Resulting in … what exactly?12:00 AM, Aug 23, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Congratulations to you, Tom Montag, named sole chief operating officer of Bank of America this past Wednesday. And first thing Thursday morning asked to sign a check to the government for $16,650,000,000 to settle complaints that the bank sold flawed mortgage securities in the days preceding the financial crisis. But don’t feel too badly. Only $9.65bn will go to various regulatory agencies. Some, $7bn will go toward writing down the balances of homeowners struggling to meet mortgage payments, and to demolish foreclosed homes in blighted neighborhoods. Nice of you to arrange this gigantic transfer of wealth from your shareholders to the government’s coffers and to stressed homeowners and communities, with that relief arriving in time for them to decide which party to vote for in the mid-term congressional elections 73 days hence. Do all of this and the Justice Department might not file criminal charges against you and the bank, which it has reserved the right to do.
Brian Moynihan, Bank of America’s CEO, has reason to feel aggrieved. The mortgage mis-selling was done largely by Merrill Lynch and Countrywide before BofA acquired them -- at the urging of the government, which feared that failure of those institutions would exacerbate the financial crisis. Timothy Geithner, former secretary of the New York Fed and the U.S. Treasury writes in his recently published memoirs that BofA’s acquisitions “eased fears of a collapse.” This settlement, which brings total fines paid by the bank to an estimated $70bn, “allows us to continue to focus on the future,” Mr. Moynihan told the press. Not a bad thing.
All of which makes the $300 million Standard Chartered forked over to regulators in New York State earlier this week for poor monitoring of money laundering by Asian and Arab clients seem a mere slap on the wrist, even though it follows an earlier $667 million fine for violating sanctions rules. Worse still, CEO Peter Sands cannot follow Mr. Moynihan in announcing that StanChart can now look to the future. The settlement bars the bank from accepting any new customers with dollar-clearing needs without the specific approval of the regulators. Analysts are saying that unless Sands reverses the bank’s 20 percent drop in first-half profits, paying the fine might just prove to be his last act before he clears his desk for a successor.
Politicians and regulators who are cutting a swath through bank earnings know two things. One is that the public doesn’t like bankers any more than it did twenty years ago, when polls showed that only 36 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of banks. That figure today is a not-strictly comparable 27 percent, putting bankers a bit behind auto mechanics (29 percent) who aren’t exactly trusted when they shake their heads sadly and say that you need a completely new something-or-other, but ahead of lawyers (20 percent), car salespeople (9 percent), members of Congress (8 percent), and lobbyists (6 percent) in public esteem, according to a recent Gallup poll of Americans’ opinion of bankers and other tradesmen. So if you are a vote-seeking politician, fining banks is a good way to increase your popularity, especially if some of that money trickles down to your constituents, preferably close to Election Day.
4:42 PM, Aug 22, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The great Washington insider scam rolls on. As Peter Schroeder of The Hill reports:
The presidency of Barack Obama has catapulted a network of former advisers into lucrative positions.Members of the president’s brain trust have steadily moved outside the administration in recent years, capitalizing on their association with the Obama brand to launch careers as advisors, consultants and hired guns.
The most recent example (one of many) of such cashing in on “public service” is:
David Plouffe, the mastermind behind the president’s two campaigns ... [who landed] a job with Uber, the up-and-coming app service that is battling local governments and taxicab companies over its business model.
Mr. Plouffe and other White House operators like former Press Secretary Jay Carney, who is said to be in talks with Apple, are being hired for their insiderness. Which is a new variation on the old formulation of, “He knows where the bodies are buried because he buried most of them.”
The Uber business model succeeds in the marketplace. But Uber and the public need permission from the government to conduct mutually advantageous business. Such permission does not come cheap and it must be midwifed by someone like Mr. Plouffe, who knows the game.
The game has been very good to him.
For the public … not so much.
3:24 PM, Aug 22, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Dennis Wagner of the Arizona Republic writes that:
More than two months after Sharon Helman was suspended as director of Phoenix's VA Health Care System, she remains on the payroll collecting regular checks and benefits despite passage of a new federal statute targeting accountability in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Arizona’s Senator John McCain has noticed and is not happy about this:
Right now, the ... people who really were responsible here in Phoenix, they're on (paid) administrative leave," McCain said. "What does that mean? What message does that send?”
The answer to that question is simple enough. This is the government. And it does not things its own way.
Meanwhile the VA’s new secretary, Robert McDonald:
... has said he is moving as swiftly as possible to remove administrators for cause. But he declined to say how many employees are facing discipline in connection with the health-care scandal, and he emphasized that anyone accused has a right to due process.
"You've got to treat that person with respect," McDonald told reporters. "We can't talk to you about names, we can't talk to you about individuals, even though that's what you'd like. We can't do that because that would be disrespectful. ... I can tell you, we are going to hold people accountable.”
2:15 PM, Aug 22, 2014 • By DAVE JUDAY
The dictionary defines a deadline as “the latest time or date by which something should be completed.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency obviously defines it another way, at least when it comes to renewable fuels.
On August 22, 2014, the EPA sent its proposed rule setting the 2014 volumes for the amount of renewable fuels (i.e. ethanol and biodiesel) to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply to the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Intergovernmental and Regulatory Affairs for a final interagency review. OIRA has between 30 and 90 days to review that rule before it is published in the Federal Register and made final and binding.
The deadline for this rule, however, as set in statute, was November 30, 2013—nearly nine full months ago. If OIRA takes the full 90 days allotted it under the Administrative Procedures Act, which governs the federal regulatory process, this regulation will be almost a year past its deadline. For reference, OIRA took 73 days to sign off on the original draft of the rule last fall.
At this point it is guaranteed that the 2014 standard will be later than the 2013 renewable fuels standard which was finalized on August 6, 2013—eight months past the deadline. According to the Government Accountability Office, EPA hasn’t set the renewable fuels mandate on time since 2009, but the problem is seemingly getting worse.
Indeed, the Government Accountability Office issued a report finding that these missed deadlines impact the energy industry because they “contribute to industry uncertainty, which can increase costs because industry cannot plan and budget effectively.” The same goes for the livestock and food manufacturing industries that compete with renewable fuel producers in the market for corn and soybean products, not to mention average consumers who spend a significant portion of their household income on food and energy.
So far this year, the EPA has extended the compliance period for petroleum companies to meet the 2013 volumes three times. The latest extension sets the dates to submit annual compliance reports and attested reports for 2013 at 30 days and 90 days, respectively, following publication of the 2014 final volumes in the Federal Register. If OMB takes its full time of 90 days to review the current regulations, the agency will be wrapping up the 2013 compliance year in 180 days, or February of 2015. And the EPA hasn’t even started the process of setting the 2015 levels.
Surely Congress, who set these deadlines, can see that this process is broken and that the EPA needs to be held accountable.
Dave Juday is an agricultural commodity market analyst.
1:05 PM, Aug 22, 2014 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Via The Blaze, former deputy director of the CIA Mike Morrell talked to CBS News about the threat that the Islamic State poses to the United States:
After explaining what he thought needed to be done to defeat the terrorists (more targeted strikes and better intelligence), he said that “if an ISIS member showed up in a mall in the United States tomorrow with an AK-47 and killed a number of Americans I would not be surprised.”
“Over the long-term, I worry that this group could present a 9/11-style threat,” he added, noting the group presents both a short-term and long-term threat.
Hosted by Michael Graham.1:05 PM, Aug 22, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with editor William Kristol on the supposed "good failure" the Obama administration is touting in their failed effort to save the late James Foley, who was brutally killed by ISIS.
This podcast can be downloaded here. Subscribe to THE WEEKLY STANDARD's iTunes podcast feed here.
12:19 PM, Aug 22, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The various wars in the Middle East and the apparent re-involvement of the U.S. there have temporarily overshadowed tensions in Ukraine. But today, as Jake Rudnitsky, Daryna Krasnolutska and Patrick Donahue of Bloomberg report:
Trucks carrying humanitarian aid from Russia crossed the border to Ukraine, which said the move amounted to an invasion as the convoy moved without its consent.
There is more to the situation than an exchange of protests, as:
Fighting continued in Ukraine’s easternmost regions. Government troops killed more than 100 rebels and destroyed 11 Grad multiple rocket systems overnight, the Ukrainian military said today on its Facebook account. There were battles in six towns, while the separatists attacked nine checkpoints, it said.
Meanwhile, European leaders, who have a lot to lose if the crisis should spin entirely out of control, are doing what little they can and:
… stepping up diplomatic efforts to ease tensions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will arrive tomorrow in Kiev, while Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he’ll seek to negotiate a peace agreement with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and European Union representatives next week.
"A rout?"11:01 AM, Aug 22, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Republican Shelley Moore Capito leads her Democratic opponent Natalie Tennant by 17 points, according to a new poll of the West Virginia Senate race from Rasmussen Reports. An even 50 percent say they support Capito, the congresswoman and daughter of former governor Arch Moore, while just 33 percent say they support Tennant, the secretary of state. That's the widest gap Rasmussen has found in the race since its February poll that gave Capito a 14-point lead.
"Is the West Virginia Senate race turning into a rout?" asks Rasmussen.
Capito has led solidly from the beginning of her campaign to succeed retiring Democrat Jay Rockefeller. A seven-term member of the House, Capito is benefitting from the Mountain State's steady turn toward the GOP in national elections. Her first election to Congress came in 2000, the first of four consecutive presidential elections where the Republican nominee won the state. If elected, Capito will become the first Republican senator from West Virginia since the Eisenhower administration.
Read more about Capito and her bid for Senate in a May article in THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Here's an excerpt:
And Capito has proven she can win. In 2012, she won Jackson County (home of Ravenswood and Ripley) by more than 30 points, outperforming Mitt Romney by 11 points and Democratic senator Joe Manchin by nearly 15 points. Across her district, she won nearly 70 percent of the vote.
That’s remarkable for this nominally red state. Conservative, rural, overwhelmingly white West Virginia has voted for the Republican nominee for president for four straight elections, but Democrats still thrive here. Party registration favors Democrats over Republicans by nearly two to one. The governor is a Democrat, and Democrats control both houses of the legislature. The state’s Democratic party is much more conservative than the national party, particularly on social and environmental issues. Manchin, the former governor, won his special election to replace the late Robert Byrd, a Democrat, in the Senate in 2010 with an ad that showed him shooting a bullet through the text of a cap and trade bill.
10:28 AM, Aug 22, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
What, you sometimes think, is it with these people? Why are they so infatuated with death? First, the execution of James Foley by ISIS, carried off like a punk schoolyard stunt. And now, as the Chicago Tribune reports:
Hamas-led gunmen in Gaza executed 18 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel on Friday, a day after Israel tracked down and killed three top Hamas commanders, the highest-ranking militants to be killed in the six-week war. Seven people were shot dead in front of worshippers outside a mosque in one of Gaza's main squares, witnesses said, the first public executions in the Palestinian enclave since the 1990s. A further 11 were killed at an abandoned police station near Gaza City …
The killers may argue that they do it pour encourager les autres or, maybe, just to demonstrate to the world that they are serious people, not to be trifled with.
But it is pretty clear that they like it and, by the way, are good at it.
Comes with practice.
9:00 AM, Aug 22, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Scott Brown, the Republican Senate candidate in New Hampshire who has struggled to gain traction against his opponent Jeanne Shaheen, is within two points of the incumbent Democrat in a new poll from WMUR and the University of New Hampshire. The poll shows Shaheen with 46 percent support and Brown, the former GOP senator from Massachusetts, with 44 percent. The previous WMUR-UNH poll, from June, showed Shaheen with a 12-point lead over Brown, 52 percent to 40 percent.
This is the closest poll of the race since January, with most giving Shaheen a comfortable lead. Even with the latest WMUR poll, the Democrat still has a 6.6-point average lead. The only other poll in recent months to show Brown within single digits was an NBC News poll giving Shaheen an 8-point advantage.
If the race is indeed tightening as the latest poll suggests, what could explain Shaheen's drop? Brown, despite having national name recognition and having represented New Hampshire's next-door neighbor in the Senate, may have been hurt early on by charges of carpetbaggery. While Brown did own a home in New Hampshire for years, Shaheen is something of a Granite State political institution, having served three two-year terms as its governor. Brown has spent the summer quietly meeting with voters across the state to establish his New Hampshire bona fides, and he's all but locked up the Republican nomination.
But Brown has also focused heavily on the issue of illegal immigration in television advertisements over the past few weeks, first highlighting security differences between the airport and the southern border, then hitting Shaheen more directly over her position on the Gang of 8 immigration bill, supported by President Obama. Shaheen, along with every other Democratic senator, voted for the Gang of 8 bill.
"Want to know why there's lawlessness on our border? Ask Senator Shaheen," said Brown in a 15-second TV ad that shows Shaheen and Obama standing together. "She voted against border security twice and for amnesty."
Brown's ads tying Shaheen to Obama's immigration policy may have been good politics. A recent national poll found Americans give Obama lower marks on immigration than his job generally, and 39 percent say they consider immigration one of their top three issues.
8:42 AM, Aug 22, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
General John Allen, who is retired from the military, says that the Islamic State (known as ISIS, ISIL, or IS) must be destroyed now.
"The brutal murder of the brave American journalist James Foley is meant to directly terrorize the world’s media, the international community, and the United States. If all the actions of the Islamic State, or IS, to date weren’t sufficiently reprehensible, this act and the potential for other similar acts will snap American attention with laser-like focus onto the real danger IS poses to the existence of Iraq, the order of the region and to the homelands of Europe and America," writes Allen in a piece for Defense One.
"Make no mistake, the abomination of IS is a clear and present danger to the U.S. The only question really is whether the U.S. and its allies and partners will act decisively now while they can still shape events to destroy IS, an act that seems increasingly self-obvious."
Allen argues that because the U.S. has already struck ISIS and because the U.S. has unique military capabilities, it is incumbent upon America to do the dirty work.
"The U.S. is now firmly in the game and remains the only nation on the planet capable of exerting the kind of strategic leadership, influence and strike capacity to deal with IS. It is also the only power capable of organizing a coalition’s reaction to this regional and international threat. As a general officer commanding at several levels in the region, I can say with certainty that what we’re facing in northern Iraq is only partly a crisis about Iraq. It is about the region and potentially the world as we know it," writes Allen.
IS must be destroyed and we must move quickly to pressure its entire “nervous system,” break it up, and destroy its pieces. As I said, the president was absolutely right to strike IS, to send advisors to Iraq, to arm the Kurds, to relieve the suffering of the poor benighted people of the region, to seek to rebuild functional and non-sectarian Iraqi Security Forces and to call for profound change in the political equation and relationships in Baghdad.
The whole questionable debate on American war weariness aside, the U.S. military is not war weary and is fully capable of attacking and reducing IS throughout the depth of its holdings, and we should do it now, but supported substantially by our traditional allies and partners, especially by those in the region who have the most to give – and the most to lose – if the Islamic State’s march continues. It’s their fight as much as ours, for the effects of IS terror will certainly spread in the region with IS seeking soft spots for exploitation. ...
Bottom line: The president deserves great credit in attacking IS. It was the gravest of decisions for him. But a comprehensive American and international response now — NOW — is vital to the destruction of this threat. The execution of James Foley is an act we should not forgive nor should we forget, it embodies and brings home to us all what this group represents. The Islamic State is an entity beyond the pale of humanity and it must be eradicated. If we delay now, we will pay later.
7:38 AM, Aug 22, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Matthew Continetti, writing for the Washington Free Beacon:
The headline was brutal. “Bam’s Golf War: Prez tees off as Foley’s parents grieve,” read the cover of Thursday’s New York Daily News. Obama’s gaffe was this: He had denounced the beheading of James Foley from a vacation spot in Martha’s Vineyard, then went to the golf course. Seems like he had a great time. Such a great time that he returned to the Farm Neck Golf Club—sorry, membership is full—the next day.
Technically, Obama’s vacation began on August 9. It is scheduled to end on Sunday, August 24. With the exception of a two-day interlude in D.C., it has been two weeks of golf, jazz, biking, beach going, dining out, celebrating, and sniping from critics, not all of them conservative, who are unnerved by the president taking time off at a moment of peril.
Attacking the president for vacation is usually the job of the out party. But these days it is the job of all parties. Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, ISIL, Ebola, child migrants on the border, racial strife in Ferguson, an American murdered by the caliphate—critics say the president who danced to every song at Ann Jordan’s birthday party seems remote and aloof from, and even mildly annoyed by, such concerns.
I disagree. Not with the judgment that Obama is detached, dialing it in, contemptuous of events that interfere with his plans. I disagree with the idea that this August has been different, in any meaningful way, from the rest of Obama’s second term. For this president, the distinction between “time off” and “time on” is meaningless. For this president, every day is a vacation. And has been for some time. He is like Cosmo Kramer of Seinfeld. “His whole life is a fantasy camp,” George Costanza says of his friend. “People should plunk down $2,000 to live like him for a week.” Imagine what they would pay to live like Obama.
Whole thing here.
Hosted by Michael Graham.5:36 PM, Aug 21, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with frequent contributor Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, on the White House's approach to the War on Terrorism.
This podcast can be downloaded here. Subscribe to THE WEEKLY STANDARD's iTunes podcast feed here.
4:01 PM, Aug 21, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Ever since President Obama pulled forces out of Iraq, he has been unequivocal in his statements about "boots on the ground" in that country. As recently as August 7, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the "President has also made clear that American military action in Iraq would not include combat boots on the ground. That is a principle that the President laid out at the beginning and that continues to be true today."
However, in remarks Wednesday to U.S. troops in Guam, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work twice qualified the president's words with "right now," saying "Do I think we're going to have boots on the ground[?] The president's been very clear, right now, no," and a short time later, "So right now, the president's been very clear, no boots on the ground."
Work was responding to a question about ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and Iraq from a soldier in the audience at an event at Apra Harbor, Guam. The following are excerpts from Work's reply [emphasis added]:
Well, all I can say on this is this is the biggest debate that's going on inside Washington D.C. right now. Okay, everybody knows that ISIL is -- these are about the worst guys that we've come up against. I mean, they're so bad that Al Qaeda you know, said, we don't like these guys anymore. You know if Al Qaeda says (Inaudible).
So not only are they terrorists, but they're pretty good light infantry. They know how to do combined arms. They -- one of the things that makes them so effective is they have a lot of equipment that they've gotten from the Iraqi army, they've captured from the Iraqi army and the Syrian army. They're very, very fast. They've got a very flat command and control structure, and they have good combined arms.
And so they move quickly, and they're very bold. I mean, they're quite effective with their tactical -- at the tactical level...
In the end though, we're going to have to confront ISIL. Do I think we're going to have boots on the ground. The president's been very clear, right now, no. And if we can find good partners, having the government of Iraq, having (inaudible), who's stepped down, having a new unity government. That's going to be a big deal, because the president as said when we have a good partner we will consider doing more in support of them.
KRG forces, the Peshmerga, they've already proved to be quite capable on the battlefield as long as they have the weapons. They can stand up to ISIL. But we can talk with Turkey. We can talk with Jordan. We can talk to Saudi Arabia. We can talk to a lot of different partners, and we have to address this as a regional issue.
So right now, the president's been very clear, no boots on the ground. But we've already started to support our government of Iraq, our partners, using airpower.
When asked, based on Work's comments, under what conditions the U.S. might put boots on the ground in Iraq, William Speaks of the defense department's Public Affairs office responded via email, "We would not speculate on something like that."
1:18 PM, Aug 21, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
The world is exploding, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last week. But President Obama is going golfing -- again.
Via the pool report:
Admit it. You all made small-dollar bets that POTUS would be playing golf today. And ... you would be right! We are at the Farm Neck Golf Club at 1:13 pm. and POTUS is hitting the links again.
The White House sends the following: Partners:
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