Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pathetic, or Just Cynical?

The New York Times published an unsigned editorial today bemoaning the lack of spunk in the Democratic Party. They place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Harry Reid and Max Baucus, with the powerful Reid once again misrepresented as a Mr.Peepers milquetoast and Obama consigliere Max Baucus cast as the slimy corrupt renegade from a Wild West red state.

Not once does the editorial so much as wag a pinkie finger at President Obama. It embraces the same tired old canard that fear and timidity are at the root of inaction by the erstwhile party of the people:
 That’s particularly evident in the Senate, which the party controls. Last week, Democrats had a rare opportunity to change the Senate’s rules by majority vote and reduce the routine abuse of the filibuster by Republicans, which has allowed a minority to slow progress to a crawl. But there weren’t enough Democrats to support real reform, so a disappointing half-measure was approved. The reason was fear: Fear that they might return to the minority one day, fear that a weakened filibuster might hurt them, fear that Republicans might change the rules to the disadvantage of Democrats if they regain a majority. 

Come on. Do you really think Harry Reid and his cabal would have signed off on watered-down reform unless they got the big thumbs-up from The Boss? Here is my published comment: 

President Obama is the leader of the Democratic Party. Not Harry Reid. Not Max Baucus.
Liberal groups were rightly upset about the pathetic filibuster deal. Republicans were rightly pleased. But then, so was Obama! Here's what he said about continued gridlock and failure of the Congress to follow the will of the people for the next several years:
"In my State of the Union last year, I urged Congress to take steps to fix the way they do business. … And today, I am pleased that a bipartisan group of senators has agreed to take action."
Reid never would have made this tepid agreement without the president's okay. You have to conclude that the president's goal for the next four years is to be seen as trying to get things done, and then conveniently being able to blame Republicans when they don't get done. Meanwhile he is backing down on his promise in another past State of the Union -- to fight against the Citizen United decision.
Not only that. He now even has his own 501(C)(4) fund-raising machine, Organizing for Action. It is touted as a grassroots successor to his campaign apparatus, but it is also accepting anonymous corporate donations in order to "further the President's agenda." Why more liberals are not expressing shock and outrage at what amounts to an influence-peddling scheme by a sitting president is beyond me.
The inability of the Democrats to "get things done" may well be more cynical ploy than a sign of weakness. Follow the money.
Actually, a few liberal groups have been expressing outrage and demanding that Obama shut down his slush fund. From The Hill:
Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, this week said Obama should shut the group down “and remain true to the repeated warnings he has given the nation about the dangers of corporate influence-money and business as usual in Washington.”
Organizing for Action has pledged to reveal its donors to the public, and as a nonprofit group, can accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals.
Former Rep. Bob Edgar (D-Pa.), the president of Common Cause, said Organizing for Action would be an avenue for special interests to gain access to the White House.
“I think labor is going to give to them. Corporations are going to give to them. Huge wealthy donors are going to give to them. They have no problem with that being known and will want to call up the White House for access,” Edgar said.
 
Labor unions, meanwhile, are holding on to their pocketbooks, waiting to see what Obama does about such inhumane ideas as Chained CPI for the sole purpose of further impoverishing Social Security recipients. They will not donate, they vow, if the president turns against the working stiff. You don't say!

Here is what my cynical little mind thinks about the rationale behind government by passive aggression.  By prearrangement, filibuster reform fails. Obama then sets himself up as lone crusader for the common man, entering full campaign mode as he endorses gun control (which absolutely horrifies Harry and Max). He goes on trips and energizes the crowds. Meanwhile, the White House directs the grassroots supporters to the OFA website where, right after they hit you up for money, you are urged to "have the president's back!"  They even provide you with a script to recite when you call your congress critter to "demand action." Meanwhile, the lobbyists pour into Congress, and the bribery coffers are stuffed to bursting as the bickering and the gridlock prolong the lucrative process for as long as possible. The NRA is as generous to the Reid Democrats as it is to the Republicans, of course. Everybody applauds Gabby Giffords and she goes to the White House for a photo-op. The corporate media mouthpieces do their own propaganda duty, and the suffering masses are corraled into the arena to mindlessly root for either the Democratic "humanistic" home team or for the GOP militia movement.

You may think that you are taking a side. But you are really just a pawn in the Money Party's games of Divide and Conquer and Winner Take All. And the winner, people, will never be you as long as the PTBs have their way.

Ignore what they say and watch what they do. Follow the money, and then get mad. Get very, very mad. And above all, create your own scripts.

  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When Unexpected Contractions Strike

Ouch. The economy is contracting and apparently catching all the experts by surprise. Well, you know what that means, people. Pain, and lots of it. For us, not them.


Eat Your Peas and Tighten Your Belt!

 In a sane world, the Great Unexpected Shriveling would be cause for a mighty injection of some stimulative hormones in the form of a massive government-run jobs program, a financial transaction tax, a living wage law, appropriating the excessive wealth of the entire Walton Family with a special 90% Surtax Law enacted just for them, the breaking up of the too-big-to-fail/jail banks, Medicare for All and etcetera and so forth. We've shouted the solutions from the rooftops till we're hoarse.

What should be a wake-up call to the Austerity Cult will no doubt cause the deficit scolds to double down and call for even more cuts, leading to a recession or worse. Stay tuned for an amping up of their belt-tightening talking points. Paul Krugman is calling it the incestuous amplification effect. A group of elites in a bubble feed off one another's propaganda and then give birth to an unviable, genetically disenfranchised monster of an austerity policy. Pain for thee, riches for me. It's all about the perpetuation of the worst wealth inequality since the Gilded Age.

Meanwhile, Dean Baker is debunking one of the great economic myths of the Age of Obama: that the Bush tax cuts and two unfunded wars caused the deficit. They didn't. It was the market bubble. The much-ballyhooed "surplus" of the Clinton era was anything but. The revisionist history of "Clinton Paradise Lost" is only a fairy tale. Also see Gramm-Leach-Bliley. 

It also turns out that a reduction in military spending was a big cause of the unexpected contraction. So the endless wars have been artificially bolstering the economic numbers all this time! It was a War Bubble! No wonder it never felt like a real recovery to most of us. But now that the American Empire has extended its phony war on terror to the African continent in order to contain China, perhaps the contractions will ease when the market gives birth to yet another freak of nature to add to its already diseased, extended family.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Immigration Kabuki

The best part of President Obama's ballyhooed immigration reform speech in Vegas today is that he'll lose his usual victimization angle. He won't be able to frame it in terms of "you and me against the world." (Congress) That is because one of those creepy bipartisan Gangs beat him to the punch yesterday with their own plan, with John McCain senilely admitting on behalf of the GOP that it's just a cynical ploy to shill for the Hispanic vote.

Of course, the Republicans' (and many Democrats') idea of immigration reform is to ramp up the 3,000-mile border militarized zone, concentrating first and foremost on stopping the Hispanic hordes with drones and guns before actually getting around to policies that are humane. Shoot or capture first, hand out the e-verify cards later. How much later is left up in the air. It depends on how profitable the enhanced border security is to the Military-Industrial Complex.

(Obama, according to the New York Times, likes the Senate plan, although he is said to be less than thrilled about more border security. But he'll go along with it anyway. Because it's bipartisan. And he'll talk about immigration reform as being "a call to arms." You can say that again, Mr. Gun Control Prez.)

It also boils down to how cheaply labor can be exploited. And as for the 11 million people already here without papers, they'll have to pay vague fines and back taxes before getting in line. They will still be subject to deportation, imprisonment in private, for-profit detention centers, still be ensnared by Obama's draconian "Secure Communities" police sweeps. Even those accepted as probationers will be denied public health benefits. They will be required to learn English and pass a civics test. (notwithstanding the fact that civics is no longer even part of the public school curriculum in many states.)

In insisting on the paranoid securitization of the borders, the Senators are of course ignoring the fact that fewer Latinos are even choosing to come here any more. Our economy sucks. The economies of Latin America are improving. Their income inequality is decreasing, while ours keeps getting worse. So I can't help but think that our politicians' pivot to immigration reform smacks of a ploy to enrich the CEOs and the defense contractors and Agribusiness and the gun manufacturers -- not to mention enhancing and further cementing the Homeland Security spy state. Xenophobia remains at the core, despite the Gang's claiming to be against ethnic profiling.

More Enforcement Against Fewer Immigrants?


Their border enforcement plan is not getting high grades from immigration activists. It is, they say, a typical wedge issue that appears designed to make immigration reform fail before it even gets started. Writes Vicki Gaubeca of the ACLU's New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights, "Border enforcement policy decisions must include mechanisms that holds agencies accountable and provides oversight as well as reflecting the perspectives of border communities. Now is the time to halt further construction of costly, deadly and ineffective border infrastructure or unproven technologies, and stopping the expensive, overzealous prosecution of migrants through programs like Operation Streamline. This operation is a 'zero tolerance' border enforcement program that orders federal criminal charges for every person who crosses the border without documentation, overloading U.S. courts and undermining the best values of our judicial system."

It is telling that the reform plan being put forth gives precedence to both low-paid migrant farm workers and highly educated scientists and tech professionals who were trained at another country's expense. Follow the money. If you can serve the needs of the  plutocracy for cheap, you will be given a place at our great table of American exceptionalism. Otherwise, get in line and listen to the sound of a thousand Predator and Reaper drones buzzing over your heads.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Brilliance of These United States

My favorite dead curmudgeon, Andy Rooney, was talking inside my head again. "D'ja ever wonder," he groused,"why Congress is pretending to do immigration reform and gun control but nobody is touching climate change with a ten foot pole?"

I think I may have the answer. It can be found in a NASA photo. You can now see, from the vantage point of space, that enough homegrown American gas is being burned off -- wasted -- to heat all the homes in Chicago and Washington!



 From The Financial Times:
The volume of unwanted gas being flared off in North Dakota, the state leading the shale revolution transforming the outlook for US energy, rose about 50 per cent last year. The surge at the state’s Bakken formation is being replicated in other shale regions with the Texas state regulator issuing 1,963 permits to flare in 2012, more than six times the number of 306 in 2010.    
The rapid increase has made the US one of the world’s worst countries for gas flaring. The volume of gas flared in the US has tripled in just five years, according to World Bank estimates and is now fifth highest in the world, behind Russia, Nigeria, Iran and Iraq.
 
Follow the money. Climate change is not being addressed because pollution is not being regulated. It's not being regulated because our taxpayer-subsidized oil companies are profiting and depositing a teensy little fraction of their ill-gotten gains into the campaign coffers of congress critters and into the inauguration slush funds of presidents. It's cheaper to spew vast quantities of a precious natural resource into the atmosphere than it is to build pipelines to not only contain it, but to use it to power homes and businesses. The propaganda you see being spewed in those annoying "Learn More" TV commercials sponsored by the oil and gas industry is not only mendacious, it's evil. They want you to believe their rape of the earth has a humanistic purpose. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It gets worse. ExxonMobil, Chevron and other conglomerates are taking a page from the Walmart playbook of vulture capitalism. They're hiring temporary laborers for only a few dollars above the minimum wage and not covering them with medical or accident insurance for one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. The New York Times is running a story today about the horrific accident rate in the North Dakota oil fields, and a medical infrastructure ill-equipped to deal with it. It's the high cost of low price. Bloated corporations foist the responsibility for their workers onto the government. Bleeding bodies and bleeding land and tainted water and dirty air abound. Guess who pays with their lives and their health? Guess who will pay when the polluters are sued for their malfeasance? Guess who will get a slap on the wrist and no jail time?

ExxonMobil has nothing to fear. It just donated $250,000 to President Obama's coronation celebration, matching what it gave to industry-loving oilman George W. Bush's inauguration slush fund.

D'ja ever wonder why Obama is keeping mum on campaign finance reform, and has said nary a word about trying to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling? Here's why:
 
 


Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Sharp Tool With a Smooth Handle

The Inaugural bullshit is over. Long live the eternal campaign bullshit.

It's time to forget about Selma and Seneca Falls and Stonewall. It's time, once again, to dust off the whips and chains and scolds' bridles for the little people, and call them gifts. In this week's radio address, your President signals whose side he is really on. (Hint: it ain't yours.) Just pretend you're a fly on the wall in the boardroom of Goldman Sachs, and that he's talking directly to the annual convention of the Plutocratic Mafia.
Hi, everybody. Here in America, we know the free market is the greatest force for economic progress the world has ever known. But we also know the free market works best for everyone when we have smart, commonsense rules in place to prevent irresponsible behavior.
Greed is eternally good, and you guys will always be protected under my watch. We know the stock market works best only for obscenely rich people. We have tepid rules that fool the hoi polloi into thinking the government is on their side. These rules do nothing to prevent crime, because the lawyers  that you and I share in common made sure to decriminalize fraud a long time ago with the repeal of Glass-Steagall. Irresponsible, prankish behavior is the worst you can ever possibly do, even when you launder money for drug cartels. We'll slap you wiseguys with a pitiful fine and announce it in the New York Times, and pretend we're cracking down on you. Your grateful checks may be made payable to Organizing for Action, my astroturf 501(C)4 slush fund. Thanks to Citizens United, which I am not fighting, all donations may remain anonymous. Or maybe I'll give you a cabinet position or an ambassadorship or other phony job to give you the continued influence-peddling access to my esteemed rock star persona to which you have become accustomed
That’s why we passed tough reforms to protect consumers and our financial system from the kind of abuse that nearly brought our economy to its knees. And that’s why we’ve taken steps to end taxpayer-funded bailouts, and make sure businesses and individuals who do the right thing aren’t undermined by those who don’t.
I am lying through my blinding toothsome teeth. Dodd-Frank does nothing to end taxpayer bailouts for you. You are covered in perpetuity. You are still too big to fail and too big to jail. Didn't you hear what Lanny Breuer said on Frontline the other night? Well, consider this little chat damage control. My second term job description is continuing to lie to the chumps who still think I'm on their side. Hell, only a third of financial reform is even in effect, and you guys are doing a pretty good job of making sure even the few good parts will never see the light of day. That's what congress critters and friendly judges are for. To be bribed, er, I mean to have their campaigns financed.
But it’s not enough to change the law – we also need cops on the beat to enforce the law. And that’s why, on Thursday, I nominated Mary Jo White to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Richard Cordray to continue leading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Mary Jo White has decades of experience cracking down on white-collar criminals and bringing mobsters and terrorists to justice. At the SEC, she will help complete the task of reforming Wall Street and keep going after irresponsible behavior in the financial industry so that taxpayers don’t pay the price. 
Pay no attention to Matt Taibbi, who spilled the beans about how Mary Jo put the kibosh on SEC investigations of her white collar criminal clients. Notice how careful I am to say she will only go after "irresponsible" behavior. At the most there will be a paltry slap on the wrist now and again. There will be no perp walks. There is no criminal behavior on Wall Street! Cracking down? It's a wonder I'm not cracking up -- heh heh heh. But seriously. I am not telling what I scored on the Psychopath Test. Same for the Machiavellian Scale. I make it a point never to release any of my grades. But just between you and me, I'm so High-Mach that it's like a drug for me.
Richard Cordray is a champion for American consumers. After the Senate refused to allow Richard an up-or-down vote when I nominated him in 2011, I took action to appoint him on my own. And since then, he’s helped protect Americans from predatory lenders, launched a “Know Before You Owe” campaign to help families make smart decisions about paying for college, and cracked down on credit card companies that charge hidden fees. But Richard’s appointment runs out at the end of the year, and in order for him to stay on the job, the Senate needs to finally give him the vote he deserves.
OK, so Richard is not nearly as corrupt as Mary Jo. In fact, he is basically an honest guy, or he was until I co-opted him. But the Consumer Bureau is basically toothless. It's "loosely attached" to Treasury, which you should be pleased to know will soon be run by a former Citigroup guy who enriched himself on bailout money, same as you guys. So no worries there. Sure, there are some mortgage servicing rules you might have to follow so we can pretend to protect the rubes. But the kicker is there is no apparatus in place to actually enforce them. "Cracking down" in Obama-speak is translated as cracking up, remember?
As President, my top priority is simple: to do everything in my power to fight for middle-class families and give every American the tools they need to reach the middle class.
Sorry, guys, sorry, I think I really did OD on the High-Mach meds this morning. But somebody has to do damage control on that Frontline documentary. The proles are already onto the fact that I used the FBI to grind up their Occupy faces instead of probing your asses. What it all comes down to is I am the tool that fools. I'm the tool with the smooth handle. I'm the tool you need to reach the middle class and the working class and the underclass and grab everything they own and see to it that they work or sicken till they die. I croon to the masses that I am so in love with them. I'm the populist Novocaine that deadens their pain so that you plutes can get on with your extractions.
That means bringing in people like Mary Jo and Richard whose job it is to stand up for you. It means encouraging businesses to create more jobs and pay higher wages, and improving education and job training so that more people can get the skills that businesses are looking for. It means reforming our immigration system and keeping our children safe from the menace of gun violence. And it means bringing down our deficit in a balanced way by making necessary reforms and asking every American to pay their fair share.
Yes, Mary Jo will stand up for you, my Lords of Finance. I will obsequiously ask you to create a few crappy jobs and pay people higher pittances. But rest assured. The government will do nothing to solve the jobs crisis. I will never say a word about raising the minimum wage, or suggest  anything so horrific as a Living Wage Law to cut into your bottom lines. Because the comfort of your pampered butts is my top priority. Now that Harry Reid has conveniently caved on filibuster reform and I made sure to praise him anyway, stuff that helps regular, struggling people will never get through the Senate. The Republicans are just the figleaf I need to maintain the status quo. No immigration reform, no gun reform, but I will be seen as "trying." And yeah, despite what Krugman says, I am still the Deficit Hawk in Chief. I will cut the deficit that is getting better on its own, simply because I can. I will slash Social Security and the safety net and call it "reform." I will make sure that every serf pays through the nose. Rest easy, my lieges.  
I am honored and humbled to continue to serve as your President. And I am more hopeful than ever that four years from now – with your help – this country will be more prosperous, more open, and more committed to the principles on which we were founded.
As Cornel West famously said, I am a "Rockefeller Republican in blackface" and I will continue to serve Wall Street with impunity. With my propaganda and your untaxed corporate money, this country will be even more unequal by the time I leave office and cash in. I have my whole life ahead of me. We are still committed to the principles by which we were founded, rules that still have some people being more equal than others. Our neoliberal, plutocrat-funded Third Way and Hamilton Project think tanks and gridlocked Congress will ensure that the rich will get richer, and only the poor will go to jail. America already imprisons more people than were ever incarcerated in Stalin's Gulag. That's the American way.
Thanks, and have a great weekend.
I know I will. Four more years of them. And then a well-rewarded lifetime of them.
 


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Banksters' Paradise

Only a day after he was showcased whining and obfuscating about his failure to bring criminal charges against any top Wall Street executives, the chief of the DOJ's criminal division has suddenly up and quit. Nobody's saying if he was fired before he resigned, but what is certain is that the Justice Department is attacking the producer of the PBS documentary, called The Untouchables. It seems they were deeply touched by the whole thing. And public servants to private interests that they are, will never sit still for another grilling, ever again.

The program effectively puts on full display the outright complicity between the government and the too big to fail/too big to jail banks. Lanny Breuer, the revolving-door white collar criminal defense lawyer in question, as much as admitted that his personal angst about the continued existence of financial monster institutions was the prime driver in his decision not to prosecute any head honchos. Moreover, he claimed, since so many of the alleged institutional victims of the various frauds were just as crooked as the perpetrators themselves, and probably knew and didn't care that they were being cheated, he can't prove that crimes were committed. Plus, if he went after the big shots, he'd have to go after their lawyers and accountants too. Lanny Breuer, a former defense lawyer for white collar criminals, would never dream of eating his own:
And if I show that sophisticated Bank One is doing a transaction with sophisticated Bank Two, and sophisticated Bank Two knows fully what it’s getting into or doesn’t care at all what the first representations are, then I cannot bring a case.
… The other issue we have here in those kinds of transactions [is] for the most part, you had the most sophisticated bankers and lawyers and accountants as consultants. So for me to bring a criminal case, I have to show that the very sophisticated lawyers on Wall Street who worked on this, the very sophisticated accountants, that either they were in on the crime, or frankly, what is reality is that in these disclosure documents out there, there was enough disclosure that we cannot bring a criminal case.
 
Breuer just admitted we have a two-tiered system of justice in this country. If you can afford an army of lawyers and better yet, if you can prove your alleged victim has a nasty case of dirty hands himself, you are home free. This truth is old news, but it is a pretty stunning admission to make on national television. 

The first half of the Frontline documentary showed various whistleblowers telling reporters that they were under direct orders from their Wall Street bosses to overlook the fraud on the "liar loans" that were ultimately sliced, diced and repackaged into investments which the sellers also bet against for even more profits. The whistleblowers were never contacted by the Justice Department for help in investigating the massive fraud. Breuer made himself look petty and inept as he actually dissed these witnesses:

Another criticism that has been thrown at you is that you’ve not done enough to go looking for the whistle-blowers that are out there. We have been able to contact a number of people who were inside the banks, doing due diligence work as contractors, who all told us that they were never contacted by the Justice Department.
I can’t talk in general about nondescript, anonymous whistle-blowers. But here’s what I can tell you. Whenever I personally have been in any public setting, I’ve invited whistle-blowers to come forward.
But why don’t you go out and look for them?
We do go out and look for them. I don’t even know what more I could do. I speak publicly. Preet Bharara, [U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California] Andre Birotte on the West Coast, the U.S. attorneys speak about it. We have a forum where we talk about mortgage fraud and investment fraud, and we go around the country, and we have fora.
We’re available to the press. I’m available to Congress. We passed Dodd-Frank [Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act], which gives whistle-blowers a financial incentive to come forward. I talk to our regulators more than ever. And when journalists come forward and they talk about whistle-blowers or TV shows come on that talk about whistle-blowers who make your very claims, we have FBI agents and lawyers and regulators come speak to those people right away.
… It shouldn’t be so easy for journalists to go out and find whistle-blowers that at this point, four years after the meltdown, haven’t been contacted by Justice.
I don’t accept for one moment that you all are finding whistle-blowers that we’re not. What I do believe is then when we speak to the whistle-blowers, we have to make a determination whether what they say is really a criminal case.
So in your scenario, before where you say, “How is it possible that the bank is able to keep some of the proceeds and not pass it over?,” the whistle-blower may say, “I saw that the bank kept those proceeds.” I’m offended by it, but unfortunately, when we look at the documents, when we look at the origination materials and we look at the contracts, it says in those contracts that this reprehensible conduct is permitted. …
 
I am not a lawyer, but I seem to remember learning that contracts which condone/allow criminal behavior are illegal and uninforceable on their face, and can actually be thrown out of court, especially if they do harm to a third party. I guess criminal conspiracy laws don't apply to banks, especially since the lawyers and lobbyists banks actually write the laws in the first place.

Above all, Lanny Breuer is clear that his priorities lie in protecting the banks over the people of the United States:

I think I am pursuing justice. And I think the whole entire responsibility of the department is to pursue justice. But in any given case, I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against institution A, and as a result of bringing that case there’s some huge economic effect, it affects the economy so that employees who had nothing to do with the wrongdoing of the company –
Or shareholders.
Well, first let’s talk about the employees. Employees may lose their jobs. Shareholders may or may not lose, and shareholders invested. But the employees perhaps did something different.
If it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly, it’s a factor we need to know and understand.
We have, as a government and as an administration, dug out of one of the great financial crises in the world. And at the Department of Justice, we’re being aggressive, but we should in fact take into consideration what the experts tell us.
 
And those order-giving experts, of course, come straight out of the Obama Treasury Department, and its revolving doors to and from Wall Street. It is surely only a coincidence that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is also blowing town for greener pastures this week, right along with Lanny. These guys could play the identical cousins in a remake of the old Patty Duke Show. The duo may not look alike, but they sure talk alike, they walk alike, and they are definitely two of a kind. They both have that annoying habit, for instance, of huffily whining about how "personally offended" they get by both Wall Street greed and those who have the effrontery to challenge them about not getting deeply offended enough to actually prosecute the fraudsters. See Lanny's deep offense defense in the film and transcript. See a few of Tim's throes of extreme and deep personal offense here, here, and here. Geithner also performed a prelude to the Breuer Defense in D-Minor at the Brookings Institute last year:

"Most financial crises are caused by a mix of stupidity and greed and recklessness and risk-taking and hope," said Geithner, who helped tackle the crisis for the Bush administration when he was the head of the New York Federal Reserve and has been urging Europe to act more aggressively to contain its debt problems.
"You can't legislate away stupidity and risk-taking and greed and recklessness. What you can do is make sure when it happens it does not cause too much damage and to do that you have to make sure you have good rules against fraud and abuse, better protections and you force banks to hold more capital against their risk," he said.
 
What the Frontline documentary did not mention was that after a smirking Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein was raked over the coals by Senator Carl Levin in 2010, and Levin handed evidence of crimes on a silver platter to the Department of Justice, employees of the bank made a hasty and generous donation to the Obama re-election campaign war chest. And later, coincidentally of course, Breuer's boss, Eric Holder, decided that the evidence of fraud was not evidence of fraud.

The relationship between the Obama Administration and the banking industry has been long apparent, though new revelations of complicity are emerging all the time, thanks to private lawsuits and investigative journalism. The day after the PBS blockbuster aired, ProPublica was revealing that Morgan Stanley bankers were humorously aware enough of their own fraud to name their garbage packages such things as "Nuclear Holocaust", "Subprime Meltdown" and "Shitbag." Morgan Stanley executive William Daley, you may remember, served a brief stint as Obama's chief of staff before the revolving doors took him straight back to Morgan Stanley. His purpose at the White House was to make nice with big business and push back against Republican claims that Obama is not business-friendly. If only.

Meanwhile, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who managed to "lose" billions of dollars of client money in the London Whale Fail scandal, not only is walking free and acting like a jerk at the elite Davos convention in Switzerland this week, he is boastfully broadcasting his own immunity from prosecution. He sported, not FBI cuffs, but FBI cufflinks on the first day of the confab. When he was called before Congress to testify about the swindle last year, he wore his official magical protective Presidential Seal cufflinks as amulets. They worked.

Are you deeply offended? Or, like me, just deeply cynical?

 

Official Insignia of the National Protection Racket

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Inau-gyration Speech Parsing, Cont.


I will now continue where I left off yesterday in my "instanalysis" of President Obama's inaugural address.

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.

I have a sneaking suspicion that those "outworn programs inadequate to meet the needs of our time" might just be code for cutting Social Security in order to meet the needs of Wall Street. After all, it was back in 2006 that Obama appeared before the Goldman Sachs-funded Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, and declared that Social Security, as it was envisioned by FDR in 1937, would not be sustainable into the 21st century.

I don't know what the harnessing of new ideas and technology to remake our government is all about. We cannot ask, and he was not telling. But it sounds, well, technocratic and rather sinister. As in, Chained CPI, granny-starving (h/t Charles Pierce) sinister. But we do know what his definition of  "school reform" is, all too well. It's privatization. It includes more standardized tests to get rid of unionized teachers and to close schools in poor neighborhoods, as well as enabling profiteering through charter schools run by unqualified vulture capitalists.

"Empowering our citizens with the skills they need to work harder" sounds like a motto Joe Stalin might have dreamed up for his forced labor camps. Propaganda for the shock worker who will gladly absorb training to work longer hours for decreased wages for the glory of the motherland CEOs who make more than 300 times the amount they do. "This is what gives real meaning to our greed creed." 
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.

OK, this is the graf that is giving the pseudo-liberals orgasms. This is the part where Obama goes full-bore progressive, takes a dig at Romney's 47% snark, and appears to full-throatedly vow to protect the New Deal. But all I can say is that we have to keep watching what he does, because as we have learned from past experience, his actions have a way of not matching his verbiage. Plus, look closely at his choice of words. "We the people still believe" is a nice centerpiece to this MLK/Founding Fathers pastiche of a speech, but may actually represent a mass herding into the veal pen of the continuing Obama campaign rather than a statement of executive intent. One of Machiavelli's prime tenets is to always tell the people what they want to hear. And, despite all the rosy rhetoric, there was this chilling caveat: "We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit." The subtext of looming austerity is never far beneath the surface. The fact that the best way of reducing health care costs would be to get rid of the private insurance leeches and establish Medicare for All was. of course, not mentioned by this president.

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That's what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

OK, I give him props for mentioning the need to address climate change. But he has a very recent history of squelching a report from an EPA scientist establishing that fracking poisons our drinking water. He has a history of greasing the wheels for oil companies to drill in the Arctic. He delayed EPA smog rules after manufacturers howled about their bottom lines, effectively condemning thousands of children and adults to early deaths from lung disease and asthma. Let's see if his New Creed translates into action. I am not holding my (cough) breath. Stayed tune for the Keystone Pipeline decision that should be coming soon via a Friday night news dump, preferably at the beginning of a three-day weekend.

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage. Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.

Oh please. We could go on all day about what a total crock this is. Google Disposition Matrix for info on assassination by drone for the next decade and longer. See the Washington Post's report on the secret playbook for murder by presidential fiat. But Obama was honest about the citizens knowing all too well the price that is paid for "liberty": airport body scans, indefinite detention without trial as enacted in the renewal of the NDAA, spying and eavesdropping on citizens through the renewal of the Patriot Act, suppression of free speech and right to assembly as evidenced by the orchestrated national police crackdown on the Occupy movement. Institutional paranoia is embodied by a Homeland Security state so massive that no one person is privy to what it is doing at any given time, how much it costs, and who is really in charge. At this point, it is a monster in charge of itself.

We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are na├»ve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear. America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.

This part is simply the standard ode to American Exceptionalism and cheerleading for Empire that is obligatory to every Presidential Pronouncement. We will force our democracy down the throats of every backwater whose real estate is coveted by our multinational, tax-evading, plundering corporations. "We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for profits and power freedom." I suspect, but cannot prove, that this last bit was lifted from old George Bush II speech.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

This was the part with the obligatory alliterative flourish, as well as a nod to Martin Luther King Jr, whose leftist legacy has been bowdlerized into a kind of warm, fuzzy, do- and feel-good Kumbayism, with nary a nod to the fact that Dr. King's anti-war, pro-labor actions and words made him a virtual Enemy of the Government and even a reputed target for official assassination before an escaped convict conveniently obliged in that task. Stonewall was acknowledged as that original band of radical gay rights activists who fought back against institutional homophobia, and Seneca Falls, of course, was the birthplace of the American women's suffrage movement.

It is now our generation's task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.

Blah, blah, triple blah. Lily Ledbetter-inspired legislation did not give women equal pay for equal work. It made it easier to hire lawyers to sue employers for equal pay in court, assuming a low-paid woman can find pro bono counsel. Gay rights is something he "evolved" into after wealthy gay donors threatened to cut off his campaign donations. He deported more undocumented immigrants in four years that Bush did in eight. His draconian "Secure Communities" program discourages women without papers from reporting domestic abuse and other crimes to police, for fear of deportation. Keeping "all our children" safe from harm includes only American children. Pakistani children, Yemeni children, and Somali children will still sleep with Obama's drones flying over their heads. Our president does not cherish the children of certain foreigners. 

A few more platitudinous paragraphs follow, too generic to analyze in any cogent way. You can read the whole thing here.

Before I forget, I want to include a comment I made to a Sunday NYT op-ed by a CEO complaining about what a lousy manager President Obama is. If only he could learn to delegate authority to his underlings and canoodle with Congress, kvetches David Rothkopf, Obama could rate above the C+ grade he gives him. My (buried) response:

The president is an excellent manager, and an excellent collaborator. He managed to ensure that the mega-banks are still too big to fail and too big to jail. He managed to ensure that private insurance predators are not going to be left out of "near-universal" coverage (which does not, by the way, equate with actual health care.) He managed to leave Iraq only because its government refused to grant the troops immunity from prosecution for possible future misdeeds, and he still managed surround Iran with a plethora of military bases and economic sanctions. He managed to create a dubious rationale for his continuing campaign of targeted assassinations by drone, and he managed to avoid answering to either Congress or the American people on just who the Patriot Act manages to sweep up in its massive spying.eavesdropping. He managed to prosecute more whistleblowers than any previous administration. He managed to keep Gitmo open. He managed to fast-track Arctic oil drilling, fracking on federal lands, and squelching scientific reports on how fracking pollutes our lands. He managed to get sweeping bipartisan support for his Jump Start Our Business Start-Ups Act to make it easier to defraud consumers. And he still manages to enjoy a 50% approval rating!
I would give Obama an A-plus in management. It is too bad that all this author manages to do is sound petty and left out of the inner circle of Obama confidantes. We already have Maureen Dowd to fulfill that function.
 
And speaking of the New York Times, if you happen to suffer from photophobia, please do avoid their home-page today. The Obama inauguration lights blazing there are bright enough to cause snow-job blindness. So if you think my parsing of the president's speech is too harsh, you might want to check out their various analyses. The gist is that he has magically evolved into a progressive for the ages overnight. Or, as Alicia Keys sang it the inaugural ball last night -- "Obama's on Fiyuh."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Inoculation Day

 
Today is Martin Luther King's birthday as well as the anniversary of the Great March on Washington. Today is also the beginning of  Phase Two of the Age of Obama. Above all, today is the day we need to administer a giant booster shot in order to inoculate ourselves  against a new outbreak of an old disease sweeping over the land of the erstwhile progressives. And it ain't the flu. Because in this Age of Obama, progressivism has been pathologized into a form of wimpy pragmatism. Today does not augur well for us if we happen to be normal, everyday struggling people. This day of sick pomp and circumstance is being hyped as a day to celebrate the small, incremental achievements of one man, as well as a day to bury all the bad memories, forget the betrayals and sell-outs, and in the words of Stephen Colbert, hope for a better tomorrow, tomorrow.

Today, if Paul Krugman's column is any indication, we are at the cusp of Stage Four of Glenn Greenwald's prescient forecast of how pseudoliberals will cope and react in Phase Two of the Age of Obama.  I suspect that Krugman got a call from The White House and probably an advance copy of the president's speech. Because his column, on the theme of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the watered-down and non-existent, dutifully pimped out a laundry list of all the president's alleged accomplishments. It ends thusly: "Still, maybe progressives — an ever-worried group — might want to take a brief break from anxiety and savor their real, if limited, victories."

Even Krugman's most stalwart fans and Obama's usual defenders have taken issue with that little bit of defeatism.

We saw a hint of Krugman's resigned defeat/co-optation yesterday when he publicly disagreed with Joseph Stiglitz's excellent and universally lauded piece on income disparity in the Age of Obama. Krugman just doesn't see income inequality as putting a damper on recovery. Krugman, methinks, has been herded into the brand- spanking new veal pen known as Organizing for Action, which is a direct offshot of the Obama campaign apparatus, and which seems cynically designed to pre-empt any real populist dissent, such as Occupy, from resurging during Phase Two of the Great Sellout.

Inoculation Day is still young, and I will be adding to this blogpost at intervals, depending on how successfully I am able to withstand an onslaught of hyperemesis inawgyration, a symptom of overindulgence on brass bands, politicians in their finery, platitudes, bromides and a general assault of red, white and bluedom. Stuff like this:

Katy Perry Performing at Inawkwardal Children's Ball


Update: Some thoughts on the Inaugural Address. The delivery, of course, was superb. He was kind of forced into acknowledging Dr. King, and I about fell over when he actually mentioned the P word (poverty) once. But then he also felt compelled to acknowledge the deficit, effectively cancelling poverty out, as far as I'm concerned, by once again indulging his "balanced approach" addiction. At least, he gave no hint of a grand bargain of safety net cuts. But how could he even dare, given that vast sea of diverse faces in the crowd, many of whom no doubt traveled to the event from the Anacostia neighborhood, where every other child lives below the poverty level. All in all, it was a speech as far divorced from history or from future plans as any aspirant to a high score on the Machiavellian Scale could strive for. Some excerpts:
 
The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. For more than two hundred years, we have.
 
(Why, why why did he say this? Income disparity under the Obama regime is at its most extreme level in history. During the time of the Founders, colonial life was surprisingly egalitarian, even given the existence of slavery.
 
Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.
Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.... No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.
(Revisionism to the max. We discovered that the market thrives when there are rules. When the economy crashed in 1929, due to wild unfettered speculation, only the Glass-Steagall Act passed in the next decade, the Age of FDR, put us on the path of ensuring fair play. A bipartisan cabal repealed all that during the Clinton regime, paving the way for the Crash of '08. We resolved, through the New Deal and the Great Society programs, that protecting the vulnerable is who we are. Obama has attempted on several occasions to dismantle those very programs in the name of austerity. In the penultimate sentence, in any event, he again cancels out his whole mendacious thought by dog-whistling to the plutocrats his conservative mantra of hard work and personal responsibility and free enterprise (read: risk, free trade and job-killing globalization.) Finally, he singles out math and science as the sole core curricula that will serve to enrich the ruling class. He never says a word about the necessity to study art, literature, political science, the humanities, or history. We. Must. Not. Learn. To. Think.)
 
This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. (Applause.) An economic recovery has begun. (Applause.) America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it — so long as we seize it together. (Applause.)
 
(The reign of American state-sponsored terror is only beginning. See the Disposition Matrix, the Kill List, the new invasions and incipient occupation of the African continent. An economic recovery has begun... for the top One Percent, who have amassed 94% of all the wealth recovered since the 2008 crash. But he gets the last part right: more reckless risk for the Greed Brigade as it endlessly reinvents ways to enhance the harsh reality of life for most of us. Look at JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who lost $6 billion in a risky trade, got his annual pay cut in half to a measly $11.5 million, but retains his stash of Chase shares worth an estimated $263 million.) 
We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own. (Applause.)  
 
(This is where I will stop the parsing for now, because this is the part that perfectly encapsulates the Machiavellian bromides that pass for policy in this Administration. Obama, in his first campaign, had advocated  a national minimum wage of $9 an hour. Now he is reduced to spewing aspirational pablum, never once calling for any actual legislation that would serve to lift his generic little girl out of the bleakest poverty. When it comes to social mobility, the United States ranks dismally low. If you're born to wealth, you stay rich. If you're born in poverty, you tend to stay poor. That little girl could have a genius IQ, but her chances of success are far, far below those of a dolt born to the likes of Lloyd Blankfein.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Scourge of Imaginary Friends

Reality assuredly bites, so the temptation to retreat into the cocoon of delusion is always there. It's just a part of being human. But too many lies and cons and fairytales have a tendency to build precariously upon themselves. And when they come crashing down, they tend to come crashing down all at once. I am talking to you, corporate media courtiers of America.

The Big Story today of course is about Heisman trophy hopeful Manti Te'o and the dead girlfriend who wasn't and the usual institutional cover-up of the fake dead girlfriend who wasn't and the usual journalistic lackadaisicality that permitted the fake dead girlfriend to live on in the continuing fictional narrative that makes America so special. I hadn't been paying much attention to this burgeoning scandal until the other day. All the elements are there: religious hypocrisy, the protection of institutions over individuals, greed, sports cheats. And that brings us to Lance Armstrong. Well no, it doesn't, because I am not going to waste any time belaboring Lance's sociopathic attempt at splainin' himself. You can get your fill about Manti and Lancey today with any random click of your mouse. I don't even need to supply you with any of the usual links.

But there is another massive con that is not getting nearly the attention it deserves. A wave of queasiness rolled over me when I read this headline in The Hill this morning: McConnell Seeks Fresh Start With the President.

I liked it better when Tortoise Face was vowing that his main goal was to make Obama a one-term president. No connection with Obama meant no grand betrayal. But now it looks at least vaguely possible that the president may achieve his Grand Bargain for the Grandees and a world of pain for the rest of us with the collusion of his new Imaginary Friend, Mitch. And even sloppy seconds Paul Ryan, who'd been missing in action since the election, crawled out of his hole this week to act pretend-reasonable. Hostage-taking over the debt ceiling is apparently off; negotiating the Petersonian cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is apparently on, without the default threat strings attached. (update: The House Republicans have agreed to lift the debt ceiling for another three months so the cutting of the safety net can begin apace. The Obama Administration is strangely, yet all too predictably, calling this a "victory." The nausea gets worse as the mind boggles.)

It's true that the GOP nihilists are still adamantly opposed to bilking obscenely rich people out of their hard-stolen fortunes, and that is the only sticking point that may, serendipitously enough, save us from The Only Adult in the Room. The one with the extra-notched belt and the bowl of peas.

There are some bright spots on the horizon, though. A few mainstream media people are waking up from their slumbers and putting the scold's bridle right back on the nattering heads of the deficit scolds. Case in point, this must-read by Kevin Brown, exposing the Journalists in the Service of Pete Peterson.

Paul Krugman follows up with a column and yet another blogpost pointing out that the deficit, even if it were the national catastrophe the imaginarians of the plutocracy insist it is, is largely fading away despite their best tactical efforts to keep it alive. Manti found it hard to give up his fake dead girlfriend, and so too are the deficit hawks and their media mawks finding it painfully hard to relinquish the mouldering love of their own entitled lives.

The infliction of pain on ordinary people is the Petersonian drug of choice, and it's a hard addiction to overcome. As soon as you flush the Fix the Debt poison pills, another loathesome toxin appears to take its place. The Business Roundtable cadre of CEOs sat around their Hogarthian abbatoir of a roundtable the other day and called for raising both the retirement and Medicare eligibility ages to 70. Rich people are living longer and age is no object when it comes to the vast accumulation of wealth -- so it naturally follows that poor people should share the sacrifice and the pragmatic economic patriotism of their betters. The BRT, as Richard Eskow points out in another must-read piece, is a right-wing extremist organization that actually wants to kill people whom they find personally inconvenient to their bottom lines.

But that didn't stop Mr. Balanced Approach from canoodling with the BRT just last month and kicking out the press corps who, the president agreed, would only spin the plutocratic lies and the greed and the plots and the lies out of all proportion were they allowed to stay and take actual notes.

These people, to borrow a line from my Krugman comment this morning, are like cockroaches. They scurry away whenever you shine a light on them, but sneak back in to steal your crumbs the minute your back is turned. So keep the high beams on, and the disinfectant ready.


Hogarth's Fourth Stage of Cruelty Reimagined: The BRT