I'm closing down the Comments section for a couple of days. Today I had to delete a comment, which I hate to do, on top of which I yelled at the wrong commenter on an unrelated matter. BTW, we have two people using the same handle -- MAG -- one of whom comments regularly & one of who comments occasionally. If Occasional MAG could come up with a new name, I wouldn't have to check who's who. I'm confused enough. With any luck, I'll get myself combobulated by the weekend & start running a Comments section again. -- Constant Weader
"Too Big to Indict." James Downie of the Washington Post: "At first glance, the British bank HSBC's agreement to pay $1.9 billion to settle a money-laundering probe seems like very good news. It is the largest penalty ever imposed on a bank; the U.S. government accused HSBC of transferring funds 'through the U.S. from Mexican drug cartels and on behalf of nations such as Iran that are under international sanctions.... Already, 'too big to fail' allows the biggest banks to act with impunity; if the idea expands to include 'too big to indict,' banks would lose an effective restraint against engaging in illegal activity.... The emergence of 'too big to indict' is another warning to the White House and Congress that it's absolutely necessary to end 'too big to fail.'" ...
... New York Times Editors: "Clearly, the government has bought into the notion that too big to fail is too big to jail.... Once criminal sanctions are considered off limits, penalties and forfeitures become just another cost of doing business, a risk factor to consider on the road to profits.... If banks operating at the center of the global economy cannot be held fully accountable, the solution is to reduce their size by breaking them up and restricting their activities -- not shield them and their leaders from prosecution for illegal activities."
Geoff Mulvihill of the AP: "Speaking at Princeton University, [Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia was asked by a gay student why he equates laws banning sodomy with those barring bestiality and murder. 'I don't think it's necessary, but I think it's effective,' Scalia said, adding that legislative bodies can ban what they believe to be immoral." CW: of course Scalia should recuse himself from hearing the Prop 8 & DOMA cases. And of course he won't. ...
... BUT WAIT. It gets worse. Didn't think that was possible? Josh Israel of Think Progress: Scalia "also dismissed the importance of the Bill of Rights as an 'afterthought,' compared to the U.S. Constitution's overall structure, observing, 'Every tinhorned dictator in the world has a bill of rights.'" CW: that's right -- we have a sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justice who doesn't think the Bill of Rights is important. Scalia should be institutionalized; he should not be sitting in judgment of anything as consequential as the quality of his own poop. Roberts should tell him to retire. Now. ...
... ** Dana Milbank: "The Supreme Court's announcement Friday that it will take up gay marriage is a chance for the justices ... to overrule the medieval views of Antonin Scalia.... Chief Justice John Roberts ... surely doesn't want to be responsible for a modern-day Plessy v. Ferguson that stands against the fast-emerging majority in support of gay rights."
CW: yesterday morning I read a remarkable piece of crap by Jim VandeHei & Mike Allen of Politico, two of the dullest tacks on the board, in which they interviewed such economic innovators as Erskine Bowles, Jeb Bush & Jamie Dimon who explained how to get the economy booming again, mostly by slashing Social Security, Medicare & regulations. Needless to say, I didn't link it. Fortunately, I wasn't the only person who gagged:
... Jonathan Chait of New York takes the anthropological approach: "What makes the consensus so astonishing, and even nauseating, is the degree to which those who share it show no awareness of their own insularity.... All seem to believe implicitly that what is good for the CEO class is by definition what's good for America.... Politico's editors take toward the consensus. They have on their hands the most ripe material for a scathing exposé of a chummy, self-interested business-political elite.... It should be preserved for generations as the early-21st-century cri de coeur of an incestuous, self-satisfied economic and political elite." ...
... Charles Pierce: "This piece is not about the current economic stalemate. It's about two Beltway foofs showing the red on their asses by demonstrating that they can get important people on the phone. This isn't economics. This isn't even really journalism. This is a brief in support of oligarchy. It is public financial star-fking." ...
... Paul Krugman: "What I find remarkable about this piece is that after everything that has happened these past five years or so, Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen still take it for granted that these people actually know what they're talking about.... The real lesson is that those insiders are not only self-dealing, but profoundly ignorant and wrong-headed."
Brendan Nyhan of the Columbia Journalism Review on fact-checking. Also read the comments.
Not All Attorneys General Sit on Their Hands, Mr. Holder. Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times: "The New York attorney general issued a far-reaching draft regulation on Tuesday that would force broad public disclosure of millions of dollars in loosely regulated spending on elections and ballot measures in New York. The proposal by the attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, takes direct aim at tax-exempt organizations that spend heavily on political advertising but have not been required to reveal the donors behind their spending."
** Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal: "Over the next two years, the AFL-CIO will be focusing its involvement on six states, all with high-profile gubernatorial races: Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The stakes are high: If labor wins, there will be serious second-guessing over Republicans' aggressive agenda and the results could cost the GOP its base of working-class whites. But if Republicans emerge from 2014 with their governors largely intact, they'll enter 2016 with a rallying cry, unafraid to call for deep-seated economic reforms as a major element of the party's future platform." ...
... ** Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post: "an exhaustive study by economist Lonnie K. Stevans of Hofstra University found that states that have enacted such laws reported no increase in business start-ups or rates of employment. Wages and personal income are lower in those states than in those without such laws, Stevans concluded, though proprietors' incomes are higher. In short, right-to-work laws simply redistribute income from workers to owners." CW: Plus, here's a number I didn't know: "Roughly 100 million of the nation's 143 million employed workers have jobs that can't be shipped abroad...." In other words, Tom Friedman's globalization excuse doesn't work on 2/3rds of American jobs.
Maureen Dowd pretty much just recaps Greg Miller's piece on the film "Zero Dark Thirty," linked yesterday, but she adds a bit to the story of what led to the capture of Osama bin Laden, highlighting the controversy over whether or not torture played a significant part in the real story.
All of the sudden the NYT is covering the Bradley Manning case. Here's Charlie Savage: "Supervisors at the Marines' Quantico brig imprisoned Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of secret government documents to WikiLeaks, in unduly harsh and restrictive conditions over nearly nine months for 'no legitimate nonpunitive reason,' his lawyer argued on Tuesday at the conclusion of a pretrial hearing."
Dylan Byers of Politico: "The Presidential Inaugural Committee has announced that President Obama's official swearing-in will be open to the press, allaying the concerns of the White House press corps that had feared restricted access."
Nelson Schwartz & Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "A broad swath of the nation's leading chief executives dropped its opposition to tax increases on the wealthiest Americans on Tuesday, while the White House quietly pressed Wall Street titans for their support as well."
Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post: "House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has sent a counter-offer to President Obama to avert the upcoming tax increases and spending cuts known as the 'fiscal cliff,' but his office declined to share details of the offer."
Devin Dwyer of ABC News: "'I'm pretty confident that Republicans would not hold middle class taxes hostage to trying to protect tax cuts for high-income individuals,' [President] Obama said today in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters.... Raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 is "something that's been floated," Obama said, not dismissing the idea outright. 'When you look at the evidence, it's not clear that it actually saves a lot of money,' he said." CW: Yeah, how about costs money. (The full interview will air on "20/20" Friday.) ...
... Update: here's a clip in which the President discusses the U.S.'s recognition of the Syrian opposition AND the "fiscal cliff" negotiations:
... Igor Volsky of Think Progress: "... the idea — which has been floated by Republicans demanding 'painful' cuts in the Medicare program — would only save the federal government a net $5.7 billion, while shifting an added $11.4 billion in health care spending to states, employers, and individuals." ...
... For a really full explanation, see this Center for American Progess report.
Jackie Calmes & Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "While neither provided details, one person familiar with the White House proposal said Mr. Obama had reduced his call for $1.6 trillion in additional revenues from the wealthy over the first 10 years to $1.4 trillion, still $600 billion higher than the Republicans' position. And another said the president also proposed that the two sides commit to working on overhauling the corporate tax code next year." ...
... Lori Montgomery & Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "... Republican sources close to the talks said [Boehner's] offer made no concessions on the central issue of higher tax rates for the wealthy."
AND the President Is Making Concessions -- Why? Mike Dorning of Bloomberg News: "President Barack Obama won the public argument over taxes so decisively that almost half of Republicans now say he has an election mandate to raise rates on the rich. Majorities of about 2-to-1 also read the election results as an endorsement of Obama's pledge to protect Social Security and Medicare benefits, according to a Bloomberg National Poll of 1,000 adults conducted Dec. 7-10."
At least Obama gets this right. Ezra Klein: "The Obama administration is utterly steadfast on this point: They will not suffer a repeat of 2011, when they conducted negotiations over whether the United States should default. If Republicans go over the cliff and try to open up talks for raising the debt ceiling, the White House will not hold a meeting, they will not return a phone call, they will not look at the e-mails. They will move to an entirely public strategy, rallying voters and the business community against the GOP's repeated brinksmanship."
Greg Sargent: "John Boehner went on the House floor [Tuesday] to reiterate his demand that the White House propose detailed spending cuts to prove its seriousness about reaching a fiscal cliff deal.... Dems have already agreed to well over $1 trillion in spending cuts in 2011 -- cuts Boehner himself said were significant at the time. By contrast, Republicans have not agreed to a penny in new rates.... As for the demand that the White House go first in detailing its spending cuts, this is an almost laughably transparent ruse.... Boehner today accused the White House of 'slow walking' the country towards the edge of the cliff. If anything, Boehner is the one who is doing that -- out of necessity."
Brian Beutler of TPM: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "acknowledged Tuesday that President Obama has the upper hand in the debate about income tax rates on high income Americans. And he became the highest ranking GOP official to assert that Republicans will have to wait until next year, when the debt limit needs to be raised, to effectively push for cuts to social programs.... [McConnell's remarks] suggest that Republicans have resigned themselves to the fact that income tax rates will increase over their objections next year -- and that Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) are unlikely to cut a broader deal that would include raising the debt limit before January." Thanks to Jeanne B. for the link. ...
... ** Greg Sargent: "McConnell and Boehner believe the threat of damage to the economy is a perfectly legitimate lever to use to get what the GOP wants.... This is not business as usual, in which each side is demanding concessions from the other. In this case, one side is asking for concessions in exchange for not hurting the whole country, and spinning any eventual agreement not to do that as a concession on their part. It's a remarkable maneuver, when you think about it." CW: it is a depraved maneuver, when I think about it. They're saying that if they can't hurt Americans one way -- by cutting their social safety net programs -- then they'll hurt us another way -- by tanking the economy & imposing all the hard times that go with that.
NEW. Richard Wolffe, Carl Bernstein, even Joe Scarborough can't believe it when Gov. Rick Snyder (R-Koch) brazenly claims that right-to-work legislation is pro-union. Via Igor Volsky of Think Progress. Thanks to Jeanne B. for the link:
Kathleen Gray & Paul Egan of the Detroit Free Press: "Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state in the blink of an eye Tuesday after the state House rushed through legislation and Gov. Rick Snyder immediately signed it, capping a day of charged emotions, huge crowds and mostly peaceful demonstrations." ...
... Here's one for you Oracles of the Apocalypse. Ashley Killough of CNN: "Jimmy Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said Tuesday he expects Michigan unions and lawmakers to break out into 'civil war' after the state legislature passed right-to-work bills that would weaken unions' power."
Republican War on Women
Tara Culp-Ressler of Think Progress: "At a press conference on Tuesday organized by the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) reaffirmed that his ultimate legislative objective is to restrict all women’s access to abortion services. ...
... Perry's plan to eliminate abortion rights is direclty related to this:
New York Times: "The to hold short-term interest rates near zero so long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5 percent, reinforcing its commitment to improve labor market conditions. The Fed also said that it would continue in the new year its monthly purchases of $85 billion in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, the second prong of its effort to accelerate economic growth by reducing borrowing costs." ...said Wednesday it planned
... AP: "The U.S. economy is already being hurt by the 'fiscal cliff' standoff in Washington, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday. But Bernanke said the Fed believes the crisis will be resolved without significant long-term damage."
NBC News: "Anti-virus software founder John McAfee returned to the United States on Wednesday after he was released from detention in Guatemala."
AP: "Sen. Robert Menendez employed as an unpaid intern in his Senate office an illegal immigrant who was a registered sex offender, now under arrest by immigration authorities.... The Homeland Security Department instructed federal agents not to arrest him until after Election Day, a U.S. official involved in the case told the AP. A Homeland Security spokesman ... said Wednesday that it was 'categorically false' that the department delayed the arrest of Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta, 18, until after the election."
Reuters: "Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is in delicate condition after his latest surgery for cancer, the government said on Wednesday in a sombre assessment that may indicate an end to his 14-year leadership of the South American OPEC nation."
New York Times: "Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have fired Scud missiles at rebel fighters in recent days, Obama administration officials said on Wednesday. The move represents a significant escalation in the fighting, which has already killed more than 40,000 civilians in a nearly two-year-old conflict that has threatened to destabilize the Middle East, and suggests increased desperation on the part of the Assad government."
New York Times: "Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Wednesday to meet with commanders and discuss proposals for future troop levels that he said would be presented for President Obama's consideration over the next few weeks."
Al Jazeera: "Egypt's opposition has called for citizens to vote 'no' in a referendum due this week on a draft constitution for the country, but has set conditions that, if they are not met, would result in a boycott of the poll. The National Salvation Front (NSF) alliance of opposition parties set several conditions for it to accept the poll, including that the referendum be held over a single day. The Front also demanded that there be full judicial supervision of the process, and that international and local NGOs be allowed to monitor it."
... Reuters: "Efforts to resolve Egypt's rapidly worsening political crisis suffered a blow on Wednesday when the army abruptly postponed 'unity' talks that the opposition had minutes earlier said they would attend."
Al Jazeera: "Israel will withhold tax revenues from the Palestinian administration until at least March, in response to the Palestinians' bid for statehood at the UN, Israel's foreign minister says. Under current peace deals, Israel collects about $100 million every month in duties on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the occupied West Bank.... Israel says Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas violated previous peace accords by side-stepping stalled negotiations and securing a Palestinian status upgrade in the United Nations last month. The December funds transfer has already been withheld...."
Al Jazeera: "Russia's President Vladimir Putin has warned against foreign meddling in Russian politics and criticised opposition politicians of being in the pay of foreign interests.... Putin, who last year accused the United States of encouraging opposition protests and claimed foreign governments spend money to seek to influence elections, said Russians receiving money from abroad should be barred from politics."
New York Times: "Ravi Shankar, the Indian sitarist and composer whose collaborations with Western classical musicians as well as rock stars helped foster a worldwide appreciation of India's traditional music, died Tuesday in a hospital near his home in Southern California. He was 92."