Monday, January 30, 2012

Stock Shlock

Well, nobody in the Senate dared vote against insider corrupt stock trading, unless you count professional contrarian Tom Coburn, who votes against everything from healthy lunches for school children to a museum honoring women. And a North Carolinian named Richard Burr also nixed bringing it to a final vote this Thursday. I don't know why, and I don't care. He was probably just trying to be a thorn in Harry Reid's side.

As per usual, this bill has a cute and easy-to remember acronym: STOCK -- standing for Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge. Not as sexy as SOPA and PIPA, but very catchy and righteous-sounding.  As in, Congress is finally taking stock of itself before the citizenry goes all tar and feathers and puts them in the stocks. For a minute I thought it meant "stop counting on congressional intelligence if you want the country to function", but that's another bill for another day.  Since Congress seems hell-bent on defunding and privatizing education, I was rather surprised they are having much of anything to do with something so entitle-y/elitist as knowledge. As God warned Adam and Eve and the right wing nihilist Republicans, don't eat ye the apple of the Tree of Knowledge, of Good and Evil. Stay stupid and stay safe.

Senator Reid obeyed his master Barry and immediately scheduled the vote to make it seem like they're really not all a bunch of crooks, and so the prez has something to run on besides Lilly Ledbetter and killing bin Laden. From The Hill:
Reid said the legislation would help restore confidence in Congress by stipulating that profiting from privileged political intelligence is illegal. 

"Members of Congress and their staffers have the duty to the American people," Reid said. "They may not use privileged information they get on the job to personally profit. [This bill] will end any confusion over whether members of Congress can be prosecuted for the serious crime. They can be."
Thank God, because I was feeling mighty jittery and befuddled, wondering if Nancy Pelosi would end up going scot free because of all the Visa stock she and her multimillionaire husband bought right before she made sure that credit card debt would not be included in tough new bankruptcy legislation.

Lawmakers were shaken when 60 Minutes ran a report recently about Pelosi and practically everybody in Congress making some heavy-duty bucks from insider trading.  Most of them professed shock that it was going on, and that they were doing it. Again, from The Hill article:
"I was shocked by this report, I think we all were," (Mass. Sen. Scott) Brown said. "[M]embers of Congress should not be lining their pockets on insider information. Serving our country is a privilege. I believe we must level the playing field and show the American people that the United States Congress does not consider itself to be above laws that apply to everyone else.”
When the bill passes Thursday and goes on to the House for approval, no doubt the nouveau- and olde-riche millionaires will be back-slapping each other in another orgy of self-congratulation. I can already see their 9 percent approval rating skyrocketing off the charts as the engaged public audience applauds their courage and honesty.

And to be fair, 60 Minutes did not really break this story. All its information came from a little book published in November called "Throw Them All Out", written in the best old-fashioned muckraking tradition.  A journalist named Peter Schweizer actually looked through votes and stock trades and their timing, and put two and two together. The info has been hiding in plain sight for decades, if not centuries.

Congressional corruption, says Schweizer, puts lie to the notion that the two political parties are engaged in a constant battle royal. Of course, we knew they were really two phony factions of an oligarchic uniparty, especially when it comes to funding wars, the security state, indefinite detention and anything and everything that does not make life better for their constituents. "Republicans and Democrats are not so different as you think", he writes. "They work together to enrich themselves. They have designed the system to work so that they can make lots of money doing things that would get the rest of us sent to jail".

Schweizer is painstakingly bipartisan and absolutely relentless in exposing both Democrats and Republicans. Besides Pelosi, he puts the spotlight on John Kerry; Tom Carper; Melissa Bean; Jared Polis; James Oberstar; Jeb Bradley; John Boehner; Jim McDermott; Amo Houghton; Johnny Isakson; Sheldon Whitehouse; Max Baucus; Jim Moran; Dick Durbin; Rahm Emanuel;  Gary Ackerman; Dennis Hastert; Carolyn Maloney; Judd Gregg; Ken Calvert; David Hobson; Heath Shuler; Bennie Thompson; Maurice Hinchey; Jerry Lewis.... and last but least, Harry Reid!!

The bill will pass, and then Congress will hire its own lobbyists to punch it to shreds with the obligatory loopholes. Or they won't bother to fund it, or they'll appoint Joe Lieberman their impartial watchdog when he retires next year. 

Throw the bums out.

Ye Olde Village Stocks


Via Josh Rogin, we are just now finding out that the inspiration for President Obama's ode to American imperialism in his speech last week came from, of all people, Mitt Romney's NeoCon foreign policy adviser! According to Rogin, who writes for Foreign Policy magazine, Obama just can't get enough of Robert Kagan's screed in the The New Republic, which says the good old days of American superiority are here to stay. People have always kvetched that the USA is in decline, even when it was in its fetal stage and Patrick Henry despaired.  It wasn't true then, says this cheerleader for the Iraq surge -- and it isn't true now. Depression, shmepression.  Economic inequality is just a bothersome and distracting subplot in the continuing saga of of American superiority over all other nations.  We are built to last, people!

And the title of Kagan's piece is just too damned cute for words: Not Fade Away. Nothing like co-opting The Rolling Stones* to make the case for endless hegemony. (Personally, I would have called it Sympathy for the Devil) Here are some of the mendacious snippets: 

The present world order—characterized by an unprecedented number of democratic nations; a greater global prosperity, even with the current crisis, than the world has ever known; and a long peace among great powers—reflects American principles and preferences, and was built and preserved by American power in all its political, economic, and military dimensions.
(Pay no attention to decades-long wars, the rise of the security state and the greatest income disparity the world has ever known. It's been peace, love and rock n roll all along.... reality is only for wimpy pessimists. As long as the 1% get along within their own elite cliques, who cares about the little people and the little countries).

 Some of the pessimism is also due to the belief that the United States has lost favor, and therefore influence, in much of the world, because of its various responses to the attacks of September 11. The detainment facilities at Guantánamo, the use of torture against suspected terrorists, and the widely condemned invasion of Iraq in 2003 have all tarnished the American “brand” and put a dent in America’s “soft power”—its ability to attract others to its point of view.
The fact is, Kagan seems to argue, is that the rest of the world has always gone through these periods of hating us, just like small children who, when throwing tantrums, scream that they hate their parents. But they don't really mean it, and everything always ends up sweetness and light because Father Knows Best. Kagan lists example after example of countries falsely hating the USA to their own detriment, case after case of past predictions of American decline never coming true. The Cold War is over, Communism was destroyed, we shall prevail. America has survived all the blows to its reputation abroad: the McCarthy witch hunts, racial discrimination, The Ugly American depicting Uncle Sam as a big fat bully, assassinations, Kent State, riots at conventions, Vietnam, Watergate.
If one wanted to make a case for American decline (Kagan continues) the 1970s would have been the time to do it; and many did. The United States, Kissinger believed, had evidently “passed its historic high point like so many earlier civilizations.... Every civilization that has ever existed has ultimately collapsed. History is a tale of efforts that failed.” It was in the 1970s that the American economy lost its overwhelming primacy, when the American trade surplus began to turn into a trade deficit, when spending on entitlements and social welfare programs ballooned, when American gold and monetary reserves were depleted.
More examples follow of America not being to control external events: even the world paternalist could not make Israel and Palestine get along. The rest of the world continued to complain about American overreach throughout the 80s and 90s. So what if we don't have complete and total world dominion every minute of every day, Kagan retorts. Whoever said the people we dominate have to love us?  We still got de power! We're in it for the long haul. Here is possibly the most nauseating paragraph in the whole article:

Today the United States lacks the ability to have its way on many issues, but this has not prevented it from enjoying just as much success, and suffering just as much failure, as in the past. For all the controversy, the United States has been more successful in Iraq than it was in Vietnam. It has been just as incapable of containing Iranian nuclear ambitions as it was in the 1990s, but it has, through the efforts of two administrations, established a more effective global counter-proliferation network. Its efforts to root out and destroy Al Qaeda have been remarkably successful, especially when compared with the failures to destroy terrorist networks and stop terrorist attacks in the 1990s—failures that culminated in the attacks of September 11. The ability to employ drones is an advance over the types of weaponry—cruise missiles and air strikes—that were used to target terrorists and facilities in previous decades. Meanwhile America’s alliances in Europe remain healthy; it is certainly not America’s fault that Europe itself seems weaker than it once was. American alliances in Asia have arguably grown stronger over the past few years, and the United States has been able to strengthen relations with India that had previously been strained.

(Translation: we killed hundreds of thousands of people to make up for the murder of 3000 on 9/11. And we will continue to kill countless thousands more. Nothing is our fault.  The global banking cabal headquartered on Wall Street has bolstered our strength even as it has crushed our own citizens).

And finally, Kagan considers economic crises irrelevant to our continuing status of World Superpower. He continues the GOP lie that "entitlements" will destroy our nation faster than any war. Watch for this paragraph to be included, in some form, in an upcoming column by David Brooks: 
What about the financial expense? Many seem to believe that the cost of these deployments, and of the armed forces generally, is a major contributor to the soaring fiscal deficits that threaten the solvency of the national economy. But this is not the case, either. As the former budget czar Alice Rivlin has observed, the scary projections of future deficits are not “caused by rising defense spending,” much less by spending on foreign assistance. The runaway deficits projected for the coming years are mostly the result of ballooning entitlement spending. Even the most draconian cuts in the defense budget would produce annual savings of only $50 billion to $100 billion, a small fraction—between 4 and 8 percent—of the $1.5 trillion in annual deficits the United States is facing.
So yeah, since war is cheap, let's blame Grandma for eating more than her share. This is the theme hammered away in countless forms by Brooks. And as an aside, how's this for a Tale of Three Davids: Obama campaign operative David Axelrod told David Gregory yesterday that David Brooks is one of the country's "great public thinkers." 

This perfectly gels with Barry's new man-crush on Kagan. But maybe man-crush is too intense a characterization, because Kagan is already taken. He is married to Dick Cheney's former deputy national security advisor, Victoria Nuland. And just to show how much Obama is truly the embodiment of Bush's Third Term, Nuland was appointed spokesman for the State Department last summer. She replaced P.J. Crowley, who was fired after criticizing inhumane treatment of war crimes whistleblower Bradley Manning.

Ezra Klein elaborates on Obama's enthusiasm for his newfound hero: 
In a recent, off-the-record meeting with news anchors, Obama spent more than 10 minutes "going over its arguments paragraph by paragraph, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor confirmed." National Security Advisor Tom Donilon was dispatched to Charlie Rose to "discuss Kagan's essay and Obama's love of it." So it's not just the president who likes Kagan's article. It's the White House communications team who likes the idea of letting people know the president likes Kagan's article.
Okay, it's official. Barack Obama is a NeoCon and he wants everybody to know it. So rest easy, Republicans despairing over losing this year's election: you have already won. 

*  The Rolling Stones did a cover of "Not Fade Away" in 1964, and that version is listed in the 500 greatest hits in rock history. It was originally recorded by Buddy Holly in 1957. Thanks, Marina.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Occupied Winter of Our Discontent (continued)

I have to admit that when President Obama tapped New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to lead a brand spanking new investigation into banksterism, my first cynical thought was "co-optation." Schneiderman would be just the latest in a long line of Democratic malcontents and holdouts to be taken on a figurative ride on Air Force One, emerging chastened, rewarded and mouthing "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" platitudes.

But there is reason to hope today that the pending sweetheart deal between the banks and the Obama administration may not be as sweet as the Big Five Banks had been hoping for. Schneiderman last night announced a relatively limited proposal: in exchange for a $25bn payout to victims of the robo-signing foreclosure fraud, there will be no criminal prosecution from the states which agree to the deal.  But the blanket perpetual immunity from punishment for the entire panorama of financial felonies apparently is not to be. The state agreement would not preclude the feds (read: Schneiderman and his posse of IRS and FBI agents) going after mortgage fraudsters.

Some of those skeptical that Barack Obama would ever go after the banking hand that feeds him were expressing mild shock today that there might be a Grand Perp Walk of Bank CEOs after all.  Remember, the president has stated time and again that he had no interest in punishing the banks. But then something called Occupy Wall Street came along, and made him an offer he couldn't refuse: investigate and prosecute, or we will hound you wherever you go.  Plutocracy or not, the United States still requires that presidents be voted into office. And savvy politician that he is, Obama knows which way the wind is blowing.

Sam Stein of The Huffington Post reports that banks will still be vulnerable in the following categories:
  1. Criminal liability.
  2. Tax liability
  3. Fair lending, fair housing, or any other civil rights claim.
  4. Federal Housing Finance Agency or the GSEs [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac]
  5. CFPB claims for the period after they came into existence in July 2011
  6. SEC claims
  7. National Credit Union Association Claims
  8. FDIC claims
  9. Federal Reserve Board claims
  10. MERS claims
Early reports from the banking sector in the wake of Friday night's announcement and the revelation that Schneiderman's task force has already issued subpoenas show them to be borderline-panicked and indignant. Rupert Murdoch's New York Post ran a McCarthyesque red scare editorial screaming that Schneiderman was "shaking down the banks" and how dare he leave the door open to future criminal prosecution after the banksters pay up in good faith? It's the same old canard used by Timmy Geithner and Co.: if you upset the too-big-to-fail banks, the whole world will collapse. From the right-wing Post:

Besides, the prospect of future court action, should Schneiderman prevail, sure won’t help the economy.
On the other hand, demonizing financial institutions in populist fashion might help rile up the left — which, no doubt, is what Obama and Schneiderman care about most.
New York’s union cat’s-paw, the left-wing Working Families Party, is already tickled pinko — er, pink — with Schneiderman’s appointment, calling it “a big victory for the 99 percent.”
For America and New York, a world financial center, it sounds more like disaster.
Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone is cautiously optimistic that Obama's back may finally be up against the wall on Wall Street. He says the robosigning scandal is really small potatoes compared to what really went on and what remains unpunished:
The securitization offenses were massive criminal conspiracies, identically undertaken by all of the big banks, to defraud investors in mortgage-backed securities. If you’re looking for an appropriate target for a massive federal investigation, one that would get right to the heart of the corruption of the crisis era... well, they picked the right target here. If they were to do a real clean sweep on securitization, the federal prisons would end up literally teeming with senior executives from the biggest banks. A lot of very big names would end up playing ping-pong and cards in Otisville and Englewood.
It may end up being a case of Neopopulist Obama being forced to act upon his own words as much as it pains him to do so. Taibbi adds: "One thing we do know: Obama’s decision to tap Schneiderman publicly, and dump Geithner, and whisper about a millionaire’s tax, signals a shift in its public attitude toward the Wall Street corruption issue. The administration is clearly listening to the Occupy movement. Whether it’s now acting on their complaints, or just trying to look like it’s doing something, is another question. It’s way too early to tell. But it’s certainly very interesting".

And as for Schneiderman's being co-opted, Dave Dayen of Firedoglake writes that the AG has promised to publicly disavow the task force and publicly walk away if he is in any way impeded. I think the only thing we can do for now is give him some time to put his money where his mouth is. But not too much time.

Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times has written an excellent piece on Obama's task force for her "Fair Game" series about the nefarious banking system. The upshot: if they don't do something big very soon, what little credibility they have left will be shot.

Another glass-half-full observation: for the first time in its elite 0001% history, the World Economic Forum at Davos has heard the "inequality" word uttered. Occupiers are camped out in igloos. Severe income disparity may not be so healthy for capitalism. Greed may not be so good after all, even for the greedheads. The parasite eventually bleeds the host dry. The cancer dies right along with the victim.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Right Stuff

By Jay - Ottawa
Following events like an American presidential election can be a test of mental endurance and a challenge to the biliary tract.  After a while, one begins to lose faith in humanity.  Anyway, that was my day, until I came across an article about another president -- until late December, one our contemporaries, but from elsewhere and now gone forever.  We still have his legacy.  I’m speaking of Václav Havel (1936-2011).  You may have seen him in the past on the News Hour (PBS), or read one of his books, or seen one of his strange plays.  As a leader enmeshed in the tough choices of managing a country, he proved politics need not be one part lies and one part venality supported by greed.  Havel was different.
A Toronto writer and translator, Paul Wilson, went to Havel’s funeral in Prague.  His full account is linked above. Here are a few quotes in case you can’t take the time to read it all, but still need a boost as we continue to push through the big muddy of 2012 American politics.
Wilson describes a poster that went up all over Prague around the time of Havel's funeral, “a shot of Havel with his back to the camera, walking toward the ocean.”  On the poster was a quotation summarizing “one of Havel’s most deeply held beliefs”:  Then this paragraph near the end of Wilson’s tribute: 
Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. 
As I said, Václav Havel was different.  It is not madness or naiveté to insist upon -- and to push a little harder for -- that difference.
Like many great Czechs before him, Havel insisted on the importance of truth, but with a difference. “Truth and love,” he was fond of saying, “must prevail over lies and hatred.” He was often ridiculed for what seemed like a Hallmark sentiment (“Why love?” people asked), but he defended the slogan by referring to one of his greatest insights: truth, by itself, is a malleable concept that depends for its truthfulness on who utters it, to whom it is said, and under what circumstances. As a playwright, Havel turned this insight into a dramatic device: in most of his plays, the main characters constantly lie to one another and to themselves, using words that, in other circumstances, would be perfectly truthful. Truth by itself is not enough: it needs a guarantor, someone to stand behind it. It must be uttered with no thought for gain, that is, in Havel’s words, with a love that seeks nothing for itself and everything for others.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

SOTU, Barackus?

"One place to start is serious financial reform. Look, I am not interested in punishing banks, I'm interested in protecting our economy. A strong, healthy financial market makes it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs. It channels the savings of families into investments that raise incomes. But that can only happen if we guard against the same recklessness that nearly brought down our entire economy". -- Barack Obama

Okay, okay -- that was from last year's STFU, pre-Occupy edition.  How he pretends that things have changed, because now the president has directed Attorney General Eric Holder to whip up a financial crimes unit to punish the banks.  As former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer told Keith Olbermann Tuesday night, there are already dozens and scores of financial crime units floating in the ozone. This may be either a lot of empty rhetoric, or it may be a way to appease/co-opt the state attorneys general who are refusing to go along with that sweetheart deal I wrote about in a previous post. Time will tell.

He also suggested a ban on Congressional insider trading, which was met by thunderous silence from the millionaire congress critters. And his much-touted big applause line: "No bailouts, no handouts, no copouts" did not evince so much as one hand clapping. 

I was disgracefully way off the mark in my prediction that Obama would utter the word "folks" two dozen times. He only used it twice -- once when he referred to millionaire folks like himself, and the other about the poor slob brand of folks on Main Street. I should have known he would never refer to Congress as folks.

Other than that, the main phrase was "built to last". I counted five times. I just couldn't get the Ford truck commercial out of my head for the whole damned speech.

And did he really say he would still work with Republicans to reform (code for cut) Medicare and Social Security?  Are you kidding me?

And to give us a preview of his bellicose chest-thumping campaign theme, he began and ended the speech with the celebration of the assassination of Osama.

All in all, a totally predictable orgy of self-celebration by the political subdivision of the criminal oligarchy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Sun Reigns Supreme

Monday's Supreme Court decision that it's a no-no for police to slap a GPS device on a car without a warrant may be rendered moot by an event outside the control of even the almighty United States Government. A massive explosion on the sun is now showering the earth with enough radiation to knock the entire Global Positioning System on its ass. From CNN:
The largest solar storm for seven years is expected to send a shower of radioactive solar particles racing towards Earth at almost 1,400 miles a second this week, according to NASA.The flare, caused by a huge eruption on the sun's surface on Sunday, is expected to affect GPS systems and other communications when it reaches the Earth's magnetic field on Tuesday.Solar flares are our solar system's largest explosive events and can last from minutes to hours, according to NASA, releasing up to a billion tons of matter in the process.
The National Weather Service has issued a rare major geo-magnetic solar storm warning, which sounds more ominous that it really is.  You will not experience bodily harm unless you count acute withdrawal symptoms from disruption of your cell phone service, internet, electricity and TomTom device. Will Old Sol also disrupt drone strikes from Nevada trailers?  Let's hope!

More information can be found here.

Solar Flare Photographed by NASA 1/23/12

Whitewash Delayed is SOTU Spin Denied

Thanks to pressure from activists and a few stalwart attorneys general, President Obama has been denied the chance to belch out a major whopper at tonight's State of the Union address. It would have been a moment in which a whole chorus of "You Lies!" from the gallery would have been entirely appropriate.

Obama apparently had hoped to proclaim himself the middle class champion who went after the big bad banks to get a relatively paltry $20,000 slashed from each of the loans of a relatively small number of underwater homeowners  He was planning to spin a sweetheart deal with foreclosure fraudsters at five too-big-to-exist banks into a victory for the middle class.  And that would have been a major fib, because the money would have come not from the banksters themselves, but from pension funds containing bundled mortgage securities. It would have given to the middle class by taking from the middle class. The deal would not have sent one banker to jail, nor taken one nickel from the bloated bonuses of the likes of Jamie Dimon and Brian Moynihan.

The Obama Administration had summoned the state attorneys general to Chicago on Monday to try to persuade them to leave the criminals alone and to forget about extracting justice for their constitutents. From today's New York Times:

The housing secretary, Shaun Donovan, met on Monday in Chicago with Democratic attorneys general to iron out the remaining details and to persuade holdouts to agree with any eventual deal. He later held a conference call with Republican attorneys general. But as he renewed his efforts, Democrats in Congress, advocacy groups like and several crucial attorneys general said the deal might be too lenient on the banks.....
Tom Miller, the attorney general of Iowa, said Monday that an agreement with the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial — would not be reached “anytime this week.”
In a letter to administration officials, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said the settlement as reported — its details were not fully known — was too small and would allow banks to pass on the cost of the settlement to “middle-class Americans” whose pension funds hold soured mortgage securities.
In addition to disagreements over the total amount, negotiations have been held up over the question of how much latitude authorities would have in pursuing investigations into mortgage abuses before the housing bubble burst in 2007. The banks are pushing for a broad release from future claims, but several attorneys general, including prominent figures like Eric Schneiderman of New York and Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, have demanded a tougher line on the banks.
A three-pronged pushback against the Administration from activists, legislators and the attorneys general created a major disruption of negotiations. The uproar, although relatively ignored by the mainstream press (The Times story was buried in the rubble of the GOP primary trainwreck) was reminiscent of the massive protest last week against SOPA/PIPA that had craven congress critters scampering for their burrows.

Naked Capitalism's Yves Smith, who has provided some of the best coverage on the background and details of this story, thinks the collapse in negotiations Monday may spell doom for any hope the banks and Obama  had for a whitewash  going forward -- ever.  Obama apparently was counting on the party bosses of the recalcitrant AGs putting pressure on them to fall into line. That didn't happen. The AGs in question didn't bother showing up at Chicage HQ. Writes Smith:
We will hopefully get more intelligence (or maybe just better attempts at disinformation) but I read this as an indication the deal agreed between the Federal regulators and the biggest servicers somehow came unglued. Possibilities include: someone exposed a definitional/drafting flaw (the Feds thought it meant one thing and the banks thought it meant another); someone (one of the banks?) retraded the deal; the Administration has assumed it could rely on a certain minimum number of AGs to fall in line and they regarded that minimum number as essential, and the pow wow today exposed that they are below that level.
The beauty of protest movements like this is that they act like magnets for the timid and uncommitted. Fighting back against the oligarchy has become chic -- and safe. People just couldn't get onboard the anti-foreclosure settlement train fast enough:

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said today “We call on the administration to reject any deal that insulates banks from full responsibility.” Bob Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future said “This is a fundamental question of justice and democracy.  The law is respected only if it is enforced.  No one who robbed a bank would be offered immunity, a modest fine and no admission of guilt – before there was an investigation into who stole the money and how much they took.” The co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, said “It’s past time we stand up to Wall Street and show the American people that no bank executive is above the law."

In case you missed it, here is a clip of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer on the foreclosure fraud background and White House involvement on Sunday's Up With Chris Hayes.

Have you got your bullshit detection meter charged up for tonight's State of the Union theater of the macabre?  Are we all fired up and ready to scream?  Digby says we should take a drink every time Obama says "frankly."  I, on the other hand, am now taking bets on how many times he will utter the word "folks."  My guess is an even two dozen. I'll have paper and pen handy, keeping score. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Human Rights Report Card Out

 Human Rights Watch, the international watchdog agency, has just issued its annual report, with the main story of course being the Arab Spring, and how the international community is (or isn't) supporting the burgeoning democratic movements in repressive countries. You can download the whole report, or browse through it, country by country.

The United States. a putative democracy and thereby expected to lead the rest of the world by example, got an unsurprising dismal review.  HRW did, however, take note of a few efforts at improvement under the Obama Administration:

In one of the few rights-protective immigration reforms in 2011, DHS (Dept of Homeland Security)  announced that it will undertake case-by-case reviews of over 300,000 pending deportation cases and cases deemed to be low-priority will be administratively closed, allowing some potential deportees to remain in the country with temporary legal status. In identifying low-priority cases DHS will weigh non-citizens’ family and community ties, military service, and whether they arrived in the US as children.
According to a piece in the New York Times last week, a pilot program testing out the new leniency policy revealed approximately one of every six undocumented workers swept up by DHS has been granted a reprieve -- but is still barred from working and driving in the United States. So I guess limbo is better than hell, although not by much.

The report also noted that draconian immigration policies in Arizona and Alabama and a few other states have been only partially enjoined by the federal courts.

And despite having our first black president, institutional racism is still alive and well in America, especially in the criminal justice system. We have the largest prison system in the world and the highest per capita incarceration rate. From the report: 
Whites and African Americans engage in drug offenses at roughly equivalent rates, and African Americans account for only about 13 percent of the US population, yet African Americans comprised about 33 percent of all drug arrests in 2009. Not surprisingly, higher arrest rates lead to higher incarceration rates. For example, 45 percent of inmates in state prisons for drug offenses in 2009 were African American; only 27 percent were white.
Persons of color comprise 77 percent of all youth serving life without parole sentences. And for the first time in the country’s history in 2011, people of Latin American origin made up the majority of federal prisoners in the US, due to the federal government’s increased focus on prosecuting unauthorized immigrants.
On a related note, there has been only the slightest improvement in humane treatment of prison populations: 

In February 2011 the DOJ issued its long-overdue proposed standards to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). While some standards meet the 2009 PREA Commission recommendations, several proposed standards are significantly weaker. For example, the proposed DOJ standards do not clearly require facilities to be staffed sufficiently to prevent, detect, and respond to the sexual abuse of prisoners. The standards would leave survivors of sexual assault without legal remedy because they were unable to comply with unduly strict internal grievance procedures. The proposed standards also explicitly exclude immigration detention facilities from coverage. At this writing the final PREA standards have not been issued.
And this year, three more states decided to do away with the practice of shackling pregnant prisoners, bringing the grand total to (only) 14 with such policies.

The report also takes note that more states are attempting to take away workers' collective bargaining rights, and that federal child labor laws are not regularly enforced as they pertain to migrant farm workers' children. (So Newt Gingrich is not so far out of the mainstream after all when he suggests it would be just fine if kids worked as janitors.) The United States is one of the few civilized nations that has no paid maternity leave policy, contributing to health problems in both mothers and infants.

The HIV infection rate continues to rise in this country, which HRW ascribes in part to states' bans on needle exchange programs for addicts.

 Some improvements were noted in gay rights policies: Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed and the government is no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act. New York State passed the Marriage Equality Act.

And last but not least, the Obama Administration gets poor grades for its indefinite detention policies and secretive drone killings abroad, and its continuing failure to investigate and prosecute torture by the Bush Administration.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Barry Does Disney Does Newt

I am not a big believer in conspiracy theories, but I do love a string of coincidences -- or, in this case, a loosely tangled web of a week's worth of unfortunate events.
First, the timeline:
Saturday: The White House signals that it will not back SOPA and PIPA -- the twin bills meandering through Congress that would censor the internet and make it harder to do the cyber version of sneaking into a movie theater without paying.
Wednesday: a national day of protest and dissent against SOPA and PIPA. Congressional sponsors of the bills drop like flies.  Hollywood millionaire ex-Senator Chris Dodd goes ballistic and says Big Entertainment will cut off Barry's Big Entertainment money. Waaaaaah.
Thursday: Barry goes to Disney World to soothe Donald Duck's ruffled feathers  be a tourism shill and promote the theme park to rich people (not Americans). You see, the Disney people also had gone ballistic over the treason of its bought and paid for politicians running away from the anti-piracy bills that Disney helped pay for. Especially since Obama is the biggest single political recipient of Disney money. As a matter of fact, Disney donates to Democrats over Republicans two to one. WTF!!
Thursday Night: ABC (a Disney subsidiary) airs the juicy interview with the second Mrs. Ex-Newt. Newt goes ballistic. 
Where does one even start?  First, let me disabuse you of any notion that I am defending Newt Gingrich. I loathe everything about this dangerous, mean little man. He must never become president. But I find it strange that as soon as Newt started gaining on Mitt Romney in South Carolina this week, ABC/Disney suddenly has this big scoop of an interview with the former wife. (It is common knowledge that the Obama campaign would rather fight Mitt than nasty Newt any day.)  The network execs were said to be absolutely agonizing over whether they should even run it, because they have consciences and stuff.  But after about an hour, they started leaking out dribs and drabs of clips, and they ran the whole thing immediately after Thursday's debate.  Which Newt had handily won. His smackdown of CNN's odious John King was worth the price of admission. These kinds of withering smackdowns are what Obama '12 can ill-afford.
Everybody was shocked, shocked, shocked that Newt wanted an open marriage. But there is only one problem with this scenario. Not only was this no scoop, it is very old news. Of course, people actually have to be readers to realize how stale this stuff is, so I guess the point is that few people bother to read in this Age d'Information. Especially those vaunted "swing" voters.

As John H. Richardson points out in an Esquire blogpost, Marianne Gingrich spilled her guts to him more than a year ago, leading to his own lengthy real scoop of an ignored article. And ABC/Disney is taking credit for its own blockbuster of non-originality?  So now, it is serious journalism's turn to go ballistic:
Her portrayal of Gingrich (writes Richardson) was devastating, complex, nuanced, and compassionate. She held nothing back. And we continued talking after the piece was published, a conversation that continues (more on that in a moment.)

And so it's kind of funny, actually, seeing news that you broke a year and a half ago being blasted out on the Internet as some kind of world exclusive. Why, it's as if we're all amnesiacs. All last night and into today, alarmed headlines have blared across the masthead of the Drudge Report. SHOCK CLAIM: Newt moved for divorce just months after she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.... Or: Gingrich Lacks Moral Character to Be President, Ex-Wife Says... Bitter Marianne Gingrich Unloads, Claims Newt Wanted Open Marriage... Or: Adviser: Marianne 'very bitter'...
Follow those links and you arrive at breathless stories about Marianne Gingrich's "first television appearance," which will be aired tonight on ABC. She will say that Gingrich "lacks the moral character to serve as President" because "his campaign positions on the sanctity of marriage and the importance of family values do not square with what she saw during their 18 years of marriage."

That's Disneyfication for you. It's all about the family values glitter, glitz and glamour of forcing an old coot's dirty laundry down our throats. But
back to the Disney/Barry/DNC connection.  Obama is a master at fence-straddling. I can just picture the conversation he had with his miffed Hollywood bundlers-not-lobbyists over his pretend defection from the piracy bills. (wink,nod..."It's an election year, so I can't be too obvious about helping you guys out till I'm safely back in the WH. This SOPA/PIPA thing, we just gotta kick the can down the road for a little while.... but how about I jet down to Orlando and do a giant commercial for you guys in the meantime.... and hey, how can your people help my people with the Newt problem?)

The Center for Responsive Politics has the whole scoop on the Disney Company's political heft and generous giving. It spent $3 million on lobbying Congress last year, mostly to pimp out PIPA/SOPA. (John Podesta, listed as one of the Disney lobbyists, is also the founder of Obama's favorite centrist think tank, the Center for American Progress).  Disney has "officially" given $28,800 to Obama's re-election effort this cycle, with Rick Perry coming in with sloppy seconds of only $2500. And poor Mitt got only two grand from Mickey Mouse and friends.  Newt got nada. Unless you count the free publicity Disney gave him last night.
And going back to  Obama's Cinderella photo-op: the announced purpose of his Florida visit was to make it easier for rich foreigners to come here and drop their cash, being that about half of Americans are either in or close to poverty and theme parks are beyond their means. Isn't tourism promotion one of the main functions of dictators in Banana Republics? Defined by Wikipedia, a banana republic is "a country operated as a commercial enterprise for private profit, effected by the collusion between the State and favoured monopolies, whereby the profits derived from private exploitation of public lands is private property, and the debts incurred are public responsibility". Sound familiar?

One of the main profit drivers in third world economies is tourism. The rich foreigners self-indulging and spending their currency in Disney World need never see the surrounding squalor of Florida, with its blighted neighborhoods of foreclosed homes and destitute citizens and private jails full of minority victims of the War on Drugs. But with the increased tourism the president is touting and increased profits to his political backers, the upside (we are told) is that the cute Disney "cast members" might see a nickel or two extra trickled down in their wage-slave paychecks.

No word yet on when Obama might fly back down to Disney to dedicate its new Anti-Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Unhappy Birthday to You, Citizens United!

Yet another Black Friday will dawn in America tomorrow. The infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision will enter its Terrible Twos and toddle its corpulent corporatist self into a third year of obscene existence.

More than a hundred raucous birthday parties will be hosted and attended by demonstrators protesting the unprecedented infusion of billions of dollars of democracy-destroying anonymous money into politics. From Move to Amend, the activist group which has spearheaded the drive for a constitutional amendment to overturn C.U. -- 
Inspired by our friends at Occupy Wall Street, and Dr. Cornel West, Move To Amend is planning bold action to mark the second anniversary of the infamous Citizens United v. FEC decision!
Follow the link above for a grab-bag of tools of the activist trade for tomorrow's day of dissent. Move to Amend has instructions for getting a permit, courthouse maps, constructing a freeway banner, making costumes, the lyrics to "The Corporate Personhood Song", even a skit to perform, complete with downloadable sound effects.
Occupy the Courts will be a one day occupation of Federal courthouses across the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Friday January 20, 2012. Move to Amend volunteers across the USA will lead the charge on the judiciary which created — and continues to expand — corporate personhood rights.
Americans across the country are on the march, and they are marching OUR way. They carry signs that say, “Corporations are NOT people! Money is NOT Speech!” And they are chanting those truths at the top of their lungs! The time has come to make these truths evident to the courts.

Approximately 110 events have been planned thus far. In New York City, Occupiers were appealing a denial of their permit request to gather at the Foley Square federal courthouse complex, on grounds that it would interfere with both a citizens' and judge's swearing-in ceremonies.

In Washington, D.C., participants will gather on the steps of the Supreme Court just before noon to perform a song and dance routine by "The Supremes" with a giant 28th Amendment sign as a backdrop.

It's estimated that the 2012 edition will go down in history as the most staggeringly expensive presidential campaign ever. It's already proving to be not so much a battle between two right of center puppet conservatives vetted by the oligarchy, but a true Battle of the Billionaire Oligarchs, with the prize going to the biggest spender -- who, thanks to the corrupt Supreme Court, can remain anonymous. The putative contenders and their campaigns are already being rendered superfluous -- a fact brilliantly satirized by Stephen Colbert and the SuperPac over which he has no legal control.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Celebrating Assassination from a Church Pulpit

There has been plenty of criticism from the usual right-wing suspects about Obama Adviser Valerie Jarrett's campaign speech in Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church this past Sunday.  (Martin Luther King Jr's real birthday). The complaints centered around her using a place of worship to blast Republican recalcitrance, and whether the sacred separation of church and state rule had been violated.  Conservative pundits are calling for the Atlanta congregation to be taxed because of its long history of mixing politics and religion. Ebenezer even has the nerve to conduct regular voter registration drives within its holy walls! Big horrific deal.

But here is what the reactionaries aren't reacting to, and what lifestyle liberals are ignoring: Jarrett used a church pulpit to celebrate the assassination of Osama Bin Laden and the killings of other unnamed "terrorists."  She co-opted King's message of peace and turned it into a pep rally for Obama's War on Terror and the cancer that is the Homeland Security State. As Secret Service agents hovered all around, Jarrett enthused about how her president has made everyone feel so safe.  She made it fairly obvious that presidential chest-thumping will be a major part of the re-election strategy.

Am I the only one nauseated by this use of a Christian church to brag about killing people?  Would Democrats be howling had Karl Rove given a church sermon on King's birthday to spin about the Iraq invasion and torture during W's re-election campaign?  You betcha! MoveOn and the pragmatic progressive veal pen would have been crashing computers nationwide with pleas for money bombs and petition signatures.

Jonathan Turley, who has been among those legal eagles leading the charge against Obama's continuing evisceration of the Bill of Rights, found Jarrett's choice of words a tad strange as well:
At some point, this becomes a bit distasteful like a modern version of the old system of quartering enemies and sending his body parts around the country to thrill the populace. William Wallace was displayed in separate parts in Newcastle upon Tyne, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Stirling, and Aberdeen. I have no grief for Osama bin laden who is no William Wallace and frankly I am glad he is no longer with us. However, the use of his killing as a campaign theme is a bit off-putting.
Turley says the conservatives do have a valid point about it being illegal for tax-exempt churches to be involved in polital campaigns.
Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.
But again, the Atlanta congregation's long tradition of political campaign involvement is nothing new. Whether Jarrett and the church ran afoul of a tax code should not be the main story.  The main story is the co-optation of the original pulpit of a civil rights leader who abhorred war into a platform for the celebration of a president who has abused civil rights on a terrifying scale, and who is being given a pass because he belongs to the preferred political party.

Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic has written a trenchant piece asking why "Obamabots" are so insistent on focusing on the president's minor accomplishments and ignoring the big reality of his "scandalous transgressions against the rule of law." It echoes what Turley and Chris Hedges and precious few others have been saying.

Clip of the Jarrett "sermon" is here.

The Church Lady

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Heads Up for White House Doublespeak

How does a DINO president stay true to his hardcore fiscal conservatism and still run a populist re-election campaign in the age of OWS? It will be hard, but it doesn't mean he won't continue to try to pretend that we can all tighten our belts and prosper. He'll just have to mask the planned austerity with Hooverisms such as "prosperity is just around the corner and meantime you'll all have to starve because of Republicans while I tout jobs, jobs, jobs."

Or, as Stephen Colbert puts it in his satiric SuperPac slogan: "A Better Tomorrow Tomorrow."

The White House is ham-handedly attempting to ease the purist ideologues of the left into accepting the bullshit.  First of all is today's leak that "the base" is not going to like his proposed budget, to be outlined at next week's SOTU speech. Reading between the lines in a report  in The Hill this morning, it appears that the President will practice the fine art of doublespeak by attempting to translate spending cuts into jobs, jobs, jobs and economic growth. Anybody who reads Paul Krugman on a regular basis knows that you don't cut back government spending in an economic recession or depression. Obama will use the usual ploy of claiming his hands are tied because of that deal with the devil he made last summer during the debt ceiling negotiations, in which agreement was reached for a $1.047 trillion spending cap. The Hill's Alexander Bolton writes:

Obama staffers sought to present their budget plan as a glass half full. According to sources familiar with the briefings, they promised that the president will focus on jobs and the economy, instead of deficit-cutting, which dominated last year’s debate on Capitol Hill.  Obama has signaled in recent weeks that he plans to run a populist reelection campaign. He will need to keep liberal activist and labor groups — important parts of the Democratic base — energized for his strategy to work. 
Bolton reports that even though Obama has made vague suggestions for taxing financial institutions to increase revenue and reduce the deficit, the Administration is still adamantly opposed to a transaction tax on speculative trades. The reason? "Administration officials worry Republicans could frame the proposal as a tax on 401(k) retirement funds, a potentially damaging election-year charge". 

Wow. Re-election trumps the public good. Who knew? So much for talking the populist talk.  He is still walking the same old craven political walk. The curtain rises on Act II of Osawatomie Kabuki theatre.

The excuse about agreed-upon spending caps tying the hands of nouveau-populist Barack is pure malarkey.  Ranking Democrat of the House Appropriations Committee Norm Dicks tells The Seattle Times that the automatic spending cuts due to take effect in the wake of the SuperCommittee fail are bad policy -- and that Republicans and Democrats may be close to reaching a deal to avoid them."Austerity isn't going to get people back to work," said Dicks, who ranks 10th in seniority among the 435 House members. "It's going to increase unemployment, and it's just so obvious."

Since Obama has vowed to veto any end-run around the triggers, it will be interesting to see if he succeeds in fiscal can-kicking until after the election. In the meantime, make sure you have fresh batteries in your bullshit detection meters in time for The Speech this Tuesday.

Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK Day/Open Thread

He would have been 83 yesterday, but in order for Americans  to get their three day weekend, the federal government officially honors the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the third Monday in January.

This year MLK is garnering more attention than usual. His long-delayed memorial in Washington was finally dedicated, just at about the same time the civil rights movement of the 21st Century -- Occupy -- was gearing up.  The class war based on gross income inequality has entered the national political conversation. Civil rights are being sacrificed in the name of a trumped up War on Terror, War on Drugs, War on the 99% by the Oligarchy and the government duopoly.

Jonathan Turley has written a powerful op-ed called "10 Reasons Why America is No Longer the Land of the Free" in the Washington Post. Dr. King, you might recall, was hounded and spied upon by the government himself for his anti-war, pro-labor stance. 

The Christian Science Monitor outlines how we can mark the day by making it a time set aside for service to others.

Chris Hedges marks the day by performing the public service of suing the president over the illegal and inhumane National Defense Authorization Act.

"How Fares the Dream?" asks Paul Krugman in a New York Times column.  He writes "Goodbye Jim Crow, Hello Class System" -- to which I reply that Jim Crow is still lurking if we look all around us. (I copied my response-comment in the Comments below this post).

Finally, here is King's classic Letter from the Birmingham Jail:

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your 6-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a 5-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.
Please share your own thoughts, along with more suggested reading.

(PS -- I have included the new Bill Moyers site in the Blogroll to your right. You can view his first show by clicking the link). 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

SOPA & PIPA Do the Capitol

In the brothel that is Congress, there possibly has never been a more expensive pay-to-play romp than the marathon escapades of those high priced hookers known as Sopa and Pipa. The lobbyist pimps are raking in and forking over
 the cash, and the voracious congressional johns just can't get enough. SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and her twin PIPA (Protect IP Act) seemingly have taken up permanent residence in the decadent chambers of the House and Senate, respectively. They are the 21st Century D.C. madams. 

Sopa had originally been booked as a quickie earlier this fall, but bill sponsor Lamar Alexander (R-LA) abruptly pulled back on the scheduled vote, saying the process needed to be more drawn out to give more experts a chance to languish in the details. The process, with its endless parade of pro and con lobbyists and their fat wallets,was proving to be way too pleasurable, and could be extended even when Congress withdrew for its long winter break. 

 At first it appeared that a climactic vote this month might be inevitable. But the White House chimed in just this morning, urging more "study." (read: more lucrative can-kicking, more K Street pimps to help rewrite the legislation from scratch, more money for the bottomless partisan campaign war chests and individual bank accounts).

Sopa and Pipa, in case you haven't heard, were created by the Hollywood money machine, ostensibly to prevent illegal downloading of movies from foreign filesharing websites such as The Pirate Bay. From Wikipedia:

The originally proposed bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who requests the court orders, the actions could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for 10 such infringements within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.
Opponents of the bills, and they are legion (mega-rich Google and Facebook among them), have a whole laundry list of complaints -- enactment would result in suppression of free speech; would constitute a threat to websites that host user content, leading to de facto government censorship without due process; would expose users of even legitimate uploaded content to potential criminal charges.  Additionally, say critics, the proposals on their face are ineffectual against piracy. And then there's that lack of transparency we have come to expect under the current regime: 
Brooklyn Law School professor Jason Mazzone warned, "Much of what will happen under SOPA will occur out of the public eye and without the possibility of holding anyone accountable. For when copyright law is made and enforced privately, it is hard for the public to know the shape that the law takes and harder still to complain about its operation." (Wikipedia).
ProPublica, meanwhile, is living up to its name by launching a tool for us to track the tawdry exploits of Sopa and Pipa as they slink through the  maze of soundproof rooms in the D.C. whorehouse. It's called SOPA Opera, and through it we can discover just how bipartisan the corruption truly is. Says creator Dan Nguyen: 
SOPA Opera's tally of congressional supporters and opponents is based on factors including whether they've sponsored the legislation, whether they've voted for it in committee and their public statements about it. For each legislator, we're tracking what they've said or done so far about SOPA. We're also tracking campaign contributions to each legislator from the entertainment and Internet industries (using data from the Center for Responsive Politics).
Using the API and data from OpenSecrets [9] and the Center for Responsive Politics, we included the reported campaign contributions (as categorized by OpenSecrets [3]) from the "Movies/Music/TV" and "Computers/Internet" industries for the 2008 to 2010 election cycles. 2012 is not yet available through the OpenSecrets API yet. The totals here may differ compared to other SOPA-tracking sites because of the different timespans involved.
While many other groups, including labor unions and pharmaceutical companies, are also joining the SOPA/PIPA debate. We focus on the entertainment and computing industries because they have so much at stake financially and therefore have the biggest incentive to use money to influence politicians.
What's in your congressperson's wallet?  Is your rep in SOPA or PIPA's little black book?

Speaking of which, at least one professional lady is very much against the anti-piracy legislation, fearing that it might have the nefarious and unintended purpose of shutting down her own website, called "Diary of an Escort."  (Hear that, David Vitter? And no, I am not providing a link, even though the site is very discreet and tasteful and non-pornographic).

Lawmakers and lobbyists could take a tip from "Thierry", a pimp who dishes on the niceties: 
Before the start of the session, it is very important for you to make sure you have the cash available for the beautiful lady (politician), not paying an escort (pol) upfront is very disrespectful. You should always make sure you have enough money to cover the time scheduled.... and some extra because you might find that you arrive you are so charmed.... you might want to spend more time with her then expected.
Under no circumstances should she have to ask you for her donation. Payment must be made before all sessions begin. Instead of handing her the money when she walks through the door, it is better etiquette to place the money in a visible envelope that is in an obvious spot where she can see it when she walks in.