10/01/2012 archive

No Dancing XV

I haven’t DJed much since I started blogging, in fact well before.  It was always mostly a way to politic and show off and once I became capo di tutti that motivation faded.

But I’ve always used borrowed equipment and libraries.  My actual first gig as a DJ was as a volunteer at a party back in the days when I was too shy to do much except stand near the food table and feign fascinated interest in the contents.  My first platter (they say you never forget) was Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue on 45 which I’d spin for you except people actually danced.

So I was hooked.

Since then I’ve played any number of tracks that sincerely puzzled my audience but what’s important is they made sense to me.  If I were still doing the DJ thing you might expect to hear something like this whether it emptied the floor or not.

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Some people don’t recognize themselves in a mirror.  Me?  I don’t own one.


Johnson: Presidential Politics Trumps Jets’ Fate

By LYNN ZINSER, The New York Times

October 1, 2012, 2:34 pm

(Jets owner Woody) Johnson, in a statement likely to irk Jets fans unhappy with the team’s 2-2 start, said: “Well, I think so you always have to put country first, so I think it’s very, very important, not only for us but for particularly our kids and grandkids, that this election come off with Mitt Romney and Ryan as president and vice president.”

In that statement, Johnson stepped back from throwing more fuel on a debate he has played a role in fanning in the past. While at the Republican National Convention, Johnson said in an interview with CNBC that, “I think you can never have too much Tebow,” despite Sanchez being acknowledged as the starter and the team trying to keep a quarterback controversy from breaking out with every Sanchez incompletion.

Colin Kaepernick of 49ers beats Jets’ Tim Tebow at his own game

By Matt Wilhalme, Los Angeles Times

October 1, 2012, 1:02 p.m.

Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback, had the best game of his career in the team’s 34-0 blowout of the Jets, and looked more like how New York Jets fans might have envisioned Tim Tebow would be after their team traded with the Denver Broncos for him.

On five carries he rushed for 50 yards and scored on a 7-yard touchdown run from the wildcat in what would be the game-winning score in the second quarter.

Kaepernick’s only pass attempt of the day was an incompletion.

Tebow, on the other hand, connected with Dedrick Epps for a 9-yard pass — his first completion of the season — who subsequently fumbled the ball to the 49ers.

Tebow’s two rushing attempts of the day went for a combined total of 0 yards.


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: October Term, 2012

On Monday, the Supreme Court opens a new term with a menu of important cases that deal with affirmative action, criminal justice, the right of defendants to effective counsel and more. The court may soon choose to hear a controversial case that could redefine voting-rights law, and, later in the term, one or more cases involving same-sex marriage. [..]

The conservatives, including Mr. Roberts, have regularly, if narrowly, held sway in recent years. Where they come down on this important question of corporate accountability will say something significant about their respect for established international and American law – or their inclination to shape law as they see fit.

Paul Krugman: The Real Referendum

Republicans came into this campaign believing that it would be a referendum on President Obama, and that still-high unemployment would hand them victory on a silver platter. But given the usual caveats – a month can be a long time in politics, it’s not over until the votes are actually counted, and so on – it doesn’t seem to be turning out that way.

Yet there is a sense in which the election is indeed a referendum, but of a different kind. Voters are, in effect, being asked to deliver a verdict on the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society, on Social Security, Medicare and, yes, Obamacare, which represents an extension of that legacy. Will they vote for politicians who want to replace Medicare with Vouchercare, who denounce Social Security as “collectivist” (as Paul Ryan once did), who dismiss those who turn to social insurance programs as people unwilling to take responsibility for their lives?

If the polls are any indication, the result of that referendum will be a clear reassertion of support for the safety net, and a clear rejection of politicians who want to return us to the Gilded Age. But here’s the question: Will that election result be honored?

Thomas Hedges: War Power Abuse Makes Iran Conflict More Likely

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., along with retired military officers Col. Lawrence Wilkerson and Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer as well as former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Fein denounced President Barack Obama at a news conference Sept. 21 for overstepping his authority in wartime and warned that unless war powers are restored to Congress, the country could soon be involved in a battle with Iran.

The resolution comes at a time when tensions among Iran, the United States and Israel have intensified and could lead to what Col. Wilkerson described as an eruption of catastrophic violence in the Middle East.

Resolution HRC107, written by Jones and supported by 13 House members, is the latest attempt to restore one of the fundamental constitutional powers to Congress.

Patrick Cockburn: American Influence on the Middle East Is Past Its Peak – Someone Should Tell Them

Are the days of American predominance in the Middle East coming to an end or is US influence simply taking a new shape? How far is Washington, after refusing to try to keep Hosni Mubarak in power in Egypt, facing the same situation as the Soviet Union in 1989, when the police states it had sustained in Eastern Europe were allowed to collapse?

The US is obviously weaker than it was between 1979, when the then Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, signed the Camp David agreement and allied Egypt with the US, and 2004/05, when it became obvious to the outside world that the Iraq war was a disaster for America. At the time, General William Odom, a former head of the National Security Agency, the biggest US intelligence agency, rightly called it “the greatest strategic disaster in American history”. Since then, the verdict of the Iraq war has been confirmed in Afghanistan, where another vastly expensive US expeditionary force has failed to crush an insurgency. In the last few weeks alone, Taliban fighters have succeeded in storming Camp Bastion in Helmand province and destroying $200m worth of aircraft. So many American and allied soldiers have now been shot by Afghan soldiers and police that US advisers are under orders to wear full body armour when having tea with their local allies.

Simon Johnson: Scott Brown: ATM for the Big Banks

During the Dodd-Frank financial reform debate in early 2010, newly elected Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts was referred to as an ATM for the bankers — meaning that whenever they needed some more cash, they would stop by his office. It was not paper money he was handing out, of course, it was something much more valuable — rule changes that conferred a greater ability to take on reckless risk, damage consumers, and impose higher future costs on the taxpayer.

Mr. Brown had this ability because he represented the final vote needed to pass Dodd-Frank through the Senate. He could have asked for many things — including greater consumer protection, a more thorough investigation into mortgage practices, and reforms that would have cleaned up unscrupulous lenders. He asked for none of those changes — or anything else that would have made the financial system safer and fairer.

Instead, Senator Brown’s requests were designed to undermine the Volcker Rule — i.e., he was opposing sensible attempts to limit the ability of big banks to place highly dangerous bets (and to blow themselves up at great cost to the rest of us). Mr. Brown seems to have been particularly keen to allow big banks to invest in hedge funds of various kinds — and the Boston Globe reported recently that he has continued to push in this direction behind the scenes.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Mitt’s ‘Harvest’ Comments: Typical MBA-Speak … or an Omen of Alien Invasion?

David Corn at Mother Jones has released another Romney video. This one’s from a Bain Capital meeting in 1985 in which Romney says Bain’s business model is to acquire companies and then “harvest them at a significant profit” in five to eight years.

The word “harvest” has a creepy, sci-fi ring to it, which inspired me to make the image you see below. (My more serious policy-minded colleagues were clearly unimpressed.) And it brought back a horrifying scene in a white and sterile laboratory, one I’d seen many years ago and have never been able to forget.

But is this new video important?

On the one hand, that’s how business people talk all the time, which suggests it’s not much of a revelation. On the other hand, that’s how business people talk all the time.


“The smartest bankers we got”

Bank of America Settles Suit Over Merrill for $2.43 Billion


September 28, 2012, 8:49 am

The settlement, however, may undermine a battle between the New York attorney general and the bank. In 2010, Andrew M. Cuomo, New York’s attorney general at the time, sued Kenneth D. Lewis, the bank’s former chief executive, and Bank of America, contending that the bank and its executives hid from shareholders billions of dollars in losses at Merrill, later causing Bank of America to need a bailout from Washington.

The case, which now falls to Eric T. Schneiderman, could lose much of its steam. Under a decision by New York’s highest court, the attorney general can recover losses on behalf of shareholders. Once the shareholders settle, though, Mr. Schneiderman’s office can expect to obtain little more than a penalty, according to people briefed on the matter. The attorney general’s office declined to comment.

It is unclear how much relief the shareholders – those who owned Bank of America shares or call options from September 2008 to January 2009 – will receive. A chunk of the settlement amount will go to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, who are expected to ask the court for $150 million in fees. Bank of America will use its litigation reserves and litigation expenses to cover the settlement, saying that it and other legal expenses cost it $1.6 billion.

The bank also said on Friday that it had agreed to adopt a “say on pay” shareholder vote, an independent compensation committee of the board and policies for committees focused on acquisitions, among other corporate governance changes.

Despite the legal woes, the Merrill Lynch business has helped bolster Bank of America, contributing roughly half the bank’s revenue since 2009, according to bank analysts.

The Countrywide acquisition has proved to be a bigger albatross for Bank of America. The purchase effectively saddled Bank of America with hundreds of thousands of homeowners struggling to keep up with their mortgage payments.

The bank has spent billions of dollars to defend lawsuits related to Countrywide’s mortgage business. In the second quarter of 2011, for example, the bank reported an $8.8 billion loss, mainly related to a settlement with mortgage investors.

Earlier this year, Bank of America and four other banks agreed to a $26 billion settlement related to their foreclosure practices. That deal evolved from an investigation of the mortgage servicing practices by state attorneys general that was begun in 2010 amid mounting fury over revelations that banks evicted homeowners from their residences with false or incomplete documentation.

Bank of America’s Cascade of Settlement Payoffs Continue

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Saturday September 29, 2012 11:30 am

This was outright securities fraud, and I’m more than surprised that the investors plaintiffs, led by public pension funds in Ohio and Texas, accepted this. BofA clearly withheld information from their shareholders that caused a material loss; the stock is down 2/3 since the Merrill deal, even while the bank returned to profitability (though not this quarter, as we’ll see). But the investors had little leverage. The SEC should have been all over this, but they settled over the acquisition in 2009, in a settlement so bad that the judge made them rework it. In the end, the SEC got just $150 million for their settlement, and the fact that the investors got 16 times as much should truly embarrass them.

Incidentally, Ken Lewis was specifically sued in this case and would have been personally liable for withholding information, but BofA will cover his costs in the settlement, so he won’t have to pay a dime.

This is just the latest in a long line of settlements BofA has managed to negotiate over a string of fraudulent and abusive activity since 2009. In all, BofA has paid out over $29 billion, including the $11.8 billion in cash penalties and “credits” from the foreclosure fraud settlement. The other big number included in that, the $8.5 billion settlement with mortgage backed securities holders for repurchases, hasn’t been finalized yet. But it’s clear that Bank of America has become a waystation for abused parties to take out settlement money, rather than a lender allocating capital efficiently. And of course, given the inadequacy of these settlements, the real cost of Bank of America’s practices in the economy are much, much higher.

In fact, between this settlement, some tax charges and litigation expenses (none of that $29 billion includes legal fees), BofA expects to book a loss for the third quarter, years after the end of the financial crisis. While Merrill Lynch at least provided investment banking revenue, that acquisition and the Countrywide acquisition have been extremely problematic for the bank. Countrywide in particular has been the main cause for a loss in BofA’s mortgage business of $35 billion.

If it weren’t for a massive sell-off of assets and a government lifeline, there would not be a Bank of America today. And policymakers should ask themselves why they propped up a zombie bank so it could pay off its legal exposure and not much else.

On This Day In History October 1

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.

October 1 is the 274th day of the year(275th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 91 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1946, 12 high-ranking Nazis are sentenced to death by the International War Crimes Tribunal in Nuremberg. Among those condemned to death by hanging were Joachim von Ribbentrop, Nazi minister of foreign affairs; Hermann Goering, founder of the Gestapo and chief of the German air force; and Wilhelm Frick, minister of the interior. Seven others, including Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler’s former deputy, were given prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life. Three others were acquitted.

The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military, held by the main victorious Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany. The trials were held in the city of Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany, in 1945-46, at the Palace of Justice. The first and best known of these trials was the Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT), which tried 22 of the most important captured leaders of Nazi Germany. It was held from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946. The second set of trials of lesser war criminals was conducted under Control Council Law No. 10 at the US Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMT); among them included the Doctors’ Trial and the Judges’ Trial.

The Main Trial

The International Military Tribunal was opened on October 18, 1945, in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. The first session was presided over by the Soviet judge, Nikitchenko. The prosecution entered indictments against 24 major war criminals and six criminal organizations – the leadership of the Nazi party, the Schutzstaffel (SS) and Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the “General Staff and High Command,” comprising several categories of senior military officers.

The indictments were for:

  1. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace

  2. Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace

  3. War crimes

  4. Crimes against humanity

The Bubble Trap

The Republican Bubble Trap

Republicans aren’t the only ones in a bubble, Democrats, too, are “getting high on their own supply.”

What are we cheering for?

by Matt Stoller

Don’t let the conventions distract you from the real lesson of 2012: America is becoming increasingly undemocratic

Ultimately, we’re seeing that both parties are rotten. This rot is rooted in economics. Despite the bitter rhetoric, Obama and Romney are basically in agreement about how the country should be governed. Both Romney and Obama want to see the same core economic trends continue. These are, most significantly, a transition to an energy system based on hydro-fracking of natural gas and oil deposits (and some renewable energy), a large national security state, the sale of public assets to private interests, globalized financial flows, a preservation of the capital structure of the large banks, free rein of white-collar behavior and austerity in public budgets. This policy agenda is a reflection of the quiet coup that IMF chief economist Simon Johnson wrote about in 2010. [..]

Whether Romney wins or Obama wins, both Social Security and Medicare are on the table for deep cuts. Romney is explicit about this, whereas Obama couches this in terms that liberals will not understand. When he talks about popping a blister of partisanship by winning an election, what he means is cutting a deal with the Republicans to restructure these programs. Sen. Dick Durbin has been telling reporters that the Obama administration is going to give the entitlement-gutting Simpson-Bowles budget framework another try if he wins, and close Obama advisers are looking for a grand bargain on taxes and entitlement reform. Obama already tried to raise the Medicare eligibility age and cut Social Security benefits during the debt ceiling negotiations. Meanwhile, corporate titans and Democratic elites like Andy Stern and Steny Hoyer are already gathering to put this framework into place in the post-election environment, regardless of who wins.

As David Dayen at FDL News Desk pointed out, the Democrats have become the Party of Austerity: Still Seeking that Grand Bargain

There’s a fault line between the parties on this – particularly on Medicaid, where there’s a legitimate difference – but overall the fault line is not at all worthy of being called a “great debate.” One side (Republicans) wants to transform safety net programs and would probably get no further than cutting them; the other side (Democrats) wants to cut them and will use its power to force their allies along. Democrats have become the party of austerity, and they see the question as, bizarrely, one of credibility. You don’t earn your stripes in Washington unless you hurt a poor person, I guess. [..]

But Democrats have truly embraced this policy of fiscal austerity. What saved us from this once is the total intransigence on the part of Republicans to accept a good deal and provide the cover in the form of a modest tax increase. If Democrats let the Bush tax cuts expire, however, they can get what they term a modest tax increase through a tax cut bill, and layer on their spending austerity changes, including social insurance. So even if there’s no warp-speed “deal” after the elections, you would have to look out for one shortly thereafter.

We have a vote, but not a voice.  

First Monday in October

The 2012 term of the US Supreme Court traditionally begins on the first Monday in October. If the 2011 session is any indication, this term should be even more interesting as the court considers some of the most controversial issues facing this country from affirmative action to civil and voting rights.

When last we saw the chief justice of the United States on the bench, John Roberts was joining with the Supreme Court’s liberals in an unlikely lineup that upheld President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

Progressives applauded Roberts’ statesmanship. Conservatives uttered cries of betrayal. [..]

Many people on both the left and right expect Roberts to return to the fold and side with the conservative justices in the new term’s big cases. If they’re right, the spotlight will be back on Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote typically is decisive in cases that otherwise split the court’s liberals and conservatives. But Roberts will be watched closely, following his health care vote, for fresh signs that he’s becoming less ideologically predictable. [..]

Cases involving voting rights and marriage equality are expected to eventually land before the court, the former most likely sooner than the latter:

Voting rights: Several challenges to the 1965 Voting Rights Act are moving through district and appellate courts, and the high court is expected to take up one or more.

At issue is Section 5 of the law, a landmark civil rights achievement that prohibits nine states and municipalities in seven others from changing their voting laws without approval from the Justice Department or a special federal court. [..]

Same-sex marriage: The big question as the term begins is whether the justices will accept one or more cases involving the rights of gays and lesbians to marry. If they do, it may offer the best chance for a landmark ruling.

There are two possibilities. The most likely is that the court will accept a challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which has been declared unconstitutional in lower courts and which the Obama administration is refusing to defend. [..]

The other option is for the court to consider challenges to California’s Proposition 8, a 2008 referendum that overturned the state’s support for gay marriage. A broadly worded ruling against the referendum could pave the way for legalized gay marriage elsewhere, rather than just in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa. More likely is a narrowly worded decision that affects only California.

Even if the court declines to hear the Proposition 8 challenge, that decision would be important, because a lower court has ruled against the referendum. Without high court review, gays and lesbians soon could marry in the nation’s most-populous state.

The SCOTUS calendar begins with Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum a major case about corporate accountability for extreme violations of human rights. The case was argued last term on narrow grounds but not decided.

At issue in the Kiobel case is the proper interpretation of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which provides, in relevant part, that foreign citizens may bring civil suits in U.S. district courts for actions “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”  Enacted as part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, the ATS lay almost forgotten

for nearly two hundred years.  But in 1980, in Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit breathed life into the statute, holding that the ATS conferred jurisdiction over a lawsuit brought by one Paraguayan national against another Paraguayan national (residing in the United States) for torture that occurred in Paraguay.  Since then, victims of human rights violations that occurred overseas have sought to rely on the ATS to press their own claims in U.S. courts.

An affirmative action case that wound its way from Texas will be heard. Under consideration is the court’s previous decisions interpreting the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the court will address how and perhaps whether the university can take race into account as a factor in student admissions. In a way, the case is a rehearing of a 2003 case (pdf) in which it ruled that the University of Michigan Law School could do so as part of assessing the whole of a candidate’s application. That decision seemed to reflect a national consensus that race, narrowly applied, could be used to ensure a diverse student body.

Two cases involving the Fourth Amendment involving unreasonable search ans seizure will also be heard:

In Florida v. Jardines, the issue is whether the police violated the Constitution by using a dog trained to smell for drugs to sniff at the door of a house where they suspected marijuana was being grown. Was the sniff test unreasonably intrusive because there was no hard information that illegal activity was probably occurring, as the Florida Supreme Court properly found, or was it not a search because it occurred outside the house?

Similarly, in Missouri v. McNeely, the issue is whether the police could order a blood test on a man suspected of drunken driving without obtaining a warrant because the delay in doing so would result in loss of evidence. The Missouri Supreme Court sensibly ruled otherwise: that the test constituted an unreasonable search because there was no accident to investigate and because there was plenty of time to get a warrant and test the driver’s blood before the alcohol in it dissipated.

Also, two cases that will rule on the right of the defendant to council

Ryan v. Gonzales raises the question of whether the defendant himself needs to be mentally capable of assisting his own attorney in challenging a death penalty conviction. [..]

Chaidez v. United States asks whether a 2010 ruling (pdf) of the court – that criminal defense lawyers must advise their noncitizen clients that a guilty plea carries the risk of deportation – applies to someone whose conviction became final before that ruling was announced.

Pique the Geek 20120930: Sodium — You Can Not Get Away from It

Sodium, element number 11, is one of the most common elements in the crust of the earth.  Except for school laboratory demonstrations, few people have ever seen elemental (metallic) sodium because it is so reactive and actually has very limited consumer uses (that would be about zero consumer uses).

We have hinted at the concept of periodicity previously, like last week when we saw how similar the chemical behavior of helium and neon are.  The similarities betwixt hydrogen and lithium are much less marked than those betwixt lithium and sodium, mostly due to the extreme low mass of hydrogen, making quantum effects more pronounced.  Thus, sodium is the second alkali metal after lithium even though hydrogen is in the same column in the periodic table.

In other words, the two first row elements, hydrogen and helium, are aberrant because of their low masses AND because they have only the K electron shell in the ground state AND as a corollary, only the 1s orbital that is filled with only two electrons.  Starting with the second row, the L shell begins to be filled and it contains, in addition to the 1s orbital, a 2s and three 2p orbitals.  Row three elements, sodium being the first of which, also contain in addition to those orbitals, a 3s and three 3p orbitals, making them more like the second row than the second is to the first row.

Sunday Train: Trains and Not Destroying Civilization

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

crossposted from Voices on the Square

When one first thinks about it, one  would think the politics of not destroying civilization should be simple. It seems that “Not destroy civilization, Yes/No” would get a very high “Yes” vote.

In the immediate future in US political, however, its far more complicated than that, given that one party’s position is “No”, and the other party’s position is “Maybe, a little bit of not destroying civilization, if its not too inconvenient”.

So, how would we go about not destroying civilization, why is the politics of not destroying civilization so messy, and what in the hell can we do about it?