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Perpetuating falsehood, Wall Street Journal's Fund claimed "AIG bonuses ... were in the stimulus bill"

Monday, March 23, 2009


Scarborough falsely claimed Orszag "admit[ted]" Obama budget "will create an unsustainable debt"

By Media Matters

On March 22, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough falsely claimed on his Twitter page that President Obama is "still defending a budget that his own OMB director admits will create an unsustainable debt." Similarly, during the March 23 edition of Morning Joe, Scarborough falsely asserted that Obama is "trying to pass budgets" that his own "budget director says [are] unsustainable." In fact, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Peter Orszag has not "admit[ted]" that Obama's proposed budget "will create an unsustainable debt." Rather, when asked during a March 20 conference call about the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) projection that deficits would "remain between 4 percent and 6 percent of GDP" from 2012-2019 under Obama's budget, Orszag said that deficits in the "5 percent of GDP range ... would ultimately not be sustainable" but also said: "I think that what you're going to see, again, under our assumptions, our policies lead to lower deficits than that." Moreover, in a March 20 blog post on the OMB website, Orszag specifically said that "[t]he President's Budget," if enacted, would "put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path."

Orszag also challenged the CBO projections in the blog post, writing that CBO's estimates "are subject to a high degree of uncertainty" and that CBO's projections after 2014 are "somewhat more pessimistic than the consensus."

From Orszag's March 20 blog post:

First, CBO's projections, like any budget projections, are subject to a high degree of uncertainty. (Trust me ... I know the former CBO Director quite well!) As an example of how much budget projections can shift, at this point last year, CBO was projecting a 2009 baseline deficit of $207 billion. It is now projecting a baseline deficit of about $1.7 trillion. CBO itself has estimated the margin of error around its 5-year deficit projection to be about 5 percent of GDP in either direction -- which means the confidence interval around the 2014 deficit is plus or minus about $900 billion.

Also note that a key driver of the new CBO deficit numbers after 2014 are estimates about long-term economic growth -- where CBO is somewhat more pessimistic than the consensus. For example, CBO projects long-term real economic growth that declines to 2.2 percent per year. Blue Chip pegs long-term real growth at 2.6 percent per year and the Federal Reserve forecasts long-term real growth of between 2.5 and 2.7 percent -- the same as the Administration, which is projecting real long-term growth of 2.6 percent. These differences may not seem big, but over time they accumulate. And since the deficit is the difference between two much larger numbers -- spending and revenue -- even relatively small differences in assumptions can have a magnified impact on the deficit. (As an example, imagine that spending is $1,050 and revenue is $1,000, so the deficit is $50. If revenue declines by just 10 percent, the deficit triples to $150.)

Second, and more importantly, the CBO report only underscores the severity of the economic and fiscal crisis the Administration has inherited. There is need for urgent action to get our economy moving again, invest for the future, and put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path. The President's Budget has proposed to do exactly this by addressing our big challenges head on[.]

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Obama: We Can't "Govern Out Of Anger"

By Philip Elliott
Associated Press via The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says he cannot "govern out of anger" just because of public outrage over bonuses paid at financial institutions kept afloat by taxpayer dollars.

Obama's declaration came as he pushed for a $3.6 trillion federal budget proposal that already is opposed from within his own party. As he seeks lawmakers' support for his first budget, he took a political risk in signaling discomfort with a separate plan that slaps a punitive, 90 percent tax on bonuses paid to American International Group employees.

Obama, a law professor-turned-chief executive, said during an interview broadcast Sunday that he does not like the idea of "passing laws that are just targeting a handful of individuals" or using the tax code to punish people.

"Let's see if there are ways of doing this that are both legal, that are constitutional, that uphold our basic principles of fairness, but don't hamper us from getting the banking system back on track," Obama said on CBS' "60 Minutes."

In a wide-ranging interview broadcast Sunday night, Obama said he expected the Senate would produce a much different and more acceptable version of the bill; one he could sign....(Click for remainder).


Administration seeks to free frozen credit markets

By Martin Crutsinger
Associated Press via The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration took a fresh shot at ending a national paralysis in lending Monday, saying it will team with investors to initially buy up to a half-trillion dollars of bad bank assets to ease credit for consumers and businesses.

The program, announced by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, was not the first such attempt by the new administration to revitalize an economy mired in recession. He pleaded for patience, saying that work to rehabilitate an industry with such systemic problems must go forward despite "deep anger and outrage" over certain banking practice.s

The newest initiative, Geithner told reporters, will seek to harness government and private resources to purchase a half-trillion dollars of bad assets off the balance sheets of banks. And he held out the expectation that purchases eventually could grow to $1 trillion

Wall Street seemed to feel rejuvenated, at least at the opening. In late morning, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 221 at 7,500. Reaction to the administration's initial bank rescue program of Feb. 10 was anything but enthusiastic, with dispirited investors sending the Dow Jones plummeting by 380 points.

The administration's newest toxic-asset repellant was another in a string of banking initiatives that have included efforts to deal directly with mortgage foreclosures, boost lending to small businesses and thaw out the credit markets for many types of consumer loans....(Click for remainder).


Cold War in the Arctic? Countries Seek Piece of Pie

As it stands, Arctic policy is already a dense network of legal and political agreements between different national and supranational stakeholders. Now the European Union wants to play a greater role in shaping it.

By Gerd Braune
Spiegel Online

In November 2008, the EU Commission published a report entitled "The European Union and the Arctic Region," which was submitted as a "communication" to the European Parliament and the Council. This "communication" is seen as the first step in the development of a systematic EU Arctic policy that addresses not only the greater potential for economic utilization resulting from climate change but also the threat to the Arctic environment posed by both climate change and human encroachment. Moreover, with this document the European Union has shifted Arctic policy beyond the inner circle of polar powers and made it an international issue.

There is very little if any awareness among many Europeans that the European Union includes Arctic territory. To some extent this is due to the fact that the term "Arctic" needs to be more precisely defined. While it is generally accepted that the Arctic is not confined to the geographic North Pole, definitions vary of how far the Arctic region actually extends. On Canadian maps the North Circumpolar Region includes Churchill -- population 963 and polar-bear capital of the world -- and the southern shores of Hudson Bay. However, Churchill lies to the south of the 60th parallel. In European terms, this would mean that Scotland is an Arctic region. Demarcations of the Arctic in terms of climatic and plant-geographical factors, such as temperature and timber line, are also open to interpretation....(Click for remainder).


Shell official confirms thirsty nature of oil shale, denies push to ‘corner water market’

By David O. Williams
The Colorado Independent

A Shell Oil official confirmed Friday that the "in-situ" oil shale production the company is researching at its Mahogany facility near Rangely currently consumes about three barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced.

But, he said, contrary to recent media reports on an environmental study of energy company water rights on Colorado's Western Slope, Shell is not trying to "corner the market on water" in the Colorado and White River basins.

"We've been working for quite a number of years to acquire a pretty broad diversity of water rights in different areas that will allow us to have the flexibility so that we can source water from different locations so that the impacts to the agriculture and the other historical and traditional users will be minimized," said James Thurman, a government affairs manager for Shell.

A report released Wednesday by Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates (WRA) cataloged more than 200 water rights held by six different energy companies with the potential to divert 7.2 million acre-feet and store up to 2 million acre-feet of Western Slope water. By contrast, the entire Denver metro area annually consumes less than 300,000 acre-feet of water.

Oil shale production, an experimental process in the research stages for decades, uses extreme heat to extract organic kerogen from shale rock and convert it into shale oil or gas. The "in situ" process being developed by Shell takes the heat directly to the underground shale, while the more conventional surface retorting process mines the shale rock and applies the heat on the surface.

Thurman, speaking during a Western Business Roundtable webinar called "Environmental Technologies for Oil Shale Development," confirmed that the in-situ process currently uses a 3-to-1 water to oil ratio, while surface retorting consumes water at a 5-to-1 clip. Some oil shale proponents had questioned water-consumption stats being offered by environmentalists....(Click for remainder).


JPMorgan Chase To Spend Millions on New Jets and Luxury Airport Hangar

By Brian Ross, Joseph Rhee and Megan Chuchmach
ABC News

Embattled bank JPMorgan Chase, the recipient of $25 billion in TARP funds, is going ahead with a $138 million plan to buy two new luxury corporate jets and build "the premiere corporate aircraft hangar on the eastern seaboard" to house them, ABC News has learned.

The financial giant's upgrade includes nearly $120 million for two Gulfstream 650 planes and $18 million for a lavish renovation of a hangar at the Westchester Airport outside New York City.

A public hearing will be held by Westchester County officials tonight regarding JPMorgan's request for new hangar space.

According to JPMorgan Chase architects, the new hangar will be built with reclaimed wood, quarry tile and even a "vegetated roof garden."

The Gulfstream 650's are described by the manufacturer as the "fastest," "widest" and "most comfortable" private jet ever with superior cabin amenities, an optional stateroom, and 12 interior designs to choose from.

"It's a remarkably boneheaded decision," said corporate watchdog Nell Minnow, the editor and founder of The Corporate Library, a group that provides independent corporate governance research and analysis. "It's completely tone deaf."...(Click for remainder).


Barney Frank: Retention bonuses are 'extortion' and 'bribes'

By David Edwards and Rachel Oswald
The Raw Story

Though retention bonuses are a long-standing business practice on Wall Street, the AIG scandal has turned new attention to them, with some, including Rep. Barney Frank, going so far as to call them a form of extortion.

Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, Frank (D-MA), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said of the executives receiving bonuses, “If you look at their actual performance, I think there was an element frankly with some…of almost extortion, where they said ‘we know what all you need to know and we’ll quit if you don’t bribe us.”

He added later, “It is people saying …’I’ve got the combination to the safe and if you don’t bribe me, I’m going to leave and you’ll never be able to open the safe,’” Frank said.

Frank told CBS’ Harry Smith that he was urging the executive branch to assert the rights of the federal government as the primary shareholder of the company to sue AIG.

“I think one of the things we should be doing is suing as a shareholder, saying ‘look these are people who were paid bonuses that they weren’t entitled to,’” Frank said.

Kenneth Lewis, CEO of Bank America, has been quoted objecting to the “clampdown” on executive bonuses as having “the potential to damage the ability of the government to engineer a financial recovery.”...(Click for remainder).


Dreyfuss: Cheney belongs in jail


Freshman Dems not scared of EFCA

By Josh Kraushaar

Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.) represents a conservative-minded district where organized labor doesn’t have a noticeable footprint. She’s ranked among the more vulnerable freshman Democrats, and there’s no shortage of Republicans who are eager to challenge her in 2010.

At first glance, that would seem to make the Employee Free Choice Act political poison for her. Instead, she’s a co-sponsor of the controversial card check legislation.

Indeed, Markey is one of a surprisingly large number of Democratic freshmen sitting in competitive seats who have signed on as EFCA co-sponsors and challenged the conventional wisdom that at-risk, first-term members should avoid high-profile positions on tough votes.

In total, 25 of the 32 Democratic members of the Class of 2008 are EFCA co-sponsors.

“There are a number of vulnerable members who want to listen to all sides of the debate, but they have no reason to co-sponsor it now. If I was advising a freshman Democrat with a low unionization rate in their district, I’d tell them to vote for it when the vote comes but not to co-sponsor it,” said one pro-EFCA senior Democratic strategist who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “A Democrat from a swing district who is willing to put themselves on the line early for this is certainly showing a great deal of courage.”

There’s no question that in Markey’s case, there is considerable risk to her position. In her Republican-oriented district on Colorado’s Front Range, the area’s 6 percent unionization rate is about half the national average, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates. The Chamber of Commerce in the largest city in her district, Fort Collins, has lobbied her to oppose the measure....(Click for remainder).


Who Owns Colorado's Rainwater?

Environmentalists and others like to gather it in containers for use in drier times. But state law says it belongs to those who bought the rights to waterways.

By Nicholas Riccardi
The Los Angeles Times

Every time it rains here, Kris Holstrom knowingly breaks the law.

Holstrom's violation is the fancifully painted 55-gallon buckets underneath the gutters of her farmhouse on a mesa 15 miles from the resort town of Telluride. The barrels catch rain and snowmelt, which Holstrom uses to irrigate the small vegetable garden she and her husband maintain.

But according to the state of Colorado, the rain that falls on Holstrom's property is not hers to keep. It should be allowed to fall to the ground and flow unimpeded into surrounding creeks and streams, the law states, to become the property of farmers, ranchers, developers and water agencies that have bought the rights to those waterways.

What Holstrom does is called rainwater harvesting. It's a practice that dates back to the dawn of civilization, and is increasingly in vogue among environmentalists and others who pursue sustainable lifestyles. They collect varying amounts of water, depending on the rainfall and the vessels they collect it in. The only risk involved is losing it to evaporation. Or running afoul of Western states' water laws.

Those laws, some of them more than a century old, have governed the development of the region since pioneer days.

"If you try to collect rainwater, well, that water really belongs to someone else," said Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress. "We get into a very detailed accounting on every little drop."

Frank Jaeger of the Parker Water and Sanitation District, on the arid foothills south of Denver, sees water harvesting as an insidious attempt to take water from entities that have paid dearly for the resource....(Click for remainder).


The Secret War Against American Workers

By Robert S. Eshelman
The Huffington Post

The Unemployment Story No One Notices

Juanita Borden, 39 and jobless, patiently waits as her résumé methodically works its way, line by line, through a fax machine at a state-run job center in downtown Philadelphia. Lying open before her on a round conference table is a neatly organized folder. "This is my résumé and everywhere I've been faxing to. This is how I keep track of what day I've sent them on, so I can call and check back," she says, leafing through pages of fax cover sheets. "I usually give five business days before I inquire whether or not they've received it and whether or not they're interested."

Juanita was fired last October, when her employer found out that her driver's license -- a job requirement -- had expired. "It was only a matter of twenty-six dollars. I was under the impression that it expired in November of '08, but it was actually November of '07, and because I hadn't been driving I wasn't aware of it." The one occasion on which she was required to drive, though, she couldn't, and that was all her employer needed to fire her for failing to fulfill her employment responsibilities. She has since renewed her license and says with an air of futility, "I'd like to have my job back if they would give it to me."

She hasn't been asked back and, despite her persistent efforts, she hasn't received a single call from a prospective employer either. "The good thing," she says, remaining remarkably buoyant despite her misfortune, "is that usually when I interview I get the job. So... I'm hoping for an interview soon." Until then, her carefully managed folder serves as a small measure of control over an otherwise steady drift into poverty and homelessness.

Juanita isn't the only one at this job center on the precipice of acute need. And she isn't alone in relating a story about being fired for what would seem to many a frivolous reason. Chris Topher, 25 and making his first visit here, was axed in March of last year. The telecommunications company he had been working for sent him packing when, as he tells it, he installed cable equipment a customer hadn't ordered. It didn't matter that the mistake was on the work order Chris was given. "It was the best job I had since I graduated high school and I've had a few: Turnpike Commission, working in a Senator's office. I've had some nice jobs, but that one, I enjoyed it the most."...(Click for remainder).


Big Pharma's Loss is America's Gain: Obama's Outstanding First Choice for the Federal Bench

By Ian Millhiser
The Huffington Post

If you were unfortunate enough to read the National Review yesterday, you would think that President Obama has a stealthy plan to turn America in to Gomorrah. Obama's new judge supports abortionists! He's in league with the ACLU! His nomination is payback for ACORN!

In other words, the right is dusting off its old playbook. Judge David Hamilton, a federal district judge in Indiana and the President's first nominee to the Court of Appeals, once struck down an Indiana law limiting access to abortion. Prior to becoming a judge, he sat on the Indiana ACLU's board and he even spent a whole month of his early adulthood working as a canvasser for ACORN. Obviously, Judge Hamilton is a dangerous radical who must be stopped.

The truth, of course, is that Judge Hamilton is nothing of the sort. Indeed, the reason why conservatives want to dwell on what David Hamilton did for a month when he was fresh out of college is because they know they cannot win their case against him on the merits.

At the end of President Bush's term, three decades of irresponsible deregulation culminated in the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression; and throughout this era of irresponsibility, the judiciary contributed significantly to the deregulators' campaign to, in Grover Norquist's words, drown government in a bathtub.

A few years after Ronald Reagan announced that "government is the problem," the courts began to allow companies to force their customers into a biased, privatized arbitration system that rules in favor of corporations 94% of the time. Three years before Bill Clinton declared the era of big government over, the Supreme Court gave a gift to employer-provided health plans who deny lifesaving care to their customers: total immunity from liability when their illegal denials of coverage injure or kill a patient. Just months before Phil Gramm announced that we are suffering a "mental recession," the Court gave similar immunity to the makers of dangerous medical devices....(Click for remainder).


How Democrats Might Actually Build a Permanent Majority

By Dylan Lowew
The Huffington Post

Roughly four years ago, the Republican Party was on top of the world. President Bush had just been re-elected. Both the House and the Senate were controlled by the GOP. The Democratic Party had a bumbling message, so nuanced that it was becoming increasingly difficult to explain. Republicans had an unmatchable political organization, and a superior style of campaigning, all while public opinion polls suggested that the nation had moved solidly center-right. Inevitably, many in the party began to talk about the possibility of generational Republican rule - a permanent majority.

Four years later, the GOP has lost 52 seats in the House, 14 in the Senate, control of both chambers, and of course, the White House. Their organizational advantage has quickly devolved into one of the most uneven matchups between two major parties in modern memory. They are out-funded, out-matched, and seemingly incapable of recovery.

Many have argued that the last four years should teach us that a party in power should never have the hubris to think a permanent majority is a possibility. Even when things are going well, the last four years should teach us that there are simply too many ways a party can stumble and fall.

But it may be different this time. It may very well be that today's Democratic party is uniquely positioned to control government for a generation, that its current advantages are far greater than anything the GOP has ever enjoyed. Perhaps this time, the Democratic Party will experience the confluence of events necessary for building a permanent majority.

For it to happen, a number of events will have to occur....(Click for remainder).


Free Paul Minor

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Bendan DeMelle
The Huffington Post

Paul Minor did his best to comfort Sylvia, his wife of 41 years, during his brief February 20th visit. He tried to feed her, to talk with her, and to care for her the way he wished he could on every one of her final days in Hospice care. Sylvia is in the last stages of terminal brain cancer, which has now spread to both of her lungs, her bones and her spine. Sometimes her mind is sharp and her conversation lucid, but there are bad days; her mind shuts down when her pain becomes too excruciating to endure.

Unfortunately Minor's visit occurred on one of Sylvia's bad days. Sylvia couldn't eat or focus and she slipped in and out of consciousness. At the end of the visit, she couldn't utter the word l-o-v-e to her husband beyond the first letter, her voice stolen by the tumors. After three short hours with Sylvia, Minor's prison guards whisked him back to the Pensacola federal prison camp. When the Minors' daughter Kathryn spoke to her mom the next day during a lucid moment, Sylvia had no memory of Paul's visit.

Minor's abbreviated visit to his wife's bedside was only the latest bitter moment for an American hero. Karl Rove's crooked henchmen at the U.S. Justice Department have turned this dignified gentleman's life into a horrible ordeal that is a disgrace to American democracy.

One of the nation's top trial lawyers, Minor stands convicted on partisan political charges ginned up by Rove's right wing toadies at the Department of Justice. Paul Minor is serving the second year of a breathtaking 11-year sentence for non-violent, white collar crimes he did not commit.

Paul Minor's real crime was that he used nearly a half million dollars of his earnings from the 1997 Big Tobacco settlement and a string of other successful lawsuits to fund Democratic candidates for office at the local and national level. Minor was the largest donor to Democrats in Mississippi -- accounting for roughly one-third of all campaign contributions from trial lawyers in the state -- making him a prime target of Karl Rove's master plan to strategically take out key Democratic contributors nationwide using trumped up criminal prosecutions as his primary weapon....(Click for remainder).


Ex-GOP Senator Decries Limbaugh as "Center of Gravity" of Republican Party

By David Corn
Mother Jones

Former Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, has weighed in on his party's Rush wars.

Rush Limbaugh is "the center of gravity" of the Republican Party, and "we need a new center of gravity," Hagel told me on Tuesday night.

That evening, Hagel was taping an interview with Rachel Maddow for her MSNBC show. Now cochairman of the Commission on United States Policy Toward Russia, he discussed Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's announcement that Russia would begin a "large-scale rearming" and the news that Russia might be putting long-range bombers in Cuba and Venezuela. On the segment, Hagel, who was a foreign policy leader in the Senate, talked about his recent trip to Moscow and called for moving the US-Russia relationship back to a "smart" track. He also criticized former Vice President Dick Cheney for claiming that the Obama administration has placed the nation in danger and noted that Cheney was partly responsible for the "mess" the Bush administration left behind.

On the show, Hagel took a shot at new Republican Party chairman Michael Steele. Asked about Steele's threat to support primary challengers against Republican Senators Arlen Specter, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe, who each defied GOP leaders and voted for Obama's stimulus package, Hagel called it "a very foolish, foolish move," commenting, "there's no room for that kind of silliness." He added, "People expect serious people to deal with serious issues and to govern seriously. And when you don't do that, you become irrelevant."

Maddow did not ask Hagel about Limbaugh. But prior to the taping, Hagel was not shy about bemoaning Limbaugh's drag on his party. He told me that Limbaugh was the opposite of what the Republican Party needs now. "We blew eight years of governing," Hagel said, excoriating GOPers for having "run up" the national debt. "You can only blame Ted Kennedy for so much," he remarked....(Click for remainder)


Hagel on Cheney saying Obama is making the U.S. less safe: 'That's Rediculous'


Water scarcity 'now bigger threat than financial crisis'

By 2030, more than half the world's population will live in high-risk areas

By Geoffrey Lean
The Independent UK

Humanity is facing "water bankruptcy" as a result of a crisis even greater than the financial meltdown now destabilising the global economy, two authoritative new reports show. They add that it is already beginning to take effect, and there will be no way of bailing the earth out of water scarcity.

The two reports – one by the world's foremost international economic forum and the other by 24 United Nations agencies – presage the opening tomorrow of the most important conference on the looming crisis for three years. The World Water Forum, which will be attended by 20,000 people in Istanbul, will hear stark warnings of how half the world's population will be affected by water shortages in just 20 years' time, with millions dying and increasing conflicts over dwindling resources.

A report by the World Economic Forum, which runs the annual Davos meetings of the international business and financial elite, says that lack of water, will "soon tear into various parts of the global economic system" and "start to emerge as a headline geopolitical issue".

It adds: "The financial crisis gives us a stark warning of what can happen if known economic risks are left to fester. We are living in a water 'bubble' as unsustainable and fragile as that which precipitated the collapse in world financial markets. We are now on the verge of bankruptcy in many places with no way of paying the debt back."

The Earth – a blue-green oasis in the limitless black desert of space – has a finite stock of water. There is precisely the same amount of it on the planet as there was in the age of the dinosaurs, and the world's population of more than 6.7 billion people has to share the same quantity as the 300 million global inhabitants of Roman times....(Click for remainder).


Tide turns against schools as foreclosures rise

By Greg Toppo and Jack Gillum
USA Today

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Way back when times were good — last April — builders showed up one day at Forest Grove Middle School and gutted a little-used classroom off the gym.

Four months and a half-million dollars later, they had transformed the space into a gleaming, bubbling mini marine biology laboratory, with five huge, blue plastic tanks for local marine life and a refrigerated tank that replicates the cold-water ecosystem off Maine.

For the first time, teacher Kevin Stinnette thought, his students could do hands-on lessons with cold-water species such as frilled anemones and Acadia hermit crabs.

Then the mortgage meltdown hit central Florida, and the crabs and anemones weren't the only ones hit with cold water. Here as elsewhere across the USA, hard times have forced schools to trim budgets, freeze hiring and, in a few cases, make substantial job cuts, raising doubts about the future of a range of programs, including the new marine lab.

Already, St. Lucie schools have lost $22 million in tax revenue from lower property values, and the district is staring at a 25% budget cut in the fall. It has frozen salaries and put central office employees on a four-day workweek. Enrollment is down only slightly but if things get much worse, schools here may cut athletics, after-school activities and summer school to the bone — or even consider a four-day week for students....(Click for remainder).


Battling the CRA Myth

Push To Expand Law That Encourages Loans to Low-Income Communities

By Mike Lillis
The Washington Independent

Amid the ongoing debate over mortgage lending reform, a top federal regulator took a seat before Congress last week and debunked the myth — popular among conservatives — that a law encouraging loans to low-income communities has been largely responsible for the nation’s housing crisis.

“I can state very definitively,” Sandra Braunstein, director of the Federal Reserve’s consumer and community affairs division, said during a House Financial Institutions subcommittee hearing Wednesday, “that from the research we have done, the Community Reinvestment Act is not one of the causes of the current crisis.”

The statement may have come as a surprise to some of the panel Republicans, who have made a habit of fingering the CRA as a leading cause of the financial downturn. Enacted under the Carter administration, the law has been a lightning rod for conservative criticism for years, but the scorn really took off when the housing market collapsed last year. Critics claim that the CRA forced lenders to make bad loans to low-income borrowers who ultimately couldn’t pay them back.

Braunstein’s testimony, supported by a Fed analysis and echoed by other finance regulators in recent months, could add force to a recent Democratic push to expand the CRA to cover non-bank financial institutions, including mortgage companies, securities firms, credit unions and insurance companies. The bill aims to boost not only lending, but also investments and other services in minority and low-income neighborhoods....(Click for remainder).


The dishonest "Blame Dodd" scheme from Treasury officials

By Glenn Greenwald

There is a major push underway -- engineered by Obama's Treasury officials, enabled by a mindless media, and amplified by the right-wing press -- to blame Chris Dodd for the AIG bonus payments. That would be perfectly fine if it were true. But it's completely false, and the scheme to heap the blame on him for the AIG bonus payments is based on demonstrable falsehoods.

Jane Hamsher has written the definitive post narrating and indisputably documenting what actually took place. The attempt to blame Dodd is based on a patently false claim that was first fed to The New York Times on Saturday by an "administration official" granted anonymity by Times reporters Edmund Andrew and Peter Baker (in violation, as usual, of the NYT anonymity policy, since all the official was doing was disseminating pro-administration spin). The accusation against Dodd is that there is nothing the Obama administration can do about the AIG bonus payments because Dodd inserted a clause into the stimulus bill which exempted executive compensation agreements entered into before February, 2009 from the compensation limits imposed on firms receiving bailout funds. Thus, this accusation asserts, it was Dodd's amendment which explicitly allowed firms like AIG to make bonus payments that were promised before the stimulus bill was enacted.

That is simply not what happened. What actually happened is the opposite. It was Dodd who did everything possible -- including writing and advocating for an amendment -- which would have applied the limitations on executive compensation to all bailout-receiving firms, including AIG, and applied it to all future bonus payments without regard to when those payments were promised. But it was Tim Geithner and Larry Summers who openly criticized Dodd's proposal at the time and insisted that those limitations should apply only to future compensation contracts, not ones that already existed. The exemption for already existing compensation agreements -- the exact provision that is now protecting the AIG bonus payments -- was inserted at the White House's insistence and over Dodd's objections. But now that a political scandal has erupted over these payments, the White House is trying to deflect blame from itself and heap it all on Chris Dodd by claiming that it was Dodd who was responsible for that exemption....(Click for remainder).


DOJ: We're Reviewing Decision Not To Prosecute Schlozman

By Justin Elliott
TPM Muckraker

The Bradley Schlozman saga might have some life left in it, yet.

The Justice Department is reviewing a decision made earlier this year under the Bush Administration not to charge Schlozman, the former official who was found by an Inspector General report to have made false statements to the Senate about whether he considered political affiliations in hiring.

A DOJ spokesman told TPMmuckraker today the Schlozman case is "under review," confirming that Attorney General Eric Holder is acting on a promise he made during his confirmation hearings to take another look at the case.

An IG report released in January found Schlozman broke federal law by considering ideological affiliations in hiring at the department's Civil Rights Division. The report also found Schlozman falsely denied he considered politics in hiring in sworn testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In an exchange with Sen. Dianne Feinstein during his confirmation hearing in mid-January, Holder said he would "review that determination" not to prosecute Schlozman....(Click for remainder).


The Need for White House Clarification

By Kyle
Right Wing Watch @ People for the American Way

Yesterday I wrote about the fact that Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council had been invited to the White House to be part of a discussion on .... well, I'm not sure.

David Brody, who first reported the meeting, said it is to be focused on "the need to reduce abortions in the country and on responsible fatherhood programs," but I am not sure if it is to be focused on the "need to reduce abortions" or, more likely, on "reducing the need for abortion" - and that is a pretty important distinction.

If it is focused on the "reducing the need for abortion," then it should be looking for ways to prevent unplanned pregnancies, thereby reducing the need for abortion. But, of course, if that is the case then there is no need to invite FRC and CWA because they both oppose anything that encourages the use of condoms or family planning services.

On the other hand, if it is focused on "reducing abortions" ... well, then inviting CWA and FRC is a great idea because they have all sorts of ideas on how to do that:
"Funding abortion or abortion providers is one of the worst things that could be done. What the government funds, we get more of," [CWA's Wendy] Wright added. "We hope to begin a dialogue that results in policies which actually work, not just financially benefit certain interest groups like abortion providers.”

"Pregnancy resource centers and regulations on abortion have a terrific track record in helping women choose alternatives to abortion," she continued.
(Click for remainder).


African-American Community Should Embrace Gay Rights

By Byron Williams
The Huffington Post

Whenever there is a discussion about gay rights and the African-American community, someone can be depended upon to offer the juvenile critique that the cause of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is not the same as the historical Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s.

It's not uncommon to hear African-American pastors suggest "my skin cannot be compared with their sin" as a way to poetically justify their homophobia.

This argument assumes a collective understanding of what the Civil Rights Movement is and what the LGBT movement is not.

If one views the civil rights movement and the current LGBT struggle through the linear paradigm of race and sex, I would agree there is little that connects the two.

If, however, one understands the civil rights movement as something that helped America get closer to the democratic values to which it committed itself in 1776, along with the preamble of the Constitution that reads: "We the people of the United States in order form a more perfect union," then I would suggest the LGBT struggle is very much an extension in the ongoing civil rights struggle.

As Dr. Sylvia Rhue, director of religious affairs for the National Black Justice Coalition stated: "Challenging homophobia is the unfinished business of civil rights."

One of the great challenges of the American experiment is the ongoing examination of who exactly comprises the "we."...(Click for remainder).


Economic Crisis Sidelines Global Warming Concerns

Record-High Numbers Now Doubt Climate Change Will Occur

By Aaron Weiner
The Washington Independent

As the Obama administration moves forward with its green agenda, climate change concerns have been elevated to a top priority. Yet in the midst of the deepening economic crisis, public opinion appears to be moving in the opposite direction.

A Gallup poll released last Wednesday found a six percent drop from last year in the number of people who are worried a “great deal” or a “fair amount” about global warming, after that number had been increasing for the previous five years. It also showed that after a similar five-year climb, the percentage of respondents who believe that the effects of global warming have already begun had decreased by eight points over the past year. A record-high 16 percent of Americans now believe that global warming will never occur; in more than ten years of polling, no more than 11 percent of respondents had ever expressed this opinion.

The day after the poll was released, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a leading climate change skeptic, took to the Senate floor and celebrated the results as a triumph of information. “You should never underestimate the intelligence of the American people,” he proclaimed. “Sadly, that is exactly what the promoters of man-made climate fears have been consistently doing, and the American people have consistently rejected climate alarm.”

Inhofe attributed the shift in public opinion to new studies from prominent scientists that he said contradicted the prevailing climate change arguments embraced by former Vice President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “A steady stream of peer-reviewed studies, analyses, real world data and inconvenient developments have further refuted the claims of man-made global warming fear activists,” he said....(Click for remainder).


Jerusalem Countdown: Christian Zionists and the New Israeli Government

By Bill Berkowitz
The Smirking Chimp

In early April of last year, at a conference in Jerusalem of American evangelicals organized by Pastor John Hagee, Benjamin Netanyahu told the audience that Israel had no better friends than America's Christian Zionists. "This is a friendship of the heart, a friendship of common roots, and a friendship of common civilization," Netanyahu said.

Now, nearly a year later, with Netanyahu cobbling together a ruling coalition in Israel, three men of the US Christian Right, Pastor John Hagee, Michael D. Evans, and Joel C. Rosenberg--all of whom have had long-term associations with the prime minister-to-be--may feel like they're about to be handed the keys to the Promised Land.

All three have had bestselling books related to the Middle East and apocalyptic theology, have raised significant amounts of money for Israeli charities (although how much of that money reaches the poor and needy has been questioned), lobbied heavily in support of policies advanced by Israel's right wing, and opposed The Road Map to Peace. To one degree or another, they are all leaders in the broad movement known as Christian Zionism, now estimated to be about 40 million strong.

The End of the World as We Know It

Pastor John Hagee, the San Antonio-based preacher who presides over a multimillion dollar ministry, has been cooling his heels since taking a drubbing from the mainstream press last year after saying Jews had caused the Holocaust....(Click for remainder).


So Long, Alex P. Keaton

The millennial generation could pull American politics even further to the left, and for a longer time, than the Reagan generation pulled our politics to the right.

By Paul Waldman
The American Prospect

A quarter-century ago, political observers marveled at a new phenomenon: an enormous wave of conservative young people. Instead of tuning in, turning on, and dropping out, they were donning polo shirts, keeping their hair cut short, and waxing eloquent on the wonders of the free market. Their exemplar was Alex P. Keaton, the hero of the television show Family Ties, whose ex-hippie parents shook their heads at their son's affection for Ronald Reagan. The series ran from 1982 to 1989; in its finale, Alex leaves home to take a job on Wall Street.

In 1984, 59 percent of the nation's Alex P. Keatons voted for Reagan, an extraordinary percentage for a Republican (and just over his proportion of the popular vote as a whole). What was going on? As E.J. Dionne, then a reporter for The New York Times, wrote near the end of Reagan's tenure in the fall of 1988, "Academics and political consultants who have studied the youth vote have many explanations for their movement toward the Republicans, but the most powerful is the simplest: Young Americans have known only Mr. Reagan and Mr. Carter as President, and Mr. Reagan is the overwhelming favorite. Similarly, many people who first voted in the Depression still see politics in terms of the Democratic President Roosevelt and the Republican President Hoover."

It was a remarkable shift, and one that helped shape politics for the ensuing two decades. Currently, we are beginning an even more dramatic turn. Today's young people -- often called the millennial generation -- could pull American politics even further to the left, and for a longer time, than the Reagan generation pulled our politics to the right.

Start with the obvious: 67 percent of voters under 29 cast their ballot for Barack Obama, a result unequalled since exit polling began. (If you're interested, exit-poll data dating back to 1976 can be found at the Roper Center.) Despite periodic proclamations that young conservatives are poised for a comeback (see, for instance, this lengthy portrait in The New York Times Magazine only six years ago of the "Young Hipublicans" who were ready to take the country by storm), young people aren't finding much to like about today's GOP. And as a pair of new reports from the Center for American Progress on the present and future of American ideology show, those feelings are likely to run much deeper than a single election or a single candidate....(Click for remainder).


Geithner's Last Stand

By Robert Kuttner
The Huffington Post

The political and pundit classes have spent the past week expressing outrage over bonuses paid to AIG executives. In case you have been on Jupiter, this is the company that has received $183 billion from taxpayers to cover part of its gambling losses that helped crash the entire system.

The indignation over AIG will serve a useful purpose if it focuses public attention on the much larger issue -- the failure of the entire approach that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House economic czar Larry Summers are using to rescue the banking system.

It would be hard to find two administrations more different than Bush and Obama. Yet, when it comes to bailing out financial firms, Geithner's approach is a seamless continuation of his predecessor, Hank Paulson's. It makes you wonder who is the permanent government. Perhaps Wall Street?

Even the players are the same Goldman-Citigroup crowd. The well named Neel Kashkari, the Citigroup executive brought in by Paulson to run the TARP program, is still in place. Geithner's top assistant, Mark Patterson, is from Goldman. And most of the concepts are coming from the same Wall Street crew.

So far, the policy has been an abject failure. The latest idea is to use some of the remaining Treasury funds from the TARP program approved by Congress last October to anchor several trillion more in loans and loan guarantees by the Federal Reserve and FDIC. For weeks, Geithner has announced only vague principles of his next move....(Click for remainder).


Has a ‘Katrina Moment’ Arrived?

By Frank Rich
The New York Times

A CHARMING visit with Jay Leno won’t fix it. A 90 percent tax on bankers’ bonuses won’t fix it. Firing Timothy Geithner won’t fix it. Unless and until Barack Obama addresses the full depth of Americans’ anger with his full arsenal of policy smarts and political gifts, his presidency and, worse, our economy will be paralyzed. It would be foolish to dismiss as hyperbole the stark warning delivered by Paulette Altmaier of Cupertino, Calif., in a letter to the editor published by The Times last week: “President Obama may not realize it yet, but his Katrina moment has arrived.”

Six weeks ago I wrote in this space that the country’s surge of populist rage could devour the president’s best-laid plans, including the essential Act II of the bank rescue, if he didn’t get in front of it. The occasion then was the Tom Daschle firestorm. The White House seemed utterly blindsided by the public’s revulsion at the moneyed insiders’ culture illuminated by Daschle’s post-Senate career. Yet last week’s events suggest that the administration learned nothing from that brush with disaster.

Otherwise it never would have used Lawrence Summers, the chief economic adviser, as a messenger just as the A.I.G. rage was reaching a full boil last weekend. Summers is so tone-deaf that he makes Geithner seem like Bobby Kennedy.

Bob Schieffer of CBS asked Summers the simple question that has haunted the American public since the bailouts began last fall: “Do you know, Dr. Summers, what the banks have done with all of this money that has been funneled to them through these bailouts?” What followed was a monologue of evasion that, translated into English, amounted to: Not really, but you little folk needn’t worry about it....(Click for remainder).


The Real AIG Scandal, Continued!

The transfer of $12.9 billion from AIG to Goldman looks fishier and fishier.

By Eliot Spitzer

The AIG scandal is getting ever-more disturbing. Goldman Sachs' public conference call explaining its trading relationship and exposure with AIG established once again that Goldman knows how to protect itself. According to Goldman, even if AIG had failed, Goldman's losses would have been minimal.

How did Goldman protect itself? Sensing AIG's weakening capital position through 2006 and 2007, Goldman demanded more collateral from AIG and covered outstanding risk with instruments from other firms.

But this raises two critical questions. The first is why did $12.9 billion of taxpayer money go from AIG to Goldman? What risk—systemic or otherwise—was being covered? If Goldman wasn't going to suffer severe losses, why are taxpayers paying them off at 100 cents on the dollar? As I wrote earlier in the week, the real AIG scandal is that the company's trading partners are getting fully paid rather than taking a haircut.

Goldman's answer is that it was merely taking a commercial position—trying to avoid any losses at all on its AIG positions. I suppose we can hardly expect Goldman to reject government assistance in the form of pure cash that seems to have had no strings attached.

But what were the government officials possibly thinking? The only rationale for what we should call the "hidden conduit bailout" to AIG's trading partners is that the cascading effect of AIG's inability to pay would have been devastating. But Goldman has now said very clearly there would have been no cascade. Not even a ripple.

Is the same true of AIG's other counterparties, including several foreign banks? What examination of the impact of an AIG failure did federal officials undertake before making their decision to spend countless billions bailing out AIG and its trading partners?...(Click for remainder).


Obama Administration Careening Towards Disaster (and Taking the Country With It)

By Dave Lindorff
After Downing Street

Six months after the failed Bush administration effort to "rescue" the US financial system, and after two months of failed efforts by his own new administration, at an expense to the American public of several trillion dollars and counting, the Obama administration is announcing plans to blow another $1 trillion in a massive taxpayer giveaway to investors who will be subsidized in an effort to get them to buy the so-called toxic assets on the books of the nation's biggest banks.

The problem with this plan is that its goal--getting these zombie banks to start lending again--is not going to work.

It doesn't matter how good the balance sheets of the banks are. Good companies, and even individuals and families with good credit, are simply not borrowing.

It is the nature of economic downturns like this current one that companies and ordinary families don't borrow, but rather cut back on their spending and try to reduce their debt, the better to ride out the hard times. It is only the companies that are in trouble, like General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, that are looking for loans, and no bank is going to want to lend to them regardless of how much money the government pumps into it. (And if the public decides that it is in the national interest to prop up such companies, it is much more effective to have the government loan them the money directly, rather than try to get banks to lend it to them at much higher interest.)

What this means is that all the Obama administration, the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve are doing by buying the toxic assets off the books of banks like Citigroup, Bank America or Wells Fargo is giving a taxpayer handout to those banks' investors and bondholders--the very people who enabled those companies to invest in the corrupt credit default swaps and other shady derivatives in the first place.

What should happen? Citibank, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and the other financial institutions that made bad bets on these structured financial instruments, should be allowed to fail, taking with them the investors who played this dirty game, and the managers who decided to gamble instead of run conservative banking operations.

The government would protect the assets of depositors in those failed banks, which would be sold to healthier, better run banks, making those banks much stronger and better capitalized in the process--and thus ready to start lending as needed. This is standard operating procedure for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Note that this process would mean no crisis in the economy, since the ability to access credit would not be crimped in the least by the failure of some of the country's larger banks. It would, in fact, probably be enhanced.

The toxic assets would be eliminated through the bankruptcies, and the government--and taxpayers--would be $1 trillion less in the red....(Click for remainder).



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