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“Holding Pickpockets To Account”: Sen. Elizabeth Warren Comes Out Swinging

In case you missed it, Elizabeth Warren made quite the splash at her first Senate Banking Committee hearing on Thursday.

In front of a panel entitled “Wall Street Reform: Oversight of Financial Stability and Consumer and Investor Protections,” Warren berated regulators for failing to prosecute a single Wall Street criminal in recent years, and for not letting institutional suspicions arise due to the fact that banks are trading at below-book value.

This, as you can imagine, did not sit well with banking executives.

According to POLITICO’s Ben White, they went apoplectic:

“We have been through more tests and thorough exams than any college student over the past four years, including many conducted by the CFPB,” said Richard Hunt, president and chief executive of the Consumer Bankers Association.

“While Sen. Warren had every right to ask pointed questions at [Thursday’s] Senate Banking Committee hearing, her claim that ‘nobody believes’ that bank books are honest is just plain wrong,” [another anonymous] executive said in an email. “As Federal Reserve Gov. [Daniel] Tarullo explained in response to her question, the low valuations are more likely due to continued economic uncertainty and concerns on the part of investors regarding the impact on banks’ profitability due to the hundreds of new regulations.”

White, however, left out key pieces of background here. The first is that Wall Street banks are performing like they were in 2006, and that their moaning about profitability rings hollow. The second is that to say the industry has a credibility problem would be the understatement of the decade: according to the Wall Street Journal and a trade publication called CFA Magazine, “one out of every ten people working on Wall Street are psychopaths.”

Not wanting to disappoint, the executive evidenced a delusional mendacity again in White’s article, when he said that “Elizabeth warren and [Texas Republican Senator] Ted Cruz are dueling for the title of ‘most extreme fringe freshman senator.’”

To this empty suit, it’s not just as if the financial crisis never happened. It’s as if Wall Street firms haven’t been mired in scandal after scandal since: foreclosure fraud, LIBOR, JP Morgan London Whale, FHA loan fraud, and MF Global to name a few. According to our faceless executive, wanting regulators to hold these well groomed pickpockets to account — for both crimes and reckless legal practices — is equal to slandering Chuck Hagel for having fictitious ties to North Korea or a blatantly made-up Hamas linked booster group (and certain publications continue to push this false equivalency in their fact-free devil-may-care attempts to be “objective” stenographers).

Fortunately for Wall Street, Warren might not have done herself any favors through her line of questioning. As Yves Smith, author of the the indispensable blog “Naked Capitalism” pointed out, the freshman Senator could have played a more subtle cat-and-mouse game to “tease out” information she claimed to have wanted – about why regulators never take cases to trial, namely, or why the fines they issue amount to a paltry “cost of doing business” amount. I suspect, however, that Warren was just trying to make a point – that whether regulators are scared of losing cases, or not wanting to find themselves shunned by Wall Street when they decide that they’ve had enough of Washington, they haven’t been doing the public any favors through inaction.

What’s important about this exchange, though, is that Warren demonstrated why she was elected. She might, thus far, be known as a one-issue kind of expert, but that issue is of massive importance to her constituents (and the American people). Her banking committee membership, I suspect, will be significantly more valuable the next time financier psychopaths pay a visit to one of the Senate office buildings to testify.


By: Brian Knight, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 17, 2013

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Banks, Wall Street | , , , , | Leave a comment

‘”We Did Participate In A Hoax”: How The Bush Administration Lied Us Into The Iraq War

David Corn at Mother Jones offers a preview of some of the new information coming Monday night in Hubris: Selling the Iraq War, an MSNBC documentary based on the book of a similar name by Corn and Michael Isikoff.

Narrated by Rachel Maddow, the film, like the book, will detail the inside story of how America and the world were knowingly scammed by the Bush administration into invading Iraq 10 years ago next month, leading to, as Corn describes it, “a nine-year war resulting in 4,486 dead American troops, 32,226 servicemembers wounded, and over 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians.”

“The tab for the war topped $3 trillion,” he adds, even though “it turned out there were no weapons of mass destruction and no significant operational ties between Saddam’s regime and al Qaeda. That is, the two main assertions used by Bush and his crew to justify the war were not true.”

The facts of how the nation was conned into going to war, Maddow has argued over the past week while promoting and previewing the new film, are important to understand in order to avoid the same thing happening again. “If what we went through 10 years ago did not change us as a nation — if we do not understand what happened and adapt to resist it — then history says we are doomed to repeat it,” she warns.

Maddow says the documentary will likely ruffle many political feathers, and Corn offers a few of the nuggets of new information on the scam that have been revealed since the publication of his and Isikoff’s 2007 book, and that will be presented in the MSNBC film. Among them…

—Retired general Anthony Zinni, former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, explains his reaction to then-VP Dick Cheney’s infamous declaration that “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” Zinni, who was sitting on the stage with Cheney during that 2002 speech to the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, says,”It was a shock. It was a total shock. I couldn’t believe the vice president was saying this, you know? In doing work with the CIA on Iraq WMD, through all the briefings I heard at Langley, I never saw one piece of credible evidence that there was an ongoing program.”

—A November 2001 briefing memo declassified two years ago and used by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during a meeting with General Tommy Franks, details how the administration hoped to trigger a justification for going to war in Iraq. One of those triggers, the memo suggests, was to be a “dispute over WMD inspections,” akin to the one which was eventually, and very publicly, manufactured to help fuel the phony case for war.

—According to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell was skeptical of the entire case for war, but hid that from the public, even as he was used by the administration to sell the war to the UN Security Council and the American public. “Powell walked into my office,” on the day Congress passed its resolution giving authority to Bush to attack Iraq, Wilkerson explains in the film, “and without so much as a fare-thee-well, he walked over to the window and he said, ‘I wonder what’ll happen when we put 500,000 troops into Iraq and comb the country from one end to the other and find nothing?’ And he turned around and walked back in his office. And I — I wrote that down on my calendar — as close…to verbatim as I could, because I thought that was a profound statement coming from the secretary of state, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.”

Wilkerson goes on to add that, in truth, Powell — who now regards his UN speech as a “painful” “blot” on his career — had no clue whether the intelligence he cited to the UN was actually legitimate. “Though neither Powell nor anyone else from the State Department team intentionally lied,” says Wilkerson, “we did participate in a hoax.”


By: Brad Friedman, The National Memo, February 18, 2013

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Iraq War | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let’s Take Healthcare Away”: Lindsey Graham Struggles With Fiscal Basics

There was an exchange yesterday between Fox News’ Chris Wallace and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that was hard to watch, but nevertheless illustrative of a larger point.

WALLACE: You know that if we go into the sequester the president is going to hammer Republicans. The White House has already put out a list of all the things, terrible things that will happen if a sequester kicks in: 70,000 children losing Head Start, 2,100 fewer food inspectors, small business will lose $900 million in loan guarantees. And, you know, Senator, the president is going to say your party is forcing this to protect tax cuts for the wealthy.

GRAHAM: Well, all I can say is the Commander-In-Chief thought — came up with the idea of sequestration, destroying the military and putting a lot of good programs at risk. Here’s my belief: let’s take “Obamacare” and put it on the table…. If you want to look at ways to find $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade, let’s look at “Obamacare”. Let’s don’t destroy the military and just cut blindly across the board.

Now, the first point is obviously ridiculous. Republicans are heavily invested in the idea that automatic sequestration cuts were something President Obama “came up with,” but reality shows otherwise. It’s trivia anyway — what matters is resolving the threat, not imagining who created it — but what Graham chooses to overlook is every relevant detail: the sequester was part of the ransom paid to the Republican Party when it took the nation’s full faith and credit hostage for the first time in American history. GOP leaders, at time, bragged that this policy was their idea, not Obama’s.

If Graham doesn’t like the sequester — and he clearly seems to agree that it’s a serious problem — he can support scrapping the policy or coming up with a bipartisan alternative. For now, he’s opposed to both of those options, making his whining yesterday rather unpersuasive.

But Graham turning his focus to the Affordable Care Act serves as a reminder of just how unserious he is about public policy.

Let’s be clear about what the South Carolinian is saying here. About $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts are set to kick in, doing real harm to the economy, the military, and the country overall. Lawmakers could cancel or delay the policy, though Republicans aren’t interested in either of these options, or they can come up with a bipartisan alternative that replaces the sequester with something else.

With 11 days to go, Lindsey Graham’s contribution to the discussion, in effect, is, “I know! Let’s take health care benefits away from millions of Americans!”

It’s worth noting that even the most reflexive partisans should realize their anti-“Obamacare” preoccupation is quickly becoming laughable. Republican governors are implementing the law; House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently conceded the Affordable Care Act is “the law of the land“; public support for repeal is evaporating; and when folks like Orrin Hatch and Michele Bachmann unveil repeal bills, even most GOP lawmakers ignore them.

Graham, in other words, really needs to get over it.

But more important from a substantive perspective is that the South Carolina Republican still doesn’t understand the basics of the fiscal debate. The point of looking for a sequester alternative is to find a new policy on debt-reduction. If policymakers scrapped the Affordable Care Act, it would make the debt worse, not better.

In other words, Graham thinks Washington can produce smaller deficits by producing larger deficits. That doesn’t make any sense.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 18, 2013

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Kings Of Comity”: Dear John McCain, Ted Cruz Isn’t What’s Wrong With The Senate, You Are

The Senate runs, as the wise old men who make up the majority of that institution would tell you, on comity. Recently, Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been in the Senate for about 10 minutes, has been accused of disrespecting the Senate’s tradition of comity. He has been accused of “engaging in innuendo” by repeatedly insinuating that Chuck Hagel is somehow in the pocket of evil foreign powers, and he is also said to have engaged in the even worse crime of talking too much even though he’s just a freshman.

Here’s Politico with the shocking details:

Behind closed doors, some Republican senators report that Cruz, in his stone-cold serious prosecutorial style, speaks at length when it’s far more common for freshmen to wait before asserting themselves — particularly ones who were just sworn in.

Absolutely appalling, how he insists on acting as self-impressed as his more senior colleagues. Politico also reports that Cruz was rude to Chuck Schumer on a Sunday show, which just isn’t done. After Cruz’s hostile questioning of Hagel, McCain publicly rebuked the Texas senator, something McCain only does to practically everyone who annoys him in any fashion. “All I can say is that the appropriate way to treat Senator Hagel is to be as tough as you want to be, but don’t be disrespectful or malign his character,” Mr. McCain told the New York Times.

Yes, Ted Cruz has obviously not yet learned that the Senate runs on comity. Except the problem is the Senate isn’t running at all, and hasn’t been for some time now. It was not running before Cruz got there. His arrival changed nothing.

Ted Cruz has indeed been acting horribly, lobbing McCarthyite smears and generally playing it up for the rubes back home. Last week, stories and columns ran, effectively simultaneously, in Politico, the Times and the Washington Post, all with the same basic message: Ted Cruz is being a dick. It was almost as if someone was trying to send him a message!

But Ted Cruz being a dick isn’t what has prevented the Senate from accomplishing anything. Ted Cruz’s rudeness isn’t what’s led the Senate to stop performing even its most basic tasks, like confirming uncontroversial agency heads and judges. Ted Cruz’s loudmouthed Senator Asshole routine is not what’s wrong with the Senate. What’s wrong with the Senate is grandstanding buffoons like John McCain who think comity is actually more important than accomplishing anything.

Lindsey Graham told Politico what he says to all new senators: “You’re going to be respected if you can throw a punch but you also have to prove you can do a deal.” Here’s what Lindsey Graham doesn’t ever do: a deal. Graham is a peerless negotiator, but he also always backs out of every deal at the last second because he cares more about the act of negotiation than he does about accomplishing goals through legislation. Ted Cruz didn’t blow up immigration reform on multiple occasions. Ted Cruz isn’t why senators like McCain and Graham decide to stop supporting things they used to support, like cap-and-trade, because of political cowardice or petty grievances over vote scheduling or something.

Because senators refuse to see themselves as unimpressive party hacks, they relish the power that comes with being seen as someone who makes “deals.” And the best way to exercise that power is to negotiate until legislation is objectively worse at accomplishing its supposed objective and then declaring with anguish that you cannot bring yourself to support the result of your negotiation. That is considered very impressive senator-ing. What Lindsey Graham wants is for Cruz to vote exactly the way he’s voting now (when the Senate bothers to vote), but for him to also spend a lot more time pretending he might vote a different way.

The Senate doesn’t work because Mitch McConnell uses every rule at his disposal to block the Senate from working, and he’s allowed to do this because Democrats respect the tradition of Senate collegiality so much that they refuse to end the rules that empower the minority to politely block all Senate business for no reason.

Not long ago, the Wilson Center’s Donald Wolfensberger praised the “gentlemen’s agreement” Harry Reid got instead of filibuster reform as a sign of a new comity golden age.

This year’s failed reform efforts produced headlines such as, “Filibuster Reform Goes Bust” and “Filibuster Lives.” The reality, however, is that the reformers’ bold ploy did force the hand of the bipartisan leadership to work out agreements that will enable the Senate to operate in a more functional and conciliatory manner. That bodes well for getting some important things done this year, even on the eve of what will be a contentious election season.

And then of course Republicans responded by filibustering the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of Defense, a move that was both unprecedented (while a Cabinet nominee has failed an up-and-down vote, none have been actually filibustered) and pointless (because he’ll eventually still be confirmed, in a few more days). They did it because they could, more or less, and while Ted Cruz was one of the loudest voices for the filibuster, it only actually happened because of kings of comity John McCain and Lindsey Graham. They were outraged over Cruz’s out-of-bounds questioning of a Cabinet appointee they then filibustered.

Meanwhile Republicans are still all trying to nullify the Consumer Financial Protection Board, but for the most part they are doing so politely so it is not considered a shocking breach of etiquette or whatever.

Ted Cruz is what’s wrong with the modern Republican Party — he’s an extremist who says outrageous things specifically to be seen as disrespecting “Washington elites” — but what’s wrong with the Senate is just about every other senator, most of whom think their first duty is to be incredibly respectful of one another while never evincing any concern whatsoever for the real-life consequences of their inaction on nearly every single one of America’s most urgent problems, from unemployment to catastrophic climate change. And their tradition of deference to one another, and their high esteem for the broken institution they are members of, is what stops them from doing anything to change the way they don’t do business.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, February 18, 2013

February 19, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Completely Unhinged”: John McCain Is Lost In A Fog Of Partisan Rage

Looking back at the tragic and deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last fall, we know quite a bit about what happened. We also know, thanks to an independent investigation, that “Republican charges of a cover-up” were “pure fiction.”

But as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued yesterday, he can’t be bothered with facts — he has a partisan vendetta to pursue.

For those who can’t watch clips online, “Meet the Press” host David Gregory pressed the Republican senator on the unsubstantiated charge that the Obama administration has engaged in a “massive cover-up.” Gregory asked a simple question: “A cover-up of what?”

McCain, just a few days after explaining how important it is not to be “disagreeable,” became unusually belligerent, asking the host whether he cares about the deaths of four Americans.

Gregory tried to get an answer anyway, responding, “You said there is a cover-up. A cover-up of what?” McCain, unable to think of anything substantive, said, “Of the information concerning the deaths of four brave Americans.”

Even for McCain, whose capacity has deteriorated sharply in recent years, this was a pathetic display.

Remember, McCain has had several months to think about this. He’s sat through classified and unclassified briefings. He’s participated in a series of congressional hearings. He’s (presumably) read the results of independent investigations, and had his own questions answered, verbally and in writing.

And yet after all of this, McCain is not only ignorant of the basics, he doesn’t understand his own conspiracy theory. The senator, after pondering the issue since September, still believes there’s an elaborate “cover-up,” but doesn’t know why he thinks this.

The exchange on “Meet the Press” wasn’t awkward; it wasn’t bizarre; it was alarming.

This was the point at which it might have dawned on everyone watching, including journalists who still consider the senator credible on foreign policy and national security, “Good lord, John McCain has no idea what he’s talking about.”

I hate to be a stickler for such things, but as a rule, when the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee accuses the White House on national television of orchestrating a cover-up as part of a terrorist attack, it’s not too much to ask that the senator have some idea what he’s talking about.

But in this case, McCain is simply lost in a fog of his own partisan rage. At this point, the man doesn’t understand what he doesn’t understand, and worse, he just doesn’t care. McCain no longer thinks it matters that he can’t back up his accusations; he simply wants to keep making them. And if you press him for details he should understand, the increasingly unhinged senator will suggest you’re indifferent to the deaths of Americans at terrorists’ hands.

Why? Because he’s John McCain.

Incidentally, this was McCain’s fourth Sunday show appearance of the new year — that’s four appearances in seven weeks — which suggests he’ll have another opportunity to answer similar questions in a national setting very soon.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 18, 2013

February 19, 2013 Posted by | John McCain | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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