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Distribution of Sandy Aid Irks the City
Officials Blame Washington Bureaucracy for Slow Pace of Housing Recovery Funds

New York officials said they are frustrated by the slow pace of federal money being distributed to superstorm Sandy victims, blaming Washington bureaucracy for the fact that almost no aid for housing recovery has been given out almost a year after the disaster.

New York City has been allotted $648 million in federal aid to give out for housing recovery assistance. So far, one person has received help: a Staten Island woman whose damaged home was acquired this month.

"We're racing to get a dollar out the door in time by the one-year anniversary. That's absurd. Who's going to stand for that?" said Brad Gair, the city's housing recovery director, who has played disaster-recovery roles after Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Floyd and Sept. 11, 2001.

Good piece by David Dayen.  He mentions the Jon Stewart interview and the media circuit Greenspan is being afforded as his book is released.  Greenspan is one of the people who should be in an orange jumpsuit, not in the green rooms of the cable news organizations.  Dayen cites his "seminal moment" when he publicly hyped adjustable-rate mortgages after he had dipped the interest rate to 1% and then after a huge surge of adjustable-rate mortgages were sold, he raised the rate from 1% to 5% over a two-year period "which opened adjustable-rate mortgage holders to excessive risk"  and caused a sudden increase in their mortgage payments.
The Media Can't Stop Sucking Up to Alan Greenspan
Instead of treating him like a wise man, make him pay J.P. Morgan's fine

Needless to say, anyone who’s paid attention to the economy the past few years knows how ridiculous it is to fete Greenspan, the main architect of the policies that led to the Great Recession. If we lived in a just world, we would put him on trial, not on television. And his penalty should be to scrounge up the funds to pay JPMorgan Chase’s $13 billion fine with the Justice Department.

After all, that fine penalizes JPMorgan Chase for duping investors into purchasing mortgage-backed securities it knew were stuffed with garbage loans. And nobody in America duped more people—investors, homeowners, you name it—into buying bad loans than Alan Greenspan. While chairing the Fed, Greenspan was in a perfect position to inform Americans about the unsustainability of the housing bubble and the overall threats to the financial system. But his allergy to regulation and unshakeable belief in the virtues of the free market led him to ignore the bubble and its risks, infusing investors and consumers with confidence that the run-up in home prices was perfectly normal. If misleading the public about the safety and soundness of the housing market is a crime, Greenspan is guilty. And he deserves some manner of punishment for that, not a week full of deference and respect.

The seminal moment in Greenspan’s misinformation campaign on housing was February 23, 2004. Home prices had already begun their epic rise. A new generation of subprime mortgage brokers, like Ameriquest and Countrywide, became massive companies overnight. And Wall Street banks demanded more and more loans from these brokers, part of a plan to buy them up by the thousands and package them into securities, selling them all over the world. The relentless pressure for more loans led the brokers to lower their standards and hand out mortgages to virtually anyone, using exotic products to make them attractive to moderate and low-income borrowers.
[...]
But instead of tamping down the irrational exuberance in the housing markets, Greenspan encouraged homeowners to seek out precisely the types of products being fraudulently peddled by unscrupulous brokers. This fed the securitization machine and inflated the bubble. At the time, the Federal Reserve had consumer protection responsibilities for mortgages, but Greenspan did absolutely nothing to stop the rotten lending that would eventually implode the housing market. In addition, Greenspan lauded securitization in testimonybefore the Senate Banking Committee in 2005, saying it “does not create substantial systemic risks.” Only after he left the Fed, in 2008, did Greenspan decide that securitization was the culprit for the crisis. Greenspan pursued no regulatory avenues to deflate the bubble, nor did he bother to speak publicly about the dangers. Like a good Ayn Rand acolyte, Greenspan simply believed that lending institutions would act in their self-interest and never engage in destructive behavior. “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief,” Greenspan admitted to a House panel in 2008. That mea culpa was short-lived; he returns in his new book to an antipathy for regulation and a belief in the righteousness of the free market.

Hard to excerpt. A good read.
A British Woman Spent Three Days in a U.S. Hospital. Here's What She Learned About Obamacare.

My sister lives in New York, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the States, visiting her. But this is my first time navigating my way through the USA’s Kafkaesque healthcare system. First comes the paperwork, a War And Peace-thick pile of it, on which I write my name so many times that the words “Eleanor” and “Margolis” become hilariously absurd. Good thing I’m right-handed. I’ve been an American patient for fifteen minutes and I’m already starting to sweat. I bought health insurance at home, but I’m convinced that the company will play dirty; trying every trick in their sputum-dripping book not to cover me. While my hand is getting bigger and redder right before my eyes, I envisage a bill for a mighty stack of dollars. This is met with a peel of laughter by my insurance company, because I forgot to specify on their forms that I have one tit bigger than the other. “I’m sorry,” they’ll say, “We only cover the evenly-breasted. Enjoy prison.”
[...]
My brother-in-law arrives with coffee. Having just been doped up with more painkillers, I gaze blankly at the ceiling while he speaks gibberish over the phone to my insurance company. Kind and attentive as the hospital staff may be, it’s hard to appreciate that you’re recovering when you have that constant, underlying fear of a giant bill.
[...]
She chuckles and exits my life. With her final words to me, Carmen may have been joking–but she’s neatly summed up the bare-faced callousness of the American healthcare system. This isn’t a hospital; it’s the Wild West. As a foreigner with travel insurance, I’m lucky enough to observe American healthcare from a safe distance. But to someone fully enmeshed, like Carmen, Obamacare is a tiny drop in the murkiest of quagmires.

FSM help us.
The Fed Versus the People

I’ve previously argued that most Americans aren’t saving enough to live comfortably in retirement, and that the Federal Reserve might be making this situation worse. A new report from the consumer financial services company Bankrate shows that many Americans have been holding back their spending because of an even bigger problem: insufficient savings to cover short-term emergencies.

In June, it found, 27 percent of Americans had no money available in a bank or money-market account, while just 24 percent of Americans had enough to cover six months of expenses. According to Greg McBride, the firm's senior financial analyst, these numbers have barely changed since the recovery began.

Yet many at the Fed feel that Americans are being too cautious and should be forced to own risky assets and increase their borrowing. [...] In other words, Evans and those who sympathize with him want the government to threaten to confiscate your emergency savings so that you go out and spend. Even if it works in the short term, this strategy seems corrosive to the social fabric.

US FED in uncharted waters


Alexis Breaks Down The $13 Billion Chase Settlement

Cenk's analysis, for what it's worth.  I think he does a pretty good job, I just don't know if I agree with his assessment of what happened.  I do think that this past episode of the budget battle was just part of a bigger show.  However, I think there's something to what he says about the way that Reid and Pelosi are trying to keep Obama from just destroying the Democratic party.  I think it's really really clear that Obama doesn't give a damn about the party. It was just a vehicle for him and the people who he serves (serves for now, of course, they've already gotten him one piece of what will make him one of the best known figures in American history and will, in the future, make him wealthy and powerful beyond what most people could imagine).  I don't see now, and I never have seen in Obama, any affection, loyalty or any kind of emotion for the Democratic party.  In fact, I think he feels contempt for it and would be much more comfortable in the Republican party of yesteryear.  I think he'd easily walk into the sunset in 2017 with the ashes of the Democratic party smoldering behind him, if the so called leaders of the party would let him.  And I think they are

But anyway, this segment by Cenk is well worth watching.

Sad But True: Harry Reid Is Stronger Than Obama

NSA has already admitted that they were bulk collecting location information from cell phone records for a period of time, but that they have stopped, under the 215 and 702 programs anyway. Have they really stopped collecting it entirely?  Here's another court decision on the Jones case that is a key in deciding the legality of that.
Court Rules Probable-Cause Warrant Required for GPS Trackers

An appellate court has finally supplied an answer to an open question left dangling by the Supreme Court in 2012: Do law enforcement agencies need a probable-cause warrant to affix a GPS tracker to a target’s vehicle?

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals gave a resounding yes to that question today in a 2 to 1 decision.

“Today’s decision is a victory for all Americans because it ensures that the police cannot use powerful tracking technology without court supervision and a good reason to believe it will turn up evidence of wrongdoing,” said ACLU attorney Catherine Crump in a statement. “These protections are important because where people go reveals a great deal about them, from who their friends are, where they visit the doctor and where they choose to worship.”

It’s the first appeals court ruling in the wake of United States v. Jones, a Supreme Court case involving a convicted drug dealer. In that case, the Supreme Court justices ruled in January 2012 that law enforcement’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment. The justices declined to rule at the time, however, on whether such a search was unreasonable and therefore required a warrant.

Is there any doubt that we need an overhaul of Congressional intelligence committees?
Intelligence Committees: Not Informed about Torture, Not Informed about Drone Casualties, Not Informed about US Person Spying

This documentation of civilian casualties, of course, provides further evidence Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers’ claims about civilian casualties are false.

But we knew that.
[...]
We’re learning that vast parts of the NSA’s spying — including spying that collects US person data — remains largely hidden from the Intelligence Committees.
[...]
Is there some dubiously legal program the Intelligence Community has fully informed Congress on?

Sarah Knuckey at the new JustSecurity blog provides a guide to the two reports issued this week on drone strikes.
Human Rights Groups Release Investigation Reports into US Targeted Killings: A Guide to the Issues

Today, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) released two detailed studies of US targeted killings in Yemen and Pakistan, putting forward specific evidence of civilian deaths and legal violations by the United States.

The reports are long (HRW’s is 97 pages, AI’s is 74), address a complex range of issues, and describe their investigations into specific strikes at length.  This Just Security post is a guide to the key issues the reports address:

Specific US strikes killed civilians in violation of the law and US policy.  These are the first major reports by each organization detailing field investigations into specific strikes.  HRW reviewed six strikes in Yemen (occurring between December 2009 and April 2013). HRW concluded that two of the strikes violated international law (pp. 54, 67), four may have (pp. 30, 39, 43, 60), and none of the six appeared to have complied with Obama’s May 2013 Presidential Policy Guidance (p. 89).  AI reviewed all 45 reported Pakistan strikes between January 2012-August 2013, and investigated nine in detail.  AI’s legal findings include that “evidence indicates” that an October 2012 strike unlawfully killed a grandmother and injured eight children (p. 23), and AI had “serious concerns” that a July 2012 strike that killed 18 and injured 22 (p. 24) may have been a war crime or extrajudicial execution (p. 27).  AI also investigated a number of strikes on apparent rescuers (those who came to the scene of a first strike to help the wounded), which it concluded may have been illegal (pp. 28-30).  Neither report seeks to assess the total number or rate of civilian casualties for all strikes.  

These reports are putting names and faces to the victims of drone attacks, something that, IMHO, no person in power wants to happen.  We've seen this before in the "Living Under Drones" report, but until Americans understand what is really happening, nothing will change.  That is one reason why these reports are so important and why it's so important that people from Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan should be able to testify in Congressional hearings.  

I'm including this NYT article because I think it's interesting how Declan Walsh goes to considerable length to be "fair and balanced" and while he includes information from the reports, he also inserts a number of things that you would hear from national security perspective in the US.  If I had more time I'd dissect this article because I think it's so typical of our media today.  The article mentions several times that the number of drone strikes in Pakistan tribal areas has sharply decreased. But why is that? Is it because the Afghanistan war is winding down, or is it because human rights organizations and other activists like Code Pink and the group who went over to Pakistan to meet the victims have gathered information and tried their best to get the information out into the press?

Another interesting thing about this article is that Walsh leaves some of the most damning specifics about who was killed by the strikes to the very last paragraphs of a two page longform article.  So he can say that he and the NYT reported it, but why did he put it at the end instead of at the beginning where most readers would see it?  I find that pretty damning of the author, the article and the editors.

Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes Cited in Report

“The drones are like the angels of death,” said Nazeer Gul, a shopkeeper in Miram Shah. “Only they know when and where they will strike.”
[...]
Unusually for the overall American drone campaign, the strikes in the area mostly occur in densely populated neighborhoods. The drones have hit a bakery, a disused girls’ school and a money changers’ market, residents say. One strike occurred in Matches Colony, a neighborhood named after an abandoned match factory that is now frequented by Uzbek militants.

While the strike rate has dropped drastically in recent months, the constant presence of circling drones — and accompanying tension over when, or whom, they will strike — is a crushing psychological burden for many residents.
[...]
But the veneer of normality is easily, and frequently, shattered. Every week the streets empty for a day as army supply trucks rumble through. The curfew is strictly enforced: several children and mentally ill residents who have strayed outside have been shot dead, several residents said.

In the aftermath of drone strikes, things get worse. Many civilians hide at home, fearing masked vigilantes with the Ittehad-e-Mujahedeen Khorasan, a militant enforcement unit that hunts for American spies. The unit casts a wide net, and the suspects it hauls in are usually tortured and summarily executed.

Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes - Devastating Report

Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films.

UNMANNED: America's Drone Wars - teaser trailer

Should read the whole thing.
Prince Bandar's New Hissy Fit

Bandar will also know that the open U.S. attack on Syria, which he demands, will not come as the U.S. public and the U.S. congress are overwhelmingly against it. Washington has no interest in a longterm broken Syria that is run by Saudi supported Al Qaeda types.

Saudi Arabia does not have the mean to seriously pressure the United States. It also does not have a strategic alternative to staying in the U.S. realm. In the end the relation is a protection racket. The Saudis pay the U.S. military industrial complex for not getting attacked by U.S. military forces. Throwing hissy fits in such position is senseless nonsense.
The only thing that this Saudi strategy may achieve is a faster reconciliation of U.S. with Tehran. Should the U.S. sympathies move to the eastern side of the Persian Gulf Saudi Arabia could soon become the target of new animosities.

I haven't said much on the heathcare.gov site story because I think the media coverage of it is ridiculous, the Republicans trying to capitalize on problems is ridiculous and I think that the developers should be allowed to finish their job. From day one this reeked of a team who didn't have enough time to integrate and test the full system. But now, this latest move by Obama is ridiculous too, bringing in a "SWAT" team for a "tech surge".  I completely agree with Moon of Alabama here and his citing of the Brooks Law.  I've been on more software development teams than I can count, and in various roles, from top to bottom and this is a huge mistake.  Plus it's going to cost mega $$$ for the consultants they bring in, who despite the superhuman traits being ascribed to them, don't know the healthcare.gov system and will have to ramp up, and the people who DO know healthcare.gov will be stuck in meetings and sessions and having pressured execs and maybe even politicians hanging over their shoulders when what they should be allowed to do is to finish the job and fix the problems.  One article says that in the last 10 months alone, they've been handed 7 changes to hardware and software specifications. Other things I've read describe the nightmare that is Federal IT systems and that other departments were late getting their specs to the healthcare.gov team.  Not to mention that interfacing all of these different systems is a near impossibility to begin with.  But this "tech surge" at the end of a late project is the most ridiculous thing of all.   People have been trying for forever to find magic solutions to the difficult and complex work in developing software. And guess what? You can't.  It's a complex engineering project that replaces huge amounts of human processes and decisions and runs on dumb machines.  That's how it is.  Deal with it.  What's worse is that the healthcare.gov people are going to be the ones to eventually work out the problems, not the superheroes in capes making mega $$$ but what people will remember is the capes and they'll do it all over again the next time this kind of situation arises. Which it will.
Obamacare Meets Brooks' Law

Throughout my IT managing career I have seen dozens of such project disasters. They are quite normal. About every second big IT project fails to reach its intended usefulness. Most of the projects will not meet the proposed timeline. But those projects were not about political legacy and most of the processes they covered had some alternatives that, though more costly and time consuming, could replace them.
So what should Obama do? He should stop the current enrollment process and push all relevant dates at least six month out. Stop the customers from coming, repair the shop and only open anew when you are sure that you can serve everyone. By sticking to the current process and the buggy software Obama will only increase the mess and the political damage.

All these problems were of course unnecessary and Obama can only blame himself for them. Medicare is a quite well run system that already does for some parts of the U.S. population what the new law wants to achieve: Provide some reasonably prized health insurance. Expanding medicare, an established system, would have been much easier than this new process which is more about shuffling money to insurers, and now also software developers, than about getting healthcare for everyone.



Action



October 26th, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
A Rally Against Mass Surveillance

Right now the NSA is spying on everyone's personal communications, and they’re operating without any meaningful oversight. Since the Snowden leaks started, more than 571,000 people from all walks of life have signed the StopWatching.us petition telling the U.S. Congress that we want them to rein in the NSA.
On October 26th, the 12th anniversary of the signing of the US Patriot Act, we're taking the next step and holding the largest rally yet against NSA surveillance. We’ll be handing the half-million petitions to Congress to remind them that they work for us -- and we won’t tolerate mass surveillance any longer.

12pm Eastern, Saturday October 26th
Gather at Columbus Circle in front of Union Station, then march to the Capitol Reflecting Pool



Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest


The Evening Blues



The ultimate crime. Criticizing the White House.  It was a really stupid move. But they got this guy good.



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