It’s been a rough couple of days. I had a migraine yesterday, my neck and shoulder are locked in a painful spasm (which hardly EVER happens, I might add), and I’m having a flareup of my DV. That’s why there were so few posts up yesterday. Fortunately, my physiatrist had a cancellation, so relief is at hand later today.
Many years ago, I developed this theory, and called it Madrak’s Law of Similarity. The basis was this: When you sing in the shower, you only hear yourself sing the right notes, not the wrong ones.
Last night, I was explaining this to Make It Plain’s Mark Thompson when I was on his show. He’d asked me what I thought of Obama’s State of the Union address, so first I had to explain Madrak’s Law of Similarities.
“So when certain people listen to Obama, they only hear the parts that sound like he’s a progressive. They literally tune out the rest,” I said. (I noted that Obama put in a line about Social Security cuts that wasn’t in the version released to the public.)
You’re dating someone who’s a lying bastard, yet you tell yourself he loves you? Madrak’s Law of Similiarities! Useful, yes?
Happy Valentine’s Day!
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
David Dayen on why accountability for Wall Street is still a sick joke:
A year ago, President Obama gestured toward the first lady’s box at the State of the Union address at Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York. Schneiderman had just agreed to co-chair the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities working group, an initiative between state and federal law enforcement officials and bank regulators, designed to investigate and prosecute fraudulent Wall Street activity that led to both the creation of the housing bubble and its collapse. In exchange, Schneiderman dropped his objections to a settlement over some of the banks’ fraudulent post-crash activity, particularly around fraud in foreclosure processing.
Recent profiles of this event have called last night’s State of the Union the “anniversary” of the formation of the working group. But you can’t really have an anniversary of something that never existed in the first place. There never was a Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities working group, never a so-called task force dedicated to ferreting out Wall Street fraud — the deceptive origination of mortgage loans, sale of worthless mortgage-backed securities for huge sums, and subsequent unloading of toxic debt to unsuspecting buyers. The working group fails to exist as a tangible entity to this day. What does exist is the same years-old Financial Fraud Enforcement Group that serves as a conduit for press releases about investigative actions already in progress.
Schneiderman’s “task force” (a generous appellation) was merely a politically motivated shell organization grafted onto that public relations strategy. This was evident almost from the moment of the announcement, but the coalition of self-proclaimed bank accountability advocates, who had backed the administration into a corner over the lack of prosecutions, decided to align with Schneiderman and his kabuki task force, losing whatever leverage they may have had. If those same groups who feel “betrayed” and “lied to” had stayed on the outside and shamed those in power into action, we would probably have more accountability today.
Within a few months of the State of the Union announcement, a hearing in the House Financial Services Committee confirmed the essentially invisible nature of the task force. Maxine Waters, then a senior member of the committee and now the Democratic ranking member, asked Robert Khuzami, then the head of enforcement for the Securities and Exchange Commission, whether the entity had sufficient resources to investigate. Khuzami replied that the agencies involved – the SEC, the New York AG’s office and the Department of Justice – were supplying the resources. No new dollars were dedicated to the effort. When Waters asked when the task force would hire an executive director, Khuzami said they hired a “coordinator” to facilitate inter-agency activity. Specifically, he uttered this incriminating evidence: “We hired a coordinator, but most of the investigative work being done here is not really being done by a staff that belongs to the task force, it’s being done by the individual investigative groups that make up the task force.”
This is the key point. There are no offices, no phones and no staff dedicated to the non-task force. Two of the five co-chairs have left government. What “investigators” there are from the task force are nothing more than liaisons to the independent agencies doing their own independent investigations. In the rare event that these agencies file an actual lawsuit or enforcement action, the un-task force merely puts out a statement taking credit for it. Take a look at this in action at the website for the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, the federal umbrella group “investigating” financial fraud. It’s little more than a press release factory, and no indictment, conviction or settlement is too small. The site takes credit for cracking down on Ponzi schemes, insider trading, tax evasion, racketeering, violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (!) and a host of other crimes that have precisely nothing to do with the financial crisis. To call this a publicity stunt is an insult to publicity stunts.
Go read the rest if you have the stomach for it.
How it pervaded Obama’s State of the Union message:
Wrong, indeed. But on the issue of income inequality, the President’s rhetoric was right across the board–that is, until he actually began unfurling his Grand Plans. That’s when the President’s typical double-speak kicked in.
He promised to curtail corporate profits, but his vision for a new, “high-tech” America seemed to entail turning everything from our highways to our public schools into corporate-owned, public-private partnerships.
Missed that part of the speech? Let’s take a closer look at his lofty language.
“Now at schools like P-TECH in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York public schools and City University of New York and IBM , students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in computers or engineering. We need to give every American student opportunities like this, ” he said.
“Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge, to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. And we’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math, the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.”
In other words, let’s stop teaching to the standardized test–let’s teach straight to IBM’s computer repair manual.
Obama’s proposed public-private partnerships went far beyond public school classrooms. They also include the country’s most essential infrastructure: roads, bridges, rails and even energy grid.
As the President said, “Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire, a country with deteriorating roads and bridges or one with high-speed rail and Internet, high-tech schools, self- healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America — a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina — has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. And that’s the attitude of a lot of companies all around the world.”
Okay, so now we’re bribing the same corporations whose exploitative profits we’ve pledged to better control by giving the U.S. a makeover. But he goes further:
“So, tonight, I propose a “Fix-It-First” program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children,” he said.
Couched as a way to save taxpayers’ money, the President actually just dangled a considerable carrot in front of corporations: construction grants and partial ownership of nearly all of the United States’ infrastructure.
Well, yeah! The Republicans believe they have a right to be in charge, and it doesn’t really matter what the voters want. Obviously, we’re letting the wrong people vote! (h/t Ron.)
Dar Williams and Hugh Blumenfeld with the Christine Lavin song: