Thursday, April 14, 2016

In closing, Hillary Clinton's final statement was the fundamental difference between Senator Sanders' lack of any substance to back up the very same type of baseless rhetoric Trump speaks of

Sanders' fundamental flaw is "If I was elected President..."

A President Sanders would leave us with one simple fact upon taking office: $40 Trillion in DEBT

For all the confusion over the Palestinians and Israeli's, Sanders eloquently put it by saying the most simple answer: There are two sides

On Middle Eastern Policy, GAME SET AND MATCH TO HILLARY...

You can only leave the Israel question to Sanders after he supports them 100% -- and he dropped the ball on Gaza and Palestine moreso than anything he has said in this debate

Sanders makes the brilliant point of removing dictators, then the power vacuum that follows...But the necessary evil in this situation is simple -- Assad should stay in power. Remember Pelosi in 2006 going to meet him?

Brilliant strategy by Clinton to use President Obama's current approval ratings to rail against Sanders in an attempt to rally and unify the left support that she will need from Sander's supporters

Why does Hillary switch to a 'united front' on the fossil fuel industry? Poor Bernie...9/11 ain't climate change

WOW....Hillary on the 1994 Crime Bill is an incredible mixed bag of President Clinton's act, and Bernie just brilliantly switched the subject away -- but it was to his loose interpretation of state government and criminal standards

Bernie on gun's...there is nothing but confusion

Bernie just choked BIGTIME with his chuckle on gun violence -- Game, Set, Match: Hillary

:

Yikes...the fight for $15? Hillary dropped the ball bigtime....

Blitzer laid the hammer down on Bernie with Verizon -- the question was built in, lose lose -- coal??

Swaps and Derivatives...Hillary's Gotcha moment..

Pssh..."I love Being in Brooklyn" Hillary is pandering to the far left to merely outmaneuver Bernie's built in Socialist base

Hillary really just dropped the ball on Dodd-Frank...the question at hand plays right into Bernie's hands

There is a feeling of nothing that can only be described as pathetic listening to Sander's using the vote against the Iraq War as his continued rhetoric derails a message of nothing but false platitudes

Hillary's Opening Statement

She remembered that it was New York and that the basic election is not about anything but WINNING the state of New York

Bernie's Opening Statement

Fluff

Blogging Tonight's Dem Debate -- Should be Fun..

New Aleppo Assault Casts Fresh Cloud Over Syria Peace Talks

BEIRUT/GENEVA | BY ANGUS MCDOWALL AND TOM MILES

Reuters
April 14, 2016

Syria's army backed by Russian warplanes launched an assault north of Aleppo on Thursday, threatening to block a vital rebel route into the city in fighting that has cast new clouds over Geneva peace talks.

Syria's recent upsurge in fighting, particularly around the northern city of Aleppo, has proven the most acute challenge yet to a cessation of hostilities deal agreed in February and soured an already bleak mood as opposing sides gather in Geneva.

Outlining its bargaining position, the opposition High Negotiating Council (HNC) told Reuters it would be willing to share equally in a transitional council with the government, but repeated its rejection of a role for President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian government, buoyed by Russian and Iranian military support, has ruled out any discussion of the presidency. Moscow and Tehran have also rejected what they see as Western efforts to predetermine Assad's future.

The warring sides have sought to portray the fighting as the fault of the other, pushing towards breaking point a ceasefire that was designed to improve the political climate ahead of the Geneva talks.

In addition to the Aleppo assault, heavy government air strikes were reported north of Homs, where a doctor described the most intense government bombardment since the cessation of hostilities agreement took effect.

In Aleppo, government forces and their allies were focused on the area around Handarat Camp, overlooking an important access point held by rebels into the city, which is split into zones held by the government and opposition.

"The escalation started at night. The area is of great importance. If the regime advances, this will tighten the grip on Aleppo," said Abdullah Othman, head of the politburo of the Levant Front rebel group.

"VERY FIERCE" RUSSIAN BOMBING


Speaking to Reuters, he described the battle as "to-and-fro" and said: "the bombing is Russian, and very fierce". His account was echoed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group that monitors the war.

Separately, the monitor said it had received information that Islamic State hit and may have brought down a Syrian jet near the southern city of Sweida although the pilot had apparently been rescued. Amaq, a news agency close to the militants, also said IS had downed a Syrian army plane.

Syrian state TV reported that the army had seized control of the northern part of Handarat camp, to the north of Aleppo, after fierce battles with armed groups. A number of militants had been killed, it said.

Handarat camp is important because it is perched on a hilltop above a main road leading to opposition-held districts of the city.

The government and its allies have launched several major offensives in the Aleppo area, cutting the rebels' shortest supply line to Turkey in February. Yet rebels still control territory around the city, including its western approaches.

Fighting near Aleppo has been escalating for two weeks, mostly to the south of the city where government forces backed by Lebanon's Hezbollah and other militias have been waging fierce battles with rebels including Nusra Front fighters.

The al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and Islamic State groups are not included in the cessation of hostilities agreement.

Speaking in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the rebels of breaching the truce to reconquer lost ground. "The opposition is trying to recover what they lost," he said.

Putin, who last month decided to withdraw some of the Russian forces deployed to Syria, said Moscow had left Damascus in a position to launch major offensives.

The air strikes in Homs hit five towns and villages, killing one person and wounding a number of others in Talbiseh, said Doctor Mohamad al-Shamsi, speaking from the area. "Warplanes were flying at low altitudes for nearly an hour. A number of raids were launched on Talbiseh and al-Houla," he said.

Rebels north of Aleppo are also facing a separate attack by the Islamic State group, which is trying to retake territory at the Turkish frontier lost in recent days to other insurgent groups backed by Turkey.

OPPOSITION WANTS TO HEAR GOVERNMENT IDEAS ON ASSAD

The Geneva talks aim to end a war that has killed more than 250,000 people, created the world's worst refugee crisis, and allowed for the rise of the Islamic State group.

U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura has said he wants the resumed talks to focus on a political transition, one of the most contentious issues, with the opposition and its allies insisting Assad must be removed at the start of the process.

HNC spokesman Salim al-Muslat said in an interview there were "many people on the other side who we can really deal with". "We will have no veto, as long as they don't send us criminals, as long as they don't send us people involved in the killing of Syrians," he said.

The opposition wants the transition to be run by a governing authority that has full executive powers. Damascus has, however, signaled that the most it is willing to offer is a "unity government" with opposition participation, and a new constitution.

Assad's supporters, including Iran, say he should be able to run in a future presidential election.

Putin said: "It is necessary to accept - for all to agree and sit down at the negotiating table - to accept the constitution and on the basis of the constitution to hold elections. That is the way to get out of the crisis."

Muslat said there was room for negotiation on how to handle Assad's departure: "For a solution, to really help Syria to get relief, then let them suggest what they want for Assad and we discuss it."


Article Link to Reuters:

Quite the day for true volatility in SGY and CPST...still turned a profit...

Stone Energy -- Stock Symbol #SGY -- Is a nice early Intraday Buy @ $.885; +/- .03

The Difficult Choice Over Today's Stock In Play...Let's Go With Capstone Turbine, Symbol CPST

A Safe Distance on Clinton's 1994 Crime Bill

By Editorial Board
The Bloomberg View
April 14, 2016


Bill Clinton got an earful last week from Black Lives Matter protesters in Philadelphia, and the former president responded in kind -- and at length.

The dispute was over the 1994 crime bill, the most comprehensive criminal justice legislation in U.S. history. “Clinton crime bill destroyed our communities,” a protester’s sign read. Clinton argued that the bill had saved black communities, and black lives. He later expressed regret for his outburst. He shouldn’t have.

The legislation paid for close to 100,000 additional community police officers, built new prisons, encouraged harsher sentences for crimes, and specifically toughened penalties for rape and domestic violence. Crime came down. Lives were saved. The alternate history, the one without the bill, would likely be filled with the stories of victims, many of them black.

The bill came with its human cost. The trend toward more and longer sentences -- an ongoing increase that was actually greater before the bill passed -- surely harmed some lives that otherwise could have been redeemed. This cannot be discounted. And yet to focus on this observation at the exclusion of all else would be a serious mistake. In fact, the current and vocal critique of the bill is one that can be reached only in hindsight. It is a luxury afforded by the drastic decline in violent crime over the past 22 years. In the early 1990s, crime was rampant. Almost 11 million violent crimes were committed in 1994, including 23,305 homicides. That’s nearly double the number of murders in 2014.

“If you weren’t seriously worried about crime in 1994, you just weren’t paying attention,” wrote criminal justice expert Mark A.R. Kleiman in February, after the crime bill emerged as an issue in the Democratic presidential primary. “No one knew then that we’d seen the worst. All we knew is that the number of murders had more than doubled, that the total number of violent crimes had increased sixfold in the previous 30 years, that no reversal of trend seemed to be in sight, and that the street-level arms race financed by the crack trade had expanded the age range of killers and their victims down into adolescence.”

Crime is an enormously complex phenomenon, one that may ultimately be more responsive to subtle social inputs than to blunt punitive measures. Quantifying the 1994 law’s effects, tying it to the precipitous drop in crime over the subsequent two decades, will always be tricky.

The law is best understood as a democratic response to a crisis. Like all such responses, it was imperfect, dependent on political compromise and assumptions about the future. But it’s doubtful this current debate would even be happening without a steep drop in crime. It’s worth remembering that a safer society, more than any flaw particular to the law, has opened the political space to debate needed sentencing reforms -- and even to heckle a former president.


Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

Operation 1,237: The Hunt for GOP Delegates

By Caitlin Huey-Burns
Real Clear Politics
April 14, 2016


The state of the Republican presidential race can be summed up by one number: 1,237.

It represents the total delegates required to secure the nomination. And it’s not going to change, given it’s a simple majority (50 percent plus one) of the delegates to the GOP convention.

“We are a party of the Constitution, a party of rules and laws—not men,” says Republican National Committeeman Peter Feaman from Florida and member of the standing committee on rules. “The majority vote has been the way we've picked a nominee from the time that Republicans met in Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1854.”

In other words, there is no wiggle room.

But questions abound when it comes to the machinations behind the scenes, and, if no candidate hits that threshold, is there a point at which close enough may be good enough?

How close or far away the candidates are from 1,237 won’t be known until after the final primary on June 7 in California. RNC members and strategists alike say that while the threshold isn't flexible, there are different ways to wrangle delegates ahead of the first ballot even after the primaries have wrapped up.

Donald Trump’s recent complaints about the rules and a “rigged” system, plus his recent hiring of delegate strategists, suggests his campaign anticipates difficulty in securing the requisite number of delegates.

After missing opportunities to pick up delegates at state conventions, the Trump campaign is crying foul, arguing that whoever has the most delegates and won the most states should become the nominee, even if that person doesn’t hit 1,237. Former political consultant Roger Stone suggested Wednesday that Trump delegates "pledge" their loyalty to him throughout the balloting process.

A recent AP poll appears to support this notion: 58 percent of Republicans surveyed said the nomination should go to whomever has the most delegates, while 40 percent disagreed. Republicans are also aware of the public relations optics that could ensue if Trump comes close. Some have started to estimate thresholds Trump would have to meet to be able to coalesce the delegates around his candidacy to achieve the necessary 1,237 delegates.

Randy Evans, an RNC rules committee member from Georgia, projects that if Trump concludes the primary process with at least 1,100 delegates, he could convince enough unbound delegates to achieve 1,237 by the time the convention starts. If Trump comes in below 1,000, however, Evans believes the contest will go into a free for all.

“The overwhelming likelihood is he is going to be 75-125 short,” Evans told RCP.

The logic suggests the most interesting contest could be the wrangling that occurs between California and Cleveland.

Forecasters estimate there will be roughly 130 to 200 unbound delegates going into the convention. Josh Putnam, a campaign expert at the University of Georgia who runs the delegate site Frontloading HQ, estimates Trump's final tally could be somewhere between 1,172 and, at best, 1,255. "There is very little margin for error," he says.

Feaman believes “There are some unbound delegates around the country that could be subject to politicking or convincing." The rules regarding the limits to wooing delegates are unclear and leave open many possibilities for desperate candidates.

Evans notes that in addition to courting unbound delegates, Trump could also try to team up with a rival and offer a vice presidential spot in exchange for delegates. Or, he notes, Ted Cruz could do the same. Marco Rubio, notably, is refusing to release his delegates.

“It’s very likely this remains a very decentralized delegate-by-delegate battle, and to woo a very limited number of unbound delegates,” says Putnam. He notes that after the 2012 election, the RNC amended several rules to ensure a swifter nominating process, including limiting the number of unbound delegates. The effect is that there are fewer opportunities to try to win over delegates after the process has played out in the states. This could negatively impact Trump.

After Wisconsin’s primary and a convention in Colorado, Trump’s path to 1,237 became more difficult, but not impossible—forecasters estimate he would need roughly 60 percent of the remaining delegates. Primaries in New York next week and Pennsylvania the week after could help him get back on track.

Other strategists believe Trump will have trouble convincing delegates to turn his away, no matter how close he is.

“There is no evidence he can do that. He essentially conceded Colorado, for example, by not even participating,” says Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist and former communications director for the Cruz campaign. Furthermore, Trump will have to contend with Cruz’s organization, which has already worked to secure delegates, including those bound to Trump on the first ballot. “Cruz has secured a significant number of those who will now switch and vote for him on the second ballot,” says Tyler.

Strategists have been perplexed by Trump’s lack of organization, given that he has been the party front-runner for several months. He recently hired Paul Manafort to run his convention strategy. On Wednesday, the campaign hired former Scott Walker campaign manager Rick Wiley, who once worked as political director of the RNC, as a top adviser.

“It’s now incumbent upon Trump to show he is the greatest deal maker in history,” says former RNC communications director Doug Heye, a member of the Never Trump movement. “He hasn’t done anything yet.”

The 1,237 number isn’t typically the focus of so much campaign coverage, as the leading candidate for the nomination usually sews it up well before the convention. But this year, of course, is no typical year. Trump is leading the GOP field in delegates and states won, but is not the consensus candidate for the party. His two main rivals for the nod are really only staying in the race to prevent him from reaching 1,237 before the convention.

“Since 1976, I don’t think anybody has cared what the rules say because there’s been a presumptive nominee,” says Curly Haugland, an RNC member from North Dakota. “If there had been a consensus, we wouldn’t be having this discussion because everybody would say, ‘OK, we’re going with the candidate.’”

Without a consensus choice, campaigns and strategists will spend the next several months anticipating different convention scenarios. Some, like Evans, aren’t discounting the prospect of a “filibustered” convention.

Says Putnam: “There’s a chaotic element to every avenue involved in this short of getting 1,237.”


Article Link to Real Clear Politics:

How Obamacare Is Fueling America’s Opioid Epidemic

Some doctors say a quirk in the program is a dangerous incentive to prescribe potentially dangerous painkillers


By Sean Gregory 
Time
April 13, 2016


Not long ago Dr. Bill Sullivan, an emergency-room physician in rural Spring Valley, Ill., refused to prescribe a potentially habit-­forming painkiller to a patient that had requested it by name. That might seem like a good thing since opioid addiction has become a national epidemic. But in fact, as a result of reforms put in place under the Affordable Care Act, he may have put his hospital at financial risk.

As part of an Obama­care initiative meant to reward quality care, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is allocating some $1.5 billion in Medicare payments to hospitals based on criteria that include patient-­satisfaction surveys. Among the questions: “During this hospital stay, how often did the hospital staff do everything they could to help you with your pain?” And: “How often was your pain well controlled?”

To many physicians and lawmakers struggling to contain the nation’s opioid crisis, tying a patient’s feelings about pain management to a hospital’s bottom line is deeply ­misguided––if not downright dangerous. “The government is telling us we need to make sure a patient’s pain is under control,” says Dr. Nick Sawyer, a health-­policy fellow at the UC Davis department of emergency medicine. “It’s hard to make them happy without a narcotic. This policy is leading to ongoing opioid abuse.”

That abuse has led to a full-blown crisis. Since 1999, fatal prescription-­opioid overdoses in the U.S. have quadrupled. According to the CDC, more than 47,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2014, a record high, and more than 60% of those deaths involved an opioid. U.S. emergency rooms now treat more than 1,000 people every day for misusing prescription opioids.

Patient-satisfaction surveys are not the cause of this crisis, of course. But there is research to support some doctors’ contention that they’re making the problem worse. A 2012 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that the most satisfied patients are more likely to spend more on prescription drugs and have higher mortality rates. In a 2014 survey published in Patient Preference and Adherence, over 48% of doctors reported prescribing inappropriate narcotic pain medication because of patient-­satisfaction questions. One doctor wrote that drug seekers “are well aware of the patient satisfaction scores and how they can use these threats and complaints to obtain narcotics.”

CMS, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), disputes any link between its surveys, a hospital’s reimbursement money and opioid abuse. In March, agency doctors wrote in JAMA that the patient-­satisfaction survey accounted for 30% of a hospital’s total performance score in fiscal year 2015, with pain management one of eight equally weighted dimensions, along with factors like nurse communication and cleanliness and quietness. (CMS did not respond to interview requests.)

Still, lawmakers are concerned. Republican Senator Susan Collins, whose home state of Maine saw a 27.3% rise in its drug-­overdose death rate from 2013 to 2014, has called for HHS to investigate the connection between the surveys and inappropriate prescriptions. “Health providers are telling me that these questions are written in a way that make them fear a lower reimbursement if patients did not answer them in the affirmative,” says Collins. “For a small rural hospital in Maine to lose a certain percentage of their Medicare reimbursements is a big deal.”

In April, four Senators—two from each party—­sponsored a bill that would untie reimbursements from pain-­management questions. An earlier measure attracted bipartisan support in the House. Says West Virginia Representative Alex Mooney, who introduced the bill: “It’s a simple fix that can have significant results.”


Article Link to Time:

Paul Ryan, David Petraeus and the ‘White Knight’ Problem

Why we love to talk about would-be saviors who can't win the presidency.


By Jack Shafer
Politico
April 14, 2016


Speaker of the House Paul Ryan dashed a million political journalists’ dreams yesterday when he implied that short of being sewn into a leather sack with a wolverine, a diseased howler monkey and a litter of ferrets, and tossed into Lake Michigan, he will not, absolutely not serve as the Republican Party’s “white knight,” and save the party from a convention meltdown by running a unity candidacy for president.

“I do not want, nor will I accept, the Republican nomination,” Ryan told the TV camera, essentially painting a dozen coats of flat black on his knighthood and skulking back to his office.

This wasn’t the first time Ryan had announced his non candidacy. In January 2015, he all but invoked the leather death-sack when he told NBC News he would forgo the encouragement of friends and supporters who wanted him to run for president this cycle.

The dream of Ryan as white knight might have ended, but the dream in political and journalistic circles for some other white knight to emerge is alive and well. Ryan’s categorical refusal has only created media crawlspace for other would-be white knights to polish their armor. Writing in today’sWashington Post, columnist David Ignatius decants the Pentagon alumni society for three retired generals and one retired admiral—David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal, James Mattis and Mike Mullen—he thinks could rescue the Republican Party from collapse by running for president. (The Daily Beast reported on a prospective “Draft Mattis” third-party run last week.) Ignatius also floats the name of Army vet, former FBI agent and former Rep. Mike Rogers, perhaps to indemnify himself against the charge that he’s plotting a real-life Seven Days in May sequel.

To mix metaphors, white knights are a lot like unicorns. Everybody keeps waiting for one to reveal itself, but nobody can recall actually having seen one. The last person to arrive on the scene and win the nomination of his party without running a real campaign was Adlai Stevenson, whose dithering didn't end until he gave a successful welcoming speech at the 1952 Democratic National Convention and was finally talked into becoming a candidate. Stevenson won on the third ballot over Estes Kefauver—and was then buried in the general election by Dwight D. Eisenhower.

It’s not hard to understand why voters indulge in this exercise: Yearning for a white knight gives them a way to express buyer’s remorse once they’re stuck with two or three finalists. It’s bit like a last fling, or the dream of one, before the commitment of marriage.

There’s also an element of idealism, though it tends to be misapplied. The white knight candidate evokes the spirit of 1800s, when political etiquette dictated that politicians should not lust for the presidency until the machines that ran the party asked them to run. False modesty was the accepted practice. Back then the only person considered worthy of the presidency was the one who pretended he wasn’t worthy. Today, the politicians cast in the role of white knight generally know very well why they’re unworthy—or at least why they’re unelectable. It’s often the same reason they’re on the sidelines in the first place, and most likely should stay there. In Ryan’s case, he probably steered clear of the 2016 contest because he intuited that he would have been slaughtered alongside Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal and the other future Republican stars whom Trump casually wiped out.

The news media encourage the voters’ white-knight yearnings for their own craven reasons: Politicians who aren’t running are almost always a better story than the politicians who are. For one thing, their personal histories haven’t been picked apart the way the declared candidates’ personal stories have. For another, the tension and confusion generated by their indecision adds nuance to their profiles, giving reporters more to write about. (There’s a reason Hamlet remains relevant 400 years later.) That’s also why John Kasich can’t be considered a white knight: He announced long ago and the press has written far too much about him. He’s more of a dark horse than a white knight.

Only in his dithering does a white knight become even semi attractive. Had Chris Christie not announced last summer, the news media would be counting his positives now and touting him as a sensible white knight to Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. They’d mostly ignore Christie’s downside until he finally declared and then fill the news hole with disparagement. Likewise, Joe Biden never looked better as a presidential candidate than last fall when he agonized over the decision to run for the White House and then didn’t.

Here’s the fact: The longer a presidential candidate waits to announce or organize—i.e., the longer he remains a potential white knight—the less likely he is to win his party’s nomination. That's what a 2011 survey of recent presidential contests by FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver showed. The only recent late entry to come close to winning the nomination was Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1980. In a 2015 update to the piece, Silver cited these basic rules to conclude that Biden made a wise decision not to enter. For one thing, all the best donors had been corralled by Hillary Clinton. For another, he couldn’t possibly match her organization for depth and skill. And finally, to be a proper white knight, you have to bring something to the campaign the other candidates aren’t bringing. Biden is nothing but Clinton with a jacket and tie over a pantsuit.

The last white knight to take a convention, Stevenson, had several advantages going for him that none of 2016’s hypothetical share. President Harry Truman and much of the Democratic establishment had wanted him to run in the first place. They were hostile to Kefauver, and once Stevenson agreed to run, it was practically a done deal. Stevenson might have become president, too, had Truman not previously urged Eisenhower—also regarded in many quarters as a white knight—to run as a Democrat in 1948 with Eisenhower on the top of the ticket! You could say that Truman was responsible for starting the process that ultimately pitted the two white knights against each other in 1952.

The disadvantages late entrants face in winning the nomination become only magnified in a general election slugfest. As Jennifer Rubin wrote in the Washington Post recently, it is not inconceivable that a fresh face might surface at the Republican convention after multiple ballots fail to select Trump, Cruz or Kasich. But then the winning Republicans would be running a candidate with “no campaign operation, no advisers, no money beyond what he gets from the Republican National Committee, and no active super PAC. How exactly would this work out against a fully staffed, fully funded Hillary Clinton campaign?” The Republicans might be better off shopping for a unicorn to run for president.

There’s something seasonal about the passion for white knight candidates, usually arriving with winter's thaw when donors, voters and the news media have tired of the candidates they have and yearn for the ones they don’t have. In early 2012, much ink was wasted on possible white knight candidacies by Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie when it looked as though Mitt Romney was faltering. But then he righted his course and 2012’s white knights vanished. We’ve largely been thinking about Republican white knights lately, but depending on the outcome of the New York primary, we might see the dream flourish on the Democratic side next. It’s not hard to imagine Elizabeth Warren or John Kerry temporarily elevated to white knighthood, but that party’s orthodoxy isn’t likely to bolt for Warren or Kerry just because the race has tightened.

Just because real white knights appear so infrequently, and with so little success, doesn’t mean it’s a meaningless exercise to consider them. They recharge our interest in the political process after a long and miserable season of caucuses and primaries. They provide voters with fresh information about candidates who might be running four or eight years later. They help stock the waters with potential vice presidential candidates. Can’t you just see Trump selecting a general to run with him the way George Wallace did with Curtis LeMay? Finally, the practice of casting for white knights reminds us, corny as it sounds, that the best person to run for president should be noble and pure of spirit. That’s not too much to wish for, is it?


Article Link to Politico:

2016’s Last, Greatest Debate

By Noah Rothman
Commentary
April 14, 2016


At the risk of deflating the hopes of those romantics who still cling to the idea that Marco Rubio might somehow emerge from the 37th ballot of a contested Republican nominating convention the party’s nominee, I’ve got sad news: He won’t. That said, the outgoing Florida senator may yet have one final gift to give his party as the raucous primary election season comes to a close and the general election begins. This gift came in the form of a bit of unsolicited advice as the GOP grapples with the prospect of a fractious process that will inevitably alienate a healthy portion of its members. If the GOP heads into Cleveland without anyone having won the nomination outright, Rubio suggested, all the potential nominee should submit to one, final debate.

“Most of these debates were promoted and conducted as entertainment,” Rubio told conservative talk show host Mark Levin in a wide-ranging interview this week. “Let’s see what someone’s going to say about so and so and the entire debate is judged based on who got in the best zingers, who got in the best lines, what was the most dramatic moment.”

Rubio wasn’t entirely contemptuous of the debate format, however. He told the radio and television host that it would serve the stalemated conventioneers if the RNC hosted its own debate with the remaining candidates prior to the Cleveland gathering.

If it were to occur, this would be a debate unlike any others to which the GOP’s expansive field of candidates submitted themselves over the course of 2015-2016. Moreover, it would be one of the most important. There will be no NFL-like overproduced packages introducing the candidates. There will be no gotcha moments, nor will there be moderators with as much interest in being news as making news. There will be no Twitter statistics or analysis of which candidate is winning the most Google searches. There will be millions of viewers watching at home, but they are irrelevant. The audience for this debate is a universe of precisely 2,472 people – all of them credentialed delegates. And all of them will be looking foremost for one quality in their nominee: electability.

It is hard to think of anything Republican voters have cared about less in this election cycle than the notion of “electability.” For seven years, the GOP electorate has been primed to believe that the notion of electability is a myth. Citing a grand total of two data points (the presidential race in 2008 and 2012) and ignoring the fact that Barack Obama was on the ballot on both occasions, a cast of political entertainers have determined that “electability” is not a quality ascertained by favorability ratings, appeal to key demographics, and past electoral success. Instead, it is a “patronizing” and “disingenuous” concept cooked up by the “establishment” to fool the conservative voters into nominating moderates.

Well, the “establishment,” whoever they are, lost. Republicans are now most realistically faced with two most viable nominees, neither of which have much of a claim to being “electable.” For the most part, the convention’s delegates will not be interested in making a self-defeating statement. They did not come to Cleveland looking to stick it to the establishment; they are the establishment. For the GOP’s voters, “can win [a] general election” has ranked at or near the bottom of their priorities for months. At the convention, an audience of persuadable delegates is likely to value their nominee’s ability to appeal to the unconverted far more so than do the rank and file members of the GOP’s increasingly exclusive club.

Unfortunately, this scenario is unlikely to come to pass, even if the convention is deadlocked on the first ballot. There are probably going to be no more Republican presidential debates for one reason: Donald Trump will not abide them. He managed to survive the debate process despite turning in a series of reliably poor performances, and the prospect of facing Ted Cruz in an extended contest of wits is one the reality television star clearly wants to avoid. Still, it would be a great experiment. What’s more, it would probably be the most enlightening debate of the cycle. Up to now, the stakes at the debates have been low; ratings for the networks, and a few points in this or the other state-level contest for the candidates. At a convention debate, the party and conservatism itself would be in the balance.


Article Link to Commentary:

Why the Goldman Sachs Settlement Is a $5 Billion Sham

The penalty might sound pretty stiff. But get a load of the real math.


By David Dayen
The New Republic
April 13, 2016


“Recently Goldman Sachs reached a settlement with the federal government for $5 billion because they were selling worthless packages of subprime mortgages,” Bernie Sanders shouted (as he does) in the last Democratic presidential debate. “If you are a kid caught with marijuana in Michigan, you get a police record. If you are an executive on Wall Street that destroys the American economy, you pay a $5 billion fine, no police record.”

This lack of accountability for Wall Street and the perception of a two-tiered justice system gnaws away at Americans’ trust. But now that the Goldman Sachs settlement Sanders referred to has been finalized, I’m sorry to say that he was wrong. If you are an executive on Wall Street who destroys the American economy, you don’t pay a $5 billion fine. You pay much, much less. In fact, you can make a credible case that Goldman won’t pay a fine at all. They will merely send a cut of profits from long-ago fraudulent activity to a shakedown artist, also known as U.S. law enforcement.

The Justice Department announcement in the Goldman case states that between 2005 and 2007, the investment bank marketed and sold mortgage-backed securities to investors that were of lower quality than promised. As a result, Goldman will pay a $2.385 billion civil penalty to the Justice Department, $875 million resolving claims from other state and federal agencies, and $1.8 billion in so-called “consumer relief” measures, like forgiving principal on loans and providing financing for affordable housing. That’s where the much-touted $5 billion figure comes from.

In The New York Times, Nathaniel Popper took a careful look at the consumer relief provisions, finding that Goldman Sachs could pay up to $1 billion less than advertised, because the company gets extra credit for spending in certain hard-hit communities or for meeting its obligations within the first six months. I appreciate Popper’s precision, but it’s unnecessary. None of this consumer relief represents a penalty on Goldman at all.

That’s because Goldman Sachs doesn’t own any of the loans it’ll be modifying. They were sold to investors years ago. Goldman will quite literally pay that fine with someone else’s money; in fact, the money comes from the very investors Goldman victimized, by selling them toxic securities under false pretenses.

So what about the consumer relief that goes toward financing affordable housing and community reinvestment? This involves making loans, a moneymaking activity for banks (indeed, their primary function). Getting banks to lend in poor communities, which they often neglect, is laudable in some sense. But it’s hardly a penalty for Goldman Sachs. I have described this in the past as akin to sentencing a bank robber to opening a lemonade stand.

This brings the $5 billion settlement down to $3.2 billion. But only $2.385 billion of the total comes in the form of a cash civil penalty. The rest is tax deductible, as a business expense. Considering the indeterminate dollar value of the consumer relief, it’s hard to say how much money Goldman will be able to write off. But going with the Justice Department’s numbers, you have $2.615 billion in tax-deductible penalty, which at a 35 percent corporate tax rate equals a write-off of $915 million. That means nearly $1 billion of the settlement is effectively financed by taxpayers.

So now we’re at approximately $2.3 billion. But let’s go back: The misconduct in question occurred between 2005 and 2007. The real value in 2016 dollars of a portion of profits made from 2005 to 2007 is substantially less, perhaps closer to $2 billion. More important, Goldman got to keep the money it made illegally for a decade before having to give any of it back. Goldman’s asset-management unit consistently predicts annual growth above ten percent, meaning that the company fully expects to double its money within ten years. Taking that into account, Goldman didn’t really pay a penalty at all, but used ill-gotten gains to generate a bunch of money, only returning some principal well after the fact while keeping the returns.

"The upshot: Goldman Sachs and the Justice Department get to divvy up the profits of a fraud scheme perpetrated on the public."

Goldman Sachs made far more than $2 billion on the sale of mortgage-backed securities, by the way. Check out this list from the settlement documents of all the securitizations they issued that are covered by the settlement; it comes to roughly 530 securitizations, each of which typically held $1 billion in loans. I wouldn’t insult Goldman’s money-earning prowess by suggesting it only made $2 billion in profit on $530 billion in mortgage-backed securities. So even if you think Goldman is paying some kind of penalty, at best it’s a cut of the profits.

And who benefits from Goldman’s payments? Not the investors who were the actual victims of the misconduct; as I noted before they end up paying more money by seeing principal cut on the loans they own. Some homeowners get affordable loans or reduced mortgage debt, even though Goldman Sachs specifically harmed investors. But the biggest beneficiaries in this transaction are the Justice Department, the New York Attorney General’s office, and the other state and federal agencies who receive cash awards, from the civil penalty and the resolution of other claims.

The upshot: Law enforcement settled a case on behalf of investors and then walked away with the proceeds, while investors got nothing. Goldman Sachs and the Justice Department get to divvy up the profits of a fraud scheme perpetrated on the public.

The Goldman Sachs settlement is the last of a series of enforcement actions hammered out by a state/federal task force on financial fraud, co-chaired by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Four other banks—JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley—paid similarly dubious fines over the packaging and sale of fraudulent mortgage-backed securities. The origins of this task force represent a failed choice by Schneiderman that let even more damaging misconduct on the part of banks go relatively unpunished.

I recount this full story in my book Chain of Title, which comes out next month. But to summarize, mortgage companies (units of these same big banks) delivered millions of forged and fabricated documents to courthouses and county registrars nationwide, false evidence used to foreclose on homeowners when the companies otherwise had no standing to do so. This was dubbed foreclosure fraud, and with millions of examples of wrongdoing, it represented the best opportunity to prosecute executives who authorized and directed the scheme, as well as to use that legal exposure to reach an equitable resolution that kept people in their homes.

Instead of a vigorous investigation, the Justice Department and 50 state attorneys general moved directly to negotiating a settlement. Schneiderman initially opposed that, but reversed himself. He theorized that the real money wasn’t in foreclosure fraud, but in this criminal packaging and selling of securitizations, this defrauding of investors. So he made a deal to create a task force with enough resources to examine and prosecute that misconduct.

All that evidence of fraudulent foreclosures, the largest consumer fraud in American history, turned into the National Mortgage Settlement, a “$25 billion penalty” against five mortgage companies, where only $5 billion was in the form of cash. Despite promises that 1 million homeowners would see principal reductions from that settlement, only 83,000 ever did. But no matter; Schneiderman promised that the task force would result in outcomes “an order of magnitude” bigger.

That simply didn’t happen. Once you weed out the tax deductions, the payments with other people’s money, and all the rest, the final task force tally is miniscule. A couple years ago I surmised that the $36.65 billion coughed up by Bank of America, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase translated into just $11.5 billion in reality. And the Goldman settlement looks like it will cost the bank more like $0, when all is said and done.

So the most wide-ranging financial crisis misconduct was quickly settled without investigation. And despite Schneiderman swearing that the task force would explore all options for accountability, none of its members ever issued a single criminal subpoena. The banks bought their way out of the problem on the cheap, no executive saw a jail cell or had to return a penny of personal compensation, and the law enforcement agencies, not the victims, reaped the majority of the rewards.

At that March 9 Democratic debate, Sanders closed his remarks on Goldman Sachs by vowing, “we are going to bring justice back to a broken criminal justice system.” He has no idea how dire that need is. We don’t have a justice system with the courage to convict everyone, regardless of wealth and power. And that ensures that the wealthy and powerful will keep committing crimes.


Article Link to the New Republic:

Why the Goldman Sachs Settlement Is a $5 Billion Sham

Team Bernie: Hillary Can’t Push Us Around

A top Sanders strategist says that it’s gloves off for the Bernie campaign as the New York primary approaches.


By Eleanor Clift
The Daily Beast
April 14, 2016


No more Mister Nice Guy for Bernie Sanders. The relatively genteel campaign that built his brand is giving way to more aggressive, personal attacks on Hillary Clinton.

The sharp turn in the Democratic race occurred the morning after Sanders’s strong win in Wisconsin, with reports that the Clinton campaign would intensify efforts to “disqualify” Sanders.

“We saw that strategy immediately,” says Sanders strategist Tad Devine, recalling how Clinton wouldn’t answer the question, “Is he qualified?”

“It was a simple question, and if it was just her and that one question, that would be one thing,” says Devine. But then her surrogates piled on, questioning whether Sanders is up to the job, with Clinton campaign overlord John Podesta conceding only that Sanders would be “much better than Donald Trump.”

Devine was on Hardball and shot back, “My 28-year-old daughter would be much better than Donald Trump. At least she interned at the White House and has some experience.”

Devine told The Daily Beast in a phone conversation that “we had to go back at them [the Clinton campaign],” and New York is the place. “The political culture of America is very different,” he said. In Iowa, if you push back hard, “you’re not going to be around long. But if you go to New York and you have someone who is tough and aggressive and someone who’s not going to engage, the tough and aggressive candidate wins.

“We’re determined not to be the victim,” he said.

Clinton’s refusal to say Sanders is “qualified” set the stage for the cage match along with festering grievances about Clinton portraying Sanders as a tool of the gun lobby, aggravated by what Devine calls her “specious” case about Vermont guns feeding violence in NY. (The Washington Post gave it three Pinocchios.) Sanders is hitting fracking hard upstate, calling for a federal ban, and tying it along with the Wall Street money Clinton has received to the theme, “You can’t make the right political decisions unless you are free of the influence of special interests,” Devine said.

Devine dismissed the notion Sanders’ attacks could hurt Clinton in the general election. “I don’t think anything we’ve said is going to be effectively used by the Republicans.” Sanders has said repeatedly he will support the nominee, and once the primary battle is resolved, Devine says there will be unity “because the alternative is unacceptable.”

He’d like Sanders to get some credit for not talking about Clinton’s most conspicuous vulnerabilities, the e-mail investigation and Clinton Foundation conflicts of interest. But those are not topics that move Democratic primary voters. There will be plenty of ground left for the GOP to plow.

A year ago this past weekend, Devine was in Vermont talking to Bernie and Jane Sanders about the race—they had no campaign, no money in the bank for a campaign, and no organization. When he headed back to the airport, he wasn’t sure what they would do. “I’m proud of how far we’ve come,” he says, which is farther than anyone could have imagined, including Sanders, the truest of the true believers.

“When you get into this and you have a chance to win, you want to win,” says Devine.

If you were a reporter and you called Devine before the Wisconsin primary, he predicted Sanders would win. He’s not predicting a win in New York, where the polls show Clinton with a strong lead—“and the only way we get superdelegates in large numbers is with big convincing wins that make them see he’s a much stronger candidate than she is,” he says.

“If we have a winning strategy, it’s a huge win in California, then we get to the point where the superdelegates take a look, and we make our case.”

What if those victories don’t materialize? Devine wouldn’t address what’s next for Sanders. “We haven’t gone into past campaign mode. We’re still in planning to win mode,” he said. But he did agree that win or lose, Sanders is not going away.

And that’s the crux of the story: Sanders’ staying power and where he takes it. Clinton’s repeated sniping at Sanders (and vice versa) is having its effect. There is booing when he mentions her name at rallies. Sanders used to say ‘no, no,’ now he lets the booing ring out.

There’s still time to mend this, and the burden for now is on Clinton. It’s asymmetrical warfare in the sense that Clinton in order to win in November needs Bernie’s people, and he doesn’t need hers. Sanders almost certainly won’t be the nominee, and he can retain his outsider/protest/movement status much better without any reconciliation.

Yes, calling Clinton “unqualified” went over the line, but that’s not what matters. What matters is how Clinton deals with Sanders between now and Election Day. The Revolution that Sanders is calling for may not carry him to the White House, but the legions of people he has inspired will make him a force to be reckoned with once he returns to the Senate and joins with Elizabeth Warren. Together they will be a thorn in Clinton’s side or the core of a powerful Clinton legislative agenda should she become president. The seeds for that future relationship are being sowed now.


Article Link to the Daily Beast:

Is NATO Worth Preserving?

By Victor Davis Hanson 
The National Review
April 14, 2016


Donald Trump recently ignited another controversy when he mused that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was obsolete. He hinted that it might no longer be worth the huge American investment.

In typical Trump style, he hit a nerve, but he then offered few details about the consequences of either staying in or leaving NATO.

NATO is certainly no longer aimed at keeping a huge Soviet land army out of democratic Western Europe, as was envisioned in 1949.

The alliance has been unwisely expanded from its original twelve-nation membership to include 28 countries, absorbing many of the old communist Warsaw Pact nations and some former Soviet republics. NATO may have meant well to offer security to these vulnerable new alliance members. Yet it is hard to imagine Belgians and Italians dying on the battlefield to keep Russian president Vladimir Putin’s forces out of Lithuania or Estonia.

Today’s NATO pledges to many of its newer participants are about as believable as British and French rhetorical guarantees in August 1939 to protect a far-away Poland from its Nazi and Soviet neighbors.

No NATO member during the 40-year Cold War invoked Article Four of the treaty, requiring consultation of the entire alliance by a supposedly threatened member. Turkey has called for it four times since 2003.

The idea that Western Europe, beset with radical Islamic terrorism and unchecked migrations from the war-torn Middle East, would pledge its military support to the agendas and feuds of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly Islamist and non-democratic regime is pure fantasy.

Few NATO members meet the alliance’s goal of investing 2 percent of gross domestic product in defense spending. Instead, socialist Europe expects the United States to carry most of NATO’s fiscal and military burdens.

Europe is increasingly seen as defenseless against Islamic terrorism, and unable to stop the immigration of legions of young male Muslim migrants from the war-torn Middle East. It is also viewed as a fat target for unstable (and increasingly nuclear) regimes.

Sometimes Europeans even add insult to injury. They count on U.S. subsidies to help trim defense costs in order to fund socialist entitlements — even as they caricature America as an over-militarized superpower bully.

Using NATO forces outside of Europe has not always been productive. It was helpful in Serbia, of questionable utility in Afghanistan, and completely disastrous in Libya.

Is Trump right, then, that we should let NATO die on the vine? Is the alternative of a future without the alliance preferable to the present costly and flawed NATO?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Lord Ismay, NATO’s first secretary general, said that the alliance was formed “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

The Soviet Union has collapsed, Germany is now in the European Union, and the EU has a larger population and economy that the United States. But Putin’s Russia is still nuclear and aggressive. It expands anywhere it senses weakness. Germany still earns suspicion in Europe, whether because of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s destructive immigration policies or the equally unwise practice of rich German banks recklessly lending to bankrupt Mediterranean nations. The European Union never managed to unite its disparate nations into something cohesive and similar to the individual states of America.

In sum, a powerful Russia will always have to be watched. A dynamic and headstrong Germany will always have to be integrated into some sort of military alliance. And the United States will always have a natural self-interest in preemptively keeping kindred Europeans from killing each other.

The West is increasingly under assault. It is the target of radical Islamic terrorists, it is losing its deterrence with Russia and China, and it is seen as weak by rogue regimes such as Iran and North Korea.

The issue is not whether NATO is still useful, but whether the alliance can reform itself before it implodes.

NATO must stop growing. Why offer guarantees to nations that it would not protect in the real world — nations that would only become red lines for aggressive enemies that wish to humiliate and unwind the alliance? NATO should be wary of using its forces outside of Europe and should instead outsource such peacekeeping to individual members acting on their own.

Turkey and other members should be warned that autocracy and Islamization are contrary to NATO principles and are grounds for expulsion.

Greater European military expenditures will not only keep the U.S in the alliance, but also protect Europeans themselves, who lack the two-ocean buffer of the United States.

Constitutional nations with common traditions of freedom of the individual, self-criticism, and tolerance of dissent and difference are becoming rare these days. Without shared military power and cooperation, Westerners can either all hang together or surely we will hang separately.


Article Link to the National Review:

Thursday, April 14, Morning Global Market Roundup: Global shares reach four-month high, forex hit by Singapore sting

LONDON | BY MARC JONES

Reuters
April 14, 2016


World stocks rose to their highest level in more than four months on Thursday and the dollar had a third day of gains as markets took a positive view ahead of top policymaker and oil producer meetings.

Singapore set the tone for the IMF's spring meeting as its normally conservative central bank unexpectedly eased policy, while Europe was watching a meeting of the Bank of England as sterling GBP=D4 continued to suffer worries over June's vote on EU membership.

Oil prices fell again as OPEC warned of slowing demand and as Russia hinted that there might only be a loose agreement on output levels at a exporter meeting in Doha at the weekend.

The fall came as the dollar, which most commodities are priced in, flexed its muscles again having just chalked up its biggest one-day gain in over a month.

It was at $1.1246 per euro EUR=, way above a six-month low of $1.1465 touched on Tuesday and up 0.1 percent on the yen to 109.42 yen JPY=, well away from Monday's 17-month trough of 107.63 yen.

"The dollar has been doing well over recent days particularly against Asian currencies today after the MAS (Singapore central bank) eased policy," said Societe Generale FX strategist Alvin Tan.

"We have the IMF meetings coming and we also have the Doha meeting which actually for the markets could be more important considering how bulled up the oil market has been recently."

European shares .FTEU3 had a subdued first couple of hours as traders cashed in after a 2.6 percent jump on Wednesday and as miners .SXPP fell on lower oil prices. LCOc1

Big gains in Asia overnight, however, meant MSCI's 46-country All World stocks index was up a fifth straight day to its highest since mid-December. Asian shares have surged 5 percent since Friday.

Singapore Sting

The main action came in Singapore as its central bank set the rate of appreciation of the Singapore dollar policy band at zero after data previously showed economic growth stalled in the first quarter.

It sparked the biggest drop for the Singapore dollar KRW=KFTC
fell just as much as the SGD as it sank 1 percent against the greenback.

"It's very interesting, and eye-catching, that the MAS has gone back to post-global financial crisis settings, and sends a strong message about the weak external environment," said Sean Callow, senior currency strategist at Westpac in Sydney.

"As one of the world's most trade-sensitive economies, Singapore's concern over a 'less favourable external environment' should be noted by the likes" of South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, Callow added.

Notwithstanding the optimistic trade data out of China on Wednesday, Singapore's policy decision is yet another reminder of the headwinds facing the global economy.

Earlier this week, the IMF cut its global growth forecast for the fourth time in the past year, citing a bunch of factors including chronic weakness in advanced economies.

Risk appetite remained robust with an index of high yield debt (HYG) settling at its highest levels since early December.

In the government bond markets, yields swung lower with the yield on the 30-year Japanese government bond JP30YT=RR briefly falling a record low of 0.385 percent. U.S. debt followed with yields on ten-year notes slipping to 1.75 percent.

The yield curve, measuring the gap between the 10-year notes and the two-year bills and an indicator of interest rate expectations, flattened to 100 basis points, signalling a benign rate view.

Benchmark German Bund yields tick down again in Europe too as the euro EUR= extend its weakness after falling 1 percent on Wednesday, its biggest fall in 5 months.

Oil markets saw more choppy trading. Prices fell after Reuters reported that Russian oil minister Alexander Novak told a closed-door briefing that a deal on an oil output freeze scheduled to be signed this month in Doha will be loosely framed with few detailed commitments.

Brent crude futures LCOc1 fell 1.5 percent in Asian and European trade to $43.53 per barrel after having scaled a high of $44.94 on Wednesday. U.S crude was down to $41.26 while safe-haven gold XAU= and industrial metal copper CMCU3 also fell.


Article Link to Reuters:

Germany Denies Paris Attack Suspect Had Papers on German Nuclear Research Center

Reuters
April 14, 2016


Germany's domestic intelligence agency denied on Thursday its head had told German lawmakers a prime suspect in the Paris attacks had documents about the Juelich German nuclear research center.

The Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND) media group had cited sources in a parliamentary committee as saying BfV intelligence agency chief Hans-Georg Maassen had told the committee in March about the documents on Juelich.

"This is not right," a BfV spokeswoman said. "We have no information about this. Our president Maassen never talked to any members of parliament."

The media group had reported that printouts of articles from the internet and photos of Juelich chairman Wolfgang Marquardt had been found in the apartment of Salah Abdeslam in the Molenbeek area of Brussels.

Abdeslam, who born and raised in Belgium to Moroccan-born parents, was arrested on March 18 in the Belgian capital and four days later, suicide bombers killed 32 people in Brussels airport and a metro train.

The 26-year-old is now in Bruges prison awaiting extradition to France over his suspected involvement in the Nov. 13 shooting attacks in Paris.

Concerns that Islamist militants are turning their attention to the nuclear industry's weak spots have risen since the Brussels attack.

Juelich is near the Belgian border and atomic waste is stored there. The center said in a statement there was no indication of any danger and that it was in contact with security authorities and nuclear supervisors.

RND reported that Maassen had informed the committee in charge of monitoring German intelligence agencies whose meetings are confidential. Two committee members also told Reuters that they had not been informed about the matter.

The BND foreign intelligence agency declined to comment.


Article Link to Reuters: