Thursday, December 27, 2012

"These people are so evil. They’re basically Fascists. It’s unbelievable.”

This article with stories from the National Review cruise is pretty great and worth reading:
After drinks, we moved to the Manhattan Dining Room, an elegant two-story restaurant at the ship’s stern, where we would meet each evening, tabled with a different assortment of cruisers, sometimes hosted by writers and pundits from the National Review. Kevin Hassett, a former economic adviser to Mitt Romney, hosted my table of eight that night, arriving in a bright-green golf shirt and rimless glasses. He announced that this would be a “family” conversation in which he was the moderator.

“Minorities came out like crazy,” said Hassett, sighing. “White people didn’t get to the polls. There are far more African-­Americans voting than they expected.”

“In Tampa,” noted Bobbie, a petite woman from Vero Beach, Florida, “they had lots and lots of lines.”

Hassett, with an oddly cheerful, Oh-What-My-Country-Has-Done-Now mien, predicted economic doom under Obama, the most likely scenario being another Great Depression, which would make 2008 look like a joyride.
As we drained the Pinot Noir, Hassett gave his audience the insider’s view of the Romney campaign, describing how its election-monitoring software crashed on November 6 and Obama was probably behind it, “because those guys are so evil.”

The table grumbled in assent.

“The thing we have to understand is, these are people who don’t have any morals,” said Hassett. “They’ll do anything. I’m one of their No. 1 targets. I mean, they really want me bad.”

“Well, you’re safe on this ship!” said Bobbie boldly.

Then Hassett pivoted to the liberal media. “I actually think that Goebbels was more critical of Hitler than the New York Times is of Obama,” said Hassett, tucking into a piece of strudel. “I was in the middle of the fight against the propaganda, and I have stories like you wouldn’t believe. These people are so evil. They’re basically Fascists. It’s unbelievable.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Led By Delusional Morons, Right Until The End

This whole article about Mitt Romney's campaign is interesting, but this is particularly awesome:
Arriving at his suite in the Westin Boston Waterfront ­hotel, Romney received regular updates from his staff. He made small talk about the Patriots and the Celtics and played with his grandchildren. He was about to concede around 11:15 p.m when Republican strategist Karl Rove made his now-infamous appearance on Fox News Channel, insisting that his own network was wrong in calling Ohio for the president.

The concession call was canceled, followed by an hour of uncertainty. Then, after Fox ­executives dismissed Rove’s concerns and stood by the network’s projection, Romney said: Call the president.
Someone heard Karl Rove's insane ramblings and said "wait! wait, let's see how this plays out"... and then waited another HOUR. One of those people was almost president.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Saved by the Tea Party... AGAIN.

Conservatives in the house publicly humiliated John Boehner last night, rejecting his messaging bill in pretty spectacular fashion. I tend to agree with David Dayen here that this prevents any future deals until the 3rd, after the vote for speaker goes down. So going with the assumption that we end up going over the fiscal cliff, this would provide the second time that President Obama has tried his hardest to cut our social insurance programs, only for these plans to be stopped not by fellow democrats or liberal groups, but by the tea party. This seems like an opportune time to examine where we stand in relationship with the Democratic party.

The main push for Social Security and Medicare cuts over these last two years has come directly from President Obama, there is no way around that (read this from Jane Hamsher for a depressing play by play). He seems hell bent on including it in negotiations from here on out, so we should do whatever we can to call him on having done so and try to shame him into not doing so. He seems pretty committed, but bringing up how much he wants to do something insanely unpopular can't hurt. Reid and Pelosi didn't get to their respective positions by talking out of turn, so I fully expected them to fall in line and support whatever Obama was pushing. I was slightly surprised at the soullessness of Pelosi cheerfully advocating for chained CPI as way of strengthening Social Security. Don't click that link on a full stomach.

But the most disgusting of the lot and the only one that actually felt like a betrayal was Rich Trumka. Watching someone who I like and respect a great deal, not strongly opposing a benefit cut to social security given away in unnecessary negotiations to solve a nonexistent problem is a bit tough to take. Unions should demand that he take back his statement or resign. And if he won't, they should take votes on pulling out of the AFL-CIO. There will always be crappy political leaders to hold us back, but we get to choose those who lead our organizations and shit like this just can't be tolerated under any circumstances.

It's a time for being thankful that the tea party exists and killed this deal, but it's also a time for introspection into our side and ask how the fuck that nearly happened, what needs to change and what can be done. I'll hopefully have some more posts on these topics as I'm able to digest what just happened. But for now, we can breathe deep until after Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Year of Bank Fraud

I don't normally like to cut and paste this much so please click on the link, but wow. The year in bank fraud, from Felix Salmon's great blog on Reuters:
Bank of America: the US Justice Department is seeking $1 billion in fines for troubled loans sold to Fannie and Freddie; MBIA’s lawsuit against Countrywide, which was disastrously acquired by BofA, rolls on; BofA is one of five banks participating in the $25 billion national mortgage settlement. (Price to book: 0.56, here and throughout via Yahoo Finance)
Bank of China: the families of Israeli students killed in a 2008 terrorist attack are suing the BOC for $1 billion “intentionally and recklessly” handling money for terrorist groups.
Bank of New York Mellon: a subsidiary paid $210 million to settle claims it advised clients to invest in Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme; the DOJ continues to investigate possible overcharges for currency trades that it says generated $1.5 billion in revenue. (Price to book: 0.86)
Barclays: $450 million settlement in the Libor scandal; also fined by the FSA for mis-sold interest rate hedges. (Price to book: 0.72)
BBVA: settled overdraft suit for $11.5 million. (Price to book: 0.83)
Citigroup: settled CDO lawsuit for $590 million; one of five banks participating in the $25 billionnational mortgage settlement; paid $158 million to settle charges it “defaulted the government into insuring” risky mortgages. (Price to book: 0.62)
Credit Suisse: sued by NY state for allegedly deceiving investor in the sale of MBS. (Price to book: 0.85)
Deutsche Bank: settled a DOJ mortgage suit for $202 million; FHFA fraud case is ongoing. (Price to book: 0.56)
Goldman Sachs: FHFA fraud case is ongoing; after a ruling by federal appeals court, a class action lawsuit over MBS will go forward. (Price to book: 0.91)
Crédit Agricole: sued by CDO investors two times. (Price to book: 0.35)
HSBC: settled money laundering charges for $1.9 billion; set aside $1 billion for future settlements related to mis-selling loan insurance and interest rate hedges in the UK; Libor settlement still to be reached. (Price to book: 1.17)
ING: settled charges that it violated sanctions against Iran, Cuba, etc. for $619 million. (Price to book: 0.5)
JP Morgan Chase: being sued by NY state for MBS issued by Bear Stearnsclass action lawsuitand criminal probe over failed derivatives trades in its Chief Investment Office; one of five banks participating in the $25 billion national mortgage settlement. (Price to book:0.87)
Mitsubishi UFJ: paid an $8.6 million fine for violating US sanctions on Iran, Sudan, Myanmar and Cuba. (Price to book: 0.54)
Morgan Stanley: fined $5 million for improper investment banking influence over research during Facebook’s IPO. (Price to book: 0.63)
Royal Bank of Scotland: $5.37 billion shareholder lawsuit related to 2008 rights issuance; set aside $650 million to cover claims it mis-sold payment protection products; also fined by the FSA for mis-sold interest rate hedges. (Price to book: 0.28)
Santander: fined by the FSA for mis-sold interest rate hedges. (Price to book: 0.77)
Société Générale: rogue trader Jerome Kerviel loses appeal his appeal 3-year sentence for trades that generated $6.5 billion in losses. (Price to book: 0.45)
Standard Chartered: $340 million fine paid to NY state department of financial services for allegedly hiding the identity of customers in transactions with Iran and drug cartels; $327 millionpaid to the Federal Reserve and US Treasury’s anti-money laundering unit.
State Street: fined $5 million for lack of CDO disclosure. (Price to book: 1.09)
UBS: $1.5 billion Libor fine and two traders criminally charged; rogue trader responsible for $2.3 billion loss found guilty of false accounting. (Price to book: 1.12)
Wells Fargo: Federal lawsuit over mortgage foreclosure practices ongoing; paid $175 million over mortgage bias claims; one of five banks participating in the $25 billion national mortgage settlement. (Price to book: 1.29) — Ben Walsh
If you or I decided to rob $50 from the 7-11, we'd be in jail for quite some time. These fines are a joke. Send a CEO or two to prison and this list doesn't exist next year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Obama Offers Social Security Cuts in Latest Deal

The proposal to change how Social Security calculates inflation sounds benign, but it's far from it. David Dayen:
First of all, this is a benefit cut of about 0.3% a year, as Dean Baker points out. He adds that “This loss would be cumulative through time so that after 10 years the cut would be roughly 3 percent, after 20 years 6 percent, and after 30 years 9 percent.” Actually if we started using chained CPI in 2002, we’d be 3.6% behind today. That’s well over $1,000 a year, and the situation grows worse over time. So the greatest impact would be on the oldest seniors, which happens to correlate with the poorest.
If you think that senior citizens have had it too good for too long, getting that sweet sweet cost of living adjustment to make them unfairly wealthy, then maybe you think chained CPI is a solid idea. If you think that the highest expense for a senior is medical costs, that seniors don’t exactly comparison shop when they need medical care, that they cannot substitute along those lines, and that a cost of living index that features that substitution effect prominently doesn’t correspond to the real costs seniors face, well, you would be right.
But it makes sense in Washington to “get a deal,” regardless of the consequences of that deal on our seniors. We just had a national conversation about how the primary task of government was to protect the vulnerable. How quickly we forget.

There are a couple variables in the reporting. First of all, Administration sources say that they plan to protect “the most vulnerable populations.” For example, they don’t want to apply chained CPI to wounded veterans and the disabled on Supplemental Security Income. This is an admission that people will get hurt by chained CPI; they’re just trying to manage the fallout. The rest of the ways to protect the most vulnerable haven’t been defined. Usually, you see some sort of “bump-up” in benefits to compensate for the changes to the COLA, particularly for the poorest recipients. However, the National Women’s Law Center points out that the bump-up envisioned in Bowles-Simpson (which included chained CPI) would only restore benefits to current-law levels for two years, before falling behind again. So we don’t know, but if the bump-up took complete care of the benefit cut, nobody would be suggesting doing this as a means to save money.
So much shame to go around.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Obama's Remarks on the Newtown Shooting

You really get the sense that this is going to be one of those speeches you see 50 years from now. Really well done.

Friday, December 14, 2012

More Senseless Gun Violence

At an elementary school. What the fuck is wrong with people? And how many more people need to die before we can seriously talk about gun control?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fiscal Cliff and Trail Baloons

Really great podcast here where Sam Seder interviews Digby. I think they make some really good points in discussing how these "trial balloons" seem to pop up out of nowhere, and how to respond.

I've gotten better at sensing when these trial balloons come up, but it's always hard to figure out what their real purpose is. This time might have been a smokescreen to get liberals extremely upset about an unconscionably stupid plan so there is less opposition to smaller cuts in the future. The only reason I say this is since that podcast, Pelosi, the head of CAP, and others have gone really hard at the idea of raising the eligibility age, and you can usually tell when these things are actually going to happen because everyone vaguely says no or keeps their mouth shut.

The Party of Killing Democracy

If you support the Republican party, just be clear that this is the rule, rather than the exception. The only difference is that this guy was dumb enough to tell the truth on camera:
"A lot of us are campaign officials -- or campaign professionals -- and we want to do everything we can to help our side. Sometimes we think that's voter ID, sometimes we think that's longer lines -- whatever it may be."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Train of Thought Lounge: Mos Def

Hell week the sequel continues, sorry to not have more here when there is lots to write about.

Also be sure to read JN's post from last week on Tibet in case you missed it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Holy Fuck We Are Ruled By Monsters

If this is true (and I tend to trust it since the admin tends to float things to Ezra Klein all the time), then this would be an incredibly dumb and destructive deal.

You see the deal that’s becoming clear here?

Talk to smart folks in Washington, and here’s what they think will happen: The final tax deal will raise rates a bit, giving Democrats a win, but not all the way back to 39.6 percent, giving Republicans a win. That won’t raise enough revenue on its own, so it will be combined with some policy to cap tax deductions, perhaps at $25,000 or $50,000, with a substantial phase-in and an exemption for charitable contributions.

The harder question is what Republicans will get on the spending side of the deal. But even that’s not such a mystery. There will be a variety of nips and tucks to Medicare, including more cost-sharing and decreases in provider payments, and the headline Democratic concession is likely to be that the Medicare eligibility age rises from 65 to 67.
So we could get a better deal on taxes by doing absolutely nothing... and in exchange for accepting a worse deal, we get horribly stupid and incredibly damaging cuts to medicare. Kill this deal and anyone with fire. Primary anyone who supports it.

Right to Work For Less Moves Forward in Michigan

This is absolutely awful. David Dayen:
Within a matter of hours, both houses of the Michigan legislature passed right to work legislation, while arrests and lockdowns occurred inside and outside the chamber. In the end, Michigan Democrats staged a walkout to protest the closed Capitol. But eventually, the votes were taken, through a gut-and-amend process with a substitute bill that was supposed to create a commission to deal with labor disputes. The main bill then passed the House by a 58-52 vote, and the Senate 22-16.

You can see by these numbers why the Michigan GOP wanted to get this done fast, within the lame duck session, before the new legislature gets sworn in January 1. Six Republicans crossed the aisle in the state House to vote against the bill. With Democrats picking up five House seats in the election, the new configuration would not have had the votes to pass right to work.

However, if Governor Rick Snyder signs the bill – and he’s made every indication that he would – it will be very hard to dislodge. The legislature added an appropriation of state funds to the right to work bill, which eliminates the possibility of it getting overturned by referendum. But assuming it stands, Republicans still control the legislature and the Governor’s mansion in the next session, and so right to work would be in place for a couple years before unions have a chance to overturn it by retaking state government. And the longer that takes, the more battered unions will become, as the entire point of right to work is to decimate the ability for unions to function. That’s how it has played out in the other 23 states where mandatory dues have been barred for workers operating under collective bargaining agreements.

President Obama did weigh in today, opposing right to work legislation in general and specifically in Michigan. “President Obama has long opposed so-called ‘right to work’ laws and he continues to oppose them now,” said spokesman Matt Lehrich. “The President believes our economy is stronger when workers get good wages and good benefits, and he opposes attempts to roll back their rights. Michigan – and its workers’ role in the revival of the US automobile industry — is a prime example of how unions have helped build a strong middle class and a strong American economy.”

But this hardly matters, as the sneak attack on Michigan workers is almost certain to be successful. Democrats in the House put up a host of amendments that all failed, but were able to force a reconsideration of the bill. However, that’s likely to get dispensed with as a procedural matter, and the suite of bills will pass on a subsequent vote. There are separate bills for private employees and public employees that need to be reconciled and wrapped up.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What is going on in Tibet? Volume 2.

A few months ago I posted an overview of what was happening with the self-immolation crisis in Tibet here.  Since then things have changed in a few big ways, and I’d like to take a chance to get some of my thoughts out here.

First, and perhaps most importantly, the epicenter of the self-immolations has changed.  Take a moment and look at this map, prepared by ICT.  On it we can see the original center of the self-immolations, a town called Ngaba which has racked up an astonishing 30 self-immolations to date.  The first phase of the self-immolations may well be seen as the story of Ngaba, where a confluence of forces turned self-immolation from something unknown in Tibet into what was, over the last month, an almost daily occurrence.  Ngaba’s Kirti Monastery was one of the biggest in Tibet a few years ago, and the 2,500 monks who lived there were highly active participants in the 2008 Tibetan Uprising.  Afterwards, Chinese authorities at the provincial, prefectural, and monastic level turned Kirti into something that sounds more like a prison- a crackdown the authorities forgot to end.

Repression in Tibet can be bad enough on a good day, but the crackdown in Kirti Monastery was constant and punishing enough that it produced the first self-immolation in Tibet.  A young monk named Tapey lit himself on fire after hearing that authorities had forbidden the observance of Monlam, an important Tibetan holiday.  This appears to have been the last straw for him, and although it would be two years before another Tibetan self-immolated, the first few dozen self-immolators were drawn chiefly from the Ngaba area, and Kirti in particular.

Over time the phenomenon began to spread, though, and from the same map we can see that self-immolations have taken place in pretty much every region where Tibetans live.  The development of another cluster, this time in northern Amdo, is an important point.  If the epicenter was originally placed at Ngaba, it has now moved to Rebkong.  In recent weeks the Rebkong and Labrang areas have been hit almost daily by self-immolations, in a wide arc ranging from Rebkong to Labrang and the surrounding grassland towns and on towards Tsoe and Luchu.  These places combined now surpass the number of immolations in Ngaba.

These numbers tell a troubling story for the Chinese government.  It marks the normalization of self-immolation as a political statement in Tibet, and a blending of local and Tibet-wide politics.  Although each of the 92 immolators so far has probably come to the decision to light themselves on fire for a unique mixture of factors, there are some commonalities that have emerged from what they have shouted while aflame, or left behind in written statements.  Common refrains include requests for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, freedom for Tibet, unity among Tibetans, and the protection of Tibetan language and culture.  Chinese crackdowns have left Tibetans unable to express their discontent through what we would consider normal means, but this has in turn created a form of protest that China cannot hope to control.

China has no idea what to do about the self-immolations.  This was true last time I wrote here, and it is even truer now.  As the self-immolations have spread through Tibet and come with increasing frequency, Chinese attempts to stop them have been more and more hopeless.  Attempts to combat them with increased repression have just added more fuel to the fire.  An insultingly snide pamphlet passed around to Tibetan students typifies another kind of cluelessness.  At a time when the main street in Ngaba, witness to more self-immolations than any other single place, is called ‘Martyr’s Road,’ and the deceased are being given the title ‘hero,’ having a pamphlet published by the government insinuate that the self-immolators are terrorists was sure to give further offense to the students, and a massive protest followed.

China is unable to bring the burnings to a stop because they are aggressively attacking the symptoms, while completely ignoring the underlying disease.  Repression is what gave rise to this crisis, and more repression can only aggravate the situation.  Self-immolations are impossible to stop on a practical level, and once China has created circumstances bad enough for them to be employed as a tactic by Tibetans, there isn’t any clear reason for why they should stop unless the circumstances in Tibet improve.  The Communist Party has also hurt its ability to respond to this crisis by essentially alienating every important Tibetan.  Because any Tibetans with clout are forced to toe the Party line loudly and publicly, they either end up destroy their own standing among the Tibetan public by doing so, or they decide to disobey Beijing and end up in exile, imprisoned, or dead.  Thus the Communist Party is left without any bridges with which they can effectively speak to Tibetans.  If the young Panchen Lama hadn’t been abducted and replaced by someone Tibetans see as an impostor, could he bring the burnings to a stop?  Perhaps.  Thanks to Beijing’s short-sightedness, we don’t get to find out.

The self-immolations are illustrating exactly how deep opposition to Chinese rule runs in Tibetan society.  Chinese commentators have frequently claimed that trouble in Tibet is being stirred up by a small number of criminals and terrorists who want to return the Dalai Lama and his Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism to the throne.  Any slight hint of believability that this narrative has comes from the fact that monastaries, frequently Gelug, have been central to much of the resistance ever since the Chinese first arrived.  Over the last year, however, self-immolations have come from a wider and wider base.  Recent burnings have come from young schoolgirls, middle-aged parents, farmers and nomads, and an aging grandfather.  The community has generally treated them as heroes, with bystanders fighting riot police to keep their bodies out of the hands of the authorities, shops being closed in mourning, entire towns defying restrictions to attend memorials, and cremations of immolators taking place in areas normally reserved for the cremations of high lamas.  Popular singers are composing odes in their honor, protests are following the burnings, and people are risking their safety to send images and videos of the immolations to their friends inside and outside of Tibet.  Most recently there were reports of a two-day hunger strike in late November, undertaken by a number of well-to-do Tibetans in solidarity with the immolators.

Tibetans have been trying to send messages with their immolations, and to some extent they seem to be successfully doing so.  In particular, a cluster of self-immolations near the start of the Party Congress appear to have been an attempt to force incoming leader Xi Jinping to deal with the Tibet issue.  As the toll has risen, the EU, US, and UN have begun to slowly swing into gear.  All three would perhaps rather ignore the issue, but that’s becoming less of an option as the 100th self-immolation approaches.  Although exactly what they’ll do remains to be seen, simply mentioning Tibet during talks with China and then checking off that box is hopefully becoming less feasible.  News of the self-immolation crisis is slowly leaking out within China, too, although Beijing’s (largely successful) efforts to keep the Han Chinese majority from understanding the Tibet issue are complicating the conclusions ordinary Chinese draw from hearing about it.  Finally, given that self-immolations have occurred in every major region of Tibet except for the largely unpopulated Ngari, it seems that immolations as a form of communication between Tibetans, calling them to take action and stand together, are certainly having an effect.

Where it goes from here is going to depend on what the Chinese government does.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Train of Thought Lounge: Gnarls Barkley

There are some weeks where work and school combine to make blogging virtually impossible. This is one of those weeks. If you're watching the news, just remember that no one actually cares about the deficit and government spending only creates jobs if they are created in the military industrial complex.

Monday, December 3, 2012

What Do Benefit Cuts to Medicare Mean?

As usual on these issues, Atrios nails it: