TheCenterLane.com

© 2008 – 2019 John T. Burke, Jr.

No Justice For The Wicked

Comments Off on No Justice For The Wicked

Although the drumbeat continues, I remain skeptical as to whether any of the criminals responsible for causing the financial crisis will ever be brought to justice.  In the weeks before President Obama’s Inauguration, the foremost question on my mind was whether the new administration would take the necessary steps to change the culture of corruption on Wall Street:

As we approach the eve of the Obama Administration’s first day, across America the new President’s supporters have visions of “change we can believe in” dancing in their heads.  For some, this change means the long overdue realization of health care reform.  For those active in the Democratic campaigns of 2006, “change” means an end to the Iraq war.  Many Americans are hoping that the new administration will crack down on the unregulated activities on Wall Street that helped bring about the current economic crisis.

On December 15, Stephen Labaton wrote an article for the New York Times, examining the recent failures of the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as the environment at the SEC that facilitates such breakdowns.

At that time, I also focused on the point made in a commentary by Michael Lewis and David Einhorn, which appeared in the January 3 New York Times:

It’s not hard to see why the S.E.C. behaves as it does.  If you work for the enforcement division of the S.E.C. you probably know in the back of your mind, and in the front too, that if you maintain good relations with Wall Street you might soon be paid huge sums of money to be employed by it.

I concluded that piece with a rhetorical question:

Let’s hope our new President, the Congress and others pay serious attention to what Lewis and Einhorn have said.  Cleaning up Wall Street is going to be a dirty job.  Will those responsible for accomplishing this task be up to doing it?

By March 23, 2009, it had become obvious that our new President was more concerned about the “welfare” (pun intended) of the Wall Street banks than the well-being of the American economy.  I began my posting of that date with this statement:

We the people, who voted for Barack Obama, are about to get ripped off by our favorite Hope dealer.

On August 27 of that year, I wrote another piece expressing my disappointment with how things had (not) progressed.  My October 1, 2009 posting focused on the fact that H. David Kotz, Inspector General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, issued two reports, recommending 58 changes to improve the way the agency investigates and enforces violations of securities laws, as a result of the SEC’s failure to investigate the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.  The reports exposed a shocking degree of ineptitude at the SEC.

After the release of the report by bankruptcy examiner Anton Valukas, pinpointing the causes of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, I lamented the fact that the mainstream media hadn’t shown much concern about the matter, despite the terrible fraud exposed in the report.  Nevertheless, by the next day, I was able to highlight some great commentaries on the Valukas Report and I felt optimistic enough to conclude the piece with this thought:

We can only hope that a continued investigation into the Lehman scandal will result in a very bright light directed on those privileged plutocrats who consider themselves above the law.

If only  . . .

By the eve of the mid-term elections, I had an answer to the question I had posed on January 5, 2009 as to whether our new President and Congress would be up to the task of cleaning up Wall Street:

One common theme voiced by many critics of the Obama administration has been its lack of interest in prosecuting those responsible for causing the financial crisis.  Don’t hold your breath waiting for Attorney General Eric Hold-harmless to initiate any criminal proceedings against such noteworthy individuals as Countrywide’s Angelo Mozilo or Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers.  On October 23, Frank Rich of The New York Times mentioned both of those individuals while lamenting the administration’s failure to prosecute the “financial crimes that devastated the nation”:

The Obama administration seems not to have a prosecutorial gene.   It’s shy about calling a fraud a fraud when it occurs in high finance.
*   *   *
Since Obama has neither aggressively pursued the crash’s con men nor compellingly explained how they gamed the system, he sometimes looks as if he’s fronting for the industry even if he’s not.

The special treatment afforded to the perpetrators of the frauds that helped create the financial crisis wasn’t the only gift to Wall Street from the Democratically-controlled White House, Senate and Congress.  The financial “reform” bill was so badly compromised (by the Administration and Senate Democrats, themselves) as it worked its way through the legislative process, that it is now commonly regarded as nothing more than a hoax.

By the close of 2010, I noted that an expanding number of commentators shared my outrage over the likelihood that we would never see any prosecutions result from the crimes that brought about the financial crisis:

A recent article written by former New York Mayor Ed Koch began with the grim observation that no criminal charges have been brought against any of the malefactors responsible for causing the financial crisis:

Looking back on 2010 and the Great Recession, I continue to be enraged by the lack of accountability for those who wrecked our economy and brought the U.S. to its knees.  The shocking truth is that those who did the damage are still in charge.  Many who ran Wall Street before and during the debacle are either still there making millions, if not billions, of dollars, or are in charge of our country’s economic policies which led to the debacle.

Most recently, Matt Taibbi has written another great article for Rolling Stone entitled, “Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?”.  It’s nice to know that the drumbeat for justice continues.  Taibbi’s essay provided a great history of the crisis, with a particular emphasis on how whistleblowers were ignored, just as Harry Markopolos was ignored when (in May of 2000) he tried to alert the SEC to the fact that Bernie Madoff’s hedge fund was a multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme.  Here is a great passage from Matt Taibbi’s essay:

In the past few years, the administration has allocated massive amounts of federal resources to catching wrongdoers — of a certain type.  Last year, the government deported 393,000 people, at a cost of $5 billion.  Since 2007, felony immigration prosecutions along the Mexican border have surged 77 percent; nonfelony prosecutions by 259 percent.  In Ohio last month, a single mother was caught lying about where she lived to put her kids into a better school district; the judge in the case tried to sentence her to 10 days in jail for fraud, declaring that letting her go free would “demean the seriousness” of the offenses.

So there you have it.  Illegal immigrants:  393,000.  Lying moms:  one.  Bankers:  zero.  The math makes sense only because the politics are so obvious.  You want to win elections, you bang on the jailable class. You build prisons and fill them with people for selling dime bags and stealing CD players.  But for stealing a billion dollars?  For fraud that puts a million people into foreclosure?  Pass.  It’s not a crime.  Prison is too harsh.  Get them to say they’re sorry, and move on.  Oh, wait — let’s not even make them say they’re sorry.  That’s too mean; let’s just give them a piece of paper with a government stamp on it, officially clearing them of the need to apologize, and make them pay a fine instead.  But don’t make them pay it out of their own pockets, and don’t ask them to give back the money they stole. In fact, let them profit from their collective crimes, to the tune of a record $135 billion in pay and benefits last year.  What’s next?  Taxpayer-funded massages for every Wall Street executive guilty of fraud?

Wouldn’t it be nice if public opinion meant more to the Obama administration than campaign contributions from Wall Street banksters?




2009 Jackass Of The Year Award

Comments Off on 2009 Jackass Of The Year Award

December 31, 2009

Well, it’s that time once again!  The 2008 competition brought us a robust field of candidates, probably because it was an election year.  This year, I’ve decided to ignore the one-event wonders and stick with nominees demonstrating a consistent pattern of jackass behavior.  The isolated exhibitions of foolishness illustrated by Richard Heene’s “balloon boy” hoax and Janet Napolitano’s “the system worked” gaffe, just don’t rise to the level of an award-winning honor.  I’m also avoiding individuals categorized as “the usual suspects” — the media darlings who are already getting beaten-up in the 2009 retrospective shows.  That list includes such notables as Tiger Woods, Carrie Prejean and “The Undiebomber” (Umar Mutallab).

This year I have narrowed the competition down to two people.

In just a few short weeks, our first nominee will be celebrating the anniversary of his inauguration as President of the United States.  During his early days in office, he enjoyed an approval rating as high as 69 percent, according to Gallup.  By early December, Gallup reported that his approval rating had taken a 22-point drop to 47 percent.  At that time, Rasmussen Reports revealed that not only had the President’s approval rating dropped to 48 percent — his disapproval rating actually reached 52 percent! On December 9, Quinnipiac University published the results of a poll conducted during December 1 – 6.  The results gave the President a job approval rating of only 46 percent, and those disapproving Obama’s performance amounted to 44 percent.  The Ipsos/McClatchy Poll taken during that period, disclosed that the President received his highest “unsatisfactory” rating on the issue of “jobs and the economy” with 45 percent giving the President an unsatisfactory grade (D or F) while only 36 percent gave him a satisfactory grade (A or B) and 19 percent gave him a C.

Many commentators have pondered over the reasons for President Obama’s decreasing approval ratings.  I have previously discussed the subject here, here and here.  In doing so, I found the criticism of Obama’s performance as expressed by Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns, to be particularly insightful.  In his December 27 posting, Mr. Harrison posed a question that has obviously been on the minds of many disappointed Obama supporters:

The question is this:

  • Did President Obama sell out (i.e. he was a good guy but has been corrupted in short order) or;
  • Did Obama find out he couldn’t change the status quo so easily (i.e. he was a good guy who was naive about the President’s real power)or;
  • Did the President simply bamboozle us (i.e. he was a bad guy who tricked the electorate with his silver tongue)?

Mr. Harrison contended that the foregoing inquiry is actually irrelevant because it involves ascribing an intent behind the President’s behavior, when we should be looking at either motive or outcome.  Mr. Harrison eventually focused on a recent op-ed piece by Ross Douthat of The New York Times entitled:  “The Obama Way”.  Obama’s track record of broken campaign promises, including “no more trickle-down economics” and those documented on The Obameter, is something that obviously weighs on the minds of dispirited Obama supporters.  Ross Douthat explained how the President’s leadership style is itself a broken campaign promise:

He’s a doctrinaire liberal who’s always willing to cut a deal and grab for half the loaf.  He has the policy preferences of a progressive blogger, but the governing style of a seasoned Beltway wheeler-dealer.

*   *   *

It’s also puzzling because Obama promised exactly the opposite approach while running for the presidency.  He campaigned as a postpartisan healer who would change the cynical ways of Washington — as a foe of both back-room deals and ideology-as-usual.  But he’s governed as a conventional liberal who believes in the existing system, knows how to work it and accepts the limitations it imposes on him.

*   *   *

The upside of this approach is obvious:  It gets things done.

*   *   *

The downside, though, is that sometimes what gets done isn’t worth doing.  The assumption that a compromised victory is better than no victory at all can produce phony achievements — like last week’s “global agreement” on climate change — and bloated, ugly legislation.  And using cynical means to progressive ends (think of the pork-laden stimulus bill or the frantic vote-buying that preceded this week’s Senate health care votes) tends to confirm independent voters’ worst fears about liberal government:  that it’s a racket rigged to benefit privileged insiders and a corrupt marketplace floated by our tax dollars.

Ross Douthat’s conclusion implied that it’s still too early determine whether Obama’s political approach will ultimately result in success or failure.  By this time next year, the mid-term elections will be over.  If the careers of many Democratic politicians are over at that point, we will then have to assess whether President Obama’s leadership style helped to bring them down.  As a result, we will have to defer to next year’s competition before deciding whether our new President rates the title “Jackass of the Year”.

Our second nominee is the so-called “Supreme Leader” of Iran, Ali Khamenei.  Khamenei decided to rig the June elections to ensure that his tool, the equally crazy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would be re-elected.  The resulting public outrage was escalated by Khamenei into a bloodbath.  Since that time, Khamenei’s ham-handed tactics in attempting to squelch opposition have only made things worse.  A recent New York Times editorial entitled “Iran’s War on Its People” put it this way:

Iran’s leaders are so desperate to repel a rising tide of popular unrest that even Ashura — which marks the death of Shiite Islam’s holiest martyr — is no longer sacred.

The anniversary, which fell on Sunday, is supposed to be a time of peaceful commemoration.  Even during war, Iranian governments have honored the prohibitions against violence during a two-month period surrounding Ashura.  Tehran’s current rulers have proved again that their only belief is in their own survival.

On Sunday, the police opened fire on a crowd of protesters, reportedly killing at least 10 people, and arrested hundreds more.  Government forces are also believed to be behind the assassination of Ali Moussavi, nephew of the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, the leading candidate in June’s fraudulent presidential election.

*   *   *

The government still appears to have firm control of the main levers of power, including the brutish Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia.  But Ayatollah Khamenei — who helped lead the 1979 revolution against the shah — should not ignore the echoes of history when protesters defy the death blows of security forces and chant “Death to the dictator” on the streets of Tehran.

Al Jazeera’s Teymoor Nabili reported that Baqer Moin, London-based analyst and Ayatollah Khomeini biographer, explained that Iran’s opposition party, the Greens, would still settle for modest reform, if the regime would compromise.  Nevertheless, Mr. Nabili’s report quoted other sources who expressed concern that the upcoming anniversary of the revolution could be “the next potential spark”.  Will the Supreme Leader negotiate?  Based on his record over the past six months, there is no reason to believe that he will.  His strategy of cracking down on the Greens with more deadly repression is exactly the approach that could lead to the regime’s demise.  Mr. Nabili added this insight to an already gloomy picture:

A contact in Iran tells me that, given the arrests over the past two days, the trend points to the possibility that the regime is slowly tightening the screws, and that before then we might see martial law and the arrest of Mousavi and/or Karroubi/Khatami/Rafsanjani’s daughter (Rafsanjani himself is still beyond the pale, it would seem.)

Brilliant plan, huh?  Another Al Jazeera report revealed that the Iranian government’s desperate actions are a sign of weakness that could ultimately lead to the end of Khamenei’s days as “Supreme Leader”:

Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former member of the Iranian parliament, told Al Jazeera that the government faced a fundamental crisis.

“They can’t control the events so they made the Ashoura incidents as a scenario that could give [them] enough confidence to crack down on the [Green] Movement,” she said from Massachusetts in the United States.

“They think that if they could use more violence, they can stop the movement … if this strategy continues I think we could see the collapse of the government.”

After George W. Bush overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, many commentators expressed concern that this development could bring about an era of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.  Nevertheless, Iran’s relentless efforts to create a nuclear arsenal and the craziness of its Supreme Leader, who would likely detonate an atomic bomb in Israel if he had such a weapon, have apparently made the Iranian people more than a little uncomfortable with their government.  The events since June could only serve to underscore fears that the Khamenei regime would attempt a nuclear strike on Israel, resulting in a retaliatory move that would wipe Tehran off the map.  The Iranian people are obviously not going to sit on their hands and wait for that to happen.  Al Jazeera’s Teymoor Nabili provided us with some insight on the current mood of the Iranian protesters:

To outside observers, though, the protestors have defied expectations.  Their continued willingness to make themselves targets has been a surprise; now it seems as if they are willing to take it even further, protesting not only against the election result but against the very essence of the regime.

Although it may be too early to celebrate the demise of the Khamenei regime, the time is certainly right to honor Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, with TheCenterLane.com‘s Jackass of the Year Award.   Congratulations, Jackass!



wordpress visitor


No Free Pass For The Disappointer-In-Chief

Comments Off on No Free Pass For The Disappointer-In-Chief

December 14, 2009

The election of Barack Obama to the Presidency was hailed by many as an event that “transcended race”.  Ever since Obama’s primary election victory in lily-white Iowa, the pundits couldn’t stop talking about the candidate’s unique ability to vault the racial barrier before Hillary Clinton could break through the glass ceiling.  As we approach the conclusion of Obama’s first year in the White House, it has become apparent that the Disappointer-in-Chief has not only alienated the Democratic Party’s liberal base, but he has also let down a demographic he thought he could take for granted:  the African-American voters.  At this point, Obama has “transcended race” with his ability to dishearten loyal black voters just as deftly as he has chagrined loyal supporters from all ethnic groups.

Charles Blow’s recent opinion piece for the December 4 edition of The New York Times, entitled:  “Black in the Age of Obama” shed some light on the racist backlash against the black population as a result of the election of our nation’s first African-American President.  Mr. Blow then focused on Obama’s approach to his sinking poll numbers:

This means that Obama can get away with doing almost nothing to specifically address issues important to African-Americans and instead focus on the white voters he’s losing in droves. This has not gone unnoticed.  In the Nov. 9 Gallup poll, the number of blacks who felt that Obama would not go far enough in promoting efforts to aid the black community jumped 60 percent from last summer to now.

*   *   *

The Age of Obama, so far at least, seems less about Obama as a black community game-changer than as a White House gamesman.  It’s unclear if there will be a positive Obama Effect, but an Obama Backlash is increasingly apparent.  Meanwhile, black people are also living a tale of two actions:  grin and bear it.

As Silla Brush reported for The Hill on December 2, ten members of the Congressional Black Caucus had threatened to withhold their votes on the financial reform bill, because the President had not been “doing enough to help African-Americans through the bleak economy”.

It has been easy to understand the dissatisfaction with Obama expressed by the Democratic Party’s liberal base.  In a piece entitled “The Winter of Liberal Discontent”, Louis Proyect incorporated the umbrage expressed by such notables as Tom Hayden and Michael Moore, while providing a thorough assessment of Obama’s abandonment of the Left.  He concluded the piece with a quoted passage from an essay written for The Huffington Post by Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional TARP Oversight Panel.  Mr. Proyect quoted Ms. Warren’s reference to some brutally unpleasant statistics, raising the question of whether America will continue to have a middle class.  The theme of Mr. Proyect’s discussion was based on this point:

The chorus of disapproval is louder than any I have heard from liberal quarters since 1967 when another very popular Democrat did an about-face once he was in office.  When LBJ ran as a peace candidate, very few people — except unrepentant Marxists — would have anticipated a massive escalation in Vietnam.  It was well understood a year ago that Obama was committed to escalating the war in Afghanistan, but the liberal base of the Democratic Party was too mesmerized by the mantras of “hope” and “change” to believe that their candidate would actually carry out his promise.

There is a tendency to regard right-wing Republican presidents being replaced by idealistic-appearing Democrats who betray their supporters, thus enabling a new Republican candidate to take over the White House, as a kind of Western version of karma.  We are compelled by universal law in some way to undergo an endless cycle of suffering without hope of redemption short of Enlightenment.

The criticism of Obama expressed by African-American commentators underscores the President’s unique ability to alienate those who might support him on the basis of ethnic solidarity, just as thoroughly as he can antagonize the melanin-deficient “limousine liberals” of Park Avenue.  On December 11, Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns made a point of letting us know that the complete text of Matt Taibbi’s recent Rolling Stone article, “Obama’s Big Sellout” is now available online.  Before quoting some of the discussion in Matt Taibbi’s essay, Mr. Harrison provided some hard-hitting criticism of the Obama administration’s financial and economic policy shortcomings.  You may note that the administration’s abandonment of the African-American base was not discussed.  It wouldn’t do justice to Mr. Harrison’s great work to quote a snippet of this because it’s too good.  I have to give you the whole thing:

As you probably know, I have been quite disappointed with this Administration’s leadership on financial reform.  While I think they ‘get it,’ it is plain they lack either the courage or conviction to put forward a set of ideas that gets at the heart of what caused this crisis.

It was clear to many by this time last year that the President may not have been serious about reform when he picked Tim Geithner and Larry Summers as the leaders of his economic team.  As smart and qualified as these two are, they are rightfully seen as allied with Wall Street and the anti-regulatory movement.

At a minimum, the picks of Geithner and Summers were a signal to Wall Street that the Obama Administration would be friendly to their interests.  It is sort of like Ronald Reagan going to Philadelphia, Mississippi as a first stop in the 1980 election campaign to let southerners know that he was friendly to their interests.

I reserved judgment because one has to judge based on actions.  But last November I did ask Is Obama really “Change we can believe in?” because his Administration was being stacked with Washington insiders and agents of the status quo.

Since that time it is obvious that two things have occurred as a result of this ‘Washington insider’ bias.  First, there has been no real reform.  Insiders are likely to defend the status quo for the simple reason that they and those with whom they associate are the ones who represent the status quo in the first place.  What happens when a company is nationalized or declared bankrupt is instructive; here, new management must be installed to prevent the old management from covering up past mistakes or perpetuating errors that led to the firm’s demise. The same is true in government.

That no ‘real’ reform was coming was obvious, even by June when I wrote a brief note on the fake reform agenda.  It is even more obvious with the passage of time and the lack of any substantive reform in health care.

Second, Obama’s stacking his administration with insiders has been very detrimental to his party.  I imagine he did this as a way to overcome any worries about his own inexperience and to break with what was seen as a major factor in Bill Clinton’s initial failings.  While I am an independent, I still have enough political antennae to know that taking established politicians out of incumbent positions (Joe Biden, Janet Napolitano, Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel, Kathleen Sebelius or Tim Kaine) jeopardizes their seat.  So, the strategy of stacking his administration has not only created a status quo bias, but it has also weakened his party.

The magic of the Obama candidacy has vanished with the disappointments of the Obama Presidency.  His supporters have learned, the hard way, that talk is cheap.  The President’s actions during the next three years will not only impact the viability of his administration — they could undermine the careers of his fellow Democrats.



wordpress visitor


They’re At It Again

Comments Off on They’re At It Again

June 23, 2008

The Democrats on the Hill are at it again, doing what they do best:  capitulating, sucking up, caving in, selling out and providing lame excuses for this conduct.  This latest round of misfeasance concerns the Congressional approval of what is being called the “FISA compromise bill”.  This bill is also known as the “wiretap bill” and the “telecom immunity bill”.  Last February, the Senate passed a version of this bill, giving the President broader, unchecked powers in ordering wiretaps on American citizens.  The current bill, intended to be a compromise, falls far short of the expectations of those concerned with protecting the right to privacy.  Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin summed up the widespread frustration over this bill with the following statement:

And under this bill, the government can still sweep up and keep the international communications of innocent Americans in the U.S. with no connection to suspected terrorists, with very few safeguards to protect against abuse of this power. Instead of cutting bad deals on both FISA and funding for the war in Iraq, Democrats should be standing up to the flawed and dangerous policies of this administration.

Throughout his campaign for the Presidency, Barack Obama has assured us that had he been a member of the United States Senate at the time, he would have voted to oppose the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq.  That Resolution was passed because there were too many Democrats in Congress who believed a vote against the Resolution would make them appear weak on national security.  It is that same fear of appearing weak on national security that is driving Democrats to vote in favor of the current FISA bill.  Concern for appearing weak is itself a sign of weakness.  Obama’s support for this bill, out of concern for appearing weak on national security, gives us a more honest view of how he would have voted on the use of military force in Iraq.  His support for the FISA bill tells me that he would indeed have voted in favor of the Iraq Resolution.  Although Senator Obama has promised to remove the telecom immunity provisions from this bill, nobody believes this could be accomplished.  The telecom lobby has been driving this bill for the specific purpose of shielding that industry from lawsuits by American citizens, who became the subjects of illegal wiretaps.  Instead of promising to remove the telecom immunity provisions, Obama should be asserting this position on the bill:  “I am supporting this bill because, as President, I want to be able to tap the phones of my Republican opponents without court oversight.”  He might be able to scare some Republicans into voting against this bill.  That announcement might also give Hillary Clinton a strong reason to oppose it.

Obama’s stance on this bill is likely to do him more harm than good.  MoveOn.org has started an e-mail campaign for its members to contact Senator Obama and demand that he stick to his earlier promise that he would support the filibuster of any bill providing retroactive immunity for telecom companies that participated in Bush’s unauthorized wiretap program.  A more longstanding liberal organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, has also decried the impending passage of this bill:

More than two years after the President’s domestic spying was revealed in the pages of the New York Times, Congress’ fury and shock has dissipated to an obedient whimper. After scrambling for years to cover their tracks, the phone companies and the administration are almost there. This immunity provision will effectively destroy Americans’ chance to have their deserved day in court and will kill any possibility of learning the extent of the administration’s lawless actions. The House should be ashamed of itself. The fate of the Fourth Amendment is now in the Senate’s hands. We can only hope senators will show more courage than their colleagues in the House.

Will Obama alienate his “base” by supporting this bill?  He has promised his supporters “Change We Can Believe In”.  What kind of “change” is it when a Democratic Senator facilitates yet another controversial assault on the Bill of Rights by the Bush Administration, out of fear of appearing “weak” on national security?




href=”http://www.statcounter.com/blogger/”
target=”_blank”>blogspot stats