Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bootlicking for Dollars

Enough with the Robin Hood shtick he's been forced to perform in Washington lately, co-opting the language of Occupy and presenting a lukewarm budget that pretends to take a little from the rich to give even less to the poor. It's time for President Obama to devote some attention to his neglected day job: crisscrossing the country in Air Force One to mingle with the fabulously wealthy at multimillion-dollar fundraisers, and do some old-fashioned political wheeling, dealing, and groveling.

Forget about the phony baloney nonsense of how Populist Obama is siding with the middle class against the rich. His real business is playing Silicon Valley off the movie industry, doing the bidding of Wall Street in private as he chides it in public, talking the 99% talk while walking the 1% walk.

Today he's off to Hollywood to placate pouty entertainment plutocrats like Senator-turned-lobbyist Christopher Dodd, who vowed last month to cut off the Obama cash because of the president's failure to support SOPA and PIPA.  If you were hoping to catch TV footage of the president crooning with the stars in the next few days, you're out of luck. All the events will be private, unless a millionaire Occupier manages to sneak in and get video.

And now that the paltry foreclosure fraud settlement is apparently a done deal, and Campaign Director Jim Messina has met with banksters to assure them that Obama has no beef with them, the president will go to four back-to-back Wall Street fundraisers in New York on March 1.  This is where it gets interesting.

It turns out that one of the $35,800-a-plate soirees will be hosted by regular Obama bundler Ralph Schlosstein, a hedge fund manager who is among a whole slew of financial overlords going public with opposition to the looming Volcker Rule. He is also among the money men whom Messina soothed last week, promising that the president will not be demonizing Wall Street in campaign speeches.

The Rule, which is set to go into effect in July, will ban proprietary trading by banks -- in other words, it will prevent them from trading with their own money rather than for clients. A centerpiece of the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul, it says that banks should not make risky wagers while the government guarantees their deposits. It's designed to prevent the kind of bubble which caused the Crash of 2008. Or the kind of unpunished theft allegedly committed by former Senator and Obama Bundler Jon Corzine. But since these kinds of bets are so lucrative for banks, they are howling at the prospect of their profits being reduced in the interest of honesty, fairness and the public good.

Regulatory agencies only have four months to further tweak the Volcker Rule here and there and everywhere. They are being beset from all sides as they decide to either water down an already watered-down bill, or stand firm against the banks. From the L.A. Times:
The passion on both sides of the issue — and the big money that is at stake — are evident in the 14,490 public comments that the SEC had received and posted on its website as of Tuesday. Thousands of those were from private individuals expressing their support for cracking down on Wall Street's risky trading practices.

For banks, the debate comes at a particularly sensitive moment. The last few months have been filled with news of layoffs and pay cuts on Wall Street as banks grapple with a raft of newly proposed regulations and continued economic turmoil in Europe.

The proposed Volcker rule puts a number of new limitations on the financial industry. Big banks would be able to own only small stakes in private equity and hedge funds and they would have to do away with any trading desks that trade solely for the profit of the bank.
Schlosstein has gone on TV to signal publicly what he will no doubt be whispering privately in the presidential ear as he tantalizingly waves his bundle of cash. 
"Its (the Volcker Rule's) intent is to reduce risk in commercial banking and investment banking,” Schlosstein said today (2/14) in a Bloomberg Television interview with Betty Liu. “But the line between proprietary trading and market-making is almost impossible to draw. You wind up with this incredibly complex regulation with incredibly complex enforcement, all of which will really increase costs for investors and for companies in the U.S.,” Schlosstein said. (waaaaah)
The United States Chamber of Commerce has also bundled up corporations to stand in solidarity with Wall Street to protest the Volcker Rule. It may have unintended consequences for profit-hoarding "job creators", they fear. Corporations are people, my friend, etc.

But others, such as pension fund managers, individual citizens and even a few bankers, say the Rule -- even in its current un-tweaked, pre-Schlosstein influenced state -- does not go nearly far enough in reining in the big banks. It is one more weak, and delayed, and meagerly-funded part of the already limp Dodd-Frank financial "reform" bill (yeah, the same Dodd to whom Obama must also now kowtow for even more cash). One former banker who disagrees with Obama's bundler buddy is:

John S. Reed, who ran Citigroup from 1984 to 2000 and has been an outspoken proponent of financial reform, cited the recent cases of MF Global and UBS in his comment letter to make his case for tougher regulation, writing, "When a firm is focused on market gain, it will employ every available device to achieve those gains -- including taking advantage of clients and putting the firm at risk."
In his own way, Reed was a victim of the deregulatory environment on Wall Street that the Volcker rule aims to rein in. He was ousted soon after Citigroup was created in the wake of the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999, allowing banking, securities and insurance firms to merge.
(See Reed's suggestions for improvement at the above link).

And this from Occupy the SEC, via Firedoglake.

Space is Limited, but the 1% Possibilities Are Endless 


Zee said...

Ya think that in the interests of providing "equal time" for dissenting opinions a la Cass Sunstein and Bill Clinton, the Prez will offer a few discounted tables to Conservative--or even Progressive--99%ers?

James Singer said...

"conservative... 99%ers"? You jest, sir.

4Runner said...

Dinner music will be provided by the Goldman Saxophone Orchestra with vocals by the Cash Brothers.

Jay - Ottawa said...


I have to waste some pawns now and then to protect my precious rooks. I have to straddle the fence to keep my options open. I have to kiss the elephant’s ass to save my donkey’s ass. I have to chip away at the Bill of Rights in order to bring it up to date. I have to attend those fat-cat banquets to get you some generous crumbs. I have to lie, quite honestly, for the sake of the cross-my-heart truth. I have to humble your Main Street to provide more confidence to Wall Street. I have to promote the plutocracy in order to strengthen democracy. And like the Good Shepherd whom I try to emulate, I have to forsake the 99% to rescue the 1% -- after all, we’re ALL Americans. I have to strip mine the globe to preserve our way of life. I have to foster the wars to prove I’m tough and to counter the sly blackmail behind that purist Nobel Peace Prize. I have to send drones to their weddings and funerals to win their hearts and minds. I have to kill their turbaned men to liberate their burqa’d women. I have to gamble with the present in order to win the future. I have to smile this much just to cheer you up. I have to play the game, which is the only way to stop it.

Karen Garcia said...

Off topic, but some of you have requested that I reprint my NY Times comments here. This one is in response to Gail Collin's piece on Congress....

The Congress critters have proven themselves to be complete fakes in agreeing to the payroll tax/unemployment extensions. Suddenly their pathological concern about the deficit has gone. Poof! disappeared into the rarefied air of the bubble dome faster than you can say Eric Can'torWon't.

But don't despair. The reactionaries have started another phony battle out of thin air. The Culture Wars, long considered a vestige of the dark ages of Bush, are back with a vengeance. Darryl Issa is actually going to have a hearing on the evils of birth control, at which only anti-contraception fanatics will be allowed to testify. Maybe his cohort will be hedging its insider bets on the price of Ortho-Novum and Yaz before the Stock Act goes into effect.

Or maybe they'll invest in drug testing companies, since they also want unemployment beneficiaries to submit to chemical vetting before they are allowed to collect on their own insurance policies. Anything to make hardship seem like a crime. It wouldn't surprise me if they even tried to make debt a felony punishable by jail time - in one of the private prisons they also have a stake in. They'd charge room and board to the prisoner, and even make room for the entire family. Shades of "Little Dorrit."

A commenter on the Firedoglake blog nailed it when he called the conservative agenda "a thousand points of blight." Dickensian Britain was a paradise compared to the fantasy lives of our political sadists.

Neil said...

$38,500 for a "small dinner" with BO is outrageous. Seems like buying political access, with an implied expectation of a political favor in return. Not much different than what Rod Blagojevich did, other than being better choreographed to make it "legal".

$38,500 could feed a typical family of four for about three years. The amount solicited for access to the president is obscene, especially for a so-called Democrat president.

Maybe someone could attend the dinner wearing a wire and micro camera to record the event, then post it online, so the rest of the world could watch. This is what democracy looks like, right?

Good information on the Volcker rule too.

Zee said...

@James Singer--

‘"conservative... 99%ers"? You jest, sir.’ --James Singer

No. Why would I be jesting?

Although a few weeks ago @Anne Lavoie decided that I’m merely a run-of-the-mill Democrat, I view myself as quite conservative, which, I hope, will become more apparent with time. And from a purely economic standpoint--income, accumulated wealth, etc. --I’m definitely part of the 99%.

So, there you have it, a “conservative 99%er.”

Now, I realize that the term “99%er” was coined by the Occupy Wall Street movement, and may have connotations beyond mere economic status.

Certainly, the Looney Right has characterized OWS and the 99%ers as a violent, radical, left-wing, anti-capitalist movement.

But I think that David Intrator sees OWS and the 99%ers much more clearly, having, in many ways, very conservative goals; I agree with everything that he says in this video:

So again, I see nothing incompatible with being a conservative and a 99%er, even if a prerequisite for joining the 99% Club is being sympathetic to many of OWS’ concerns and objectives.

Kat said...

I'll take the conservative Andrew Bacevich over liberal Hilary Clinton any day.
We should forget labels.

Valerie said...

You said it, Kat! Labels mean nothing. Pretty much everything that Obama has done has been for the 1% and against the interests of the 99%. His administration is just one big extention of the Bush/Cheney administration. What matters is integrity and most of the politicians on BOTH sides of the ailse don't have it.

I would wager, many of those AG's who were unwilling to settle with the banks were Conservatives with a black and white sense of fairness.

Valerie said...

@Zee wrote:

"Certainly, the Looney Right has characterized OWS and the 99%ers as a violent, radical, left-wing, anti-capitalist movement.
But I think that David Intrator sees OWS and the 99%ers much more clearly, having, in many ways, very conservative goals; I agree with everything that he says in this video:
So again, I see nothing incompatible with being a conservative and a 99%er, even if a prerequisite for joining the 99% Club is being sympathetic to many of OWS’ concerns and objectives."
You are SO right, Zee! This movement should appeal to every fair minded, reasonable person in America – and it would if the right wing and main stream media outlets weren’t demonizing it on behalf of their corporate sponsors. Fairness, rewarding hard work and charity were values my conservative Republican father drilled into us from the time we were small children. That is what Occupy is all about.
We are not alone in thinking this way. At first I was wondering why Bill Moyers was having so many Republicans (who would consider themselves Conservatives) as guests on his show but I think I have figured it out. He is showing all Americans who care about fairness and democracy that decent, thinking, compassionate, reasonable liberals and decent, thinking, compassionate, reasonable conservatives have a hell of a lot more in common with each other than they do with their zombie brethren who are buying the corporate Obama and Romney agenda hook line and sinker.


Thanks for posting your NYT comments here. I know you are modest and reluctant but many of us appreciate not having to pour through a useless paper to find the few jewels.

DreamsAmelia said...

@ Neil--funny, I too keep thinking of Blagojevich and the faux outrage he provoked--he was hung in the press before trial, just like it is an absolute given that we "know" who Al Queda is and they are Veddy Veddy Veddy bad so we will drone nuke and fry 'em from far away. And if someone slaps that label on your head, no matter what your skin color, heaven help you defend yourself! We never hear specific allegations in the press, nor concrete crimes, they just have to be Al QUEDA!!! (Tune in thundering Darth Vader Strikes back music....)
Sad, 'cuz Blagojevich channeled a kinda likable indie film-maker or song-writer in his brief press appearances. Though all the girls said Ted Bundy was pretty fetching too, so we know appearances are a big booby trap...

But yes, I can't just skip over the $38,500 price tag in any article or blog post about the fundraisers without ruminating on how many people could survive for how long on that sum of money. I reckon I could hobo Jack London style the rest of my (albeit, necessarily cut short by adversity) life on that sum. You can live free on the Appalachian Trail, and there are lots of free piles of clothes at community recycling centers and dumpsters near the Shenandoah National Park.

Sad that our politicians' definition of thinking in survival mode does not entail trying to live on the most minimal food and shelter but rather in terms of billions of dollars, for which even a million here or there is a rounding error. The finances alone should be argument enough that we are ruled by Queens & Kings. Maybe then it would sink into people's heads that both the Dems and Repubs are two sides of the same Oligarchy card.

Meanwhile, the few of us who do get it are busy flying kites and jumping in the lake, waiting for the day...

Neil said...

@ DreamsAmelia

Yes, and Blagojevich was convicted of corruption and sentenced to 14 years in prison, while Obama will likely be reelected, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while waging war in Irag, Afghanistan, the Special Ops stuff, Gitmo, and torture.

BTW, the Appalachian Trail can get pretty cold, at least in Pennsylvania and points north, and it can be hard finding down wood to make a fire, as I learned one winter.

You are not the only one with a life cut short by adversity. But short or long, it matters what you do with that life, not mere longevity.

Keep Fighting.

Valerie said...

Not sure if anyone is still reading this thread but I just saw an article in TruthDig about Lt. Col Daniel L Davis who had the integrity to stand up to the military brass and the MIC and tell the truth about the disastrous war in Afghanistan. I would wager this guy is a decent, caring, honest Republican. Yet another I can like and respect.

Neil said...

Thanks Valerie, this story was just broadcast on the PBS News Hour too, very important information. Lt. Col. Davis has two years to retirement, he is risking everything by going public.

Zee said...


I first saw Lt. Col. Daniel Davis's story in an on-line editorial that appeared in Armed Forces Journal, a respected periodical that circulated in a group in which I served in the latter part of my career in the defense industry:

That's not to say that I can confirm that his story is totally accurate, but I do have great respect for the journal that published his account of the situtation in Afghanistan.

Take that for what it's worth.