Archive for Corruption

Warren (2)Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren brushed off liberal efforts last year to get her to run for president in 2016. It is not hard to guess why. For one, she is smart enough to know that at this point she lacks the depth — especially in foreign policy — to do the job well. (After a quarter century in Congress, Bernie Sanders struggled with foreign policy in the Democratic debate last night.) Second, if she stays in the Senate, Warren can be a thorn in the side of all the right people as an advocate for working Americans for a couple of decades. It’s what she does. She’s very good at it. And it’s fun watching Elizabeth Warren do what she is so good at.

In an interview with The Nation, Warren spoke again about the “rigged game” in Washington. In particular, the bipartisan effort to reform sentencing laws that some Republicans are using the bill as a means of protecting corporate criminals from even the nearly nonexistent prosecutions to which they are now exposed. On the floor of the Senate, Warren said,

[F]or these Republicans, the price of helping out people unjustly locked up in jail for years will be to make it even harder to lock up a white-collar criminal for even a single day. That is shameful, shameful. It’s shameful because we’re already way too easy on corporate lawbreakers.

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Thank you. Thank you.

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Jan
18

A moral and financial black hole

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Not all drugs have to be injected, ingested or inhaled. Yesterday, I drew parallels between the man-made crisis on Wall Street and the man-made water crisis in Flint Michigan. The reason is that the amoral pursuit of personal gain is an addiction that goes far beyond Wall Street. The Big Short made a big impression, can you tell?

The Guardian’s Tim Adams spoke with “The Big Short” author Michael Lewis about the film’s protagonists:

The idea that the madness was going to get worse did not occur to him. “In fact, it got worse and worse to the point where people were paid unbelievable fortunes just to do stupid things with money. Even the movie can’t really get this across. The movie gets across that there was a bet and these smart guys were on the right side of the bet. And those smart guys made hundreds of millions of dollars. That inevitably leaves you thinking that the people on the other side of the bet lost. Of course, the banks went down. But the real story is the actual people on the other side of the bet also got very rich despite the banks collapsing. If no matter what side of the bet you are on things are still going to work out for you, the world is upside down.”

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Detroit Water & Sewerage Water Treatment Plant

The United States used to be the subject of Michael Moore documentaries. Now we are living in one. Moore was in his home town of Flint, Michigan yesterday to protest the contamination of the city’s water with lead:

FLINT, MI — Filmmaker Michael Moore accused Gov. Rick Snyder of poisoning Flint water in a rally here today, Jan. 16, and called again for the U.S. attorney general to investigate the governor for what he called crimes against the city.

“I am standing in the middle of a crime scene …,” Moore said. “Ten people have been killed … because of a decision to save money.”

Yesterday, President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint, freeing federal dollars to help “save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in Genesee County.”

There is a long backstory to this situation. Wouldn’t you know, as Moore said, it involves the Midas Cult and money.

“A manmade catastrophe”

Before the credits roll for The Big Short, the screen goes black and a series of “where are they now” statements about the protagonists appears as an epilogue, including this one:

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Jan
01

First admitting there is a problem

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Nancy LeTourneau at Political Animal wrote yesterday about the crisis of confidence in the American system of justice, one that seems organized around denying and covering up its own corruption:

I’ve heard some comparisons lately to another recent movie – Spotlight – about the journalists who were responsible for uncovering Boston’s sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. The parallel that has been drawn is about the lengths the journalists at the Boston Globe had to go to in order to get the Church (and community) to admit that it had a problem. Simple proof wasn’t enough. The evidence had to be overwhelmingly conclusive. In the process, the Church invited it’s own crisis of confidence.

LeTourneau was dead on with her comparison of the Catholic church’s denial of its sex abuse problem and the police failure “to correct mistakes and hold members of that system accountable.” The company line among police is, at best, that bad actors within the ranks represent just a few “bad apples.” Police departments should remember the last part of that proverb is something about spoiling the whole bunch.

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Nov
02

“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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Oct
19

“The high cost of being labeled a sissy”

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Absolutely fascinating article by Malcolm Gladwell in New Yorker on the etiology of school shootings. They have become a ritualized behavior independent of the pathologies of individual perpetrators, he believes.

School shootings are not simply the isolated acts of a string of copycat psychotics who hear voices in their heads. They are perhaps a kind of slow-motion riot in which perpetrators downstream participate because they’ve been given a kind of permission by those who came before them. Four decades ago, Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter posited that riots develop in this way.

Citing sociologist Ralph Larkin, Gladwell asserts that Columbine’s Eric Harris (“a classic psychopath”) and Dylan Klebold “laid down the ‘cultural script’ for the next generation of shooters.” Gladwell introduces us to a foiled 2014 plot by a seventeen year-old Minnesotan from a loving family. He wasn’t
“someone who had been brutally abused by the world or someone who imagined that the world brutally abused him or someone who wanted to brutally abuse the world himself.” Unlike Harris, psychological testing revealed this kid “wasn’t violent or mentally ill,” but “simply a little off.” Plus, he thought Harris was “cool.” The account reads like a scene from Fargo.

Gladwell explains Granovetter’s theory:

In his view, a riot was not a collection of individuals, each of whom arrived independently at the decision to break windows. A riot was a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them. Social processes are driven by our thresholds—which he defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them. In the elegant theoretical model Granovetter proposed, riots were started by people with a threshold of zero—instigators willing to throw a rock through a window at the slightest provocation. Then comes the person who will throw a rock if someone else goes first. He has a threshold of one. Next in is the person with the threshold of two. His qualms are overcome when he sees the instigator and the instigator’s accomplice. Next to him is someone with a threshold of three, who would never break windows and loot stores unless there were three people right in front of him who were already doing that—and so on up to the hundredth person, a righteous upstanding citizen who nonetheless could set his beliefs aside and grab a camera from the broken window of the electronics store if everyone around him was grabbing cameras from the electronics store.

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Jul
02

Another day, another boondoggle

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Stick a fork in it. Another of those public-private partnership deals is done. Investors are ready to bail:

Barely 10 years after paying the city $1.83 billion for the right to run the Chicago Skyway for 99 years, a Spanish-Australian group of investors has put the historic tollroad concession deal up for sale.

The Skyway concession company’s executives have informed Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration they’re trying to sell their interest in running and collecting tolls from the 7.8-mile-long road on Chicago’s South Side, city officials said Monday.

And right on schedule, too. I described how these go down in December:

US and state taxpayers are left paying off billions in debt to bondholders who have received amazing returns on their money, as much as 13 per cent, as virtually all – if not all – of these private P3 toll operators go bankrupt within 15 years of what is usually a five-plus decade contract.

A “staggering” number go bankrupt, Salzman continues.

Of course, no executive comes forward and says, “We’re planning to go bankrupt,” but an analysis of the data is shocking. There do not appear to be any American private toll firms still in operation under the same management 15 years after construction closed. The original toll firms seem consistently to have gone bankrupt or “zeroed their assets” and walked away, leaving taxpayers a highway now needing repair and having to pay off the bonds and absorb the loans and the depreciation.

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Jun
28

The best convention speech you’ll never hear

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Perhaps America does have a reckoning coming. If so, it will not be the fiery one predicted by conservative ministers and pundits in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court rulings on Obamacare and same-sex marriage. But perhaps a reckoning nonetheless.

Popping up now and again since his 1988 presidential campaign collapsed, Gary Hart is not remembered for his speeches. The former Colorado senator’s presidential aspirations, like so many others’, died in the glare of public scrutiny. In a Time magazine extract from his upcoming “The Republic of Conscience,” Hart gives the best convention speech we will never hear.

Hart has had a lot of time to watch what has happened to the republic he hoped to lead. Distanced from the Village bubble, he offers a blistering indictment of systemic corruption in Washington that is now so ubiquitous as to be invisible. The army of lobbyists. The rise of the consultant class. The revolving doors. Campaigns as a billion-dollar industry. Rentier capitalism. “[S]pecial interest stalls in the halls of Congress.” The abandonment of “the common good and the interests of the commonwealth.” All of it is an outcome, Hart believes, “our founders would not recognize and would deplore.” Hart writes:

On a more personal level, how can public service be promoted as an ideal to young people when this sewer corrupts our Republic? At this point in early twenty-first-century America, the greatest service our nation’s young people could provide is to lead an army of outraged young Americans armed with brooms on a crusade to sweep out the rascals and rid our capital of the money changers, rent seekers, revolving door dancers, and special interest deal makers and power brokers and send them back home to make an honest living, that is, if they still remember how to do so.

What angers truly patriotic Americans is that this entire Augean stable is legal. Even worse, recent Supreme Court decisions placing corporations under the First Amendment protection of free speech for political purposes compounds the tragedy of American democracy. For all practical political purposes, the government of the United States is for sale to the highest bidder.

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Jun
17

The business of business

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President Calvin Coolidge once said, “The chief business of the American people is business.” But in examining the debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trade Promotion Authority, etc., one can see the business of business is not America.

It was clear last week that the TPP and TPA (fast track) were not dead, but unlike Monty Python’s parrot, really just resting. Politico reports on maneuvers by House Speaker John Boehner and Republican leaders to revive fast track:

Under the emerging plan, the House would vote on a bill that would give Obama fast-track authority to negotiate a sweeping trade deal with Pacific Rim countries, sending it to the Senate for final approval. To alleviate Democratic concerns, the Senate then would amend a separate bill on trade preferences to include Trade Adjustment Assistance, a worker aid program that Republicans oppose but that House Democrats have blocked to gain leverage in the negotiations over fast-track.

Decoupling TAA and TPA might be a non-starter with many Democrats. But the political mechanics are not as interesting as the broader trajectory of dealings between government and business.

In any of these deals, no matter what the promised benefits, the general public always seems to come out holding the short end of the stick. You can smell it. Somebody is going to make a lot of money. It’s just never us. We get to do the paying.

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