Leave Tom Miller Alone!!!!

Originally posted at AMERICAblog

We are finally seeing righteous indignation is within the 50 state attorneys general settlement talks:

Another person close to the talks, who like several others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the situation more freely, said many in the group are “just exasperated. . . . This smear campaign of lies and innuendo, it’s uncalled for, it’s unprecedented, and it threatens substantial consumer harm.”

If you think this referred to the smears being launched by Wall Street and the Obama administration at NY AG Eric Schneiderman, you’d probably agree with it. But you’d be wrong. Apparently the push by Schneiderman, Beau Biden, Catherine Cortez Masto and other allies for a deal which doesn’t shut down their ability to investigate foreclosure and securities fraud is hurting Iowa AG Tom Miller’s fee-fees.

“We’ve been accused of being in bed with the banks. To say that to a group of people who have spent the last seven to 10 years fighting mortgage abuses day in and day out is an insult of the highest order,” said Iowa Assistant Attorney General Patrick Madigan, a longtime Miller deputy, who has worked on major settlements with subprime lenders such as Countrywide and Ameriquest. “It’s just unreal.”

I guess Miller’s office has a real problem when the entire New York Democratic congressional delegation chides him for tossing Schneiderman out of the talk’s executive committee. Instead of responding to Jerrold Nadler et alia, Miller is running to the press to complain about his unilateral, pro-bank actions coming under scrutiny.

The reason Miller is being accused of being in bed with banks is because that’s what you call it when you raise more than $250,000 from the finance industry right after announcing that you’re leading a 50 state investigation into that same industry. It happens when you then shift from guaranteeing to “put people in jail,” to producing a settlement term sheet before you even sat down to negotiate with the banks. It happens when you kick the individual who has done more to ensure that there is actually investigation before a settlement off the executive committee for having the temerity to try to get the best deal possible. If Tom Miller’s office doesn’t like being accused of being in bed with banks, he should get out of the bed and start investigating the banks.

Stoller on Schneiderman & Obama

Matt Stoller has been consistently writing thoughtful analysis about the Obama administration and what’s happening in American political life, but this piece at Naked Capitalism is undoubtedly one of his sharpest pieces of writing, pulling together a number of different threads of analysis around what we’re seeing out of New York’s Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman. Stoller pushes the analysis (bold in its rarity) that Schneiderman, like Obama and any other politician, is doing what he wants to do.

In all the absurdly stupid punditry, the simple application of free will to our elected officials goes missing. Yeah, Obama got money from Wall Street. But Obama is choosing to pursue a policy of foreclosures and bank bailouts not because of any grand corporate scheme. He just wants to. He thinks it’s the right thing to do, and he’s doing it. If you don’t think it’s the right thing to do, then you shouldn’t be disappointed in him any more than you might have been disappointed in Bush. Obama is not trying to do the opposite of what he’s doing, he’s not repeatedly suckered by Republicans, and he isn’t naive or stupid. Obama is simply doing what he thinks is right. So is Eric Schneiderman. So is Tom Miller. So are any number of elected officials out there.

In positions of power, the best expression I heard is that “up there the air is thin”. That is, you have enormous latitude, if you want to use it. Power can be wielded creatively and effectively on behalf of whatever it is the wielder wants. Now of course there are constraints, plenty of them. Smart politicians spend their time working to maximize the constraints they want to impose and weakening the ones they want to overcome. But the basic Reaganite liberal argument defending supplication towards Obama these days is that Obama is “disappointing”. In this line of thought, powerful corporate interests and Republicans are preventing him from enacting what his real agenda would be were he unfettered by this mean machine. Eric Schneiderman, who is in a far less powerful position as New York Attorney General, shows that this is utter hogwash. Obama is who he is, and anyone who thinks otherwise is selling something.

The rest of the piece is really sharp and definitely worth reading. There aren’t many people consistently putting out clear-minded analysis of the Obama administration and political dynamics in America today, but Matt is one of them.

Draft Duncan Black

Duncan Black:

I understand the difficulties of getting things done, of Republican obstructionism, of Democrats who also, too, suck, but ultimately such excuses don’t matter. Results do. If I were the one in charge of this pop stand, I’d direct my economics team to come up with the “If I were a prime minister instead of a president, this is what we would do” plan. And if all they came up with was minor tax breaks for hiring, “patent reform,” and “trade deals,” I’d, you know, fire them.

That would be great, if Duncan were in charge. But he isn’t. Unless this is Duncan raising a trial balloon for him to be drafted as a presidential candidate, I’m not sure what the point is. Barack Obama wants “minor tax breaks for hiring, “patent reform,” and “trade deals” so he isn’t going to fire the people who bring him these ideas.

Government isn’t broken

In an op-ed in the Nashua Telegraph, Daniel Weeks writes:

Our problem today is not a broken government but a beholden one: government is more beholden to special-interest shareholders who fund campaigns than it is to ordinary voters. Like any sound investor, the funders seek nothing more and nothing less than a handsome return – deficits be darned – in the form of tax breaks, subsidies and government contracts.

This is pretty much what I’ve been saying for a long time now. The same thing could be said about the economy as well as the government.

Cornel West on MLK, Obama

A very powerful op-ed from Dr. Cornel West in today’s NY Times. No punches pulled:

The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy. Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.

There are other powerful hits on the Obama administration, but I actually like where West is going more:

King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.

In concrete terms, this means support for progressive politicians like Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Los Angeles County supervisor; extensive community and media organizing; civil disobedience; and life and death confrontations with the powers that be. Like King, we need to put on our cemetery clothes and be coffin-ready for the next great democratic battle.

Marcellus Shale: fracking for 80% less

Originally posted at AMERICAblog.

This is a big deal – the Marcellus Shale natural gas field is becoming like the new ANWR, only instead of being in the Alaskan wilderness, it’s a gas field that runs through the highly populated east coast and midwest. Instead of risking the health and well-being of rare animals as in ANWR, fracking in Marcellus Shale risks the health and well-being of millions of Americans. For energy companies want to get at this gas, they have to use a violent, destructive process called hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking), that pipes water and sand deep underground to force the gas out. Fracking is as nasty as it sounds, producing highly toxic byproducts that contaminate groundwater. Bloomberg reports that US government geologists have dramatically reduced their estimate of the amount of natural gas that can be extracted by fracking in the Marcellus Shale formation:

The U.S. will slash its estimate of undiscovered Marcellus Shale natural gas by as much as 80 percent after a updated assessment by government geologists.The formation, which stretches from New York to Tennessee, contains about 84 trillion cubic feet of gas, the U.S. Geological Survey said today in its first update in nine years. That supersedes an Energy Department projection of 410 trillion cubic feet, said Philip Budzik, an operations research analyst with the Energy Information Administration.

Coincidentally, just a few days ago law enforcement superhero and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed a number of energy companies under the Martin Act, alleging that they weren’t being honest with investors about how much gas were in their wells.

Investigators have requested documents relating to the formulas that companies use to predict how much gas their wells are likely to produce in the coming decades. The subpoenas, which were sent on Aug. 8, also request documents related to the assumptions that companies have made about drilling costs in their estimates of the wells’ long-term profitability.The investigation will be watched closely in the industry because the attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, is using a New York law called the Martin Act that gives him broad powers over businesses and allows him to obtain and publicly disclose an unusual amount of information.

Subpoenas were sent to the three companies — Range Resources, Cabot Oil and Gas, and Goodrich Petroleum — according to the sources, who have direct knowledge of the investigation. Mr. Schneiderman also broadened a continuing investigation by his office into a fourth company, Chesapeake Energy, asking it to respond to similar questions about its shale gas wells, they said.

One of the reasons Schneiderman has taken interest in these energy companies is that New York State pension funds have heavily invested in these companies. Schneiderman has an obligation to help protect the State’s investments, especially if the companies haven’t been honest with investors.

It’s also worth noting that in addition to Schneiderman challenging yet another powerful corporate lobby, he’s also going against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who has sought to end a moratorium on fracking in New York. Seriously – where can we get a few dozen more Eric Schneiderman’s to help get this country back on track?

Schneiderman removed from leading 50 state settlement committee

Originally posted at AMERICAblog

Yesterday Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is in charge of the 50 state settlement negotiations between banks, the administration and all 50 state attorneys general summarily kicked New York AG Eric Schneiderman off of the Executive Committee, which had been steering the negotiations.

Schneiderman, who doesn’t want a settlement to bar further investigations of mortgage practices by individual states, was removed from the executive committee of state officials working on the deal, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said yesterday in a statement.
“New York has actively worked to undermine the very same multistate group that it had spent the previous nine months working very closely with,” said Miller, who is leading the state group. For a member of the executive committee, that “simply doesn’t make sense, is unprecedented and is unacceptable,” Miller said.

We will see if Miller removes Delaware’s Beau Biden, who’s right there with Schneiderman pushing for real investigations and a narrow settlement, or Illinois’ Lisa Madigan, who has also cast doubt on the scope of settlement being too broad. David Dayen has a strong response from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement:

“Miller threw Schneiderman under the bus and as a result we’re likely to see a significantly weaker settlement,” said CCI member Judy Lonning from Des Moines. “We’re extremely disappointed. Tom has really let us down.”

“Scheiderman was the first AG to say that he wasn’t going to back down on the big banks, and he was the first AG kicked out of the investigation,” Lonning said, “There’s no question who this decision favors. It’s all about making life better for the big banks, and we expected Tom Miller to do better than this.”

Harsh words for Miller, coming from a group that has fought hard to make sure the settlement looks out for struggling homeowners who have suffered abuse at the hands of greedy banks.

The real question is, can this group under Miller get a settlement at all? Or will the hard lines being drawn by Schneiderman and a handful of others make the process moot?