Here’s Michael Hudson at Naked Capitalism, explaining what all those job-creators are really up to:
Well, companies themselves have been causing this crisis as much as speculators, because companies like Amazon, like Google, or Apple, especially, have been borrowing money to buy their own stock. And corporate activists, stockholder activists, have told these companies, we want you to put us on the board because we want you to borrow at 1 percent to buy your stock yielding 5 percent. You’ll get rich in no time. So all of these stock buybacks by Apple and by other companies at high prices, all of a sudden yes, they can make that money in the short term. But their net worth is all of a sudden plunging. And so we’re in a classic debt deflation.
PERIES: Michael, explain how buybacks are actually causing this. I don’t think ordinary people quite understand that.
HUDSON: Well, what they cause is the runup – companies are under pressure. The managers are paid according to how well they can make a stock price go up. And they think, why should we invest in long-term research and development or long-term developments when we can use the earnings we have just to buy our own stock, and that’ll push them up even without investing, without hiring, without producing more. We can make the stock go up by financial engineering. By using our earnings to buy [their own] stock.
So what you have is empty earnings. You’ve had stock prices going up without really corporate earnings going up. Although if you buy back your stock and you retire the shares, then earning the shares go up. And all of a sudden the whole world realizes that this is all financial engineering, doing it with mirrors, and it’s not real. There’s been no real gain in industrial profitability. There’s just been a diversion of corporate income into the financial markets instead of tangible new investment in hiring.
…for the Ferguson police department and any others facing the loss of their principal revenue stream — shaking down African Americans on phony charges. From Al Jazeera:
Police investigating Thailand’s deadliest bombing issued arrest warrants on Monday for two suspects — then congratulated themselves on an earlier arrest, and said they would give themselves the money offered as a reward…
The police congratulated themselves on Monday for making the arrest, and said they would give themselves an $84,000 reward, though the man has not been charged — let alone convicted — and may not be the prime suspect.
The reward was originally offered to the public for tips leading to the arrest of suspects, but National Police Chief Somyot Poompanmoung said he was taking the unusual step of redirecting the cash to highlight that Thailand’s police are good at their job.
Thanks be to God that William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony M. Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor managed to save us from having this turkey in the White House:
His slide show on the threat of climate change, presented in the movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” won an Academy Award. His efforts to spread the word about global warming earned him, along with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a Nobel Peace Prize. His was a dire call to strenuous and difficult action…
His slide show on the threat of climate change, presented in the movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” won an Academy Award. His efforts to spread the word about global warming earned him, along with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a Nobel Peace Prize…
Much of what he makes, including all salary from his early stage investing work as a partner at Kleiner Perkins and his Nobel Prize money, goes to his advocacy group, the Climate Reality Project…
He co-founded Generation Investment Management, a firm that takes positions in companies that manage themselves along principles of sustainability, including the effects of climate change. He also sits on the board of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which invests heavily in green start-ups. He sold his cable channel, Current TV, to Al Jazeera America in 2013 in a deal that earned him a reported $100 million … His success in the business world has surprised many people, Mr. Kramer says. “I didn’t think of him as a business guy — I’m sure nobody did,” he says, adding that “he is a phenomenally deep student of critical forces that ultimately change society.”
From The Guardian, another specimen of human filth from post-racist America:
The judge in Ferguson, Missouri, who is accused of fixing traffic tickets for himself and colleagues while inflicting a punishing regime of fines and fees on the city’s residents, also owes more than $170,000 in unpaid taxes.
Ronald J. Brockmeyer, whose court allegedly jailed impoverished defendants unable to pay fines of a few hundred dollars, has a string of outstanding debts to the US government dating back to 2007, according to tax filings obtained by the Guardian from authorities in Missouri.
Brockmeyer, 70, was this week singled out by Department of Justice investigators as being a driving force behind Ferguson’s strategy of using its municipal court to aggressively generate revenues. The policy has been blamed for a breakdown in relations between the city’s overwhelmingly white authorities and residents, two-thirds of whom are African American.
Investigators found Brockmeyer had boasted of creating a range of new court fees, “many of which are widely considered abusive and may be unlawful”. A city councilman opposing the judge’s reappointment was warned “switching judges would/could lead to loss of revenue”.
…except that the Supreme Court has since declared legal the whole corrupt process described below by Henry George, Jr. in The Menace of Privilege (1906). Which is, I guess, one way of stamping out crime.
There would, perhaps, be little need for the creating of corporations were it not for the granting of privileges. But artificial persons, which have more powers than natural persons and life-everlasting, are far better suited than natural persons to take care of privileges — to fight for their continuance and extension. As a consequence it has now become almost an invariable rule either for artificial persons under the general corporation laws to receive from Government the special grants of power; or else such privileges, being granted to natural persons, are at once by them turned over to corporations or artificial persons. And these artificial persons possessing Government grants, are the most active and most potent of all persons in politics.
The very significant aspect of the Presidential contest of 1904 was the charge by opponents against the managers of each of the two great parties of receiving campaign contributions from the large privilege-possessing corporations. More significant still was the common belief that the charge was true, the partisan view being that, while the opposing candidate would of necessity be contaminated by such money, their own candidate was too upright and too strong to be swerved in the least from principle, affected in the least for evil. Yet Presidents are but men, subject to men’s strengths and weaknesses. And just as Mr. Buchanan was most complacent in face of the growing aggressiveness of the slave power which seated him and supported him in the Presidency, so monopoly powers might reasonable expect at least protection from a Chief Executive which their money and their efforts materially contributed toward seating in the White House.
…it actually does repeat itself. This is from Henry George, Jr.’s The Menace of Privilege, subtitled “A Study of the Dangers to the Republic from the Existence of a Favored Class.” It was published in 1905.
There would, perhaps, be little need for the creating of corporations were it not for the granting of privileges. But artificial persons, which have more powers than natural persons and life-everlasting, are far better suited than natural persons to take care of privileges — to fight for their continuation and extension. As a consequence, it has now become almost an invariable rule either to form artificial persons under the general corporation laws to receive from Government the special grants of power; or else such privileges, being granted to natural persons, are at once turned over to corporations or artificial persons. And these artificial persons possessing Government grants, are the most active and most potent of all persons in politics.
The very significant aspect of the Presidential contest of 1904 was the charge by the opponents against the managers of each of the two great parties of receiving campaign contributions from the large privilege-possessing corporations. More significant still was the common belief that the charge was true, the partisan view being that, while the opposing candidate would of necessity be contaminated by such money, their own candidate was too upright and too strong to be swerved in the least from principle, affected in the least for evil. Yet Presidents are but men, subject to men’s strengths and weaknesses. And just as Mr. Buchanan was most complacent in the face of the growing aggressiveness of the slave power which seated him and supported him in the Presidency, so monopoly powers might reasonably expect at least protection from a Chief Executive which their money and their efforts materially contributed toward seating in the White House…
In April, 1904, Mr. William Bourke Cockran of New York, on the floor of the House of Representatives, repeated in an insinuating way a newspaper story that the election of 1896 — the campaign that was won for “honest money” — was bought. Mr. Cockran named $16,000,000 as the sum which was said to be paid…
If it should mean protection and profit, what would $16,000,000 mean to a syndicate such as, under Mr. Morgan’s guidance, cleared $100,000,000 within the space of a few months in underwriting and manipulating steel stock? The sum of $16,000,000 would be only one item in the expense account of railroad combinations whose annual gross revenue is $2,000,000,000. Have not the tariff-engendered monopolies first and last put many times $16,000,000 into Presidential, Senatorial and Congressional elections, to the end of shutting out competition and thereby conducting a systematic robbery of the people at large?
When the rest of us act this way our parole is revoked. The rules, however, are slightly different for the loan sharks and market manipulators on Wall Street. From the New York Times:
The reopening of these cases represents a shift for the government, the first acknowledgment that prosecutors are coming to terms with the limitations of how they punish bank misdeeds. Typically, when banks have repeatedly run afoul of the law, they have returned to business as usual with little or no additional penalty — a stark contrast to how prosecutors mete out justice for the average criminal.
When punishing banks, prosecutors have favored so-called deferred-prosecution agreements, which suspend charges in exchange for the bank’s paying a fine and promising to behave. Several giant banks have reached multiple deferred or nonprosecution agreements in a short span, fueling concerns that the deals amount to little more than a slap on the wrist and enable a pattern of Wall Street recidivism.
Even now that prosecutors are examining repeat offenses on Wall Street, they are likely to seek punishments more symbolic than sweeping. Top executives are not expected to land in prison, nor are any problem banks in jeopardy of shutting down.
As always, the fix is in. Yves spells it all out for you in the post from which this comes:
Raw Story interviewed the whistleblower attorney who approached Kim after she made her charges of gross mismanagement and waste of resources. Her letter presumably represents the meatiest of his cases. He describes how the agency has been captured by large corporations:…the private sector lawyer and ex-IRS attorney explained that since 1998, IRS restructuring has focused on bringing in “outside people.” This led to the employment of an extra layer of executives who were previously “partners from big accounting firms.” Citing active IRS criminal agents, the ex-IRS attorney said: “Almost every large firm or corporation has a person inside the IRS. It’s a revolving door, with the top two or three management layers all from big accounting and law firms, and this is why they won’t work big billion-dollar cases criminally. Private bar attorneys are, in effect, controlling the IRS. It’s a type of corruption – that’s the word used by one IRS agent I’m in touch with whose case was shut down by higher ups without cause.”
The incumbent IRS chief counsel, William Wilkins, was previously a lobbyist at the WilmerHale firm where for 21 years he represented and lobbied on behalf of private sector clients including the Swiss Bankers Association. Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse have faced penalties, hearings and convictions for helping wealthy Americans illegally conceal billions of dollars of taxable income.
Attorney James Henry, former chief economist at financial consultancy McKinsey, said that Wilkins’ firm “continued to represent the Swiss Banking Association throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. Now Wilkins gets appointed chief counsel of the IRS in 2009, and he’s presiding over these whistleblower cases.”
So while we have Treasury attempting to defuse public ire over the latest high-profile form of corporate tax gaming, inversions, by relocating their headquarters overseas to a lower-tax domicile while not changing their US business, we have billions uncollected as a result of the IRS becoming a big-corporate crony.
From the New York Times:
The Justice Department has countered that crisis-era wrongdoing often amounted to reckless or risky behavior, but not criminal misconduct. Senior executives were far removed from the front lines of fraud, the department has argued.
In recent months, however, the Justice Department has pursued actions against bank employees suspected of manipulating foreign currencies. Those cases are expected to conclude in the coming months.
“Corporations do not act criminally, but for the actions of individuals,” Mr. Miller said in the speech, adding, “The criminal division intends to prosecute those individuals, whether they’re sitting on a sales desk or in a corporate suite.”
In 1972 Gore Vidal wrote:
Political corruption has been with us since the first congress sat at Philadelphia, and there is nothing to be done about it as long as we are what we are. In fact, as election costs mount the corruption will tend to become institutionalized by the small group of legislators and bankers, generals and industrialists, who own and govern the United States, Inc. But it does not take great prescience to realize that that they are playing a losing game. As the polity becomes more and more conscious of the moral nullity at the center of American life, there will develop not the revolutionary situation dreamed of in certain radical circles but rather, a deep contempt for the nation and its institutions, an apathy bound to be exploited by clever human engineers. In the name of saving the environment and restoring virtue, they will continue the dismantling of an unloved and unhonored republic.
Thank God we dodged that bullet, huh?
As The Washington Post reported in December:
The story of Avastin and Lucentis, two nearly identical drugs for blindness, offer a glimpse into the problematic world of Medicare pricing.
A dose of Avastin costs only $50. A dose of Lucentis costs $2,000. Both Avastin and Lucentis are made by the same company, and they're remarkably effective in treating a form of macular degeneration that was long the leading cause of blindness among the elderly, The Post reported. They are very similar on a molecular level and probably cost about the same amount to manufacture.
Nonetheless, doctors prescribe Lucentis almost as often as Avastin. They also make more money doing so. Medicare is legally obliged to pay for any drug a doctor prescribes, and doctors also receive commissions of 6 percent to cover their own expenses. The commission a doctor collects on each dose of Avastin would be only about $3, as opposed to $120 on each dose of Lucentis. Congress and the courts have refused to allow Medicare to save money by scrutinizing doctors' decisions.
As a result, taxpayers spent about $1 billion in 2012 more than they would have if doctors had been prescribing Avastin. Avastin, for all intents and purposes, has been shown to be equivalent to Lucentis in six studies and one massive review of Medicare records.
…and we’re here to help. From The New Yorker:
Because West Virginia has a population of only 1.8 million — less than the city of Houston — an investment in influence goes far. The conservative fossil-fuel magnates Charles and David Koch, through their charitable foundations, have devoted particular attention to the state. The Investigative Reporting Workshop, at American University, found that, between 2007 and 2011, the Kochs gave $30.5 million to two hundred and twenty-one universities; West Virginia University received nine hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars, the third-highest amount, behind George Mason and Florida State. In February, the university announced that it was creating a five-million-dollar Center for Free Enterprise, funded in part by the Charles G. Koch Foundation.
The Kochs also helped fund research at the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia, a think tank that, in 2007, published “Unleashing Capitalism: Why Prosperity Stops at the West Virginia Border and How to Fix It,” edited by a West Virginia University economics professor named Russell Sobel. The book argued against mine-safety regulations, on the ground that “improved safety conditions result in lower money wages for workers,” and asked, “Are workers really better off being safer but making less income?” It also called for relaxing rules on water usage. “Although they are intended to benefit citizens, water use regulations will only hamper prosperity by impeding the state’s ability to retain and attract businesses and to generate new employment opportunities.”
Governor Manchin invited Sobel to brief his cabinet, as well as a joint session of the Senate and the House Finance Committees. The state Republican Party chairman said, “Unleashing capitalism will be our party platform.” In February, Americans for Prosperity, the political-advocacy group funded heavily by the Koch brothers, established a chapter in West Virginia. A state Republican consultant told me, “You can do things here incredibly, incredibly cheaply. For instance, A.F.P., the Koch brothers, went and did North Carolina last time. Well, a legislative seat here is about one-fourth the size of a legislative seat in North Carolina. So there’s bang for your buck.” In any given district, he said, “You can go in for twenty grand, and probably fix a problem.” He also noted, “People are just showing up with pockets full of money, saying, ‘We want to help you out.’ ”
WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The U.S. oil sector is not sharing important information about oil-by-rail shipments sought by regulators seeking to prevent the kinds of fiery derailments that have occurred in recent months, according to the Department of Transportation.
“Despite the energy industry making assurances to DOT more than two months ago, we still lack data we requested and that energy stakeholders agreed to produce,” a spokeswoman said.
“The overall and ongoing lack of cooperation is disappointing, slows progress, and certainly raises concerns.”
The scum just keeps bubbling up in Jersey. You’ll love the tawdry details in Shawn Boburg’s story at NorthJersey.com. Here’s a teaser:
Years before they resigned amid a scandal over politically motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, Governor Christie’s top two executives at the Port Authority led a secretive campaign to quickly push through controversial toll hikes on the Hudson River bridges and tunnels by drowning out criticism, limiting public input and portraying the governors of New York and New Jersey as fiscal hawks who reined in an out-of-control agency.
At its heart was a plan to have the Port Authority, an independent bi-state agency, propose an enormous toll hike — a $6 increase that would bring the E-ZPass toll to $14 by 2014 — so that the governors could then scale it back. The smaller increases that were ultimately approved in 2011 — $4.50 over four years — allowed both governors to claim credit while they set the stage for each state to claim hundreds of millions of dollars to fund pet projects not directly related to the Port Authority.
My day began with my wife informing me she was not quite 300 dollars overdrawn at the bank. By an odd coincidence, I was in a position to make up that shortfall for her. And since we were low on cat food and the grocery and the bank are in the same shopping center, I opted to drive down and deposit cash rather than to do an online transfer. I'm old enough to remember when depositing cash was the fastest way to do that sort of thing.
Well, the nice lady at the bank informed me that I had to show ID to deposit cash into an account for which I am not a signatory. That was irksome, but not as troubling as the fun fact she laid on me next: As of March 1, no one but the authorized user of a given account can make a cash deposit into that account. This, I was told, is a new federal regulation to combat money laundering. In the interests of politeness, I refrained from pointing out that perhaps our federal regulators should be directing their efforts toward the banks themselves, rather than the customers of those banks.
However, I was rude enough to point out that in performing a very straightforward transaction, the base assumption was that I am committing a crime, until proof to the contrary is provided. Nor is this the only day-to-day transaction that is so treated. If I wish to purchase certain (nominally) over-the-counter cold remedies, I have to provide ID — because the base assumption is that these products are mainly purchased to make meth. I have to provide ID to buy a compressed air cleaner for my computer — because the base assumption is that I am purchasing it to get high. Apparently, in our business-friendly America, we can no longer conceive of legitimate uses for a lot of the products being sold to us. (While we're at it, if I buy that compressed air cleaner at the right electronics chain, I will be asked on my way out to furnish proof that I did not shoplift it.)
Even more troubling is the thought I had getting into my car: Apparently our government now views its own currency mainly in terms of how it can be used to break the law. Tell me I'm overreacting...
…used to be Google’s much admired motto, remember? The full statement of this philosophy, still to be found on the company’s website, is “You can make money without doing evil.” Well, yeah, but it turns out you can make even more money the other way:
The case involves some of the biggest high-tech companies in the business: Apple, Google, Intuit, Intel and others. As outlined in court documents and in a story at Pando.com by Mark Ames, back in mid-2000s the companies decided to limit the potential earning power of their highly educated employees by entering into a secret non-aggression pact or cartel.
As part of the pact, top executives in each company agreed not to recruit employees from each other with offers of higher pay; they agreed to notify each other when employees of another cartel member came to them looking to improve their job situation; and they agreed to share salary information, so that all the employers were basically offering the same pay scale for the same kind of work, making it more difficult for workers to improve their paychecks by shopping their talents.
According to the suit, companies that violated the non-aggression pact were threatened with large raids to steal their workforce, and enforcing the pact was made easier by the fact that top executives sat on the boards of other companies and reaped very handsome rewards for doing so. For example, Paul Otellini, CEO of cartel member Intel, was invited to join cartel member Google’s board of directors in 2004, an arrangement that netted him $23 million in 2007 alone. It was a club that protected itself very well.
Young, old, democracies are all the same. From the New York Times:
NEW DELHI — At a certain point this fall, the presidential elections in the Maldives stopped looking like the hiccups of a young democracy and veered into the realm of farce.
Mohammed Nasheed was the leader after a first-round election back in September, but the country’s Supreme Court begged to differ. The court, which was allied with one of his rivals, voided the September election before it could reach a second round, citing irregularities in voter rolls…
From the New York Times:
Much of the deal came down to dollars and cents. Mr. Dimon, the people said, signaled during that Sept. 24 call that he was willing to increase JPMorgan’s offer to settle an array of state and federal investigations into the bank’s sale of troubled mortgage securities before the financial crisis. The government, these people said, had already balked at the bank’s two initial offers: $1 billion and $3 billion.
And so that same week, Mr. Dimon traveled to the Justice Department in Washington for a meeting with Mr. Holder that underscored how expensive the healing process had become. At the meeting, the people briefed on the talks said, JPMorgan executives raised the offer to $11 billion, $4 billion of which would serve as relief to struggling homeowners.
But Mr. Holder wanted more money to resolve the civil cases, the people said. And despite the bank’s requests, he refused to provide JPMorgan a so-called nonprosecution agreement that would halt an investigation from prosecutors in California, who were scrutinizing the bank’s mortgage securities. Instead, the people said, he informed Mr. Dimon that the Justice Department wanted JPMorgan to plead guilty to a criminal charge in that case, an unusual show of force against a Wall Street bank.
I’m beginning to like the Attorney General, just a little bit. Now if he could only remember where he mislaid the First Amendment…
From the New York Times:
Just a few years after the setting of an American withdrawal deadline for 2014 evoked alarm and worry among Afghans, the tone now has perceptibly hardened: even the officials who openly want the Americans to stay are now saying that staying must be strictly on Afghan terms.
The latest is Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal, once a favorite of the Western contingent in Afghanistan, whose anger at the American attitude about customs fees led him to institute steep fines and briefly led Afghan officials to close the border crossings to Western military shipments.
“At the heart of all this is not just a revenue collection issue,” Mr. Zakhilwal said in an e-mail on Thursday. It is about “respect of Afghan laws and procedures…”
Now that the coalition is trying to take out its equipment, the Afghan government is demanding each container either come with its paperwork — or a $1,000 fine. Najeebullah Manali, a Finance Ministry official, put the number of trucks at roughly 70,000. That would mean a fine of $70 million.
Or, as a great poet once wrote:
From Patrick Radden Keefe’s muckraking piece in this week's New Yorker on corruption in the West African republic of Guinea:
The international finance system has evolved to accommodate a wide array of illicit activities, and shell companies and banking havens make it easy to camouflage transfers, payment orders, and copies of checks. Paul Collier argues that there are often three parties to a corrupt deal: the briber, the bribed, and the lawyers and financial facilitators who enable the secret transaction. The result, he says, is a “web of corporate opacity” that is spun largely by wealthy professionals in financial capitals like London and New York. A recent study found that the easiest country in which to establish an untraceable shell company is not a tropical banking haven but the United States.
To refresh your memory, here’s the Cliff Notes version of the Atlanta test-rigging scandal:
In the two and a half years since, the state’s investigation reached from Ms. Parks’s third-grade classroom all the way to the district superintendent at the time, Beverly L. Hall, who was one of 35 Atlanta educators indicted Friday by a Fulton County grand jury.Sadly for Dr. Hall she is not — unlike Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan, Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, John Paulson, Ken Lewis of Bank of America, et cetera and ad nauseam — too big to jail. As are also the massed forces of the Republican Party working so effectively to destroy our public school system. Dr. Hall and her teachers were just caught up in the process. Jay Bookman explains:
Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for her; she could face up to 45 years in prison.
After all, Hall and other education leaders operate within a structure of reward and punishment every bit as real as that within APS. And as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media outlets have reported, similar cheating problems have popped up in school districts around the country. Most have occurred in poverty-stricken districts where the educational challenges can be overwhelming, the pressure to improve is immense and the needle is very hard to move.
Hall did not enact the federal No Child Left Behind policy mandating a strict regimen of testing, including a menu of rewards for success and harsh punishment for failure. She did not wave hundreds of millions of dollars in private foundation money in front of school districts to encourage them to hire, fire, promote and pay almost exclusively on the basis of standardized testing. Hall didn’t treat academic progress as an economic development tool too useful to Atlanta’s “brand” to be questioned, as some in the business community did. Like her APS underlings, Hall merely responded, somewhat rationally, to a system that was designed by others and that demanded results too good to be true too quickly.
That is an underappreciated aspect of this tragedy. By other standards, including untainted National Assessment of Educational Progress testing, Atlanta public schools did make measurable, sustained progress during the Hall era. But in an environment that demands a scale of improvement that only charlatans can deliver, it wasn’t enough.
Lynn Parramore at Alternet:
LP: One look at your Yale syllabus shows that fraud has been rife through business history. Yet for the last 20 years, many people have insisted with near-religious conviction that markets are efficient and therefore resistant to fraud. Where is this belief coming from, and why is it a problem?
JC: It rests upon an assumption that is deeply flawed, and that is that the people who are stewarding your capital in the marketplace — the boards of directors and the people that the boards hire — management — are acting not only in your best interest, but are playing by the rules all the time, so that, for example, the accounts that the company puts together for the accountants (and keep in mind, management prepares financial statement, not accountants, not the auditors) are accurate. The auditors simply review them, and that’s an important point I always stress to my class. If there are games being played, and if you read the boilerplate of any auditor’s opinion, it says “we rely on the statements of management” — and so if, again, the people in the corporate suite have ethical flaws, we have a system based on truth-telling that may not be exactly always accurate.
I point out to my class that in 1998 there was a survey — Business Week (which is owned by McGraw-Hill) and McGraw-Hill (which also owns Standard and Poor’s) had a conference for the S&P’s 500 chief financial officers. They asked these chief financial officers if they’ve ever been asked to falsify their financial statements by their superior. Now, the chief financial officer’s superior is the chief executive officer, or the chief operating officer — basically the boss. It was a stunning — of course anonymous — survey. 55 percent of the CFOs indicated they’d been asked, but did not do so. 12 percent admitted that they’d been asked and did so. And then 33 percent said they’d never been pressured to do that. In effect, only one third of the companies in the S&P’s 500 at that time did not have a CEO or COO try to pressure their financial officer to falsify financial results.
We’ve heard a lot of moaning these past days over the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Sure, it was fun while it lasted — but you can’t change the world without an agenda, without leaders, without structure, organization, bureaucracy.
And yet out of this anarchy has just come an enormously useful handbook — by anonymous authors of course — called The Debt Resistors Operations Manual. It is available — free of course — here. (h/t to Naked Capitalism.)
Credit card companies don’t mind if you’re late paying your bill or if you maintain a balance, as long as you go on paying your monthly minimum. Cardholders who never carry balances on their cards have long been known inside the industry as “deadbeats,” money-losers. Since almost all of the industry’s profits come from late fees and interest rate penalties, it depends on your slipping up.
This is why monthly statements are intentionally designed to be confusing. If they change the design of your statement — say, by moving a box to the left, or making the print a little smaller — in such a way as to cause even one cardholder out of a thousand to misunderstand and miss a payment, that’s millions of dollars in additional profit for them. In the past they would trip up consumers by intentionally making the due date fall on a Sunday or a holiday. This enabled them to extract even more from late fees, the whole time insisting it was all your fault…
Medical debt is debt that individuals accrue when they are charged, but don’t or can’t yet pay for, out-of-pocket health-care-related expenses charged by the hospital, clinic or doctor (provider). As soon as you pull out the plastic and put it on your credit card — something strongly advised against when trying to manage medical bills — it becomes personal or consumer debt…
In addition to making sure you receive coverage that you’re eligible for, avoid putting medical bills on your credit card. Doing so converts your medical expenses to consumer debt, which puts you in an even worse place. Having credit card debt instead of medical debt likely means greater fees and penalties, and greater difficulty securing a job or mortgage.
Here’s L. Randall Wray, an economics professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
…Bill Black joined our department in 2006. At UMKC (and the Levy Institute) we had long been discussing and analyzing the GFC that we knew was going to hit, using the approaches of Hyman Minsky and Wynne Godley. Bill insisted we were overlooking the most important factor, fraud. To be more specific, Bill called it control fraud, where top corporate management runs an institution as a weapon to loot shareholders and customers to the benefit of top management. Think Bob Rubin, Hank Paulson, Bernie Madoff, Jamie Dimon and Jon Corzine.
Long before, I had come across Bill’s name when I wrote about the S&L scandal, and I had listed fraud as the second most important cause of that crisis. While I was open to his argument back in 2006, I could never have conceived of the scope of Wall Street’s depravity. It is all about fraud. As I’ve said, this crisis is like Shrek’s Onion, with fraud in every layer. There is, quite simply, no part of the financial system that is not riddled with fraud.
The fraud cannot be reduced much less eliminated. First, there are no regulators to stop it, and no prosecutors to punish it. But, far more importantly, fraud is the business model. Further, even if a financial institution tried to buck the trend it would fail. As Bill says, fraud is always the most profitable game in town. So Gresham’s Law dynamics ensure that fraud is the only game in town.
As Sherrill said, without regulation, capitalism is thievery. We stopped regulating the financial system, so thieves took over…
From the New York Times story today on JPMorgan’s recent gambling losses, now at $5,800,000,000 and headed south:
…Ina R. Drew, the senior executive who resigned as head of the chief investment office shortly after the trading losses, volunteered to give back her pay. The giveback is a precipitous fall for Ms. Drew, once one of Mr. Dimon’s most trusted executives. Ms. Drew earned roughly $14 million last year, making her the bank’s fourth-highest-paid officer. Ms. Drew declined to comment…
I may have bitched about this before, but here goes again. Republican word-twister Frank Luntz doesn’t even need to bother twisting the word “earn” into a new frame. Standard media usage has already done the job for him, as we see in the paragraph above. Historically, “earn” carried a favorable connotation: study hard and you earned a Phi Beta Kappa key; honest dealing earned you a good reputation; you earned your salary by working hard at some productive task.
By and large the word was used to describe a particular type of exchange — one party providing something desirable and useful to a second party and receiving a reward for it in rough proportion to the service provided. A win-win transaction.
We would not say that your uncle Charlie earned a hundred bucks at the poker table last week, or that a lottery winner earned a million dollars, or that Bernie Madoff earned a billion, or that Mitt Romney earned a fortune from his father’s will.
In what sense, then, did Ms. Drew “earn” $14,000,000 last year?
It isn’t that the English language lacks words to describe what Ms. Drew and Mr. Dimon do for their money. Here is a short list:
Get hold of, grab, get, receive, snatch, take, grasp, amass, obtain, seize, get your hands on, divert, embezzle, skim, swindle, mulct, extract, acquire, gain, procure, score, secure, misappropriate, siphon, loot.
Take your pick, but give “earn” a rest.
…and increase and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbors by extortion and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord. (Ezekiel, 22.12)
And here is exactly how thou did it, saith Michael Hudson at Naked Capitalism.
The largest asset in any economy is real estate — mainly the land’s site value. So about 80 percent of bank loans are mortgage loans. But by 1980 property prices had turned down as interest rates rose during the Vietnam War and the general Cold War buildup throughout the world. Overseas military spending obliged the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to borrow abroad to prevent the dollar’s exchange rate from declining.
So in the 1980s banks found a new market: corporate raiders treated companies much like real estate, to be bought on credit and managed to create a capital gain. The rise in interest rates to 20 percent by 1980 forced most states to revoke their usury laws, and credit card companies played states against each other in a race to the bottom when it came to protecting consumer rights. So the high-interest junk bond was born, largely at the hands of Michael Milken’s gang at Drexel Burnham.
American industry began to be financialized (and in the process, criminalized). But running a company to make a financial gain is different from running an industrial firm to expand production. Cash flow that was not paid to bankers and bondholders for the credit to buy out stock holders was used for purposes other than direct capital investment — above all for stock buybacks to support their price, and for mergers and acquisitions to acquire yet more companies.
The aim was not to increase production but to increase balance-sheet wealth — while extracting revenue from companies much like landlords bleeding a building. That is the time frame of finance capital, in contrast to industrial capital. It is short-term, not long term. This is why it is extractive rather than productive. The revenue has no counterpart in new direct investment in output, but rather in overhead debt extracting a rising flow of interest from the economy.
“Wealth creation” by debt leveraging — that is, asset-price inflation — was celebrated as a post-industrial economy, as if this were a positive and natural evolution. But in reality it is a lapse back into a rentier economy, and even into a kind of neofeudalism. The post-2008 bailouts have vested a new rentier elite to lord it over the 21st century, thanks to the fact that most gains since 1980 have gone to the 1% — mainly the financial sector, not to the 99%.
The municipal bond business has always been a cesspool. Nixon’s corrupt attorney general, John Mitchell, crawled out of it and on to greater things, so to speak: Watergate and the plumbers.
But I’ve never seen the bond racket more clearly exposed or better explained than by Matt Taibbi in this month’s Rolling Stone. Read it, and weep for the Republic. He starts out with this:
Someday, it will go down in history as the first trial of the modern American mafia. Of course, you won’t hear the recent financial corruption case, United States of America v. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm, called anything like that. If you heard about it at all, you’re probably either in the municipal bond business or married to an antitrust lawyer. Even then, all you probably heard was that a threesome of bit players on Wall Street got convicted of obscure antitrust violations in one of the most inscrutable, jargon-packed legal snoozefests since the government’s massive case against Microsoft in the Nineties — not exactly the thrilling courtroom drama offered by the famed trials of old-school mobsters like Al Capone or Anthony “Tony Ducks” Corallo.
But this just-completed trial in downtown New York against three faceless financial executives really was historic. Over 10 years in the making, the case allowed federal prosecutors to make public for the first time the astonishing inner workings of the reigning American crime syndicate, which now operates not out of Little Italy and Las Vegas, but out of Wall Street…
Read Matt Stoller’s piece at Naked Capitalism if you’re still puzzling over why brutal economic inequity and untouchable Wall Street crooks seem to be baked into the American cake. Here’s the nut graf:
The dirty secret of American politics is that, for most politicians, getting elected is just not that important. What matters is post-election employment. It’s all about staying in the elite political class, which means being respected in a dense network of corporate-funded think tanks, high-powered law firms, banks, defense contractors, prestigious universities, and corporations. If you run a campaign based on populist themes, that’s a threat to your post-election employment prospects. This is why rising Democratic star and Newark Mayor Corey Booker reacted so strongly against criticism of private equity – he’s looking out for a potential client after his political career is over, or perhaps, during interludes between offices. Running as a vague populist is manageable, as long as you’re lying to voters. If you actually go after powerful interests while in office, then you better win, because if you don’t, you’ll have basically nowhere to go. And if you lose, but you were a team player, then you’ll have plenty of money and opportunity. The most lucrative scenario is to win and be a team player, which is what Bill and Hillary Clinton did. The Clinton’s are the best at the political game – it’s not a coincidence that deregulation accelerated in the late 1990s, as Clinton and his whole team began thinking about their post-Presidential prospects.
(For new evidence backing Stoller’s argument, go here.)
It is hard to avoid thinking that these people are perfect swine, so I won’t even try. Oh, and let me be clear: I’m not talking about people like Annette Alejandro.
From the New York Times:
Annette Alejandro just emerged from bankruptcy and doesn’t have a job, and her car was repossessed last year. Still, after spending her days job hunting, she returns to her apartment in Brooklyn where, in disbelief, she sorts through the piles of credit card and auto loan offers that have come in the mail…
But as financial institutions recover from the losses on loans made to troubled borrowers, some of the largest lenders to the less than creditworthy, including Capital One and GM Financial, are trying to woo them back, while HSBC and JPMorgan Chase are among those tiptoeing again into subprime lending.
Credit card lenders gave out 1.1 million new cards to borrowers with damaged credit in December, up 12.3 percent from the same month a year earlier, according to Equifax’s credit trends report released in March. These borrowers accounted for 23 percent of new auto loans in the fourth quarter of 2011, up from 17 percent in the same period of 2009, Experian, a credit scoring firm, said.
In celebration of Easter here’s (via Brainstorm) Spiro Agnew whining about people smarter than him. Nixon’s soon-to-be-former vice president disparages such vermin, in words insinuated into his oral orifice by his amanuensis, Pat Buchanan, as “an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.”
Corporations are indeed people, and very nasty ones, Robert Stein argues. And he ought to know. Here’s an excerpt from his valuable blog, Connecting.the.Dots:
If corporations are indeed people, they are the most greedy, selfish and ruthless in the society. During years of sitting on boards of directors, I was always astonished by what happened to individuals (including myself) when they sat around a corporate table.
Institutional roles acted simultaneously as a narcotic that suppressed conscience and a stimulant to bring out every bit of low cunning to profit the organization. I have seen religious leaders, academics and business statesmen propose solutions to problems that would make a carnival pitchman blush.
If corporations bear any resemblance to individual human beings, they are people who have been lobotomized of all social instincts except their need to protect themselves, profit and grow.
Why you never, ever want to get Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi on your case:
Perry lumbers onstage looking exceedingly well-groomed, but also ashen and exhausted, like a funeral director with a hangover… Then he waves and walks offstage. The whole thing has taken barely 10 minutes.
I can’t believe it, and neither can the assembled crowd of Georgia conservatives, who hesitate before breaking into polite applause. I feel like a high school cheerleader who just had her leg jizzed on in the back of a convertible. That’s it? It’s over? That was Rick Perry’s stump speech?…
After all, you have to go pretty far to stand out as a whore and a sellout when you come from a state that has produced such luminaries in the history of political corruption as LBJ, Karl Rove and George W. Bush. But Rick Perry has managed to set a scary new low in the annals of opportunism, turning Texas into a swamp of political incest and backroom dealing on a scale not often seen this side of the Congo or Sierra Leone…
Perry is a human price tag – Being There meets Left Behind…
He sweats profusely. He can’t stand still. When he does manage to get off a zinger, he cracks a smug grin, looking like he’s just sewn up the blue ribbon in a frat-house dong-measuring contest.
Read Krugman today. And copy your Congressperson if he, she or it is a Republican. In a nutshell:
…But a funny thing happened on the way to economic Armageddon: Iceland’s very desperation made conventional behavior impossible, freeing the nation to break the rules. Where everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net. Where everyone else was fixated on trying to placate international investors, Iceland imposed temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to maneuver.
So how’s it going? Iceland hasn’t avoided major economic damage or a significant drop in living standards. But it has managed to limit both the rise in unemployment and the suffering of the most vulnerable; the social safety net has survived intact, as has the basic decency of its society…
Here’s the latest rogue trader story, this one apparently resulting in a $2 billion loss for a Swiss bank. I’ve read several different accounts now, and am just as confused as I was by all the earlier rogue trader stories.
Did this kid walk away with $2 billion and stash it in some other Swiss bank? Seems impossible. Was he making bets on his bank’s behalf that went south instead of north? If so, why was he arrested? Because he exceeded his authority by not telling his bosses he was making those bets, or concealed that they had gone south? Are these crimes? Cause for firing, sure. But criminal offenses? Help me out here. What’s going on?
The Justice Department got the headline, but the spadework for this giant bust was done by a new unit in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services called the Center for Program Integrity — created by President Obama’s health care legislation to fight the Medicare fraud that costs the taxpayers billions of dollars a year. And a highly-placed source (one of my sons, who works there) says this is just the beginning:
The Justice Department on Wednesday announced charges against 91 people including doctors, nurses and other medical professionals allegedly involved in a nationwide Medicare fraud scheme in eight cities totaling $295 million in false billing.
“The defendants charged in this takedown are accused of stealing precious taxpayer resources and defrauding Medicare – jeopardizing the integrity of our health care system and our nation’s most critical health care program for personal gain,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a press release. “Our highly coordinated, nationwide Strike Force operations are working aggressively to combat Medicare fraud and our anti-health care fraud efforts have never been more innovative, collaborative, aggressive – or effective. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and partners across government to fight against health care fraud.”
According to the Justice Department those charged are accused of a variety of fraud-related crimes including conspiracy to defraud the Medicare program, health care fraud, violations of the anti-kickback statutes and money laundering. The scheme involved home health care, physical and occupational therapy, mental health services, psychotherapy and durable medical equipment services, the Justice Department said…
The criminal code is brutally harsh about assigning responsibility where the lower orders are concerned. The kid sitting outside in the car while the others rob a convenience store is responsible for the clerk’s death, even if he didn’t know she was killed. So is the grandmother or girl friend who harbors the suspect knowing of his crime.
Try this on Goldman Sachs, AIG, Countrywide, or BP. The jails would burst. The shakiest entrapment and encitement tactics are routinely used against suspected terrorists, but almost never against bankers or CEOs or industrial polluters. Not to report a crime is a crime for you, but not for them. Shielding a criminal makes you a criminal, but not them.
Where’s the fairness? Fairness is for suckers. Grow up.
If there were a God in heaven, this man-shaped piece of shit would be locked up for life in the same juvenile prison he sent his victims to. But then if there was a God in heaven, He would never have created a Judge Ciavarella in the first place.
Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court, sent youths to PA Child Care and later to its sister facility in western Pennsylvania while he was taking payments from Robert Mericle, a prominent builder and close friend of Ciavarella, and Robert Powell, a high-powered attorney who co-owned the youth lockups.
The judge, known for his harsh and autocratic courtroom demeanor, filled the beds of the private lockups with children as young as 10. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed thousands of juvenile convictions issued by Ciavarella, saying he ran his courtroom with “complete disregard for the constitutional rights of the juveniles,” including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea.
His rough treatment of youths — whom he often had handcuffed and shackled — did not figure into his corruption trial, which focused on the payments from Mericle and Powell. But prosecutor Gordon Zubrod told jurors in his closing argument that Luzerne County’s juveniles were indeed victimized by Ciavarella — that he had used them as “pawns in a scheme to enrich himself.”
Ciavarella had leverage over Powell because Powell needed the judge to send youths to his heavily mortgaged detention centers, Zubrod said.
You’ll want to read this whole story. Of course you already knew that insider trading is the whole point of the stock market, its basis for being. If both parties to a trade had equal access to information, all the fun and most of the money would drain out of the game. You might actually, God help you, have to work for a living. (Work being here defined as something productive and useful, perhaps even involving pliers.)
“You take two pairs of pliers, and then you rip it open,” Mr. Longueuil, said, according to the complaint. “Pulled the external drives apart. … Put ’em into four separate little baggies, and then at 2 a.m. … 2 a.m. on a Friday night, I put this stuff inside my black North Face … jacket, … and leave the apartment and I go on like a 20 block walk around the city … and try to find a, a garbage truck … and threw the [expletive] in the back of like random garbage trucks, different garbage trucks … four different garbage trucks.”
At the news conference Tuesday, Mr. Bharara called the cover-up effort described in the complaint “something out of a bad movie” and joked that this probably was the first time that a Wall Street portfolio manager used pliers as “a tool of the trade.”
From the New York Times review of Donald Rumsfeld’s apologia pro sua vita. It is titled Known and Unknown, and its 800 pages can be yours for the low, low price of $36 — less than a nickel a page! (All sales final.)
“Too many troops could hurt our ability to win Iraqi confidence,” [Rumsfeld] writes, “and it could translate into more casualties, because more troops would mean more targets for our enemies.”
From this lengthy article in today’s New York Times we learn once more why we should always read stories to the very end. Because that’s where the bitter truth is so oft interred.
WASHINGTON — Behind closed doors, Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, called it “the worst financial crisis in global history, including the Great Depression…”
Mr. Bernanke’s remarks, from a November 2009 interview with government investigators, were among the fresh details in the blow-by-blow chronicle of regulatory negligence and Wall Street recklessness released Thursday by a federal commission…
And, 25 paragraphs further on, the end:
But little on Wall Street has changed. One commissioner, Byron S. Georgiou, a Nevada lawyer, said the financial system was “not really very different” today from before the crisis.
“In fact, the concentration of financial assets in the largest commercial and investment banks is really significantly higher today than it was in the run-up to the crisis, as a result of the evisceration of some of the institutions, and the consolidation and merger of others into larger institutions,” he said.
Like a teacher fresh out of ideas who resorts to requiring memorization of material, the American intelligence community, so called, has often resorted to accusations involving sexual misconduct in attempts to silence, or at least strike back at, critics of the imperial policies.
Not that the accusations are always baseless; it seems that those adventurous enough to join the game are also adventurous in other areas of life, sometimes reprehensibly so. Witness the story of Scott Ritter, for one. But realistically, and without excusing such behavior, sexual escapades are nothing new in the annals of the great game. Not infrequently, the most publicly moralistic are found to act quite differently in private.
But such accusations are becoming rather transparent, a sort of playground vengeance, calling names when no straightforward denial or defense is available. The Secret Government, as Bill Moyers called it in his famous documentary, does not like its methods laid bare to public view. Not only does scrutiny displease the players, whose activities proceed more efficiently outside the spotlight; it seriously embarrasses the officeholders, past and present, who appear as salaried government employees, thus on the taxpayer’s dime, acting as agents of corporations attempting to take over foreign markets. Even more-or-less friendly countries are subject to corporate invasion assisted by all the wiles and strategies of American diplomacy.
Summary: Mission Paris recommends that that [sic] the USG reinforce our negotiating position with the EU on agricultural biotechnology by publishing a retaliation list when the extend “Reasonable Time Period” expires. In our view, Europe is moving backwards not forwards on this issue with France playing a leading role, along with Austria, Italy and even the Commission. In France, the “Grenelle” environment process is being implemented to circumvent science-based decisions in favor of an assessment of the “common interest.” Combined with the precautionary principle, this is a precedent with implications far beyond MON-810 BT corn cultivation. Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices. In fact, the pro-biotech side in France — including within the farm union — have told us retaliation is the only way to begin to begin to turn this issue in France. End Summary.
For the non-agriculturally minded like me, MON 810 turns out to be a genetically modified maize from Monsanto. The cable never actually mentions the company by name, but each of the first four paragraphs includes a mention of MON 810, and the remaining three discuss the anti-GMO movement in Europe. Unless my untrained eye has overlooked something, no other product or corporation is mentioned directly, though the term “science-based decision-making” is used to obscure the reality of corporations deciding on diets rather than people choosing their own. Do we get to eat what we want, or will we eat what corporations tell us to eat? Will we let Monsanto eliminate traditional farming and force every farmer to buy seeds for each new crop every year from now on?
The cable refers derisively to the “common interest” as the alternative to science-based decisions, putting quotes around the term. Then it proceeds to a consideration of possible action.
Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory.
The final sentence of the cable stipulates a variance between US-French cooperation with respect to many foreign policy objectives, and the conflict over what the cable calls “ag biotech”.
We can manage both at the same time and should not let one set of priorities detract from the other.
Foreign policy objectives should not detract from governmental assistance for Monsanto’s attempts to introduce GMO corn to a wary or unwilling population.
Interestingly, the New York Times website produces a page in response to searches for news on Monsanto whose last entry is dated October 7 of this year, and is entitled “Monsanto Income Drops by Nearly Half”. Most likely the Times article on the new revelations from Wikileaks is still in preparation.
Searching the Washington Post website for Monsanto turns up two articles in the last sixty days, the first an obituary for a former employee and the second an AP report explaining that Monsanto’s chairman, president, and CEO Hugh Grant — apparently a different person than the well-known actor, but even more egotistical — has taken a 2.2 percent pay cut this year, mainly because his incentive compensation is down $1.1 million. His salary and “stock-related rewards” climbed.
The article notes that Monsanto is trying to move away from its less profitable herbicide business into the more lucrative area of genetically engineered crops. If that’s such a wonderful thing that the government is engaged in retaliating against EU countries who resist its introduction, then why do people resist its introduction? It’s not just a debate over whether you can trust corporations to tell you what you must eat; it’s a fight over whether corporations will control humanity’s access to food.
If crops worldwide become dependent on new batches of seeds from Monsanto, what’s the point of governments?
[h/t Mike Ludwig at truthout]
The Associated Press reports:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bank of America Corp. has joined several other financial institutions in refusing to handle payments for WikiLeaks…Curious as to just how rigorous the Bank of America’s “internal policies” might be, I turned to Google.
“This decision is based upon our reasonable belief that WikiLeaks may be engaged in activities that are, among other things, inconsistent with our internal policies for processing payments,” the bank said.
Similarly, traffickers used accounts at Bank of America to purchase three planes that ended up smuggling 10 tons of cocaine. “Federal agents caught people who work for Mexican cartels depositing illicit funds in Bank of America accounts in Atlanta, Chicago and Brownsville, Texas, from 2002 to 2009,” the article says.
And here goes again:
Among Bank of America’s 50 million customers, Pierre Falcone was far from ordinary. An infamous global arms dealer who unlawfully sold weapons to Angola for its civil war and an international fugitive, Falcone was convicted of tax fraud and illegal arms dealing in 2007 and 2009 and is currently serving six years behind bars.
Yet for nearly two decades, Falcone and his relatives freely used 29 different bank accounts to funnel at least $60 million into the US from secretive havens like the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, and Singapore, and from shell corporations and secret clients. Despite his criminal record and worldwide notoriety, Bank of America essentially treated him like any other depositor.
And yet again:
In withering complaints filed in state courts in both states, the attorneys general accused Bank of America of assuring customers that they would not be foreclosed upon while they were seeking loan modifications, only to proceed with foreclosures anyway; of falsely telling customers that they must be in default to obtain a modification; of promising that the modifications would be made permanent if they completed a trial period, only to renege on the deal; and of conjuring up bogus reasons for denying modifications.
…if you live in Guam. From the New York Times:
And even when banks did begin hiring to deal with the avalanche of defaults, they often turned to workers with minimal qualifications or work experience, employees a former JPMorgan executive characterized as the “Burger King kids.” In many cases, the banks outsourced their foreclosure operations to law firms like that of David J. Stern, of Florida, which served clients like Citigroup, GMAC and others. Mr. Stern hired outsourcing firms in Guam and the Philippines to help.
More news from the swill kings who caused the present depression. (Don’t tell me this isn’t a depression; I have eyes.)
However, while Paulson has been criticized, unfairly or not, because $12.9 billion of the bailout money went to Goldman, he’s drawn little scrutiny for what he did in his first 18 months in office, during the final frenzied stages of the housing bubble.
In his eight years as Goldman’s chief executive, Paulson had presided over the firm’s plunge into the business of buying up subprime mortgages to marginal borrowers and then repackaging them into securities, overseeing the firm’s huge positions in what became a fraud-infested market.
During Paulson’s first 15 months as the treasury secretary and chief presidential economic adviser, Goldman unloaded more than $30 billion in dicey residential mortgage securities to pension funds, foreign banks and other investors and became the only major Wall Street firm to dramatically cut its losses and exit the housing market safely. Goldman also racked up billions of dollars in profits by secretly betting on a downturn in home mortgage securities.
“No one was better positioned . . . than Mr. Paulson to understand exactly what the implications of his moving against the (housing) bubble would have been for Goldman Sachs, because he knew what the Goldman Sachs positions were,” said William Black, a former senior thrift regulator who delivered the harshest criticism of the former secretary.
Paulson “knew that if he acted the way he should, that would have burst the bubble. Then Goldman Sachs would have been left with a very substantial loss, and that would have been the end of bonuses at Goldman Sachs.
From the Associated Press:
NEW YORK — The New York Times reported on its website Thursday that federal authorities have decided to indict Roger Clemens on charges of making false statements to Congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs.
What kind of a society indicts a baseball player while Blankenship, Blankfein, Dimon, and Hayward walk free?
It’s getting harder and harder to extend the benefit of a doubt to BP:
KENNER, LA. — In the hours before the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, BP pumped into the well an extraordinarily large quantity of an unusual chemical mixture, a contractor on the rig testified Monday.
The injection of the dense, gray fluid was meant to flush drilling mud from the hole, according to the testimony before a government panel investigating the April 20 accident. But the more than 400 barrels used were roughly double the usual quantity, said Leo Lindner, a drilling fluid specialist for contractor MI-Swaco.
BP had hundreds of barrels of the two chemicals on hand and needed to dispose of the material, Lindner testified. By first flushing it into the well, the company could take advantage of an exemption in an environmental law that otherwise would have prohibited it from discharging the hazardous waste into the Gulf of Mexico, Lindner said…
When the well became a gusher on April 20, a fluid that fit the general description of the mixture rained down on the rig. Stephen Bertone, chief engineer on the rig, said in testimony earlier in the day that part of the rig was covered in an inch or more of material that he said resembled “snot.”
From Theda Skocpol, a tiny bubble of sense in the vast wave of media bullshit:
Let’s have an analysis of what it would take, over months and years, to create government agencies — FDIC, MMS, etc. — capable of actually holding powerful corporations to account in an effective partnership…
In the oil spill case, the evil was done years ago during the unholy Republican-oil industry alliance, and during years of deliberate efforts to gut the morale, expertise, and will to act of regulatory agencies. Let’s face it, why would the best people even want to go into government regulatory work, when all you get is months of delay in congressional confirmations and a constant round of pushes and pulls and public humiliation? We have the federal agencies we seem to want: ineffective ones.
To rebuild, will take at least the following: strong public leadership in agencies as well as the White House; an agency with appointees quickly confirmed by Congress and left in place for years with the right to recruit and back up devoted experts and regulators sharing a strong purpose to serve the public; and oversight but never micro-lobbying by Congress. Congress people willing to tell powerful corporations to lay off, instead of pressing agencies for exceptions to rules on their behalf.
The Obama administration is trying to rebuild and use a federal government that has been ransacked and humiliated and weakened over decades of deliberate mismanagement by private-interest-oriented Republicans and “new” Democrats. It is an uphill battle, and it does not help that the media and commentators are not even helping the public understand the real issues. More anger from President Obama is totally beside the point here.
As for this spill, it will not end for months. There is nothing any government on earth can do when a private corporate giant was allowed to drill beyond the technological means to correct a major disaster — and then that disaster occurs.
The White House should definitely not take direct responsibility for fixing the pipes. It should focus on holding BP accountable and on coordinating the compensation, mitigation, and repairs needed. It should, as Obama is doing, find out what went wrong and demand changes for the future.
At last a motive appears, glimpsed dimly through the mists. Look, it appears to be green, like BP’s logo. Perhaps it is concern for the environment, leading to some protective procedure gone horribly wrong? Nah, that doesn’t seem to be it. Whatever it is, though, it’s certainly green.
From the New York Times:
Evidence began emerging Wednesday that BP officials may have had an incentive to proceed quickly.
A member of the federal panel investigating the cause of the blast said that before the explosion, the company had hoped to use the Deepwater Horizon to drill another well by early March, but was behind schedule.
BP applied to use the Deepwater rig to drill in another oil field by March 8, said Jason Mathews, a petroleum engineer for the Minerals Management Service.
Based on an estimate of $500,000 per day to drill on the site, the delay of 43 days had cost BP more than $21 million by the day of the explosion on April 20, Mr. Mathews estimated.
A Transocean official — Adrian Rose, the company’s health, safety and environmental manager — confirmed that BP leased the rig for $533,000 per day. He could not confirm where the Deepwater Horizon was planning to go next, but he said it was going to undertake another drill, probably for BP.
…among the simple folk of Wall Street is foreseen by The Epicurean Dealmaker, and should certainly be fun to watch. Unhappily it will only end in the triumph of a new Great Vampire Squid with a different name. In the long run we will all be, once again, drained.
I must agree with Felix Salmon and others, who claim that the real damage to Goldman Sachs has already been done, with its formerly venerated name being dragged publicly through the mud with an accusation of fraud. While this may have little effect on the majority of Goldman’s business on the sales and trading side of the house — where counterparties are generally too smart to raise a stink about the 800 pound gorilla of the global financial markets (and often too unprincipled themselves to care) — it should and will have an effect on Goldman’s extensive investment banking business with governments, corporations, and other entities.
The Great Vampire Squid has been living for years off the simple fact that, like the fabled IBM of yore, no-one ever got fired (or sued) for picking Goldman Sachs. That calculus has been changed, and I and every one of my red-blooded peers in the industry who is not currently drawing a paycheck signed by David Viniar are making damn sure that CEOs, CFOs, government officials, and Boards of Directors know it.
For those of you who were wondering, this is the real reason why Goldman’s market capitalization has taken the vapors to the tune of more than ten billion dollars in response to an action likely to cost it no more than a tiny fraction of that amount: its reputation premium is quietly and rapidly evaporating.
There is no shortage of competent investment banks and adequate investment bankers available to conduct the financing and M&A business of the global corporate and government economy. No longer can Goldman rest assured that it will win mandates simply because it is Goldman Sachs. In fact, it may lose many for that very reason…
Although just wait and see what happens if enough of them sense that Goldman is mortally wounded. They’ll gang up and rip it to shreds without a second thought, just like they did to Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and almost did to Morgan Stanley. Live by the sword, die by the sword, baby. Booyah!
Here is Ezra Klein, the Great Explicator, explaining why Br’er Mitch is hollering so hard for Br’er Barack not to throw him in dat brier patch:
A bank is judged failing. The FDIC submits a plan for the bank’s liquidation — which includes firing management, wiping out shareholders, handing losses to creditors, and selling off the firm — and gets it approved by the Treasury secretary. Then the FDIC takes over the banks. The $50 billion fund is used to keep the lights on while all this happens. It’s there to prevent taxpayers from having to foot the bill for the chaos that will occur between when we recognize a bank is failing and when we shut it down.
Whatever you want to call this, it isn’t a bailout. It’s the death of the company. And the fund is way of forcing too-big-to-fail banks to pay for the execution. But stung by Republican criticisms, the administration is telling Democrats to let the fund go. And they’re not all that unhappy to see it die. “The fund isn’t a priority for the Obama administration,” reported Business Week, “which instead proposed having the financial industry repay the government for the cost of disassembling a failed firm, an approach preferred by the industry.”
So let’s just be clear: The alternative to the liquidation fund is Wall Street’s preference. That should tell you pretty much all you need to know about whether the industry really views this as a bailout.
More disgusting news from the Vatican. Read the whole thing, but the excerpts below particuarly struck me. It seems the Vatican knew it had a problem with priests using confessional booths as pick-up joints at least by 1962 — decades before the pedophilia scandals exploded in America. Maybe those earlier problems involved only women, but I do not find that encouraging. Nor probable.
Church and Vatican documents obtained by two lawyers who have filed lawsuits alleging the Archdiocese of Milwaukee didn't take sufficient action against Murphy show that as many as 200 deaf students had accused him of molesting them, including in the confessional, while he ran the school.
While the documents — letters between diocese and Rome, notes taken during meetings, and summaries of meetings — are remarkable in the repeated desire to keep the case secret, they do suggest an increasingly determined effort by bishops to heed the despair of the deaf community in bringing a canonical trial against Murphy…
Just a few weeks later, Bertone — now the Vatican's secretary of state — told the Wisconsin bishops to begin secret disciplinary proceedings against Murphy according to 1962 norms concerning soliciting sex in the confessional, according to the documents.
It used to be the practice at the old Washington Daily News to write things like, “Police identified the murder suspect as Howard Ignoto, of the 1700 block of Maple Street.” If a more precise address turned out to be even a single digit off, a bedridden 90-year-old bishop’s widow would inevitably be living at that number. Our lofty journalistic principle was therefore, “It is better to be vague than wrong.”
The Epicurean Dealmaker suggests following the same principle when it comes to resolution authority to discipline Wall Street houses judged too big to fail, and his reasons are equally practical:
I like the fact that the proposed resolution authority is currently vague and undefined. I think it should be written into law in as vague and undefined a manner as possible. That would make it much more effective in combating the next (inevitable) financial crisis…
For another thing, vagueness will offer regulators discretion.
This will have two salutary effects. It is well known that financial institutions — like sophisticated businesses everywhere — are expert at structuring their business practices to satisfy the letter of the law, while evading its spirit and intent with maximal effect. The more specific laws and regulations become, the easier it is for these institutions and their in-house and outside counsel to find their way around them.
Should legislation authorizing resolution authority be too specific — in the tools, techniques, and processes regulators are allowed to use in identifying and winding down financial institutions in distress — then you can bet your bottom dollar those firms will exploit this fact to skew the game in their favor. In contrast, purposely vague and undefined resolution authority will not offer its potential objects as many preemptive opportunities to evade its intended jurisdiction or consequences.
In addition, regulatory discretion would foster what I would view as a healthy increase in uncertainty among financial institutions and their stakeholders. Should, for example, a regulator have the authority to unilaterally abrogate, modify, or suspend any and all prior contracts or securities arrangements entered into by a financial institution undergoing resolution — as some might suggest — you can just imagine how much more cautious investors, lenders, and counterparties would become in their dealings with any financial institution potentially subject to such a regime in the future.
The cost of funding financial institutions would undoubtedly rise, as investors become sensitized to increased contractual risk. Firms in obvious distress would see their cost of financing skyrocket and their counterparty business dry up, as no-one with a contractual claim could rest assured it would receive exactly what it was otherwise entitled to in a resolution wind up. But then again, firms in obvious distress see that happen anyway. The point is that regulators charged with cleaning up the mess would not have their hands completely tied by contractual arrangements entered into by others when the failing company was healthy…
In late November I talked about how credit cards specifically, and the consumer financial system more generally, was fee- and ‘trick and traps’- based and how that amounted to a transfer from the poorest to the richest in our country. I found this to be a really bad thing, one that gave terrible incentives to financial firms to find innovations that would make prices and information more opaque and less transparent for consumers.
Instead of challenging the argument itself, or arguing that this system was a necessary evil to get the poorest in our country access to financial markets, I was amazed at the amount of feedback I got that argued this was a great system, because instead of ripping off the poor to give benefits to the rich, it really transferred “from the ignorant and foolish to the informed and prudent,” or as one emailer put it, in a manner representative of many other emails: “It’s the irresponsible borrowers – who are often poor – that are penalized and the ultra-responsible borrowers that are rewarded. I fail to see the problem there.” The argument is that the system works to punish those who are cognitively weak and financially irresponsible and reward those with good cognition and a sense of responsibility…
The more we learn about the Wall Street banksters, the harder it becomes to tell them from the small-time crooks on the streets outside, hustling counterfeit Rolexes.
The crux of the problem was capital, the reserve that banks are required to hold against unexpected losses. While bank regulation is divided among four federal agencies, the Fed has long played the leading role in dictating how much capital banks should hold. By the late 1990s, those rules were outdated.
Rather than wait for borrowers to repay loans, banks were adopting a technique called securitization. The banks created pools of loans and sold investors the right to collect portions of the inflowing payments. The bank got its money upfront. Equally important, under accounting rules it was allowed to report that the loans had been sold, and therefore it did not need to hold any additional capital. But in many cases, the bank still pledged to cover losses if borrowers defaulted.
“It was like selling your car but agreeing to keep paying for any maintenance, repairs, oil changes,” said Joseph Mason, a finance professor at Louisiana State University. “You’ve sold the benefit of the automobile, but you haven’t sold the risk.”
Here's a sorry story.
When the Wall Street collapse began, I took my son’s college nest egg out of a high income bond fund, and bought a one-year CD from Wachovia Bank at 4.5 percent interest. Now that the year is up, I thought I’d roll it over at the same bank.
Not going to happen. Now they are paying just one percent and forcing their customers (read victims) to buy an 18-month CD. I have a one week window in which to get that money out, or the bank will roll it over automatically at one percent.
Remember Wachovia is now owned by Wells Fargo, which bought it for $12 billion, shortly after receiving a $25 billion bailout from you and me. This makes it the second largest bank in the U.S. which is now even more “too big to fail.”
In October Wachovia raised its credit card interest rates three percentage points. Now they range from 12 to 22 percent Another brief story to show how capitalism really works.
“The unpleasant habits of round-mouthed hagfish and lampreys are vividly described as ‘suctorial.’ Theirs is a mode of life made possible by having gills which open directly into the throat, so that they can continue to respire while still sucking blood…”
From Jay Bookman, who, unlike me, seems to have a paid subscription to Rupert Murdoch’s online Wall Street Journal. The question raised by the stolen excerpt below is whether there is any outrage at all, any slap in the face so contemptuous, any display of greed in a time of widespread suffering, joblessness, bankruptcy and homelessness so shameless that we will finally wake up?
It’s no good blaming Congress. Both House and Senate would vote to vivisect kittens on prime time if enough members were afraid that going soft on Fluffy would cost them their seats. The trouble goes beyond that.
In Michael Moore’s movie Sicko, an American ex-pat in Paris reflects that in France the government is afraid of the people, while in America the people are afraid of the government. And there you have it. And here’s the latest atrocity that will not send Americans to the barricades:
“Major U.S. banks and securities firms are on pace to pay their employees about $140 billion this year — a record high that shows compensation is rebounding despite regulatory scrutiny of Wall Street’s pay culture.
Workers at 23 top investment banks, hedge funds, asset managers and stock and commodities exchanges can expect to earn even more than they did the peak year of 2007, according to an analysis of securities filings for the first half of 2009 and revenue estimates through year-end by The Wall Street Journal.”
Total compensation and benefits at the publicly traded firms analyzed by the Journal are on track to increase 20% from last year’s $117 billion — and to top 2007’s $130 billion payout. This year, employees at the companies will earn an estimated $143,400 on average, up almost $2,000 from 2007 levels.”
A shocking story in today’s Washington Post confirms what has seemed probable all along: the subprime housing scams that sank our economy were a vast criminal enterprise that Alan Greenspan not only knew about from the start, but actively encouraged.
Read it all, but here’s a brief excerpt that goes to the underlying problem with the anti-Keynsian Chicago school of economics — what Paul Krugman calls the “freshwater school.” This is a failure to see that the big picture is made up of millions of tiny dots. In laymen’s terms, these are known as “human beings.”
Throughout the lending boom, consumer advocates trooped regularly to the Fed’s monumental marble headquarters on Constitution Avenue to offer specific accounts of abuses in financial transactions. But what seemed powerful to advocates often was dismissed as anecdotal by regulators.
“The response we were getting from most of the governors and the staff was, ‘All you’re able to do is point to the stories of individual consumers, you’re not able to show the macroeconomic effect,’ “ said Patricia McCoy, a law professor at the University of Connecticut who served on the Fed’s consumer advisory council from 2002 to 2004. “That is a classic Fed mindset. If you cannot prove that it is a broad-based problem that threatens systemic consequences, then you will be dismissed.”
Fortunately those dark days at the Fed are past. President Obama’s choice to continue as its chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, is outraged:
Bernanke asked the Fed’s lawyers to revisit their concerns and, in July 2007, the Fed announced a pilot program to examine a few subprime affiliates.This summer, pronouncing itself satisfied with the results, the Fed announced it would launch regular consumer compliance examinations.
“In looking at our responsibility to enforce these consumer laws we believe a somewhat more proactive stance is justified,” Bernanke told Congress.
From the Washington Post’s account of the warm homecoming extended by Youngstown, Ohio, to its former congressman and convict, James Traficant:
At Sunday’s party his fans said he remembered their names, returned their calls and was far from “elite.” Several recounted how he talked about his “gastric emissions” on the House floor.
In a memorable Capitol Hill moment, he called a friend, Sandra Ferrante, as a witness during a committee hearing on Standards and Official Conduct. At the time Congress was considering expelling him. The conversation went like this:
Traficant: Were you and I sex partners?
Traficant: Why not?
The real Republican role model — think Karl Rove and Lee Atwater and their employers, the Bushes — think Ken Starr and Ted Olsen and Richard Mellon Scaife — is not Ronald Reagan but Richard Nixon:
Because Kennedy was not a presidential candidate in 1972, he did not qualify for full-time Secret Service protection. But Nixon offered it to Ted Kennedy, given the assassinations of his brothers, President John Kennedy and Sen. Robert Kennedy, and right after Alabama Gov. George Wallace was shot in May 1972…
But Nixon’s motives for the offer were not pure. He worried that if a third Kennedy were shot, and while not having Secret Service protection, he’d be blamed.
Plus, he wanted dirt. And the best way to get it was to have a Secret Service agent rat on the senator. There is no evidence an agent turned into such an informer.
“You understand what the problem is,” Nixon told Haldeman and Ehrlichman on Sept. 7, 1972. “If the (SOB) gets shot they’ll say we didn’t furnish it (protection). So you just buy his insurance.
“After the election, he doesn’t get a ... thing. If he gets shot, it’s too damn bad. Do it under the basis, though, that we pick the Secret Service men.
“Understand what I’m talking about?”
Isn’t that little Rove boy just the cutest thing?
Robert Luskin, a lawyer for Mr. Rove, said the material released Tuesday demonstrated that there was “absolutely no evidence” the White House had used inappropriate political motivations to punish federal prosecutors. Mr. Luskin said Mr. Rove and other White House aides were legitimately concerned about voter fraud and were debating “completely reasonable and legitimate policy questions.”
I have a fat and constantly growing file of FBI stupidity, inefficiency, incompetence, bribery, theft, entrapment, perjury, burglary, and murder. But this — this — still surprised. To think of such a thing requires a mind of vileness beyond the imagination of decent people. To carry it out is unspeakable.
…But Boyd, a 41-year-old mother of five and U.S.-born convert to Islam, reserved her sharpest comments for what she called a cruel trap that law enforcement authorities set up to get her out of her house Monday while agents scoured it for documents after the arrest of her husband, two sons and four other men.
Boyd, whose family lives in the Johnston County community of Willow Spring, described a harrowing experience Monday afternoon when she answered the door to find a man she thought was a family friend wearing a shirt that appeared to be bloodied. He told her that Daniel and their three sons, Dylan, Noah and Zakariya, were in a serious car crash. He asked her to get into a Highway Patrol cruiser that would take her to Duke Hospital, where they were being treated.
Boyd summoned her daughter and pregnant daughter-in-law. They wrapped their heads in scarves, grabbed their Qurans and flew out the door. For Boyd, it was a particularly painful experience. Her 16-year-old son, Luqman, died in a car crash near their home in 2007.
When they arrived at Duke Hospital, the cruiser took them to a construction site at the rear of the facility. A man dressed as a doctor came out and asked whether she was the wife. When she said yes, he extended his hand. She told him she does not shake men’s hands. He then grabbed her wrist and handcuffed her.
“I’m not a doctor. I’m an agent and your family is not in the hospital,” he told her. “You’re being detained, and you need to cooperate with us.”
Boyd estimates she was then surrounded by 30 agents who frisked her and asked whether she had weapons or weapons of mass destruction…
U.S. District Attorney George E. B. Holding declined to respond to Boyd’s version. “I am sticking to the four corners of the indictment. We try our cases in court and won’t go back and forth before then,” he said Tuesday.
Holding, you will be unsurprised to learn, is a piece of legal litter left over from the George W. Bush administration. He is a fat rich kid who owes his job to that unspeakable embarrassment from North Carolina, the late Senator Jesse Helms.
One of Obama’s most puzzling failures has been leaving so many George Holdings in their U.S. Attorney jobs, bad aftertastes from the most disgraceful period in the history of the Justice Department. When you move into a new house, it’s a good idea to clear out the old owner's garbage.
Once again it develops that denial is not just a river in Egypt:
Chris Mozilo, nephew of Angelo R. Mozilo, the former chief executive of Countrywide Financial — a name synonymous with the subprime disaster — recently started a new business, eModifyMyLoan. It sells software that homeowners can use to apply for loan modifications.
Chris Mozilo worked at Countrywide for 16 years. “I’m very proud of my career in mortgage lending,” he said. “We helped millions of people achieve the goal of homeownership.”
Steal from Goldman Sachs and the FBI’s all over you like crows on roadkill. Goldman Sachs steals from you? Not so much. The worst that could happen is they make you Secretary of the Treasury.
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A former Goldman Sachs computer programer accused of stealing secret trading codes from the investment bank was being held in federal custody on Monday, pending the posting of $750,000 bail.
Sergey Aleynikov, 39, was ordered by U.S. Magistrate Kevin Nathaniel Fox in Manhattan on Saturday to post a $750,000 personal recognizance bond to be secured by three financially responsible people…
He is accused of “theft of trade secrets” related to computer codes used for automated stock and commodities trading at an unspecified financial institution. Sources familiar with the situation have told Reuters columnist Matthew Goldstein that the financial institution is Goldman Sachs.
Moreover, a public-relations maxim of the Bush White House and its press officers was to shorten the lifespan of any bad press to make sure that it got out as widely as possible to as many major news organizations on the same day. For example, in February of 2006, after learning that The New York Times was going to run a story about an administration program to covertly obtain bank records to track down potential terrorists, the White House briefed reporters from the competing Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times so that they would all be able to publish the story that same night.
The case study of what occurred in that instance became the playbook for how public-relations specialists for the administration handled minimizing the impact of bad news and putting their own spin on it: Get everything out everywhere at once, get it out to authoritative news sources, and get your version out first.
After [Arizona U.S. Attorney] Charlton’s firing, there was speculation in the media that it may have been due to his pursuit of Renzi. (Charlton himself never publicly suggested that that was the case.) Yet the report into the firings of the U.S. attorneys concluded there was “no evidence” of that.
Charlton was targeted, the report said, because he clashed with Gonzales over a death penalty case. Charlton wanted the Justice Department to foot the bill for recovering a murder victim from a landfill to make absolutely sure the forensic evidence supported the conviction. Gonzales refused. “I didn’t want to be left to wonder a year later, or 10 years later, or 20 years later whether a life might have been taken unjustly just to appease some political paradigm,” Charlton said.
The first excerpt came as a surprise to me, although I spent a good many years as a press officer for a U.S. Embassy, the Carter campaign, and the Federal Aviation Administration. Silly me, I never thought of (or heard of) diluting the news value of a reporter’s story by leaking it immediately to the competition.
As to the second, no great news there, I guess. Just another example, no more ripe than a hundred others, of the schweinerei that Bush and Rove made of the United States Justice Department. Who would have expected the ineffable Alberto Gonzales to spend the taxpayers’ money just to find out if a condemned man was really guilty?
While we’re on the subject of disgusting greedheads (see previous posting), let’s take a look at what the banksters are up to as well. You knew the current run-up in gas prices wasn’t plain old Econ. 101 stuff, didn’t you? A simple case of supply and demand?
Here’s why you were right. The excerpts are from McClatchy Newspapers, which have been out in front of the MSM on this story, as on so many others.
June 12: Oil prices shot past $72 a barrel this week, and a growing number of experts point to Wall Street speculators as a key reason why Americans are suddenly paying a lot more for oil and gasoline…
May 20: …This turns oil futures contracts into a way for investors to hedge against inflation at the expense of American consumers, who have to pay more to fill their gas tanks as oil and gasoline prices rise.
Masters and other critics say this speculative flow of money into commodities markets is a self-fulfilling prophecy that’s distorting the usual process by which buyers and sellers set prices and is driving up the prices of oil, gasoline, grains and other essentials…
And for facts and figures, see the PDF from which the following summary comes:
In our new world of trillion dollar Wall Street bailouts, $110 billion does not seem as shocking as it once did, but this number must be put it in perspective. The U.S. Congress and President Bush passed the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 in February of last year. It called for tax rebates of between $300 and $600 per person. By the time this stimulus finally reached the average American, the high cost of energy and food prices had nearly canceled out the entire economic benefit of the bill. At that point, the Stimulus bill simply helped Americans pay the “excessive speculation tax” levied on energy and other commodities…
Once again we have William Jefferson Clinton, Wall Street’s BBBB (Butt Boy Before Bush), to blame for this disaster. Him and his Treasury Secretary, the sainted Robert Rubin of Goldman Sachs. Here’s Jim Hightower on this point:
Why is this allowed? Because the Commodity Futures’ Modernization Act of 2000 included a provision that was quietly tucked into the law by then-Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, specifically prohibiting any regulation of such commodity-based derivatives. Among the enthusiastic backers of this legalized thievery were Robert Rubin, the Wall Streeter who was Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary, and his protege, Larry Summers, who is now Barack Obama’s chief economic advisor.
This bipartisan cabal created a speculative mechanism that’s presently sucking money out of your pocket with every gallon of gas you pump. Meanwhile, every dollar that Goldman, Morgan and the rest use to inflate oil prices is a dollar they are not investing in real economic activity that could create middle-class jobs…
Wonderful post on unions by Joe Bageant today. The taste below contains a quote — the one about one man, one vote — that was new to me. The unnamed speaker had nothing to worry about. In two short years the Supreme Court would solve his problem by ruling in Buckley v. Valeo that money was the functional equivalent of votes: the more of the former you had, the more of the latter you could buy.
If a few pricks and gangsters have occasionally seized power over the dignity of labor, countless more calculating, bloodless and malevolent pricks — the capitalist elites — have always held most of the cards — Gould could sneer, “I can always hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” And why a speaker at the U.S. Business Conference Board in 1974 could arrogantly declare, “One man, one vote has undermined the power of business in all capitalist countries since World War II.” And why that same year Business Week magazine said, “It will be a hard pill for many Americans to swallow — the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more. Nothing in modern economic history compares with the selling job that must now be done to make people accept this new reality.”
I am particularly sickened by stories like this because one of my sons is a physician who has spent the last 20 years of his life preparing for a career in the management of pain.
That he could be jailed by some cruel and ambitious prosecutor is appalling. That his equally innocent patients could be sentenced to a life of pain by a cruel system of criminal “justice” gone mad is even worse.
Presently, I face going to a Federal penitentiary for the next 24 years and eight months without possibility of parole for a CRIME THAT NEVER HAPPENED. My family is devastated, not only because I’m facing a prison term, but they witnessed what my wife of 23 years and I went through during the grueling years of my medical training, at such an advanced age (I graduated medical school at age 42). It makes no sense that I, as a 53 year old physician, would suddenly get involved in the drug trade when I’ve spent years lecturing to students about the abuse of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. I also spoke about teenage pregnancy, getting an advanced education (doesn’t have to be college). As an aside…imagine a product of the ghetto, becoming a board certified physician, Chief of Staff of a hospital, and Chairman of the Alabama Army National Guard Medical Board! Yet, the DEA and the U.S. Justice Department would have the general public believe that I was a common street-level drug dealer. What “profile” were they using?
For more of The Agitator’s coverage of pain treatment miscarriages of justice, go here and scroll around. Frightening stuff. A sample:
One red flag the government uses, for example, is to look for physicians who simply prescribe a raw number of pills that investigators say is too high, a practice pain advocates say has made doctors afraid of engaging in the high-dose opiate therapy course of chronic pain treatment that’s been so effective. Other red flags include doctors who spend what investigators say is too little time with patients to make an accurate diagnosis, a problem pain advocates say has become increasingly common not because more doctors are selling scripts to addicts and drug dealers, but because the few doctors who do still treat chronic pain are overwhelmed with patients whose former doctors have been arrested, stripped of their licenses, or run out of business by investigations.
If you set out to completely discredit the bankers and eviscerate their political power, you’d proceed exactly as Obama has done, enabling it to reach its reductio ad absurdum conclusion of fat bonuses and tax-funded bailouts in the trillions of dollars, at which point the public will rise up in fury, doing the work which was impossible for you, a new “liberal” president…
What better way to trigger “change” that even the banking Aristocracy are powerless to stop than to give them everything they want: no restrictions on stupendous bonuses, no punishment or prosecution, no mark-to-market rules with actual bite, no limits on accounting legerdemain, and on and on and on?…
And what will be the result? A complete repudiation of the entire Bush/Treasury/banker bailout and “free pass” to further plundering. And when the public rises up in righteous fury, then you appear to bend, almost reluctantly, to “the public will.”
This is from a review of Richard Posner’s new book, A Failure of Capitalism. The reviewer is MIT’s Robert M. Solow, who won the 1987 Nobel Prize in economics.
It seems to me that effective limits on leverage, even if they have to be different for different classes of institutions, are basic to controlling the potential instability of the financial system. Even with more transparency, extreme leverage is what generates extreme uncertainty and systemic risk.
And it also encourages the dangerous compensation practices that Posner pillories. Leverage allows a clever player to manage enormous sums; it is then irresistible to focus on the short run and skim off mind-boggling paychecks and bonuses before the opportunity goes away…
The financial system does have a useful social function to perform, and that is to make the real economy operate more efficiently. Some human institution has to collect a nation's savings and put them at the disposal of those who have productive ways to use them. Risks arise in the everyday business of economic life, and some human institution has to transfer them to those who are most willing to bear them.
When it goes much beyond that, the financial system is likely to cause more trouble than it averts. I find it hard to believe, and I suspect that Judge Posner shares my disbelief, that our overgrown, largely unregulated financial sector was actually fully engaged in improving the allocation of real economic resources. It was using modern financial technology to create fresh risks, to borrow more money, and to gamble it away.
The Rude Pundit is shocked, shocked— You can tell because he got through an entire paragraph without potty-mouthing.
But what doesn’t come through immediately is the answer to a simple question: why? Why did the Bush administration commit and allow (and encourage, if not force others to commit) what are, seemingly without a doubt, treaty-busting crimes? Because, see, you read something like footnote 10 on page 2 and you come across this line: “According to Gonzales, the ‘positive’ consequences of setting aside the Third Geneva Convention include ‘preserving flexibility’ and ‘substantially reduc[ing] the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act,’” and you realize that, whatever the motivation of the people involved, they didn’t care. And they didn’t care for a simple reason to answer that simple question: the Bush administration thought it was the beginning of an ascendant Republican reign and that they’d never be investigated.
We now know that CIA torturers waterboarded Khalid Sheik Mohammed precisely 183 times and Abu Zubaydah 83 times. That comes to 266 times in all. To get a full sense of what lies behind this number then, you must multiply what you will read below by 266.
I posted it on September 14, 2006, and repost it now to remind us of the exact nature of the crimes committed by Bush, Cheney, Addington, Libby, Tenet, Bybee, Ashcroft, Gonzales, Yoo and the many others in a chain of command that stretched directly from the Oval Office to the secret overseas torture chambers of the CIA. None of these criminals will ever be punished, because our part of the world doesn’t work that way. This isn’t Chile or Germany or Cambodia, after all.
Being of unsound stomach, I tuned out TV’s Monday wallow in the guilty pleasures of 9/11 and only just now came across Matt Lauer’s disturbing interview of Bush, a president.
The president’s body language comes straight from the barroom. He stands too close — into Lauer’s space, almost in his face. Since Bush is on TV, he can’t engage in the usual shoving ritual of the perpetually adolescent male. His jabbing finger, never quite making contact, has to do the job for him. Lauer stands his ground but does not jab back. It would cost him his job, as both men well know.
Lauer can use his words, though. And so he brings up the matter of waterboarding, a form of torture which Bush uses on suspected terrorists. But Bush, as both men also well know, can’t admit to that on TV. So the president, of course, lies. But then — twice, in the same prepared words — he goes on to tell us why he does the thing he doesn’t do:
I’m not going to talk about techniques that we use on people. One reason why is because we don’t want the enemy to adjust …
I’m not going to tell you specifically what’s done because I don’t want the enemy to adjust.”
Adjust? How can the enemy adjust? Grow gills?
Since the torturer Bush won’t tell us specifically what he has done, let’s turn to somebody to whom it was done half a century ago. This is from a 1958 book called The Question. The author, a French newspaper editor in Algeria named Henri Alleg, had already resisted a month of hideous torture at the hands of his own country’s paratroopers, including having his testicles burned. The worst was yet to come:
A few moments later L— came into the room. Twenty-five years old, short, sunburnt, pomaded hair, small forehead. He came up to me, smiling, and said, “Ah! So you’re the customer? Come with me…”
L— now laid on the ground a black plank, sweating with humidity, polluted and sticky with vomit left, no doubt, by previous “customers.”
I lay down on the plank. L—, with the help of another man, attached me by the wrists and ankles with leather straps fixed to the wood…
Together they picked up he plank to which I was attached and carried me into the kitchen. Once there, they rested the top of the plank, where my head was, against the sink. L— fixed a rubber tube to the metal tap which shone just above my face. He wrapped my head in a rag, while Captain D— said: “Put a wedge in his mouth.”
With the rag already over my face, L— held my nose. He tried to jam a piece of wood between my lips in such a way that I could not close my mouth or spit out the tube. When everything was ready, he said to me: “When you want to talk, all you have to do is move your fingers.”
And he turned on the tap. The rag was soaked rapidly. Water flowed everywhere: in my mouth, in my nose, all over my face. But for a while I could still breathe in some small gulps of air. I tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs for as long as I could.
But I couldn’t hold on for more than a few moments. I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me. In spite of myself, the fingers of both my hands shook uncontrollably,
“That’s it! He’s going to talk,” said a voice.
The water stopped running and they took away the rag. I was able to breathe. In the gloom, I saw the lieutenants and the captain, who, with a cigarette between his lips, was hitting my stomach with his fist to make me throw out the water I had swallowed. Befuddled by the air I was breathing, I hardly felt the blows.
“Well, then?” I remained silent. “He’s playing games with us. Put his head under again!”
This time I clenched my fists, forcing the nails into my palm. I had decided I was not going to move my fingers again. It was better to die of asphyxia right away. I feared to undergo again that terrible moment when I had felt myself losing consciousness, while at the same time I was fighting with all my might not to die.
I did not move my hands, but three times I again experienced this insupportable agony. In extremis, they let me get my breath back while I threw up the water.
The last time, I lost consciousness.
M. Alleg, shown below in a 2004 photo, never broke under the torture and was sent away to ten years in prison, from which he escaped and fled to Czechoslovakia.
…along comes Jeff Stein at CQ Politics:
Rep. Jane Harman, the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington…In this sorry story of corruption and carreerism and high crimes, the most shameful player of all is The New York Times. We don’t expect much of Bush appointees and multimillionaire Blue Dog Democrats like Harman, after all. But like beaten curs that crawl back toward their masters, tails wagging, we still hope for the best from America’s best newspaper. Can there be any doubt that breaking the wiretap story on the eve of the 2004 election would have delivered us from evil for four more years?
And that, contrary to reports that the Harman investigation was dropped for “lack of evidence,” it was Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush’s top counsel and then attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe.
Why? Because, according to three top former national security officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times and engulf the White House…
Harman, he told Goss, had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the Times from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program.
In August of 2006 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a Justice Department lawyer named Steven G. Bradbury confessed his confusion over certain obscure terms used in the Geneva Conventions:
Although many of the provisions of Common Article 3 prohibit actions that are universally condemned, such as “murder,” “mutilation,” “torture,” and the “taking of hostages,” it is undeniable that some of the terms in Common Article 3 are inherently vague. For example, Common Article 3 prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment,” a phrase that is susceptible of uncertain and unpredictable application.
Bradbury was being too modest, however. More than a year before, he had already settled on at least one thing that does not constitute humiliation. Here it is, from a memo in May of 2005 to John A. Rizzo, a lawyer for the Central Intelligence Agency:
If the detainee is clothed, he wears an adult diaper under his pants. Detainees subject to sleep deprivation who are also subject to nudity as a separate interrogation technique will at times be nude and wearing a diaper.
If the detainee is wearing a diaper, it is checked regularly and changed as necessary. The use of the diaper is for sanitary and health purposes of the detainee; it is not used for the purpose of humiliating the detainee, and it is not considered to be an interrogation technique. The detainee’s skin condition is monitored, and diapers are changed as needed so that the detainee does not remain in a soiled diaper.…
This makes the matter plain. Forcing a prisoner to defecate in diapers while his jailers watch is not done with intent to humiliate, but simply to keep the man clean and healthy.
Bradbury does not address the possibility of collateral humiliation because for him intent is the main thing at issue. I find this argument convincing, and plan to use it if I am ever charged with murder for shooting Mr. Bradbury through the heart while intending merely to perforate his bowels.
Am I missing something? The newest wrinkle on the politic/private derivatives bailout, outlined in yesterday’s New York Times, is a new plan to include the everyday Main Street investors in the action.
Several hedge funds are involved. They would purchase a bundle of “toxic assets” and resell them in small lots to average investors. If the assets prove to be more valuable than the price paid, the small investors will, theoretically, profit. If the “toxics” prove to be worth less than the big funds paid, then the little investors lose.
Hold on now. As part of the plan to lure Wall Street’s big players to the game, the United States is guaranteeing the loans the big guys will use to leverage their investments in “toxics,” so they can buy more. If the deal turns sour, the big firms are to be held harmless on their loans and the taxpayers eat the losses.
How about Main Streeters? If they borrow, say $500 against $500 in cash to buy some of the small lots, and the underlying deal goes South, they get no such protection from the U.S. Treasury.
Frank Partnoy in his book Fiasco says, “…the history of finance is: Wall Street bilks Main Street.” Unless I’m missing something, this time the U.S. government is helping out Wall Street to achieve its primary purpose: to screw the little guy. Maybe we should ask Obama aides Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin, major defenders of derivative trading. Perhaps they will help?
Interesting development. Maybe we’ll find out if my theory (two posts down) has anything to it. Judge Sullivan is an old friend and former colleague of Attorney General Holder, who is by today’s announcement taken off the spot.
Holder no longer has to investigate his own department — a job which, if vigorously done, might alienate DOJ’s career bureaucrats and would certainly bring charges of partisanship from the GOP. If the investigation turned into a whitewash, on the other hand, the attacks would come from the Democratic left.
But if done by Judge Sullivan, tough noogies. He’s got life tenure.
WASHINGTON — A federal judge today set aside a jury’s guilty verdict and the indictment against former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, then announced he was appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the government attorneys in the case for failing their constitutional duties to ensure a fair trial…
Holder said an internal investigation had been launched into the matter, but Judge Sullivan said he was not content to allow the Justice Department’s probe to serve as punishment for the lawyers involved in the case. He said he had asked a former military judge, Henry Schulke III of Washington D.C., to investigate the conduct of five prosecutors in the case for potential obstruction of justice.
They are: the head of the Justice Deparment’s Public Integrity Section, William Welch; the lead trial attorney, Brenda Morris; two trial attorneys in the Public Integrity Section, Nicholas Marsh and Edward Sullivan; and two assistant U.S. Attorneys in Alaska, Joseph Bottini and James Goeke…
I need a little help from all you lawyers out there. In the coverage of the prosecutorial misconduct in ex-senator Ted Stevens’s trial, I haven’t seen a single mention of what seems to me at least a strong possibility.
Did the prosecutors from Bush’s Justice Department throw the case deliberately?
Consider the time line. The longest-serving Republican senator in history is facing corruption trial on charges so solid the chances of an acquittal were almost nonexistent. And at the same time, he’s up for reelection.
Normally the trial would have dragged on till the election was safely past, but unfortunately the charges were already public. Made public by whom? Why? Wouldn’t Rove’s sock puppets in the Justice Department simply have buried the whole matter?
Maybe they couldn’t. Maybe they knew somebody in the Alaska office would blow the whistle if a cover-up occurred. Was there such a somebody? We’ll get back to that.
Meanwhile, indulge me. Assume the prosecutors were afraid to deep-six the case for fear of being exposed. They make this known to Stevens. How can they possibly get him off the hook and back in the Senate so the Democrats won’t have a filibuster-proof majority?
The only thing they can come up with is for Stevens to ask for the trial to be speeded up so as to get it out of the way before the election. But that would only serve everybody’s purposes if the verdict were not guilty — and the evidence against him is overwhelming. Maybe that doesn’t matter, though.
Knowing that a guilty verdict (reached eight days before the election) was otherwise inevitable, mightn’t they have sabotaged their own case so that the judge would declare a mistrial — as he almost did on one occasion.
That would position the Republicans to argue that Stevens was an innocent man who deserves re-election — exactly the argument that they are in fact making today, now that Obama’s attorney general has moved to drop all charges.
Now let’s go back to why the case wasn’t just buried in the first place. Yes, there was a straight arrow on the prosecution side who was very likely to go public if the Bush Justice Department tried to bury the case. He is FBI agent Chad Joy, and he did indeed wind up filing a complaint against the FBI’s lead agent in the investigation.
I admit this sounds far-fetched, but then desperate times may have called for desperate measures. The thing that has puzzled me from the beginning is the blatant tactics of the prosecution. Time after time they seemed to be begging the judge to call them on their unconstitutional concealment of exculpatory evidence from the defense team.
And there wasn’t even any point to hiding that evidence: the charge was taking something of value in return for services rendered, not whether the renovation of Stevens’s chalet was only worth $80,000 rather than three times that. Either way Stevens is whoring out his office; how much he charges clients is legally irrelevant.
The only explanation for the prosecutors’ conduct that even vaguely makes sense to me is a calculated decision on their part to shoot themselves in the foot.
A big piece of the puzzle still missing — at least from any of the stories I’ve read — is the actual makeup of the prosecution team. The U.S. Attorney in Anchorage may be assumed to be a creature of Rove’s, but maybe not. The office seems to have been headed for the last couple of years by interim appointees. Career prosecutors, Bush hacks? Both? Were they vetted by the ineffable Monica Goodling?
If my idea is crazy or impossible, somebody explain to me what other explanation there could be. As Rachel Maddow says, talk me down.
Larisa Alexandrovna is properly outraged that the sleazy Alaskan bagman Ted Stevens is catching a break from Obama’s Justice Department while the Bush holdovers who railroaded Don Siegelman, et al., for Karl Rove are still in their DOJ jobs. See it all here.
Misconduct won't be tolerated, right? Then someone explain to me why Alice Martin and Leura Canary are still US Attorneys? And someone also explain to me why Stevens is the priority? No really, not Don Siegelman, not Paul Minor, not Wes Teel, not John Whitfield, and not countless others. Ted Stevens apparently gets to go to the front of the line. Why?
Brother Bill thinks we should take a look at the complete transcript (excerpts below) of Fareed Zakaria’s interview on CNN with Eliot Spitzer. As indeed we should. Spitzer, for all you recent arrivals from Mars, was forced out as New York’s governor by a huge mob of sinners, each determined to cast the first stone. Is this a pathetic country or what?
[AIG’s problems] stemmed from an effort from the very top to gin up returns whenever, wherever possible, and to push the boundaries in a way that would garner returns almost regardless of risk. And so, to the extent that there is a discussion, did this begin before or after the tenure of Hank Greenberg, it’s unambiguous — unambiguous that the structures and the flaws and the policies began while he was there. That is why the board that he had controlled with an iron fist asked him to leave. It was their decision — not my decision, their decision — to ask him to step down, something that was then and is now very unusual…
Back then I said to people, AIG is at the center of the web. The financial tentacles of this company stretched to every major investment bank. The web between AIG and Goldman Sachs is something that should be pursued…
Financial services doesn’t really generate wealth. Financial — the capital markets are designed to raise money and then apportion it to industries that are creative, whether it’s biotech or automotive, or anything else.
Financial services should be a conduit. Instead, we became enamored of the products themselves. And what resulted was this enormous bubble in assets, ginned up and supported by a financial services sector that, because of a series of improper incentives, got us to where we are right now…
And any time I hear the SEC say, we didn’t have the power to do this or that, forget it. They had more people, more power, more money than was necessary. What they lacked was the creativity and the will…
For one-stop shopping on the AIG swindle, you won’t find a better explanation than this one by Matt Taibi in Rolling Stone. Excerpt from a much longer piece:
The latest bailout came as AIG admitted to having just posted the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history — some $61.7 billion. In the final three months of last year, the company lost more than $27 million every hour. That’s $465,000 a minute, a yearly income for a median American household every six seconds, roughly $7,750 a second.
And all this happened at the end of eight straight years that America devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat to no avail, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society and was unable to spot holes in the national economy the size of Libya (whose entire GDP last year was smaller than AIG’s 2008 losses).
So it’s time to admit it: We’re fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we’re still in denial — we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream…
The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron — a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers…
If President Obama forces AIG to break those outrageous bonus contracts America as we know it will come to an end. China will call in our notes. Gibraltar will tumble, the Rockies will crumble.
Or so goes the line being peddled right now not only by the administration and Wall Street, but also by significant voices in the media. For instance New York Times financial writer Andrew Ross Sorkin, who today treated this argument with ludicrous respect:
“This isn’t just a matter of dollars and cents,” [President Obama] said. “It’s about our fundamental values.”
On that last issue, lawyers, Wall Street types and compensation consultants agree with the president. But from their point of view, the “fundamental value” in question here is the sanctity of contracts.
That may strike many people as a bit of convenient legalese, but maybe there is something to it. If you think this economy is a mess now, imagine what it would look like if the business community started to worry that the government would start abrogating contracts left and right.
And so on. And so forth. Read the piece and shudder for the Republic.
For God’s sake, get a grip, Sorkin. Even the dimmest sports fan knows that contracts, far from being sacred in American business or American courts, are broken every day. It is a standard, recognized business practice. Every mergers and acquisition hustler knows it; every Hollywood agent knows it; every CEO and every labor leader knows it. Potted plants know it. Birds and bees know it. Deep down, even financial writers for the Times must know it. So let’s slice the feces here, okay?
And Papa Bonk most certainly knows it, so I’ll yield the remainder of my time to the gentleman from Ketchup Is a Vegetable:
Secretary Geithner recently had one of those Lady or the Tiger choices to make. Except in his case, the doors were clear glass.
Behind one of them stood a beautiful woman dancing the mambo and singing a freedom song. That door was marked… “Just say no to AIG Bonuses.”
Behind the other door stood Barney Frank in a tiger suit backed by a mob of unemployed factory workers carrying pikes, hot tar and feathers. That door read “Take the other door, stupid.”
Secretary Geithner, wearing his Wall Street loafers with little tassels on them, a Brooks Brothers Suit and Ivy League club tie, consulted with his lawyers and set loose the mob.
Now you can’t fault a guy for listening to his lawyers, even when his lawyers are not making sense. I mean the lawyers told him he had to do it, right? If I had been his lawyer, here is what I would have told him. All contracts can be broken. The question is what do the parties do after the breach? The wronged party (in this case the AIG employees whose $165 million would not be paid) can always sue. They can also ask to settle for something else.
My advice would be let them sue. It would take from three to five years for the matter to be settled in court. In the meantime, I would have leaked to the press the fact that the Secretary had a hard balls meeting with AIG over bonuses and told them they would not be paid. The Secretary would instantly overcome a growing suspicion that the boy wonder is not so much wonder as boy. He would become a hard balls guy every bit capable of doing the tough job he has been handed. If asked about lawsuits, he would cavalierly answer, “That’s what we have lawyers for.”
To the notion that the U.S. Government does not have the authority to tell the company to abrogate the contracts, we should point out that we own 80 percent of the company. We could call a shareholders meeting and throw all the bastards out, including the CEO.
The President has done what he could to clean up this mess, but this should not have been necessary. The fact that this was a missed opportunity could not be lost on the President.
As seen on Wall Street:
(1) I support the Obama pay cap for CEOs of companies on the dole.
(2) My choice would be to cap them at the rate of a 4-star general or admiral, with max seniority.
(3) If you sent all Fortune 500 CEOs and their #2s to St. Elba, performance of their companies would not on average deteriorate. The “myth of the irreplaceable CEO” is just that — myth.
Another attractive element of the bailout. See the beauty of this? The government sends your tax dollars to Citigroup and Citigroup sends Citigroup’s taxes to its mail drops in the Caymans. This the American Way.
To illustrate the problem, Levin said the report found that Citigroup has set up 427 tax haven subsidiaries to conduct its business, including 91 in Luxembourg, 90 in the Cayman Islands and 35 in the British Virgin Islands. He said other havens include Switzerland, Hong Kong, Panama and Mauritius.
“We need to put an end to the use of offshore secrecy jurisdictions as tax havens,” he said. He noted that not all companies use such havens and some use far fewer than others. For example, he said, “Pepsi has 70 tax haven subsidiaries, while Coca Cola has eight; Morgan Stanley has 273, while Fannie Mae has zero; and Caterpillar has 49, while Deere has three.”
Joyful Alternative alerted me to some alarming but quite expected news on one of Bush’s pardons. Thanks to the blog Pardon Power for alerting Joyful to the details and links for the facts. The blog is mostly run by a large cadre of law professors. We have much to learn from them and I urge you to visit their blog or one of the ones in this group that covers your state. For example, here’s a link to Connecticut pardons as an homage to the founder of this blog. I’m not opposed to pardons. More often than not it is the right thing to do. I am opposed the the practice of selling pardons to the highest bidder by politicians. Prison for the politician is the appropriate remedy for this kind of conduct.
In short, this story connected to President Bush is “he bought his way out through campaign contributions to the Republican party.” As a lawyer, I’ve heard about these kinds of stories for years and many politicians have engaged in it. And other stories from South Carolina, including one I know to be true from a few years ago.
Here are some of the details of the Bush pardon saga. We are only at the beginning of the beginning and this kind of story just breaks your heart. Who can forget Marc Rich? From the NY Daily News comes the saga of one pardon which was bought and paid for. And I’m sure we can expect ten times as many from Bush as from Clinton as the number of criminals inside the administration is much greater and the Republican Party has depleted its funds as well, so get ready for more outrage.
President Bush pardoned a Brooklyn real estate developer accused of scamming hundreds of poor, minority homebuyers — and whose father donated $28,500 to the Republican Party this year.
Bush pardoned Isaac Toussie, 36, two days before Christmas in a gesture of mercy that outraged ex-customers who said they were duped into buying overpriced, defective homes.
Neither the White House nor the Justice Department would say why Toussie deserved the pardon, which clears his record of convictions in a 2003 guilty plea for mail fraud and lying to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Toussie admitted falsifying finances of prospective homebuyers seeking HUD mortgages.
His sentence was a “relatively mild” five months in prison and five months house arrest, a $10,000 fine and no restitution, one U.S. official said. Bush spokesman Tony Fratto said the administration does not discuss individual pardons. Toussie’s lawyer, Henry Mazurek, also declined to comment.
Federal Election Commission records show Toussie’s father, Robert, made his first political donation last April &mdash $28,500 to the Republican National Committee. On Aug. 7, U.S. Pardon Attorney Ronald Rodgers received Isaac Toussie&rsqo;s pardon petition, a Justice spokeswoman said.
“It clearly suggests a link between the pardon and campaign contributions,” said Melanie Sloan, an ex-prosecutor with the liberal group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The victims” federal suit charged the Toussies lured “inexperienced and low income inner city minority first-time buyers into purchasing homes that they could not afford.” The homes were overpriced by up to 50% and often defective, and the cost of mortgage payments was hidden, the suit said.
And Happy Holidays to all, now matter what your preference, or Happy No Holiday at all for those who choose not to participate in some of the ghastly practices of the season.
UPDATE: I never thought I’d see the day, but George Bush withdrew that pardon after he “found out” about the contribution. I’m sure there’s a very disappointed father out there, but for once I’ve got to give George credit. He did the right thing. But by the time Obama takes office, I’m betting that his administration will give the most pardons to members of that administration than any other in history. And then we’ll turn on the outrage again. If he doesn’t, I'll rank him up several notches. But don’t count on it. From Nixon to Ford to Reagan to Bush to Bush, they’ve all pardoned people within their own administrations. And the Bush administration has more reasons to do it for themselves than any other in history. But it still won’t absolve any of them from war crimes trials, whether now or 25 years from now. Cheney reminds me so much of the Nuremburg defendants it’s uncanny. That’s one transcript I’ve read quite a bit of, and the Bush Administration has many characters who mimic the Nazis more than most Americans realize. But score one for Bush for withdrawing this pardon. Score zero for whatever politician(s) told the father that he could get the pardon for his son for a monetary contribution. And it just adds further to the evidence that this is how this administration has operated everything. Pay to Play. Just not this time. Sorry Dad. They took your cash. Maybe they’ll give it back if they think you’re going to tell the Feds who promised you that pardon for the contribution. But don’t count on that. But I’m left wondering whether a pardon can be withdrawn once granted. I’m not sure it can. Here’s the NY Times update on the case.
This was Hunter S. Thompson’s last dispatch from the presidential campaign of 1972. Try substituting George W. Bush for Nixon and John Kerry for McGovern. It isn’t a perfect fit, but it’s close enough for government work.
This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms about killing anybody else in he world who tries to make us uncomfortable.
The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his imprecise talk about ‘new politics’ and ‘honesty in government,’ is really one of the few men who’ve run for President of the United States in this century who really understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon.
McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose, as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for.
Jesus! Where will it all end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?
It all ended on November 4 of 1972, when our nation of used car salesmen relected Richard Nixon in a landslide, George McGovern carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
This in spite of the fact that almost a month before election day the Washington Post had led the paper with a story that began as follows:
FBI agents have established that the Watergate bugging incident stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of President Nixon's reelection and directed by officials of the White House and the Committee for the Re-election of the President.
That’s how low you have to stoop.
The race for the world’s dumbest human has always been very tight, but folks, we finally have a winner:
CHICAGO – Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday on charges of conspiring to get financial benefits through his authority to appoint a U.S. senator to fill the vacancy left by Barack Obama’s election as president.
According to a federal criminal complaint, Blagojevich also was charged with illegally threatening to withhold state assistance to Tribune Co., the owner of the Chicago Tribune, in the sale of Wrigley Field. In return for state assistance, Blagojevich allegedly wanted members of the paper’s editorial board who had been critical of him fired.
A 76-page FBI affidavit said the 51-year-old Democratic governor was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps over the last month conspiring to sell or trade the vacant Senate seat for personal benefits for himself and his wife, Patti.
What puts Blagojevich over the top is that he did all this in full knowledge of the fact that the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois is Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the hard-nosed straight arrow ex-rugby player who nailed Mafia capo John Gambino, the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombers, World Trade Center bomber Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, and Cheney’s Cheney, Scooter Libby. Oh, yeah, in the Libby case he wrestled the New York Times to the mat as well.
If you AARP, better think twice. According to an article in Bloomberg News, they’re
charlatans, dishonest purveyors of overpriced products, con artists. Awe, never mind, let’s just come out and say it right. They’ve become a bunch of crooks, but maybe all of the above stated terms too. This article from Bloomberg spells out the extent of the racketeering in detail. Selected portions of the article appear below, but there is a lot more, so read the whole thing.
Arthur Laupus joined AARP because he thought the nonprofit senior-citizen-advocacy group would make his retirement years easier. He signed up for an auto insurance policy endorsed by AARP, believing the advertising that said he would save money.
He didn’t. When Laupus, 71, compared his car insurance rate with a dozen other companies, he found he was paying twice the average. Why? One reason, he learned, was because AARP was taking a cut out of his premium before sending the money to Hartford Financial Services Group, the provider of the coverage.
Laupus stumbled onto something that many members of the world’s largest seniors’ organization don’t know: The group, formerly called American Association of Retired Persons, collects hundreds of millions of dollars annually from insurers who pay for AARP’s endorsement of their policies.
AARP advertises that its Medicare supplemental insurance can save people thousands of dollars. While every type of supplemental policy sold by all companies must offer the same exact coverage under federal rules, AARP doesn’t sell the least expensive.
The AARP/UnitedHealth basic policy costs $582 a year more than a lower-cost competitor in New York and $428 more in Los Angeles, according to data on Medicare’s Web page. AARP spokesman Sohn says everyone should shop carefully.
Some members who didn’t quit have since concluded that their AARP-endorsed insurance costs are inflated. Richard Ostor of Indialantic, Florida, says he joined AARP seven years ago to get the lowest-cost car insurance.
He was satisfied with the insurance for a while -- until his rates started going up even though he had had no accidents or traffic tickets. In April, his AARP/Hartford premium rose to $950 a year. He shopped and switched to Geico after he found similar insurance for $640.
“AARP has great buying power, and people should be able to get the best deal,” says Ostor, 62, a retired divorce lawyer and bar owner. “AARP fell asleep at the switch or has a very sweet deal with The Hartford. This is unconscionable, what AARP has allowed to happen.”
Bill and Helen Cochran, an Abington, Maryland, couple who retired nine years ago, say they felt the same way when they learned they were paying more than they had to with AARP’s Medicare supplemental insurance.
AARP-endorsed life insurance policies are also more expensive than comparable coverage by competitors, says Mark Maurer of Tampa, Florida-based Low Load Insurance Services Inc., which sells policies to seniors.
A New York Life $50,000 permanent life insurance policy for a 65-year-old man available through AARP costs $286.17 a month, Maurer found. He says the same man can buy a $50,000 policy for 51 percent less from Cincinnati-based Columbus Life Insurance Co.
Where does all this money go? Well, in 2001, Horace B. Deets, executive director of AARP, earned $369,000, plus $141,806 in retirement benefits according to the NY Times. What does the executive for this organization earn now? It’s gone up quite a bit since 2001.
According to Charitywatch.org, William D. Novelli, Secretary & CEO and executive for the AARP Foundation & AARP, respectively, earned a total salary of $902,171. Too bad Social Security benefits haven’t risen that much in that time.
We may add this
gentleman person to our wanted posters collection, this one with a nice title and picture stating “Wanted for Ripping Off Old Poor People”. Plastering the posters all over his neighborhood and the places he visits such as Country Club entrances, etc. would seem to be a nice gesture to show the gratitude that poor retirees must feel for the rip off policies peddled by his organization. And just think, this guy probably feels he “earned” his salary.
And in case you don’t know, the picture below is one of a house belonging or formerly belonging to one of the Irish Travelers of South Carolina. If you don’t know what many of them do, I urge you to take a look at this article. Mr. Novelli might want to find a house in this group’s location in Aiken, South Carolina. He’d probably feel right at home among this crowd.
A memo to all hands from White House chief of staff Joshua B. Bolton, dated May 9, 2008:
The President has emphasized that the American people deserve a regulatory system that protects and improves their health, safety and environment … We need to continue this principled approach to regulation as we sprint to the finish, and resist the historical tendency of administrations to increase regulatory activity in their final months…
Except in extraordinary circumstances, regulations to be finalized in this Administration should be proposed no later than June 1, 2008, and final regulations should be issued no later than November 1, 2008…
Agencies should provide adequate time for necessary analysis, interagency consultation, robust public comment, and a careful evaluation of and response to these comments.
How’s that working out for you, Josh?
WASHINGTON — The Labor Department is racing to complete a new rule, strenuously opposed by President-elect Barack Obama, that would make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job…
With the economy tumbling and American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush has promised to cooperate with Mr. Obama to make the transition “as smooth as possible.” But that has not stopped his administration from trying, in its final days, to cement in place a diverse array of new regulations.
The Labor Department proposal is one of about 20 highly contentious rules the Bush administration is planning to issue in its final weeks. The rules deal with issues as diverse as abortion, auto safety and the environment.
One rule would make it easier to build power plants near national parks and wilderness areas. Another would reduce the role of federal wildlife scientists in deciding whether dams, highways and other projects pose a threat to endangered species.
Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzalez and a covey of Judges indicted in Texas. There are many stories coming out of Texas on these indictments. Here are a couple. Google News has dozens if not hundreds more.
Poking around on The Nation’s website yesterday I came across a piece of mine from November of 1982. As it has no relevance at all to tomorrow’s election, I thought it might be a welcome break.
It has no relevance because neither Obama nor McCain will do a damned thing to curb our dangerous, dysfunctional, incompetent, insanely expensive and mostly useless intelligence community.
Useless? Are you nuts? No, I don’t think so. How do you suppose we stumbled along for all those centuries from 1776 to 1947, when Harry S Truman, the father of the Cold War, fathered the CIA?
The only thing I’d add to the following is that the U.S. ambassador to Morocco, a toady to despots named Henry J. Tasca, later became a footnote to history when it was revealed during the Watergate investigation that in his next posting he had acted as a bagman for Nixon, carrying campaign contributions to him from the despicable junta of colonels who ran Greece in those days.
Oh, and D— has since published his memoirs, so that he can now be revealed as Larry Devlin. He claims in his book to have refused an order to assassinate Lumumba in the Congo, to which he returned after his retirement to represent the De Beers diamond cartel.
Anyway, here are:
Years ago there was a really good murder in the upstate New York town where I was a cub reporter. The newsmagazines, the wire services and the seven New York City dailies all sent reporters. But the little Middletown Times-Herald managed to stay out in front of these out-of-town hit-and-run artists, because we knew the territory. So when an eyewitness to the killing turned up, we got the tip.
The managing editor sent me to interview the man, an unemployed laborer with kids to feed. When he seemed reluctant to talk, I encouraged him with $25 of the paper’s money. Not only did we beat the competition with his dramatic eyewitness account, we beat them again the following day with the story of how he flunked a lie detector test in Albany.
I listed the $25 on my expense account as “Bribe,” but the managing editor made me change it to “Miscellaneous Expenses.” I never paid for information again, on that newspaper or any of the others I worked for, even if it did seem like a good way to get imaginative stories.
The C.I.A. man gave me a holler as I walked by his office in our Casablanca consulate. Since I knew lots of people from my job with the U.S. Information Agency, he thought I might be able to identify some faces in a pile of photos he had. They had been taken at a party the Russians had given to mark the opening of their new consulate in town. (We had all been invited, but the American ambassador didn’t want us to go. He was frightened of the Russians, poor little man; maybe he thought they would infect us.)
I identified a dozen or so of the guests, but I didn’t know one particular man who was in so many of the photos that the C.I.A. officer thought he must be important. “Bill,” I said — that’s not his real name, naturally, since Reagan might jail me for ten years under the naming-of-agents act if I used it — “Bill,” I said, “all you had to do was go to the party and you could have been introduced to him.” It would have been a break for the taxpayers, too, not having to pay for an extra set of prints from the society photographers every time the Communists threw a party.
A Moroccan came to my office one afternoon to ask if I had seen that month’s copy of the magazine he published. It had a picture of dead Vietnamese on the cover, identified as victims of American bombing. The U.S.I.A. had sent him the picture a long time ago; it showed civilian victims of a Vietcong rocket attack.
“In Arabic we have a saying,” this poisonous little toad told me. “‘A man can bite, or a man can kiss.”’ Now that he had shown America his teeth, he was ready to kiss her. He would print anything we wanted in his magazine. We could even plant somebody in his office if we liked, to watch over our interests.
I told him he would just have to keep on biting, since the U.S.I.A. didn’t have funds for that kind of thing. “Well, there are some Americans in your embassy who do,” he said, and he was right. The C.I.A. pays to place garbage in rags like his. Of course I didn’t say that, because I was a diplomat, then.
One day I went out to the labor office in Khouribga, a Moroccan mining town, with our labor attaché Jim Mattson. (I can reveal his name because he was a State Department officer, not an intelligence op.) He was the only one of us in the consulate who spoke Arabic.
Afterward he told me what he had asked the labor officials: Did a man fill out a card when he registered for work? Where do you put the card then? Do you mind if I look? Where do you put his card after you find him a job? How long does the card stay in that file before you throw it out? How many are still in the file? And so on…
By the end he had learned plenty of things about the labor situation in Morocco’s biggest phosphate mining center. One of them was that the office provided jobs and benefits for practically nobody except the functionaries who worked there. Over the months and years, Jim had gotten to know more about Morocco than any of us, and that’s the way he did it. He just walked in and asked polite questions.
In my first week as the press attaché at our embassy in Laos, the C.I.A. station chief briefed me on what he thought I should know about his operation. (I won’t reveal his name, either, although it was on his parking bay in the embassy lot. The signs went like this: “Ambassador,” “Deputy Chief of Mission,” “USAID Director,” “Mr. D—.”) D— told me about many secret things, and I learned more elsewhere as time went on.
I never leaked them, but every one of them got out somehow and appeared in the papers sooner or later. It didn’t make any difference, though. We kept on doing them anyway, because Nixon and Kissinger felt they were things we ought to be doing. They kept on not working, too, and now Laos is a colony of Vietnam.
Reagan has fired William Kennedy, his U.S. Attorney in San Diego, for telling the newspapers that the Justice Department was blocking the indictment of a car thief named Miguel Nassar Haro. Nassar used to sunlight as chief of Mexico’s Directorate of Federal Security. He moonlighted not only as the head of a ring that stole cars in the United States for sale in Mexico but as a C.I.A. source on the rebels in El Salvador and Guatemala.
The incident raises disturbing moral and legal questions, unless you are as hard to disturb as the President and his Attorney General. It also raises two questions that are neither moral nor legal but just commonsensical.
This: if Reagan/Haig/Casey/Weinberger had known everything there was to know about the rebels in Central America — not just what a Mexican car thief could tell them, but absolutely everything — what would they have done about it? Anything different?
And this: if you pay a car thief to steal you a Chrysler, he will steal you a Chrysler; if you let him know you’re interested in Sandinista support of the Salvadoran rebels, what will turn up in your driveway?
More good news for Obama, from Sarah Palin and her team of mavericks:
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Gov. Sarah Palin’s signature accomplishment — a contract to build a 1,715-mile pipeline to bring natural gas from Alaska to the Lower 48 — emerged from a flawed bidding process that narrowed the field to a company with ties to her administration, an Associated Press investigation shows…
Despite Palin’s boast of a smart and fair bidding process, the AP found that her team crafted terms that favored only a few independent pipeline companies and ultimately benefited the winner, TransCanada Corp.
The leader of Palin’s pipeline team had been a partner at a lobbying firm where she worked on behalf of a TransCanada subsidiary. Also, that woman’s former business partner at the lobbying firm was TransCanada’s lead private lobbyist on the pipeline deal, interacting with legislators in the weeks before the vote to grant TransCanada the contract. Plus, a former TransCanada executive served as an outside consultant to Palin’s pipeline team.
Under a different set of rules four years earlier, TransCanada had offered to build the pipeline without a state subsidy; under Palin, the company could receive a maximum $500 million…
From today’s NY Times.
In point of fact, the dirty little secret of the banking industry is that it has no intention of using the money to make new loans. But this executive was the first insider who’s been indiscreet enough to say it within earshot of a journalist.
(He didn’t mean to, of course, but I obtained the call-in number and listened to a recording.)
”Twenty-five billion dollars is obviously going to help the folks who are struggling more than Chase,” he began. ”What we do think it will help us do is perhaps be a little bit more active on the acquisition side or opportunistic side for some banks who are still struggling. And I would not assume that we are done on the acquisition side just because of the Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns mergers. I think there are going to be some great opportunities for us to grow in this environment, and I think we have an opportunity to use that $25 billion in that way and obviously depending on whether recession turns into depression or what happens in the future, you know, we have that as a backstop.”
Read that answer as many times as you want — you are not going to find a single word in there about making loans to help the American economy. On the contrary: at another point in the conference call, the same executive (who I’m not naming because he didn’t know I would be listening in) explained that “loan dollars are down significantly.” He added, “We would think that loan volume will continue to go down as we continue to tighten credit to fully reflect the high cost of pricing on the loan side.” In other words JPMorgan has no intention of turning on the lending spigot.
That’s right folks. All that money you’re lending to the banks at the behest of the Bush Administration isn’t going to help consumers at all. The Democrats who supported this plan certainly didn't envision such naughiness by these corporations, but when they get in power, there's going to a price that these greedy banks are going to pay if they don’t open up the spigots soon.
Even if there is a depression, as the executive so glibly notes. No new loans, no money put on the street, all these guys wanted that money for was to “make acquisitions’. Hoover’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation worked the same way. Your only hope is to push Obama to become the next FDR and put a stop to these vile, evil banking executives who as usual, are looking to line their own pockets rather than save the economy or help consumers. Read Chris Dodd’s comment at the end of the article too. Unless his committee can cattle prod the bankers into acting rationally when they meet with them after the election, in his word’s “there will be hell to pay’s.
Get ready for the next great depression. It’s coming. Unless Obama can act quickly when he gets in to make these greedy banker bastards turn on the lending spigots.
I was married to a lady named Justice when I passed the Bar, the Committee on Character and Fitness confirmed my credentials and I took the lawyers oath in 1982. The old lady and I have been informally divorced for a number of years, but I continue to find Scott Horton’s blog, Harper’s No Comment to be the finest legal blog on the internet. There are a number of other non-legal blogs that I consider “the finest” of their ilk, including James Fallows’s blog at The Atlantic Magazine.
Today Mr. Horton delivers up another one of his fine and precisely worded works at his blog. A portion of the post follows, but to read the whole thing and get the included links necessary to understand the words provided here, you will need to directly visit Mr. Horton’s latest blog post. I provide herein a portion of Mr. Horton’s work from his blog in the space below:
Saturday the New York Times alerts us to a new opinion issued deep in the bowels of the Bush Justice Department. The decision emanates from the Office of Legal Counsel, an outfit stuffed to the gills with partisan hacks whose other criminal mischief includes a series of decisions issued to induce government operatives to engage in torture and other acts of official cruelty. The same hacks blessed the felonious surveillance of the communications of American citizens on terms which Attorney General Ashcroft and Deputy Attorney General Comey, neither a lion of civil liberties, considered untenable. According to the man who attempted in vain to clean up the office for Ashcroft, some of the opinions he was asked to render were designed–like the works of mafia consigliere — to provide a “golden shield” to protect policy makers at high ranks in the Administration from the near certain prospect of criminal prosecution. So dark are the works of this office that the Bush White House fervently wants to avoid them seeing the light of day.
When sunlight touches these writings, they tend to turn to dust. Exposed to the sanitizing criticism of the public, of Congress, and of the legal profession, they are revealed for works of glaring hackery. No proposition is too preposterous that it cannot be advanced in an OLC memorandum these days. They are now taught in law schools around the country as models of substandard, unprofessional and incompetent legal work.
But this week, the OLC coughed up another furball....
I promised another Beatles song earlier this week and here it is, sung by the incomparable Nina Simone. Another Simone song will follow next week, a post in which I will explain why I don’t agree with my good friend and mentor, Jerome Doolittle, one generation ahead of me in age and several in wisdom, in his previous post. I believe that the pen — or perhaps the keyboard — is mightier than the click, and will explain why.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Lawyers for Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska urged a judge Thursday to dismiss the corruption case against him because they said prosecutors had withheld evidence helpful to their defense…
The information involved an interview by an FBI agent with Bill Allen, the prosecution’s star witness. In the interview, Allen said he believed Stevens and his wife would have paid for the renovations to their home in Alaska if Allen had sent them a bill…
Stevens normally sits expressionless during the trial, but during Thursday's session he nodded his head vigorously while the judge rebuked the prosecutors.
The judge ordered the prosecutors to turn over to the defense all FBI interviews with witnesses without any redactions.
The new evidence involved an interview that had been turned over to the defense, but the key part of what Allen said — that the couple would pay if they had been sent a bill — had been blacked out.
And this is helpful to the defense how? Stevens has had his hand out for 40 years and every sentient businessman in Alaska must know by now how the game is played. You don’t leave a paper trail. And if you do leave one, the bill is paid and nobody in the senator’s office returns your phone calls. Ever.
Subject: Not Spam — Important Business Offer!!!
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I am working with Mr. Phil Gramm, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transaction is 100% safe.
This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.
Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.
Minister of Treasury Paulson
Read this excerpt from a short news piece in today’s Bloomberg knows and ask yourself one question: How likely is it that something like this was “just a coincidence”?
The market storm that brought down Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., American International Group Inc. and other pillars of U.S. finance may have also blown holes in the portfolios of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator John Kerry and more than 50 other members of Congress.
Pelosi, in her most recent financial disclosure form, reported that her husband owned between $250,000 and $500,000 of stock in AIG, which ceded majority control to the U.S. government this week in exchange for $85 billion of loans.
Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, disclosed that his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, had more than $2 million of AIG stock at the end of 2007, when shares were worth $58.30. AIG has fallen 85 percent this week to close yesterday at $2.69. The lawmakers’ aides didn’t respond to calls seeking comment.
Altogether, 56 senators and representatives had stakes in AIG, Lehman, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns Cos. or IndyMac Bancorp Inc. — some of the biggest casualties of the market bloodbath — according to the Center for Responsive Politics...
John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, avoided potential losses. Because of the Arizona senator's run for the White House, his wife, Cindy, last year liquidated a blind trust that had contained stock in AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Lehman. The amounts of stock she had owned weren’t disclosed.
Alright John and Cindy. It’s time to fess up. What did you own then, what do you own now and when did you sell or buy what’s in your current portfolio?
The sex-and-drugs scandal at the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service didn’t look at first as if it amounted to much: just a bunch of career bureaucrats on the take for peanuts. Meals and drinks and ski trips from oil companies.
But it’s starting to look as if this baby is developing real legs. The career guys were small fry maybe, but take a look at the big fish that McClatchy Newspapers have hooked:
WASHINGTON — Senior Justice Department officials blocked the U.S. attorney in Colorado from supporting a whistleblower’s suit last year, jeopardizing the government’s prospects for recovering as much as $40 million from a major oil company for its alleged underpayment of royalties.
U.S. Attorney Troy Eid said Washington overruled his request to enter the case against the Kerr-McGee Corp. A lawyer for the whistleblower said he was told that decision was made “at the highest levels” of the Justice Department, then run by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.…
Meanwhile, former MMS auditors have alleged in some of the 80 lawsuits that high-ranking Interior Department officials blocked them from issuing routine subpoenas seeking company records that could document the fraudulent underpayment of royalties…
Eid told McClatchy that he did not know who in Washington made the decision or why. LaFond said that Christian told him the decision was made “at the highest levels … It was clear that this case had political stuff written all over it…”
Porter and LaFond asserted that last week’s inspector general’s reports reflect “the tip of the iceberg” in the oil-leasing scandal.
Jack Grynberg, the owner of a Colorado petroleum company and a petroleum engineer, said he has identified 68 ways in which companies “steal” natural gas and oil by underreporting the amount pumped. Grynberg has filed more than 70 False Claims Act suits accusing other oil companies of $200 billion in theft, but said the Justice Department intervened in only two.
State officials have voiced concerns, too. In 2003, a year before Maxwell sued Kerr-McGee, a Louisiana official analyzed the company’s sale prices and emailed an MMS agent that that they were “far below” the market. The MMS agent said he was aware of the discrepancy.
You’ll recall that a few days ago Joe Biden sorta, kinda said that a Democratic administration would make Bush and his capos pay for their crimes. Well, it turns out that Biden sorta, kinda misspoke and his former statement is now inoperative. And so, as usual, crime pays:
I don’t know where that report is coming from. What is true is the United States Congress is trying to preserve records on questions that relate to whether or not the law has been violated by anyone.
Any administration — anybody should be doing that. And if it turns out after the fact that there is — there is substantial evidence that somebody violated the law, the fact they’re no longer in office — and no one’s talking about President Bush. I’ve never heard anybody mention President Bush in that context.
But, you know, there’s been an awful lot of unsavory stuff that’s gone on. And the mere fact that we — that it occurred in a previous administration doesn’t mean Justice Department, if, in fact, there’s evidence, shouldn’t pursue them. But I have no evidence of any of that. No one’s talking about pursuing President Bush criminally…
But, no, there is no — the Obama-Biden administration is not going to start off saying, “God, let’s go take a look at what” — the American people want to know what we’re going to do, not what happened.
From The Guardian, and about time:
Biden’s comments, first reported by ABC news, attracted little notice on a day dominated by the drama surrounding his Republican counterpart, Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
But his statements represent the Democrats’ strongest vow so far this year to investigate alleged misdeeds committed during the Bush years.
“If there has been a basis upon which you can pursue someone for a criminal violation, they will be pursued,” Biden said during a campaign event in Deerfield Beach, Florida, according to ABC.
“[N]ot out of vengeance, not out of retribution,” he added, “out of the need to preserve the notion that no one, no attorney general, no president — no one is above the law.”
From the Washington Post:
Since his conviction on fraud and conspiracy charges, former lobbyist Jack Abramoff has spent more than 3,000 hours helping more than 100 law enforcement agents in an ongoing federal corruption probe that has implicated “scores of other persons not yet charged,” lawyers said in court filings yesterday.
Is there a level of dishonesty that would embarrass Nancy Pelosi? It appears not.
Asked whether she classified herself as a “Washington insider” at a briefing sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Pelosi answered, “Oh, absolutely not. No.”
Who could possibly imagine that a mere 22 years in Congress made the daughter of a “prominent Maryland political family” part of the system? Just because she’s spent her time as Speaker of the House making sure Bush and Cheney get everything they want?
Pressed for an explanation, Pelosi said that being an insider is about a person’s “state of mind,” not their tenure in politics.
“Inside, outside — you have to know the territory so you can work it, but you never become a part of it”, she said.
This kind of dishonesty with herself helps us understand why she’s been so dishonest with us.
Cindy Sheehan for Congress! Honesty, for a change.
Evidently somebody at the White House knows how to use the Google. From Froomkin:
“Another prosecutor was rejected for a job in part because she was thought to be a lesbian. And a Republican lawyer received high marks at his job interview because he was found to be sufficiently conservative on the core issues of ‘god, guns + gays.’”
The report “found that White House officials were actively involved in some hiring decisions.
“According to the report, officials at the White House first developed a method of searching the Internet to glean the political leanings of a candidate and introduced it at a White House seminar called The Thorough Process of Investigation. Justice Department officials then began using the technique to search for key phrases or words in an applicant’s background, like ‘abortion,’ ‘homosexual,’ ‘Florida recount,’ or ‘guns.…’
Back in May I posted a sort of help-wanted ad for anybody who could put me in touch with a repentant former subprime mortgage broker. I wanted to post the actual selling scripts these subprimates worked from as they tricked the helpless and the clueless into lifelong debt servitude.
Nobody was able to help, but the Miami Herald had better luck than I did. There’s always an investigative team from a McClatchy paper around when you need one. Martha Bridegam of Demisemiblog sends this link to “Borrowers Betrayed,” the Herald’s probe of the pond scum, more than 10,000 of them with criminal records, who drove so many vulnerable Floridians into homelessness and bankruptcy.
The series focuses more on home loans than on subprime mortgages, though. And it doesn’t cover the actual sales pitches, selling scripts, and training manuals. So once again, please get in touch if you’ve got any leads. For contact info, click on the first link, above.
Chris Dodd is mad as hell and he isn’t going to take it anymore. In a speech yesterday, the senator from Connecticut started out attacking Bush’s plan to issue a get-out-of-jail card to the telecom companies who helped Bush to spy illegally on us all.
But he went on to attack Bush’s contempt for the entire rule of law, which exceeds even that of Richard Nixon. Here are excerpts, but do read or listen to the whole magnificent screed here.
So, why are we here? Because, Mr. President – it is alleged that giant telecom corporations worked with our government to compile Americans’ private, domestic communications records into a database of enormous scale and scope.
Secretly and without a warrant, those corporations are alleged to have spied on their own customers – American customers.
Here’s only one of the most egregious examples. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
Clear, first-hand whistleblower documentary evidence [states]…that for year on end every e-mail, every text message, and every phone call carried over the massive fiber-optic links of 16 separate companies routed through AT&T’s Internet hub in San Francisco — hundreds of millions of private, domestic communications — have been…copied in their entirety by AT&T and knowingly diverted wholesale by means of multiple “splitters” into a secret room controlled exclusively by the NSA…
A prisoner at Guantanamo — to take one example out of hundreds — was deprived of sleep over 55 days, a month and three weeks. Some nights, he was doused with water or blasted with air conditioning. And after week after week of this delirious, shivering wakefulness, on the verge of death from hypothermia, doctors strapped him to a chair — doctors, healers who took the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm”— pumped him full of three bags of medical saline, brought him back from death — and sent him back to his interrogators…
In which I thread some beads of the corruption nibbling at the American dream, nay, inhabiting it with a vengeance. In fact, it’s looking more and more like the approach of Nemesis, who you’ll recall is the goddess who brings havoc to you and your plans in payment for your hubris.
Among chessplayers you often hear that chess is life. In many ways this analogy holds up. In fact it’s really closer than an analogy: chess isn’t like life, it is life.
Life involves making decisions about what to do and what not to do, in situations where you can’t possibly gather all the information. In chess there are estimated to be around 1050 legal positions, with a game-tree size of 10123 (game-tree size is the total number of legal games, counting different move orders arriving at the same position as different games).
For comparison, estimates for the number of atoms in the universe are around 1080.
So you can’t possibly gather all the relevant information; yet you have to make a choice, there’s a clock ticking, and you’ll be stuck with that choice for the rest of the game. You need principles, plus the technique to execute them against resistance.
The decision-making process in chess is so similar to life that it’s a bit scary to consider the implications of machines beating the crap out of the best humanity has produced. But at least it’s a game of rules. Without ignoring the occasional accusations of cheating (by, for example, Kasparov against the Deep Blue team, or by Topalov against Kramnik in the famous World Championship Bathroom Controversy), we expect the outcome of the game to be determined by who played better.
If only life were like chess, and the winners were those who made the best decisions! If we chose our leaders on that basis, our quality of life would be much improved. We’d rid ourselves of servants of the dark side such as Cheney and Greenspan and Kissinger and Albright, and replace them with others like Feingold and Conyers and Kucinich and Waxman, people who find representation of the type envisioned in the Constitution more honorable than playing for Team America in the game of geostrategy.
But no. Corruption and war are profitable; and the war-maker rarely fails to draw greater praise. As Gibbon says:
…as long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters.
Perhaps this is another gift George Bush will leave us with: the realization that war has become a business, and not just any business but one central to our way of life; that the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about has taken control of our government by holding the economy hostage.
Perhaps we’ll decide, like the folks in Iain Banks’s Culture novels, that money’s just holding us up. When scarcity is the main problem, money provides a huge leg up. When you could feed everyone if you chose, but it’s not profitable enough so you don’t, you’re in essence killing people for money. And even from the purely economic point of view, if every individual were fed, clothed, housed, educated, and provided with transportation and medical care, how much more productive would we be as a group?
What keeps us from doing this? It’s not exactly corruption; bribes aren’t being paid, either explicitly or implicitly, to those who enforce the status quo. Unless you count the money spent on police, and the more numerous private security folks. Not to mention the various methods of enforcing that unusual system of economic class that Americans have evolved. It’s universal and not at all subtle, yet we often manage to ignore it.
To take a single example: I teach in six elementary schools in four districts each week of the school year. The educational opportunities presented to children differ significantly based on the cost of the house their families live in. That’s rational in our world, but I submit that nearly everyone would be much better off if we educated everyone to the highest standard we can manage. Rather than bombing some Asian village, for example. As Eisenhower said, every bomber we build is a school we don’t build. And bombers were dirt cheap back then.
I claim our socio-economic situation waxes and wanes as our ideas veer now toward and now away from a course parallel to reality. The corollary is that our current troubles are precipitated by a hole in our world-watching filters.
Americans are famous, or perhaps infamous, for their go-it-alone every-man-for-himself attitude. As Lisa said, how rebellious, in a conformist sort of way.
In reality everyone knows Americans love a winner. People who’ve never been to Los Angeles root for the Lakers because they think the Lakers will win (as if). Many people here in northern California root for the Patriots (once the 49ers have safely folded) despite not owning a single garment capable of withstanding the weather on a nice day at a Patriots game.
So when fans learn that their team’s best player is a rapist, or that their team taped competitors’ signals, reactions tend to fall into two groups. Some fans feel they’ve been let down by their stars or teams. Others prefer to ignore the revelations and blame the whole emotional mess on the media, or the InterTubes, or whatever: it’s all lies. This second group, one assumes, votes disproportionately for Bush.
Fortunately, there aren’t enough such people to elect him. Unfortunately, that doesn’t control who wins the elections. And corruption at the highest level of civic life sets a standard. Each new world chess champion initiates a fad for certain openings; each new administration has ripple effects throughout society.
So anyone who’s spent much time watching NBA games cannot be surprised to learn that former referee Tim Donaghy has accused the league of rigging games. Donaghy’s already been convicted of manipulating outcomes and is facing sentencing. In the plea letter his lawyer writes:
“Tim learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew Referees A and F to be ‘company men,’ always acting in the interest of the N.B.A., and that night, it was in the N.B.A.’s interest to add another game to the series.”
The game was refereed by three tenured veterans: Dick Bavetta, Ted Bernhardt and Bob Delaney. Bernhardt has retired from the league. Under N.B.A. rules, Bavetta and Delaney are not permitted to speak to the news media. However, Delaney, a former New Jersey state trooper, cast doubt on Donaghy’s claims in an interview with ESPN.
“This is not the first time a known or convicted criminal has lied about me before the judicial system,” Delaney said Wednesday. “I have an extensive law enforcement background, and still train police officers. I have dealt with criminals and informants, and I know full well they are capable of doing and saying anything.”
I’m assuming Delany means this to be reassuring, but somehow I don’t find it so. Are we to consider that NBA referees are no more corrupt than your hometown police force would be if it dealt constantly with the amount of money that circulates in professional sports?
Back in 2001 Milwaukee was playing Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference finals. George Karl, coach of the Bucks, later expressed the view that the league had decided Alan Iverson and his Philly teammates would be a better draw for the finals than the Bucks, so they arranged the calls to make that happen. He was fined $85,000, if memory serves, and got calls from several prominent players stating their agreement. (One of them was Kevin Garnett, as of this writing the best player in the NBA finals.)
The FBI has made inquiries about Bavetta, according to a former N.B.A. referee who was interviewed by federal agents last year.
Hue Hollins, who retired in 2003 and has been outspoken about the N.B.A.’s treatment of referees, said he met for about an hour with two agents from New York before last season.
In addition to asking questions about Donaghy, Hollins said the agents inquired extensively about Bavetta. They asked if he ever noticed that Bavetta “was making sure that the home team would win, and I told them I had no idea because I didn’t work with him a lot.”
Well, try watching a game. Bavetta is not the only one, but he’s one.
The most hilarious comment comes from perennial favorite Mark Cuban, who must know something about basketball; after all, he bought a team.
Mark Cuban, the outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner, who has been a leading critic of the N.B.A.’s officiating program, cast doubt on Donaghy’s claim that league officials had orchestrated anything.
“There’s no way on God’s green Earth that David Stern has ever done anything to influence the outcome of a game,“ Cuban told ESPN.com.
Spoken like a man still hoping to be admitted to the country club, and thus continuing to speak well of it even after being rejected. Nixon would have appreciated the number of outs left in that sentence. Suppose this particular earth isn’t God’s, for example? And besides, did anyone accuse Stern of rigging the games? No, it was the referees who did that; Stern orchestrated it. It’s like Bush and Cheney didn’t actually do the torture themselves, they had other people do it, but they ordered it. They’re not complicit, they’re responsible. Same with Stern, though there was no torture or killing involved (as far as I know).
This, to me, is what makes college basketball preferable, though in principle it shouldn’t be. There are few more amazing athletes in the world than NBA players, and the game they play involves much more useful civic virtues than, say, American football. College teams can reach the NCAA tournament with one or two players who’ll definitely make the NBA; three, and you’re an odds-on favorite for the whole thing. But look at the last four NBA teams standing: Los Angeles, San Antonio, Boston, and Detroit: three great teams and one great media market. The league admitted that the decisive call in the fourth game of the Western Conference final was wrong, but they figured that a Lakers-Celtics series would draw a much larger audience than Spurs-Celtics.
It’s the American way.
I’ve seen bits and piece of this before, but Christopher Ketcham has gathered them all under one roof in Radar magazine. Here are a few teasers from his long article; do read the whole thing.
It’s scary stuff, and the Department of Homeland Security is a scary outfit. Joe Lieberman’s brainchild, this product of multiple bureaucratic miscegenation has become the gold standard for incompetence, carelessness, callous indifference, and paranoia posing as prudence.
Under law, during a national emergency, FEMA and its parent organization, the Department of Homeland Security, would be empowered to seize private and public property, all forms of transport, and all food supplies. The agency could dispatch military commanders to run state and local governments, and it could order the arrest of citizens without a warrant, holding them without trial for as long as the acting government deems necessary…
In the late 1980s, the Austin American-Statesman and other publications reported the existence of 10 detention camp sites on military facilities nationwide, where hundreds of thousands of people could be held in the event of domestic political upheaval. More such facilities were commissioned in 2006, when Kellogg Brown & Root—then a subsidiary of Halliburton—was handed a $385 million contract to establish “temporary detention and processing capabilities” for the Department of Homeland Security…
According to the Washington Post, the Terrorist Identities list has quadrupled in size between 2003 and 2007 to include about 435,000 names. The FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center border crossing list, which listed 755,000 persons as of fall 2007, grows by 200,000 names a year…
If previous FEMA and FBI lists are any indication, the Main Core database includes dissidents and activists of various stripes, political and tax protesters, lawyers and professors, publishers and journalists, gun owners, illegal aliens, foreign nationals, and a great many other harmless, average people…
If Main Core does exist, says Philip Giraldi, a former CIA counterterrorism officer and an outspoken critic of the agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is its likely home. “If a master list is being compiled, it would have to be in a place where there are no legal issues”—the CIA and FBI would be restricted by oversight and accountability laws—”so I suspect it is at DHS, which as far as I know operates with no such restraints.” Giraldi notes that DHS already maintains a central list of suspected terrorists and has been freely adding people who pose no reasonable threat to domestic security…
Bush and his people are filth. More from the Washington Post on the cesspool they have made of the Department of Homeland Security. Go read it all.
“After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and after the Bush administration assumed a tough new stance on immigration in its campaign against terrorism, the Justice Department still sounded wary about drugging deportees. In March 2002, a Justice lawyer laid out two options. One choice, he wrote, was to “seek a court order … in every case where the alien’s medication is not therapeutically justified.” The other choice was to create a regulation to grant immigration officials explicit permission to sedate deportees, perhaps including safeguards that would give people a warning that they might be medicated — and a chance to object.
Top immigration officials chose neither. Instead, in May 2003, just after ICE was created, they internally circulated a new policy: “[A]n ICE detainee with or without a diagnosed psychiatric condition who displays overt or threatening aggressive behavior … may be considered a combative detainee and can be sedated if appropriate under the circumstances.”
From the normally mild-mannered Bob Herbert, in his New York Times column today. Wow.
…class is not a Clinton forte.
But it’s one thing to lack class and a sense of grace, quite another to deliberately try and wreck the presidential prospects of your party’s likely nominee — and to do it in a way that has the potential to undermine the substantial racial progress that has been made in this country over many years.
The Clintons should be ashamed of themselves. But they long ago proved to the world that they have no shame.
In all the coverage of the subprime mortgage mess, there has been a key element missing: the sales pitch.
This is where the rubber meets the road, where the actual swindle goes down, where the trap snaps shut and the sucker is held fast till he can be skinned alive. It is the Glengarry Glen Ross moment.
We must understand these moments when we listen to the head hogs — Countrywide, Merrill Lynch, Citicorp, AIG and the other giant loan sharks — as they whine that the whole disaster is all the fault of deadbeat borrowers who should have known better.
And these moments are all committed to paper somewhere, except I don’t know how to get my hands on it. So I’m asking for help. Does anybody out there know somebody who was or is involved with a subprime mortgage outfit?
These moneylenders don’t just send their high-pressure sales force into battle unprepared. Like any other high-pressure sales outfit, mortgage brokers must use work sheets, talking points, training manuals and even scripts. These are to be followed, sometimes word for word. That’s what it means when the voice on the phone says, “This conversation may be recorded for training purposes?”
Every reasonable objection the prospect may raise has been anticipated, and a suitably deceptive answer prepared. Every evasion and obfuscation and misdirection has been scripted. And I’d like to put this stuff on the internet where it belongs — not to expose or embarrass any individual, but to expose the shabby trickery of the foundation upon which the huge banking firms are built.
The most likely source for such documentation, it seems to me, would be a remorseful or disgruntled former employee of a mortage broker who hasn’t bothered to throw out the old scripts and manuals.
Do you know any such person? I would offer him or her, and you, complete anonymity of course. Written backwards, my phone number is 0075793068. In the same way, I can be reached on line here: email@example.com
The Headless Nail passes on this, from the Washington Post:
The House voted 238 to 179 yesterday to kill an Internal Revenue Service program that relies on private debt collectors to pursue scofflaws for back taxes.
Fourteen Republicans joined 224 Democrats in voting to shutter the two-year-old effort, which has the IRS on track to lose more than $37 million as it pays contractors to do what the government’s own tax experts say IRS agents could do more efficiently. Despite aggressive collection tactics, the contractors have brought in only $49 million in revenue, little more than half of what it has cost the IRS to implement the program.
In my opinion the single greatest issue arising from the immoral and inept and illegal Bush/Cheney misadministration is the blowback likely to be generated by the disasters we’ve wreaked around the world. We’ve made enemies of literally millions of people in Iraq alone; five million refugees, internal and external, plus a million dead, and who knows how many lives and bodies left shattered, most of them not initially predisposed to despising us. An economy and social structure in ruins; existing political instabilities exaggerated throughout the region; American and Israeli strength increasingly intertwined, and thus suspicion and guilt increasingly collective in nature.
How will Americans process that knowledge?
My guess is they’ll start with denial, but that river ain’t flowin’. We try to follow our beloved President down the cherry-blossom path, but like him we keep finding ourselves bewildered and deserted. Dana Milbank lists the countries whose governments have changed hands in one sense or another as polities around the world reject the Cheney approach. Spain, Italy, Poland, Japan, Britain, and Australia have all substituted Bush doubters for the Bush promoters who helped, or at least didn’t complain about, the war.
Bush’s pariah status has turned his Coalition of the Willing into a retirement community and given the president an unusual role in the domestic affairs of other countries. In Australia, one of Rudd’s predecessors as Labor leader, Mark Latham, got the top job after describing Bush as “the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory.” He further described members of Howard’s government as a “conga line of suckholes” to Bush.
Howard, in turn, expressed a view that al-Qaeda terrorists would be praying for a 2008 victory by Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular.
Bush enjoyed this mutual affection. “I can tell you, relations are great right now,” he said last year in Sydney, which was all but shut down by security measures needed to keep him safe.
Relations are perhaps not quite so great now, but Bush put on a brave face as he welcomed Rudd to the White House Friday. He called the 50-year-old premier a “fine lad” and even praised Rudd’s decision to pull out of Iraq. “I always like to be in the presence of somebody who does what he says he’s going to do,” Bush reasoned.
Rudd, touched by Bush’s manner, said he was designating the president as “an honorary Queenslander,” after the prime minister’s home state.
Will international hostility toward us decrease, as we flush the Bush presidency down the memory hole at top speed while people around the world continue to suffer from our latest war of aggression? Probably it will; there seem to be signs in international polls that the current political campaign has helped our image abroad, if only in showing a lot more engagement by Americans than the world has recently seen from us, and in reminding us all that the nightmare will soon end.
Now the question is, what do we do about it? By “it”, I mean the whole shebang. The Bush wars and the disasters they’ve created, not confined to Afghanistan and Iraq. The loss of honor involved in the revelations of systematic and institutionalized torture. The direct assaults on privacy and civil liberties. And perhaps most disgusting and frightening of all, the attempts to rob us of our most basic American right, to cast a vote that counts toward the decisions we as a nation must make.
If at this transitional moment we succumb to the ease of the remote and switch to another channel, we’ll miss a tremendous opportunity. We could recoup a large amount of the global goodwill that flooded our way after 9/11 if we were to repudiate the conduct and aims of the previous presidency. This to my knowledge the US has never done, but we need to make explicit public record that Bush, Cheney, et.al., violated both the letter and the spirit of our national institutions, and many cases our laws as well.
By default, those institutions will remain in their current configurations, ready for use by the next occupant of the Oval Office. Doubtless, the three most likely occupants will all employ the office with greater reverence for tradition and international coöperation than the current one. But will the next President agree to make warrantless wiretaps illegal? Or will we just agree to define “warrant” and “wiretap” so that whatever we’re currently doing is now okay?
The real question is whether the November election will bring the US to a realistic operating posture with respect to the rest of the world. We no longer dominate. We never should have tried. We can still lead by example, if we admit our mistakes and try to fix them. Or we can hunker down and wait for the incoming, hoping to be raptured.
Don Heiny sends this:
Well, I say that the Democratic Party changed. The Democratic Party today was not the party it was in 2000. It’s not the Bill Clinton-Al Gore party, which was strong internationalists, strong on defense, pro-trade, pro-reform in our domestic government. It’s been effectively taken over by a small group on the left of the party that is protectionist, isolationist and basically will — and very, very hyperpartisan. So it pains me. I’m a Democrat who came to the party in the era of President John F. Kennedy. It’s a strange turn of the road when I find among the candidates running this year that the one, in my opinion, closest to the Kennedy legacy, the John F. Kennedy legacy, is John S. McCain.
The speaker is the despicable Joe Lieberman, on ABC this morning. Here is some earlier moralizing from Holy Joe, Likud’s man in Connecticut and soon to be, if his wettest dreams come true, McCain’s man on the GOP ticket this fall:
WASHINGTON — Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman reluctantly acknowledged Thursday that he does not believe waterboarding is torture, but believes the interrogation technique should be available only under the most extreme circumstances…
The difference, he said, is that waterboarding is mostly psychological and there is no permanent physical damage. "It is not like putting burning coals on people's bodies. The person is in no real danger. The impact is psychological," Lieberman said.
Connecticut resident Jerry Doolittle reluctantly acknowledges that he would rather have just about anybody as his senator but Torture Boy Lieberman. In fact I once put my vote where my mouth is.
It was in 2000, when a Republican no-hoper named Philip Giordano was running against Lieberman for the senate seat that Holy Joe was clinging to for dear life while simultaneously dragging down the national Democratic ticket as the vice presidential candidate.
I only knew two things about Giordano. One was that he was mayor of Waterbury, which is significant in Connecticut politics. It signifies that you haven’t been indicted yet, but hold your horses. You’ll get there soon enough.
The second thing I knew was that Giordano wasn’t Joe Lieberman, which left me with no option but to cast the first vote of my life for a Republican.
Meanwhile the FBI had already been quietly investigating Giordano for corruption, a process which is triggered more or less automatically when a new Waterbury mayor takes office.
During “Operation LandPhil,” as the Bureau called it, the wiretappers snapped to attention one day when they overheard Giordano making arrangements with a local prostitute to bring two girls, aged nine and ten, to his office for oral sex. Now the former Marine is doing 37 years in federal prison.
And still I don’t regret my vote. I’d rather be represented in the Senate by a pedophile than by a whiny, smarmy, sanctimonious warmonger with the blood of innumerable nine- and ten-year-old girls on his hands.
Those who have been following the Eliot Mess closely will recall that the FBI staked out Spitzer’s hotel room during an earlier Washington visit in December, but came up empty-handed.
What do you suppose led them to do that, since the FBI almost never goes to these lengths in prostitution cases? Unless maybe they get a tip from a scummy GOP dirty tricks artist? For which, see this Miami Herald story:
Almost four months before Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in a sex scandal, a lawyer for Republican political operative Roger Stone sent a letter to the FBI alleging that Spitzer ‘‘used the services of high-priced call girls’’ while in Florida.
The letter, dated Nov. 19, said Miami Beach resident Stone learned the information from ‘‘a social contact in an adult-themed club.’’ It offered one potentially identifying detail: The man in question hadn’t taken off his calf-length black socks “during the sex act.”
BBC moved this story at 10:22 p.m. (EST) Thursday, and the 11 o’clock news only carried a sentence or two on it. But it will be all over the news by Friday morning, barring massive media misconduct. Which of course we can’t bar at all.
The US Department of State has fired two contractors and disciplined a third for accessing the passport file of presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
A spokesman for the department, Sean McCormack, said the cases were likely caused by “imprudent curiosity.” But he said it was not clear what the employees may have seen or what they were looking for.
A spokesman for Mr Obama suggested that the government could be using private information for “political purposes.”
The BBC’s North America editor, Justin Webb, says it is an extraordinary lapse in security which allowed temporary state department employees access to personal information on a man who is guarded by the secret service day and night .
The state department tracks those who access its passport database. Breaches occurred on three separate dates — 9 January, 21 February and 14 March.
“We believe this was out of imprudent curiosity, so we are taking steps to reassure ourselves that that is, in fact, the case,” Mr McCormack said…
In case you think for a moment that the Feds’ investigation of Eliot Spitzer was just law enforcement business as usual and mighty bad luck for the governor, read this story. Now read it again, substituting Arnold Schwarzenegger for Eliot Spitzer, and ask yourself if an investigation would have even gotten off the ground. Pay particular attention to the moment when it became obvious to the Republican U.S. Attorney that no tax fraud or political corruption was involved.
Addendum: see this for a fuller treatment. The whole mess is starting to “shine and stink like rotten mackerel by moonlight,” as John Randolph of Virginia once said.
More disgusting news from Halliburton, Vice President Richard Cheney’s favorite war profiteer:
…The inspector general's report said some troops noticed problems with the water. Between October 2004 and May 2005, troops at Camp Ar Ramadi said bathwater was discolored and had an unusual odor. The report said KBR failed to treat the nonpotable water and monitor water quality during the same period.
At Camp Q-West, KBR inappropriately delivered chlorinated wastewater for showers and latrines without informing military preventive medicine officials, the report said. "KBR did not monitor or record the quality of water at point-of-use containers before April 2006, even though the ... contract required the company to do so," the report added.
Medical records for troops at Camp Q-West indicated 38 cases of illnesses commonly attributed to problem water. These include skin abscesses, cellulitis, skin infections and diarrhea. Doctors diagnosed 24 of the cases in January and February 2006, the same period when medical officials warned of a rise in bacterial infections at the base…
More news from Halliburton, which as you will recall has Vice President Dick Cheney on its payroll to this day. I urge you to read it the whole story in the Boston Globe. Benumbed as we are from our long wallow in the squalor of the most corrupt administration in American history, this still retains the power to shock.
CAYMAN ISLANDS — Kellogg Brown & Root, the nation’s top Iraq war contractor and until last year a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., has avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell companies based in this tropical tax haven.
When Texas pipe-fitter Danny Langford applied for unemployment compensation after being let go by Service Employers International Inc., he was rejected, he was told, because he worked for a foreign company.
More than 21,000 people working for KBR in Iraq — including about 10,500 Americans — are listed as employees of two companies that exist in a computer file on the fourth floor of a building on a palm-studded boulevard here in the Caribbean. Neither company has an office or phone number in the Cayman Islands.
The Defense Department has known since at least 2004 that KBR was avoiding taxes by declaring its American workers as employees of Cayman Islands shell companies, and officials said the move allowed KBR to perform the work more cheaply, saving Defense dollars…
Just when you were thinking Bush’s Justice Department couldn’t get any more despicable, it gets more despicable. Here’s the latest maggot to issue from the rotting corpse of Justice.
Sioux Manufacturing, a North Dakota company, has produced millions of helmets over the years for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. These were supposed to have been built, as is normal in such matters, to certain specifications set by the customer in what the law calls a “contract.” Unhappily, however, Sioux Manufacturing had a competing and overriding moral obligation — its duty to maximize profits. The Pentagon’s specifications would just have to go.
So the looms were set to short-weight the helmets on Kevlar, the polymer thread which makes them resistant to bullets and shrapnel. Less Kevlar made for lighter helmets. The company therefore added resin to bring them up to the specified weight. This further reduced protection for the troops, since resin made the helmets less elastic and more brittle.
The evidence for all this comes from tape recordings, extensive company records, and the testimony of two plant managers who filed suit under the federal whistle-blower law for $159 million in damages. They were of course fired.
Bush’s U.S. Attorney for North Dakota, Drew H. Wrigley, has just cleaned up this whole sorry mess, thank God, and brought the suit to “an appropriate resolution.” Wrigley stamped his tiny foot and forced those naughty Sioux to settle for $2 million with no admission of wrongdoing.
And as if that weren’t enough, 12 days before the settlement an outraged Pentagon had smacked the reeling company with a $74 million contract to replace all the substandard helmets it had already bought from them.
Cost-plus, no doubt.
Never heard of these guys before now, but if this music is any indication of what else they’re doing, I’m going to look for their CD’s. Hope you hear them all too. Far too many of the politicians don’t seem to want to listen. And check out the sponsor too, the Common Ground Collective. Solidarity, not charity.
These snippets are from a Village Voice story by Wayne Barrett that ran last summer. And there’s lots, lots more where this came from.
In response to his critics' most damning sound bite, Giuliani is attempting to blame a once-valued aide for the decision to put his prized, $61 million emergency-command center in the World Trade Center, an obvious terrorist target. The 1997 decision had dire consequences on 9/11, when the city had to mobilize a response without any operational center.
“My director of emergency management recommended 7 WTC” as “the site that would make the most sense,” Giuliani told Chris Wallace’s Fox News Channel show in May, pinpointing Jerry Hauer as the culprit.
Wallace confronted Giuliani, however, with a 1996 Hauer memo recommending that the bunker be sited at MetroTech in Brooklyn, close to where the Bloomberg administration eventually built one …
Hauer says Denny Young, the mayor’s alter ego, who has worked at his side for nearly three decades, eventually “made it very clear” that Giuliani wanted “to be able to walk to this facility quickly.” …The formal city document approving the site said that it “was selected due to its proximity to City Hall,” a standard set by Giuliani and Giuliani alone …
Giuliani’s office had a humidor for cigars and mementos from City Hall, including a fire horn, police hats and fire hats, as well as monogrammed towels in his bathroom. His suite was bulletproofed and he visited it often, even on weekends, bringing his girlfriend Judi Nathan there long before the relationship surfaced. He had his own elevator.
Great concern was expressed in writing that the platform in the press room had to be high enough to make sure his head was above the cameras. It’s inconceivable that the hands-on mayor’s fantasy command center was shaped — or sited — by anyone other than him.
From Jim Dwyer’s sidebar on the Kerik trial in the Times:
Across the courtroom, in the jury box, courtroom artists peered at Mr. Kerik through opera glasses, sketching him in profile. During the 16 months he served as police commissioner under Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Kerik had a stash of 30 miniature plaster busts of his own head — paid for by a private police foundation — that he gave to those deserving of such a memento.
From the main story:
The tax fraud charges include failing to report as income the $255,000 in renovations to his Bronx apartment, $236,269 in rent on the Upper East Side apartment for two years beginning in December 2001, consulting fees of $20,000 for two months in 2002, and royalties of $75,953 on a book of photographs about the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mr. Kerik had written a foreword for the book. Others involved, including the publisher and Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, donated more than $500,000 in proceeds to the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund.
At a meeting of former White House speechwriters last week I learned that my old boss, Jim Fallows of The Atlantic, has a blog on the magazine’s site. Here’s an excerpt from a recent post:
On crucial points, Mukasey's second-day testimony amounted to a request that he and the Administration be trusted to do the right thing. Nothing against him personally, but the time for trust has passed. Unless Mukasey explicitly repudiates the most abusive parts of his predecessor's (and his President's) record, the Senate would be negligent and reckless to approve him.
A specific point: the "waterboarding" outrage. As is now becoming famous, Mukasey said this, when asked by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse whether waterboarding was constitutional:
“I don’t know what is involved in the technique,” Mr. Mukasey replied. “If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.”
Either way you slice it, this answer alone is grounds for rejecting Mukasey. If he really doesn't "know what is involved" in the technique, he is unacceptably lazy or ill-informed. Any citizen can learn about this technique with a few minutes on the computer…”
So, if Mukasey was telling the truth in this answer, he is too lazy for the job. If he was lying, he's too dishonest.
Jim seems to think that proven laziness and dishonesty disqualify a man for high office. They don’t, not in a democracy. Take Bush’s reelection. Please.
If Mukasey is even remotely interested in the technique of waterboarding — which is doubtful, ignorance being bliss — he can read a first-hand account from a survivor right here on Bad Attitudes. And below is a helpful diagram, from 16th century Antwerp.
Remember a fat rich kid named Richard Mellon Scaife, the slime artist who bankrolled the slime artists who tried to slime Bill Clinton out of office?
Slime doesn’t come cheap. Perjurers and slanderers and blackmailers and pathological liars and sociopaths and forgers and crooked “journalists” and mad-dog attack lawyers and friendly judges and right-wing stink tanks and sleazy P.I.’s and smear sheets posing as newspapers cost plenty.
How can even a fat rich kid afford all that? Here’s a clue, from the divorce proceedings pitting Richard against his second wife, Ritchie:
“The most remarkable feature of the relevant and material issues of consequence in this case is the number of zeroes after Mr. Scaife’s disposable income,” wrote Ritchie Scaife’s lawyers, Gary Gentile and William Pietragallo II, in a pretrial statement filed Oct. 23. They put his monthly income on earnings from nine various trusts at $3.9 million.
“Incredibly, this fantasia of monthly distributions is taxed at an aggregate rate of slightly less than 15 percent,” they write.
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
— The Merchant of Venice
Speaking of Shylock, Arnold Schwarzenegger has set his yachts upon the sea. And the people’s little ship is sailing forth, while Bob Dylan’s words echo in the haunts in the harbor.
Making good on a promise to trim the state budget, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated a $55-million program Friday that advocates say has helped thousands of mentally ill homeless people break the costly cycle of hospitalization, jails and street life.
None of the cuts elicited a more virulent outcry than the elimination of the program for the homeless mentally ill.
The program had been on the chopping block all summer. Advocates, including the architects of California's effort to overhaul its troubled mental health system, had staged a furious lobbying effort to stave off the cut.
One official was quoted: “A $45-million tax break for yacht owners stays in the budget. And a nationally recognized, incredibly effective program to end homelessness for those living with mental illness gets thrown under the bus.”
The summer before I went off to college I sold hugely overpriced vacuum cleaners to poor people who couldn’t afford the payments. My commission was sixty percent.
Presently, however, I accepted common decency as my personal Savior and thus did not wind up like one Angelo R. Mozilo, the loathsome shylock who runs Countrywide Financial Corporation. Read all about his racket here. Excerpts:
According to dozens of loan documents, [Countrywide] routinely charges tax service fees of $60, far above what other lenders charge, for information about any outstanding tax obligations of the borrowers. Credit checks can cost $36 at LandSafe, double what others levy. Some Countrywide loans even included fees of $100 to e-mail documents or $45 to ship them overnight. LandSafe also charges borrowers $26 for flood certifications, for which other companies typically charge $12 to $14, according to sales representatives and brokers familiar with the fees …
Rarely a buyer of Countrywide shares — he has not bought a share since 1987, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings — [Mozilo] has been a huge seller in recent years. Since the company listed its shares on the New York Stock Exchange in 1984, he has reaped $406 million selling Countrywide stock.
As the subprime mortgage debacle began to unfold this year, Mr. Mozilo’s selling accelerated. Filings show that he made $129 million from stock sales during the last 12 months, or almost one-third of the entire amount he has reaped over the last 23 years.
You no doubt heard the reports, mostly but not entirely snarky, about Cindy Sheehan’s arrest in the office of John Conyers. I admire her commitment, but it seems to me that her view of the problem is the reverse of reality.
I certainly believe that the current situation calls for, indeed requires, that both the President and the Vice President be impeached. No one can honestly question whether they have committed impeachable offenses. The question is what to do about it, and in this regard the leading Democrats in Congress are proving to be as spineless a majority as they were a minority.
But Conyers is not the problem. It seems clear that he favors impeachment, but to overcome opposition from the Speaker, he needs an overwhelming number of colleagues to back him. Which, in my view, makes Nancy Pelosi the problem. Her office would be a better place to get arrested to make a political point.
As Nader says, what we need is not a third party, but a second one. The Democrats, following the Clinton pattern, talk progressive but act DLC. They need the progressive votes (usually, though in 2008 not so much), but they’re mostly corporatist. The wide-spread recognition of that fact might explain some of the high fives that Edwards got for his two best lines in the recent debate:
Do you believe that compromise, triangulation will bring about big change? I don’t. I think the people who are powerful in Washington — big insurance companies, big drug companies, big oil companies — they are not going to negotiate. They are not going to give away their power! The only way that they are going to give away their power is if we take it away from them!
We can’t trade our insiders for their insiders.
Which of course is why the media hates him: they’re insiders whose employers are owned by the big corporations that currently exercise the real power. It’ll be interesting to see if any changes come from the video his campaign released, showing clips of important stuff happening in the world while playing the song “Hair”. Will they get it? (Will they be allowed to?)
In the end, I think Ruth Conniff is on the money with her observations at The Progressive. She mentions Russ Feingold’s proposal to censure Bush and Cheney, the classic wimpy-liberal response to the difference between reality and what the wingnuts demand. This is why the right wing is powerful and the left wing gormless: the right fights and the left compromises.
Conniff talked with John Nichols of The Nation about Feingold’s comment at Kos: “The history books will show we were vocal in condemning the President’s abuses of power.” (That won’t keep the next President from doing the same things, though; do we care?)
While Democrats give voice to public discontent with the Bush administration, the leadership is still operating on the theory that as Bush and the Republicans head off the cliff, the best course of action is to get out of the way. Politically, Nichols concedes, they might be right: “They should just stand up and say if we abdicate our constitutional responsibilities and don’t do our job, we’ll reap the benefits. It will allow us to do good things. They might be right. Standing by and letting a crash occur might benefit you. That’s a credible case.”
Immoral, but credible. That’s the real problem the Democratic leadership faces: they know their strategy is immoral, so they can no more afford to state it than Bush can be honest about imperialism and oil.
Witness the recent Democratic meme that impeachment would keep them from getting useful work done.
“The idea that taking up impeachment will keep us from acting on health care, gay rights, etc., is ahistoric,” Nichols says. “The fact of the matter is that during the impeachment of Nixon back in the 70s, the reason Congress was so effective and got so much done was that Nixon was scared and, in a calculated move, started cooperating with Congress to avoid impeachment. So the right thing to do is move immediately — see what you can get out of Bush.”
For that theory to win the day, the pressure on Congress from voters has to continue to grow.
That means us. Have you contacted your Representative?
Posted November 10, 2005:
The sputtering fuse under what remains of Bush’s administration isn’t the warmongering Scooter Libby, who will surely keep his mouth shut in return for the inevitable pardon. It’s an old Bush family tradition, you’ll recall, with George Herbert Walker Bush pardoning all the Irangate criminals who could have testified against him.
Bush had vowed at the start of the investigation in 2003 to take a hard line against anyone involved in the leak. He ordered his staff to cooperate with investigators and threatened to fire the leaker.
“If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of,” he said then.
True to his word for once, Bush has indeed taken care of his consigliere’s consigliere.
Administrations come and, though it sometimes takes forever, they go. Individuals last a bit longer; but arguments outlive us all.
Consider, for example, the argument between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists that caused the English Civil War in 1642, leading to the execution of King Charles I and the exile of his son, later Charles II. Apparently the historical knowledge required to make useful comparisons was insufficiently widely distributed. (Unfortunately Decline and Fall would not be published for 135 years.) What were they thinking, not killing the kid? Mercy and regicide don’t mix. Not that the alternative always succeeds, mind you; but you gotta start somewhere.
In American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips talks about the connections between the English Civil War and the American one. New England, after all, was favored with lots of Puritans, who were generally sympathetic to Cromwell’s Roundheads. Many New Englanders shipped back to England to fight against Charles I.
Big Men in the Southern states, on the other hand, expected the privileges their patrons back in England had of owning and ordering, and basically living in a Cavalier fashion (how else?). The Province of Carolina, for example, was named after the headless king. It was granted to eight supporters by Charles II when he regained the throne. (One of whom, Lord Shaftesbury, employed a secretary named John Locke.) Most of the Southerners who returned to England to fight in the Civil War were Royalists. They tended to believe in centralization of power, since they were in the center. Unfortunately we’re not able to do a controlled experiment in this regard, but had their quarters been swapped for those of their slaves, they might have thought differently.
The conflict, in other words, was inherent in the soul of the United States from long before it became an independent political entity. Monarchy or Parliamentarianism? You’re either with us or against us.
Which adds a bit of back story to the current conflicts between Congress and the White House over whether, despite Tony Snow’s ruling, Congress has, and will execute, Constitutional oversight responsibilities with respect to the executive branch.
Kanye West might be right, though it seems to me that Shrub cares more about money than skin color; he and Snoop seem to be cool with each other, for example. But I can name one black person George Bush does care about: John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and the only member who was involved in the Congressional fight to get documents from the Nixon White House. Then there’s Henry Waxman, neither the most beautiful Representative nor the most riveting speaker, but something of a progressive Javert. John Dean says Waxman “may be the nation’s most diligent and vigilant member of Congress”. That, beloveds, is truly what the Founding Fathers intended, Federalist Society be damned.
In the Senate, the White House faces Patrick “Go Fuck Yourself” Leahy, who just might harbor a bit of resentment against the Cheney administration’s imperial style. And Leahy, like Waxman, was elected to Congress for the first time in November, 1974, three months after Nixon resigned.
“This is a further shift by the Bush administration into Nixonian stonewalling and more evidence of their disdain for our system of checks and balances,” said [Leahy]. “Increasingly, the president and vice president feel they are above the law — in America no one is above law.”
The question now is what to do about the obvious facts — namely, that the President and the Vice President, among others, have committed serious crimes, in my view including war crimes and crimes against humanity, and violated their Constitutional responsibilities.
There’s an X-Files episode about Mulder and Scully going to Texas on an investigation, and filing reports afterward. Their reports are quite different, and the episode shows flashbacks from both points of view. It’s one of their silliest; the scene with Mulder explaining that it’s surprisingly difficult to shoot out the tires on an RV making circles in a parking lot is great. It’s filmed in black-and-white, and includes a sheriff who Mulder recalls as a country bumpkin with buck teeth and Scully recalls as a southern gentleman of whom Mulder is jealous.
Turns out the town is infested with the undead. Our heros realize this when, as a result of ordering pizza, they wake up with their shoelaces tied and the pizza uneaten. Aha, says Mulder, vampires.
When they finally get the scoop, they realize the sheriff is also a vampire. The vampires, it seems, have learned to live in relative peace with the surrounding community by keeping their heads down and only feeding in ways that the locals can dismiss as religious visions or alcohol-induced fantasies. The sheriff, realizing he’s got a sympathetic audience in the FBI agents, confesses, and apologizes for the pizza-delivery boy: “He never got the concept of low-profile.”
Which, I assert, is a metaphor for government. Like vampiring, government resembles typography and refereeing; when it’s done well, it’s unnoticeable. In a basketball game, where calls make much more difference than in baseball, football, soccer, or tennis, the best referees are quiet: they call all the blatant stuff and let the dinky stuff go, and they do so in a relatively even manner. This is what people want when they petition for referees to “let the players decide the game”.
Problems arise when one side adopts a consistent strategy of not simply pushing the envelope of the rules but openly flaunting its refusal to obey them. How then can a fair referee “let the players decide the game”? Inadvertent rule violations are one thing; cheating is another, and the nature of things in such cases is that the “activist” referees control the outcome. And we saw how well that worked in 2000.
The question now is, God help us, what the Supreme Court will do if the dispute over subpoenas arrives there. I doubt there’s any pro-Monarchist position that couldn’t attract Scalia and Thomas, and probably Alito. But I think, for now, that the rule of law might hope to get five votes. We’re very likely to get Kennedy, who’s often called The Swing Vote; and we might even get Roberts on the issue of separation of powers, an area in which the Court has historically guarded its prerogatives, and where the Chief Justice’s own power and prestige are affected.
Thorsten Veblen describes another kind of vampire in his Theory of the Leisure Class. The Wikipedia entry notes, among other things, that Veblen’s critique is more radical than that of Marx, who grants the superiority of capitalism over feudalism. Veblen doesn’t; he considers capitalism to be the modern manifestation of primitive tribal behavior, in which status is the highest value.
In Veblen’s view, the development of human society grew from the prehistoric search for necessities, specifically food. At first, everyone brought back what they found, and everyone ate. Then some people realized that they could intimidate others, or attack them and steal their take, and avoid the hard work of gathering.
Over time, this “leisure class” did less and less real work. They preferred hunting to gathering. Hunting generates food when it’s successful, but it burns a lot of calories with uncertain results. They might occasionally raid neighbor tribes and bring back booty that was useful to everyone, thus provoking Paleolithic blowback. Which in turn creates the requirement for a constant vigil to protect the home land.
The leisure class concentrated on two things:
There are several natural results of this social structure, such as endemic warfare and lies, and the endless struggle for alpha-dog status. (“Think I’ll buy me a football team.”)
Veblen argues that status quickly dissociated itself from utility, to the point that one can now determine the status of an activity largely by judging its usefulness: the more useful it is, the lower its status. Think farming versus bond trading. Even activities that might seem to have useful side effects, such as the physical fitness required to play football, can be masquerades, according to Veblen, who considers that the “relation of football to physical culture is much the same as that of the bull-fight to agriculture”.
Thus he derives the concept of conspicuous consumption, consuming more than you need: if you can waste, you must have a lot, so waste indicates high status. Once you’re consuming as much as you can, you want people to know it, otherwise you don’t get the status points.
Next there’s conspicuous leisure. If you can sit on the porch and wave as the neighbors leave for work, you’re higher status than they are. Then comes vicarious consumption — your dependents are also wasteful — and vicarious leisure — your servants sit on the porch and wave.
Veblen proceeds to apply this viewpoint to a variety of society’s oddities, often with comic effect. You can tell, he says, that society affords God very high status by looking at the number of people employed for his vicarious leisure. He has a stretch of about two pages on why dogs are higher status than cats that is hilarious. In his view, hunting is an expression of the right of the leisure class to do whatever useless thing strikes its fancy. The fox hunt, for example, is certainly not done for the sake of calories, and that inefficiency is a hallmark of status. The more useless, the higher the status.
He must have been pretty popular at cocktail parties back in 1899 with that kind of line.
So when I catch myself having Nixon flashbacks, I remind myself: yes, this is really a new version of the same battle. Yes, this is a battle that’s apparently endemic to American life. Yes, it even goes back three and half centuries to the English Civil War. And, okay, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that it’s what humans have always done. We’ve also always killed each other. Doesn’t mean we can’t stop.
We’re not seeing replays from the Nixon years randomly. This struggle’s been going on for centuries. Should the United States have an all-powerful executive, kinda like a pope or, here’s an idea, a king? Or should we elect, say, a legislature or a parliament to make the rules?
It comes down — surprise! — to the rich and powerful few against the meek and voiceless many. And the rich are way richer now, compared to the rest of us, than they were only a decade or two ago. Maybe, after all, we should just return to a feudal society and admit the rich will always control us. Feudal serfs, after all, were assured food, clothing, and health care, such as it was, by the lord’s need for laborers at the next harvest. We peasants had some value. (Especially after the Black Death, when the number of laborers dropped in Europe dropped by about a third in a year and a half. Good times!)
Alternatively, we could shoulder our burdens as citizens and try to emulate the founders, or rather to realize their highest statements of ideal. We are many, and we have recently found new ways to organize and to make ourselves heard.
There is much to do. War still rages in Iraq, there is still great poverty in the richest nation in history, and many of our citizens are without health care. Past generations of Americans have surmounted obstacles more difficult than these. It is our turn.
It’s possible that we’re on the verge of a new flowering of democracy in America — of all places! — arising from the abuses of the Cheney administration.
But if so, the first step is to confront the abuses and the lawbreaking head-on. I don’t mean that we’re ready to confront our own national nature as couch-potato bullies; that’ll have to be put off. At a minimum, though, we must accept that our government can be hijacked by people whose actions, whatever their statements or even intentions, are destructive to the point of criminality.
And that this affects us all.
The President and the Vice President command, and to some extent control, the entire federal bureaucracy, including what amounts to a private army in the CIA, and a huge and nearly unaccountable intelligence community with an unknown budget. I haven’t read everything written by the founders, but I have yet to encounter anything I could interpret as countenancing a President’s private army or an unaccountable spy network. This, it seems to me, is exactly what they were rebelling against. And exactly how things happened in Rome.
In this continuing argument, I’m reminded of the judgement of Lazarus Long:
Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
I’m basically a libertarian in that I don’t want government to tell me what to do. But I also think we can do things collectively that we can’t do alone: schools, roads, hospitals, moon shots, cures for cancer. What do we call the entity that executes our wishes in this collective fashion? I think the word is government, but I’m not stuck on that.
I’m also a socialist in that I think our collective actions should have the goal of increasing the common wealth. And it seems to me that a big part of our common wealth is our heritage of participatory government.
If we fail to confront the blatant law-breaking by the President and the Vice President in some institutional way, we will take a big step down Rome’s path. Probably we can’t impeach both Bush and Cheney before the 2008 election. But we should try.
And there’s no statute of limitations on war crimes.
More from Jeffrey Toobin’s book, Too Close to Call, on the theft of the White House in 2000:
Gore had a somewhat undeserved reputation as a computer whiz. He surfed the Web occasionally, sent e-mail on a wireless BlackBerry device … and used a laptop computer now and then. His habits were not totally unlike those of George W. Bush, who was an inveterate e-mailer.
And now we turn to Bush’s father, George Herbert Walker Bush, in a Fox “News” interview:
GRETA: You are a letter writer. Tons of letters.
H.W. BUSH: Not anymore. Because now I use the email. And the computer. And I find that I don’t do near as much writing as I used to, letters as I used to. I don’t save them. And I am worried about that a little bit not that I have that much more to say, but I think it’s too bad in a way that email will detract from the historical record of presidents. I don’t think that the President Bush uses email.
BARBARA BUSH: He doesn’t.
H.W. BUSH: You worry about it. People are going to subpoena the email records and we are going to, you know, you’ve gotta prove that you were telling the truth and all this stuff.
Two possibilities here. One is that George W., a reformed drunk who clings desperately to his little daily habits, went cold turkey on his inveterate e-mail jones when somebody told him about the Presidential Records Act of 1978.
Another possibility, a good deal more possible than the first, is that Bush has been using that Republican National Committee e-mail back channel just like the rest of his crew.
I’d like to find out whether the RNC had the technological smarts to set up its own server. If not, all that stuff is probably piled up somewhere just waiting for the right subpoena. And if so, there should still be a substantial mess of incriminating messages on the hard drives and servers of outside recipients.
Something might even turn up on the Google.
From a story in today’s New York Times about the manifold, endemic, revolting and ultimately pointless crimes of the CIA in the 1960s and 1970s. These were called by the agency, without any apparent ironic intent, the “family jewels.”
In one of the conversations, Henry A. Kissinger, then serving as both secretary of state and national security adviser, denounced the efforts of William E. Colby, director of central intelligence, to push an aggressive investigation of the agency’s past transgressions.
Mr. Kissinger said the accusations then appearing daily about agency misconduct were “worse than in the days of McCarthy,” and expressed concern that they would intimidate C.I.A. officers, so that “you’ll end up with an agency that does only reporting and not operations.”
“What Colby has done is a disgrace,” Mr. Kissinger said, according to the transcript, posted along with the others by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (nsarchive.org).
“Should we suspend him?” Mr. Ford asked.
“No,” Mr. Kissinger replied, “but after the investigation is over you could move him and put in someone of towering integrity.”
A year later, Mr. Ford replaced Mr. Colby as director with George Bush.
Career people at the federal Department of Education saw the student loan payola scandal coming in the late 1990’s, and the Clinton Administration bequeathed to Bush a sensible plan to deal with the problem. Result? Plan killed. Career personnel muzzled. Large financial supporters placated.
This of course is a matched set with the U.S. Attorney scandal: both are a result of W’s fundamental belief that career civil servants are the enemy, and must be stopped before they enforce the law again. These two matters have come to light recently; somewhat longer ago, we can recall the number of brave diplomats and other government functionaries who quit their jobs to protest the run-up to the Iraq war; we can only imagine the thousands of other instances, in every unexplored nook and unknown cranny of the vast federal castle, in which good public servants have been squelched.
It looks like the Torture Boys are going to be facing a relentless onslaught for the next two years. Only problem is, Chinese water torture was said to have been designed to make the victim go insane. Can an insane person be made more insane? Probably not, but at least they face the music.
This week’s first item of drippage is now out of the faucet and is featured in today’s Washington Post. Stay tuned. There are two more years to cover the last six years of fraud, corruption, graft and malfeasance so there is a great deal of water left in the tank.
Witnesses have told congressional investigators that the chief of the General Services Administration and a deputy in Karl Rove’s political affairs office at the White House joined in a videoconference earlier this year with top GSA political appointees, who discussed ways to help Republican candidates.
With GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan and up to 40 regional administrators on hand, J. Scott Jennings, the White House’s deputy director of political affairs, gave a PowerPoint presentation on Jan. 26 of polling data about the 2006 elections.
Lurita Alexis Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration, is to appear Wednesday before a House committee.
A Political Invitation
In January, political appointees at the U.S. General Services Administration were invited to participate in a videoconference with agency chief Lurita Alexis Doan and the deputy director of Karl Rove's White House Office of Political Affairs.
When Jennings concluded his presentation to the GSA political appointees, Doan allegedly asked them how they could “help ‘our candidates’ in the next elections,” according to a March 6 letter to Doan from Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Waxman said in the letter that one method suggested was using “targeted public events, such as the opening of federal facilities around the country.”
On Wednesday, Doan is scheduled to appear before Waxman’s committee to answer questions about the videoconference and other issues. The committee is investigating whether remarks made during the videoconference violated the Hatch Act, a federal law that restricts executive-branch employees from using their positions for political purposes. Those found in violation of the act do not face criminal penalties but can be removed from their jobs.
Given the unending stream of lies, distortions, half-truths, and plucked cherries flowing from the White House over the last six years, I’m surprised to find myself thinking there might be some truth in their explanation of the whole attorney-firing thing.
To wit: the original explanation, I believe, was that they were fired for performance reasons. This seems transparently true: they were performing according to what law and ethics require, so they were fired. Nothing tricky, or out of step with Bush administration practices, about that.
Personally, I’m hoping Bush keeps Gonzales for the rest of his term, and Cheney and Rice and Hadley as well. Then there will be no question about the list of war criminals, who won’t be able to travel openly without protests and fear of arrest a lá Pinochet.
What I find funniest about the latest Presidential claim of executive privilege is the concept that someone might in fact come into the office of the most bubble-bound President in history and tell him exactly what they think. I mean, when was the last time that happened?
Then there are Republicans like Adam Putnam of Florida, number three in the House, who are pointing out that their colleagues are reluctant to make statements of support for Gonzales because they remember what happened when they made statements of support for Rumsfeld right before the election.
When you’ve even screwed your allies one time too many, you start to feel really alone. Or you dive into denial.
All in all, I find the spectacle of the self-destruction of Rove’s Republican reich both enjoyable and invigorating. And, I can’t deny it, validating. I never thought you could build a stable power base of any size, certainly not one big enough to call itself a majority, by lying, cheating, and stealing elections (and that’s just the part we know about). If, in addition, you use the power you cheat your way into to lie your way into an immensely profitable war, you better not get caught. Everyone you’ve cheated, everyone whose relatives your war killed or maimed, will be out to get you. If they know who you are.
One really good way to make sure people know who you are is to appear in public under-oath testimony in a Senate hearing on the firing of prosecuters who were pursuing corruption. Even the MSM will manage to sniff out a story there.
First, read this depressing piece about the Bushniks’ refusal to use email at all, except for official messages secretly (and illegally) sent from nonofficial sites. Bush knows about the Google, but not about the Google mail (or the Yahoo, or the AOL). Boy oh boy, these guys are slick as goose grease, ain’t they just?
Second, I’m about to take off for a week or so in the Okefenokee swamp, looking for higher life forms than those referenced above. Principally water mocassins. Back in a week or ten days. Play nicely with Chuck and Buck and Joy while I’m gone.
Congress seems likely to roll back Bush’s little-noticed maneuver, in the wake of 9/11, to keep secret forever the presidential crimes of himself, his father, and Reagan. High time, too. The only disinfectant that works on creatures that live under the rocks is sunlight.
These excerpts are from a piece by Dick Ahles, a former television journalist who writes a column that runs in our local weekly, The Lakeville Journal:
In normal times, Bush probably wouldn’t have gotten away with this assault on history but November 2001, when he signed his order, wasn’t a normal time. It was barely a month after 9/11, the country and indeed, the political parties, were blindly, and as it turned out, mistakenly united behind the president and even if they hadn’t been, both branches of the government were in Republican control …
But now, the times, as they always do, have changed. With the end of one party rule, rubber stamps are out and accountability has suddenly become fashionable again. A week ago, a bill was introduced in the House to overturn Bush’s executive order and revive the provisions of the 1978 Presidential Records Act. It is expected to pass and should not be hindered, even by one of those rare Bush vetoes.
Here’s what I’m hoping for.
One source tells CBS News he’s never seen the administration in such deep denial…
When it reaches the point in your administration where the standard method of explaining your actions is to say you’re in denial, it almost doesn’t matter what you do. Or more exactly, what you need to do in order to be taken seriously is to have your actions meet with the approval of two very demanding audiences: a skeptical public, and future events. That’s a trick few have pulled off.
In the immediate future loom votes in both Houses of Congress. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a phrase that is doubtless sending shudders through the West Wing on a regular basis these days, has said his panel will vote this week on subpoenas for Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and others. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, whom you may remember had a friendly exchange with the Vice President on the Senate floor some time back, has scheduled a similar vote this week. On Sunday he said he was not
…particularly open to any compromises, such as a private briefing by the administration officials.
“I want testimony under oath. I am sick and tired of getting half-truths on this,” Leahy said. “I do not believe in this, we’ll have a private briefing for you where we’ll tell you everything, and they don’t.”
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the top Republican on the committee, said he had a long talk with Fielding on Friday and was reserving judgment. Specter said he would like to see Rove and Miers’ open testimony because there were numerous precedents for it.
“I want to see exactly what the White House response is,” Specter said. “Maybe the White House will come back and say, ‘We’ll permit them to be interviewed and we’ll give them all the records.’”
That’s apparently why they call him Senator Magic Bullet. Or maybe not. But I do appreciate his pre-emptive strike against the no-precedent talking point.
Anyway, with enemies like Conyers and Leahy, whom the White House has carefully cultivated over the years and said good things about at every opportunity, the Attorney General’s job is probably safe. At least, as safe as that of the President himself. Did you note Tony Snow’s particularly vehement denial?
Asked if President Bush himself might have suggested the firings, Snow said, “Anything’s possible … but I don’t think so.” He said Mr. Bush “certainly has no recollection of any such thing. I can’t speak for the attorney general.”
“I want you to be clear here: Don’t be dropping it at the president’s door,” Snow said.
So the President has no recollection of any such thing. And he never said he was never “stay the course”. Here’s what I mean: these guys are not only in denial, Nixon-level. They’ve got the simple-minded hubris it takes to be involved in an off-the-shelf, stand-alone, self-sustaining enterprise that has appreciably accelerated the demise of the American empire. For that I give them credit, except that they did it for the most despicable of reasons. And you know who collects on the debt of hubris, don’t you? It’s a goddess named Nemesis.
Right now I expect Karl would name Nemesis Patrick, or perhaps John.
I think Alberto is gone. But, as Froomkin has harped on, Gonzales is not the point. He was never more than a flunky. Who drove the policy?
Bud Cummins of Arkansas, one of the fired U.S. attorneys, said Gonzales should step down if it is proved that he was involved in the firings.
“They need to go around the room and say, ‘Who knew about the bases for these decisions as they went along? Who knew that the White House had this much input, was able to inject this much improper political consideration into these decisions?’
“Because each of those people really don’t need to be at the Department of Justice anymore. If he’s one of them, then maybe he does need to resign,” Cummins said.
Not nearly enough, but it’s a good first step.
The invaluable Paul Krugman has had the mother wit to wonder not about the eight U.S. attorneys fired by Bush, but about the ones who kept their jobs. His full column is behind the Times’s pay-to-play wall, but here, hand-copied by me especially for you, is the money shot:
Donald Shields and John Cragan, two professors of communication, have compiled a database of investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power.
Of the 375 cases they identified, 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats. The main source of this partisan tilt was a huge disparity in investigations of local politicians, in which Democrats were seven times as likely as Republicans to face Justice Department scrutiny.
How can this have been happening without a national uproar? The authors explain: “We believe that this tremendous disparity is politically motivated and it occurs because the local (non-statewide and non-Congressional) investigations occur under the radar of a diligent national press. Each instance is treated by a local beat reporter as an isolated case that is only of local interest.”
I won’t link to Firedoglake since their servers stay overloaded, but keep your toes straight, we’re supposed to get a verdict at noon. And Cheney is back in town, just in time.
I just came across a website devoted to driving John Doolitle from his seat representing California’s 4th District in the United States Congress — and immediately added it to the Bad Attitudes blogroll.
Unfortunately one of my sons has the same name as this repellent political specimen from Cupertino. And like the Republican congressmen, my son is a lawyer. Unlike the congressman, however, he is an honest one.
Some of you may remember Representative Doolittle from the movie Fahrenheit 9/11. He was the pudgy, shapeless organism running down an alley in a panic to escape Michael Moore. The pudgy, shapeless cinematographer was shouting after the congressman, asking why he didn’t sign up for military service in the Iraq war for which he had voted so enthusiastically.
If you think I am being in the least bit unfair to a poor fellow who is only trying his best to do the right thing for his country and constituents, click instantly on this link to find out otherwise.
Then tell your friends, send money, take any steps you can to help drive this disgrace from public office. A grateful nation will thank you, and an honest lawyer in Maine will particularly do so.
The only man I ever knew who turned out to be a serial child molester was also an alumnus of The National Review’s editorial staff. Why was I not surprised when his crimes came out? Because the secret sinner all dressed up in sanctity, sobriety and family values was, after all, an old cliché.
All right, but how did it get to be a cliché? Well, someone calling himself or herself the Armchair Subversive (link via Librocrat, in a page titled “Republican Values Create Child Molesters,” has gone to the trouble of assembling a handy, pocket-sized guide to GOP pedophiles. No doubt the list has absolutely no clinical or statistical significance, but don’t let that stop you from clicking here.
Still nauseous after reading below about America’s Senator, Joe Lieberman? Then try this. (Thanks to the Rude Pundit for the link.) As you read, bear in mind that to this day the vice president of the United States is on the Halliburton payroll. Older members of the class will remember that once upon a time, in the reign of King Richard the Virtuous, a vice president was forced from office just because he took a measly $2,500 bribe from a contractor. In Bushworld, this wouldn’t fix a parking ticket.
The New York Times had an excellent editorial today outlining the benefits of a bill that would help to put Karl Rove and his merry band of election thieves out of business.
Two Democratic senators, Barack Obama of Illinois and Charles Schumer of New York, are introducing a bill today that would make deceiving or intimidating voters a federal crime with substantial penalties.
I urge everyone visiting here to contact your Senators and ask them to support this important legislation, The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007.
For more information or to read the bill, go here.
Texas may (probably does) or may not lead the nation in venal, squalid, plain old roll-in-the-mud rotten government, but it’s certainly number one in lack of shame about it. Consider this (via Juanita’s) from the San Antonio Express-News:
AUSTIN — A Texas official who receives any sum of cash as a gift can satisfy state disclosure laws by reporting the money simply as “currency” without specifying the amount, the Texas Ethics Commission reiterated Monday …
“The question here is whether the description of a gift of cash of over $250 is required to include the value of the gift,” the Ethics Commission opinion said in part. “The term ‘description’ is not defined in Chapter 572 of the Government Code, nor is it defined anywhere else in the Government Code.”
For your reading enjoyment I rescue this morsel from page 15 of the New York Times:
SAN JUAN, P.R., Nov. 17 (AP) — The military said on Friday that it planned to build a $125 million compound at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba where it hopes to hold war-crimes trials for terrorism suspects by the middle of next year.
The compound, designed to accommodate as many as 1,200 people, would include dining areas, work spaces and sleeping accommodations for administrative personnel, lawyers, journalists and others involved in trials. It would create three courtrooms to allow for simultaneous trials, and a separate high-security area to house those on trial.
My question is, how many suspected terrorists could you fly to American courtrooms for $125,000,000?
Here’s how the Republic party can win this election: by cutting off the names of their opponents. Inadvertently, of course.
U.S. Senate candidate James Webb’s last name has been cut off on part of the electronic ballot used by voters in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville because of a computer glitch that also affects other candidates with long names, city officials said yesterday.
Although the problem creates some voter confusion, it will not cause votes to be cast incorrectly, election officials emphasized. The error shows up only on the summary page, where voters are asked to review their selections before hitting the button to cast their votes. Webb’s full name appears on the page where voters choose for whom to vote.
Election officials attribute the mistake to an increase in the type size on the ballot. Although the larger type is easier to read, it also unintentionally shortens the longer names on the summary page of the ballot.
Thus, Democratic candidate Webb will appear with his first name and nickname only — or “James H. ‘Jim’ ” — on summary pages in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville, the only jurisdictions in Virginia that use balloting machines manufactured by Hart InterCivic of Austin.
What state is Austin in?
Still, as long as you have a name shorter than James H. Webb, you’re fine. Say, if your name is George Allen.
Every candidate on Alexandria’s summary page has been affected in some way by the glitch. Even if candidates’ full names appear, as is the case with Webb’s Republican opponent, incumbent Sen. George F. Allen, their party affiliations have been cut off.
Well, that’s comforting. Allen’s hurt as much by not being announced as a Republican as Webb is by not having his last name appear. So at least it’s fair.
Election officials in Alexandria said they have been vexed by the problem since they purchased the voting machines in 2003. Although the problem has raised eyebrows among confused voters, elections officials said they are confident that the trouble has not led voters to cast ballots incorrectly.
And Virginia, Senator Macaca’s state, is, as you would expect, on top of the problem.
Jean Jensen, secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, who said yesterday she only recently became aware of the problem, pledged to have it fixed by the 2007 statewide elections.
“You better believe it,” Jensen said. “If I have to personally get on a plane and bring Hart InterCivic people here myself, it’ll be corrected.”
That’s the spirit. Don’t let this kind of thing slide for more a couple of elections before you promise to get it fixed.
… Republican congressional corruption. This time, it’s an FBI investigation of GOP Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania improperly getting lobbying jobs for his inexperienced daughter.
This little beauty ran in the Times yesterday. Aside from the blaming the victim aspect, isn’t it kind of wonderful that the fools running Congress are incapable of running a small boarding school? But at least LaHood admits it, and acceptance is the first step. Maybe he and his pals in the House “leadership” should carry his suggestion a little further by abolishing Bush’s occupation of Iraq.
Straining to hold the party together five weeks from Election Day amid unfolding revelations about the case, Mr. Hastert and his leadership team held a conference call with House Republicans on Monday night and heard blunt advice and criticism from participants who pressed for further action to reassure voters.
“This is a political problem, and we need to step up and do something dramatic,” Representative Ray LaHood of Illinois said afterward, adding that he had proposed abolishing the Congressional page program.
Long before Republican Congressman Foley was revealed as a pervert with a desire for young boys, I wondered to a friend, “Are all Republicans pedophiles ?”
A local GOP rising star had just been arrested for feeding beer to underage boys and accosting one of them. In 2003 a judge-elect of Monroe County, Pennsylvania, my home, was charged with indecent assault for molesting his young daughter at a rock concert in the front row of a packed Wilkes-Barre auditorium.
The attorney, Mark Pazuhanich, was a favorite of the old guard GOP organization who had served two terms as district attorney. Before he molested his daughter in public, Mark had been particularly hard as a prosecutor on sex perverts who preyed on children. Like Foley, it turned out he was part of the problem.
He pleaded nolo to charges relating to the incident and was stripped of his judgeship, given 10 year probation and placed on Megan’s List with all of the other local pedophiles. Quite a come down for a distinguished graduate of Columbia Law School.
Paying high prices for gas on the West Coast, or about to lose your job in Alaska? Timing is everything and Greg Palast provides us with a sordid tale of greed and corruption that is every bit as evil and corrupt as anything Enron could conceive of. Selected excerpts are below, but read the whole thing:
First a little history:
BP’s CEO of Alaskan operations hired a former CIA expert to break into the home of a whistleblower, Chuck Hamel, who had complained of conditions at the pipe’s tanker facility. BP tapped his phone calls with a US congressman and ran a surveillance and smear campaign against him. When caught, a US federal judge said BP’s acts were “reminiscent of Nazi Germany.”
…and now for current events:
Why shut the pipe now? The timing of a sudden inspection and fix of a decade-long problem has a suspicious smell. A precipitous shutdown in mid-summer, in the middle of Middle East war(s), is guaranteed to raise prices and reap monster profits for BP. The price of crude jumped $2.22 a barrel on the shutdown news to over $76. How lucky for BP which sells four million barrels of oil a day. Had BP completed its inspection and repairs a couple years back — say, after Dan Lawn’s tenth warning — the oil market would have hardly noticed.
But $2 a barrel is just the beginning of BP’s shut-down bonus. The Alaskan oil was destined for the California market which now faces a supply crisis at the very height of the summer travel season. The big winner is ARCO petroleum, the largest retailer in the Golden State. ARCO is a 100%-owned subsidiary of … British Petroleum.
The last article I read before bedtime was by The Man, Walter Pincus:
David A. Burtt II, director of the Counterintelligence Field Activity, the Defense Department’s newest intelligence agency whose contracts based on congressional earmarks are under investigation by the Pentagon and federal prosecutors, told his staff yesterday that he and his deputy director will resign at the end of the month.
Why would the top two guys in CIFA resign at the same time? Well, maybe they’re looking at some technical violations of the privacy and bribery statutes.
The agency was criticized in December after it was revealed that a database managed by CIFA contained unverified, raw threat information on Americans who were peacefully protesting the war in Iraq at defense facilities, including recruiting offices.
Last March, as a result of the continuing federal investigations arising out of charges against former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), prosecutors said they were reviewing CIFA contracts that went to MZM Inc., a company run by Mitchell J. Wade, who had pleaded guilty in February to conspiring to bribe Cunningham.
The article says that a counterintelligence official estimated that CIFA had 400 full-time employees and 800 to 900 contractors working for it. In other words, it was another Bush ATM.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s thorough article in Rolling Stone about the stealing of the 2004 election is last week's news, I know. But it's worth putting up anyway, if there's a chance it might reach even one person who hasn't yet read it.
Late on election night when the results began diverging from the exit polls, it was plain that the fix had to be in. Particularly in Ohio, where the election was under the thumb of a Clarence Thomas wannabe called J. Kenneth Blackwell. Dickens himself never christened a character with such deadly accuracy, at least not that I kenneth.
But Kerry just rolled politely over and played dead, in predictable obedience to Vince Lombardi's first principle: "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser." Nor has the Democratic leadership let out more than a peep of protest since.
But now George W. Bush is rolling around on the ground mortally wounded after having shot himself in both feet and the scrotum. The time may have finally arrived when a stuporous nation can finally be roused to reexamine just how in the hell we were tricked into our present mess in the first place. If enough of us make enough noise, maybe even the Democratic leadership will join the parade, in its usual position at the rear.
Atrios links to a Roll Call [subscription required] article indicating that some members of the Democratic party are kowtowing to the interests of their corporate masters on the substantial issue of net neutrality. Perhaps Pelosi is kowtowing to her corporate masters as well but I’m in favor of net neutrality and I’m just a small time consumer. Anyone know who the offending Democrats are?
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is drawing the ire of telecommunications giants after she came out against them in a fight between corporate titans of long-standing importance to Democrats — and encouraged her party colleagues to fall in line behind her.
The battle — over the relatively obscure issue of “net neutrality,” which concerns whether and how the federal government should regulate the Internet — pits cable and phone industry giants against tech heavies such as Google, which is based in Pelosi’s home turf of the Bay Area, as well as an array of consumer groups.
That the debate has turned partisan is angering cable and phone-friendly Democrats, who accuse Pelosi of trying to impose her personal views on the party.
“She’s taking this bill personally. It’s a constituent issue for her, and she’s generalized it into a Caucus issue,” said a senior aide to a Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
After discussing the huge strides the agency has made in doing business with minority-owned companies, Jackson closed with a cautionary tale, relaying a conversation he had with a prospective advertising contractor.
“He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years,” Jackson said of the prospective contractor. “He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something … he said, ‘I have a problem with your president.’
“I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I don’t like President Bush.’ I thought to myself, ‘Brother, you have a disconnect — the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn’t be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don’t tell the secretary.’
“He didn’t get the contract,” Jackson continued. “Why should I reward someone who doesn’t like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don’t get the contract. That’s the way I believe.”
[Update: Reacting to the quick criticism coming from all quarters, Secretary Jackson alerts us that he didn’t really mean what he said literally, he was just telling us a parable about how Washington works. I’ve searched the Good Book and can’t find a parable from the Great Master of us all that reconciles with Secretary Jackson’s newfangled parable — thus we can only conclude that Brother Jackson is working for that other Master.]
As Chuck points out below, the Secret Service plans to release visitor logs showing exactly how many visits Jack Abramoff made to the White House, and to whom. This cannot be good news for the fixer’s many former friends in the highest places.
But nor can it be unexpected. His pals must have known that feces and fan were about to meet bigtime the moment they saw the famous photos of Abramoff made after he pled guilty on the second of January.
Our Jack didn’t just happen to grab that black hat and trenchcoat as he dashed out of the house that morning. In his racket a man rises or falls on perception, spin, flash, first impressions, image. When Abramoff stepped before the cameras looking like something out of The Untouchables, he knew exactly what he was doing.
He explained the coat later by saying that it was supposed to rain that day, although nobody else in the crowd seemed to have heard the same weather report. The fedora was simply because he was obliged, as an Orthodox Jew, to wear a hat outside. And his usual yarmulke, alas and alack, would have seemed like parading his piety in a pitch for pity.
A quick image check on Google proves this last to be the bullshit it smells like. He goes bareheaded outdoors all the time. Abramoff’s fashion was making a statement all right, though, and here it is:
Take a good look at these threads, guys. That’s right, I just ratted on you. When your hands were out I was your asshole buddy but now I got the same two words for you that you got for me. Which are fuck and you. You want bad guy, I’ll give you bad guy. See you in the slammer.
I shamelessly lift the following off of Cursor’s roundup of the news because it ties in neatly with Wayne’s now famous, or perhaps infamous, Purple Lips post and I don’t it think can be done much more succintly. We just need to go ahead and draft Spitzer.
David Sirota sees “the beginning of a frontal attack by Corporate America on the progressive movement,” in an account of the launching of The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, “using the Democratic Party as an all-too-transparent cloak of legitimacy.”
Ella made it sound real nice, but I couldn’t find this story anywhere else, so this one will have to do, but Ella, we need your voice now more than ever. And hey, you reading this, you too, just like Ella said in the lyrics, “Why don’t you play your part?”. This could indeed be the start of something big.
Around the annual meeting scene they are known as the “kooks”, the “loose cannons”, and the “bleeding hearts.”
And that’s just the names we can publish.
They come from small but active fund companies, from monasteries in Minnesota, from environmental strongholds in Oregon and California. Sometimes they’re just investors who are fed up.
They propose codes of ethics, corporate governance policies, environmental standards. They get five minutes to step up to the microphone, give their speeches and ask questions of top management. They are cheered, mostly jeered and then cut off.
At Morgan Stanley, they also have a new name: the winners.
On Tuesday, the kooks stunned one of Wall Street’s biggest firms when shareholders approved a measure that would require Morgan Stanley to put outsized severance packages — those 2.99 times or bigger than the employee’s annual salary and bonus — to a shareholder vote.
Booman Tribune reminds us once again that democracy might just be a pipe dream:
Yet, the e-voting machines are just part of the digital problem facing U.S. voters. Diebold’s election software packages include what many activists describe as “one stop shopping” for election fraud. Most of the e-voting machine companies also sell software that creates digital electronic voter registration databases. In the Cleveland area, an estimated 7000 voters were knocked off the voter registration rolls when Cuyahoga County Board of Elections adopted the Diebold registration system. The e-voting machine companies can control everything electronically, from voter registration to election day vote recording to final vote tabulation and recounting.
Neither the Times nor USA Today nor any other major national publication has been willing to take the problem to its logical conclusion. None have seriously investigated how these very electronic machines were used to help steal the presidential election in Ohio 2004, or to defeat two electoral reform issues in Ohio 2005, or to swing key US Senate races in places such as Georgia, Minnesota and Colorado in 2002.
But the fact that these publications are finally acknowledging the obvious, overwhelming mechanical “glitches” with these machines is at least a start. Now that the Government Accountability Office has confirmed electronic voting equipment is easily hackable for mass vote stealing, and now that the Times and USA Today have reported that there are serious mechanical problems, maybe somebody at one of these media outlets will finally come to the obvious conclusion: electronic voting machines are merely high-tech devices designed to steal elections. And that is precisely why George W. Bush is in the White House today.”
Of course, in the Gospel according to Rick, charity really does begin “at home”. In this case, a very, very large home indeed. One that makes Tara in Gone with the Wind look like the cookhouse out back. To see the story behind what God hath begotten, today’s Philadelphia Daily News gives us another example of what the the corrupt crowd in power has given us in the latest attack that we know of on America. And there’s more to this sordid story here.
The largest known giver to a controversial charity founded by U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum made its $25,000 donation as the senator was working to win as much as $8.5 million in federal aid for the donor’s project in Delaware County.
Federal tax records show that Preferred Real Estate Inc., the developer of the Wharf at Rivertown project in Chester, wrote the check to Santorum’s Operation Good Neighbor Foundation in 2002.
Damn! This means I’ve got to throw out the old one and buy a Newspeak dictionary. In the Gospel according to Clarence, price fixing isn’t price fixing:
The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Shell Oil Co. and Texaco Inc. cannot be held liable under the antitrust law for their now-defunct joint ventures that had been approved by the federal government and that set the selling price for gasoline. … Justice Clarence Thomas concluded in the seven-page opinion that it is not automatically illegal under the antitrust law for a lawful, economically integrated joint venture to set the prices at which the joint venture sells its products.
He said Equilon’s pricing policy may be price fixing in a literal sense, but it is not price fixing in the antitrust sense.
I don’t know who I’m more disgusted with in this sordid story — the defendant Scrushy or the press and preachers that defended him. Not that almost all of the press hasn’t largely been bought off for years.
Throughout the six-month trial that led to Richard Scrushy’s acquittal in the $2.7 billion fraud at HealthSouth Corp., a small, influential newspaper consistently printed articles sympathetic to the defense of the fired CEO.
Audry Lewis, the author of those stories in The Birmingham Times, the city’s oldest black-owned paper, now says she was secretly working on behalf of Scrushy, who she says paid her $11,000 through a public relations firm and typically read her articles before publication.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press show The Lewis Group wrote a $5,000 check to Audry Lewis on April 29, 2005 — the day Scrushy hired the company. The head of the company, Times founder Jesse J. Lewis Sr., is not related to Audry Lewis.
The firm wrote another $5,000 check that day to the Rev. Herman Henderson, who employs Audry Lewis at his Believers Temple Church and was among the black preachers supporting Scrushy who were present in the courtroom throughout.
Audry Lewis and Henderson now say Scrushy owes them $150,000 for the newspaper stories and other public relations work, including getting black pastors to attend the trial in a bid to sway the mostly black jury.
The payments raise questions about the legitimacy of the ostensibly grass roots support for Scrushy seen throughout his trial.
During the trial, prosecutors had worried that Scrushy was attempting to sway community opinion — and possibly the jury — with a Bible-study program he hosts on local TV, as well as a daily show about the trial that aired on a local-access channel purchased by Scrushy's son-in-law.
U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, who prosecuted the case, said Audry Lewis’ claims, if true, don’t seem to indicate a crime occurred.
“If you want to pay someone to write favorable stories and can get a paper to print them, I don’t know of any law it violates,” Martin said.
Once in a while, the complicated is made clear by just a few words. Couldn’t figure out what Enron actually did? Let Michael J. Kopper explain it to you. (Once a mid-level swindler at the company, he is currently trying to duck jail time by ratting out his betters. Well, his superiors anyway.)
On the stand last year, Mr. Kopper described the essence of the deal in a flat, analytical style. “We stood between the two parties in order to skim money off of it,” Mr. Kopper said, his face blank and voice devoid of emotion. How much did he make on the deal? “Four and a half million dollars,” he said.
“That’s a pretty good return on $25,000, isn’t it?” a defense lawyer responded.
Yes, it was, Mr. Kopper said.
The lawyer asked how long it took to cobble together such a rich, efficient transaction. “Not that many hours,” Mr. Kopper said. “Maybe 10 to 12 hours of work.”
As we enter the season of giving, let’s reflect upon the takers. Mrs. Batard sends the link.
We really thought that after five years of lies, trumped-up wars, torture, secret prisons, assaults on civil liberties. etc., etc., etc., that absolutely nothing could shock or disgust us that much anymore.
Boy, were we wrong.
That’s because before tonight, we did not know about Long Island defense contractor David H. Brooks, the poster boy for the orgy of greed, cynical corruption, and abuse of decent, everyday American workers and soldiers that history will come to know as the Bush years.
You see, Brooks and his company — DHB Industries — make a lot of the bulletproof vests that our fighting men and women over in Iraq and Afghanistan have been wearing. The Pentagon bought them even though the union of mostly low-paid workers at DH’s plant in Florida; a small, muckraking paper, the Marine Corp Times; and experts from two government agencies had been warning that the vests didn’t stop 9 mm bullets. Earlier this year, the Marines finally recalled some 5,277 of the DHB vests.
Forget about the fact that scores of DHB investors are now suing the company after Brooks cashed in a whopping $186 million of his stock just days before it tanked. Or the allegations of union busting. It is for the crime — moral if not legal — of selling shoddy body armor to our troops that we’d like to see Brooks sent off to jail.
Except Brooks is not only a very free, and very rich man, but he’s now taking all that money that he’s reaped from George W. Bush’s wars, and he’s rubbing it in your face.
This weekend, Brooks spent a reported $10 million of his war profits… on a bat mitzvah. A bat mitzvah where the entertainers included Aerosmith, 50 Cent, Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks, and more. He even sent the public corporation’s jet to Pittsburgh to pick up Steve Tyler and Joe Perry.
Some day, this party will get a whole chapter when they write “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire.” We wonder if an endangered kimodo dragon was on the menu.
Folk singer Iris Dement, who sounds more like a southern country music singer than a folkie, but whose lyrics are often more powerful than the early songs of the late (as far as I’m concerned), great and now completely commercial Bob Dylan, is known for such memorable songs as Wasteland of the Free and There’s a Wall in Washington. It would be interesting if Iris gets around to writing and singing about a new wall that is being being built to commerate the fallen. This will be a wall of the fallen body count of the Bush administration — much larger than just the dead and wounded in Iraq — the story is chronicled by Nick Turse. Once again Tom Engelhardt serves up the story of the body count. Let’s hope we can hear this sad lamentable story in song one day, and don’t you know, Iris Dement is the one person who can deliver progressive politics and religion in one neat vote-getting package. I’d like to see her pull it off.
Back in mid-October, I noted that informal “walls” and exhibits to honor those Americans (and sometimes Iraqis) who fell — and continue to fall — in the Bush administration’s war and occupation of choice in Iraq have been arising on and off-line for some time. I suggested then that “the particular dishonor this administration has brought down on our country calls out for other ‘walls’ as well. Perhaps, for instance, we need some negative walls built, stone by miserable stone, to cronyism, corruption, and incompetence.” At that moment, Tomdispatch author (and Associate Editor) Nick Turse began to build a verbal “wall” of honor to those who have “fallen” in government service while fighting in some fashion to hold the line against this administration. A previously hardly noted “Legion of the Fallen,” these other “casualties” — men and women who were honorable or steadfast enough in their government duties that they found themselves with little alternative but to resign in protest, quit, retire, or simply be pushed off the cliff by cronies of this administration — turned out to be far larger than we initially imagined. Here, then, is the second installment in Nick Turse’s “Fallen Legion” series. The names for a third installment, meant for January, are already largely in place and we’re hoping that, by then, we might have an actual on-line wall to go with it.
Why is it that those who wrap themselves up in the flag tend to be the most corrupt? By now everyone has read about the California Republican congressman known as “Duke” Cunningham who pled guilty yesterday to graft, corruption and tax evasion. However, it’s easy to forget the Congressman’s significant achievement while in Congress — the flag burning amendment — that didn’t quite make it through the Senate. Not only that, but he made a name for himself in other ways:
He has cursed at a constituent, referred to gays in the military as “homos,” made a crude comment about a gay lawmaker, called a Democratic congresswoman a “socialist” and said the House’s liberal leaders should be “lined up and shot.”
He once challenged a Democratic congressman to a fight on the House floor and got into a scuffle over Bosnia policy with Rep. James Moran, D-Va., until Capitol police broke it up.
“I think his persona — the whole reputation as a war hero and the ‘Top Gun’ thing — give him … a little more leeway,” one top Republican aide said recently.
During a defense appropriations subcommittee hearing in 2002, for instance, Cunningham found a bizarre way to express his frustration over the military’s loss of two F-14s.
“Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you want to strangle Mary Poppins,” he told his colleagues. “That’s kind of how I feel.”
Well, Duke, I kind of feel that way too, but Mary Poppins isn’t who I have in mind.