Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, December 31, 2009 2:13 am

Odds and ends for 12/31

Enough already: GMAC wants another $3-4 billion from the taxpayers. Just. Say. No.

Our arrogant national culture is letting our soldiers/marines die unnecessarily: “Indeed, off-the-shelf solutions [to military problems in Iraq and Afghanistan] were there for the asking within Coalition partner states, but no one asked.”

Some good news for a change:Q: Obama says America will go bankrupt if Congress doesn’t pass the health care bill. A: Well, it’s going to go bankrupt if they do pass the health care bill, too, but at least he’s thinking about it.” So we’ve got that going for us.

A question: If the guy accused of being the pants-on-fire would-be terrorist on Flight 253 is “cooperating” with investigators, as investigators say, then why are people calling for him to be tortured?

News flash: U.S. corporate governance sucks, at least at publicly held companies.

Another news flash: Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., send the president a letter asking him not to release six Guantanamo detainees to Yemen. Just one problem: too late. A big deal? Of course not. But imagine how this would have been played if three Democratic senators had done this with George W. Bush still in the White House.

The Washington Post’s Steven Pearlstein, unlike McCain, Graham and Lieberman, is NOT too late. Not that it helps: Indeed, he warned us a year ago that Obama’s choice of Mary Schapiro to run the SEC would suck. And it has come to pass as it was foretold.

Well, at least we’re going to have a national election contested on a clear issue: Newt Gingrich has been calling on Republican Congressional candidates in 2010 to pledge to repeal health-care reform (should it finally pass) if elected. Now the White House is double-dog-daring them to do it, too.

How to keep your recently deregulated, greedy, rapacious, out-of-control industry from being intelligently re-regulated: First, get the majority party to assign a bunch of politically vulnerable rookies, who will therefore be desperate for lots and lots of re-election campaign cash, to the committee that oversees you.

Worst financial footnote of the year: By the time this post sees the Interwebz, results should be posted.

Dennis Kucinich may see flying saucers, but he also sees some incredibly bad policy (if not actual crime) and is calling it out.

From the banksters’ own fingers: Some internal AIG e-mails are finally being made public. We need many, many more, and we need many, many people to go through them looking for evidence of crime.

Sigh. More Calvinball*. Better journalists, please.

Newt’s getting predictable.

Memo to Andrew Sullivan: There’s a difference between accountability and kabuki, and John Cole, being smarter than you, explains the difference. Pay attention; this will be on the exam.

*Term explained here.

Monday, December 7, 2009 9:57 pm

Odds and ends for 12/7

It’s not a game, but somebody forgot to tell the Labor Department:

The real Climategate. ‘Nuff said.

Remembering Mark Pittman: This guy was the real deal.

And if we follow this line of logic to its painfully obvious conclusion, we learn …: Warren Buffett thinks federally subsidizing a competitor of his Business Wire would be bad. How long before he concludes the same thing about subsidizing another of his key investments, Goldman Sachs?

Fire ’em. And lock ’em up: Someone at the FDIC is passing inside information. Mary Schapiro needs to be fired, beaten and driven across the landscape like a mangy bison.

Clarity: This is bizarre, in a good way — Zero Hedge and Google have formed a partnership to, among other things, translate government financial info into plain English.

Your flawed premise. Let me show you it: Two (out of the more than 6,000) members of the Academy of Motion Picture Whozawhatsis call for Al Gore’s Oscar to be rescinded in light of the hacked e-mails about global warming. Which would be fine except that Al Gore never got an Oscar. The Oscar went to the director of “An Inconvenient Truth.” Who was not Al Gore.

Opaque is the new transparent: A government meeting on open records and transparency is closed to the media and public. Write your own punchline.

Bummer: Obama rules out drugs, hookers as economic stimuli. Dang.

Someone remind me again who the terrorists are?: AIG execs threaten to walk out en masse if they don’t get their bonuses. Door. Ass. Quoth Digby: “This could be Obama’s equivalent of Reagan and the air traffic controllers if he wants it to be.” Precisely.

Well, yeah, if, by “narrow, ideological interest group” you mean “three-fourths of voters”: Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., says only a few politically motivated people want a public option for health insurance.

How did I miss this?: Slate had a “Write Like Sarah Palin” contest. On the down side, to be competitive I’d’ve had to drink at least a case in one sitting.

Silenced: Former Guantanamo prosecutor Morris Davis, who once resigned rather than run what he thought was a rigged system of justice at Guantanamo, has been fired from the Library of Congress for continuing to criticize the military-commission system publicly and calling former AG Mike Mukasey out for the pants-wetting anti-American baby he is. The ACLU has taken Davis’s case. Good.

Blessings: Former Fox “News” host Eric Burns counts his: “I have several. Among them is that I do not have to face the ethical problem of sharing an employer with Glenn Beck.”

Quote of the day: From Balloon Juice’s John Cole, on “bipartisan” health-care reform: “You know, as much as our national political chattering classes are enamored with the baby Jesus, I find it amazing that none of them ever managed to hear the story of King Solomon. … every Senator apparently [is] eager to rush home to show off their half of the bloody baby.”

Quote of the day runner-up: From Doc at First Draft, on the Dallas Morning News’ plan to have its news editors reporting to advertising execs: “You can say that there’s a line that’s drawn and that we don’t cross it. That’s all fine and good, but when you keep moving the line the way the DMN has now, you are never sure if you’ll cross the line or the line will cross you.”

Uh, dude?: Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., nominated his girlfriend to be a U.S. attorney. That’s not good, but as Marcy points out, Baucus is responsible for an even bigger screwing than that.

So, Bowl Championship Series, how’s that Jenna Jameson-led abstinence campaign going?: Former Bush White House spokesliar Ari Fleischer compares the current college-football bowl system, now despised by a miniscule 85% of Americans, to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade as an irreplaceable tradition.

Inevitable headline: Doh!: Cartoon character C. Montgomery Burns outpolls Rudy Giuliani in NYC mayoral race.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 8:15 pm

When government doesn’t govern

Susan Antilla at Bloomberg has some suggestions about what we might do with the Securities & Exchange Commission, inasmuch as it is utterly failing to do its job, i.e., protect the interests of investors:

  • Shoot it like a horse with a broken leg. Problem is, to extend the metaphor, any new colts/fillies sired to replace it likely would have the same orthopedic problem. “There is a reason it is the way it is,” Antilla quotes Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at Consumer Federation of America and a member of the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee, as saying, “and it’s because of the deference that Congress and various administrations have to the financial services industry.”
  • Move the enforcement division to where most other government enforcement is housed: the Justice Department. As Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzalez have shown us, it wouldn’t be completely immune from political pressure there, but it would be better protected there than it is now.
  • Appoint commissioners from the investment community, not the broker/dealer community. But again, you run into “the deference that Congress and various administrations have to the financial services industry.” Even if a president were bold enough to appoint them, the Senate would never confirm them.

And the deference goes even further:

In 2006, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations actually set up a hotline for firms that were feeling put out about being investigated. Amazingly, the hotline offers regulated firms “senior-level attorneys” to help resolve complaints.

The investing public, in the meantime, is relegated to filling out an online form when it has a complaint. An improved SEC might consider giving investors access to the top people and letting the brokerage firms sit there and fume if they don’t like the way they’re being treated.

Yeah, that’s gonna happen, particularly after our supposedly non-activist Supreme Court overrules 100 years of legislative precedent and lets corporations make unlimited political contributions.

There is one bright side: Current SEC chairwoman Mary Schapiro, in addition to being at best inept, may have a potentially fatal conflict-of-interest problem:

[Schapiro] was in charge of the self-regulators at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority when the organization was staunchly defending the greatest gift ever to the brokerage industry: mandatory arbitration of investor disputes.

It’s worth noting that Finra is a defendant in three lawsuits dating from Schapiro’s tenure. One of them, by Standard Investment Chartered Inc., names Schapiro as a defendant and seeks to make unredacted versions of certain documents public. Those might wind up embarrassing the woman in charge of the SEC if they show that she misled brokerage firm members about the “special member payments” they got when Finra was formed in 2007.

You probably haven’t heard the last on this one: On Sept. 11, Standard and Finra heard from the court that the case had been assigned to Jed Rakoff.

Who, you ask, is Jed Rakoff?

I’m glad you asked. This is Jed Rakoff:

A federal judge on Monday rejected a $33 million settlement between the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Bank of America and accused the regulators of falling down on the job.

Manhattan Federal Judge Jed Rakoff said the proposed settlement – over bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch executives just before the bank took over Merrill – was little more than a sham to “provide the SEC with the facade of enforcement and the management of the bank with a quick resolution to an embarrassing inquiry.”

“The notion that Bank of America shareholders, having been lied to blatantly in connection with the multibillion-dollar purchase of a huge, nearly bankrupt company, need to lose another $33 million … in order to ‘better assess the quality and performance of management’ is absurd,” the judge wrote in a scathing ruling.

The SEC sued Bank of America on Aug. 3, claiming bank bosses lied to shareholders when they asked for permission to buy the nearly bankrupt Merrill Lynch for $50 billion.

The SEC charged Bank of America signed off on a plan to pay up to $5.8 billion in bonuses to the executives who ran Merrill Lynch to the brink.

In statements to shareholders, Bank of America said it had not agreed to such bonuses.

The same day the SEC sued, regulators agreed to a settlement with Bank of America and the $33 million fine.

The SEC claimed such a fine would actually help shareholders – alerting them that bad decisions had been made and enabling them to better assess the quality of bank management.

Rakoff called the SEC’s logic “absurd” and told both sides to be ready for trial by Feb. 1, 2010.

Quoting Oscar Wilde – who once said a cynic is someone “who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” – the judge said the settlement suggested a “cynical relationship” between the bank and the SEC.

“The SEC gets to claim that it is exposing wrongdoing on the part of Bank of America in a high-profile merger; the bank’s management gets to claim that they have been coerced into an onerous settlement by overzealous regulators,” the judge wrote.

He added that “all this is done at the expense, not only of the shareholders, but also of the truth.”

If I were Mary S., and I’m glad I’m not, I’d be shipping resumes.

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