Niccol takes a stern tack with "Good Kill." Again and again Egan and team do their job. Again and again they’re coached in ignoring the true nature of it. The drones are saving American lives, never mind what the bleeding hearts think. “Drones aren’t going anywhere,” says their commander (Bruce Greenwood). “In fact, they’re going everywhere.” The repetition of their roles drills into the characters and the audience. We get bored of watching foreign people get blown up on screen too. This feeling of dis(as)sociation between the act of pushing the button and the act of murder is exactly what the director is aiming for.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
“Good Kill” is really a contemporary horror movie about humans seduced and hypnotized by machines into surrendering their souls: “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” for techies.
. . . Early in the story, the operation is taken over by the C.I.A. (facetiously nicknamed Christians in Action), whose rules of engagement are much looser than those of the military. Even the hard-nosed Colonel Johns is abashed by the wider license to kill.
It’s no longer necessary to identify a specific target as the enemy to be eliminated. All that’s required is for a “pattern of behavior” to be discerned. And Tom finds himself bombing a funeral for the victims of a strike. When rescue workers flock to the site of another explosion, he is instructed to kill them.
. . . Mr. Hawke’s anguished performance gives “Good Kill” a hot emotional center. Tom is painfully aware that innocents will die from missiles dispatched from a great distance. In battle, of course, there is always the likelihood of collateral damage, but there’s a difference between pulling a joystick while thousands of miles from a theater of war and risking your life in an aircraft. Tom observes in horror when civilians wander into a targeted site and are blown up.
. . . As you watch the smoke billow from a drone strike, it offers the cheap thrill felt by a child operating an Xbox, which the movie’s resident expert, Lt. Col. Johns (Bruce Greenwood) explains was a model for drones. “The brass don’t want to admit it,” he tells underlings, “but half of you were recruited in malls precisely because you’re a bunch of gamers.”
Just saw the brilliant panoply of talent comprising Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Bruce Greenwood and Zoë Kravitz in Andrew Niccol's "Good Kill" on Showtime, which clarifies the "drone strike against hunted terrorist in the midst of innocents" conundrum terminally (nauseatingly, actually).
One speech by Greenwood on how it doesn't matter who started the killing (radar-directed bombing by the USA) now because it will never end should be enough to justify seeing this movie no matter how repellent the subject is personally.
Watch it if you can harden your heart sufficiently (because it's full of thoughtful scenes and truths about the logical end of seeking out (and murdering) terrorists universally forever).
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
From our usual suspect, Matt Taibbi at "Rolling Stone:"
By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
27 May 16
Clinton accuses Trump of "rooting" for a crash caused by her own donors
new attack ad put out by the Hillary Clinton campaign this week achieves the near-impossible, making Donald Trump look wronged and (almost) like a victim. More believably, it makes the Democrats look sleazy and disingenuous in comparison.
The ad begins with a picture of a grinning Trump and the words, "In 2006, Donald Trump was hoping for a real estate crash."
It proceeds to a series of grim scenes from the financial crisis. Against a "Roger and Me"-esque montage of blighted neighborhoods, it reads off stats: "9 million Americans lost their jobs. 5 million people lost their homes."
Then it returns to a grinning Trump, and another line:
"And the man who could be our next president…
was rooting for it to happen."
Then we hear Trump talking about how a bursting of the real-estate bubble would be an opportunity for rich folks like himself.
"I sort of hope that happens, because then people like me would go in and buy," Trump says, in an interview from 2006. "If there is a bubble burst, as they call it, you know, you could make a lot of money."
Cut to: "If Donald wins, you lose."
This ad is disingenuous in a dozen different ways. For one thing, the destruction that the Clinton campaign describes was not caused by people swooping in after the bubble burst, buying at the bottom of the market.
It was caused by the existence of a speculative bubble in the first place. And that bubble was inflated not by Donald Trump, but by the people who have at least in part bankrolled Hillary Clinton's career: namely, Wall Street banks.
In the mid-2000s, a speculative mania swallowed up the real-estate markets largely because Wall Street discovered a new (and often criminally fraudulent) way to peddle mortgage securities.
The basic trick involved big banks buying up the risky home loans of subprime borrowers — the loans of people who often lacked verified incomes and had poor credit histories — and repackaging them as highly rated mortgage securities.
Basically they took risky loans and presented them as somewhat safer investments to a range of investors, all of whom later got clobbered: pension funds, hedge funds, unions, even Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
This technique, of turning rancid home loans into a kind of financial hamburger and then selling it off as grade-A beef to institutional investors, created artificial demand in the real-estate markets, which in turn led to the speculative mania.
The bubble stayed inflated for a few years because a continual influx of new investors kept the old investors from losing their shirts for a while. The layman's term for this is a Ponzi scheme.
So when Donald Trump in 2006 says, "If there is a bubble burst, you could make a lot of money," he might sound crass, but he wasn't wrong. That bubble was always going to burst. Those investors who got creamed were always going to get creamed.
And the fault was with the people who drove this speculative craze by knowingly peddling bad merchandise and continually driving the markets upward. Think, for example, of Citigroup, which was selling huge masses of mortgage securities even as its traders were saying things to each other like, "We should start praying… I would not be surprised if half of these loans went down."
We know the names of many of these companies because many of them have agreed to pay huge settlements for their involvement in selling mismarked mortgage securities.
Four of them — the aforementioned Citigroup, along with Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan Chase — are among Hillary Clinton's top six contributors for her career.
The new Clinton ad references people in foreclosure — it even shows a big, scary foreclosure sign. Many of the same banks also agreed to massive settlements for, among other things, using fraudulent documents to kick people out of their houses. Major Clinton donors Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase were signatories to the original $25 billion foreclosure settlement, for instance.
As for the whole issue of "rooting" for a crash so as to make money off the misery of others, what Donald Trump was talking about — and it's galling to the point of being physically painful to have to defend him here — may sound scummy, but was neither illegal nor even unethical, unless you want to call this kind of capitalism unethical (which some might).
Trump wasn't rooting for an avoidable disaster, like a 9/11. With this bubble, the disaster had already happened. The properties were already overvalued. Trump or not, that pain was coming.
Taking advantage of market inefficiencies is what investors are supposed to do, a la the traders in "The Big Short" who spotted the corruption in the real-estate markets early and bet accordingly. Personally I doubt Trump was smart enough to bet so much as a penny out of his alleged billions on the market collapsing, but if he did, it wouldn't have been unethical, just cold.
The same can't be said for Goldman Sachs, the company famous for paying Hillary Clinton $675,000 for three speeches.
In the spring of 2011, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, led by Michigan's Carl Levin, released a giant report about the way Goldman profited from the crash by shorting the market even as it was advising clients in the opposite direction.
This report detailed how in 2006, the same year that Donald Trump was talking out loud about the bubble bursting, Goldman found itself stuck with what amounted to a $6 billion bet on the housing market.
But at the end of the year the firm analyzed its position, saw the coming trouble, and realized it needed a change in strategy. Goldman's leaders, including CEO Lloyd Blankfein (seen here warmly embracing Hillary Clinton) and CFO David Viniar, decided that they needed to unload as many of their mortgage holdings as possible.
One particular quote the Senate investigators dug up stands out. In late December of 2006, Viniar wrote an email to his chief mortgage officer (emphasis mine):
"Let's be aggressive distributing things," he said, "because there will be very good opportunities as the markets [go] into what is likely to be even greater distress, and we want to be in a position to take advantage of them."
This, coming from the chief financial officer of a firm that has been among Hillary Clinton's top donors, is exactly what Donald Trump said.
The difference was, Donald Trump was just talking about making money for himself. Goldman executives were talking about making money at their own clients' expense.
Two months after that Viniar memo, in February of 2007, Blankfein wrote an email of his own.
"Could/should we have cleaned up these books before," Blankfein wrote, "and are we doing enough right now to sell off cats and dogs in other books throughout the division?"
By "cats and dogs," Blankfein meant the toxic mortgage holdings he wanted off his company's books. How did they get rid of them? They sold them off to customers.
In one particular deal, called Hudson, Goldman unloaded $1.2 billion worth of "cats and dogs." They neglected to tell the client that these came from their own inventory, saying instead that the holdings were "sourced from the street."
By the spring of 2007, Goldman executives were in a panic about the likely meltdown of the real-estate markets. In May, a senior exec gave a presentation saying, "There is real meltdown potential."
The execs scanned the earth for suckers willing to buy up their doomed products. They found a hedge fund in Australia willing to buy a $100 million mortgage-based deal called Timberwolf, promising returns as high as 60 percent while privately laughing about finding the ultimate sucker.
"I found a white elephant, flying pig and unicorn all at once," clucked one of the bank's sales reps. A few days later, after the deal was off their books, another Goldman exec famously trumpeted, "Boy, that Timberwolf was one shitty deal."
I spent most of the last eight years poring through disgusting stories like this, reporting on the dreary question of what caused the 2008 crash. All of that work was done before Hillary Clinton announced she would run for president. This isn't about Hillary Clinton for me. It's about the continuing influence of these companies.
These firms have mostly avoided blame for the crisis, partly because this subject is complicated, but also because mainstream politicians from both parties have refused to point a finger at them. For that, Hillary Clinton probably is at fault now, contributing to a failure among major-party politicians to be straight with the public that dates back to the first days of the crisis.
It's bad strategy. Trump is a lunatic, but he's gaining strength because his supporters believe his story about being so rich that he's free to tell it like it is. They equally believe his windy diatribes about Beltway pols like Jeb Bush and Hillary being compromised by the great gobs of money they take from corporate donors.
And the truth is now being thrown in our blissfully ignorant faces.
Because it's no longer possible to say that the banksters' misdeeds are just too complicated for the regular taxpaying citizen to figure out, and thus that they don't really deserve punishment (just minor fees).
26 May 16
A federal appeals court overturned a $1.3 billion judgement against Bank of America, ruling that good intentions at the outset shield bankers from fines for subsequent fraud.
ack in the late-housing-bubble period, in 2007, Countrywide Home Loans, which was then the largest mortgage provider in the country, rolled out a new lending program. The bank called it the “high-speed swim lane,” or HSSL, or, even more to the point, “hustle.” Countrywide, like most mortgage lenders, sold its loans to Wall Street banks or Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two mortgage giants, which bundled them and, in turn, sold them to investors.
Unlike the Wall Street banks, Fannie and Freddie insured the loans, so they demanded only the ones of the highest quality. But by that time, borrowers with high credit scores were getting scarcer, and Countrywide faced the prospect of collapsing revenue and profits. Hence, the hustle program, which “streamlined” Countrywide’s loan origination, cutting out underwriters and putting loan processors, whom the company had previously deemed not qualified to answer borrowers’ questions, in charge of reviewing loan applications. In practice, Countrywide dropped most of the conditions meant to insure that loans would be repaid.
The company didn’t tell Fannie or Freddie any of this, however. Lower-level Countrywide executives repeatedly warned top executives that the mortgages did not fulfill the requirements. Employees changed data about the mortgages to make them look better, sometimes increasing the borrower’s income on the forms until the loan looked acceptable. Then, Countrywide sold them to the mortgage giants anyway.
At one point, the head of underwriting at Countrywide wrote an alarmed e-mail, with a list of questions from employees, such as, does “the request to move loans mean we no longer care about quality?”
The executive in charge of the decision, Rebecca Mairone, replied, “So - it sounds like it may work. Is that what I am hearing?”
To federal prosecutors — and to a jury in Manhattan — the hustle sounded like fraud. And in 2013, Bank of America, which had by then taken over Countrywide, was found liable for fraud and later ordered to pay a $1.27 billion judgment to the government.
But this week, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals looked at that judgment and asked this question: If a entity (in this case, a bank) enters into a contract pure of heart and only deceives its partners afterward, is that fraud?
The three-judge panel’s answer was no. Bank of America is no longer required to pay the judgment.
The Bank of America case was a rare outcome in the collapse of the financial system: a firm whose actions had contributed to the crisis was held to account by a court of law. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which brought the case in 2012, used an ingenious strategy, charging the bank under a law dating from the savings-and-loan crisis of the late 1980s, called Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act, or FIRREA. And the government actually identified a human being, Rebecca Mairone, claiming she defrauded Fannie and Freddie.
Though it was a civil action, rather than a criminal one, the case actually went to trial — unusual in this day and age — and the jury found Bank of America and Mairone liable. (The 2nd Circuit panel’s ruling reversed a finding of fraud against Mairone and tossed out a million-dollar ruling against Mairone.)
The appellate-court panel accepted the main facts as described by the government. It acknowledged that Countrywide intentionally breached its contract but ruled that it had not engaged in fraud.
The ruling, written by Richard C. Wesley, a George W. Bush appointee, was unanimous, with another Bush appointee and an Obama appointee voting in favor. “What fraud … turns on, however, is when the representations were made and the intent of the promisor at that time,” Judge Wesley wrote. If the fraud is based on “promises made in a contract, a party claiming fraud must prove fraudulent intent at the time of contract execution; evidence of a subsequent, willful breach cannot sustain the claim.”
The government hadn’t set out to prove Countrywide’s intentions — honorable or otherwise — of Countrywide at the moment it signed the contracts with Fannie and Freddie. Consequently, the court ruled that the government had not provided sufficient evidence for its contentions. “The government had zero evidence of affirmative misrepresentations at the time of the bad conduct,” Samuel Buell, a law professor at Duke University and the author of the forthcoming book “Capital Offenses: Business Crime and Punishment in America’s Corporate Age,” says. But to other legal scholars, the ruling seemed nonsensical.
“Is the idea that a good state of mind initially can insulate you from fraud later on?” Brandon Garrett, a professor of law at the University of Virginia and the author of “Too Big To Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations,” asked. “That would be a very strange and troubling doctrine.” He added, “It almost seems like the 2nd Circuit fell victim to a lawyer’s trick.”
# 2016-05-26 16:44
Thursday, 26 May 2016By Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh, Democracy Now!Video InterviewAn internal government watchdog has concluded Hillary Clinton broke government rules by using a private email server without approval while she was secretary of state. That was the key finding of a long-awaited report by the State Department inspector general.
The report concluded that Clinton would not have been allowed to use a private server in her home had she asked department officials in charge of information security, because it posed "significant security risks."
This contradicts claims by Clinton that use of a home server was allowed and that no permission was needed. The report also criticized Clinton for not properly preserving emails she wrote and received on her personal account.
According to the report, Clinton and eight of her deputies, including Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan and Huma Abedin, declined to be interviewed for the inspector general's investigation. Clinton's use of a private email server for State Department business is also the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation. We speak to journalist Michael Tracey.TRANSCRIPTThis is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.NERMEEN SHAIKH: An internal government watchdog has concluded Hillary Clinton broke government rules by using a private email server without approval while she was secretary of state. That was the key finding of a long-awaited report by the State Department inspector general.
The report concluded that Clinton would not have been allowed to use a private server in her home had she asked department officials in charge of information security, because it posed, quote, "significant security risks." This contradicts claims by Clinton that use of a home server was allowed and that no permission was needed. The report also criticized Clinton for not properly preserving emails she wrote and received on her personal account. Clinton responded to the report during a campaign event in California [sic]. . . .MICHAEL TRACEY: Well, in addition to the substance of what was found by the inspector general regarding her conduct with installing a private email server, what really stuck out to me and, I think, most observers was that she declined to be interviewed for the probe.
Now, throughout her campaign and even prior to the campaign, she gave repeated assurances that she would comply with every single investigation into the propriety of this conduct. And for her now to have -- to have been revealed that she did not comply with a probe overseen by the department which she headed for four years is pretty astonishing.AMY GOODMAN: Because it was the inspector general of the State Department.MICHAEL TRACEY: Of the State Department, right. And she was the head of that agency for four years. And not only did she not participate, but actually at least nine of her associates, whether they were employees of the department or external employees that were under the auspice of Hillary in particular, did not participate, either. So, of course that's going to raise major questions.NERMEEN SHAIKH: But at the same time, Hillary has said -- Clinton has said that she will participate in the FBI investigation. Is that right?MICHAEL TRACEY: Right, but if you go and examine the statements that her campaign has made and she has made individually, she never made a clear distinction between participation in the FBI probe and the State Department probe.
So, for her now to retroactively claim that she did make that distinction doesn't hold up to scrutiny. As recently as May 7th, she said that she would, quote, "talk to anybody" investigating the matter on behalf of the federal government.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, she also said -- because there's been some speculation about why she chose to use a private email server in the first place, and apparently in November 2010 -- this is what the report says -- she wrote to one of her top aides, Huma Abedin, that, quote, "Let's [get] separate address or device but I don't want any risk of the personal being accessible." What do you think the significance of that is? And that's not what she initially claimed her reason was.
MICHAEL TRACEY: I just think it's indicative of her giving a wide variety of explanations for her behavior that don't cohere into a single, you know, digestible explanation that she could offer to voters. And I -- just one more point, I think that speaks to why there's been a deficiency in the level of scrutiny that's been applied to it in the context of the Democratic primary.
So Bernie Sanders has, validly, not raised the issue, and he has his own reasons for doing so. But the natural consequence of that is that it hasn't been given a sufficient airing in the context of the Republican primary, and it's going to be easily seized upon by Donald Trump in the context of a general election.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me turn to a clip from the Democratic debate in March, Clinton facing tough questioning from Univision moderator Jorge Ramos about her use of a home-based email server and who gave her permission to use it.
HILLARY CLINTON: It wasn't the best choice. I made a mistake. It was not prohibited. It was not in any way disallowed. And as I've said and as now has come out, my predecessors did the same thing, and many other people in the government. But here's the cut-to-the-chase facts. I did not send or receive any emails marked "classified" at the time. What you're talking about is retroactive classification. ... I am not concerned about it. I am not worried about it. And no Democrat or American should be, either.JORGE RAMOS: The questions were -- Secretary Clinton, the questions were: Who gave you permission to -- to operate?HILLARY CLINTON: There -- there --JORGE RAMOS: Was it President Obama?HILLARY CLINTON: There was no permission to be asked. It had been done by my predecessors. It was permitted. I didn't have to ask anyone.JORGE RAMOS: If you get indicted, would you drop out?HILLARY CLINTON: Oh, for goodness -- that is not going to happen. I'm not even answering that question.AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton, speaking at a Democratic debate in March. Just a note about the earlier clip of Hillary Clinton in our lede, it was from March 2015, over a year ago, not from the campaign trail yesterday. So, Michael Tracey, this issue of she didn't do anything differently than her predecessors, like Secretary of State General Colin Powell, who has also said the same thing, actually?
MICHAEL TRACEY: Well, that's been a claim repeatedly made by Hillary Clinton herself and her campaign representatives for as long as this has been a controversy, but the State Department's own report now finds that that claim has no basis. I mean, there were new sets of standards applied to the conduct of Hillary Clinton that did not apply to her predecessors.
When Colin Powell was in office, for example -- you know, he left office in 2005, and by then, the use of email was not nearly as widespread or not -- and the security liabilities were not nearly as well understood. So, the idea that that's a rationale for her behavior, I don't think passes muster, either.
AMY GOODMAN: She keeps emphasizing she's turned over 55,000 emails, certainly more than any of her predecessors, not only Condoleezza Rice, by the way, but -- not only Colin Powell, but also Condoleezza Rice. But what about this, 55,000 email that she chose, or her people chose, to hand over?
MICHAEL TRACEY: Well, again, that's a claim that's been made without corroboration. But now we know that the claim is not totally accurate. There were emails found independently by the State Department investigator between Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus that she did not turn over in December 2014, when she purportedly handed over the totality of the batch. So, I mean, obviously, a figure of that significance is someone who the public is going to want to see the correspondence featuring.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is interesting, the general, right? Because -- I'm reading from The Washington Post: "In his plea agreement, [General] Petraeus admitted to mishandling classified information that was contained in [his] personal notebooks. Petraeus told [his girlfriend Paula] Broadwell that his notebooks contained 'highly classified' information, yet gave them to her ... lied to the FBI during the investigation -- a felony that's punishable by up to five years in prison," let her see his classified emails, etc.
MICHAEL TRACEY: Yeah, I think this speaks to a broader fallacy in the way that Democrats have spoken about this issue. They've tried to conflate it with, you know, partisan skulduggery, which inevitably is going to engulf Hillary and has for 25 years. But in doing so, they've deflected from the real potential liabilities that this may occasion. And another thing, you know, in the clip that was just played, Hillary Clinton laughed off the possibility of an indictment. And that's probably remote. But it's not laughable that there could be some kind of criminal consequence to this behavior, whether on the part of Hillary or her subordinates.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, wait. Explain this, because, I mean, James Comey is not exactly a friend of President Obama -- the head of the FBI, came in under the Bush administration, has undermined him in a number of ways. There's clearly a conflict.
He's pushing forward with this investigation. He could recommend a criminal indictment, but it would be Obama's Justice Department that would have to move forward with it, which would set up a royal conflict and an embarrassing one.
MICHAEL TRACEY: Right. So even if official criminal charges are not levied, it would still provoke a political -- a political discord that we haven't seen in generations, in terms of competing branches of the federal government coming to different conclusions about whether certain behavior rises to the level of criminality. And, you know, I think for her to laugh off that possibility, and for Democrats to laugh off that possibility, has made it such that the feasibility of this hasn't been seriously entertained, maybe until now.
And the reason -- one reason why a lawyer would advise a client not to participate in a probe of this nature is because you could divulge information that could be used in a separate criminal investigation to establish a pattern of facts, which could conceivably result in some kind of criminal charges. So that's always been a possibility in the air, but because, you know, the allegations have been so closely associated with Republican gamesmanship, I don't think Democrats have given it sufficient thought in terms of what kind of problems this could pose for Hillary as a general election candidate.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn to a clip from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December 2011, the day before Army whistleblower Private Chelsea Manning went on trial for passing hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks.
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: I think that in an age when so much information is, you know, flying through cyberspace, we all have to be aware of the fact that, you know, some information, which is sensitive, which does affect the security of individuals and relationships, deserves to be protected. And we will continue to take necessary steps to do so.AMY GOODMAN: That was Hillary Clinton speaking in 2011 about the WikiLeaks revelations made by Chelsea Manning. So could you comment on what Hillary Clinton said and whether you think that there's a different standard that's been applied to whistleblowers, like Chelsea Manning, and her opposition to the inquiry now regarding her own, let's say, lax security around her emails while she was secretary of state?
MICHAEL TRACEY: Well, the double standards are overwhelmingly clear. It's not disputed at this point that information marked "top secret," according to the government, traversed the server of Hillary Clinton. And the server was not secured according to the guidelines established by the federal government.
Now, had someone of less stature committed a similar infraction, based on the track record of Hillary Clinton's own statements, we could draw a logical through line and assume that she would want the full weight of the criminal apparatus of the federal government to bear down on that individual.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Isn't that what happened to the US ambassador in Kenya? I think that's one of the people who's mentioned.
MICHAEL TRACEY: Right. And, you know, obviously, the case of Chelsea Manning is not totally analogous, but it speaks to a broader principle that's not being evenly applied. So, whether or not you think that the classification regime of the federal government is sound, that has no bearing on whether the regime that exists should be applied broadly and equitably.
And in insisting, as Hillary Clinton and her surrogates have done, that this is no big deal, they're essentially arguing for a different standard to be applied to themselves. And that's why people have so little faith in the system. And it's not just for product of Republican fearmongering that there is this hunch that the law is not going to be applied in an equal manner.
Read the entire article here.