After the “Plan B” vote debacle some in the Republican Party are smelling blood in the water. According to Republican sources that spoke to Reuters, Speaker Boehner was down 40 to 50 votes for his “Plan B” proposal despite intense lobbying from both himself and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Do the terms “leader” even still apply here?
Not surprisingly, what were once whispers inside Washington about removing Boehner have begun leaking. From Breitbart:
Several conservative House Republican members are contemplating a plan to unseat Speaker John Boehner from his position on January 3, Breitbart News has exclusively learned. Staffers have compiled a detailed action plan that, if executed, could make this a reality.
At the moment there does not seem to be a clear rival to Boehner, just an agreement Boehner has to go. The first goal of the conspirators is to change the rules for a secret ballot rather than a roll call vote for Speaker, with the second goal being finding a new Speaker. In essence, Anybody But Boehner.
According to the strategy memo, in what can only be called sweet irony, the conspirators plan to use Speaker Boehner’s opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act or “card check” as the grounds for a secret ballot vote for Speaker. If the opponents to Boehner can change the rules for a secret ballot vote, his survival as Speaker would be in serious jeopardy. Now that’s something worth crying about.
“we said to Harry, wait a second, JCA was going to be the engineer of record. I don’t care about your f—— review process“…
” I sat him down and said ‘ [Assemblyman Conaway] Herb, don’t f– with me on this one. You know, don’t make nice with Joe Doria cause I’ll tell you if you ever do that and I catch you one more time doing it, you’re gonna get your f–king balls cut off.’ He got the message.”
George Norcross, the political boss of South Jersey, has taken his share of knocks over the bare-knuckled game of politics he plays. If there were still smoke-filled rooms in Trenton, he would be at one head of the table opposite Gov. Chris Christie almost every time.
But there’s more to the Norcross story. He is making a genuine difference in the lives of impoverished people in Camden, the most desperate corner of this state. And his efforts seem to be growing every year….
For Camden’s parents, this is the best deal Norcross ever made — back-room or not.
Let’s stop right there for a second. Why? Why is Camden impoverished and desperate again? Oh, George Norcross and the political machine that has had absolute control over Camden City since 1991.
The city is dominated by an old-time party boss, George Norcross III. Although he does not live in Camden, his critics contend that he decides who runs for office and who does not, who gets city and state contracts and which projects get funded. Tens of millions in state funds have been used for city projects, from an aquarium on the waterfront to a new law school to an expansion of the Cooper University Hospital and construction of a medical school. In 2002 the state approved a $175 million recovery package to save the city, but according to a yearlong investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer, only 5 percent had been used to combat crime, improve schools, provide jobs or bolster municipal services.
Norcross has run the city from behind the scenes for a generation and recently was caught snagging over $400,000 out of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) in a kickback scheme. Norcross made a call to a still unnamed official in the McGreevey administration who threw an insurance contract to a Norcross partner – who then paid Norcross’ insurance company Connor Strong a “referral fee” which Connor Strong listed on their books as a payment for “North Jersey Marketing.”
The political boss George Norcross holds no job or title at the Delaware River Port Authority. Yet in the state comptroller’s scathing report about financial mismanagement there, guess who plays a starring role?
Turns out, Norcross got kickbacks for steering insurance contracts from the state agency, according to the report…
Not surprising, since the Democratic power broker runs South Jersey — but prefers to do so behind the scenes. Norcross, also the biggest name in the state’s insurance brokerage business, allegedly orchestrated a payment of $410,000 to his own company in return for recommending another insurance broker for the authority.
An additional payment went to a second broker, Michael Martucci, who happens to be an acquaintance of Norcross’ wife. When asked by the comptroller exactly what work he did to deserve his $45,000 cut, Martucci was succinct: “I performed nothing.”…
It took a two-year probe to pull the curtain back on these South Jersey shenanigans. Now imagine how many other backstage handshakes we pay for in this state.
Yes. That is the same editorial board under the direction of amnesiac Tom Moran. Condemning corruption uncovered in one report and citing Norcross as a wonderful benefactor in the next. But not only contradicting the initial overall portrait of the political boss – suddenly reversing itself on “backstage handshakes.”
The message from the Star Ledger is clear: it’s OK to be corrupt if your corruption leads to things we agree with.
Barrett Brown faces 45 years in prison for posting a link in a chat room.
Trying to think of less sympathetic figure than Barrett Brown would be a difficult task for many Americans. He’s rude, vindictive, and seems to get a particular joy from pissing people off. He’s gone out of his way to anger groups ranging from the FBI to the Zetas, all while being the quasi-official spokesman for Anonymous – a group on the shit list of nearly every powerful person on the planet.
So surprise, Barrett Brown has been arrested. The initial arrest is pretty understandable, Brown went on a long YouTube tirade which appropriately began with “I don’t make plans.” Within the seemingly endless series of insults is a direct threat to FBI agent Robert Smith as well as a promise to meet any U.S government officials trying to arrest him with armed resistance. Bad move.
First off, law enforcement — acting under a legal warrant — has the right to arrest a citizen. In what world would that not be the case? Brown’s threat to meet that legitimate use of authority with violence is wildly out of line and indefensible. It’s also worth noting that when Brown was arrested by the Dallas Police – caught on video – he did not offer armed resistance. Whether this was due to his rant being an idle threat or him not having time to get access to a weapon is an open question.
Secondly, threatening an FBI agent and his family with any destructive act – though apparently non-violent and perhaps legal – is pretty dumb if you are trying to stop harassment. Brown claimed, which has all the probability of being true, that Agent Smith was harassing his mother. Very plausible as this is generally how the FBI conducts its affairs – terrorizingputting pressure on family members to assist them in destroying a target. And given Brown’s political associations the bare-knuckle tactics he alleges would fit well with the FBI’s history of persecuting political dissidents in America
So Brown was already on the radar for his activism, he was being harassed by the government, and cracked under the pressure by making threats that lead to an arrest. So why should YOU care?
You should care because what happened next not only affects you but will affect any user of the internet.
Dallas writer Barrett Brown, who was involved with the “hacktivist” movement Anonymous until earlier this year, was indicted last Tuesday (Dec. 4) on 12 counts related to possession of stolen credit-card numbers.
The indictment alleges that Brown possessed at least 10 stolen credit-card numbers and card-verification values (CVVs), and also shared a link to a document that contained thousands more stolen credit-card numbers. He faces 45 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
However, the indictment does not allege that Brown himself stole the credit-card numbers or that he profited from having them. It states that merely possessing the numbers shows “intent to defraud.”
Judge Dennis Carey III probably knows all about how Newarkers live and breathe their politics. But if he didn’t, he got a learning moment today.
After an hour of reading over musty statutes and debating which clauses superseded which subsections, Carey issued the words that mattered most to the packed chamber inside Newark’s opulent historic courthouse: “I am going to rule in favor of the Baraka plaintiffs.”…
Carey reversed Booker’s vote today, saying the mayor did not have the authority to vote on the issue.
Snakes rolling snake eyes. While the gamble may not have paid off, Booker did win an “I owe you one” from one of New Jersey’s most powerful bosses. A nice chip to have in your pocket.
But a reversal in court could never stop Booker from being self-righteous as he dialed the egomania knob to 10 at, of all things, a political fundraiser – leading some to wonder if Booker was auditioning for an even higher office:
“I know we’re here for a political occasion,” Booker said, “but, dear God, we have a spiritual purpose.”
“This is not a local speech,” a Democrat said later, speaking on condition of anonymity. “He’s running for something, I just don’t know what.”
“Pope?” someone suggested.
Pope might take some more backroom dealing though Cory surely knows all about kissing the rings of the powerful.
Republican Study Committee staffer Derek Khanna (Facebook)
Erich Fromm once said “Man always dies before he is fully born.” Derek Khanna is not dead.
Well, not literally.
Act 1: Delight
For the glory of Summer we are punished with Fall. So it was that on November 16th, 2012 the Republican Study Committee offered a bold proposal to reform America’s ridiculous copyright system titled Three Myths About Copyright Law and Where To Fix It. The contact and alleged driving force behind the document was Derek Khanna a staffer at the RSC.
The policy brief was nothing short of a full frontal double barreled blast at Copyright Trolls (also known as the entertainment industry). Three myths were listed in report:
1. The purpose of copyright is to compensate the creator of the content:
It’s a common misperception that the Constitution enables our current legal regime of copyright protection – in fact, it does not.
2. Copyright is free market capitalism at work:
Copyright violates nearly every tenet of laissez faire capitalism. Under the current system of copyright, producers of content are entitled to a guaranteed, government instituted, government subsidized content-monopoly.
3. The current copyright legal regime leads to the greatest innovation and productivity… excessive copyright protection leads to what economists call “rent seeking” which is effectively non-productive behavior that sucks economic productivity and potential from the overall economy.
I am sure every Hollywood operative channeled their inner Les Grossman when they read those statements – but just wait for the conclusion:
Conclusion: To be clear, there is a legitimate purpose to copyright (and for that matter patents). Copyright ensures that there is sufficient incentive for content producers to develop content, but there is a steep cost to our unusually long copyright period that Congress has now created. Our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution with explicit instructions on this matter for a limited copyright – not an indefinite monopoly. We must strike this careful Goldilocks-like balance for the consumer and other businesses versus the content producers.
It is difficult to argue that the life of the author plus 70 years is an appropriate copyright term for this purpose – what possible new incentive was given to the content producer for content protection for a term of life plus 70 years vs. a term of life plus 50 years?
Where we have reached a point of such diminishing returns we must be especially aware of the known and predictable impact upon the greater market that these policies have held, and we are left to wonder on the impact that we will never know until we restore a constitutional copyright system.
Current copyright law does not merely distort some markets – rather it destroys entire markets.
It was a brave stand. Not brave in the way most people use that term – for firefighters and children with cancer – but “brave” in the political context aka a serious miscalculation you can only hope people will never mention again if you somehow survive the fallout.
So it was considered a brave policy brief to publish in Washington.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
- The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner
According to the latest reactionary brainwash scheme turned corporate media narrative America has a “spending problem.” We spend too much on taking care of people (stop laughing rest of the developed world) and therefore we have to go on a severe diet of austerity to enrich Wall Street banksters restore fiscal sanity. Because if we do not rich people and their friends the global bond market will punish us with fire and brimstone – like vigilantes they will say “make my day” and years later relive their glory by cursing at an empty chair.
But the question arises when considering government deficits – aren’t there two sides to deficits? Is not another way to balance a budget to increase revenues?
The response from the reactionaries in Congress is no new revenues, period.Taxation is theft! You looting moochers! Stop spending taxpayer money, unless it’s for military contractors who donate to our campaigns! You’ll kill the economy with new taxes, actually with existing taxes, speaking of which how about another tax cut?
In short, while there are revenue sources everywhere, none can be used to balance the budget.
The more reasonable of the lot point out that ending the Bush tax cuts will not make up the shortfall so deep cuts are necessary regardless. While it is true that just restoring the Clinton-era tax levels for higher income earners will not be enough to balance the budget there is another revenue stream that would not only be fair but productive to tap into – Wall Street. It is time for a financial transaction tax.
A financial transaction tax has numerous benefits but let’s talk about the most relevant one. Revenue.
And since we are talking about Wall Street let me move past greed to fear to offer another benefit of taxing sales on Wall Street – financial stability.
James Tobin, a Nobel-Prize winning economist, suggested levying a tax on speculative activity in the global currency market. A tax, Tobin believed, would help curb dangerous speculation such as occurred in Mexico, East Asia, and Russia in the 1990s. By exacting a cost on speculative activity the incentive to destabilize markets/countries through quick flows of money would be reduced as longer term investment would become more lucrative by contrast.
Curbing dangerous speculation was also the motive for one of the first proponents of the financial transaction tax, John Maynard Keynes, who wrote:
Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the situation is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation…
The introduction of a substantial government transfer tax on all transactions might prove the most serviceable reform available, with a view to mitigating the predominance of speculation over enterprise in the United States.
Would the crash of 2008 have happened had there been a financial transaction tax on derivatives? Could a future financial crisis be averted by dampening speculative activity?
It is difficult to determine the positive effects of a financial transactions tax beyond revenue collection despite strong logic that it would reduce speculation – what is easy to determine is the lack of downside.
The Wall Street rejoinder to this tax proposal will surely be that it will hurt investment, and let me tell you right now why that is total bullshit – America once had a financial transactions tax.
But putting aside any ancillary benefits, this is a tax that will collect needed revenues. If this revenue is not collected cuts to vital social programs will have to take place or be exacerbated. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education assistance, anti-poverty programs – all on the chopping block without this revenue to make up the difference.
Budgets are about choices and priorities, they demonstrate our values. So what are our values? Should the poor suffer more, should we break our promises to seniors, or should speculators face a minor tax that may make them think twice about blowing bubbles?
It was a great plan. Mayor Cory Booker was going to stick to a strategy that had made him one of America’s most admired mayors – using the visibility of his public office to launch profile raising publicity stunts for himself. And not just any headline grab, but one that would help define Mayor Booker as a true man of the people in these trying times. He would become a man, nay, a symbol of the dispossessed and suffering.
Obviously it would only be for about a week but the optics were perfect. And without fail the merry band of morons who had just helped ensure an Obama re-election by trivializing rape and recommending immigrants “deport themselves” took the bait and committed another Fox Pas.
Analogizing cosmetic dieting with brutal poverty? Yes! Winning. Booker was not only going to get great press for his heroic act of not eating the more expensive foods he likes for a week, he would also get an honorable mention from every liberal establishment stroke artist as epitomizing the sensible alternative to a right-wing gone mad.
Meanwhile, back in Newark …
Cory had another great plan. Using the opportunity presented by a deadlocked council vote, he launched a surprise attack making an unprecedented appearance inside the city council building to vote in a crony of one of New Jersey’s most notorious political bosses Steve Adubato. A dirty move even by Newark standards and not in keeping with Mayor Booker’s hyper-managed public profile as an advocate for transparency and good government.
“The mayor, who goes all around the country to talk about democracy… literally in the back of the room, hiding in the shadows,” Sharif said.
The riot caused by Mayor Booker’s political ambush was put down by the police with pepper spray and a prominent SEIU union leader was arrested. But, nonetheless, it seems the power play will stand.
So how does shadowy Back Room Booker, the man that actually governs Newark, square with America’s Mayor? Will the Real Cory Booker please stand up?
O Cory Where Art Thou?
As the mythology around Mayor Booker amplifies perhaps it is time to gain some perspective.
Chris Hedges, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist turned activist, is fond of noting in reference to Karl Popper’s influential book The Open Society and Its Enemies that those attracted to power are, at best, mediocre but typically venal. Popper believed that minimizing misrule is more important than trying to find great rulers. The wise know that if you cling to politicians for solutions to all your problems you are asking to be both disappointed and lied to.
So is Cory Booker mediocre or venal?
Despite the venality of recent events he surely weighs in on the mediocre side. Which is all the more deflating when considering the grandiosity of Mayor Booker’s public persona. The mythical image Cory puts forward – as a hero struggling against and triumphing over the epic and craven forces of American politics – would surely be hilarious if not for the tragedy that some actually believe it.
What those believers may be surprised to learn is that the Newark Cory will be leaving behind as his second term ends is strikingly similar to the Newark he inherited from sworn enemy Mayor Sharpe James. The results have been, well, mediocre.
Meet The New New Newark Same As The Old New Newark
In 2002 Cory Booker made his first attempt at becoming the Mayor of Newark. The struggle between Booker and then Mayor Sharpe James was the basis for the documentary film Street Fight. The film lionizes Booker and casts a harsh light on James clearly stemming from repeated mistreatment of the filmmaker by the James Team which is caught on camera. Side note: a great way to become the villain in a film’s narrative is to repeatedly interfere with and harass a filmmaker.
So Booker, true to his word, made homicide reduction the center of his administration’s agenda. Echoing the policies other cities faced with high crime perform, which is essentially a holding pattern strategy, Booker used expanded manpower and new policing techniques to swarm crime hot spots. This lead, not surprisingly, to an initial drop off in violent crime and later to a reversion to the mean with violent crime being roughly where it was when the whole thing started.
This is not due to some incredible incompetence within Booker’s administration, the plan was performed as designed, it was due to pursuing mediocrity. It was a failure of vision by a so-called (near self-proclaimed) visionary. Beyond the pageantry of more police on the street and the mayor jogging through the city flanked by TV cameras – what was this program actually supposed to do? If the answer was “not much” then mission accomplished.
The program’s failure was the inevitable result of underlying factors that exist in many high crime cities. Not that it’s news but crimes of passion occur in every community, the body counts in Newark, Camden, and other cities around the country are directly a result of dispassionate violence. Newark like other cities is a major hub for the sale and distribution of illegal drugs which means most business disputes are resolved through violence not civil litigation.
Booker, being a mediocre politician, has never attacked or even substantively spoken to the root cause of the homicides in Newark – the war on drugs. Nor is he likely to, for being a mediocre politician he would hate to alienate the wealthy whiter suburbs (aka the buyers of those illegal drugs whose buying creates the markets that leads to the violent business disputes in Newark). He needs their money and possibly soon, votes. More on that later. Yes, he said the drug war was a failure – well, you are mayor Cory, what are you going to do about it? Answer: Nothing.
OK, put aside crime. What about revitalizing Newark and getting people back to work?
The official unemployment rate in Newark hangs around 15%
Obviously we can all think of a thousand excuses for why Newark has awful unemployment numbers. And that’s fine. And no typical mediocre run of the mill politician should be expected to achieve much given the myriad of excuses anyone can come up with.
And that’s the point.
Speaking of Newark’s economy, Mayor Booker has also been surprisingly similar to his predecessor Sharpe James on redevelopment issues. Despite trying to draw clear lines during the campaign in 2002 between a more open and fair use of city resources Booker pursued a parallel path to James. In one instance Cory continued to press an eminent domain seizure – initiated by James – for downtown redevelopment that he campaigned against and was only stopped due to a judge’s ruling.
A New Jersey judge effectively killed an ambitious downtown redevelopment project in Newark yesterday, ruling that the city’s decision to condemn 14 acres of property on behalf of a private developer was ill-conceived and wrong…
Although they blame Mr. James for condemning their neighborhood in the first place, residents and merchants said they were disappointed that Mayor Cory A. Booker upheld the city’s use of eminent domain, despite having promised during his campaign that he would not.
So maybe Cory was exaggerating how bad Mayor James’ redevelopment policies were. And hey, politicians break promises all the time.
Should Mayor Booker be held responsible for what goes on in his administration? Or should we lower expectations?
Climbing Mount Olympus
As the mythological Cory Booker of twitter and cable fame soars above the petty clouds of politics – the mayor who actually serves in Newark continues his positioning for higher office. It remains unclear what Cory is going to get for the underhanded display at the council meeting from Adubato but surely he has earned whatever is coming.
But aye, there’s the rub. How long can Cory maintain his public persona with all these dirty deeds piling up? And if he is so interested in higher office shouldn’t he be avoiding irritating the people he would need?
There has already been talk of Booker taking on Governor Christie in 2013. Two words: Ha. Ha.
Oh and the Democratic political bosses have done fine under the Christie regime – a regime that is now running with 60%+ approval ratings thanks to the Sandy response which included the Obama-Christie responsible leaders tour The bosses have no reason to abandon a ship that’s sailing smooth, especially given the rewards they received for the hand-sitting in 2009 that brought Christie to power in the first place.
That would leave gay marriage as the only discernible difference (watch for a centrist shift on women’s healthcare by Christie) in which case the argument against a referendum makes even less sense. If it’s popular enough to take Booker over the top then it’s popular enough to win on its own.
I live in South Jersey, so yeah, Sandy is about to make my life uh interesting.
Hurricane Sandy: One of many reasons the insurance industry is paying attention to climate change (Photo: Charlie Walker / Flickr)
So before the power/interweb goes out let me reiterate a point that is not made often enough in the climate change debate – Big Business is not united in their denialism.
One sector that is particularly immune to fossil fuel propaganda is the global insurance and reinsurance industry – because unlike consumers or politicians they are on the hook when the reality of Climate Change strikes.
A couple of weeks ago, Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance firms, issued a study titled “Severe Weather in North America.” According to the press release that accompanied the report, “Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America.” The number of what Munich Re refers to as “weather-related loss events,” and what the rest of us would probably call weather-related disasters, has quintupled over the last three decades. While many factors have contributed to this trend, including an increase in the number of people living in flood-prone areas, the report identified global warming as one of the major culprits: “Climate change particularly affects formation of heat-waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run most probably also tropical cyclone intensity.”
Munich Re’s report was aimed at the firm’s clients—other insurance companies—and does not make compelling reading for a general audience. But its appearance just two weeks ahead of Hurricane Sandy seems to lend it a peculiarly grisly relevance. Sandy has been called a “superstorm,” a “Frankenstorm,” a “freakish and unprecedented monster,” and possibly “unique in the annals of American weather history.” It has already killed sixty-five people in the Caribbean, and, although it’s too early to tell what its full impact will be as it churns up the East Coast, loss estimates are topping six billion dollars.
That’s right folks. The world’s largest and well established insurance companies are not only not in denial, they are pricing and operating with Climate Change firmly in mind. And their expertise seems to be yielding an accurate analysis. Which is important to them because their fortunes are at stake.
Well time to go shutter the windows, make sure I have food and batteries in place, because the warmer water caused by Climate Change means Southern New Jersey is going to face sustained 50-70 mph winds tonight and into tomorrow as well as billions of dollars in damages on the shore and energy infrastructure.
On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in New York took aim at Bank of America. They accused it of carrying out a scheme, started by its Countrywide Financial unit, that defrauded government-backed mortgage agencies by churning out loans at a rapid pace without proper controls. In a civil suit, prosecutors seek to collect at least $1 billion in penalties from the bank as compensation for the behavior that they say forced taxpayers to guarantee billions in bad loans.
$1 billion is not a lot of money for Bank of America who already repaid the $45 billion TARP loan. But one revelation from the suit contradicts one of BofA’s talking points – namely that Countrywide are the real villains and BofA is being victimized due to a poor acquisition done during a crisis.
In the lawsuit on Wednesday, the Justice Department attacked a home loan program known as the “hustle,” which the bank inherited from Countrywide in 2008 and kept alive through 2009.
Prosecutors say the venture was a symbol of Wall Street’s slipshod standards during the mortgage bubble. According to the lawsuit, Countrywide rubber-stamped mortgage loans to risky borrowers and passed them on to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-controlled mortgage financial giants that guaranteed the loans. The two entities were ultimately stuck with heavy losses and a glut of foreclosed properties.
“The fraudulent conduct alleged in today’s complaint was spectacularly brazen in scope,” Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement.
Brazen works. Especially as Wall Street through surrogates in Congress has tried to shift blame squarely on Freddie and Fannie, institutions it was committing fraud against according to the filings.
Let’s be totally honest. A lot of people who have done really well have not handled that wealth very well. That gets to part of the issue with Wall Street. I think it’s really changing.
I think the kind of money that’s made and the way it was flaunted — look it’s wrong. [...] The money was really unbelievably generous, to say the right word…At the end of the day the one area that has to be squeezed [to give a return to shareholders] is the compensation number.
Whether or not Wall Street is “really changing” is debatable. What is not debatable is that speculators are wildly compensated when compared to other, more productive, jobs.
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