Daily Archive: 01/23/2013

Jan 23 2013

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”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Cuomo’s Clean Elections Choice

One of the last results from Election Day 2012 is also one of the sweetest. Running in a district gerrymandered by Republicans, grassroots candidate Cecilia Tkaczyk scored a stunning upset over millionaire Assemblyman George Amedore in a New York State Senate race. Even better, Tkaczyk-and the grassroots army that powered her to victory-did it by making campaign finance reform the signature issue in the race. Tkaczyk’s victory, achieved by a nineteen-vote margin following a recount that ended Friday, is a shot in the arm for progressives. It’s also a test for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who’s counting on progressive votes in 2016. [..]

Over the past few months, Andrew Cuomo had the opportunity to help secure Democratic control of the state senate. But he passed, neither endorsing Democrats against Tea Partying opponents, nor lifting a finger when senators who were elected as Democrats moved to erect an alternative majority coalition with the Republicans (a result that’s neither Democratic nor small-“d” democratic).

Kara Dansky: Obama Must Tackle Criminal Justice Reform in His Second Term

President Obama is the first sitting president in recent history to speak out against criminal justice policies that hurt inner city and rural communities. This is a big deal.

With state budgets and vulnerable communities crippled by misguided criminal justice policies, the president is certainly right that the time for reform has come.

The myriad ways in which our criminal justice system is unwieldy, expensive, and damaging to vulnerable populations can be traced to one glaring issue: the U.S. has the world’s highest incarceration rate. With many of these people serving time for low-level, non-violent offenses, there is simply no justification for keeping such a large segment of our population behind bars. And of course most people affected by this national embarrassment are poor people and people of color.

Sarah van Gelder: Obama Inaugurates Renewed Energy on Climate Change

That the president put climate change so high on his second-term agenda surprised many. But action must follow words

President Barack Obama included a call to action on climate change in his inaugural speech on 21 January, surprising those who believed gun violence and immigration reform would take top billing. It’s not the first time he’s talked about the issue, by any means, but few thought he would return to it with such emphasis now.

During his 2008 campaign, he spoke of working for the moment when the rise of the oceans would begin to slow and our planet would begin to heal. During the 2012 election campaign, he was mocked for that statement.

But no one was laughing this fall when waves swept over lower Manhattan and towns up and down the eastern seaboard; nor this summer when much of the US midwest suffered from drought and brave firefighters battled unprecedented fires across the west. Obama spoke in Monday’s inaugural address of our responsibility to “preserve our planet”, recognizing that “the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations”.

Vandana Shiva: Our Violent Economy is Hurting Women

There is a connection between the growth of unjust economic policies and the intensification of crimes against women.

Violence against women is as old as patriarchy.

Traditional patriarchy has structured our worldviews and mindsets, our social and cultural worlds, on the basis of domination over women and the denial of their full humanity and right to equality. But it has intensified and become more pervasive in the recent past. It has taken on more brutal forms, like the murder of the Delhi gang rape victim and the recent suicide of a 17-year-old rape victim in Chandigarh.

In India, rape cases and cases of violence against women have increased over the years. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported 10,068 rape cases in 1990, which increased to 16496 in 2000. With 24,206 cases in 2011, rape cases jumped to incredible increase of 873 percent from 1971 when NCRB started to record cases of rape. And Delhi has emerged as the rape capital  of India, accounting for 25 percent of cases.

Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap : Move to Amend: Citizens United is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

It’s been three years since the Supreme Court issued its outrageous decision in Citizens United vs. FEC, overturning the flimsy campaign finance protections afforded under McCain-Feingold law. The case opened the floodgates to billions of dollars perverting our elections, much of it completely unreported, and some amount even coming from foreign corporations and governments. The Court literally legalized bribery, and wealthy individuals and special interests took full advantage of it.

As shameful as that decision is, we must confront the sobering reality that it is only the tip of the iceberg. A small ruling elite (often succinctly described as the 1%) have stolen control of the country, and they are ruling over us. They use the façade of elections to legitimize the theft. And even when decent legislation is enacted, they use the Courts to overturn those laws. Citizens United vs. FEC is merely a deepening of the crisis of corporate rule.

Betsy Reed: What Obama’s Inaugural Address Got Wrong About Poverty

Liberals seeking affirmation for their faith in President Obama believed they found it in his second Inaugural Address, with his passionate invocation of Stonewall and Seneca Falls, his soaring rhetoric about government “of, by and for the people” and an American creed forged “through blood drawn by lash, and blood drawn by sword.”]

But amidst the warm words for equality and collective action, one sentence stood out:

“We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.”

However much we might like to imagine otherwise, a little girl born into the bleakest poverty will never have “the same chance to succeed as anybody else.” If you take a step back, could anything be more obvious? And yet this notion is so thoroughly woven into the “American creed” that we barely notice how misleading it is.

Jan 23 2013

The “Untouchable ” Banks (Up Date)

“Too big to fail” now according to the Justice Department, “too big to jail.” The PBS news series, Frontline “investigates why Wall Street’s leaders have escaped prosecution for any fraud related to the sale of bad mortgages” in its presentation of “The Untouchables.”

Transcript can be read here

Phil Angelides: Enforcement of Wall St. is “Woefully Broken”

Phil Angelides was chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which was created by Congress in 2009 to investigate the causes of the crisis. In its report, submitted in January 2011, the commission concluded that the crisis was avoidable, a result of excessive risk taking, failures of regulation and poorly prepared government leaders. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Oct. 11, 2012.

Lanny Breuer: Financial Fraud Has Not Gone Unpunished

Lanny Breuer serves as assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division. He told FRONTLINE that when fraud from the financial crisis has been detected, the Department of Justice has pursued charges. “But when we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was criminal intent, then we have a constitutional duty not to bring those cases,” Breuer said. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Nov. 30, 2012.

Too Big To Jail? The Top 10 Civil Cases Against the Banks

by Jason M. Breslow

The Justice Department’s initial response to the financial crisis did not take long to materialize. In June 2008, three months before the Lehman Brothers collapse, the department brought its first criminal case, charging two former Bear Stearns executives with securities fraud for their alleged roles inflating the housing bubble.

A little more than a year later, a jury found the executives not guilty, dealing the DOJ an early setback. Since then, government investigations into the crisis have almost exclusively centered on civil charges, which requires prosecutors establish guilt beyond a preponderance of the evidence. The bar is higher in criminal cases, requiring they prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Here are 10 of the most prominent of those cases to date. In nearly all, the government won multi-million dollar settlements, but the companies and officials involved were not required to admit wrongdoing.

Secrets and Lies of the Bailout

by Matt Taibbi

The federal rescue of Wall Street didn’t fix the economy – it created a permanent bailout state based on a Ponzi-like confidence scheme. And the worst may be yet to come

It has been four long winters since the federal government, in the hulking, shaven-skulled, Alien Nation-esque form of then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, committed $700 billion in taxpayer money to rescue Wall Street from its own chicanery and greed. To listen to the bankers and their allies in Washington tell it, you’d think the bailout was the best thing to hit the American economy since the invention of the assembly line. Not only did it prevent another Great Depression, we’ve been told, but the money has all been paid back, and the government even made a profit. No harm, no foul – right?

Wrong.

It was all a lie – one of the biggest and most elaborate falsehoods ever sold to the American people. We were told that the taxpayer was stepping in – only temporarily, mind you – to prop up the economy and save the world from financial catastrophe. What we actually ended up doing was the exact opposite: committing American taxpayers to permanent, blind support of an ungovernable, unregulatable, hyperconcentrated new financial system that exacerbates the greed and inequality that caused the crash, and forces Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to increase risk rather than reduce it. The result is one of those deals where one wrong decision early on blossoms into a lush nightmare of unintended consequences. We thought we were just letting a friend crash at the house for a few days; we ended up with a family of hillbillies who moved in forever, sleeping nine to a bed and building a meth lab on the front lawn.

Up Date: After his appearance on “Frontline”, Yves Smith at naked capitalism delightedly announced the news that Lanny Breuer, former Covington & Burling partner and more recently head of the criminal division at the Department of Justice, had his resignation leaked today.

Never mind resign, why hasn’t Obama fired him?

Jan 23 2013

FAIL! There Will Be Austerity Kabuki Every 3 Months

There seems to be a lot of celebrating without actually understanding much of what has happened as of late. One reason is that it looks like House Republicans will agree to raise the debt ceiling but only for 3 months until the budget gimmick of all Congressmen supposedly either passing a budget or denying their own pay as if that will ever happen. There will be infighting on whether there should be heavy or light deficit terrorism terrorizing the unemployed as usual, but now we can expect these dysfunctional austerity celebrating battles to go on and on.  And as I pointed out when I predicted all of this 3 years ago, when this is the debate in Washington DC we have already lost.

We’ve Already Lost So Cancel Any Perceivable Celebration

This budget gimmick fight is already on top of what the last debt ceiling fight created with the negotiations coming up over the self induced sequester on the basis that 4 trillion bipartisan austerity is awesome. That is the problem for all debates and all fake “progressive” political rhetoric in DC we heard at the Inauguration even though it was a great speech.

The plans to kick this austerity shit can down the road continually every few months is not a victory; it’s also not even a clean debt ceiling raise because it’s not even going to be for a fiscal year. It also means the White House was really posturing as I said they were when they claimed they wouldn’t negotiate on the debt ceiling; this shows that all this so called new-found post reelection “strength for progress” is a myth. That also means that all the hyp being bandied about, about the low-balled 60 billion to merely 9 billion Sandy relief bill passing weeks late and 51 billion dollars short breaking the Hastert rule did not have the significance of the spin behind it at all. It’s simple: John Boehner was looking out for his own ass as speaker(shocking!). That’s it.

The idiotic bipartisan sequester created by the last grand self induced standoff over the last debt ceiling fight will come to a head on March 1. I don’t expect a lot of defense cuts despite the posturing and fully expect more cuts to SS and Medicare to be floated and bargained with within multiple negotiations that show nothing but contempt for the public. Yves Smith goes into the real reasons why a Republican grand standoff on the debt ceiling looks like it won’t happen despite the coming miniature ones every few months that will happen where plenty of deal making and deficit terrorism will take place.

All Good Democrats Applaud Republicans Rearranging Battle Lines in Austerity Phony War

It’s not quite that simple.

First, if you widen the frame, the budget jockeying is largely kabuki: which team is going to score more points that appeal (or more accurately, can hopefully be spun to appeal) to their base? The reality is that both parties are fully committed to imposing austerity. The only question is whether we get Dem Lite or Republican Hi Test. But rest assured, neither version will be good for ordinary Americans.

Second, the Republicans have not dropped the deficit ceiling cudgel, but they seem to recognize that it is a mutual assured destruction weapon, and therefore not as useful as they once thought. They seem to still be coming to grips with the negotiating implications. As the New York Times reports, the Republicans are willing to extend the deficit ceiling for three months, but that increase was conditioned on having the Democrats approve a budget (during the Obama administration, no budget has been approved; the government has carried on because Congress has passed spending resolutions). Notice that while Obama has said that he would not discuss deficit cuts under a debt ceiling sword of Damocles. But if he accepts this deal (which includes a gimmick, of having Congresscritters go unpaid if they can’t agree on a budget on the normal timetable), he will still be doing that. So why is this a victory of sorts?

The more important part of the New York Times story on the Republican climbdown is that Dave Camp, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, disabused his fellow party members of the idea that the government could limp through hitting the debt ceiling by using tax proceeds to pay only debt obligations, Social Security, the military, and other critical needs. So the Republicans can’t refuse to raise the debt ceiling and not do serious damage, pronto. And everyone would blame them for their intransigence. So unless they want to play Major Kong, they will probably continue to play ball with the Democrats on debt ceiling increases while trying to save face about it.

Jan 23 2013

On This Day In History January 23

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.

January 23 is the 23rd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 342 days remaining until the end of the year (343 in leap years).

On this day in 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell is granted a medical degree from Geneva College in New York, becoming the first female to be officially recognized as a physician in U.S. history.

Blackwell, born in Bristol, England, came to the United States in her youth and attended the medical faculty of Geneva College, now known as Hobart College. In 1849, she graduated with the highest grades in her class and was granted an M.D.

Banned from practice in most hospitals, she was advised to go to Paris, France and train at La Maternite, but had to continue her training as a student midwife, not a physician. While she was there, her training was cut short when in November, 1849 she caught a serious right eye infection, purulent ophthalmia, from a baby she was treating. She had to have her right eye removed and replaced with a glass eye. This loss brought to an end her hopes to become a surgeon.

In 1853 Blackwell along with her sister Emily and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, founded their own infirmary, the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, in a single room dispensary near Tompkins Square in Manhattan. During the American Civil War, Blackwell trained many women to be nurses and sent them to the Union Army. Many women were interested and received training at this time. After the war, Blackwell had time, in 1868, to establish a Women’s Medical College at the Infirmary to train women, physicians, and doctors.

In 1857, Blackwell returned to England where she attended Bedford College for Women for one year. In 1858, under a clause in the 1858 Medical Act that recognized doctors with foreign degrees practising in Britain before 1858, she was able to become the first woman to have her name entered on the General Medical Council’s medical register (1 January 1859).

In 1869, she left her sister Emily in charge of the college and returned to England. There, with Florence Nightingale, she opened the Women’s Medical College. Blackwell taught at London School of Medicine for Women, which she had co-founded, and accepted a chair in gynecology. She retired a year later.

During her retirement, Blackwell still maintained her interest in the women’s rights movement by writing lectures on the importance of education. Blackwell is credited with opening the first training school for nurses in the United States in 1873. She also published books about diseases and proper hygiene.

She was an early outspoken opponent of circumcision and in 1894 said that “Parents, should be warned that this ugly mutilation of their children involves serious danger, both to their physical and moral health.” She was a proponent of women’s rights and pro-life.

Jan 23 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: Filbuster Reform is Giving Harry a Headache

Don’t Stop Now! Call Reid’s office at 202-224-3542, and tell him to include the talking filibuster and/or flipping the burden of the filibuster.

Reform the Filbuster

Sign the Petition

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a headache, Filibuster Reform.

Filibuster reform has become a headache for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Reid is stuck in the middle, between liberal senators pushing hard for drastic reform and senior Democrats balking at changing the culture of the upper chamber. [..]

Reid has begun to show signs of impatience with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), with whom he has been negotiating for weeks. He said Tuesday that he and McConnell have made progress, but added, “[W]e’ve got a long way to go.”

The Nevada Democrat said he would give Republicans another 24 to 36 hours to agree to filibuster reform and then trigger the so-called nuclear option. This controversial tactic would allow him to change the Senate rules with a simple majority vote.

Sen.  Reid insists that reform is at the top of his agenda, even though it has been delayed almost three weeks to give time for negotiations with the recalcitrant Republican minority who have used the current rule to virtually halt government. While progressive Democrats back the reforms put forth by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM), including “talking filibuster,” Sen. Reid has put forth his own proposal as a compromise in an attempt to placate six more senior Democrats who are reluctant to pass reform with a simple majority vote:

The proposals include eliminating filibusters on motions to proceed, and an idea proposed by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) that would shift the burden onto the minority by requiring 41 members to vote in order to maintain a filibuster, rather than requiring the majority to find 60 votes to end a filibuster. [..]

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a co-sponsor of the scaled-back, bipartisan filibuster reform package, also said he supports putting some onus on the minority to keep a filibuster going. [..] Levin said he continues to have problems with a nuclear option. [..] Levin said he supports getting rid of the filibuster on the motion to proceed, but again held out hope for an agreement. [..]

One of the proponents of stronger filibuster reform, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), took to the floor a little later to demand that the Senate not take half measures. [..] Udall suggested the constitutional option need not actually be invoked. [..] But he added that if Republicans don’t agree, Democrats have a responsibility to act.

If there is any hope of the Senate passing comprehensive immigration reform and gun violence prevention, along with education, infrastructure, the Violence Against Women Act, veterans aid, climate change, tax loopholes, voter suppression and the farm bill, ending filibuster gridlock is a must.

The question of whether Democrats can get this done was the topic of discussion this past weekend on Up with Chris Hayes. Host Chris Hayes was joined by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM); Patrick Gaspard, executive director of the Democratic National Committee; Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress; and Jen Psaki, former Obama White House deputy communications director.

Jan 23 2013

VA GOP Rigging Elections To Win

During Monday’s Inauguration coverage, MSNBC commentator and host Chris Matthews remarked about the slipping popularity of the Republican Party and how in order to win they will have to rig the elections in order to win in the future.

“If states like Pennsylvania ever get controlled by Republican legislators, that is frightening,” [..]

“There’s so much willingness to rig the elections by the Republicans,” Matthews continued. “They know they’re heading into demographic trouble. They know they’re going to be a minority in this country. It’s almost like Lebanon – we’ve got to fake the census now, y’know?”

He concluded: “And what I see them doing is saying, ‘Okay, we know we’re never going to be popular again, so we’re going to have to rig it.”

Apparently, Mr. Matthews was unaware of what the Republicans in the Virginia legislature were up to.

Virginia Senate Sneaks Through Gerrymandering Bill While Country Watches Inauguration

by Annie-Rose Strasser, Think Progress

While the eyes of the nation were turned toward President Barack Obama’s second inauguration on Monday, the Virginia State Senate managed to hurriedly pass a bill that would redistrict the state’s senate seats.

The vote, 20-19, would have been a tie had Democratic Senator Henry Marsh been present. Marsh, a civil rights leader, was in Washington, D.C., attending the inauguration.

Had Marsh been present, however, the state’s Lieutenant Governor, Bill Bolling, would likely have broken the tie. The bill was reportedly pushed through in a matter of hours. [..]

The gerrymandering bill now goes to the heavily Republican House of Delegates for a vote, where it will likely face little opposition.

Victim Of VA State Sen. GOP ‘Dirty Trick’ Calls Move ‘Shameful’

by Evan McMorris-Santoro, Talking Points Memo

“I wanted to attend the historic second inauguration of President Obama in person,” Marsh said in a statement. “For Senate Republicans to use my absence to push through a partisan redistricting plan that hurts voters across the state is shameful.” [..]

Marsh said he was “outraged” and “saddened” by the state Senate GOP move. He said the bill was “unconstitutional,” a line being used by many Democrats in Virginia these days that could signal future legal action.

Gov. McDonnell Condemns Virginia Senate GOP Move As Bad Way To Do Business

by Evan McMorris-Santoro, Talking Points Memo

After first distancing himself from the new legislative lines the Virginia Senate GOP forced through Monday, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) condemned his party’s political gamesmanship Tuesday.

“I certainly don’t think that’s a good way to do business,” McDonnell told reporters in Richmond, according to the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. [..]

McDonnell has so far not said if he would veto the redistricting plan, which still must pass the state House. It is not clear if McDonnell has taken or will take other steps to undo the Senate GOP’s surprise move.

I wouldn’t put any money on Gov. McDonnell vetoing that bill, as Laura Conaway at The Maddow Blog  notes, the governor would like everyone to just stop talking about the  sneak redistricting now

When I asked McDonnell’s office just now whether he would sign or veto the bill, which still needs approval from the House, they sent over a recording (mp3) of the governor fielding that question today with local reporters. The verbate:

   REPORTER: Is it time yet to tell these guys, “If it comes to me, I’m going to veto it”?

   MCDONNELL: Well, listen, my focus this year is on education, transportation, and budget and government reform. That’s what I had asked this session to be about. Obviously, the tactics that were used yesterday was a surprise, and I don’t think that’s the way that business should be done. But I haven’t looked at the bill. I’m not happy about the things that have happened. Look, some people said they were against my transportation bill long before yesterday, so this has got a long way to go. I don’t know whether I’m going to get a bill or not. But I’m going to wait and see at this point what happens. I have not looked at the bill. At this point, though, I want people to focus on the things that are important. What I said the session should be about is education, transportation — not redistricting and other things. That’s my focus.

The short answer, so far, is no answer yet. McDonnell could try to keep the House from passing the bill and sending it to him. A year ago, he found himself in much the same position, trying to get the legislature off the ledge — and off the front pages — with that forced ultrasound bill. He ended up signing that one.

The bill would create a Republican super majority in both houses, so that even if a Democrat is elected governor, s/he’ll be unable to pass an agenda. Gov. McDonnell will sign this it.