Archive for April 11th, 2013

Taking Everything

by lizard

In my more paranoid moments, I wonder how much of what we see and know is being engineered by people with too much power and influence.

As Occupy Wall Street was emerging in the fall of 2011, the accusations from the right (and a-political, all-in conspiracists) was that Soros money was behind it. This Reuters piece debunking that claim still carries a seed of doubt, because a guy with billions of dollars will have it going lots of different places:

Soros spokesman Michael Vachon said that Soros has not “funded the protests directly or indirectly.” He added: “Assertions to the contrary are an attempt by those who oppose the protesters to cast doubt on the authenticity of the movement.”

Soros has donated at least $3.5 million to an organization called the Tides Center in recent years, earmarking the funds for specific purposes. Tides has given grants to Adbusters, an anti-capitalist group in Canada whose inventive marketing campaign sparked the first demonstrations last month.

While I still support the idea of directly challenging Wall Street’s role in the extreme wealth disparity that’s exploded over the last decades, and while I still greatly admire the people who faced down the (nationally coordinated) police state response, there are reasons to be skeptical, like this rather disorienting headline:

Carne Ross, Top Occupy Wall Street Activist, Hired To Lobby For Syrian Opposition

WASHINGTON — Members of the Syrian opposition movement have hired a top Occupy Wall Street activist as their U.S. lobbyist, according to registration forms filed with the U.S. Senate on Monday. Carne Ross is best known as one of the driving forces behind the Occupy Wall Street Working Group on Alternative Banking, a coalition that created a model for nonprofit banking.

According to the lobbying forms, Ross’s advisory firm, Independent Diplomat, Inc., will “meet with key officials and desk officers in the State Department and other U.S. agencies to gather their views [on the Syrian civil war] … and advise the Syrian Coalition how best to tailor their own approach to the U.S. Government.”

Um, well, shit.

Have fun, Mr. Activist, figuring out how to destroy Syria as al-Nusra just announced they’re officially going steady with Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

While Mr. Activist lands a nice gig with the government that’s run by the banks, two articles recently boggled my mind, because they deal with money in the trillions.

I linked to this article by Dave Lindorff in the comments of a post about poverty, because the cruelty of the cuts rippling out right now shouldn’t even be happening if not for this obscene greed:

I mean it. Stop talking about cutting school budgets, Social Security benefits, Medicare, Veteran’s pensions. Stop cutting subsidies to transit systems, to foreign aid. Stop cutting unemployment benefits. Stop it all.

There can not be any justification for budget cutting while wealthy criminals, corrupt politicians and business executives are hiding what reportedly totals between $29 trillion and $32 trillion in offshore tax havens.

A massive data dump by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), working in conjunction with dozens of news organizations around the globe, has exposed the secret files of over 120,000 dummy offshore companies that have been used for years to hide the wealth — much of it ill-gotten, all of it tax-dodged — of the world’s rich and mega-rich.

But it’s not those tax-dodging depositors at risk. The second article from Ellen Brown describes a sleight of hand that really started with the repeal of Glass-Steagall and now lives on in Cyprus and the language of Dodd-Frank, potentially exposing US depositors to a 230 trillion derivative black hole:

Shock waves went around the world when the IMF, the EU, and the ECB not only approved but mandated the confiscation of depositor funds to “bail in” two bankrupt banks in Cyprus. A “bail in” is a quantum leap beyond a “bail out.” When governments are no longer willing to use taxpayer money to bail out banks that have gambled away their capital, the banks are now being instructed to “recapitalize” themselves by confiscating the funds of their creditors, turning debt into equity, or stock; and the “creditors” include the depositors who put their money in the bank thinking it was a secure place to store their savings.

The Cyprus bail-in was not a one-off emergency measure but was consistent with similar policies already in the works for the US, UK, EU, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, as detailed in my earlier articles here and here. “Too big to fail” now trumps all. Rather than banks being put into bankruptcy to salvage the deposits of their customers, the customers will now be put into bankruptcy to save the banks.

Why Derivatives Threaten Your Bank Account

The big risk behind all this is the massive $230 trillion derivatives boondoggle managed by US banks. Derivatives are sold as a kind of insurance for managing profits and risk; but as Satyajit Das points out in Extreme Money, they actually increase risk to the system as a whole.

In the US after the Glass-Steagall Act was implemented in 1933, a bank could not gamble with depositor funds for its own account; but in 1999, that barrier was removed. Recent congressional investigations have revealed that in the biggest derivative banks, JPMorgan and Bank of America, massive commingling has occurred between their depository arms and their unregulated and highly vulnerable derivatives arms. Under both the Dodd Frank Act and the 2005 Bankruptcy Act, derivative claims have super-priority over all other claims, secured and unsecured, insured and uninsured. In a major derivatives fiasco, derivative claimants could well grab all the collateral, leaving other claimants, public and private, holding the bag.

The article gets a bit chunky, but it’s worth slogging through.

To wrap up this post, if you were like me and heard about this thing called bitcoin, but didn’t feel like taking the time figure out what the hell the people making snarky tweets were referring to, this Mother Jones piece attempts to explain it.

I still don’t know. About any of it really.

Maybe a song would be nice. This one just popped up on shuffle as I was writing this post, and thinking about their two Missoula performances makes me smile.

by Pete Talbot

I’m convinced that the only reason I haven’t been appointed to a cabinet post is my wife’s unseemly past.

Take the case of Tracy Stone-Manning.  She’s been nominated by Gov. Bullock to head Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality.  Her husband, Dick Manning, wrote a book nearly a decade ago that apparently criticized certain modern agricultural practices.

Forget her qualifications for the job, her husband wrote something that offended some legislators (although I doubt they actually read the book).

I love this new litmus test being a part of the Bullock administration: let’s hold folks accountable for their spouses’ actions.  Debbie Barrett (R-Dillon) certainly thinks it’s a good idea.

Maybe the husband/wife has a little problem with booze or pills: boot the nominee. Or maybe said spouse opened their kisser at the wrong time or penned a nasty letter to the editor.  That’s certainly grounds for not getting appointed.  I think we should do background checks on the spouses of everyone who holds public office.

For a Republican Senator, a resume isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.  Again, take Pat Williams’ nomination to the board of regents as a case in point.  No, it’s all political now.  Or in some cases, the politics of a spouse.

It can’t get much more petty than that.

(By the way, my wife has a pretty impeccable background.  I, on the other hand … )

by lizard

Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn has helped the gun control side of the gun debate by saying this in a video released this week:

America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?

Closing loopholes and strengthening background checks makes sense, and in some form will probably get passed. An incredible amount of political pressure has kept lawmakers focused on this issue, especially from victims who have lost loved ones from atrocities like Newtown.

Part of this discussion has included the need to increase access to mental health services. Here in Montana, that would mean passing medicaid expansion, something most state Republicans are still against:

In a dramatic turn of events Tuesday, a coalition of Senate Democrats and five Republicans resurrected and then narrowly endorsed a bill to expand Medicaid in Montana — but GOP senators supporting the move said they’re not for expansion.

Instead, they said they’re looking for a “Montana-made solution” to extend more affordable health coverage to the poor. The Medicaid expansion bill needs to stay alive as a possible vehicle for that solution, they said.

That legislative action—where 5 rational Republicans acted honorably to keep the chance to help 70,000 Montanans get access to health care alive—happened April 2nd, before all the drama last Friday.

That drama has been resolved, though in a manner that is understandably upsetting state Democrats:

Senate leaders said Wednesday that they reached a deal aimed at ending the acrimony stemming from the Republican majority’s decision to vote on bills despite Democrats’ attempts to halt the proceedings.

The two sides have been stewing since last Friday when the fight over parliamentary maneuvering stalled the Legislature for hours.

The standoff started with a missing senator that Democrats intended to use to invoke a rare move demanding every member is present before voting. The move could have killed GOP priority bills facing a procedural deadline. It culminated in a rowdy Senate floor session where Senate President Jeff Essmann ignored Democrats as they shouted and pounded on desks in an attempt to be recognized.

Afterward, Republicans alleged Democrats orchestrated the senator’s absence. Democrats complained the Republicans broke the rules by ignoring their motion and going on with the session.

Essmann said he has agreed to drop subpoenas investigating whether Democrats broke decorum rules. He and Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso met for two hours a day earlier to sort out differences.

Democrats agreed to work the Republicans on legislation to overhaul the political practices office.

That measure, Senate Bill 387 from Sen. Debby Barrett, establishes a commission over the office and attempts to modify the way the commissioner is selected and improve the way campaign finance and other complaints are selected.

Essmann read a letter to the full Senate, which was also signed by Sesso, that focused on the actions of the Democrats.

“The minority acknowledges its role in the disruption of the decorum of the Senate … and I have been assured by Sen. Sesso that this will not happen again.”

Both sides agreed to drop the practice of pounding on desks to gain recognition and to limit disruptions.

The letter does not address grievances from Democrats that Essmann violated rules and the Montana Constitution, an allegation that argues the disputed GOP bills were illegally passed. Democrats have threatened the matter could end up in courts.

Jeff Essman is a despicable little weasel, that may be true, and this resolution is incredibly one-sided, also true, but like I’ve said, challenging Essman’s bullying disregard of rules in court probably won’t play well with average Montanans, especially when there is lots of work that still needs to get done.

Access to health care includes mental health services. Montana desperately needs to find a way to expand that access, and state legislators can provide that expansion for 70,000 people in this state. Hell, even Rick Scott finally saw the light and came out in support of medicaid expansion for Floridians.

We desperately need medicaid expansion to happen in Montana, so get to work in Helena, folks, because Montanans are depending on you to put aside the partisan drama in order to do what’s right for our state.

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