Saturday, December 20, 2014

(CBS's Worst Decision Ever? Bye For Now Craig)   Everyone An Inside Trader:   Welcome to the USA USA USA!!! (Meet Your Newest Legislator:   Citigroup)



A Tribute to Craig Ferguson

. . . something really good was happening after midnight for the last decade, and it made drinking and partying look like a waste of both time and human potential. Craig Ferguson — one of the brightest, kindest and most sincerely original talents in late night television — has been brilliantly rewriting the script for what it means to be fun and funny since taking over the “Late Late Show” in January 2005, roughly 13 years after he had his last drink, a fact he has willingly publicized. For most who have been watching, they know it’s been something special.

Not just ignoring the playbook for late night television, but rather blowing it up with the glimmering-eyed determination of a schoolboy lighting his first firecracker, Ferguson rejected house bands, human co-hosts and scripted questions for his guests. He resisted gossip and pandering, and just said no to cheap shots. In all ways, he annihilated formula with a combination of whip-smart language, guillotine-sharp wit, and a steely fearlessness . . . .

Craig's show was the best late-night TV I've ever indulged in (and for 10 years!) and it is a shame that he was so underrated by the management at CBS.

I know I'll never watch CBS that late again.

Or anything else tempting me to stay up until 1:30 AM so as not to miss the generousity and brilliance found in Craig Ferguson's one-man performance.

Nor can I imagine anything capturing my attention so totally that I've fought much-needed sleep on many nights in order to catch the latest from Craig and his co-anchors Jeff the Robot and the horse, Secretariat!

Thanks to Bob Newhart and Drew Carey for those final heart-warming show stoppers (fond bow to the memory of Suzanne Pleshette's surprise vignette which ended "The Newhart Show.")
_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Gee.

I've been reporting these facts for years.

I guess we can be glad that the Age of Wikileaks makes it clear that this is not a conspiracy theory.

Anyone want to join me in chorusing "Brrrrr - aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!" ?

Friday, Dec 19, 2014

Insider Traders Are Hosing Us All

The former secretary of labor examines how deregulation under Reagan and Bush has spawned savage inequalities




A few years ago, hedge fund Level Global Investors made $54 million selling Dell Computer stock based on insider information from a Dell employee. When charged with illegal insider trading, Global Investors’ co-founder Anthony Chiasson claimed he didn’t know where the tip came from.

Chiasson argued that few traders on Wall Street ever know where the inside tips they use come from because confidential information is, in his words, the “coin of the realm in securities markets.”

Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which oversees federal prosecutions of Wall Street, agreed. It overturned Chiasson’s conviction, citing lack of evidence Chaisson received the tip directly, or knew insiders were leaking confidential information in exchange for some personal benefit.

The Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 banned insider trading but left it up to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the courts to define it. Which they have – in recent decades so broadly that confidential information is indeed the coin of the realm.

If a CEO tells his golf buddy that his company is being taken over, and his buddy makes a killing on that information, no problem. If his buddy leaks the information to a hedge-fund manager like Chiasson, and doesn’t tell Chiasson where it comes from, Chiasson can also use the information to make a bundle.


Major players on Wall Street have been making tons of money not because they’re particularly clever but because they happen to be in the realm where a lot of coins come their way.

Last year, the top twenty-five hedge fund managers took home, on average, almost one billion dollars each. Even run-of-the-mill portfolio managers at large hedge funds averaged $2.2 million each.

Another person likely to be exonerated by the court’s ruling is Michael Steinberg, of the hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors, headed by Stephen A. Cohen.

In recent years several of Cohen’s lieutenants have been convicted of illegal insider trading. Last year Cohen himself had to pay a stiff penalty and close down SAC because of the charges, after making many billions.

SAC managed so much money that it handed over large commissions to bankers on Wall Street. Those banks possessed lots of inside information of potential value to SAC Capital. This generated possibilities for lucrative deals.

According to a Bloomberg Businessweek story from 2003, SAC’s commissions “grease the super-powerful information machine that Cohen has built up” and “wins Cohen the clout that often makes him privy to trading and analyst information ahead of rivals.”

One analyst was quoted as saying “I call Stevie personally when I have any insight or news tidbit on a company. I know he’ll put the info to use and actually trade off it.” SAC’s credo, according to one of its former traders, was always to “get the information before anyone else.”

Insider trading has also become commonplace in corporate suites, which is one reason CEO pay has skyrocketed.

CEOs and other top executives, whose compensation includes piles of company stock, routinely use their own inside knowledge of when their companies will buy back large numbers of shares of stock from the public – thereby pumping up share prices — in order to time their own personal stock transactions.


That didn’t used to be legal. Until 1981, the Securities and Exchange Commission required companies to publicly disclose the amount and timing of their buybacks. But Ronald Reagan’s SEC removed these restrictions.

Then George W. Bush’s SEC allowed top executives, even though technically company “insiders” with knowledge of the timing of their company’s stock buybacks, to quietly cash in their stock options without public disclosure.

But now it’s normal practice. According to research by Professor William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts, between 2003 and 2012 the chief executives of the ten companies that repurchased the most stock (totaling $859 billion) received 58 percent of their total pay in stock options or stock awards.

In other words, many CEOs are making vast fortunes not because they’re good at managing their corporations but because they’re good at using insider information. It’s the coin of their realm, too.

None of this would be a problem if the only goal were economic efficiency. The faster financial markets adjust to all available information, confidential or not, the more efficient they become.

But profiting off inside information that’s not available to average investors strikes many as unfair. The “coin of the realm” on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms is contributing to the savage inequalities of American life.

If Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission wanted to reverse this and remove one of the largest privileges of the realm, they could. But they won’t, because those who utilize those coins also have a great deal of political power.

(Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie "Inequality for All" is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.)



Bob Rubin's personal company, Citi does the honors.

Take it away.

No.

Don't.

I mean, yes.

Do.

Former SEC Attorney, James Kidney, Speaks Out on Court’s Insider Trading Bombshell

Meet Your Newest Legislator:  Citigroup


By Pam Martens: December 16, 2014

Citi Congress In Session

Citigroup is the Wall Street mega bank that forced the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999; blew itself up as a result of the repeal in 2008; was propped back up with the largest taxpayer bailout in the history of the world even though it was insolvent and didn’t qualify for a bailout; has now written its own legislation to de-regulate itself; got the President of the United States to lobby for its passage; and received an up vote from both houses of Congress in less than a week.


And there is one more thing you should know at the outset about Citigroup: it didn’t just have a hand in bringing the country to its knees in 2008; it was a key participant in the 1929 collapse under the moniker National City Bank. Both the U.S. Senate’s investigation of the collapse of the financial system in 1929 and the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) that investigated the 2008 collapse cited this bank as a key culprit.

The FCIC wrote:


“…we do not accept the view that regulators lacked the power to protect the financial system. They had ample power in many arenas and they chose not to use it. To give just three examples: the Securities and Exchange Commission could have required more capital and halted risky practices at the big investment banks. It did not. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York and other regulators could have clamped down on Citigroup’s excesses in the run-up to the crisis. They did not. Policy makers and regulators could have stopped the runaway mortgage securitization train. They did not…Too often, they lacked the political will – in a political and ideological environment that constrained it – as well as the fortitude to critically challenge the institutions and the entire system they were entrusted to oversee.”

The words above from the FCIC also perfectly describe what just happened in Congress and the Oval Office. Citigroup snuck its deregulation legislation into the $1.1 trillion Cromnibus spending bill that will keep the government running through next September. (It’s called Cromnibus because it’s part Continuing Resolution or CR and part omnibus spending bill.) Just as the FCIC wrote about the reasons for the financial collapse, Citigroup was able to pass this outrageous deregulation legislation because the majority of Congress and the President “lacked the political will” and the “fortitude to critically challenge the institutions and the entire system they were entrusted to oversee.”

What Citigroup has now done with the willing participation of Congress and the President is to set the country up for the next financial collapse in which it appears destined to play another starring role, seeing that the Fed gave it a failing grade on its stress test this year. The legislation that was just passed by Congress allows Citigroup and other Wall Street banks to keep their riskiest assets – interest rate swaps and other derivatives – in the banking unit that is backstopped with FDIC deposit insurance, which is, in turn, backstopped by the U.S. taxpayer, thus ensuring another bailout of Citigroup if it blows itself up once again from soured derivative bets.

According to Bloomberg data, over the past five years – when Dodd-Frank financial reform was supposed to be making these mega banks safer – Citigroup has increased the notional amount of derivatives on its books by 69 percent. As of this past June, according to Bloomberg, “Citigroup had $62 trillion of open contracts, up from $37 trillion in June 2009.” That’s trillion with a “t.”

How much might Citigroup need from the taxpayer if it blows up again? According to the General Accountability Office, Citigroup received more bailout assistance than any other bank in the last collapse. On October 28, 2008, Citigroup received $25 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds. Less than a month later it was back with hat in hand and received another $20 billion. But its finances were so shaky that it simultaneously needed another $306 billion in government asset guarantees. And on top of all that, the New York Fed was secretly funneling it over $2 trillion in emergency loans at interest rates frequently below 1 percent.

This is how we described Citigroup’s 2008 meltdown in an article on November 24, 2008:

“Citigroup’s five-day death spiral last week was surreal. I know 20-something  newlyweds who have better financial backup plans than this global banking giant.  On Monday came the Town Hall meeting with employees to announce the sacking of 52,000 workers.  (Aren’t Town Hall meetings supposed to instill confidence?)  On Tuesday came the announcement of Citigroup losing 53 per cent of an internal hedge fund’s money in a month and bringing $17 billion of assets that had been hiding out in the Cayman Islands back onto its balance sheet.  Wednesday brought the cheery news that a law firm was alleging that Citigroup peddled something called the MAT Five Fund as ‘safe’ and ‘secure’ only to watch it lose 80 per cent of its value. On Thursday, Saudi Prince Walid bin Talal, from that visionary country that won’t let women drive cars, stepped forward to reassure us that Citigroup is ‘undervalued’ and he was buying more shares. Not having any Princes of our own, we tend to associate them with fairytales. The next day the stock dropped another 20 percent with 1.02 billion shares changing hands. It closed at $3.77.

“Altogether, the stock lost 60 per cent last week and 87 percent this year.  The company’s market value has now fallen from more than $250 billion in 2006 to $20.5 billion on Friday, November 21, 2008.  That’s $4.5 billion less than Citigroup owes taxpayers from the U.S. Treasury’s bailout program.”

Not everyone has caved under political pressure from Wall Street. Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered three impassioned speeches on the Senate floor last week, culminating in a Friday speech that many are calling an historic battle cry to a complacent nation. Warren explained how Citigroup pulled off its coup, stating:

“Mr. President, I’m back on the floor to talk about a dangerous provision that was slipped into a must-pass spending bill at the last minute to benefit Wall Street. This provision would repeal a rule called, and I’m quoting the title of the rule, “Prohibition Against Federal Government Bailouts of Swaps Entities.”…

“Mr. President, in recent years, many Wall Street institutions have exerted extraordinary influence in Washington’s corridors of power, but Citigroup has risen above the others. Its grip over economic policymaking in the executive branch is unprecedented. Consider a few examples:

“Three of the last four Treasury Secretaries under Democratic presidents have had close Citigroup ties. The fourth was offered the CEO position at Citigroup, but turned it down.

“The Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve system is a Citigroup alum.

“The Undersecretary for International Affairs at Treasury is a Citigroup alum.

“The U.S. Trade Representative and the person nominated to be his deputy – who is currently an assistant secretary at Treasury – are Citigroup alums.

“A recent chairman of the National Economic Council at the White House was a Citigroup alum.

“Another recent Chairman of the Office of Management and Budget went to Citigroup immediately after leaving the White House.

“Another recent Chairman of the Office of Management and Budget is also a Citi alum — but I’m double counting here because now he’s the Secretary of the Treasury.

“That’s a lot of powerful people, all from one bank. But they aren’t Citigroup’s only source of power.  Over the years, the company has spent millions of dollars on lobbying Congress and funding the political campaigns of its friends in the House and the Senate.

“Citigroup has also spent millions trying to influence the political process in ways that are far more subtle — and hidden from public view. Last year, I wrote Citigroup and other big banks a letter asking them to disclose the amount of shareholder money they have been diverting to think tanks to influence public policy.  Citigroup’s response to my letter? Stonewalling. A year has gone by, and Citigroup didn’t even acknowledge receiving the letter…”

Anticipating public outrage and potential voter backlash in 2016, incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell inserted another provision into the Cromnibus that allows individuals to give almost 10 times as much money to political party committees as allowed under current law – ensuring that only the super rich continue to run Washington.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was outraged, issuing a press release that stated: “Instead of cracking down on Wall Street CEOs whose greed and illegal behavior plunged the country into a terrible recession, this bill allows too-big-to-fail banks to make the same risky bets on derivatives that led to the largest taxpayer bailout in history and nearly destroyed the economy.

Instead of cutting back on the ability of billionaires to buy elections, this bill outrageously gives the wealthy even more power over the political process.”


If all of this is not enough to propel Americans into the streets in mass protests, perhaps the history of how the coddled Citigroup handles the money of its investors and shareholders will stir the pot. Below is just a sampling:

December 11, 2008: SEC forces Citigroup and UBS to buy back $30 billion in auction rate securities that were improperly sold to investors through misleading information.

February 11, 2009: Citigroup agrees to settle lawsuit brought by WorldCom investors for $2.65 billion.

July 29, 2010: SEC settles with Citigroup for $75 million over its misleading statements to investors that it had reduced its exposure to subprime mortgages to $13 billion when in fact the exposure was over $50 billion.

October 19, 2011: SEC agrees to settle with Citigroup for $285 million over claims it misled investors in a $1 billion financial product.  Citigroup had selected approximately half the assets and was betting they would decline in value.

February 9, 2012: Citigroup agrees to pay $2.2 billion as its portion of the nationwide settlement of bank foreclosure fraud.

August 29, 2012: Citigroup agrees to settle a class action lawsuit for $590 million over claims it withheld from shareholders’ knowledge that it had far greater exposure to subprime debt than it was reporting.

July 1, 2013: Citigroup agrees to pay Fannie Mae $968 million for selling it toxic mortgage loans.

September 25, 2013: Citigroup agrees to pay Freddie Mac $395 million to settle claims it sold it toxic mortgages.

December 4, 2013: Citigroup admits to participating in the Yen Libor financial derivatives cartel to the European Commission and accepts a fine of $95 million.

July 14, 2014: The U.S. Department of Justice announces a $7 billion settlement with Citigroup for selling toxic mortgages to investors. Attorney General Eric Holder called the bank’s conduct “egregious,” adding, “As a result of their assurances that toxic financial products were sound, Citigroup was able to expand its market share and increase profits.”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

(Criminal Vanguard of Nation Destroyers)  Like Republicans In Charge?  (In Addition To Loss of Morality, Social Security/Medicare/All Civilization's Benefits, You'll Love the Driven Unending Women-Bashing)



I've always found Chris Floyd's commentary edifying (especially in quiet moments of life reflection during the holiday season).

Something for everyone. Or at least every national concern.

(He speaks pretty clearly about the genesis of the current mass movement for BSHillary, doesn't he?)

The Woman-Bashing Beat Goes On

 

Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 18 December

Following up from the previous post, we see the woman-bashing beat goes on. A Missouri pol has introduced a bill that would require women to get the written approval of a man in order to obtain an abortion; that is, the signature of the one what knocked her up. Rick Brattin, statesman from Kansas City, says the only exception to his man-mandating abortion restriction is in the case of "legitimate rape."

But as Mother Jones reports, Brattin is quick to assure us that he doesn't mean "legitimate rape" in the same way that his fellow Missouri statesman Todd Akin employed the term, during his disastrous run for the Senate. As you recall, Akin, delving deep into occult science, informed the world that a woman who really didn't want to experience the forcible insertion of hot salami could not get pregnant; ergo, any woman who claimed to have been impregnated by a rapist was, to put it in the most Christian terms possible, a lying slut of a whore who had it coming and wanted it anyway.

Brattin is much more enlightened. What he means by "legitimate rape" is that a woman reports the assault to the police, and "takes steps to prove it." Whether that means she must prove she was raped or that she must prove she at least tried to prove she was raped remains unclear. But rigor of jurisprudence is rarely a concern of our dedicated embryonists. The main thing is that women must seek the written approval of a man if they want to claim their constitutional right to an abortion. But if the babydaddy - whoever he may be, as long as no lying slut can "prove" he raped her - then the fetus-vehicle is out of luck.

Brattin adds another twist. Apparently, any woman who is raped by an abusive partner is also disqualified from the magnanimous "exemption" he provides to women seeking their own bodily freedom. As MJ reports:

When asked if he would support an exception for women whose partners are abusive, Brattin says, "I haven't really thought about that aspect of it." But he adds, "What does that have to do with the child's life? Just because it was an abusive relationship, does that mean the child should die?" Brattin notes that women in these situations can obtain protective custody once the child is born.

So if your guy beats you up then knocks you up, you must have his baby anyway. And if he's still ornery afterward, you can always get one of those protection thingies that have worked so well for the thousands of women who've been murdered by men under restraining orders.

Yes, it's just another day in the most advanced democracy the world has ever known - or even imagined. I expect we'll be seeing Brattin in Congress soon enough - or maybe even the White House, once the serpentine-entwined Bush and Clinton clans give their game of musical chairs a rest.




The Handmaid's Time is Here:  America’s Apotheosis of Woman-Hatred

 

Written by Chris Floyd 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014


Salon.com relays yet another horror story in the ongoing effort to criminalize American women for being …. women. From Salon:

Tamara Loertscher had a feeling she was pregnant, so she went to see a doctor last summer. She didn’t have health insurance, but sought care anyway. It turns out that her suspicions were right, a pregnancy test revealed she was 14 weeks along.

After a urine test, Loertscher said she disclosed to her doctor that, because of a thyroid condition and depression, she had been self-medicating with marijuana and methamphetamine, but had stopped when she suspected she was pregnant. It didn’t matter. Loertscher lives in Wisconsin, and a law there allows the state to arrest, detain and incarcerate pregnant women found to be using drugs, or, in Loertscher’s case, pregnant women who have used drugs in the past.

Hospital workers reported her, and a process was set in motion. The state accused her of child abuse and appointed her fetus a lawyer. (This is a familiar pattern.) She was ordered into an in-patient treatment facility, despite the fact that she was no longer using drugs and had voluntarily sought medical care. She refused, and was soon incarcerated.

Of course, this “law” is neither designed nor intended to “protect the fetus.” The most cursory thought makes this clear. How many more fetuses will suffer from this law, from lack of proper prenatal care because women will be too afraid to tell doctors of their full medical history? Many, many more. This the true aim of this law is clear:  it is to punish women.

A woman who has taken drugs is automatically a "fallen woman" in the eyes of shallow moralists who hold such sway in our society. She is more likely to be poor (though by no means in every case). She is more likely to be unmarried (though by no means in every case). She is more likely to have expressed her sexuality in some way that makes the angry, wounded, fearful, sexually insecure white men who dominate our legislatures feel uncomfortable. These pathetic wretches, who fear and hate any woman they can't control, would be pitiable in their brokenness - if they didn't have the power of the state at their command, to use as a weapon to hurt those who threaten the weak, frayed stitching of their fragile psyches.

On an individual basis, one might deal with such a person with some understanding, take mitigating factors into account - upbringing, personal experiences, cultural milieu, etc. - and seek some way to reach them and repair them (as we all need to be reached and repaired in different ways). But when this disease of the soul clothes itself in the robes of state, turning personal prejudice into a monolithic hammer brought down on the heads of the innocent, then there can be no pity, no accommodation with such people. An anti-Semitic wretch on the streets of Munich who projects his personal pain onto the caricatured Other of "The Jew" is simply pathetic; but one who joins this inner putrescence with a mass movement, a public ideology, encouraging it in others and finally taking hold of the power to punish the Other for being the mirror of his own self-hatred - this is an entirely different proposition.

And this dynamic is exactly what we are dealing with in movement to criminalize pregnant women. The idea that in 21st century America we would put a woman in jail for being concerned enough about her baby that she informs her doctor about the full range of physical factors that might affect its development - that we would throw someone in jail for this - is simply astounding. (And yes, I know that technically she was jailed for refusing to submit to the state's order that she enter the somewhat less stringent incarceration of a treatment facility. The fact remains that the state has the power to incarcerate a pregnant woman for speaking the truth about her medical history in order to help her unborn child.)

These laws are just part of a wide-ranging campaign to punish women - for their fertility, for their sexuality, for asserting their freedom and equality. These efforts provoke genuine, virulent hatred in many people, and not just those of extreme religious or rightwing view (or, sadly, not just men). And some these haters stand on the commanding heights of American society, in politics and media.

I wrote of one such diseased soul - and the consequences of his kind of public hate speech - a few years ago. Here is an excerpt:

What drove the man who killed Dr. George Tiller? Perhaps someone who had seen Tiller lambasted by one of the nation's leading media figures as someone "who will execute babies for $5,000" and protects "rapists impregnating 10-year-olds." Tiller's activities were compared by the leading national media figure to "the kind of stuff that happened in Mao's China and Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union." The multimillionaire media figure then promised that "we're going to try to stop Tiller," declaring that Tiller's Nazi-like atrocities were stripping the entire nation of its moral authority.

In other words, one the nation's most prominent and highly paid media figures told his national television audience that Dr. George Tiller was child-murdering protector of child-rapists, a figure of filth and evil on a par with Adolf Hitler. And on Sunday, someone filled with precisely that idea walked into Tiller's church - his church - and shot the doctor dead.

As Salon.com reports, Bill O'Reilly (aka "The Falafel of Love") has been "trying to stop" Tiller for years, since denouncing him as a Hitlerian child-murderer and child-rape accomplice on national television in 2006. We have no doubt that O'Reilly, who routinely trumpets his ability to move millions with his golden words (Is he not the man who, year after year, saves Christmas from the evil encroachments of Jews like George Soros?), will manfully step up to claim a large share of responsibility for the stormcloud of murderous demonization that has engulfed Tiller for years, and has now taken his life.

Come on, Bill, be a man:  step up to the microphone, put your rubbery jowls right up there in the camera and tell us you are glad that your acolyte pumped some hot lead into George Tiller. After all, he was as bad as Hitler, right? If someone had gunned down Hitler, you wouldn't hide behind any milksoppery about "the process of law" or namby-pamby handwringing about "vigilantism," would you? Go ahead; dip your finger into one of the holes in Tiller's corpse, smear the blood on your cheek, and say it loud and proud:  "We got him!"

As noted in that post, I'd written on the subject a few years before, in a 2003 post excerpted here:

The defining issue of modernity is control of women's fertility. It is this question – more than religion, politics, economics or the "clash of civilizations" – that forms the deepest dividing line in the world today. It is a line than cuts through every nation, every people, from the highest level of organized society down to, in many cases, the divided minds and emotions of individual men and women.

Control of fertility – and its active principle, sexuality – has always been an organizing principle of human society, of course, but modernity has presented the world with a revolutionary concept that overthrows millennia of received wisdom and tradition:  namely, that an individual woman should control her own fertility. This notion destabilizes state structures and religious dogmas, and uproots cultural mores whose origins reach back to prehistoric times. It is a profoundly disturbing development in the life of humankind.

Little wonder, then, that anxieties over fertility and sexuality are the chief engines driving the frenzied and increasingly violent fundamentalist movements now sweeping through the world. It is here that extremists of every stripe make common cause against modernity. Almost every other aspect of "the modern" – science and technology, high finance, industrialization, etc. – has been absorbed, in one form or another, by the most "traditionalist" societies. But what today's fundamentalists – from Osama bin Laden to George W. Bush to Pope John Paul II, from the American-backed warlords of Afghanistan to the anti-American mullahs of Iran – cannot accept, at any cost, is the freedom of a woman's body.

This frenzy, this primitive fear – understandable perhaps in the face of such a wrenching upheaval – does not in itself make a fundamentalist an evil person. But it can – and does – lead them into evil:  sometimes blindly, in ignorance and panic; but sometimes knowingly, with eyes wide open, a willing embrace of primitive emotions to serve selfish and cynical ends.

In a follow-up to the 2009 post, I noted that Arthur Silber had dealt powerfully with this theme, in an essay rich with historical detail and insight. I excerpted it here:

There are a great many aspects of today's world that are variously horrifying, ghastly, destructive and appalling - and among the very worst is an idea that appears to be rapidly gaining support:  the noxious notion that all questions relating to abortion rights should be returned to the states. For many reasons, only a few of which are discussed below, this idea is completely incoherent as a matter of political theory, and it undercuts any defense of individual rights on the most fundamental level. If you give a damn at all about the liberty of a single human being, you should oppose all such attempts to your last breath.

The human being to which I refer is not the developing fetus, but the woman who carries the child. I well understand that many people believe that the fetus is a human being long before birth, with all the rights that attend to that designation. In the political context, I consider all such beliefs irrelevant, no matter how sincerely and deeply held. Only one ultimate point matters here:  whether you think the developing fetus is a human being or not, the fetus is contained in and supported by the woman's body. If the woman's body did not exist, neither would the fetus. Only the woman's existence makes that of the fetus possible.

The fetus only exists because of the woman's body - not yours, not that of some possibly corrupt and stupid politician in Washington, and not the body of some possibly ignorant and venal politician in a state legislature. As I have watched this debate develop, and as I have considered with astonishment the increasingly byzantine efforts to " draw lines" about the point of viability, the time at which a full set of rights attaches to the fetus, and all the rest, I have become increasingly convinced that the right of the woman to control her own body when she is pregnant must be absolute up to the point of birth. All the attempts to craft legislation circumscribing that right prior to birth quickly become enmeshed in what are finally subjective claims that can be disputed into eternity, and impossible of proof in one direction or another.

Certainly, the woman's right to an abortion must be absolute in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. And even in the third trimester, up to the time of birth, that right must be absolute, and the decision must be that of the woman in consultation with those medical personnel she chooses. Yes, a decision to abort late in pregnancy may be agonizingly difficult, just as it may be at an earlier time - but whatever agony is involved is that of the woman, not a politician or bureaucrat who is unjustly empowered to make decisions that affect someone else on the most profound level. The responsibility and the consequences are the woman's, and no one else's. The choice is also hers, and no one else's.

But little by little (and lots by lots), these choices, these rights are being stripped away from women, piece by piece, as this degraded, dystopian century grinds on and on.


 

Trying to Stay Human in an Age of Shame



Written by Chris Floyd   

Friday, 12 December 2014


In a time of national shame, in an age soaked in pervasive evil, a search, a plea to find a way to stay human …




 

Modern-Day Mengeles:  America's Terror War Torture Shrinks

Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 10 December 2014

One of the "revelations" of the Senate report on CIA torture has been the role played by two psychologists in devising the regimen of torture used by the Agency.

[A quick but necessary digression:  please note that this torture regimen has been lauded as "effective" and "life-saving" by the Obama Administration - even after the release of the report; indeed, the Administration says that the fruits of these crimes still "inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day." Just bear that in mind as you read the reams of justified denunciations of the Bush Administration for the commission of these particular crimes by this particular agency. The Bush thugs should be excoriated - and prosecuted - for their crimes. But a multitude of crimes in many forms (including torture) are still being committed by the Terror War machine under Obama - the man who has stoutly shielded his predecessors from prosecution and now even praises some of their worst crimes.]

But of course there is nothing new in report's uncovering of the psychologists' role. (Except for one element:  the fact that these two sinister quacks were paid a whopping $81 million for helping the United States government torture defenseless captives and produce garbage intelligence.) Anyone who wanted to know about their Mengele-style perversion of medical ethics could have read about it in reputable mainstream publications years ago. (Actually, this is also true of almost all the incidents and practices detailed in the report. Anyone who didn't know of these things before now - especially in the political-media world - simply didn't want to know of these things.) There were also other psychologists and medical personnel involved in the program after it got started, as Mark Benjamin detailed at Salon.com back in 2007.

In that same year, the New Yorker's Jane Mayer produced an extensive report on the wide-ranging Terror War torture regimen. The article should have produced a firestorm of outrage and aggressive, in-depth, high-profile investigations from, say, the U.S. Senate, which was then in the control of the Democrats.  But as we know, her revelations sank like a stone. And it is very, very likely that the same thing will happen with the newly released (and, it must always be noted, heavily truncated, censored and incomplete) Senate report. Indeed, McClatchy is already reporting that the incoming Republican-controlled Senate will gladly let the report "gather dust," taking no follow-up action. This stance will doubtless please their Terror War partners in the White House, who fought against the release of the report - and who certainly aren't going to do anything about it.

I wrote about the Mayer and Benjamin articles when they first came out in 2007. Below are a few excerpts, dealing with their reportage on the torture shrinks:

For those who have been following and chronicling the rise of the gulag since its inception (back in the days when its instigators and practitioners were still happy to brag to cheerleading newspapers about "taking the gloves off" and going to "the dark side"), there is not a lot that is new in Mayer's piece. But she has brought it all together with devastating thoroughness and clarity.

Mayer mentions tellingly - but briefly - one key aspect of Bush's torture chambers that has been largely overlooked:  the key role played by a couple of psychologists in drawing up the sinister regimen (which was also based in part on KGB practices):  CIA contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Mark Benjamin of Salon has much more on this pair, who devoted their clinical skills to devising ways to destroy a captive's mind - in the somewhat bizarre conviction that a destroyed mind can somehow produce useful intelligence. (Benjamin in turn drew on a 2005 piece by Mayer about Mitchell and the Bush Regime's Mengelean use of medical personnel in interrogations.)

Mitchell and Jessen helped run the military's SERE program, originally designed to teach American forces how to resist and survive torture inflicted on them by evil regimes or terrorists. But it turns out that the Rumsfeld Pentagon and its mad scientists were using U.S. soldiers as guinea pigs to help devise their own torture program. For years, the Pentagon flatly denied using SERE tactics on the captives in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp, and in Afghanistan and Iraq. This was, of course, a lie. As Benjamin reports:

Until last month, the Army had denied any use of SERE training for prisoner interrogations. "We do not teach interrogation techniques," Carol Darby, chief spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, said last June when Salon asked about a document that appeared to indicate that instructors from the SERE school taught their methods to interrogators at Guantánamo.

But the declassified DoD inspector general's report described initiatives by high-level military officials to incorporate SERE concepts into interrogations. And it said that psychologists affiliated with SERE training - people like Mitchell and Jessen - played a critical role. According to the inspector general, the Army Special Operations Command's Psychological Directorate at Fort Bragg first drafted a plan to have the military reverse-engineer SERE training in the summer of 2002. At the same time, the commander of Guantánamo determined that SERE tactics might be used on detainees at the military prison. Then in September 2002, the Army Special Operations Command and other SERE officials hosted a "SERE psychologist conference" at Fort Bragg to brief staff from the military's prison at Guantánamo on the use of SERE tactics.

And Mayer notes:

The SERE program was designed strictly for defense against torture regimes, but the C.I.A.’s new team used its expertise to help interrogators inflict abuse. “They were very arrogant, and pro-torture,” a European official knowledgeable about the program said. “They sought to render the detainees vulnerable—to break down all of their senses. It takes a psychologist trained in this to understand these rupturing experiences.”

The use of psychologists was also considered a way for C.I.A. officials to skirt measures such as the Convention Against Torture. The former adviser to the intelligence community said, “Clearly, some senior people felt they needed a theory to justify what they were doing. You can’t just say, ‘We want to do what Egypt’s doing.’ When the lawyers asked what their basis was, they could say, ‘We have Ph.D.s who have these theories.’”

… Mitchell and Jessen were not experts sought for their dispassionate advice in determining the best policy options for government officials. All the "experts" employed by the Bush Regime are just dupes … or, as with the psychologists, willing stooges, brought in to act as window dressing for policies already decided upon. Bush and Cheney and their minions wanted to torture people - not only for the psychosexual kick these genuine perverts get from it but also because it was a central element in their drive to establish an authoritarian executive unfettered by any law. They could not, as a matter of "principle," submit to the authority of the Geneva Conventions, American law or Constitutional precepts. They had plenty of scientists and practiced interrogators on hand to tell them that the KGB-SERE system was useless - indeed, counterproductive - in producing actionable intelligence. But they chose to listen only to those who told them what they wanted to hear, whose pseudo-science buttressed decisions they had already taken.

I finished that 2007 piece with a paragraph that still holds true today, as a description of the kind of people who hold power in our blood-soaked bipartisan imperial system:

They don't want to govern; they want to rule. They simply cannot be treated - on any issue whatsoever - as an ordinary government engaged in ordinary tussles over politics and policy. They are not a government in any traditional sense of the word. They are the criminal vanguard of a radical movement that is now holding the nation hostage. And any political "opposition" that does not recognize this fact is worse than useless; it is, as we've said before, complicit in the gang's crimes.

 

Obama's Reaction to the Senate Report:  Torture is Good

Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 09 December 2014

A truncated version of the Senate investigation into the CIA's Terror War torture regime has finally been released. Even in its limited form, it details an operation of vile depravity, one which would plunge a civilized nation into a profound crisis of conscience and spark a deep and anguished debate on how best to transform a system of government - and a national ethos - that could lead to such putrid crimes. It would also occasion a wide-ranging effort to subject the originators, perpetrators and accomplices of the torture program to the full measure of legal punishment they deserve.

Needless to say, nothing like that is going to happen in America. Indeed, even before the report was released, the New York Times - the standard-bearer and shaper of "decent" liberal thought for the nation - was splashing an opinion piece on the front page of its website, demanding that we "Pardon Bush and Those Who Tortured." This was the very first "think piece" pushed by the Times on the morning of the report's release.

I'm sure that by the end of the day, the dust will have already settled into the usual ruts. The Hard Right - and its pork-laden publicists - will denounce the investigation and continue to champion torture, as they have done in the weeks running up to the release. The somewhat Softer Right that constitutes the "liberal" wing of the ruling Imperial Party (and its outriders in the "progressive" media) will wring their hands for a bit - as they did during the multitude of previous revelations about systematic torture, White House death squads, Stasi-surpassing surveillance programs, war profiteering, military aggression and so on. Then they will return to what is always their main business at hand:  making sure that someone from their faction of the Imperial Party is in the driver's seat of the murderous War-and-Fear Machine that has now entirely engulfed American society.

Speaking of the Machine, what has been the reaction of the current driver, the belaurelled prince of progressivism, Barack Obama? He sent out the present head of the CIA, John Brennan, an "Obama confidant," as the Guardian notes, to … defend the use of torture.

You see, one of the main points of the report was that the abominable practices ordered at the highest levels of the American government and used far more widely than previously admitted were not even effective. This, of course, is the most damning criticism one can make of the soul-drained technocrats who staff the Empire. Morality and humanity be damned; the real problem was that torture didn't work. It produced reams of garbage and falsehood from hapless victims who, like torture victims the world over, from time immemorial, simply regurgitated what they thought their tormentors wanted to hear.

So in the end, the torture regime was not only ineffective, it was counterproductive:  this is the report's conclusion. But it is this that the Technocrat-in-Chief cannot bear. And so he sent his confidant Brennan out to refute this heinous charge. Brennan actually got up in public and said, openly, that torture did work and that it's a good thing:

“Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom EITs were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives. The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qaida and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day,” Brennan said.

"EIT" is, of course, the technocratic euphemism for the systematic brutalization of helpless, captive human beings by wretched cowards armed with the power of the state. Brennan - Obama's confidant - says, in the name of the president, that torture "saved lives." What's more, he admits that Obama is still using the fruits of the torture program to "inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day."

Let's say this again:  the conclusion of the Barack Obama administration is that the use of torture is a good thing, and that it is still "informing" its Terror War operations "to this day."

One of the chief objections mouthed by the torture champions opposed to the release of the report was that public exposure of these crimes would rouse anger and anti-American feeling around the world. This was always a specious argument, of course; the people targeted by Washington's Terror War have always known full well what is being done to them and theirs. This latest report will merely be another confirmation, another tranche of evidence to add to the mountain of war crime and atrocity they have experienced.

No, it is not the report itself, but the reaction of the American establishment - particularly the Obama Administration itself - that will be the true scandal, a new outrageous slap in the face. A door opens up on a sickening chamber of horrors …. and all that Obama can say is that torture is good; yea, it is even salvific, it saves lives, it is good and effective and necessary and we need it.

Torture is good. That is Barack Obama's takeaway from the Senate report. It is astounding - or would be astounding, if we were not living in an age given over to state terror and elite rapine.
 

Strange Fruit Still Bearing on America’s Blood-Smeared Trees

Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 07 December 2014

Eric Garner. Another unarmed black man gone down for no good goddamn reason, with not even a charge for those who caused his death. Not even a charge, not a trial, no open public examination of the facts. I’m not going to pontificate on this issue, because there are a multitude of African-American voices who can speak more directly and eloquently to this situation than yet another middle-aged white man. I’ll just point to this piece I wrote a few months ago “following the police berzerkery in Ferguson, Missouri.”

The post dealt with the fact that this kind of thing has been going on for a long, long time — strange fruit bearing on a multitude of blood-soaked trees. This particular post focused on the emblematic case of George Jackson, killed in San Quentin in 1971. But it’s a piece that could have been written — and could be written, and will be written — every few weeks, year after year after year.

As noted in the piece, in 1960, when George Jackson was sent to prison — “for one year to life” — for a $70 robbery, there were 200,000 people in prison in the United States. When he was killed in 1971, there were 300,000 people in prison. By 2011, there were 2.3 million people imprisoned in the United States — and more than 7 million human beings under some form of correctional supervision: prison, parole or probation.

Is this the picture of a healthy society? An “exceptional” society?

Steel and Blood:  America’s Racial Cancer

 

Hunger Games:  Western Terror Warriors Spurn Their Innocent Victims

Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 03 December 2014 

So now there is no money left for the Syrian refugees created by the civil war fomented and fanned for years on end by Western governments. (Who, bizarrely, then prosecute any of their citizens who go off to fight in the war their governments promote as a noble and worthy cause.) For want of $64 million — the amount of money the US spends in an eyeblink on its drone campaigns and death squads, the kind of money that’s just chump change for, say, oligarchs who prowl the world destabilizing governments and monetizing misery for their own pockets — the UN says it must halt a vital support program for Syrian refugees.

What is happening in Syria is sickening and surreal. Almost all of the public discourse surrounding this vast and vile slaughterhouse has been completely divorced from reality. The critical work of As’ad AbuKhalil, the “Angry Arab,” has been one of the very few places where one can thread the labyrinth of bullshit that all sides in this shameful conflict spew forth.

Today, AbuKhalil points us to this pertinent piece by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian:

Western governments are tiring of Muslim wars. They are also tiring of their victims. The UN is reported to have run out of money to relieve the refugee tide now spreading across the Middle East. Some 4 million people are living in camps reliant on the UN’s World Food Programme, not to mention other camps caused by wars in Sudan, Somalia and the Central African Republic. A million Syrians have fled to Lebanon and a million to Jordan, creating new desert cities of indolence and disease.

Now the cash vouchers that supply liquidity to the camps and sustain food supplies are to end. Some £500m has been pumped into the Jordanian camps by the UN alone and money has run out. Food rations are to be cut and host governments, facing an apparently ceaseless human migration, are starting to close their borders. The means by which the world relieves such suffering are seizing up. …

The US, Britain and Nato played a major part in disrupting the region, indulging in “wars of choice” in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. For a decade they toppled regimes and either fought or backed insurgents with bombs and troops. Peace they did not bring.


There was always money for military action. America spent $3 Trillion fighting in Iraq. Britain spent £40 billion on Afghanistan alone, under the obscene rubric of “humanitarian intervention”. David Cameron yearned to go to war in Syria. Yet Britain’s eagerness for war contrasts with an aversion to the consequences, whether frantic young Afghans in Calais camps, Libyans adrift in the Mediterranean or Iraqi translators desperate for asylum.

What is happening across the “Arc of Conflict” that now takes in the Middle East, the Horn of African and North Africa (and penetrating ever deeper into the African continent) is almost beyond description. It is a madhouse engineered by the most “advanced,” "sophisticated" and “enlightened” “democratic” governments in the world.

They have gone into country after country and reduced them to howling chaos — Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Libya (and the countries now groaning from the knock-on effects from these inhumane interventions, such as Mali, Nigeria and Kenya). They do it for profit. They do it for the political and personal (and who knows, the psychosexual) aggrandizement of the pathetic wounded souls who spend their days climbing the blood-greased pole of power. (And who are then cheered and served by the even more pathetic lickspittles in our national media and political circles.)

None of it — not a single bit of it — is related in the slightest way to the peace, prosperity or “national security” of the people they purport to represent.

We live in a time when the entire system of government in the “enlightened” West is based on lies. Not just the usual hypocrisies and the all-too-human falling short of a nation’s professed ideals, but on knowing, deliberate, cold-blooded lies. There is no way that Barack Obama or David Cameron actually believe their policies are helping their own people or the people they are “liberating” or “aiding” in their murderous campaigns, or that they are advancing the ideals of freedom and humanitarianism.

While they may be moral cretins, they are too intelligent, too educated, too aware to fool themselves on these points. They know they are serving a monstrous system of elite domination, a system that doesn't give one good goddamn how many refugees it creates, or how many of these non-entities wither and die because of their policies. And our leaders serve this system gladly, eagerly; “man, they did make love to this employment.”

So let the refugees die. Who cares? The main thing is that the war goes on — in Syria, in Iraq, in Somalia, in Afghanistan, where the hell ever. Who cares? None of these nations matter. None of these people matter. Nor do the “folks at home.”

Barack Obama and David Cameron — and all of their wanna-be successors — know that their policies are simply creating more terrorists, more extremism, more violence, more repression.

They know this, all of them, across the whole “Anglosphere” political class. They know it. But they do not care. So let us return this disregard to them. Let us not care what happens to them. Let us not fret about, OMG, which “team” of murderers and moral idiots is gonna win at the next election? We already know who will win:  the profiteers of death and domination.

 

Cage Match:  Gitmo Case a Snapshot of America’s Imperial Soul

Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 01 December 2014 01:04

Andy Worthington asks a burning question:  “Why is Shaker Aamer still at Gitmo?” And after detailing the case of Aamer — an innocent man sold to the American security forces by the human traffickers who partnered with the CIA in Afghanistan, a man who was cleared for release from the American concentration camp seven years ago — Worthington suggests the likely answer:

Aamer knows too much about the torture regime at Gitmo, and has been too vocal in standing up for fellow prisoners throughout his illegal captivity — and has made it clear he will continue to speak out against the inhumane conditions in the camp.Worthington’s piece should be read in full, but here are a few excerpts:

Imagine being imprisoned, year after year, despite having been told that your captors had undertaken a high-level review process and no longer wanted to hold you?

At the United States’ detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, is facing just that situation. More than seven years ago, the George W. Bush administration approved Aamer for release from the detention facility. Five years ago, the high-level interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Barack Obama when he took office, also approved him for release (PDF) and told him he would be freed, along with 125 others, once the necessary arrangements were made.

When releasing its illegal captives, the United States insists that its victims’ home countries (or some other country) will be willing to take them. As Worthington notes, for seven years, the British government has been calling for Aamer to be returned to the UK, his home country. Thus even by the perverted rules of the American concentration camp system, there should be no bar to Aamer’s released. He’s been cleared by the Bush administration; he’s been cleared by the Obama administration; his home country stands ready to welcome him, and has continually called for his release. So why he is still be held captive? Worthington writes:

We know that Aamer has been an eloquent defender of prisoners’ rights from the moment he was handed over to the U.S. by bounty hunters in Afghanistan, where he had traveled with his family to provide humanitarian aid. We know that he has been a leader in the prison, because of his outspoken criticism of conditions at Guantánamo, and has tales of torture and abuse to share with the world.

Perhaps this fear of embarrassment is the only thing preventing the United States from ending Aamer’s 13-year imprisonment and allowing him to rejoin his wife and children in Britain.

A man sold into captivity by crooks working with spies to facilitate the vast, endless expansion of America’s imperial war state (a plan laid out years ago by some of the top leaders of the American elite, as we have noted here so often before):  this is the reality of the American state. This is what we are now, this is what we do. Yet people still get exercised, on both left and right, over the question of which bloodstained murderer will preside over this slaughterhouse of human values for the next four years. They still think this is the democracy they were taught about in school. They still think that if we can just get the right peachy-keen person in charge of this world-ravaging war machine, then all will be well. I confess that I can no longer fathom such wilful blindness to reality, such utter moral idiocy.



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Why Everyone Should Come Together To Get Money Out of the Elections Process (Because It Buys the Laws Banksters Want)



Love it or leave it, Paul Krugman nails the money men who now rule the U.S.

And it's up to US to ensure that the crooks are not let out of the box.

Again.

Can anyone say "Robert Rubin"

Without a sardonic laugh?

He certainly left Citi sitting pretty.


Wall Street’s Revenge

Dodd-Frank Damaged in the Budget Bill

DEC. 14, 2014



On Wall Street, 2010 was the year of “Obama rage,” in which financial tycoons went ballistic over the president’s suggestion that some bankers helped cause the financial crisis. They were also, of course, angry about the Dodd-Frank financial reform, which placed some limits on their wheeling and dealing.

The Masters of the Universe, it turns out, are a bunch of whiners. But they’re whiners with war chests, and now they’ve bought themselves a Congress.

Before I get to specifics, a word about the changing politics of high finance.

Most interest groups have stable political loyalties. For example, the coal industry always gives the vast bulk of its political contributions to Republicans, while teachers’ unions do the same for Democrats. You might have expected Wall Street to favor the G.O.P., which is always eager to cut taxes on the rich.

In fact, however, the securities and investment industry — perhaps affected by New York’s social liberalism, perhaps recognizing the tendency of stocks to do much better when Democrats hold the White House — has historically split its support more or less equally between the two parties.

But that all changed with the onset of Obama rage. Wall Street overwhelmingly backed Mitt Romney in 2012, and invested heavily in Republicans once again this year. And the first payoff to that investment has already been realized. Last week Congress passed a bill to maintain funding for the U.S. government into next year, and included in that bill was a rollback of one provision of the 2010 financial reform.

In itself, this rollback is significant but not a fatal blow to reform. But it’s utterly indefensible. The incoming congressional majority has revealed its agenda — and it’s all about rewarding bad actors.

So, about that provision. One of the goals of financial reform was to stop banks from taking big risks with depositors’ money. Why?

Well, bank deposits are insured against loss, and this creates a well-known problem of “moral hazard”:  If banks are free to gamble, they can play a game of heads we win, tails the taxpayers lose. That’s what happened after savings-and-loan institutions were deregulated in the 1980s, and promptly ran wild.

Dodd-Frank tried to limit this kind of moral hazard in various ways, including a rule barring insured institutions from dealing in exotic securities, the kind that played such a big role in the financial crisis. And that’s the rule that has just been rolled back.

Now, this isn’t the death of financial reform. In fact, I’d argue that regulating insured banks is something of a sideshow, since the 2008 crisis was brought on mainly by uninsured institutions like Lehman Brothers and A.I.G.

The really important parts of reform involve consumer protection and the enhanced ability of regulators both to police the actions of “systemically important” financial institutions (which needn’t be conventional banks) and to take such institutions into receivership at times of crisis.

But what Congress did is still outrageous — and both sides of the ideological divide should agree. After all, even if you believe (in defiance of the lessons of history) that financial institutions can be trusted to police themselves, even if you believe the grotesquely false narrative that bleeding-heart liberals caused the financial crisis by pressuring banks to lend to poor people, especially minority borrowers, you should be against letting Wall Street play games with government-guaranteed funds.

What just went down isn’t about free-market economics; it’s pure crony capitalism.

And sure enough, Citigroup literally wrote the deregulation language that was inserted into the funding bill.

Again, in itself last week’s action wasn’t decisive. But it was clearly the first skirmish in a war to roll back much if not all of the financial reform. And if you want to know who stands where in this coming war, follow the money:  Wall Street is giving mainly to Republicans for a reason.

It’s true that most of the political headlines these past few days have been about Democratic division, with Senator Elizabeth Warren urging rejection of a funding bill the White House wanted passed. But this was mainly a divide about tactics, with few Democrats actually believing that undoing Dodd-Frank is a good idea.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to find Republicans expressing major reservations about undoing reform. You sometimes hear claims that the Tea Party is as opposed to bailing out bankers as it is to aiding the poor, but there’s no sign that this alleged hostility to Wall Street is having any influence at all on Republican priorities.

So the people who brought the economy to its knees are seeking the chance to do it all over again. And they have powerful allies, who are doing all they can to make Wall Street’s dream come true.

(A version of this op-ed appears in print on December 15, 2014, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline:  Wall Street’s Revenge.)

Other Krugman essays to peruse:


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Grim Reaper Reaps Votes (Blue Dogs and Dims Rally To Pass Last Big Gifts (From Them Making Past Contributions Worthwhile) To Banksters! Happy Old Year?)  Dims Shine Their Light (Blue Light Special?)



Democratic Senator John D. Rockefeller, IV, To Seek Vote Stopping EPA Carbon Rules

Pssst!

American voters are stupid.

- C., Dick



*

Sellouts?

Please.

Did you watch the crush of Blue Dogs (in last Thursday's Congressional voting frenzy) many of whom (but not enough) were voted out in November and are taking a last long bow? (Wow!)

This type of late-night official behavior by their elected representatives only increases the consternation and much-vaunted alienation of the middle- and lower-class voters (and their resulting lack of participation in the voting process) who don't see their interests being served at all.

The bought stay bought.

So it seems.

Photo

Senator Cruz leaves Senate floor Saturday after passing $1.1 trillion spending bill.


As we approach 2015 and the scythe.

Each donor would now be permitted to to contribute $97,200 to each fund annually, meaning that a single donor could contribute up to $324,000 per year to finance a party's operations. For comparison, the current maximum limit a donor can give to a national party committee each year, which was set by 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, is $32,400, plus an additional $32,400 in the event of an election recount.
"This makes the Great Train Robbery look like a petty misdemeanor," Fred Wertheimer, president of the advocacy group Democracy 21, told the Washington Post. "These provisions have never been considered by the House or Senate, and were never even publicly mentioned before today."
"The last thing the American people want is for Congress to give big donors even more influence in politics, but that's exactly what this provision will do," agreed Nick Nyhart, president of the election reform nonprofit Public Campaign. "The biggest donors will be able to buy more access and influence and everyone else back home will continue wondering who their elected officials are working for."

Lawrence Norden, who heads the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said it is deplorable that such radical changes to campaign finance reform rules are being attempted without public input or broad discussion.

"Congress should act to reform campaign finance law, through a public debate with an eye toward increasing the electoral participation of ordinary citizens," Norden said. "Instead, they agreed on changes at the midnight hour increasing the power of a few wealthy people to exert outsize control over our elections and political parties. This raises the suspicion that politicians are trying to manipulate the campaign finance system for their own benefit, which will serve only to decrease average citizens’ participation in our electoral process."
Further sticking it to the American people, Wall Street was also able to tuck into the omnibus bill a provision that will allow the country's too-big-too-fail banks to return to the practice of gambling on derivatives — the same high-risk activity that precipitated the 2008 crash — with funds that are insured by taxpayers.
As former Wall Street executive and senior fellow at Campaign for America's Future Richard Eskow explains, the amendment in question, which would repeal a key protection in the Dodd-Frank Act known as the 'swaps push-out rule,' was largely written by lobbyists for Citigroup.
"We are at a pivotal moment in the struggle to restrain the financial industry’s toxic blend of recklessness and political influence," Eskow writes. "Bankers have had many political victories since their moment of financial failure, but those victories have been incomplete — until now. Has their hour come around at last?"
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) said in a statement:  "Middle-class families are still paying a heavy price for the decisions to weaken the financial cops, leaving Wall Street free to load up on risk."
"Congress should not chip away at important reforms that protect taxpayers and make our economy safer," added Warren, who — alongside fellow Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), and Carl Levin (Mich.) — has fought the rule change.
"Politico" details some of the other provisions included in the spending bill.



Solid Wall Street Whores ... From Solid Blue Districts

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sometimes the DCCC whines that their favorite right-wing incumbents and candidates have to "change up" messaging because their districts lean red. That "strategy" sure didn't help Republican-backing Blue Dogs like Nick Rahall (WV), John Barrow (GA) and Pete Gallego (TX) last month. All of them lost their seats.

Barrow and Gallego were back in their seats on Thursday evening for their last-ever votes in Congress - backing the Wall Street deregulation plan against working families and taxpayers. And they were joined by half a dozen other right-wing bank shills who won't be back in January and voted for the banksters Thursday - Ron Barber (Blue Dog-AZ), Dan Maffei (New Dem-NY), Jim Matheson (Blue Dog-UT), Bill Owens (New Dem-NY), Brad Schneider (New Dem-IL), and Allyson Schwartz (New Dem-PA).


I was struck by how many of the treacherous Wall Street Democrats are in solid blue districts and have nothing to fear by backing working families against the deprecations of Wall Street predators. Of the 57 Democrats who are returning to Congress in January and who voted for the derivatives deregulation Thursday, all of these are in solid blue districts:

• Sanford Bishop (GA)- D+6- $958,210
• Robert Brady (PA)- D+28- $447,725

• Cheri Bustos (IL)- D+7- $302,461
• John Carney (DE)- D+8- $1,387,728
• Lacy Clay (MO)- D+28- $717,225
• Jim Clyburn (SC)- D+21- $2,189,625
• Gerry Connolly (VA)- D+10- $884,757

• Joe Crowley (NY)- D+26- $5,048,691
• Henry Cuellar (TX)- D+7- $1,052,513
• Sam Farr (CA)- D+21- $417,261

• Chaka Fattah (PA)- D+38- $609,677

• Bill Foster (IL)- D+8- $1,540,500
• Steny Hoyer (MD)- D+14- $4,960,575
• Marcy Kaptur (OH)- D+15- $417,860
• Gregory Meeks (NY)- D+35- $2,561,388
• Donald Norcross (NJ)- D+13- $215,256
• David Price (NC)- D+20- $862,357
• Mike Quigley (IL)- D+16- $562,175
• Cedric Richmond (LA)- D+23- $290,695
• Dutch Ruppersberger (MD)- D+10- $1,035,928
• David Scott (GA)- D+16- $2,155,804

• Terri Sewell (AL)- D+20- $903,420
• Brad Sherman (CA)- D+14- $2,816,848

• Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL)- D+9- $1,619,616
The dollar amount next to each name is how much money in legalistic bribes each Member has taken from the Finance sector. I thought it might be helpful for anyone paying attention. Yesterday Sen. Jeff Merkley, who is absolutely opposed to the kinds of Wall Street giveaways being pushed by Republicans and Democrats like Chuck Schumer from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party ( ) sent this message to his Oregon constituents.


Late last night, the House of Representatives passed a $1 trillion spending package to keep the government running through September.  And they included in it a Wall Street giveaway that puts taxpayers back on the hook for banks' risky bets. We need to fight.

One of the important provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law was pushing swaps out of taxpayer-insured depository institutions. These swaps are essentially bets on things like the prices of commodities or financial instruments. In 2008 when banks' bets went bad, taxpayers bailed them out and ordinary Americans lost jobs, homes, and retirement savings. That's why the reforms pushed those risky activities out of the banks - if the bets go bad, taxpayers shouldn't be at risk.

Now, in order to enrich a handful of the biggest banks in the world, the House is saying working families and small businesses across America should once again be put at risk. Let's stand up and say no.

Putting this Wall Street giveaway into a must-pass bill to keep the government funded is the beginning of an all-out assault to roll back the reforms and turn the keys of our economy over to Wall Street once again. We saw how that turned out last time.

We need an economy that is designed to create opportunity and success for middle class families, not one designed to enrich Wall Street at everyone else's expense.

Make your voice heard and help us spread the word on Facebook today.

This kind of stealth effort to dismantle Dodd-Frank is unacceptable - let's shine a light on this provision. Wall Street has its army of lobbyists; the American people have you.

 Reaper**

*

*

Fantasy~father Time Cuddles 1911 Baby New Year~grim Reaper Scythe~lantern~gibson***

Kronos devouring his son by Peter Paul Rubens.  Notice the scythe in Kronos’ right hand. ****

grim reaper, saturn****


*   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_%28personification%29

**   http://www.clipartguide.com/_pages/1552-0909-1821-2725.html

***   http://ns2.holidays.net/store/Fantasy-father-Time-Cuddles-1911-Baby-New-Year-grim-Reaper-Scythe-lantern-gibson_291308894221.html

****   https://www.worldslastchance.com/yahuwahs-calendar/mystery-babylon-the-origins-of-saturn.html