The Era of Mugging

Duncan Black:

Right now we have one political party that is very up front about and proud of their desire to mug everyone in the non-millionaire club, steal all their money, and give it to rich people. It’s time for the other political party to recognize that the era of dumb compromises is over, and if they’d actually come up with a way to help people, instead of a plan to set up a program to provide the incentives to blahblahblahblahblahblah….

Duncan’s closing point is that if the Democrats actually put forward aggressive policies to help people, those policies would also be politically popular, which is probably true.

Jamphel Yeshi’s letter explaining his self-immolation

The New York Times has a translated letter from Jamphel Yeshi to the Tibetan people, penned to explain why he was self-immolating. He self-immolated in Delhi while Chinese President Hu Jintao was visiting India. He died from his burns today.

Here is his letter:

Long Live His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is the shining example of world peace. We must strive to ensure return of His Holiness to Tibet. I pray and believe that the Tibetan people in and outside Tibet will be united and sing the Tibetan national anthem in front of the Potala Palace.

My fellow Tibetans, when we think about our future happiness and path, we need loyalty. It is the life-soul of a people. It is the spirit to find truth. It is the guide leading to happiness. My fellow Tibetans, if you want equality and happiness as the rest of the world, you must hold onto this word ‘LOYALTY’ towards your country. Loyalty is the wisdom to know truth from falsehood. You must work hard in all your endeavors, big or small.

Freedom is the basis of happiness for all living beings. Without freedom, six million Tibetans are like a butter lamp in the wind, without direction. My fellow Tibetans from Three Provinces, it is clear to us all that if we unitedly put our strength together, there will be result. So, don’t be disheartened.

What I want to convey here is the concern of the six million Tibetans. At a time when we are making our final move toward our goal – if you have money, it is the time to spend it; if you are educated it is the time to produce results; if you have control over your life, I think the day has come to sacrifice your life. The fact that Tibetan people are setting themselves on fire in this 21st century is to let the world know about their suffering, and to tell the world about the denial of basic human rights. If you have any empathy, stand up for the Tibetan people.

We demand freedom to practice our religion and culture. We demand freedom to use our language. We demand the same right as other people living elsewhere in the world. People of the world, stand up for Tibet. Tibet belongs to Tibetans. Victory to Tibet!

Statement on Tibetan Self-Immolations

Tenzin Dorjee, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet (on whose Board of Directors I serve), released this statement last night following the self-immolation of Jampa Yeshi, a 27 year-old Tibetan refugee in India.

Today’s act of self-immolation by Jamphel Yeshi, a young Tibetan in Delhi, highlights the extreme urgency of the situation inside Tibet. Thirty Tibetans have lit themselves on fire in protest in Tibet over the past two years, 17 since January of this year, and now four Tibetans in exile have also attempted to self-immolate. These acts are a direct response to the decades of violence and repressive policies that Tibetans have endured under China’s occupation, and a cry for action.

The Chinese government has responded to Tibetans’ calls for freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama by locking down Tibet and intensifying its vicious attacks against the Dalai Lama. The few journalists who have
managed to get into Tibet by eluding checkpoints and road blocks have reported towns and cities saturated with Chinese troops; their photos show Tibet looking like a war zone. An unknown number of monks, nuns and lay people have been arrested in recent weeks for taking part in peaceful protests, many of them rounded up from their homes at night.

China’s brutal attempts to crush Tibetans’ nonviolent resistance have only strengthened our resolve to achieve freedom. Tibetans everywhere – in Tibet and in exile – have been galvanized by the events of the past several months, and are doing everything possible to build political momentum for an international diplomatic intervention to save Tibetan lives.

The overwhelming message from Tibet is that change must come now. Thousands upon thousands of people of conscience are standing in solidarity with Tibetans in this hour of crisis, and our collective global outrage must translate into direct pressure on Beijing to withdraw the troops, stop the crackdown and address Tibetan grievances.

Tenzin Dorjee
Executive Director
Students for a Free Tibet

Bill Black on the JOBS Act

Over at Naked Capitalism, Bill Black has a powerful piece in opposition to the financial deregulation bill that is misleadingly called the JOBS Act.

The JOBS Act is insane on many levels. It creates an extraordinarily criminogenic environment in which securities fraud will become even more out of control. One of the forms of insanity is the belief that one can “win” a regulatory “race to the bottom.” The only winning move is not to play in a regulatory race to the bottom. The primary rationale for the JOBS Act is the claim that we must win a regulatory race to the bottom with the City of London by adopting even weaker protections for investors from securities fraud than does the United Kingdom (UK).

The second form of insanity is that the JOBS Act is being adopted without any consideration of the findings of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC), the national commission to investigate the causes of the current crisis. I am not aware of any proponent or opponent of the JOBS Act (other than me) who has cited the findings of FCIC. Everyone involved has ignored the detailed finding of a huge investigative effort. The FCIC report explained repeatedly how the three “de’s” (deregulation, desupervision, and de facto decriminalization) had produced the criminogenic environment that drove the financial crisis. The FCIC report specifically condemned the “regulatory arbitrage” that the worst actors exploited by choosing to be (not very) regulated by the “winners” of the regulatory race to the bottom. The FCIC report shows repeatedly how damaging the anti-regulatory fervor in general and the race to the bottom in particular proved.

The seventh form of insanity is that there is no greater killer of jobs than elite financial fraud. Such fraud epidemics can hyper-inflate bubbles (as they did in the U.S. and several European nations) and cause severe financial crises and recessions. The resulting Great Recession has cost over 10 million Americans their existing or future jobs in this crisis. It has cost over another 15 million people their existing or future jobs in Europe. The JOBS Act is so fraud friendly that it will harm capital formation and produce additional job losses. It may appear to be an oxymoron designed by regular morons, but that underestimates the abilities of the lobbyists that drafted this bill. They are not morons. They are doing faithful, clever service to their fraudulent clients. That makes them more dangerous.

The tenth form of insanity is that the JOBS Act’s primary theme is dramatically reducing transparency in securities law. If there is any nearly universal principle that writers about the ongoing global crisis emphasized that we needed to learn it was the exceptional virtue of transparency. Greater transparency makes private market discipline possible, it greatly enhances regulatory effectiveness, it discourages fraud, and it aids investors in making decisions. The JOBS Act repeatedly embraces opaqueness. We have known for millennia that this increases fraud.

The JOBS Act is supported by the administration and has been passed by both the House and Senate, though the Senate made tweaks which will require the House to vote on it again before it goes to the President’s desk for signing.

Bank of America piloting Right to Rent

Yves Smith and David Dayen have good posts on the announcement that Bank of America will pilot a program with 1,000 homeowners in Arizona, Nevada, and New York which would allow people who are at risk of foreclosure to rent their house from the bank for a year, with an option to extend for two years. The upside of this is that it would save the homeowner a large amount of money during that time period. Given that they would have likely lost the home anyway and seen more of their money go out the door with it, along with their credit score, the right to rent could better position homeowners to move on from their underwater homes.

Smith notes some good caveats to this. First, it’s so small, it’s hard to get your hopes up about a widespread solution. Second, the reach of this, even if widely enacted, could be limited if the banks aren’t wiping out their second liens. And as we’ve seen with the massive stock of REOs nationwide, banks aren’t good at upkeep of homes and are likely going to be worse as landlords.

Dayen’s conclusion is sharp:

But if this does work, it would represent the fact that the banks have screwed up so royally, particularly BofA, that the only way out is one that accidentally benefits the homeowner in the process. Hopefully some other banks will join BofA in this effort.

Is the GOP primary finally over?

Mark Halperin starts to ring the knockout bell:

Mitt Romney’s Illinois win could be the beginning of the end of the Republican nomination fight. In order to get there, he faces two challenges: He’ll have to convince on-the-sidelines Republicans to endorse his candidacy, contribute to his campaign, and muscle Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich out of the race. And he’ll also have to persuade the media to reflect the reality that Romney is the only candidate who can win a majority of the delegates needed for the nomination and that he has a good chance of reaching that milestone well before the party meets for its Tampa convention in late summer.

The Romney campaign had made progress on both those fronts before his Illinois win, but the commanding victory is likely to accelerate his cause in the coming days. Once that happens, the normal rules that have prevailed in past nomination fights will kick back in. Santorum and Gingrich can choose to stay in the race, but they will be marginalized and unable to slow Romney down in his accumulation of delegates. They will become ghost candidates, on the ballot and campaigning, but effectively lifeless. Chatter about a contested convention will be greatly diminished.

Or, at least, this is the narrative the political press and Romney campaign will be pushing. For Romney to get the required number of delegates to win the nomination, he would need to win less than half of the remaining delegates, while Santorum would need to win 70-80% of them. That seems highly unlikely.

At some point there simply must be a reckoning that the Republican Party has nominated a candidate who is incredibly unpopular with their ultra-right base. It’s not clear to me that this will prevent Romney from mobilizing the base in the general election, nor is it clear that any significant portion of the Republican base will abstain from voting because Romney is their candidate. While the GOP primary has been shorter and less closely contested than the 2008 Democratic primary, Clinton voters largely and enthusiastically came home to vote for President Obama. Of course the ideological differences between the two were functionally non-existent, while Romney and Santorum have historically greater differences. Again, time will tell.

While there has been plenty of acrimony between Romney, Santorum and Gingrich, this is politics. At whatever point that Santorum and Gingrich end their candidacies, expect them to pull on big, red Team R jerseys and to helping Mitt with trying to win in November. That’s how partisan politics works and it’s unlikely to stop working that way just because parts of the conservative base are cranky about Mitt Romney not being historically radical enough for their tastes.

Cutting Medicare is bad, unless our guy does it

The Democratic establishment is out guns blazing today. Is it in response to the Washington Post report yesterday that President Obama would still take a deal that exchanged some modest (and imaginary) revenue increases for cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security?

No, of course not.

Predictably, it’s about Congressman Paul Ryan’s Version 2.0 budget. As with the last version, this one promises to gut Medicare and the rest of the social safety net, while providing massive tax cuts to the 1%.

Don’t get me wrong – the Ryan budget is a monstrosity and easily worse than any cuts proposed by President Obama, the Gang of Six in the Senate, or conservative House Democrats like Steny Hoyer and Heath Shuler.

But the notion that it’s a cataclysmic event when one major political party proposes destructive cuts to Medicare, but completely kosher for the other major political party to propose destructive cuts to Medicare is partisan absurdity. The reality is it’s a huge issue that both political parties agree in austerity and gutting the social safety net. The only difference is one of magnitude.

Keep in mind, Heath Shuler is working with House Republicans on a new “grand bargain” which would be put forward after the November election, so as to avoid public scrutiny. Elites in Washington want to embrace austerity, even as it’s clearly unpopular. It’s not clear that they will succeed, but obviously we’re heading back into deficit hysteria. Hopefully along the way, the White House, DNC, DSCC and DCCC figure out whether or not they support austerity so there can be honesty and consistency in their public messaging.