Wednesday, February 29, 2012

7 Dangerous Lies About Plastic

By Stiv Wilson, AlterNet
Posted on February 26, 2012, Printed on February 29, 2012

To receive a Ph.D in industrial chemistry in the United States, no American university requires candidates to take even a single toxicology class as part of their course work. We churn out new chemists with the divine power to manipulate the very structure of nature itself, without teaching them the divine wisdom of how to wield that power.

Nearly everything we consume or even interact with these days is made of plastic. The industry that produces plastic, largely represented by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), has an annual budget of over $120 million to protect its interests. But as the plague of plastic that wreaks havoc on our environment slowly gains the attention of policymakers, concerned citizens and the media, the makers of plastic resins and the companies that package their products have become increasingly aggressive about defending their respective bottom lines.
Rick Santorum Represents Everything Europeans Find Weird About America

Feb 24 2012, 8:33 AM ET

The GOP contender confirms some of Europe's dimmest views on U.S. politics. 

Continental Europeans aren't yet glued to the U.S. presidential race the way they will be in the fall. They've plenty of their own issues to worry about right now. But even this early, poking out of what's otherwise a pile of standard wire reports, there's a theme in European media coverage: Rick Santorum is a bit odd. The Republican presidential candidate, to some, is apparently even a walking, talking incarnation of the gulf between American and European politics.

Granted, the European media, like most free media, doesn't really speak with one voice. But when the press isn't letting American pundits, quoted in translation, interpret the Santorum phenomenon, you'll notice very few positive adjectives and more than a few verbal clues pointing to amusement, bewilderment, or distaste.
Michael Hudson: A Planned Economy for the 1%

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

In our everyday discourse, there are many tropes, narratives, and models for elites, elite behavior, and changes in the nature of elites: The eternal question: Stupid and/or evil?, the Greek’s cycle of democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy, and back to democracy again (OK, oversimplified); socio- and psychopathy; “big government vs. small government”; William Black’s accounting control fraud; kleptocracy; and the idea that statism as such is the problem. (Did I miss one?) The grand theories, and not conspiracy theories, a la Weber, Marx, Hegel seem not to figure in every day discourse at all (unless one considers religiously derived theories of government grand). The most rigorous model in that list — Black’s model of accounting control fraud — shows that a large number of the ruling elite (C-level executives of very large institutions) are unindicted criminals, and exposes their modus operandi — but that’s not the same as having a solidly grounded explanatory narrative of elite behavior as such. Is it?
The poor, in fact, are less likely to sue their doctor

New York / Heidelberg, 27 February 2012

Study sheds light on why physicians mistakenly believe that poor people sue more often

Contrary to the common perception among physicians that poor people sue doctors more frequently, Ramon L. Jimenez from the Monterey Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Institute and his team demonstrate that socioeconomically disadvantaged patients, in fact, tend to sue physicians less often. Their work suggests that this myth may exist because of subconscious prejudices or stereotypes that affect thinking and decision making without doctors being aware of it - a phenomenon known as unconscious bias. Dr. Jimenez and his colleagues' work is published online in Springer's journal, Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research.
Brad Kittel Builds "Tiny Texas Houses"

by: Thorne Webb Dreyer, The Rag Blog

Brad Kittel, who has developed an entire philosophy around the concept of “sustainability through salvage,” builds “Tiny Texas Houses” that are as much as 99% “pure salvage.”

Some as small as 120 square feet, the houses come wired for electricity and outfitted for plumbing, and include a shower and toilet and a loft for sleeping. Kittel, who trains people to do "salvage mining," says "we have the power to create solutions to our global problems by the simplest of choices we make each day."
Rick Santorum On Religious Freedom: What He Has Forgotten Since Law School

By P. Scott Russell

A law school peer of Santorum's offers a lesson on what the Constitution says about religious freedom for a wayward classmate and his followers.
February 23, 2012  |  Samuel Johnson famously wrote, in 1775, that a false “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Now, it appears that modern scoundrels – politicians and their puppet masters  – have added another disguise to their wardrobe: false constitutional scholarship.
Not content to wrap themselves in the flag alone, financial wolves are now relying on politicians, wrapped in the sheep’s clothing of uninformed constitutional platitudes, hoping to sway the voting masses who lack the inclination to study the Constitution themselves. Nowhere is this more true in 2012 than with pronouncements concerning religious freedom, especially those made by my fellow law school graduate, Rick Santorum.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

How Right-Wing Smears Against Occupy Exploit Victims of Rape in the Movement

Right-wingers are using sexual assault at Occupy to justify smears and attacks. Here are the facts. 

By Sarah Seltzer, AlterNet
Posted on February 26, 2012, Printed on February 26, 2012

On the morning of October 29, a woman participating in OWS was sexually assaulted at Liberty Plaza.” This was the opening of the November 4 statement released by the NYC survivors’ support team (an offshoot of Safer Spaces OWS) responding to a sexual assault that had become a lightning rod within the movement--and for its agenda-laden critics.
In November, those critics of Occupy included Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who used the assault to maneuver toward eviction. Now they include notorious right-wing smear operative Andrew Breitbart, who went on his already infamous “stop raping people!” and "you're filthy animals" rant directed at Occupy-affiliated progressives outside of CPAC and has caused a media firestorm as a result. He has acknowledged that his campaign is part of a smear effort to wreak vengeance on progressives who criticized racism within the Tea Party.
No Student Left Untested

Diane Ravitch

Last week, the New York State Education Department and the teachers’ unions reached an agreement to allow the state to use student test scores to evaluate teachers. The pact was brought to a conclusion after Governor Andrew Cuomo warned the parties that if they didn’t come to an agreement quickly, he would impose his own solution (though he did not explain what that would be). He further told school districts that they would lose future state aid if they didn’t promptly implement the agreement after it was released to the public. The reason for this urgency was to secure $700 million promised to the state by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, contingent on the state’s creating a plan to evaluate teachers in relation to their students’ test scores.

The new evaluation system pretends to be balanced, but it is not. Teachers will be ranked on a scale of 1-100. Teachers will be rated as “ineffective, developing, effective, or highly effective.” Forty percent of their grade will be based on the rise or fall of student test scores; the other sixty percent will be based on other measures, such as classroom observations by principals, independent evaluators, and peers, plus feedback from students and parents.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Paul Krugman: Romney's Economic Closet

According to Michael Kinsley, a gaffe is when a politician accidently tells the truth. That’s certainly what happened to Mitt Romney on Tuesday, when in a rare moment of candor — and, in his case, such moments are really, really rare — he gave away the game.

Speaking in Michigan, Mr. Romney was asked about deficit reduction, and he absent-mindedly said something completely reasonable: “If you just cut, if all you’re thinking about doing is cutting spending, as you cut spending you’ll slow down the economy.” A-ha. So he believes that cutting government spending hurts growth, other things equal. 
Iceland Solves Banking Crisis by Indicting Bankers, Forcing Mortgage Relief

by Kenneth Thomas

Via Mark Thoma's Economist View, I came across an interesting blog on financial regulation called Trust Your Instincts. Lately, the author, "Richard," has written a set of posts comparing two models of dealing with the financial crisis, which he calls the Swedish model (used by Sweden and Iceland) and the Japanese model (used by Japan, the U.S., and the U.K.).

Here is his description of the two models:
Regular readers know that under the Japanese model losses on the excesses in the financial system are only recognized as banks generate the capital to absorb them.  This is good for banks because the model involves hiding their true condition and pursuing policies designed to boost bank earnings.  It is bad for the economy because it distorts asset prices and access to capital (for proof, look at the performance of Japan's economy). The alternative is a Swedish model that is bad for banks and good for the economy.  It is bad for banks because they are required to recognize the losses on the excesses in the financial system today.  It is good for the economy because it avoids the distortion in asset prices and access to funding associated with hiding the losses under the Japanese model (for proof, look at the performance of Sweden's economy).
The Right-Wing Plot to Undermine Science in Public Schools

By Katherine Stewart, AlterNet
Posted on February 24, 2012, Printed on February 25, 2012

Leaked documents reveal a right-wing think-tank's plans to undermine the teaching of climate science -- and defund public education in the process.

Last week, climate science watchers confirmed what they already knew about the climate science “skepticism” of the Heartland Institute – a “free-market” think-tank previously known for taking money from tobacco companies to question the health risks of second-hand smoke.

As leaked documents now make clear, some of the Institute’s most prominent donors have a strong financial interest in sowing doubts about climate science. These documents also show that providing critical insight on humanity’s scientific knowledge matters far less to the group than running a lobbying and communications business aimed at undermining public confidence in science. (Although the details concerning the circumstances of the leak are the subject of much ongoing debate, the substance of the information revealed is not in dispute.)
Feingold: Voting against the PATRIOT Act ‘one of the best things I’ve done’

By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 22:12 EST

During an appearance Wednesday on CNN, former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) said he “absolutely” did not regret being the only Senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“That was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done,” he said.
Revelations on NYPD Surveillance of Muslims Contradict Bloomberg Claims

by Justin Elliott
ProPublica, Feb. 22, 2012, 6:24 p.m.

The Associated Press published a story today detailing how, in 2007, undercover New York Police Department officers investigated the Muslim community in Newark, N.J., producing a secret report profiling mosques, Islamic schools and Muslim-owned businesses and restaurants.

The story, based on a copy of the 60-page report obtained by AP, concludes that the surveillance project was undertaken despite "no evidence of terrorism or criminal behavior. It was a guide to Newark's Muslims."
To Big to Jail

Simon Johnson

WASHINGTON, DC – Among the fundamental principles of any functioning justice system is the following: Don’t lie to a judge or falsify documents submitted to a court, or you will go to jail. Breaking an oath to tell the truth is perjury, and lying in official documents is both perjury and fraud. These are serious criminal offenses, but apparently not if you are at the heart of America’s financial system. On the contrary, key individuals there appear to be well compensated for their crimes.

As Dennis Kelleher of Better Markets has argued, the recent so-called “robo-signing” settlement – in which five large banks “settled” their legal liability for carrying out fraudulent foreclosures on mortgages – is a complete sell-out to the financial industry.
The Volcker Rule, Made Bloated and Weak

February 22, 2012, 12:04 pm

Last week, it finally became clear that the Volcker Rule was as good as dead.

The Volcker Rule, named after Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, is meant to bar financial institutions that are protected and subsidized by the federal government from trading for their own accounts. That is, it’s pretty simple: Traders shouldn’t speculate for their own personal gain using the money you and I pay in taxes.

Yet bank lobbyists with complicit regulators and legislators took a simple concept and bloated it into a 530-page monstrosity of hopeless complexity and vagueness.

They couldn’t kill the rule. Instead, they are getting Congress and regulators to render it morbidly obese and bedridden.
Reducing Abortions: It's the Economy, Stupid

Thursday, 02/23/2012 - 9:36 am by Bryce Covert
If we put women back to work, lifted them out of poverty, and funded social services they rely on, fewer women would turn to abortion.

It seems the cat’s finally out of the bag these days: conservatives aren’t just concerned with saving the babies from abortions when it comes to reproductive rights. They are now outspoken about being against access to contraception — and some of them have even come out against non-procreative sex. Women’s rights activists have long warned that they were coming for our birth control; now it’s hard to deny they were right all along.

One big clue this whole time has been a simple fact: if conservatives are so hell-bent on preventing abortions, one of the best things they can do is support family planning services and access to contraception. Yet the last time we saw an openly pro-family planning Republican was the ’80s, when George H.W. Bush was in office. Meanwhile, all Republican 2012 candidates have signed personhood pledges that endanger many forms of contraception, Santorum himself has said birth control is bad, and I’ve lost track of how many times Republicans have tried to defund Planned Parenthood, which supplies contraception to low-income women. But as Irin Carmon laid out, the connection between increasing access to contraception and lowering abortion rates is very clear.
Growth does not equal progress: Why GDP is (increasingly) obsolete

COMMENTARY | February 21, 2012

Gross Domestic Product badly overstates the benefits of unequal growth and understates the value of intangibles, writes an advocate of alternative measurements. As a result, journalists should stop granting it talismanic significance in defining the nation's progress.

By Lew Daly

A pervasive narrative linking growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to social progress has shielded our leaders from accountability for a reality in which market growth and real social progress have actually diverged -- even sharply diverged -- in some ways. It's past time we found another way to measure our nation’s progress.

The idea of GDP, or "national income accounting," was introduced in the 1930s, in response to the Great Depression. With a 30 percent contraction of the economy unfolding, it certainly made sense to devise a common national standard for measuring economic output within our borders.

Low-wage Facebook contractor leaks secret censorship list

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 14:40 EST

A secret list curated by social network giant Facebook was published online recently after an employee for one of the company’s third-world contractors, upset at his poor working conditions and meager wage, decided to fight back.

The document reveals exactly what Facebook’s censorship brigade looks for on the social network, which boasts over 850 million users spanning the globe.
Just read the headline

by Steven D
Wed Feb 22nd, 2012 at 06:01:00 PM EST

It tells you all you need to know.

With gasoline consumption trending down, motorists wonder why price keeps rising

Yeah, why are gas prices rising at a time of year that they are traditionally lower than normal?

Well, if you give it some thought, I believe you will come to the same conclusion I have: that this is a rhetorical question.
Climate scientist Peter Gleick admits he leaked Heartland Institute documents

Peter Gleick, a water and climate analyst, says he was blinded by his frustrations with ongoing attacks on climate science

Suzanne Goldenberg US environment correspondent, Monday 20 February 2012 23.06 EST
A leading defender of climate change admitted tricking the libertarian Heartland Institute into turning over confidential documents detailing its plans to discredit the teaching of science to school children in last week's sensational expose.

In the latest revelation, Peter Gleick, a water scientist and president of the Pacific Institute who has been active in the climate wars, apologised on Monday for using a false name to obtain materials from Heartland, a Chicago-based think tank with a core mission of dismissing climate change.
Paul Krugman: Conservatives Twist Economic Debate

Recent facts have not been kind to the political right in the United States: a better-than-expected jobs report; a renewed focus on inequality, driven both by research from the Congressional Budget Office and by the gift of Mitt Romney’s candidacy. What to do?

The answer is to throw a bunch of bogus numbers at the issues, in the hope that something sticks, or at least that the discussion becomes confused.
The Challenge to Status Quo Economics Everybody isTalking About

By Lynn Parramore, AlterNet
Posted on February 22, 2012, Printed on February 25, 2012

Over the last week, an important approach to economics that has spent years on the sidelines went mainstream: Modern Monetary Theory. This is good news for anyone who wants to see the neoliberal paradigm challenged, and a positive sign to heterodox economists who have difficulty getting a hearing in a field still gripped by outmoded models.

The theory, which provides unusual perspectives on issues including currency, debt, and government spending, kicked off in the mid-90s and has since grown into a movement. Its roster of proponents includes James K. Galbraith; Australian economist Bill Mitchel; Randall Wray and Stephanie Kelton of the University of Missouri-Kansas City; Rob Parenteau; Pavlina Tcherneva; Scott Fullwilier; Warren Mosler; and blogger Marshall Auerback. Their insights have been particularly valuable in countering the deficit hysteria which reached a fever pitch in the U.S. during the summer of 2011, and still darkens policy debates worldwide. (Visit the New Economic Perspectives blog for a primer on MMT).
Leaked Memo Spells Out Extent of Greek Doom

Monday, February 20, 2012

Paul Krugman: Pain Without Gain

Last week the European Commission confirmed what everyone suspected: the economies it surveys are shrinking, not growing. It’s not an official recession yet, but the only real question is how deep the downturn will be. 

And this downturn is hitting nations that have never recovered from the last recession. For all America’s troubles, its gross domestic product has finally surpassed its pre-crisis peak; Europe’s has not. And some nations are suffering Great Depression-level pain: Greece and Ireland have had double-digit declines in output, Spain has 23 percent unemployment, Britain’s slump has now gone on longer than its slump in the 1930s. 

Worse yet, European leaders — and quite a few influential players here — are still wedded to the economic doctrine responsible for this disaster.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mortgage Settlement 'Whitewash': US Taxpayers Will Pay for Big Bank Settlement

Mortgage Deal or Not, Abusive Foreclosures Continue

- Common Dreams staff 
UPDATE: Reports in the Financial Times and elsewhere say that US taxpayers may be on the hook to bail out big banks -- again.

Neil Barofsky, the former special inspector-general of the TARP, said this morning that the recently approved mortgage deal between the nation's largest banks was "supposed to be a settlement for this remarkable fraud that the banks and the servicers have created across the country" is, in fact, a "political whitewash" because instead of the banks facing punitive action it "is actually going to involve money flowing from the taxpayer into the banks." And, straight to the point, he said, "We're bailing them out again!"
Responding to Taking Welfare and Hating It

Will Wilkinson has a post at the Economist Democracy in America blog - Taking welfare and hating it - responding to the big New York Times story about people’s conflicts with the welfare state, a story that we covered here.  It’s worth reading it all, but here’s part of it blockquoted.  Wilkinson:

Mostly I find a faithful depiction of a common and interesting conflict within many Americans between their de facto dependence on government transfers and their closely-held ideals of independence and self-reliance.

To understand all this, I think it’s important to acknowledge that our so-called “social insurance” programmes, such as Social Security and Medicare, produce a sense of dependency by design…But, like it or not, many Americans do find this dependency humiliating…
A "Capitalist Tool's" Defense of Apple Morphs into an Anti-Obama Screed

William K. Black

Forbes' (which bills itself as the "Capitalist Tool") publisher, Rich Karlgaard, writing in the Wall Street Journal, defends Apple's creation of a criminogenic environment that produces endemic anti-employee control fraud by its suppliers and unlawful and brutal working conditions that Apple refuses to stop.

How does a defense of Apple's suppliers driving their workers to suicide end up attacking Obama? Here's Karlgaard's clumsy but brazen effort. He relies on the January 21, 2012 New York Times article, which recounts Obama's February 2011 dinner meeting with Steve Jobs and other executives. This is Karlgaard's version of the conversation between Obama and Jobs as reported by the New York Times.
Eastern Europe’s Conservative Crackdown on Reproductive Freedom

by: Jake Blumgart, Toward Freedom | Report 
Across Eastern and Central Europe, as unemployment surges and the European Union dithers, nationalist conservative and far right parties are on the march. Emboldened right-wing leaders are resurrecting debates around abortion and other reproductive services, even in countries like Hungary, one of the first European countries to explicitly legalize abortion.

“There is a very strong pronatalist [anti-choice] current in Central and Eastern Europe and that goes along with nationalist tendencies in many of these countries,” says Johanna Westeson, the European regional director for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “One of the things that is very visible is the so-called demography argument. Birthrates are very low in Central and Eastern Europe and in an attempt to increase birthrates women’s reproductive rights are being [restricted].”
Rick Santorum’s mysterious, paradoxical manifesto, ‘It Takes a Family’

By Walter Shapiro | The Ticket – Fri, Feb 17, 2012

Every presidential race has its mysteries. Who really won the recent low-turnout Maine caucuses--and why are the Republicans having so much trouble counting caucus votes? Did Mitt Romney's dog-on-the-roof Irish setter Seamus actually try to defect to Canada? But the biggest campaign riddle wrapped in an enigma remains, Why does any politician fantasizing about the White House ever put his name on the cover of a book?

Rick Santorum, who should be basking in his sudden star turn as the poll-vaulting anti-Romney, is the latest author to pay a political price for his literary ambitions. Making the rounds of last Sunday morning's talk shows, the former Pennsylvania senator came under fire for his unflattering comments about "radical feminists" in his half-forgotten 2005 book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. On "Meet the Press," host David Gregory challenged Santorum to defend his book's claim, "The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness." Rather than try to justify his implicit critique of women of childbearing years finding fulfillment in the workplace, Santorum vaguely affirmed a woman's right to choose her career and gallantly insisted that "the section was written in large part in cooperation" with his (non-working) wife, Karen.
Obama DOJ Tries to Insulate Warrantless Wiretapping Law

ACLU Argues Dragnet Surveillance of Americans Is Unconstitutional

- Common Dreams staff 
The government today asked the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court ruling that allowed the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the constitutionality of a law that gives the government unprecedented authority to monitor international emails and phone calls by Americans, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

At issue is an appeals court ruling that allowed the ACLU’s case to move forward. It rebuffed Obama administration arguments that the case should be dismissed because the ACLU’s clients cannot prove their communications will be collected under the law, known as the FISA Amendments Act. The ACLU said it was disappointed by today’s request.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

China Is Very "Business-Friendly"

Burr/Coburn Medicare Plan: 10 Deceptions - and a Free-Market "Death Panel"

This Week in the War on the Safety Net

By Jon Perr

The American social safety net is back in the news, and not just because Mitt Romney acknowledged, "I'm not concerned about the very poor." This week, the libertarian Mercatus Center at George Mason University revealed that a third of Americans now receive Medicaid, food stamps or other means-based government assistance, a number that climbs to 148 million when Social Security, Medicare and unemployment benefits are factored in. The next day, the conservative Heritage Foundation fretted that its "Index of Dependence on Government" rose 8.1 percent last year. Then on Sunday, the New York Times detailed that the so-called safety net now delivers most its benefits to middle class Americans, including many who denounce the very government programs which now sustain them.
Spotlight on Goldman as commodities hearings begin

By Moming Zhou, MarketWatch

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Goldman Sachs Group, already under fire for reaping record trading profits in the aftermath of the financial crisis, is now fighting to defend one of its biggest sources of revenue -- commodities trading -- with regulators considering setting limits on Wall Street speculators. 

Representatives of the firm, along with those of other big investment banks, are scheduled to appear at a series of hearings held by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission starting Tuesday -- part of the Obama administration's biggest move yet to clamp down on commodities speculation, which has roiled the prices of everything from oil to corn and wheat in recent years. 

At issue for Goldman Sachs is a major exemption it enjoys from limits on trading in certain types of agricultural commodities. Such an exemption is usually reserved for traders classified as "hedgers," such as farmers or food producers who depend on stable prices for their businesses.
Thomas Frank Talks With Truthout on How Wall Street Doubled Down on Trashing America's Economy

by: Mark Karlin, Truthout | Interview 
Mark Karlin: In "Pity the Billionaire," on page 71, you note that "market populism" shifted over the years from being "almost exclusively a faith of the wealthy" to being "the fighting faith of the millions." You definitely single out Glenn Beck as being a shill for this "faith" among the "disgruntled" masses. Was his role that important?
Thomas Frank: Glenn Beck had a huge role in the rise of the Tea Party and the broader shift of the nation to the right. Remember, during the period we're talking about, Beck was on the cover of Time as well as the New York Times Magazine; he was the subject of two separate biographies. Whether we like it or not, he was the face of that political moment, the voice that caught the public imagination. In fact, it is hard to make any sense at all of the Tea Party movement absent Glenn Beck's strange views of history and his dread of the Obama Administration. Go back and look at footage of Tea Party events or interviews with Tea Party participants, and you will find that they often echo, sometimes word for word, the idiosyncratic lessons taught by Professor Beck.
Santorum to Mainline Protestants: You Are Satan’s Spawn

By Ed Kilgore

Kyle Mantyla of People for the American Way’s indispensable Right Wing Watch has come up with an audiotape of a Rick Santorum address to the students of the conservative Catholic Ave Maria University in Florida, delivered in 2008. It’s an altogether remarkable speech depicting Rick as a leader in a “spiritual war” against Satan for control of America. Much of its involves the usual right-wing stuff about the conquest of academia (outside bastions like Ave Maria) by the forces of moral relativism, but then there is this Santorum assessment of mainline Protestantism:
[O]nce the colleges fell and those who were being educated in our institutions, the next was the church. Now you’d say, ‘wait, the Catholic Church’? No. We all know that this country was founded on a Judeo-Christian ethic but the Judeo-Christian ethic was a Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic, sure the Catholics had some influence, but this was a Protestant country and the Protestant ethic, mainstream, mainline Protestantism, and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.
How Citibank Dumped Lousy Mortgages on the Government

by Cora Currier
ProPublica, Feb. 16, 2012, 5:34 p.m.

Citigroup agreed yesterday to pay $158 million to settle a lawsuit over bad loans that the bank passed on to the Federal Housing Administration to insure. The whistle-blower who originally brought the case, Sherry Hunt, an employee of Citi's mortgage department, said the company actively undermined the process that was supposed to check for fraud in order to push through reckless loans and get higher profits.

The suit itself makes for good reading. We've pulled out the juiciest bits, and explain just what Citi appears to have been doing.
The 'second Great Depression' saviour myth

We're told that Fed officials and the Obama administration saved us from another 1930s-style slump. Nonsense

Dean Baker, Thursday 16 February 2012 16.15 EST

As President Obama's re-election campaign heats up, there are several new accounts of his track record finding their way into print. One item for which he is – undeservedly – given credit is saving the country from a second Great Depression. The political elites believe in the salvation from the second Great Depression myth with the same fervency as little kids believe in Santa Claus. And it has just as much grounding in reality.

While the Obama administration, working alongside Ben Bernanke at the Fed, deserves credit for preventing a financial meltdown, a second great depression was never in the cards. The first Great Depression was brought about not only from misguided policies at the onset of the financial crisis, but also from an inadequate policy response.
Paul Krugman: Moochers Against Welfare

First, Atlas shrugged. Then he scratched his head in puzzlement. 

Modern Republicans are very, very conservative; you might even (if you were Mitt Romney) say, severely conservative. Political scientists who use Congressional votes to measure such things find that the current G.O.P. majority is the most conservative since 1879, which is as far back as their estimates go. 

And what these severe conservatives hate, above all, is reliance on government programs. Rick Santorum declares that President Obama is getting America hooked on “the narcotic of dependency.” Mr. Romney warns that government programs “foster passivity and sloth.” Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, requires that staffers read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” in which heroic capitalists struggle against the “moochers” trying to steal their totally deserved wealth, a struggle the heroes win by withdrawing their productive effort and giving interminable speeches.
The inside story on climate scientists under siege

Michael Mann reveals his account of attacks by entrenched interests seeking to undermine his 'hockey stick' graph

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Friday 17 February 2012 07.28 EST

It is almost possible to dismiss Michael Mann's account of a vast conspiracy by the fossil fuel industry to harrass scientists and befuddle the public. His story of that campaign, and his own journey from naive computer geek to battle-hardened climate ninja, seems overwrought, maybe even paranoid.

But now comes the unauthorised release of documents showing how a libertarian thinktank, the Heartland Institute, which has in the past been supported by Exxon, spent millions on lavish conferences attacking scientists and concocting projects to counter science teaching for kindergarteners.
Why Patriarchal Men Are Utterly Petrified of Birth Control -- And Why We'll Still Be Fighting About it 100 Years From Now

By Sara Robinson, AlterNet
Posted on February 15, 2012, Printed on February 18, 2012

What's happening in Congress this week, as Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) bars any woen from testifying at his so-called "religious freedom" hearings, is so familiar and expected that it hardly counts as news. The only thing surprising about it is the year: didn't we all honestly think that by 2012, contraception would be a non-issue, and Congress wouldn't make the mistake of leaving women out of conversations like this one?

Yes, we did. And the fact that we were wrong about that points to a deeper trend at work, one that needs a bit of long-term historical context put around it so we can really understand what's going on. Let me explain.

When people look back on the 20th century from the vantage point of 500 years on, they will remember the 1900s for three big things.
The Nation’s Ari Melber: Facebook owns you

By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, February 15, 2012 21:21 EST

Ari Melber of The Nation explained Wednesday on MSNBC why the public offering of Facebook was estimated to be one of the biggest of all time.

“Why exactly is Facebook worth so much money? It’s current revenues of a few billion dollars don’t support this evaluation,” he said. “But Facebook owns something that can make a lot more money down the road. It owns us.”
The Fight for a Fair and Free Internet

Rebecca J. Rosen

Feb 14 2012, 8:34 AM ET
When Rebecca MacKinnon was working for CNN in Beijing from 1992 to 2001, she and her fellow expats expected that the coming age of global networking would strongly undermine the Communist Party's grip on the reigns. But a decade later, she writes, "I grew to believe that we were naive." The Internet is not the stepping stone to democracy she had hoped.

In part, that's because citizens aren't the only ones building the net. Corporations and governments are shaping its space and its power, and oftentimes in ways that work against democratic goals. In her new book, Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, MacKinnon issues a call to arms for the people of the Internet. "The Internet can be a powerful tool in the hands of citizens seeking to hold governments and corporations to account -- but only if we keep the Internet itself open and free."
Occupy's amazing Volcker Rule letter

By Felix Salmon
February 14, 2012


One of the saddest aspects of the financialization of the US economy is the way in which America’s best and brightest found themselves working on Wall Street, rather than in jobs which improved the state of the world. Proof of this comes from the absolutely astonishing 325-page comment letter on the Volcker Rule which has been put together by Occupy the SEC; it’s pretty clear, from reading the letter, that the people who wrote it are whip-smart and extremely talented.

Occupy the SEC is the wonky finreg arm of Occupy Wall Street, and its main authors are worth naming and celebrating: Akshat Tewary, Alexis Goldstein, Corley Miller, George Bailey, Caitlin Kline, Elizabeth Friedrich, and Eric Taylor. If you can’t read the whole thing, at least read the introductory comments, on pages 3-6, both for their substance and for the panache of their delivery.
APNewsBreak: Suspect in Kan. Capitol case released

- Associated Press
Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 | 02:43 PM 

A man whose pickup was found to contain homemade bombs near the Kansas Statehouse has been released from custody but still could face criminal charges, a Capitol Police spokesman said Thursday.

The Kansas Highway Patrol, which operates the Capitol Police, planned to discuss possible criminal charges by early next week with Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, police spokesman Patrick Saleh said.

Taylor told The Associated Press that his office is meeting Friday morning with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to discuss the case.
Leak exposes how Heartland Institute works to undermine climate science

Libertarian thinktank keeps prominent sceptics on its payroll and relies on millions in funding from carbon industry, papers suggest

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Tuesday 14 February 2012 22.30 EST

The inner workings of a libertarian thinktank working to discredit the established science on climate change have been exposed by a leak of confidential documents detailing its strategy and fundraising networks.

DeSmogBlog, which broke the story, said it had received the confidential documents from an "insider" at the Heartland Institute, which is based in Chicago. The blog monitors industry efforts to discredit climate science.

The scheme includes spending $100,000 for spreading the message in K-12 schools that "the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain - two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science", the documents said.

SEE ALSO:  Leaked Heartland Institute documents pull back curtain on climate scepticism
Maddow: PolitiFact, you are a disaster

By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, February 14, 2012 23:40 EST

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on Tuesday once again blasted the fact-checking website PolitiFact.

n January, she accused PolitiFact of undermining the word “fact.”

This week, the fact-checking website drew Maddow’s ire after rating Sen. Marc Rubio’s comment that the majority of Americans are conservative as “mostly true.
Reining in the Bond Markets - Public Policy in a Context of Ideological Capture

by Vikingkingq

In my last piece, I discussed the irrational nature of how the bond markets have reacted to the financial crisis and the recession that followed, simultaneously demanding austerity and then reacting to the recessionary crises their demands have created by demanding government intervention to provide growth (as long as it doesn't result in inflation, higher taxes, or more borrowing).

As the Greek Parliament passes the kind of austerity that makes Andrew Mellon look like a bleeding-heart and Athens burns, we see European politicians demand further austerity at the same time that everyone realizes it's not going to work. So how do we construct a new conventional wisdom amidst the tyranny of the old, and then how do we transform understanding into action?
INTERNAL DOCUMENTS: The Secret, Corporate-Funded Plan To Teach Children That Climate Change Is A Hoax

By Brad Johnson on Feb 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm

The first in a series of posts about the Heartland Institute’s inner workings, from internal documents acquired by ThinkProgress Green. Heartland has issued a press release claiming that some of these documents were sent to an outsider under false pretenses and that one document in the set is a fake.

Internal documents acquired by ThinkProgress Green reveal that the Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank funded by the Koch brothers, Microsoft, and other top corporations, is planning to develop a “global warming curriculum” for elementary schoolchildren that presents climate science as “a major scientific controversy.” This effort, at a cost of $100,000 a year, will be developed by Dr. David E. Wojick, a coal-industry consultant.

“Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective,” Heartland’s confidential 2012 fundraising document bemoans. The group believes that Wojick’s project has “potential for great success,” because he has “contacts at virtually all the national organizations involved in producing, certifying, and promoting scientific curricula.” The document explains that Wojick will produce “modules” that promote the conspiratorial claim that climate change is “controversial”:
How State Taxes Put a Bigger Pinch on the Poor

Posted 6:00AM 02/13/12

Over the last few months, as Republican presidential candidates have unveiled a stream of plans to cut taxes, they've consistently focused their rhetoric on a very narrow spectrum of our tax burden -- income tax as a percentage of income -- to suggest that the poorest Americans get a free ride at the expense of the wealthiest.

But, as a recent study points out, income tax is only part of the equation, and when all the other taxes we pay are factored in -- especially our punishing state taxes -- it's clear that the poor often pay a far greater percentage of their income in taxes than the rich.
The Right's Inside-Out Constitution

February 13, 2012
Exclusive: It has become an article of faith on the American Right that the Founders opposed a strong central government and that federal activism — from Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to President Obama’s health-care reform — violates the nation’s first principles. But that’s not the real history, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In recent decades, the American Right has sought to rewrite the founding narrative of the United States through selective “scholarship,” by snatching a few quotes out of context and then relying on a vast propaganda machine (and much ignorance about U.S. history) to turn the Constitution inside out.

According to the Right’s revisionist narrative, the framers of the Constitution met in Philadelphia for the purpose of tightly restricting the powers of the national government and broadly empowering the states – when the actual intent of the Constitutional Convention was nearly the opposite.
The Long History of the War Against Contraception

Tuesday, 02/14/2012 - 10:39 am by Ellen Chesler 

For those surprised about the recent fervor over Obama’s contraception coverage decision, a look at its deep roots.

Republicans for Planned Parenthood last week issued a call for nominations for the 2012 Barry Goldwater award, an annual prize awarded to a Republican legislator who has acted to protect women’s health and rights. Past recipients include Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, who this week endorsed President Obama’s solution for insuring full coverage of the cost of contraception without exceptions, even for employees of religiously affiliated institutions. And that may tell us all we need to know about why President Obama has the upper hand in a debate over insurance that congressional Tea Partiers have now widened to include anyone who seeks an exemption.

It’s a long time ago, but it is worth remembering that conservative avatar Goldwater was in his day an outspoken supporter of women’s reproductive freedom — a freethinker who voted his conscience over the protests of Catholic bishops and all others who tried to claim these matters as questions of conscientious liberty and not sensible social policy. With Goldwater on his side, Obama sees a clear opening for skeptics wary of the extremism that has captured Republican hopefuls in thrall to the fundamentalist base that controls the GOP presidential primary today. Holding firm on family planning — even if it means taking on the Catholic hierarchy and other naysayers by offering a technical fix that would have insurers cover costs instead of the churches themselves — is a calculated political strategy by the Obama campaign, not a blunder as it has been characterized by many high powered pundits, including progressives like Mark Shields of PBS and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post.
President Obama's Budget is Disappointing

Good but limited measures on tax reform are sacrificed, once again, to Obama's eagerness to compromise on budget cuts

by Mark Weisbrot
President Obama's proposed budget has a few interesting proposals for reforms over the next decade. Among the best are the proposals to rescind the Bush tax cuts for households with incomes of more than $250,000, and to tax dividends for stockholders among this group as ordinary income. These and a few other proposals would sum up to a small but significant step in the opposite direction to where this country has been going for the past three decades: that is, a vast upward redistribution of income to the rich and the super-rich.
The Right-Wing Id Unzipped

by: Mike Lofgren, Truthout | News Analysis 
Retired Republican House and Senate staffer Mike Lofgren spoke with Truthout in Washington, DC, this fall. Lofgren's first commentary for Truthout, "Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult," went viral, drawing over a million unique views.

Although Mitt Romney used the word "conservative" 19 times in a short speech at the February 10, 2012, Conservative Political Action Conference, the audience he used this word to appeal to was not conservative by any traditional definition. It was right wing. Despite the common American practice of using "conservative" and "right wing" interchangeably, right wing is not a synonym for conservative and not even a true variant of conservatism - although the right wing will opportunistically borrow conservative themes as required.

Right-wingers have occasioned much recent comment. Their behavior in the Republican debates has caused even jaded observers to react like an Oxford don stumbling upon a tribe of headhunting cannibals. In those debates where the moderators did not enforce decorum, these right-wingers, the Republican base, behaved with a single lack of dignity. For a group that displays its supposed pro-life credentials like a neon sign, the biggest applause lines resulted from their hearing about executions or the prospect of someone dying without health insurance.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pentagon misreports or ignores long-term weapons costs

Auditors find repeated errors in projected expenditures for repairs, maintenance and operations

By R. Jeffrey Smith, 9 hours, 22 minutes ago; Updated: 9 hours, 23 minutes ago

The Obama administration’s 2013 defense spending plan, detailed as part of its overall new federal budget, includes $178.8 billion to buy new weapons, ranging from jet fighters and artillery to naval cruisers and satellite systems. But the real costs of these programs to the federal budget are unlikely to be disclosed in its budget documents or dozens of detailed weapons program reports due on Capitol Hill in March, according to a recent federal audit report.

The true costs of some of the biggest pieces of the U.S. arsenal are mostly hidden, the audit concluded, because the Defense Department’s public documents typically list only how much has been spent or will be spent to acquire its fighters, ships, and vehicles.
The Ideologue Who's Holding Homeowers - And the Economy - Hostage

Paul Krugman: Severe Conservative Syndrome

Mitt Romney has a gift for words — self-destructive words. On Friday he did it again, telling the Conservative Political Action Conference that he was a “severely conservative governor.”

As Molly Ball of The Atlantic pointed out, Mr. Romney “described conservatism as if it were a disease.” Indeed. Mark Liberman, a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, provided a list of words that most commonly follow the adverb “severely”; the top five, in frequency of use, are disabled, depressed, ill, limited and injured. 
The New Anti-Science Assault on US Schools

In a disturbing trend, anti-evolution campaigners are combining with climate change deniers to undermine public education

by Katherine Stewart
You might have thought it was all over after the 2005 decision by the US district court of Middle Pennsylvania (pdf), which ruled in the case of the Dover Area schools that teaching intelligent design is unconstitutional. You might have guessed that they wouldn't come back after the 1987 US supreme court decision in Edwards v Aguillard, which deemed the teaching of creationism in Louisiana schools unconstitutional. Or maybe you figured that the opponents of evolution had their Waterloo in the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial in Tennessee.

They are back. There are six bills aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution before state legislatures this year: two each in New Hampshire and Missouri, one each in Indiana and Oklahoma. And it's only February.
Public Utility, Private Profit

Privatization of water is as benign as Lucifer

by: Richard Raznikov, The Rag Blog | News Analysis 
San Rafael, California -- There hasn’t been much rain this season where I live. Personally, I don’t mind much. I like sunny days, summer weather, dry fairways at San Geronimo. The deer are not very happy, having to spend more time on my street than they’d prefer but they’ve had to come down from the hills a bit looking for food.

Where I live the reservoirs are still mostly full from the last winter’s rain and we will not experience any delays or service interruptions. I pay for water every month, the local water district sends a bill, costs maybe 30 bucks if everybody showers a lot and there are loads of clothes.
A 75th Anniversary for the American Dream, a 25-Year Anniversary for Me

by Michael Moore
On this day 25 years ago, in 1987, I became a filmmaker. It was around ten in the morning and the first-ever roll of Kodak 16mm film for my first-ever movie was loaded into my friend's camera to shoot the very first scene of 'Roger & Me.' I had no idea on that morning in Flint, Michigan what my life would be like after that, or what would happen to Flint, or to General Motors. It all felt fairly ominous, though -- after all, GM, which was posting record profits at the time, was closing its first Flint factory (the first of what would become many) and unemployment in Flint had officially been listed as high as 29%. Surely things couldn't get much worse.

That morning, 25 years ago today, a group of autoworkers had come together on the lawn of the soon-to-be-closed Buick-Oldsmobile-Cadillac assembly plant to raise their voices against the closing -- and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Great Flint Sit-Down Strike, which had begun at that very factory. That strike, in 1936-37, was actually an occupation. Hundreds of workers took over the factories in Flint and refused to leave for 44 days until GM capitulated and recognized their union. The strike inspired thousands of other workers across the country to stage their own occupations and, before you knew it, in the years to follow, factory workers were paid a living wage, with benefits, vacations, and a safe working place.
Mean-Spirited, Bad Economics

By Simon Johnson

The principle behind unemployment insurance is simple. Since the 1930s, employers – and in some states employees — have paid insurance premiums (in the form of payroll taxes, levied on wages) to the government. If people are laid off through no fault of their own, they can claim this insurance – just like you file a claim on your homeowner’s or renter’s policy if your home burns down.

Fire insurance is mostly sold by the private sector; unemployment insurance is “sold” by the government – because the private sector never performed this role adequately. The original legislative intent, reaffirmed over the years, is clear: Help people to help themselves in the face of shocks beyond their control.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Paul Krugmam: Money and Morals

Lately inequality has re-entered the national conversation. Occupy Wall Street gave the issue visibility, while the Congressional Budget Office supplied hard data on the widening income gap. And the myth of a classless society has been exposed: Among rich countries, America stands out as the place where economic and social status is most likely to be inherited.

So you knew what was going to happen next. Suddenly, conservatives are telling us that it’s not really about money; it’s about morals. Never mind wage stagnation and all that, the real problem is the collapse of working-class family values, which is somehow the fault of liberals. 
The People's Media: Preventing Corporate Takeover of the Internet

by: Joseph Torres, Yes! Magazine | News Analysis 
Public interest groups have waged a spirited campaign to prevent a corporate takeover of the Internet.

AT&T spared no expense in 2011 when it sought government approval of its $39 billion deal to acquire T-Mobile. The merger would have created a duopoly, leaving AT&T and Verizon in control of nearly 80 percent of the wireless market.

AT&T would then have been able to set higher prices, at a cost to people on modest incomes who depend on their cell phones to connect with work, family, and the details of modern life.
Charles Murray's New Book 'Coming Apart' Shamelessly Blames the Victims of Our Economic Collapse

By June Carbone and Naomi Cahn, AlterNet
Posted on February 8, 2012, Printed on February 11, 2012

Charles Murray, the man who blamed welfare and a host of other liberal sins for weakening the moral fiber of the poor, has redirected his focus to the white working-class. And guess what? The problem with the declining fortunes of those on the losing end of the economic spectrum, he argues in his new book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, is not the loss of jobs. It's not about the increase in contingent hiring that makes the remaining jobs less stable. And it's certainly not the disappearance of unions that once fought for worker protection. Instead, the problem with the working class is – surprise, surprise – the working class. In the world according to Murray, they have lost their moral fiber, giving up on the values that once made America great. Instead of eagerly accepting the $10/hr, no-benefit jobs that remain, they work less and attend church less often. The men fail to support their families and the women respond by refusing to marry the ne'er-do-wells and foolishly raising children on their own.

Murray, to his credit, seems to agree that the six-figure bonuses of the new economy are “unseemly,” but rather than connect those bonuses to the corporate practices responsible for the job losses, he reserves his criticism of the new upper class for their isolation. They have deserted their less successful brethren by failing to “preach what they practice” and presumably by failing to insist on the necessity of hard work and marriage on wages of $10 an hour. The problem with Murray’s account is that he chooses not to hear the message of the new upper class or see their efforts to make the terms of their success available to the newly impoverished working class. He fails to see or hear these messages because, in fact, Murray is in league with those who actively oppose efforts to help the working class realize the terms that succeed in the new economy.
Why Going 'Back To Normal' Is No Longer An Option for the American Economy -- And Where We're Headed Now

By Sara Robinson, AlterNet
Posted on February 7, 2012, Printed on February 11, 2012

Former IMF chief economist Joseph Stiglitz has a message for everybody who's sitting around waiting for the economy to "get back to normal."

Stop waiting. ‘Cause that train’s gone, and it ain’t coming back. And the sooner we accept that “normal,” as post WWII America knew and loved it, will not be an option in this century, the sooner we’ll get ourselves moving forward on the path toward a new kind of prosperity. The only real question now is: What future awaits us on the other side of the coming shift?

In a don't-miss article in this month’s Vanity Fair, Stiglitz argues that our current economic woes are the result of a deep structural shift in the economy — a once-in-a-lifetime phase change that happens whenever the foundations of an old economic order are disrupted, and a new basis of wealth creation comes forward to take its place. The last time this happened was in the 1920s and 1930s, when a US economy that was built on farm output became the victim of its own success. Advances in farming led to a food glut. As food prices plummeted, farmers had less money to spend. This, in turn, depressed manufacturing and led to job losses in the cities, too. Land values in both places declined, impoverishing families and trapping them in place.
The GOP’s new push to defang the CFPB

By Suzy Khimm, Published: February 8

Republicans couldn’t stop President Obama from installing Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But they hope they can rein the bureau in by passing legislation. The House GOP is now moving forward with bills that would remove the CFPB director from overseeing the Federal Deposit Insurance Company and allow Congress to directly control its funding every year. The bills are DOA in the Democrat-controlled Senate. But the GOP’s new bills provide a clear guide to what is likely to happen to the CFPB if Republicans take full control of Congress and/or the White House.
The right's stupidity spreads, enabled by a too-polite left

Conservativism may be the refuge of the dim. But the room for rightwing ideas is made by those too timid to properly object

by George Monbiot, Monday 6 February 2012 15.30 EST

Self-deprecating, too liberal for their own good, today's progressives stand back and watch, hands over their mouths, as the social vivisectionists of the right slice up a living society to see if its component parts can survive in isolation. Tied up in knots of reticence and self-doubt, they will not shout stop. Doing so requires an act of interruption, of presumption, for which they no longer possess a vocabulary.

Perhaps it is in the same spirit of liberal constipation that, with the exception of Charlie Brooker, we have been too polite to mention the Canadian study published last month in the journal Psychological Science, which revealed that people with conservative beliefs are likely to be of low intelligence. Paradoxically it was the Daily Mail that brought it to the attention of British readers last week. It feels crude, illiberal to point out that the other side is, on average, more stupid than our own. But this, the study suggests, is not unfounded generalisation but empirical fact.
The Battle for Vermont's Single Payer System

by Wendell Potter
MONTPELIER, Vermont — You can’t see them. They’re hidden from view and probably always will be. But the health insurance industry’s big guns are in place and pointed directly at the citizens of Vermont.

Health insurers were not able to stop the state’s drive last year toward a single-payer health care system, which insurers have spent millions to scare Americans into believing would be the worst thing ever. Despite the ceaseless spin, Vermont lawmakers last May demonstrated they could not be bought nor intimidated when they became the first in the nation to pass a bill that will probably establish a single-payer beachhead in the U.S.
Shocker! Komen for the Cure knew defunding Planned Parenthood was a bad idea

Things are looking so bad for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, leadership there is probably looking back at last week as the good ol' salad days, when the biggest problem was national outrage at a new policy to defund Planned Parenthood.

In the past week, though, things have gone from bad to so, so, so much worse.
Why Wall Street Should Stop Whining


Everybody on Wall Street is talking about the new piece by New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, entitled "The End of Wall Street as They Knew It."

The article argues that Barack Obama killed everything that was joyful about the banking industry through his suffocating Dodd-Frank reform bill, which forced banks to strip themselves of "the pistons that powered their profits: leverage and proprietary trading."
Obama Explained

As Barack Obama contends for a second term in office, two conflicting narratives of his presidency have emerged. Is he a skillful political player and policy visionary—a chess master who always sees several moves ahead of his opponents (and of the punditocracy)? Or is he politically clumsy and out of his depth—a pawn overwhelmed by events, at the mercy of a second-rate staff and of the Republicans? Here, a longtime analyst of the presidency takes the measure of our 44th president, with a view to history.

By James Fallows

In the late
1990s, when his fellow University of Chicago professor Barack Obama had just run for the Illinois State Senate and long before a newly inaugurated President Obama named him to his Council of Economic Advisers, the economist Austan Goolsbee was on the most terrifying airplane trip of his life. He was traveling on Southwest Airlines from St. Louis back to Chicago’s Midway Airport. The plane got into a thunderstorm, and for a while many passengers thought they were doomed.

One jolt of turbulence was so strong that a flight attendant, not yet strapped in, hit her head on the airplane’s ceiling. After another sudden drop, the lights went out on one side of the cabin. The violent ups and downs kept getting worse. Two rows ahead of Goolsbee, a professional-looking woman in her 50s began wailing, “We’re going to die! We’re all going to die!” “Everyone was looking around and on the border of panic,” Goolsbee told me recently. “I was kind of wishing someone would start yelling, ‘No, we’re all not going to die!’”

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Top Twelve Reasons Why You Should Hate the Mortgage Settlement

As readers may know by now, 49 of 50 states have agreed to join the so-called mortgage settlement, with Oklahoma the lone refusenik. Although the fine points are still being hammered out, various news outlets (New York Times, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal) have details, with Dave Dayen’s overview at Firedoglake the best thus far.

The Wall Street Journal is also reporting that the SEC is about to launch some securities litigation against major banks. Since the statue of limitations has already run out on securities filings more than five years old, this means they’ll clip the banks for some of the very last (and dreckiest) deals they shoved out the door before the subprime market gave up the ghost.
States line up to challenge stringent Section 5 voting rights provision

By Robert Barnes, Thursday, February 9, 8:37 AM

Conservative activists and Republican attorneys general have launched a series of lawsuits meant to challenge the most muscular provision of the Voting Rights Act 0f 1965 before a Supreme Court that has signaled it is suspicious of its constitutionality.

Working their way to the high court are lawsuits from Arizona to North Carolina, challenging Section 5 of the historic civil rights act. The provision requires states and localities with a history of discrimination to get federal approval of any changes in their voting laws.

The combination of skeptical justices and an increasingly partisan political environment has led some experts to predict that the end is near for that requirement, which civil rights groups have called the most effective weapon for eliminating voting discrimination.
Scott Walker and the Secret "John Doe" Investigation Explained (Updated)

Everything you need to know about the scandal embroiling Wisconsin's governor.

A dark cloud hangs over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

A "John Doe" investigation launched in May 2010 has embroiled former Walker staffers and appointees from his time as Milwaukee County executive, his job before winning the governorship in November 2010. The investigation, led by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, has led to home raids targeting former staffers with close ties to Walker and numerous felony charges for election law violations, embezzlement, and misconduct in office.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pass the Romney Rule!

The philosophical, economic, and political case for raising capital gains taxes.

By Eliot Spitzer | Posted Monday, Feb. 6, 2012, at 12:32 PM ET

The U.S. tax code: Never has so much been done by so many for so few who need so little. The recent public debate about the inequities built into the tax code—triggered by the disclosure of Mitt Romney’s tax returns—is all for the good. So is the call for a “Romney rule” mandating that capital gains be treated as ordinary income, and so be subject to the same top marginal rate of 35 percent that applies to ordinary income, rather than the current top rate of 15 percent.

But we shouldn’t raise the capital gains tax just because it’s a popular idea. The rate should rise for philosophical, economic, and political reasons, as several colleagues and I argued in a recent debate at the Maxwell School of Public Policy at Syracuse University.
Axelrod: Obama may back down on birth control access

By David Edwards
Tuesday, February 7, 2012 10:52 EST

A top adviser to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign suggested on Tuesday that the administration was open to working with Catholic hospitals and universities over their objections to providing birth control services to women.

“I’m less concerned about the messaging of this than to find a resolution that makes sense,” David Axelrod said on MSNBC.