May 10, 2013 archive

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Around the Blogosphere

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The main purpose our blogging is to communicate our ideas, opinions, and stories both fact and fiction. The best part about the the blogs is information that we might not find in our local news, even if we read it online. Sharing that information is important, especially if it educates, sparks conversation and new ideas. We have all found places that are our favorites that we read everyday, not everyone’s are the same. The Internet is a vast place. Unlike Punting the Pundits which focuses on opinion pieces mostly from the mainstream media and the larger news web sites, “Around the Blogosphere” will focus more on the medium to smaller blogs and articles written by some of the anonymous and not so anonymous writers and links to some of the smaller pieces that don’t make it to “Pundits” by Krugman, Baker, etc.

We encourage you to share your finds with us. It is important that we all stay as well informed as we can.

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This is an Open Thread.

At Voices on the Square, contributor Glinda gives us the latest bill by the House Republicans to screw workers:

From Gaius Publius all about big, bad corn at Americablog:

At his blog, Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman is trying to understand why the hedge funders are mad at Fed chair Ben Bernanke:

and on Japan’s break up with austerity:

Need a job? Lambert at Corrente wants to know if Hillary supporters can apply for it:

and the continuing saga of the horrors of the ObamaCare Clusterfuck:

Also at Corrente, libbyliberal:

At FDL Action, Jon Walker alerts us about more shortcomings of Obamacare:

At FDL’s The Dissenter, Kevin Gosztola reports on the FBI’s disregard of civil liberties and US drone policies:

Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel, on why some people just can’t atop digging:

What Charles P. Pierce at Esquire’s Politics Blog said: On War Powers

and what Atrios said:

I’d love to be able to explain Benghazi to you all, but other than it has something to do with an Arkansas land deal gone bad I really have no idea.


On This Day In History May 10

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

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May 10 is the 130th day of the year (131st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 235 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1869, the presidents of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads meet in Promontory, Utah, and drive a ceremonial last spike into a rail line that connects their railroads. This made transcontinental railroad travel possible for the first time in U.S. history. No longer would western-bound travelers need to take the long and dangerous journey by wagon train, and the West would surely lose some of its wild charm with the new connection to the civilized East.

Since at least 1832, both Eastern and frontier statesmen realized a need to connect the two coasts. It was not until 1853, though, that Congress appropriated funds to survey several routes for the transcontinental railroad. The actual building of the railroad would have to wait even longer, as North-South tensions prevented Congress from reaching an agreement on where the line would begin.


The Union Pacific laid 1,087 miles (1,749 km) of track, starting in Council Bluffs, and continuing across the Missouri River and through Nebraska (Elkhorn, now Omaha, Grand Island, North Platte, Ogallala, Sidney, Nebraska), the Colorado Territory (Julesburg), the Wyoming Territory (Cheyenne, Laramie, Green River, Evanston), the Utah Territory (Ogden, Brigham City, Corinne), and connecting with the Central Pacific at Promontory Summit. The route did not pass through the two biggest cities in the Great American Desert — Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah. Feeder lines were built to service the two cities.

The Central Pacific laid 690 miles (1,100 km) of track, starting in Sacramento, California, and continuing over the Sierra Nevada mountains into Nevada. It passed through Newcastle, California and Truckee, California, Reno, Nevada, Wadsworth, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, Elko, and Wells, Nevada, before connecting with the Union Pacific line at Promontory Summit in the Utah Territory. Later, the western part of the route was extended to the Alameda Terminal in Alameda, California, and shortly thereafter, to the Oakland Long Wharf at Oakland Point in Oakland, California. When the eastern end of the CPRR was extended to Ogden, it ended the short period of a boom town for Promontory. Before the CPRR was completed, developers were building other railroads in Nevada and California to connect to it.

At first, the Union Pacific was not directly connected to the Eastern U.S. rail network. Instead, trains had to be ferried across the Missouri River. In 1873, the Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge opened and directly connected the East and West.

Modern-day Interstate 80 closely follows the path of the railroad, with one exception. Between Echo, Utah and Wells, Nevada, Interstate 80 passes through the larger Salt Lake City and passes along the south shore of the Great Salt Lake. The Railroad had blasted and tunneled its way down the Weber River canyon to Ogden and around the north shore of the Great Salt Lake (roughly paralleling modern Interstate 84 and State Route 30). While routing the railroad along the Weber River, Mormon workers signed the Thousand Mile Tree, to commemorate the milestone. A historic marker has been placed there. The portion of the railroad around the north shore of the lake is no longer intact. In 1904, the Lucin Cutoff, a causeway across the center of the Great Salt Lake, shortened the route by approximately 43 miles (69 km), traversing Promontory Point instead of Promontory Summit.

Muse in the Morning

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Muse in the Morning

Egg 12

Late Night Karaoke

She Wasn’t Missing Until She Was Found

The saddest story out of Cleveland is the third strike and out.  

Rachel Maddow gave some truly frightening figures on missing the other night.  

One that would have been in no official figures was the third woman rescued.

But how could she have been raped because we know from medical authorities rape doesn’t result in pregnancies and the one that wasn’t missing and is now becoming visible (and probably the worse for her) was pregnant five times and had it beaten out of her as the Good Book prescribes.  

She is reported to be deaf from the beatings which could be very good in her case.  She is also getting drugs for derangement but probably not the kind which could help most without hurt.  That would be illegal.  She will need the bad stuff real, real bad I reckon when Drudge gets onto the reason an earlier son was taken from her.  Or maybe he already has.  How would I know unless Rachel tells me?

There is some real good news.  The hero with the bad teeth and dirty t-shirt don’t need no stinking money.  He has a great job as a dishwasher.  One might think he could use money for a dentist but with all the money he is raking in as a dishwasher he probably needs no teeth to chew his food.

Best,  Terry

Begin to Turn the Page

Nothing to see here.  Look forward, not backward.

Turns out much-hyped settlement still allows banks to steal homes

By David Dayen, Salon

Thursday, May 2, 2013 11:08 AM EDT

The absolute least Americans can hope for from a major government settlement with a large industry over well-documented crimes is that the industry wouldn’t, after signing the settlement, just continue to commit the same crimes day after day. After all, following the tobacco industry settlement, cigarette makers did manage to stop advertising to teenagers that their product had no medical side effects.

But new evidence reveals the nation’s largest banks have apparently continued to fabricate documents, rip off customers and illegally kick people out of their homes, even after inking a series of settlements over the same abuses. And the worst part of it all is that the main settlement over foreclosure fraud was so weakly written that it actually allows such criminal conduct to occur, at least up to a certain threshold. Potentially hundreds of thousands of homes could be effectively stolen by the big banks without any sanctions.

As writer and attorney Abigail Field first pointed out last year, for all of these different servicing standards, the banks have a “threshold error rate” that allows them to violate their obligations, up to and including illegally taking someone’s home, a certain amount of times. For the vast majority of standards, the threshold error rate is 5 percent (for a few it’s as high as 10 percent). That means that banks could violate these standards, which often leads to illegal foreclosures, on one out of every 20 mortgages they service, and the settlement monitor has no ability to do anything about it. For context, RealtyTrac estimated 1.8 million foreclosure filings just in 2012. Under the National Mortgage Settlement, 90,000 of those could be fraudulent, without sanction.

I asked Alan White, law professor at City University of New York with expertise on foreclosures, if this was accurate. “Abigail Field’s analysis is essentially correct,” White replied. “The cases described in the [Center for Investigative Reporting/NBC Bay Area] report would violate the terms of the settlement, but would not result in enforcement by the monitor or monitoring committee unless the number of similar cases detected exceeded the thresholds.”

It gets worse. That 5 percent threshold is based on “reportable errors” in a given reporting period, such as a quarter. The settlement monitor, Joseph Smith, does issue quarterly reports, but as it says right in the Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight FAQ and in the settlement language, the oversight process begins with compliance reports from the banks themselves.

An “Internal Review Group” tests the servicing standards to compute the quarterly metrics. They are allegedly “independent from the line of business whose performance is being measured,” but they are still paid by that bank, and they compose the baseline review that the settlement monitor uses. The monitor can solicit more information from the banks if he perceives a noncompliance problem (though he doesn’t really have the resources to engage in a full review). But really, their job is one of checking the banks’ work. If this is such a good idea, we should stop sending out food inspectors and let agribusiness self-report their findings on tainted meat and produce, and the inspectors will sit back in Washington and verify everything. (Oh wait, we’re doing that too.)

When announcing the National Mortgage Settlement, President Obama said that it would “end some of the most abusive practices of the mortgage industry, and begin to turn the page on an era of recklessness that has left so much damage in its wake.” It does not appear that any of those abusive practices have ended. And the government, at all levels, has basically walked away from its responsibility to protect homeowners.

Obama’s “Love Affair” with Pritzker’s Billions

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

What we do for love, or in this case the love of money. This is very evident with President Barack Obama’s Commerce Secretary nomination of Chicago multi-billionaire and Hyatt Hotels heiress Penny Pritzker, who served as his campaign fund-raiser.

Now the fact that Obama is heavily in the Pritzkers’ debt is no secret; Penny was Obama’s campaign finance chairman in 2008 (and make no mistake, Obama has considerably exaggerated the importance of small donors. He was and remains a machine candidate) and was co-chairman of his reelection campaign. But the roots go much, much deeper. If you haven’t read it already, I strongly urge you to read a speech by Robert Fitch to the Harlem Tenants’ Association one week after Obama’s 2008 win, in which he correctly foretold how Obama would behave towards big financial firms based on his long-standing role as a front for them. The important part is his description of the role that Obama played in the redevelopment of the near South Side of Chicago, and how he and other middle class blacks, including Valerie Jarrett and his wife Michelle, advanced at the expense of poor blacks by aligning themselves with what Fitch calls “friendly FIRE”: powerful real estate players like the Pritzkers and the Crown family, major banks, the University of Chicago, as well as non-profit community developers and real estate reverends.

She was previously nominated in 2008 for the same position but faced with awkward questions about her financial dealings, she declared that she did not want the nomination. Those same questions remain:

Penny Pritzker’s Commerce (Part One)

by Rick Perlstein, The Nation

n December of 2008, Obama’s choice for Secretary of Commerce, Chicago-based business tycoon Penny Pritzker, withdrew her name from consideration in the face of a triple-barreled onslaught. First, there was her position on the board of Superior Bank, which her family bought with the help of $645 million in tax credits for the federal government. In 2001, Superior collapsed after pioneering the bottom-feeding trade in subprime mortgages. In In These Times, David Moberg called it a “mini-Enron scandal”; 1,406 uninsured depositors lost their savings. [..]

Here was the second concern which kept her from the Commerce Department in 2008: “Whether she could disentangle herself,” as The Washington Post put it, from her family’s “vast financial holdings”-many of which they would prefer not to see scrutinized in public. How vast? Well, way back in 1973, The New York Times reported of “The Very Private Pritzkers,” “The family law firm, Pritzker & Prizker, hasn’t accepted an outside client for thirty years because of the potential conflict of interest with the Pritzker enterprises, which are too numerous for any one member of the family to recall at any given moment.” In 1982, when the list became public for the very first time-more on why later-the holdings included at least 216 separate corporate entities, from mining to motels. [..]

The third reason Obama chose not to risk political capital on a Penny Pritzker nomination fight is that unions despise her. Among the reasons: the Hyatt hotel chain, which the Pritzkers built practically from nothing, is infamous for just about the worst treatment of their staff in the business. (Here’s a moving first-hand account.)

Penny Pritzker’s Commerce (Part Two)

by Rick Perlstein, The Nation

Did you know that in the early 1970s, the Internal Revenue Service investigated the Pritzker family, whose scion Penny Pritzker has just been tapped by President Obama to become Secretary of Commerce, because their Hyatt Corporation was paying no taxes? [..]

Did you know that this particular financial institution, Castle Bank & Trust of the Bahamas, was founded by a veteran of the wartime spy agency the Office of Strategic Services who specialized in creating front organizations for the CIA, and helped launder funds for attempts to overthrow Fidel Castro? [..]

Did you know that the IRS dropped a major investigation of Castle in 1977, according to The Wall Street Journal, at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency? [..]

Perlstein notes the New York Times reporter Charles Savage asked the White House what made Pritzker’s nomination “more suitable” now that it was in 2008:

When asked what had changed since 2008, Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, said that Ms. Pritzker was in a different place.

“At the time,” he said, “she was managing an extensive portfolio of businesses that were under pressure due to the financial crisis. Those businesses had thousands of employees. She also had an ongoing obligation to oversee her family’s restructuring of assets to separate out the interests of various family members.”

Indeed, a Democrat familiar with the Obama transition team said in 2008 that Ms. Pritzker’s family had resisted any nomination because their assets were so entangled. Last week, a White House official involved in vetting her said they had since completed dividing up their finances.

What Perstein said:

Got that? It took lawyers four years to figure out how to divest her from the sleaze. And that’s what makes her qualified for the job-a job not unrelated to the devising and interpretation of tax policy itself. And, not incidentally, a job concerned with subjects like this:

   Tax evasion by individuals with unreported offshore financial accounts was estimated by one IRS commissioner to be several tens of billions of dollars, but no precise figure exists. IRS has operated four offshore programs since 2003 that offered incentives for taxpayers to disclose their offshore accounts and pay delinquent taxes, interest and penalties. GAO was asked to review IRS’s second offshore program, the 2009 OVDP. [..]

That’s the abstract to a paper published two months ago and distributed by the Commerce Department’s National Technical and Information Service. I would give far more than a penny to hear Pritzker’s thoughts about that.

Why does the image of the late Leona Helmsley keep flashing in my mind? Oh, “we don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes” Yes, Penny will be a wonderful role model for women everywhere. Good choice, Barack.