Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"I have friends who are black."

Yeah, but did you send them this email?

Racist Orange County Republican Email: President Obama and His Parents Are Apes
The Weekly has obtained a copy of an email sent to fellow conservatives this week by Marilyn Davenport, a Southern California Tea Party activist and member of the central committee of the Orange County Republican Party.

Under the words, "Now you know why no birth certificate," there's an Obama family portrait showing them as apes.

Marilyn Davenport sent an email to fellow Orange County Republican elected officials, apologizing if anyone was offended by her depicting President Barack Obama as an ape--while also blasting the "liberal media" for reporting the story.

"I simply found it amusing regarding the character of Obama and all the questions surrounding his origin of birth," Davenport wrote. "In no way did I even consider the fact he's half black when I sent out the email. In fact, the thought never entered my mind....

"Oh, come on! Everybody who knows me knows that I am not a racist. It was a joke. I have friends who are black."

After this story was published, she sent another email to fellow California conservative activists. It demanded to know the identity of "the coward" who supplied me with a copy of her offensive email.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Terrorism or business?

Stratfor Global Intelligence provides very comprehensive political, military, economic and other intelligence and insight on issues around the world. It's almost too much to keep up with. But one of the emails Guambat received recently from Stratfor jumped out at him with one particular, and perhaps not germane, comment.

It came in the midst of an interview between a Stratfor correspondent, Colin Chapman, and a Mexican security expert, Scott Stewart. One of the talking points was the construction of extra car barriers outside the US Embassy in Monterrey, Mexico.

Chapman asked, "Has this building been targeted...?"

Stewart replied (extracts):
"The Mexican cartels certainly don’t shy away from violence. We see them regularly beheading and dismembering people. However they tend to try to target most of their violence against opponents of the fellow cartels or against government employees, and a lot of times the government employees that they target are actually working for opposition cartels. So there’s really a relation there between the targeting.

"One thing to remember is that these cartels are not terrorist groups. They are really businesses, and they’re organized crime organizations. So their end is making money. That is their objective."

Guambat appreciates that at some academic level there is a logic there. But damned if he can discern some universal distinguishing characteristic between the wantonness of Mexican violence and the wantonness of Al Queda violence. He has previously expressed his dismay about what is happening in Mexico, a country he once loved to visit.

Stratfor is by and large a subscription service, but it does have a free page with Scott Stewart discussing The Perceived Car Bomb Threat in Mexico. Click the linked title for the read.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Check the ABS on those Wall Street Wives

Tracy Alloway posting on FT Alphaville is checking out the Wall Street Wives and their sexy ABS.

Taibbi takes aim at the Talf
here’s what we know: The company was founded in June 2009 with $14.87 million of investment capital, money that likely came from Christy Mack and Susan Karches. The two Wall Street wives then used the $220 million they got from the Fed to buy up a bunch of securities, including a large pool of commercial mortgages managed by Credit Suisse, a company [Christy's husband, former Morgan Stanley CEO] John Mack once headed.

With $220m in-hand the wives were free to do their part in kickstarting the Asset-Backed Securities (ABS). To paraphrase Tim Duy, back in 2008 and 2009 there were no bad assets, just misunderstood ones. The idea of the Talf was to revive demand for, and issuance of, ABS courtesy of Fed-provided funds.

However, as Taibbi notes, a key aspect of Talf is that the Fed doles out the money through what are known as non-recourse loans. So if the ABS bought by Christy and Susan bought turned sour, in theory they could just walk away.

The wives get most of the upside — the taxpayers get most of the downside.

Labels: ,

Tax-Free speech

Do we live in the Age of Corporatism?

Well, as we have seen, the Supreme Court has determined that corporations are as free to back politicians and political parties as your average citizen. Sort of a palsy-walsy, in pari passu patronage system, neh?

After all, just like your average citizen, corporations pay their fair share of taxes, don't they?

Don't they?

Ask Barry Ritholtz: Corporate Tax Rates, Then and Now
The GAO reported in 2008 that “two out of every three United States corporations paid no federal income taxes from 1998 through 2005.”

Since tomorrow is April 15th, it is a good time to look at our corporate tax rates. As the graphic below shows, the change in corporate tax rates over the past half century is astounding.

Corporate Taxes as a Percentage of Federal Revenue
1955 . . . 27.3%
2010 . . . 8.9%

Corporate Taxes as a Percentage of GDP
1955 . . . 4.3%
2010 . . . 1.3%

Individual Income/Payrolls as a Percentage of Federal Revenue
1955 . . . 58.0%
2010 . . . 81.5%

The average citizen is now footing way more of the government bill and getting far less per capita bang for her buck in the political arena than corporations. This is a trend that has gone on Guambat's entire life.

Sorry, kids. Hope you find a way to survive in the Age of Corporatism.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why even think about nuclear energy?

Guambat had a post about this several years ago. But a story in the NYT caught attention and, in light of the huge dislocation, without, so far, any deaths, from the Fukushima nuclear energy facility, Guambat reckoned as how the topic might again be lightly, or briefly if lightly is offensive, touched upon.

The NYT story took Guambat back to the days in the late '60's when he was a VISTA Volunteer, and spent a bit of time in the tri-State coal country of Ohio/W.Virginia/Kentucky. It is a unique place in America, the Appalachian Achilles Heal of health, education and pursuit of happiness. Guambat can still remember the smell, the silence, almost haunting, but in an enticing way, the base humanity of the place.

It will do no justice to excerpt the story, but Guambat must not, either, provide too much of it for you, so you'd be better off just clicking the link to it and reading it yourself. To tempt you, here's this:

As the Mountaintops Fall, a Coal Town Vanishes
Here in Boone County, coal rules. The rich seams of bituminous black have dictated the region’s destiny for many generations: through the advent of railroads; the company-controlled coal camps; the bloody mine wars; the increased use of mechanization and surface mining, including mountaintop removal; the related decrease in jobs.

In recent years, surface mining has eclipsed underground mining as the county’s most productive method. This includes mountaintop removal — or, as the industry prefers to call it, mountaintop mining — a now-commonplace technique that remains startling in its capacity to change things.

Various government regulations require that coal companies return the stripped area to its “approximate original contour,” or “reclaim” the land for development in a state whose undulating topography can thwart plans for even a simple parking lot. As a result, the companies often dump the removed earth into a nearby valley to create a plateau, and then spray this topsy-turvy land with seed, fertilizer and mulch.

The coal industry maintains that by removing some mountaintops from the “Mountain State,” it is creating developable land that makes the state more economically viable.

“We got to have coal,” says Mr. Cook, a retired miner. “What’s going to keep the power on? But I believe with all my heart that there’s a better way to get that coal.”

Labels: ,

OK, which of these 2 stories will grow legs?

From today's San Fransisco Chronicle, which Guambat only rarely reads since Herb Caen passed away:

Barry Bonds guilty of obstruction of justice
Barry Bonds, the former Giants outfielder and baseball's all-time home-run leader, was convicted Wednesday of obstruction of justice for giving evasive answers to a federal grand jury that questioned him about his use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Read more:

Goldman Sachs Misled Congress After Duping Clients, Levin Says
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. misled clients and Congress about the firm's bets on securities tied to the housing market, the chairman of the U.S. Senate panel that investigated the causes of the financial crisis said.

The Michigan Democrat also said federal prosecutors should review whether to bring perjury charges against Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein and other current and former employees who testified in Congress last year. Levin said they denied under oath that Goldman Sachs took a financial position against the mortgage market solely for its own profit, statements the senator said were untrue.

Read more:
Bonds and Blankenfeld, both accused/guilty of bald-headed lies. Which one will we still be talking about in six months?


Labels: ,

Regulators sit on fence, banks get whitewashed

U.S. says lenders must pay for wrongful foreclosures
The federal government on Wednesday ordered the nation's largest banks and mortgage servicers to identify and compensate borrowers whose homes were taken in wrongful foreclosures.

In Palm Beach County, 51,518 foreclosures were filed during that period.

Shari Olefson, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who represents banks, called the orders "fluff" and questioned how long it would take to determine wrongdoing in individual foreclosures.

"I don't know what 'improperly foreclosed on' means because at the end of the day, if someone isn't paying their mortgage, they should be foreclosed on," said Olefson, who wrote the 2009 book Foreclosure Nation: Mortgaging the American Dream. "If you're in default, it's proper to foreclose on you."

But homeowner advocates criticized the much-anticipated agreements Wednesday, saying they impose no financial penalties and are vague about what kind of foreclosure practices would garner reparations and what those reparations would be.

"This is a huge whitewash to shut everyone up and continue the status quo," said Palm Beach County homeowner advocate Lisa Epstein, who writes a blog called Foreclosure Hamlet. "The end result will be a lot of frustrated people requesting restitution that will probably be denied."

Mortgage Lenders Get A Slap On The Wrist
... bank regulators attempted to punish the banks for such practices today but I’m not so sure they succeeded.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve and the Office of Thrift Supervision announced today a settlement with the 14 largest U.S. mortgage servicers including Bank of America, Citibank, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, MetLife Bank, PNC, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo.

The settlement doesn’t fine the banks for any of the wrongdoing but instead lists ways they need to improve their mortgage and foreclosure proceedings.I’ll stop there with the banker bashing that Dimon hates so much and instead take a minute to bash the OCC for getting in bed with the banks.

When you have to tell a bank not to purposely confuse borrowers and to communicate with them instead of keeping them in the dark about what you’re really doing to their mortgage something is wrong. No. Something is up.

Last month, a state financial regulator testified before the House Oversight Committee about his efforts with state attorneys general to gather data from subprime servicers. In his testimony, the regulator revealed that the data fell short of its potential to reveal foreclosure problems because the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency forbade national banks from providing loss mitigation data to the states.

(Check out Matt Stoller’s piece about the OCC cover up: Comptroller of the Currency Orders National Banks to Cover Up Foreclosure Scandal)

Now, a month later, the OCC and other regulators have basically announced that the foreclosure problems weren’t that bad,and that the bank can figure out how to resolve the residual problems on their own. The banks, I’m sure, couldn’t agree more.

Analysis: U.S. banks still face big foreclosure risks
In March, the OCC and other bank regulators bolted from a joint effort by the 50 states' attorneys general and multiple federal agencies to reach a "global" settlement with the servicers on terms tougher than those favored by the OCC.

OCC spokesman Robert Garsson said there had not been any intent to undercut the other regulators, or protect the banks at the expense of consumers. Referring to the banks' practices in servicing mortgages, he said, "From our perspective there's a process that's broken and needs to be fixed. Our enforcement orders will accomplish that."

In reality, within their states, the attorneys general have stronger powers than federal regulators to prosecute wrongdoing involving foreclosures. Foreclosures mainly are governed by state, not federal law. And the attorneys general have authority under state law to bring both criminal and civil cases for violations such as submitting false affidavits, creating false mortgage assignments, and forging signatures.

They also can bring lawsuits in state courts demanding restitution to homeowners and new requirements -- potentially stricter than those imposed by the OCC -- for handling foreclosures and loan modifications. Attorneys general in Florida and New York already have investigations well under way, and have subpoenaed law firms that handle large numbers of foreclosures for the major banks.

Federal bankruptcy courts oversee foreclosures for homeowners who are in bankruptcy. The U.S. Trustees Office, an arm of the Justice Department that oversees the integrity of the bankruptcy courts, has launched actions in bankruptcy courts around the country alleging that representatives of the banks committed fraud on the courts by knowingly submitting forged and fraudulent documents.

The U.S. Trustees office is working with local federal prosecutors in some areas, potentially leading to a series of criminal prosecutions.

Investor trusts that purchased securitized mortgages have filed large numbers of lawsuits against the banks, alleging that they never actually turned over to them the mortgages that they had bought. The suits claim that the banks never provided the documents legally required to turn over ownership.

A rapidly increasing number of state courts and federal bankruptcy judges around the country have begun to routinely throw out foreclosure cases when the banks cannot produce authentic documents showing who owns the mortgages. The courts' actions have slowed or halted foreclosures in areas subject to those rulings. RealtyTrac, which publishes foreclosure statistics, said the court decisions were largely responsible for a 27 percent decline in foreclosures from a year earlier.

U.S. judge to sanction LPS for lying to court
A federal bankruptcy judge in New Orleans said she will impose sanctions on Lender Processing Services, after concluding that the mortgage servicing company deliberately committed fraud on the court in a foreclosure case, by giving false testimony and submitting a "sham" affidavit.

The judge granted a motion by the U.S. Trustee's Office for sanctions, and said she would decide on financial and other penalties against LPS later, after holding a hearing.

Her opinion in the bankruptcy of Ron and LaRhonda Wilson, also sharply criticized the entire mortgage servicing industry.

"One too many times, this Court has been witness to the shoddy practices and sloppy accountings of the mortgage service industry," she wrote.

Related reading:
In Financial Crisis, a Dearth of Prosecutions Raises Alarms

Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?

Labels: ,

Friday, April 01, 2011

On the wrong side of recent history

The West's unwanted war in Libya
When the first Arab pro-democracy uprisings shook the thrones of aging autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt in January, France had got itself on the wrong side of history.

Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie had enjoyed a winter holiday in Tunisia, a former French colony, oblivious to the rising revolt. She and her family had taken free flights on the private jet of a businessman close to President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and then publicly offered the government French assistance with riot control just a few days before Ben Ali was ousted by popular protests.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon had spent his Christmas vacation up the Nile as the guest of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the next autocrat in the Arab democracy movement's firing line, while Sarkozy and his wife Carla had soaked up the winter sunshine in Morocco, another former French territory ruled by a barely more liberal divine-right monarch.

Meanwhile, in the other corner:
the international air campaign against Gaddafi's forces might never have happened without the self-appointed activism of French public intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy, a left-leaning philosopher and talk-show groupie, who lobbied Sarkozy to take up the cause of Libya's pro-democracy rebels.

Libya was the latest of a string of international causes that the libertarian icon with his unbuttoned white designer shirts and flowing mane of greying hair has championed over the last two decades after Bosnian Muslims, Algerian secularists, Afghan rebels and Georgia's side in the conflict with Russia. Levy went to meet the Libyan rebels and telephoned Sarkozy from Benghazi in early March.

"I'd like to bring you the Libyan Massouds," Levy says he told the president, comparing the anti-Gaddafi opposition with former Afghan warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, who fought against the Islamist Taliban before being assassinated. "As Gaddafi only clings on through violence, I think he'll collapse," the philosopher told Reuters in an interview.

On March 10, Levy accompanied two envoys of the Libyan Transitional Council to Sarkozy's office.

To their surprise and to the consternation of France's allies, the president recognized the council as the "legitimate representative of the Libyan people" and told them he favored not only establishing a no-fly zone to protect them but also carrying out "limited targeted strikes" against Gaddafi's forces.

In doing so without consultation on the eve of a European Union summit called to discuss Libya, Sarkozy upstaged Washington, which was still debating what to do, embarrassed London, which wanted broad support for a no-fly zone, and infuriated Berlin, France's closest European partner.

He also stunned his own foreign minister, who learned about the decision to recognize the opposition from a news agency dispatch, aides said, while in Brussels trying to coax the EU into backing a no-fly zone.

Guambat confesses to a very personal interest in things Libyan. As the young eldest son of a couple of farm kids from Tennessee, escaping to see the world, Guambat went thru the middle and end of his single-digit years in Tripoli, Libya, guest of the US military service employing his father, unbeknownst icon of the US Marine hymn, From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.

If nothing before had done the trick, his life in that remarkable stretch of ancient civilization and barbarism inured him to the humdrum and compelled him to the exotic, the crossroads of history, old and new, legended and overlooked.

Guambat was living in a duplex, cinder-block kennel of enlisted men's base (and they did mean base) housing, in absolute bliss. Across the "street" from his home lay, first of all, during the Suez Crisis of 1956, a machine gun nest, but most of the time a long stretch of coastal plain which dropped off to the teasing shores of the Mediterranean, where he perfected his swimming, snorkeling, jelly-fish awareness and sunburn-made home-grown nose peal skin.

His parent took him to picnic in the ancient ruins of long ago Roman Leptis Magna and Sabratha and other bygone refuges of other bygone days, where no one else was round except the odd nomad and the odd but expected ghost of the past. Guambat's Dad would casually and regularly pick up old Roman coins and, like the honest citizen he was, turn them in to the local archivists.

His "house boy" and apartment block guards would spirit him off in old black horse-drawn carriages to the Old Town and dusty villages of Libyan hosts, with their sweet candies, delicious cakes, raucous markets and marvelous Italian sodas. His neighbors were from Greece, Italy, England, Turkey and Egypt, and he played with their kids, but he didn't notice it much, except their sandals, which he thought were a bit wee, but elegant. The streets commonly filled with herds of sheep shepherded by nomads just passing through.

The temperature got to the 120's F on some days, and so cold on others that Mom lit a kerosene room heater of the likes he hasn't seen since. Ice came in big blocks from the ice man to sit in the box on top of the food cooler, and Mom rinsed all the fresh vegetables in some kind of prophylactic chemical to kill the organic things (feces and such) that other wise found its way into the food chain.

Flies were kept under control by tying bunches of leafs together and hanging them in shady places and sprayed with DDT and god knows what.

It was a place of pomegranates and olive trees and citrus groves and camels sauntering to and fro up and down inclined walkways to pull goat-skins full of water from timeless wells to spill over into mazes of water ways irrigating lifeless dessert and bringing sweet dates to life and happiness. Of hammered copper and smokey fires brewing strong, black, sweet, peanut floated tee drunk out of small glass cafe glasses. Of minarets and minaret-like memorials to Remus and Romulus, men in baggy white pants and long-tailed white tunics and women draped in heavy white barakans, head to toe.

Libya has far distant, distorted, enhanced and special memories for Guambat. He wonders what side of history they are on. And whose.