Saturday, March 17, 2012

BofA Said to Split Regulators Over Moving Merrill Contracts

The inverted pyramid of global liquidity - Sources: Bank of Internation
October 18, 2011, Bloomberg/Businessweek
Bank of America Corp., hit by a credit downgrade last month, has moved derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary flush with insured deposits. Derivatives are financial instruments used to hedge risks or for speculation. They’re derived from stocks, bonds, loans, currencies and commodities, or linked to specific events such as changes in the weather or interest rates. Keeping such deals separate from FDIC-insured savings has been a cornerstone of U.S. regulation for decades, including last year’s Dodd-Frank overhaul of Wall Street regulation.

Three years after taxpayers rescued some of the biggest U.S. lenders, regulators are grappling with how to protect FDIC-insured bank accounts from risks generated by investment-banking operations. “The concern is that there is always an enormous temptation to dump the losers on the insured institution,” said William Black, professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a former bank regulator. “We should have fairly tight restrictions on that.” Bank of America’s holding company -- the parent of both the retail bank and the Merrill Lynch securities unit -- held almost $75 trillion of derivatives at the end of June. That compares with JPMorgan’s deposit-taking entity, JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, which contained 99 percent of the New York-based firm’s $79 trillion of notional derivatives.
Note: Remember that the GDP of the entire world is estimated at around $60 trillion,  less than JPMorgan or BofA own in derivatives. For an excellent article laying out the incredible risk this creates of a major economic collapse, click here.

For more on the high risk and cost to taxpayers of BofA moving its massive amount of derivatives to its subsidiary, click here.

For lots more from major media sources on the illegal profiteering of major financial corporations enabled by lax government regulation, click here. READ MORE

Friday, March 16, 2012

How "Drill, Baby, Drill" and "Yes We Can" Got Married

by: Subhankar Banerjee, | News Analysis 
American military prefers to make preemptive strikes. We know this. In America, corporations have enormous influence over the government—these days they essentially run the government. We know this too. And now a giant corporation has made a preemptive strike against nonprofit organizations. 

“Arctic Ocean drilling: Shell launches preemptive legal strike” is the title of a recent Los Angeles Times article. Shell’s legal attack is against REDOIL—a small indigenous human rights organization in Alaska and 12 environmental organizations fighting to stop dangerous drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in Arctic Alaska—Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, Pacific Environment, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society. This is historic.

On Thursday, I requested Cindy Shogan, Executive Director of Alaska Wilderness League in Washington, D.C. about how she would respond. Following is the email statement I received from her:

Super Donors: A Guide to the Top Ten Super PAC Givers

by: Ariel Wittenberg, ProPublica | News Analysis 
The coming election cycle will likely be the most expensive in history. Thanks to Citizens United and other recent court decisions, individuals, corporations and unions can make unlimited donations to so-called super PACs that support a candidate. The money is flowing in. So, exactly who is donating, and what do they want?

Here’s our guide to the top 10 super PAC contributors through Jan. 31, the latest date for which donors have been required to disclose. Unless otherwise noted, all estimates of net worth are from Forbes. (See our PAC Tracker for an interactive breakdown of all the money going to super PACs and others.)
Harold Simmons

Amount donated: $11.2 million (Contran, a company owned by Simmons, has donated $3 million.)
To whom: $10 million to American Crossroads the Republican super PAC affiliated with Karl Rove; $1 million to Winning Our Future, the super PAC supporting Gingrich; $100,000 to Restoring Prosperity Fund, the super PAC supporting Rick Perry; and $100,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney

Net worth: $9.3 billion
Residence: Dallas
How he made his fortune:    READ MORE

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Six New Arrests In News Corp. UK Phone Hacking Scandal

The noose is in the deck for the wrinkled Ruperts Neck
Heigh ho the derryO the mess will quench the Beck

Scotland Yard has arrested six people—including former-News International CEO Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charles Brooks—on “suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice,” according to The Guardian.  Police have not named those charged but confirmed that among those arrested were a 43-year old woman and 49-year old man.  These charges most likely involve alleged bribes of “hundreds of thousands” of dollars paid to British police, military, and government officials, for which they may have been paid to look the other way.  This is just the latest legal problem for Rupert Murdoch, News Corp, and by extension the Fox “News” Channel, as investigations continue into sordid practices on several continents.

Police said the arrests did not result from information passed to them by News Corporation's management and standards committee (MSC).

The arrests form the biggest single swoop yet by the Met police in its ongoing investigation into alleged voicemail interception. So far 23 people have been held under Operation Weeting, with two people released without charge.
Brooks was also previously arrested on 17 July last year on appointment at a London police station on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications, contrary to Section1(1) Criminal Law Act 1977 and on suspicion of corruption allegations contrary to Section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906.

This is just the latest problem for Rupert Murdoch.  Son James was recently forced to resign as Executive Chairman of News International.  Last week it was reported the FBI are looking into the alleged corruption of public officials in Russia.  And, a Hollywood music agent’s phone was allegedly hacked, but it’s unclear if the act took place in the U.S. or U.K.  READ MORE

Monday, March 12, 2012

U.S. soldier held in shooting rampage that killed 16 Afghans, officials say

KABUL — An American soldier walked off his base in a remote southern Afghan village shortly before dawn Sunday and opened fire on civilians inside their homes, killing at least 16, including nine children, Afghan officials said.
The shootings in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province appeared to mark the deadliest intentional attack on civilians by a U.S. soldier in the decade-long Afghanistan war. Although U.S. officials promptly detained the suspect, a staff sergeant, the incident seemed certain to stoke anti-American sentiment at a time of growing unease about the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and increasing pessimism among Americans about the U.S. mission here.

Coming as Afghan rage over the burning of Korans by U.S. soldiers last month was beginning to taper off, the killings Sunday threatened to spark a new crisis in the strained relationship between the United States and Afghanistan. The two nations are in the midst of contentious negotiations over an agreement that could extend the presence of U.S. troops in the country beyond 2014.
The incident also provided fresh fodder to critics of the Obama administration’s Afghanistan strategy who are trying to portray the 2009 troop surge as a failed attempt to secure a dignified exit.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai called the shootings an “assassination” and demanded an explanation from U.S. officials.  READ MORE

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Towards a Creditor State - One in Seven Americans Pursued by Debt Collectors

by: Matt Stoller, Naked Capitalism | News Analysis 
I went through the Federal Reserve’s Quarterly Release on Household Debt and Credit released today, and there were two notable trends.  One is that the amount of consumer debt is declining, but that delinquency rates are stabilizing above what they were before the crisis.  And the second is in this graph, which is that the number of people subject to third party collections has doubled since 2000, from a little less than 7% to a little over 14% of consumers.  Ten years ago, one in fourteen American consumers were pursued by debt collectors.  Today it’s one in seven.

 The experience of debt collection can be chilling, as this 2007 ABC News report suggests.
Consumers around the country have taped threatening phone calls from collectors who have called in the middle of the night, used abusive language and have threatened to have people fired from work or thrown in jail.  All of these tactics are illegal under federal law.
One of the characteristics of the new social contract ushered in by both George W. Bush and Barack Obama is the increasing power of creditors to govern outright, from tax farming by banks to the use of credit checks to access employment opportunities.
There are now thousands of people legally jailed because they aren’t paying their bills, ie. debtor’s prisons have returned.  Occasionally elites let it slip that this is not an accident, but is their goal – former Comptroller General David Walker has wistfully pined for debtor’s prisons overtly (on CNBC, no less).

Israel's Assassins and Tehran's Killers

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, center, visits
the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility.
(Photo: Iranian President's Office via
The New York Times)
by: Richard Sale, Truthout | Report

They are dying one by one.

They are Iran's nuclear scientists, and they are being murdered. Since 2007, five Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed in Iranian territory, many victims dying from magnetic bombs that terrorists had attached to the exterior of their cars.

The latest attack took place on January 11, 2012, when Mostafa Ahamdi Roshan, deputy director in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, died without warning in a blast in Tehran shortly after two assailants on a motorcycle placed a bomb on his car.

According to news reports, confirmed by Truthout, the United States denied that it was to blame for the killing of the 32-year-old Roshan after Tehran said Washington and Israel were responsible for the attack. "I want to categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters when asked about Iranian allegations over the attack.  READ MORE

Will Greece Be Ruled by the Bankers - or Its People?

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.
 (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)
by: Peter Bratsis, Truthout | News Analysis 
The most central and constant dilemma in modern politics has been the choice between the political desires and demands of citizens versus the policy expertise and prudence of bureaucrats and specialists. For the more democratically inclined, those like Machiavelli and Aristotle, the judgments of the many, as flawed as they often may be, are nonetheless more trustworthy than the commands of the elite. The few, no matter their credentials or honors, are never able to match the collective intelligence of the multitude.
For others, including those who drafted the US Constitution, the whims and desires of the many are a great threat to social order, and the special few must stand as a moderating force between them and the levers of government. 
Recent events in Greece have hinged on this tension. The Greek economic crisis is often presented as a product of too much democracy, of politicians bowing to the demands of citizens for jobs, pensions and low taxes. The troika of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank (ECB) and European Union have stepped forward to undo this damage by attempting to break the ties between the residents of Greece and those who govern them. The troika has imposed strict policy guidelines, formulated by economists and other specialists, and closely monitors the implementation of these policies by the Greek government. Most recently, they have demanded written guarantees from all political parties in Greece that the austerity programs will be continued regardless of any future elections. Any "regressive" movements toward the demands of the Greek people provoke swift retributions from the troika.   READ MORE

How the GOP Might Try to Steal the 2012 Election

Democrats had better hope that the coming elections are not too close because the GOP is honing its vote stealing skills in its own primaries:
GOP state party snafus all have benefited Romney:

As we wrote yesterday, the Michigan Republican Party voted Wednesday night to award its two at-large delegates to the statewide winner instead of dividing up proportionally, as we (and even the Michigan GOP chairman at one time) had assumed. That move gave Romney a 16-14 delegate edge in the state instead of a 15-15 tie, and it has produced a firestorm of controversy. What’s more, it’s the latest GOP state party snafu this primary season that’s benefited Romney.

Consider: The Iowa Republican Party originally declared Romney the winner there (and even once the vote count had changed, it was hesitant to declare Santorum the new winner). In addition, the Maine GOP badly mishandled its caucuses (one county wasn’t counted due to snow, other results got lost in a spam folder), and Romney narrowly won that contest. And now you have the delegate drama in Michigan, which now allows Romney to claim a win there in both the popular vote and delegate count.
It's important to remember that they have two main methods of stealing elections. The first is vote suppression, in which they make it difficult for their opponents to cast votes. This is nothing new historically and it's not been confined to one party. But the modern Republicans have put their very special stamp on the practice by using reverse psychology and whining about non-existent voter fraud to claim they have been the victims of the terrible ACORN conspiracy to cancel out their decent Real American vote. (This was one of the bogus arguments used inBush vs Gore, which serves as a sort of template for their various legal arguments.)

But there's always been a second piece to the puzzle and that is the local and state GOP institutions responsible for counting votes and interpreting the voting laws being trained to use that power for partisan purpose.   READ MORE

Religious Freedom? Florida Passes One Bill Allowing Prayer in Public Schools, And One Cracking Down on "Sharia Law"

At a time when the national political debate is dominated by questions of religious freedoms, dueling headlines on the Miami Herald’s website underscore how self-described defenders of faith are often only interested in promoting freedom for some and not for all

Yesterday, within the span of 24 hours, the Florida House passed a bill to allow prayer in public schools and another to crack down on the supposed threat of Sharia law.
In a lopsided 88-27 vote, the chamber okayed a bill to allow any student to deliver “inspirational messages,” including religious prayers, at public-school events. “Look at what just happened in Ohio,” one lawmaker said, referencing the recent school school shooting there. “The kids need to have prayer at school.” Another explained the need by citing the “sex, gambling and all of the moral decay that’s on our televisions and radios.”  READ MORE

Everything the Sarah Palin Movie "Game Change" Gets Horribly Wrong

Sarah Palin
HBO's "Game Change" presents Palin as simply a bumbling Tina Fey -- and misses the real story of the 2008 campaign.
March 9, 2012

HBO’s “Game Change,” airing this Saturday, is not actually an adaption of the book “Game Change,” by  Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. It is “Sarah Palin Goes Rogue,” the movie, with a couple of anecdotes borrowed from the notoriously gossipy account of the 2008 election as a whole. (Or, arguably,it’s an adaptation of Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe’s “Sarah From Alaska.”)
That is sort of a shame. The Palin thing is the most heavily over-covered story line of the entire 2008 campaign, so focusing on it might be totally logical from a marketing perspective, but it’s unfortunate from an artistic one. The film re-creates various moments of YouTube campaign ephemera very well — remember when that old white lady called Obama an Arab and McCain looked uncomfortable? When it takes us behind closed doors, it’s to witness scenes any moderately close observer of the election and its aftermath could’ve dreamed up him- or herself. It might have been fun to see a TV movie about the Democratic primary fight; the personality clashes of the disastrous Clinton campaign would have made for entertaining television, and Mark Penn is surely a creature crying out for a grotesque Emmy-winning portrayal by, say, Paul Giamatti.    READ MORE

5 Craziest Conspiracy Theories Spread By Rush Limbaugh

Rush Limbaugh
Limbaugh poaches material from obscure conservative writers and disseminates their feverishly conspiratorial and racially charged content to his national audience.
March 9, 2012

One aspect of Limbaugh's radio career that often goes overlooked is his role as a conduit for wild and pernicious conspiracies born on the right-wing fringe to migrate to a broader audience. Limbaugh frequently poaches material from obscure conservative writers and enthusiastically disseminates their feverishly conspiratorial and racially charged content to his national audience. 
1. Vince Foster
On July 20, 1993, the body of deputy White House counsel Vince Foster was found in Northern Virginia's Fort Marcy Park. According to multiple investigations, Foster died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But conservatives, led by Rush Limbaugh, incessantly cast doubt on Foster's suicide, suggesting instead that the Clinton White House had murdered Foster and covered it up. On the March 11, 1994, broadcast of his television show, Limbaugh reviewed "some of the key questions" surrounding Foster's death:
LIMBAUGH: His body was found lying face-up and straight. His head was at the top of an incline; his feet at the bottom, an unusual position for someone who had shot himself while standing on an incline. Looked like he was ready for the coffin, in other words. [via Nexis]
Neither time nor the end of the Clinton administration has dampened Limabugh's ardor for Vince Foster conspiracy theorism. During the 2008 Democratic primary, Rush often invoked Fort Marcy Park when commenting on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign:  READ MORE

The Strange, Fascinating History of the Vibrator

The sex toy has its roots in the prude Victorian era -- but its history tells us a lot about the current attack upon women’s sexuality.
March 9, 2012

Victorian-era doctors disliked dealing with female patients. This highly masculinized profession saw women as overly emotional and barely capable of rational discussion of their bodies. For a profession actively attempting to separate itself from the quacks selling cure-all tonics out of the back of wagons, treating women’s conditions provided little professional credibility or prestige.
One of women’s most common medical conditions was broadly called “hysteria.” By this, doctors meant any number of symptoms that described "irrational" female complaints. Perhaps the most well-known subsection of this aliment was neurasthenia, a nervous condition afflicting Gilded Age women and some men. Neurasthenia symptoms ranged from headaches and fear of insanity to insomnia and “morbid fears.” While mostly afflicting women, men also received diagnoses of neurasthenia; common causes for men were thought to be overwork and masturbation. 
Male doctors found their hysterical and neurasthenic patients especially frustrating. Many doctors suggested that women would feel better if they engaged in sexual intercourse until its natural conclusion with a male orgasm. But given the ineffectiveness of vaginal penetration in satisfying many women, doctors resorted to other solutions. Doctors manually massaged the women’s clitoris until she achieved relief, i.e. experienced an orgasm, although it was not recognized as such. Annoyed doctors complained that it took women forever to achieve this relief; moreover, they thought this condition beneath their respectable professional demeanor to treat. On the other hand, the repeat business of these women was good for their pocketbooks.  READ MORE

Sandra Fluke Affair Proves that it's Right-Wingers Who Are the True Adherents of Saul Alinsky

Saul Alinsky
Like most liberals under the age of 50, I've never actually read Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. I only know what the book is about from reading Right-wing blogs -- they're obsessed with Alinksy, and seem to think that studying him is mandatory in our Liberal Indoctrination Centers public schools.

One of Alinsky's rules -- again, I know this because conservatives keep telling me -- is that you've got to: 'Pick the Target, Freeze It, Personalize It and Polarize It.' And that's exactly what Rush Limbaugh and his slut-shaming is about. Sandra Fluke, after all, is not a prominent figure on the national stage. She is a a young woman in law-school who testified about the experience of a friend who required birth control pills to battle cancer. And here she is, a target picked, frozen, personalized and polarized. 

Anyway, Rush must be wondering what all the fuss is about - after all, his outrageously vile comments about Fluke aren't more outrageous or vile than any of the other bile he spews everyday.

Yet, there is a backlash, as Kristen Gwynne noted in an earlier post. Pressure is being brought to bear on Limbaugh's advertisers, and companies don't like to have their brand associated with the worst kind of misogyny.

Also, this is kind of nice...  

Pat Robertson Talks Sandra Fluke's 'Fornication,' Says 'Rush Limbaugh Got A Little Bit Over The Top'

Televangelist Pat Robertson addressed Sandra Fluke's "fornication" and said that "Rush Limbaugh got a little bit over the top" when he referred to Fluke as a "slut" and a "prostitute."

Robertson discussed Fluke's testimony at a Democratic hearing on contraception with Jerry Bell of the American Principles Project on his CBN show "700 Club" on Wednesday. In her testimony, Fluke -- a third-year law student at Georgetown Law, a Jesuit institution -- said her school does not provide contraception coverage in its student health plan and that contraception can cost a woman more than $3,000 during law school.

"[Fluke] said that students needed $3,000 a year for contraception and that they couldn’t afford it," Robertson said. "As I understand, the Catholic school was supposed to pay for it. Now Catholics say that fornication, if you will, sex outside of marriage, is a sin. This woman is saying 'I'm going to be committing sin but I want you to pay for my sin.'"

Bell took his attack on Fluke a step further, insisting that Fluke's mission is part of a part of a 200 year plot to destroy religion & the family.  READ MORE

Rush Limbaugh And Birth Control: Anti-Science On The Airwaves (VIDEO)

CARA SANTA MARIA: Hi everybody. I'm Cara Santa Maria. As you all know, Rush Limbaugh made some comments this past week that raised more than a few eyebrows. In addition to being anti-woman, what he said is fundamentally anti-science:
RUSH LIMBAUGH: What does it say about the college co-ed "Susan" Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? Makes her a prostitute.   READ MORE

Gay marriage: Roman Catholic archbishops step up fight

The letter from Archbishops Nichols and Smith will
be read to congregations across England and Wales
The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales is intensifying its campaign against the government's plan to legalise same-sex marriage.

In a letter to be read in 2,500 parish churches later, the Church's two most senior archbishops say the change would reduce the significance of marriage.

The letter says Roman Catholics have a duty to make sure it does not happen.
The government wants to introduce gay marriage by 2015, but says churches would not have to perform weddings.

Last week Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, said the "grotesque" plans would "shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world" if implemented.
And on Friday, in a speech to visiting US bishops, Pope Benedict XVI warned of "powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage", in the wake of the US states of Washington and Maryland legalising same-sex marriage.