Holder cuts left in on $17 billion Bank of America settlement

Radical Democrat activist groups stand to collect millions from Attorney General Eric Holder’s record $17 billion deal to settle alleged mortgage abuse charges against Bank of America, Investors’ Business Daily reports:

Buried in the fine print of the deal, which includes $7 billion in soft-dollar consumer relief, are a raft of political payoffs to Obama constituency groups. In effect, the government has ordered the nation’s largest bank to create a massive slush fund for Democrat special interests.

The deal requires billions of dollars in debt forgiveness payments to delinquent borrowers. It also requires Bank of America to make billions in new loans and to build affordable low-income rental housing.

The remaining money will go to a slush fund for leftists:

If there are leftover funds in four years, the settlement stipulates the money will go to Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account (IOLTA), which provides legal aid for the poor and supports left-wing causes, and NeighborWorks of America, which provides affordable housing and funds a national network of left-wing community organizers operating in the mold of Acorn.

NeighborWorks of America has been a major supporter of ACORN, the left’s most favored radicals. According to Investors’ Business Daily, in 2008 and 2009 NeighborWorks awarded a whopping $25 million to Acorn Housing.

Moreover, an Acorn Housing spinoff is directly eligible for BofA slush funds. It’s an outfit called Mutual Housing Association of New York. HUD lists its contact person as Ismene Speliotis, who previously served as New York director of Acorn Housing.

But Acorn isn’t the only left-wing beneficiary:

In 2011 alone, NeighborWorks shelled out $35 million in “affordable housing grants” to 115 such groups, according to its website. Recipients included the radical Affordable Housing Alliance, which pressures banks to make high-risk loans in low-income neighborhoods and which happens to be the former employer of HUD’s chief “fair housing” enforcer.

Bank of America gets “extra credit” if it makes at least $100 million in direct donations to IOLTA and housing activist groups approved by HUD. Who are these HUD-approved housing activist groups? Investors’ Business Daily identifies some of them:

• La Raza, which pressures banks to expand their credit box to qualify more low-income Latino immigrants for home loans;

• National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Washington’s most aggressive lobbyist for the disastrous Community Reinvestment Act;

• Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, whose director calls himself a “bank terrorist;”

• Operation Hope, a South Central Los Angeles group that’s pressuring banks to make “dignity mortgages” for deadbeats.

Coercing banks to provide “dignity mortgages” to people who are unlikely to pay them? That was a big part of how we found ourselves in the financial crisis.

Not only is Eric Holder not letting that crisis go to waste, he seems bent on generating a new one.

As Investors’ Business Daily concludes:

In effect, lenders are bankrolling the same parasites that bled them for the risky loans that caused the mortgage crisis. With new cash, they can ramp back up their shakedown campaign, repeating the cycle of dangerous political lending that wrecked the economy.

These settlements have little, if anything, to do with “justice” or restitution for innocent victims. In its 30-page “statement of facts,” Justice couldn’t provide a single shred of evidence of fraud against BofA. Nor could it ID a single “victim” by name.

The attorney general is actually perverting justice by extorting billions of dollars from the largest banks in the country and giving it away to the president’s political friends and favorite political causes.

We knew that, if elected, Barack Obama was going to spread the wealth around. We should have realized he would spread it to the left-wing “community organizing” world from which he sprang.

A Lump of Coal for the Climatistas

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported (“Germany’s Expensive Gamble on Renewable Energy”) on the high cost of the climate-related energy fanaticism of Germany’s green shirts (why not?), which is now starting to take a tangible toll on the country’s economic competitiveness:

Average electricity prices for companies have jumped 60% over the past five years because of costs passed along as part of government subsidies of renewable energy producers. Prices are now more than double those in the U.S. . .

One government estimate projects the Energiewende by 2040 to cost up to €1 trillion, or about $1.4 trillion, or almost half Germany’s GDP and nearly as much as the country spent on the reunification of East and West Germany. . .

Yet nearly 75% of Germany’s small- and medium-size industrial businesses say rising energy costs are a major risk, according to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Federation of German Industry. . .

The renewable energy surcharge levied on German households and businesses has nearly tripled since 2010 and now accounts for about 18% of a German household’s electric bill. All told, the subsidies amount to about €24 billion a year, according to Germany’s economics ministry.

So, what country do the climatistas here admire most? Naturally: Germany, precisely because of its policy uber alles approach. Scott and I both wrote here last fall about Ron Binz (“Mercedes Binz”), who Obama wanted to head FERC. (He was even too much for the Democratic Senate.)

Of course, if Germany really cared about greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps they might keep their GHG-free nuclear power fleet operating. As the Journal article shows, Germany really isn’t reducing fossil fuel use very much; renewables are just displacing nuclear. How is that a climate win?

Germany Trends copy

Moreover, because of grid instability problems with wind and solar power, and questions over the long-term reliability and cost of Russian natural gas, guess what Germany is going to do? More coal.

Reuters reported yesterday:

Germany will continue to need coal-fired power plants, its energy regulator said, warning that Europe’s biggest economy should not rely solely on renewables or risk increasing exposure to Russian gas as it shuts down nuclear plants.

“Those who call for an end of coal power generation don’t have much interest in a reliable energy policy,” Jochen Homann, president of the Federal Network Agency (BnetzA), told an energy industry conference on Wednesday.

“We will close further nuclear plants; these capacities need to be replaced,” he said, adding that coal power was vital to achieve this.

What both the Journal and Reuters missed in their stories is that Germany is actually building new coal plants. Here’s the map:

Germany Coal copy

How many ways can you say “Greenfail”?

Now the non-trivia question: with all the cheerleading for the explosive growth of renewable energy (and exploding birds at some solar sites as well), what was the fastest-growing source of energy by total output over the last decade? I’ll just let this Bloomberg headline give you the answer:

Coal’s Share of World Energy Demand Highest Since 1970

The findings are another indication that consumers are prioritizing cheap fuels over efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming. Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel, and use of it expanded at utilities from China to Germany.

Wait, where? Germany? Did you say Germany? Neat trick—using more of the cheapest fossil fuel but having the highest electricity costs in Europe. Starting to make me wonder about German engineering.

Critique of pure hippie

Visiting New York with my father in 1967 or 1968, I somehow persuaded him to take me to see the Fugs in one of their now legendary nightly performances at Greenwich Village’s Players Theater. It was a memorable show with something close to the founding group of the Fugs including Ed Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg and two or three others. Thankfully, my dad fell asleep before the Fugs hit their scatological stride.

Sanders is an interesting guy. He majored in classics at NYU and has a literary bent with a twist. He co-founded the Fugs in the name of the creative alternative Norman Mailer had seized on to portray the speech of soldiers in The Naked and the Dead. Among other things, Sanders went on to write The Family, his scarifying account of the Manson murders that has made it into a third edition, I think.

Looking around online recently for some information about Sanders, I happened onto the 1968 episode of William F. Buckley’s Firing Line featuring a drunken Jack Kerouac, a sober Ed Sanders, and Professor Lewis Yablonsky, sociologist and author of The Hippie Trip, an academic exploration of the subject. Kerouac required no introduction, though he did need some coffee and a cold shower. Buckley accurately introduced Sanders as a musician, a poet and a polemicist, adding in classic deadpan style: “He is one of the Fugs, a widely patronized combo.” Priceless.

Buckley begins with Sanders, posing a rich Buckleyesque question as a follow-up to his opening inquiry: “Do I understand from this that are we supposed to make the inference that the hippies don’t have a highly developed political [agenda]?”

I’m filing this under Laughter is the Best Medicine.

Across the Country, the Federal Government Fights For Muslim Worship Spaces [Updated]

The government of the United States is suing the town of St. Anthony, Minnesota, a Twin Cities suburb with a population a little over 8,000, to force the town to allow development of an Islamic center in an area reserved for industrial development. It is a minor news story, but one that sheds light on broader legal and cultural trends. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:

The federal government on Wednesday sued the small north-metro city of St. Anthony, contending that its City Council violated federal law in 2012 by rejecting a proposed Islamic center. …

“An injustice has been done,” U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said at a news conference in Minneapolis. “I will not stand by while any religious group is subject to unconstitutional treatment that violates federal civil rights laws.”

Actually, DOJ happily stood by when the city previously denied a Christian group the use of the same space. Mr. Luger didn’t mention that in his pretentious announcement.

The lawsuit alleges that the council’s decision to deny the Abu Huraira Islamic Center the right to establish a worship center in the basement of the St. Anthony Business Center violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act passed by Congress in 2000.

Like me, you probably have never heard of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. I haven’t studied it, but, according to the DOJ’s web site, it prohibits zoning laws that “treat churches or other religious assemblies or institutions on less than equal terms with nonreligious institutions.” So it may actually apply here. Although, of course, no one worried about that when a Christian group was being turned down.

Apparently the Religious Land Use statute is being used by the federal government around the country to force acceptance of Islamic centers, contrary to local zoning regulations:

It marks the first time federal prosecutors have sued a Minnesota city citing the law, although the Justice Department has filed similar suits elsewhere in the country on behalf of Islamic centers, according to a U.S. attorney’s office spokesman.

So what is going on here? Why did St. Anthony turn down the application to use the property in question as an Islamic center?

In June 2012, the council rejected Abu Huraira’s proposal, concluding that a religious and cultural center was incompatible with the site’s light-industrial zoning. …

On Wednesday, St. Anthony officials continued to defend the council’s action, saying that the rejection was based purely on zoning issues. It “was not based on discrimination at all,” said City Attorney Jay Lindgren.

“Religious uses of any type are allowed in the vast majority of the city,” he said. “They are just not allowed in the roughly five percent of the city reserved for industrial uses. … An industrial zone is designed to create jobs and be an economic engine.”

Once upon a time, that would have been considered a reasonable zoning decision. But now, the full weight of the federal government–that is, the Obama administration–has come down on the side of Islam. And Islam only:

Lindgren said that the city denied another Christian organization’s request in the past few years that was similar to that of the Islamic center.

It isn’t hard to understand what is going on here. While I wish the town of St. Anthony well, it is pretty obvious that they will be ground underfoot by the powers that be, i.e., Eric Holder’s Department of Justice. Not because the administration has any particular regard for religion in general, as Christians and Jews can readily attest–just look at the Obamacare regulations. Rather, because the administration wants to display favoritism toward Islam.

If an administration could be shown to consistently favor one religion over others, would that constitute a violation of the First Amendment? Of course. But, as with so many other Obama administration scandals, long before the judicial system could even begin to address the issue on its merits, the malefactors will be long gone.

UPDATE: While the U.S. Attorney’s office singled out “Islamic centers” as the beneficiaries of federal action under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a knowledgeable reader who works for the Becket Fund says that DOJ has actually been even-handed in applying the statute:

I hold no brief for the federal government – the Becket Fund is the firm that beat DOJ at the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case last Term and in the Hosanna-Tabor case two years before that. And we have a number of other religious liberty lawsuits pending against DOJ right now, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and Wheaton College cases.

So I am not writing because I think DOJ does a good job protecting religious freedom—far from it. But RLUIPA land use litigation is one area where DOJ gets it largely right. If you look at this somewhat incomplete list, you will see that DOJ has a pretty good cross-section of religious land use cases, including Jewish, Christian, and Muslim houses of worship:

http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/caselist.php#rluipa

DOJ has taken the side of rabbinical schools in Rockland County, NY, and Baptist churches in Arizona, among many others. So it is inaccurate to characterize DOJ’s RLUIPA work as focusing only or primarily on Muslims, as your post does. And since this is one area of religious liberty law where DOJ gets it mostly right, I don’t think you will advance the religious liberty of any group – Christians, Jews, Muslims, or non-believers – by painting an inaccurate picture of how RLUIPA works, or how it has been enforced. In fact you are more likely to increase your readers’ opposition to religious liberty statutes like RLUIPA that are good for our country, not least because they restrict government power.

… I’ve litigated RLUIPA cases across the country, frequently on behalf of Christian and Jewish houses of worship, but on occasion also Muslim or Buddhist ones.

Knowledgeable criticism is always welcome, so thanks. If our reader is correct, and he is obviously knowledgeable, it was coincidence that there was no legal action when the city turned down a similar request from a Christian group. Or, more likely, the Christians never complained, while in this instance, Minnesota’s Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked DOJ to investigate.

HuffPo Has a Scoop: Conservative Candidates Appreciate the Support of Conservative Donors!

Someone–possibly an attendee, possibly a member of the hotel staff–audio taped a Koch-sponsored conference that was held in California last June. This, I take it, was one of the twice-a-year seminars that Koch puts on, by invitation, for conservative donors and others. Three Republican Senate candidates, Joni Ernst, Tom Cotton and Cory Gardner, participated in a panel titled “The Senate: A Window of Policy Opportunity for Principled Leaders.” Whoever recorded the event gave the audio to a far-left web site that shared it with the Huffington Post, which wrote about the event here.

HuffPo tries to make something out of the fact that conservative donors support conservative candidates, but it is slow going. If you listen to the audio tape–I don’t recommend it–it is essentially impossible to make out what anyone is saying. Still, I am happy to take HuffPo’s translation on faith. So, for example, Tom Cotton uttered these ostensibly scandalous words:

Americans for Prosperity in Arkansas has played a critical role in turning our state from a one-party Democratic state [inaudible] building the kind of constant engagement to get people in the state involved in their communities.

That’s it? Seriously? And that is the best that HuffPo could extract from the audio!

The moral of the story is that when conservatives talk among themselves, they say exactly the same things that they say to other audiences. Unlike liberals. I have participated in two of the Kochs’s semiannual conferences, so I have a pretty good idea what goes on. The Koch seminars are extraordinarily high quality (despite my participation) and draw from the best in the worlds of politics, business and media.

There is little that is, or needs to be, secret about the proceedings. After I spoke at the Koch event in January 2012, I posted a summary of my talk on cronyism, with the slides that I used for the seminar audience, on Power Line. Personally, I would love to see the Koch seminars televised. They would be a wonderful source of education for those who otherwise depend on left-wing news sources.

The idea that it is somehow scandalous that conservative donors support conservative candidates, and the candidates appreciate it, is a non-starter even on the left. Thus, HuffPo itself notes:

Part of the reason Cotton, Ernst and Gardner appeared before the conservative donors was that deep-pocketed Democrats have been spending against them. A trio of environmental groups has spent heavily on Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley’s Iowa Senate campaign. The super PAC Next Generation Climate, created by hedge fund founder and dedicated environmentalist Tom Steyer, has spent $3 million in Iowa and roughly $1 million in Colorado, according to a super PAC official. Senate Majority PAC, which supports Democratic candidates, has spent $550,000 in support of Braley and an additional $1.5 million against Ernst, $2.6 million against Gardner and $1.94 million against Cotton, according to Federal Election Commission data. And more spending is possible: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has consistently outraised the National Republican Senatorial Committee this election cycle.

“We’ll raise somewhere between $10 and $12 million in my campaign,” Gardner told the crowd. “My opposition is going to raise somewhere between $15 and $20 million.”

It is the Democrats who lead the way in political spending, and Republicans are always struggling to keep pace. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, a Democrat, covers the story–such as it is–but the Post’s headline is: “A bunch of Republican Senate candidates spoke at a Koch Brothers conference. So what?”

So what? A good question.

Francois Hollande changes his spots

In The Leopard, his great novel of 19th century Sicily, Giuseppe di Lampedusa writes about “that highly profitably grey area of the extreme left of the extreme right.” It seems that Francois Hollande, the Socialist President of France, hopes to profit in the area of the extreme right of the extreme left.

As Steve noted, Hollande has dissolved his government and appointed a new cabinet. Most notably, Hollande has named Emmanuel Macron, a 36-year-old ex-Rothschild banker, as economy minister.

During the 2012 election campaign, Hollande declared that his “real enemy is the world of finance.” Now, he has named a leading member of that enemy world to guide his economic policy.

Macron, for his part, reportedly said of Hollande’s signature election pledge to impose a 75 per cent marginal income tax rate, “It’s Cuba without the sun.” As France tries to move forward with its centrist ex-banker economy minister, there probably will be little economic sun, but at least it won’t be Cuba.

Macron has developed decent ties with French business leaders while serving as Hollande’s economic adviser. They appreciate the fact that he is that rare Socialist official with experience in the private sector.

Bruno Cavalier, chief economist at French broker Oddo Securities and major critic of Hollande, immediately praised Macron’s appointment. “It shows that the economic policy designed to be favorable for business is not negotiable,” he said.

In truth, as his supporters on the left have found out, everything is negotiable with Hollande — this leopard changes his spots. In fact, many of Hollande’s supporters on the left may be well on the way to becoming former supporters.

Therein lies the danger of Hollande’s move. He is, of course, unpopular on the right; now he will be unpopular on the left. It’s questionable whether he could survive a vote of confidence/no-confidence. However, as I understand it, he probably won’t face one because he has retained his Prime Minister, Manuel Walls (also a non-leftist).

What will be the economic policy of the Hollande-Macron team? It will consist primarily of tax cuts for business (with no shifting of the burden to households), spending cuts, and attempts to break up monopolies.

Will Hollande profit in this area of “the extreme right of the extreme left”? I doubt it. The French economy seems stuck for the foreseeable future.

But Hollande’s move to the center, Bill Clinton style, probably makes better political sense than a move back to the left, Barack Obama style. Hollande lacks Obama’s political skills and is considerably less popular than Obama, even now. Hollande’s move also has the virtue of improving policy.

Hollande can cling to power until the 2017 elections and hope that, somehow, the French economy improves considerably before then. If it does, he will receive credit for having moved boldly.

Walls, his up-and-coming Prime Minister, will be seen, correctly, as peripheral. Macron will be a hero, but he is too young to challenge Hollande in 2017.

Is The Left Approaching a Kool-Aid Moment?

We noted here the other day (“Propping Up Obama”) the agony of the left over Obama’s miserable performance of late. But there are other signs that leftism is falling apart just about everywhere.

Item: Leftist French President Francois Hollande has dissolved the government and is trying to reform a new government that is a few micrometers closer to the center in the interest of minimal reform to get the economy growing. From the AP:

France has had effectively no economic growth this year, unemployment is hovering around 10 percent and Hollande’s approval ratings are sunk in the teens.

This is what happens when you run out of other people’s money. Funny how that always seems to happen to socialists. It’s what we call bad luck.

Item: There’s suddenly a hot race for president of Brazil with the rapid ascent of a new Socialist Party candidate, Marina Silva, who replaced the previous boring party standard bearer who did the party a favor by dying in a plane crash. According to the Wall Street Journal, Silva would beat the incumbent president Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party in a runoff.

Wait—stop the tape! Brazil has a Workers Party and a Socialist Party? Why do you need both? I thought all socialist parties were on the side of workers, by definition. That’s why there’s always been a Socialist Workers Party, no?  What next: The Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea?

Thatcther Socialism copyI guess this is what happens when you run out of other people’s money: thieves fall out among themselves on how to divide up the dwindling spoils. Should be fun to watch. Almost as much fun as watching Argentina thrash around—once the fourth richest nation in the world a century ago before the country caught the socialist bug. Maybe it was just bad luck, like those decades of Soviet grain harvests.

Not to worry. I’m sure Venezuela or Cuba can send them foreign aid.