Archive for Corporatocracy


Drowned in the bathtub

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Final scene from short film by Jeremy Helal

Why yes, we really do mean to drown the government in the bathtub.

Thanks to Congress slowly drowning the U.S. Postal Service in the metaphorical bathtub, the form I put in the mail to my doctor last week traveled 90 miles south and across a state line for sorting before delivery to his office four miles away. Slow death by mandated prefunding of its retiree health benefits means USPS closed the local mail processing facility last year to save costs, worsen service, and keep government from competing with private firms in the delivery business. Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 be damned. The Market demands human sacrifice. (Strange, but its name appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution, unlike the Post Office. Must remember to look for The Market in the colonial apocrypha.)

It appears The Market now has turned its attention to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs, with a “utility-like mandate to keep credit flowing in the housing markets.” Matt Taibbi examines why the Obama administration is invoking executive privilege to keep secret 11,000 communications covering federal conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The administration claims the release would harm financial markets. The federal judge that ordered last week’s release says the government simply doesn’t want to be embarrassed.

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Incentives for the perverse

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Not all political deflections are bright and shiny. Hyperventilating over public aid to those at the bottom of the wealth curve is an oldie but goody. Is Wall Street defrauding the planet to the tune of trillions? Well, but LOOK! Over there. A poor person. Eating!

Properly incentivizing the poor is a perennial handwringer for Fox News and other watchdogs of personal morality on the right (who otherwise think the government should mind its own damned business). Nicholas Kristof, however, spares some column inches this morning on the incentives driving our beleaguered corporate persons at the top. He gets downright snarky about it:

A study to be released Thursday says that for each dollar America’s 50 biggest companies paid in federal taxes between 2008 and 2014, they received $27 back in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.

Goodness! What will that do to their character? Won’t that sap their initiative?

The study in question comes from Oxfam. The group finds:

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Short Attention Span Theater

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After several years of delays, Short Attention Span Theater will again resume production on Repatriation Tax Holiday 2.

Robert Reich flagged District Studios’ announcement yesterday on Facebook:

I’ve spent the last day in Washington, where Democrats are quietly gearing up to negotiate a “tax amnesty” for American-based global corporations that have parked some $2.1 trillion in untaxed profits abroad (mostly in tax havens) to avoid paying their U.S. taxes. The U.S. corporate tax rate is 35 percent, but Obama is ready to offer 14 percent if they’ll bring the profits home; Republicans want 10 percent; some Democratic senators are willing to go even lower (Barbara Boxer is teaming up with Rand Paul to offer 6.5 percent). Corporate lobbyists are swarming over Capitol Hill, suggesting if they don’t get a great deal they might not just keep the profits abroad but even move their corporations abroad (like Pfizer is doing).
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Bonana fanna fo Fump

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It’s the blame game this morning as fingers point to who is to blame for the rise of Trump and Trumpism. Eric Boehlert of Hillary-friendly Media Matters examines how the media’s obsession with Donald Trump has yielded millions in free air time for the billionaire:

We seem to have entered unchartered territory where campaign coverage, at least Trump’s campaign coverage, is based on what’s popular (or what makes money for news outlets), and not based on what’s newsworthy. Casting aside decades of precedent, campaign journalism seems to have almost consciously shifted to a for-profit model.


Writing at The Observer, Ryan Holiday suggested a new paradigm is in play this campaign season:

Politicians have always sought to manipulate the public. What’s changed is that media is now not only a willing co-conspirator, they are often the driving force behind the manipulation. No longer seeing itself as responsible for reporting the truth, for getting the facts to the people, it has instead incentivized a scrum, a wild fight for attention in which anything that attracts an audience is fair game. And as long as theirs is the ring where the fight goes down, they’ll happily sell tickets to as many as will come.

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Elizabeth Warren indicts “shockingly weak” enforcement

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Photo by Tim Pierce (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
(],via Wikimedia Commons.

If justice means a prison sentence for a teenager who steals a car, but it means nothing more than a sideways glance at a CEO who quietly engineers the theft of billions of dollars, then the promise of equal justice under the law has turned into a lie. – from Rigged Justice

In the first of what she promises will be annual reports on enforcement, Sen. Elizabeth Warren this morning released Rigged Justice: How Weak Enforcement Lets Corporate Offenders Off Easy. Calling the Obama administration’s enforcement against corporate criminals “feeble,” Warren’s report cites 20 criminal and civil cases from 2015 in which authorities punished corporate crimes – where they were enforced at all – with a slap on the wrist. Prosecutors took only one of these cases to trial. She follows up with an op-ed in the New York Times, writing, “These enforcement failures demean our principles.” The report begins:

Much of the public and media attention on Washington focuses on enacting laws. And strong laws are important – prosecutors must have the statutory tools they need to hold corporate criminals accountable.  But putting a law on the books is only the first step.  The second, and equally important, step is enforcing that law.  A law that is not enforced – or weakly enforced – may as well not even be a law at all.

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Oh, but poor people…

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Greedy Humpty Dumpty (Fleischer, 1936).

Greedy Humpty Dumpty (Fleischer, 1936).

So now TransCanada is suing the United States under NAFTA for $15 billion over President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone pipeline deal:

In filing the NAFTA claim, TransCanada said it “had every reason to expect its application would be granted” as it had met the same criteria the U.S. State Department used when approving other similar cross-border pipelines.

It’s like suing for breach of promise. Except America never promised. Think Progress has this:

In the notice to submit a claim for arbitration, TransCanada notes that two previous pipelines, carrying oil from the same tar sands region across the U.S. border, were both approved. This, TransCanada claims, suggests that the denial was political in nature, which is prohibited under NAFTA.

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TPP: It’s The Company’s world. They just let you live in it.

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Credit Mary Shelley with the “creation gone wrong” trope. Or perhaps Genesis. Yet, the evil mega-corporation is as much a staple of popular fiction as the radiation-spawned monstrosities and failed experiments we grew up with at matinees as kids. Omni Consumer Products (OCP) from Robocop, for example, Ridley Scott’s Tyrell Corporation from Blade Runner, or the Weyland-Yutani Corporation (“The Company”) from his Alien films. All fictional. But like those, it seems the real beasties are neither biological nor technological, but legal.

Enter TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The full text was released yesterday, but as a series of PDFs. The Washington Post has made the full agreement searchable. (Note: some English spellings are internationalized.) At Vox, Timothy Lee explains that it may take a month to examine and sort out its impact:

But the agreement is also a lot more than a trade deal. It has more than two dozen chapters that cover everything from tariffs to the handling of international investment disputes. The reason these deals have gotten so complex is that people realized that they were a good vehicle for creating binding international agreements.

Modern trade deals include a dispute settlement process that helps ensure countries keep the commitments they make under trade deals. If one country fails to keep its commitment, another country can file a complaint that’s heard by an impartial tribunal. If the complaining country prevails, it can impose retaliatory tariffs on the loser.

Following on the heels of last week’s New York Times three-part series on how arbitration agreements have essentially privatized the courts to the benefit of corporations and to the harm of consumers, one wonders how much more extra-judicial authority TPP may be handing our budding Weyland-Yutanis in shifting power from the people to the plutocrats. How much of the thousands of pages is fine print?

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“Privatization of the justice system”

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Just yesterday I was wondering what ever happened to “frivolous lawsuits” and the runaway juries Big Bidness and Republican lawmakers used to cite as reasons to push for tort reform. It seems Republicans couldn’t deliver. Big Bidness went to Plan B: circumventing the courts entirely. The New York Times brings us up to date:

Over the last 10 years, thousands of businesses across the country — from big corporations to storefront shops — have used arbitration to create an alternate system of justice. There, rules tend to favor businesses, and judges and juries have been replaced by arbitrators who commonly consider the companies their clients, The Times found.

The change has been swift and virtually unnoticed, even though it has meant that tens of millions of Americans have lost a fundamental right: their day in court.

“This amounts to the whole-scale privatization of the justice system,” said Myriam Gilles, a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “Americans are actively being deprived of their rights.”

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Exxon Playing Dumb

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Sham democracy and kangaroo elections

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In 2008, there were financial bailouts for megabanks and foreclosures for homeowners. There was vulture capitalist Paul Singer seizing an Argentine naval vessel in a dispute over debt in 2012. There was the European Central Bank bringing Greece to heel this summer after voters in January elected Alexis Tsipras to end the “vicious cycle of austerity.” Coming Soon: TPP. There are probably other cases as well. If it was not clear already who is really running the planet, here is another clue.

In Portugal’s elections earlier this month, Socialists, Communists, and the Left Bloc had won enough seats to form a coalition government, displacing the center-right Forward Portugal Alliance (PAF). And then?

Elections in Portugal this week offered the latest sign that when an individual European nation’s voters challenge eurozone austerity policies, the monetary union — and the international creditors it represents — takes precedence.

Portugal’s president, Anibal Cavaco Silva, fueled an ongoing debate about the future of European democracy on Thursday when he reappointed an outgoing center-right prime minister despite election results that gave three left-leaning political parties the majority of seats in parliament.

Silva asked incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho to remain and to form a new government. Opposition Socialists threaten to bring down his government with an immediate vote of no confidence.

Writing for the Independent, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard sees where this is going:

Greece’s Syriza movement, Europe’s first radical-Left government in Europe since the Second World War, was crushed into submission for daring to confront eurozone ideology. Now the Portuguese Left is running into a variant of the same meat-grinder.

Europe’s socialists face a dilemma. They are at last waking up to the unpleasant truth that monetary union is an authoritarian Right-wing enterprise that has slipped its democratic leash, yet if they act on this insight in any way they risk being prevented from taking power.

That is a nicer way of saying that what you thought was government by consent of the governed is really more like your student government experience in high school. The principal has the power to overrule. It is a sham democracy. Where once people might have held business’ leash, now we wear the collar.

This may still be reversible if Americans lead. But right now it appears there is only enough indignation for pushing back in Europe. America is so besotted with bread and circuses that people cannot even muster enough indignation to get off the couch, vote, and find out just how short their leashes actually are.

Fielding Mellish: I object, your honor! This trial is a travesty. It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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