The online version of Matt Taibbi's latest Wall Street exposÚ is out, and there's much to enjoy about it ? everything but the content, in fact.
The skinny: Thanks mainly to Bernie Sanders, an Audit the Fed amendment got into the Wall Street Reform bill. That got watered down, but not enough to keep everything hidden.
One of the pieces of info they got was the list of recipients of Federal bailout money during those heady days when the Fed went from bailing out a few of its friends, to handing gobs of cash to friends of friends of friends. Sort of like the wedding guest list problem ? first you've invited your aunt's unpleasant cousin, and eventually you've invited Manhattan.
Taibbi (my emphasis throughout):
Staffers in the Senate and the House, whose queries about Fed spending have been rebuffed for nearly a century, are now poring over 21,000 transactions and discovering a host of outrages and lunacies in the "other" budget. It is as though someone sat down and made a list of every individual on earth who actually did not need emergency financial assistance from the United States government, and then handed them the keys to the public treasure. The Fed sent billions in bailout aid to banks in places like Mexico, Bahrain and Bavaria, billions more to a spate of Japanese car companies, more than $2 trillion in loans each to Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, and billions more to a string of lesser millionaires and billionaires with Cayman Islands addresses. "Our jaws are literally dropping as we're reading this," says Warren Gunnels, an aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. "Every one of these transactions is outrageous."Well, the Fed invited the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island too. Also the Cayman Islands. Also a Gaddafi-owned bank in Bahrain. And a couple a ordinary gals from downtown:
But if you want to get a true sense of what the "shadow budget" is all about, all you have to do is look closely at the taxpayer money handed over to a single company that goes by a seemingly innocuous name: Waterfall TALF Opportunity. At first glance, Waterfall's haul doesn't seem all that huge ? just nine loans totaling some $220 million, made through a Fed bailout program. That doesn't seem like a whole lot, considering that Goldman Sachs alone received roughly $800 billion in loans from the Fed. But upon closer inspection, Waterfall TALF Opportunity boasts a couple of interesting names among its chief investors: Christy Mack and Susan Karches.Small stuff, right. $220 million? Chump change on the Upper East Side. Thing is, looks like they used the profit (which by TALF rules, they pocket most of) to buy ... well, guess. It involves the Upper East Side:
Christy is the wife of John Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley. Susan is the widow of Peter Karches, a close friend of the Macks who served as president of Morgan Stanley's investment-banking division. Neither woman appears to have any serious history in business, apart from a few philanthropic experiences.
In August 2009, John Mack, at the time still the CEO of Morgan Stanley, made an interesting life decision. Despite the fact that he was earning the comparatively low salary of just $800,000, and had refused to give himself a bonus in the midst of the financial crisis, Mack decided to buy himself a gorgeous piece of property ? a 107-year-old limestone carriage house on the Upper East Side of New York, complete with an indoor 12-car garage, that had just been sold by the prestigious Mellon family for $13.5 million. Either Mack had plenty of cash on hand to close the deal, or he got some help from his wife, Christy, who apparently bought the house with him. ... It's hard to imagine a pair of people you would less want to hand a giant welfare check to ? yet that's exactly what the Fed did. Just two months before the Macks bought their fancy carriage house in Manhattan, Christy and her pal Susan launched their investment initiative called Waterfall TALF. Neither seems to have any experience whatsoever in finance, beyond Susan's penchant for dabbling in thoroughbred racehorses. But with an upfront investment of $15 million, they quickly received $220 million in cash from the Fed, most of which they used to purchase student loans and commercial mortgages.The prose I killed above with the dot-dot-dot ellipsis is classic Taibbi. Feel free to seek it out, you style kings and queens; it starts "The Macks make for an interesting couple." The phrase "resembling a crumpled, half-burned baked potato" turns up.
If you ever experience something like this, call the insurance company and demand to speak to a supervisor: "I'm filing a complaint with the insurance commission and also with my congressman, and I want to make sure I have the correct details for why you're refusing me a necessary medical test as ordered by my physician. Oh, and I want to make sure I spell your name right."
While your state insurance commission is possibly in the pocket of the industry, they do at least investigate these cases, and the insurance companies just don't want the hassle. It may not always work, but it's worked for me so far for the five or six times I did it:
?I gotta tell you Kathy, I can?t keep living like this,? said Michael Fields, 46, who was experiencing tightness in his chest, numbness in an arm and light-headedness as he begged the voice at the other end of the line for help. ?It?s been going on for weeks. I don?t know what else to do. I mean you know, I?m trapped here.?
?Alright, let me put you back on hold,? came the reply.
Fields, who lives with his wife and son in Elkton, Md., was not speaking with a 911 operator. He was calling a representative from his insurance provider, Blue Cross/ Blue Shield of Delaware, and he was about to find out that for the third time he was being denied a crucial test to determine if he had coronary artery disease ? a nuclear cardiac stress test.
A Senate investigation released Friday found a pattern of inappropriate denials for tests like the one Fields? doctors say he should have received from the start.
The investigation looked at 1,600 cases over a six-month period from 2009 to 2010 involving requests for nuclear cardiac stress tests in the state of Delaware. All of the cases studied were handled by MedSolutions, a company that screens test requests in the state for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Delaware and other insurers.
According to the report, ?10 to 15 (percent) of requested tests appear to have been denied inappropriately. MedSolutions and the Delaware insurers denied a significant number of medically necessary nuclear stress tests.?
?It is a huge number,? Sen. John D. Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee told NBC News. ?I don't care if it is 5 to 2 percent, it is a huge percent. It follows a pattern that never stops with health insurance companies. It is always the bottom line. The more they say no, the more money they make.?
Michael Fields was one of those found to have been wrongly denied.
When Fields first complained about his symptoms over a year ago, his physician sent him to get a stress test. The request was denied by Blue Cross Blue Shield, and denied again after two appeals by the physician. Finally, his doctor sent him to the hospital, where cardiologists found that a key blood vessel to his heart was almost completely blocked.
The next day Fields had an emergency quadruple heart bypass.
While there is a strong belief that wealth should be more evenly distributed, the country is more divided on whether or not the government should correct this problem by heavily taxing the rich and redistributing the wealth.[...]
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This is rather big redistricting-related news:
Iowa Republican Rep. Tom Latham (R) will forego a primary race against Rep. Steve King (R) in the newly drawn 4th district and will instead travel south to challenge Rep. Leonard Boswell in the 3rd, the first of many redistricting-forced incumbent versus incumbent matchups in the 2012 election.
?I have never let map boundaries block the great honor I have felt in representing the interests of all Iowans in the United States Congress,? said Latham in a statement released by his office this morning.
The new third CD (in the state's southwestern corner) is a swingy district that went 52-46 Obama and 47-52 Kerry. Latham lives just outside the district in Story County (click image for larger):But Latham faces a hard choice: a GOP primary against Rep. Steve King, who can easily out-crazy him, or a direct battle against Leonard Boswell, who has often needed to be propped up by his party, even in good years (though impressively survived last year's onslaught). Clearly door #2 struck him as more appealing, and that's probably the right choice. (And before you say that Iowa Republicans aren't nuts, they gave a plurality to Mike Huckabee in the 2008 caucuses, and 40% voted for nutter Bob vander Plaats in last year's gubernatorial primary.)
For his part, Boswell says he ain't goin' nowhere, and will stand and fight regardless of what happens. I also suppose this also means that Gov. Terry Branstad is sure to sign the new maps into law, since Latham is already planning to move. Gonna be a big battle, that's for sure.
P.S. In other intriguing news, former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack may challenge King in the new 4th. That would also be a titanic fight.
From those who would inflict harm onto our communities comes peace.
Nothing is as powerful and clear.
"(A)nd if you care to see the future; look into the eyes of your young and dancing children."
- Paul Kantner, Jefferson Airplane (1971)
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Before U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles began to rain down on Muammar Gaddafi's air defenses, the only conversation that President Obama had to have was with his senior advisers.
They, and they alone would decide whether a country founded as a democratic republic would engage in what George Washington would have likely viewed as a "foreign entanglement" ? using 21st-century ordinance against a sociopath with a history of violence and a worse hat fetish than Sammy Davis Jr.
Obviously, in 200 years the United States has evolved from a rebel-with-a-cause into a world power, and additional involvement in world affairs has become part of the cost of doing business.
There is also a good argument to be made that after the terrible mistake of the Iraq invasion, the US can do some good by putting an end to the murderous Gaddafi in Libya, as part of an international coalition made up of Arab and African countries, blessed by the United Nations.
Yet, that does not change the fact that congressional support for this operation was as important as an appendix or a Newt Gingrich marriage vow.
Obama and his people simply knew they could ignore the people's representatives and safely rely upon a militarized culture primed to support an attack on an Arab nation. Particularly one the US had already thrown down with only a generation ago.
It is this fact that makes author, syndicated columnist and talk radio host David Sirota's new book, Back To Our Future, not only a fascinating read about the culture of the 1980s, but a manifestly important work in helping explain why the United States does the things it does today.
From involvement in a civil war in Libya to allowing a madman sans background check to saunter into his local arms bazaar and purchase a high-powered firearm for an attempted assassination of a congresswoman.
The latter being easier than say, finding plutonium for your DeLorean in 1955.
'Outlaw with morals'
As Sirota explains it, the '80s were the age of cross-marketing, when concepts that had a place in American history suddenly became commonplace. The anti-government language of president Ronald Reagan adorned films such as Ghostbusters and E.T.
These "political messages in non-political settings indoctrinated the young, when their filter for political propaganda was turned off." As a result, these framed narratives became part of the conventional wisdom, continuing to this day.
In much the way E.T. heightened suspicions about our government, Libyan terrorists in Back To The Future and a bad-guy professional wrestling star named The Iron Sheik helped prepare the American people for the role we've played in the Arab world over the past decade.
Meanwhile, the "outlaw with morals", or rogue who had to work against the system to get things done, was a key message that reached the masses.
The bromide of "government being the problem, not the solution", was not only contained in Reagan's philosophy, but Wall Street's ethic, the frontier mythology of many regions of the country, and films, music, and television series, but perhaps most importantly promoted using athletes by one of the most powerful marketing machines ever seen ? Nike.
As Sirota offers about Nike's effect, "they took this narrative to the level of societal saturation".
This can at least partially explain the rogue individualism that can be found in the love affair certain Americans have with guns, and even more importantly, the corollary that only they can protect themselves, often from the very government they once looked upon for this service.
Of course, this cultural sea change did not just happen by itself. An array of right-wing think tanks and media organizations, born in the 1970s to lead this kind of a cultural revolution, synergistically grabbed this societal zeitgeist and hopped, skipped and jumped with it, declaring the 1960s and 1970s an illegitimate, na´ve, or even dangerous social experiment.
As Sirota reminds us, in the 1980s a minister speaking at The Heritage Foundation, one of these newish (1973) and lavishly funded right-wing media and policy operations intricately tied to the Reagan administration, believed he and his ilk, were "here to turn the clock back to 1954 in this country".
'Prepubescents' in charge
Danny Goldberg, former CEO of Air America, has also recognized this cultural evolution, and the role played by well-funded conservative organs in helping spread the non-love.
As he sees it, appealing to the psyche and vision of the American people or pulling on their heartstrings, if you will, is in short supply on the Left, as "Democrats do not use imagination and culture to open minds for their agenda".
As Goldberg put it in a Nation piece, "you can count how many people click onto a web page, how long it was viewed and how many people it was forwarded to but determining how much impact it has on the minds of the readers requires educated guesses and fallible intuitive human analysis."
The Left had better begin to under this outsized role of culture, imagination and emotion in our politics soon.
Because if we are indeed operating in parameters set up by not only the politics, but the arts and letters of 1980s, reinforced by millions of dollars invested in long-term conservative projects to convince the American people this is the way it has always been, we are in for a rough decade or three.
For as Sirota says, "our world is increasingly run by the prepubescents, college kids, and young ladder-climbers who were originally indoctrinated and inculcated in the 1980s."
Therefore, if we are looking for an alternative to all-too-present strains of foreign adventurism, Wall Street me-ism and domestic militia-ism ? among other challenges ? we will need our own cultural rebirth to return to the values that once animated this nation.
Because, whether he comes from Krypton, Kansas City or Kazakhstan, I am not ready to start kneeling before Zod anytime soon.
You can follow Cliff on Twitter: @cliffschecter
This column was first published at Al Jazeera English
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It's that time of year when the Supreme Court finishes up its arguments for the year and spends two months getting all of their opinions completed. The April sitting begins on Monday and ends on April 27th. Starting May 16th, each week will see two to five opinions until the Supreme Court finishes up in late June.
This time of year also sees the early part of the next term taking shape. There are already thirteen cases (enough for the October sitting plus three for the November sitting). The next several months will see cases being taken for the November, December, and January sittings).
Lastly, there is always the speculation as to who might retire.
Taking the last issue first, the answer is probably nobody. Justice Ginsburg might given health issues. Outside of health issues, Justice Ginsburg is the oldest at seventy-eight, and several recent justices have served until their mid-eighties or later (Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens). I would not be surprised if Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg retire in a second Obama term, but I would not expect any further changes until then. Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy are likely to hold on through 2016, but if Democrats win the next two presidential elections, they might decide that its not worth trying to hold on for another Republican president.
As to cases for the fall term, the big case on the horizon is the Virginia part of the health care case. However, there are four other parts to this case, and the request is to bypass the Court of Appeals. The consensus of most legal blogs is that, especially as the Fourth Circuit where the case would otherwise be heard, tends to work quickly, the Court is likely to pass at this time. There is an outside chance that when the case comes back to the Supreme Court, it might make next April's sitting.
That leaves the cases on which we are waiting for opinions. For now, I will pass on the cases directly raising significant criminal issues to avoid having my professional preferences overcome a more fair assessment of why the case is significant to the average person. For the most part, in the order of how long since they have been argued (may have some within the same sitting out of order).
Governor of California v. Entertainment Merchants -- From November. This case is a First Amendment case involving a California restrictions on the sales of "violent" videogames to minors. The statute tries to import the obsenity standard into violent video games. While not overwhelmingly old (there are still 5 cases from November that have not been decided), this could be a 6-3 or 5-4 decision.
AT& T Mobility v. Vincent Concepcion -- A preemption case from November. The issue involves the Federal Arbitration Act and a state attempt to add additional requirments. What makes this case different from the other technical statutory cases on the Supreme Court's docket is the arbitration aspect. Arbitration provisions are in a lot of standardized contract. Finding that the federal act preempts state acts would kick a lot of cases out of court -- something that the Supreme Court has been doing a lot of lately.
Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting -- A pre-emption case from December. This case involves the first round of Arizona's attempts to enact state laws on illegal immigrants. Specifically, businesses are challenging statutes that enact state penalties for hiring illegal immigrants (in addition to the federal penalties). The issue is whether the federal statutes are so comprehensive that it inidcates an intent to preclude states from adding additional penalties. If the Supreme Court decides for the Chamber, the Administration's challenges to the second round (SB 1070) will almost certainly succeed in the lawyer courts and will never reach the Supreme Court.
Bond v. United States -- A Tenth Amendment case from the late February/early March sitting. While there are criminal aspects to this case, this case is actually about the standing (ability) of a criminal defendant to assert that a law is unconstitutional as exceeding enumerated powers. While the Supreme Court may end up with multiple reasons in separate opinions, most expect the answer to be a unanimous yes. The interesting aspect of the case will be what the Supreme Court says about the meaning of the Tenth Amendment. This case poses the potential for the Court to narrow a historically-flawed state sovereignty approach to the Tenth Amendment.
Camretta v. Greene -- A Section 1983 case (the provision allowing private suits for violation of Constitutional rights) from the late February/early March sitting. The issue involves a victim of child abuse and law enforcement/family services interviewing the child without the family present. The parents want the courts to impose restrictions on interviews of child victim similar to the requirements for the arrest of a suspect in a criminal case.
Turner v. Rodgers -- A case from the March sitting raising the issue of whether there is a right to appointed counsel in civil contempt proceedings where one of the potential sanctions is being held in jail until the defendant complies with the court order.
Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett -- A First Amendment case from the March sitting. The issue is provisions in campaign finance laws giving aid to candidates based on the amount of spending against them. This case is likely to see a great deal of conservative judicial activism as the Citizens United majority try to translate financial benefits to one set of candidates into a restriction on the free speech of other potential sources of spending in a campaign.
Walmart v. Dukes -- An employment discrimination case from the March sitting. The actual issue is the certification of a class for a class action. The current class is rather broad and there is a good chance that even the more liberal judges might believe that the single class (all women ever employed by Wal-Mart during the relevant time frame) needs to be broken down further.
In this last sitting, there are other cases of interest: 1) American Electric Power v. Connecticut -- an attempt to use a nuisance action in lieu of federal regulation on the climate control issue; 2) Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Corrigan -- A First Amendment case on the requirements that an elected official recuse from voting on certain matters when they have a conflict of interest.
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Trump warns Cantor not to dump on birther issue: "I think it's a very bad thing for Cantor to have done because I'll tell you, people love this issue especially in the Republican Party."Watch video of TPM's exclusive interview. [...]
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