While the news is resplendent with the hypocrisy, falsehoods, distractions and manufactured anger of one party against another, and our weak (or complicit) president is wedged between a corporate rock and a hard place, we’ll explore the underside of these issues with wisdom culled from the best reporting and analysis to be found on the web, as always.
Take a journey from the psychedelic to the cosmic electronic.
In the Hall of the Mountain King – The Mysterions
Trust Us (Take 9) – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
Kulu Valley (Ambient Remix) – London Philharmonic Orchestra
I´d Wait A Million Years – The Grass Roots
Try My Patience – The Rockets
Ballad to an Amber Lady – Pearls Before Swine
As Long As You’re Here [Bonus] – Zalman Yanovsky
Tripmaker – The Seeds
Bad Trip – Fifty Foot Hose
Stuffed Aubergine – Vangelis
Dissidents [Edit] – Thomas Dolby
Earth, The Circle [Parts 1-2] – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
Some Velvet Morning – Lydia Lunch & Rowland S. Howard
Signals – Gerhard Trede And His Electronic Instuments
In The Black Of Night – Slow Train
Aquatic Groove – Strange Fruit Project
Your Revolution – DJ Vadim feat. Sarah Jones
Turtle Soup (Wagon Christ Mix) – DJ Food
Nightcall – Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx
Rebeka – Stars
Consciousness – Synaesthesia
Industrial Warfare – Atmosphere
Helicopter Party – The Majesticons
Cosmic Raindance – Cybotron
Project Jazz – Hell Razah, Talib Kweli And Viktor Vaughn
Breaks Of Meditate – Beat Conductor
Laser Attack – Scientist
In his remarks last week, John Boehner sought to take the offensive, saying that Democrats lacked the nerve to do what is right. And he promised that the House would vote before the election to extend the Bush-era tax cuts in an effort to put the Democrats on the defensive. Things may get a whole lot worse for the Speaker before they get better, however, and all his machismo may not be enough to dig him out. He seems to be ignoring polls and public opinion, including those in his own party.
Conservatives are in disarray! The tea partiers don’t agree with the neo-conservatives, the center-rights desperately try to talk sense into the monied elites for fear of losing crucial moderate independent votes, and the GOP risks looking like a vile machine of indifference and hate to their own constituents if they continue to push for tax cuts for the rich, enter another war in the Middle East, refuse to compromise by holding the country hostage (as they did last year and Mr. Boehner is threatening to do again), and make a general mess of Health Care and Financial Reform.
Now if we can do the same to the Democrats, and put both parties on the defensive against the reason, rationale, evidence and facts of the people, we may engender some real change.
For all his attacks on Romney for his connections to Bain Capital, Obama’s campaign and the joint fundraising operation he runs with the Democratic National Committee have received more than $152,000 from employees of Bain Capital and Bain & Company.
It’s all a drop in the bucket compared to the $2.5 million given to Romney’s campaign or Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting him, by employees of Bain Capital (the private equity company founded and run by Romney) and Bain & Company (the business consulting firm where Romney got his start and where he returned as CEO, briefly, in the early 1990s). Employees of the firm have given the Romney campaign at least $154,000, and the Restore Our Future super PAC received at least $2.4 million. Employees of Bain & Company have chipped in another $123,050 to his campaign.
Overall, the 112th Congress speaks collectively at a 10th grade level, down from that of a high school junior in 2005, according to a Sunlight Foundation study released this week. Congress’ conservative members speak, on average, at the lowest grade level. Moderates from both parties tend to speak at the highest level.
And while Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett announced that he may keep Barack Obama off the ballot because of “questions” whether the president was born in America (he said the reason he started looking into it is because he got more than 1,200 emails asking him to do so), what about Mitt Romney? What about the persistent rumors that Mitt Romney is in fact, a unicorn? There has never been a conclusive DNA test proving that Mitt Romney is not a unicorn. We have never seen him without his hair — hair that could be covering up a horn.
No, we cannot prove it. But we cannot prove that it is not the case. And if Mitt Romney is or may be a unicorn, he is not Constitutionally qualified to be president. The petition to investigate already has over 18,000 signatures.
All of this political drama is a farce to distract from the fact that both parties are working to cover up and ignore the crimes of the century (and it’s just the beginning of the century, too!)
“It is no exaggeration to say that since the 1980’s, much of the American (and global) financial sector has become criminalized, creating an industry that tolerates or even encourages systemic fraud. The behavior that caused the mortgage bubble and financial crisis was a natural outcome and continuation of this pattern, rather than some kind of economic accident.”
-Charles Ferguson, Predator Nation
For a generation, America’s political-economy has been gripped in a vicious cycle. Those at the top of the economic pile have taken an ever-growing share of the nation’s income, and then leveraged that haul into ever-greater political power, which they have in turn used to rewrite the rules of “the market” in their favor. Wash, rinse and repeat.
When economic inequality increases, the people who have become economically more powerful will often attempt to use that power in order to gain even more political power. And once they are able to monopolize political power, they will start using that for changing the rules in their favor.
–MIT economist Daron Acemoglu
In almost every instance, senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes (PDF).
–Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Princeton
As we saw last week, the courts are our last defenses against the corrupt systems of power. And yet a study by the Constitutional Accountability Center found that the Chamber of Commerce had won 65 percent of its cases heard by the court under Chief Justice John Roberts, compared to 56 percent under former Chief Justice William Rehnquist (1986-2005) and just 43 percent of the cases that came during the Burger court (1969-1986).
But that’s only the beginning. “The Roberts Court,” wrote Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, is “slowly but surely… giving corporate America a handbook on how to engage in misconduct. In case after case, it seems big companies are being given the playbook on how to win even bigger the next time.”
Many of the court’s rulings have overturned long-standing precedents. While conservatives constantly rail against judges “legislating from the bench,” it is far more common for right-leaning jurists to engage in “judicial activism” than those of a liberal bent. That’s what several studies have concluded. Media Matters offered a run-down of a couple of prominent ones:
A 2005 study by Yale University law professor Paul Gewirtz and Yale Law School graduate Chad Golder showed that among Supreme Court justices at that time, those most frequently labeled “conservative” were among the most frequent practitioners of at least one brand of judicial activism – the tendency to strike down statutes passed by Congress. Those most frequently labeled “liberal” were the least likely to strike down statutes passed by Congress.
A 2007 study published by University of Chicago law professor Thomas J. Miles and Cass R. Sunstein… used a different measurement of judicial activism: the tendency of judges to strike down decisions by federal regulatory agencies. Sunstein and Miles found that by this definition, the Supreme Court’s “conservative” justices were the most likely to engage in “judicial activism” while the “liberal” justices were most likely to exercise “judicial restraint.”
In a recent opinion, two federal appeals court judges suggested that all efforts to protect workers, consumers or the environment were unconstitutional, including regulatory efforts by the states. Its advocates eschew the notion that human rights or economic fairness are inherently valuable factors for the law to consider.
In 1998, the Washington Post reported that:
“Federal judges are attending expenses-paid, five-day seminars on property rights and the environment at resorts in Montana, sessions underwritten by conservative foundations that are also funding a wave of litigation on those issues in the federal courts.”
If the economics and law movement were to become the standard in our legal culture, it would represent a massive upward redistribution of wealth. Not only would “transfer payments” – unemployment benefits, assistance for needy families and the like – be deemed unconstitutional, but so would minimum wages, job training programs, subsidized student loans and most of our already threadbare social safety net. And that environment will have been purchased for a princely sum by those who have profited so handsomely from America’s spiraling income inequality.
As Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, reports:
Lenders, including major credit companies as well as payday lenders, have taken over the traditional role of the street-corner loan shark, charging the poor insanely high rates of interest. When supplemented with late fees (themselves subject to interest), the resulting effective interest rate can be as high as 600% a year, which is perfectly legal in many states.
Kim Bobo, author of Wage Theft in America, who estimates that wage theft nets employers at least $100 billion a year and possibly twice that. As for the profits extracted by the lending industry, Gary Rivlin, who wrote Broke USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. — How the Working Poor Became Big Business, says the poor pay an effective surcharge of about $30 billion a year for the financial products they consume and more than twice that if you include subprime credit cards, subprime auto loans, and subprime mortgages.
The poster case for government persecution of the down-and-out would have to be Edwina Nowlin, a homeless Michigan woman who was jailed in 2009for failing to pay $104 a month to cover the room-and-board charges for her 16-year-old son’s incarceration. When she received a back paycheck, she thought it would allow her to pay for her son’s jail stay. Instead, it was confiscated and applied to the cost of her own incarceration. Some cities — most recently, Houston and Philadelphia — have made it a crime to share food with indigent people in public places.
Being poor itself is not yet a crime, but in at least a third of the states, being in debt can now land you in jail. If a creditor like a landlord or credit card company has a court summons issued for you and you fail to show up on your appointed court date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. And it is easy enough to miss a court summons, which may have been delivered to the wrong address or, in the case of some bottom-feeding bill collectors, simply tossed in the garbage — a practice so common that the industry even has a term for it: “sewer service.”
Once you have been deemed a criminal, you can pretty much kiss your remaining assets goodbye. Not only will you face the aforementioned court costs, but you’ll have a hard time ever finding a job again once you’ve acquired a criminal record. And then of course, the poorer you become, the more likely you are to get in fresh trouble with the law, 80%-90% of criminal offenses are committed by people who are officially indigent, The further you descend, the faster you fall — until you eventually end up on the streets and get busted for an offense like urinating in public or sleeping on a sidewalk.
Theft should be taken seriously even when it’s committed by millionaire employers. No one should be incarcerated for debt or squeezed for money they have no chance of getting their hands on. These are no-brainers, and should take precedence over any long term talk about generating jobs or strengthening the safety net. Before we can “do something” for the poor, there are some things we need to stop doing to them.
I’m not glorifying or exonerating the greedy Democrats, but the Republicans are measurably the worst of the bunch! The more radically evil of two evils. Even when Democrats tried to penalize those who would renounce their U.S. citizenship to dodge taxes has provoked fiery criticism from influential conservatives, who called them ‘nazis’, comparing them to Hitler or Stalin. The Wall Street Journal editorial board derided the legislation as “Soviet-style”
The Journal argued that the proposed Ex-PATRIOT Act would turn away the best and the brightest, bashing Schumer and Casey as “a pair of envy specialists” who are trying to “score political points by punishing the fleeing rich.”
Rush Limbaugh lamented, “It’s this whole class envy thing rearing its head again.”
“Expatriates like Saverin cannot continue to receive the benefits of doing business in the United States without any tax responsibility,” Schumer said upon unveiling the bill. “Citizenship is not for sale. The despicable trend that Saverin exhibits must be stopped dead in its tracks.”
Corrupt Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue says further regulation is the wrong response to news that banking giant JP Morgan lost billions of dollars speculating with depositor money. And though he allowed that the development raises legitimate questions about the size of major banks, Donohue defended JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon from the criticism he’s received since he announced the staggering losses 10 days ago.
“Nobody’s clear about the Volcker Rule,” Donohue told reporters at a Monday breakfast roundtable hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “It’s 270 some pages and if you gave it to six experts on the subject, they’d come back with seven interpretations what it means [but] I do also understand why the regulators start looking at the size of some of these places that they really worry.”
Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction against the American people. The current crisis in Greece is partly due to these dangerous “weapons”. So why are banks and other companies participating in such risky behavior? Is the outcome really worth the risk? It is one thing when a strategy is unsuccessful and money is lost, but a strategy that has been known to bring down an entire economy should it not pan out—raises many concerns.
Financial institutions and other companies should not be able to gamble at will. There needs to be transparency and agencies established to regulate the activities of companies that dabble in derivatives trading. The Volcker Rule was added to the section of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Act to restrict US banks from participating in activity not in the best interest of their customers; however exceptions have been made. Although new provisions to the rule have been addressed, a decision will not be made until the end of the year.
There remain signs that the tightened regulatory measures could still be undone, creating uncertainty about whether the actions that have helped to stabilize Wall Street will be in place when the next crisis hits. Two dozen bills in Congress seek to dismantle parts of the Dodd-Frank Act.
By September 2011, only a small portion of the law has taken hold. Of the up to 400 regulations called for in the act, only about a quarter had even been written, much less approved.
Key targets of the bill’s opponents include reining in the powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, reconsidering limits on debit card fees and restricting the budgets and growth of the S.E.C. and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. And some of the most powerful players in the derivatives market — which is closely controlled by just a small group of banks — argued that the government should allow a slow pace of changes for rewriting derivatives contracts.
Regulators are examining whether Morgan Stanley, the investment bank that shepherded Facebook through its highly publicized stock offering last week, selectively informed clients of an analyst’s negative report about the company before the stock started trading.
Rick Ketchum, the head of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the self-policing body for the securities industry, said Tuesday that the question is “a matter of regulatory concern” for his organization and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The top securities regulator for Massachusetts, William Galvin, said he had subpoenaed Morgan Stanley. Galvin said his office is investigating whether Morgan Stanley divulged to only some clients that one of its analysts had cut his revenue estimates for Facebook before the stock hit the market on Friday.
The financial press spent the week debating whether the machinations behind the scenes leading up to the botched public offering constitute outrightevidence of securities fraud or merely a toxic mixture of greed and incompetence.
Sometime in the run-up to the IPO, Facebook realized that it needed to downgrade its revenue projections for the second quarter because of difficulties selling ads on mobile phones — which are increasingly the access point of choice for Facebook browsing. This news was buried deep in an SEC regulatory filing, but it also may have been communicated directly to Facebook’s underwriters who, in turn, may have told their big clients — the institutional investors who usually make out like bandits on IPO day by buying stock at the offering price and then selling on the pop. The big investors accordingly decided that the price was a little too high and dumped their stock as quickly as they could.
The key parties involved in the screwing included Facebook’s three biggest underwriting banks, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.
The administration hasn’t specified any particular steps it would like regulators to take to shore up the so-called Volcker Rule —a bid perhaps to avoid an ugly public fight with powerful interests in an election year. But inaction — or a too-tepid response to JP Morgan’s losses — will hurt President Obama with key allies, who want to use the debacle to further rein in Wall Street.
Why on earth would the Obama administration want to “avoid an ugly public fight with powerful interests in an election year”? Shouldn’t the opposite be true? Shouldn’t the Obama administration be going out of its way to pick a fight with Wall Street? Could there be any better opportunity to tap enduring popular anger at the financial sector and draw a clear line demarcating Obama from his challenger, Mitt Romney?