Susannah McCorkle

How could I have done this?

How could I have completely missed Susannah McCorkle, an amazing American jazz singer who lived out her entire sad life and career and died much too soon at age 55 in 2001, before I even became aware of her existence this morning on a Terry Gross episode of Fresh Air.

McCorkle was a linguist, a novelist, a breast-cancer survivor, a short-story author and a singer with an exquisite. gorgeous. sultry. voice.

A genius.

She died by stepping off into the air … from the balcony of her 16th-floor apartment on West 86th Street in Manhattan.

See also:

Popular Blogger Scoops Press on Continuing Betrayal of Foreclosed Homeowners and Orchestrated Coverup by Federal Officials, Bank of America

Yves Smith, founder of the extremely popular economics blog, Naked Capitalism, today published major new installments in her ongoing investigative report on the “foreclosure review process which was set forth in consent orders issued in April 2010.” Her report is entitled, “Bank of America Foreclosure Reviews: Whistleblowers Reveal Extensive Borrower Harm and Orchestrated Coverup.”

Here’s the opening paragraph in her executive summary:

On January 7, ten servicers entered into an $8.5 billion settlement with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve, terminating a foreclosure review process which was set forth in consent orders issued in April 2010. Borrowers who had had foreclosures that were pending or had completed foreclosure sales in 2009 and 2010 could request an investigation by independent reviewers, selected and paid for by the servicers but subject to approval by the OCC.

Yves conducted extensive interviews with whistleblowers who had been employed by Bank of America to help conduct the foreclosure review process, a process which most of them eventually came to believe was a sham.

OCC/Federal Reserve foreclosure reviews meant to provide compensation to abused homeowners were abruptly shut down at the beginning of January as the result of a settlement with ten major servicers. Whistleblowers from the biggest, Bank of America, provide compelling evidence that the bank and its independent consultant, Promontory Financial Group, went to considerable lengths to suppress any findings of harm to homeowners.

These whistleblowers, who reviewed over 1600 files and tested hundreds more in the attenuated start up period, saw abundant evidence of serious damage to borrowers. Their estimates vary because they performed different tests and thus focused on different records and issues. When asked to estimate the percentage of harm and serious harm they found, the lowest estimate of harm was 30% and the majority estimated harm at or over 90%. Their estimates of serious harm ranged from 10% to 80%.

We found four basic problems:

  • The reviews showed that Bank of America engaged in certain types of abuses systematically.
  • The review process itself lacked integrity due to Promontory delegating most of its work to Bank of America, and that work in turn depended on records that were often incomplete and unreliable. Chaotic implementation of the project itself only made a bad situation worse.
  • Bank of America strove to suppress and minimize evidence of damage to borrowers.
  • Promontory had multiple conflicts of interest and little to no relevant expertise.

We discuss the second major finding below.

Past whistleblower leaks from Bank of America and other reviews have pointed out how frequent changes to the review process, both from the OCC and from the independent reviewers, made the process disorderly. This confusion is likely to serve as a convenient excuse for why the costs of the reviews exploded, which was one of the two major rationales for shutting them down.

Read her complete devastating investigative report in the following installments:

How Exploitation of Workers in the U.S. Became Mainstream

A fascinating article in the New York Times a couple of days ago explains how the temp worker industry evolved from a marginal phenomenon with an uncertain future in the 1940s to a behemoth employing over 3 million temps a day by the turn of the century. The author of the article, Erin Hatton, assistant professor of sociology at the State University of New York, Buffalo, argues that the temp industry has been a critical force in promoting low-wage jobs as the norm:

Low-wage, temporary jobs have become so widespread that they threaten to become the norm. But for some reason this isn’t causing a scandal. At least in the business press, we are more likely to hear plaudits for “lean and mean” companies than angst about the changing nature of work for ordinary Americans.

How did we arrive at this state of affairs? Many argue that it was the inevitable result of macroeconomic forces — globalization, deindustrialization and technological change — beyond our political control. Yet employers had (and have) choices. Rather than squeezing workers, they could have invested in workers and boosted product quality, taking what economists call the high road toward more advanced manufacturing and skilled service work. But this hasn’t happened. Instead, American employers have generally taken the low road: lowering wages and cutting benefits, converting permanent employees into part-time and contingent workers, busting unions and subcontracting and outsourcing jobs. They have done so, in part, because of the extraordinary evangelizing of the temp industry, which rose from humble origins to become a global behemoth.

Hatton explains that in the early days of the temp business, female workers were promoted as no threat to male-dominated union jobs because they were typically housewives who were only working for “pin money.”  An advertisement of the time read, “The typical Kelly Girl… doesn’t want full-time work, but she’s bored with strictly keeping house. Or maybe she just wants to take a job until she pays for a davenport or a new fur coat.”

Echoes of Mad Men!

By the late 1960s the temp industry enlarged its vision and began to pitch its workers as an alternative to the burdensome costs of full-time workers:

In 1971 the recently renamed Kelly Services ran a series of ads in The Office, a human resources journal, promoting the “Never-Never Girl,” who, the company claimed: “Never takes a vacation or holiday. Never asks for a raise. Never costs you a dime for slack time. (When the workload drops, you drop her.) Never has a cold, slipped disc or loose tooth. (Not on your time anyway!) Never costs you for unemployment taxes and Social Security payments. (None of the paperwork, either!) Never costs you for fringe benefits. (They add up to 30% of every payroll dollar.) Never fails to please. (If your Kelly Girl employee doesn’t work out, you don’t pay.)”

Read the full article here: “The Rise of the Permanent Temp Economy

Book (“The End of the Long Summer”) Questions Survival of Human Race

Editor’s Note: I originally wrote this book review four years ago, and already — compared to more recent works on the same subject — it seems faintly optimistic, despite its dark message questioning man’s ability to survive climate change. This is yet another small indication of how quickly the game is changing. And yet the book remains compelling.

book_long_summerDianne Dumanoski, in her book, “The End of the Long Summer: Why We Must Remake Our Civilization to Survive on a Volatile Earth,” writes with great breadth and depth about what she calls the planetary era. Since the beginning of this era, in the middle of the twentieth century, it has become clear that man-made global climate change — and she doesn’t waste time trying to convince the deniers — is part of a deeper problem, the impact of human civilization on a whole set of planetary systems (species diversity; species abundance; nitrogen, phosphorous and sulfur cycles; fresh water systems, etc).

In its final days [the final days of Apollo 11], I watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon again and again while I waited in vain to read or hear even a passing mention of the Antarctic ozone hole or recognition of the profound watershed in the human journey it symbolized — the arrival of a new and ominous epoch when human activity began to disrupt the essential but invisible planetary systems that sustain a dynamic, living Earth …

… In the second half of the twentieth century, modern civilization emerged as a global-scale force capable of redirecting Earth’s history. This fateful step marks a fundamental turning point in the relationship between humans and the Earth, arguably the biggest step since the human mastery of fire, which hepled launch the human career of dominion. The consequences are not limited to global warming,  nor are weather extremes the first evidence of our new status. Accelerating climate change signals a far deeper problem — the growing human burden on all of the fundamental planetary processes that together make up a single, self-regulating Earth. When future historians look back on the twentieth century, this quick visit to the moon will surely seem like a minor event compared to the giant leap humanity had taken here on Earth.

She cites the appearance of the Antarctic ozone hole as the beginning of this planetary era, and explains how that event might easily have been much more disastrous:

The human enterprise survived this first encounter with planetary systems thanks only to dumb luck, argues Paul Crutzen, who shared the Nobel chemistry prize with Rowland and Molina in 1995 for his pioneering work showing that nitrogen oxides from fertilizers and supersonic aircraft could damage the ozone layer. Had the problematic refrigerants been engineered not with chlorine but with bromine, a similar chemical and possible alternative, the world would have faced catastrophic destruction of ozone everywhere in all seasons and significant harm to land-based forms of life. In his 1995 Nobel acceptance speech, Crutzen explained that, atom for atom, bromine is one hundred times more destructive to ozone because it does not require unusual conditions for its activation. The rapid ozone destruction caused by CFCs over Antarctica, by contrast, depends on heterogeneous chemical reactions on the solid or supercooled liquid particles found in rare polar stratospheric clouds, such as those found over the South Pole in the total darkness of winter. “I can only conclude that mankind has been extremely lucky,” Crutzen concluded. “It was a close call.”

Dumanoski’s “Long Summer” is a work full of big ideas, and I must admit to a guilty pleasure: an infatuation with big ideas, no matter how (as in this case) dire.

In the end she achieves a tough hope, a hope earned through the difficult process of facing frightening truths, and seeing beyond them to some possible viable human futures.

Big Idea: “The Return of Nature”

Modern civilization has been built on mistaken assumptions, chief among them that in the past, climate has generally changed gradually.

“Abrupt climate change” Dumanoski says, ” … is not some theoretical possiblity. It has happened before, and happened repeatedly … The most mind-boggling insight from the ice cores is that rapid climate change is normal; it is the rule. When the Earth system changes, this is how it behaves.”

She explains the “long summer” in which we’ve been living, and what a freakishly unusual and mild period it’s been in Earth’s history:

The ice cores drilled from Greenland and Antarctica also tell us that we live at a truly extraordinary time within this long, volatile climate history, a rare period blessed with a warm and stable climate that has now lasted almost twelve thousand years. During a visit to the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver, I sat for a long time contemplating a graph with a red line tracking temperatures in Greenland through the most recent ice age and the interglacial period we now live in — a period of roughly 110,000 years. This line surges like a roller coaster through great peaks and valleys of coldness for over a hundred millenia and then soars upward in fits and starts and reversals and renewed ascent to our own time, the long summer since the last ice age, known to scientists as the Holocene. Then the sweeping temperature excursions simply stop, and the red line settles into a dense scribble stuttering within an extremely narrow range of climatic possibility. The difference in this climate record between most of the time in recent Earth history and our time is positively stunning. It looks as if this immensely dynamic climate system had suddenly fallen asleep for the duration of the long summer.

“It is already too late to prevent global warming,” she says. But it’s not too late to do anything at all. And as a basis for hope, she points to the fact that the planet’s “fitful variability has helped make us who we are.”

Big Idea: “A Stormworthy Lineage”

Humans evolved in conditions of wild climatic variability and instability. “What has emerged from this instability is a versatile human species for all seasons and climes.”

She quotes Rick Potts, a Smithsonian researcher in human origins, as saying that our evolutionary pattern represents “the survival of the generalist” (not adapted too restrictively to any particular landscape niche, such as the Neanderthals were to narrow transition zones between grasslands and woodlands).

Humans are just one of perhaps as many as twenty upright-walking hominin species that evolved in the face of climatic oscillation and shifting landscapes. Our 5-million-year family history is in large part a story of extinction. Today humans are the sole survivors, the only member of this diverse family — which scientists long ago called hominids but have recently renamed hominins based on new genetic evidence of relatedness — to emerge from a brutal gauntlet of intensifying climatic extremes …

… The rising instability, particularly over the past 700,000 years, forged the very human talents that have allowed us to become a planetary force and an agent of crisis and instability. At the same time, however, this evolutionary legacy also gives me good reason to believe that humans can — with wisdom and luck — make it through the dangerous passage ahead.

Other big ideas I’ll leave it to you to explore:

  • Progressive externalization” of the brain’s developmental program (” a collaboration between biology and culture”).
  • Human culture as a nurturer of man’s survival, and also as “a manufacturer of crisis.”
  • Geo-engneering, the “temptations [and pitfalls] of technofix.”
  • Civilization’s growing complexity and increasing vulnerability.
  • Modern civilization at risk because of its dependence on stable climate, cheap energy and growth.
  • Globalization is contrary to traditional human evolutionary survival strategy, which depends on modularity and redundancy (a survivability strategy is often not the most efficient strategy).

The hope that Dumanoski speaks of at the end of the book is hard-headed, and does not ignore the possible desperate future we may be facing.

But she never doubts the survival of the Earth.

What’s clearly uncertain is the fate of the civilization man has built so profligately upon it.

PBS Documentary Looks at Right-Wing Promotion of Ignorance Through Textbooks

Texas textbooks determine what children learn nationwide.

“I believe that dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark … somebody’s got to stand up to these experts.” (Don McElroy, former member of the Texas State Board of Education).

Watch “The Revisionaries,” on PBS tomorrow night, January 28th:

The War on Female Sexuality

Here’s a fascinating and thoughtful article on the role of women’s bodies in traditional “honor societies” as opposed to modern globalized and globalizing societies.

In patriarchal honor societies, “rape is the violation not of the woman but of another man’s ownership of that woman”, according to David Jacobson in his new book, “Of Virgins and Martyrs: Women and Sexuality in Global Conflict.”

Here Tracy Clark-Flory interviews Jacobson for Salon:

The war on female sexuality: Is globalization to blame?

Women’s bodies have become a global battlefield. The brutal New Delhi gang rape case, and the fierce protests it sparked, is just one example. From education of Afghan schoolgirls to veiling in France, female sexuality and freedom has come to symbolize a global conflict “over the nature of the self,” argues David Jacobson, a University of South Florida sociologist, in “Of Virgins and Martyrs: Women and Sexuality in Global Conflict,” which comes out later this month. It’s chiefly an ideological divide of “honor” versus “self-possession” — or, as he puts it in the book, “who owns and control’s one’s body, especially when it comes to women: is it the individual herself or the community, through enforced practices of honor, virginity, veiling, and marriage?”


“For many individuals across the world today the other side of it is that the woman controls her own body. She controls the right to sell her labor power, to sell her intellect on the job market, to go to school or university, to choose whom she shall marry. So you have this principle of honor on the one side and self-determination on the other.”

Read the full interview here.

GOP Plan to Gerrymander the Presidency is Unconstitutional

The GOP plan to undemocratically rig (gerrymander) the Electoral College in such a way that a popular vote loser could consistently win the presidency is proof that it’s time to dump the Electoral College and implement (via a constitutional amendment) the election of the president based on the national popular vote.

I had hoped that the recent election would have provoked the GOP to reflect on its future and how it needs to transform itself to become once again — as it was in the past — the loyal opposition that could also responsibly govern (think Eisenhower, even — ugh — Nixon). But instead it is doubling down on the fraud and dirty tricks approach. Horrible. It’s as if the GOP motto is, “Who needs democracy?” 

Both parties have long been guilty of gerrymandering, but this is the first time this blatantly undemocratic process has been explicitly and openly advocated as a strategy to rig the Electoral College with the aim of winning national elections.

Here’s John Nichols writing in the Nation magazine about strategies to counter this assault on our democracy.

Three Strategies to Block the Gerrymandering of the Electoral College

John Nichols on January 25, 2013

As Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus promotes one of the most blatant assaults on democracy in modern times—a scheme to gerrymander the Electoral College so that the loser of the popular vote could win key states and the presidency—the number-one question from frustrated citizens is: What can we do about it?

After so many assaults on voting rights and the electoral process itself have been advanced, it is easy to imagine that Priebus, Karl Rove and their team could get away even with so audacious an initiative as the rigging of presidential elections.

Read full article here.

Galbraith: Is This the End for the Deficit Drones?

Reprinted from Alternet.

By James Galbraith

Public opinion is turning on those who seek to cut our social safety net.

In wars, sometimes there comes a moment when the tide turns. The collapse of Ludendorff’s offensive in 1918 presaged the Armistice;  failure in the Ardennes meant the end for Germany in 1944.

Today we have two drone wars in a similar state. One is mainly in Pakistan. Built on a gee-whiz technology that can’t do what it promised, this war has claimed too many victims for too little effect. It is a diplomatic disaster and its days are numbered, almost surely, for that reason.

The other drone war is in Washington. The drones are in groups with names like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and Campaign to Fix the Debt. They drone on, and on, about the calamities that await unless we cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

That the goal of the deficit drones is to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid has been plain for years to anyone who looks at where the money comes from. It comes largely from Peter G. Peterson, a billionaire former secretary of Commerce under Nixon, who is Captain Ahab to Social Security’s Moby Dick. And when one trick, such as privatization, falls flat, his minions always have another, whether it’s raising the retirement age or changing the COLA. But a cut by any other name is still, and always, just a cut.

Peterson’s influence is vast; practically the entire DC mind-meld has bought his line to some degree.

The other day I was on CNBC, supposedly to discuss the debt ceiling, but the topic was Social Security all the way. My host, Andrew Ross Sorkin, was very blunt: “If now isn’t the time to cut entitlements,” he asked, “when would be?” My answer – in a word, never – is not one he seemed to have thought possible before.

Yet there is no good reason to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. These are insurance programs. They keep the elderly, their survivors and dependents, and the disabled, out of dire poverty. We can afford this. There is also no financing problem; if there were, investors would not be buying 20-year US bonds at 3 percent. These days when some economists say that cuts are needed, they say it’s only for show – to establish “credibility.” Old-timers may remember, that’s what DC insiders once said about the war in Vietnam.

And like Vietnam, this war is getting old. We’re beginning to realize, we don’t need it. If the United States really faced some sort of deficit or debt crisis, something would have happened by now. Simpson and Bowles – those brave men who were going to lead us toward budget balance – who remembers them? The super-committee? The fiscal cliff? All gone. Yet Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are still here. The economy is still stable. And interest rates are still low. The debt ceiling? On that, the president stood up and the Republicans gave way.

It’s true that the sequesters and the continuing resolution lie ahead. But if you are going to refuse blackmail over the debt ceiling, why yield to it on anything else? The blackmailers must know by now which side the public will take.

And then on Monday we heard from President Obama. As part of his great speech, which settled so many questions, he gave a little economics lesson. Here’s what he said:

“The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

This is exactly right. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are not merely a transfer from the young. They are part of the fabric of our lives. They free us all – every single one of us, young and old  – to be less worried, less fearful, a bit more independent, and a little less cautious than otherwise. Certainly old people are better off when they have a regular income and health insurance. But working people are also better off, directly and indirectly, every day.

There are some, like Mr. Peterson and his allies, who don’t like this. Their motives are plain. But now the president seems to have made his choice. The word he used was “commitment.” Again, exactly so. That’s what Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are. President Obama  took a great step, when he said so.

Now it’s time for Congress to stand with him, to say no to blackmail, no to fake fixes, no to disguised cuts, no to fear — and no to those deficit drones.

James K. Galbraith is the author of “Inequality and Instability:  A study of the world economy just before the Great Crisis.”   He teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.

CHP Officers Brutalize Pregnant Woman for Using Cell Phone While Driving

Here’s what could happen to you at the hands of the California Highway Patrol if you are using a cell-phone while driving, even if you’re a pregnant woman.

This pregnant woman got her feet kicked out from under her, got thrown to the ground on her face, had a knee on her neck and her ribcage kicked while being hogtied.

It took four “brave” CHP officers to subdue her. The CHP just settled this case for $250,000.

The completely gratuitous brutality starts at about 3 min 40 seconds into this video:

Here are the explanatory comments (based on the trial transcript?) following the YouTube video:

“Young woman was pulled over for improperly using her cell phone by California Highway Patrol officers. After first stopping on the right shoulder, she was ordered to not stop there, to go forward and get off freeway. Because of rush hour traffic noise, she did not hear clearly what she was directed to do.

“Additionally, besides being typically scared after being lit up, and now confused about where she should go, she thought that she should go to the shoulder on the left side of the freeway and she changed lanes to her left to do this. When the CHP vehicle followed and then turned on its siren, she was told to pull off the freeway again, which she promptly did on the right shoulder after driving less than 1/4 mile. Once stopped, she was told to turn off the ignition, throw the keys out and exit. She did that and then two officers approached, one pointing his gun at her, yelling for her to turn around. She just stood absolutely paralyzed in terror with her hands open and to her side.

“As the officer came up to her, she told him she was pregnant (which the officer admitted in his report), as she turned around in fear of him. The officer then kicked her feet out from under her and slammed her to the pavement face down. He then bent down on her, putting his left his knee on her neck, handcuffed her while also kicking her rib cage with his right foot. Even though she never resisted whatsoever, back up officers then HOGTIED her. She was then lifted up and placed on her left side in the back seat of the patrol car and driven to the station, which took about 20 minutes.

“The police report stated falsely that after exiting the car, she was talking incoherently even though she said nothing except being pregnant, and that she was hogtied because she was flailing her legs, which she clearly did not. She is charged with evading and resisting arrest.

Is the Chinese Economy a Bubble About to Burst?

Stare at this alarming graph from a report on China’s economy by GMO LLC.

Notice that China’s pattern of non-financial debt-to-GDP ratio closely resembles the patterns of other recent meltdowns (in the U.S., U.K. Japan and Korea).

China appears to be right now on the cusp of its own meltdown.

Here’s a bit of the analysis — on the significance of the real estate bubble in China —  from the GMO Report:

Recent research suggests that credit booms are more likely to end in severe busts when they coincide with property bubbles. It’s difficult to prove using purely quantitative tools that China’s property market is in a bubble. There’s no doubt, however, that China has witnessed a tremendous residential construction boom in recent years. Miles upon miles of half-completed apartment blocks encircle many cities across the country. Official data suggest that the value of the unfinished housing stock is equivalent to 20% of GDP and rising.

Real estate collateral supports much of the country’s outstanding debt. Officially, the banks’ exposure to property – through loans to developers and mortgages – is only 22% of their total loan book. The banks, however, are also exposed to real estate through their loans to local government funding vehicles and through sundry off-balance-sheet credit instruments. It’s probably fair to say that at least one-third of bank credit exposures are real estate related.

Developments in the infamous “ghost city” of Ordos, in Inner Mongolia, reveal the vulnerability of China’s credit system to an overblown housing market. The Kangbashi district of Ordos is a totem for China’s property excesses. Kangbashi has enough apartments to shelter a million persons, roughly four times its current population. Until recently,turnover in the local real estate market appears to have been driven by debt-fuelled speculators. Construction in Ordos came to a sudden stop in the fall of 2011 after property prices collapsed (Caixin magazine reports incredibly that prices declined by 85%). More than 90% of the building sites in Kangbashi were said to be idle.

Debt problems soon emerged. A prominent developer in the neighboring city of Baotou hanged himself last June,leaving behind debts of RMB 700 million, according to the National Business Daily. Local property developers were revealed to have funded themselves in the underground loan market, where monthly interest rates range between one and three percent. The city government has run into difficulties after revenues from land sales fell by three-quarters. Local banks also reported an increase in non-performing loans.

Property-related debt problems have cropped up in other cities. In late 2011, funding difficulties at a Hangzhou-based real estate developer imperiled dozens of companies that had issued guarantees over its debts. Property trusts in Nanjing and Beijing have recently threatened to default. Last October, developers in the city of Changsha in Hunan province were reported to have both reneged on debts and sold the same properties to different buyers. Given the vast amount of residential construction in China (estimated at around 12% of GDP) and severe weakness in many property markets, it’s remarkable that real estate lending issues have been relatively contained.

Read the full GMO report here.

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