Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Stoopids Rule (And Change the "Game" for Everyone) Yay Team!!! (When Will We Say "Enough?")

But, of course, it's only the stoopids who vote the "party line." And just who is this ruling party? That is the question. I can't resist giving a "shout out" to Whiskey Fire (with whom I am not always in such solid agreement) who seems to have this moment in U.S. political history pegged:

Good Luck Sailor I'm truly glad that the American Experiment has achieved this, in its third century of existence: a happy harmony between amoral plutocrats as the Sane Center, and vicious Randian crack-addled morons as the Plausible Alternative. Bang head wall bang head wall. _ _ _ _ _

(This is my quarterly fundraiser (although anytime is great to throw some spare change my way if you'd like), and although I hate to ask for donations, I have to as I am still among the long-term, desperate-for-work, unemployed (old, over-educated for today's world and unable to work in India or China), who will probably never actually have a real job again. And, yes, I did have one two-week job this year so no one can say I'm totally useless as I helped a major engineering company try to get a contract for all that Sweet Government Moolah over in Iraq - which was a secret from most of those working on it before I was hired, then I investigated and there it was - but that's my shame. If only I'd been able to stop it completely with my persuasive proposal-writing skills.) _ _ _ _ _

If you've enjoyed/applauded/been vindicated by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission's non-report on who did what to whom and why they should not be seriously investigated or have their real crimes pursued by members of the law enforcement profession (and still think that Obama's great friend, Jamie Dimond, was the best of the banksters and should continue to advise the Dems about financial strategy), then you are not going to want to read Frank Rich today. But you should. He makes it rather clear that when a finance-laden crime-investigating commission says everybody's guilty, then no one is - and there's no reason to actually pursue them as they're bound to just be found "not guilty." (But not like Bernie Madoff, whose persecutor (not really - just the bankruptcy trustee) is actually tracking down the allied criminals and paying off the victims.) And do you even remember back to when you thought that the legal community might adopt at least somewhat the task to illuminate and indict the same type of criminal bankster actions that the Pecora Commission had after the Depression? Or even Bill Black after the Savings and Loan criminality? Or that Jamie Dimon's whining about being talked about meanly might have spelled some notice of his bank's criminality? How much more MSM mis-coverage of these important financial matters are we going to allow (and they brag about who owns them)? (Emphasis marks and some editing inserted - Ed.)

At Last, Bernie Madoff Gives Back February 12, 2011 When Bernie Madoff was arrested in December 2008, America feasted vicariously on a cautionary tale of greed run amok. But like Rod Blagojevich, the stunt governor of Illinois who had been arrested days earlier, Madoff was something of a sideshow to that dark month’s main events. For a nation reeling from an often incomprehensible economic tsunami and unable to identify the culprits, he was, for the moment, the right made-to-order villain at the right time.

But Madoff was a second-tier player. Some in the upper echelons of New York’s financial world, including in the business press, had never heard of him. His firm’s accountant operated out of a strip mall and didn’t bother with electronic statements. The billions that vaporized in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme amounted to a rounding error next to the eye-popping federal bailouts, including those pouring into too-big-to-fail banks wrecked by their own Ponzi schemes of securitization. The suffering he inflicted on his mostly well-heeled dupes was piddling next to the national devastation of an economy in free fall. In a December when a half-million Americans lost their jobs — a calamitous rate not seen since 1974 — the video of a voiceless, combative Madoff in a baseball cap, skirmishing with photographers outside his Upper East Side apartment house, soon lost its punch.

A month later Barack Obama would be inaugurated and declare “a new era of responsibility.” Now, another two years have passed, and while the economy is no longer in free fall, we’re still waiting for that era to arrive. What’s extraordinary is that Madoff, unlike such tarnished titans of the bubble as Rubin or Fuld or Prince, is very much at center stage, even as he rots in prison. Perhaps that’s because he’s the only headline figure of the crash who did go to prison.

His evil deeds, in their afterlife, are now serving as a recurring wave of financial body scans. Each new Madoff revelation sheds light on an entire culture that allowed far loftier flimflams than his to succeed — though the loftier culprits, unlike him, usually escaped with the proceeds. That financial culture largely remains in place today.

The prime mover in connecting Madoff’s low-tech, relatively low-yield scam to the big Wall Street picture is Irving H. Picard, the bankruptcy trustee pursuing loss claims for Madoff’s victims. Most Americans haven’t heard of Picard. But each day that he accelerates his pursuit of Madoff’s collaborators, he steps further into the vacuum of leadership left by others, including the Obama administration’s Department of Justice.

Picard has also upstaged the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that is set to officially close its doors today. The hope had been that the commission, convened by Congress, would be what Ferdinand Pecora’s Senate inquisition of 1933 was to the Great Crash — a no-holds-barred dispensation of blame to tycoons who looted the Wall Street casino and then let ordinary Americans pay the consequences.

Pecora’s cross-examination of Charles Mitchell, the chairman of National City Bank (the ancestor of Citigroup), caused a national sensation. But in its final report, our own Great Recession’s commission essentially found everyone guilty, thereby letting individual miscreants off the hook.

And so Madoff remains the only felon of the whole affair that Americans can identify by name. By taking this single card he’s been dealt and exploiting Madoff’s trail of crime to the max, Picard may yet prove the Pecora we’ve been waiting for.

He is pursuing hundreds of lawsuits to retrieve fictitious “profits” from the lucky coterie of Madoff investors who cashed out before his arrest. Now Picard has raised the stakes with two suits that reach deep into American institutions — the New York Mets, whose principal owners, the Wilpon family, seemed to constitute a Madoff financial farm team, and JPMorgan Chase, the main Madoff banker.

As a long-suffering Mets fan, I’ll leave the Wilpons to the Yankee vigilantes. JPMorgan is a more consequential target in any case — the sole big bank that survived the economic crisis with its balance sheet, image and chief executive, Jamie Dimon, more or less unscathed.

Dimon, as a Times Magazine cover put it in December , is “America’s Least-Hated Banker,” an unpretentious guy (and lifelong Democrat) whose self-professed mantra is “do the right thing.”

Picard’s litigation asserts that JPMorgan saw red flags about Madoff’s legitimacy yet never bothered to notify either the authorities or its own Madoff-invested customers as long as there was money the bank could scoop off the craps table.

In one internal JPMorgan e-mail cited in the lawsuit — dated June 2007, some 18 months before Madoff’s arrest — a Chase investment officer told colleagues that he had heard of “a well-known cloud” over Madoff, including speculation that he was “part of a Ponzi scheme.”

And yet, according to Picard’s brief, Madoff could freely cycle billions of dollars of his clients’ money through Chase accounts until the end — even as the bank itself was busily dumping $241 million of its $276 million in Madoff investments.

Late last month, in the days before the Picard suit was unsealed, Dimon appeared on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, titled “The Next Shock, Are We Better Prepared?” and complained not for the first time — or the 10th — about what he considers unfair treatment by the press and the Obama administration.

He’s just sick, he said, of the “constant refrain” of “bankers, bankers, bankers.” His arrogance compelled even the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, no socialist, to speak up and chastise American banks for repeatedly defying “simple common sense” over the last decade.

“The world has paid with tens of millions of unemployed, who were in no way to blame and who paid for everything,” Sarkozy said. “Too much is too much.”

Indeed. As if the Picard charges about the Madoff-JPMorgan nexus weren’t enough, last week a Dimon underling had to publicly apologize before Congress to military families for the bank’s financial abuse of Americans fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan over the same period.

In violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, designed to protect those serving overseas during their absences from home, JPMorgan overcharged at least 4,500 soldiers on their mortgages and illegally foreclosed on 18 of them. Many of these victims have been battling JPMorgan for years to get it to obey the law. Let us not forget that this is the one big bank that was considered Wall Street’s model citizen.

As for the question posed to Dimon’s Davos panel, the answer is No, for the most part, we’re not better prepared for the next shock. It’s not even clear we want to be prepared.

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was ridiculously under-supported by Congress — it had less than one-sixth the budget of the musical “Spider-Man” to shed light on years of opaque financial maneuvers by huge, lawyered-up institutions.

Even its worthy final report’s release was drowned out, as bad luck would have it, by the uprising in Egypt. Now the new conservative attack dog of the House, Darrell Issa, is gearing up an inquiry of the financial crisis inquiry. His only conceivable purpose is to ward off any future attempts to pursue the still unanswered questions about the meltdown.

The commission’s report, full of fascinating detail, received mixed reviews. One critic, Yves Smith, of the financial blog Naked Capitalism, chastised it for not digging into how the financial industry profited obscenely (and in her view, fraudulently) by deliberately creating “toxic instruments” like subprime-mortgage-backed securities just to bet against them.

Michael Lewis, author of “The Big Short,” was far more favorable about the report but scarcely less fatalistic. “I feel like we’re living in a house built on sand because we didn’t reform the system,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Noting that banks have returned to huge profits while helping themselves to zero interest loans, Lewis concluded that we still have “socialism for capitalists, and capitalism for everybody else.”

But it’s not just financial reform that has fallen short. We still don’t have cops to catch those who break the law. Which brings us back full circle to Madoff. Not the least of his cautionary tale’s subplots was the one starring Harry Markopolos, a private financial investigator and whistle-blower who repeatedly contacted the Securities and Exchange Commission for nearly a decade with evidence of Madoff’s fraud — only to be ignored.

Markopolos was lionized on “60 Minutes” and published a book, “No One Would Listen,” dramatizing his lonely crusade. And where is the S.E.C. today? Caught in the federal budget freeze — and bracing for further cuts by the antigovernment, antiregulatory Republican House — the agency can’t hire the employees needed to enforce existing security laws, let alone new ones created by the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul.

It must use archaic technology to chase high-tech trading systems that operate “at the speed of light,” as Mary Schapiro, the S.E.C. chairwoman, put it. The agency’s new whistle-blower office — created precisely to welcome informants like Markopolos — has been put on hold .

Determined as Picard, our accidental Pecora, may be, the fact remains that the time couldn’t be riper for the next Madoff, whether in a strip mall or in the elite gambling dens of Wall Street, to get in the game.

The MSM are paid well not to report the facts. The politicians are paid exceptionally well not to pass laws which will expose the criminality. We are no longer. Bob Herbert (another of the few MSM writers who seem to see the dangers) is spot on today.

As the throngs celebrated in Cairo, I couldn’t help wondering about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only. While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.

So what we get in this democracy of ours are astounding and increasingly obscene tax breaks and other windfall benefits for the wealthiest, while the bought-and-paid-for politicians hack away at essential public services and the social safety net, saying we can’t afford them.

And there are revolts throughout Africa now (courtesy of the courageous Egyptians). But none here even though Obama's latest budget came from the worst Bush Rethugs and moves the lower classes even more toward the Mubarak model.
Even as they seek to downsize domestic programs, they would exempt the Pentagon from budget reductions, make permanent all the Bush-era tax cuts that are to expire at the end of 2012 and repeal cost-saving provisions of the health care law.
I guess the Dems will outdo the Tea Baggers and claim victory. But not for US. Thanks for your attention. And, yes, there are a multitude of us. So why aren't we better organized? Yes, I'm getting a little tired of reporting the same old sell-out news. With no let-up in sight. ____________________

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