Thursday, June 30, 2011

Massey Lied, Their Workers Died

I don't believe in the death penalty, but Massey CEO Don Blankenship should get life for this:
Federal mine disaster investigators disclosed a few pieces of new information Tuesday night from their year-long look at the April 2010 deadly Upper Big Branch mine explosion. They said that:

Mine owner Massey Energy kept two sets of records that chronicled safety problems. One internal set of production reports detailed those problems and how they delayed coal production. But the other records, which are reviewed by federal mine safety inspectors and required by federal law, failed to mention the same safety hazards. Some of the hazards that were not disclosed are identical to those believed to have contributed to the explosion.

— Portions of the Upper Big Branch mine hit by the explosion were not treated for excessive and explosive coal dust because the entryways or tunnels in those areas were too small to accommodate the machine used to spray the material that neutralizes coal dust.
Two sets of safety records, one real that showed the problems that led to the explosion, one record that didn't, shown to the regulators.

This isn't an academic exercise, 29 people lost their lives because Massey's actions. Starting with Blankenship, people should be in prison for knowingly endangering the lives of their employees.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

If You Fool Me 7 Times Or More...

ATHENS, Greece — Greece's lawmakers have approved a key austerity bill, paving the way for the country to get its next vital bailout loans that will prevent it from defaulting next month.

The unpopular euro28 billion ($40 billion) five-year package of spending cuts and tax hikes was backed by a majority of the 300-member parliament Wednesday, including Socialist deputy Alexandros Athanassiadis, who had previously vowed to vote against.

The European Union and International Monetary Fund have demanded the austerity measures pass before they approve the release of a euro12 billion loan installment from last year's rescue package.

Without those funds, Greece would be facing a default by the middle of July.
BOLD PREDICTION: This most recent austerity plan will make their economy worse, just like the last austerity plan did, and just like every austerity plan in the history of time has done.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Obama Trying to Save the Republicans From Themselves

Remember when the Republicans inexplicably gave the house Democrats a massive boost by voting to destroy medicare?

Well the White House knows the house Republicans are hurting from that vote, but they want to cut medicare so desperately that they're willing to throw their party's massive politcal advantage under the bus to do so: (via Jon Walker)
Vice President Joe Biden attended Obama’s meetings with both Reid and McConnell, and Biden’s own work product — reflecting weeks of House-Senate budget negotiations — will be the foundation for any larger deal.

The immediate goal is to find upward of $2.4 trillion in 10-year savings and revenues to help offset what would be an almost equal increase in the federal debt ceiling to be voted prior to Aug. 2 — the deadline set by the Treasury Department.

Thus far, the Biden talks have identified an estimated $1.5 trillion to $1.7 trillion in spending reductions — two-thirds of the final goal. The challenge is to either close the gap with some mix of savings and revenues or retreat to settling for a shorter-term debt increase equal to the lesser savings figure.

For their part, Obama and Reid appear prepared to reach much higher, putting substantial Medicare savings on the table if Republicans would accept added revenues. With the House GOP leadership in New York, all of Monday’s White House maneuvering was Senate-centric. But Obama’s hope is that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), with whom he met privately last week, will be intrigued by a bolder package that might also help neutralize the Medicare issue now hurting the GOP among elderly voters.
Before the election I joked that Obama might have secretly wanted a GOP led house because he gets his rocks off to making deals with Republicans. Now it's not really a joke, and I think he enjoys making deals with them because they share a lot of the same priorities.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Train Down, New Temporary URL


As you can all see, the domain name for the train of thought expired over the weekend.

It's my fault for having not been on the ball about this, and there's really no getting around that. They claim they warn you before the domain expires, and I'm checking back to make sure that was the case but I sure don't remember getting any emails about it. I've had issues before because I bought my domain back when blogger (Google) hadn't fully made their relationship with godaddy official, so I wouldn't be surprised if that dreaded gray area struck us again here.

I've found the new owner of the site, who bought it when the domain expired, and hopefully I can buy it back.

Absolutely nothing will change about the regularity of the content here, so if you know anyone who reads our site, please point them to 

We'll be posting as usual there for the time being, and I hope this is all resolved soon.

What sucks is that we've built (based on google analytics) we've built a group of people who read our blog regularly, but I have no clue who they are. Hopefully we can find a way to direct them back here if we don't get the original domain back. And if we don't get the domain back, we'll find an equally sexy domain name, and just focus on getting people over there.

One more thing: I was out of town without any internet access when this occurred (the first time I've been in that position for years... ah timing), so that explains the delay in getting this sorted out. If you missed our posts while we were dark (spoiler alert: I write most posts beforehand and they go online magically in the future), especially RB's Saturday post on NYC's gay marrige vote.

Sorry for the inconvenience, and thank you all so much for your continued support of the train.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

New York State Passes Gay Marriage Bill

*BREAKING NEWS* – The New York legislature voted 33-29 to pass the state’s Marriage Equality Act.  It now awaits the signature of Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), after passage from the Republican controlled Senate.

Recent Negotiations focused on ensuring protections for religious establishments against recognizing same-sex marriage.

Some Quick Highlights from the bill, which amends the state’s controlling Domestic Relations Law, by adding:

§ 10-a Parties to a marriage.

1. A Marriage that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage to the marriage are of the same or different sex.

2. No government treatment or legal status, effect, right, benefit, privilege, protection or responsibility relating to marriage, whether deriving from statute, administrative or court rule, public policy, canon law or any other source of law, shall differ based on the parties to the marriage being or having been of the same sex rather than a different sex. When necessary to implement the rights and responsibilities of spouses under the law, all gender-specific language or terms shall be construed in a gender neutral manner in all such sources of law.     

Eds. Note: Emphasis Added

Much, much more analysis to come in the coming days.

Friday, June 24, 2011

America's Greatest Ally

Just don't sail near their claimed "territory", or their government might murder you for no reason. This, according to the US State Department:
The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel. [...] On May 31, 2010, nine people were killed, including one U.S. citizen, in such an attempt.
Call me old fashioned, but this usually isn't a disclaimer you have to make with your supposed greatest ally in the history of the universe.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Class War Thursday

Click here to embiggen.

Things Are Worse Than Expected, Lets Do Nothing

More airport on my phone blogging, so no links, but there's no way I couldn't write something about the insanity of yesterday's Fed press conference.

The federal reserve operates under an aura that they are all knowing beings, and we should accept their decisions as having come from a higher, much smarter place. Because much of the media covers them that way, it's hard to break through and point out the insanity of what they're actually saying.

Yesterday Ben Bernanke said that he would readjust their projections for lower growth and higher unemployment than previously expected. He then went on to explain that he was going to do nothing to reduce unemployment or spur growth.

In response to a question, he said that massive cuts to the budget would not create jobs, and if anything would have a negative economic impact.

Then CNN Airport (yes, thats a real channel) switched to a segment on the deficit which included quotes from Barack Obama and various Republicans agreeing that massive budget cuts are important for creating jobs.

We are so fucked.

Afganistan Drawdown

I'm in an airport, so no links, but last night President Obama announced he would start a drawdown of our forces in Afghanistan as scheduled next month.

Someone on twitter quoted a democratic source as saying last night was the "Joe Biden was right" speech, and based on all the progress we've made in Afghanistan since the surge, that seems about right. The reduction of 30,000 troops by the end of the year isn't nearly enough and only undoes Obama's own escalation of the war, but at I was starting to get worried we wouldn't even get this level of "progress".

What you'd tell the family of someone whose son or daughter dies in Afghanistan during this multi-year draw down is beyond me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nobody Goes To Jail

WASHINGTON (AP) — JPMorgan Chase & Co. has agreed to pay $153.6 million to settle civil fraud charges that it misled buyers of complex mortgage investments just as the housing market was collapsing.

J.P. Morgan Securities, a division of the powerful Wall Street bank, failed to tell investors that a hedge fund helped select the investment portfolio and then bet that the portfolio would fail, the Securities and Exchange Commission said.

Among the investors who lost money on the deal were autoworkers for General Motors, a Lutheran financial organization in Minneapolis and a retirement services company in Topeka, Kan.

The settlement announced Tuesday is one of the most significant legal actions targeting Wall Street's role in the 2008 financial crisis. It comes a year after Goldman Sachs & Co. paid $550 million to settle similar charges.

Still, the settlement amounts to less than 1 percent of the bank's 2010 net income of $17.4 billion — or less than what JPMorgan earns in one week.

JPMorgan neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing under the settlement. The bank released a statement saying it lost nearly $900 million on the investment. It also noted that it reviewed similar mortgage investments and voluntarily paid $56 million to compensate some investors in those deals.

The bank agreed to settle the charges two weeks after Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., complained to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that new financial regulations designed to prevent another financial crisis were too burdensome on banks.
And this is how every case against Wall Street ends. With no jail time, no one losing their job, no one even having to say they're sorry. Jamie Dimon get a platform to talk about how there's too much government regulation, still be buds with Obama and Geithner, all like it never happened.

How I wish I could go back in time and tell Elliott Spitzer to stop sleeping with hookers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Opposite of Freedom

According to Newt Gingrich Obama is a Kenyan anti-colonialist and...
"He is a natural secular European socialist," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose campaign imploded last week when his top advisers resigned. "He is the opposite of freedom."
Can a person be the opposite of freedom? That seems like a very philosophical question.

It's a shame he won't be in the race longer, especially if he keeps up this 1 mass staff resignation per 2 months of campaigning ratio.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Watching Meet the Press and the other morning shows is almost always a blood pressure raising activity.

Luckily, we have the bobblespeak translations to get us through it. This is such a perfect sense of how the exchange went, but also the line we've been getting out of the administration about the potential of medicare cuts:
Gregory: wow Obama and Boehner
played golf together

Audience: so heartwarming

Gregory: Senator will Democrats finally cut Medicare?

Durbin: no

Gregory: that’s very disappointing

Durbin: everything will be on the table

Gregory: so will you please consider cutting
Medicare benefits?

Durbin: maybe
Read the whole thing, you won't regret it.

Heckuva Job, New Jersey Dems

What's the opposite of the courage shown by the Wisconsin State Democrats? I'd go with this:
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie and leading legislators ended months of negotiations tonight by announcing an agreement to roll back pension and health benefits for public employees.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) have bucked members of their party by pushing forward with the plan, a signature issue of the governor’s, angering public employee unions that have long allied themselves with Democrats.

Christie, who announced the agreement to a standing ovation while addressing a room full of business executives in Plainsboro tonight, thanked the legislative leaders for their work.
Although in fairness, not all their Democrats suck, just the ones running the show:
The agreement did not go down easy with all of the Legislature’s top Democrats, including Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan (D-Union), who emphasized that Oliver didn’t have a majority of Assembly Democrats on board.

"For those of us who haven’t sold out our party, we decline to accept. And for those of us who work for a living, we decline to agree," Cryan said in a telephone interview. "The Speaker doesn’t have the majority of her own caucus, and as the majority leader, I say she shouldn’t put it up. And as for the rest of us, we all want health care. We all believe in a better life for us and our children. And how terrible it is that the Democratic Party today chose to take a different path."

The legislation would force public employees to pay more for their pensions and health benefits and push back their retirement age. Although Christie and top Republicans have long pushed similar changes, tonight’s statement was their first public acknowledgment that they would back the Democrat-authored compromise legislation.
New Jersey's situation is particularly absurd, since the pension fund is in trouble because... *wait for it* the state stopped paying into it. And Governor Christie had a chance to pass a millionaires' tax to stop the shortfall, and didn't do it, because why do that when you can balance the budget on the backs of the state's super-rich teachers, firefighters and librarians.

I'd hope NJ's unions would draw a line in the sand and actively go against anyone who backs this deal in the next election, but we'll see. In a union dense state like New Jersey that could really make a difference, and it's the least they deserve.

Friday, June 17, 2011

AARP Sells Us Out

This is out of left field, and extremely worrisome:
AARP, the powerful lobbying group for older Americans, is dropping its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits, a move that could rock Washington's debate over how to revamp the nation's entitlement programs.

...."The ship was sailing. I wanted to be at the wheel when that happens," said John Rother, AARP's long-time policy chief and a prime mover behind its change of heart.

....There are limits to how far AARP is willing to go. The group will accept cuts, but won't champion them, and it is particularly leery of certain concepts such as eliminating benefits for wealthier recipients....It wants tax increases to fill most of the program's financial hole, and it insists that a deal must be crafted apart from broader deficit-reduction negotiations.
Fucking madness. There is absolutely no reason to do this, at all.

Social security will be 100% fine for another THIRTY YEARS. as Jon Walker pointed out on twitter, what government program, private company or human being can you say that about?

There is absolutely no reason to enter into any negotiations of any kind. This is so obvious to anyone paying attention that I can't believe that it has be said, but the people trying to cut social security or medicare don't care about it's solvency. Like, at all. They care about the fact that it exists.

If Social Security was fully funded for the next 200 years, they'd lie and say that it wasn't, because that's what they do. They want to destroy social security, and they don't give the slightest shit how they do it.

If AARP is stupid enough to think that if they agree with some "grand bargain" that takes the issue off the table forever, then they are out of their ever-loving minds.

AARP is the biggest group we have fighting against cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and helped kill Bush's privatization plan in 2005. This switch matters, and I hope it's not a sign that these cuts are further along than we thought.

Empathy Fail

Mitt Romney, net worth 200 million dollars:
"I should tell my story," Romney told a group of unemployed people in Florida. "I'm also unemployed."


Thursday, June 16, 2011


Saul Williams: “Volcanic Sunlight”

So a few years back Saul Williams put out an album with Trent Reznor called “The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust,” a title which is somehow both clever and a complete train wreck. Then he put out a spoken word album called NGH WHT or something, which reminded us all that spoken word poet Saul Williams frequently owns a lot harder than music-backed Saul Williams. Now out of nowhere Mr. Williams hits us with Volcanic Sunlight, an album no one knew about until it leaked.

I guess the idea was that it was just going to be released in France first, so maybe there’s been a bunch of press for him in French? Or maybe the dude just figured he would ignore all the lessons T.Rez taught him about releasing an album in the 21st century? Either way, it isn’t good when people who consider themselves fans of an artist don’t even know about an upcoming album until it leaks, and then decide to just download it because there don’t seem to be any plans for giving it a proper release anywhere outside of France.

Anyway, I was really excited to listen to it, and the first track “Look to the Sun” seemed to validate my excitement. It’s a lot poppier than any of the Niggy Tardust tracks, but you don’t even care because of how well it’s arranged. Then that song ends and the second track, “Patience,” begins. Have you seen that gif of some politician looking really happy and then presumably the main camera cuts to commercial or something and his face immediately converts to a frown? That was me during the transition between these two songs. “Patience” kinda bites.

There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground on “Volcanic Sunlight.” There are a bunch of really great songs, and then there are a few that should’ve been put in a capsule and dropped into the deepest ocean or shot into the sun or something. Luckily the whole thing ends on a good note- the last four, from “Rocket” to “New Day,” are really solid.

Overall I’d give it Three Train Stations and Two Cabooses on the Train Music Scale. It’s probably his most accessible album yet, as long as a handful of duds don’t turn you off from the entire thing.

ohGr: “unDeveloped”

ohGr has been getting better and better with each release. The first album in this ongoing Skinny Puppy side-project was pretty disappointing, with the sole exception of the weird masterpiece “Cracker.” Their second album, Sunnypsyop, was a marked improvement, featuring multiple songs that didn’t suck. It sounds like I’m being pretty harsh, but at that point I don’t think they ever really lived up to the expectations they created with “Cracker.” 2008’s “Devils in my Details” blew my mind, though- written and recorded over the course of just a few days, the songs on that album weave in and out of each other, with long transitions and intros tying together relatively short songs. It also set up a new formula for ohGr- really catchy, poppy singing intertwined with distorted beats. A fantastic album.

My expectations for unDeveloped weren’t very high, though. There’s been a lot of talk about problems between Skinny Puppy and their label, and suggestions that they had recorded a throwaway album to satisfy their contractual obligations. Then all of the sudden ohGr has this album that was recorded in secret at some point? Combine that with the title and I was pretty sure they hadn’t done anything on par with “Devils in my Details.”

Welp, I was wrong. “101” and “Crash” start off the album with the ferocity that Skinny Puppy used to have. The next block of songs are all winners- especially “Comedown,” which is probably the best thing ohGr has ever written. Stylistically they’ve kept a lot of what made DimD so cool- long brooding intros leading into well-written hooks and bits of theatricality that singer Kevin Ogilvie must have picked up during his recent spate of performing in musicals. “Bellew” and “tragek” are other highlights that sound like they could have mainstream appeal. Hell, I’d say the entire thing is non-stop goodness up until the last song breaks their spree. “Nitwitz” is a bit of a misstep, but after how good all the preceding songs have been, and considering that their first album had the exact opposite good/sucks ratio… I’ll forgive it.

It’s weird that ohGr seems to have eclipsed Skinny Puppy at this point, but DimD and now especially unDeveloped are better than anything Puppy has produced since the early 90s. Anyone looking for something electronic and new should think about giving it a listen, preferably on a good pair of speakers. Train Music Scale- 6 Piles of Coal, 2 Conductors, and a Well-Made Junction.

Just How Fucked Up Was The Bush Administration?

As someone who is a regular reader of Juan Cole's blog Informed Comment (and was during the Iraq war), this definitely caught my attention:
Glenn L. Carle, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was a top counterterrorism official during the administration of President George W. Bush, said the White House at least twice asked intelligence officials to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who writes an influential blog that criticized the war.

In an interview, Mr. Carle said his supervisor at the National Intelligence Council told him in 2005 that White House officials wanted “to get” Professor Cole, and made clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to collect information about him, an effort Mr. Carle rebuffed. Months later, Mr. Carle said, he confronted a C.I.A. official after learning of another attempt to collect information about Professor Cole. Mr. Carle said he contended at the time that such actions would have been unlawful.

It is not clear whether the White House received any damaging material about Professor Cole or whether the C.I.A. or other intelligence agencies ever provided any information or spied on him. Mr. Carle said that a memorandum written by his supervisor included derogatory details about Professor Cole, but that it may have been deleted before reaching the White House. Mr. Carle also said he did not know the origins of that information or who at the White House had requested it.
Juan's take:
Carle’s revelations come as a visceral shock. You had thought that with all the shennanigans of the CIA against anti-Vietnam war protesters and then Nixon’s use of the agency against critics like Daniel Ellsberg, that the Company and successive White Houses would have learned that the agency had no business spying on American citizens.

I believe Carle’s insider account and discount the glib denials of people like Low. Carle is taking a substantial risk in making all this public. I hope that the Senate and House Intelligence Committees will immediately launch an investigation of this clear violation of the law by the Bush White House and by the CIA officials concerned. Like Mr. Carle, I am dismayed at how easy it seems to have been for corrupt WH officials to suborn CIA personnel into activities that had nothing to do with national security abroad and everything to do with silencing domestic critics. This effort was yet another attempt to gut the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, in this case as part of an effort to gut the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

I should point out that my blog was begun in 2002 with an eye toward analyzing open source information on the struggle against al-Qaeda. In 2003 I also began reporting on the unfolding Iraq War. My goal was to help inform the public and to present sources and analysis on the basis of my expertise as a Middle East and South Asia expert. In 2003-2005 and after I on a few occasions was asked to speak to military and intelligence professionals, most often as part of an inter-agency audience, and I presented to them in person distillations of my research. I never had a direct contract with the CIA, but some of the think tanks that every once in a while asked me to speak were clearly letting analysts and field officers know about the presentations (which were most often academic panels of a sort that would be mounted at any academic conference), and they attended. I should underline that these presentations involved small travel expenses and a small honorarium, and that I wasn’t a high-paid consultant but clearly was expected to speak my views and share my conclusions frankly. It was not a regular gig. Apparently one of the purposes of spying on me to discredit me, from the point of view of the Bush White House, was ironically to discourage Washington think tanks from inviting me to speak to the analysts, not only of the CIA but also the State Department Intelligence and Research and other officials concerned with counter-terrorism and with Iraq.

It seemed likely to some colleagues, according to what they told me, that the Bush administration had in fact succeeded in having me blackballed, since the invitations rather dropped off, and panels of a sort I had earlier participated in were being held without my presence. I do not know if smear tactics were used to produce this result, behind the scenes and within the government. It was all the same to me– I continued to provide what I believe was an important service to the Republic at my blog and I know for a fact that not only intelligence analysts but members of the Bush team continued to read some of what I wrote.

What alarms me most of all in the nakedly illegal deployment of the CIA against an academic for the explicit purpose of destroying his reputation for political purposes is that I know I am a relatively small fish and it seems to me rather likely that I was not the only target of the baleful team at the White House. After the Valerie Plame affair, it seemed clear that there was nothing those people wouldn’t stoop to. You wonder how many critics were effectively “destroyed.” It is sad that a politics of personal destruction was the response by the Bush White House to an attempt of a citizen to reason in public about a matter of great public interest. They have brought great shame upon the traditions of the White House, which go back to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, who had hoped that checks and balances would forestall such abuses of power.
Pretty unbelievable stuff.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Less Race-Baiting, More Racism

I expect the worst from fox news, this is revolting even by their standards.
Bolling: "What's With All The Hoods In The Hizzy?" During the June 10 edition of his Fox Business show, Follow the Money, Bolling teased a segment about Obama hosting Ali Bongo Ondimba, president of Gabon, by saying: "Guess who's coming to dinner? A dictator. Mr. Obama shares a laugh with one of Africa's kleptocrats. It's not the first time he's had a hoodlum in the hizzouse." In a subsequent tease, Bolling said, "Smile for the birdie," while footage of a smiling Bongo with a flashing tooth, apparently made to resemble a gold-plated tooth, was shown on-air. Bolling continued: "Our president's sitting with one of Africa's most wanted. It's not the first time he's had a hood in the big crib." Footage of rapper Common appeared on air as Bolling spoke. Bolling began the actual segment by saying: "So what's with all the hoods in the hizzy?" [Fox Business, Follow the Money, 6/10/11, via Media Matters]
. . .
Bolling Tweet: Obama Is "Chugging 40's" In Ireland "While Tornadoes Ravage MO." Promoting the May 23 edition of his Fox Business show, Bolling wrote on his Twitter feed: "Obama chugging 40's in IRE while tornadoes ravage MO. Very intense show tonight. Beck and Mike Gallager, Rep..."
. . .
Bolling On Obama's Budget Proposal: "Maybe" It Makes Sense "In Kenya, But Certainly Not Here."Discussing Obama's budget proposal, Bolling stated: "How does increasing taxes count as spending cuts in your world, Mr. Obama? Maybe in Kenya, but certainly not here. This plan will amount to deficit increases, not reductions. It's a load of crap, and I'm offended that you think we're dumb enough to accept your math or your plan."
If this were anywhere else you'd be waiting on the details of his suspension, but Fox News, where racism is the feature, not the bug.

Monday, June 13, 2011

While Rome Burns...

The government wastes money. Let's cut heating assistance for old people to solve this fake problem!

Lolz! Don't you get it? This video is funny cause the government sucks! Obama's saying that, and he's a Democrat! This wins you a prize or something!

And thank god we're no longer at the mercy of those domain host fat cats! That's such an economic burden that I can afford it!

Two years ago Joe Biden was asked to chair the "Middle Class Task Force", which was designed focus on economic issues for the non-rich. I'm guessing they asked him to do this once the administration gave up on having a middle class.

Obama And Wall Street: Romance Renewed

After their fake break up, everyone is friends again!
WASHINGTON — A few weeks before announcing his re-election campaign, President Obama convened two dozen Wall Street executives, many of them longtime donors, in the White House’s Blue Room.

The guests were asked for their thoughts on how to speed the economic recovery, then the president opened the floor for over an hour on hot issues like hedge fund regulation and the deficit.

Mr. Obama, who enraged many financial industry executives a year and a half ago by labeling them “fat cats” and criticizing their bonuses, followed up the meeting with phone calls to those who could not attend.

The event, organized by the Democratic National Committee, kicked off an aggressive push by Mr. Obama to win back the allegiance of one of his most vital sources of campaign cash — in part by trying to convince Wall Street that his policies, far from undercutting the investor class, have helped bring banks and financial markets back to health.

Last month, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, traveled to New York for back-to-back meetings with Wall Street donors, ending at the home of Marc Lasry, a prominent hedge fund manager, to court donors close to Mr. Obama’s onetime rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton. And Mr. Obama will return to New York this month to dine with bankers, hedge fund executives and private equity investors at the Upper East Side restaurant Daniel.

“The first goal was to get recognition that the administration has led the economy from an unimaginably difficult place to where we are today,” said Blair W. Effron, an investment banker closely involved in Mr. Obama’s fund-raising efforts. “Now the second goal is to turn that into support.”

The president’s top financial industry supporters say they are confident that the support Mr. Obama needs will ultimately be there, despite the financial industry’s unhappiness over his efforts to tighten regulation of their businesses. But it is clear that those supporters will have to work much harder to win over the financial services industry than they did in 2008, before Wall Street’s bust, the subsequent clashes over policy and the sometimes bitter personal differences that lingered afterward.
I'm sure the discussion over those "hot button issues" was intense.

The Deficit: "The only thing that is off the table is enforcing our corporate tax laws"

Hedge fund regulation: "Uhhh, maybe later?"

Jail: "Don't worry, Holder's got his priorities in order!"

I also love that these TITANS OF CAPITALISM have the emotinal makeup of middle school lovers. Yeah, he gave us tons of money, protected our bonuses and refuses to prosecute the fraud we commited... but he called us "fat cats" and WORDS HURT!

Ratcheting up the stupid, the article includes a quote from a hedge fund manager who supported Obama in 2008 but is backing Romney this time because "I’m really not an ideological guy, and I think the country right now needs more practical, less partisan people." (Vomit everywhere)

And going back to the depressing, this section seems pretty telling:
To offset those defections, Mr. Obama’s campaign has deployed a corps of loyal Wall Street supporters who have fanned out to defend the president’s record and stoke fatigued donors. They include Robert Wolf, the chief executive of UBS Group Americas; the hedge fund managers Orin S. Kramer and Eric Mindich; and Mark T. Gallogly, a co-founder of Centerbridge Partners.

Mr. Mindich and Mr. Wolf were among those at the White House meeting, along with some prominent names from the hedge fund world: James G. Dinan of York Capital Management, Glenn Dubin of Highbridge Capital Management and Paul Tudor Jones.

Members of the president’s economic team and his chief of staff, William M. Daley, a former banking executive, have been more active in reaching out to Wall Street executives about policy issues, donors said, along with Mr. Messina and Patrick Gaspard, the D.N.C.’s executive director.

The campaign and its allies are also seeking to recruit a new group of high-level bundlers, supporters who recruit other donors. They include Antonio Weiss, the global head of investment banking at Lazard; Charles Myers, a senior managing director at Evercore Partners; and James E. Staley, the head of JPMorgan Chase’s investment bank.

The campaign is also courting prominent Wall Street figures who could serve as Mr. Obama’s ambassadors at firms known for leaning Republican: Lenard B. Tessler, a managing director at Cerberus Capital who donated to Mr. Romney and Mrs. Clinton in 2008, and Hamilton E. James, the president of the private equity behemoth Blackstone.
It should also be noted that with this much attention focused on courting this class of donors, issues that matter to these donors will take priority. Issues that don't, wont.

There's not a high unemployment rate among hedge fund managers, in case you haven't noticed.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Everything is wrong with this chart


Drug offenses and immigration "crimes" are both ludicrously high.

Despite the tens of thousands of cases of fraud that helped cause the banking crisis and recession, virtually no one is incarcerated in that category.

Literally 0.0% of the US prison system is dedicated to national security prisoners. That's not because there aren't any – it's because they're all held in military bases in foreign countries where little inconveniences like the rule of law don't get in the way.

Oh my fuck.

On a slightly lighter note, David Simon has agreed to do another season of The Wire if the US agrees to end to the drug war.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Train of Thought Lounge: Crush

Since it's Friday, I thought you might enjoy some music in the Lounge.

This one happens to be by my roommate, Tom Gardner. A lapsed but Juilliard-trained saxophonist, Tommy recorded this EP in his bedroom using the internal mic of his 7-year-old powerbook (remember when they were called that?). This setup helps give his music a 21st century garage band feel that goes well with the soothing, slightly heartbroken tones of brooklyn pop.

I may be a little biased, but I think it's killer.

I also like the name Crush, not because it's commercially comfortable and descriptive, but because when Tommy makes the shift over to black metal he can change the name to CRUSH without skipping a beat.

I'm like 10% kidding. That's probably going to happen. He's like four songs into the metal album already.

Mitt Romney: Economic Wunderkind

You hardly hear anyone talk about Mitt Romney without some form of the words "businessman" "business experience" or "non Kenyan white guy" being thrown around. With that in mind, it's worth point out what Mitt Romney's business experience was, and how he made his money.

Take it away, Colbert!

Striving for Pain

Atrios really nails it here. Things sound so harmless and fuzzy when we talk about reducing the deficit over lowering unemployment. The truth is, for whatever reason, the administration has made the decision to actively inflict pain on those who are already hurting the most:
We know how to improve the state of the economy. We also know that improving the economy would magically reduce the deficit. But the powers that be want to make "tough choices" that cause mass human suffering, kind of like the "tough choices" involved in sending other people to die in pointless stupid wars.
How intense is their desire to ruin the economy and inflict pain? Even great bastion of liberalism known as the Senate Democratic caucus is worried enough that they've with a jobs bill. It is enough? Not even close.

Will it pass? Probably not, and even if it did I'm sure declare war on Iran and eliminate the capital gains tax to get it Republicans to sign on.

So what did the White House say about this effort:
The Obama administration on Tuesday night might have thrown a wrench into Senate Democratic plans to pass what they see as a jobs bill — by implying the bill spends too much money.

In a Statement of Administration Policy, the White House said it supports the broad goals of the bill.

"However, the bill would authorize spending levels higher than those requested by the president’s Budget, and the administration believes that the need for smart investments that help America win the future must be balanced with the need to control spending and reduce the deficit," the administration said.
Yep. They say it does too much.

Also: The administration still says "win the future"? Are you fucking kidding me?

I can't articulate how awful the 2012 election is going to be. Bullshit and stupidity everywhere.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Team of Rivals Geithner

According to this article, Geithner has become Obama most trusted economic advisor. Be very afraid.
Even before the president had been inaugurated, Geithner had been urging him to set a target for the budget deficit that would require shrinking its size to 3 percent of the U.S. economy. At that level, the national debt would eventually become manageable.

“From the earliest moments of the administration and even before, he clearly had a big focus on long-term deficit reduction and making clear, not just to the markets but for the entire economy, that the government is living within its means,” Goolsbee said in an interview.

The economic team went round and round. Geithner would hold his views close, but occasionally he would get frustrated. Once, as Romer pressed for more stimulus spending, Geithner snapped. Stimulus, he told Romer, was “sugar,” and its effect was fleeting. The administration, he urged, needed to focus on long-term economic growth, and the first step was reining in the debt.

Wrong, Romer snapped back. Stimulus is an “antibiotic” for a sick economy, she told Geithner. “It’s not giving a child a lollipop.”

In the end, Obama signed into law only a relatively modest $13 billion jobs program, much less than what was favored by Romer and many other economists in the administration.

“There was this move to exit fiscal stimulus a lot sooner than we should have, and we’ve been playing catch-up ever since,” Romer said in an interview.

Some of Obama’s Democratic allies felt let down. Andrew Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union, said in an interview that Geithner looks at the world “from his experience, which is predominantly a Wall Street, Treasury, fiscal and monetary policy point of view.”


I thought this passage was telling as well:
Even as Geithner stumbled in his first months, Obama stood by him. And they grew closer, their relationship nurtured by daily meetings and occasional basketball games. “They don’t get worked up when things are going wrong. They don’t get worked up if things are going well,” a senior White House official said.
While I understand it's a bad thing if the President or someone advising him are losing their shit constantly for no reason, I gotta say this worried me quite a bit.

Things are really "going wrong" with the economy.

I think 9% unemployment is something worth "getting worked up" about.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

It Continues...

With bipartisan Bibi love fest that took place last week, it's worth pointing out these are actions that we're directly supporting, and have the power to stop.
JERUSALEM — Israeli forces fired at pro-Palestinian protesters on the Syrian frontier on Sunday as they tried to breach the border for the second time in three weeks, reflecting a new mode of popular struggle and deadly confrontation fueled by turmoil in the Arab world and the vacuum of stalled peace talks.

Wave after wave of protesters, mainly Palestinians from refugee camps in Syria, approached the frontier with the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Israeli soldiers opened fire on those who crossed a new trench and tried to attack the border fence near the towns of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights and Quneitra in Syria.

By nightfall, the Syrian news agency SANA reported that 22 protesters had been killed and more than 350 had been wounded. Israeli officials said that they had no information on casualties but suggested that the Syrian figures were exaggerated.

Even so, it was the worst bloodshed in the Golan Heights since Israel and Syria fought a war there in 1973.
Been said a million times but it's worth pointing out. It's not an abstract idea, shit like this is why people hate us.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

One Really, Really, Really Bad Call

Krugman on "The Pivot":
Christy Romer talks about the economic debate (pdf) in the fall of 2009:
Like the Federal Reserve, the Administration and Congress should have done more in the fall of 2009 and early 2010 to aid the recovery. I remember that fall of 2009 as a very frustrating one. It was very clear to me that the economy was still struggling, but the will to do more to help it had died.
There was a definite split among the economics team about whether we should push for more fiscal stimulus, or switch our focus to the deficit.
This matches what I was hearing. And it tells you that it wasn’t just the Republicans: a substantial faction within the administration was eager to “pivot” away from the jobs issue. Christy also tells us that the Fed shifted its focus from promoting expansion to exit around the same time.

All of this represented awesome folly. By fall 2009 it was obvious that the pessimists — those who warned that the aftermath of the financial crisis would be a prolonged period of high unemployment, not the V-shaped recession and recovery envisioned in the original stimulus plan — had been right. The case for doing more — and at least for demanding more action, so that the other party could at least be accused of obstructionism — was overwhelming.

Yet even within the administration, people were itching for a switch to deficit hawkery.

Future historians will look back at this, and marvel. Of course, it’s just part of the broader story of how bad economic ideas — the very ideas that were proved wrong by the crisis, and continue to be proved wrong by subsequent events — have come to dominate the discourse.
Obama ignored focusing on a real problem (unemployment) and instead used the administration's energy on a fake one (the deficit). The effects of long term unemployment are staggering at a human level, and it's unthinkable that the Administration sought to "switch their focus" away from this crisis.

It also means that if the Republicans chose a walking-talking cardboard cutout as their nominee, there's a decent shot that he gets elected president.

Heckuva Job.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Joe Buck Discusting Act of The Week: Joe Scarborough

Warning: Do not watch this video unless you want to be sent into a blinding rage. (via crooks and liars) (and thanks to Kari for reminding me to bring this feature back)

There are two things that particularly struck me about this segment:

1. There are no facts present, at any time during the rant or afterwards. Medicare cost are rising because health care costs are rising, and medicare is actually the cheapest/best/most efficient health care system we have in the US. I'd say I was shocked when no one corrects him, but when he's "debating" Harold Ford, I don't expect much.

2. This is how actually how many "serious" pundits in DC view social security and medicare. It's not a program people pay into with their paychecks each month that keeps the elderly living and out of poverty, it's a lavish giveaway to greedy old people who don't deserve it.

And even though I understand that this is how the right has always viewed Medicare and Social Security, I'm a bit taken aback that they're now empowered (for unknown reasons) to say this shit out loud.

Fucking monsters.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Greatest Kabuki of Them All

Everyone agrees that not raising the debt ceiling would destroy the world economy, yet the Republicans are using it as leverage to get concessions out of the White House.

Would the Republicans be willing to destroy the world economy in order to score political points? I wouldn't put it past them. However... the large corporations who paid quite a bit of money to get the GOP into office would not be too happy if the world economy tanked, and unlike the crazy people who elected a Republican house, they most certainly have enough leverage to force their hand.

But hey, don't trust me, take their word for it! This stuff is hardly a secret:
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WAVE) - Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Republicans have agreed to raise the debt limit. Although the issue is still being debated in Congress, Geithner said on Meet the Press that GOP leaders have already assured President Obama they will pass an increase in the government's borrowing limit. Geithner said not doing so would hurt the nation's credit rating and diminish worldwide confidence in the United States economy.
They're so serious about this they've called their Wall Street masters to assure them that they're not serious!
Just in case, Republican leaders scheduled the vote for after the stock market’s close, and in the preceding days called Wall Street executives to assure them that the vote was just for show, to show Mr. Obama that he would have to make concessions in budget negotiations if a debt-limit increase is to pass Congress.
You'd think that once you admit you're bluffing, the "negotiations" would be over. Yet the Democrats seem hell bent on having them, and  bringing some some heavy shit to the table:
Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House Democratic Whip, says he's confident Republicans and Democrats will ultimately reach an agreement to raise the debt limit.

Speaking to reporters following the Democrats' meeting at the White House, Hoyer said, "The markets ought to know we're going to get it done. I've told Speaker Boehner and leader [Eric] Cantor that I will work with them the leader will work with them in making sure that we get this done."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, another Maryland Democrat, acknowledged, however, that tough negotiations remain. "We have made progress on some important issues," Van Hollen told reporters. "Have we engaged on some huge, what I would refer to as politically nuclear issues? No. But the reality is you have to begin to walk with the first step."
From here on out, I'm going to go under the assumption that anything the Democrats cut in the Debt Ceiling negotiations is something they wanted to do away with anyway. Am I missing something?

Breaking Down Bibi's Bullshit

After the media whirlwind that came and went with Netanyahu's visit to the US, there was a key element missing from much of the coverage: fact checking his speech. Luckily Hagai El-Ad from +972 did the work, breaking down a section from his speech and comparing it with the facts about the Palestinian occupation:
“This path [to liberty] is not paved by elections alone. It is paved when governments permit protests in town squares, when limits are placed on the powers of rulers, when judges are beholden to laws and not men, and when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before a joint meeting of Congress, May 24, 2011

The focus in Netanyahu’s speech on the – truly – “epic battle now unfolding in the Middle East” was likely meant to invoke images from Tahrir Square while diverting any attention from Israel’s own failures as we stumble and fall on the path of liberty. Indeed, as the sages have taught us, “he who wants to lie, will distance his testimony.” So, let’s try this paragraph out – not an ocean away or even in one of the neighboring countries, but rather in a place where Netanyahu’s government actually is accountable to whether these words amount to something: Let’s unpack this nth standing ovation – in the occupied Palestinian territories.

…when governments permit protests in town squares“: In the occupied territories, the IDF views all demonstrations, including non-violent protests, as illegal breaches of public order. Local Palestinian leadership involved in organizing protests is targeted by the security forces – harassed, interrogated, detained, and jailed. Casualties among demonstrators have been recorded in numerous protests throughout the territories over recent years.

… when limits are placed on the powers of rulers“: The occupied territories are subject to military law. International conventions meant to place limits on the powers of rulers in such situations are constantly violated. From the transfer of parts of Israel’s own civilian population into the territory it occupies to limiting the access of Palestinians to some of their own lands, the ruler of the occupied territories is using its powers to advance the interests of the occupying power over the rights of the occupied people.

… when judges are beholden to laws“: To begin with, many of Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) rulings, over the years, backed actions by the military commander that were not beholden to international law. Some examples include house demolitions, deportations, allowing the building of settlements and the route of the separation barrier within the occupied territories. Further, the legal system in the occupied territories is separate and discriminatory at its core; the occupied Palestinians are subject to military law, while the Israeli settlers living in the occupied territories are subject to a different legal system – to Israel’s civilian courts. Further compounding this lawless reality is the lack of accountability of Israeli security forces, the lack of enforcement in the many cases of settler violence, and the fact that the government itself ignores some decisions of Israel’s own HCJ. In the occupied territories, the “law” itself is a core aspect of how an indefensibly unjust system perpetuates itself.

“… when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule”: if anything, the prolonged occupation – now in its fifth decade – demonstrates how human rights can be crushed as the ruler prevents protests and limits other forms of freedom of speech, when the ruler breaches limits on its powers, when judges do not enforce the law – and when the law itself is unjust.
Watching his speech honestly reminded me a lot of the Bush Iraq war era speeches. You got a sense from both the speaker and the audience that if the clapped loud enough and all believe it hard enough, everything would actually become true.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Play Ball or Live With The Consequences"

It's a popular line among people such as myself that no one on Wall Street has faced any consequences for fraud/speculation/greed/destroying the economy that they committed.

This is not true. The whistleblowers get punished:
Whistle-blowers, truth-tellers and fraud-spotters pay a miserable price on Wall Street. They are vilified. They are fired. Sometimes they are even sued. Instead of being sought after, they become persona non grata.

In this column, co-published with New York Times' DealBook, I monitor the financial markets to hold companies, executives and government officials accountable for their actions. Tips? Praise? Contact me at

Recently, I caught up with David Maris, a one-time star pharmaceutical analyst for Bank of America who became embroiled in one of the most notorious bull/bear battles of the last decade. His story encapsulates just how broken Wall Street culture is.

In 2003, Mr. Maris put out a sell report on Biovail, a Canadian drug company. He fixed on the company's bizarre explanation of why it had missed its earnings estimates: a truck carrying a supposedly huge amount of medicine crashed at the very end of the quarter. Mr. Maris detailed why this was wildly implausible.

Desperate to deflect the attention, Biovail took the offensive. It sued Mr. Maris and Bank of America in early 2006. It also sued SAC Capital Advisors, the hedge fund, and Gradient Analytics, an independent research firm, claiming a giant conspiracy to drive down its stock price with false reports.

For a time, Bank of America stood by Mr. Maris. But it eventually caved and fired him — two weeks before the end of 2006, enabling it to not pay his bonus. Mr. Maris is now in arbitration, seeking $21 million in back pay.

"For the first few days, there were high-fives and a lot of media attention," Mr. Maris said. "People said this is what research should be. But then reality strikes the bank." Lawsuits and media coverage are unpleasant and unwanted.
I don't want to create the impression that Mr. Maris is suffering. He isn't. He works at CLSA, a relatively unknown but important research shop, owned by a French bank that encourages its analysts to pursue independent lines of inquiry. Another analyst who has long been a truth-teller on banks, Mike Mayo, has also landed there.

But because Mr. Maris is willing to be publicly negative on stocks, he continues to face obstacles. He is prevented from asking questions on conference calls. Companies don't allow him to bring clients on visits. Some clients seem concerned about the lawsuits in his past.

"If you asked me what's my advice for a young analyst who wants to be in business for a long time, I wouldn't tell them to follow the path I went," he says. On Wall Street, "everyone knows you play ball or live with the consequences."

The Train of Thought Lounge–Shaq–“I’m Outstanding”

Certain moments make people feel a lot older than they really are.  Celebrating graduations, attending a good friend’s wedding and the like. 

Personally, I feel old when I see athletes retire – specifically that first batch of athletes from the early-mid 1990’s.  I can still remember the ‘92 draft because of all the hype surrounding Zo, that guy from Duke who used to have an ownership stake in DC United and Shaq, and because of the 1992 Dream Team Olympics.

So in honor of Shaq Diesel’s retirement after 19 years (Holy Crap – he’s 39?!?!?!) I give you the smash hit of his album Shaq Diesel – “I’m Outstanding”

Just be thankful I didn’t include the Fu Schnickens in this post .

And as a bonus – Shaq breaking backboards back in the day:

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Damn You Greedy Teachers

Some lavish lifestyles enjoyed by some government employees is enough to make you cringe:
Gov. Chris Christie arrived at his son's baseball game this afternoon aboard a State Police helicopter.

Right before the lineup cards were being exchanged on the field, a noise from above distracted the spectators as the 55-foot long helicopter buzzed over trees in left field, circled the outfield and landed in an adjacent football field. Christie disembarked from the helicopter and got into a black car with tinted windows that drove him about a 100 yards to the baseball field.

During the 5th inning, Christie and First Lady Mary Pat Christie got into the car, rode back to the helicopter and left the game. During a pitching change, play was stopped for a couple of minutes while the helicopter took off.
I understand that a governor might need to use a helicopter now and then but when you're telling teachers, firefighters and police officers that they're greedy leaches on the system... what an asshole.