Friday, September 30, 2016

Libertarians Have Long Been Waiting For A Smart, Respectable Candidate To Represent Their Values... And The Wait Continues


When MSNBC's colossal bore, Chris Matthews, sprung his gotcha question on poor, befuddled Gary Johnson about what foreign leader he admires and looks up to-- is there one YOU admire and look up to?-- he succeeded in getting himself into the next day's news flow. But did he succeed in making a dent in Johnson's 7% national support? Probably not. I'd wager that Johnson's fans like him a lot more than they like the annoyingly shrill get-off-my-lawn asshole Chris Matthews. According to Quinnipiac almost 30% of voters under 35 said they would vote for Johnson. That's gargantuan-- and a very real problem for Hillary.

What Matthews and others on Team Hillary don't seem to grok is that the vast majority of people who are willing to vote for Johnson (or Stein or McMullin), aren't voting for them because they think they should or will become president-- or even necessarily because they want them to be. It's a very legitimate expression among young people that they are dissatisfied with the lesser-of-two evils choice the two dysfunctional careerist mainstream parties are offering. Is that so crazy?

What is crazy, however, is that any Bernie backers would show their displeasure with Clinton and Trump by backing Johnson rather than Stein. Stein basically agrees with everything Bernie stands for. Berniecrats in safe blue states like California, New York, Maryland, Hawaii and safe red states like Alabama, Idaho, Wyoming and North Dakota should vote for Stein. It's a luxury they and the country can afford. Voting for Johnson is a poorly conceived protest that won't do anyone any good at all.
It's not about Aleppo or other gaffes. Is it just because Johnson is a pot head? Is that the criterion? What millennial voters might want to consider before they waste a good protest vote on Johnson is that he's, at heart, just a somewhat stoned Republican who wants to repeal Obamacare, derides Hillary and Bernie for wanting to bring back free college tuition in public universities and, as Colbert pointed out above, is a Climate Change neanderthal. On top of that, he totally backs the Citizens United decision which allows the free flow of dark money into politics, backs NAFTA, CAFTA and the TPP, says private prisons are part of the solution rather than part of the criminal justice problem and-- most Republican of all-- wants to cut federal programs to the bone and cut taxes for the very wealthy. Just scratching the surface shows someone who disagrees with millennials on just about every important issue (but pot).

When really clueless hard-core Republican editorial boards, like the Chicago Tribune or the Detroit News, know they can't endorse Trump and won't endorse Hillary, they go for the implausible Johnson. "Today," crowed the editors of the Detroit News, "this newspaper does something it has never done in its 143-year history: endorse someone other than the Republican candidate in a presidential contest." Yep, every cockamamie Republican since 1873. "We abandon that long and estimable tradition this year for one reason: Donald J. Trump." They actually cite permission from the Koch brothers to do this! And they then went on to tell their readers that Trump is "unprincipled, unstable and quite possibly dangerous. He can not be president." OK, so they then made it easier for that to happen by urging those readers to waste their votes on Johnson and calling it "an endorsement of conscience, reflecting our confidence that Johnson would be a competent and capable president and an honorable one."

The right-wing Chicago Tribube did much the same this morning. "The Republicans," the editorial board whined, collectively, "have nominated Donald Trump, a man not fit to be president of the United States. We first wrote on March 10 that we would not, could not, endorse him. And in the intervening six-plus months he has splendidly reinforced our verdict: Trump has gone out of his way to anger world leaders, giant swaths of the American public, and people of other lands who aspire to immigrate here legally. He has neither the character nor the prudent disposition for the job. The mystery and shame of Trump's rise... is the party's inability or unwillingness to repulse his hostile takeover." They wrote that Johnson's anti-progressive agenda "appeals not only to the Tribune's principles but to those of the many Americans who say they are socially tolerant but fiscally responsible." In other words, someone from the Greed and Selfishness wing of the Republican Party, which is what the Chicago Tribune has always represented. They usually play footsie with the Hatred and Bigotry wing of the party but... Trump just takes it a tad too far for them.

We can't afford a Trump presidency. So voters in swing states like Florida, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona, New Hampshire, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wisconsin, Colorado-- and even folks up in the Alagash, down in Lewiston-Auburn or those crazy and wild college students in Bangor, Bar Harbor, Presque Isle and Orono-- just need to get a clothespin and help rescue the country from the MUCH greater and more existential evil. Everyone else: Jill Stein.

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Book Watch: George Plimpton, Stephen King, and how it can help us readers to know what category of writing we're reading


Little Brown has reissued, in a common series format, seven books by George Plimpton which fall more or less in the category of what the author called "participatory journalism."

by Ken

Don't be fooled by the post title. I'm not going to tell you "how it can help us readers to know what category of writing we're reading." Rather I'm advancing -- or, more accurately, baldly asserting -- that it can help us readers to know what category of writing we're reading.

The post-title reference to George Plimpton and Stephen King will alert some readers -- those of the strangely all-reading and all-remembering sort -- that we're harking back to my Sunday post, "The splendid piece on John le Carré is part of an embarrassment of riches in the new NYRB." Among those riches were, "on the pop-cultural front":
novelist-translator-essayist Tim Parks on "The Pleasures of Reading Stephen King" (free to subscribers only)
Nathaniel Rich on "The George Plimpton Story" (free to subscribers only), reviewing the serial-form reissue, with added commentaries, of Plimpton's books of what he dubbed, probably intentionally misleadingly, "participatory journalism"
At that time I had read Rich's piece, but not yet Parks's, which focuses on King's now-completed Bill Hodges Trilogy, the three novels -- Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and End of Watch -- that tell the story of that retired police detective's arduous, dogged pursuit of an especially nefarious malefactor. It turns out that both the Rich and the Parks essays involve major issues of what we might call, probably not very helpfully, "genrization."

Both reviewers clearly enjoyed the books and admire the authors in question, but for both a significant part of the pleasure derived derives from understanding what sort of writing those authors were undertaking. In George Plimpton's case, for example, while the writer himself did use the term "participatory journalism," he himself expressed qualms about it. Nathaniel Rich wants it understood from the outset that the "journalism" part of the label is wrong.
Plimpton was only a journalist in the sense that James Thurber was an illustrator and Robert Benchley a newspaper columnist. He went places, spoke to people, and wrote down his observations, but the reporting wasn’t the point. What was the point? The storytelling, the humanity, the comedy.
It was an odd match to begin with," Rich writes. "For a writer of Plimpton’s background, journalism ranked on the literary hierarchy somewhere below light verse and pulp westerns."
In George, Being George, Charles Michener, Plimpton’s editor at The New Yorker, explained:
Journalists were from a rougher background. They tended not to be Ivy League, white-shoe boys, which George was certainly the epitome of. When I came into that world, I was at Yale and people would say, “Why do you want to be a journalist? It’s sleazy. That isn’t for people like you.”
Journalism was not to be taken seriously, but comedy writing was even more of a joke. What was the president of the Harvard Lampoon, class of 1948, to do?
What this patrician New Englander did, post-Harvard, was go on to earn a master's degree in English, then move to Paris and found the Paris Quarterly, an elite literary magazine if there ever was one, which he edited for the 50 years till his death in 2003. As Rich, recalls, though, in the early years of Sports Illustrated, which Henry Luce had founded "with the hope of targeting men of leisure," "the editors had as much interest in hunting, boating, and polo as in the major spectator sports," and the magazine recruited writers like William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Budd Schulberg, James T. Farrell,and John P. Marquand. So it wasn't much of a stretch to tap Plimpton for the piece that eventually grew into the 1961 book that is now republished as Out of My League: The Classic Account of an Amateur's Ordeal in Professional Baseball.

Clearly Plimpton and the assorted editors who collaborated on the subsequent sports-themed magazine and book projects understood that he was on to something. And while it wasn't journalism, it was certainly participatory.
[A]ll of Plimpton’s books were participatory in the sense that he is always tangibly present, his sensibility -- beguiling, lyrical, charming, deeply funny -- singing from every paragraph. The joy of these books comes less from sharing the company of Muhammad Ali or Alex Karras than -- a point lost on his many imitators -- from sharing the company of George Plimpton.
And the author was carefully about staging the character of "George Plimpton" whose company readers were invited to share, a sort of false-Everyman caricature of himself. A striking example is his physical misrepresentation of himself. Rich notes, "The threat of severe bodily injury offers the highest dramatic stakes, which is to say, the best comedy," and tells us:
To heighten the danger Plimpton plays up his physical fragility and ineptitude. He describes himself in Paper Lion as built “very lean and thin, along the lines of a stick,” in Shadow Box “rather like a bird of the stiltlike, wader variety -- the avocets, limpkins, and herons,” in Open Net as “the quintessential ectomorph.” He skates across the rink in his goalie equipment “with the ponderous gait of a dowager coming down a church aisle.” Plimpton was, in fact, a born athlete -- [Philip] Roth ["in the extended appreciation of Plimpton that appears in Exit Ghost"] remembers touch football games “in which George threw spirals as accurate as any a pass receiver could hope for in any league.”
Rich has a great deal more to say about this group of books (including some caveats about exactly which of Plimpton's books were included in the series), which I'll leave you to discover for yourself. I think it's only fair, though, to make clear that for him the books hold up.
[S]ports memoirs, like humor collections, rarely outlive their authors, but Plimpton’s books have aged gracefully and even matured. Today they have the additional (and unintended) appeal of vivid history, bearing witness to a mythical era that, as Rick Reilly writes in his foreword to The Bogey Man, “historians classify as ‘Before Insurance Lawyers Ruined Everything.’” (Journalists might classify it as Before Fact-Checkers Ruined Everything.)



Attack # 23,417 On Our Earned Social Security Benefits By The Republican Granny Starver


Not surprisingly, Republicans are at it again. If they're not taking food out of kids' mouths, hurting working families or taking money from the elderly, they're just not happy. It is an example of the latter we'd like to talk about at DWT this evening.

As you may know, it has taken a long time to get 100% of Democrats in the Senate behind increasing Social Security, instead of keeping it as is or cutting it. But through hard work, Third-Way shaming and Blue-Dog self demolition, we've gotten there. In the House, we haven't quite made it yet. The Republican wing of the Democratic Party-- the New Dems-- is still strong there. But it is still Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, who used Social Security survivor benefits himself to attend college, who is leading the assault. He may call it a #BetterWay, but anyone paying attention knows it's just the same old failed austerity neoliberal nonsense he's been recycling for his whole donor-serving career. As he's failed to cut the program itself, he is now applying the tried and true GOP method of attack whenever they can't eliminate something. Defund it:
The need for Social Security staff services has increased as baby boomers begin to retire. Instead, these services have been cut back since 2011. And in late July, as the American Federation of Government Employees noted, “the House Appropriations Committee cut President Obama’s proposed budget for the Social Security Administration (SSA) by $1.2 billion. If they get their way, SSA will be forced to operate on $263 million less than it does now-- even though it’s already struggling to meet public demand.”

These congressional cuts would even force workers to take a two-week furlough. Crippling Social Security’s ability to function just when it’s needed most is the epitome of what Republican public policy has become. It’s part of a familiar right-wing strategy to degrade the quality of government services, then use that degradation to argue for privatization.
Not surprisingly, they are using the dumpster fire that is this election season to try and hide that they are doing this. But their is also a way to use this as an advantage. By running against the cretinous imbeciles trying to cut one of the most popular programs in the history of the country explicitly on this issue:
[Nancy] Altman has a message for every Democrat running for federal office: "I strongly encourage all Democrats running to office to make full funding for SSA, along with expansion of Social Security's modest benefits, a centerpiece of their campaigns." Because, as she points out, "a Democratic majority in Congress is the best way to ensure that Americans receive their earned benefits in a convenient and timely fashion as a result of the first class Social Security service they have purchased and deserve."
One of Ryan's most devoted-- and devious-- devoted henchmen, Trumpist Sean Duffy, is a big fan of privatizing Social Security and Medicare and of the whole ghastly grab-bag of neoliberal horrors that would devastate working families and obliterate the middle class. The progressive Democrat running against him this cycle in WI-07, Mary Hoeft, is frustrated by the unwillingness of the media to call him out on what he actually votes for rather than on his empty and condescending assurances, "My opponent Sean Duffy is a masterful liar," she told us today. "At his website he tells the people of his district that he would not privatize Social Security. Unfortunately, people believe him. I am shouting it from the rooftop that Sean Duffy is not telling the truth. I ask myself over and over again what does it take to expose a liar? If someone has that magical answer for me, please share it." You can donate to Mary and Blue America's other progressive champions, all of whom will fight these efforts that secretly attack Social Security by clicking on the thermometer below.
Goal Thermometer

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Would Free Public Colleges and Universities Threaten the All-Volunteer Military?


Cost of college, 1985 through 2012, compared to other consumer costs (source; click to enlarge)

by Gaius Publius

I'd like to put a simple idea in front of you, a connection between the predatory student debt scam and the military.

Bernie Sanders has argued the public colleges and universities should be free today, for the same reason that public high schools were free in the past. In the past, basic education — initially grade school, then grade school and high school — was considered both a public right and a public good. An educated nation was both a strong nation and a productive one, and in fact, one of the cornerstones of our preeminence in the world through the 1960s was our education system ... and its availability.

Note that through this entire period, private schools — grade schools and high schools — also existed and thrived. The sons and daughters of the wealthy or the religiously motivated always had those options available. There was no "crowding out."

Today, in this complex world, "basic education" means college as well. Sanders' idea is therefore simply an extension of what we've always done, made "basic education" free to the public at public expense, along with other privately financed options.

Note that free public college and university education would immediately alleviate the crushing burden of student debt, at least for new students. So it's a triple win — we'd get a stronger nation, a more productive one, and a less debt-burdened one, all with one stroke.

Free Education and the Military

So where would those students come from? Many would come from the post-high school work force (think Starbucks, Target and McDonald's), but a great many would also come from populations that turn to the military for employment. Which suggests the question — Is America's military and our military engagements a barrier to free public post-high school education?

I think the answer may be yes, given the number of men and women who join the military to get military-financed education benefits. As you'll read, that's 75% of enlistees.

Consider this, from Peter Van Buren, a former State Department Foreign Service Officer, writing at Common Dreams (my emphasis):
Does Free College Threaten Our All-Volunteer Military?

Does free college threaten our all-volunteer military? That is what writer Benjamin Luxenberg, on military blog War on the Rocks says. But the real question goes deeper than Luxenberg’s practical query, striking deep into who we are as a nation....

Right now there are only a handful of paths to higher education in America: have well-to-do parents; be low-income and smart to qualify for financial aid, take on crippling debt, or…

Or join the military.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides up to $20,000 per year for tuition, along with an adjustable living stipend. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Harvard is located, that stipend is $2,800 per month. There is also a books and supplies stipend. Universities participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program make additional funds available without affecting the GI Bill entitlement. Some 75 percent of those who enlisted said they did so to obtain educational benefits.
There's that 75% number. Van Buren continues:
Luxenberg raises the question of whether the free (Bernie Sanders) or lower cost (Hillary Clinton) college education is a threat to America’s all-volunteer military. If so many people join up to get that college money, if college was free or cheaper, would they still enlist?

It is a practical question worth asking, but raises more serious issues in its trail. If people are enlisting in significant part because college tuition is not affordable, does that imply tuition costs need to stay high to help keep the ranks filled? That an unequal college costs playing field helps sustain our national defense?
America faces twin problems with respect to higher education — the crushing burden of student debt, and the fiercely escalating price of college, tuition and fees, that this debt enables. I think you could safely say that without the availability of student loans — which are structured to greatly benefit lenders at the expense of student debtors — tuition increases would not be economically feasible.

Put more simply, bankers and other lenders feed on student debt, grow fat on it in fact. Student debt, in turn, feeds the price charged by the colleges and universities who receive most of that money, which then drives the need for more debt. Everyone wins — banks, universities — everyone except students, who are the victims in this scam. Even those who receive "good" educations are sucked dry. All college students today, graduates or dropouts, leave with a mountain of debt they will carry for decades. They leave with the equivalent of a mortgage — but without the house, and often without a decent job to finance it.

Killing the student loan program by killing the need for loans would immediately change the lives of millions of young people, a whole generation. The bankers won't be happy, but their moaning would prove instantly why these loan programs are so prevalent in the first place — to feed the greed, and no other reason.

And once again, private colleges and universities would still exist and would still be free to charge anything they like. Of course, they'd now have to compete with the free universities, something that would likely bring down even those tuition costs. Sounds like a win-win, yes?

But Where Will the Money Come From? Cancel the F-35.

But how would we "pay for it" (assuming that money works differently from the way it does in the real world, that money is a zero-sum game, like gold)? Here's another simple idea, again from the article:
Money matters, but what the country can get for its money is also important. Let’s round off the military higher education benefit, tuition and living stipend, to $53,000 a year. An F-35 fighter plane costs $178 million.

Dropping just one plane from inventory generates enough money for 3,358 years of college money. We could even probably survive as a nation if we didn’t buy four or five of the planes. A lot of people who now find college out of reach could go to school
Let's make that even easier. Cancel the F-35 completely. After all, it's dangerous to operate and barely flies. Reuters:
U.S. sees lifetime cost of F-35 fighter at $1.45 trillion

The U.S. government now projects that the total cost to develop, buy and operate the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be $1.45 trillion over the next 50-plus years, according to a Pentagon document obtained by Reuters.

The Pentagon's latest, staggering estimate of the lifetime cost of the F-35 -- its most expensive weapons program -- is up from about $1 trillion a year ago, and includes inflation....

The Pentagon still plans to buy 2,443 of the new radar-evading, supersonic warplanes, plus 14 development aircraft, in the coming decades, although Air Force Secretary Michael Donley last week warned that further technical problems or cost increases could eat away at those numbers.
You could finance a lot of free public college and university education with $1.5 trillion. Not buying 2500 planes at $180 million per plane would itself save a half-trillion dollars.

As to how we'd fight all of our wars without out-of-options young people forced by circumstances to enlist ... well, maybe we'd have to justify those wars to the public in more effective ways. After all, enlistments in WWII weren't hard to come by.


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Wells Fargo Must Be Broken Up-- Too Big AND Too Much Failure


I spent yesterday morning watching-- and tweeting about-- the House Financial Services Committee "examination" of Wells Fargo's crooked CEO John Stumpf. Exasperating! Without an Elizabeth Warren or an Alan Grayson, these kinds of hearings don't shed much light on anything. Keith Ellison, Maxine Waters and Gwen Moore made some excellent points but, over all, there was never any chance anything of substance would take place since nearly all the members of this cesspool of a committee take immense bribes from the Financial Sector. During the hearing-- and this was announced by Ranking Member Waters-- Jesse Hamilton and Tom Schoenberg from Bloomberg reported that the Department of Justice and the the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, are finally getting tough on Wells Fargo. While the anti-regulation Republicans who dominate the bankster-friendly committee were trying to make a case for fewer regulations-- one of the dumbest of the freaks on the committee, New Hampshire teabagger Frank Guinta, tried floating a a crackpot conspiracy theory about Stumpf conspiring with the CFPB-- the Department of Justice revealed that Wells Fargo had been very illegally ripping off military families.

Federal prosecutors and the bank’s regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, are planning to punish the San Francisco-based lender for alleged violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, said the people, who asked not to be named because the investigation isn’t public. A penalty of as much as $20 million is expected from the OCC, one of the people said. That’s an unusually large fine for abuse of this law, which in most cases requires that firms obtain court orders before seizing vehicles from soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are delinquent on their loans.

These enforcement actions against the bank follow a $185 million settlement in which employees of the firm opened more than two million accounts that customers may not have been aware of with the aim of meeting internal sales targets. The matter has sparked weeks of sharp criticism, congressional hearings and the forfeit of tens of millions in bonuses for top executives.

...Shielding soldiers from financial stress has been a priority for lawmakers, and the Justice Department has recently stepped up enforcement actions against banks for taking assets illegally. Banco Santander SA’s U.S. unit agreed to pay $9 million last year over allegations that it improperly confiscated more than 1,000 vehicles from military members, the largest settlement ever obtained in a case involving repossessions of automobiles with delinquent loans.

Wells Fargo-- which was the world’s most valuable bank before the account scandal hurt its stock price-- has branches on eight U.S. military bases, include Fort Bliss in Texas, Georgia’s Fort Benning, Fort Dix in New Jersey and Hill Air Force Base in Utah. On its website, the bank says it has “a history of making banking easier for our servicemen and servicewomen.”

The bank has previously been accused of not adhering to the military lending law, which Congress approved decades ago to protect soldiers from legal hassles while they’re on active duty. Wells Fargo agreed to pay $28 million along with four other mortgage servicers that were fined for improper home foreclosures, according to a statement issued by the Justice Department last year. It didn’t admit or deny the allegations.
By the end of the hearing, Ranking Member Maxine Waters had come to the conclusion that Wells Fargo is too big to manage effectively and has to be broken up. I suspect that most of the Democrats-- though probably few of the corrupt New Dems on the committee like Himes and Delaney-- agree. Here's how she kicked off the serious (non-Republican) part of the hearing:

Before Hensarling convened his committee yesterday, David Cay Johnston published a post at HuffPo calling for bankster imprisonment. I agree with him, and I feel members of Congress like Jeb Henslarling, Sean Duffy, Bruce Poliquin, Frank Guinta, Roger Williams, Robert Pittinger, Ann Wagner, et al deserve a life behind bars even more than the banksters. They, after all, swore an oath and are supposed to be working for the public good. Johnston's point was that "our government continues to look the other way as many top bankers thumb their noses at fraud laws. There is a term," he wrote, "for the criminality that infects our biggest banks and damages the economy, and there is a solution to this problem. But there is also an obstacle. The term is “control fraud.” That’s when executives use their control of a corporation to run frauds because they make much more money that way."
President Obama has explained away his failure to prosecute Wall Street crooks by saying what they did was wrong, but not illegal. Eric Holder, when he was attorney general, lied again and again, saying that many prosecutions were underway even though an inspector general’s report showed he knew that was not so.

We need a government that will prosecute corrupt bankers without fear or favor-- and the top candidate at the moment should be Stumpf, who wants us to believe that low-level bank workers were the problem, not top executives.

No one can seriously believe that the 5,300 low-level employees Wells Fargo fired were rogues. They did what top management didn’t just order, but hounded them to do for years, as E. Scott Reckard reported in the Los Angeles Times in 2013. His exposé cited the daily dread experienced by Wells Fargo branch manager Rita Murillo each time her phone rang:

Regional bosses required hourly conferences on her Florida branch's progress toward daily quotas for opening accounts and selling customers extras, such as overdraft protection. Employees who lagged behind had to stay late and work weekends to meet goals, Murillo said.

American Banker’s Kate Berry described a “cutthroat sales culture,” with 20 different Wells Fargo management reports tracking cross-sales, even as no one in upper management was held accountable for the frauds then committed by low-level employees told to do the impossible or lose their jobs.

Wells Fargo, [former bank regulator and now Professor William K.] Black told me last week, is “a clear example of control fraud. It was the defining policy of Wells Fargo. Indeed, it was the defining policy of Norwest before it acquired Wells Fargo.”

...Wells Fargo illustrates what I have long written about: a major breakdown of ethics at the top of American society, especially in accounting and law. A good illustration of this is what N. Gregory Mankiw, the Harvard economics professor who was President George W Bush’s top economic advisor, says about bankers who loot the banks they control.

Mankiw says we should expect bankers to be thieves. Seriously. Here is what he told a 1993 Brookings Institution conference on the S&L scandals and all the prosecutions resulting from Black’s diligence: "Given the incentives that regulators set up, it would be irrational for operators of the savings and loans not to loot."

Black derides this as “Mankiw morality,” and says government is failing in its duty to enforce the laws against corrupt bankers.

Mankiw is not alone in looking at everything and anything but crime and lack of punishment. Consider how Priyank Gandhi, an assistant professor of finance at the University of Notre Dame, described the issues right after the Senate hearings in a commentary for CNBC:
If the [Wells Fargo] fraud is not more widespread than it currently appears, and if further investigation does not reveal any new material facts, I would think that in time, pessimism about the bank will peak, the share price will stabilize (or dare I say even rebound), and there will be no serious repercussions or consequences from the scandal.
The focus should not be on the stock price, but on integrity.

For more than a quarter of a century the news has been filled with tales of top bankers who abused their positions of trust to cheat, lie and steal, including all the mortgage securities fraud that sank the economy in 2008.

Congress created the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to find out how the 2008 economic collapsed happened. The commission laid it all out in detail in a report that no one has ever shown contains a single error. It is a story of corrupt bankers, dishonest brokers and liars everywhere-- as well as sightless sheriffs who saw the evidence of criminality and did nothing.

Congress threw the report into the trash. It did nothing to enforce the law, only to enact new rules that bankers continue to flout.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Lester Holt Told the First Big Lie-- A Guest Post By Sam Husseini


Before the faceoff between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, many were pleading that Lester Holt, the NBC anchor and moderator Monday night, to be a “fact checker.”

Any delusions in that regard should have been dashed right away as he perpetrated a root falsehood at the very start of the event.

Holt claimed that the event was “sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. The commission drafted tonight’s format, and the rules have been agreed to by the campaigns.”

While the CPD certainly controls much of the event, it’s not a “nonpartisan” organization at all. It’s about as far from nonpartisan as you can get. It’s totally bipartisan. It’s a creation of the Democratic and Republican parties designed to solidify their dominance over the public.

Its origins are in an agreement “Memorandum of Agreement on Presidential Candidate Joint Appearances” from 1985 signed by Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., then Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Paul G. Kirk Jr., then Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The two would go on to head the CPD.

But that original agreement didn’t even have the word “debates” in it. This Commission is the mechanism by which the Democratic and Republican parties came together to push aside the League of Women Voters, which had organized presidential debates before 1988. It was to make sure that the campaigns, not some independent entity, would decide on moderators, on formats-- and to critically exclude other participants unless both sides agreed. They simply wanted to ensure “televised joint appearances”-- which became emblematic of a pretense of democratic discourse.

Holt’s fabrication-- he can’t possibly be ignorant of this-- is really a root problem of our politics. All the lies and spin from Clinton and Trump largely manifest themselves because each side excuses them because “the other” is worse. That is, the very “bipartisan” structure of our elections is in large part responsible for the dynamics we’re seeing.

Normally decent people ignore all of Clinton’s deceptions because they loathe Trump and normally decent people excuse Trump’s fabrications because they detest Clinton. That’s why candidates with incredibly high un-favorability ratings-- as Clinton and Trump famously have-- may still have millions voting for them, like two crumbling buildings help up by each other.

And the voters have “nowhere else to go” because they are in effect held prisoners by fear. Millions of people who might agree with other candidates-- Jill Stein of the Green Party or Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson or the Constitution party or socialist parties-- do not actually coalesce around those candidates because they fear helping Trump or Clinton. This mindset probably prevents stronger challengers to the duopoly from ever coming forward in the first place.

There are two ways out of this that I see:

* Pollsters: Pollsters can find ways of finding out what the public actually wants. That is, every tracking poll today has the same format-- some minor variation of “if the next election for president were held today, with Donald Trump as the Republican candidate, Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate, Gary Johnson the Libertarian candidate, and Jill Stein the Green Party candidate, for whom would you vote?” (NBC/Wall Street Journal)

What pollsters are not doing is asking people who they actually want to be president. That is, there are lots of people who want Johnson or Stein, but feel like they have to vote for Clinton or Trump to stop the other. So while media outlets claim that Gary Johnson is at 8 percent in “the polls” and Jill Stein is at 3 percent in the “opinion polls”-- that’s not accurate. They are not opinion polls. Polls are not gauging the actual views and beliefs of the public. They are ostensibly predicting a future event. But they are molding that reality as we go along. Most brazenly because the CPD has set 15 percent in these polls as the criteria for exclusion.

USA Today, in a refreshing departure from usual polling, recently found that 76 percent of the public want Stein and Johnson in the debates. And here’s the kicker: When reformers suggested that someone should be included in the debates if a majority wanted them in, the heads of the Commission rejected the effort. Paul Kirk, now co-chairman emeritus of the CPD, said: “It’s a matter of entertainment vs. the serious question of who would you prefer to be president of the United States.” But that’s the problem: The polls the CPD is relying on don’t actually ask the public who they prefer to be president. We could have a “third party” candidate with plurality support and we wouldn’t know it because the question to gauge that isn’t asked of the public.

Obvious recommendation: Pollsters should actually have an interest in the opinions of the public and ask them who they prefer to be president.

* Voters Can Unite: The other way out of this seemingly perpetual duopoly bind is that voters come together. That’s what I outline at People who feel compelled to vote for Clinton because they detest Trump can team up with their opposite number. This requires real work. Instead of stopping Trump by voting for Clinton, a progressive can stop Trump by taking a vote away from him.

That is, instead of a husband and wife who are actually unhappy with both Clinton and Trump casting votes that in effect cancel out each other-- one voting for Trump and the other for Clinton-- they can both vote for candidates they actually prefer. Each would be free to vote their preference-- Johnson, Stein, whoever.

The progressive would undermine Trump not by voting for a candidate they don’t trust-- Clinton-- but more skillfully: By taking a vote away from Trump. The conservative would not feel they have to suffer the indignity of voting for a candidate that’s distasteful-- Trump-- they would instead succeed in depriving Clinton of a vote.

It’s that kind of outside the box thinking that’s going to get us out of the binds that the ever duplicitous duopoly attempt to impose on the citizenry.

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Putin Would Be A Much Worse Problem For Trump Than Adderall Or Even Cocaine


A NYTimes intrepid team of reporters-- Patrick Healy, Ashley Parker and the indefatigable Maggie Haberman-- talked to a gaggle of Trump advisors who are tiptoeing through the mine-field of getting a little teensy-weensy pivot out of Trump about how he approaches debates. "A delicate approach to the candidate," they wrote, "is now in the works. Before his advisers can shape Mr. Trump’s performance for the next debate, on Oct. 9 in St. Louis-- which, contrary to speculation, he does plan to attend, a top aide said — they need to convince him that he can do better than he did in the first one and that only a disciplined, strategic attack can damage Mrs. Clinton with voters." No one wanted to mention Trump's obvious drug problem and how it manifested itself Monday night but, they reported that "even as Mr. Trump’s advisers publicly backed him on Tuesday and praised his debate performance, they were privately awash in second-guessing about why he stopped attacking Mrs. Clinton on trade and character issues and instead grew erratic, impatient and subdued as the night went on. In interviews, seven campaign aides and advisers, most of whom sought anonymity to speak candidly, expressed frustration and discouragement over their candidate’s performance Monday night."

But Trump may have bigger problems than his horrible demeanor or an addiction to cocaine dating back to his man-about-town Studio 54 days. Most Americans are unaware of Trump's close ties to Russia but they have told pollsters that that would be a deal breaker. A national post-convention poll from the very end of July shows that "the Vladimir Putin/Russia issue has the potential to cause Donald Trump a lot of problems in the weeks ahead. Only 7% of Americans view Putin favorably to 69% with a negative opinion and only 14% see Russia as a whole favorably to 52% with a negative view. By a 47 point margin-- 5% more likely, 52% less likely-- voters say they're less likely to vote for a candidate if it's perceived Russia is interfering in the election to try to help them. And by a 26 point margin-- 9% more likely, 35% less likely-- they're less likely to vote for a candidate seen as being friendly toward Russia. If Democrats can effectively leverage this issue in the weeks ahead it has the potential to help turn this into a more lopsided race."

Watch Olbermann-- the tip of the spear-- up top and look at the independent ad that started running today at the bottom. Many people claim-- and with good reason-- that Trump is willing to take a pummeling for not releasing his tax returns because they would disprove his assurances that he has no binding ties to Russia. Even the ultra-conservative Arizona Republic cited Trump's Russia/Putin problem when they endorsed Clinton this week, the first time they've endorsed a Democrat since their founding in 1890!
Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, a thug who has made it clear he wants to expand Russia’s international footprint.

Trump suggested Russia engage in espionage against Hillary Clinton-- an outrageous statement that he later insisted was meant in jest.

Michael Isikoff reported a few days ago that U.S. intelligence officials are trying to determine if a Trump campaign official, Carter Page, has promised close Putin cronies Igor Diveykin and Igor Sechin, that if Trump is elected president he will lift U.S. economic sanctions. That would be illegal.
The activities of Trump adviser Carter Page, who has extensive business interests in Russia, have been discussed with senior members of Congress during recent briefings about suspected efforts by Moscow to influence the presidential election, the sources said. After one of those briefings, Senate minority leader Harry Reid wrote FBI Director James Comey, citing reports of meetings between a Trump adviser (a reference to Page) and “high ranking sanctioned individuals” in Moscow over the summer as evidence of “significant and disturbing ties” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin that needed to be investigated by the bureau.

Some of those briefed were “taken aback” when they learned about Page’s contacts in Moscow, viewing them as a possible back channel to the Russians that could undercut U.S. foreign policy, said a congressional source familiar with the briefings but who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. The source added that U.S. officials in the briefings indicated that intelligence reports about the adviser’s talks with senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin were being “actively monitored and investigated.”

...Page came to the attention of officials at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow several years ago when he showed up in the Russian capital during several business trips and made provocative public comments critical of U.S. policy and sympathetic to Putin. “He was pretty much a brazen apologist for anything Moscow did,” said one U.S. official who served in Russia at the time.

He hasn’t been shy about expressing those views in the U.S. as well. Last March, shorty after he was named by Trump as one of his advisers, Page told Bloomberg News he had been an adviser to, and investor in, Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas company. He then blamed Obama administration sanctions-- imposed as a response to the Russian annexation of Crimea-- for driving down the company’s stock. “So many people who I know and have worked with have been so adversely affected by the sanctions policy,” Page said in the interview. “There’s a lot of excitement in terms of the possibilities for creating a better situation.”

Page showed up again in Moscow in early July, just two weeks before the Republican National Convention formally nominated Trump for president, and once again criticized U.S. policy. Speaking at a commencement address for the New Economic School, an institution funded in part by major Russian oligarchs close to Putin, Page asserted that “Washington and other West capitals” had impeded progress in Russia “through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change.”

Hillary's campaign hasn't really taken up the Putin issue in a big way yet, but this ad above from some of her allies, meant for millennial voters and released today, is pretty strong tea:

Meanwhile, it looks like Putin's authoritarian regime wasn't the only one where Trump was sniffing around looking to make some money for himself irrespective of American policy, American interests and-- in this case-- American law. Cuban-American Republicans in Florida aren't likely to be too happy about this one. I wonder what Trump-supporting outliers Mario Diaz-Balart and Marco Rubio will say when they read Kurt Eichenwald's Newsweek story that starts by asserting that Trump "secretly conducted business in communist Cuba during Fidel Castro’s presidency despite strict American trade bans that made such undertakings illegal."

Documents show that the Trump company spent a minimum of $68,000 for its 1998 foray into Cuba at a time when the corporate expenditure of even a penny in the Caribbean country was prohibited without U.S. government approval. But the company did not spend the money directly. Instead, with Trump’s knowledge, executives funneled the cash for the Cuba trip through an American consulting firm called Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corporation. Once the business consultants traveled to the island and incurred the expenses for the venture, Seven Arrows instructed senior officers with Trump’s company-- then called Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts-- how to make it appear legal by linking it after-the-fact to a charitable effort.

The payment by Trump Hotels came just before the New York business mogul launched his first bid for the White House, seeking the nomination of the Reform Party. On his first day of the campaign, he traveled to Miami where he spoke to a group of Cuban-Americans, a critical voting bloc in the swing state. Trump vowed to maintain the embargo and never spend his or his companies’ money in Cuba until Fidel Castro was removed from power.

He did not disclose that, seven months earlier, Trump Hotels already had reimbursed its consultants for the money they spent on their secret business trip to Havana.

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How about MISTER Piggy? How Trump Uses Expensive Doctors To Make Himself Look Less Porcine


By now, everyone knows the story of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado-- first explained at this blog in last June-- but the way Trump treated her was not unique to his attitude-- and actions-- towards women he did business with. He has a long, ugly history of discriminating against women who he didn't judge as attractive enough. This morning the L.A. Times reported that when Trump visited his golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes "the club’s managers went on alert. They scheduled the young, thin, pretty women on staff to work the clubhouse restaurant-- because when Trump saw less-attractive women working at his club, according to court records, he wanted them fired... Employees said several women quit or were fired because they were perceived as unattractive." Employees and ex-employees are still afraid to speak on the record about their experiences in fear of being sued by the suit-happy Trump, whose lawyers routinely terrorize anyone and everyone who tells the truth about him.
In their sworn declarations, some employees described how Trump, during his stays in Southern California, made inappropriate and patronizing statements to the women working for him.

On one visit, Trump saw “a young, attractive hostess working named Nicole ... and directed that she be brought to a place where he was meeting with a group of men,” former Trump restaurant manager Charles West said in his declaration.

“After this woman had been presented to him, Mr. Trump said to his guests something like, 'See, you don't have to go to Hollywood to find beautiful women,'” West said. “He also turned to Nicole and asked her, ‘Do you like Jewish men?’"

...Female employees said they faced additional pressures.

Strozier, the former catering director, said Vincent Stellio-- a former Trump bodyguard who had risen to become a Trump Organization vice president-- approached her in 2003 about an employee that Strozier thought was talented.

Stellio wanted the employee fired because she was overweight, Strozier said in her legal filing.

"Mr. Stellio told me to do this because 'Mr. Trump doesn't like fat people' and that he would not like seeing [the employee] when he was on the premises,” wrote Strozier, who said she refused the request. (Stellio died in 2010.)

A year later, Mike van der Goes-- a golf pro who had been promoted to be Trump National’s general manager-- made a similar request to fire the same overweight employee, Strozier said.

“Mr. van der Goes told me that he wanted me to do this because of [the employee's] appearance and the fact that Mr. Trump didn't like people that looked like her,” Strozier wrote.

When Strozier protested, Van der Goes returned a week later “and announced he had a plan of hiding [the employee] whenever Mr. Trump was on the premises,” Strozier wrote.

West, who worked as a restaurant manager at the club until 2008, wrote that Van der Goes ordered him “to hire young, attractive women to be hostesses.” West also said Van der Goes insisted that he “would need to meet all such job applicants first to determine if they were sufficiently pretty."
Even Trump supporters find his behavior towards women repulsive

Conservative Democrat Claire McCaskill (MO) tried turning the tables on Trump Wednesday with some reverse fat shaming, jokingly asking for "a public daily weigh-in" for the obese Trump. At the debate Monday he may have made fun of some unnamed 400 pound hacker on a bed he knows-- a governor?-- but when Trump was barking about how the extremely beautiful and dignified Alicia Mercado was too fat and ate too much, he was getting cosmetic surgery done regularly to make himself appear younger and less of a fat slob on a Chris Christie level of rotundity.

Remember the big commotion when child molester Mark Foley went to some Trumpist hate rally in Ft Lauderdale, Florida in August and sat right behind Trump? The two of them told the media afterwards that they are dear old friends. Wonder how that happened? Aside from the two both being involved with Palm Beach real estate, Trump's cosmetic surgeon was celebrated dermatologist-to-the-rich-and-famous Layne Nisenbaum of Island Dermatology and Laser in Palm Beach, Foley's long time lover. A top executive at the firm told us that Trump used Nisenbaum for a procedure called the Venus Freeze, which he described as a non-invasive anti-aging treatment that is meant to "reduce circumference," while improving cellulite, controlling weight, tightening skin and reducing wrinkles. "He was also getting botox injections every 6 to 8 months, as well as laser resurfacing and he had artificial fat filler under his lips to make his mouth droop less and make his multiple chins less apparent," the petrified-of-being-sued former executive at the now shuttered company told us under condition of strict anonymity.

UPDATE: It's Ted Lieu's District

At the very end of Ted Lieu's district, which starts up north in Agoura Hills and Malibu, is Rancho Palos Verdes and at the end of Rancho Palos Verdes is the Trump National Golf Club (formerly Ocean Trails Golf Club). There's a great view of Catalina Island and there should be-- it was the most expensive golf course ever constructed. As with every property Trump ever got involved with, he was quickly suing everyone in sight, including the very Republican city of Rancho Palos Verdes (for $100 million). One city official, speaking anonymously-- and in fear of being sued by... guess who-- told me that the "worst thing to have ever happened to this city was Donald Trump. We were due to get the PGA Grand Slam until he started spouting all his racist crap."

Ted Lieu isn't a fan of Trump either. A few minutes ago, he told us that "Trump's fat shaming, racist comments about Ms. Alicia Machado are categorically deplorable. Trump's latest attack of a private citizen sadly joins a laundry list of venal verbal assaults that he has made during his campaign for the highest office in the land. By attacking an Indiana judge, a Gold Star family, and now Ms. Machado, Trump has clearly demonstrated that the content of his character is severely lacking and that he has no business running for President, let alone actually serving in the Oval Office. This is further evidence that, in his heart, Donald Trump is a cruel person." Congressman Lieu is voting for Hillary Clinton.

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Congress Overrides Obama Veto; 9/11 Families Can Sue Saudi Officials — and Associated U.S. Companies?


President Barack Obama and Saudi Arabia's King Salman walk together to a meeting at Erga Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster (source)

by Gaius Publius

This story is straight-forward but has two interesting wrinkles. The House and Senate recently (and unanimously) passed a bill that drills a loophole into the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and allows victims of terrorism to sue foreign sponsors of attacks on U.S. soil.

The families of 9/11 victims had pushed hard for it. Most congressional Democrats and Republicans were united in supporting it. Only the executive branch, meaning President Obama, was opposed (more on that in a moment). So the bill passed ... and Obama vetoed it.

The Senate has now overridden his veto, 97–1 (only Harry Reid opposed; two not voting), quickly followed by the House override (348–77).

Here's the write-up via The Hill:
Senate overrides Obama 9/11 veto in overwhelming vote

The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia.

The 97-1 vote marks the first time the Senate has mustered enough support to overrule Obama’s veto pen.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was the sole vote to sustain Obama’s veto. Not a single Democrat came to the Senate floor before the vote to argue in favor of Obama’s position. ...

The White House lashed out at the Senate vote, calling it "embarrassing."

“I would venture to say that this is the single most embarrassing thing that the United States Senate has done, possibly, since 1983,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One.
 Here's what the legislation (acronym: JASTA) would do:
The legislation ... was crafted primarily at the urging of the families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks who want to sue Saudi Arabian officials if they are found to have links to the hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Which means the Saudis, naturally, were opposed:
The Saudi Embassy and a high-priced team of lobbyists it hired waged an intense campaign to persuade lawmakers to sustain the override, but it came too late.
So there's money involved, and given the wealth of the Saudis, a lot of it. Still, not enough to "persuade" either house of Congress to support the president's veto.

The Saudi government's opposition is easy to understand — they don't want to be sued for ginning up anti-U.S. terrorism while selling us oil. But what about Obama's opposition?

Obama's Opposition

I'll give you two data points, in the form of administration quotes, that offer an explanation for Obama's veto. First, Obama says he doesn't want to put what's been characterized as "U.S. military, intelligence and foreign service personnel [and] U.S. government assets" at risk. The Hill again:
Obama warned in a veto message to the Senate last week that the bill would improperly give legal plaintiffs and the courts authority over complex and sensitive questions of state-sponsored terrorism.

He also cautioned that it would undermine protections for U.S. military, intelligence and foreign service personnel serving overseas, as well as possibly subject U.S. government assets to seizure. ...

“The consequences of JASTA [the bill] could be devastating to the Department of Defense and its service members — and there is no doubt that the consequences could be equally significant for our foreign affairs and intelligence communities,” [Obama] wrote in the letter, which was later circulated by a public affairs company working for the embassy of Saudi Arabia.
From the last sentence, you can see that the Saudis and Obama are working together on this. No surprise. A little more on what Obama says he fears, via USA Today:
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, would provide an exception to the doctrine of "sovereign immunity," which holds that one country can't be sued in another country's courts. ...

The White House has argued that the bill would prompt other nations to retaliate, stripping the immunity the United States enjoys in other parts of the world. "And no country has more to lose, in the context of those exceptions, than the United States of America..." Earnest said.
Stripping the U.S. of immunity may not be bad. After all, fear of punishment has deterred many destructive deeds, and internationally, we're no angels. But John Cornyn, a sponsor of the bill, argues that this mischaracterizes it, saying the bill "only targets foreign governments who sponsor terrorist attacks on American soil, plain and simple."

If so, is President Obama protecting the U.S., or protecting the Saudis? And if just the latter, why? (I can think of several reasons — for example, America's determined dependence on oil, which ties us to that murderous regime; also, a certain future library and foundation that need funding, plus a regime that likes to contribute to foundations. Among others.)

Second, there's this intriguing bit from an earlier, pre-veto write-up by Reuters:
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters the president will veto Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act within the constitutionally mandated 10-day window, which ends Friday evening.

The Obama administration opposed the bill on grounds that other countries could use the law as an excuse to sue U.S. diplomats, service members or companies.
Notice that Josh Earnest was implicitly quoted in the second paragraph above. "Or companies"? Presumably U.S. companies, based on the construction of the sentence. So how could U.S. companies be sued if the "9/11 families" sued the Saudi government? And which ones?

Did U.S. Companies Help the 9/11 Hijackers?

In the hunt for that information, I found this, from Zero Hedge (emphasis in original):
Unleash the revisionist history. Congress released on Friday a long-classified report exploring the alleged ties of the Saudi Arabian government to the 9/11 hijackers.

The missing 28 pages from the 9/11 report begins as follows:
"While in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government..."
The "28 pages," the secret document was part of a 2002 congressional investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks and has been classified since the report's completion. As CNN reports, former Sen. Bob Graham, who chaired the committee that carried out the investigation and has been pushing the White House to release the pages, said Thursday he was "very pleased" that the documents would be released.

The pages, sent to Congress by the Obama administration, have been the subject of much speculation over what they might reveal about the Saudi government's involvement in the attacks masterminded by terrorist Osama bin Laden when he led al-Qaeda.The pages were used by the 9/11 Commission as part of its investigation into the intelligence failures leading up to the attacks.

A telephone number found in the phone book of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida, who was captured in Pakistan in March 2002, was for an Aspen, Colo., corporation that managed the "affairs of the Colorado residence of the Saudi Ambassador Bandar," the documents show.
Fascinating. Almost ascends to the level of John LeCarré, but with even larger implications. This much very high level protection of the Saudi government and its ruling family (after all, it's Obama doing the protecting) must mean there's something big, something very high level, to protect.

The 9/11 story is certainly not dead. Thanks to the 9/11 families, we're getting a little bit closer to knowing what actually happened.


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Today's House Financial Services Committee Meeting Will Demonstrate Why Not All Democrats Measure Up


Sleaze bag Sean Duffy is chair of the Financial Services' Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations-- Wells Fargo singled him out for this year's biggest bribe. Wonder why!

Today the most corrupted corner of Congress, the House Financial Services Committee, gets to "question" crooked Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, who Elizabeth Warren made mince-meat out of last week. Don't expect too many serious holding feet to the fire moments today. Members request getting onto the House Financial Services Committee primarily to be in position to be on the receiving end of the most gigantic flow of bribes in the history of Congress. Since 1990 the Financial Sector has doled out $2,375,923,205 in bribes to members of Congress and candidates for Congress. That's 2.3 BILLION dollars in flat-out bribes. And that's not because banksters are civic-minded! The surest way to get on that gravy train is to get on the House Financial Services Committee. Is it any wonder there is so little oversight of Wall Street predators?

The OpenSecrets chart above-- which only covers 2015-16-- shows the 25 Members of the House who have solicited and taken the most in bribery from the banksters. Shockingly-- or, alas, maybe not-- 13 of the most corrupt are members of the committee that's supposed to be keeping the banksters from ripping off the country, 10 typically crooked Republicans and the 3 most corrupt New Dems in Washington: Patrick Murphy (FL), Kirsten Sinema (AZ) and Jim Himes (CT). Some in Washington joke that when the House Financial Services Committee meets there's quorum for a meeting of the Wall Street owned and operated New Dems, the Republican wing of the Democratic Party.

Thanks to Warren's very public grilling-- flambé-ing?-- of Stumpf last week, on Tuesday Wells Fargo's board of directors announced that they are clawing back $41 million in stock options from the crooked CEO and $19 million from the retired bankster who was directly responsible for the scandal, Carrie Tolstedt. Neither gets a bonus this year and Tolstedt gets no golden parachute severance package. The board also hired a law firm to do an independent investigation. The Labor Department has also launched an investigation of its own. What about the SEC and the Justice Department. What are they waiting for? Sworn affidavits of guilt from Stumpf, Tolstedt and the other top brass at Wells Fargo who ordered the theft of millions of dollars from the bank's customers to boost their annual bonuses?

But who at tomorrow's hearings can we expect any serious oversight from? Certainly not from one of the biggest crooks on the committee of all, Sean Duffy, the head of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Duffy took more in bribes from Wells Fargo this cycle than any other member of the committee-- $15,000 this year alone! His Democratic opponent this year back in Wisconsin's 7th CD, Mary Hoeft, issued a statement to residents of northwest Wisconsin saying that "Sean Duffy, chair of a congressional banking oversight subcommittee, accepted more than $400,000 in political contributions from bankers to use against me in this campaign. At the very least, Sean should have acknowledged the ethical dilemma he faced when accepting money from the bankers he oversees. That doesn't appear to be the case. He is doubling down on his efforts to cripple the Consumer's Financial Protection Bureau, the very agency designed by Elizabeth Warren and others to make sure Big Banks are never able to bring our economy to its knees again--an economy where 7 million Americans lost their homes to bankruptcy." (You can contribute to Mary's campaign to replace Duffy here.)

Will Murphy even show up?
All the Republicans on the committee are Wall Street stooges-- them! They will be defending Wall Street with all their might today-- pushing Wall Street's #1 agenda item of destroying the CFPB-- while pretending to be as stern with Strumpf as they sometimes make believe they are with Drumpf. The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, a notorious criminal from Texas named Jeb Hensarling, has taken more in Wall Street bribes than anyone else currently serving in the House other than Speaker Ryan ($7,202,670 for Hensarling and $8,237,251 for the Beltway media's esteemed Speaker). Other members of the Committee you can be sure will either be licking Strumpf's posterior today or laying low are Ed Royce (R-CA- $6,601,798), Jim Himes (New Dem-CT- $5,374,477), Scott Garrett (R-NJ- $4,874,049), Peter Roskam (R-IL- $4,028,343), Steve Stivers (R-OH- $4,026,487), Vice-Chair Patrick McHenry (R-NC- $3,760,861), Patrick Murphy (New Dem-FL- $3,536,090), and Randy Neugebauer (R-TX-$3,466,470). Other shameless Wall Street hatchet men on the committee include Peter King (R-NY- $2,672,724), Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO- $2,275,065), and Frank Lucas (R-OK- $2,066,077).

So who might be worth listening to at the hearings today? Maxine Waters (CA), the ranking Democrat on the committee will probably scorch Wells Fargo and I'd hope that Mike Capuano (MA) and Keith Ellison (MN) get some time. There aren't any other members in that fetid cesspool worth listening to.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Who Wants To Double Down On The Catastrophically Failed War On Drugs?


Monday we learned exactly who. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy scheduled a debate on Charlie Dent's Dangerous Synthetic Drug Control Act (H.R. 3537) for Monday. It puts 22 synthetic compounds-- including 11 used to create synthetic marijuana (K2 or Spice)-- on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), forcing mandatory minimum sentences on violators. Proponents of the legislation claim it's meant to combat drug abuse. The vote was 258-101 but it was an interesting breakdown. Most Republicans voted YES and most Democrats voted NO, but that doesn't really tell the story at all. McCarthy and Dent led 192 Republicans to back it and they were joined by 66 mostly right-wing Democrats from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party-- Blue Dogs like Gwen Graham (FL), Henry Cuellar (TX), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), Jim Cooper (TN), and Brad Ashford (NE) and New Dems like Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL), Ann Kuster (NH), Patrick Murphy (FL), Gerald Connolly (VA), John Delaney (MD), Jim Himes (CT), Scott Peters (CA), Denny Heck (WA) and drugged up mess Pete Aguilar (CA). Meanwhile, the House Liberty Caucus led the opposition and 20 Republicans joined 81 Democrats in voting against the bill. 72 members-- 33 Republicans and 39 Democrats-- weren't able to vote on the bill at all, many because of air traffic delays.

Most, though not all of the progressives joined Pelosi in voting NO, including Raul Grijalva (AZ), Barbara Lee (CA), Matt Cartwright (PA), Mark Pocan (WI), Judy Chu (CA), Donna Edwards (MD), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ), John Conyers (MI), Mike Honda (CA), and John Lewis (GA). After the vote, Mark Pocan of Madison told us why he and many of his colleagues opposed the legislation. "This bill significantly expands mandatory minimum sentences. We are talking about ruining people’s lives with 20 year mandatory sentences without really thinking through the real issues of the war on drugs. Many of us in Washington are desperately trying to find ways to reform our criminal justice system and rectify the devastating effects of drug addiction, and adding these synthetic drugs as Schedule I is missing the larger point."

Similarly, Donna Edwards told us she sees the bill as "a sad step backwards at a time that the nation should be focused on reforms that roll back the flawed policies of mandatory minimum sentencing that contributed to mass incarceration. The bill adds 22 synthetic drugs to the federal schedule that could result in the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences. The problem of drug abuse that is so destructive to families and communities must be met with smart, fair, and balanced policies that invest in treatment rather than more incarceration."

The companion bill in the Senate was proposed by noted anti-civil libertarians Chuck Grassley and Chuck Schumer. Among the House Republicans more enlightened about how the criminal justice system is evolving than the very involved Schumer, not to mention Grassley, were pretty far right members of Congress like Dave Brat (VA), Tim Huelskamp (KS), Jason Chaffetz (UT), Mark Sanford (SC), Barry Loudermilk (GA), Mick Mulvaney (SC), Justin Amash (MI), Tom McClintock (CA), Raul Labrador (ID), Scott Garrett (NJ) and Mo Brooks (AL), not exactly "bleeding heart liberals."

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