NYT: Justice Dept. Sets Record In Penalties For Fraud
The Justice Department collected a record $24.7 billion in penalties from fraud and other cases in the 2014 fiscal year, the agency said on Wednesday, as fines against banks for financial misconduct soared. Collections from civil and criminal actions, including money collected on behalf of other agencies, was $8 billion in 2013, and $13 billion in 2012. Collections in 2014 were bolstered by multibillion-dollar payouts from JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup to resolve claims they misled investors about the quality of mortgage bonds in the run-up to the financial crisis, and include $11 billion in payments made to federal agencies or states. Payouts in the 2014 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, also include hundreds of millions of dollars in fines levied on UBS and Royal Bank of Scotland.
AP: Bank Of America Agrees To Nearly $17B Settlement
The government has reached a $16.65 billion settlement with Bank of America over its role in the sale of mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the financial crisis, the Justice Department announced Thursday. The deal calls for the bank, the second-largest in the U.S., to pay a $5 billion cash penalty, another $4.6 billion in remediation payments and provide about $7 billion in relief to struggling homeowners. The settlement is by far the largest deal the Justice Department has reached with a bank over the 2008 mortgage meltdown.
In the last year, JPMorgan Chase & Co. agreed to a $13 billion settlement while Citigroup reached a separate $7 billion deal. At a news conference, Attorney General Eric Holder said the bank and its Countrywide and Merrill Lynch subsidiaries had “engaged in pervasive schemes to defraud financial institutions and other investors” by misrepresenting the soundness of mortgage-backed securities. The penalties, Holder said, go “far beyond the cost of doing business.”
Bloomberg: Housing Starts Rebound In U.S. As Inflation Eases
Home construction rebounded in July and the cost of living rose at a slower pace, showing a strengthening U.S. economy has yet to generate a sustained pickup in inflation. A 15.7 percent jump took housing starts to a 1.09 million annualized rate, the strongest since November, and halted a two-month slide, the Commerce Department said in Washington. The consumer price index increased 0.1 percent after rising 0.3 percent in June, the Labor Department also reported. An improving job market and cheaper borrowing costs are helping revive residential real estate, helping boost sales at companies such as Home Depot Inc. (HD) As inflation continues to run below the Federal Reserve’s target, it gives the central bank room to keep interest rates low well after the projected end of its bond-buying program in October.
The pickup in housing starts in the U.S. exceeded all estimates in a Bloomberg survey of 75 economists. The median projection called for 965,000, within a range of 898,000 to 1.03 million. The Commerce Department also revised June’s reading up to a 945,000 pace from a previously reported 893,000. The report also indicated the building industry will probably consolidate gains in coming months as permits for future projects advanced 8.1 percent to a 1.05 million pace, about in line with the current level of starts. The gain reflected the most applications for single-family dwellings since November.
Bloomberg: Job Market Tilts Toward U.S. Workers In Virtuous Cycle
The balance of power in the job market is shifting slowly toward employees from employers. Bob Funk sees it firsthand from his position as chief executive officer of staffing agency Express Employment Professionals. “We’re short of people in a number of cities,” he said. So he’s changing the focus of his $2.5 billion, Oklahoma City-based business. Instead of concentrating on finding jobs for those who want them, Express Employment is putting more effort into finding workers for companies that need them. “We’re back in the recruiting market again,” Funk said. The 74-year-old industry veteran isn’t the only one to notice the change. Americans who have been hunting for employment for more than six months
are finding they’re having better luck landing a job, while people who had given up looking are returning to the labor force to resume their search. Companies, meanwhile, are beefing up their in-house recruiting teams and increasingly using complicated computer algorithms to scour the Web for prospective job candidates. This is all good news for the economy, according to Nariman Behravesh, the Lexington, Massachusetts-based chief economist for IHS Inc. He said the U.S. has entered a “virtuous cycle” where job gains are leading to increased household expenditures, encouraging employers to hire more workers. Consumer spending rose in June by the most in three months, according to Commerce Department data published Aug. 1.
On This Day: President Barack Obama gestures during a roundtable discussion with Hispanic print and web media in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, on Aug. 7, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
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Today (All Times Eastern)
11:20: The President delivers remarks and signs H.R. 3230, the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014; Fort Belvoir, Virginia
12:15: White House press briefing
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Courant: Number Of Residents Without Health Insurance Drops 50%
The number of people in Connecticut without health insurance has dropped by 50 percent since 2012, according to research findings released Wednesday by the state’s health insurance exchange. Access Health CT, the state-run onlinehealth insurance marketplace created under the federal Affordable Care Act, has enrolled more than 256,000 state residents in private health plans or Medicaid since the website launched last fall.
CEO Kevin Counihan said at a press conference with the governor Wednesday that the percentage of state residents who lack health coverage dropped from 7.9 percent at the start of the open enrollment period to 4 percent now. About 286,000 residents did not have insurance before the launch of the marketplace. “Nobody expected us to be down to 4 percent,” said Counihan, who compared the figure to those of European countries with national health insurance, where uninsured rates hover around 2 percent to 3 percent.
Bank of America is nearing a $16 billion to $17 billion settlement to resolve an investigation into its role in the sale of mortgage-backed securities before the 2008 financial crisis, a person directly familiar with the matter said Wednesday. The deal with the bank, which must still be finalized, would be the largest Justice Department settlement by far arising from the economic meltdown in which millions of Americans lost their homes to foreclosure.
It would follow earlier multibillion-dollar agreements reached in the last year with Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase & Co. The deal would be the latest arising from the sale of toxic mortgage securities leading up to the recession. The Justice Department last year reached a $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan and in July announced a $7 billion settlement with Citigroup. Each of these deals is designed to offer some financial relief to homeowners, whose mortgages were bundled into securities by the banks in question and then sold to investors.
Somewhere between Seoul and Kuala Lumpur, with Air Force One cruising just shy of the speed of sound, Barack Obama decided to have a word with the press. It has been tradition for Obama to make a visit back to the press cabin during the last leg of exhausting presidential foreign trips – just a friendly off-the-record chat – but this junket, a barnburner taking the chief executive to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines this past April, wouldn’t be over for three days. The president’s blood was up over two analysis pieces in The New York Times. One, written by national security correspondent David Sanger and timed for Obama’s arrival in Seoul, accused the administration of dangerously underestimating Kim Jong-Un. A second story, splashed on the paper’s front page, had effectively declared the trip a failure while it was still in progress.
With the chat being off the record, a definitive accounting of what was said is hard to come by; it is clear, though, that the thrust of the president’s message was this: Foreign policy is hard, you guys are scoring it like a campaign debate, and moreover, you’re doing it inaccurately. He went further, telling the dozen or so reporters that what he favored was a judicious use of American power, and that his primary concern was not to get the country embroiled in situations from which it might take a decade to extract ourselves. He offered up an oddly sophomoric mantra for his foreign policy: “Don’t do stupid shit.”
Fewer Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, sending the average over the past month to an eight-year low, a sign the labor market continues to gain momentum. Jobless claims decreased by 14,000 to 289,000 in the week ended Aug. 2 from 303,000 in the prior period, a Labor Department report showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 47 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an increase to 304,000. Companies are holding on to more workers in an effort to keep up with increased orders and stronger consumer demand, contributing to a virtuous cycle of growth as the economy accelerates. Fewer layoffs and more jobs
would support further gains in incomes and household spending, which accounts for 70 percent of the economy. “This is one of the early steps in the process of a really good run for the labor market,” said Thomas Simons, a money market economist at Jefferies LLC in New York, whose forecast for the drop in claims was the closest in the Bloomberg survey. “If we have fewer layoffs, it’s a necessary precondition for an acceleration in hiring, and as hiring increases and the slack in the labor force is taken up, that should put some upward pressure on wages as well.”
Fresh off his weeks-long stint flacking for Paul Ryan’s poverty plan, Vox publisher and All In fill-in host Ezra Klein further dabbled in Beltway view-from-nowhere dumbshittery Wednesday night when he declared, to MSNBC viewers, that President Obama broke politics. He promised to change politics, but instead, he broke them worse than they already were broken…
…. The theory is that despite all of his promises, Republicans were such pricks that Obama had no choice but to become a partisan ramrod, further dividing our country. Now, even if you accept that narrative, saying Obama broke politics is like saying Jesus sure stained the shit out of that cross… The truth is, it started within hours of President Obama’s inauguration. President Obama didn’t break politics, politics set out to break him…
Seventeen: Michelle Obama’s Open Letter To American Girls: Commit To Your Education & Get Involved In Others
Did you know that right now, 62 million girls around the world are not in school, and in some countries, fewer than ten percent of girls complete high school (as compared to 85 percent in the U.S.)? Did you know that when girls are educated, they go on to earn higher wages, get married later, and have healthier children who are more likely to attend school themselves? So you might be wondering: why on earth are so many girls worldwide not in school? There are many answers to this question. Sometimes, families simply can’t afford to send their daughters to school (some countries don’t have free public education, and families have to pay school fees); or girls live in rural areas, far from schools, and have no means of transportation; or girls can’t afford to buy sanitary pads, so they’re unable to attend school during their periods, and they wind up falling behind and dropping out.
But often, the problem isn’t just about resources, it’s also about attitudes and beliefs. In some places, girls are viewed as less worthy of an education than boys, so when a family has limited funds, they’ll educate their sons instead of their daughters. Knowing the heartbreaking challenges so many girls in the world are facing, think about all the girls you know who don’t take their education seriously – girls who skip class, or don’t do their homework, or even drop out because they don’t see the point of school. To any girl – or any young person – who might be thinking this way, I have a simple message: you can do better – for yourself, your family and your country.
On This Day: President Obama greets people following his remarks at the Ford Motor Company Chicago Assembly Plant in Chicago, Ill., Aug. 5, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
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Today (all times Eastern)
12:30: White House press briefing
1:45: VP Biden Delivers Remarks at U.S.-Africa Business Forum
2:45: President Obama delivers remarks and participates in the U.S.-Africa Business Forum
9:30: The President and First Lady host a dinner at the White House for African heads of state – Lionel Richie performs
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President Obama meets with advisors in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Aug. 4, 2014 (Photo by Pete Souza)
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The Week Ahead
Wednesday: The President participates in Summit Leader Meetings as part of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.
First Lady Michelle Obama, in partnership with former First Lady Laura Bush and the Bush Institute, will host a day-long spouses symposium at the Kennedy Center focused on the impact of investments in education, health, and public-private partnerships.
Thursday & Friday: Attends meetings at the White House
President Barack Obama is announcing $14 billion in commitments by U.S. businesses to invest in the continent of Africa.
Obama plans to make the announcement Tuesday at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum in Washington. The forum is bringing together African heads of state and American business leaders to find ways to boost economic ties. It comes on the second day of a U.S.-Africa summit involving nearly 50 African heads of state.
The White House says the investments include industries like construction, banking, information technology and energy.
WH.gov: The First Lady at the U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit
On August 6, 2014, the Office of First Lady Michelle Obama, the George W. Bush Institute, and the U.S. Department of State will host Investing in Our Future at the U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit.
The day-long symposium will bring together First Lady Michelle Obama, Mrs. Laura Bush, African first spouses from nearly 30 countries, leaders from non-governmental and non-profit organizations, private sector partners, and other leading experts.
The symposium will highlight the important role first spouses play and will focus on the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. This collaboration builds on the Bush Institute’s 2013 African First Ladies Summit, Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa, held in Tanzania.
Although the enemies of health reform will never admit it, the Affordable Care Act is looking more and more like a big success. Costs are coming in below predictions, while the number of uninsured Americans is dropping fast, especially in states that haven’t tried to sabotage the program. Obamacare is working. But what about the administration’s other big push, financial reform? The Dodd-Frank reform bill has, if anything, received even worse press than Obamacare, derided by the right as anti-business and by the left as hopelessly inadequate. But also like Obamacare, financial reform is working a lot better than anyone listening to the news media would imagine. The decision to create a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shouldn’t have been controversial, given what happened during the housing boom.
At this point, however, all accounts indicate that the bureau is in fact doing its job, and well — well enough to inspire continuing fury among bankers and their political allies. A recent case in point: The bureau is cracking down on billions in excessive overdraft fees. how do you rescue the banking system without rewarding bad behavior? The answer is that the government should seize troubled institutions when it bails them out, so that they can be kept running without rewarding stockholders or bondholders who don’t need rescue. In 2008 and 2009, however, it wasn’t clear that the Treasury Department had the necessary legal authority to do that. So Dodd-Frank filled that gap, giving regulators Ordinary Liquidation Authority, also known as resolution authority, so that in the next crisis we can save “systemically important” banks and other institutions without bailing out the bankers.
TPM: Israel-Hamas Truce Sets Stage For Talks On Gaza
Israel and Hamas began observing a temporary cease-fire on Tuesday that sets the stage for talks in Egypt on a broader deal on the Gaza Strip, including a sustainable truce and the rebuilding of the battered, blockaded coastal territory.
Israel withdrew its ground forces from Gaza’s border areas, and both sides halted cross-border attacks as the three-day truce took effect at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) Tuesday. The shelling stopped and in Gaza City, where streets had been deserted during the war, traffic picked up and shops started opening doors.
If the calm holds, it would be the longest lull in almost a month of fighting that has killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians and 67 Israelis.
For the last two hours we’ve heard nothing but sonic booms and the sound of rockets and mortars. Shells have fallen on our street a few hundred yards from my father-in-law’s house, where my wife and I, and our five kids, are staying, and on the street behind us.
My wife, Hanna, is arguing with the kids over what to buy to celebrate Eid, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. She has forbidden them to go to the grocery store, and she’s adamant that they won’t visit the Internet cafes or the PlayStation shop near my father’s place. They don’t understand the impossibility of shopping at a time of war.
Last night, we all became convinced that the tank fire would soon reach the Jabaliya refugee settlement, where our families live. All night long the tanks fired on the eastern side of the camp. The buildings on our street creaked and lurched, as if about to fall. Everything shifts with each strike. It’s as if you’re an extra in a disaster movie.
BBC: Ebola Crisis: World Bank Announces $200M Emergency Fund
The World Bank has announced that it is allocating $200m (£120m) in emergency assistance for West African countries battling to contain the Ebola outbreak. The money will be distributed to the governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea as well as to the World Health Organization (WHO). The number of people killed in the outbreak has reached 887, the WHO says.
The World Bank’s announcement came as African leaders including 35 presidents discuss the crisis in Washington. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim – an expert on infectious diseases – said that he was “deeply saddened” by the spread of the virus and how it was contributing to the breakdown of “already weak health systems in the three countries”.
Watch Rand Paul run away from a DREAMer who confronts him and Steve King:
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Ed Kilgore: In the Middle of An August Friday Night
If you want to do something politically dangerous in Washington that you’d just as soon not draw widespread notice, doing it late on a Friday night before the August Congressional Recess begins is about as good as it gets. And that’s exactly what House Republicans did on Friday night, passing an insultingly small “border resources” package that will vanish without a trace if and when Congress returns and gets serious about the issue, and then passing another bill prohibiting continuation of the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals program, which has enabled children and young adults (usually collectively known as DREAMers) under strict conditions to avoid deportations.
When I looked at the news aggregators this morning, there was zippo about this whole topic, which dominated political chatter last week. It’s as though quite literally nothing of interest happened Friday night.
The Obama administration took a “historic” step in changing the drug war Friday, activists said, when Attorney General Eric Holder said the rationale prosecutors often use to defend mandatory-minimum sentences was worthless. “Some have suggested that these modest changes might somehow undermine the ability of law enforcement and prosecutors to induce cooperation from defendants in federal drug cases,” Holder said in remarks before the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers conference in Philadelphia, according to prepared remarks posted to the Justice Department website.
“But the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth,” Holder went on, citing his own past as a federal prosecutor. “Like anyone who served as a prosecutor in the days before sentencing guidelines existed and mandatory minimums took effect, I know from experience that defendant cooperation depends on the certainty of swift and fair punishment, not on the disproportionate length of a mandatory-minimum sentence,” Holder said. The speech was a big deal, said Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Price’s spokesperson, Mike Riggs, was more direct. “It’s pretty damn historic,” he said.
March 30, 2011: President Obama greets James Brady in Press Secretary Jay Carney’s West Wing office at the White House. Brady’s wife Sarah, right, and son Scott, center, joined him for the meeting (Photo by Pete Souza)
Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the family of former White House Press Secretary James Brady on his passing. Jim is a legend at the White House for his warmth and professionalism as press secretary for President Reagan; for the strength he brought to bear in recovering from the shooting that nearly killed him 33 years ago; and for turning the events of that terrible afternoon into a remarkable legacy of service through the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Since 1993, the law that bears Jim’s name has kept guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. An untold number of people are alive today who otherwise wouldn’t be, thanks to Jim.
Every day, reporters and White House staffers walk past a plaque marking the day in 2000 that the White House Briefing Room was renamed the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. It reads, “May his courage and dedication continue to inspire all who work in this room and beyond.” Those words will endure, as will his legacy. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jim’s wife Sarah, who has been Jim’s steadfast partner in advocacy, and their children Scott and Melissa.
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Elite Daily: Happy Birthday, Mr. President: 26 Times Barack Obama Has Killed The Game
President Obama waits to be introduced at a luncheon for U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias of Illinois at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, Ill., Aug. 5, 2010. Right to left, Trip Coordinator Jordan Whichard, Bobby Schmuck, political affairs staff assistant, and Director of Political Affairs Patrick Gaspard, wait with the President (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama talks on the phone at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, Ill., Aug. 5, 2010. From left, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Eric Whitaker and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett work nearby (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama signs memorabilia as he talks on the phone at the Chicago Cultural Center in Chicago, Ill., Aug. 5, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
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President Obama arrives at the White House after spending the night at Camp David on Sunday, August 5, 2012 in Washington, DC.
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President Obama meets with former Negro League baseball players in the Cross Hall of the White House, Aug. 5, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)