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“The lack of prosecutions, quite frankly, does not indicate a lack of evidence,” Richard Bowen told Bloomberg’s “Market Makers” last week. The former Citigroup Chief Underwriter for Consumer Lending has testified before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission but contends that evidence he provided never made it to the Department of Justice for further investigation and prosecution.

A lengthy article on Bowen in New Economic Perspectives outlines some of what the whistle blower might have provided. Furthermore, that the FCIC, DOJ, and the SEC might not (or might not want to) understand how the accounting control fraud “recipe” at the heart of the financial crisis actually worked. Once you explain how the “sure thing” at the heart of the recipe works, writes William Black, “jurors understand quickly that the officers were acting in a manner that makes no sense for honest bankers but is optimal for officers leading frauds.”

Matt Taibbi (citing Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism) looks at corruption in the Private Equity business, and the seeming indifference of Andrew Bowden, the SEC’s Director of Compliance Inspections and Examinations. A study “found that over half of the companies they looked at were guilty of ripping off their clients” using hidden fees. Bowden mentioned the discovery in a speech within the last year. Since then … crickets:

By this month, Bowden had achieved a complete 180, telling a conference of PE professionals that their business was just “the greatest.”

This is Bowden on March 5th, on a panel for PE and Venture Capital issues at Stanford. Check out how he pooh-poohs the fact that his SEC has seen “some misconduct,” before he goes on to grovel before his audience:

Is a slightly less worshipful attitude too much to ask from people charged with oversight? Taibbi asks.

Apparently, yes.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Mar
21

Fear itself

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Restraining myself from posting one of Stephen Colbert’s “ThreatDown” bits (maybe the All-Bear Edition). The numbers are in:

Washington (CNN)Americans have grown increasingly wary of ISIS over the past six months, but their confidence in the U.S.’ ability to combat the extremist group is waning, according to a new CNN/ORC poll.

The poll finds fully 80% of Americans say ISIS poses a serious threat to the United States — a steady increase from September, when 63% said the same.

Only 6 percent think ISIS is not a serious threat. The latest suicide attacks in Yemen and the museum attack in Tunisia will probably shave that number down some more. But how real are those perceptions? (Stupid question.) Paul Waldman examines that at Plum Line:

It isn’t hard to figure out why so many people think the Islamic State threatens the United States. When you see horrifying descriptions and pictures of beheadings, your emotional response can overwhelm any kind of rational reaction. To many people, there’s a large undifferentiated mass of scary foreigners out there, and any news related to terrorism or war anywhere means that we’re more endangered than we were. And then, of course, we have politicians who go around telling any camera they can that we’re all about to die; give props to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) for telling a three-year-old girl, “Your world is on fire.”

But guess what: Our world isn’t on fire. Yet it’s almost impossible to say in our contemporary debates that a hostile country or terrorist group isn’t a threat, especially if you’re a politician. Claim that the Islamic State — horrible though it may be — isn’t much of a threat to us, and you’ll be branded naïve at best, a terrorist sympathizer at worst.

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Mar
08

Just A Woman On A Couch

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(h/t Digby)

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Mar
01

See PAC run scared

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It’s important to be a victim these days and, boy howdy, they do it right at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, MD.

Raw Story’s Tony Ortega reports on a panel titled, “Religious Freedom in America: Would the Pilgrims Still Be Welcome Here?” Conservative columnist Cal Thomas, Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Texas, and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins seemed to agree with talk radio host Dana Loesch that it’s “a badge of honor to be persecuted” and that Christians in this country should be a protected class:

“And since we have the victim competition in the United States,” Loesch added, “I think we win.”

And thus a religious super majority in America transubstantiates itself into a persecuted minority. Genuflect, genuflect, genuflect, as Tom Lehrer sings.

But it’s men, really, who are most persecuted. Why, “feminist ideologues and gay marriage supporters” want to make men irrelevant:

It’s going to be hard to argue that “fathers are essential” if gay-marriage laws say “they are optional,” said Jennifer A. Marshall, vice president for the Institute for Family, Community and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation.

At “The Future of Marriage” panel, the Washington Times reports, Marshall called gay marriage the “final nail in the coffin” in the fight against fatherless homes. (Presumably, two-father homes violate code.) And just yesterday, I thought “being picked last in gym class” was their biggest motivating fear.

The Guardian’s Jeb Lund offers a more satirical take on the marriage panel, observing that political movements can seem “nonsensical to outsiders because groupthink elides the needs for certain connective thoughts to be voiced aloud.” We know who the good guys are and that the bad guys are bad. It goes without saying (and does) that effects have causes. There’s no point wasting time demonstrating what they are.

Yet, even thorny conservative social issues ultimately come down to money. It was just a matter of time. Lund writes:

… Wade Horn, former assistant secretary for children and families, weighed in with the observation that marriages save money and diversify productivity because “marriages allow for economies of scale and specialization” within the household. (For those scoring economies of scale at home, presumably because specialization has made one of you an actuary: economies of scale good when you are married to someone; bad when buying prescription drugs for nations.) When your bridesmaids give you bewildered looks at the altar, point at your groom and cross their eyes while miming throwing up, just hold your hands apart to show how much he scales your economy.

To a cynic, that might read like a heartless thought. But do you know what’s really heartless? Government. “Children need their mothers and fathers. There is no government program that can possibly substitute for the love and guidance and sense of place in the world that parents provide,” MacDonald explained. “What we’re seeing now in the inner city is catastrophic. Marriage has all but disappeared. When young boys are growing up, they grow up without any expectation that they will marry the mothers of their children.” And she’s right; people who think government will love you or your abandoned children are idiots. The Department of Love has been a failure since 1967, and large faceless institutions will never care for human beings no matter how well they claim to mean. Those “inner city” people shouldn’t have been trying to hug America. They should have hugged something more practical like each other and that smiley face from Wal-Mart.

If only those people were less urban. So it goes.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Feb
24

Anatomy 1-O-MG

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Feb
15

Crashing The War at Their House

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Obama has requested that Congress give him permission to wage official war on ISIS/ISIL without regard to geographic constraints.

ISIS/ISIL claims to be a Caliphate and the official state of all muslims everywhere, so they are also anxious to take the fight wherever it may go. Paris, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, whatever.

The American Media machinery busily promotes the alienation and vilification of all things Mohammedan, while at the same time pretending to be surprised and shocked that individual Americans are out in the hinterlands performing violence against perceived enemies in the Homeland.

(Last week, a man in Chapel Hill shot three young Muslim students to death in what has been described as both a hate crime and an argument over parking. A Muslim school in Houston was burned. A Muslim American man was attacked at a Kroger store in Dearborn, MI. Etc.)

ISIS and the American Government are both playing the same game. They both want this conflict to rise above all others. They both want “the war”. And all we get to do is play along, and let our sons and daughters be killed in the process.

If the pattern seems familiar, it is, and it did not start with Bush I or Bush II. This has been the pattern of American foreign policy with only minor shifts in our level of engagement since the middle of the 19th century.

American thinking at its genesis included a healthy amount of isolationism. Thomas Paine, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and many others held the notion that the new American states should regard the world as a place to join in commerce, but not in alliance or politics. We were to lead by example and make a profit, not push with a sword tip and make colonies.

Trouble is, commerce soon became the only thing that mattered politically. Our modern foreign policy looks and operates like a business, whereby war is waged for economic leverage. Which is why American involvement in the Middle East, especially as pertains to ISIS/ISIL, is a cluster fuck of epic proportions.

About a hundred years after we gave Britain the finger and established a more perfect union in the former colonies, the occasion presented itself for America to decide whether it wanted to take on the burden and responsibility of managing an empire abroad. In a move that permanently changed our trajectory in the world, the US found itself unable to resist the temptation to play absentee landlord over the Philippine Islands, a prize given to us at the conclusion of the Spanish-American war.

There is no substitute for the awakening of a people to the possibility of a better way of organizing society and governance. In the Philippines at that time there was a nascent move towards self-governance. They wrote a Constitution, and Emilio Aguinaldo issued a proclamation declaring the Philippines a free people. It should have resonated.

But the United States had just won the place in a war disguised as a poker game, or a poker game disguised as a war, and that just would not do.

The heady days of the American experiment in the Philippines in the first decade of the twentieth century created the blueprint for American intervention, and we have been doing it pretty much the same way ever since that first foray into empire abroad. The first phase is a brutal conquest against an inferior and badly managed alien force that tries to fight in conventional ways but is forced by circumstance to adopt a guerrilla style engagement. This is met with an unheralded brutality, adjusted for the inflation of brutality over time and with special incentives for technological advances.

This period is then followed by a social and psychological offensive, in every sense of the word, in which the American presence tries to present itself as the only logical protection from the barbarianism of the local revolutionaries. If you want a good laugh, you should look up the American Insular Government and the “Policy of Attraction”. It will be familiar to most. It is the first look America got of the future President Taft as well.

It was the birth of American adventurism. After several domestic trial runs in the western sections of North America, the US made the decision that we would play the same game other empire nations before us had so gloriously pursued. So much for a more perfect union, I guess.

The Philippine experiment was eventually a great success, as those things are measured, mostly premised on the lucky happenstance of an invasion by Japan in the second world war. The philippine state still has a GDP roughly the size of Atlanta, Georgia, but hey, that’s not so bad considering they spent fifty plus years working America off it’s back.

But what would happen if we broke the cycle of  the last hundred-plus years of foreign adventurism, and we instead let the Middle East evolve without the interference of our petro-political and quasi-religious free-market fanaticism? We might find that offering a better vision from afar does much more to inspire a wave of self-rule along democratic lines than does our constant self-serving economic and political meddling.

Instead of asking for a declaration of war, Obama should be asking for a flotilla of ships to receive refugees, an army of planes to fly families to safety, food assistance for the entire subcontinent, and a Congressional permission to label the area completely off-limits to American corporate shenanigans, and thereby divest America permanently from its compulsion to desert adventure, which has robbed us of fortune, integrity and blood for twenty-five years (if you only count the current mess from Gulf I, which is a highly charitable accounting).

Can you even imagine the outcry? I’m obviously holding my breath on this.

It is possible to affect with great prejudice while abstaining from the position of active combatant. It was an opportunity lost in 1899, it was an option ignored in 1956 in Vietnam. It is absent in current American policy in the Middle East, and it will continue to cost us lives, treasure and integrity until we learn the fucking lesson the architects of our democracy saw fit to warn us about. Or until the art of diplomacy somehow makes a comeback.

If we do not allow the Middle East to evolve on its own terms in its own way as a Domestic struggle – no less real than our own genesis – and the Japanese don’t conveniently invade, we will be fighting this war for another hundred years. As long as we HAVE to be there, because we imagine ourselves crucial to everything, we won’t afford it a logical end.

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Feb
01

When in doubt, hit somebody

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B-1B Lancer bombers on Diego Garcia in November 2001 during the Afghanistan bombing campaign (public domain)

The Times editorial board paid closer attention than I did to Obama’s State of the Union speech:

They went largely unnoticed, four words President Obama ad-libbed during the State of the Union address last month as he asked lawmakers to provide legal cover for America’s military intervention in Iraq and Syria.

“We need that authority,” the president said, adding a line to the prepared remarks on his teleprompter that seemed to acknowledge a reality about which his administration has been inexcusably dishonest.

“Marry in haste, repent at leisure” goes the old saying. That applies to legislating as well. The PATRIOT Act, for one. In this case, passage on September 14, 2001 of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), signed on September 18 by President George W. Bush. Specifically:

Section 2 – Authorization For Use of United States Armed Forces

(a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Obama now wants to use the AUMF to retroactively justify bombing Syria over a decade later. Congress will likely go along. The Times is not amused:

By failing to replace the sweeping war authorizations Congress established for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade ago, with a far narrower mandate, lawmakers are abdicating one of their most consequential constitutional powers: the authority to declare war. White House officials maintain that the current campaign in Iraq and Syria is legal under the Afghan and Iraq war resolutions, a dubious argument considering those were tailored to respond to the Sept. 11 attacks and to deal with Saddam Hussein, then the Iraqi leader, on the grounds — since proved to be false — that he had weapons of mass destruction.

Obama called on Congress in 2013 to “refine, and ultimately repeal” the Bush AUMF and vowed himself not to expand it lest we “grant Presidents unbound powers” (to wage war on their say so). Now, Obama and the usual suspects want Congress to draft a new AUMF against ISIL. Because when in doubt, hit somebody. And because we have so many places to hit them from.

In 2008, the Pentagon claimed “545,000 facilities at 5,300 sites in the U.S. and around the globe.” What counts as a facility? Or a site? How many of those are overseas? In 2009, Anita Dancs with the Institute for Policy Studies estimated about 865 bases overseas, at an annual cost of $250 billion. (What counts as overseas is a matter of interpretation.) Ron Paul caught flack in 2011 for saying 900.

Trouble is, the Pentagon can’t even give you an accurate count of what the empire administers, as Nick Turse found about the same time:

There are more than 1,000 U.S. military bases dotting the globe. To be specific, the most accurate count is 1,077. Unless it’s 1,088. Or, if you count differently, 1,169. Or even 1,180. Actually, the number might even be higher. Nobody knows for sure.

But you can trust them. That global footprint is justified. Just what the Founders imagined. If we can’t find enough enemies to justify those bases, new enemies can be arranged, and new legal justifications for attacking them.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday. Bread and circuses for everyone.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Jan
04

Which one are you working for?

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Those of us already pondering how to approach 2016 campaigns follow in Robert Woolley’s footsteps. The strategist for Woodrow Wilson’s 1916 presidential reelection campaign originated using message control, targeting, and opposition research, say Washington Post’s Dan Balz and John Maxwell Hamilton of Louisiana State University and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Campaign technologies have changed more than many tactics, they argue.

But to fight its way back after a disastrous 2014, Democrats will have to do better than more of the same in 2016. The left will have to step up its game, writes Sean McElwee. Much more than a standard bearer, the left needs a movement:

The left must remember that leaders do not make movements; rather, movements make leaders. Instead of vacillating from one hero to another, the left must create a formidable power base from which to both defeat Republicans and shift Democrats to the left.

Turnout increases with income, McElwee writes, which leads Democrats to target higher income voters groups that do turn out. This compounds with them favoring policies that appeal to higher income voters, leaving poor non-voters even less incentive to go to the polls.

Mass mobilization of core constituencies is the first key to winning. Problem is, the very solutions McElwee offers are the ones Republicans — now in control of roughly 70 percent of state legislatures — are systematically targeting: eliminating same-day registration and expanding ID requirements. Not to mention eliminating or shortening early voting.

Party leaders cultivating more progressive candidates would help, especially more workers and African American candidates to help boost turnout among the half of Americans with working-class jobs. “The good news,” McElwee reports, “is that research suggests that people of color are actually just as likely as white candidates to win: the problem is that they often don’t run.”

Obviously. But there’s a reason for that besides old-boy gatekeepers among Democrats’ leadership. Money.

Legislation and regulations aimed at getting money out of politics is another obvious solution McElwee offers (like same-day registration, etc.) that both lower barriers to entry and tend to favor the left’s base voters. But we have a chicken-and-egg problem. If you expect to pass them, you have to have control, but how do you get control unless you pass them?

But McElwee nails the master solution, saying, “a progressive America will require work.” Working Families Party and groups such as New York Communities for Change have busted their tails to advance just the kind of policies that benefit Democratic constituencies and candidates.

I can’t count the times I’ve heard from a disgruntled progressive, “We need a third party in this country.” My response is always the same.

“I can name a half-dozen third parties off the top of my head. Which one are you working for?”

Sadly, that usually ends the conversation.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo”. Transposition in original corrected to 2016.)

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Dec
23

Why you … you want to punish success!

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I wanted to follow up on Steve Fraser’s comments to Bill Moyers. Fraser is wondering when people in this new Gilded Age age will rise up to oppose the robber barons, as our forebears did 100 years ago. He spoke of how, out of the social upheavals that ended the Gilded Age, Americans created a social safety net, a “civilized capitalism that protects people against the worst vicissitudes of the free market.” But the wealth worshipers of the second Gilded Age have shredded it, and an even deeper, more pervasive corruption has overtaken Washington, and with a direct line to Wall Street:

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.

That is, TINA. (There Is No Alternative.) Yet that’s just what many jobless Millennials are searching for.

“It is axiomatic in our current political culture,” says Fraser, “that when we say freedom we mean capitalism.” I would add, that when we say capitalism, we mean, principally, one particular style for organizing a business: the modern corporation.

What Milton Friedman called capitalism in 1962 looks more like an economic cult today. Question the basic assumptions behind corporate capitalism, publicly point out its shortcomings and suggest we are overdue for an upgrade, and the Chamber of Commerce practically bursts through the door like the Spanish Inquisition to accuse you of communism and heresy. Why you … you want to punish success! It’s weirdly reflexive and a mite hysterical. What their blind fealty and knee-jerk defense of this one particular style for organizing a capitalist enterprise says about them, I’ll leave for now. It suffices to say I find it rather peculiar.

We think we invented capitalism. Yet there have been “capitalist acts between consenting adults”* since before Hammurabi. We don’t call one capitalist enterprise the world’s oldest profession for nothing. There’s a restaurant in China that has been in operation for nearly 1000 years. And pubs in England that have been in business for 900. All without being incorporated in Delaware or the Cayman Islands. (Communists?)

The fetish for the current economic model isn’t about money or ideology, but, like The Matrix, about control. For some and not for others. Working people in the first Gilded Age, says Fraser, “summoned up a kind of political will and the political imagination” to civilize capitalism,” to say to themselves, “we are not fated to live this way.”


Kudzu invasion, by FrenchKheldar via Creative Commons

Now, corporate capitalism is pretty successful at what it does. But then, so is kudzu, another invasive species. I used to live on the edge of a field of kudzu. In the summer, I had to cut it back with a machete each week to keep it from taking over my yard and eating my house. On those hot, summer afternoons, not once did a passing neighbor wag a finger in my face and accuse me of “punishing success.”

Corporate capitalism has become an invasive species that has taken over government of, by, and for the People. Sen. Elizabeth Warren very publicly called out one such creeping pest recently. She suggested it was time we cut it back. She’s right.

We upgrade our hardware and software every couple of years. When was the last time capitalism got a new operating system? And what might that look like?

* h/t Robert Nozick

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Nov
05

“TUI”

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TUI

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