What the hacks in Congress really mean when they say – “Audit the Fed”


Remember “Audit the Fed”? It was the call that united populists of the right and left (and quite a few terrified centrists) around the cause of congressional investigators poking around the inner workings of the Federal Reserve, including its setting of interest rate policies.

And it’s back, with a new campaign from Senator Rand Paul (whose father led the earlier version) to push for a bill to do just that in a now-Republican-led Congress. But to make sense of the debate, here’s the simple fact you need to keep in mind: When people say they want to audit the Fed, what they really mean is “The Fed is doing things I disagree with.”

It’s easy to say that the Fed is a very secretive, mysterious institution. That has certainly been true historically, and in some respects remains true today. But in most of the ways that matter, the Fed is actually more transparent about what it decides to do, why and how it carries those policies out than almost any other institution in government.

…You can go to the New York Fed’s website and see the Fed’s securities holdings down to the individual exact bond holding. That’s how I know, for example, that as of Feb. 4 the Fed owned precisely $449.94 million worth of United States Treasury notes that mature April 30, 2015. The CUSIP code is #912828MZ0, in case you happen to know what a CUSIP code is (it is a numbering system to identify a particular bond or other security.)

Perhaps you don’t believe that information, and assume that the banksters at the New York Fed are lying to us all. Well, O.K., but keep in mind that those financial statements are audited already, in 2013 by Deloitte & Touche, one of the giant accounting firms that verify the books of virtually all major companies in America. Oh, and checking up behind them are the Fed’s inspector general and the Government Accountability Office, the same agency that Senator Paul would like to give greater powers to look into the Fed’s business…

After a monetary policy meeting, the central bank immediately releases a statement of several hundred words announcing what it has done, why and which of its officials voted against the action. Four times a year, the chairwoman, Janet Yellen, stands up immediately thereafter and takes questions from reporters for an hour or so. You may not like the answers, and she can duck a question as effectively as any public official, but she at least faces them.

Also four times a year, the Fed releases a bunch of details of Fed leaders’ forecasts, telling you what they expect to happen in the future with growth, inflation, unemployment and their own interest rate policy…

This legislation pressed by Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats and their lying subalterns has only one purpose. They want to corrupt the independence of the Federal Reserve and put control of monetary policy into the dirty hands of Congress.

Can you imagine Congress – especially a version like the present crop of do-nothings – trying to construct monetary policy to drag our sorry butt out of the Great Recession? The recession resulted from Congressional refusal to lead oversight of the financial industry. The Fed had to construct what little rescue they could because our elected representatives were afraid to do anything useful on their own.

Now, they want to end the Fed’s political independence. And they lie – again and again – and call this an “audit”. Humbug!

Oliver Stone film about Edward Snowden vs NSA starts production January

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt will play Edward Snowden in a movie directed by Oliver Stone about the former National Security Agency contractor who blew the whistle on the US government’s mass surveillance programs, the film’s backers said on Monday.

Stone, who won best director Oscars for Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, has written the screenplay based on two books – The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena.

The still untitled film goes into production in Munich in January, said independent studio Open Road Films and production and financing company Endgame Entertainment.

Producer Moritz Borman said in a statement that he and Stone chose Open Road and Endgame because “this film needs an independent in the true sense, where political pressures will not come into play…”

Snowden leaked tens of thousands of classified intelligence documents to the media in 2013 and sparked a firestorm over the NSA’s gathering of data from the Internet activities and phones of millions of ordinary Americans and dozens of world leaders.

He is wanted by the United States on charges including theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and wilful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person…and believing in the US Constitution.

Thanks, Mike

US plans to hand over Internet control to global independence

American center for Internet oversight

The United States will hand over government control of administration of the Internet, bowing to pressures to globalize the management of the networks that connect billions of people around the world in a move meant to ease fears following last year’s revelations of NSA spying.

U.S. officials on Friday announced plans to relinquish its oversight role over the group that manages the Web’s critical infrastructure, said Lawrence Strickling, the head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration at the Commerce Department.

The transition will come in 2015, when Commerce contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers expires next year. But the announcement comes with a major caveat: As part of the transition, an independent, international oversight authority must be established so as to earn the trust of the world, Strickling said.

ICANN, the California-based nonprofit that coordinates the Web’s various systems of identifiers, has been pushing for increased global participation in the administration of the Internet, particularly since Edward Snowden’s leak of thousands of classified NSA documents last summer revealed the U.S. had been snooping on foreign nationals and governments…

But not everyone welcomed the news, particularly business leaders and others who were glad to accept tight U.S. control on the Internet’s administration as it ensured the Web operated smoothly and openly…

Yup. And Mussolini made the trains run on time in Fascist Italy.

Daniel Castro, a senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, warned that without U.S. oversight, the Web may not hold together as a single entity.

“The world could be faced with a splintered Internet that would stifle innovation, commerce, and the free flow and diversity of ideas that are bedrock tenets of world’s biggest economic engine,” Castro wrote in an op-ed Friday.

“It is too important to get wrong,” he said. “And if the Obama Administration gives away its oversight of the Internet, it will be gone forever.”

Daniel Castro’s argument is nothing new. It is advanced by many American geeks and pundits every time the question of globalizing management of the Web comes up, every time the ICANN contract comes up for renewal.

What’s changed is that we know now that our government has handed oversight of the Internet to the NSA.

UPDATE: the most prominent, broadest body already established to globalize, democratize Internet management is Global Commission on Internet Governance. Useful article at GigaOm.

Boston Dynamics’ new quadruped Wildcat — Woo-Hoo!

Boston Dynamics, the company behind DARPA’s most advanced legged robots such as PETMAN, BigDog, and Atlas, has unveiled the free-roaming version of their sprinting robot Cheetah. The new robot is called WildCat, and it’s already galloping at speeds up to 16 mph on flat ground.

Boston Dynamics is participating in DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program, which seeks to build robot systems that can move quickly in natural environments. To that end, it first developed a prototype called Cheetah that broke all speed records for legged robots last year. Cheetah was capable or reaching 28 mph (45 km/h), but it was tethered to an external power source and had the benefit of running on a smooth treadmill while being partially balanced by a boom arm. At the time, Boston Dynamics said it was working towards a free-running version of the robot, but it wasn’t until a few hours ago that they finally blew the lid on it.

WildCat not only gallops, but can bound and turn circles as well. And, when it loses its footing during the demonstration and nearly flips over, it comes to rest with all four feet on the ground not much worse for wear. Being that this is still fairly early in its development, the quadruped’s powerful motors don’t so much purr as scream, but as we’ve seen with Boston Dynamics’ other robots they can dampen the noise later. For now, its work is focused on getting the robot up to speed.

Dig it. They haven’t worked hard at any level of miniaturization either – as far as I can see. Going to be an awesome critter, someday.

Media credibility declines again – especially for Republicans

For the second time in a decade, the believability ratings for major news organizations have suffered broad-based declines. In the new survey, positive believability ratings have fallen significantly for nine of 13 news organizations tested. This follows a similar downturn in positive believability ratings that occurred between 2002 and 2004.

The falloff in credibility affects news organizations in most sectors: national newspapers, such as the New York Times and USA Today, all three cable news outlets, as well as the broadcast TV networks and NPR.

Across all 13 news organizations included in the survey, the average positive believability rating…is 56%. In 2010, the average positive rating was 62%. A decade ago, the average rating for the news organizations tested was 71%. Since 2002, every news outlet’s believability rating has suffered a double-digit drop, except for local daily newspapers and local TV news. The New York Times was not included in this survey until 2004, but its believability rating has fallen by 13 points since then…

The believability ratings for individual news organizations – like views of the news media generally – have long been divided along partisan lines. But partisan differences have grown as Republicans’ views of the credibility of news outlets have continued to erode. Today, there are only two news organizations – Fox News and local TV news – that receive positive believability ratings from at least two-thirds of Republicans. A decade ago, there were only two news organizations that did not get positive ratings from at least two-thirds of Republicans. By contrast, Democrats generally rate the believability of news organizations positively; majorities of Democrats give all the news organizations tested ratings of 3 or 4 on the 4-point scale, with the exception of Fox News…

Facts are a real problem for conservatives aren’t they?

Republicans have long held a more negative view of the credibility of the news media than Democrats and this continues to be reflected in current assessments of news outlets. Republicans rate the believability of nine of 13 news organizations less positively than do Democrats. Fox News is the only news organization that is rated higher for believability by Republicans…

The partisan difference in news providers – to me – is a pretty accurate reflection of what has become the predominant ideology in the Republican Party. If the news and the world are presenting facts, information, anecdotes which contradict what they believe should be reality – than the reporting is wrong – not the reality Republicans believe in.

Take away the portion of results skewed by a Republican belief system and all the news organizations are believable except Fox News.

Republicans have moved from a political analysis and ideology to being a religion. And that is concurrent with the influence of fundamentalist religions within the rank-and-file as well leadership of that party. Sad but true.

British Conservative Party adopts Republican tactic of attacking women’s reproductive rights

Are you women looking at me?
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Britain’s healthcare regulator was forced to divert resources away from monitoring patient care in the NHS after Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, ordered unannounced inspections of more than 300 abortion clinics in England, it has emerged.

In a tersely worded letter to the Department of Health, Dame Jo Williams, chair of the Care Quality Commission, wrote to officials saying the “fulfilment of [the health secretary’s] request has clearly impacted on planned regulatory activity by the CQC”.

The surprise inspections and the ensuing media furore led to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and pro-choice campaigners claiming they were “under siege” owing to the growing attacks by politicians. Anti-abortion MPs such as Nadine Dorries, a standard-bearer for the Christian right, called for the 1967 Abortion Act to be debated in parliament “and redrafted to deal with the number of illegal abortions which take place every day”.

The CQC’s leaked letter opens a new front in the abortion debate, raising questions over whether precious time and money was being wasted on essentially political scheme to placate elements of the Conservative party. However, Lansley denies acting under such pressure…blah, blah, blah.

Williams said that including planning and management time, 1,100 days of the CQC’s time had been absorbed by the request. “This equates to a total of 580 inspections foregone and a total of 16 inspectors being utilised on a full year basis at an estimated cost of £1 million…”

The vexed political climate around abortion has led to anxiety among doctors, concerned that their practice will be increasingly called into question. In a letter to the Guardian last month a group of senior clinicians and researchers said they were deeply concerned about the way the public discussion on abortion was proceeding and about how the service would manage to carry on.

There also appears increasing political pressure on independent abortion clinics, run by charities such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which fear that if rightwing Tories get their way planned revisions to their licence to operate may make it harder to offer women abortions.

Relying on rightwing religious fanatics to provide foot soldiers for your politics will only serve to drag the Tories into the same miasma that passes for today’s Republican Party here in the States.

Maybe that’s what they deserve. You think they’d be happy enough at the continued incompetence of a Labour Party still struggling to get out from under the Blair/Brown heritage.

Two governors call for Federal reclassification of marijuana

The move by the governors — Christine Gregoire of Washington, a Democrat, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, an independent who used to be a Republican — injected new political muscle into the long-running debate on the status of marijuana. Their states are among the 16 that now allow medical marijuana, but which have seen efforts to grow and distribute the drug targeted by federal prosecutors.

“The divergence in state and federal law creates a situation where there is no regulated and safe system to supply legitimate patients who may need medical cannabis,” the governors wrote Wednesday to Michele M. Leonhart, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Marijuana is currently classified by the federal government as a Schedule I controlled substance, the same category as heroin and L.S.D. Drugs with that classification, the government says, have a high potential for abuse and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

Which shows how out of touch with reality our federal government can be.

The governors want marijuana reclassified as a Schedule II controlled substance, which would put it in the same category as drugs like cocaine, opium and morphine. The federal government says that those drugs have a strong potential for abuse and addiction, but that they also have “some accepted medical use and may be prescribed, administered or dispensed for medical use.”

Such a classification could pave the way for pharmacies to dispense marijuana, in addition to the marijuana dispensaries that operate in a murky legal zone in many states.

“What we have out here on the ground is chaos,” Governor Gregoire said in an interview. “And in the midst of all the chaos we have patients who really either feel like they’re criminals or may be engaged in some criminal activity, and really are legitimate patients who want medicinal marijuana.

“If our people really want medicinal marijuana, then we need to do it right, we need to do it with safety, we need to do it with health in mind, and that’s best done in a process that we know works in this country — and that’s through a pharmacist…”

Ms. Gregoire noted that many doctors believe it makes no sense to place marijuana in a more restricted category than opium and morphine. “People die from overdose of opiates,” she said. “Has anybody died from marijuana?”

Pigheaded is still considered a requisite quality in determining who gets to run for political office in the United States. Along with obedience to party hacks, public allegiance to 19th Century ethics and unwillingness to learn from either science or experience.

Congress and the White House’s stubborn reliance on information and policies decades out of date is considered a moderating force for good. In reality, the result is a continual drag on opportunities for the United States to keep up with advances in knowledge and sensible practices.

Independent activist wins election as mayor of Seoul

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

A civic activist and vocal critic of President Lee Myung-bak rode a growing call for political change to become mayor of the South Korean capital, Seoul, winning a poll widely seen as a bellwether for the presidential election in December next year.

The activist, Park Won-soon, an independent candidate who was supported by the main opposition Democratic Party, clinched the mayoral race by winning 53.4 percent of the 4 million votes cast, according to the country’s Central Election Management Committee.

His rival, Na Kyung-won, a candidate affiliated with President Lee’s Grand National Party, won 46.2 percent.

Citizens defeated political power,” said Mr. Park, who refused to join a political party, billing himself as a “citizens’ candidate.” “Through election, they defeated an outdated era…”

Sohn Hak-kyu, head of the Democratic Party, indicated the victory of Mr. Park as an independent would prompt all the liberal opposition parties to regroup toward “a change of governments next year.”

The race in Seoul, home to one-fifth of the country’s 50 million people, was also widely regarded as a referendum on President Lee ahead of the parliamentary elections in April…

The poll, although confined to Seoul, drew nationwide attention by pitting a woman against a man, a political establishment star against an outsider — and Park Geun-hye against another possible candidate for next year’s presidential election, Ahn Chul-soo, a Seoul National University professor whose meteoric rise to political stardom analysts said reflected a gathering storm for change…

Mr. Park, 55, is a former student activist expelled from his university in the 1970s for demonstrating against former President Park Chung-hee, who was assassinated in 1979. Mr. Park later became a human rights lawyer who led two of South Korea’s most influential civic groups that exposed corruption in the country’s powerful conglomerates and accused members of the conservative elite — including President Park — of collaborating with the Japanese during their colonial rule in Korea.

RTFA to get yourself up to speed on contemporary politics in South Korea. Understand that changes like this one are at least as qualitative as the American attempt at the end of the Bush/Cheney cabal. And may actually produce changes that are qualitative rather than quantitative.

Spanish grassroots party wins local political victory

Elena Biurrun, the mayor of Torrelodones, is not only new to the job but is also an unusual addition to the Spanish political landscape.

Rather than representing one of Spain’s two dominant parties, the governing Socialist Party and the main opposition Popular Party, Ms. Biurrun last month became mayor of this town of 22,000 on the outskirts of Madrid at the helm of a local party, Vecinos por Torrelodones, or Neighbors for Torrelodones.

Vecinos did not start out as a political party. Instead, it grew out of an environmental protest group that Ms. Biurrun and others formed to block a real estate project that had the backing of the town hall but would have threatened 128 hectares of protected woodland. The group’s successful environmental crusade, which went as far as filing a complaint with the European Commission, convinced members that they could make other improvements to life in Torrelodones by running for office.

Gonzalo Santamaría Puente, now the deputy mayor, said achieving cost cuts was relatively easy in a town with “an envelope culture,” whereby kickbacks would be offered to secure contracts. In addition, he said, most past contracts involved “useless middlemen who each had to get a share…”

Her victory also coincides with a youth-led movement that has been demanding an overhaul of Spain’s political system. The protesters have accused traditional parties and other institutions of putting their interests ahead of those of the citizens, even at a time of record unemployment…

Since taking office, Ms. Biurrun and her team have focused on renegotiating supplier contracts in a town that has debt totaling €13 million… The company that provides school bus services, for instance, recently agreed to cut the value of its contract by 30 percent.

At a time of austerity, another of Ms. Biurrun’s priorities is trying to lead by example. She cut her own annual salary to €49,000 from the €63,000 that her predecessor earned. Gone also are his chauffeur-driven car and round-the-clock police escort.

“Nobody in our team had previously held any party membership, and our only shared ideology is that of common sense,” Ms. Biurrun said in an interview. “Politics, at least at a local level, should be about providing the sound management that residents deserve rather than parading around with a party tattoo.”

Which goes to show that ordinary mortals can deliver a grassroots assault on the Establishment without ending up as flunkies for reactionary corporate interests. Of course, this movement – and a few others in my experience – is grounded in the needs of working people regardless of color or creed.

The last time Spain had a movement approximating our red-white-and-blue Tea Party – they were the Falange, headed by the fascist who eventually became dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco.