Category Archives: Politics: The Party of Sleaze

Tell Us What You Really Think

Former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain unloads on Ted Cruz:

Although I find Sen. Ted Cruz’s “lonely man of principle” act as tired as it is phony, I should give the devil his due. Cruz has given Americans exasperated with Washington gridlock hope that Congress can, when sufficiently motivated, find consensus and act.

In this instance, the consensus is that Ted Cruz is a jackass.

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Beyond Trumperdome

This kind of talk, from a WashPo piece quoting supporters at yesterday’s rally, is what powers the Trump machine:

Cheryl Burns, 60, was on a road trip from California when she heard that Trump would be in Alabama. She turned her car around and got in line, warning people of what happened to states when liberals took them over.

“There is no more California,” Burns said. “It’s now international, lawless territory. Everything is up for grabs. Illegal aliens are murdering people there. People are being raped. Trump isn’t lying about anything — the rest of the country just hasn’t found out yet.”

Various online commentators have suggested that the two attackers of a homeless Hispanic man in Boston, who cited Trump as their motivation, are the forerunners of American Brownshirts. And, certainly, Trump’s weak initial reaction was yet another indication of his general ugliness. Trump did get around to a proper condemnation of the attack after two days; either Trump didn’t want to upset his base, or (equally likely) he’s terribly staffed: either is pretty bad.

As a big fan of It Can’t Happen Here, I’m always alert for those brown signals, but I didn’t find nearly as strong signal in the actions of a couple of thugs (so long as it remains just a couple…) as I do in quotes like the one above. If large numbers of voters are living a reality-distortion zone in which California is now Mad Max land, anything is possible.

Posted in 2016 Election, Politics: The Party of Sleaze, Politics: Tinfoil | Leave a comment

Nutty, Even By Relaxed Modern Standards

TPM, With Eye on Fiscal Armageddon, Texas Set to ‘Repatriate’ Its Gold To New Texas Fort Knox.

On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation that will create a state-run gold depository in the Lone Star State – one that will attempt to rival those operated by the U.S. government inside Fort Knox and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s vault in lower Manhattan. “The Texas Bullion Depository,” Abbott said in a statement, “will become the first state-level facility of its kind in the nation, increasing the security and stability of our gold reserves and keeping taxpayer funds from leaving Texas to pay for fees to store gold in facilities outside our state.” Soon, Abbott’s office said, the state “will repatriate $1 billion of gold bullion ((As you will see if you read the article, this is malarky. There is no such $1 billion in gold from the Federal Reserve in New York to Texas.” In other words, when it comes preparing for the currency collapse and financial armeggedon, Abbott’s office really seems to think Texas is a whole ‘nother country

Just read it. And weep.

PS. Bonus crazy:

Indeed, Texas has no gold bars in the Federal Reserve’s New York vault. And what the state has is not worth a billion dollars. Instead some 4,200 gold bars bought in 2011 by the University of Texas’s endowment fund (the second largest in the country after Harvard’s) are stored in the basement vault of HSBC’s headquarters at 450 5th Avenue in New York City, just south of the New York Public Library. For the last four years, the endowment has paid an estimated $1 million per year to store their gold there. (If it had been at the New York Fed the cost would have totaled about $15,400 over that period). And the new depository law does not require the university’s endowment fund to relocate the gold to Texas.

How did UT end up holding actual gold?

In 2010 and 2011, … the University of Texas Investment Management Company’s board of directors … put nearly 5% of the then-$19 billion university and pension fund they manage into physical gold by converting options into bullion. …

When the endowment fund bought the gold, their basis for calculating a return – called their cost basis – was $1,150.17 per ounce. The fund eventually traded a third of their physical gold stake for gold futures and other equities, but never reduced their overall exposure to gold. That’s why they still own about 4,200 bars worth just under $500 million. After a significant run-up and subsequent fall in 2012, gold traded on Monday at $1,186. Over more than four years that just a 3% gain for the fund before you account for the cost of housing the gold in New York [which is $1 million / year] and the transaction costs that will be incurred if and when the endowment fund ships the bars back to Texas or sells them to a buyer. Over the same period, the S&P 500 index – a broad measure of owning stocks – gained 60%.

Posted in Econ & Money, Politics: The Party of Sleaze, Politics: Tinfoil | 3 Comments

Democracy in Action (Missouri Edition)

ProPublica’s The Payday Playbook: How High Cost Lenders Fight to Stay Legal is a little different from what they teach in high school civics classes.

As the Rev. Susan McCann stood outside a public library in Springfield, Mo., last year, she did her best to persuade passers-by to sign an initiative to ban high-cost payday loans. But it was difficult to keep her composure, she remembers. A man was shouting in her face.

He and several others had been paid to try to prevent people from signing. “Every time I tried to speak to somebody,” she recalls, “they would scream, ‘Liar! Liar! Liar! Don’t listen to her!’”

Such confrontations, repeated across the state, exposed something that rarely comes into view so vividly: the high-cost lending industry’s ferocious effort to stay legal and stay in business.

The problem was the legislature. During the 2010 election cycle alone, payday lenders contributed $371,000 to lawmakers and political committees, according to a report by the nonpartisan and nonprofit Public Campaign, which focuses on campaign reform. The lenders hired high-profile lobbyists, and Still became accustomed to their visits. But they hardly needed to worry about the House Financial Institutions Committee, through which a reform bill would need to pass. One of the lawmakers leading the committee, Don Wells, owned a payday loan store, Kwik Kash. He could not be reached for comment.

Eventually, after two years of frustration, Still and others were ready to try another route. “Absolutely, it was going to have to take a vote of the people,” she said. “The legislature had been bought and paid for.”

A coalition of faith groups, community organizations and labor unions decided to put forward the ballot initiative to cap rates at 36 percent. The main hurdle was collecting the required total of a little more than 95,000 signatures.

Someone raised $2.8 million to fight the initiative. We don’t get know exactly who:

Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity (MECO), appeared. Although it was devoted to defeating the payday measure, the group kept its backers secret. The sole donor was another organization, Missourians for Responsible Government, headed by a conservative consultant, Patrick Tuohey. Because Missourians for Responsible Government is organized under the 501(c)(4) section of the tax code, it does not have to report its donors.

They sent deceptive threatening lawyers letters to the pastors and others running the petition drive.

And as if that wasn’t enough, they created fake initiatives to confuse people:

A Republican lobbyist submitted what appears to have been a decoy initiative to the Missouri Secretary of State that, to the casual reader, closely resembled the original measure to cap loans at 36 percent. It proposed to cap loans at 14 percent, but stated that the limit would be void if the borrower signed a contract to pay a higher rate — in other words, it wouldn’t change anything. A second initiative submitted by the same lobbyist, Jewell Patek, would have made any measure to cap loan interest rates unlawful. Patek declined to comment.

MECO spent at least $800,000 pushing the rival initiatives with its own crew of signature gatherers, according to the group’s state filings. It was an effective tactic, said Gerth, of the St. Louis congregations group. People became confused about which was the “real” petition or assumed they had signed the 36 percent cap petition when they had not, he and others who worked on the effort said.

They hired people to physically block access to petition gatherers.

Here’s the really sad part: it worked. The petition’s supporters gathered
118,000 valid signatures, about 23,000 more than needed.

But the state’s rules required that they collect signatures from at least 5 percent of voters in six of the state’s nine congressional districts. They had met that threshold in five districts — but in the First District, which includes North St. Louis, they were 270 signatures short.

Democracy in action.

They’re going to try again next year.

Posted in Econ & Money, Politics: The Party of Sleaze | 2 Comments

On ‘squishes’

Reading about Sen. Cruz calling other Republicans ‘squishes’ because they were not, at least in his telling, as hard-line as he is, reminded me of when I lived in the UK and the late Margret Thatcher and her supporters derided their less-immoderate fellow Tories as the “wets”.

It also made me wonder about the national differences the two terms imply. Am I alone in thinking that there’s some suggestion of unmanliness about ‘squishes’? And if so, is that in fact tied to a national difference, or just to the gender and general sexism of the particular speaker?

Wikipedia tells me that,

Historically, the term “wet” was English public school slang for someone judged to be weak, feeble or “soppy”. Within the political context it was used both as a noun and an adjective to describe people or policies which Thatcher would have considered to be weak or “wet”.

So maybe it isn’t all that different after all?

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These People are Really Strange

FreedomWorks Made Video of Fake Giant Panda Having Sex With Fake Hillary Clinton.

A Fake Giant Panda?

Yes. Really.

An internal investigation of FreedomWorks—the prominent conservative advocacy group and super-PAC—has focused on president Matt Kibbe’s management of the organization, his use of its resources, and a controversial book deal he signed, according to former FreedomWorks officials who have met with the private lawyers conducting the probe. One potential topic for the inquiry is a promotional video produced last year under the supervision of Adam Brandon, executive vice president of the group and a Kibbe loyalist. The video included a scene in which a female intern wearing a panda suit simulates performing oral sex on Hillary Clinton. [Author’s note: The previous sentence contains no typos.]

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More on the Temporary Debt Limit Waiver

The House duly passed the debt limit waiver bill 285 to 144, with 33 Republicans and 111 Democrats voting no. House GOP leaders duly made statements about what a great achievement ‘no budget no pay’ was, perhaps an attempt to distract from how great a climbdown the main part of the bill was.

Most lawyers I’ve communicated with took the view that most every court, and certainly the Supreme Court, would not choose to declare the debt ceiling waiver unconstitutional — even if both mechanistic and good-faith application of current severability doctrine would suggest that it should. That’s probably correct predictively, which says something about the importance of realpolitik in Constitutional interpretation. Although anyone who ever read Dames & Moore v. Reagan should already know that….

Meanwhile Seth Barrett Tillman has proposed a nice way to avoid the severability question altogether. Since the text of the 27th Amendment says “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened” the remedy for a bill that violates this provision is an injunction staying the pay terms until the next election. Under this elegant formulation, the pay provision of the bill is not held to be unconstitutional as such, just given no effect until, in this case, it has no remaining effects. Very neat.

Posted in Econ & Money, Law: Constitutional Law, Politics: The Party of Sleaze | 1 Comment