Tuesday, November 30, 2010

courts and banks as partners in crime

A very helpful article here from Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone on the mortgage-backed securities crisis, the foreclosure crisis that it spawned, and how banks are getting out from under their own bad decisions by fraudulently kicking homeowners out on the street, and all with the help of the judicial system.

There are several truths coming out of this story that I think most people have a hard time coming to grips with. The first is that, as I and others have said before, Americans have been trained since It's a Wonderful Life to think of bankers as accountants when we should be looking at them as used car salesmen. They're not trying to protect your interests, and their bottom line no longer depends on your prosperity. Remember for a moment that banks are also credit card companies and tell me they're not just trying to get you on the hook for as much as possible.

The second is that nearly every case of foreclosure in the United States now happens because the judge allowed the bank to commit fraud. Banks so completely f**ked the normal system of titles and paper trails with the whole mortgage-backed securities debacle that they can't prove which mortgages they own, and rather than try to untangle that Gordian knot of securities, they just forge the paper trail. If the judges were to insist on proper paperwork, two things would happen:

  1. There would be no more foreclosures

  2. All the big banks would fail. All of them.

Friday, November 19, 2010

TSA admits it punishes people who opt out of body scanners

Amazing. From Consumer Traveler:
TSA officials commenting for the article, “added that checkpoint requirements for passengers departing from the United States haven’t changed since the underwear bomber incident last December.” That suggested pat-downs were still the same as they had always been.

However, when meeting with privacy officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and TSA later that month, I was told unofficially that there were two standards of pat-downs. One for the normal situation where passengers are going through metal detectors and a different pat-down for those who refuse to go through the whole-body scanners.

With this latest announcement, TSA admits that it has been clandestinely punishing passengers for refusing to go through the invasive whole-body scans with an even more intrusive aggressive pat-down and that soon those more invasive pat-down will creep from airport to airport.

What does "more invasive" mean? At some airports, this. It also comes with verbal abuse from TSA agents, as recounted by Jeffrey Goldberg during his own encounter.

Welcome to George W. Bush and Joe Lieberman's America.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

coverage for me but not for thee

Great story from Politico about an anti-health care bill freshman congressman demanding his government health care now that he's in congress. The real juicy part:
“He stood up and asked the two ladies who were answering questions why it had to take so long, what he would do without 28 days of health care,” said a congressional staffer who saw the exchange...

“Harris then asked if he could purchase insurance from the government to cover the gap,” added the aide, who was struck by the similarity to Harris’s request and the public option he denounced as a gateway to socialized medicine.

I and many liberals have often found it striking how conservatives of all stripes seem incapable of recognizing the gravity of other people's problems until they are forced to deal with them personally. This is, I think, why conservatives reacted so loudly to President Obama's employment of the word "empathy" when describing the traits he wanted in a Supreme Court justice. It's a word liberals have been bludgeoning them with for generations to the point that it's become dog-whistle for "not a conservative hypocrite." It's the liberal retort to the conservative "bleeding heart" jab.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Maddow vs. Stewart on the news

It's actually pretty rare for us to be treated with an interview between two brilliant people who are neither ideological/tribal cohorts nor opposites. This is a real treat; I think Jon Stewart has a lot of insights about media and politics that he can't really articulate in a direct way on his own show, and Rachel Maddow is best interviewer on television. To adapt a quote from Steve Earle, "and I'll stand on Bill Moyers' coffee table and say that."

Thanksgiving tips from NYC chefs

Cool article from the Times. Carving the bird beforehand to keep from drying out the breast? I can't believe that never occurred to me! There are some awesome-sounding recipes with the articles, too.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

interesting math

Anyone else find it interesting that the presidential commission charged solely with tackling the budget deficit recommended tax cuts for the wealthy?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

extending the smoking ban

From the South Bend Tribune:
On Tuesday, County Council member Mike Kruk, D-District E, introduced a proposal to expand the countywide smoking ban to include bars and restaurants.

Currently, both types of establishments are exempt from the ban under certain conditions.
In addition to bars and restaurants, the proposal would also ban smoking in private clubs and tobacco bars, and eliminate smoking rooms at places of business.

It would continue to exempt private residences, retail tobacco stores, designated hotel and motel rooms and outdoor areas at workplaces.

Smoking bans are interesting politically because they cut across lots of traditional ideological and tribal lines. It's also a place where I think reasonable people can disagree, and where an honest discussion has to account for tradeoffs.

Is a smoking ban an infringement on people's personal liberty? Yes!

Do smoking bans save lives and improve public health? Yes!

I've sometimes wondered just how united restaurant and bar owners are on smoking bans. As vocal as bar and restaurant owners are about not wanting to drive the smokers away from their businesses, in my experience it's much more common for nonsmokers to refuse to patronize a place than smokers. You have to figure there are some owners who privately hope for the chance to finally tell people not to light up without having to take the blame for the decision.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Walk Like an American

A really interesting post from James Fallows on the apparently idiosyncratic American gait. I remember experiencing something similar in Ireland where I several times was pegged as an American the second I walked in the door despite being of 100% English and Irish stock, wearing only clothes from Irish department stores and having yet to utter a single word.

What really strikes me about the article is not that it pegs the American gait as unique but that it pegs it as black. Note this bit from one of the quotes:
Carl Jung said that white Americans walk like Negroes, talk like Negroes and laugh like Negroes. Now Carl Jung was from Switzerland, where they make the real white people.

Not sure what to say about that. I like the thought, though.

Friday, November 05, 2010

pot legalization

I was pretty shocked to read this from Josh Marshall this morning:
...I just don't know if I think marijuana should be legalized at all. Maybe it's that I'm getting into my 40s. And maybe I'm a hypocrite. I of course know people who smoke grass. And I don't have any problem with it. Decriminalized? Yes, I think probably so. But that's not the same as legalization. It's very different actually. And let me be clear that I think our drug laws are catastrophic. They create endemic violence first in our major cities and now along the borders and it's led to generations of Americans rotting in prison. The whole war on drugs is an unmitigated disaster. And the fact that people can't use marijuana for clear medical reasons is crazy. But do I think it should be like alcohol? Anyone over 18 or 21 can buy it?

Ok, I get that pot legalization may not be something Marshall has thought much about, but this stikes me as shockingly misplaced priorities from someone who's usually a pretty clear thinker.

Andrew Sullivan takes him to task:
How to rationalize the irrational? From the post cited, I'd say Reason One is: I'm older. Reason two: er, see Reason one. What Josh seems to be saying is that he wants pot de facto legal but closeted. But like most closets, this one requires a shame that simply isn't there any more - and has not been for decades now. And any illegality is bound to end up hurting the poor and minorities to a disproportionate extent. It's not unenforced. It's enforced brutally upon hundreds of thousands of people. It's okay to sit there mulling how uncomfortable fully legal pot makes you, as long as none of your friends is thrown into jail, or forever barred from employment, or fired for no reason related to work performance. Josh's view reminds me of the argument of those who backed sodomy laws but didn't want them aggressively enforced. They didn't want to throw people in jail, but they wanted the stigma to remain. Yes, stigma. For one kind of pleasure (being stoned) as opposed to another (being drunk).

Never thought I'd be agreeing with Sullivan over Marshall, but he's absolutely spot-on here.

Atrios used to make fun of people who want abortion to be illegal but aren't willing to carry the logic over to saying someone should actually go to jail or anything over it. As he put it, what they really want is for the state to officially deem abortion "icky." I think Marshall is falling into the same trap here.

At the end of the day, either pot is contraband or it isn't. Contra Marshall, there is no magical middle ground, no official federal designation of "ickiness." It will either be bought in a convenience store and marketed by Philip Morris, or it will be bought on the street and will continue to serve as the golden goose for every cartel in Mexico and the cause of thousands of murders every year across Central America and the southwestern United States. Being caught using it either will appear on your rap sheet, forever branding you a drug user and giving every employer an excuse not to hire you, or it won't.

Decriminalization is a cop out; it doesn't change anything.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The consensus is in

Brian Kelly couldn't make them a championship football team in 8 games, therefore Notre Dame is DOOMED FOREVER. DOOOOOOOOOOOMED!

Also, the peanut gallery in the South Bend Tribune, a real think tank of football coaching wisdom, are now confident that Kelly will be fired. This year.

What's funny is that, when Kelly was hired, the consensus in the Tribune and in the wider world of sports punditry was that it would take him several years to build a good team in South Bend. He's implemented a very different offensive scheme, despite Michael Rosenberg's moronic assertion that Weis and Kelly have the same "philosophical approach" because they're both "passing coaches." He'd have to get his kind of recruits in there. He has to change the program's culture, shift it away from players playing for a ticket to the NFL, away from lax conditioning and defeatism.

It may be true that the sun has forever set on Notre Dame as an elite football program, that there are now insurmountable structural barriers in BCS football separating the big state schools from everyone else. If that's true, though, we'll know at the end of Kelly's term, not the beginning.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

that's some nerve

Evan Bayh, fresh off of abdicating his Senate seat in the middle of a Republican wave year and keeping his $10 million warchest so the Dems can't use it to keep the seat, writes an op-ed lecturing Democrats on why they lost. Apparently the Democrats lost because they didn't govern according to the lesser Bayh's personal political stances. Surprise!

I just love rhetorical games like this:
Exit polls in 2008 showed that 22 percent of voters identified themselves as liberals, 32 percent as conservatives and 44 percent as moderates. An electorate that is 76 percent moderate to conservative was not crying out for a move to the left.

Really? What about an electorate that is 66 percent moderate to liberal?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Goodnight, Russ, and good luck

The silver lining of a Republican wave year is that a lot of bad Democrats lose their seats. Though we need the senate seats, I'm not even a little bit sorry that blue dogs like Brad Ellsworth and Blanche Lincoln are losing their jobs all over the country. I've predicted since last year that my own blue dog congressman would get ousted tomorrow, and I'm standing by that prediction with horror at the prospect of Congressman Walorski, but no love lost for ol' Joe.

There is, however, one Democrat whose impending electoral demise I will be mourning bitterly on Wednesday. That voters who have known him for 18 years would ditch him now for being "a Washington insider" drives home just what poor judges of character voters can be. He's one of perhaps 2 people I would have voted for in the 2008 primaries over Barack Obama. You've done amazing work these last 18 years, Russ Feingold. Godspeed.