v JPN
1:30 am NBC Prime Time repeat
3 am CNBC Boxing repeat

All this is sourced through the NBC Olympics broadcast schedule.  Competition starts again at a am tomorrow.  

Competitions designated by (Medal) will award winners that day.  ‘all’ means not specified.  Sometimes NBC especially does mashups and doesn’t include event or competitor information.  Elimination means no round robin, one and done.

These schedules are a place for you to make sure you don’t miss a sport you like and share your observations.  Have fun today!

Aug 09 2012

On This Day In History August 9

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

August 9 is the 221st day of the year (222nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 144 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1974, one day after the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford is sworn in as president, making him the first man to assume the presidency upon his predecessor’s resignation. He was also the first non-elected vice president and non-elected president, which made his ascendance to the presidency all the more unique.

Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. (born Leslie Lynch King, Jr.; July 14, 1913 – December 26, 2006) was the 38th President of the United States, serving from 1974 to 1977, and the 40th Vice President of the United States serving from 1973 to 1974. As the first person appointed to the vice-presidency under the terms of the 25th Amendment, when he became President upon Richard Nixon’s  resignation on August 9, 1974, he also became the only President of the United States who was elected neither President nor Vice-President.

Before ascending to the vice-presidency, Ford served nearly 25 years as Representative from Michigan’s 5th congressional district, eight of them as the Republican Minority Leader.

As President, Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, marking a move toward detente in the Cold War. With the conquest of South Vietnam by North Vietnam nine months into his presidency, US involvement in Vietnam essentially ended. Domestically, Ford presided over what was then the worst economy since the Great Depression, with growing inflation and a recession during his tenure. One of his more controversial acts was to grant a presidential pardon to President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal. During Ford’s incumbency, foreign policy was characterized in procedural terms by the increased role Congress began to play, and by the corresponding curb on the powers of the President. In 1976, Ford narrowly defeated Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination, but ultimately lost the presidential election to Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Following his years as president, Ford remained active in the Republican Party. After experiencing health problems and being admitted to the hospital four times in 2006, Ford died in his home on December 26, 2006. He lived longer than any other U.S. president, dying at the age of 93 years and 165 days.

Aug 09 2012

My Little Town 20120808: The Forbes Dynasty

Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

From the 1880s to the Great Depression Hackett was a booming town.  Coal drove the economy, but there was significant agriculture as well.  Coal was king, though.  Hackett coal is ideal for making coke, basically the coal counterpart of charcoal.  Coke was and still is used in enormous quantities to produce steel, and during The Gilded Age the steel mills were running at capacity.

Not just any coal will make suitable coke.  The particular kind of bituminous coal found at Hackett is ideal for coking and hundreds of men mined it there.  There were rail lines to carry it away and it found its way up north to the steel mills.