The American Prospect: Financial Reform's Triple "F" Rating

In current practice, banks pay agencies to assess their financial products favorably. Why hasn't this system of kickbacks been eliminated?

-By David Dayen

February 21, 2013- Earlier this month, the Justice Department and 16 state attorneys general sued the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) credit-rating agency, accusing the company of improperly inflating the ratings of 40 collateralized debt obligations (CDOs)—essentially, securities made up of other mortgage-backed securities—at the height of the housing bubble. According to the suit, S&P misled investors by rating the risky securities as "triple-A," super-safe investments. But the purchases turned into massive investor losses when the bonds failed after the bubble collapsed. Using emails and other communications, state, and federal prosecutors will seek to prove that S&P knew the securities were junk but rated them highly for the most obvious of reasons: to make more money.

Huffington Post: Immigration Bill: Business, Labor Groups Announce Agreement On Key Component

-By Associated Press

February 21, 2013- WASHINGTON (AP) — The Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO say they have a deal on principles for a new visa program to bring lesser-skilled workers to the U.S. — a key component of any immigration overhaul bill.

The groups announced the breakthrough Thursday after weeks of closed-doors negotiations at the request of senators involved in crafting an immigration deal on Capitol Hill.

The principles include agreement to create a mechanism to let businesses more easily hire foreign workers when Americans aren't available to fill jobs. This will require a new kind of worker visa program that does not keep workers in permanent temporary status.

FULL STORY HERE:

The Guardian: Keystone XL will have 'no impact on climate change', TransCanada boss says

Firm planning oil pipeline from western Canada to Texas targets climate change protesters' arguments on emissions

-By Associated Press

February 20, 2013- The company that wants to build a controversial oil pipeline from western Canada to Texas said on Tuesday said that shutting down the oil sands at its source would have no measurable effect on global warming.

"You could shut down oil sands production tomorrow and it would have absolutely no measurable impact on climate change," he said.

Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada's president for energy and oil pipelines, said opponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline have grossly inflated the likely impact of the oil it would carry on emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Canada produces just 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Pourbaix said at a forum sponsored by a manufacturing group that supports the pipeline. Oil sands concentrated in Alberta, where the 1,700-mile pipeline would start, make up 5% of Canada's total, Pourbaix said.

PR Watch: Citizens United 2.0? Supreme Court Could Further Open Door to Money in Politics

-By Brendan Fischer

February 20, 2013- The U.S. Supreme Court could open the door to even more money in politics than it did in the disastrous 2010 decision Citizens United v FEC as it considers a new case challenging limits on how much wealthy donors can give directly to federal candidates and political parties. If the court sides with the challengers in McCutcheon v FEC, political power and influence in America would be further concentrated in the hands of just a few wealthy donors.

Citizens United Flawed in Light of 2012 Elections, but McCutcheon Might Be Worse

The Citizens United decision was premised on the notion that expenditures made "independently" of candidates are less likely to have a corruptive influence than direct contributions to candidates and parties.

The five justice Citizens United majority extended the reasoning established in the 1976 Buckley v Valeo case and held that limiting corporate independent expenditures does not serve a compelling governmental interest, since "the absence of prearrangement and coordination undermines the value of the expenditure to the candidate [and] ... alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments."

Counter Currents: What The 1% Heard During Obama's State Of The Union Speech

-By Shamus Cooke

February 19, 2013- When President Obama speaks, most Americans hear what he wants them to hear: lofty rhetoric and a "progressive" vision.   But just below the surface the president has a subtly-delivered message for the 1%, whose ears prick up when their buzzwords are mentioned. Obama's state of the union address was such a speech – a pro-corporate agenda packaged with chocolate covered rhetoric for the masses; easy to swallow, but deadly poisonous.

Much of Obama's speech was pleasant to the ears, but there were key moments where he was speaking exclusively to the 1%. Exposing these hidden agenda points in the speech requires that we ignore the fluff and use English the way the 1% does. Every time Obama says the words "reform" or "savings,” insert the word "cuts.” 

Here are some of the more nefarious moments of Obama's state for the union speech :

"And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms [cuts]..."   

AlterNet: Playing Golf as the Planet Burns: Obama Meets With Oil-Man as Protesters Call for Halt to Keystone Pipeline

President Obama spent his Sunday swinging at little balls with Jim Crane, a Texas businessman in deep with Big Oil.

-By Medea Benjamin

February 18, 2013- In parallel universes, President Obama spent his Sunday playing golf at an exclusive Florida gated community while 50,000 Americans poured into Washington DC, calling on the absent president to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline and stand up to Big Oil.  In an inspiring rally, indigenous women from the United States and Canada told the crowd how the tar sands and its infrastructure—from Northern Alberta where the oil is extracted to Texas where the Keystone pipeline is under construction—are threatening communities across North America. Canadian indigenous activist Crystal Lameman described how fish in northeastern Alberta have cancerous tumors, moose have “puss bubbles under the skin” and babies are airlifted to the hospital for drinking contaminated water.

Addressing President Obama, speakers said that his decision to accept or reject the 2,000-mile pipeline connecting Canada’s tar sands to Houston’s refineries was the most monumental decision he would make in his presidency.

Eco Watch: Confirmed: Tar Sands Toxic Liquid Waste Contaminating Local Waterways

February 18, 2013- As tens of thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C. yesterday to urge President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, more evidence emerged that the public isn’t getting the full story of the environmental impacts of tar sands.

Media yesterday reported on an internal government memo revealing a Canadian government study on a tar sands tailings pond that found that toxic liquid ponds do leak toxic chemicals into the environment—despite repeated denials of officials.

RAW Story: Thousands protest Keystone XL pipeline in D.C.

-By Samantha Kimmey

February 17, 2013- Thousands of demonstrators protested the proposed Keystone XL at the National Mall on Sunday.

“Hey hey, ho ho, Keystone pipeline’s got to go!” protestors chanted at one point.

“I’m ashamed of what my country is doing. I’m ashamed we’re knocking on your door with dirty oil. I want to stand up here as a Canadian and say I’m sorry to the workers in Canada and the workers in America who have to go home and look their kids in the eye and know that they are damaging their future,” said Evangeline Lilly, a Canadian actor.

AlterNet: 9 Economic Facts That Will Make Your Head Spin

Half the population of the U.S. has slipped into poverty or is barely making enough to get by.

-By Lynn Stuart Parramore

February 18, 2013- How much will you need for medical expenses in retirement? What does it cost to keep 2.5 million Americans behind bars? Here are a few facts and figures that might surprise you.

1. Recovery for the rich, recession for the rest.

Economic recovery is in rather limited supply, it seems. Research by economist Emmanuel Saez shows that the top 1 percent has enjoyed income growth of over 11 percent since the official end of the recession. The other 99 percent hasn’t fared so well, seeing a 0.4 percent decline in income.

The top 10 percent of earners hauled in 46.5 percent of all income in 2011, the highest proportion since 1917 – and that doesn’t even include money earned from investments. The wealthy have benefitted from favorable tax status and the rise in stock prices, while the rest have been hit with a continuing unemployment crisis that has kept wages down. Saez believes this trend will continue in 2013.

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