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Nevertheless, She Persisted

One of the most disgusting events recorded in U.S. Senate history occurred last night while Senate Democrats held the floor to debate Jeff Sessions’ nomination as U.S. Attorney General.

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell used a gag rule to stop Elizabeth Warren from reading Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee about Jeff Sessions’ efforts to suppress African American voters and his fitness to serve as a federal judge.

This is breathtakingly offensive.

A Senator denied a First Amendment right, unable to participate in speech and debate in their role on behalf of constituents.

The suppression of an historic written statement by an historic figure, presented decades ago to the Senate.

A woman Senator prevented from speaking as part of a governmental body whose composition is 79% men.

The quashing of fact regarding a cabinet nominee’s racist behavior as a former member of law enforcement, germane to their unsuitability as U.S. Attorney General.

And most horrifically, the use of a gag rule circa 1836, instituted by white supremacist members of Congress who prevented abolitionists from speaking about ending slavery.

The Party of Lincoln is dead. It is a zombie animated by hatred, intent on hurting any who pose a threat to its continued grasp on power. It doesn’t take seriously its oath of office, instead resurrecting archaic nonsense to deprive the people of their rights while encouraging corruption.

In summoning Rule XIX and cementing his wretchedness into Senate record, McConnell said about Warren, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

She will, indeed, persist, Senator McConnell. She and millions of Americans will persist in their rejection of white supremacy and fascism which relies on it. You have generously offered a rallying cry for our resistance.

And when your body finally relinquishes the venal energy which moves it daily, know that whatever memorial is mounted for you will be visited for the next hundred years by women and minorities who’ll paste it with mementos which read, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Surrogating the 2016 American Presidency

Tonight was the opening of the Democratic National Convention. It was a rather stunning difference from the scenes on the street yesterday and today, where there were minimal and well behaved cops in Philly as contrasted with the warrior cop oppressive stormtrooper presence in Cleveland. From my reporter friends from the Arizona Republic, the food is totally better in Philly too. Hey, armies move on food, and cheesesteaks rule.

Is everything coming up roses? Nope. There was the whole Debbie Wasserman Schultz thing. She was well advised by our friend David Dayen to stay away and excommunicate herself from the convention podium. But, crikey, the rest simply looks beautiful. Sanders supporters marching in the streets for change, mostly unfettered and unoppressed, other voices being heard, and all relative delegates meeting and co-existing in the halls. This ain’t the dysfunctional RNC bigoted shit show. That, in and of itself, would be worth this post. There is more.

Don’t let cable coverage and the relentless yammer of their panels of self interested toadies fool you, the few true camera pans at the RNC showed more than a few empty seats and a far smaller crowd (especially in the upper decks) than displayed tonight at the DNC.

The real tell, in difference, was in the quality of the speakers and presentation. The only lasting memory from the RNC’s opening night was the embarrassing plagiarism in Melania Trump’s speech. Honestly, my bet is that is not on her, but the understaffed and idiot handlers her narcissistic, yet bumbling, husband provided. That said, it was a res ipsa loquitur deal and, in the end, spoke for itself. What else do you remember from that night other than Tim Tebow did not appear? I got nuthin.

The first night of the DNC in Philly, however, came with a litany of decent and well presented folks presented to a full and energetic hall. Emphasis on full. The dynamics in staging and presentation were stark. As were the quality and mental coherence of the speakers. The first electric moment came when Sarah Silverman, who along with Al Franken, was doing a bit and intro to Paul Simon singing (a geriatric, albeit mesmerizing) Bridge Over Troubled Water. Silverman and Franken had to kill an extra 120 seconds or so and she blurted out some hard, and real, truth that her fellow Bernie Sanders supporters who refuse to help Clinton defeat Trump are flat out “being ridiculous”. Truer words have never been spoken.

But soon came Michelle Obama to the podium. I am not sure I have the words to describe how good Michelle was. As a convention speaker, a surrogate, a leader, a mother and as a First Lady embodying all of the above. Michelle Obama killed it. She blew the joint up. I don’t know how else to describe it, but if you did not witness it live, watch the video up at top. Just do it.

Frankly, at the conclusion of Michelle Obama’s speech, it was hard to see how the last two key speakers, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, could possibly top the moment. Sadly, they could not. Liz Warren gave a great, and often in depth, speech. One that absolutely slayed Donald Trump in nearly every way. On its own, it would have been noteworthy. But sandwiched between the brilliance of Michelle Obama and Sanders, with his acolytes cheering and hers still reeling, it seemed good, but not great.

Bernie Sanders caught a little more fire, but mostly because of his yuuge contingent of supporters. And that is not just a good thing, it is a great thing. Sanders did everything, and more, he should have done in this speech by ginning up the classic points and issues his campaign, and its followers, were built on…and then transferring them to Clinton.

It did not work perfectly, but this will be a process up until the election date on November 8. Bernie went a long way, gracefully and patiently, tonight. And, while the cheering crowd appeared to be much more than just the “Sandernistas”, all of the hall seemed to get on board. That, along with Sarah Siverman telling holdout Bernie Busters to wake up and not be ridiculous, were giant steps in unifying support for Clinton over Trump.

Listen, I have been around the block a few times, and know I am supposed to lead with the headline. Sorry, this one worked up to it, and here it is. The RNC and Trump got their lousy bounce because the media, once again, cravenly portrayed what happened in Cleveland as normal, and tit for tat, with what is happening, and will happen, in Philadelphia. That is simply a ratings and craven click germinated lie. The difference is stark.

Nowhere is it more stark than in the picture painted as to the surrogates who will come out of the respective conventions to campaign for their respective candidate between now and November 8.

Um, let’s see, for the GOP we have Newt, Carson, Melania, Thiel, Flynn, Joe Arpaio and Chachi Baio. I excluded Ivanka because she might actually be competent. Seriously, that is basically it for Trump surrogates. From the whole convention. Even Clint Eastwood’s chair took a pass in this, the year of the Orange Faced Short Fingered Vulgarian Bigot.

Let’s compare that with what came out of the Democratic Convention’s first night. Sarah Silverman, Al Franken, Paul Simon, Eva Longoria, Corey Booker and, then, the big three…Michelle Obama, Liz Warren and Bernie Sanders. That is just the first night folks.

See a bit of a dichotomy in personality and credibility there?

Then picture that Clinton’s road warrior surrogates will include not just the above, but also Joe Biden, President Barack Obama and the Big Dog himself, Bill Clinton.

Elections are won in the trenches. Say what you will about Hillary Clinton, and I will probably join you on many negatives, but the Clintons do have a ground operation. And their surrogates are like the 1927 Yankees compared to the Bad News Bears for Trump and the RNC. How will Trump bolster his bench, by bringing in Roger Ailes to molest the women of America? Is there another ground plan for the Trump Juggalos?

Sure, Clinton can still muck it up and lose. She, and the DNC, have been beyond pathetic in how they have treated nearly half their party, and much of their activist base, during the primaries and aftermath. Not just ugly, but stupid. They deserve any hell they get for that, whether it comes from appropriately enraged Sanders supporters or from press reporting on hacks (THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!!!)

Bottom line is this: Which set of surrogates would you think would do a better job spreading out over the country: Crazy Newt, Racist Flynn, Bigot Arpaio and Chachi, …. or Michelle Obama, Liz Warren, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama and Joe Biden?

Think I will go with the latter, and I think they will reach a heck of a lot more voters who will actually engage than will the trite and petty bigots Trump will have on the public offer.

And the Dems have a laundry list of other quality surrogates who will stand up. Trump has apparent Klan worthy members like Jeff Sessions, felons like Don King and Mike Tyson, and people who seek to be them.

Who you gonna call when it comes time to vote?

Seems like an easy decision, especially when you consider that the next 30 to 35 years of ideological control of the Supreme Court hang in the balance.

Cy Vance Calls It In Dumbly on Smart Phones

There are two things Cy Vance (writing with Paris’ Chief Prosecutor, the City of London Policy Commissioner, and Javier Zaragoza, Spain’s High Court) doesn’t mention in his op-ed calling for back doors in Apple and Google phones.

iPhone theft and bankster crime.

The former is a huge problem in NYC, with 8,465 iPhone thefts in 2013, which made up 18% of the grand larcenies in the city. The number came down 25% (and the crime started switching to Samsung products) last year, largely due to Apple’s implementation of a Kill Switch, but that still leaves 6,000 thefts a year — as compared to the 74 iPhones Vance says NYPD wasn’t able to access (he’s silent about how many investigations, besides the 3 he describes, that actually thwarted; Vance ignores default cloud storage completely in his op-ed). The numbers will come down still further now that Apple has made the Kill Switch (like encryption) a default setting on the iPhone 6. But there are still a lot of thefts, which can not only result in a phone being wiped and resold, but also an identity stolen. Default encryption will protect against both kinds of crime. In other words, Vance just ignores how encryption can help to prevent a crime that has been rampant in NYC in recent years.

Bankster crime is an even bigger problem in NYC, with a number of the worlds most sophisticated Transnational Crime Organizations, doing trillions of dollars of damage, headquartered in the city. These TCOs are even rolling out their very own encrypted communication system, which Elizabeth Warren fears may eliminate the last means of holding them accountable for their crimes. But Vance — one of the prosecutors that should be cracking down on this crime — not only doesn’t mention their special encrypted communication system, but he doesn’t mention their crimes at all.

There are other silences and blind spots in Vance’s op-ed, too. The example he starts with — a murder in Evanston, not any of the signees’ jurisdiction — describes two phones that couldn’t be accessed. He remains silent about the other evidence available by other means, such as via the cloud. Moreover, he assumes the evidence will be in the smart phone, which may not be the case. Moreover, it’s notable that Vance focuses on a black murder victim, because racial disparities in policing, not encryption, are often a better explanation for why murders of black men remain unsolved 2 months later. Given NYPD’s own crummy record at investigating and solving the murders of black and Latino victims, you’d think Vance might worry more about having NYPD reassign its detectives accordingly than stripping the privacy of hundreds of thousands.

Then Vance goes on to describe how much smart phone data they’re still getting.

In France, smartphone data was vital to the swift investigation of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in January, and the deadly attack on a gas facility at Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, in June. And on a daily basis, our agencies rely on evidence lawfully retrieved from smartphones to fight sex crimes, child abuse, cybercrime, robberies or homicides.

Again, Vance is silent about whether this data is coming off the phone itself, or off the cloud. But it is better proof that investigators are still getting the data (perhaps via the cloud storage he doesn’t want to talk about?), not that they’re being thwarted.

Like Jim Comey, Vance claims to want to have a discussion weighing the “marginal benefits of full-disk encryption and the need for local law enforcement to solve and prosecute crimes.” But his op-ed is so dishonest, so riven with obvious holes, it raises real questions about both his honesty and basic logic.

Gang of Transnational Crime Organizations Roll Out Own Encrypted Communication System

When Michael Chertoff made the case against back doors, he noted that if the government moved to require back doors, it would leave just the bad guys with encrypted communications.

The second thing is that the really bad people are going to find apps and tools that are going to allow them to encrypt everything without a back door. These apps are multiplying all the time. The idea that you’re going to be able to stop this, particularly given the global environment, I think is a pipe dream. So what would wind up happening is people who are legitimate actors will be taking somewhat less secure communications and the bad guys will still not be able to be decrypted.

I doubt he had the Transnational Crime Organizations on Wall Street in mind when he talked about the bad guys “still not be able to be decrypted.”

But HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, Citi, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and the other big banks supporting Symphony Communications — a secure cloud based communications system about to roll out — are surely among the world’s most hard-core recidivists, and their crime does untold amount of damage to ordinary people around the globe.

Which is why I’m so amused that Elizabeth Warren has made a stink about the imminent rollout of Symphony and whether it will affect banks’ ability to evade what scant law enforcement might be thrown their way.

I have [] concerns about how the biggest banks use of this new communications tool will impact compliance and enforcement by the Department of Justice [Warren sent versions of the letter to 6 regulators] at the federal level.

My concerns are exacerbated by Symphony’s publicly available descriptions of the new communications system, which appear to put companies on notice — with a wink and a nod — that they can use Symphony to reduce compliance and enforcement concerns. Symphony claims that “[i]n the past, communication tools designed for the financial services sector were limited in reach and effectiveness by strict regulatory compliance … We’re changing the communications paradigm” The company’s website boasts that it has special tools to “prevent government spying,” and “there are no backdoors,” and that “Symphony has designed a specific set of procedures to guarantee that data deletion is permanent.”

Warren is right to be concerned. These are serial conspiracists on a global scale, and (as Warren notes elsewhere) they’ve only been caught — to the extent that hand slaps count as being caught — when DOJ found the chat rooms in which they’ve colluded.

That said, the banks, too, have real reason to be concerned. The stated reason they give for pushing this project is Bloomberg’s spying on them — when they were using Bloomberg chat — for reporting reasons, which was revealed two years ago. The reference to government spying goes beyond US adversaries, though I’m sure both real adversaries, like China, and competitors, like the EU, are keeping watch on the banks to the extent they can. But the US has spied on the banks, too. As the spy agency did with Google, the NSA spied on SWIFT even though it also had a legal means to get that data. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rise in bank sanctions violations in recent years stemmed from completely necessary spying if you’re going to impose sanctions, but spying that would compromise the banks, too. Remember, too, that the Treasury Department has, at least as of recently, never complied with EO 12333’s requirement for minimization procedures to protect US persons, which would include banks.

And there have even been cases of hacker-insider trader schemes of late.

So banks are right to want secure communications. And while these banks are proven crooks — and should be every bit the worry to Jim Comey as ISIS’s crappier encryption program, if Comey believes in hunting crime — the banks should be reined in via other means, not by making them insecure.

If we’re going to pretend — and it is no more than make-believe — that the banks operate with integrity, then they need to have secure communications. But without that make-believe, a lot of the important fictions America tells itself about capitalism start to fall apart.

Which is my way of saying that the 6 regulators need to think through how they can continue to regulate recidivist crooks who have their own secure messaging system, but that the recidivist crooks probably need a secure messaging system (though having their own might be a stretch).

If Jim Comey is going to bitch and moan about criminals potentially exploiting access to encrypted communications, then he should start his conversation with the banks, not Apple. If he remains silent about this gang and their secure communications, then he needs to concede, once and for all, that actual humans need to have access to the same privilege of secure communications.

On this topic, see also District Sentinel’s piece on this.

 

HUD Digs an Escape Tunnel for Jamie Dimon

The other day I dismissed US disdain for Mexico at its inability to keep Chapo Guzmán jailed. After all, I pointed out, we don’t even try to imprison our Transnational Crime Organization bosses.

At the Intercept yesterday, DDay pointed out another example. After JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup pled guilty to forex fraud, the Department of Housing and Urban Development “changed their form” for FHA insurance, so as to permit those TCOs to continue to have taxpayers insure their customers’ loans.

On May 20 of this year, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup both entered a guilty plea on one felony count of conspiring to rig foreign currency exchange trades, the largest market on the globe.

Five days earlier, on May 15, HUD slipped a notice into the Federal Register, seeking to alter its standard loan-level certification form, known as HUD-92900-A. This form must be filled out for lenders to receive FHA insurance, which reimburses them if the homeowner falls into foreclosure.

On the current HUD-92900-A form, lenders must certify that their firm and its principals “have not, within a three-year period … been convicted of or had a civil judgment rendered against them” for a variety of crimes, including “commission of fraud … violation of Federal or State antitrust statutes or commission of embezzlement, theft, forgery, bribery, falsification or destruction of records, making false statements or receiving stolen property.”

JPMorgan and Citi’s guilty plea would fall under the antitrust statute, and according to Brown, Warren and Waters’ reading of the certification, that would make them ineligible to obtain FHA insurance on their loans.

On the updated form, this language has been excised.

As Senators Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Maxine Waters read it, this will eliminate what should have been one of the biggest impacts of the TCOs’ guilty plea.

Again, Jamie Dimon’s tunnel may not be so spectacular as Guzmán’s. But that’s partly because even more parts of government are helping him to escape any punishment for his TCO’s crimes.

Behind the Humble Blue Pickup Scott Brown Has Been Working for Banks with Ties to Home-Stealing Forgers

Remember when Scott Brown used his old GMC pickup to promise he’d change business as usual in Washington?

In a bid to force Elizabeth Warren to reveal her clients going back decades, Brown made this admission.

“I am also a real estate attorney with a very small general practice. I don’t have any corporate clients, where I get paid tens of thousands of dollars.”

Mostly, he said, his local legal work involved property closings and real estate transactions. He said he has worked for Wrentham Cooperative Bank, Hyde Park Cooperative Bank and Middlesex Savings Bank.

I was a title agent for first American and Fidelity National Title and I represented a couple of small mortgage companies that are probably out of business now,” Mr. Brown said. [my emphasis]

As Adam Levitin and DDay translate, by working for Fidelity National, Brown worked for the parent company of one of the most corrupt players among the rogues gallery of mortgage fraudsters.

Fidelity National is the former parent company of LPS, one of the worst offenders in the foreclosure fraud industry. Fidelity National split with LPS very quickly once their worst abuses came to light.

As I’m sure you can gather from my reports here, LPS was a middleman in this game, providing faulty documents – often off a prescribed menu, where you pay $100 for a mortgage assignment, or $150 for a full loan file – through its subsidiary DocX. This company facilitated forgeries and mass false documents, which we know through Lynn Szymoniak’s work. The Linda Green phenomenon came right out of LPS and DocX. This is where robo-signing lived.

And while we don’t know what Brown did–or still does!–for Fidelity National, it does place him in the front seat of the housing bubble.

It’s not clear exactly what Brown was doing for these clients–title work sounds innocent and boring enough, and Brown certainly isn’t responsible for all of his clients’ misdeeds.  But at the very least, Brown’s association raises a host of questions. Who were those “mortgage companies” that he worked for?  It’s nice that Brown named a bunch of local banks, but I wonder what lies under the “mortgage company” label?  What did Scott Brown understand about the mortgage market he was facilitating? Did he recognize that there was a bubble?  (He was a town property assessor at one point, so one would think he’d notice this sort of thing.) If not, what does that say?  And if so, what does thatsay? How many predatory loans did Scott Brown facilitate?  How many of the loans where he handled the closing resulted in foreclosure?  What would he say to those families that lost their homes to predatory loans?

Since Brown first raised these nice homely local banks with ties to document forgers in a bid to force Warren to explain more about how she helped people get asbestos settlements and other things, I’m sure he’ll have no problem answering Levitin’s questions about precisely what he did and knew about the mortgage industry. Ha! And, as DDay notes, he should also answer for the conflicts of interest that led him to hold up some financial reform.

He held out in the [financial reform] bill, getting a bank fee removed that would have paid for much of the regulatory measures, and weakening the Volcker rule to allow more proprietary trading among big financial institutions. So Brown was a cog in the great finance wheel when doing these closings and “title work,” and also when a US Senator trying to enable as much profit-earning risk in the big financial institutions as possible. A useful cog.

Before Scott Brown digs up work Warren did years ago, he probably ought to elaborate on this nice homey mortgage work, and let us know whether he was ignorant to the corruption around him, or just facilitating it. After all, he’s the guy insisting on transparency .

Most Blunt Amendment Supporters Likely to Have Used Birth Control

I confess. I’m contemplating calling all the Senators who voted for the Blunt Amendment yesterday to ask for a statement detailing:

  • What the Senators’ history of reproductive choice has been, including details on what kinds of birth control they’ve used and who paid for it
  • Whether the Senators (or their spouses) have used erectile dysfunction drugs, and who paid for it

Mind you, I think such questions are inappropriate. But given that 48 Senators–including 3 Democrats and 4 women–voted yesterday to say that employers should have really intrusive control over their employees’ healthcare decisions (including, but in no way limited, to reproductive health), it seems fair to at least inquire whether these men and women have been relying on birth control to plan their families, whether their use of birth control violates their religion’s stated doctrine, and whether taxpayers paid for birth control during their child-bearing years.

As you can see from the list below, the vast majority of Senators who voted for the Blunt Amendment are likely to have relied on birth control or sterilization to limit their family size. Just three–Susan Collins, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Lindsey Graham–have no biological children. And just three–Mike Crapo (5), Chuck Grassley (5), and Orrin Hatch (6)–have more than 4 biological children (McCain and Blunt have more with their adopted kids). Of those likely to have used birth control or sterilization, 22 worked for local, state, or federal government during a roughly calculated “child-bearing” period of their life, meaning taxpayers may have paid for their birth control (though of course their spouses’ employers may have provided health care, too). Of those likely to have used more than the rhythm method, 10 are Catholic.

So I’m going to contemplate this over the weekend. But for the moment, consider that the great majority of the Senators who voted to let employers restrict birth control access seem to have families that have been shaped by birth control.

Note the following details are a first draft–please let me know of any inaccuracies.

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Eric Schneiderman: Foreclosure Settlement “Down Payment”

Given that we’re talking about some relief for homeowners who are so far underwater that they’ve completely lost the value of the down payment they paid on their homes, I thought NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s use of the phrase “down payment” to be a curious way to describe that he considers this settlement just the first step toward achieving justice.

Down payments don’t have the kind of value they used to have.

Perhaps the most interesting thing Schneiderman said other than that, though, was he thought they’d get some relief from MERS through legal means, and therefore wouldn’t need any legislation about MERS. Does that mean he thinks he can shut down MERS with his suit? Let’s hope so. That would go a long way to fix the problems in our mortgage system.

Other than that, he offered little explanation of my two main questions about this: 1) how he expects to get to the underlying problems with mortgages–the securitization problems–without using the robosigning efforts as a way to work up a chain to a real prosecution and 2) how letting banks off the hook for fraud and forgery doesn’t encourage more of the same?

In his press conference–and at more length in an interview with Greg Sargent–he said we skeptics should believe that Obama (now) takes this seriously because of assurances he gave Schneiderman and the emphasis he gave it at the SOTU.

Asked if progressives should be skeptical of the administration’s assurances, given the lack of accountability so far, Schneiderman insisted that Obama’s private and public assurances have left him convinced he is serious about a real accounting.

“He took ownership of this,” Schneiderman. “Sometimes people on the left have to take yes for an answer. The President is accepting the challenge. It’s time for progressives to say, `okay, he’s moving with us now, he’s using resources of government to aggressively pursue the malefactors of great wealth, as Teddy Roosevelt put it.’”

Perhaps most interestingly, Schneiderman said that the coalition of liberal, progressive and labor organizations that had come together to insist that the current settlement not let the banks off the hook would help force the task force to ultimately succeed.

“This will ultimately depend on the coalition that’s assembled around these principles,” Schneiderman said. “We’ve now got a progressive coalition that … can move public officials to take a more aggressive approach.”

I do have some faith Scheiderman will succeed in doing some real investigation. But when I read this description of Obama’s commitment, I couldn’t help but think of Elizabeth Warren. Sure, she got a CFPB set up. But when it came time to using a recess appointment to put her in charge of it, well, that never happened.

Also, to trust Obama on this? He’s the same guy who promised accountability on illegal wiretapping and changes to FISA Amendments Act.

I still trust Schneiderman will get some investigation here, but I’ve learned from experience that Obama may renege on his promises to progressives for accountability.

How Dare the President Protect Consumers!?!?!

We’ll have to come back to the issue of why President Obama decided to use his recess authority to appoint Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Board but not Dawn Johnsen or Elizabeth Warren. But for now, I’d like to collect the wails of Republican outrage.

Shorter John Boehner: Protecting consumers from rapacious banks is an extraordinary and entirely unprecedented power grab! Protecting consumers is bad for the economy!

Shorter Mitch McConnell: Obama has arrogantly circumvented the American people by protecting the American people!

Shorter Orrin Hatch: It is a very grave decision by this heavy-handed, autocratic White House to appoint someone to protect consumers. The American people deserve to be treated with more respect than this White House is affording them by protecting them from the banks!

Shorter Spencer Bachus: Appointing a director to the CFPB will cripple it for years. The greatest threat to our economy right now is uncertainty, and by protecting consumers the President just guaranteed there will be even more uncertainty.

 

The Scandal Is that Jonathan Alter Doesn’t See the Scandal

[Sorry for my unannounced absence. I’m on a road trip visiting Mr. EW’s family. Thanks to Jim White and bmaz for guarding the likker cabinet! I know they’ll keep it safe!]

I once got in trouble for mocking people who thought that blowjobs were a scandal worth legal investigation, but torture was not. Given that Jonathan Alter is the so-called liberal who, weeks after 9/11, affirmatively embraced torture, I’m not surprised he still falls in the former group. On Thursday, he wrote a Bloomberg piece sycophantically wondering how Obama managed to have such a scandal-free Administration. This, of the President whose Administration continues to invent all sorts of legal gimmicks to protect his predecessor’s torture. And this, of the guy who is looking high and low for new ways to bail out the banksters from the consequences of their crimes.

This Administration has smothered what was left of rule of law. And yet Alter can’t find a scandal?

Part of the problem stems from Alter’s terms. he equates scandal with some kind of honesty.

President Barack Obama goes into the 2012 with a weak economy that may doom his reelection. But he has one asset that hasn’t received much attention: He’s honest.

Obama certainly lies: about his commitment to the public option, his opposition to telecom immunity, and even his belief that no one is above the law. But what Obama does more is spin–spending months claiming that the deficit is the biggest threat to our country, claiming that a bank settlement is necessary to get the housing market back on track. That kind of spin requires real analysis to catch. Which, I guess, Alter isn’t up to.

And part of Alter’s problem is his adoption of Brendan Nyhan’s definition of scandal: the reference to something as a scandal by a WaPo reporter on that rag’s front page.

Nyhan says that political scientists generally see The Washington Post as a solid indicator of elite opinion — so for his study, a problem officially curdles into a scandal once the S-word is used in a reporter’s own voice in a story that runs on the front page of the Post.

Given that one of the WaPo editorial page’s most striking ideological commitments is to torture, it seems nearly impossible that torture–and the refusal to prosecute it–would ever be a scandal by Nyhan’s (and therefore Alter’s) terms. And Dana Milbank’s bankster epiphany notwithstanding, WaPo reporters are, almost by definition, isolated from the effects of the banksters’ crimes by class and distance.

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