Daily Archive: 08/21/2012

Aug 21 2012

You’re Doing It Wrong!: Obama’s Constitution by John Cusack

Cross-posted from Voices on the Square…

Welcome to You’re Doing It Wrong, a weekly column taking the Powers That Be (PTB) – whether they be political, media, or business – to task for poor information, poor framing, and poor leadership.

This is an extraordinary piece by John Cusack with Jonathan Turley that needs to be read by everyone, and especially by those of us who consider ourselves progressives and/or liberals. It’s long, but it’s well worth the read. Printed in its entirety with permission from the author, John Cusack.

*****

By John Cusack

Now that the Republican primary circus is over, I started to think about what it would mean to vote for Obama…

Since mostly we hear from the daily hypocrisies of Mitt and friends, I thought we should examine “our guy” on a few issues with a bit more scrutiny than we hear from the “progressive left”, which seems to be little or none at all.

Instead of scrutiny, the usual arguments in favor of another Obama presidency are made: We must stop fanatics;-he’s the last line of defense from the corporate barbarians-and of course the Supreme Court. It all makes a terrible kind of sense and I agree completely with Garry Wills who described the Republican primaries as ” a revolting combination of con men and fanatics…the current primary race has become a demonstration that the Republican party does not deserve serious consideration for public office.”

True enough.

But yet…

Aug 21 2012

“Foaming the Runway for the Banks”

Disregard all cheery news you hear from the MSM that the housing crisis is over and housing prices are stable and on the rise. It’s not over. We are still bailing out the banks over the troubled homeowner.

“The evidence is overwhelming: home prices are anything but stable.”

Michael Olenick: Still Looking for a Housing Bottom

Two trends are apparent. One is that banks are delaying foreclosures, or not foreclosing at all despite long-term delinquencies. The other is that private equity firms – flush with cash thanks to Tim Geithner’s religious devotion to trickle-down economics and the resulting cascade of corporate welfare – have been bidding up and holding foreclosed houses off the market. These two factors have artificially limited supply and, combined with cheap mortgages rates, driven up prices. While we can debate whether these strategies represent the best public policy, these policies are obviously not long-term sustainable. [..]

Holding back inventory means that the houses that are put on offer sell faster and at higher prices. That creates an incentive to delay foreclosures or not foreclose at all even when a home is delinquent. Though this seems obvious, the mainstream housing finance community – aided by a freelance “housing analyst,” – uses the faster figures to somehow prove banks are not holding houses. [..]

Besides lower foreclosure activity, the government is going all out to give away houses to private equity firms. Recently Fannie Mae sold 275 properties across metro Phoenix in one sale to a mystery buyer, according to a report by Catherine Reagor of the Arizon Republic. [..]

Anybody who has been a landlord seems to quickly tire of it so, assuming there isn’t a pending planned mass immigration to Phoenix, these investors will eventually want to cash out by selling these houses. Further, they will want to minimize maintenance expenses while they are renting out these houses, so the eventual sale of these houses will increase supply and prolong the housing crisis. Geithner’s policy of shaking down Main Street to help Wall Street continues to hurt your street. [..]

Taking account of the delayed foreclosures and the beginning of mass purchases of houses would mean there should be a surge in home prices, but we’re still seeing little movement in many areas. This is especially puzzling given how inexpensive mortgage are. [..]

Of course, this assumes that people can get mortgages for these houses, though many can’t. Young people especially are hopelessly in debt thanks to out-of-control tuition hikes predictably caused by equally out-of-control student loan policies. [..]

Thanks to low lower foreclosures, real-estate speculators buying in bulk, and low interest rates there is enough direct and anecdotal evidence to suggest that we may be seeing a real-estate recovery on paper. Further, these policies are clearly calibrated to bring about a bubble, despite that bubbles are difficult to control and are not, by definition, sustainable: they always eventually pop. Let’s at least hope that when this bubble bursts the new Wall Street bulk buyers are treated with the same ruthless “free market” vigor that the prior owners of these houses were treated with after the last bubble burst. However, I doubt the mystery Asian money buyer, that Fannie sold Phoenix to, will ever be subject to something like the rocket docket.

Washington’s Blog goes down the list of evidence that “the government’s “Homeowner Relief” Programs are disguised bank bailouts … not even AIMED at helping homeowners. It’s a fascinating piece with all the links to this sham.

Former special inspector general overseeing TARP Neil Barofsky (@neilbarofsky) joined Up w/ Chris Hayes to talk about his book “Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street.” Along with panel guests Heather McGhee (@hmcghee), vice president of policy and research at the progressive think tank Demos; Josh Barro (@jbarro), who writes “The Ticker” for Bloomberg View; Michelle Goldberg (@michelleinbklyn), senior contributing writer for Newsweek/Daily Beast; and Up host Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes), Barofsky shares his thoughts on the failure of TARP and the housing crisis.

Aug 21 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

Michael Moore and Oliver Stone: WikiLeaks and Free Speech

WE have spent our careers as filmmakers making the case that the news media in the United States often fail to inform Americans about the uglier actions of our own government. We therefore have been deeply grateful for the accomplishments of WikiLeaks, and applaud Ecuador’s decision to grant diplomatic asylum to its founder, Julian Assange, who is now living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

Ecuador has acted in accordance with important principles of international human rights. Indeed, nothing could demonstrate the appropriateness of Ecuador’s action more than the British government’s threat to violate a sacrosanct principle of diplomatic relations and invade the embassy to arrest Mr. Assange. [..]

We urge the people of Britain and Sweden to demand that their governments answer some basic questions: Why do the Swedish authorities refuse to question Mr. Assange in London? And why can neither government promise that Mr. Assange will not be extradited to the United States? The citizens of Britain and Sweden have a rare opportunity to make a stand for free speech on behalf of the entire globe.

Eugene Robinson: Blaming the Victim, Again

At least until Election Day, Republicans were supposed to pretend that their party’s alleged “war on women” was nothing but a paranoid fantasy stoked by desperate Democrats. Obviously, Rep. Todd Akin didn’t get the memo.

Akin, campaigning to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in November, was trying to explain his stance against abortion Sunday when he committed what cannot be dismissed as a mere gaffe. It was an abomination that could only stem from benighted ignorance-and it brings the whole “war on women” thing back into scary focus. [..]

But the GOP refuses to do the one thing that would neutralize the “war on women” issue: Stop the misogynistic attacks. Stop them now.

Dean Baker: ‘Courage’ in Washington Doesn’t Have the Same Meaning

Last week Vice President Joe Biden did a courageous thing, he promised an audience in southern Virginia that there will be no cuts whatsoever to Social Security in a second Obama Administration. He used the strongest possible language, telling customers at a local diner: “I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security. I flat guarantee you.” [..]

However, Biden also lives in a city where calling for cuts to Social Security is the way to demonstrate your manhood. The bigger the cuts and the more frequent the calls, the higher your status. And, there are plenty of rewards for those politicians who go down fighting for Social Security cuts. Just check out the salaries for the lobbying jobs of the Blue Dog Democrats who have left office in recent years. [..]

In this amazing city, the people who want to take a hatchet to the Social Security and Medicare benefits that tens of millions of ordinary workers will need in retirement are considered courageous. The people who want to tax Wall Street speculation, who want to crack down on multi-billion dollar abuses by the pharmaceutical industry, and who want to go after CEOs who rip off their companies for tens of millions of dollars a year — well, they’re just crazy. After all, no one gets paid big bucks for going after people with money.

Richard {RJ) Eskow: A Tale of Three CEOs: Romney, Bain, and a Crooked Executive’s Overlooked Story

In the annals of Mitt Romney’s days at Bain Capital, one story seems to have escaped our collective memory. It involves Bain’s acquisition of a New York City drug store chain during Mitt Romney’s tenure there, and the hiring of a new president who would turn out to have pronounced criminal tendencies.

When the story of Duane Reade’s Anthony Cuti is put together with the better-known story of Bain’s relationship with a Medicare-defrauding lab testing company, it becomes a tale of two criminal CEOs — and of the presidential candidate who was involved in choosing them both. [..]

It certainly raises questions about Romney’s judgement, however. Isola was promoted from within, while Cuti was presumably selected after a thorough search. In both cases, Mitt Romney had responsibility for ensuring that the right person was selected for the job. It’s reasonable to ask whether this casts a negative light on a would-be president’s ability to judge human character and make good hiring decisions.

Ari Berman: Ohio GOP Admits Early Voting Cutbacks Are Racially Motivated

Earlier this month I reported how Ohio Republicans were limiting early voting hours in Democratic counties, while expanding them on nights and weekends in Republican counties.

In response to the public outcry, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who intervened in favor of limiting early voting hours in Democratic counties, issued a statewide directive mandating uniform early voting hours in all eighty-eight Ohio counties. Husted kept early voting hours from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays from October 2 to 19 and broadened hours from 8 am to 7 pm from October 22 to November 2. But he refused to expand early voting hours beyond 7 pm during the week, on weekends or three days prior to the election (which is being challenged in court by the Obama campaign)-when it is most convenient for many working Ohioans to vote. Rather than expanding early voting hours across the state, Husted limited them for everybody. Voter suppression for all! [..]

Republicans were for reforms like early voting until Democrats started using them. “It just so happened that 2008] was the first time that early voting had been used in large numbers to mobilize African American and Latino voters,” Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the Huffington Post. A federal court ruled on Thursday that early voting cutbacks in Florida-where blacks outnumbered whites by two to one among early voters in 2008 – [violated the Voting Rights Act. As Doug Preisse admitted on Sunday, Republicans are doing everything in their power to make sure 2012 isn’t a repeat of 2008.

Greg Mitchell: ‘Newsweek’ Cover: Niall Ferguson Hates Obama, Has Man-Crush on Ryan

Newsweek turned into a parody of itself months ago-call it what you will, NewsBeast, The Daily Weak, whatever-but is anyone even bothering to laugh now? This week, it follows (as if to balance the scales) its “Is Romney a Wimp” cover with a blast at Obama by ever-more-right-wing Niall Ferguson, titled “Hit the Road, Barack.” Since Newsweek seems inspired by Ray Charles, perhaps it will put Representative Todd Akin on next week’s cover under the heading, “What’d I Say?” Or the GOP congressman who skinny-dipped in the Sea of Galilee and “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying.”

Would you be surprised if it did?

Aug 21 2012

On This Day In History August 21

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 21 is the 233rd day of the year (234th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 132 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1959, Hawaii became our 50th state. Hawaii is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It occupies most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of Australia. Hawaii’s natural beauty, warm tropical climate, inviting waters and waves, and active volcanoes  make it a popular destination for tourists, surfers, biologists, and volcanologists alike. Due to its mid-Pacific location, Hawaii has many North American and Asian influences along with its own vibrant native culture. Hawaii has over a million permanent residents along with many visitors and U.S. military personnel. Its capital is Honolulu on the island of Oahu.

The state encompasses nearly the entire volcanic Hawaiian Island chain, which comprises hundreds of islands spread over 1,500 miles (2,400 km). At the southeastern end of the archipelago, the eight “main islands” are (from the northwest to southeast) Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and Hawaii. The last is by far the largest and is often called “The Big Island” to avoid confusion with the state as a whole. The archipelago is physiographically and ethnologically part of the Polynesian subregion of Oceania.

The first known settlers of the Hawaiian Islands were Polynesian voyagers who arrived sometime in the eighth century. In the early 18th century, American traders came to Hawaii to exploit the islands’ sandalwood, which was much valued in China at the time. In the 1830s, the sugar industry was introduced to Hawaii and by the mid 19th century had become well established. American missionaries and planters brought about great changes in Hawaiian political, cultural, economic, and religious life. In 1840, a constitutional monarchy was established, stripping the Hawaiian monarch of much of his authority.

In 1893, a group of American expatriates and sugar planters supported by a division of U.S. Marines deposed Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii. One year later, the Republic of Hawaii was established as a U.S. protectorate with Hawaiian-born Sanford B. Dole as president. Many in Congress opposed the formal annexation of Hawaii, and it was not until 1898, following the use of the naval base at Pearl Harbor during the Spanish-American War, that Hawaii’s strategic importance became evident and formal annexation was approved. Two years later, Hawaii was organized into a formal U.S. territory. During World War II, Hawaii became firmly ensconced in the American national identity following the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Admission, or Statehood, Day is an official state holiday. It is the home state of President Barack Obama, the only President from that state and one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. The pictures were the very hard to select. The second picture (above) is an aerial view of Diamond Head.

Diamond Head is a dormant volcanic cone on the island of Oahu. It is called Le’ahi by Hawaiians, most likely from lae ‘browridge, promontory’ plus ‘ahi ‘tuna’ because the shape of the ridgeline resembles the shape of a tuna’s dorsal fin. Its English name was given by British sailors in the 19th century, who mistook calcite crystals embedded in the rock for diamonds.

Then of course there are volcanoes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The first picture on the left is the more famous of the volcanoes, Mauna Loa which is the largest volcano on Earth by volume and area and one of the five volcanoes in that form the islands.

Aug 21 2012

The Tangled Web That Nations Weave: Part 2

Oh what a tangled web we weave,

When first we practise to deceive!

   Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17.

   Scottish author & novelist (1771 – 1832)

BuzzFeed correspondent and Rolling Stone contributing editor Michael Hastings (@mmhastings) joins the Up w/ Chris Hayes discussion on Julian Assange, the leader behind WikiLeaks, who caused a diplomatic standoff this week in part for challenging extradition to Sweden for alleged sexual misconduct. Along with comedian, actor, talk show host and author, Richard Belzer (@MRBelzer); Josh Barro (@jbarro) who writes “The Ticker” for Bloomberg View; Michelle Goldberg (@michelleinbklyn), senior contributing writer for Newsweek/Daily Beast; and Up host Chris Hayes ([@chris hayes]) attempt to unravel the tangles web of international intrigues that surrounds Julian Assange, Wikileaks and the latest diplomatic imbroglio that has our attention.

There was a lot left out but it would most likely take more than the two hours of the show to even come close to trying to wend through the maze of information and sort out the the innuendo from the facts. But here is some of what we do know about the actors in this multi-act play so far:

Theses are some of the details about charges and how the case was handled by the Swedish police and prosecutors:

  • 1)  Julian Assange is not charged with anything in Sweden or any other country. (Source: @wikileaks)
  • 2)  Julian Assange did not flee Sweden to avoid questioning. He was given permission to leave the country on the 15th September 2010, after remaining 5 weeks in Sweden for the purpose of answering the allegations made against him. {Source: Undue delay for Julian Assange’s interrogation)
  • 3)  The case against Julian Assange was initially dropped, and deemed so weak it could not warrant investigation. After the intervention of a Swedish politician close to American diplomats, it was revived by a different prosecutor. (Source: Why is Julian Assange in jail?)
  • 4)  In all instances, the 2 plaintiffs consented to sexual intercourse, which they did not take the initiative to stop: they never expressed non-consent and afterwards declared to not have felt threatened by Julian Assange. (Sources: Swedish Police Report and The offences described in the EAW are not extradition offences)
  • 5)  A condom submitted as evidence by complainant AA, who claimed it had been deliberately torn by Julian Assange during sexual intercourse, contains no chromosomal DNA from either the complainant or Julian. (Source: Overlooked evidence in the Assange trial)
  • (6)  Text messages exchanged between complainants and their friends contradict the factual allegations in the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued for Julian Assange and cast doubt on the allegations. (Source: Brief to Canberra Meeting of MPs)
  • 7)  After the date of the alleged sexual misconduct: a) Complainant AA created then deleted evidence (tweets) indicating she was enjoying Julian Assange’s company; b) AA went as far as suggesting one of her friends (Witness C) should be intimate with Julian as well. (Sources: AA: The Twitter Trail, Göran Rudling Witness Statement and Police Statement of Witness C (pdf))
  • 8)  The law firm hired in the Assange investigation is ran by Claes Borgström (politician and legal representative for both plaintiffs) and by former minister Thomas Bodström. Both are members of the Social Democrat Party in Sweden. Bodström is a friend of police interrogator Irmeli Krans, who interrogated complainant SW.  (Source: Irmeli Krans: The Facebook Trail)
  • 9) Police interrogator Irmeli Krans is, in turn, friends with the other plaintiff, complainant AA, with whom she has political ties (Social Democrat Party). Krans also breached protocol by commenting negatively about Julian Assange on social media. (Source: Irmeli Krans: The Facebook Trail)
  • 10)  Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, refused to provide Julian Assange or his lawyers with information on the allegations against him in writing. This violates the Swedish Code of Procedure (RB 23:18) and the European Convention of Human Rights (article 5), and the EU Fundamental Charter on Human Rights.

    Prosecution also refused all voluntary offers for cooperation that fit under Mutual Legal Assistance protocol, such as making use of alternative methods to interview Julian Assange. (Sources: Fair Trial for Julian Assange? and Abuse of Process: Disproportionate use of EAW and INTERPOL Red Notice)

  • 11)  Both the EAW and the Interpol red notice were issued for Julian by Sweden just before WikiLeaks began to publish Cablegate. (Source: Brief to Canberra Meeting of MPs)
  • 12)  The allegations against Julian Assange do not constitute an offense in Australia or in the UK. (Source: The offences described in the EAW are not extradition offences)
  • h/t Notes on Wikileaks

    We also know that one of Mr. Assange’s accusers has close ties to the CIA.

    We know that former Stockholm chief district prosecutor Sven-Erik Alhem said that the Swedish government had no legitimate reason to seek Assange’s extradition when he testified that the decision of the Swedish government to extradite Assange is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate“, because he could be easily questioned in the UK.

    We know that there is strong evidence that the United States is seeking to indict Mr. Assange and prosecute him under the Espionage Act.

    We also know that Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa may have been motivated by geopolitical factors in Latin America:

    Any policy of isolating Assange may have failed now, as the conflict becomes one in which Ecuador-and a newly independent Latin America-stand off against the US and UK. Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa represents the wave of new nationalist leaders on the continent who have challenged the traditional US dominance over trade, security and regional decision-making. Correa joined the Venezuelan-founded Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas in June 2009, and closed the US military base in Ecuador in September 2009. His government fined Chevron for $8.6 billion for damages to the Amazon rainforest, in a case which Correa called “the most important in the history of the country.” He survived a coup attempt in 2010.

    It is very unlikely that Correa would make his asylum decision without consulting other governments in Latin America. An aggressive reaction by the British, carrying echoes of the colonial past, is likely to solidify Latin American ranks behind Quito, making Assange another irritant in relations with the United States.

    Earlier this year, many Central and Latin American leaders rebuked the Obama administration for its drug war policies and vowed not to participate in another Organization of American States meeting that excluded Cuba. Shortly after, President Obama acted to remove his Latin American policy chief, Dan Restrepo, according to a source with close ties to the Obama administration. Now the Assange affair threatens more turmoil between the United States and the region.

    Oh, what a tangled web.

    Aug 21 2012

    More Democrats

    Worried?  You should be.

    digby

    I don’t have a clue how to stop this train. Having the zombie eyed granny starver on the ticket hasn’t changed their view that the Grand Bargain to slash 4 trillion in government programs in the middle of an epic slump is still great policy and even better politics.

    But don’t worry. They’ll ask millionaires to “pay a little more” so it’s all good. I’m feeling more “confident” already.

    Basically we have a choice between the Republican dystopian hellscape or the Democrats’ long slow jobless recovery with even more insecurity for the poor and middle class.

    Balanced?  How many billionaires can you fit on the backs of the workers?

    dday (note: he used to write with digby)-

    The best expression of the austerity that has been implemented at the federal level for the last two years can be found in this chart from Goldman Sachs. It shows pretty clearly that fiscal policy at the federal level turned negative in mid-2010. This doesn’t just mean that fiscal policy, after the stimulus began to run out, was relatively speaking less powerful. It means that federal fiscal policy, not combined with state and local but just confined to the federal level, dragged on growth starting in mid-2010, before the 2010 midterm elections. It really never recovered, save for a couple quarters of near-zero growth from fiscal policy in the middle of 2011.

    And there are policies that correspond to this. The White House froze federal employee pay; it was one of the first items touted from their budget in 2010. They cut food stamps twice to pay for other priorities. They cut unemployment benefits in the most recent extension, so that the 99-week benefit has been reduced to 73. They cut $39 billion from the 2012 budget and imposed a spending cap for the next ten years. The Administration will tell you proudly that they have inaugurated the lowest rate of discretionary spending (.pdf) since the Eisenhower era.

    Obama Reiterates Desire for Grand Bargain on Taxes and Spending

    By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

    Monday August 20, 2012 2:23 pm

    (T)he pro-austerity rhetoric emanating from the Obama Administration has been corrosive. And despite signs that, after the unpopular debt limit deal, the President put such rhetoric in his hip pocket, sadly that’s not at all true. Witness him today in his impromptu press conference.



    Welcome back, confidence fairy!

    “The $1 trillion in spending cuts we’ve already made,” also typically ignored by those who want to say that Obama out-foxed Boehner in the debt limit deal, refers to the spending cap, which will starve federal investment for the next ten years. But the clear point made here is that $1 trillion is not enough for this President. He still seeks that grand bargain where token revenue increases are exchanged for “tough spending cuts.” This is still part of the agenda even in an election year.



    (O)ftentimes, budget cuts and grand bargains like this don’t happen because a very vocal minority makes it toxic for them to happen. Then they get told “see, there was never anything to worry about, you didn’t have to shout,” when the shouting helped stop the plan from taking effect. It’s a thankless job, alas, but someone has to do it.

    Aug 21 2012

    2012 Little League World Series

    Connecticut v Illinois on ESPN now.  I can’t resist.

    Bottom of the first, Connecticut just struck out the side.