Daily Archive: 10/14/2014

Oct 14 2014

Unreasonable Searches and Seizures

Asset seizures fuel police spending

by Robert O’Harrow Jr., Steven Rich, Washington Post

October 11, 2014

Police agencies have used hundreds of millions of dollars taken from Americans under federal civil forfeiture law in recent years to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear. They have also spent money on luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.



The documents offer a sweeping look at how police departments and drug task forces across the country are benefiting from laws that allow them to take cash and property without proving a crime has occurred. The law was meant to decimate drug organizations, but The Post found that it has been used as a routine source of funding for law enforcement at every level.

“In tight budget periods, and even in times of budget surpluses, using asset forfeiture dollars to purchase equipment and training to stay current with the ever-changing trends in crime fighting helps serve and protect the citizens,” said Prince George’s County, Md., police spokeswoman Julie Parker.

Brad Cates, a former director of asset forfeiture programs at the Justice Department, said the spending identified by The Post suggests police are using Equitable Sharing as “a free floating slush fund.” Cates, who oversaw the program while at Justice from 1985 to 1989, said it has enabled police to sidestep the traditional budget process, in which elected leaders create law enforcement spending priorities.

“All of this is fundamentally at odds with the U.S. Constitution,” said Cates, who recently co-wrote an article calling for the program’s abolition on The Post’s editorial page. “All of this is at odds with the rights that Americans have.”

Of the nearly $2.5 billion in spending reported in the forms, 81 percent came from cash and property seizures in which no indictment was filed, according to an analysis by The Post. Owners must prove that their money or property was acquired legally in order to get it back.

I suppose it all depends on what your definition of reasonable is.

Oct 14 2014

Former AIG CEO Wants More Tax Payer Money

Poor Hank Greenberg, the ultra wealthy former CEO of American International Group (AIG), has a sad. As the largest shareholder, he thinks that SIG shareholders got a raw deal when the government saved the company with more than $180 billion in cash. He believes the bailout cost shareholders, like himself, tens of billions of dollars. Unlike the banks, the government set down rules for the loan that forced the company to pay back Wall Street firms.

The trial has a cast of characters reminiscent of the congressional bailout hearings with testimony from former chair of the Federal Reserve, former Treasury Secretaries Timothy Geitner and Henry Paulson.

Secrets of the bailout, exposed: Why you should be watching the AIG trial

By David Dayen, Salon

To this day, information on the banks’ heist and how it went down is pathetically scant. That’s about to change now

The AIG bailout trial began in Washington last week. This is a case where one ruthless, reckless corporate CEO, AIG’s former chieftain Hank Greenberg, argues that his company wasn’t treated as well during the bailout as those of other ruthless, reckless corporate CEOs. So there’s no real rooting interest for anyone with at least one foot planted in reality.

But as I wrote recently, regardless of the outcome, this trial should matter to every American. In fact, just in its first week, we’ve learned a lot of new information about how the bailout architects- then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, ex-Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke, and former president of the New York Fed Timothy Geithner – conducted themselves amid the chaos of the financial crisis. And it doesn’t reflect well on any of them, with concealed information, bait-and-switches, and favorites played among financial institutions. As these three prepare to take the stand this week in the case, we should be pleased to finally have this debate about the bailout in public. [..]

We all know the adage that history gets written by the winners. In this case, a very rigid narrative of the bailouts took hold, featuring the swashbuckling actions of governmental leaders who made the hard choices necessary to save the financial system. But because of one ornery ex-CEO, we’re getting another draft of that history, one that displays the bailout as chaotic, selective and in many cases one where laws got thrown out the window and raw power ruled.

As the taxpaying public who fronted the money for all this activity, we should get to know the truth. And the next time the country is faced with such a situation, policy-makers should think twice before heading down the same path, mindful that their dirty laundry will eventually get aired.

POSTSCRIPT: Henry Paulson testified Monday in the trial, confirming the disparate treatment of AIG relative to banks like Citigroup, but saying that circumstances warranted it because those banks were more essential to keeping the financial system afloat. He said that the government had to treat AIG harshly to win political support. (Of course, the government didn’t treat AIG that harshly, gifting them a carryover tax benefit worth $35 billion and letting their executives take bonuses in 2009.) Paulson also acknowledged the private bid for AIG from China Investment Corporation, but asserted that they wouldn’t have followed through on the bid without a government guarantee, even though, he admitted, he never talked to the Chinese.

The best is Jon Stewart’s chastizing Breenberg for being a cry baby.

It would be funny, if it weren’t so ridiculously pathetic.

Oct 14 2014

Moyers and Black: Too Big To Jail

Moyers & Company, October 3, 2014

Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation last week reminds us of an infuriating fact: No banking executives have been criminally prosecuted for their role in causing the biggest financial disaster since the Great Depression.



While large banks have been penalized for their role in the housing meltdown, the costs of those fines will be largely borne by shareholders and taxpayers as the banks write off the fines as the cost of doing business. And by and large these top executives got to keep their massive bonuses and compensation, despite the fallout.

But the story gets even more infuriating, the more Black lays bare the culture of corruption that led to the meltdown.

“The Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations all could have prevented [the financial meltdown],” Black tells Moyers. And what’s worse, Black – who exposed the so-called Keating Five – believes the next crisis is coming: “We have created the incentive structures that [are] going to produce a much larger disaster.”

Oct 14 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: A Trickle-Down Effect of Citizens United

It’s no secret that candidates for president, governor and Congress have benefited from the torrent of money that has flooded elections since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed unlimited spending by corporations and labor unions that are supposedly independent of a candidate’s campaign.

But while the sums that flow to state and local elections may not be as vast, each dollar has much more influence. And thanks to lax or nonexistent regulation, a race can be dominated by a single spender, with his own policy agenda, essentially working in collaboration with a campaign. That is the conclusion of a report issued Monday (pdf) by the Brennan Center for Justice: “Independent” spending on state and local elections has predictably skyrocketed since Citizens United, and coordination laws in many states are either too vague or weakly enforced. [..]

The report urges a much more aggressive approach to identifying and rooting out coordination at the state and local level. Among other things, it calls for broader definitions of coordination, longer periods before campaign staffers may join outside groups, and stronger enforcement of existing laws.

Connecticut, Minnesota and Vermont have recently taken steps along these lines. More should follow their lead. As long as the Supreme Court and Congress fail to address the distorting influence of money on elections, state and local action is the best remaining defense.

Joseph E. Stiglitz: The Age of Vulnerability

Two new studies show, once again, the magnitude of the inequality problem plaguing the United States. The first, the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual income and poverty report, shows that, despite the economy’s supposed recovery from the Great Recession, ordinary Americans’ incomes continue to stagnate. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, remains below its level a quarter century ago.

It used to be thought that America’s greatest strength was not its military power, but an economic system that was the envy of the world. But why would others seek to emulate an economic model by which a large proportion — even a majority — of the population has seen their income stagnate while incomes at the top have soared? [..]

In the U.S., upward mobility is more myth than reality, whereas downward mobility and vulnerability is a widely shared experience. This is partly because of America’s healthcare system, which still leaves poor Americans in a precarious position, despite President Barack Obama’s reforms.

Those at the bottom are only a short step away from bankruptcy with all that that entails. Illness, divorce, or the loss of a job often is enough to push them over the brink. [..]

The report by the International Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (which I chaired) emphasized that GDP is not a good measure of how well an economy is performing. The U.S. Census and UNDP reports remind us of the importance of this insight. Too much has already been sacrificed on the altar of GDP fetishism.

Regardless of how fast GDP grows, an economic system that fails to deliver gains for most of its citizens, and in which a rising share of the population faces increasing insecurity, is, in a fundamental sense, a failed economic system. And policies, like austerity, that increase insecurity and lead to lower incomes and standards of living for large proportions of the population are, in a fundamental sense, flawed policies.

Dean Baker: The Deficit Is Down and the Deficit Hawks Are Furious

Last week the Congressional Budget Office reported that the deficit for the 2014 fiscal year that just ended was $460 billion, considerably lower than they had previously projected. This puts the deficit at 2.7 percent of GDP. At that level, the size of the debt relative to the economy is actually falling.

Not only is the deficit down sharply from its levels of 2009 and 2010, when it was near 10 percent of GDP, it is below the levels that even the deficit hawks had targeted back in those years. In other words, even if we had followed the lead of deficit crusaders like Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the deficit would be no lower today.

If anyone thought this would make the deficit hawks happy, they are badly mistaken. They are furious.

Jeff Madrick: How Laissez-Faire Economics Led to Inequality and Recession

Remember in 2009 when everyone was dodging blame for the financial crisis? Depending on who you asked, it was the bankers, the federal regulators, Fannie Mae, fraudster mortgage companies, the ratings agencies and the sub-prime borrowers themselves. The favorite claim of excuse makers was that no single group was to blame — it was a cluster-f*** as one journalist friend put it.

If everyone did it, no one could be held accountable. But it wasn’t true. Bankers and regulators were the major creators of the crisis, for their neglect and single-minded self-aggrandizement that often involved bending the rules.

But let me single out one group that avoided blame and deserved plenty of it: mainstream economists. The deeply held ideas of the nation’s most elite economists from the Right and the Left were direct causes of the crisis, justifying perverse behavior on Wall Street and in Washington, and careless and ignorant behavior at the Federal Open Market Committee of the nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve.

These ideas did a lot of harm along the way — in particular, they were responsible for slower than necessary economic growth that resulted in higher unemployment and inequality.

Robert Creamer: Republican Right Embraces Its Long, Hypocritical Tradition of Pandering to Fear

They’re back. Like the fourth sequel to a bad horror movie, the Republican Right has once again chosen to embrace its long ignoble, hypocritical tradition of pandering to — and stoking — fear.

As the election nears, their ads are filled with images of ISIL terrorists, Ebola viruses, Secret Service breaches, and “porous” borders through which knife-wielding Muslim extremists are surely infiltrating every corner of our society.

It’s not just disgusting. It’s also hypocritical. The fact is that the Republicans have an abysmal record when it comes to defending the security of ordinary Americans. [..]

But this is nothing new. Right-wing demagogues have perfected their techniques for appealing to our darkest fears for decades. It’s embedded in their DNA.

John Nichols: How Can You Tell If US Hospitals Are Prepared for Ebola? Ask a Nurse.

With Sunday’s confirmation that an ICU nurse at a Dallas hospital that cared for a dying Ebola patient has tested positive for the deadly virus, President Obama ordered federal authorities to “take immediate additional steps to ensure hospitals and healthcare providers nationwide are prepared to follow protocols should they encounter an Ebola patient.”

That’s appropriate, as is the growing sense of urgency with regard to the level of readiness not just for the potential spread of Ebola but for other disease outbreaks.

This is not a time to panic. It is a time to get things right. [..]

Research is essential, but so too is basic preparedness.

The best way to determine if our hospitals are ready to respond is by asking a nurse. Or, to be more precise, nurses.

The answer, unfortunately, is that our hospitals are not up to speed.

Oct 14 2014

The Breakfast Club (Egg Nog for Morning People)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

 photo 807561379_e6771a7c8e_zps7668d00e.jpg

This Day in History

Chuck Yeager breaks sound barrier; Britain’s Battle of Hastings takes place; Martin Luther King, Jr. wins Nobel Peace Prize; Former President Theodore Roosevelt shot; Singer Bing Crosby dies.

Breakfast Chuckle

Oct 14 2014

On This Day In History October 14

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 14 is the 287th day of the year (288th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 78 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1947, U.S. Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager becomes the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound.

Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager (born February 13, 1923) is a retired major general in the United States Air Force and noted test pilot. He was the first pilot to travel faster than sound (1947). Originally retiring as a brigadier general, Yeager was promoted to major general on the Air Force’s retired list 20 years later for his military achievements.

His career began in World War II as a private in the United States Army Air Forces. After serving as an aircraft mechanic, in September 1942 he entered enlisted pilot training and upon graduation was promoted to the rank of flight officer (the World War II USAAF equivalent to warrant officer) and became a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot. After the war he became a test pilot of many kinds of aircraft and rocket planes. Yeager was the first man to break the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, flying the experimental Bell X-1 at Mach 1 at an altitude of 13,700 m (45,000 ft). . . .

Yeager remained in the Air Force after the war, becoming a test pilot at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) and eventually being selected to fly the rocket-powered Bell X-1 in a NACA program to research high-speed flight, after Bell Aircraft test pilot “Slick” Goodlin demanded $150,000 to break the sound “barrier.”  Such was the difficulty in this task that the answer to many of the inherent challenges were along the lines of “Yeager better have paid-up insurance.” Yeager broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, flying the experimental X-1 at Mach  1 at an altitude of 45,000 feet (13,700 m). Two nights before the scheduled date for the flight, he broke two ribs while riding a horse. He was so afraid of being removed from the mission that he went to a veterinarian in a nearby town for treatment and told only his wife, as well as friend and fellow project pilot Jack Ridley about it.

On the day of the flight, Yeager was in such pain that he could not seal the airplane’s hatch by himself. Ridley rigged up a device, using the end of a broom handle as an extra lever, to allow Yeager to seal the hatch of the airplane. Yeager’s flight recorded Mach 1.07, however, he was quick to point out that the public paid attention to whole numbers and that the next milestone would be exceeding Mach 2. Yeager’s X-1 is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

Oct 14 2014

TDS/TCR (Burt Gummer)

TDS TCR

Chimichanga

Indigenous People Day

The real news, 2 songs by Robert Plant, and next week’s guests below.