Daily Archive: 03/27/2014

Mar 27 2014

March Madness 2014: Men’s Regional Semi-Finals Day 1

Tonight’s Games

Time Network Seed School Record Seed School Record Region
7:15 CBS 10 Stanford (23 – 12) 11 Dayton (25 – 10) South
7:47 TBS 2 Wisconsin (28 – 7) 6 Baylor (26 – 11) West
9:45 CBS 1 Florida (34 – 2) 4 UCLA (28 – 8) South
10:17 TBS 1 Arizona (32 – 4) 4 San Diego St. (31 – 4) West

Saturday’s and Sunday’s Results below the fold.

Mar 27 2014

The Definition of Madness

Another Financial Crisis Is Looming-Here’s Why and How It Will Play Out

By David Dayen, AlterNet

March 26, 2014

So are we on the precipice of another financial crisis, and what will it look like?

To be sure, danger still lurks in the mortgage market. The  latest get-rich-quick scheme, with private equity firms buying up foreclosed properties and renting them out, then selling bonds backed by the rental revenue streams (which look suspiciously like the bonds backed by mortgage payments that were a proximate cause of the last crisis), has the potential to blow up. And continued shenanigans with mortgage documents could lead to major headaches. A new court case against Wells Fargo uncovered a bombshell, a step-by-step  manual telling attorneys how they can fake foreclosure papers on demand; the fallout could throw into question the true ownership of millions of homes. Even subprime mortgages are in the midst of a comeback, because what could go wrong?



Recent actions from the Federal Reserve suggest that they are thinking about guarding against financial instability, amid concern that microscopic interest rates and expanded balance sheets have fed speculation. In addition, the Securities and Exchange Commission recently began looking into leveraged loans that have been packaged into bonds known as collateralized loan obligations, or CLOs. These CLOs are traded privately between buyers and sellers, so regulators cannot discern whether they hide risks, or whether the sellers cheat the buyers on prices. And some of them are “synthetic” CLOs – derivatives that are basically bets on whether the underlying loans will go up or down, without any stake in the loans themselves. Recently, commercial banks have attempted to get CLOs exempt from the Volcker rule, the prohibition on trading with depositor funds. CLO issuance has skyrocketed since this lobbying push, and it could be the next vessel Wall Street uses for their gambling activities.

But whether the SEC will actually enforce securities laws on CLOs, and drive them out of the shadows, remains to be seen. And other examinations of shady derivatives deals and price-fixing, if past history is a guide, will end with cost-of-doing-business settlements instead of true accountability. Meanwhile, we are told that the economy has little to fear from big bank failures. The Federal Reserve recently released results of its stress tests on the 30 biggest banks; it claims that 29 of them would hold up in the event of a deep recession. But the stress tests, designed in conjunction with the banks subjected to them, do not realistically measure the reality of a financial crisis, and if they did, the banks would all fail them.

Ultimately, we don’t yet know exactly where the next financial crisis will emerge. But we do know how the conditions for future crises get set. When law enforcement fails to prosecute Wall Street for prior misdeeds, they give no reason for them to curb their behavior.



Similarly, the size and power of the largest financial institutions, which has only grown since the crisis, virtually guarantees similar outcomes. Congress and the White House have not yet moved to chop these behemoths down to size; as a result, their sprawling corporate structures and inadequate risk controls make them almost unmanageable.

Mar 27 2014

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: Giving Up on 4-Year-Olds

A new report released by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, examining the disciplinary practices of the country’s 97,000 public schools, shows that excessively punitive policies are being used at every level of the public school system – even against 4-year-olds in preschool. This should shame the nation and force it to re-evaluate the destructive measures that schools are using against their most vulnerable children. [..]

The fact that minority children at age 4 are already being disproportionately suspended or expelled is an outrage. The pattern of exclusion suggests that schools are giving up on these children when they are barely out of diapers. It runs counter to the very mission of early education, which is to promote school readiness. It harms children emotionally at an age when they are incapable of absorbing lessons from this form of punishment. And it places those children at greater risk of falling behind, dropping out or becoming permanently involved with the juvenile justice system. Federal civil rights officials do not explain why minority preschool students are being disproportionately singled out for suspension.

Robert Reich: The New Billionaire Political Bosses

Charles and David Koch should not be blamed for having more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans put together. Nor should they be condemned for their petrochemical empire. As far as I know, they’ve played by the rules and obeyed the laws.

They’re also entitled to their own right-wing political views. It’s a free country.

But in using their vast wealth to change those rules and laws in order to fit their political views, the Koch brothers are undermining our democracy. That’s a betrayal of the most precious thing Americans share.

Dean Baker: Europe doesn’t need America’s fracked natural gas

The EU’s renewable energy efforts have protected it from Putin more than increased domestic gas production ever could

In the wake of the Russian takeover of Crimea, there have been a number of calls for weaning Europe from dependence on Russian natural gas. Some have suggested that Europe would abandon environmental restrictions on drilling for oil and gas to increase domestic production. To help, the U.S. would continue to massively increase production of oil and gas as well as its capacity to liquefy natural gas and transport it to Europe.

The weaners seem to have the impression that this is yet another case in which the United States has to come to the rescue of those weak Europeans. After all, while we were drilling everywhere, the Europeans were fiddling around with wind and solar energy, all the while making themselves vulnerable to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s machinations.

Reality-based fans of arithmetic see matters differently. The reality is that Europe, especially Germany, has done a huge amount over the last two decades to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels, including natural gas, from Russia. The reduction in fossil fuel use swamps the impact of the drill-everywhere strategy in the United States.

Ralph Nader: Casting Sunlight on Secret Government and Its Contractors

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

Indeed, openness and transparency are essential for a healthy and functioning democracy. Unfortunately, despite lofty initial campaign promises by the Obama administration, widespread government secrecy has only worsened in recent years and access to information by journalists and activists is disturbingly limited.

Last week was “Sunshine Week” — an initiative to bring attention and awareness — and light — to the issue of open government. Started in 2005 by The American Society of News Editors, Sunshine Week is an occasion to educate the public by articulating the many challenges faced by those who work to keep a watchful eye on the mechanisms of government. Sunshine Week coincides with “Freedom of Information Day” which happens every year on or around the birthday of founding father James Madison (March 16), who was a staunch advocate for open government.

Sadhbh Walshe: If stillbirth is murder, does miscarriage make pregnant women into criminals?

If stillbirth is murder, does miscarriage make pregnant women into criminals?

Seven and a half years ago, a Mississippi teenager named Rennie Gibbs went into premature labor and delivered a stillborn baby girl named Samiya. Initially, experts attributed the baby’s death to the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. But when traces of a cocaine byproduct showed up on the autopsy report, a medical examiner declared the stillbirth a homicide and cited cocaine toxicity as the cause. Shortly afterward, the 16-year-old Gibbs was charged with murder, specifically “depraved heart murder”, a charge that can carry a sentence of up to 20 years to life in prison. [..]

But should women who engage in unhealthy activities during their pregnancies really be criminalized – to life in prison – if they fail to produce a healthy baby? If so, where do you draw that line?

Just think for a second where such a policy could lead us. Like many women of her time, and many women since, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis smoked while she was pregnant. Jackie-O had a history of troubled pregnancies – at least one miscarriage, a stillborn daughter and baby Patrick, who barely survived two days. Those losses caused the Kennedy family enormous pain. Now imagine if an overzealous prosecutor decided that Jackie’s smoking had harmed the babies and indicted the First Lady on murder charges.

Dan Gillmor: Obama’s NSA phone-record law ignores the other (big) data we’re giving away

We are no longer merely creatures of metadata. We are now bystanders to the demise of privacy. Will anyone protect us?

So President Obama is finally ready to do something about the government storage of our phone records, preparing legislation for Congress that would partially change the National Security Agency’s bulk collection. Except he’s missing something much more important: all of the other, much more revealing data we generate simply by living our daily lives. What about all of the other data that internet companies buy and sell, and that yet more companies create and sell without even telling us – indeed, all of the rest of a data retention program that you and I helped build?

Of course we should be skeptical of the new NSA laws – of government objectives and Congressional fears and loopholes the intelligence community will inevitably bake in. Obama says he needs “to win back the trust … of ordinary citizens”. But we can’t even begin to feel reassured about the long-term trajectory of surveillance in America, not when so much of our ordinary communications don’t take place on the usual phone-record system at all.

Mar 27 2014

On This Day In History March 27

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.

March 27 is the 86th day of the year (87th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 279 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1939, March Madness is born.

The University of Oregon defeats The Ohio State University 46-33 on this day in 1939 to win the first-ever NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The Final Four, as the tournament became known, has grown exponentially in size and popularity since 1939. By 2005, college basketball had become the most popular sporting event among gamblers, after the Super Bowl. The majority of that betting takes place at tournament time, when Las Vegas, the internet and office pools around the country see action from sports enthusiasts and once-a-year gamblers alike.

For the first 12 years of the men’s tournament, only eight teams were invited to participate. That number grew steadily until a 65-team tournament format was unveiled in 2001. After a “play-in” game between the 64th and 65th seeds, the tournament breaks into four regions of 16 teams. The winning teams from those regions comprise the Final Four, who meet in that year’s host city to decide the championship.

March Madness is a popular term for season-ending basketball tournaments played in March, especially those conducted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and various state high school associations. Fans began connecting the term to the NCAA tournament in the early 1980s. Evidence suggests that CBS sportscaster Brent Musburger, who had worked for many years in Chicago before joining CBS, popularized the term during the annual tournament broadcasts. The phrase had not already become associated with the college tournament when an Illinois official wrote in 1939 that “A little March Madness [may] contribute to sanity.” March Madness is also a registered trademark, held jointly by the NCAA and the Illinois High School Association. It was also the title of a book about the Illinois high school tournament written in 1977 by Jim Enright.

H. V. Porter, an official with the Illinois High School Association (and later a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame) was the first person to use March Madness to describe a basketball tournament. Porter published an essay named March Madness in 1939 and in 1942 used the phrase in a poem, “Basketball Ides of March.” Through the years the use of March Madness picked up steam, especially in Illinois, Indiana, and other parts of the Midwest. During this period the term was used almost exclusively in reference to state high school tournaments. In 1977 the IHSA published a book about its tournament titled March Madness.

Only in the 1990s did either the IHSA or NCAA think about trademarking the term, and by that time a small television production company named Intersport, Inc., had beaten them both to the punch. IHSA eventually bought the trademark rights from Intersport and then went after big game, suing GTE Vantage, Inc., an NCAA licensee that used the name March Madness for a computer game based on the college tournament. In a historic ruling, “Illinois High School Association v. GTE Vantage, Inc.” (1996), the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit created the concept of a “dual-use trademark,” granting both the IHSA and NCAA the right to trademark the term for their own purposes.

Following the ruling, the NCAA and IHSA joined forces and created the March Madness Athletic Association to coordinate the licensing of the trademark and investigate possible trademark infringement. One such case involved a company that had obtained the Internet domain name marchmadness.com and was using it to post information about the NCAA tournament. After protracted litigation, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held in March Madness Athletic Association v. Netfire, Inc. (2003) that March Madness was not a generic term and ordered Netfire to relinquish the domain name. (This domain name is currently being used to redirect into the main NCAA.com web site.)

In recent years, the term “March Madness” has been expanded to include all conference tournaments in college basketball, with the term “The Big Dance” being used more frequently when specifically referring to the NCAA Tournament. March Madness has also has been used generally to describe all basketball tournaments across the country that occur in the month of March – high school and college, male and female.

The coverage and live blogging of all the 2014 Men’s and Women’s NCAA Championship are happening here at The Stars Hollow Gazette.

Mar 27 2014

The Leader Principle

(Die Führerprinzip)

Obama’s New NSA Proposal and Democratic Partisan Hackery

By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

25 Mar 2014, 9:49 AM EDT

I vividly recall the first time I realized just how mindlessly and uncritically supportive of President Obama many Democrats were willing to be. In April 2009, two federal courts, in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, ruled that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) required the Pentagon to disclose dozens of graphic photos it possessed showing abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration announced that, rather than contest or appeal those rulings, they would comply with the court orders and release all the photos. The ACLU praised that decision: “the fact that the Obama administration opted not to seek further review is a sign that it is committed to more transparency.”

This decision instantly turned into a major political controversy. Bush-era neocons, led by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney, excoriated Obama, arguing that release of the photos would endanger American troops and depict the US in a negative light; Cheney expressly accused Obama of “siding with the terrorists” by acquiescing to the ruling. By contrast, Democrats defended Obama on the ground that the disclosures were necessary for transparency and the rule of law, and they attacked the neocons for wanting to corruptly hide evidence of America’s war crimes. I don’t think there was a single Democratic official, pundit, writer, or blogger who criticized Obama for that decision.

But then – just two weeks later – Obama completely reversed himself, announcing that he would do everything possible to block the court order and prevent it from taking effect. ABC News described Obama’s decision as “a complete 180.” More amazingly still, Obama adopted the exact arguments that Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney were making over the prior two weeks to attack him specifically and transparency generally: to justify his desire to suppress this evidence, Obama said that “the most direct consequence of releasing the [photos], I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in danger.”

Now, obviously, the people who had been defending Obama’s original pro-transparency position (which included the ACLU, human rights groups, and civil liberties writers including me) changed course and criticized him. That’s what rational people, by definition, do: if a political official takes a position you agree with, then you support him, but when he does a 180-degree reversal and takes the exact position that you’ve been disagreeing with, then you oppose him. That’s just basic. Thus, those of us who originally defended Obama’s decision to release the photos turned into critics once he took the opposite position – the one we disagreed with all along – and announced that he would try to suppress the photos.

But that’s not what large numbers of Democrats did. Many of them first sided with Obama when his administration originally announced he’d release the photos. But then, with equal vigor, they also sided with Obama when – a mere two weeks later – he took the exact opposition position, the very anti-transparency view these Democrats had been attacking all along when voiced by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney.

At least for me, back then, that was astonishing to watch. It’s one thing to strongly suspect that people are simply adopting whatever views their party’s leader takes. But this was like the perfect laboratory experiment to prove that: Obama literally took exact opposition positions in a heated debate within a three week period and many Democrats defended him when he was on one side of the debate and then again when he switched to the other side.



This new proposal would not, as some have tried to suggest, simply shift the program to telecoms. Telecoms – obviously – already have their customers’ phone records, and the key to any proposal is that it not expand the length of time they are required to retain those records (though telecoms only have their specific customers’ records, which means that – unlike the current NSA program – no one party would hold a comprehensive data base of all calls). As reported by Savage, Obama’s proposal does nothing to change how long telecoms keep these records (“the administration considered and rejected imposing a mandate on phone companies that they hold on to their customers’ calling records for a period longer than the 18 months that federal regulations already generally require”). That’s why, if enacted as he’s proposing it, Obama’s plan could actually end the NSA’s bulk collection program.

That puts hard-core Obama loyalists and pro-NSA Democrats – the ones that populate MSNBC – in an extremely difficult position. They have spent the last 10 months defending the NSA (i.e., defending Obama) by insisting that the NSA metadata program is both reasonable and necessary to Keep Us Safe™. But now Obama claims he wants to end that very same program. So what will they do?

If they had even an iota of integrity or intellectual honesty, they would instantly and aggressively condemn Obama. After all, he’s now claiming to want to end a program that they have been arguing for months is vital in Keeping Us Safe™. Wouldn’t every rational person, by definition, criticize a political leader who wants to abolish a program that they believe is necessary to stop terrorism and preserve national security?

But that’s not what will happen. After spending months praising the NSA for responsibly overseeing this critical program, they will now hail Obama for trying to end it. When he secretly bulk collects the calling data on all Americans, it shows he’s a pragmatic and strong leader who Keeps Us Safe™; when he tries to end the very same program, it shows he’s flexible and devoted to our civil liberties – just as he was right to release the torture photos and also right to suppress them. The Leader is right when he does X, and he’s equally right when he does Not X. That’s the defining attribute of the mindset of a partisan hack, an authoritarian, and the standard MSNBC host.

Mar 27 2014

The Best Alarm Clock: Cats or Dogs

You choose

Cats

Dogs

Mar 27 2014

Obama Sanctions Russia