Prison for Soccer Villains, Fines for Bank Villains

Soccer PenaltyIt has been amusing to watch this worldwide dust-up regarding the Fédération Internationale de Football Association or FIFA. Oh! My! God! There is corruption in world football! Something must be done to stop this because, God knows, society might fall apart if the people think that soccer isn’t on the up and up. But not to worry, Attorney General Loretta Lynch is on the case! People are being indicted. People are going to go to jail. She noted, “They corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves.” At least, justice is done! Now that the evildoers are being punished, we can all rest safe at night knowing that soccer is clean.

Of course, this spectacle of “tough on soccer crime” comes just one week after it was announced that Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase , Barclays, and Royal Bank of Scotland were caught having “rigged foreign exchange prices” over the couse of six years. Loretta Lynch had strong words for these criminals: they had been involved in a “brazen display of collusion.” She added, “Starting as early as Dec 2007, currency traders at several multinational banks formed a group dubbed ‘The Cartel.’ It is perhaps fitting that those traders chose that name, as it aptly describes the brazenly illegal behavior they were engaging in on a near-daily basis.” Very bad stuff.

So if the US and EU are going to lock up people who have manipulated something as trivial as soccer, you can only imagine what happened to these bankers. What was it? Are they set to be hanged, drawn, and quartered? Or perhaps death by sawing? Burned at the stake?! What horrible end will come to these malefactors of great wealth? Well, if you read this website regularly — or if you have simply lived in the United States sometime in the last forty years — you already know: nothing.

That’s not how it is put in the press, of course. The Justice Department made a big deal out of the fact that the banks will have to pay $5.5 billion in fines. Also, the banks involved will have to plead guilty to some criminal charges. But you know the payoff:

No individual bank employees were hit with criminal charges as part of the settlements, though several authorities said investigations into foreign-exchange issues are continuing.

Don’t worry about that last part. That is always said. When banks agree to settlements, some claim is made to the effect of, “This does not rule out further prosecution.” But in fact there are never any further prosecutions because that is understood in the deal. Meanwhile, the whole thing allows the CEOs of the company to make public statements about how they are as appalled as anyone. Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat said, “The behavior that resulted in the settlements we announced today is an embarrassment to our firm, and stands in stark contrast to Citi’s values.” Citi’s values? I thought the thing about corporations was that their only moral duty was to make money for their stock holders. We’re now supposed to believe that (1) they care about anything but that; and (2) Corbat and the rest of the clan don’t actually know all the nefarious things that their companies do in order to “maximize shareholder value”?

But what is accountability in the financial sector compared to making sure that Brazil doesn’t unfairly get to host the World Cup? This is the kind of disconnect that is common in the law enforcement community. The cronies at the top of FIFA are rich. But they aren’t rich like Michael Corbat or Jamie Dimon. And so it is okay to hold those “low level” criminals accountable. People who work in banks are the “right kind of people.” And as a result, they aren’t the kind of people who go to jail. It’s disgusting.

Bob Woodward: Still Hacky After All These Years

Charles PierceThe latest entrant in the Mistakes Were Made sweepstakes regarding C-Plus Augustus‘ blundering in Iraq is journalistic giant — and stenographer to the powerful — Bob Woodward, who stopped by Fox News Sunday this weekend because he is a big-time Beltway ‘ho who doesn’t care what kind of riff-raff leaves the money on the dresser these days. Anyway, Bob wants to assure us that the leadership of the late Avignon Presidency were babes in the woods.

Woodward: “I spent 18 months looking at how Bush decided to invade Iraq. And lots of mistakes, but it was Bush telling George Tenet, the CIA director, don’t let anyone stretch the case on WMD. And he was the one who was skeptical. And if you try to summarize why we went into Iraq, it was momentum. The war plan kept getting better and easier, and finally at the end, people were saying, hey, look, it will only take a week or two. And early on it looked like it was going to take a year or 18 months. And so Bush pulled the trigger. A mistake certainly can be argued, and there is an abundance of evidence. But there was no lying in this that I could find.” …

The fact remains that a lot of people inside and outside government — in fact, most of the actual military and diplomatic experts in the field — told the neocon fantasts in the administration exactly what was going to happen if it decided to “kick over the hornet’s nest” in Iraq. These people were ignored (The Future of Iraq project at State), marginalized (Hans Blix), or actively destroyed (Eric Shinseki). There was a reason for this. The reason was that the people who were talking to Bob Woodward wanted to deceive the nation to get what they wanted.

On 7 October 2002, C-Plus Augustus gave a speech in Cincinnati. In that speech, he laid out his fanciful case for war in some detail. Because Bob seems to be floundering a bit in the swamps of history these days, let’s lend him a hand, “The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program… Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.”

Uh, no. The great body of evidence “indicated” no such thing. This was simply the story they fed to Judith Miller, who then returned the serve to them so Dick Cheney could nail the putaway in front of a gullible Tim Russert on TV. Bob seems to believe that a campaign of deception and trimming is not a “lie.” I had nuns who would have beheaded him with a window pole for that kind of “purpose of evasion.”

—Charlie Pierce
Jive Talking: Bob Woodward’s Credibility Finally Hits The Ocean Floor

The Obamacare Challenge Is Just Plain Silly

We Heart ObamacareJonathan Chait wrote yet another article pointing out what should be obvious, Former Senate Republicans Admit Obamacare Lawsuit Is Crazy. This is in reference to King v Burwell, where four little words that contradict many other passages in the Obamacare text are supposed to be read out of context and used to deprive people of subsidies with they are buying insurance on federally run exchanges. The argument that the plaintiff is making is that the intent of the law was to twist the arms of the states and make them set up their own exchanges by disallowing subsidies on federal exchanges.

It turns out that no one in power actually thought this. Instead, Congress had just assumed that the states would set up their own exchanges — well into the drafting of the bill. Later on, someone realized that there would be some states that for whatever reasons wouldn’t set up their own exchanges. Thus the federal exchanges were born. So the infamous four words — “established by the State” — was just a drafting error. Everyone knows that. But it is a common conservative tactic to pretend to be more ignorant than anyone in history. It is often the only way that they can argue in favor of their own screwed up policies. See, for example, supply side economics.

The law on this seems very clear, and the fact that three justices (Scalia, Thomas, and Alito) are almost certain to side with the plaintiff should disturb the whole country. During the hearing, Antonin Scalia noted that it didn’t matter what the intent of the framers was; what mattered was what the law said. Fair enough. But in previous arguments, Scalia (along with the rest of the Supreme Court) has argued that a law doesn’t become unconstitutional just because it isn’t written well. The law has to be seen in total. But I’m sure for the Ideological Three, that’s only true when doing so would bring about the decision they want. In this case, they badly want to destroy Obamacare.

What I think is amazing is that whether or not a state set up an exchange is a minor thing. It certainly isn’t something important enough to take such a draconian approach to. Brian Beutler made a great point when he wrote:

What were the framers of the Affordable Care Act trying to do? Were they trying to stitch together a harmonious system across all state borders, with subsidies available everywhere? Or were they trying to coerce states into setting up their own exchanges by threatening to withhold subsidies from their citizens, and impose chaos on their insurance marketplaces?

In order to conclude the latter, you have to think that Democrats are like the Jews of Borat’s fantasy: they are evil for its own sake. And the truth is that if you listen to hate radio (or to a slightly smaller extent Fox News), you will hear exactly this framing. But it should be clear to anyone that this is not who Democrats are. They may be (and quite often are) stupid. They may be (and almost always are) beholden to special interests. But they aren’t in the business of destroying their own legislation. Think about another conservative canard: “Obamacare is part of a socialist takeover of America!” If that’s the case, why would all those closet socialists seek to destroy their own socialist legislation? It makes no sense.

Of course, it isn’t supposed to make sense. No one — Really: no one! — believes this nonsense about trying to coerce the states into setting up their own exchanges. This is just the best justification that the conservatives could come up with to justify this lawsuit. And the silliness of the justification shows just how ridiculous the lawsuit is.

It Isn’t Kansas; It’s Us; We’re Vile People

SNAPOver at Salon, Digby wrote, The Republican Campaign to Destroy the Poor Stoops to a New Low. It’s a general article, but she is specifically referring to a new Kansas law that only allows people on assistance to get a maximum of $25 per day from an ATM. As Dylan Matthews wrote last week, it is a way of soaking the poor with expensive ATM fees. You know the ones; I’m sure you have been desperate at times and found yourself facing the screen, “This transaction will cost $3.00 in addition to whatever other fees your bank changes. Would you like to continue?”

Matthews noted that in addition to the various bank charges, the state of Kansas itself charges a $1.00 fee for withdrawals. So a conservative estimate involves $1.50 from the bank (but other banks charge more) and $1.00 from the state, for a total of $2.50 for each $20 withdrawn. That represents a 12.5% surcharge. What’s interesting about this is that a common conservative claim is that the poor need to learn the proper ways to manage their money. And here are these very same conservatives insisting that they do otherwise. I have little doubt that the banks themselves have worked behind the scenes to make this happen.

But the main thing is that this is about punishing the poor. It isn’t just a question of the financial penalty. The very idea of limiting withdrawals from their accounts is meant to make a big production of saying, “You are on assistance; you can’t be trusted; you are a low life.” Of course, clearly the politicians who are pushing this are the most repugnant kind of people. What’s more, Mother Jones reported earlier this year, People on Food Stamps Make Healthier Grocery Decisions Than Most of Us. But data don’t matter to these conservatives. They start with the conclusion: people are poor because they are immoral. The rest follows from that conclusion.

Dylan Matthews sums up exactly what I think:

I hate these kinds of provisions. Everyone gets benefits from the government, but, as Emily Badger has noted, benefits for the middle class and rich never seem to come with any strings attached. No one has ever been banned from spending their mortgage interest deduction or electric vehicle tax credit on movie tickets. When it comes time to crack the whip and eliminate frivolous expenses, it seems only the poor get targeted.

But sadly, the problem isn’t fundamentally with the politicians. Yes, of course, they are vile human beings. But think about that little factoid I mentioned above about people who get food stamps making better food purchasing decisions. Most Americans — including liberals — would find that surprising. Our default way of thinking is that there must be something wrong with the poor. Indeed, David Brooks has never been publicly shamed for claiming that the poor are suffering because of their lack of middle class values — even though it is both offensive and intellectually embarrassing.

So the question is how long will the American middle class continue to feel superior to the poor? How long will it take before it realizes that the issue with poverty is not “They behave so badly” but rather “There for the grace of God”? Americans are a particularly parochial people. We think rather highly of ourselves, when all of our advantages have been given to us. It would be wonderful — but extremely surprising — if we finally managed to grow up.

See Also

Should People Pursuing Risky Careers Be Forced to Starve?
Pay No Attention to Rich Man’s Welfare!

Morning Music: Miles Davis

Bitches Brew Live - Miles DavisWhen I was a wee teen, my friend Will bought Isle of Wight: Atlanta Pop Festival. It was a three LP collection, containing tracks by an eclectic mix of people from Johnny Winter to Sly & the Family Stone to Kris Kristofferson. As I recall, I didn’t especially care for anything on that album except for David Bromberg’s wonderful version of “Mr Bojangles.” But I especially hated a 17 minute jam by Miles Davis, “Call It Anything’.” It just sounded like noise to me.

One of the great joys of life has been to experience my gradual maturation of music appreciation. I’ve had the same experience with Frank Zappa. When I was young, I hated his guitar playing, but now I think it is marvelous (even if I’m not in the mood for it that often). And the same thing is true of Davis’ later work. This is the Bitches Brew period, and now I love it. In this live video from Isle of Wight in August of 1970, Davis is performing with quite a band. It includes the original Bitches Brew crew: Chick Corea on electric piano, Jack DeJohnette on drums, Dave Holland on bass with parts that seem designed to cause hand cramping, and Airto Moreira doing some unnatural things with percussion. In addition, there is Keith Jarrett on organ and Gary Bartz on soprano saxophone (Wayne Shorter was on the original album). This 35 minute set made up the majority (tracks 4 through 9) of Bitches Brew Live. It’s wonderful music.

Anniversary Post: Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate BridgeOn this day in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge opened. To be honest, it isn’t my favorite bridge. I’m more fond of the Bay Bridge because of its two short-tower suspension bridges one after the other. But that is more of an intellectual thing. The truth is that the Golden Gate Bridge is magnificent and I still get a thrill crossing it. There is the long ride up the Waldo Grade, the drive through the Waldo Tunnel, and then the steep descent to the bridge and almost two miles across the bay. Unfortunately, I cannot walk across the bridge. I’ve tried, but my acrophobia is too bad. Plus, I think, there is a residual from my grandmother who used to tell me (All the time!) that if I didn’t put on some weight, a strong wind would come up and blow me away.

After 9/11, I had a hard time understanding what New Yorkers were going through. I understood the terrorism aspect of it. But they had a special unhappiness that I didn’t understand. The way I figured out how to empathize was to imagine if someone had destroyed the Golden Gate Bridge. That certainly would mean something special to me. It is a potent symbol of the Bay Area. Of course, it is also beautiful. That is something that cannot be said of the Twin Towers. But I still get it. Note to would-be terrorist: please don’t destroy our bridge!

I could provide you with a history of the bridge. The problem is that having grown up in the Bay Area, I’ve heard too much about this stuff. And I don’t really care. It is an amazing structure, and a much needed tool for the area. But for you from out of the area, the Golden Gate is the entrance to the San Francisco Bay — also known as the “Golden Gate.” The bridge itself, is not golden. And even if it were, what the hell is “gate” doing in its name? Huh?!

Happy anniversary Golden Gate Bridge!