Two things happened over the sleepy 4th of July holiday that California Republican Congressmen Buck McKeon and Darrell Issa hoped no one would notice. Issa released his long-awaited 136 page investigation, How Countrywide Used its VIP Loan Program To Influence Washington Policymakers, and McKeon fired his Deputy Chief of Staff and district director Bob Haueter. No one is paying attention to the news-- other than fireworks displays and hot dog eating contests-- over the 4th of July break.
If McKeon thinks he can somehow shift the blame for all his incessant bribe-taking onto Bob Haueter, he's not paying enough attention to all the money he loses gambling at Sheldon Adelson's casinos in Las Vegas when he makes those eye-popping bets. Voters in Santa Clarita, Porter Ranch, Simi Valley and the Antelope Valley are getting wise to McKeon's little tricks. And Issa releasing his report on July 4th won't save his scrawny neck.
Short version-- McKeon was about to go bankrupt so he reached out to Mike Farrell, sleazy chief lobbyist and legislative strategist for the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, who helped him get a sweetheart deal from Angelo Mozilo, head of Countrywide. He then voted against legislation to regulate mortgage dealers like Countrywide, legislation that could have averted the mortgage meltdown for which Countrywide was primarily responsible. McKeon, of course, denies everything, even that he was under investigation or that he got any special treatment. John Bresnahan's report in Politico yesterday was clear that Issa's investigation proves otherwise:
While the identities of the lawmakers who received the VIP loans have been public for years-- and all vehemently dispute that they received or were aware of getting any special treatment-- Issa asserts that the efforts by Countrywide and its former CEO, Angelo Mozilo, to woo political power brokers played a critical part in blocking legislation that would have reformed the mortgage industry, specifically the roles played by the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the U.S. housing bubble of the mid-2000s.
?Documents and testimony obtained by the Committee show the VIP loan program was a tool used by Countrywide to build goodwill with lawmakers and other individuals positioned to benefit the company. A Countrywide lobbyist described the VIP program as a means to create a favorable impression of the company on Capitol Hill,? states a draft copy of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee report that was reviewed by Politico.
?Documents and testimony show that Angelo Mozilo and Countrywide?s lobbyists may have skirted the federal bribery statute by keeping conversations about discounts and other forms of preferential treatment internal. Rather than making quid pro quo arrangements with lawmakers and staff, Countrywide used the VIP loan program to cast a wide net of influence.?
The report adds: ?Countrywide?s effort to build goodwill on Capitol Hill worked. Countrywide became a trusted adviser and was consulted when the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee considered GSE reform and predatory lending legislation. If Countrywide?s lobbyists, and Mozilo himself, were more strictly prohibited from arranging preferential treatment for Members of Congress and congressional staff, it is possible that efforts to reform the GSEs would have been met with less resistance.?
The Justice Department has not prosecuted any Countrywide official, but the House committee's report said documents and testimony show that Mozilo and company lobbyists "may have skirted the federal bribery statute by keeping conversations about discounts and other forms of preferential treatment internal. Rather than making quid pro quo arrangements with lawmakers and staff, Countrywide used the VIP loan program to cast a wide net of influence."
The Securities and Exchange Commission in October 2010 slapped Mozilo with a $22.5 million penalty to settle charges that he and two other former Countrywide executives misled investors as the subprime mortgage crisis began. Mozilo also was banned from ever again serving as an officer or director of a publicly traded company.
He also agreed to pay another $45 million to settle other violations for a total settlement of $67.5 million that was to be returned to investors who were harmed.
The report said that until the housing market became swamped with foreclosures, "Countrywide's effort to build goodwill on Capitol Hill worked."
The company became a trusted adviser in Congress and was consulted when the House Financial Services Committee and Senate Banking Committee considered reform of Fannie and Freddie and unfair lending practices.
"If Countrywide's lobbyists, and Mozilo himself, were more strictly prohibited from arranging preferential treatment for members of Congress and congressional staff, it is possible that efforts to reform (Fannie and Freddie) would have been met with less resistance," the report said.
The report said Fannie assigned as many as 70 lobbyists to the Financial Services Committee while it considered legislation to reform the company from 2000 to 2005. Four reform bills were introduced in the House during the period, and none made it out of the committee.
Hit with staggering losses, Fannie and Freddie came under government control in September 2008. As of Dec. 31, 2011, the Treasury Department had committed over $183 billion to support the two companies-- and there's no end in sight.
In October 1998, McKeon and his wife used Countrywide to refinance a mortgage on a property in Stevenson Ranch, California. The VIP unit processed the loan. On February 12, 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that a spokesperson for Congressman McKeon?s office said McKeon ?had no knowledge of the Friends of Angelo designation. "McKeon told the Times he paid garbage fees and did not get a point off on the loan.
Internal Countrywide documents show that Angelo Mozilo ordered a point off McKeon?s loan and waived garbage fees. The discount is not reflected on documents signed by McKeon. However, internal Countrywide documents show that one point was in fact waived.
In an internal e-mail from September 29, 1998, Kay Gerfen noted that McKeon was referred to Countrywide by ?Mike Farrell/MBA.? Farrell was the chief lobbyist and legislative strategist for the Mortgage Bankers Association of America (MBA). At the time, Farrell was working on ?leading the industry?s successful campaign... to raise the maximum loan amount for FHA single-family insured mortgages.? Mozilo served as the President of the MBA from 1991 to 1992 and remained closely connected to the association, which represented the interests of the real estate finance industry.
A September 29, 1998 e-mail from Kay Gerfen to Stephen Brandt described Mozilo?s instructions for pricing and processing McKeon?s loan. Gerfen stated: ?Per Angelo-- ?take off 1 point, no garbage fees, approve the loan and make it a no doc.?? Brandt forwarded Gerfen?s e-mail to Joseph Reed in the VIP unit.
On October 5, 1998, Reed updated a ?Countrywide Comment Sheet? for McKeon?s loan. Reed?s comments about the McKeon loan reflected the content of a series of telephone conversations with McKeon, his wife, and his secretary. Reed stated:FOA [Friends of Angelo] referral, Please order appraisal ASAP. You may call the borrower at his Washington office [number redacted] and get the Sons phone number for the appraiser contact. The borrower would like to hear from the appraiser this week.
The borrower is a bit difficult to deal with. He seems on the edgy side.
On October 7, 1998, Countrywide sent an ?opening package? of loan documents to the McKeon?s at their Stevenson Ranch home. The cover letter stated: ?Thank you for allowing COUNTRYWIDE?s VIP TEAM to assist you with your financing needs on the above referenced property.?
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There's a major right-wing freakout right now over remarks made by several prominent and vocal African-American media personalities over their thoughts about Independence Day.
The point, as Harris-Perry says in the video at the end of this post, is that Independence Day has a different meaning to African Americans than it does to white Americans. Her point in saying so at all is to remind all of us that no matter how far we've come, there's still a long way to go.
Cue the freakout. Michelle Malkin and other Creatures of the Night shriek that anyone who actually points out the warts on the pages of the Declaration of Independence can't be "real Amuricans." And that's damn true especially if they happen to be African Amuricans. They squeal about values and things, but with only pure love for true America in their hearts.
Bill O'Reilly joined the chorus Thursday night, when he and Gretchen Carlson cherrypicked Melissa Harris-Perry's three-minute ponderance of Independence Day (video embedded below).
Harris-Perry was reflecting on the imperfect, improbability of our nation as a whole. She begins by pointing out the idealism of the founders, the "unlikely narrative of young men so inspired by an age of ideas that they threw off the yoke of colonialism and founded a free nation."
Funny how that part which was just ahead of the section they clipped didn't make it into the segment, huh?
Then yes, she does also point out the contradiction and the founders' imperfection as a contrast. On the one hand idealists, yet on the other, willing to steal the land to found their nation of ideas, enslave labor to build the nation, and consign their mothers to second-class citizen status, a condition that exists to this day and which Harris-Perry notes by her use of the present tense when referring to women.
And then she moves to the contrasts again, pointing out that we all benefit from the spoils (residuals) of oppression and we are each harmed by the realities of inequality, casting those in terms of "imperfect fabric" which we have at times stained and at other times mended and repaired.
She ends by noting that for as much as we own the negatives -- imperialism, genocide and slavery -- we also own the positives, "liberation and the hope and deeply American belief that our best days still lie ahead of this."
Strangely, BillO's clip didn't include anything past her remarks about inequality and oppression. As if to actually confirm what it was Harris-Perry was saying, he goes on to refer to her as "that woman."
You know. "That woman who works at that network." Her. That woman. No name, no face of humanity on her, and despite the fact that even Gretchen Carlson had to swallow her bile long enough to admit that Harris-Perry had said nothing at all that was incorrect or factually wrong. Nay, nay. The outrage was over THAT WOMAN not having the decency to let just one day go by without pointing to the negatives of our nation, something they view as uniquely "leftist."
Last week, Sean Hannity clutched his worry beads over the possibility that we're just not a great nation anymore, which was nothing more than coded racism for his disgust that an African American president wasn't subverted by the Supreme Court. But then, he didn't do it on the 4th of July, so I guess that was an acceptable thing for a right-winger to say about the country.
Harris-Perry, on the other hand, ends her peroration with the reminder that Americans believe the best is yet to come, somehow giving O'Reilly and Carlson shrieking rights over THAT NETWORK HATING ON OUR NATION.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with either side, it's clear O'Reilly couldn't present his side without actually editing Harris-Perry's words for the audience. God forbid they had heard the whole thing before he pronounced judgement.
Meanwhile, Forbes writer Steve Frezza publishes a column on July 4th calling America "a nation of rent-seeking dependents clamoring for their share of state largesse," a condition we should atone for and not celebrate. Funny, I don't see Billo and Gretchen fussing over that. I agree with Ed Kilgore:
Maybe progressives make a mistake in not calling out people like Frezza whose horror at having to share this country with the likes of me and you makes him by any standard un-patriotic, in the grips of a global ideology that is no more essentially ?American? than fascism was essentially ?Italian.?
I?m perfectly happy on this and any other day devoted to communal, civic celebrations to put aside differences and tip my hat (or a beer) to neighbors I know don?t agree with me on much of anything that makes up the daily bread of politics. But I?m no longer going to quietly accept lectures on patriotism from people who hate my country because they don?t rule it and my vote is equal to theirs.
That promise begins right here with Billo and his shrieking Banshee band of unpatriotic patriots.
After Lt. Col Roy Tisdale, a Texas A&M alum, passed away on June 28th following being shot during a training exercise at Fort Bragg, the A&M community began to grieve for the loss of a loved member of the Aggie family. However, when news of Westboro Baptist Church’s intentions to picket the funeral of the decorated soldier reached the community, several Aggies decided to organize a silent human “Maroon Wall” to surround College Station’s Central Baptist Church and preserve the sanctity of the funeral for the fallen commanding officer and his family.
Ryan Slezia, a co-organizer of the “Maroon Wall” and a 2008 graduate of Texas A&M, created the event on Facebook with several other alums and classmates after he saw Westboro’s announcement. The fundamentalist church, an anti-gay hate group, claims that “war casualties are divine revenge for America tolerating gays and lesbians” and has long protested at the funerals of celebrities, soldiers, and others with messages such as “Pray For More Dead Soldiers.” Ultimately, over 600 Aggies arrived in the blistering Texas summer heat to link arm-in-arm in a heartening display of loyalty and compassion.
In the end, no Westboro members were spotted at the funeral or the burial site, possibly deciding to forgo the protest after hearing about the human wall.
According to the press statement written by Ryan Slezia and his two other co-organizers, Lily McAlister and Chris Rowan, the Texas A&M community acted to allow one of their community members be laid to rest in respect and peace:
The purpose of “The Maroon Wall” event is to show our support and gratitude to the family of Lt Col. Roy Tisdale and to join them in honoring his memory at his memorial service and funeral. We are standing to honor the memory of Lt Col. Roy Tisdale and the sacrifices both he and his family have made for this country along with the contributions they have made to this community. We stand together as a show of solidarity towards this family in their time of mourning and in defense of their right to grieve their loss in peace.
Following the events of the funeral, Tisdale’s family added a statement to his formal obituary tribute:
Lt. Col. Roy Lin Tisdale is survived by his wife Kim, his children Megan and Roy Lane Tisdale, his mother Linda Tisdale, brother SFC Charles D. Tisdale, USA, father-in-law, Jim Corbett, brothers-in-law Steven Corbett, Jason Corbett, and their families…and countless friends.”
As of the afternoon of July 5, 2012, it can be added that Lt. Col. Roy Lin Tisdale, Texas Aggie Class of ?92, is survived by the Maroon Wall, a tribute symbolic of the love, respect and honor of former students for their fellow Aggie. No better example can be found of just what it means to be part of the Texas Aggie family. The most powerful statement of all against hate was made, in complete, reverent silence.
When Mitt Romney criticizes the job creation record of the Obama administration, he contributes job losses to Obama that took place in January 2009, immediately after the President was inaugurated. As the New York Times explained, “By counting from January 2009, Mr. Romney paints the bleak portrait of a country that despite a modest recovery still has fewer jobs than it did when Mr. Obama took office.”
However, when he was Governor of Massachusetts, Romney called that sort of accounting “silly.” In a video uncovered by American Bridge, Romney explicitly rejected attributing job losses from the beginning of his term to his own total, which is exactly what he has been doing to slam Obama:
ROMNEY: You guys are bright enough to look at the numbers. I came in and the jobs had been just, like falling off a cliff. And I came in and they kept falling for eleven months. And then we turned around and we’re coming back. And that’s progress. And if you’re going to suggest to me that somehow the day I got elected, somehow jobs should immediately turn around, well that would be silly. It takes a while to get things turned around. We were in a recession…There will be some people who try to say, ‘well governor, net-net you’ve only added a few thousand jobs since you’ve been in.’ Yeah, but I helped stop — I didn’t do it alone, the economy’s a big part of that, the private sector is what drives that, up and down — but we were in free-fall for three years.
Here is the Obama administration’s record when it comes to private sector job creation, with a free-fall due to the Great Recession at the beginning and a slow but steady turnaround, courtesy of Maddowblog:
And of course, the unemployment rate would be a full percentage point lower than it is today if severe budget cuts had not been adopted at the state and local level, which have caused massive public sector job losses.
This man is Raúl Héctor Castro. He is 96 years old, a former Arizona governor, and a former United States Ambassador to El Salvador, Bolivia and Argentina. He was born in Mexico, and is a United States citizen.
Last month he was stopped by U.S. border patrol agents after residual radiation from a medical procedure he’d recently undergone triggered an alarm at a checkpoint in Tubac, AZ. The 96 year-old heart patient was then forced to exit his vehicle in the 100 degree Arizona heat and wait in a tent in a business suit, even as his companion begged the agents not to subject an elderly man to such treatment.
This is the third time the former governor and ambassador has been detained by border control. The first occurred years ago while he was repairing his own fence and agents stopped him and asked to see his work card — although they eventually desisted after Castro pointed out a sign by his farm entrance that read ?Judge Castro.? The second occurred years later in San Diego, although that encounter ended shortly after someone recognized Castro and said “Governor, how are you?”
New numbers released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the economy added a mere 80,000 jobs in June. That’s down from an average of 150,000 jobs a month for the first part of the year, and far too little to keep up with population growth.
Republican intransigence on economic policy has been a key contributor to the sluggish recovery. As early as 2009, Republican fear-mongering over spending and their readiness to filibuster in the Senate helped convince the White House economic team that an $800 billion stimulus was the most they could hope to get through Congress. Reporting has since revealed that the team thought the country actually needed a stimulus on the order of $1.2 to $1.8 trillion. The economy’s path over the next three years proved them right. Here are the top five ways the Republicans have sabotaged the economic recovery since:
1. Filibustering the American Jobs Act. Last October, Senate Republicans killed a jobs bill proposed by President Obama that would have pumped $447 billion into the economy. Multiple economic analysts predicted the bill would add around two million jobs and hailed it as defense against a double-dip recession. The Congressional Budget Office also scored it as a net deficit reducer over ten years, and the American public supported the bill.
2. Stonewalling monetary stimulus. The Federal Reserve can do enormous good for a depressed economy through more aggressive monetary stimulus, and by tolerating a temporarily higher level of inflation. But with everything from Ron Paul’s anti-inflationary crusade to Rick Perry threatening to lynch Chairman Ben Bernanke, Republicans have browbeaten the Fed into not going down this path. Most damagingly, the GOP repeatedly held up President Obama’s nominations to the Federal Reserve Board during the critical months of the recession, leaving the board without the institutional clout it needed to help the economy.
3. Threatening a debt default. Even though the country didn’t actually hit its debt ceiling last summer, the Republican threat to default on the United States’ outstanding obligations was sufficient to spook financial markets and do real damage to the economy.
4. Cutting discretionary spending in the debt ceiling deal. The deal the GOP extracted as the price for avoiding default imposed around $900 billion in cuts over ten years. It included $30.5 billion in discretionary cuts in 2012 alone, costing the country 0.3 percent in economic growth and 323,000 jobs, according to estimates from the Economic Policy Institute. Starting in 2013, the deal will trigger another $1.2 trillion in cuts over ten years.
5. Cutting discretionary spending in the budget deal. While not as cataclysmic as the debt ceiling brinksmanship, Republicans also threatened a shutdown of the government in early 2011 if cuts were not made to that year’s budget. The deal they struck with the White House cut $38 billion from food stamps, health, education, law enforcement, and low-income programs among others, while sparing defense almost entirely.
There have also been a few near-misses, in which the GOP almost prevented help from coming to the economy. The Republicans in the House delayed a transportation bill that saved as many as 1.9 million jobs. House Committees run by the GOP have passed proposals aimed at cutting billions from food stamps, and the party has repeatedly threatened to kill extensions of unemployment insurance and cuts to the payroll tax.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, those policies — the payroll tax cut, food stamps, unemployment insurance, and discretionary spending for low-income Americans — have the highest multipliers, meaning more job boosting potential per dollar.
The economy may be struggling to create enough jobs to keep up with population growth, but Republicans are busy drafting legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act — a law which the Supreme Court upheld last week and has already extended coverage for thousands of uninsured Americans.
On Monday, the GOP will convene an “emergency” meeting in the Rules Committee so they could hold a vote on The “Repeal of Obamacare Act” as early as Wednesday July, 11. The seven page messaging bill compiles the best Republican talking points against the law since it passed in 2010, but offers only the smallest hint of how the party plans to extend coverage to the millions who would lose it. “The path to patient-centered care and lower costs for all Americans must begin with a full repeal of the law,” the bill says on page six.
This free market mantra may resonate with the GOP base, but it does nothing to improve the economy or solve the health care crisis. Below are 5 consequences of the GOP’s repeal legislation:
1) Millions without coverage. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of the GOP’s repeal measure from 2011 found that “32 million fewer nonelderly people would have health insurance in 2019, leaving a total of about 54 million nonelderly people uninsured. The share of legal nonelderly residents with insurance coverage in 2019 would be about 83 percent, compared with a projected share of 94 percent under current law (and 83 percent currently).?
2) Health insurance costs increase. The same analysis concluded that “many people would end up paying more for health insurance? because under current law, the majority of enrollees purchasing coverage in that market would receive subsidies via the insurance exchanges, and [repeal] would eliminate those subsidies.? What’s more, ?Premiums for employment-based coverage obtained through large employers would be slightly higher.”
3) Americans with pre-existing conditions will lose access to coverage. Republicans have said that they would not replace the Affordable Care Act’s federal rules prohibiting insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. Instead, they would encourage states to form expensive high-risk pools to cover the sick or, alternatively, leave them to find their own coverage in the individual market — where many will likely go uninsured.
4) Medicare in disarray. Approximately 100 million Medicare claims are processed each month using a formula that was altered by the Affordable Care Act. Should the law be repealed, new rates could not be calculated under the old, pre-ACA formula until after a rulemaking process that can take months before is completed. The result would be that Medicare would not be able to pay doctors for what could be many months.
5) Deficits increase by billions. The CBO predicts that “as a result of changes in direct spending and revenues is likely to be an increase in the vicinity of $230 billion.” Repeal would also “increase federal deficits in the decade after 2019 by an amount that is in a broad range around one-half percent of GDP.”
In Britain, the investigations into Barclays Bank manipulating the benchmark Libor rate have begun in earnest. Parliament approved an official inquiry into the Libor scandal, though only at the Parliamentary level rather than an independent[...]
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Even for Romneyland, this is pretty amazing (and hilarious):
As you can see, the statements are identical?every word is the same, right down to the punctuation. But those aren't the only things the two statements have in common: They are also both equally meaningless. Neither answers any meaningful question about the issue at hand.
Romneyland isn't just dodging questions about their candidate, they're flaunting their evasion.
The debate around voter ID laws is generally one about protection versus disenfranchisement. Advocates of the laws, which require photo identification to vote, often say the law won't have an impact anyone who's voting legally. In Pennsylvania, the Secretary of the Commonwealth assured lawmakers that 99 percent of voters in the state had the necessary identification, and promised that "No one entitled to vote will be denied that right by this bill." Her views were echoed by Republican lawmakers throughout the state who pushed for the measure. You need a photo ID for everything these days, the logic seemed to go, so why not voting too? After all, who doesn't have a photo ID?
Well, a lot of people. The Secretary of the Commonwealth put out a press release Tuesday announcing that 9 percent of registered voters didn't have photo IDs from the state Department of Transportation. Pennsylvania's voter ID law, which became law March of this year, allows voters to use a variety of types of photo IDs. While that includes things like passports, university ID cards, the state assumes most voters will rely on driver's licenses or nondriver identification cards for voting. The recent findings show a shocking percentage of voters don't have either one?a far cry from Aichele's assurances that 99 percent of Pennsylvania voters had the necessary ID.
Of course, the discrepancy isn't mentioned in the press release. Titled "Department of State and PennDOT Confirm Most Registered Voters Have Photo ID," it emphasizes that the "vast majority of registered voters" already have identification. It's not until the fifth paragraph that you get the startling news that only 91 percent of registered voters could be matched with Department of Transportation records of identification.
Even so, the secretary is eager to see the bright side: "Of the 758,939 voters who could not be matched between the Department of State and PennDOT databases, 22 percent, or 167,566, are inactive voters, most of whom have not voted since 2007." That only leaves 591,000 "active" voters without driver's licenses?you know, approximately the population of Las Vegas.
The press release is part and parcel of a familiar implication in these debates: that there's something wrong with certain parts of the voting population. Voter ID laws are about politics, of course: The intent is to dampen turnout among those less likely to have IDs?poor and minority voters who are more likely to vote Democratic. The "right sort" of voters have photo IDs, eat apple pie on the Fourth of July and, it seems, vote Republican. The political underpinnings are particularly clear in Pennsylvania, where, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the state's House Republican leader recently made it all to clear: At last month's Republican State Committee meeting, he trumpeted the new law thusly: "Voter ID?which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania?done."
Philadelphia, the Democratic stronghold in the state, was particularly hit by the lack of IDs?the Inquirer reports that almost 20 percent of voters in the city, or 186,000, don't have identification from the Department of Transportation.
To her credit, Aichele has engaged in some voter-awareness campaigns. For instance, she's helped simplify the process to get IDs, and everyone not matched with the Department of Transportation rolls will get a letter explaining the IDs are free but required for voting. But the fact remains: There's virtually no evidence of in-person voter fraud, the only kind that voter ID laws prevent. And there's increasingly scary evidence that many legitimate voters lack identification.
In Pennsylvania, a challenge to the law is still moving through the courts, and will likely get to the state Supreme Court before the November elections. The stakes?for a basic right of citizenship, and potentially for the presidential race?couldn't be higher.