Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Our Disgusting Heroes: More Consumer-Punishing Bank Amnesty and Disturbing Facts About Obama's New CIA Boss Pick Brennan

(Please consider making a contribution to Welcome to Pottersville2 or sending a link to your friends if you think the subjects discussed here are worth publicizing. Thank you for your support. I really appreciate it. Any contribution will make a huge difference in this blog's ability to survive.)

The important thing to remember is that the MONEY never came from ANY of the parties in the sham securitization chain starting with the originator. While there are exceptions - like World Savings - the truth defeats further claims regarding the Wachovia acquisition and then the Wells Fargo acquisition of Wachovia. Either the assignments were missing or they fabricated and forged.
. . . But the institutionalization of hypocrisy and deviant behavior on the part of the Banks has left us with "settlements" that settle nothing, leaving millions of homeowners who lost their homes to entities that received a windfall from the foreclosure process and the windfall from dual tracking "modification" reviews that were a pure sham designed only to get the homeowner in the deepest hole possible so that foreclosure would become inevitable.

It's hard to delineate the fraud any more clearly.

And yet, although millions were victimized (and many thrown out of their houses and into the street) none of the victimizers were given any penance except for small fines.

No skin off of their hides was ever exacted.

BANK AMNESTY AGAIN: Leaving Consumers to Fend (Litigate) for Themselves

by Neil Garfield
"To someone who lost his house to mortgage servicer incompetence or malfeasance, that's not restitution. It's an insult. "The capped pool of cash payments is wholly inadequate in light of the scale of the harm," says Alys Cohen, staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center."   Adam Levin,
Editor's Analysis: In case after case across the country it is readily apparent that there complete strangers making claims on mortgages, foreclosing, evicting and even collecting "Trial Payments" while they intend to do nothing other than Foreclose - because that is where the money is and because it is only through a foreclosure that they cap the losses and pass them onto investors despite having received large scale payments of insurance and other hedges.
The Banks have it their way despite the obvious unconscionable, illegal, immoral and unethical breach of trust between consumer and bank and between banks.
Whether it is the Chase WAMU deal, or the BOA countrywide deal, or the Indy-mac One West deal, the facts are in - we don't need to theorize anymore - the banks are NOT the creditors, they cannot shows proof of loss, proof of payment or any financial transaction that would entitle them to enforce an invalid note or foreclose on an invalid, unperfected mortgage lien.
But the institutionalization of hypocrisy and deviant behavior on the part of the Banks has left us with "settlements" that settle nothing, leaving millions of homeowners who lost their homes to entities that received a windfall from the foreclosure process and the windfall from dual tracking "modification" reviews that were a pure sham designed only to get the homeowner in the deepest hole possible so that foreclosure would become inevitable.
At our members conference this Wednesday, we will talk about what is getting traction in the modification of mortgages and what is getting traction in the litigation of mortgage disputes.
The important thing to remember is that the MONEY never came from ANY of the parties in the sham securitization chain starting with the originator. While there are exceptions --- like World Savings --- the truth defeats further claims regarding the Wachovia acquisition and then the Wells Fargo acquisition of Wachovia. Either the assignments were missing or they fabricated and forged.
If you ask yourself why they wouldn't have had the assignments done all nice and proper which is the way the banking world works when BORROWERS must sign documents, you will feel uncomfortable with Wall Street explanations of volume causing the paperwork confusion. It was the exact same volume that produced millions of "originated" mortgages where the i's were dotted and T's were crossed ---- that is, where the Borrower had to sign. The banks had no trouble then --- it was only when the banks had to sign that there was a problem. Where the securitization participants had to sign was neither disclosed nor drafted nor executed.
The simple reason is that there was nothing to sign. There was no financial transaction where money exchanged hands which is why I am pounding on the point that the lawyers should be aiming at the money rather than the documentation. "For value received" means that value was paid or transferred. When you ask for the wire transfer receipt or cancelled check that shows payment and which would establish proof of loss, you are asking to see the transaction upon which the banks place all their reliance.
Their argument that they don't need to show the actual transaction is a dodge to protect themselves from showing that the transactions in the bogus securitization scheme were all a sham. Your argument should be simple --- they say they lost money and that the homeowners owes it. Let's see the actual proof that they made the loan, lost the money and have not already been paid. The assignments are not accompanies by actual money exchanging hands which means that the assignment lacked consideration and was therefore an executory contract at best, pending payment.
Then you need to ask yourself why there was no consideration when you know that money was funded from somewhere for a loan to the "benefit" of your client (albeit based upon fraud in the execution and fraud in the inducement including appraisal fraud). YOU must tackle the basic issue in the mind of just about every judge --- as long as the money was there at the "closing" of the loan, and the borrower signed the papers, and then defaulted on those promises, what difference does it make whether some OTHER papers were fabricated or even forged.
The fact remains, your client, in the eyes of the Judge, got the loan, agreed to the terms and then defaulted. In our world, when you default on a loan, judgment is entered, foreclosure is completed and eviction, if necessary proceeds. The banks have relied upon this perception for years which considerable success. The reason borrowers often lose in litigation is that they arguing about the wrong thing. As soon as they go after the documentation first they are going down a rabbit hole. It is a tacit admission that the loan was valid, the note is evidence of the loan and the mortgage secures the note. DENY and DISCOVER puts that front and center as an issue of fact in dispute.
By going after the money transactions and requiring proof of payment and proof of loss and asking for the accounting data that shows the loan receivable on the books of an entity, you are striking at the heart of the sham transaction.
If you ask me for a loan for $100 and I say "Sure, just sign this note," and you go ahead and sign the note, what happens when I don't give you the $100 loan. The answer, which has caused considerable confusion in the foreclosure defense world is that I can nonetheless sue you (on its face the note LOOKS like a negotiable instrument) , but I can't win. Because if you deny that I ever completed the loan transaction by funding the loan to you, then I have to prove that I gave you the money. I can't because I didn't. My argument that you did receive a loan that day and therefore you owe me the money is a lie. You owe the money to whoever actually gave you the money.
At the closing of these loans originated by nominees with no power to touch the money and whose only source of income was fees, not interest on the loan, the borrower was fooled by the fact that the money showed up for the loan. It never occurred to the borrower to ask any questions since the paperwork, and all the disclosures required by law told him a story about the loan. The borrower could not possibly know that the story told by the documents, the documents he or she signed at closing were all a lie.
The Banks will take the position that everyone was authorized to make representations and act for everyone else --- except when it comes to paying down the debts with money received from insurance and the proceeds of credit default swaps, federal bailouts etc. In THAT case the bank says it was not the agent of the investors and had no duty to either the investor or the borrower since the banks were the named insureds --- made possible only because they purposefully put the name of a nominee on the note, a nominee on the mortgage (or even two nominees on the mortgage) so that the banks could open up a window of time during which they could claim ownership of the loans despite the fact that they had not funded one dime to originate or purchase any loan.
Thus if go for the money first and THEN show the the fabrication, forgery and perjury in documents, the case makes sense and can be presented to the court without giving one inch of admission that the loan, the note or mortgage were real, valid or enforceable. AND by sending a standard QWR and FDCPA letter, the banks have nowhere to hide. In litigation the motion becomes a petition to enforce the RESPA 6 inquiry and the FDCPA inquiry either through direct order or through discovery.
THEN you force the disclosure of the identity of the creditor who actually has a negative account balance on their books for the loan, directly or indirectly, and seek modification or settlement based upon the facts of the case. HAMP modification is impossible, settlement is impossible without first establishing who could submit a credit bid at auction or who could execute a valid satisfaction and release of the debt.
Neil Garfield | January 28, 2013

At least we can always depend on Russ Baker and Glenn Greenwald to roll back the fraud film.

Literally forcing me to remember Mussolini's finale.

PODCAST with Russ Baker on CIA Nominee John Brennan


Russ Baker interviewed by Pat Thurston of the major West Coast station KGO. They discuss disturbing aspects of CIA director-designee John Brennan; inconsistencies in what we have been told about the Abbottabad Raid that, we are told, bagged Osama bin Laden; the peculiar breaching of Obama’s passport records; the JFK assassination, propaganda, and more.

Please CLICK HERE to download/play the mp3 file.

The Untouchables: How the Obama Administration Protected Wall Street from Prosecutions

A new PBS Frontline report examines a profound failure of justice that should be causing serious social unrest,
Eric Holder Breuer
Eric Holder talks to DOJ Criminal Chief Lanny Breuer in 2010. (Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters)
(updated below)
PBS' Frontline program on Tuesday night broadcast a new one-hour report on one of the greatest and most shameful failings of the Obama administration: the lack of even a single arrest or prosecution of any senior Wall Street banker for the systemic fraud that precipitated the 2008 financial crisis: a crisis from which millions of people around the world are still suffering. What this program particularly demonstrated was that the Obama justice department, in particular the Chief of its Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer, never even tried to hold the high-level criminals accountable.
What Obama justice officials did instead is exactly what they did in the face of high-level Bush era crimes of torture and warrantless eavesdropping: namely, acted to protect the most powerful factions in the society in the face of overwhelming evidence of serious criminality. Indeed, financial elites were not only vested with impunity for their fraud, but thrived as a result of it, even as ordinary Americans continue to suffer the effects of that crisis.
Worst of all, Obama justice officials both shielded and feted these Wall Street oligarchs (who, just by the way, overwhelmingly supported Obama's 2008 presidential campaign) as they simultaneously prosecuted and imprisoned powerless Americans for far more trivial transgressions. As Harvard law professor Larry Lessig put it two weeks ago when expressing anger over the DOJ's persecution of Aaron Swartz: "we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House." (Indeed, as "The Untouchables" put it: while no senior Wall Street executives have been prosecuted, "many small mortgage brokers, loan appraisers and even home buyers" have been).
As I documented at length in my 2011 book on America's two-tiered justice system, With Liberty and Justice for Some, the evidence that felonies were committed by Wall Street is overwhelming. That evidence directly negates the primary excuse by Breuer (previously offered by Obama himself) that the bad acts of Wall Street were not criminal.
breuer frontline
Numerous documents prove that executives at leading banks, credit agencies, and mortgage brokers were falsely touting assets as sound that knew were junk: the very definition of fraud. As former Wall Street analyst Yves Smith wrote in her book ECONned: "What went on at Lehman and AIG, as well as the chicanery in the CDO [collateralized debt obligation] business, by any sensible standard is criminal." Even lifelong Wall Street defender Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Chair, said in Congressional testimony that "a lot of that stuff was just plain fraud."
A New York Times editorial in August explained that the DOJ's excuse for failing to prosecute Wall Street executives - that it was too hard to obtain convictions - "has always defied common sense - and all the more so now that a fuller picture is emerging of the range of banks' reckless and lawless activities, including interest-rate rigging, money laundering, securities fraud and excessive speculation."
The Frontline program interviewed former prosecutors, Senate staffers and regulators who unequivocally said the same: it is inconceivable that the DOJ could not have successfully prosecuted at least some high-level Wall Street executives - had they tried.
What's most remarkable about all of this is not even Wall Street had the audacity to expect the generosity of largesse they ended up receiving. "The Untouchables" begins by recounting the massive financial devastation the 2008 crisis wrought - "the economy was in ruins and bankers were being blamed" - and recounts:
"In 2009, Wall Street bankers were on the defensive, worried they could be held criminally liable for fraud. With a new administration, bankers and their attorneys expected investigations and at least some prosecutions."
Indeed, the show recalls that both in Washington and the country generally, "there was broad support for prosecuting Wall Street." Nonetheless: "four years later, there have been no arrests of any senior Wall Street executives."
In response to the DOJ's excuse-making that these criminal cases are too hard to win, numerous experts - Senators, top Hill staffers, former DOJ prosecutors - emphasized the key point: Obama officials never even tried. One of the heroes of "The Untouchables", former Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman, worked tirelessly to provide the DOJ with all the funds it needed to ensure probing criminal investigations and even to pressure and compel them to do so.
Yet when he and his staff would meet with Breuer and other top DOJ officials, they would proudly tout the small mortgage brokers they were pursuing, in response to which Kafuman and his staff said: "No. Don't show me small-time mortgage guys in California. This is totally about what went on in Wall Street. . . . We are talking about investigating senior level Wall Street executives, even at the Board level". (The same Lanny Breuer was recently seen announcing that the banking giant HSBC would face no criminal prosecution for its money laundering of funds for designated terrorist groups and drug networks on the ground that the bank was too big to risk prosecuting).
As Kaufman and his staffers make clear, Obama officials were plainly uninterested in pursuing criminal accountability for Wall Street. One former staffer to both Biden and Kaufman, Jeff Connaughton, wrote a book in 2011 - "The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins" - devoted to alerting the nation that the Obama DOJ refused even to try to find criminal culprits on Wall Street.
In the book, this career-Democratic-aide-turned-whistleblower details how the levers of Washington power are used to shield and protect high-level Wall Street executives, many of whom have close ties to the leaders of both parties and themselves are former high-level government officials. This is a system, he makes clear, that is constituted to ensure that those executives never face real accountability even for their most egregious and destructive crimes.
The reason there have been no efforts made to criminally investigate is obvious. Former banking regulator and current securities Professor Bill Black told Bill Moyers in 2009 that "Timothy Geithner, the Secretary of the Treasury, and others in the administration, with the banks, are engaged in a cover up to keep us from knowing what went wrong."
In the documentary "Inside Job", the economist Nouriel Roubini, when asked why there have been no such investigations, replied: "Because then you'd find the culprits." Underlying all of that is what the Senate's second-highest ranking Democrat, Dick Durbin, admitted in 2009: the banks "frankly own the place".
The harms from this refusal to hold Wall Street accountable are the same generated by the general legal immunity the US political culture has vested in its elites. Just as was true for the protection of torturers and illegal eavesdroppers, it ensures that there are no incentives to avoid similar crimes in the future. It is an injustice in its own right to allow those with power and wealth to commit destructive crimes with impunity.
It subverts democracy and warps the justice system when a person's treatment under the law is determined not by their acts but by their power, position, and prestige. And it exposes just how shameful is the American penal state by contrasting the immunity given to the nation's most powerful with the merciless and brutal punishment meted out to its most marginalized.
The real mystery from all of this is that it has not led to greater social unrest. To some extent, both the early version of the Tea Party and the Occupy movements were spurred by the government's protection of Wall Street at the expense of everyone else.
Still, Americans continue to be plagued by massive unemployment, foreclosures, the threat of austerity and economic insecurity while those who caused those problems have more power and profit than ever. And they watch millions of their fellow citizens be put in cages for relatively minor offenses while the most powerful are free to commit far more serious crimes with complete impunity. Far less injustice than this has spurred serious unrest in other societies.
[The one-hour Frontline program can be viewed in its entirety here.]

Monday, January 28, 2013

Clearly the Party Is NOT Over

The Dems (Dims?) are useless?

Receiving huge pay-offs while approving business-friendly agendas at the expense of the taxpayers would render almost anyone useless, wouldn't it?

The more controversy is stirred up about death panels and Muslim infiltration of the government, the less discussion there is, for example, about the tax subsidies for the oil industry. These people know what they're doing. They use a superficial populism tinged with craziness to further a rational, plutocratic agenda.
. . . We can devise all the clever schemes imaginable to clean up politics and get money out of campaigns, but it won't work until the American people collectively give up on certain fond illusions: the Horatio Alger myth, American Exceptionalism, and the whole mass of magical thinking that boils down to the belief that God loves America because we're so virtuous, handsome, and smart, and that we, too, could win the lottery. 
. . . in 1990, Gingrich authored a memo titled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control." Note that he didn't say persuasion or influence, he said control: what one does to prisoners or lab rats. Watch Gingrich closely enough and the sociopathic clues pile up!  

Not over by a long shot.

"The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle Class Got Shafted"

By Mike Lofgren

Here's a new book based on an exclusive Truthout commentary that became a national media sensation. Inside the front cover, publisher Viking Press (Penguin) even mentions that this bombshell insider's view of Capitol Hill began as a professional and personal confession that "was posted on Truthout and read by millions." Receive a copy of Mike Lofgren's "The Party Is Over" by making a minimum contribution to Truthout by clicking here

Mike Lofgren spent twenty-eight years working in Congress, the last sixteen as a senior analyst on the House and Senate Budget committees, which gave him ringside seats on the Troubled Asset Relief Program, Hurricane Katrina disaster relief, debates on the Pentagon budget and the amazing antics of various deficit-reduction commissions. His "coming out" article as a citizen, "Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult," garnered over a million views on Truthout. Lofgren has expanded on the insights of that article in his just-issued book, "The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted." Lofgren talked about the current situation with Truthout's Leslie Thatcher in a recent email exchange:

Leslie Thatcher for Truthout: Mike, in the title of your book, you describe the Republicans as "crazy," but in articles and interviews here and elsewhere, you've described their tactics as deliberate political terrorism. How are those policies crazy for the super-funders who determine GOP policy?

Mike Lofgren:  That is an interesting question that goes to the heart of a paradoxical aspect of the GOP. Of course people like the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson are engaging in a rational exercise to maximize their wealth. Their contributions will come back manifold in the form of tax breaks, subsidies, and exclusive franchises. The primary purpose of the GOP these days is to provide tax breaks and other financial advantages (such as not regulating pollution and other socially costly externalities) to their wealthy donor base. All the rest of their platform, all the culture wars stuff, is simply rube bait.

One cannot get a majority of voters - who are decidedly non-rich - to knowingly pull the lever for a party that nakedly says "our platform is further enrichment of the wealthy, and, oh, by the way, we're also going to make your retirement benefits take a hit." That's where deep psychological insight comes into play. Most people, even when they have a sneaking suspicion that they are being shafted economically, are not well attuned to the complexities of credit default swaps, the London Interbank Offered Rate, or quantitative easing.

And the media are definitely not interested in wising them up, especially when they can instead supply celebrity interviews, singing contests, or commercialized orgies like the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

Since the GOP is loath to tell the public in straightforward terms what their economic agenda is, and the media are not exactly forcing the GOP's hand, and, finally, the people are operating in a knowledge deficit, Republicans respond by sleight of hand: "We're more American than that Kenyan socialist in the White House!" Or "The Obama administration is riddled with Muslim extremists." Or "Planned Parenthood is taxpayer-subsidized murder." Or "Obama wants to take away your guns."

Even "Obama raised your taxes," when in fact he lowered them.
Stuff that is not terribly persuasive to well-informed people, but a lot of people are surprisingly ill-informed, and very few institutions - the corporate media least of all - have any interest in their being well-informed.

Now ask yourself, what kind of person can say some of the things the GOP says with a straight face?
Granted, there are a number of intelligent, but deeply cynical, politicians who will say or do anything, knowing that what they say is false. But increasingly, the GOP's ranks are being filled with what psychologist Erich Fromm called the "true believer." Despite the carnival aspect of American politics, I actually credit Michele Bachmann, Allen West, Louie Gohmert, and the rest of them, with being sincere. They really believe the drivel they are saying, and their groping and inarticulate sincerity connects with a certain populist and anti-intellectual strain in the American people that has been evident since the days of de Tocqueville.

I find it very significant, for example, that the Kochs were early funders of Michele Bachmann's presidential race. Titans of billion-dollar oil industries are, of course, too shrewd and cynical to believe the childish bosh that Bachmann spouts daily, but as a political stooge, she is worth the investment.
The more controversy is stirred up about death panels and Muslim infiltration of the government, the less discussion there is, for example, about the tax subsidies for the oil industry. These people know what they're doing. They use a superficial populism tinged with craziness to further a rational, plutocratic agenda.

LT: You've blamed the "1 1/2" parties we have in this country for the shafting of the middle class, but have noted elsewhere that at one time working people understood their own economic and political interests a little more accurately than at present. Can this be corrected?

ML: My answer to the previous question has already partially limned the issue: the public is not particularly well-informed, and there aren't many institutions that have an interest in their being informed. Somehow or other, the sodbusters of the 1880s and 1890s knew exactly who was manipulating them economically, and they vilified the railroad corporations, the grain middlemen, and the predatory banks - and rightly so.

The powerful interests fought them, and many a farm went under the auctioneer's hammer, but eventually they achieved things that seem utopian today - North Dakota got a state-run bank, and state-controlled grain silage was set up in some states; railroad rates were regulated.

Ditto for labor. In those days, going on strike was a serious business that could get you killed. Governors routinely called out the national guard with orders to shoot to kill, and companies hired Pinkerton thugs to murder strike leaders. All with the blessing of the courts, who considered working men and women organizing for a living wage to be conspiracy in restraint of trade and violation of the sanctity of contract.
Yet, somehow, they got wage and hour laws, abolition of child labor, the recognition of unions, and other improvements. The upward arc of their accomplishments led to a middle class society by the end of World War II - a rising tide of generalized prosperity that I grew up in during the 1950s and 1960s.

Yet, somehow, this movement ran out of steam. It may partly have been due to the very consumer society it created, because its fruits - particularly the electronic media - encouraged an atomization of society and a personalization of our problems and failures.
Solidarity at the union hall doesn't cut it when American Idol is on. And since the 1970s, the religious right has worked assiduously to make sure ordinary socially conservative working people confuse religion with politics, and confuse personal salvation with collective action.

What happened to working people also affected the top of the income scale. While there were many exceptions, most captains of industry after the Crash of '29 accepted that they would have to give a little to keep the rest of what they had. And in World War II, there were heavy windfall profits taxes; woe unto some clueless millionaire who groused about his taxes when our boys were hitting the beaches of Anzio, Normandy, and Iwo Jima.
And in the 1950s, President Eisenhower resisted suggestions from advisors that he should reduce the top marginal rate of 91 percent; he was rightly concerned with fiscal responsibility, and in any case, the economy was humming along quite nicely as it was.

But that changed. So-called globalization resulted in our economic elites having a ready relief valve anytime workers become restive. And it effected a psychological change. Where our elites were once national, now they identify more with their elite counterparts in London, Tokyo, and Beijing than with their own countrymen of lesser means.
At present, Facebook billionaires renounce their citizenship, and a current candidate for president, despite all his jingoistic crowing and war-whooping, once ran away to France when he actually had a chance to put his tough-guy philosophy into action.
And now he hides his money in offshore accounts. So it won't do to recount the failings of working people without mentioning that they are up against a pretty repellent overclass with unlimited funds and all the propaganda instruments at their disposal.
Mass distraction and mass mystification such as we have seen come virally and epidemically; a correction comes only slowly, and one person at a time. And there is so much money washing through the political system that political action through the traditional party system has been neutralized.
To some extent, and nuances aside, Obama has pretty much presided over George W. Bush's third term. Look at the career path of Tim Geithner if you are skeptical of my claim.

LT: Do you see any realistic way out of the situation we've created?

ML: If I knew the answer to that I would patent it. The problem is that when militaristic empires (which we've become) get into trouble, their elites tend to double down on the same failed policies that got them into trouble in the first place.
Realistically, a country with a $15-trillion debt, failing infrastructure, and very mediocre world rankings in terms of life expectancy, social mobility, and poverty, simply cannot afford the extravagance of reckless interventionism combined with a fiscal policy that hollows out the country in order to reward rich political contributors.
Yet what is definitely not in the long-term national interest certainly is in the short-term selfish interest of the people who got rich from scamming us in the first place.
But it won't suffice simply to note the disparities of power within the clash of material interests. There is a psychological component in American behavior that requires an Erich Fromm or a Wilhelm Reich to explain it. I am certainly not professionally competent to discuss it in detail. 

But I did notice that the twin shocks of the last decade - 9/11 and the 2008 financial collapse - caused a significant segment of the American people to collectively lose their minds. The year and a half between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq was a period that can only be described as mass war psychosis.
I have attempted to describe it in greater detail in my book, and what it felt like to work in Congress amid the hysteria. And there are no doubt significant numbers of Americans who ascribe the greatest financial meltdown since the Great Depression to the Community Reinvestment Act (of 1977!), or ACORN, or Saul Alinsky, or whatever bogeyman the program directors of Fox News decide is the world's greatest threat to humanity.

We can devise all the clever schemes imaginable to clean up politics and get money out of campaigns, but it won't work until the American people collectively give up on certain fond illusions: the Horatio Alger myth, American Exceptionalism, and the whole mass of magical thinking that boils down to the belief that God loves America because we're so virtuous, handsome, and smart, and that we, too, could win the lottery.

Well, we're not necessarily any of those things. The truth is that we lucked into adverse possession of a mostly empty continent in a temperate zone with lots of resources, and straddled east and west by two huge moats. We had firearms and resistance to smallpox, and the original owners didn't. Virtue had very little to do with it.

And now, thanks to globalization, our original advantages matter less. Go to certain areas of the once-industrial Midwest. Some of the places look like Dresden after the bombing.
We are in a tough, competitive global environment, and we simply cannot afford to squander our potential by playing the world's policeman abroad and running a healthcare/service economy at home where half the population empties the bedpans of the other half. And plutocracy is not a stable political basis for a successful nation-state. As Lincoln said, we must disenthrall ourselves.

LT: Or even just a way out of Congressional gridlock?

ML: When I was writing the book, I sometimes wondered if my descriptions of Congress's machinations were not influenced by my own idiosyncratic point of view. But luckily, two sober-sided political scientists, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, have recently published a book that confirms my personal observations about Congress in virtually every particular. They depict the rancorous partisanship and polarization, use of the filibuster, the decline of legislative problem-solving in favor of grandstanding and confrontation, and the universal domination of the institution by money. And they do not fail to note the tincture of craziness that has overcome the GOP in the past decade, and particularly since Obama's election.

Nothing will be solved in Congress until we get the money out of politics. And by that I mean all private money. Federally funded campaigns will undoubtedly create new problems, but can they be remotely as bad as the auctioning of candidates that occurs today? George Will has claimed that the amount of personal and corporate money that flows into U.S. elections is relatively insignificant compared to the national economy; if that is the case, the public can finance a much smaller sum of money to ensure that bribery and extortion do not corrupt the democratic process 
With a small, guaranteed sum to campaign with during a limited campaigning season (perhaps Labor Day until the election, which is generous compared to election campaigns in the United Kingdom, which last less than a month, or Australia, where they last about six weeks) against an opponent who would get the same amount, but no more, we could call an end to the endless campaign season (which in the House begins the day a new member is sworn in) and incumbents could at last spend time governing rather than going to fund-raisers and dialing for dollars outside their congressional offices.

But of course, doing that is a chicken-and-egg problem insofar as the current money-dominated system is designed precisely to prevent that from happening. In 2010, the Supreme Court made the whole process infinitely worse by basically hanging a "for sale to the highest bidder" sign around the institutions of government. Recently, I listened with less than amusement to an NPR interview of Justice Scalia. At some length, Scalia was pontificating to Nina Totenberg about the sanctity of the principle of stare decisis, whereby judges should be respectful of established judicial precedent.  
Of course, poor Nina Totenberg was too befuddled to ask his lordship why he and his colleagues decided to heave a century of rulings upholding campaign finance limitations out the window with the Citizens United decision. Nor did she have the wit to interrogate him further when he said that although money is speech, the names of contributors should be publicly disclosed. The particularly sinister feature of Citizens United is that there has been a flood of anonymous money in its wake. Scalia simply makes up rationales as he goes along, and when for once a representative of the media gets to question a potentate of the Supreme Court about one of the most consequential Supreme Court rulings in a century, she flubs it.

LT: When we last talked, you discussed creating a vocabulary primer. For example, you said, "take 'empower.' Empower means 'cut 'em off; you're on your own.' Empowering seniors by cutting off social security means they're going to be mopping the floor at McDonald's." Is that still in the offing or have you covered the rectification of words to your satisfaction in the present book?

ML: I devote a whole chapter of my book to the subject; the chapter's title is "A Devil's Dictionary." Aside from providing a glossary of loaded terms like "empower," "class warfare," and "job creators," I also trace the history of the two parties' use of language. I conclude that the Democrats' language tends to derive from the leaden jargon of academia, while the Republicans' language comes from the world of advertising and PR. One party goes for the cerebral cortex (with minimal success), while the other goes for the solar plexus.

The inspiration for much of the GOP's adroit use of language ultimately comes from two of the founders of modern public relations, Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays (the latter was, curiously enough, a nephew of Sigmund Freud). Both were men of decidedly reactionary outlook, and both believed that the common herd had to be subliminally influenced and controlled for its own good. Lee, by the way, ended up doing PR for the I.G. Farben chemical cartel at around the time Hitler took power in Germany.

Fast forward a few decades and we are in the era of Newt Gingrich, Frank Luntz, and focus group-tested political slogans. I find it curiously revealing that in 1990, Gingrich authored a memo titled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control." Note that he didn't say persuasion or influence, he said control: what one does to prisoners or lab rats. Watch Gingrich closely enough and the sociopathic clues pile up!

LT: What do you say to people who feel powerless to effect any changes because of what's happened?

ML: I could have retired into obscurity and simply gone fishing. Instead, I decided to write about what I saw during my career as an unknown congressional staffer. Somehow or other, it struck a chord. I hope it contributed, however minutely, to a growing public discourse whereby people are finally saying out loud, "wait a minute. The system is broken." And there is this: however bad things look - and I know everything I've said must sound rather depressing - these problems are not existential "givens," like desertification of the Sahel or some asteroid hurtling at us. They arose because of stupidity and lack of attention, and they are amenable to solutions we can devise.

Somehow I think it all looks much simpler a fix to those not worried about their next meal.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Europeans Tax the Kings, Sharp Tool Obama Puts Fox In Charge of Henhouse, and Pipeline A Done Deal

(Please consider making a contribution to Welcome to Pottersville2 or sending a link to your friends if you think the subjects discussed here are worth publicizing. Thank you for your support. I really appreciate it. Any contribution will make a huge difference in this blog's ability to survive.)

We're always the last to find out.

And the last it seems now to move towards greater equality of treatment (of the lower classes anyway).

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Europeans Move Forward On A Robin Hood Tax On Financial Transactions - U.K. And U.S. ... Dragging Their Feet

In December the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of the kind of financial transaction tax Wall Street has bribed conservatives in America to reject. And on Tuesday E.U. Finance Ministers OK-ed the new tax which will cover inter-bank trading in stocks, bonds and derivatives, something that's expected to bring in over $50 billion dollars in revenues in 2014 when it's up and rolling. There's a 0.1 per cent tax on stock and bond transactions and a 0.01 per cent tax on derivatives trades. David Cameron, who shares the distinction with Paul Ryan of being a deranged advocate of bone-crunching Austerity, has kept Britain from participating.

Just as David Cameron appeared to be grabbing his coat for an EU exit, other European countries took a step towards greater unity with agreement for eleven countries to implement a multi-billion pound tax on the banks.

Not tax rises on low income families, or cuts to public services to balance the books, but a tax on banks. It's not every day you get to write that. The eleven hope that the Financial Transaction Tax of between 0.1-0.01 per cent on stocks, bonds and derivatives could be implemented as early as next year and will raise around £30bn.

The FTT has for years stirred controversy. Banks, following the Mayan's lead, warned that the end of the world was nigh. As campaigners for a Robin Hood Tax we have often been told "you may have a nice video with Bill Nighy in it [see video above], but your idea won't wash in the complex world of finance, nor will it cut it at the coalface of Government."

Yet it has-- Europe's biggest economies including France, Germany, Italy and Spain are signed up. The group of eleven makes up an impressive 90 percent of Eurozone GDP. Other European nations agreed to let them press ahead. Yet there was one notable abstention, from the UK Government.

Why? It could be argued that a right of centre Government, a powerful financial sector and an economy struggling to return to growth would never add up to much of an appetite to take a chunk out of the banks. Yet all of this applies to Germany, one of the FTT's biggest champions.

The difference is that Germany sees the FTT as a necessary part of the economic equation. It too is implementing tough austerity measures. Germany understands the need to balance and indeed improve the economy by ensuring the financial sector pays its fair share. The richest sector in the world, paying a modest additional tax for causing the largest financial crisis of a generation: quid pro quo.

As Wolfgang Schauble, German finance minister said:

It’s in the interest of the financial sector itself that it should concentrate more on its proper role of financing the real economy and ensuring that capital is allocated in the most intelligent way, instead of banks conducting the bulk of their trading on their own account. That’s in the long-term interest of the financial sector.
Cameron, conversely, opted to call the Financial Transaction Tax "madness," fighting hammer and tong to protect the hallowed elite in the City, whilst cutting benefits and services for the poorest. The Government's much touted bank levy, will raise a just £2.5bn a year and be offset by a lowering of Corporation Tax that Osborne has boasted will be the lowest of any major western economy.

Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England pointed out the irony that "the price of the financial crisis is being borne by people who did absolutely nothing to cause it," adding that he was "surprised that the degree of public anger has not been greater than it has."

But if the moral argument doesn't sway you, then the fiscal case should. Leading City figure Avinash Persaud has calculated that if the UK were to join in with the European Financial Transaction Tax it would raise the Exchequer at least £8bn a year. This could lift over three million people struggling on minimum pay above the living wage threshold.

Ten thousand teachers lost their jobs in 2010/2011 and there are 5,780 fewer nurses than at the time of the last general election-- in eleven days an FTT could raise enough revenue to re-employ every one. In just a single day the tax could raise enough money to reinstate Sure Start centres for 25,000 children.
American efforts to do the same thing were defeated by Wall Street and their allies in 2011. But Pete DeFazio (D-OR) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) are going to try again, hoping to institute a minuscule o.o3% tax on some financial transactions that will yield something like $35 billion dollars a year.

A financial transactions tax would slow down high-frequency trading, which has exploded in the last five years. Such trading “has absolutely no social value,” according to one of its pioneers, and only increases volatility in the market. The tax would have little effect on normal traders.
And in response to Wall Street traders claiming "businesses" would move elsewhere-- Dubai? Beijing? Somalia?-- DeFazio has pointed out that 52 financial executives have endorsed the tax and rejected the scare tactics. “For 50 years we had a tax that was about seven times larger than this when the country was seeing the greatest growth in its history, post-World War II,” he said. “So we’ve proven this will not have a detrimental impact on growth. In fact, it perhaps is beneficial to growth. It’s not necessarily beneficial to salaries of hedge fund managers on Wall Street.”

And, it turns out, DeFazio and Harkin aren't the only Members of Congress talking about a financial transaction tax. Boehner pawn Dave Camp (R-MI), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is reportedly about to introduce some kind of twisted, partisan version of the tax, that smacks of Republican revenge against businessmen asking them to cooperate with Democrats for the sake of the country.

The draft legislation, which may get significant revision before it's presented to a congressional committee, would be vehemently opposed by Wall Street and other major corporations that trade heavily in derivative securities.

Sleazy Boehner ally Dave Camp (R-MI)

They may have only themselves to blame. Congressional Republicans have been furious at top corporate executives lobbying heavily for a "grand bargain" that would include tax hikes and cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, according to congressional GOP insiders. Republican leaders were further piqued when business executives began lobbying for certain corporate tax reforms, leading to a sharply worded letter from Camp to the Business Roundtable, a lobbying group of corporate CEOs.

One Republican operative told HuffPost that Camp's bill is political payback for the CEOs collaborating with the Fix the Debt coalition, which worked with corporate chiefs who had pressured Republicans to accept tax increases as part of a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff at the close of 2012.

"This transaction tax was only a matter of time after Camp's letter to the Business Roundtable," the GOP operative said. "In just a few months, their lobbying campaign has resulted in Republicans initiating new revenues on their backs. Maybe the CEOs can kill it by Democrats insisting the taxes aren't high enough."

...Camp's new bill would harvest government revenues from complex financial transactions involving derivatives, some of which figured prominently in the 2008 banking collapse. Although the 2010 financial reform legislation would curb some excesses in the derivatives market, the legislation isn't yet fully implemented, and leaves much of the market unregulated. Financial reform advocates have urged new taxes on derivatives to deter excessive risk-taking by big banks.

...Camp's bill would establish a new tax regime for derivatives, requiring banks to declare the fair market value of the products at the end of each year. Any increase in value would be considered corporate income, subject to taxation. It's a more aggressive tax treatment than Wall Street enjoys for either derivatives or for trading in more traditional securities.

...The bill would significantly strengthen the Volcker Rule, which bans banks from speculating in securities markets with taxpayer money. The Volcker Rule's implementation has been delayed as bank lobbyists have flooded regulatory agencies in Washington, pillorying the ban with loopholes. Hefty tax burdens for proprietary trading would reduce bank incentives to engage in the risky activity.

Camp's legislation also would permanently establish a homeowner aid plan advocated by former Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), who retired this month. When banks grant homeowners mortgage relief, the IRS considers the debt-reduction taxable income. As a result, struggling homeowners can face an unmanageable tax burden. A $50,000 debt reduction can spark an $18,000 tax bill-- money that borrowers struggling to avoid foreclosure simply do not have. Miller successfully lobbied to include a one-year fix on the tax policy in the fiscal cliff deal. Camp's legislation would permanently end the tax policy.

I couldn't believe how the MSM was able so easily to portray this traitor as god's gift to progressive government.

Maybe their god.

Obama Puts Fox In Charge of Henhouse

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

25 January 13

was shocked when I heard that Mary Jo White, a former U.S. Attorney and a partner for the white-shoe Wall Street defense firm Debevoise and Plimpton, had been named the new head of the SEC.

I thought to myself: Couldn't they have found someone who wasn't a key figure in one of the most notorious scandals to hit the SEC in the past two decades? And couldn't they have found someone who isn't a perfect symbol of the revolving-door culture under which regulators go soft on suspected Wall Street criminals, knowing they have million-dollar jobs waiting for them at hotshot defense firms as long as they play nice with the banks while still in office?

I'll leave it to others to chronicle the other highlights and lowlights of Mary Jo White's career, and focus only on the one incident I know very well: her role in the squelching of then-SEC investigator Gary Aguirre's investigation into an insider trading incident involving future Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack. While representing Morgan Stanley at Debevoise and Plimpton, White played a key role in this inexcusable episode.

As I explained a few years ago in my story, "Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?": The attorney Aguirre joined the SEC in 2004, and two days into his job was asked to look into reports of suspicious trading activity involving a hedge fund called Pequot Capital, and specifically its megastar trader, Art Samberg. Samberg had made suspiciously prescient trades ahead of the acquisition of a firm called Heller Financial by General Electric, pocketing about $18 million in a period of weeks by buying up Heller shares before the merger, among other things.

"It was as if Art Samberg woke up one morning and a voice from the heavens told him to start buying Heller," Aguirre recalled. "And he wasn't just buying shares - there were some days when he was trying to buy three times as many shares as were being traded that day."

Aguirre did some digging and found that Samberg had been in contact with his old friend John Mack before making those trades. Mack had just stepped down as president of Morgan Stanley and had just flown to Switzerland, where he'd interviewed for a top job at Credit Suisse First Boston, the company that happened to be the investment banker for . . . Heller Financial.

Now, Mack had been on Samberg's case to cut him in on a deal involving a spinoff of Lucent. "Mack is busting my chops" to let him in on the Lucent deal, Samberg told a co-worker.

So when Mack returned from Switzerland, he called Samberg. Samberg, having done no other research on Heller Financial, suddenly decided to buy every Heller share in sight. Then he cut Mack into the Lucent deal, a favor that was worth $10 million to Mack.

Aguirre thought there was clear reason to investigate the matter further and pressed the SEC for permission to interview Mack. Not arrest the man, mind you, or hand him over to the CIA for rendition to Egypt, but merely to interview the guy. He was denied, his boss telling him that Mack had "powerful political connections" (Mack was a fundraising Ranger for President Bush).

But that wasn't all. Morgan Stanley, which by then was thinking of bringing Mack back as CEO, started trying to backdoor Aguirre and scuttle his investigation by going over his head. Who was doing that exactly? Mary Jo White. This is from the piece I mentioned, "Why Isn't Wall Street In Jail?":

It didn't take long for Morgan Stanley to work its way up the SEC chain of command. Within three days, another of the firm's lawyers, Mary Jo White, was on the phone with the SEC's director of enforcement. In a shocking move that was later singled out by Senate investigators, the director actually appeared to reassure White, dismissing the case against Mack as "smoke" rather than "fire." White, incidentally, was herself the former U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York — one of the top cops on Wall Street . . .

Aguirre didn't stand a chance. A month after he complained to his supervisors that he was being blocked from interviewing Mack, he was summarily fired, without notice. The case against Mack was immediately dropped: all depositions canceled, no further subpoenas issued. "It all happened so fast, I needed a seat belt," recalls Aguirre, who had just received a stellar performance review from his bosses. The SEC eventually paid Aguirre a settlement of $755,000 for wrongful dismissal.

It got worse. Not only did the SEC ultimately delay the interview of Mack until after the statute of limitations had expired, and not only did the agency demand an investigation into possible alternative sources for Samberg's tip (what Aguirre jokes was like "O.J.'s search for the real killers"), but the SEC official who had quashed the Mack investigation, Paul Berger, took a lucrative job working for Morgan Stanley's law firm, Debevoise and Plimpton, just nine months after Aguirre was fired.

It later came out that Berger had expressed interest in working for the firm during the exact time that Aguirre was being dismissed and the Mack investigation was being quashed. A Senate investigation later uncovered an email to Berger from another SEC official, Lawrence West, who was also interviewing with Debevoise and Plimpton at the time. This is from the Senate report on the Aguirre affair:

The e-mail was dated September 8, 2005 and addressed to Paul Berger with the subject line, "Debevoise.'' The body of the message read, "Mary Jo [White] just called. I mentioned your interest.''

So Berger was passing notes in class to Mary Jo White about wanting to work for Morgan Stanley's law firm while he was in the middle of quashing an investigation into a major insider trading case involving the C.E.O. of the bank. After the case dies, Berger later gets the multimillion-dollar posting and the circle is closed.

This whole episode highlights everything that's wrong with modern Wall Street. First of all, everybody's buddies with each other - cops and robbers, no adversarial system at all. As Bill Murray would say, it's dogs and cats, living together.

Here, a line investigator gets a good lead, it's quickly taken out of his hands and the whole thing is negotiated at 50,000 feet by friends and former co-workers of the top regulators now working at hotshot firms.

If Barack Obama wanted to send a signal that he's getting tougher on Wall Street, he sure picked a funny way to do it, nominating the woman who helped John Mack get off on the slam-dunkiest insider trading case ever to cross an SEC investigator's desk.

When I contacted Gary today, his take on it was simple. "Obama is not going to clean up financial corruption," he said, "by pinning a sheriff's badge on Wall Street's protector-in-chief."

Karen Garcia at Sardonicky always sees (and writes) so clearly. Who could disagree with her judgment?

A Sharp Tool With a Smooth Handle

Karen Garcia at Sardonicky 
The Inaugural bullshit is over. Long live the eternal campaign bullshit. It's time to forget about Selma and Seneca Falls and Stonewall. It's time, once again, to dust off the whips and chains and scolds' bridles for the little people, and call them *gifts*. In this week's radio address, your President signals whose side he is really on. (Hint: it ain't yours.) Just pretend you're a fly on the wall in the boardroom of Goldman Sachs, and that he's talking directly to the annual convention of the Plutocratic Mafia. *Hi, everybody. Here in America, we know the free market is the greate... more »

Charlie Pierce knows where this neoliberalism disguised as progressivism leads.

Right. It's all coming out of our ground (notice the middle east corollary?) and going to China (or the highest bidder).

Get Ready for the Pipeline

By Charles Pierce, Esquire
26 January 13
really hate to make the whole morning about the intellectual monkeyhouse that Fred Hiatt's running at The Washington Post, but the paper's lead editorial today, pushing the president to sign off on the Keystone XL pipeline rather forces us to enter the hallways of flung poo one more time. If whoever wrote the editorial knows anything about the pipeline, the toxic gunk that it will carry through virtually the entire continent, and the events surrounding the controversy both nationally, and in the state of Nebraska, it is not evident from the editorial itself, which is little more than a vague infomercial for TransCanada, which plans to build the pipeline, and which is a large energy company and, therefore, unworthy of the benefit of any doubts. I choose to believe that whoever wrote this mess simply was late for a lunch date and tossed it off.

President Obama rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline this time last year, a result that Canada had every reason to be dismayed by, as did Americans whom the project would have employed. The issue is coming back, and the president has even less reason to nix the project than he did last time.
(Actually, "Canada" is as split over this environmentally calamitous project as we are, and TransCanada, because it is a large energy company, has been lying about the jobs the pipeline would create from the very start of the project. This should give the president pause.)

After years of federal review, there was little question last year that construction of the pipeline, which would transport heavy, oil-like bitumen from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico coast, should proceed. Thousands of miles of pipeline already crisscross this country. An environmental analysis had concluded that the risks of adding this new stretch were low. An economic review had found that Canada would get its bitumen to the world market - if not via pipeline to the gulf, then very likely by ship to China. Supply would make it to demand, one way or another.
(A fair-minded analysis would explain precisely what "heavy, oil-like bitumen" really is, and what it takes to remove it from the ground, and what it does to various lifeforms, including human beings. It also would point out that the thousands of miles of pipelines across the country already leak like sieves, including another Keystone pipeline run by TransCanada. It also would note that the pipeline was dreamed up in the first place because getting the gunk to China via, say Vancouver would put the project crossways with Canadian environmental laws and various treaties with indigenous tribes. Also, too; The Rocky Mountains. They thought up the pipeline because they knew our environmental regulations were lax and that we hadn't given a damn what the Indians thought since 1620. I am so very proud to be an American.)

Environmentalists nevertheless made Keystone XL a rallying issue. Among other things, they pointed to disquiet in Nebraska about the pipeline's proposed route, objecting that it would traverse environmentally sensitive areas, such as the state's Sand Hills.
(Regular readers of the blog know of our devotion here to the Oglalla aquifer, which is based on my long-held belief that we can do without having the Gobi Desert recreated between St. Louis and Denver. You will note that the Post here is limiting the "disquiet" in Nebraska to concern about the Sand Hills. This is the same bait-and-switch Governor Dave Heineman pulled the other day when he approved the revised pipeline route that avoids the Sand Hills but still crosses a piece of the aquifer. Also, a good part of the "disquiet" - nice word, Post - in Nebraska was occasioned because TransCanada was granted the power of eminent domain and has every intention of taking people's land away, which would "disquiet" me.)

The election is past, TransCanada has reapplied with a new proposed route, and this week Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) signed off on the plan, following an analysis from the state's Department of Environmental Quality. The regulators found that the new route would avoid the Sand Hills and other areas of concern. Though there is always some risk of spill, they said, "impacts on aquifers from a release should be localized, and Keystone would be responsible for any cleanup." TransCanada will have to buy at least $200 million in insurance to cover any cleanup costs.
(We have discussed Heineman's bait-and-switch already. The survey he relied on is mischaracterized here. The aquifer is certainly an "area of concern," as we have said. And, applied to an energy company, the last two sentences are a joke, as half-a-million pelicans in the Gulf will testify. TransCanada found the $200 million for insurance under the cushions of the sofa.)

Mr. Obama should ignore the activists who have bizarrely chosen to make Keystone XL a line-in-the-sand issue, when there are dozens more of far greater environmental import. He knows that the way to cut oil use is to reduce demand for the stuff, and he has begun to put that knowledge into practice, setting tough new fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. That will actually make a difference, unlike blocking a pipeline here or there.
(Ah, and now we come to the Post's main point - hippie punching. It has made no serious attempt to address the legitimate environmental concerns regarding tar sands development and its implementation, the legitimate environmental concerns about the pipeline itself, or the legitimate environmental concerns regarding investing any trust in the good faith of an oil company.
All it's really concerned about is that "activists" - to whom it condescends to explain what issues should be of "far greater environmental import" - somehow got in the way of The Way Things Are Supposed To Work. They have inconvenienced the Very Serious People with whom Fred Hiatt lunches between editing George F. Will's latest defense of climate-change denial. That's all the paper has here. The Post's dedication to actual democracy would embarrass the Plantagenets.)
Alas, though, the fix seems to be in. The wheels of the giant Not Giving A Damn machine in our nation's capital seem thoroughly greased. You can tell because the 53 senators - including two utterly useless Democrats - aren't even trying to come up with good lies anymore.
At a news conference Wednesday, senators from both parties said the Nebraska decision leaves Obama with no other choice but to approve the pipeline, which would carry up to 800,000 barrels of oil a day from tar sands in western Canada to refineries in Houston and other Texas ports. The pipeline also would travel though Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. "No more excuses. It's time to put people to work," Baucus said. "Back home, we call this a no-brainer," added Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Hoeven, of North Dakota, said the tar sands oil will be produced whether or not the U.S. approves the project. "Our choice is, the oil comes to us or it's going to China," he said.
You're only putting a very few people to work, and that's if you count the strippers. "No-brainer" is not a word Joe Manchin should toss around idly. And Hoeven's just lying. Either that, or he's too stupid to understand the phrase, "the world market." In actual fact, the gunk comes through us to refineries in Texas, whence it's just as likely to go to China as it would be if it sailed there from Vancouver, which it never would because the Canadians aren't as reckless with their land as we are with ours. You can pretend to be with this project because of jobs, or because of a spurious claim of energy independence. But, if you are in favor of this pipeline, and the gunk it will carry, you cannot claim to be serious about climate change. That, Joe, is a no-brainer.

(Charlie has been a working journalist since 1976. He is the author of four books, most recently "Idiot America.")