Jan 22

A Decade After the Great Recession, We’re Outsourcing Home Appraisals to India

The Wall Street Journal reports that banks are getting tired of performing actual appraisals for high-volume home loans—the kind that get packaged into mortgage-based securities—and are turning instead to less rigorous broker price opinions:

Now these perfunctory valuations abound, underpinning tens of billions of dollars of home deals. Sometimes the process is outsourced to India, where companies charge real-estate agents a few dollars to come up with U.S. home values by consulting Google Earth and real-estate websites. BPOs have been used to value collateral in the more than $ 20 billion of bonds sold by institutional landlords, such as Blackstone’s Invitation Homes Inc., and in the fast-growing business of lending to individual house flippers.

What could go wrong? “Their popularity,” says the Journal, “shows how Wall Street is finding ways to adapt to government efforts to crack down on some of the excesses that contributed to the housing crisis.”

It’s remarkable how fast we’ve decided to ignore the lessons of the great housing bubble and the subsequent crash. Republicans, of course, never wanted to learn any lessons from the very start, but Wall Street stayed cautious for at least a few years. Now even that’s receding into the rear view mirror, a mere decade after the second-worst recession of the past century. Republicans are naturally happy to help this process along, because the market is always right, even when the market is wrong. Plus the finance industry is generous to politicians who let them do whatever they want.

It took upwards of 50 years to unlearn the lessons of the Great Depression. The Great Recession took only ten. I wonder how long we’ll pretend to have learned anything from the next one?

Mother Jones

Jan 22

Our democracy does come with an owner’s manual, but it needs an appendix

Late one autumn afternoon, I watched as two grown men attempted to put together a gas barbecue grill while proudly denying that directions were necessary. As soon as they gave up, having produced a thing that would not rest solidly on its two legs and two wheels with four parts (including two bolts) left over, I calmly read to them from the manual that came with the grill. They had to take it apart, and completely re-build it correctly. They wasted two hours putting it together incorrectly, and another 30 minutes disassembling it.

I have never had the necessary self-confidence or arrogance to believe that I could make anything work properly without the aid of a guidebook. This refusal to consider necessary directions is not determined by gender, in case it appears I am picking on men unfairly. We all do it.

A very dear friend received a new Italian semi-automatic espresso machine. It was indeed a beautiful addition to her kitchen, but she had trouble with it from the very start. No matter how many times she pressed the button, no coffee came out of the spout, nor did the grinder start. This was not her first espresso machine, but it was the first one she could not work. She sent it back to the manufacturer, who could find nothing wrong with the machine but sent her another one just like it. That one didn’t work either, and she had pretty much decided that the problem was a manufacturing flaw. Until she came to visit, and watched me prepare lattes from the same model of machine. Turns out she was pressing the wrong buttons. Being Italian, it did not have English words printed next to the buttons, only images that she misinterpreted. The instructions, however, did come in English.

A new car comes with an owner’s manual that can run into the hundreds of pages and I will confess that I have not read the entire book on my car. I read the important parts: maintenance recommendations, where to find the gas tank, and how to operate the navigation system. but no one has time to plow through an entire new car manual. So it was that yesterday, while sitting in line at the car wash, I learned that my rear view mirrors could automatically retract with the push of a button. I had seen this feature on other cars but did not know that mine offered it because I had not read the damn manual. Bored while waiting at the only car wash in the middle of Maine in January, I pushed the button above the mirror adjustment buttons, not knowing what would happen (my walk on the wild side). Voilà: they folded into the side of the car. Pretty cool, and it would have helped me to reach the roadside mailbox had I known they could do this prior to yesterday.

But barbecue grills, coffeemakers, and automotive accessories are not as essential to our well-being as a nation. Our democracy and our government are essential, and they come complete with instructions that really should be mandatory reading for anyone who takes an oath to uphold them.

Daily Kos

Jan 22

Whose “Fault” Is the Government Shutdown?

“Why aren’t you writing anything about the shutdown?” The masses demand to know what’s up. Well, I’ve been busy with some other stuff this weekend, and anyway, I’m not even sure what to say.

Let’s start with an obvious point: any government shutdown is the result of disagreements between Democrats and Republicans. In that sense, it’s not really anyone’s “fault.” Either side could cave at anytime if they really wanted the government to start running again.

That said, the question of who bears most of the fault for the current shutdown depends on who’s making the more outrageous demands. I can’t pretend to be neutral about this, but let’s roll the tape.

Republicans control Congress, but this year they never even came close to passing a budget because they were too busy trying to repeal Obamacare and enact big tax cuts for corporations. Democrats, for reasons best left unexamined, gave Republicans the headroom to do this by agreeing to multiple continuing resolutions that would keep the government running in the meantime. All along, however, Democrats had one demand: that the eventual budget include language that restored DACA, the “mini-DREAM” act that Donald Trump killed. Eventually, they said, they’d stop voting for more CRs that didn’t include DACA. And so they did. Republicans have known this for months.

Now, Republicans are allegedly in favor of restoring DACA too, so the easy solution would have been to include it in the latest CR, perhaps along with some kind of concession from Democrats on military spending. All done, and then everyone can get down to serious work on writing real appropriations bills. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

I’ll confess up front that I don’t know precisely what DACA demands Democrats are making, but I don’t think they’ve moved the goalposts on this noticeably. They just want DACA. So do Republicans. So does the vast majority of America.

So what are Republicans demanding in return? Unfortunately, it’s all but impossible to figure that out. At first it was a few restrictions on chain migration and some money for border security. Democrats were willing to work with this, and Donald Trump said he’d sign anything Congress sent him, even if he didn’t like it that much.

But then Trump changed his mind and decided the bill should contain an almost complete wishlist of Republican demands from past immigration negotiations. This was faintly ridiculous, since Democrats would certainly want more in return for all that than merely DACA. Nonetheless, Dems were willing to compromise and accept much of this. Once again Trump seemed amenable. And once again he changed his mind after Stephen Miller and Tom Cotton got to him. Mitch McConnell threw up his hands, saying he couldn’t really do anything until he knew what Trump wanted, and Paul Ryan maintained a studious silence. And then the government shut down.

From a PR standpoint, Democrats have a positive message: we just want protection for Dreamers. That’s very popular. But Republicans have one too: Democrats are willing to shut down the government over illegal aliens. That also polls well. I don’t know how that will play out.

However, in terms of demands, it’s hard to see how anyone would think Democrats are being the outrageous ones. They want something pretty simple; they’ve been consistent about what they want; and they’ve generally been open to compromise to get it done. Republicans, by contrast, have demanded concessions for something they supposedly support themselves; their demands have become ever more onerous over the past few weeks; the president keeps changing his mind about what he wants; and at this point literally no one knows what it would take to close a deal with Republicans. Democrats couldn’t cave in even if they wanted to.

Am I missing anything important here? Have Democrats raised the stakes in ways I’m not aware of? Have Republicans been more consistend in their demands than I’m giving them credit for? Why is this whole question even remotely debatable?

Mother Jones

Jan 22

Women’s March protests continue worldwide, to be capped with Las Vegas rally and registration drive

After gargantuan crowds of demonstrators turned out across the United States yesterday for the Women’s March, the protests continue today on a worldwide scale.

Demonstrations in London, Paris, Sydney and other European and Australian cities followed much larger women’s marches held Saturday across the U.S. to mark the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, as well as the protests it inspired.

The marches continue in the United States as well, including Las Vegas, Seattle, Miami, and Phoenix. Yesterday’s crowds included 600,000 in Los Angeles, 300,000 in Chicago, and nearly a half-million in Washington D.C.

The planned close to this year’s events in the United States will be the Las Vegas rally, the opening salvo of an effort to register one million new swing state voters before the next election.

Civil rights advocates, including Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards and NAACP board member Rev. William Barber III, will speak in Las Vegas on Sunday, alongside Nevada’s Democratic senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, and other liberal lawmakers and celebrities.

The Nevada effort is the first of what will be a national tour of swing states, including Michigan and Florida.

The organization is also putting an emphasis on outreach to traditionally underrepresented groups, particularly people of color, who have been targeted by voter suppression efforts.

Daily Kos

Jan 21

US government shutdown continues into third day – video

The Senate has inched closer to ending a partisan stalemate that has shut the US federal government, after a minor concession from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. However, no agreement was reached late on Sunday to reopen the government by the beginning of the working week

Continue reading…
US politics | The Guardian

Jan 21

Mapping out the long path of Trump’s money laundering and corruption

A recent episode of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show detailed exactly how and why former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon claimed in the controversial book Fire and Fury that money laundering may be the real crime that will ultimately bring Trump down. Maddow points out Bloomberg has reported that starting in the late ‘90s, ownership of a chromium mine in Kazakhstan may have been an elaborate money laundering plot that shifted ownership of the mine from their employees, who were forced to sell their shares, to a shell company in the British Virgin Islands—and right into the hands of Trump properties such as Trump Soho through Refik Arif and his brother Tevfik, who is the owner of Bayrock LLC. Bayrock also received illicit funds from Mukhtar Ablyazov, the former head of a Kazahkstan’s BTA Bank who also embezzled more than $ 2 billion through shady loans to himself via shell companies he created. He bought three condos in Trump Soho through his son-in-law Iliyas Khrapunov, who’d had previous deals with Bayrock’s Felix Sater, using those illicit funds in an elaborate money-laundering scheme. Some of the BTA Bank money also apparently went to a fake Trump-branded casino/hotel tower project in the city of Batumi in the former soviet nation of Georgia for which many loans were made. But the project itself never went forward—yet the loans were never repaid. Trump himself was paid $ 1 million for use of his name in 2012, and even made a personal appearance in Batumi. A troika of metals billionaires including Alexander Mashkevich and his two partners, Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov, also supplied Bayrock with cash through their holding company Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation Plc, (ENRC) which was forced off the European Stock Exchange by England’s Serious Fraud Office due to their rampant corruption. All of this is apparently now part of Mueller’s investigation into money laundering associated with Trump properties.

And all of this fits a pattern by the Trump organization of coincidentally being on the receiving end of questionable funds


Daily Kos

Jan 21

Government shutdown: Republicans float minor immigration deal in bid to end deadlock

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says that if Democrats agree to stopgap funding he will allow immigration reform vote

The US government shutdown edged closer to a resolution on Sunday night after a minor concession from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who said he would allow a vote on immigration reform in February if Democrats agree to fund the government. However, one Democratic source cautioned that no deal had been reached.

McConnell’s proposal represented the fruit of a bipartisan effort among moderates in both parties to resolve the shutdown, which began at midnight on Saturday.

Continue reading…
US politics | The Guardian

Jan 21

Open thread for night owls: ‘There is madness abroad in the land.’

Charlie Pierce:

Watching this unfold revealed an aspect of the prion disease that has afflicted the Republican Party ever since Ronald Reagan first fed it the monkeybrains in the 1980s. Right now, the Republicans in Congress are staking their case on particularly unpopular positions. Both the DACA beneficiaries and the CHIP program are enormously popular and, needless to say, so are the members of the military, whom the Republicans have been using as human shields to the point at which Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, who lost both legs in Iraq, decided that this was something up with which she would put no longer, and she rolled out the Enola Gay. […]

In most political contexts, when your policies become unpopular, you change the policies. However, in the context of the prion disease, as the Republican policies became unpopular, the more they work to discredit, obviate, or destroy the vehicles by which that unpopularity can find voice. This is not the way a credible democratic republic survives. But this is the only political instinct to which the congressional Republican majorities respond. The prion disease has robbed the party of the options that might have been presented by the higher functions that the prion disease has destroyed. The latest symptomatic manifestation is the out-and-out fascist tone of the latest web ad produced by the administration*.

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Mar-a-Lago: The thing that nightmares are made of. pic.twitter.com/XfTWVKJPCQ

— TBogg – Totally King of New New California (@tbogg) January 21, 2018

BLAST FROM THE PAST

On this date at Daily Kos in 2009—Obama Administration Sides with Bush’s DOJ in Spy Case:

A sensitive civil liberties case that has been working its way through the courts for nearly four years is in the news again as the Obama administration “fell in line with the Bush administration Thursday when it urged a federal judge to set aside a ruling in a closely watched spy case weighing whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants.” The case involves the now-defunct, Oregon-based Saudi charity, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation.

According to David Kravets at Wired:

With just hours left in office, President George W. Bush late Monday asked U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to stay enforcement of an important Jan. 5 ruling admitting key evidence into the case.

Thursday’s filing by the Obama administration marked the first time it officially lodged a court document in the lawsuit asking the courts to rule on the constitutionality of the Bush administration’s warrantless-eavesdropping program. The former president approved the wiretaps in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

“The Government’s position remains that this case should be stayed,” the Obama administration wrote in a filing that for the first time made clear the new president was on board with the Bush administration’s reasoning in this case.

Given that it has adopted the Bush administration’s position in this case, the question now to be answered is what role “unitary executive” philosophy will play in the Obama administration.

Monday through Friday you can catch the Kagro in the Morning Show 9 AM ET by dropping in here, or you can download the Stitcher app (found in the app stores or at Stitcher.com), and find a live stream there, by searching for “Netroots Radio.”

Daily Kos

Jan 21

Government shutdown continues; Temporary continuing resolution will be attempted again tomorrow

This nebulous statement was being pushed for by Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham and other Republican “moderates” in exchange for a new continuing resolution reopening the federal government until the same date.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also believed a solution was within reach to debate an immigration bill in the chamber by Feb. 8, even if a broader deal were not reached by then.

The best-case scenario, Flake added, “is to pass the bill with a good Senate majority, have a process up here, and have the president support it if we can get 60 or 70 votes. I believe he will and if he does, that’ll move the House.”

Flake was already played by McConnell in a December promise by the Majority Leader to bring DACA up for a vote that McConnell, has since that time, ignored; this new assurance may prove enough for Flake (again) and would-be Trump negotiator Graham, but it’s not clear such a weak non-promise will sway the votes of enough Democrats for the resolution to pass.

Democrats have little patience for McConnell after a long series of broken assurances; McConnell’s own announcement of the potential deal, couched in repeated insults of his Democratic counterparts, is not likely to gain him any favors. With Flake and Graham, McConnell needs only seven more Democrats to “trust” him on his latest not-yet-broken assurance.

Under this plan, a vote for a new three-week continuing resolution that includes six years of new CHIP funding will be held tomorrow at 12 ET. If it passes, attention turns to Paul Ryan and House Republicans to both agree to those terms and to either publicly support or block further DACA negotiations in those next three weeks. McConnell can make no promises that the House will take any DACA action at all, meaning the threat of mass deportations for child immigrants remains.

Daily Kos

Jan 21

Trump Is Determined to Provoke War to Draw Focus from Racist and Erratic Behavior

Every wannabe dictator needs an emergency to cement his power.

The New York Times reports that the Pentagon is proposing widening the permissible use of nuclear weapons to include responding to cyberattacks and other non-nuclear attacks to U.S. infrastructure. The Pentagon has already outlined this expanded nuclear strategy in a draft document sent to President Trump for approval. It comes amid a series of moves by the Pentagon and President Trump that have escalated the threat of nuclear war. The Wall Street Journal reports the Pentagon is planning to develop two new sea-based nuclear weapons. The New York Times also reports the Pentagon is conducting a series of war games to prepare for a potential war with North Korea. We speak to Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter David Cay Johnston, who has been covering Donald Trump for nearly 30 years. His latest book is just out, titled “It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.”

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Uninformed. That was the word White House Chief of Staff John Kelly used to describe his boss, President Trump, on Thursday. According to The Washington Post, Kelly told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that some of Trump’s hardline immigration policies, including his call to build a wall along the entire southern border, were “uninformed.” Kelly said, quote, “Certain things are said during the campaign that are uninformed.” During the same meeting, Kelly reportedly said, quote, “The president is committed to a permanent solution to DACA,” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

But the president has struck a different tone. On Twitter this morning [January 18], Trump wrote, quote, “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it.” In an interview with Reuters, Trump also criticized a proposed bipartisan deal on immigration and border security as, quote, “horrible” and, quote, “very, very weak.” This comes as the government could shut down on Friday if a funding deal cannot be reached.

AMY GOODMAN: The possible government shutdown comes as President Trump is preparing to mark his first year in office on Saturday. On that same day, anti-Trump protests will be held in scores of cities across the country to mark the first anniversary of the historic Women’s March.

Well, today we spend the hour looking at Trump’s first year in office with a journalist who has been covering Donald Trump since 1988. We’re talking about the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, the founder of DCReport.org. Last year, Johnston made international headlines when he obtained two pages of President Trump’s 2005 tax return. Johnston’s reporting on Trump’s taxes led the president to say this about him.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I know the reporter is a—he’s a weird dude who’s covered me for—he’s been following me for 25 years, so obviously he hasn’t done so well. He’s been following me in a negative fashion for 25 years, always a hit. And I’m president, so I guess he hasn’t done a very good job.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, joins us here in our studio, out this week with his new book. It’s called It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, David. You have been covering Donald Trump for over 30 years. You heard what he had to say about it: Look where you are, and look where he is today. But you’ve also been covering President Trump through this first year. Can you talk about, as we move into the first anniversary of his inauguration, what has surprised you most, since this is a man you have known back to his early days as a developer going bankrupt in New York?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, Donald hasn’t, frankly, done anything that’s surprised me. And I said, and there’s lots of video of me saying, before the election, he would be increasingly erratic, his racism would come out, that he would try to find an excuse to use nuclear weapons, because during the campaign, he said, “I’m very good at war. I know more about ISIS than the generals. And of course we’re going to use nukes.” And, lo and behold, last week, the news breaks that they are loosening up the rules on the use of tactical nuclear weapons—that is, a nuclear weapon that will take out a block, not a city—and possibly even authorizing their use for a cyberattack. He’s looking for—

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is amazing. I mean, just to reiterate this—

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Oh, it is.

AMY GOODMAN: —using nuclear weapon attack for a cyberattack.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Right. And hopefully, the military will not follow an order to do this. But clearly, he is determined, if he can figure out how to do it, to provoke a war. After all, what helps strengthen your position if you’re a dictator-in-waiting, which is what Donald is, but some kind of incident that will stir the public and focus people away from his crazy, racist, uninformed, ignorant behavior?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, why do you think that he needs to strengthen his position? Do you think he feels he needs to strengthen his position because his position is weak?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Oh, yeah, Donald—the Donald is aware that he has a large audience out there that is not supporting him and that it’s growing. And his own base, he’s certainly seen the data that it’s eroded. And remember, Donald is a man who is this empty vessel. I mean, he’s an unhappy human being. Be glad you are not Donald Trump, who will never know a day of joy and contentment in his life. And, you know, he wants us to all recognize Donald Trump is the greatest human being of all times. He wants people like Orrin Hatch—the greatest president of all times. That’s what he’s about: adoration.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I mean, you say, in fact, that what distinguishes him from all previous U.S. presidents is that his presidency is about Trump, period, full stop.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: This issue of use of nuclear weapons, you know, going back to the reported meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff as he’s briefed on nuclear weapons: “If we have them, why don’t we use them?” And The Wall Street Journal reporting, just in the last days, this issue of the Pentagon planning to develop two new sea-based nuclear weapons. The New York Times also reporting the Pentagon conducting a series of war games to prepare for a potential war with North Korea. I mean, this is very interesting. As North and South Korea come closer together, will have a unified team at the Olympics, President Trump is trying to amp up the opposition to and war with North Korea.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Right. And one of the very interesting things about this is, there have been surveys of military officers, and they show that the officer corps of the United States military is very troubled about Trump. You know, good military officers are diplomats who want to avoid war. And they’re not supporting him. So that one good piece of news out of this is, I don’t think Donald Trump can get the military behind him to take over the country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But do you think he can get the military behind him sufficiently to carry out a tactical nuclear strike?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, that’s the troubling part. What if, for example, somehow we’re provoked into something? And he’s clearly trying to provoke—you know, things like “My button is bigger than your button.” And understand, Donald Trump—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But what would constitute a provocation for him, though?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Oh, I don’t—I mean, that, I don’t know. It would have to be enough that he could get the military behind him to do something, something we wouldn’t expect. But remember, the whole point of nuclear weapons is they’re defensive. Nobody invades a country that has nuclear weapons. We would never have invaded Iraq if it actually had had nuclear weapons. And Donald thinks that their purpose is to use them. He doesn’t even understand their purpose, that they’re defensive.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to a break, and then we’re going to come back to David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, previously with The New York Times, now founder and editor of DCReport.org. Johnston’s biography of Donald Trump was The Making of Donald Trump. His new book, It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.

And when we come back, what exactly is happening? While the tax bill—and that’s certainly something that Donald—that David Cay Johnston is an expert about—has been touted as the one main piece of legislation that Trump has actually successfully gotten passed, what actually did happen in the last year? Tremendous amount when it comes to deregulating the agencies of this country that protect the nation’s land, air, sea and people. Stay with us.

 

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