Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Last Call

You gotta hand it to Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo.  He may be on the way out as the UN, US and the people of the Africa's largest producer of cocoa are firmly behind his democratically elected successor, Alassane Ouattara, but Gbagbo is the guy pulling the financial strings.

Ivory Coast’s $2.3 billion of Eurobonds fell to a record low as a spokesman for Laurent Gbagbo said the country will make a missed interest payment only if creditors recognize him as victor of the disputed presidential November elections. 

If the country defaults on its debt, people are going to lose millions if not billions, and that kind of thing gets the attention of the only people that count any more:  the banksters.   Gbagbo is saying that if the UN won't reinstall him as President of Ivory Coast, maybe the banks will.

Tyler Durden is having a big, long laugh.

And so things move from the simply violently revolutionary to the outright surreal, and once again they originate in Africa where today's TheOnion reality seems to feel most at home in practice (unlike its mostly theoretical, for now, US counterpart). Ivory Coast, the biggest producer of cocoa, today told bondholders of $2.3 billion in debt that unless creditors legitimize the corrupt incumbent regime, and recognize voted out president Laurent Gbagbo, then the country will not make an interest payment on its bonds which already are in a grace period, and will essentially default, unless the political gridlock is resolved in two weeks.

A planned national strike by Ouattara supporters today will probably herald the beginning of the end of the Gbagbo regime, but he can sure do a hell of a lot of damage on the way out.

Twenty Long Years In The Sandbox

Josh Marshall points out it was 20 years ago yesterday, January 17, 1991, that the US air campaign in the first Gulf War began.  And nobody mentioned it.

I remember watching the news that night with my parents, I was in 10th grade and I remember thinking I had never really seen war before, not live like this.  I remember clearly that I believed I was looking at history.

Marshall has similar thoughts as he notes the near complete lack of coverage of this today.

The Gulf War, the subsequent imposition of no-fly-zones over Iraq and the refusal to allow Iraq back into the good graces of the international system did not make the Iraq War inevitable. But it created a strong and ineluctable gravitational force pushing both countries in that direction. It was the stationing of American troops in Saudi Arabia (initially to prevent an Iraqi move into Saudi Arabia) that created the formative offense around which al Qaeda was built.

History has no starting point of course. As Lawrence Wright explains in The Looming Tower, the seeds of al Qaeda reach back into the early 20th century, with key stopovers in Sadat's Egypt and the Afghanistan War. One might similarly say that the key event was the fall of the Shah's regime in Iran, which increased the centrality of the US-Saudi security alliance as the linchpin of US policy in the Persian Gulf. Or for that matter we could go coup against Mosaddegh, which in many ways set the stage for what ended up being the Islamic Revolution.

But the Gulf War still looks like one of those pivotal events, where numerous strands of history meet together in a single knot. Or to pick another metaphor, one detonation point from which numerous shards and projectiles are still ripping forward into history. By that measure, the lack of commemoration seems less odd than telling. 

So much of my life, well more than half, has seen US troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan fighting terrorism.  The Gulf War indeed was a pivotal time in US history.

After all, we're still fighting it today.

You're The Clowns, He's The Ringmaster

Via Digby, this Esquire mag profile of FOX News boss Roger Ailes is a definite must-read.  Tom Junod has him nailed:

See, what Roger Ailes has done at Fox is find a way to mainstream extremity for fun and, of course, for profit. He's found out that people need the validating experience of extremity in the same way that he does. And he takes extreme positions and says extreme things because he needs to, because they allow him to make the choice that's at the heart of his power.

And that's the best definition of FOX's news operation that I've ever heard.  It exists solely to validate the extreme reality of the Tea Party right, period.  And he's made billions doing it.

Now combine that with news today that the FCC has approved the NBC Universal/Comcast merger, and you have in sum total a very bad day for non-corporate media.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Via Yellow Dog comes this story about Kentucky lawmakers wanting to use drug testing to eliminate food stamps for those who don't pass.

A state lawmaker wants random drug testing of adult Kentuckians who receive food stamps, Medicaid or other state assistance.

Those who fail the test would lose their benefits under House Bill 208, filed by Rep. Lonnie Napier, R-Lancaster.

Napier’s proposal has won the backing of powerful House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, but critics say it would stigmatize welfare recipients and possibly harm their innocent children.

“I’m not a hard-hearted guy,” said Napier. “I believe there is a need for public assistance for those who need it, but I understand some are using these funds to buy drugs.”

Napier said the goal “is to get people off drugs.”

“Most employers require it for their workers,” he said of drug testing. “We need to do the same for those getting assistance through the state.”

OK, so what happens to the kids of the parents who fail?  What about a false positive, which does happen from time to time?  You're talking about taking food benefits away from families and kids here over drug testing.

I have to go with YD here:

The goal is to eliminate public services to everyone who isn't rich.

If the goal were to "get people off drugs," this bill would include $100 million in new spending - plus the tax hike on the wealthy and corporations to pay for it - to create a massive drug treatment program for the tens of thousands of Kentuckians who want to get off drugs but can't because there are no treatment beds for them.

If the goal were to "get people off drugs," this bill would mandate random drug testing for every Kentucky taxpayer - no refund unless you prove you won't spend it on drugs.

If the goal were to "get people off drugs," this bill would propose a statewide single-payer health insurance program to ensure that everyone had access to affordable drug treatment.

Why do we only drug test people who are getting state money for food?  Shouldn't we randomly drug test anyone who is getting state services in some way to prove they're not using taxpayer resources to obtain drugs?   What about Social Security recipients?  Medicare recipients?  Owners of businesses that get millions in tax breaks for Creationist theme parks?  If you get a single dime of Kentucky taxpayer money in any sort of disbursement, then you gotta take a random pee test every year.  I like YD's idea about tax refunds.  You got a tax refund coming?  Here's your pee cup.

Let's test every taxpayer in the state and deny anyone who comes up positive all state services.  No police, no fire protection, you can't send your kids to public schools, you lose your driver's license, your water and electricity get cut off, you can't take public transportation, you can't leave your home to travel along public roads, you're under house arrest for a year, no exceptions.  Let's take Rep. Napier's legislation to its most equitable, most logical endpoint.

Otherwise this legislation is complete garbage, unless you somehow think it's only food stamp recipients in Kentucky who use drugs.

Missing The Message Completely

It takes a special kind of tone deaf ignorance to choose to give your first speech as Governor of Alabama from the King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery on MLK Day and then proclaim that non-Christians are not your brothers and sisters, but that's exactly what newly minted Republican Gov. Robert Bentley did yesterday.

"There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit," Bentley said.

''But if you have been adopted in God's family like I have, and like you have if you're a Christian and if you're saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister."

Bentley stopped just short of calling for non-Christians to accept Jesus Christ.

''Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters," he said. "So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."

Asked by The Birmingham News afterwords if his words where meant to insult other faiths, Bentley said, ''We're not trying to insult anybody." 

Well, you did.   Dr. King's message wasn't just for Christians any more than it was just for African-Americans.  It was about tolerance of all peoples, all creeds, all races.  To get up at the pulpit and use the occasion to divide Christians from non-Christians as the Governor is idiotic in any capacity, but to do it in that church on that day is about as staggeringly ignorant as it comes.

You sir do not understand Dr. King's message or his sacrifice in the least.  Educate yourself.

"We Do Stupid Like Nebraska Does Corn"

Freshman state Rep. Jason Brodeur wants to tell doctors what they can say — in their own offices.  Specifically, he wants to criminalize questions about guns.
To establish context, we're talking about the standard talk where pediatricians check the list of potential dangers, from cleaning chemicals to pets, from choking hazards to swimming pools.  Some pediatricians ask parents if there is a handgun in the house, and if it is secured.  Brodeur is apparently so offended by this that he wants to make it punishable for up to five years in prison and up to $5 million.

As long as he doesn't take himself too seriously or anything.

Elvira's Sarah Palin Impression A Macabre Hit

Elvira had a Sarah Palin Moment while sending viewers off to a commercial break.  Good times, that's all I'm saying.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter, Part 58

We've got a quartet of Foreclosuregate stories for you from over the last few days that are definite losses for the banks.  First in Maryland, some 10,000 foreclosures have been tossed by the courts.

In a major ruling Friday, a coalition of nonprofit defense lawyers and consumer protection advocates in Maryland successfully got over 10,000 foreclosure cases managed by GMAC Mortgage tossed out, because affidavits in the cases were signed by Jeffrey Stephan, the infamous GMAC “robo-signer” who attested to the authenticity of foreclosure documents without any knowledge about them, as well as signing other false statements.

The University of Maryland Consumer Protection Clinic and Civil Justice, Inc., a nonprofit, filed the class action lawsuit, arguing that any case using Jeffrey Stephan as a signer was illegitimate and must be dismissed. In court Friday, GMAC agreed to dismiss every case in Maryland relying on a Stephan affidavit. They can refile foreclosure actions on the close to 10,000 homes, but only at their own expense, and subject to new Maryland regulations which require mandatory mediation between borrower and lender before moving to foreclosure. Civil Justice and the Consumer Protection Clinic also want any cases with affidavits from Xee Moua of Wells Fargo, who has also admitted to robo-signing, thrown out, but that case has not yet been settled.

Second, the floodgates for massive MERS losses are opening in Utah too.

A Utah court case in which the owner of a Draper townhouse got clear title to the property, even though he still owed $132,000 on it, raises new legal and financial questions about a property-records database created by mortgage bankers. 

The award of a title free of liens means that whoever owns the promissory note on the Draper property — likely a group of faraway investors — no longer has the right to foreclose to collect on a delinquent loan. Indeed, the townhouse owner has sold the property and kept the money. Those who own the promissory note probably don’t even know what occurred.

Decisions such as the one 3rd District Judge Glen Iwasaki handed down in the Draper case could have a big impact as the state wends its way through hundreds of lawsuits involving foreclosures, loans on properties for more than they’re worth and predatory lending practices that led Utahns to lose their homes as the real-estate bubble burst. 

For those of you new to the blog here in 2011, let's recap the Roaches series and Foreclosuregate for 2011.

Both of these developments are bad, bad news for the banks.  Remember, the banks sold blocks of mortgages to investors as AAA-rated securities opportunities.  In order to process all this, they created the computerized MERS (Mortgage Electronic Records System) to do it with.  But MERS never kept track of all the paperwork that was required by law.  The banks blew it big.  More and more state court rulings are coming out saying the banks broke the law by using MERS and not keeping track of the pysical mortgage paperwork.

Worse, the banks then used MERS and "robo-signers" to sign off on tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of foreclosure notices illegally and improperly.  All the foreclosures processed by MERS are now in question.  Do the banks really own the property to be able to foreclose?  Since they bundled the mortgages into investment blocks (called tranches in the biz), the answer is "Who knows?"

So since the banks don't officially own the property deed, they can't foreclose because they don't own it.  If they don't own the property, then the investors who bought the mortgage block investments suddenly have worthless pieces of paper.   Enough of these cases go against the banks and then investors say "We want our money back."  people will begin to question their investment and these big investors will want out.  They will want their money and want it now.

Money the banks don't have.  Their assets are tied up in hundreds of thousands of homes they don't have the title to.  Oops. But here's the real killer:  some of these foreclosed properties the banks are trying to get back.  But there are thousands more foreclosures that banks are simply walking away from.

Research to be released Thursday, the first of its kind locally, identifies 1,896 "red flag" homes in Chicago — most of them are in distressed African-American neighborhoods — that appear to have been abandoned by mortgage servicers during the foreclosure process, the Woodstock Institute found.

Abandoned foreclosures are increasing as mortgage investors determine that, at sale, they can't recoup the costs of foreclosing, securing, maintaining and marketing a home, and they sometimes aren't completing foreclosure actions. The property, by then usually vacant, becomes another eyesore in limbo along blocks where faded signs still announce block clubs.

"The steward relationship between the servicer and the property is broken, particularly in these hard-hit communities," said Geoff Smith, senior vice president of Woodstock, a Chicago-based research and advocacy group. "The role of the servicer is to be the person in charge of that property's disposition. You're seeing situations where servicers are not living up to that standard."

And who is getting stuck with those properties when the bank walks away because the MERS shortcuts were the only way to foreclose on the properties and still make any money off them?  You guessed it:  local city and county governments, already stressed to the max, are getting stuck now with thousands of vacant homes that the banks are refusing to foreclose on because they would be a net loss if they did!

You see here the framework for the next big financial crisis, one I've been talking about in this series of posts now for the better part of a year.  And if this doesn't kill them on MERS, now it looks like at least one big bank has repeatedly violated federal law.

One of the nation's biggest banks — JP Morgan Chase — admits it has overcharged several thousand military families for their mortgages, including families of troops fighting in Afghanistan. The bank also tells NBC News that it improperly foreclosed on more than a dozen military families. 

The admissions are an outgrowth of a lawsuit filed by Marine Capt. Jonathan Rowles. Rowles is the backseat pilot of an F/A 18 Delta fighter jet and has served the nation as a Marine for five years. He and his wife, Julia, say they’ve been battling Chase almost that long.

The dispute apparently caused the bank to review its handling of all mortgages involving active-duty military personnel. Under a law known as the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), active-duty troops generally get their mortgage interest rates lowered to 6 percent and are protected from foreclosure. Chase now appears to have repeatedly violated that law, which is designed to protect troops and their families from financial stress while they’re in harm's way.

A Chase official told NBC News that some 4,000 troops may have been overcharged. What’s more, the bank discovered it improperly foreclosed on the homes of 14 military families.

That's just about a complete goose egg for the banks in the last several days on the foreclosure front.

Keep your eye on this.  It will blow up very, very soon...and when it does, we're in deep economic trouble.

We're about to see how big Too Big To Fail is.

Commerce Clause For Alarm, Part 4

Newly minted GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah is leading the next great charge in wingnut legal philosophy, as Steven D points out.

Guess who wants federal child labor laws banned? The newly elected Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who is, it goes without saying a Republican. In short, he believes that federal laws that ban child labor are unconstitutional.

Lee's reasoning was that labor and manufacturing are "by their very nature, local activities" and not "interstate commercial transactions." He added: "This may sound harsh, but it was designed to be that way. It was designed to be a little bit harsh." 
The key Congressional law that addresses child labor is the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which placed a series of restrictions against the employment of people under 18 in the public and private sectors.
By this same reasoning any law involving worker safety, the minimum wage, limitations on hours worked per day and week, etc. are also unconstitutional as being strictly local matters that only the states may regulate. Indeed, industrial pollution that cannot be shown to have migrated across state borders might also be considered unconstitutional, as would federal laws demanding an environmental impact statement before commercial or industrial development, regardless of how dangerous the planned activities might be, or how damaging to the environment. 

And that's certainly Lee's final thrust:  the notion that all commerce in the United States is local and therefore doesn't fall under the Congress and the Commerce Clause.

This avenue of attack is much larger that just child labor laws.  It aims to nullify all federal labor laws, period.  Lee's logic isn't just unsound...it's the entire point.

What I don't get is why are they using child labor laws as unconstitutional?  Somehow I doubt that's a winning argument with America's parents, or with people who don't even have kids for that matter.  I could understand going after the minimum wage because you can at least smokescreen it by saying it will increase wages for those not making minimum wage, and play up the "poor small businessman and his labor costs" angle.

But there's no real winning argument to "Hey, you should have the right to let kids play with iron smelters!"

Why focusing on child labor laws?  That I don't get.

Looking For Answers In Tuscon

A new CNN poll on America's reaction to the Tuscon shooting contains some interesting numbers:

  • 52% of Americans think gun control laws deserve a great deal or moderate amount of the blame for the tragedy, 48% feel the same way about political rhetoric, only 35% think Sarah Palin had much of anything to do with it, but 70% thought the resources available to deal with the mentally ill played a significant role in the shooting.
  • 54% of Americans think violent rhetoric will either very likely or somewhat likely cause another incident like this in the future.
    70% of Americans think politicians will behave for a few weeks or months but go back on the attack soon.
  • 53% think if found guilty, Jared Loughner deserves the death penalty, 43% would rather see him serve life without parole.
  • 66% of Americans polled think another incident like this will happen no matter what is doen by government or society to try to prevent it from happening again.

That last one I think is the most depressing.  We're a pretty cynical people when it comes to shootings and gun violence, it turns out...and rightly so.

The good news out of all this is that Gabby Giffords' doctors are actively talking about her release from the hospital and into a rehabilitation facility, possibly in a matter of "days to weeks".  That would be just the beginning of a brutal journey to get back to being able to move and speak on her own again, but just being able to make that journey is a miracle in and of itself.

Glad to have something to balance the cynicism.


Related Posts with Thumbnails