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“Too Big To Exist”: Wall Street Hogs Still Running Wild

Wall Street is a beast.

And proud of it! In fact, a pair of animals are the stock market’s longtime symbols: One is a snorting bull, representing surging stock prices; the other is a bear, representing a down market devouring stock value.

But I recently received a letter from a creative fellow named Charles saying that we need a third animal to depict the true nature of the Wall Street beast: a hog.

Yes! And we could name it “Jamie.” Jamie Dimon — I mean the multimillionaire, silver-haired, golden-tongued CEO of JPMorgan Chase, America’s biggest bank.

For years, Dimon has wallowed in the warm glow of America’s financial, political and media limelight, hailed as a paragon of sound management and banker ethics. He’s been publicly lauded by President Obama, celebrated by The New York Times and courted by leaders of both parties.

But, suddenly last summer, a big “oink” erupted from Chase, and Jamie’s inner hoggishness was revealed. It started when one of Chase’s investment arms went awry and lost $2 billion. At first, Dimon haughtily dismissed this as “a tempest in a teapot.” But the loss of investors’ money soon grew to a staggering $6 billion. Criminal probes began, investors squirmed, media coverage grew testy, and then came the revelation that took all the glitter off of Dimon.

On March 14, a U.S. Senate committee issued a scathing 300-page report documenting that the loss was not a mere “trade blunder” by Chase underlings, but the product of a systemic corporate culture of recklessness, greed and deception. An internal email from Jamie himself, with the words “I approve,” traced the stench all the way to the top. Not only did Dimon know what was going on, he enabled it.

JPMorgan’s mess stems from the same dangerous combo that rocked America’s financial system in 2007 and crashed our economy: ethical rot in executive suites, sycophantic politicians and reporters and willfully blind regulators. Meanwhile, Jamie is still Boss Hog at the giant bank and still drawing millions of dollars in annual pay and perks. Also, only one week after the Senate report came out, he was even given a media award for best 2012 performance by a CEO facing a corporate crisis. E-I-E-I-O!

For a better performance on containing banker narcissism, our lawmakers might look to Europe. I know that it’s considered un-American to like anything those “namby-pamby” European nations do, but still: Let’s hear it for the Swiss!

In a March 3 referendum, the mild-mannered, pacifist-minded Swiss people rose up and hammered their corporate executives who’ve been grabbing ripoff pay packages, despite having made massive financial messes.

Two-thirds of voters emphatically shouted “yes” to a maverick ballot proposal requiring that shareholders be given the binding say on executive pay. Violators of the new rules would sacrifice up to six years of salary and face three years in jail. That’s hardly namby-pamby.

Indeed, America’s lawmakers and regulators are the ones who’ve been squishy-soft on banksterism. Jamie is not the only one being coddled — none of the Wall Street titans whose greed wrecked our economy have even been pursued by the law, much less put in jail.

It’s no surprise, then, that those bankers have gone right back to scamming — and gleefully enriching themselves. Hardly a week goes by without another revelation of big-bank fraud, yet the banks simply pay an inconsequential fine and the culprits skate free.

Forget about too big to fail, banks have become “too big to jail.” Our nation’s top prosecutor, Attorney General Eric Holder, recently conceded that finagling financial giants are being given a pass: “It does become difficult for us to prosecute them,” he told a Senate subcommittee, “when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute — if we do bring a criminal charge — it will have a negative impact on the national economy.”

Meanwhile, just four giants — Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo — put nearly $20 million into last year’s elections, mostly to back Republicans promising to weaken the few feeble restraints we now have on banker thievery. With such Keystone Kops overseeing them, why would any Wall Streeter even think of going straight? Nothing will change until officials gut it up, go after lawless bankers and bust up the banks that are too big to exist.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, April 3, 2013

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Big Banks, Wall Street | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Remembering The Affair To Remember”: In New Bipartisan Spirit, Have Members Of Congress Tell Each Other About Their Affairs

It’s kind of nice to have Mark Sanford back.

Perhaps not if you’re from South Carolina. It is my strong impression that many South Carolinians are tired of their former governor, who so famously snuck off to Argentina for some extramarital recreation while his aides claimed he was camping on a national hiking path. A resident of Columbia, the state capital, told me that he had been in Peru, on a train to the legendary ruins of Machu Picchu, when a local resident asked him where he hailed from.

At the mention of the words “South Carolina,” the Peruvian nodded happily. “Appalachian Trail!” he cried.

After skulking around in political exile for several years, Sanford staged a sort of a comeback on Tuesday, winning the Republican nomination for his old House seat. It was a triumph of sorts, although one that only required defeating a former county legislator who did not live in the district, in a race that attracted the excited participation of about 10 percent of eligible citizens.

At his victory party, Sanford said the campaign had been “an amazing journey.” Since the great disaster of 2009, Sanford has taken to mentioning “this journey called life” rather frequently. Perhaps, in a perfect world, a guy who got in trouble for jetting off to assignations on the taxpayers’ dime would not focus quite so much on travel metaphors.

Sanford will now run against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a local businesswoman and sister of the comedian Stephen Colbert. She seems to be planning a deeply noncomedic campaign. But, still, hosting this race would be way more fun than being in Texas, wondering whether Rick Perry is going to run for a fourth — or is it fifth? — term.

Or in Tennessee, where lawmakers have just introduced bills to eliminate U.S. Senate primaries and let the state legislators pick the nominees. These new decision-makers would presumably include the members who recently expressed concern that the mop sink in a newly renovated Capitol men’s lavatory might actually be a special foot-washing facility for Muslims.

Or New York City, where a Democratic state senator has just been indicted on a charge of trying to bribe his way into the Republican nomination for mayor. Through the alleged services of a Republican city councilman, who has represented himself as a member of both the Tea Party and a tribe of Theodish pagans, making him what The Village Voice called “the first openly elected heathen in the nation.”

O.K., the heathen part was pretty good. However, dwelling on this story will only cause New Yorkers to revisit the fact that three of the last four full-time majority leaders of the New York State Senate have wound up under felony indictment.

I’d rather keep track of Mark Sanford’s evolution. So far, his spin strategy has been all about empathy and forgiveness. (“It’s only really in our brokenness that we really begin to understand each other.”) By the end of the primary, you had the impression that the key to a new bipartisan spirit in Washington would be having all the members of Congress tell each other about their affairs.

“There are too many people in politics who think that they know it all. And I think that they project this whole image of perfection,” he told Jake Tapper on CNN.

Not a problem here.

Since we last had Sanford to kick around, he’s been divorced and gotten engaged to the Argentinian squeeze. He virtually never mentions her and she barely got a shout-out on primary victory night. (“She completely surprised me,” claimed Sanford, who told Tapper that he just turned the corner on his way into the ballroom and there she was.)

His ex-wife, Jenny, has written a book about her marriage, and now South Carolinians know that Sanford is not just fiscally conservative; he’s also so personally cheap that he once gave his spouse a $25 used bicycle as a combined birthday-Christmas present. Also, there’s the revelation that he excused some of his mysterious absences from home by saying he needed to go off and relieve the stress he felt due to thinning hair.

Sanford has always had a terrible case of chronic self-absorption. Now that he’s talking about his feelings so much, it’s turned into a creepy New Age egomania. It began with his post-Appalachian-Trail press conference, when he rambled on and on about his love life as if the assembled reporters were best pals who’d invited him out for a drink. (“It was interesting how this thing has gone down. …”) More recently, according to New York magazine, he went to visit Jenny, who used to run his campaigns, and asked his still deeply estranged ex-spouse if she’d do another. “I could pay you this time,” he added empathetically.

Her refusal was probably a surprise. Like the victory night fiancée.

 

By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 3, 2013

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dealing With A Supine Congress”: Will The GOP Be Allowed To Block Background Checks?

Is Congress on the verge of turning away from the lessons of the slaughter in Newtown even as Connecticut enacts sweeping laws to curb gun violence? Is the gun lobby hellbent on aligning our country with such great friends of liberty as Iran, North Korea and Syria by opposing efforts to condition international gun sales on the human rights records of buyers?

The gun lobby seems to want the rest of the world to look upon the United States of America as a nation so crazed about guns that its supine Congress will always collapse before the National Rifle Association.

The bleak future envisioned by the gun extremists was laid out for all to see by the small town of Nelson, Ga., whose council voted Monday to require all its citizens to own guns. The town says it won’t enforce the measure, but Nelson sends us a dark message: Guns matter more than freedom. The right not to bear arms can be infringed freely.

The vote in the United Nations on Tuesday for a global convention to keep conventional arms out of the hands of human rights violators, terrorists and organized-crime figures was overwhelming, 154 to 3, with 23 abstentions. North Korea, Iran and Syria provided the no votes, while China and Russia were among the abstainers.

It will be years at best before the treaty is implemented, and the NRA (of course) wants to block its ratification by the Senate — in effect, preventing background checks for human rights violators. But we can be proud that the United States ignored the weapons fundamentalists and voted yes.

Meanwhile, on a bipartisan basis, the Connecticut General Assembly was moving to pass a broad background-check bill that would also regulate the private sales of shotguns and rifles, ban high-capacity magazines and expand the list of prohibited assault weapons.

Connecticut Republicans should lobby members of their party in the U.S. Senate. These days, the GOP is all about trying to improve its image. But on guns, it may prove once again that when it matters, extremists rule.

Only one Republican senator, Mark Kirk of Illinois, has had the courage to work with Democrats for a meaningful background-check law. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has shown some boldness in negotiating on a bill with Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y). But Coburn has yet to close a deal that wouldn’t severely weaken background-check requirements. Otherwise, GOP senators have declined to engage seriously.

There has been much speculation about whether President Obama should have moved even faster after Newtown. And yes, it would have been better if gun-control advocates had united two months ago behind a focused agenda that the president could have pushed immediately.

But contrary to the late-inning analysis you’re hearing, the game isn’t over.

A lot has been said about the four to six Senate Democratic holdouts on background checks, but Democrats are likely to provide roughly 50 votes for a strong bill. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a traditional NRA supporter, deserves particular kudos for his persistence on behalf of a decent outcome. The real barrier in the Senate comes from Republicans. The question for many of them is whether they honestly think that letting weapons manufacturers dictate the party’s positions on gun violence is a recipe for renewal.

Based on what they have said, a host of GOP senators just might find the daring to tell their party that gutting a background-check bill is foolish, substantively and politically. Their ranks include John McCain, who has been brave on this issue in the past, as well as Pat Toomey, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Jeff Flake, Mike Johanns, Dean Heller, Johnny Isakson, Saxby Chambliss, Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker and Rob Portman. They hold the key.

Farther down the road, gun-control advocates need even more discipline, and they cannot stop organizing after this fight is over. It will take years to build the kind of muscle the gun lobby has. Doing so will create the political space for other measures, including an assault weapons ban.

The good news is that the mobilization for gun sanity is farther along now than it has ever been. Members of this anti-violence coalition have proved their strength in Connecticut, Colorado and New York, and they should keep pursuing progress at the state level. Change will eventually bubble up to the halls of Congress.

We are in a long battle. Victory in this round is well within reach. Future victories will require staying power, not recriminations.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 3, 2013

April 5, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Gun Control | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Fatalism About Life”: Surprise, Surprise, Gun Violence In Red States

Pooh-poh this if you like, since it comes from the Center for American Progress, but the group just released a big study showing that–across 10 measures like the number of firearms homicides, number of total firearm deaths (including accidents etc.), law enforcement agents killed by firearms, and so on–the deadliest states are those with the most lax gun laws.

The “top” 10: Louisiana, Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina, New Mexico, Missouri, Arkansas, and Georgia.

Now I know conservatives are thinking: No way these places are deadlier than New York and other states with big cities that have very violent neighborhoods. But according to CAP, New York and New Jersey, for example, rank 46th and 47th in gun violence. The full “bottom” 10: Nebraska, Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Iowa, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Hawaii. That’s basically a combination of sparsely populated states and states with strong gun laws.

Does this check out with other information? Here’s another study showing Louisiana as the “least peaceful” state in the country. Here’s a third that also has Louisiana at the top (yes, I know that’s mainly because of Nawlins), but also features largely Southern and Southwestern states as the most violent, with New York in the bottom half.

This will never change, unless gun laws undergo some kind of serious revolution, because obviously the people who live in these places accept these levels of violence. I think it’s not merely that they are resistant to changing gun laws. There’s some deeper thing about the relationship between violence and concepts like justice and fate. That is to say, for example, that I think cultural responses to a seven-year-old girl accidentally killing herself with her father’s rifle are different in Georgia than they are in Connecticut.

I’m not saying Georgians wouldn’t care. Obviously, they’re human beings. But I am saying that they on some level would be more likely to accept that this is just how life goes sometimes. It’s a fatalism about life that probably has to do with some combination of comparative lack of opportunity and religious attitudes (that is, matters are in the Lord’s hands, etc.).

And by the way, if you haven’t been checking Joe Nocera’s blog (the NYT columnist), you may wish to do so. He’s just listing gun violence reports from around the country. It’s pretty chilling to read. There’s also the Slate gun-death tally; 3,293 gun deaths since Newtown.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 3, 2013

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It Happened Again”: What Troubles Ted Cruz About Changes In Climate

We talked a couple of weeks ago about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) annoying his colleagues by objecting to a routine Senate resolution commemorating Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week. It had already been easily endorsed by House Republicans, but the far-right Texan was “unhappy with a clause in the resolution” — perhaps the one about “expanding access to medical treatment” for those affected with multiple sclerosis? — holding up its passage.

And then it happened again.

[In March], a deeply noncontroversial Senate resolution commemorating International Women’s Day had to be taken back and edited because someone objected to a paragraph — which had been in an almost identical version passed in the last Congress — stating that women in developing countries “are disproportionately affected by changes in climate because of their need to secure water, food and fuel for their livelihood.”

You may be wondering who the objecting senator was. Normally, these things are supposed to be kind of confidential, but in this case the lawmaker in question is proud to let you know that he is — yes! — Ted Cruz of Texas.

“A provision expressing the Senate’s views on such a controversial topic as ‘climate change’ has no place in a supposedly noncontroversial resolution requiring consent of all 100 U.S. senators,” a Cruz spokesman said.

Keep in mind, the measure didn’t talk about the causes of the climate crisis; it simply acknowledged that many women in the developing world are affected by the crisis. The same resolution was approved in the last Congress without incident, and there were plenty of right-wing climate deniers in that Congress, too.

But for Cruz, it was a bridge too far.

Three months into this guy’s Senate career, he’s already well positioned to be the least-liked lawmaker in the chamber, for reasons that have nothing to do with party. That Cruz seems to revel in his ability to annoy those around him says something interesting about his character and personality.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 2, 2013

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Climate Change | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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