Thursday, October 22, 2009

Last Call

Once again we're reminded where a McCain presidency would have taken us.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) introduced a bill in the Senate on Thursday that would effectively allow Internet service providers to slow down or block Internet content or applications of their choosing.

The move came the same day as the federal government decided to move forward on an official Net neutrality policy that would prevent ISPs from making those types of decisions.

The FCC's new rules would prevent ISPs, for example, from blocking or slowing bandwidth-hogging Web traffic such as streaming video or other applications that put a strain on their networks or from charging different rates to users.

McCain's bill, the Internet Freedom Act, would block the Federal Communications Commission from making Net neutrality the law of the land. The rule preventing ISPs from slowing down certain types of content would create "onerous federal regulation," McCain argued in a written statement.

According to a report at NetworkWorld, McCain "called the proposed Net neutrality rules a 'government takeover' of the Internet that will stifle innovation and depress an 'already anemic' job market in the US."

But supporters of Net neutrality argue that the rule is needed to ensure that Internet providers don't censor content, or slow down traffic to Web sites that are in competition with their business allies.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski argued that "reasonable and enforceable rules of the road" were needed "to preserve a free and open Internet."

"The Internet's openness has allowed entrepreneurs and innovators, small and large, to create countless applications and services without having to seek permission from anyone," he said.

But, the FCC chairman said, there have been "some significant situations where broadband providers have degraded the data streams of popular lawful services and blocked consumer access to lawful applications."

Two Republicans on the FCC also voted on Thursday to go ahead with the rule-making process, which will be open for public comment until January 14, but voiced misgivings about the plan.

Let's see: Republicans like McCain complaining about regulation stifling the free markets, too much government control, blatant scare tactics to try to terrify people into allowing an industry to police themselves, industry threats of having to pass on cost burdens to consumers if the government dares to regulate them...

Sound familiar? It's the same plan the banks are using. And less regulation of the financial industry worked out real well, didn't it?

With Democrats Like These...

...who needs Senate Republicans blocking legislation? Remember Al Franken's amendment to give victims of rape a fair court hearing against military contractors? The one opposed by 30 male Republicans? It passed overwhelmingly with all Dems and even a few Republican votes.

And now it's about to be stripped from the final a Democrat.
Multiple sources have told the Huffington Post that Sen. Dan Inouye, a longtime Democrat from Hawaii, is considering removing or altering the provision, which was offered by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and passed by the Senate several weeks ago.

Inouye's office, sources say, has been lobbied by defense contractors adamant that the language of the Franken amendment would leave them overly exposed to lawsuits and at constant risk of having contracts dry up. The Senate is considering taking out a provision known as the Title VII claim, which (if removed) would allow victims of assault or rape to bring suit against the individual perpetrator but not the contractor who employed him or her.

"The defense contractors have been storming his office," said a source with knowledge of the situation. "Inouye either will get the amendment taken out altogether, or water it down significantly. If they water it down, they will take out the Title VII claims. This means that in discrimination cases, they will still force you into a secret forced arbitration on KBR's (or other contractors') own terms -- with your chances of prevailing practically zero. The House seems to be very supportive of the original Franken amendment and all in line, but their hands are tied since it originated in the Senate. And since Inouye runs the show on this bill, he can easily take it out to get Republicans and the defense contractors off his back, which looks increasingly likely."

A Democratic aide on the Hill, also with knowledge of the situation, confirmed the account, as did a source who works on defense contracting matters outside of Congress. "The contractors are putting on a full-court press on this amendment... they are all doing it," said the latter source.

Didn't Inouye vote for the damned amendment in the first place? Why, yes he did. But now it doesn't matter, because the lobbyists control Inouye, and he controls the bill.

Game, set, match.

Dems are about to eat this one raw, and Inouye deserves whatever hell he gets for this should he follow through.

Snowe Job, Part 7

Senate Majority Leader In Her Own Mind Olympia Snowe is out of the Obamacare race, as I called from the beginning.
Senator Olympia Snowe said she won’t support the immediate creation of a government-run insurance program and raised the possibility that legislation overhauling the health system won’t be completed this year.

“A public option at the forefront really does put the government in a disproportionate position with respect to the industry,” Snowe, the only Republican so far to vote for health-care legislation, said on “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” which airs this weekend.

Snowe’s vote is crucial because her support would decrease the chances of Democrats such as Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson and Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln bucking their party. She might also bring along more Republican backing, from fellow Maine Senator Susan Collins or Ohio Senator George Voinovich.

With so many complex issues to parse, lawmakers may need more time to finish the legislation, Snowe said.

Christmas might be too soon,” she said. “We should give it the time it deserves.”

Snowe's entire Snowe Job raison d'etre is to sabotage the plan from within. There's a reason the GOP threatened to bury her should she vote for the Baucus Bill in committee, then they changed their mind 48 hours later. It was a trap from the get-go in order to try to kill the bill from the inside. Democrats aren't biting, however.

Today we now know the truth: It's the Party of S-NO-we. The GOP will never let a bill with a robust public option pass. They will destroy this bill even if it means going all in on all out war.

The battle lines have been drawn. Now the real fight for health care reform begins in earnest.

Tick, Tick, Boom

The mortgage securitization bubble is nearing the legal endgame, folks, as CounterPunch's Pam Martens reports (emphasis mine):
Three plain talking judges, in state courts in Massachusetts and Kansas, and a Federal Court in Ohio, have drilled down to the “straw man” aspect of securitization. The judges’ decisions have raised serious questions as to the legality of hundreds of thousands of foreclosures that have transpired as well as the legal standing of the subsequent purchasers of those homes, who are more and more frequently the Wall Street banks themselves.

Adding to the chaos, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has made rule changes that will force hundreds of billions of dollars of these securitizations back onto the Wall Street banks balance sheets, necessitating the need to raise capital just as the unseemly courtroom dramas are playing out.

The problems grew out of the steps required to structure a mortgage securitization. In order to meet the test of an arm’s length transaction, pass muster with regulators, conform to accounting rules and to qualify as an actual sale of the securities in order to be removed from the bank’s balance sheet, the mortgages get transferred a number of times before being sold to investors. Typically, the original lender (or a sponsor who has purchased the mortgages in the secondary market) will transfer the mortgages to a limited purpose entity called a depositor. The depositor will then transfer the mortgages to a trust which sells certificates to investors based on the various risk-rated tranches of the mortgage pool. (Theoretically, the lower rated tranches were to absorb the losses of defaults first with the top triple-A tiers being safe. In reality, many of the triple-A tiers have received ratings downgrades along with all the other tranches.)

Because of the expense, time and paperwork it would take to record each of the assignments of the thousands of mortgages in each securitization, Wall Street firms decided to just issue blank mortgage assignments all along the channel of transfers, skipping the actual physical recording of the mortgage at the county registry of deeds.

Astonishingly, representatives for the trusts have been foreclosing on homes across the country, evicting the families, then auctioning the homes, without a proper paper trail on the mortgage assignments or proof that they had legal standing. In some cases, the courts have allowed the representatives to foreclose and evict despite their admission that the original mortgage note is lost. (This raises the question as to whether these mortgage notes are really lost or might have been fraudulently used in multiple securitizations, a concern raised by some Wall Street veterans.)
Now these judges are striking directly at the electronic system used to "file" these mortgages and foreclosures, a system called MERS the Mortgage Electronic Registration System. MERS, to put it bluntly, is the ultimate game of three-card monte. Who owns the mortgage? Who knows? The banks own MERSCORP, MERSCORP runs MERS, and there's no hard copy of the mortgage, only what's in the MERS system.
A month and a half before, on August 28, 2009, Judge Eric S. Rosen of the Kansas Supreme Court took an intensive look at a “straw man” some Wall Street firms had set up to handle the dirty work of foreclosure and serve as the “nominee” as the mortgages flipped between the various entities. Called MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc.) it’s a bankruptcy-remote subsidiary of MERSCORP, which in turn is owned by units of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, the Mortgage Bankers Association and assorted mortgage and title companies. According to the MERSCORP web site, these “shareholders played a critical role in the development of MERS. Through their capital support, MERS was able to fund expenses related to development and initial start-up.”

In recent years, MERS has become less of an electronic registration system and more of a serial defendant in courts across the land. In a May 2009 document titled “The Building Blocks of MERS,” the company concedes that “Recently there has been a wave of lawsuits filed by homeowners facing foreclosure which challenge MERS standing…” and then proceeds over the next 30 pages to describe the lawsuits state by state, putting a decidedly optimistic spin on the situation.

MERS doesn’t have a big roster of employees or lawyers running around the country foreclosing and defending itself in lawsuits. It simply deputizes employees of the banks and mortgage companies that use it as a nominee. It calls these deputies a “certifying officer.” Here’s how they explain this on their web site: “A certifying officer is an officer of the Member [mortgage company or bank] who is appointed a MERS officer by the Corporate Secretary of MERS by the issuance of a MERS Corporate Resolution. The Resolution authorizes the certifying officer to execute documents as a MERS officer.”
In other words, it's a huge front. Practically the entire subprime mortgage mess is under MERS, and the only way the banks know who owns what is because MERS says so. Now these judges are about to knock the supports from under this house of cards, and it's going to be another nightmare should the whole MERS system come down.

Tick, tick, boom.

And One More Thing On This Nixonian Crap

Conservatives who are screaming at Obama for "declaring war on FOX" and decrying this "chilling assault on freedom of the press" are the same ones who said that the NY Times reporters who broke Bush's warrantless wiretapping story were guilty of sedition and treason and should be charged with such.

It's called perspective, assholes. Get some.

Point / Counterpoint

Wingnuts on women:

1) Disagreeing with any woman with conservative views is proof all liberals hate all women.

2) Any woman who does not have conservative views is suspect as a mother, wife, provider and as a woman period, and voids rule one.

At some point the GOP will not be able to play the "We're the party of inclusive feminism!" card. I believe that point was 2006.

[UPDATE 2:43 PM] Surely Noemie Emery will decry this attack on an up-and-coming strong GOP woman like Dede her fellow conservatives (some at her own newspaper!) who are demanding she withdraw from the race to make way for the Conservative Party male candidate.

That, folks, is how Republicans treat women.

Enemy, Mine

At what point do Democrats admit the health insurers are the bad guys in this fight?
A top lobbyist for the major private insurance industry trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), urged Congressional Republicans to not even consider helping Democrats pass health care reform lest they aid an "enemy who is down."

Steve Champlin, a lobbyist for the Duberstein Group who represents AHIP, declared that the road to a bipartisan health care reform bill was, essentially, dead. And he urged GOP members to keep it that way.

"There is absolutely no interest, no reason Republicans should ever vote for this thing. They have gone from a party that got killed 11 months ago to a party that is rising today. And they are rising up on the turmoil of health care," said Champlin. "So when they vote for a health care reform bill, whatever it is, they are giving comfort to the enemy who is down."

"Long before the Republicans discovered that the House bill was a strategy to kill seniors and all that kind of stuff the plan was already unpopular," he added, underscoring why Republicans shouldn't attach themselves to the legislation.

Because gosh, the Republicans and the health insurers seem to sure as hell consider Obama and the Democrats as the enemy. They are trying to destroy the Dems by destroying Obamacare. I've been saying this for going on a year now, guys.

What will it take to give up this bi-partisan idiocy and pass laws that need to be passed? The Republicans don't want any part of governing. They only want to obstruct. That's it, that's all, period.

Kick them to the curb. If the other party has abdicated all responsibility, then yes, we have a de facto one-party system. Proceed accordingly.

[UPDATE 12:58 PM] And yes, this means Olympia Snowe. After all, she's not going to vote for any plan with a public option, nor will she allow one to proceed to the Senate Floor. She's only there to ruin the bill.

Time to give them the boot, boys.

[UPDATE 1:04 PM] Steve Benen has a damn good point:

Reading this, though, I'm reminded of the Republican Meme of the Week. If the White House criticizes AHIP, and tries to leverage the industry's antics to rally support for reform, the administration, we're told, must be creating an "enemies list." If Obama criticizes insurers, he resembles, we're told, be a modern-day Nixon.

In other words, AHIP can try to derail reform, pressure Republicans to vote in lock-step against improving the broken system, and characterize the majority as "the enemy," but if the White House pushes back, it's the president and his team who are being outrageous.

Our discourse can be awfully frustrating sometimes.

It's Okay If You're A Republican. If Obama does it, it's Nixonian fascism.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Whatever happened to "these people" being all fat, lazy welfare queens? Now the complaint is "these people" are too healthy and are unfairly harshing melanin-challenged America's sugar buzz, apparently.

There really isn't anything the Obamas can do, Barack, Michelle, Sasha and Malia, that Wingers will not complain about, even if it's exactly what Saint Ronaldus Magnus, Destroyer Of Communism would approve of.

(h/t Teh Rumpeez)

Because That's Where The Money Is

Organized crime, meet Medicare fraud. Medicare fraud, meet organized crime. We're sure you'll get along famously.

Experienced in running drug, prostitution and gambling rings, crime groups of various ethnicities and nationalities are learning it's safer and potentially more profitable to file fraudulent claims with the federal Medicare program and state-run Medicaid plans.

"They're hitting us and hitting us hard," said Timothy Menke, head of investigations for the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services. "Organized crime involvement in health care fraud is widespread."

Los Angeles is among the hot spots for health care fraud, where Russian, Armenian and Nigerian gangs have been caught by federal agents.

Crime boss Konstantin Grigoryan, a former Soviet army colonel, pleaded guilty to taking $20-million from Medicare; Karapet "Doc" Khacheryan, boss of a Eurasian crime gang, was recently convicted with five lieutenants of stealing doctor identities in a $2-million scam, and last Thursday two Nigerian members of an organized crime ring, Christopher Iruke and his wife, Connie Ikpoh, were charged with bilking Medicare of $6-million dollars by fraudulently billing the government for electric wheelchairs and other expensive medical equipment.

As in crime, like with finance, if you simply go where the money is you'll find the best, most organized people running the best, most profitable outfits at the expense of everyone else. Darwinian enterprise at its finest.
Defrauding government-run health care programs involves stealing two types of identities: those of doctors, who bill for services, and patients, whose beneficiary numbers entitle them to medical care and necessary equipment. Criminals are expert at collecting both.

"That information is very, very valuable to these crooks. And the doctor may work at one clinic but he won't know about the 2nd and 3rd clinic that they've already set up using his identification," said Glenn Ferry, special agent in charge of the Los Angeles Region for the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. "They are definitely well-organized, well-schooled on how to commit Medicare fraud."

And the key of course is both finance oversight and medical fraud law enforcement are horrendously underfunded, yet the easiest to steal money from under precisely because prevention of crimes in both fields are considered an unnecessary expense by conservatives and free-market glibertarians who dismantled the protections in the first place.

The only difference between organized crime and the financial meltdown of the past 18 months is a couple orders of magnitude.

Epic Quickly My Good Phineas, To My Electromotive Velocipede Win

Via Balloon Juice comes some serious epic technology win:
Our plan is to retrace the route of the automotive CEOs who went to Washington DC asking for government loans. But instead of looking for aid, we’d like to present President Obama with a homegrown solution to the transportation crisis. And instead of flying in a corporate jet, we’re riding Brammo Enertia powercycles. We’re just a couple of guys who work for Brammo, but we want to show that there’s a better way to get from Point A to Point B. And we want to have a little fun while we’re doing it. So join us as we surf from plug to plug in a quest to meet Obama, fueled by nothing more than electricity and the kindness of everyday Americans.
Now, there's the argument that using America's power grid still would create quite a carbon footprint, 15,000 miles on $100 of electricity is my entire power bill for two months, roughly.

Then again, 15,000 miles in my Hyundai would be a year's worth of gas, 25 tanks at 15 gallons at $2.50 a gallon is oh, ten times as much give or take. I'm thinking there should be a market for these here new-fangled electromotive velocipedes, especially in urban areas.

Still, a good way to market the bikes.

EPIC WIN, even. Indubitably.

Stopped Clock Is Right Alert

Being issued today for Jim Pethokoukis.
If I made of list of factors contributing to the recession and financial crisis, Wall Street pay would come in around 6th, after 1) easy monetary policy; 2) TBTF; 3) US housing policy; 4) global savings glut/China labor shock; 5) Wall Street group think. Yet pay is where so much energy is being directed at this issue thanks to its populist appeal. America hates TARP so Washington needs to make amends by hammering execs at TARP recipients.
And what's maddening is that he so easily sees the problem, and yet has no frigging clue how to fix it other than "less onerous regulation".

[UPDATE 9:53 AM] Then again, there's a reason why America is populist pissed off at these clowns.
I’m surprised this isn’t a bigger story, though perhaps it hasn’t yet migrated from England to the US. The vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs International, Lord Griffiths (and doesn’t it just fit that he’s a lord), said yesterday in London at conference on “morality and markets” (!) that the public most learn to tolerate inequality as the price to be paid for prosperity, a stunning quote given recent events in the global financial markets.
Seriously. The guy said that the British public should “tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity for all”. That's the argument. You poor people are going to have to deal with us rich people controlling the universe if you want our scraps.

What John Cole Said

This, as he tells Peter Wehner to go Cheney himself:

A few quick things:

1.) Fox is not a news organization. Period.

2.) Fox news helped to organize and promote partisan political rallies, including situations in which their producers were caught rallying the crowds and their rabble was shouting down and ACTUALLY intimidating reporters from other networks.

3.) Fox is not a news organization. Period.

4.) Peter Wehner worked for the Bush administration. The Bush administration, in eight years, conducted more abuses to the field of journalism than anyone I can recall. A partial recollection of the Bush administration’s wrongdoings include:

    -Paying Armstrong Williams, Michael McManus, and Maggie Gallagher and others for favorable opinions about WH policies or to attack opponents of the WH.

    -Planting Jeff Gannon to lob softball questions.

    -Used reporters to out a CIA agent, then sat by and watched reporters go to jail to protect their sources.

    -Fed reporters misinformation about WMD in Iraq, then used those reporters stories as corroborating evidence of the existence of WMD in Iraq.

    -treated Helen Thomas like a leper.

    -waged a coordinated campaign against NBC.

    -kicked all the NY Times reporters off of their planes.

    -the Pentagon Pundit program, which sold the war by planting former military officers on networks. Uncovering this story earned a journalist the fucking Pulitzer.

    -Staged mock press conferences with FEMA employees pretending to be reporters.

    -allowed Ari Fleischer to tell everyone (but directed at journalists) they needed to “watch what they say and what they do.”

And that is simply off the top of my head, and god only knows what lies and abuses Peter Wehner was responsible for while working at the Bush era Office of Strategic Initiatives. By comparison, the Obama White House has merely stated the obvious, which is that the Fox news is not a news organization.

Bravo, man. Bravo. Bush and company did more to destroy journalistic integrity than anyone, and the news organizations actually miss that lack of integrity because part of the deal was the Bush White House making kings out of press corps commoners and letting them run around sans integrity. They liked it.

They're not going back in that f'ckin integrity box again, dammit. Not without a fight.

[UPDATE 10:16 AM] Thers notes that FOX News loves them some Jake Tapper.

If It's Thursday...

New jobless claims up, continuing claims down.

531,000 new jobless claims this week, but continuing claims down to 5.9 million. Sadly, the reason why continuing claims are down is the fact that the Senate is holding up legislation to extend jobless benefits, and 7,000 Americans a day are falling through the cracks while the Republicans in the Senate screw around, trying to determine if people haven't gotten jobs yet and still need benefits because they're stupid, if they're just terribly poor (unlike your average Senator) or because they're just lazy. They object to extending benefits to people that might end up being grateful to the government. Republicans can't have that, you see.
Meanwhile, the bickering has cost people like Crystal Jordan of Dolton, Ill., their benefits. The single mother of three ran out in late September.

She is one of the 1.3 million people set to lose their benefits before year's end if Congress doesn't act, according to the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group. In October alone, more than 200,000 people will fall off the rolls.

Lawmakers twice lengthened the time people can receive checks to as much as 79 weeks, depending on the state.

Jordan lost her administrative support job in the spring of 2008. She had never been unemployed before and hasn't been able to find work since, despite sending out 10 resumes a day.

Jordan is also finishing her bachelor's degree in business management. She hopes that will give her the edge she needs to find a job in 2010.

The $1,000 check she received every two weeks allowed her to pay the rent and feed her family. Now, she doesn't know how she'll cover next month's bills.

"I am fearful we will all end up on the street because I can't find a job and have no income," Jordan said. "Everyone's household is extremely tight at the moment so I cannot lean on friends or family for any support."

After all, Senators are all employed and just give people jobs whenever they want. Why can't regular Americans find jobs?

It baffles them, you see. A single mother of three like Crystal Jordan might want to vote Democratic if her benefits are extended. If they're not, she might be angry enough to blame the Democrats instead.

That's how Republican math works.

The Nameless One Rewrites History Again

In another speech attacking President Obama, former VP Dick Cheney continued his tradition of laying into the current administration while glossing over the mistakes of the former.

Our administration always faced its share of criticism, and from some quarters it was always intense. That was especially so in the later years of our term, when the dangers were as serious as ever, but the sense of general alarm after 9/11 was a fading memory. Part of our responsibility, as we saw it, was not to forget the terrible harm that had been done to America … and not to let 9/11 become the prelude to something much bigger and far worse.

Eight years into the effort, one thing we know is that the enemy has spent most of this time on the defensive – and every attempt to strike inside the United States has failed. So you would think that our successors would be going to the intelligence community saying, “How did you did you do it? What were the keys to preventing another attack over that period of time?”

Instead, they’ve chosen a different path entirely – giving in to the angry left, slandering people who did a hard job well, and demagoguing an issue more serious than any other they’ll face in these four years. No one knows just where that path will lead, but I can promise you this: There will always be plenty of us willing to stand up for the policies and the people that have kept this country safe.

On the political left, it will still be asserted that tough interrogations did no good, because this is an article of faith for them, and actual evidence is unwelcome and disregarded. President Obama himself has ruled these methods out, and when he last addressed the subject he filled the air with vague and useless platitudes. His preferred device is to suggest that we could have gotten the same information by other means. We’re invited to think so. But this ignores the hard, inconvenient truth that we did try other means and techniques to elicit information from Khalid Sheikh Muhammed and other al-Qaeda operatives, only turning to enhanced techniques when we failed to produce the actionable intelligence we knew they were withholding. In fact, our intelligence professionals, in urgent circumstances with the highest of stakes, obtained specific information, prevented specific attacks, and saved American lives.

In short, to call enhanced interrogation a program of torture is not only to disregard the program’s legal underpinnings and safeguards. Such accusations are a libel against dedicated professionals who acted honorably and well, in our country’s name and in our country’s cause. What’s more, to completely rule out enhanced interrogation in the future, in favor of half-measures, is unwise in the extreme. In the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed.

For all that we’ve lost in this conflict, the United States has never lost its moral bearings – and least of all can that be said of our armed forces and intelligence personnel. They have done right, they have made our country safer, and a lot of Americans are alive today because of them.

This is basically boilerplate Cheney over the last five years: torture saved American lives, and anyone who disagrees is trying to let terrorists kill you and everyone you love.

The best part is Cheney's still playing the Only Republicans Can Save Your Soul card after completely failing to protect America on 9/11. It wasn't the Democrats who ignored the warnings that Bin Laden was going to strike inside the US. This man has no credibility on national security. None.

Then again, the American people figured that out in 2006 and 2008. They will continue to take everything Dick here says with a dumptruck of salt for a very long time.

If Cheney insists there is "no middle ground" then he should just accept his failures and quit trying to spackle over them.


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