Archive for Corruption
The U.S. press dutifully spent the last two days focused on why the White House did not send any high-level officials to join other world leaders at this weekend’s Charlie Hebdo photo-op in Paris. Meanwhile, few registered that 2,000 people died in Nigeria over the weekend at the hands of Boko Haram. Twenty died and many more were injured when a maybe ten year-old suicide bomber attacked a Nigerian market. Matt Schiavenza of the Atlantic notes that the story appeared on page A8 of Saturday’s New York Times. The massacre of civilians made page A6. Schiavenza explains why:
The main difference between France and Nigeria isn’t that the public and the media care about one and not the other. It is, rather, that one country has an effective government and the other does not. The French may not be too fond of President Francois Hollande—his approval ratings last November had plunged to 12 percent—but he responded to his country’s twin terror attacks with decisiveness. Not so Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan. Since assuming the presidency in 2010, Jonathan has done little to contain Boko Haram. The group emerged in 2002 and has consolidated control over an area larger than West Virginia. And it’s gaining ground. Perversely, the seemingly routine nature of Nigeria’s violence may have diminished the perception of its newsworthiness.
Jonathan’s failure to confront Boko Haram, of course, is nothing new. Nigeria has long been cursed with a corrupt, ineffective government, one perennially unable to translate the country’s vast oil wealth into broad-based prosperity. During his campaign for re-election—Nigerians go to the polls on February 14—Jonathan has vowed to tackle his country’s problem with graft. …
You know, one way to read that is, Goodluck Jonathan means to tackle his country’s lack of broad-based prosperity with more graft—just as the corrupt, ineffective government the U.S. is cursed with has taught him by example. With the Republican congress and GOP-controlled state legislatures misleading the way, we’ll all be saying “Je suis Nigeria” in no time.
The upside? Maybe the world press will start ignoring our mass killings.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo. h/t Josh Holland)
So many of those stories, if not about personal redemption proper, are about cynics and misanthropes rediscovering a connection with the rest of humanity. With an economy out of whack, and with a justice system glaringly separate and unequal — one rigged for the rich and powerful, and another for the rest — there are probably enough Scrooges and Potters in this country to keep the Ghosts of Christmas busy 365-1/4 nights a year.
But with Ghosts of Christmas in short supply, Lynn Stuart Parramore of AlterNet’s New Economic Dialogue Project project believes bringing back a sense of shame in these Dickensian times might help hasten the revolu … um, redemption:
History shows that in cases when the law or public consensus has rendered an act reprehensible, society has contrived an impressive array of shaming devices — the dunce cap, the pillory, ducking chairs to plunge the guilty into rivers and ponds and tarring and feathering. The idea, of course, is to not only punish the culprits but also to deter other potential wrongdoers from following suit.
What would be appropriate for CEOs who pinch the wages of their employees while earning hundreds of times more than the lowest paid among them? A scarlet G for “greed” sewn to their lapels? Don’t laugh: Some judges have been known to get creative with sentencing when the ordinary route of punishment doesn’t seem to work. A Los Angeles Times op-ed noted that a judge in La Habra, California, ordered a slumlord to live in his own rundown building under house arrest for two months, and a Cleveland judge sentenced a man who had bullied a neighbor and her handicapped children to stand on the side of the highway carrying a sign describing his crimes. Perhaps a judge equipped with the latest CEO pay disclosures could sentence some corporate titan found guilty of stealing wages to live on the salary of his lowest-paid employee for a time. There is something rather satisfying about ideas like that.
Dickens himself might approve.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Since the GOP took over in North Carolina in 2011, we’ve been warning about efforts by industry and ALEC to privatize public schools and public infrastructure:
Public private partnerships are a hot, new investment vehicle. PPPs are a way for getting public infrastructure — that you, your parents, and their parents’ parents paid for and maybe even built with their own hands — out of public hands and under the control of private investors who are more than happy to sell your own property back to you at a tidy profit. A turnpike here, an airport there, or your city’s water system.
Psst. Hey, bud. C’mere. I got this bridge in Manhattan …
In fact, the Macquarie Group is “buying” a bridge in Manhattan. As the nature of public-private partnership deals (P3s) for new highway expansions became clear, both the left and the right have found a common adversary: kleptocrats stripping America for parts.
David Dayen wrote yesterday at Salon about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s opposition to investment banker, Antonio Weiss, President Obama’s nominee for Treasury Department undersecretary for domestic finance. One of Weiss’ biggest clients is Brazilian private equity fund 3G. Dayen describes deals that would make Paul Singer blush. (Okay, maybe not.) They seem almost designed to reward failure:
The deals also exhibit the modern hallmark of corporate America: financial engineering. Decisions are made to satisfy shareholder clamoring for short-term profits rather than any long-term vision about building a quality business. The manager class extracts value for their own ends, and the rotted husk of the company either sinks or swims. It doesn’t matter to those who have already completed the looting.
Bill Moyers’ guest, historian Steve Fraser, deconstructs how the second Gilded Age differs from the first. Then, people banded together and rose up to challenge their newfound serfdom. But these are “acquiescent times,” says Fraser. We live in a fable of capitalism as “a democracy of the audacious who will make it on their own, while in fact most of the people are headed in the opposite direction.”
There is way too much in this conversation to unpack this morning. Fraser’s key obstacle to our exiting the second Gilded Age? Capitalism and freedom have become so conflated that we lack the language to question the current system and to explore alternatives.
BILL MOYERS: You talk about the vocal right. And there’s a powerful movement that seems to like the way the country is going. That seems to think this is the way it ought to be and that Occupy Wall Street and Steve Fraser, and others, they just represent the malcontents of a system that is really working for them.
STEVE FRASER: Yes. It is the consummate all embracing expression of the triumph of the free market ideology as the synonym for freedom. In other words, it used to be you could talk about freedom and the free market as distinct notions. Now, and for some time, since the age of Reagan began free market capitalism and freedom are conflated. They are completely married to each other. And we have, as a culture, bought into that idea. It’s part of what I mean when I say the attenuating of any alternatives.
STEVE FRASER: … there’s a philosopher who said that language is the house of being. It’s where we live. And if you’re living in a language that’s been denuded of some of its key furniture like certain concepts like that, you’re homeless. You have no way, you have no way to challenge even when you’re faced with wholesale larceny. I mean on the part of the major banking institutions. I mean what — let’s call a spade a spade. These were thieves. And yet the we lack the kind of linguistic wherewithal, which is much more, it’s spiritual, to confront it.
Thanks a lot, Milton.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Nicholas Kristof provides an opening this morning to spend more time discussing education with his celebration of Conor Bohan, founder of a college scholarship program for Haitian students: the Haitian Education and Leadership Program (HELP).
“Education works,” Bohan said simply. “Good education works for everybody, everywhere. It worked for you, for me, and it works for Haitians.”
It’s a noble effort. But it’s the attack on public education in this country that gets under my skin. Kristof explains why:
Over time, I’ve concluded that education may be the single best way to help people help themselves — whether in America or abroad. Yet, as a nation, we underinvest in education, both domestically and overseas. So, in this holiday season, I’d suggest a moment to raise a glass and celebrate those who spread the transformative gift of education.
A few days ago, we saw the news of the horrific Pakistani Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar. The Taliban attacks schools because it understands that education corrodes extremism; I wish we would absorb that lesson as well. In his first presidential campaign, President Obama spoke of starting a global education fund, but he seems to have forgotten the idea. I wish he would revive it!
Education corrodes extremism is a pretty concise explanation for why Wall Street has joined forces with the religious right in this country in a cynical effort to undermine public education under the rubric of “choice.” For the Big Money Boyz, the “education market is ripe for disruption.” Education reform is about mining public education and transferring as much as possible of that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars to the investor class by expanding charter schools. For the religious right, it’s about shielding their kids from knowledge they perceive as in conflict with their religious views. Like other fundamentalists, they want to keep modernism at bay. Because freedom. And because they resent having their tax dollars fund public education and not their religious schools.
During a similar period of prolonged, public face-palming over Washington idiocy, somebody asked: Where’s Tom Lehrer when you really need him? Well at 86, the singer-satirist is no longer performing. Thankfully, we have Matt Taibbi, back at Rolling Stone.
Taibbi gives the Citigroup provision in the “Cromnibus” budget bill a bit of the “vampire squid” treatment. Senator Elizabeth Warren made headlines on Friday night when the Massachusetts Democrat read aloud the title of the Dodd-Frank rule the Citigroup-sponsored provision aimed to repeal: “PROHIBITION AGAINST FEDERAL GOVERNMENT BAILOUTS OF SWAPS ENTITIES.” And then proceeded to vivisect it in her speech on the Senate floor, warning that passage means more corporate welfare in the form of taxpayer-funded bailouts. It is a provision neither Republicans nor Democrats would own up to inserting, neither would defend, yet would not stand up in numbers to remove lest it precipitate a government shutdown. Neither will the White House veto it.
Taibbi writes (emphasis mine):
There’s no logical argument against the provision. The banks only want it because they want to use your bank accounts as a human shield to protect their dangerous gambling activities.
In business today, too often integrity is an afterthought.
The San Francisco Chronicle quotes from the blog, Both Sides of the Table, by investor Mark Suster, “I believe that integrity and honesty are very important to most venture capital investors. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that they are required to make a lot of money.”
In a piece that might be titled, “The Real Jerks of Silicon Valley,” Alyson Shontell examines how many rising stars in Silicon Valley tend to be “–holes”. (The construction pops up frequently in the piece.) The rogues gallery is expansive, including Uber’s Travis Kalanick. He’s had a particularly bad week. Still,
“Sometimes,” one acquaintance said of Kalanick, “–holes create great businesses.”
America has lost faith with itself.
Grazing on the Net this morning, one story after another pops up where a common thread is the lies we tell ourselves and the ugly truths about ourselves we struggle to hide.
According to conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 — brought on by runaway financial institutions — shouldn’t have been possible. But Republicans chose not to rethink their views even slightly. They invented an imaginary history in which the government was somehow responsible for the irresponsibility of private lenders, while fighting any and all policies that might limit the damage.
Matt Taibbi (on securities fraud at Chase and collusion between the company and the Justice Department to cover it up):
When [Alayne] Fleischmann and her team reviewed random samples of the loans, they found that around 40 percent of them were based on overstated incomes – an astronomically high defect rate for any pool of mortgages; Chase’s normal tolerance for error was five percent. One mortgage in particular that sticks out in Fleischmann’s mind involved a manicurist who claimed to have an annual income of $117,000. Fleischmann figured that even working seven days a week, this woman would have needed to work 488 days a year to make that much. “And that’s with no overhead,” Fleischmann says. “It wasn’t possible.”
But when she and others raised objections to the toxic loans, something odd started happening. The number-crunchers who had been complaining about the loans suddenly began changing their reports. The process she describes is strikingly similar to the way police obtain false confessions: The interrogator verbally abuses the target until he starts producing the desired answers. “What happened,” Fleischmann says, “is the head diligence manager started yelling at his team, berating them, making them do reports over and over, keeping them late at night.” Then the loans started clearing …
“That’s the thing I’m worried about,” she says. “That they make the whole thing disappear. If they do that, the truth will never come out.”
Just because you don’t hear the term “free-market fundamentalism” much these days doesn’t mean the faith has gone away. More on that in a minute.
Der Spiegel looks at The Zombie System: How Capitalism Has Gone Off the Rails. The wizards of finance are not the choir boys that prove the moral superiority of capitalism, as analyst Mike Mayo believed when he entered the business. Instead, writes Michael Sauga, Mayo found “the glittering facades of the American financial industry concealed an abyss of lies and corruption.”
Ironically, some the most blessed(?) beneficiaries of the corruption, global financial and political leaders, now say they want to fix capitalism, make it more inclusive:
It isn’t necessary, of course, to attend the London conference on “inclusive capitalism” to realize that industrialized countries have a problem. When the Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago, the West’s liberal economic and social order seemed on the verge of an unstoppable march of triumph. Communism had failed, politicians worldwide were singing the praises of deregulated markets and US political scientist Francis Fukuyama was invoking the “end of history.”
Today, no one talks anymore about the beneficial effects of unimpeded capital movement. Today’s issue is “secular stagnation,” as former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers puts it. The American economy isn’t growing even half as quickly as did in the 1990s. Japan has become the sick man of Asia. And Europe is sinking into a recession that has begun to slow down the German export machine and threaten prosperity.
“We’re not a democracy, we’re a republic,” friends on the right will cheerfully correct when a Democrat refers to this country as a democracy. It’s true — a true fact, if you hew to the right — but that’s not why they’re so adamant about it. For some reason, Republicans just like the sound of republic better.
But they also don’t really like the idea of democracy itself. It’s a plutocrat thing, Paul Krugman writes, quoting Leung Chun-ying, the leader of Hong Kong, on why full democracy there would be a bad idea: “You would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month. Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies.” Plutocrats worldwide (and their sycophants) really hate the idea of having to share power with people they consider inferiors. Recall Mitt Romney’s 47% and the makers-takers narrative? Krugman does too:
For the political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy. No matter how well conservatives do in elections, no matter how thoroughly free-market ideology dominates discourse, there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy.
In fact, the very success of the conservative agenda only intensifies this fear. Many on the right — and I’m not just talking about people listening to Rush Limbaugh; I’m talking about members of the political elite — live, at least part of the time, in an alternative universe in which America has spent the past few decades marching rapidly down the road to serfdom. Never mind the new Gilded Age that tax cuts and financial deregulation have created; they’re reading books with titles like “A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic,” asserting that the big problem we have is runaway redistribution.
“So what’s a plutocrat to do?” Krugman asks. Since they can’t come straight out and say only the wealthy should have the franchise, they resort to propaganda about voter fraud, etc.
As I wrote at my home blog, they find the whole notion of government of, by, and for the people very, very inefficient.
At the end of the Revolutionary War, there were an estimated half million Tories in this country. Royalists by temperament, loyal to the King and England, predisposed to government by hereditary royalty and landed nobility, men dedicated to the proposition that all men are not created equal.
After the Treaty of Paris, you know where they went? Nowhere. A few moved back to England, or to Florida or to Canada. But most stayed right here.
Take a look around. Their progeny are still with us among the one percent and their vassals. Spouting adolescent tripe from Ayn Rand, kissing up, kicking down, chasing their masters’ carriages or haughtily looking down their noses at people they consider inferiors.
(cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)