08/16/2012 archive

Corzine Off the Hook For MF Global

Surprise, surprise. As reported in the New York Times Dealbook, John Corzine, former New Jersey Senator, Governor and CEO of the now defunct MF Global, has been given a pass by Attorney General Eric “It’s too hard” Holder for defrauding investors of about $1 billion.

After 10 months of stitching together evidence on the firm’s demise, criminal investigators are concluding that chaos and porous risk controls at the firm, rather than fraud, allowed the money to disappear, according to people involved in the case.

The hurdles to building a criminal case were always high with MF Global, which filed for bankruptcy in October after a huge bet on European debt unnerved the market. But a lack of charges in the largest Wall Street blowup since 2008 is likely to fuel frustration with the government’s struggle to charge financial executives. Just a few individuals – none of them top Wall Street players – have been prosecuted for the risky acts that led to recent failures and billions of dollars in losses. [..]

Over at FDL, here is masacchio‘s take on those damned “high hurdles” that the “jury” of Justice Department Wall St. cronies can’t seem to leap:

And by jury, I mean the candy ass prosecutors at the Department of Justice, who have made an in-house decision that it’s just too hard to indict anyone at MF Global, including friend of Barack Jon Corzine, for stealing billions of customer dollars. It’s just impossible that a friend of Eric Holder’s could be found to be criminally responsible for allowing a company to steal money from its customers to give to its bank, especially when the bank is the much-loved JPMorgan Chase. After all, the Department of Eric Holder is made up of peers of the MF Global crowd, so it’s just like a real trial.

These chicken-shits have been telling reporters from the beginning that there were really high hurdles to prosecution, as if this were some sort of Olympic event. They tell the reporters that “chaos and porous risk controls at the firm, rather than fraud, allowed the money to disappear”. The billions in losses were beyond human control, and nothing can be done, a phrasing which perfectly mirrors DOJ’s passivity in the face of one of the biggest heists in history.

It’s just too hard to investigate fraud. Investors are so screwed.

Is the Ryan Pick doubling down on Voter Suppression?

Burning the Midnight Oil for Progressive Populism

crossposted from Voices on the Square

Lots of puzzling around about Romney tapping Ryan for Vice President. Lots of coverage of nervous Republicans down-ballot: People’s World: Republicans fear Ryan pick could sink GOP.

Now, for inside baseball politics at the national level, I get nothing that can’t be picked up by following the right people on twitter. However, I was thinking … is it likely Romney picked Ryan without his campaign running the numbers? Maybe is there’s something in the numbers that led them to pick Ryan, then I’ve got a shot of seeing tha footprints of that for myself.

When I want horse race numbers, I go to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, taken into the NYT system last year. Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to subsidize the unthinking stenography on economics and energy and transport that we normally think of when we think “New York Times” to get access to horse race info, but luckily the main blog is a teaser sitting outside the NYT paywall.

So, what tale do the numbers tell? Join me, below the break.

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

David A. Stockman: Paul Ryan’s Fairy-Tale Budget Plan

Mr. Stockman was  the director of the Office of Management and Budget from 1981 to 1985 under Pres. Reagan.

Paul D. Ryan is the most articulate and intellectually imposing Republican of the moment, but that doesn’t alter the fact that this earnest congressman from Wisconsin is preaching the same empty conservative sermon.

Thirty years of Republican apostasy – a once grand party’s embrace of the welfare state, the warfare state and the Wall Street-coddling bailout state – have crippled the engines of capitalism and buried us in debt. Mr. Ryan’s sonorous campaign rhetoric about shrinking Big Government and giving tax cuts to “job creators” (read: the top 2 percent) will do nothing to reverse the nation’s economic decline and arrest its fiscal collapse. [..]

In short, Mr. Ryan’s plan is devoid of credible math or hard policy choices. And it couldn’t pass even if Republicans were to take the presidency and both houses of Congress. Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have no plan to take on Wall Street, the Fed, the military-industrial complex, social insurance or the nation’s fiscal calamity and no plan to revive capitalist prosperity – just empty sermons.

New York Times Editorial: Missed Chance to Reject Voting Barriers

Judge Robert Simpson of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania seems to assume that legislators have a high-minded public purpose for the laws they pass. That’s why, on Wednesday morning, he refused to grant an injunction to halt a Republican-backed voter ID law that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of poor and minority state residents in November. [..]

The requirement will have a disparate impact on minorities, who tend to lack government IDs at a higher rate than the general population and tend to vote Democratic. Judge Simpson acknowledged he was aware of the remark by Michael Turzai, the Pennsylvania House Republican leader, that the voter ID requirement would win the state for Mitt Romney in November. But there was no proof, he said, that other lawmakers shared that view, and, even if partisan interests were part of the motivation for the law, they are not enough to invalidate it.

Bruce A. Dixon: Tired Old So-Called Leftists Give Same Old Excuses For Supporting Obama in 2012

Abject and unwavering support of President Barack Obama on the part of blacks and what used to be called “the left” has made them pretty much irrelevant since Obama emerged as a viable presidential candidate back in mid-2007. After five years of the Age of Obama, four of them as president, one would imagine there are lots of new reasons to endorse him. But even his abject supporters can’t find any.

For more than four years now, we at Black Agenda Report have chronicled the self-silencing and growing irrelevance of black America and what calls itself “the left” in the age of Obama. Black America has arrayed itself as a veritable wall around the First Black President. But it’s not a wall that protects him from racists or Wall Street predators or Pentagon warmongers. The truth has always been that when we stifle our own tongues and circle the wagons trying to silence critics of the White House we only protect the president and his party from accountability to their supposed base: us.

Charlotte Silver: A revolution against ‘the culture of leaks’?

The US government has been intolerant of whistle blowers under the Obama administration.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein is not happy about the leaks. “The torrent of leaks,” as she calls them, inked onto the pages of the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun; leaks of information that once exposed to the light of day can’t be swept back into hiding. Feinstein, as chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, is set to lead the revolution against what she calls “the culture of leaks” sustained by a security-threatening status quo that’s all too tolerant of whistleblowers and whiners.  

Her solution lies in a measure amended to the Intelligence Authorisation Act for the fiscal year 2013.

The proposal, which has been confirmed as “casting a distinct chill over press coverage of national security issues” by New York Times reporter, Scott Shane, cites the proliferation of leaks as evidence that intelligence agencies must institute an “insider threat programme” that will route out potential leakers.

Furthermore, the proposed bill would threaten harsh punishments to all employees of government intelligence agencies, including being stripped of security clearance and loss of pension if found to have “wrongfully” disclosed information. Finally, the provision would place a gag order on former government officials from publically discussing matters for up to one year after leaving the government employment.

Nick Turse: Washington puts its money on proxy war

The US has been training, advising and conducting joint exercises all over the world with “proxy war on its mind”.

In the 1980s, the US government began funnelling aid to Mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan as part of an American proxy war against the Soviet Union. It was, in the minds of America’s Cold War leaders, a rare chance to bloody the Soviets, to give them a taste of the sort of defeat the Vietnamese, with Soviet help, had inflicted on Washington the decade before. In 1989, after years of bloody combat, the Red Army did indeed limp out of Afghanistan in defeat. Since late 2001, the United States has been fighting its former Afghan proxies and their progeny. Now, after years of bloody combat, it’s the US that’s looking to withdraw the bulk of its forces and once again employ proxies to secure its interests there.

From Asia and Africa to the Middle East and the Americas, the Obama administration is increasingly embracing a multi-faceted, light-footprint brand of warfare. Gone, for the moment at least, are the days of full-scale invasions of the Eurasian mainland. Instead, Washington is now planning to rely ever more heavily on drones and special operations forces to fight scattered global enemies on the cheap. A centerpiece of this new American way of war is the outsourcing of fighting duties to local proxies around the world.

Alfred W. McCoy: Impunity at Home, Rendition Abroad

After a decade of fiery public debate and bare-knuckle partisan brawling, the United States has stumbled toward an ad hoc bipartisan compromise over the issue of torture that rests on two unsustainable policies: impunity at home and rendition abroad.

President Obama has closed the CIA’s “black sites,” its secret prisons where American agents once dirtied their hands with waterboarding and wall slamming. But via rendition-the sending of terrorist suspects to the prisons of countries that torture-and related policies, his administration has outsourced human rights abuse to Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere.  In this way, he has avoided the political stigma of torture, while tacitly tolerating such abuses and harvesting whatever intelligence can be gained from them.

This “resolution” of the torture issue may meet the needs of this country’s deeply divided politics. It cannot, however, long satisfy an international community determined to prosecute human rights abuses through universal jurisdiction. It also runs the long-term risk of another sordid torture scandal that will further damage U.S. standing with allies worldwide.

Honest Questions All Democrats Must Ask Themselves

Ever since last weekend, I’ve been seeing Paul Ryan’s mug everywhere and it is all anyone can talk about. I can’t help but think this constant attention elevates him a little, even though as Elliot Spitzer said, if he turned his budget to the SEC he would be fined for turning over fraudulent documents. I also don’t believe Ryan helps the Romney ticket at all, except for the pretense by the corporate owned media that he’s an intellectual instead of someone who just likes crazy immoral Ayn Randian ideas and terrible mathematical projection fantasies.

Regardless, there are too many negatives and a lack of anything at all for Romney to run his campaign on. It won’t be a contest, in my opinion, when you look at electoral votes(though the media will have fun playing up the head to head match-ups as if the popular vote still matters) and the President is lucky he doesn’t have an opponent who excites the base at all. He’s lucky because his record is a mediocre one at best when it comes to what should have been pursued in what many are now calling a depression(economic inequality and private debt overhang is on par with the Great Depression).

This isn’t the 90s. He shouldn’t have hired people from the 90s that helped crash the economy. He wasted this crisis, which conservatives never do when they get a chance to exploit one, ruining any chance for real reform and stability. It’s really not OK because the opportunity only comes once every 20 or 30 years and he blew it. There will be more financial panics and bailouts in the nearer than you think future because of this wasted crisis.

History shows that Dodd Frank will not stop implicit bailout guarantees, specifically, with the massive political power, the biggest power, of TBTF banks. Our safety net is not safe even if Democrats win this election. The banks own our government, so we must be on guard when the lame duck period comes after next November.

I hope there is a major moment of self reflection for a party I’m having trouble recognizing by the second so I’m asking these questions to spur one. I’ll give my take on each of them, but you all can answer them for yourself.

On This Day In History August 16

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.

August 16 is the 228th day of the year (229th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 137 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1896, Gold discovered in the Yukon.

While salmon fishing near the Klondike River in Canada’s Yukon Territory on this day in 1896, George Carmack reportedly spots nuggets of gold in a creek bed. His lucky discovery sparks the last great gold rush in the American West.

Hoping to cash in on reported gold strikes in Alaska, Carmack had traveled there from California in 1881. After running into a dead end, he headed north into the isolated Yukon Territory, just across the Canadian border. In 1896, another prospector, Robert Henderson, told Carmack of finding gold in a tributary of the Klondike River. Carmack headed to the region with two Native American companions, known as Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie. On August 16, while camping near Rabbit Creek, Carmack reportedly spotted a nugget of gold jutting out from the creek bank. His two companions later agreed that Skookum Jim–Carmack’s brother-in-law–actually made the discovery.

Shark Week

Call me Ishmael.  Long before the movie there was a book and since paperback pop trash sci-fi was only a hobby I can say that Jaws was worth the $.75 I paid for it and the 2 hours it took to consume not unpleasant if not particularly memorable.  I have no idea why people think Spielberg is a genius either.

Nor are sharks a particular terror of mine, the reason I don’t swim in dark water is my acrophobia and the sensation of falling, not because I’m afraid of getting eaten by a big fish.

Still there is no denying the mass fascination.

About 24 years go the programmers at Discovery were wondering how they could fill the hot dead humid air of August when they came up with an idea.

The Evolution of Shark Week, Pop-Culture Leviathan

By Ashley Fetters, The Atlantic

Aug 13 2012, 1:02 PM ET

Now the longest-running cable TV programming event in history, Shark Week has cemented itself as a fixture in the pop-culture lexicon, both seriously and meme-tastically. Stephen Colbert and Tracy Morgan (the voices of their generation, of course) have both publicly professed the sanctity of Shark Week in recent years: In 2006, Morgan’s character on 30 Rock sagely advised a colleague to “Live every week like it’s Shark Week“, and Colbert proclaimed it the second holiest annual holiday next to the week after Christmas in 2010.

By 1994, Shark Week had lured Jaws author Peter Benchley on board as the show’s first-ever host. For its 15th anniversary in 1997, the sharks had costars-Celebrity Shark Week, it was dubbed, with appearances by Julie Bowen, Mark McGrath, and Brian McKnight, among others. Volleyball player Gabrielle Reece jumped into shark-infested waters without ever really informing the producers that she was more than a little new to scuba-diving: “I thought if I told [Discovery],” she said, “they wouldn’t let me come.”

To this day, Runnette says, the team continues to develop its programming simply by asking themselves the question that spawned the first Shark Week: “What would be the most fun?” (“Chum underpants” and “the meat suit” are just two unforgettable responses that Runnette mentions, laughing at the memory-but clarifies that neither one has ever been or will ever be actually implemented.)

Shark Week, though, Runnette says, has never been at a loss for fun. “It’s taught us that it wants to be almost like a holiday-which it is for a lot of people,” Runnette says. “They want to wave little flags that say ‘Happy Shark Week.’ I always see pictures of all these cupcakes and these party decorations that they have to celebrate Shark Week.”

A beginner’s guide to Shark Week – a bloody American tradition

Amanda Holpuch, The Guardian

Friday 10 August 2012 12.28 EDT

Thrashing limbs, bloodied ocean and the shell-crushing teeth of the most-feared creature in the sea: this my friends, is Shark Week.

Broadcast annually for a quarter-century, the shockingly educational and often voyeuristic week of shark-oriented programming has dominated American airwaves each summer, courtesy of the Discovery Channel.

The combination of courageous camerawork, melodramatic music and terrifying facts – a shark can smell a single drop of blood in an Olympics-sized pool! – has been a ratings boon for Discovery since its inception.

For the past 24 summers, the network has hosted shows including: Teeth of Death, In Search of the Golden Hammerhead, The Man Who Loves Sharks, Shark Shooters, Blood in the Water and Jaws Comes Home.

And though people are more likely to die from digging a hole in the sand than from a shark attack, the programming’s focus on these aquatic onslaughts plays up to the fears most famously induced by Jaws (whose author happened to host the first Shark Week) and helps get great ratings along the way.

“People are quite obviously a greater danger to sharks than the other way around, so I talk to them about how we can show that or how we can talk about that,” Runnette said.

Happy Shark Week.  Tomorrow, Little League Baseball.

How to Kill Grandma and Grandpa Faster; or, Paul Ryan’s Gonads

In April of 2011, Rollingstone‘s contributing editor Matt Taibbi wrote a piece about Paul Ryan and budget proposal titled, Tax Cuts for the Rich on the Backs of the Middle Class; or, Paul Ryan has Balls

I heartily laughed at Matt’s description of Paul Ryan:

Paul Ryan, the Republican Party’s latest entrant in the seemingly endless series of young, prickish, over-coiffed, anal-retentive deficit Robespierres they’ve sent to the political center stage in the last decade or so, has come out with his new budget plan. All of these smug little jerks look alike to me – from Ralph Reed to Eric Cantor to Jeb Hensarling to Rand Paul and now to Ryan, they all look like overgrown kids who got nipple-twisted in the halls in high school, worked as Applebee’s shift managers in college, and are now taking revenge on the world as grownups by defunding hospice care and student loans and Sesame Street. They all look like they sleep with their ties on, and keep their feet in dress socks when doing their bi-monthly duty with their wives.

You have to admit that is scathingly accurate.

I thought of my own Tea Party House “Rat”, Michael Grimm. Grimm a former FBI agent and freshman representative from New York’s newly redrawn 11th who is currently the target of a federal grand jury investigation into the fundraising for his 2010 campaign. He fits Matt’s description to a tee.

Although Grimm is not a member of the Tea Party Caucus, he has voted lock step with them. When Grimm voted for Ryan’s first budget plan which called for a fix voucher and cuts to Medicaid that that would hurt the poor and elderly, Staten Island Tea Partiers were vocally upset with him. But I can almost guarantee they will give him a second chance to screw them, and everyone else, come November.

Back to Matt’s article. With his wry wit, he goes on to describe Ryan’s goal to reduce taxes for the wealthiest by asking seniors to cut back on their health care in order to pay for those tax breaks. That takes balls.

Never mind that each time the Republicans actually come into power, federal deficit spending explodes and these whippersnappers somehow never get around to touching Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. The key is that for the many years before that moment of truth, before these buffoons actually get a chance to put their money where their lipless little mouths are, they will stomp their feet and scream about how entitlements are bringing us to the edge of apocalypse.

The problem, of course, is that to actually make significant cuts in what is left of the “welfare state,” one has to cut Medicare and Medicaid, programs overwhelmingly patronized by white people, and particularly white seniors. So when the time comes to actually pull the trigger on the proposed reductions, the whippersnappers are quietly removed from the stage and life goes on as usual, i.e. with massive deficit spending on defense, upper-class tax cuts, bailouts, corporate subsidies, and big handouts to Pharma and the insurance industries.

This is a political game that gets played out in the media over and over again, and everyone in Washington knows how it works. Which is why it’s nauseating (but not surprising) to see so many commentators falling over themselves with praise for Ryan’s “bold” budget proposal, which is supposedly a ballsy piece of politics because it proposes backdoor cuts in Medicare and Medicaid by redounding their appropriations to the states and to block grants. Ryan is being praised for thusly taking on seniors, a traditionally untouchable political demographic .

Medicaid cuts that would deeply effect the elderly are never discussed by the media, even now with Ryan the presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee:

While the Republican vice-presidential candidate is careful to avoid touching Medicare benefits for anyone at or near retirement, his budget would impose immediate cuts to Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor that funds nursing-home care and other benefits for 6 million U.S. seniors. [..]

The proposed Medicaid changes are often overlooked amid the debate over Ryan’s Medicare plan, which has taken center stage in the presidential contest since the Wisconsin congressman was chosen as Mitt Romney’s running mate on Aug. 11. It’s politically important because those 65 and older are a crucial voting bloc. [..]

Health-care policy specialists say it’s politically easier to cut Medicaid because most voters don’t understand it. [..]

Many middle-income Americans who may be unfamiliar with Medicaid end up relying on the program in their old age because they exhaust their assets. Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care so they turn to Medicaid, which does. [..].

Without Medicaid, current and future Medicare recipients would be in deep financial trouble, as would nursing homes and hospitals that would be under obligation to treat them even if they lack coverage. Ryan’s budget would do this just to give the top 2% another tax cut that wouldn’t even be covered by the cuts.

In his last paragraph, Matt say this about Ryan and his budget:

The absurd thing is that Ryan’s act isn’t even politically courageous. It’s canny calculation, but courage it is not. It would be courageous if Ryan were, say, the president of the United States, and leaning on that budget with his full might. But Ryan is proposing a budget he knows would have no chance of passing in the Senate. He is simply playing out a part, a non-candidate for the presidency pushing a rhetorical flank for an out-of-power party leading into a presidential campaign year. If the budget is a hit with the public, the 2012 Republican candidate can run on it. If it isn’t, the Republican candidate can triangulate Ryan’s ass back into the obscurity from whence it came, and be done with him.

All Paul Ryan has are his “balls” because he certainly doesn’t have a heart or a conscience.

So much for obscurity. Little did Matt know.