Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Happy Christmas? Dimon Daze? Pigs Snort In Glee - Clown Representatives Triumph! NC Crushing Unemployed and Employed: What’s Happened in North Carolina Since July Is an Indication of What Will Happen Nationwide (ALEC's Extreme Legislative Agenda for 2014)

We can't blame the right wingers for everything, I guess. Although at this season of the year it's beginning to seem a lot like Grinchmas. Everywhere we look.


Paul Ryan’s Debt Ceiling Hypocrisy: Mr. Realism Returns to Extortion

The GOP wants concessions from Democrats in exchange for not allowing the U.S. to default on its debts this spring, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said on Fox News Sunday.

“We as a caucus — along with our Senate counterparts — are going to meet and discuss what it is we’re going to want out of the debt limit,” Ryan said. “We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we’re going to accomplish out of this debt limit fight.”

Ryan said the party will make up its mind on its list of demands at a coming retreat. “We’re going to meet in our retreats after the holidays and discuss exactly what it is we’re going to try to get for this,” he said.

(Please consider making a contribution to the Welcome to Pottersville2 Holiday Season Fundraiser or at least sending a link to your friends if you think the subjects discussed here are worth publicizing. Thank you for your support. We are in a real tight spot financially right now and would sincerely appreciate any type of contribution. Anything you can do will make a huge difference in this blog's ability to survive during this holiday.)

Tapered! Fed unexpectedly announces slowdown of stimulus measures

Unemployment is still at 7 percent, but Bernanke and co. decide that enough is enough

Jamie Dimon’s Perp Walk: Why It Could Be This Year’s Christmas Miracle
JPMorgan's CEO just violated a federal statute carrying a prison sentence. But will the punishment fit the crime?

Christmas miracle? It doesn’t have to be. Even putting aside the rap sheet of crimes committed by JPMorgan Chase over the past several years for which its CEO can be said to be ultimately responsible, just a week ago, Jamie Dimon explicitly violated a federal statute that carries a prison sentence. That he’s a free man today, with no fear of prosecution, doesn’t only speak to our two-tiered system of justice in America. It should color our perceptions of new rules and regulations that supposedly “get tough” on the financial industry, as we recognize that any law is only as strong as the individuals who enforce them.

The law in question that Jamie Dimon violated, by his own admission, can be found in Section 906 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. In the aftermath of the 2001 financial crisis, when corporations like Enron and WorldCom melted down in accounting scandals, Congress passed and George W. Bush signed Sarbanes-Oxley, meant to reform corporate accounting and protect investors through additional disclosures.

Section 906 forces corporate CEOs and CFOs (chief financial officers) to add a written certification to every periodic financial statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In this certification, the CEO and CFO must personally attest that the documents submitted to the SEC are accurate, as well as that the corporation has adequate internal controls. That phrase “internal controls” has a very specific meaning, covering the accuracy of all financial reporting, proper risk management, and compliance with all applicable regulations. Under Section 906, if the CEO or CFO knowingly or willfully make false certifications – i.e., if they know the SEC filing contains inaccurate information, or that the company’s internal controls are inadequate – they face fines of up to $5 million, and imprisonment of up to 20 years.

The idea here was to change corporate behavior by putting top executives personally on the hook for any wrongdoing. This would concentrate the minds of CEOs and CFOs, giving them a personal interest in ensuring regulatory and legal compliance. And it would assure investors that all accounting statements filed by the corporation were accurate, and all risks disclosed.

We know now that Wall Street firms like JPMorgan Chase routinely violated any number of laws leading up to and after the financial crisis. We know that the risks weren’t disclosed to investors in a timely manner, since multibillion-dollar settlements keep getting announced without warning. And we know enough to infer that the annual statements to the SEC that Jamie Dimon personally signed were inaccurate.

. . . This matters for more reasons than just Jamie Dimon’s personal comfort level. Just last week, regulators finalized the Volcker rule, designed to prevent banks from risky proprietary trading for their own profit. And one of the key measures touted by regulators is a CEO certification, where they have to state that their bank has “procedures to establish, maintain, enforce, review, test and modify” compliance with the Volcker rule. This is even weaker than the Sarbanes-Oxley certification, as they only have to certify that procedures are in place, not that those procedures are effective. And because Sarbanes-Oxley certification has been such a bust in holding corporate CEOs accountable, nobody should be hopeful that an even weaker provision in the Volcker rule will serve as anything more than window dressing.

And the predictable result is a lack of deterrent for a continuing series of crimes. Open the business pages at random and they often read like the police blotter. One day, it’s contractors of Bank of America scamming homeowners seeking loan modifications (in ways substantially similar to the scams I reported on this summer for Salon). The next, it’s JPMorgan Chase settling allegations that it failed to inform authorities about its banking client Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme (the settlement reportedly includes a “deferred prosecution agreement,” where JPMorgan and the government agree that a crime has been committed but that nobody will actually be indicted for it).

In a way, this puts us back where we started. Madoff was frog-marched out of his New York City penthouse apartment, disgraced for defrauding investors out of their life savings. Madoff’s true error, apparently, was that he didn’t engage in this conduct while an executive at a Too Big to Fail bank. He would have then received that protected status conferred upon all top Wall Street executives.

The AP’s Political Editor Is Leaving To Do PR for BP

Paul Krugman: Inequality Is “The Defining Challenge of Our Time

Paul Krugman’s latest column for the New York Times is a defense of prioritizing inequality as the top issue in American politics today.

. . . the truth, according to Krugman, is that inequality is a big deal — both economically and politically. Regarding inequality’s economic impact, Krugman writes, “inequality is rising so fast that over the past six years it has been as big a drag on ordinary American incomes as poor economic performance, even though those years include the worst economic slump since the 1930s.” He also argues that inequality’s influence is partially to blame for the weak post-recession economy, because having so much wealth tied up with so few people reduces consumer demand in the economy as a whole.

During the worst years of unemployment since the Great Depression, our truly gifted Congress has decided to decrease unemployment benefits and treat the unemployed citizens as chattel.

North Carolina has gone them one better. Or ten.

Of course, you've got to remember that North Carolina's a special case. We've been losing employment for over 30 years due to the demise of our textile and furniture industries. And the recent triumphant Koch-funded Republican junta has decided to stop the chat about it.

Or kickstart it.

North Carolina Shows How to Crush the Unemployed

By Evan Soltas

Dec 17, 2013

The U.S. is about to cut the maximum duration of public support for the unemployed. The federal extension of unemployment insurance expires on Jan. 1. To see the consequences, look at North Carolina.

I’ve been watching the state since July, when it cut the maximum length of benefit from 99 weeks to just 19, and reduced the weekly check from $535 to $350.

Across the country, the unemployed will lose from 14 to 47 weeks of insurance when the extension ends. Five other states will join North Carolina in providing fewer than 26 weeks of payments - the standard in the U.S until this year. What’s happened in North Carolina since July is an indication of what will happen nationwide. The picture is troubling.

As intended, presumably, the number of North Carolinians receiving unemployment benefits has collapsed. It’s down by 45,000, or 40 percent, since last year. Expiring benefits aren’t the only reason for this. Far fewer are filing a claim in the first place. Initial claims are running at about half last year's rate. Unemployment insurance is a thinner safety net than it has been in decades.

In addition, North Carolina’s labor force began to shrink. The state is experiencing the largest labor-force contraction it's ever seen - 77,000 fewer people were working or searching for work this October than a year ago. This should, but won’t, settle a partisan debate. Cutting unemployment insurance apparently hasn’t encouraged the unemployed to look harder for work: It has caused them to drop out of the labor force altogether.

To get unemployment insurance, you have to actively search for work and prove that you're doing so. 

The drop in the labor force suggests that this incentive was effective. Without it, more people just give up.

Meanwhile, the burden of easing the financial distress caused by unemployment has shifted from public programs to private charities. According to Alan Briggs, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Food Banks, they're struggling to cope.

"The local pantries are saying, 'Give us more, give us more, give us more,'" Briggs said. "All that the county social workers can do now is give those in need the phone number for the local food bank." As he told a local news station, his food banks had been "asked to be the safety net of the safety net."

Ron Pringle, a food-bank director who oversees seven counties and 230 organizations in the state’s southeast, says they’ve seen on average a 17 percent increase in need since last year. "We’re seeing requests for food from our agencies well outside of our planned growth," Pringle said. "Some of our member agencies have been able to meet that need, but many have not."
"They’ve had to expand pantry hours, add additional days to the schedule, and take on new volunteers because they’re unable to meet the greater need," he said. "These decisions have created a whole new community of folks we're going to have to serve."
Some 1.3 million Americans will lose unemployment benefits immediately in 2014, according to a report from National Employment Law Project. An additional 850,000 will lose them by the end of March. North Carolina just ran this policy experiment. Does Washington like what it sees?
(Evan Soltas is a contributor to the Ticker. Follow him on Twitter.)

And North Carolina's incestuous relationship with Art Pope and his Koch Brothers connection ($$$$$$$$) is just the icing on the burnt pudding (for the targeted business owners). Here's an article from earlier this month which details the Conservatives' plans for the rest of US - and they're a bitch slap at the word "conservative" (take a careful look at the words describing the software companies being enriched by the idea of using automation to better "teach" students to read - anyone else remember Babs Bush's words during her Katrina walkabout touting Neil's future "educational" software business plans? Talk about a Christmas gift for planning for "failure.")

ALEC’s Extreme Legislative Agenda for 2014

Rebekah Wilce

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meets in Washington, DC this week for its "States and Nation Policy Summit," which is one of the ways ALEC crafts and pushes its legislative agenda for the coming year. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz - who helped push the country to the brink of financial default to thwart the Affordable Care Act (ACA) - headlines the conference on Thursday, December 5. Failed vice-presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and his Senator counterpart Ron Johnson (R-WI) will also address the crowd.

But what will happen behind closed doors during the meeting?

ALEC posted part of its legislative agendas for the meeting for the first time this month, while continuing to hide its funders and corporate authors of special interest legislation, as the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported. On ALEC's agenda for 2014 are the following priorities and bills (which will become official ALEC "models" once passed by the task forces - with corporate lobbyists voting as equals alongside state legislators - and approved by the board of directors):

Opposing U.S. Consumers' Right to Know the Origin of Our Food:

  • More than 90 percent of consumers want labels saying what country the meat (and fruits, vegetables, and fish) they are buying comes from, according to polls. So the introduction of a "Resolution on Country of Origin Labeling" (PDF, p. 19) - resisting the implementation of what it calls "additional regulations and requirements for our meat producers and processors" - to ALEC's International Relations Task Force makes clear how beholden ALEC is to Big Ag and multinational corporations rather than U.S. citizens. You can read more about country of origin labeling (COOL) from CMD here and from the blog Bluestem Prairie here.
Undermining Workers' Rights:

  • Another bill to undermine unions, masquerading as "employee choice," called the "Public Employee Choice Act" (PDF, p. 6), is effectively "right to work" for public employees, and undermines collective bargaining by allowing workers to freeload off the benefits of union negotiations without paying the costs of union representation.

    The bill appears to be based on an Oregon 2014 ballot initiative, Initiative 9. It is similar to so-called "right to work," only for public employees, and its euphemistic use of the word "choice" has been appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court. The "Public Employee Choice Act Committee" has so far taken in over $52,000 and spent over $36,000 as of November 25, according to campaign finance records filed with the Oregon Secretary of State, which doesn't track the money spent and raised on dark money issue ads.
  • Further efforts to eliminate occupational licensing for any profession, which help ensure that people who want to call themselves doctors, long-haul truckers, accountants, or barbers meet basic standards of training and expertise to guarantee that consumers are safe and get what they pay for. This extreme bill, called the "Private Certification Act" (PDF, p. 11), swims against the current of what most people want, which are to be treated by professionals who meet standards for competence or safety that have been established by law through the democratic process.
Undermining the Rights of Injured Americans to Hold Corporations Accountable:Undermining Public Education and Lining the Pockets of For-Profit School Companies:
  • Two bills to take advantage of concern for young students at risk of not learning to read in order to enrich computer software companies, called the "Early Intervention Program Act" (PDF, p. 6) and the "K-1 Technology-Based Reading Intervention for English Learners Act" (PDF, p. 8). The former appears to be based on Utah's 2012 HB 513, which since its passage has enriched at least one ALEC corporation, Imagine Learning, to the tune of almost $2 million.

    Since Imagine did not offer test scores for the beginning and ending of the use of its software in the 2012-2013 school year, little is know(n) of what benefits there may (or may not) have been to students enrolled in the new program, even as it diverted tax dollars from public schools to private corporations.
  • Another related bill, ALEC's "Student Achievement Backpack Act," also appears to be based on a Utah bill, 2013 SB 82, which provides access to student data in a "cloud-based" electronic portal format. According to Ed Week, it was inspired by a publication by Digital Learning Now!, a project of Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education, which has ties to ALEC and is funded in part by Pearson, an international media company that bought out Connections Education, formerly a very active member of ALEC's Education Task Force.
  • Another school privatization bill called the "Course Choice Program Act" (PDF, p. 17), which appears to be based on Louisiana's "course choice," or mini-voucher, program. It lets high school students take free online classes if their regular school does not offer it, or if their school had been rated a C, D or F by the state, and began enrollment in 2013.

    The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled its initial funding mechanism from the state's "Minimum Foundation Program" unconstitutional. The state's voucher program has been challenged by the U.S. Justice Department on the grounds that it might promote segregation. A federal judge ruled this month that the federal government has the right to examine voucher assignments in order to make sure that's not happening, according to The Times-Picayune.
Stripping Environmental Protections:
  • Two resolutions that continue to oppose U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) regulation of greenhouse gases and work to prevent addressing climate change, called the "Resolution in Opposition to EPA's Plan to Regulate Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act" (PDF, p. 7) and the "Resolution Concerning EPA Proposed Greenhouse Gas Emission Standards for New and Existing Fossil-Fueled Power Plants" (PDF, p. 8).

    The Supreme Court agreed on October 15 to review the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources like power plants under the Clean Air Act, as CMD reported. The Obama administration and environmental advocates had urged the Supreme Court to reject the case entirely.

    Environmental regulation experts theorize that the right-wing activists appointed to the court could strip the EPA of its ability to regulate these stationary sources, but that the EPA is on fairly solid legal footing.

    ALEC's "Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force" (EEA) is populated with fossil fuel corporations that have a vested interest in reducing or eliminating regulation of greenhouse gases - including American Electric Power, Duke Energy, Energy Future Holdings, Koch Industries, Peabody Coal, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell Oil.
  • A new attack on clean energy policies, attempting to slow the growth of the clean energy industry by weakening net metering policies (which reduce energy bills of consumers who install solar panels, for example), called the "Updating Net Metering Policies Resolution" (PDF, p. 11). Brian McCormick, Vice President for Political and External Affairs of the Edison Electric Institute - a member of ALEC - helped Arizona Public Service - another ALEC member - draft the resolution, as the Energy & Policy Institute's Gabe Elsner reported in the Huffington Post.
  • The EEA task force will also gauge "interest for [a] future natural gas, hydraulic fracturing, and pipeline symposium." But ALEC members' "interest" in these extractive and environmentally destructive activities is no secret.

    Last October, as CMD discovered, outgoing ALEC National Chair John Piscopo, a state representative from Connecticut, went on an ALEC-organized, all-expenses-paid trip to the Alberta tar sands with eight other ALEC legislators. Keystone XL pipeline company TransCanada and oil interests like the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers sponsored the trip.

    CMD filed a complaint in Nebraska against Sen. Jim Smith, who never disclosed that he received expensive chartered flights in Canada. Rep. Piscopo also didn't disclose the value of flights, hotel rooms, and meals that he received on the trip, although Connecticut law is not as strict as Nebraska law about such influence peddling.
Limiting Patient Rights and Undermining Safety Net Programs:

  • A bill in place of ALEC's previous resolutions in support of "Medicaid block grants," called the "Medicaid Block Grant Act" (PDF, p. 10), which would request "federal authorization to fund the state Medicaid program through a block grant or similar funding." Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has proposed a similar block grant system for Medicaid in several budget proposals.

    The cuts inherent in this system - as much as 75 percent - "would have substantial effects on the ability of millions of low-income Americans to secure health coverage and have access to needed health-care services," according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
  • A bill to place new, potentially burdensome restrictions on who can be hired as so-called "insurance navigators" that are providing assistance to people in states to sign up for insurance using the ACA exchanges, called the "Navigator Background Check Act" (PDF, p. 22). Along with an array of other ALEC bills, this would further undermine the effectiveness of the ACA, as CMD has reported.
  • A bill to end licensing, certification, and specialty certification for doctors and other medical professionals as requirements to practice medicine in the state and to prohibit the state from funding the Federation of State Medical Boards, euphemistically called the "Patient Access Expansion Act" (PDF, p. 25). This bill was introduced to the task force previously at the 2012 ALEC Winter Task Force Summit and was presumably not approved. It is being re-introduced with no discernible changes.
You can also take action to ask Google to stop funding ALEC by clicking here.

Go to for more.

Happy Christmas!

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