Archive for Corruption
I really didn’t follow the career of Aaron Swartz, but his apparent suicide made news and brought details to light that had fallen down my memory hole (if they were ever in memory). Including his passion for making public information public … and accessible. That got him in trouble with the law in 2011. The New York Times explains:
In an effort to provide free public access to JSTOR, he broke into computer networks at M.I.T. by means that included gaining entry to a utility closet on campus and leaving a laptop that signed into the university network under a false account, federal officials said.
Mr. Swartz turned over his hard drives with 4.8 million documents, and JSTOR declined to pursue the case. But Carmen M. Ortiz, a United States attorney, pressed on, saying that “stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars.”
Except stealing isn’t stealing in this country. And torture isn’t torture. That is, if you’re powerful enough to be above the law, as Swartz clearly was not. The same U.S. Department of Justice Ms. Ortiz works for has decided that if criminals are well-connected and powerful, bank fraud, massive fraud, shift the Earth on its axis fraud is not something this country prosecutes. Instead it negotiates. It holds meetings, like this recent one.
Somehow I missed this. Three weeks ago the Washington Post buried a piece by Bob Woodward in the Style section on Rupert Murdoch’s effort to buy the American presidency. Carl Bernstein wrote about it this week in the Guardian. Bob Woodward and the Post have a spring 2011 tape of Fox contributor KT McFarland (on behalf of Roger Ailes) offering Gen. David Petraeus the full support of Ailes, Rupert Murdoch and Fox News staff if he’ll run for president:
So now we have it: what appears to be hard, irrefutable evidence of Rupert Murdoch’s ultimate and most audacious attempt – thwarted, thankfully, by circumstance – to hijack America’s democratic institutions on a scale equal to his success in kidnapping and corrupting the essential democratic institutions of Great Britain through money, influence and wholesale abuse of the privileges of a free press.
In the American instance, Murdoch’s goal seems to have been nothing less than using his media empire – notably Fox News – to stealthily recruit, bankroll and support the presidential candidacy of General David Petraeus in the 2012 election.
McFarland laid out the terms of the deal in high-quality audio:
“The big boss is bankrolling it. Roger’s going to run it. And the rest of us are going to be your in-house” – thereby confirming what Fox New critics have consistently maintained about the network’s faux-news agenda and its built-in ideological bias.
“And here let us posit the following: were an emissary of the president of NBC News, or of the editor of the New York Times or the Washington Post ever caught on tape promising what Ailes and Murdoch had apparently suggested and offered here, the hue and cry, especially from Fox News and Republican/Tea Party America, from the Congress to the US Chamber of Commerce to the Heritage Foundation, would be deafening and not be subdued until there was a congressional investigation, and the resignations were in hand of the editor and publisher of the network or newspaper.”
Austerity. Just what you wanted for Christmas. From McClatchy:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A group co-founded by Charlottean Erskine Bowles brings its campaign to reduce the federal debt to North Carolina next week, making the state the latest front in the battle to avert the “fiscal cliff.”
Two former governors – Democrat Jim Hunt and Republican Jim Holshouser – will launch Fix the Debt’s N.C. chapter at a news conference Tuesday in Raleigh.
Fix the Debt was founded by Bowles and Alan Simpson, a former U.S. senator from Wyoming. They chaired the so-called Bowles-Simpson commission that two years ago proposed a package of spending cuts and tax hikes to begin reducing the federal debt, now estimated at over $16 trillion.
If you didn’t see Lloyd Blankfein’s CBS interview a few days ago, it gets better. From Huffington Post, “CEO Council Demands Cuts To Poor, Elderly While Reaping Billions In Government Contracts, Tax Breaks”:
In government, if I help myself to taxpayer dollars, we call that embezzlement and I go to jail. In the private sector, if I help myself to taxpayer dollars, we call that innovation and I get hailed as a visionary exponent of public-private partnership. That’s the lesson of a Nov. 17 investigation by Anne Ryman of the Arizona Republic into the state’s charter schools.
In her examination of Arizona’s 50 largest nonprofit charter schools and all of Arizona’s nonprofit charter schools with assets exceeding $10 million, Ryman found “at least 17 contracts or arrangements, totaling more than $70 million over five years and involving about 40 school sites, in which money from the non-profit charter school went to for-profit or non-profit companies run by board members, executives or their relatives.” That says to me that in Arizona, at least, charter-school corruption isn’t the exception. It’s the rule. And that’s just in the nonprofit charter schools. Documentation for the for-profit schools is not publicly available. What are the odds that charter-school proprietors operating in the dark are less inclined to enrich themselves at public expense?
More at New Republic.
One of these days people will wake up to this scam.
You know, you raise these corporate critters from seedlings. They bring you success. Lots of cool stuff. Shiny. Pretty. All they want is a little blood, after all. And besides, you’re in charge. Right? Then one day it’s, “Feed me, Seymour!”
Verizon sure looks hungry. Via The Hill
19,000 corporate “persons” live in this building. (Can’t they afford, like, a Fire Marshall in the Caymans?)
Nothing to see here. Move along.
Wonder if Art Pope has an account down here?
Susie Madrak points to a plan by Occupy to buy up and “abolish” bad debts and monkey wrench the debt servitude system. The Rolling Jubilee hopes to buy distressed debt for pennies on the dollar. As Salon describes the rolling part, “Ideally, a pay-it-forward attitude would compel individuals who have their debt forgiven to help buy up and cancel more debt.” But there could be a hitch, writes Natasha Lennard:
The New Statesman’s Alex Hern noted that despite the “legal mechanics” of the Jubilee idea working in Occupy’s favor, the effort may face other obstacles. “Debt collectors really can cancel the debt if they want. The problem is that if you try to actually do that, you may find very quickly that people stop selling you debt.” Hern explained a similar plan concocted by a group called American Homeowner Preservation, in which they would buy a foreclosed house in a short sale at the market price, and then lease the home back to the ousted homeowner until the homeowner had the ability to get a mortgage and buy it back at a pre-set price. Felix Salmon wrote about the effort:
The idea might have been elegant, but it didn’t work in practice because the banks wouldn’t play ball: they (and Freddie Mac) simply hated the idea of a homeowner being able to stay in their house after a short sale and often asked for an affidavit from the buyer saying that the former owner would certainly be kicked out.
The banks’ behavior here, as Hern points out, was telling: They have no reason to care what happens to a house once they’ve sold the mortgage, but they did care when it came to the American Homeowner Preservation project. “The best explanation for their stubbornness is that they fear that organizations like American Homeowner Preservation are creating a sort of moral hazard by reducing the penalties for defaulting on mortgages.”
The banks. Are worried. About public morals.
In a piece from Newsweek, the former Reagan budget director calls a vulture a vulture:
… Mitt Romney claims that his essential qualification to be president is grounded in his 15 years as head of Bain Capital, from 1984 through early 1999. According to the campaign’s narrative, it was then that he became immersed in the toils of business enterprise, learning along the way the true secrets of how to grow the economy and create jobs. The fact that Bain’s returns reputedly averaged more than 50 percent annually during this period is purportedly proof of the case—real-world validation that Romney not only was a striking business success but also has been uniquely trained and seasoned for the task of restarting the nation’s sputtering engines of capitalism.
Except Mitt Romney was not a businessman; he was a master financial speculator who bought, sold, flipped, and stripped businesses. He did not build enterprises the old-fashioned way—out of inspiration, perspiration, and a long slog in the free market fostering a new product, service, or process of production. Instead, he spent his 15 years raising debt in prodigious amounts on Wall Street so that Bain could purchase the pots and pans and castoffs of corporate America, leverage them to the hilt, gussy them up as reborn “roll-ups,” and then deliver them back to Wall Street for resale—the faster the better.
That is the modus operandi of the leveraged-buyout business, and in an honest free-market economy, there wouldn’t be much scope for it because it creates little of economic value. But we have a rigged system — a regime of crony capitalism — where the tax code heavily favors debt and capital gains, and the central bank purposefully enables rampant speculation by propping up the price of financial assets and battering down the cost of leveraged finance.
Writing in the New York Times, Chrystia Freeland cites the 14th century halt of social mobility by Venetian oligarchs — La Serrata — for the decline of the Venetian city-state. Mobility meant competition, writes Freeland. So those who climbed to the top first pulled up the ladders after them. “By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink.” The same may be happening in the U.S. today:
From today’s Up with Chris Hayes. The Romney fundraiser video gives Americans a rare look into the world of the high-dollar donor: