Daily Archive: 04/02/2013

Apr 02 2013

Can you hear me now?

Wall Street wins again

By David Dayen, Salon

Wednesday, Feb 13, 2013 12:26 PM EST

A year ago, President Obama gestured toward the first lady’s box at the State of the Union address at Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York.  Schneiderman had just agreed to co-chair the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities working group, an initiative between state and federal law enforcement officials and bank regulators, designed to investigate and prosecute fraudulent Wall Street activity that led to both the creation of the housing bubble and its collapse. In exchange, Schneiderman dropped his objections to a settlement over some of the banks’ fraudulent post-crash activity, particularly around fraud in foreclosure processing.



Schneiderman’s “task force” (a generous appellation) was merely a politically motivated shell organization grafted onto that public relations strategy.  This was evident almost from the moment of the announcement, but the coalition of self-proclaimed bank accountability advocates, who had backed the administration into a corner over the lack of prosecutions, decided to align with Schneiderman and his kabuki task force, losing whatever leverage they may have had.  If those same groups who feel “betrayed” and “lied to” had stayed on the outside and shamed those in power into action, we would probably have more accountability today.



Maybe these groups who claim to be interested in accountability should have recognized the value of what pressured the White House to set up the diversionary tactic of a task force in the first place: public shaming.  Last month’s Frontline documentary “The Untouchables” has had arguably more of an impact on reviving moribund financial fraud cases than anything else.  Within a couple of weeks of its premiere, the head of the criminal enforcement division, Lanny Breuer, announced he would step down.  Then, DoJ suddenly decided to sue credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s over its conflict of interest in rating clearly fraudulent securities as safe assets, a case it had been investigating for two years.  You can view this as an accident of timing; it seems more like a direct response.  Shaming has done far more than a pretend task force, though that’s admittedly a low bar.  You would think outside pressure groups would have recognized the virtue of outside pressure instead of trying to play an inside game.

President Obama didn’t mention the task force in this year’s State of the Union, though he did say that homeowners now “enjoy stronger protections than ever before.”  He also made reference to a Burmese man, who, in reference to a presidential visit to Rangoon, reportedly said, “There is justice and law in the United States. I want our country to be like that.”  Hopefully they don’t get news about the “task force” in Rangoon; I wouldn’t want to burst the man’s dreams.

The Greatest Disappointment

By Mike Lux, Crooks and Liars

April 01, 2013 06:00 PM

So there are two questions that Obama loyalists might ask about this report. The first is whether all this negativity is truly deserved. The second is, why are Wall Street accountability activists so obsessed with this issue?

On the first question, I am sad to say the answer is mostly yes. If I had been writing the report, I would have been more positive about the accomplishments of CFPB, would have given the administration more credit on a few things in terms of Dodd-Frank and a few of the appointments they have made, would have pointed out that Republicans are doing everything they can to starve regulatory agencies of resources, and being the loyal Democrat I am, I would have written the report more diplomatically. But when you add up all the results of the Obama administration’s dealings with Wall Street, it is hard to avoid the fact that life hasn’t changed much at all for the big banks, and that they continue to make money hand over fist while the rest of the economy is stuck in the mood. It is hard to think of any one of the report’s bullets listed above that aren’t accurate. Most damning of all are these absolutely true words in the report’s conclusion:

“The irony in all this is that the areas in which the Obama Administration has been found most wanting by critics for its handling of Wall Street accountability are not the result of intractable differences with a Congress hamstrung in inaction. Instead, they are areas almost wholly under the sole control of the Administration through its executive powers, and carried out largely through cabinet agencies.

On the second question, the reason Wall Street activists are so obsessed with the lack of toughness toward Wall Street is that Wall Street is ground zero for the rest of the problems in our economy. These monstrously huge mega-banks completely dominate our economy, siphoning off money that might otherwise go into productive uses in the mainstreet economy so that the big bankers can keep speculating away. And when they screw up in ways that hurt the rest of us, even when they blatantly violate the law, the fact that they are never seriously punished means they have no incentive to stop. Until the Obama administration fixes this problem, the rest of the economy is going to keep suffering, and the risk of future financial meltdowns will keep growing.

Et tu digby?

It means something that Mike would write this. He’s been trying hard for a long time to give the administration the benefit of the doubt on this. It’s tough to go up against Wall Street. But there was no longer any other way to look at this once we heard the Attorney General say this under questioning from the Senate:

I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy, and I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large.

Evidently, federal law enforcement is yet another area in which the Executive Branch has no power — or, at least, feels it is injudicious to use it. This instance of presidential impotence is especially difficult because it pretty much says that even if the congress were to make new laws, the Justice Department still couldn’t enforce them because of these alleged threats to the economy. So we’ll just have to put up with the looting and wait for the house of cards to collapse again. Because otherwise the house of cards will collapse.

The lesser of two evils IS STILL EVIL!  Dave and Cenk were on it.  Where were you?

Apr 02 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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

New York Times Editorial Board: One Industry’s Hold on the Senate

Ever since Congress included a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices in President Obama’s health care reform law in 2009, there has been a forceful and well-financed campaign to repeal the tax – waged, naturally, by the medical device industry. It has donated generously to lawmakers and candidates, taken them on tours of their plants and spent tens of millions in lobbying. [..]

The tax, which applies to devices like artificial joints, pacemakers, wheelchairs and gloves, is expected to raise about $29 billion over 10 years. It is one of several sources of new revenue in the health care law that will pay for the expansion of health coverage to 30 million uninsured people, many of them poor. The industry claims the tax will hurt demand for its products, but, in fact, sales of these devices, which are not purchased directly by consumers, are unlikely to be affected by price, especially by a small tax increase. As more people receive health coverage that pays for devices, the industry will more than make up the cost of the tax.

Mike Lux: The Greatest Disappointment

There is a new report out this morning once again reminding us of the greatest disappointment progressives have in the Obama administration: the lack of toughness in regards to Wall Street. The report, issued by the Campaign for a Fair Settlement (full disclosure: this is a coalition I have helped in various ways since their founding), is probably the most harshly critical analysis yet by a coalition aligned with traditional progressive Democratic groups. The report opens with this damning list of hard-to-dispute facts, and then just goes on from there: [..]

So there are two questions that Obama loyalists might ask about this report. The first is whether all this negativity is truly deserved. The second is why Wall Street accountability activists are so obsessed with this issue.

Eugene Robinson: The Test Score Racket

It is time to acknowledge that the fashionable theory of school reform-requiring that pay and job security for teachers, principals and administrators depend on their students’ standardized test scores-is at best a well-intentioned mistake, and at worst nothing but a racket. [..]

Our schools desperately need to be fixed. But creating a situation in which teachers are more likely to cheat than students cannot be the right path.

Standardized achievement tests are a vital tool, but treating test scores the way a corporation might treat sales targets is wrong. Students are not widgets. I totally reject the idea that students from underprivileged neighborhoods cannot learn. Of course they can. But how does it help these students to have their performance on a one-size-fits-all standardized test determine their teachers’ compensation and job security? The clear incentive is for the teacher to focus on test scores rather than actual teaching.

Wendell Potter: Is a High-Deductible Health Plan a Silver Bullet — or Snake Oil?

Those accustomed to obtaining health insurance through the workplace and choosing among different types of policies may be in for a rude surprise.

Increasingly, employers of all sizes are eliminating choice and offering only high-deductible plans — euphemistically referred to in the insurance world as consumer-directed health plans or HDHPs.

The looming shift has nothing to do with Obamacare or even the widely held belief that certain types of health plans will encourage people to give up costly bad habits like smoking. It is about profit.

Bil McKibben: The Methane Beneath Our Feet

Insouciant New Yorkers-here is another pending disaster to shrug off with characteristic brio! There is a huge, ongoing gas leak beneath your very feet. A team of natural gas experts recently commissioned to survey the New York system has found vastly elevated levels of methane in locations all over Manhattan, a clear indication that Con Ed’s 4,320-mile network of pipes, dating back to the 1800s, is corroded, full of holes, and spewing methane into the atmosphere. The main danger here is to planetary, not personal, safety: though it has received relatively little attention, methane, the primary component of natural gas, is second only to carbon dioxide on the list of greenhouse gases that are inducing climate change. [..]

Because of the grave threat methane poses to the climate, the dangers of natural gas leakages go well beyond the immediate risk of exploding manhole covers (though recent measurements in Washington, DC indicate that there is enough leaking gas to cause any cautious pedestrian a certain amount of worry). And given the vastness of the problem, the leaks challenge some of the basic assumptions of current US energy policy, which has aggressively endorsed natural gas as a “clean” and climate-friendly alternative to oil and coal.

James Hansen: Doubling Down on Our Faustian Bargain

Humanity’s Faustian climate bargain is well known. Humans have been pumping both greenhouse gases (mainly CO2) and aerosols (fine particles) into the atmosphere for more than a century. The CO2 accumulates steadily, staying in the climate system for millennia, with a continuously increasing warming effect. Aerosols have a cooling effect (by reducing solar heating of the ground) that depends on the rate that we pump aerosols into the air, because they fall out after about five days. [..]

The tragedy of this science story is that the great uncertainty in interpretations of the climate

forcings did not have to be. Global aerosol properties should be monitored to high precision, similar to the way CO2 is monitored. The capability of measuring detailed aerosol properties has long existed, as demonstrated by observations of Venus. The requirement is measurement of the polarization of reflected sunlight to an accuracy of 0.1 percent, with measurements covering the spectral range from near ultraviolet to the near-infrared at a range of scattering angles, as is possible from an orbiting satellite. Unfortunately, the satellite mission designed for that purpose failed to achieve orbit, suffering precisely the same launch failure as the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO). Although a replacement OCO mission is in preparation, no replacement aerosol mission is scheduled.

Apr 02 2013

On This Day In History April 2

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.

April 2 is the 92nd day of the year (93rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 273 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1513, Ponce de Leon discovers Florida. Near present-day St. Augustine, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon comes ashore on the Florida coast, and claims the territory for the Spanish crown.

Although other European navigators may have sighted the Florida peninsula before, Ponce de Leon is credited with the first recorded landing and the first detailed exploration of the Florida coast. The Spanish explorer was searching for the “Fountain of Youth,” a fabled water source that was said to bring eternal youth. Ponce de Leon named the peninsula he believed to be an island “La Florida” because his discovery came during the time of the Easter feast, or Pascua Florida.

First voyage to Florida

Ponce de Leon equipped three ships with at least 200 men at his own expense and set out from Puerto Rico on March 4, 1513. The only contemporary description known for this expedition comes from Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, a Spanish historian who apparently had access to the original ships’ logs or related secondary sources from which he created a summary of the voyage published in 1601. The brevity of the account and occasional gaps in the record have led historians to speculate and dispute many details of the voyage.

The three ships in this small fleet were the Santiago, the San Cristobal and the Santa Maria de la Consolacion. Anton de Alaminos was their chief pilot. He was already an experienced sailor and would become one of the most respected pilots in the region. After leaving Puerto Rico, they sailed northwest along the great chain of Bahama Islands, known then as the Lucayos. By March 27, Easter Sunday, they reached the northern end of the Bahamas sighting an unfamiliar island (probably Great Abaco).

For the next several days the fleet crossed open water until April 2, 1513, when they sighted land which Ponce de Leon believed was another island. He named it La Florida in recognition of the verdant landscape and because it was the Easter season, which the Spaniards called Pascua Florida (Festival of Flowers). The following day they came ashore to seek information and take possession of this new land. The precise location of their landing on the Florida coast has been disputed for many years. Some historians believe it occurred at St. Augustine; others prefer a more southern landing at a small harbor now called Ponce de Leon Inlet; and some argue that Ponce came ashore even further south near the present location of Melbourne Beach.

After remaining in the vicinity of their first landing for about five days, the ships turned south for further exploration of the coast. On April 8 they encountered a current so strong that it pushed them backwards and forced them to seek anchorage. The tiniest ship, the San Cristobal, was carried out of sight and lost for two days. This was the first encounter with the Gulf Stream where it reaches maximum force between the Florida coast and the Bahamas. Because of the powerful boost provided by the current, it would soon become the primary route for eastbound ships leaving the Spanish Indies bound for Europe.

Apr 02 2013

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament 2013: Regional Final West

Results

Seed Score Team Record Seed Score Team Record Region
(2) 73 California 25-9 (6) 63 LSU 22-12 West
(1) 59 Stanford 33-3 * (4) 61 Georgia 28-5-1 West

Matchup

Time Network Seed Team Record Seed Team Record Region
9:30 ESPN2 (2) California 25-9 (4) Georgia 28-5-1 West

Apr 02 2013

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament 2013: Regional Final East

Results

Seed Score Team Record Seed Score Team Record Region
(1) 76 Connecticut 32-4 (4) 50 Maryland 26-8 East
(2) 69 Kentucky 30-5 (6) 62 Delaware 32-4 East

I must say with Baylor out I’m feeling much better about the Husky’s prospects.

Until they face Notre Dame.

Matchup

Time Network Seed Team Record Seed Team Record Region
7:30 ESPN (1) Connecticut 32-4 (2) Kentucky 30-5 East