Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 7:17 pm

Listening to the people who were right: Janet Napolitano

Outsourced, in the wake of the charging of Frazier Glenn Cross, the guy we North Carolinians knew as Glenn Miller, with three shooting deaths at Jewish centers in Kansas City,  to Charlie Pierce:

I think this is a particularly good day to look back to, say, April of 2009, when the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano presiding, put out a nine-page report in which the DHS pointed out that veterans were being recruited by rightwing terrorist groups around the country. (This was about when people started noticing that the real crazy had come out of the jar when this particular president had been sworn in.) Oh, the fuss that this raised.

John Boehner said of Napolitano that he wanted an “explanation for why she has abandoned using the term ‘terrorist’ to describe those, such as al Qaeda, who are plotting overseas to kill innocent Americans, while her own Department is using the same term to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation.”

Professional rage puppet Michelle Malkin wrote: Moreover, the report relies on the work of the left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center to stir anxiety over “disgruntled military veterans” – a citation which gives us valuable insight into how DHS will define “hate-oriented” groups. The SPLC, you see, has designated the venerable American Legion a “hate group” for its stance on immigration enforcement. The report offers zero data, but states with an almost resentful attitude toward protected free speech: “Debates over appropriate immigration levels and enforcement policy generally fall within the realm of protected political speech under the First Amendment, but in some cases, anti-immigration or strident pro-enforcement fervor has been directed against specific groups and has the potential to turn violent.”

Well, if ol’ Frazier Glenn Miller had had his way, Malkin wouldn’t have had to worry about the left-leaning SPLC any more.

Brand new ABC employee Laura Ingraham was still lying about it three years later.

And the freaking out was general and vast.

The fauxtrage did succeed in making the DHS withdraw the report, forcing Napolitano to apologize, and get everyone else to stop paying attention to the genuine extremism that had filtered into the conservative base of one of our two major political parties. This is a very good week to remember it, however.

And so it is.

Between 1984 and the early 1990s, I covered a lot of cluckers and other white supremacists. Most of them, to be charitable, couldn’t find their own asses with both hands and a flashlight. The late Virgil Griffin, perhaps the most famous clucker of his day and certainly the most famous gas-station owner in Mount Holly, might have had the leather-lunged capability of shouting creepy racist, anti-Semitic, anti-feminist stuff until his face was so red that he looked like he was going to stroke out, but he also always looked like one good shot to the head with a beer bottle would shut him up.

Glenn Miller, on the other hand, looked like one good shot to the head with a beer bottle would just piss him off.

He scared the bejesus out of me the one time I talked to him, and I was very glad that there were uniformed law enforcement personnel around. For those of you not from around here,  Miller took part in the 1979 Klan-Nazi killings here in Greensboro in which five Communist Workers Party members were killed but no one went to prison. I don’t recall now whether the evidence ever put his finger on a trigger, but that doesn’t matter, because when I met him I didn’t know that history. All I knew was that the guy in front of me was both capable of great aggression and batshit insane, that to him shooting me would be like stepping on an ant.

But the greater issue is that although he’s being charged with murder and hate crimes, both the media and law enforcement have stopped short of calling what he is charged with doing “terrorism.” There’s some history in that that predates even 9/11.

America’s long campaign of lynching African Americans, for any reason or no reason at all, as a de facto legal mechanism of social control, was terrorism, but show me five high schools in the U.S. today that teach it as such. And, of course, post-9/11, “terrorism” became “that which those brown Mooooslims do to hurt us.” No word about Timothy McVeigh. No word about Eric Rudolph. No word about Scott Roeder or James Kopp. And now we’re not using the “t-word” with respect to Glenn Miller. But the fact is that the only meaningful difference between those guys and Osama bin Laden was that bin Laden killed more people.

Law enforcement and the media need to start calling this what it is, and dealing with it accordingly.

And John Boehner, Michelle Malkin, Laura Ingraham and their ilk need to sit their asses down and drink a liter mug of STFU, because Janet Napolitano was right and you bitches were wrong. And all this whining in the media about the “deadliest assembly of al-Qaeda in the history of, like, ever” needs to stop ignoring the terrorists already in the open in our midst, some of them holding responsible positions in one of our nation’s two major parties.

Monday, April 14, 2014 12:09 am

Is we is or is we ain’t a nation under the rule of law?

I think we ain’t, but it looks like we’ll know soon enough, because the leak even I could see coming is here:

A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.

The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”

The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.

Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:

_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.

_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.

_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.

So, in plain English:

  • The CIA tortured people — some of whom died of it, remember — in violation not only of international and U.S. law but also in violation of the flimsy, themselves-illegal guidelines set up by the Justice Department.
  • The CIA lied to the White House and Congress, obstructing their oversight, which is duly required by Constitution and statute.
  • The CIA lied to its own inspector general.

So CIA personnel ordered and committed hanging offenses and lied to everybody about it. That’s the bottom line, folks. All the rest is sound and fury signifying nothing.

Let’s be very clear about what needs to happen here:

  • The people who actually carried out the crimes must be charged and tried, but so must the people who ordered them and the people who lied about them.
  • If anyone carried out or ordered torture that resulted in death, that individual is subject to the death penalty. As a tough-on-crime conservative, I can sleep soundly knowing that.
  • If anyone used the classification process to try to hide evidence of a crime, he should be criminally prosecuted for that offense.
  • If anyone then or now in a Senate-confirmable position carried out or ordered a crime, he should be impeached and convicted, thereby to revoke his pension and any other benefits of having served in the federal government.

If these things do not happen, then we are not a nation under the rule of law, plain and simple. I wish I could say that we are, but experience suggests that nothing will happen.

So let’s do ourselves a favor. Let’s put paid, once and for all, to this notion of American exceptionalism. We are not special. We are not a shining city on a hill. We are not a Christian nation in any way that Christ Himself would recognize. We are not even, to judge by both legal standards and OECD measures for quality of life, a particularly good example.

It is tempting to say that we are governed by a parliament of whores, but to do so would insult whores, who generally are not nearly as hypocritical about what they do as our leaders are. We are a plutocracy, an oligarchy, an outlaw nation, and the only differences between our genocide and that of the Nazis is that ours was less recent and less efficient. Indeed, it was ironic for me to read tonight on Facebook about my friend Rabbi Fred Guttman honoring the congressional service of my friend Howard Coble, when Coble, a former federal prosecutor, did nothing to stop precisely the kind of behavior on the part of Americans that got Nazis hanged at Nuremberg.

I’d love to be proved wrong on this. I really, really would. But if it hasn’t happened by now, it ain’t gonna. And Americans need to understand that and to plan their futures accordingly.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 5:45 am

Quote of the Day, torture edition

Filed under: Evil,Hold! Them! Accountable!,I want my country back. — Lex @ 5:45 am

Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post:

Torture is a stain on this nation’s honor that can be bleached away only by full exposure.

To that I would add this: “Full exposure” means not only making the CIA report public in its entirety; that’s a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition.

It also means holding accountable those who were responsible, and I don’t mean some poor E-2 working third-shift guard duty. I mean the people who planned and carried out the torture program: President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the functionaries like Jim Haynes and John Yoo who fabricated the “legal” justification for that for which there is no justification, moral or legal.

And if that means some of them hang, well, I’ve always been tough on crime, so I’ll sleep fine.

In fact, I’ll sleep better.

Sunday, March 30, 2014 9:59 pm

Lighten up

The recently returned Ed Cone on transparency in the city of Greensboro’s dealings with nonprofits it funds:

I don’t understand the arguments against [City Council member] Tony Wilkins’ request for more transparency into executive compensation at non-profits that receive money from the City. I know the City already gets reports on total salaries for these organizations, and that it’s easy enough to access individual salary info that’s already public via IRS form 990. I just don’t see how those facts make the request for further data unreasonable.

Other than “because they can,” I’ve never understood why government agencies and tax-exempt organizations don’t behave completely transparently rather than just, at best, complying with the letter of the law.

Pro tip, guys: You’re in positions of public trust, which you get to receive only as long as you earn it. And you earn it through transparency, full stop. Some people seeking that transparency might be obnoxious, but that doesn’t make this point a whit less valid.

Friday, March 28, 2014 8:57 pm

If only there were a solution; or, Why Pat McCrory and Art Pope need to be horsewhipped

From today’s News & Record print and e-edition (but apparently not from the website, so probably paywalled):

Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday asked for more belt-tightening within state government as a pre-emptive move to protect the state from a Medicaid shortfall and a fuzzy revenue picture.

In a memorandum to state agencies and their leaders, McCrory said that while the state’s fiscal picture is much improved compared with “a year ago, “the state still needs to exercise restraint for the remainder of the fiscal year,” ending June 30. He wrote a similar directive in March 2013.

McCrory’s state budget office projected this week that Medicaid expenditures could be up to $140 million above the amount the General Assembly authorized.

First of all, “McCrory’s state budget office” is budget director Art Pope, the real governor. McCrory’s just the cabin boy.

Second, so the state might need to spend $140 million above what’s been authorized. Gee. Whocouldaknowed? And if only there some way the state could do something about that without eliminating raises for hard-working state employees, who have seen damn little in the way of raises since the Crash of ’08. There ought to be something we could do, y’know. Hmm. What could it be? And why didn’t the AP and/or the News & Record point that out?

But we continue:

While revenue projections are largely on track to cover this year’s budget, “there is revenue uncertainty for the remainder” of the year, McCrory wrote.

Stop right there, bubba. Both of those things cannot be true simultaneously. McCrory, by whom I mean Pope, is just flat-out lying here and hoping no one will notice. Certainly the AP and the News & Record didn’t.

He also ordered his Cabinet-level agencies to discontinue most salary increases, limit purchases, reduce travel expenditures and reconsider contract work.

Translation: Basically, we’re not just going to screw up Medicaid, we’re going to screw up every other agency, too.

Jesus wept. What they’re doing (and refusing to do that could help) is bad enough. And the news media are giving them a free pass on top of that.

Dear Merciful God, I’ve had a pretty good life, all in all, and so I haven’t asked you for much. And much of what I have asked for, you’ve delivered. But even though you did my family and me quite a solid just today, I’m asking this: Please let Roy Cooper, or some other competent Democrat, run against McCrory in 2016 and whip him like a rented mule. I mean, whip him so badly he needs skin grafts to close all the bloody welts on his ass.

Now, Lord, I grant that’s pretty harsh. But your own son took a brutal flogging en route to saving humankind. Meanwhile, thousands of North Carolinians are doing without health insurance, and thus health care, who wouldn’t have to except that Pat McCrory and Art Pople hate the non-white guy in the White House. And a nontrivial number of those North Carolinians, research shows, are likely to die prematurely because McCrory and Pope are petty, racist sociopaths. So I figured that taking a beating like that wouldn’t fix the damage McCrory will do between now and January 2017. But it might make a lot of suffering people feel a little better and prevent a boatload more suffering in the future.

So if it wouldn’t be too much trouble …

Amen.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 8:17 pm

There is a club. You and I are not in it.

Filed under: Evil,Hold! Them! Accountable!,I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:17 pm

So, Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon has been arrested and indicted on corruption charges, including theft and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, honest services wire fraud and extortion under color of official right. For selling his office — before becoming mayor, Cannon had been mayor pro tem and a City Council member — received a total of $68,000 in cash, plus airline tickets, a hotel room, and use of a luxury apartment.

The three charges, which came after a 3 1/2-year undercover sting operation in which FBI agents posed as real-estate developers and allegedly bribed Cannon to use his office to do them favors, carry a combined maximum of 50 years in prison. Assuming Cannon is guilty on all counts, he still won’t do anything like 50, but he’ll do quite a number of years. And it won’t be in Alcatraz, but it won’t be in Club Fed, either. He also could be fined up to $1.5 million, which, for him, is years’ and years’ worth of income.

Meanwhile, retired Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis and the bank itself settled a civil lawsuit today with the New York attorney general’s office that had alleged securities fraud. Specifically, Lewis and the bank were accused of deceiving BoA stockholders about what crappy shape Merrill Lynch was in when the bank asked stockholders to approve a takeover of Merrill in December 2008. This transaction played a nontrivial role in blowing up the economy, although that demolition was well under way when the sale closed on Jan. 1, 2009.

Neither Lewis nor the bank is required by the settlement to admit any wrongdoing. The bank will have to pay $15 million. Lewis himself will have to pay $10 million, although that’s the equivalent of zero days’ worth of income for him because the bank will pay it for him. Given the bank’s net earnings of $4.2 billion in 2012 (the 2013 annual report is due out any day), those fines amount to about two days’ profits, give or take. That’ll certainly warn all the other banks not to screw their shareholders, I think.

Oh, and Lewis is personally barred for three years from serving as an officer or director for any publicly traded company. Which is really going to cramp his style because he’s, you know, retired.

So:

  • Criminal charges vs. civil.
  • Prison and a significant fine vs. no prison and a trivial fine.
  • A guilty verdict or guilty plea vs. no admission of guilt.
  • Prison (again) vs. an order not to do something he probably wasn’t going to do anyway.

What have we learned from this experience?

We’ve got one set of rules for banksters, and another set for everybody else, including mayors of major cities, you, and me.

There is a club. You and I are not in it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 8:27 pm

Was EVERYBODY to blame for the 2008 crash? Not just no, but, hell, no.

Dean Starkman at The New Republic, writing long and worth every word and minute:

With Wall Street’s demand for mortgages unending and some loan producers managing to book up to 70 loans per day, the system didn’t just crash. It was brought down.

But we’ve also been made to understand that subprime lenders and their Wall Street funders didn’t act alone. Instead, they were aided by the avarice of the American people, who were not victims of the crash so much as accomplices in it. Respondents to aRasmussen poll done during the throes of the crisis overwhelmingly blamed “individuals who borrowed more than they could afford” (54 percent) over Wall Street (25 percent). To this day, the view is widespread and bipartisan: Main Street was an essential cause of the meltdown. The enemy was us.

“It all goes back to the increase in the tolerance for debt,” David Brooks wrote a couple of years ago. …

One of so many instances in which Brooks has been flat wrong on the facts without professional consequence. But I digress.

Is that not the truth?

Actually: No, it’s not. The notion that American consumers share the blame for the mortgage crisis is a lie. And it is one of the most pernicious out there.

Everyone-Is-To-Blame (or EITB, for brevity’s sake) has done much to mute the public outcry essential for sweeping efforts to respond to the financial catastrophe. To the extent that Dodd-Frank fell short of the root-and-branch reform that followed the last great crash in 1929, EITB is to blame. The fact that banks too big to fail before the crisis have been allowed to grow to twice their pre-bubble sizes can be traced to a nagging sense that they didn’t act alone. And if you wonder why, six years after the fact, no significant Wall Street figure has been criminally prosecuted, I would suggest that EITB has muddied perceptions just enough to allow the administration to sidestep the necessary legal mobilization. If everyone is to blame, then criminal indictments of individual executives can be framed as exercises in scapegoating.

Everyone-is-to-blame did its worst damage to the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, an effort rolled out in the immediate aftermath of the crisis to reduce borrowers’ monthly payments through refinancing or principal write-downs. It was the mere idea of HAMP that set off Rick Santelli on his 2009 rant about “losers’ mortgages” and their “extra bathroom,” sparking the Tea Party revolt. The prospect of helping delinquent borrowers, while others paid theirs on time, unleashed a flood ofressentiment that filled the Congressional Record with denunciations of “irresponsible” actors who “lied” only to wind up in line for “gift equity,” and “tax-payer subsidized windfall.” Wisconsin Representative Jim Sensenbrenner introduced the concept of “happy-go-lucky borrowers” and “cagey borrowers.” Jim Bunning, then Kentucky’s junior senator, felt compelled to warn against helping homeowners “who made bad decisions.” The outpouring tapped into a sentiment powerful enough to silence even some liberals and turned hamp into a political disaster for the Obama administration. Left adrift, the program went from a potential lifeline for borrowers to a fee-machine for servicers and a Kafkaesque nightmare for those it was supposed to help.

As an agent of obfuscation, EITB is a gift that keeps on giving. In October, The Washington Post’s editorial board objected to a $13 billion mortgage-era civil settlement with J.P. Morgan largely because it unfairly singled out the bank, when, in fact, “everyone, from Wall Street to Main Street to Washington, acted on widely held economic beliefs that turned out not to be true.” A forthcoming book by Bob Ivry, a Polk Award–winning investigative reporter for Bloomberg News (and, full disclosure, a friend), eloquently inveighs against big banks and their Washington lackeys, but also includes this assertion: “In the years leading up to the Great Bubble-Burst of 2008, everybody got a chance to cash in. … If you wanted to buy a place to live, you could get more house than you ever dreamed. You could use your rising home equity for the Disney vacation, the power boat, the fourth bedroom or the college education.” …

True. But that’s not the same thing as mortgage fraud, which, though not trivial, was an incredibly small part of the total problem:

In 2010, an FBI report drawing on figures from the consultancy Corelogic put total fraudulent mortgages during the peak boom year of 2006 at more than $25 billion. Twenty-five billion dollars is obviously not nothing. But here again, teasing those mortgages out of that year’s crisis-related write-downs of $2.7 trillion from U.S.-originated assets leaves our infamous “cagey” borrowers to blame for only a tiny share of the damage, especially since not all of the fraudulent mortgages were their fault. The ratio looks roughly something like this:

Yes, some of our cab drivers, shoeshine boys, and other fellow citizens tricked a lender into helping them take a flyer on the housing market. But the combined share of the blame for bad mortgages that can be placed on the public sits—and I’m really rounding up here—in the high single digits, and not the much larger, fuzzier numbers in our heads.

The fact is that defrauding a bank that actually cares about the quality of a loan is actually rather difficult, no matter how aggressive or deceitful the borrower. Lenders, on the other hand, can lie with relative ease about all sorts of things, and mountains of evidence show they did so on a widespread basis. For starters, it’s lenders who establish the loan-to-value ratio for a property: how much money the buyer is borrowing versus the house’s estimated worth. Banks didn’t used to let you take out a mortgage too close to the home’s total cost. But play with those numbers and, voilà, a rejected loan application turns into an accepted one. Leading up to the crash, some banks’ representations about loan-to-value ratios were off by as much as 40 percentage points.

Then there was the apparent rampant corruption of appraisals, which also have nothing whatsoever to do with borrowers. Before the bubble popped, appraisers’ groups collected 11,000 signatures on a petition decrying pressure by banks to arrive at “dishonest” or inflated valuations.

And that’s to say nothing of lenders misleading borrowers directly—a practice that the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the Levin-Coburn report, and lawsuits by attorneys general around the country have all found was very much systemic. Mortgage brokers forged borrowers’ signatures and altered documents; Ameriquest (those guys again!) had its own “art department,” as it was known internally, for precisely that function. Oh, and remember those 137,000 instances of “suspicious activity” about possible borrower misdeeds? For the sake of perspective, Citigroup settled a Federal Trade Commission case alleging sales deception that involved two million clients in a single year. That’s what we call wholesale, and it was happening before the mortgage era even really got started.

Today, there’s a big and growing body of documentation about what happened as the financial system became incentivized to sell as many loans as possible on the most burdensome possible terms: Millions—and millions—of borrowers were sold subprime despite qualifying for better.

Perhaps the most astonishing and unappreciated finding comes from The Wall Street Journal, which back in December 2007 published a study of more than $2.5 trillion in subprime loans dating to 2000 (that is to say, most of the subprime loans of the era). The story, by my former colleagues Rick Brooks* and Ruth Simon, painted the picture of a world gone upside-down: During the worst years of the frenzy, more than half the subprime loans issued went to borrowers who had credit scores “high enough to often qualify for conventional loans with far better terms.” In 2006, the figure hit 61 percent. Along with its article, the Journal illustrated the alarming trend line with a version of the following graphic:

It goes without saying that no one would voluntarily eschew a prime loan for subprime—subprime is called that for a reason, carrying higher, often escalating rates; pre-payment penalties that “shut the backdoor” by precluding refinancing; and other burdens tacked on for good measure. The Journal concluded that its analysis “raises pointed questions about the practices of major mortgage lenders.” That’s putting it mildly!

He goes on to suggest some reasons why Everybody Is To Blame is such a popular world view. But what he keeps coming back to, what we must keep coming back to, is that it is wrong. If you actually look at the numbers — you know, like bankers are supposed to do — you consistently find that the overwhelming majority of the financial damage was caused by the banks, often through unethical and sometimes even illegal means.

Even so, today, we refuse to punish those responsible. If there’s Blame to be laid at the feet of Everybody, this is it. Charlie Pierce is fond of saying that for all Occupy Wall Street’s many foibles, gaffes and mistakes, it at least got people shouting at the right buildings — i.e., corporations rather than government, and the big banks in particular. Unfortunately, some of the country’s top journalists and pundits still get it wrong, and they and the lawmakers on the take form a daisy chain that keeps anything substantive from happening, not only to punish those who were responsible last time but also to do what it takes keep something like this from happening again.

It’s not Everybody’s fault. Everybody is NOT to Blame. The banks and their executives and boards are to blame. And part of citizenship in a constitutional republic is to hold them to account.

*Disclosure: Rick Brooks worked with me at the N&R in the early 1990s.

Monday, March 10, 2014 9:34 pm

Hey, conservatives: Here’s where personal responsibility meets gun ownership

Richard Mayhew, Balloon Juice’s resident health-insurance guru, on firearm safety:

When I learned how to shoot, I was taught the following three things:

  • Only point a weapon at something or someone that you intend to kill
  • Always assume a weapon is loaded, and the safety is off.
  • You are always responsible for your weapon until the weapon is in the armory’s gun safe.

Can we incorporate these basic assumptions into civil law where the assumption is that any discharge (intentional or accidental) is the responsibility of the owner of the weapon and therefore the owner is liable for whatever damage a bullet fired from his weapon causes.  Liability would follow even stolen weapons if reasonable efforts to secure the weapon were not made. …

There have been attempts to regulate firearms as a consumer protection issue, but the NRA is too strong.  This proposal moves responsibility down the chain to the individual owner instead of the manufacturer.

Which is exactly where it should be. Hello, personal responsibility.

The rational response of creating the assumption that the weapon owner is liable absent extraordinary circumstances instead of the current assumption that [expletive] happens is for responsible owners to buy insurance to cover their liability.  Speaking as an insurance company bureaucrat, I would assume insurance companies would offer good rates to individuals who own longarms instead of handguns, who have a gun safe, who have trigger locks, who have gone to safety classes and who have otherwise demonstrated that they actually are reasonably likely to be safe.

Individuals who think “tactical” masturbatory fantasies are reality and believe that everyone should have a loaded pistol in their unlocked night stand even if they have two pre-kindergarteners in the house would probably be rated as high risk for negligent discharge.  Individuals who have more weapons than fingers would probably be rated as risky.  Individuals who have a history of accidental discharge would be rated as risky.

I’m not a fan of using liberterianish policy making as a first best choice, but my political judgement is that this type of regulation is the only viable away forward right now.  And going back to my health policy wonkery, reducing gun woundings means lower trauma costs, and lower recovery costs to cover.

I’m sure the NRA as an organization would fight this tooth and nail, of course. But I think it would be instructive to see the number of “personal responsibility” conservatives and libertarians and the number of so-called responsible gun owners who would fight it as well. I’d be delighted to be proved badly wrong on this, but I suspect that well more than half of American gun owners, if polled, would oppose this measure even if the reasons and benefits were explained carefully to them.

Because for way too many American gun owners, it’s not about rights and responsibilities, it’s about I want what I want and [expletive] you. I saw that attitude over and over and over again while covering cops (not from cops, but from many of the people with whom they interacted), and that’s why I say this: Whatever else it is, the American gun-owning public is in no way, shape or form a well-regulated militia.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 8:11 pm

“State secrets” and the erosion of the Bill of Rights

Time after time, in case after case in the So-Called War on Terror, we have seen the government invoke “state secrets,” as a means of denying defendants access to potentially exculpatory information in the government’s possession or as a means of denying civil plaintiffs access to information that would strengthen their own case at the government’s expense. As a result, some potentially innocent people have remained in custody for years, in many cases without trial or even charge. As a result, some meritorious lawsuits against government overreach have been tossed.

As a result, the country has both weakened and betrayed its own values. That’s bad enough.

But now? We come to find that for seven years, the government has been invoking “state secrets” to cover up a simple, understandable, and easy-to-fix paperwork error, albeit one with significant consequences. That error, compounded by the massive cover-up on the part of high-ranking officials in both the Bush 43 and Obama administrations, particularly Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder, kept an innocent woman named Rahinah Ibrahim on the U.S. government’s no-fly list for that period. For much of that period, the defense was invoked merely to prevent her from learning whether she was even on the list, let alone being able to do something about it.

Holder went so far as to tell the judge presiding over the case that this assertion of the state secrets privilege was fully in keeping with Obama’s much-ballyhooed 2009 executive branch reforms of the privilege, which stated the administration would invoke state secrets sparingly.

“Under this policy, the Department of Justice will defend an assertion of the state secrets privilege in litigation, and seek dismissal of a claim on that basis, only when necessary to protect against the risk of significant harm to national security,” reads an April signed declaration from the attorney general to U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who presided over the Ibrahim litigation in San Francisco.

The state secrets privilege was first upheld by the Supreme Court in a McCarthy-era case and generally requires judges to dismiss lawsuits against the United States when the government asserts a trial threatens national security.

In his declaration, Holder assured Judge Alsup that the government would not be claiming national security to conceal “administrative error” or to “prevent embarrassment” — an assertion that is now nearly impossible to square with the facts.

Way I read that, “now nearly impossible to square with the facts” means “a stone lie.”

Finally, her case was allowed to come to trial, a month before which the presiding judge, during a pretrial conference, told lawyers, “I feel like I have been had by the government.”

Time was, lawyers who intentionally misled judges suffered serious consequences to their cases, if not to themselves personally. As it was, after a five-day nonjury trial, the judge ruled for Ibrahim.

Here’s my question: If the government would illegally invoke “state secrets” for seven years, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, to cover up a bloody paperwork error, what else is it covering up under the “state secrets” defense? Prosecution and/or punishment of innocent people? Ongoing torture? Extrajudicial assassinations? Massive waste, fraud and abuse in the national intelligence apparatus? At this point you’d have to be an idiot to bet on anything except all these and more.

Classification of material to cover up evidence of a crime is, itself, a federal crime. And it’s one with which not nearly enough people have been charged. But beyond that, judges who get played by the government this way should, when they figure out what’s going on, bring the gavel down on the government officials and lawyers involved so viciously that a century from now such officials and lawyers will speak of it only behind closed doors, with hushed voices, in the dark of night, the elderly cautioning the young.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 10:09 pm

What happens when “Don’t Be Evil” meets evil

Filed under: Evil,Hold! Them! Accountable!,I want my money back. — Lex @ 10:09 pm

Oh, stuff like this:

In early 2005, as demand for Silicon Valley engineers began booming, Apple’s Steve Jobs sealed a secret and illegal pact with Google’s Eric Schmidt to artificially push their workers wages lower by agreeing not to recruit each other’s employees, sharing wage scale information, and punishing violators. On February 27, 2005, Bill Campbell, a member of Apple’s board of directors and senior advisor to Google, emailed Jobs to confirm that Eric Schmidt “got directly involved and firmly stopped all efforts to recruit anyone from Apple.”

Later that year, Schmidt instructed his Sr VP for Business Operation Shona Brown to keep the pact a secret and only share information “verbally, since I don’t want to create a paper trail over which we can be sued later?”

These secret conversations and agreements between some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley were first exposed in a Department of Justice antitrust investigation launched by the Obama Administration in 2010. That DOJ suit became the basis of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of over 100,000 tech employees whose wages were artificially lowered — an estimated $9 billion effectively stolen by the high-flying companies from their workers to pad company earnings — in the second half of the 2000s. Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied attempts by Apple, Google, Intel, and Adobe to have the lawsuit tossed, and gave final approval for the class action suit to go forward. A jury trial date has been set for May 27 in San Jose, before US District Court judge Lucy Koh, who presided over the Samsung-Apple patent suit.

In a related but separate investigation and ongoing suit, eBay and its former CEO Meg Whitman, now CEO of HP, are being sued by both the federal government and the state of California for arranging a similar, secret wage-theft agreement with Intuit (and possibly Google as well) during the same period.

The secret wage-theft agreements between Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe, Intuit, and Pixar (now owned by Disney) are described in court papers obtained by PandoDaily as “an overarching conspiracy” in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act, and at times it reads like something lifted straight out of the robber baron era that produced those laws. Today’s inequality crisis is America’s worst on record since statistics were first recorded a hundred years ago — the only comparison would be to the era of the railroad tycoons in the late 19th century.

I’m delighted that the class-action lawsuit is going forward. But I still see two huge problems:

  1. The money that all those employees would have been paid in an unrigged labor market — estimated here at $9 billion — is lost to them forever and likely staying with the executives forever.
  2. Lawsuits are all well and good, but anyone who has passed Econ 101 knows that this arrangement violated antitrust law. The executives involved need to face serious criminal charges. This action constituted criminal fraud and conspiracy, plain and simple, and possibly other crimes that aren’t so simple.

Nothing is going to stop this crap until rich and famous corporate executives start getting frog-marched around in orange jumpsuits on live TV before being locked away long enough for all their tech knowledge to become worthless, along with most of their teeth.

 

Thursday, January 23, 2014 8:57 pm

Terrorist acts that our federal and state governments have ignored

Esquire’s Charlie Pierce with a thought experiment:

Imagine if there were three terrorist events in two weeks. First, terrorists poison a state’s water supply. Then, they rig a building to collapse and rig another one hundreds of miles away to explode. Nervous politicians would be blue-pencilling the Bill of Rights by daybreak. The NSA would throw a parade for itself. Edward Snowden would be hung in effigy, if we couldn’t do it in person. Somebody’s ass would get droned in Waziristan.

Sounds about right.

But in the past two weeks, we have seen West Virginia’s water supply be poisoned by a Koch Bros.-owned chemical plant (CORRECTION: As Roch notes below, the Kochs sold the plant Dec. 31, nine days before the leak), which promptly filed for bankruptcy protection so that the families who are harmed will have to be compensated by the state if they get compensated at all. Then we have the building collapse in Nebraska and the explosion in Oklahoma. And those events happened in the wake of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, that killed 15 people, injured more than 160 others and damaged or destroyed more than 150 buildings. What do these things have in common? Freedom! The dead hand of government regulation has been removed, by fiat or via lack of enforcement, so that these companies could kill Americans without significantly harming their owners’ bottom lines.

At Cogitamus.com, the Low-Tech Cyclist says:

I keep on waiting for the Democratic Party to get a clue about this: to say after the latest such disaster, “This is why we regulate, [expletive] – this is why we need the regulations, and why we need enough Federal inspectors out in the field to make sure they’re followed.  Because otherwise, they’ll poison our food, dump chemicals in our rivers, steal your wages, and make you work in places that could blow up.”

But Dems at the state and federal levels seem almost as in thrall to industry as their GOP brethren and sistren, so we’re all screwed. Pierce concludes:

(Forklift operator) Kendrick Houston was brave enough to go back into the fire (in Omaha). Yet too many of our politicians, local and national, don’t have the simple stones to stand up to a corporate class that has come to represent nothing but death and pillage. But they will show up at the funerals, boy. They will do that, and they will talk about the indomitable spirit of American individualism, through which people will run back into the fire, and then they will go out onto the stump next fall and talk about how the dead hand of government regulation is stifling that same spirit, and that freedom demands more victims. The American Dream becomes the province of the dead, Moloch with stock options, and that is the country today, where things fall down and things blow up and almost nothing ever changes.

The Republicans got the Congress back in 1994 in part by using language to frame the terms of the debate and even to describe their opponents as outlined in the now-famous document “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” So is it excessive to, as Low-Tech Cyclist does, call our plutocrat class “terrorists”? I think not — if the poison-tipped jackboot fits, wear it — but even then, they do what they do because we allow our legislators to let them. This, among many, many other reasons, is why voting matters and why electing people to office who believe that government can and should do its job, not those who are bent on dismantling what remains of government, is so important.

Some of our most vicious terrorists are home-grown, and it’s time they did time. But in addition, and better, it’s time we prevented them from getting in the way of what’s needed to keep our food, water, drugs, cosmetics, workplaces, and so on, safe. Because the free market doesn’t give a rat’s ass if you live or die. If you doubt me, you can just go to West, Texas, or even just down to Hamlet and ask.

Friday, January 17, 2014 8:45 pm

The rough men who stand ready on our behalf

I understand that a lot of people are angry with Edward Snowden for exposing the National Security Agency’s enormous, and arguably illegal, domestic surveillance program. I get it. He violated an oath and took his nation’s secrets not only to the nation, which definitely needed to hear at least some of them, but also, in some form, to places they shouldn’t have gone, such as China and Russia.

Still, someone needs to explain to me how a nation under the rule of law squares its Constitution with comments from these people who also have taken oaths, in this case to uphold that Constitution:

Edward Snowden has made some dangerous enemies. As the American intelligence community struggles to contain the public damage done by the former National Security Agency contractor’s revelations of mass domestic spying, intelligence operators have continued to seethe in very personal terms against the 30-year-old whistle-blower.

“In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself,” a current NSA analyst told BuzzFeed. “A lot of people share this sentiment.”

“I would love to put a bullet in his head,” one Pentagon official, a former special forces officer, said bluntly. “I do not take pleasure in taking another human beings life, having to do it in uniform, but he is single-handedly the greatest traitor in American history.”

An aside: you can love the idea of killing someone you believe is a traitor, or you can refrain from taking pleasure in the taking of another human being’s life. But you can’t do both. We continue:

That violent hostility lies just beneath the surface of the domestic debate over NSA spying is still ongoing. Some members of Congress have hailed Snowden as a whistle-blower, the New York Times has called for clemency, and pundits regularly defend his actions on Sunday talk shows. In intelligence community circles, Snowden is considered a nothing short of a traitor in wartime.

“His name is cursed every day over here,” a defense contractor told BuzzFeed, speaking from an overseas intelligence collections base. “Most everyone I talk to says he needs to be tried and hung, forget the trial and just hang him.”

One Army intelligence officer even offered BuzzFeed a chillingly detailed fantasy.

“I think if we had the chance, we would end it very quickly,” he said. “Just casually walking on the streets of Moscow, coming back from buying his groceries. Going back to his flat and he is casually poked by a passerby. He thinks nothing of it at the time starts to feel a little woozy and thinks it’s a parasite from the local water. He goes home very innocently and next thing you know he dies in the shower.”

Yeah, just innocently dying in a scenario conjured up by James Bond’s SMERSH. Nothing to see here.

If you take an oath to uphold the Constitution, which includes among its guarantees protections against punishment with without due process (a formal charge and, unless defendant pleads guilty, a formal trial), then you don’t get to say crap like this. Indeed, saying it is, arguably, the speaker’s own violation of his own oath and as deserving of punishment as is Snowden’s behavior.

Being a nation under the rule of law isn’t always convenient. Having what is supposed to be the world’s greatest criminal-justice system isn’t easy, has never been easy, and was never intended to be easy. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. And if you can’t handle that, then don’t take the oath, put on the uniform, and draw the pay.

This won’t end well for Snowden no matter how it ends; I suspect the best he can expect is to live out his life in a hostile nation, a life that is likely to lose its value to that nation sooner rather than later. And if he does return to the U.S., he almost certainly faces most of the rest of his life in prison, if not a (formal) death sentence.

Even so, a nation that is supposed to operate under the Constitution that we say we operate under does not do summary executions, full stop.

(This probably won’t be my last word on Snowden’s case; it certainly is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of that case. One point at a time for now.)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 9:05 pm

“Those police officers are free now. How free do YOU feel?”

Digby writes about two California police officers acquitted of all charges after their beating to death of a mentally ill homeless man (himself the son of a former police officer) was caught on video. Read the whole horrible thing, including watching the embedded videos and following the links. Discussing a different case, she concludes:

I realize [cases involving mentally ill people] are tough situations for the police. Dealing with people who cannot comprehend your orders — or the stakes in refusal — makes it even tougher. But ask yourself why that officer couldn’t have walked behind the man rather than demanding that he turn around and shooting him full of electricity in the chest when he didn’t. The man’s hands are up, he’s presenting no threat. So often these things end up being a battle of wills rather than a means to an end. It’s one thing if thing if the person is clearly threatening, but too many times it’s police needing to demonstrate their authority. Needing to do that with people who are hearing lots of voices in their heads telling them all kinds of things already, is just pathetic.

Mentally ill people often live horrible lives in the streets of our towns and cities. They face danger from the elements, criminals and each other. And they often end up in police custody for a variety of reasons. Tasers (and worse) are cruelly used against them. It’s medieval.It goes without saying that without cameras taping this incident there would not be a trial.

In just such a case a few days ago in southeastern North Carolina, a police officer shot and killed a mentally ill, 90-pound teenager whom two other officers were holding down on a bathroom floor — after he had been tased. The two officers on the floor with him, one of whom had just tased him, were from the community, were familiar with the kid, and had pretty much talked him down from whatever rage he had been on when the third officer, from another jurisdiction, stormed in, and, within 70 seconds and reportedly after saying, “We don’t have time for this,” shot the kid and killed him in front of his horrified father. (And thank God the bullet didn’t go through the kid, ricochet off the floor, and kill or injure one or both of the officers holding him.)

Handling mentally ill people appropriately requires training, and the training that law-enforcement officers get — which primarily and for good reasons involves getting control of people and situations — needs to be adapted to include mentally ill people who pose no threat or a minor threat (the 18-year-old was holding a screwdriver) so that we don’t end up tasking our officers with executing the mentally ill.

In the case of the California cops acquitted of the beating death, I think the video, which you can find if you follow the links, is damning. The North Carolina case is just days old and it’s not clear yet whether any charges will be filed, although both the cops on the floor with the kid have officially been cleared.

But in both of these cases, if the cops have any consciences at all, they’ll be haunted by what they did for the rest of their lives. And that’s where the rest of us come in.

The job inevitably requires some cops to do things that will have that result. We owe it to our mentally ill brethren to balance the safety of others (including cops) against their well-being. And we who hire, train and pay cops owe it to them to train them well enough that if they ever have to use deadly force, the justification will be so clear that their consciences will be offered legitimate respite from what comes afterward. This is not an outcome that the current overmilitarization of U.S. law enforcement is likely to yield.

Monday, January 13, 2014 9:32 pm

Jon Stewart on Chris Christie

In case there’s anyone out there who hasn’t seen this yet (language NSFW, duh):

Thursday, January 2, 2014 5:30 pm

Stuff I missed while having a life over the holidays, Too Big to Jail edition

It’s official: Big banks are now Too Big to Jail and therefore will never be held accountable, nor their executives jailed, under the Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act:

(Assistant Attorney General Lanny) Breuer this week signed off on a settlement deal with the British banking giant HSBC that is the ultimate insult to every ordinary person who’s ever had his life altered by a narcotics charge. Despite the fact that HSBC admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels (among others) and violating a host of important banking laws (from the Bank Secrecy Act to the Trading With the Enemy Act), Breuer and his Justice Department elected not to pursue criminal prosecutions of the bank, opting instead for a “record” financial settlement of $1.9 billion, which as one analyst noted is about five weeks of income for the bank.

The banks’ laundering transactions were so brazen that the NSA probably could have spotted them from space. Breuer admitted that drug dealers would sometimes come to HSBC’s Mexican branches and “deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller windows.” …

Though this was not stated explicitly, the government’s rationale in not pursuing criminal prosecutions against the bank was apparently rooted in concerns that putting executives from a “systemically important institution” in jail for drug laundering would threaten the stability of the financial system. The New York Times put it this way:

Federal and state authorities have chosen not to indict HSBC, the London-based bank, on charges of vast and prolonged money laundering, for fear that criminal prosecution would topple the bank and, in the process, endanger the financial system.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the reasoning here is beyond flawed. When you decide not to prosecute bankers for billion-dollar crimes connected to drug-dealing and terrorism (some of HSBC’s Saudi and Bangladeshi clients had terrorist ties, according to a Senate investigation), it doesn’t protect the banking system, it does exactly the opposite. It terrifies investors and depositors everywhere, leaving them with the clear impression that even the most “reputable” banks may in fact be captured institutions whose senior executives are in the employ of (this can’t be repeated often enough) murderers and terrorists. Even more shocking, the Justice Department’s response to learning about all of this was to do exactly the same thing that the HSBC executives did in the first place to get themselves in trouble – they took money to look the other way.

And not only did they sell out to drug dealers, they sold out cheap. You’ll hear bragging this week by the Obama administration that they wrested a record penalty from HSBC, but it’s a joke. Some of the penalties involved will literally make you laugh out loud. This is from Breuer’s announcement:

As a result of the government’s investigation, HSBC has . . . “clawed back” deferred compensation bonuses given to some of its most senior U.S. anti-money laundering and compliance officers, and agreed to partially defer bonus compensation for its most senior officials during the five-year period of the deferred prosecution agreement.

Wow. So the executives who spent a decade laundering billions of dollars will have to partially defer their bonuses during the five-year deferred prosecution agreement? Are you [bleeping] kidding me? That’s the punishment? The government’s negotiators couldn’t hold firm on forcing HSBC officials to completely wait to receive their ill-gotten bonuses? They had to settle on making them “partially” wait? Every honest prosecutor in America has to be puking his guts out at such bargaining tactics. What was the Justice Department’s opening offer – asking executives to restrict their Caribbean vacation time to nine weeks a year?

So you might ask, what’s the appropriate financial penalty for a bank in HSBC’s position? Exactly how much money should one extract from a firm that has been shamelessly profiting from business with criminals for years and years? Remember, we’re talking about a company that has admitted to a smorgasbord of serious banking crimes. If you’re the prosecutor, you’ve got this bank by the balls. So how much money should you take?

How about all of it? How about every last dollar the bank has made since it started its illegal activity? How about you dive into every bank account of every single executive involved in this mess and take every last bonus dollar they’ve ever earned? Then take their houses, their cars, the paintings they bought at Sotheby’s auctions, the clothes in their closets, the loose change in the jars on their kitchen counters, every last freaking thing. Take it all and don’t think twice. And then throw them in jail.

Sound harsh? It does, doesn’t it? The only problem is, that’s exactly what the government does just about every day to ordinary people involved in ordinary drug cases.

It’s worth remembering, particularly for those of us who grew up along with Wachovia Bank here in North Carolina, that that bank, now part of Wells Fargo, settled with the Feds in 2010 for $110 million in forfeiture and a $50 million fine for laundering $378.4 billion — an amount equivalent to a third of Mexico’s GDP at the time. Then as now, no bank executives were charged; indeed, the bank hung its senior anti-money-laundering officer, Martin Woods, out to dry.

I get that there are good reasons (though not, in my personal opinion, a clearly convincing case) to keep, say, marijuana illegal for recreational use. But even if all laws banning marijuana use in the U.S. were scrapped today, the damage, though enormous in some individual cases, would be nowhere near the damage that is being done, right now, by decisions like this, to confidence in the U.S. finance system and, even more importantly, to the rule of law. Lanny Breuer ought to be named somewhere as an unindicted co-conspirator, at the least, and so should his boss, Attorney General Eric Holder. If Congress wants to impeach someone — and the GOP House, at least, certainly does — it could start with Holder without a peep of complaint from me as long as the charges pertained to his overwhelming failure to even try to rein in the banks during his term.

Friday, November 1, 2013 7:55 pm

More like this, please

Six months ago, the Toronto Star published a story claiming that a video existed of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack. Ford not only denied it, he bitterly attacked the media, most especially the Toronto Star, which he tried to convince subscribers and advertisers to boycott.

Until Thursday, when Toronto’s police chief confirmed that the video exists.

To me, that’s not the news; to the extent I thought about it, I thought Ford was guilty as sin.

No, the news is this open letter from the Toronto Star’s publisher, John Cruickshank:

The truth finally found a few more friends in Toronto yesterday. It badly needed them.

For the past six months, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has waged a brilliantly cynical and manipulative campaign against the Toronto Star and any other media who dared to question him.

Exploiting character assassination, defamation and a numbing stream of self-serving lies, Ford obscured the truth and befouled the truth-tellers.

Until yesterday. …

Six months ago, Mr. Ford might have ’fessed up, done a stint in rehab and emerged to a chorus of congratulations. Everybody loves a redemption story around election time.

But the mayor did not own up to his behaviour. Instead, he turned on the messengers.

And in the success of his malign campaign, he proved how fragile the truth can be if our chosen leaders lead their followers astray.

Mr. Ford and his thuggish brother, Councillor Doug Ford, used their media access to label the news reporters of this city as pathological liars and anti-democratic maggots.

The Fords urged their loyalists to cancel their subscriptions to the Toronto Star and to pull their advertisements.

The Star’s owners and journalists were accused of pursuing an ideological vendetta against Ford. Star reporting was denounced as harassment. Called delusional.

Ford acolytes hauled the paper before the Ontario Press Council, charging that the Star’s use of unnamed sources was unethical and that the media’s focus on the issue was detrimental to the democratic life of the city.

Toronto’s divided and querulous council proved powerless to call the mayor to account or defend their own integrity.

Painful as it is, we must acknowledge as a community that the mayor has been startlingly successful in his deceit.

Many citizens, perhaps a majority, have gullibly given credence to Mayor Ford’s lies about his drug use and about the reporters and editors he vindictively targeted.

The public was persuaded to ignore his erratic behaviour and the intense secrecy he insisted on about the hours he kept and the people with whom he spent his time. Episodes of public intoxication were laughed off (though members of his inner circle conceded the mayor urgently needed intervention).

Latterly, we have heard a little bit about some of the potential harm that comes when a leading official surrounds himself with criminals. Letters of recommendation have gone out from the mayor’s office for a killer and a drug dealer.

We are likely to learn a good deal more about what has been at risk at city hall in the days ahead. …

This is work of a scale and seriousness that can only be undertaken successfully by what is now called “the mainstream media.” Others lack the resources, the experience and the credibility to call a senior official to account.

We feel tremendously proud today of our unwavering pursuit of a shocking story about a popular mayor.

It’s a good day for the city of Toronto despite this bitter period of deception we’ve been through.

And it’s a good day for journalism.

That letter 1) flips Ford and the paper’s critics the middle finger; 2) honors all the Star journalists who have worked on this and related stories; 3) re-emphasizes the value of quality investigative reporting from an outlet with enough financial and legal resources to do hard stories right and make them stand up.

Now, I don’t know Cruickshank from Adam’s housecat, and for all I know this is as much a personal vendetta for him as it is a journalistic endeavor. It would be a shame if that were so.

But I’m trying to come up with publishers in this area — hell, the state — who would have the stones to 1) pursue, publish and defend a similar story in the face of similar opposition; and 2) flip off in print the people who were wrong. I can think of maybe one, and I’m not even sure about him. That’s sad. To some reporters working on difficult and unpopular investigative stories, a big ol’ public “Get bent!” from the publisher to the paper’s critics might be even more valuable than a raise.

Monday, October 14, 2013 7:56 pm

JPMorgan Chase just posted its first quarterly loss in a decade.

Yes, the nation’s largest bank lost $388 million. Alex Pareene of Salon explains why that matters:

… in one important sense, this loss doesn’t really “count.” The loss didn’t happen because the things JPMorgan does to make money stopped making money, the loss happened because JPMorgan has spent a fortune — a truly staggering amount of money — defending itself against legal inquiries and paying fines for bad behavior. This quarterly loss is the result of the bank needing a couple billion dollars to spend on lawyers and fines and fees, with a few billion set aside this quarter as “part of a $23 billion pot the bank has set aside to cover mounting legal costs.” Take away those costs, and you have a bank that is making almost as much money as usual. “Excluding litigation expense and reserve release,” according to Reuters, “the company posted a profit of $5.82 billion, or $1.42 per share.”

As Felix Salmon has said, a fantastically profitable bank is a bank that is extracting rents from the economy. A bank that would be fantastically profitable if it weren’t for the expense of dealing with myriad investigations into its corrupt and criminal activities is a bank that would seem to have reached the limits of its rent-extraction strategy.

So crime is baked into JPMorgan Chase’s business model. The nation’s largest bank apparently is little more than a continuing criminal enterprise, as defined under the RICO act, if it has to put billions, with a “B,” aside in just one quarter for legal defense. But nothing bad will ever happen to JPMorgan Chase because Barack Obama’s Justice Department can’t be bothered to investigate world-historical swindles, and nothing will happen to CEO Jamie Dimon because CEOs aren’t responsible for the crimes of the corporations they are so handsomely rewarded to run. Ever.

Friday, October 11, 2013 7:57 pm

Read this and tell me again how the shutdown is the Democrats’ fault

The House GOP’s Little Rule Change:

Late on the night of Sept. 30, with the federal government just hours away from shutting down, House Republicans quietly made a small change to the House rules that blocked a potential avenue for ending the shutdown.

It went largely unnoticed at the time. But with the shutdown more than a week old and House Democrats searching for any legislative wiggle room to end it, the move looms large in retrospect in the minds of the minority party.

“What people don’t know is that they rigged the rules of the House to keep the government shut down,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), ranking member of the House Budget Committee, told TPM in an interview. “This is a blatant effort to make sure that the Senate bill did not come up for a vote.” …

Here’s the rule in question:

When the stage of disagreement has been reached on a bill or resolution with House or Senate amendments, a motion to dispose of any amendment shall be privileged.

In other words, if the House and Senate are gridlocked as they were on the eve of the shutdown, any motion from any member to end that gridlock should be allowed to proceed. Like, for example, a motion to vote on the Senate bill. That’s how House Democrats read it.

But the House Rules Committee voted the night of Sept. 30 to change that rule for this specific bill. They added language dictating that any motion “may be offered only by the majority Leader or his designee.”

So unless House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) wanted the Senate spending bill to come to the floor, it wasn’t going to happen. And it didn’t.

“I’ve never seen this rule used. I’m not even sure they were certain we would have found it,” a House Democratic aide told TPM. “This was an overabundance of caution on their part. ‘We’ve got to find every single crack in the dam that water can get through and plug it.’”

Congressional historians agreed that it was highly unusual for the House to reserve such power solely for the leadership.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that before,” Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told TPM.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 7:47 pm

Digby explains it all for you …

… in less than a paragraph:

Boehner’s caucus won’t do what he wants them to do! He can’t make a deal they don’t want him to make unless he’s willing to commit hara-kiri and pass a clean CR with Democratic votes. Does he think Obama will agree to defund Obamacare?

Now, by “commit hara-kiri,” Digby means that if Boehner agreed to pass a clean continuing resolution with Democratic votes, he’d be voted out as Speaker. And, frankly, with the full faith and credit of the United States on the line in just a little over two weeks, a guy who cared about serving the country would take that deal. But the weeping Cheeto wants to hold onto the speakership, even though he’s a bad Speaker of historic proportions, so he’s going to let the Crazy Caucus dictate the GOP’s position. And Obama won’t back off on the Affordable Care Act (nor should he, what with it having been approved by Congress, signed into law, pronounced constitutional by the Supreme Court and effectively ratified by voters nationwide in 2012 and all).

The Crazy Caucus is threatening to blow up the government. And it’s not just a tantrum, it’s something they’ve been planning since January. They need to be reminded of something:

The United States does not negotiate with terrorists.

Monday, September 30, 2013 7:46 pm

Oh, yes, he did: Sen. Angus King calls Obamacare opposition “tantamount to murder.”

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Sen. Angus King, the Maine Independent who caucuses with the Democrats. But he has one quality that I do not: He is treated as a Very Serious Person by the mainstream media. And here’s what this Very Serious Person has to say:

Tuesday begins a 6-month race to enroll as many uninsured people as possible in the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges. For the markets to be effective, they need millions of customers, and for elderly participants not to vastly outnumber younger ones.

It’s in this context that well-heeled conservative groups are appealing to uninsured young people to remain uninsured — part of a backdoor effort to undermine the structural integrity of the health care law.

Their efforts have attracted the attention of one senator who recounts how being insured saved his life when he was a young adult, and who has since then watched others die due to lack of coverage. And he doesn’t mince words with those who’d take risks with other people’s health security.

“That’s a scandal — those people are guilty of murder in my opinion,” Sen. Angus King, a Maine Independent who caucuses with Democrats, told me in a Friday interview. “Some of those people they persuade are going to end up dying because they don’t have health insurance. For people who do that to other people in the name of some obscure political ideology is one of the grossest violations of our humanity I can think of. This absolutely drives me crazy.”

Murder. Yeah, I’ve gone there before, but now a Very Serious Person has gone there, too.

I do not think for one second that this will change the behavior of the Crazy Caucus. But it might change the  worldviews of a few of the reporters in the mainstream media who are so convinced that “both sides do it” and that this fight is merely a “political stalemate.” It is unprecedented in postbellum American history, it is being caused by one faction of one party (and not by both parties equally), and, given what we know about the connection between lack of health insurance and premature death, roughly 10,000 American lives per year hang in the balance. For comparison, King notes, the events of 9/11 killed only 3,000 people but sparked a far more expensive and long-lasting response.

Journalists have let Obamacare opponents off the moral hook as well as the political one (it was approved by Congress, signed by the President, upheld in almost its entirety by the Supreme Court, and effectively ratified in 2012 by the re-election of the president and most of the Democratic congresscritters who supported it). It’s time journalists started asking the hard moral questions, too.

 

Friday, September 13, 2013 7:10 pm

Dean Baker on why the Wall Street criminals walked

Shorter Dean: Because the Justice Department let them:

[In a real investigation] [t]he people who put together some of the worst mortgage backed securities would be asked if they were really dumber than rocks and had no idea that many of the mortgages being put into the packages were fraudulent. If the prosecutors could demonstrate evidence of intelligent life at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley they would then ask the lower level people whether they wanted to spend years in jail or would rather explain why they thought it was a good idea to put tens of millions of dollars of fraudulent mortgages into mortgage backed securities. This would presumably lead to testimony against higher ups at these investment banks. …

There is no guarantee that these sorts of efforts would have landed top executives of financial firms behind bars. However there is no evidence that the Justice Department even began this sort of investigation. At the least, such an investigation would have resulted in prosecutions of lower level actors who clearly violated the law in issuing and passing on fraudulent mortgages.

As [Neil] Irwin said [link added -- Lex], bad business judgement is not a crime. However, it is a crime to allow bad business judgement to lead to fraud. Clearly fraudulent mortgages were a major factor in propping up the housing bubble. No one went to jail for this crime.

Friday, April 12, 2013 6:50 pm

Quote of the day, is our children learning edition; or, measure everything and don’t do anything you can’t measure

From Kay at Balloon Juice, with emphasis in the original except where noted:

Michelle Rhee came to Ohio and lobbied my state legislature on her last national tour. She was treated like a celebrity. No one questioned any of her claims, which is unsurprising if you actually live in this state because all of her reforms involve union busting, pension looting and shifting public money to private operators(emphasis added). She’s a Right wing ideologue’s dream come true. They bought it because they believed it before she walked onto the floor that day.

The school reform industry response to the Atlanta cheating scandal was to call for better test security. As usual, the reform industry spokespeople are missing the larger point, the bigger picture. The truth is they based their reforms on high profile “turn arounds” in Atlanta and (especially) DC. If the scores in these places where they ran their experiments were bullshit, they “reformed” the US education system based on bullshit. They’re supposedly “data-driven” and most of them are billionaires. I shouldn’t have to point this out.

Hire an independent prosecutor like they did in Atlanta. Let’s find out. In the meantime, get a different opinion on “school reform.” Stop relying on the billionaires who backed this, the politicians who swallowed it without question, the hundreds of lobby shops who now exist because of it and the celebrities who promote it to evaluate it. They’re biased, they’re all in, they believe they are the “best and the brightest” and the top-tier analysts and executives are making a lot of money. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Well, disaster for ordinary taxpayers. For the grifters (and, remember, grifters are gonna grift), not so much.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 11:13 pm

Lynndie England did not die for our sins, but we know who should

I miss a lot of good stuff while school’s in session, but this was worth not leaving behind:

A United Nations investigator has demanded that the US publish classified documents regarding the CIA’s human rights violations under former President George W. Bush, with hopes that the documents will lead to the prosecution of public officials.

Documents about the CIA’s program of rendition and secret detention of suspected terrorists have remained classified, even though President Obama’s administration has publicly condemned the use of these “enhanced interrogation techniques”. The US has not prosecuted any of its agents for human rights violations.

UN investigator Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, said that the classified documents protect the names of individuals who are responsible for serious human rights violations.

“Despite this clear repudiation of the unlawful actions carried out by the Bush-era CIA, many of the facts remain classified, and no public official has so far been brought to justice in the United States,”Emmerson said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council, according to Reuters.

Kept in secret prisons around the world, the CIA’s detainees were subjected to torture including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and various other interrogation techniques that violate human rights. The detainees were often subjected to clandestine transfers to secret prisons known as CIA ‘black sites’.

“There is now credible evidence to show that CIA ‘black sites’ were located on the territory of Lithuania, Morocco, Poland, Romania and Thailand, and that the officials of at least 49 other states allowed their airspace or airports to be used for rendition flights,” Emmerson said, describing how suspected terrorists were often detained without being charged for any crimes, receiving extradition procedures or having access to lawyers.

Emmerson has urged the US to prosecute any public official who was involved in setting up the CIA “black sites” at which human rights or legal violations occurred. Even though the Obama administration has condemned those who promoted the use of such facilities for inhumane procedures, the administration has taken no steps to punish any of its public officials. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the Justice Department would not take legal actions against those who “acted in good faith” and followed the guidelines provided by the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush era.

But without names and details about the involvement of US officials at CIA black sites, the government is maintaining a level of secrecy and “perpetuating impunity for the public officials implicated in these crimes,” Emmerson said.  A Senate committee led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) previously investigated the CIA’s interrogation program and may have had complete access to classified information about it.

Emmerson has called for this information to be published “without delay, and to the fullest extent possible.”

He ain’t the only one. I spent long years here during the reign of Bush the Lesser, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo, and my freshman hall counselor, Jim Haynes, calling for the people responsible for ordering torture and other crimes against humanity (including the unilateral military invasion of Iraq, a country with which we were not legally at war, in violation of both ratified treaties and U.S. statutes) to be investigated, indicted, tried where appropriate and punished as needed. In the case of torture or other crimes against humanity that result in the death of another human being, the punishment is execution. And I’ve been a tough-on-crime conservative my whole life.

And I’ve been consistent. I called for Obama’s impeachment barely more than a year after his inauguration when it became clear that he intended to target U.S. citizens for extrajudicial assassination,  an intent on which he has acted successfully since.

A war criminal is a war criminal. A murderer under international laws of human rights is a murderer under international laws of human rights. The Constitution makes our legal priorities plain: It itself and our ratified treaties, which define these crimes, constitute the Supreme Law of the Land. So hang ‘em all, and let God sort ‘em out.

But that’s only where it should start. If we deserve to be called free and self-governing people, we also need to look in the mirror and figure out how and why we let these crimes happen — because many, if not most, could have been prevented if we as a body politic had taken our responsibilities as citizens seriously. Instead, we knew of torture at least six months before the 2004 election and did nothing. The New York Times knew about warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens in criminal violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act a year before the 2004 election and held its story. When Democrats retook Congress in 2006, Speaker-apparent Nancy Pelosi took impeachment “off the table,” and the voters let them do it. And President Obama and Attorney General Holder have repeated their desire to “look forward, not back,” and the voters have let them do THAT, too.

Imagine the people of Germany, circa 1946, claiming that intent and ask yourself how we would have responded. And we had conquered them by force and yet wanted to rehabilitate West Germany as a bulwark against communism. How much easier should it have been, how much less should we have needed to worry about the tender sensibilities of the Washington establishment and its courtiers in the press, than it was to punish individual Germans while keeping Germany on our side?

The UN is by no means a perfect organization. But the U.S. is by no means a perfect country. Let us follow the facts and the law — which, remember, we willingly signed and ratified — wherever they lead us, and let us act as the law obliges us to act. If you want an omelette, you need to break a few eggs. In this case, incontrovertibly, if we want to restore our own honor as a free and self-governing people, we need to break a few necks.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 10:00 pm

Driftglass summarizes “Hubris” for you because I had to study

This is just a taste. And I am grateful to him for the service (which was live-tweeted, thus the weird diction/syntax in places; also, I did a quick search-and-replace on some of the more vapors-inducing participial adjectives):

  • Remember David Brooks’ column calling people who opposed Wolfowitz antisemitic? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember David Brooks’ columns mocking Liberals who opposed Iraq war as deluded Bush-deranged posers? No? That’s the firetrucking problem
  • Remember David Brooks calling people cynical assholes who objected to Dubya’s flightsuit tango? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when the collaborators at the NYT gave a firetrucking weekly column to Bloody Bill Kristol? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when David Brooks leveraged his Liberal bashing tripe into a column-for-life at the NYT? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember Steve Gilliard? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when the wingnutosphere went nuts trying to discredit every alarming report out of Iraq? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when palette-trucks of shrink- wrapped taxpayer cash just firetrucking vanished into Iraq? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when everything that is now settled history was America-hating surrender-monkey treason? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when a gay hooker Conservative “reporter” w/ a fake name sat 100 ft away from Dubya for 2 yrs? No? That’s the firetrucking problem
  • Remember when Halliburton made $$ selling American soldiers in Iraq toilet water? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when the GOP made “[Forget] Reality” into American national policy? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when Phil Donahue got fired for telling the truth and Conservatives got promoted for lying? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember how the Cheney clans got really, really rich sending kids off to die for their lies? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when 60 million Americans re-elected these deficit-creating war criminals? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember the incompetent children of GOP campaign contributors were put in charge of governing Iraq? No? That’s the firetrucking problem.
  • Remember when Fox News told soldiers rolling into battle to look into the camera and say “Fox Rocks!” No? That’s the firetrucking problem.

You know, I stack this list up against the whining from Politico reporters that I mentioned below, and I think perhaps I should call Mike Allen or Jim Vandehei at Politico and tell them, “There are better ways you could be spending your time, and some pseudonymous blogger in flyover country has just handed you a double fistful of them for free, so pack a lunch and get busy.

That, also, is the polite version. Too. Here’s kind of what I really feel like saying.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 6:49 pm

Sen. John McCain gets something right. Seriously.

Filed under: Evil,Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 6:49 pm
Tags: ,

McCain is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is expected to approve on Thursday a 6,000-page report on the Bush administration’s torture program. And McCain wants that report made public. His reasoning is that we didn’t get any useful information out of the torture program, in particular not any information that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. To me, that’s threading the needle a little too finely; the damn thing should be public because it’s about torture, hello? It should be made public because it’s about crimes committed by our government, not because of the utility, or lack thereof, of those crimes. But McCain, who hasn’t done much right lately, is, to his credit, on the right side of both morality and history on this one. I just hope his committee colleagues agree with him.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 7:29 pm

Brian Moynihan can say only one thing to keep himself out of prison, and it’s a lie.

This one’s for my friends and family in Charlotte.

Brian Moynihan is the CEO of Bank of America. Last May, unbeknownst to most of us, he was deposed by lawyers for insurance companies suing Bank of America and Countrywide, the “mortgage” company that BofA acquired. The insurance companies lost a metric shit-ton of money because Countrywide spent years originating a boatload of mortgages to anyone with a pulse, mortgages that were doomed to fail, and then packaged and sold them as AAA-grade bonds, which were even more attractive investments at the time because MBIA and other prominent companies had insured them.

When BofA acquired Countrywide, for no small amount of money despite the company’s obvious worthlessness at that point, Moynihan famously promised to make good on all his company’s new acquisition’s misdeeds, a promise that, if kept, could render BofA so much more insolvent that even the government wouldn’t be able to ignore it any longer. And I haven’t kept close track, so this may all be over and done with, but Moynihan also may have legal problems with BofA stockholders who have claimed they weren’t fully informed of  Countrywide’s problems at the time of the acquisition, as securities law requires.

Anyway, this little Q&A between MBIA lawyers and Moynihan  runs on to 223 pages, and if we are to take its protagonist at his word — a dangerous thing to do, as we shall see in a moment — then he not only has no business serving as the CEO of anything more important than watching moss grow, he also desperately needs full-time dementia care. (And having had friends and relatives with Alizheimer’s, I don’t throw that metaphor out  lightly.)

Moynihan essentially had three choices in answering these questions. He could tell the truth and, in all likelihood, admit under oath to securities fraud, conspiracy and a host of other crimes. Or he could lie and say these things did not happen on his watch when they manifestly did, and face perjury charges. Or he could say he didn’t recall. (I suppose he had a fourth possibility, taking the Fifth Amendment, but a quick scan suggests he either didn’t do that or else did it very obliquely.)

Well, to absolutely no one’s surprise, Brian the Job Creator chose Door No. 3. At the moment, if you Google the phrase “great amnesiacs of history” in quotes, you get no hits. I suspect that’s about to change, as Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone comments:

If you’re a court junkie, or have the misfortune (as some of us poor reporters do) of being forced professionally to spend a lot of time reading legal documents, the just-released Moynihan deposition in MBIA v. Bank of America, Countrywide, and a Buttload of Other Shameless Mortgage Fraudsters will go down as one of the great Nixonian-stonewalling efforts ever, and one of the more entertaining reads of the year.

In this long-awaited interrogation – Bank of America has been fighting to keep Moynihan from being deposed in this case for some time – Moynihan does a full Star Trek special, boldly going where no deponent has ever gone before, breaking out the “I don’t recall” line more often and perhaps more ridiculously than was previously thought possible. Moynihan seems to remember his own name, and perhaps his current job title, but beyond that, he’ll have to get back to you. …

Taibbi’s account alone is both hilarious and outrageous. Now that the semester is over, I can’t wait to read the actual deposition. (Hey, it’s how I roll.)

In the deposition, attorney Peter Calamari of Quinn Emmanuel, representing MBIA, attempts to ask Moynihan a series of questions about what exactly Bank of America knew about Countrywide’s operations at various points in time.

Early on, he asks Moynihan if he remembers the B of A audit committee discussing Countrywide. Moynihan says he “doesn’t recall any specific discussion of it.”

He’s asked again: In the broadest conceivable sense, do you recall ever attending an audit committee meeting where the word Countrywide or any aspect of the Countrywide transaction was ever discussed? Moynihan: I don’t recall.

Calamari counters: It’s a multi-billion dollar acquisition, was it not?

Moynihan: Yes, it was.

[Q:] Well, isn’t that the kind of thing you would talk about?

Moynihan: not necessarily . . .

This goes on and on for a while, with the Bank of America CEO continually insisting he doesn’t remember ever talking about Countrywide at these meetings, that you’d have to “get the minutes.” Incredulous, Calamari, a little sarcastically, finally asks Moynihan if he would say he has a good memory.

“I would – I could remember things, yes,” Moynihan deadpans. “I have a good memory.”

Calamari presses on, eventually asking him about the state of Countrywide when Moynihan became the CEO, leading to the following remarkable exchange, in which the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world claims not to know anything about the most significant acquisition in the bank’s history (emphasis mine):

Q: By January 1st, 2010, when you became the CEO of Bank Of America, CFC – and  I’m using the initials CFC, Countrywide Financial Corporation – itself was no longer engaged in any revenue-producing activities; is that right?

Moynihan: I wouldn’t be the best person to ask about that because I don’t know.

There are no sound effects in the transcript, but you can almost hear an audible gasp at this response. Calamari presses Moynihan on his answer.

“Sir,” he says, “you were CEO of Bank Of America in January, 2010, but you don’t know what Countrywide Financial Corporation was doing at that time?”

In an impressive display of balls, Moynihan essentially replies that Bank of America is a big company, and it’s unrealistic to ask the CEO to know about all of its parts, even the ones that are multi-billion-dollar suckholes about which the firm has been engaged in nearly constant litigation from the moment it acquired the company.

“We have several thousand legal entities,” is how Moynihan puts it. “Exactly what subsidiary took place [sic] is not what you do as the CEO. That is [sic] other people’s jobs to make sure.”

The exasperated MBIA lawyer tries again: If it’s true that Moynihan somehow managed to not know anything about the bank’s most important and most problematic subsidiary when he became CEO, well, did he ever make an effort to correct that ignorance?  “Do you ever come to learn what CFC was doing?” is how the question is posed.

“I’m not sure that I recall exactly what CFC was doing versus other parts,” Moynihan sagely concludes.

The deposition rolls on like this for 223 agonizing pages. The entire time, the Bank of America CEO presents himself as a Being There-esque cipher who was placed in charge of a Too-Big-To-Fail global banking giant by some kind of historical accident beyond his control, and appears to know little to nothing at all about the business he is running.

In the end, Moynihan even doubles back on his “we’ll pay for the things Countrywide did” quote. Asked if he said that to a Bloomberg reporter, Moynihan says he doesn’t remember that either, though he guesses the reporter got it right.

Well, he’s asked, assuming he did say it, does the quote accurately reflect Moynihan’s opinion?

“It is what it is,” Moynihan says philosophically.

There’s nothing surprising about any of this – it’s natural that a Bank of America executive would do everything he could to deny responsibility for Countrywide’s messes. But that doesn’t mean it’s not funny. By about the thirtieth “I don’t recall,” I was laughing out loud.

It’s also more than a little infuriating. In the pre-crash years, Countrywide was the biggest, loudest, most obvious fraud in a marketplace full of them …

One of the biggest indictments you can level against U.S. news media is that U.S. financiers were engaging in this level of world-historical theft, fraud and conspiracy right out in the open for a decade and more, and yet no one of consequence has done any hard time for it.

If we are to take Moynihan at his word, the only way you could have been more delusional and out of touch than he was to have believed on election night that Mitt Romney was going to win big. But as the deposition makes clear, taking Brian Moynihan at his word  would make a box of rocks look like a Davidson valedictorian.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 6:17 pm

“I’ve got $3 in my wallet and it feels like a million.”

My friend and fellow blogger Billy Jones has been through a rough few years. He just had an experience most of us who are more comfortable would describe as somewhere between bad and awful. And yet, in a message to me, he calls it a small victory.

I’ll let you decide just how small.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 7:31 pm

Will the presidency stand in Scott Walker’s posterity? Uh, quite possibly not.

Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all,
As the weird women promised, and I fear
Thou played’st most foully for ’t.
Banquo, “Macbeth,” Act III, Scene 1
Scott Walker won the governorship of Wisconsin, turned on some of the very working people who helped get him elected, and then, when they turned on him in kind, fended them off in a recall election whose outcome was narrow but clear.
Now Scott Walker is being talked about among the GOP White House contenders for 2016. And why not? He won an election and a recall, he’s enough of a hippie-puncher to satisfy all but the most rabid of the right-wing nutjobs, and unlike, say, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, if you Google him, you might immediately find offensive things, depending on your political persuasion, but not outright ridiculous things.
But just as Macbeth reached the throne of Scotland by climbing over the corpses he’d killed, Walker — who, even if nothing else goes wrong, still would face a tough fight for the GOP nomination with the White House open — may yet be shown to have played almost as foully, by 21st-century standards, as Macbeth did a millennium ago in Shakespeare’s play.
Consider:

Gov. Scott Walker and his top campaign and Milwaukee County aides were named Monday as part of a team that routinely commingled political and official county business.

The disclosures came during the sentencing of a former aide to Walker during his last year as Milwaukee County executive. Kelly M. Rindfleisch, 44, was sentenced by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher to six months in jail and three years of probation on a single felony count of misconduct in office. The judge stayed the sentence pending Rindfleisch’s appeal to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals or the state Supreme Court.

In a lengthy presentation during Rindfleisch’s sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf displayed numerous emails between Rindfleisch and key members of Walker’s campaign staff in which they discussed how to manage county government in 2010, while Walker was a candidate for governor.

Repeatedly, Landgraf argued that Rindfleisch knowingly broke the law by doing campaign work at the courthouse. In a new development, the prosecutor made clear – without saying it was illegal – that top Walker campaign officials influenced, even directed, county strategy.

“You guys are in the driver’s seat,” Rindfleisch wrote in one message to Keith Gilkes, Walker’s then-campaign chief of staff.

At another point, Rindfleisch said in an email regarding an effort by the campaign to plant stories about problems at the state Mendota Mental Health Institute: “This needs to be done covertly so it’s not tied to Scott or the campaign in any way.”

Landgraf said “The Campaign Group” included Walker, Gilkes, campaign spokeswoman Jill Bader and campaign adviser R.J. Johnson. It also included several top county aides to Walker: Cindy Archer, who was county administration director; county chief of staff Tom Nardelli; spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin; housing director Timothy Russell; and Rindfleisch.

Rindfleisch served as Walker’s policy adviser and later his deputy chief of staff at the county.

Five members of the group spoke by phone daily at 8 a.m. to make sure the county executive’s office was “in sync” with the “image” the campaign was advancing of Walker in his Republican race for governor against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, according to an email Landgraf presented in court …

A bit of background for you non-cheeseheads: Wisconsin has a long history of what political wonks call “good government,” a term of art and culture dating to the early 20th-century Progressive movement  that means not just that the roads get paved but also that conflicts of interest and corruption are just not done. By any party. And part and parcel of that culture is that governing — paving the roads, running the firehouses, building the schools — and campaigning are kept separate, not only by custom but also by criminal law.

Before being elected governor, Walker was the Milwaukee County executive and Kelly Reindfleisch was an aide to him in that job. Officially she worked for the taxpayers of Milwaukee County alone. In real life, she was coordinating between Milwaukee County government staff and Walker’s gubernatorial campaign staff, and barring a win on appeal, she’s going to prison for six months for it. Not only that, members of Walker’s campaign team, Reindfleisch’s prosecutor said in court, were dictating county government policy, apparently in an effort to benefit Walker’s campaign.

Reindflesch isn’t the first former Walker aide to be headed to the hoosegow. One former aide, Kevin Kavanaugh, is headed to prison for stealing $51,000 from a veterans’ service organization, for crying out loud. Although Walker himself was not implicated in that case (at least so far as I can tell), the so-called John Doe (whistleblower) grand jury investigation that grew from it has expanded into issues, including Reindflesch’s role, that do threaten Walker.

And it ain’t over, Esquire’s Charlie Pierce notes:

It is that most dangerous of all grand-jury investigations — patient, thorough, and damned near leakproof. (I was in Milwaukee last week and, while there was some chatter downtown about something big breaking in the case, nobody really knew what it was.) This case has been built slowly and methodically, and it is beginning to produce results in the way the most dangerous grand juries do – a little at a time, in a fashion whereby people higher up the food chain first become collateral damage in other cases, and then wind up in hip-deep in the fudge themselves.

Rindfleisch was the first real domino to drop. She widely was believed to be the liaison between Walker’s campaign staff and the members of his campaign team, who were not supposed to be in contact at all. (This kind of thing may seem penny-ante to people in Louisiana …  but Wisconsin takes good-government principles very seriously, having invented most of them. The penalties for breaking those statutes are relatively draconian.) The e-mails presented by the prosecutors at her sentencing make her function pretty clear. …

This is not going to come to a quick and easy end. Rindfleisch is the fourth person to be convicted in connection with Walker’s days as Milwaukee county commissioner. … It’s plain at this point that the office was a snake pit of quasi-legal chicanery, and fully illegal machinations. The investigation continues, still thorough, still patient, still silent. Some day in the future, Scott Walker is going to wake up and wish very much that he were back in New Hampshire, listening to the cheers of strangers.

Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” villainous as he was, was fictional. But Walker is a real-life character, and in real life it’s beginning to look as though he may never make that trip to New Hampshire to hear the cheers of strangers, let alone climb Dunsinane Hill to the White House. Instead, Birnam Wood may be trudging, slowly and methodically, patient and silent, toward Madison, the camouflaging branches of a secret grand jury investigation concealing certain doom.

Thursday, November 1, 2012 6:09 pm

Hallefreakinlujah in Happy Valley

Maybe, just maybe, we’re going to see something we haven’t seen in America in a long time – institutional justice as well as personal punishment:

Graham B. Spanier, the former president of Penn State, was charged Thursday with helping to cover up the child abuse allegations involving Jerry Sandusky that have roiled the university and its famed football program over the past year.

During a news conference, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Linda Kelly, said Spanier faced five charges: perjury, obstruction of justice, endangering the welfare of children, criminal conspiracy and failure to report suspected child abuse. She also said that two other former university officials — Gary Schultz, the former university vice president, and Tim Curley, the former athletic director — would face the same five charges.

Schultz and Curley were already scheduled to stand trial in January on charges of perjury and failing to report child sexual abuse. Kelly specifically mentioned incidents in 1998 and 2001 when Spanier, Schultz and Curley spoke about allegations that Sandusky had abused boys on campus but did not take measures to stop him.

See, Justice Department? That wasn’t so hard. If a state attorney general can do it, how ’bout the feds go after the child-molesting priests and their enabling bishops and Pope? You know, seek … um, what’s it called again? Oh, yeah, justice.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 7:51 pm

Quote of the Day, Civility & Priorities Edition

Commenter Batocchio at Roy Edroso’s blog:

Civility has its place, but honesty over civility, accuracy over politeness. Alternatively, if you define “civility” in part as showing respect for the truth, a liar has broken the implicit contract of the debate/discussion, and as a moral matter should be called out. (Not that that happens much in the Village, but boy, it’s awesome when it does.)

 

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