Tuesday, November 25, 2014


In the FYI category. The narrative presented below is from A Mighty Girl ...

November 25 is recognized worldwide as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women but the reason for the UN selecting this date is not widely known. In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly chose this date to honor the Mirabal Sisters, three Dominican sisters and political dissidents who were assassinated by henchmen of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo on this day in 1960.

The sisters, Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa were active opponents of the brutal Dominican dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. The women formed an opposition group against the Trujillo regime called the Movement of the Fourteenth of June, named after the date of a massacre Patria witnessed. Within the group, the sisters were known as Las Mariposas (The Butterflies).

Minerva and Maria Teresa were imprisoned and tortured on several occasions and their husbands were also frequently incarcerated. After the Organization of American States sent observers to the Dominican Republic, the sisters were freed but their husbands remained imprisoned. It was on a return trip from one of their prison visits on November 25, 1960 that the sisters were stopped by members of Trujillo's secret police and murdered.

Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic, 1930-1961. 
Trujillo himself was assassinated the following year and the sisters have long been regarded as heroes in the Dominican Republic for their courage and activism against the dictatorship. A final sister, Dedé Mirabal, who worked to preserve her sisters' memory for many years, passed away earlier this year at the age of 88.

On November 25, we remember and honor the contributions and sacrifices of the Mirabal sisters and all of those who work toward a world free of violence. This date also marks the beginning of an annual campaign called the "16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence" which ends on International Human Rights Day on December 10.

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For my money one of the best movies I've seen was "In the Time of the Butterflies," which tells the story of the Minerva sisters. It stars Salma Hayek, Edward James Olmos, and Marc Anthony. 

According to the movie industry's scale, this movie is recommended for adults and older teens, 16 and up. I would personally recommend this for anyone with a mature daughter with a conscience who's between 12 and 14 years old. 

If you're looking for a book on the topic worthy of a 12 - 14 year old, try Before We Were Free

If you want an academic book that explains the nuts and bolts behind the U.S. governments relationship with the Trujillo regime you can read The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930-1945

I've used this book in class. It's not real exciting, so purchase this only if you consider yourself a student of Latin America, American Foreign Policy, or if you're just plain wonkish. 

- Mark 


After having the evidence presented to the Grand Jury, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will not be charged for the murder of Michael Brown. Here's my take on what's happenning.

The job of any prosecutor in front of a Grand Jury is to present only the evidence that shows probable cause. They want to prosecute. That's it. If a case goes to a trial it's up to the Defense Team to go after the prosecutors evidence.

What county prosecutor Bob McCulloch did was present "all the evidence" to the Grand Jury, whether it was provable or not. The idea was to flood the evidence room, and let the Grand Jury sort it out. Anybody who's not a legal expert, and who has sat on a jury trial knows what this means (it's not good). Prosecutor McCulloch then allowed - and this is extremely rare - Officer Wilson to testify on his behalf in front of the Grand Jury, without any cross examination from prosecutors (because the District Attorney's office was pretty much working on Wilson's behalf).

Keep in mind that in Missouri it's legal for a police officer to shoot and kill a suspected felon who is fleeing once they believe their lives, or the lives of the public, are in danger. Without cross examination Officer Wilson's testimony becomes crucial, and golden.

Most Americans who disagree with the St. Louis county Grand Jury's decision will be discussing these issues, along with other evidence presented to the Grand Jury. The irony is that this is what a normal trial - with real prosecutors and real defense attorneys - would have done if Bob McCulloch had simply done his job and pursued an indictment.

But Bob McCulloch didn't do his job. He abdicated his position.

Michael Brown was denied his day in court because Prosecutor McCulloch decided to throw up an evidenciary smoke screen, with the goal of overwhelming the Grand Jury.

In the process Bob McCulloch became Officer Darren Wilson's de facto defense attorney.

The logic behind all of this reminiscent of how trials during the Inquisition were conducted during the medieval period. Back then trials were designed to protect religious orthodoxy and social order. The authority of the Catholic Church and the royal way of life were at stake. The goal of the Inquisition was not the pursuit of justice, but to maintain the status quo.

Many of the accused during the Inquisition were set free simply by proving their accuser held a "moral hatred" towards them. In this case "defendant" Darren Wilson didn't have to present evidence to the Grand Jury that his accuser (presumably Michael Brown) was a bad man, or possessed "moral hatred" towards him. Officer Wilson was allowed to testify, confident that his accuser had no chance of challenging his word, ever.

Both secular authority and ecclesiastical power had its privileges during the medieval period.

I'll let you draw your own parallels regarding privilege, police authority, and prosecutorial power in the modern era.

- Mark 

Monday, November 24, 2014


If you've seen this ...

... then the following should prove helpful.

Though Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation wasn't officially an Executive Order it was an act of "executive unilateralism." As such, it falls under the "unnumbered Orders" given by all U.S. Presidents because of the "subject matter, general applicability, public interest, or legal effect.”

Officially the Emancipation Proclamation - issued on September 22, 1862 - is referred to as Proclamation 93, which had the goal of "Declaring the Objectives of the War Including Emancipation of Slaves in Rebellious States on January 1, 1863." 

To take this a step further, the proclamation was also a statement to Europe explaining that the South was not an independent nation-state that Europeans could side with or, worse, help out. Lincoln was making it clear that he was still in charge of making policy that affected the South, which included issuing orders that would affect their slaves. 

The numbering and official documentation of Executive Orders didn't begin until the 20th Century (1906 and 1931). 

All of this, and much more, on presidential orders can be found on "The American Presidency Projectwebsite, hosted by the University of California Santa Barbara's Department of Political Science.

- Mark 


Meme on President Obama's 2015 budget from the National Priorities Project.

Hat tip to Tom for the link.

- Mark 

Friday, November 21, 2014


The Federal Reserve recently said that they're "ready to end QE3, but not the QE concept." Huh?

When I first read this I thought to myself, "I guess that means we still have QE Eternity."

If you're one of the many millions of Americans (the vast majority) wondering what "QE" is all about think of it as industry gobblygook, or market-speak, for continuous bailouts. By easing a large quantity of money into the economy the Federal Reserve - with a wink and a nod from Congress - is trying to make sure that Wall Street's market players don't go bust ... again.

Of course, in addition to getting saved, the market players on Wall Street make a lot of money in the process. Whether Wall Street wants to admit it or not, it really is corporate welfare at its finest.

If you're wondering what QE looks like in graph form, the red and blue areas below represent what the Federal Reserve has been purchasing.

By purchasing toxic "assets" other market players won't purchase, the Fed is effectively dumping trillions of dollars into our economic system. In return they we get toxic crap (red area) and low interest Treasury bonds (blue area) in return.

In case you're wondering, yes, the process of dumping more than $4 trillion into our economy has also artificially inflated it. The chart below makes it clear that every time the Fed puts money into the system our markets do well. When they don't make purchases ... well you get the picture.

Final thought: We are living on borrowed time.

- Mark 

Thursday, November 20, 2014


To give you an idea of how much money we've turned over to Wall Street since the 2008 market collapse take a look at the picture on the right. In the top left corner we have a crisp $100 bill.

If we put 100 of these $100 bills together we end up with a stack worth $10,000, as we see to our immediate right.

Good so far? OK.

Right below the $10,000 stack we have a standard pallet stacked with enough $100 bills to make $100 million. The small stack in front of the pallet represents $1 million.

OK, now it gets fun.

If we put together ten pallets stacked with $100 million we have $1 billion (check out what you can buy with $1 billion dollars here and here).

The 20 pallets you see stacked on the trailer of the semi truck at the bottom (below the red flag) is worth $2 billion.

The smallish square base of pallets to the right of the semi truck represents $10 billion. As a point of comparison, the U.S. government will spend a little over six of these square bases - $64 billion - on traditional welfare programs (like TANF and HUD) programs this year.

The tallest stack of pallets in the picture is scaled to represent a 465 foot skyscraper, and is worth $1 trillion (with a "T"). This amount is about what the United States government owed on its national debt in 1981.

In case you're wondering, no, we're still not close to what we coughed up to Wall Street after they helped collapse the economy in 2008.

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If you're still with me then you should enjoy (get teed off by) what's presented in our second visual.

Below we see four 465 foot pallet skyscrapers, and one smaller stack. Together these towers hold about $4.3 trillion.

$4.3 trillion represents what the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve dumped into the market to help stabilize Wall Street and America's financial institutions after the 2008 market collapse.

But we're not done yet.

Believe it or not, in spite of dumping $4.3 trillion into our financial sector, Wall Street has yet another financial lifeline.

In addition to the four towers of money we see above, we would need between $12 and $14 trillion more - or 12 and 14 more 465 foot skyscraper pallets full of $100 bills - to fulfill the lines of credit that Wall Street has been promised by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury Department. You know, just in case they need it, again.

So, yes, Wall Street has been promised between $12-14 trillion in financial guarantees for market bets that you and I ultimately get to backstop through the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

Let me make this point again. There is no domestic welfare program in America that comes close to sucking the trillions that Wall Street has been sucking out of America since 2008.

As an aside - and in the FYI category - the $4.3 trillion that we've handed over to Wall Street, plus the $12 trillion that is still available to the financial sector, far and away exceeds the $2.7 trillion that the U.S. Congress has borrowed from the Social Security trust fund. You remember, the $2.7 trillion that Washington says we can't pay back because it's too expensive.

Sigh ...

- Mark

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


As Presidents before Him, Obama Has Authority to Act
By Nancy Pelosi, Luis V. Gutiérrez & Zoe Lofgren / Oct. 30, 2014

Last year, the Senate passed a bipartisan measure to repair our broken immigration system and strengthen our economy. That bill would be law today, but Republican leaders in the House refused to allow a vote. Consequently, President Obama promised to use his authority under existing law to achieve reform. We do not know exactly what the President will do or when he will announce it, but we are confident he will act.

Some Republicans claim the President has no authority to act, but they are wrong. The fact is, just as presidents before him, President Obama has broad authority to make our immigration system better meet the needs of our country and reflect our shared values.

And every Administration since President Dwight D. Eisenhower has used executive authority to do just that.

In addition to taking steps to make our immigration enforcement efforts more humane, there are dozens of reforms that the President can adopt. Two that could have the greatest impact involve the expanded use of his deferred action and “parole” authorities.

Presidents have broad authority to defer removal when it is in the national interest, and past presidents have regularly used this authority. In the years immediately following the enactment of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush took bold action to protect the spouses and children of people who received status under that law.

Although Congress explicitly chose not to grant status to these people – an estimated 1.5 million people – Presidents Reagan and Bush recognized that it was not in the national interest to separate families. Using their authority to establish a “Family Fairness” program, they offered spouses and children indefinite protection from deportation and work authorization.

Presidents have used this authority repeatedly in the face of congressional inaction. Dating back more than 50 years, presidents have granted Extended Voluntary Departure to nationals of more than a dozen countries, including Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Poland, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Uganda.

President George H.W. Bush granted Deferred Enforced Departure to Chinese nationals after the Tiananmen Square massacre even though he vetoed a similar bill passed by Congress. Several years later he granted the same status to 200,000 Salvadorans.

Likewise, President Obama could defer action against persons who would be covered by the Senate-passed bill that Republicans blocked. Like Presidents Reagan and Bush, he could use his authority to prevent family separation – this time of undocumented close family members of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, or DACA beneficiaries. Similarly, he could recognize that it is “essential for agriculture” that farmworkers who toil in our fields do so without fear.

Another broad authority under existing law the President has at his disposal is to “parole” persons into the country “on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.”

Once again, this authority is not unprecedented. Presidents Ford and Carter “paroled” into the country hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese.
Presidents Carter and Ford "paroled" thousands. 
Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush both used “parole” authority for families who were ineligible for or denied refugee status. President George W. Bush also created a program to “parole” into our country Cuban nationals who would otherwise be forced to wait abroad for a visa number. President Obama recently announced plans to create a similar program for certain Haitians.

Similarly, the President could “parole” into the country the spouses, sons, and daughters of American citizens and lawful permanent residents who face lengthy separation waiting for a visa. Doing so would not permit family members to skip the line, but it would allow them to wait in line with their family until a visa number becomes available.

Last year, the Administration also formalized a policy of paroling “in place” the spouses, children and parents of military personnel and veterans already here in the United States. Through parole in place, military family members who entered the country without being inspected may become eligible to obtain lawful permanent residence without having to leave the country for ten years. This corrects a gross unfairness in immigration law that overwhelmingly harms persons from the Americas.

The President can build upon his “parole in place” policy for military families to benefit countless other mixed-status families. He can similarly use this authority for immigrants whose talents are so great that they can create jobs here in America, who are part of significant research, innovative efforts or professional work that makes our economy stronger. These initiatives are of significant public benefit to our country.

Those who oppose immigration reform would have us believe that administrative action amounts to “rewriting the immigration laws.” We all know that no president can rewrite the laws. But it is important to remember that Congress and the Constitution give presidents broad authority to take executive action on immigration policy, and past presidents have used this authority generously. That President Obama has pledged to do so as well is not cause for consternation, but is consistent with a president’s well-established authority under existing law.

Although it is ultimately the job of Congress to reform our immigration laws, we nevertheless look forward to the President’s bold and meaningful action to improve the lives of Americans and immigrants alike and advance the interests of our nation.

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Additional links on Reagan/Bush amnesty news here, here, herehere, and here.

- Mark 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


- Mark


With the Federal Reserve turning 100 this week I thought it would be a good idea to share a few things about the Fed that most Americans never think about. The information below helps us understand why middle America is not doing so well in spite of record streaks on Wall Street, and record profits in the financial sector.

The sad truth is the Federal Reserve works for the banks - as the 2008 bailout demonstrated - and can create money out of thin air to help America's largest financial institutions.

From the "10 Things That Every American Should Know About the Federal Reserve" we also learn the following ...

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Did you know that the Federal Reserve is actually paying banks not to make loans?

It is true.

Section 128 of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 allows the Federal Reserve to pay interest on "excess reserves" that U.S. banks park at the Fed.

So the banks can just send their cash to the Fed and watch the money come rolling in risk-free.
So are many banks taking advantage of this?

You tell me. Just check out the chart below. The amount of "excess reserves" parked at the Fed has gone from nearly nothing to about 1.5 trillion dollars since 2008....

But shouldn't the banks be lending the money to us so that we can start businesses and buy homes?

You would think that is how it is supposed to work.

Unfortunately, the Federal Reserve is not working for us.

The Federal Reserve is working for the big banks.

Sadly, most Americans have no idea what is going on.

Another example of this is the government debt carry trade.

Here is how it works. The Federal Reserve lends gigantic piles of nearly interest-free cash to the big Wall Street banks, and in turn those banks use the money to buy up huge amounts of government debt. Since the return on government debt is higher, the banks are able to make large profits very easily and with very little risk.

This scam was also explained in a recent article in the Guardian ...
Consider this: we pretend that banks are private businesses that should be allowed to run their own affairs. But they are the biggest scroungers of public money of our time. Banks are lent vast sums of money by central banks at near-zero interest. They lend that money to us or back to the government at higher rates and rake in the difference by the billion. They don't even have to make clever investments to make huge profits.

That is a pretty good little scam they have got going, wouldn't you say?

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The Federal Reserve is currently giving billions of dollars away, in the form interest payments to banks who "deposit" money with the Fed. This policy was put in place well before 2008, and could cost the American taxpayer close to $80 billion.

In effect, what we have is another bailout program, sanctioned by the Federal Reserve, and winked at by the U.S. Congress.

The fact that few people understand how any of this works should be a problem.

- Mark