Friday, September 30, 2016

Time for Congress to Stop Hollering at CEOs and Take Action

Last week, Congress engaged in a bipartisan barrage of CEO bashing.

The Senate Banking Committee assailed Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf for pushing employees to create as many as two million bogus bank and credit card accounts without customer’s consent – making customers pay overdraft and late fees on accounts they never knew they had.

Louisiana Republican David Vitter pressed Stumpf on when he knew about the wrongdoing. “In 2011, about 1,000 employees were fired over this,” said Vitter, incredulously, “and you were never told about that?”

Meanwhile, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform criticized Mylan Pharmaceutical’s CEO Heather Bresch for raising the price of its Epipen, an emergency allergy treatment, by 500 percent – forcing customers to pay $608 for a two-pack that had cost $100 in 2009.

Noting that Mylan had sought legislation to increase the number of patients who receive prescriptions for EpiPens, Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Carolina, angrily told Bresch: “You get a level of scrutiny and a level of treatment that would ordinarily curl my hair, but you asked for it.”

Such shaming before congressional committees tends to reassure the public Congress is taking action. But – especially with Republicans in charge – Congress is doing nothing to prevent the wrongdoing from recurring.

Can we be clear? CEOs have only one goal in mind – making money. If they can make more money by misleading or price gouging, they’ll continue to do so until it’s no longer as profitable.

For years we’ve watched Congress grill CEOs of Wall Street banks about bank fraud.

If it’s not John Stumpf’s sham accounts, it’s JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, whose bank failed to report trading losses (remember the “London Whale?”). Or it’s Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein, whose bank defrauded investors.

Wells Fargo’s Strumpf made $19 million last year, partly because all those new accounts helped maintain the bank’s profit machine. Sure, the bank was fined $185 million by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for the fraud, but that’s chicken feed relative to what the bank pulls in. Between April and July, 2016 alone it had revenues of $22.16 billion.

Why should we expect Wells Fargo or any other big bank to stop such frauds, when they’re so lucrative?

For years we’ve watched Congress condemn CEOs of pharmaceutical companies for price gouging: If not Mylan’s Heather Bresch, it’s Turing Pharmaceutical’s Martin Shkreli, who jacked up the price of Daraprim – used to treat HIV patients – from $13.50 to $750 a pill.

Or Valeant Pharmaceutical’s Michael Pearson, who quadrupled the price of Syprine, used to treat an inherited disorder that can cause severe liver and nerve damage. Or Amphaster Pharmaceuticals CEO Jack Y. Zhang, who hoisted the price of naloxone, used in cases of heroin overdoses, to more than $400 a pop.

Heather Bresch made $18.9 million last year. Mylan’s incentive plan will bestow additional bonuses of $82 million on top executives if they hit certain high profit targets by 2018.

Why should we expect Mylan or any other pharmaceutical company to refrain from yanking up the price of lifesaving drugs as high as the market will bear?

Republicans may rage at the CEOs who appear before them, but they haven’t given the Justice Department enough funding to pursue criminal charges against corporations and executives who violate the law.

They haven’t even appropriated enough money for regulatory agencies to police the market. Funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for example, is capped at 12 percent of the Federal Reserve’s operating expenses. Even now, Republicans are trying to put the CFPB’s funding into the appropriations process where it can be squeezed far more.

Meanwhile, Congress has allowed Wall Street banks and pharmaceutical companies to accumulate vast market power that invites wrongdoing.

Wall Street’s five largest banks (including Wells Fargo) now have about 45 percent of the nation’s banking assets. That’s up from about 25 percent in 2000.

This means most bank customers have very little choice. Nearly half of American households have a Wells Fargo bank within a few miles of home, for example.

Every big Wall Street bank offers the same range of services at about the same price – including, most likely, services that are unwanted and unneeded.

Similarly, Mylan and other pharmaceutical companies can engage in price gouging because they’re the only ones producing these lifesaving drugs.

Congress has made it illegal for Americans to shop at foreign pharmacies for cheaper versions of same drugs sold in U.S., and hasn’t appropriated the Food and Drug Administration enough funds to get competing versions of lifesaving drugs to market quickly.

So instead of setting up further rounds of CEO perp walks for the TV cameras, Congress should give the Justice Department and regulatory agencies enough funding to do their jobs.

While they’re at it, break up the biggest banks. And regulate drug prices directly, as does every other country.

It’s easy to holler at CEOs. It’s time for to stop hollering and take action.

1,200 archeologists denounce desecration of Standing Rock burial grounds by DAPL, UN agrees

By navajo
Friday Sep 23, 2016 · 7:12 PM EDT

In a Friday letter to President Obama, the United States Department of Justice, Department of the Interior, the Army Corps of Engineers, a coalition of more than 1,200 archeologists, museum directors, and historians from institutions including the Smithsonian and the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries denounced the deliberate destruction of Standing Rock Sioux ancestral burial sites in North Dakota.

As archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, and museum workers committed to responsible stewardship, we are invested in the preservation and interpretation of archaeological and cultural heritage for the common good. We join the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in denouncing the recent destruction of ancient burial sites, places of prayer and other significant cultural artifacts sacred to the Lakota and Dakota people.

On Saturday, September 3, 2016, the company behind the contentious Dakota Access Pipeline project bulldozed land containing Native American burial grounds, grave markers, and artifacts–including ancient cairns and stone prayer rings. The construction crews, flanked by private security and canine squads, arrived just hours after the Standing Rock Sioux tribal lawyers disclosed the location of the recently discovered site in federal court filings.

Former tribal historic preservation officer Tim Mentz called the discovery of the site “one of the most significant archeological finds in North Dakota in many years.” “This demolition is devastating,” Tribal Chairman David Archambault II said. “These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, our sacred land has been turned into hollow ground.”

The letter goes on to address the historical abuse of American Indian people and their lands and the contribution oil extraction is making to climate change. They ask for a “thorough environmental impact statement and cultural resources survey on the pipeline’s route, with proper consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.”

While a short portion of the pipeline construction has been halted by the Obama Administration until this survey can be done, construction continues elsewhere on the pipeline. It’s significant to have the writers of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act forcefully admonish the president’s administration to be more thorough on the entire path of the pipeline.

More background on the resistance to DAPL below the fold.

Trump floats guy who thinks child labor laws are unconstitutional for Supreme Court

By Joan McCarter
Friday Sep 23, 2016 · 10:59 AM EDT

Does Donald Trump really want to win Sen. Mike Lee's (R-UT) endorsement, or is he just trying to mess around with Lee's BFF, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)? Trump has released an updated list of potential Supreme Court nominees, with the Utah senator at the top of his list. Now, it might be Lee's ideas about what's unconstitutional that appeal to Trump.

Lee’s conservatism, moreover, is rooted in a hard-line understanding of the Constitution that was popular among judges in the early twentieth century but is now widely viewed as wrong and immoral. As a candidate for the senate in 2010, Lee laid out many of the consequences of his vision—a vision he would potentially be in a position to implement if appointed to the nation’s highest court. Among other things, Lee believes that federal child labor laws, Medicare and Social Security are all unconstitutional. […]

So say goodbye to Social Security. Say goodbye to Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, and SCHIP. Can’t afford health insurance? Or unable to find an insurer who will cover your preexisting condition? Mike Lee thinks you should get nothing from the federal government.

Lee has already shot down the trial balloon, his spokesman saying he likes the job he has and "This does not change Sen. Lee's mind about Trump in any way what so ever." So was Trump signaling to the tenthers that he's one of them, or trying to make some inroads into Utah (good luck) or continuing to try to get under Ted Cruz's skin? He's already done that one this week, by giving a totally out-of-nowhere endorsement to a ridiculous issue Cruz is crusading on in an effort to monkey-wrench negotiations to avoid a government shutdown. It's an obscure thing—who runs ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which assigns domain names and which has been overseen by the U.S. but is moving to "a group of international stakeholders" on October 1. Trump leapt into the debate this week, either to force this grudging tweet of appreciation out of Cruz or to just get under his skin. With this elevation of Cruz's BFF, I'm thinking it's the "let’s mess with Cruz" motivation.

Who else is on the list? It's a fairly obscure group—which does not include previously floated right-wing billionaire Peter Thiel—that's more diverse than his previous bunch of old white guys. This one has one woman on it. That brings his total to four women he'd consider for the court. Doesn't even need a binder for that.

Phoenix officers accused of forcing man to eat marijuana

Three gentleman were allowed to resign from their jobs after they were accused of forcing a 19-year-old man to eat marijuana. The gentlemen's names are Richard G. Pina, Jason E. McFadden, and Michael J. Carnicle, and they were all Phoenix Police Department officers.

The officers' superior, Lt. Jeff Farrior, was told about the incident but chose not to investigate. For this, he was demoted to the position of sergeant. From USA Today:

All three officers had been wearing body cameras but they were turned off at the time, he said.

The 19-year-old, a Phoenix resident, brought the matter to the department's attention, Yahner said. The man reported that several officers stopped him for a traffic violation at about 3:30 a.m. Sept. 13. The officers were reported to have found marijuana in his vehicle during the stop, [Phoenix Police Chief Joe] Yahner said.

When the marijuana was found, the man told police, officers demanded he eat the marijuana to avoid being taken to jail, Yahner said. The man said he ate about a gram of marijuana, was issued traffic tickets and then released. He reported being sick as a result.

Obama: once out of office, I’m gonna stop being polite and start getting real

Andrew Prokop · Friday, September 23, 2016, 12:26 pm

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has a great new interview with President Obama in Vanity Fair. In the wide-ranging interview, they discuss Abraham Lincoln, Obama’s biggest regrets from his time in office, and how a visit to the pyramids reminded Obama that cable news doesn’t really matter.

But perhaps the most intriguing bit was when, in a brief discussion of Obama’s plans for his post-presidency, Obama hinted that he planned to start speaking out more like an activist than a president.

There are “things,” he told Goodwin, “that in some ways I suspect I’m able to do better out of this office.” He elaborated that because of the “institutional constraints” of the presidency, “there are things I cannot say.”

He went on to essentially say he wanted to use his post-presidential bully pulpit more like an activist than a venerable elder statesman. “There are institutional obligations I have to carry out that are important for a president of the United States to carry out, but may not always align with what I think would move the ball down the field on the issues that I care most deeply about,” he said.

And while vague, this is an intriguing hint that Obama is thinking about being a very different ex-president than we’ve been used to.

Read more


The problem with too many gns

News and opinion pieces in brief

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
~Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

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Bono reflects on Trump's presidential run

We're at war with ourselves thanks to arms manufacturing.

New York Times endorses Hillary

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How to do absolutely nothing, yet feel that you are an important part of the solution - VIDEO

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Journalist Asks Trump Supporters: The F*ck Is Wrong With You? Have You Heard Him Speak?

Drew Magary “wants a word with anyone who's about to be on the wrong side of history.”

By Leslie Salzillo / DailyKos September 22, 2016

Deadspin columnist, author, and GQ correspondent Drew Magary “wants a word with anyone who's about to be on the wrong side of history.” In his opinion piece published Wednesday, Magary speaks the inner thoughts of many when it comes to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump—the guy who brings most to the brink of implosion. Magary personifies those thoughts in a powerful compilation of verbiage directed in anger and frustration at Trump supporters.

In the beginning of his piece Magary brings up the earlier news that came out this week by Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold who uncovered yet another Donald Trump scam. It seems the GOP POTUS nominee used over $250,000 in charitable donations to help pay off his legal bills. Magary, mighty in his words, lashes out at Trump’s steadfast refusal to pay people what he owes them, and what seems to irk Magary even more is that Trump brags about it. In frustration, the writer says he knows that, in the end, people are still going to vote for Trump, and though it may not be enough to get him elected, Malgary can’t seem to wrap his brain around the mindset of Trump supporters.

Nothing that Trump says, no damning piece of Trump reportage, and certainly no opinion piece like this one will stop his voters from pulling the lever. Nor will anything stop Trump from being the officious, braindead goon that he is. He will never answer for his crimes, and there’s a frighteningly large portion of the electorate that will always love him for that.

Magary then cuts to a direct censuring message to Trump supporters:

Because while Trump is a miserable bastard, YOU are the people who have handed him the bullhorn. YOU are the people willing to embarrass this nation and put it on the brink of economic ruin all because you wanna throw an electoral hissy fit. YOU are the people who want to revolutionize the way America does business by voting for its worst businessman, a disgusting neon pig who only makes money when he causes problems for other people instead of solving them. YOU are the thin-skinned yokels who clutch your bandoliers whenever someone hurls the mildest of slurs at you (“deplorables”), while cheering Trump on as he leaves a bonfire of truly hateful invective everywhere he goes. YOU are the people willing to overlook the fact that Trump is an unqualified, ignorant sociopath because DURRRR HILLARY IS BAD TOO DURRRR.

Alas, that was Magary was just warming up.

And so I’d just like to say to that portion of the electorate: Fuck you. No, seriously. Go fuck yourselves. I’m not gonna waste any more time trying to convince you that you’re about to do something you’ll regret forever. I’m not gonna show you old clips of Trump saying rotten things. I’m not gonna try to ANNIHILATE Trump by showing you records of his hypocrisy and greed. I’m not gonna link to a John Oliver clip and be like, “THIS. So much this.” Nothing’s gonna take down Trump at this point, so I’m not gonna bother. No no, this post is for ME. I am preaching to the sad little choir in my soul here.

Making another excellent point, Magary tells the deplorables, ”My reasons for hating Trump are better than your reasons for hating Hillary. Show me all the arguments against her you like. You guys don’t give a shit about facts and research when it comes to Trump...” Trump “human waste” says, Magary — and the “worst of America stuffed into a nacho cheese casing.” Margary adds Trump is emblematic of the kind of “arrogant, flag-waving, trashy, racist moron that the rest of us have to DRAG kicking and screaming into the 21st century: Cliven Bundy, Sean Hannity, Kim Davis, and on and on and on.” He tells Trump supporters if they vote for him, they are not making America great again—they are killing it and “handing the most important job on Earth to Napoleon from Animal Farm.” You can hear Magary cry out in his words that he can’t understand why Trump supporters can’t see this! Concluding Magary asks Trump supporters,

Haven’t you heard this asshole talk? THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?

Read more

Trump scores $8.2 million in payments from Trump

By Mark Sumner  
Thursday Sep 22, 2016 · 3:03 PM EDT

A half million here, a half million there and eventually it all adds up.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has paid his family's businesses more than $8.2 million, according to a POLITICO analysis of campaign finance filings, which reveals an integrated business and political operation without precedent in national politics.
Previous candidates have been reluctant to get involved in such self-love because of a few piddly problems.

Even the wealthiest of candidates have refrained from tapping their businesses’ resources to such an extensive degree … because they’re leery of the allegations of pocket-padding that inevitably arise when politicians use their campaigns or committees to pay their businesses or families.

But then, ethics is just another name for political correctness. Trump’s followers don’t have a problem with him stealing from a charity, why should they have any difficulty with him taking money away from the campaign. That baby that was crying at a Trump rally? Trump probably took its candy … didn’t cost him a vote.

Trump ... certainly doesn’t appear to feel any embarrassment about flouting political norms that typically compel candidates to distance themselves from their businesses during campaigns. […]

Trump, who in 2000 predicted “I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it,” declined to comment through a spokesman.?
The amount of money that Trump has paid himself during the campaign is already more than double all his donations to charity since 2001. So Donald Trump is generous … but only to Donald Trump.

Assad and Putin are bombing Syrian hospitals on purpose

Updated by Jennifer Williams  @jenn_ruth Sep 22, 2016, 3:00p

One of the most disturbing features of the war in Syria — and there are many, many disturbing features of the war in Syria — has been the repeated attacks on medical facilities and personnel by Russian and Syrian government forces. The nonprofit advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights has called it “the worst campaign against health care anywhere in the world in recent memory.”

The latest attack came Wednesday, when four medical workers were reportedly killed and a nurse critically injured in an airstrike on a medical clinic in a village near the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims the strike was carried out by either Syrian or Russian warplanes.

This attack follows on the heels of a massive bombing of a United Nations humanitarian aid convoy on Monday that killed one aid worker and approximately 20 civilians, and destroyed at least 18 of the 31 aid trucks. US intelligence officials believe Russian forces carried out that airstrike.

Those attacks have been the rule, not the exception. There have been 382 attacks on medical facilities in Syria between March 2011, when the Syrian civil war began, and June 2016, according to data collected by Physicians for Human Rights. Of those strikes, at least 344 — or 90 percent — were conducted by Syrian government forces or Russian forces fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. These forces have also killed over 700 medical personnel in Syria, according to the group’s statistics.

“When you kill a doctor you don’t just kill them,” Widney Brown, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights, told Reuters’s Helen Coster. “You destroy the lives of people they could have saved.”

Had there been just a few medical facilities bombed here and there over the course of the five-year war, one could perhaps be persuaded to believe those were just tragic accidents. But when you get into the triple digits, that excuse just doesn’t fly.

Numbers that large mean the only explanations are that the medical facilities are being inadvertently hit by the Syrian and Russian warplanes carpet bombing much of the country — or that they’re being deliberately targeted.

And, in fact, the UN independent inquiry commission on Syria stated in a report earlier this month that “[t]he pattern of attacks [by the Syrian regime], and in particular the repeated bombardments, strongly suggests that there has been deliberate and systematic targeting of hospitals and other medical facilities during this reporting period.”

Targeting hospitals and medical facilities is prohibited under international humanitarian law. So why are these attacks still happening? The answer is twofold: The attacks are effective, and the Russian and Syrian governments know they can get away with them.

Read more

John Lewis on possible punishment for gun safety sit-in: 'Bring it on'

By Joan McCarter
Thursday Sep 22, 2016 · 11:58 AM EDT

Speaker Paul Ryan has been under pressure from his own basket of deplorables to do something to punish the House Democrats for their dramatic sit-in for gun safety legislation on the House chamber floor last June. The leader of that effort, the conscience of the Congress, is daring Ryan to do it.

Rep. John Lewis said Wednesday night that he’s unafraid of any punishment after Democrats occupied the House of Representatives floor this summer to call for a vote on tougher gun control measures.
“My feeling is, I’ve been punished before. If they want to punish us, bring it on,” Lewis (D-Ga.) said. “If we violated the rules, the tradition of the House, the order of the House, punish us. We’re ready to be punished and then we’ll see what happens.”

Lewis, who was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, said at a POLITICO Playbook cocktail event that he’s received significant public support since leading Democrats in a sit-in on the House floor. He called on his colleagues not to fear the National Rifle Association and to put gun control legislation up for a vote.

With the National Museum of African-American History and Culture scheduled to open this weekend, Lewis recalled attending sit-ins in Nashville as a young man, where he said he had hot coffee poured on his head and lit cigarettes extinguished in his hair. He said touring the museum was like “walking through history. I did everything possible not to cry.”
So do your worst, Paul Ryan. You'll look like the petty tyrant you want to be in return.

Re-post of a favorite: The proof is in the pudding

Re-post of a favorite: What kind of Americans ARE conservatives?

Five OBG cartoons: Reliving 2007

Religiously speaking

Children and religion - let them make an informed choice.

Tax the churches 
Religion shuts down free thought

What are YOUR priorities?