In very related news, the Dow reaches a new high — 14,164 — even as household income hits a decade low. “As a percentage of national income, corporate profits stood at 14.2 percent in the third quarter of 2012, the largest share at any time since 1950, while the portion of income that went to employees was 61.7 percent, near its lowest point since 1966.”
In Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi explains how and why the Justice Department refused to prosecute HSBC for sundry violations of the law. In short, they were Too Big to Jail. “An arrestable class and an unarrestable class. We always suspected it, now it’s admitted. So what do we do?”
In related news, Wall Street bankers throw one of their customary hissyfits over a gaggle of fully complicit, bought-and-paid-for regulators finally being asked a hard question or two by the Senate Banking Committee — thanks to its and our new champion, Senator Elizabeth Warren. “The anonymous banker followed up [with Politico, naturally]: ‘Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz are dueling for the title of ‘most extreme fringe freshman senator.”
Anonymous Banker, let me choose my words carefully: Go fuck yourself. If this administration’s promises of change-we-can-believe-in were worth a dime, you and so many others would be doing hard time right about now.
“Mr. Sinegal, whose father was a coal miner and steelworker, gave a simple explanation. ‘On Wall Street, they’re in the business of making money between now and next Thursday,’ he said. ‘I don’t say that with any bitterness, but we can’t take that view. We want to build a company that will still be here 50 and 60 years from now.’“
This article is seven years old now, so I don’t know if their admirable corporate policies have survived the Great Recession. (Update: Apparently, they have.) Nonetheless, from 2005 and as seen floating around on Facebook of late, the NYT’s Steve Greenhouse explains how CostCo became the anti-Wal-Mart. “[N]ot everyone is happy with Costco’s business strategy. Some Wall Street analysts assert that Mr. Sinegal is overly generous not only to Costco’s customers but to its workers as well. Costco’s average pay, for example, is $17 an hour, 42 percent higher than its fiercest rival, Sam’s Club.” Oh, yeah, let’s nip that in the bud, then. Assholes.
For the benefit of the willfully dense — i.e. all the telegenic denizens of the Village — Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick explains the basic meaning behind Occupy Wall Street: “They are holding up signs that are perfectly and intrinsically clear: They want accountability for the banks that took their money, they want to end corporate control of government. They want their jobs back. They would like to feed their children. They want–wait, no, we want– to be heard by a media that has devoted four mind-numbing years to channeling and interpreting every word uttered by a member of the Palin family while ignoring the voices of everyone else.“
A brand-spankin’ new CBO report concludes what we all already know: Income inequality has surged since 1981, and government, post-Reagan, has consistently failed to address the problem. “‘The equalizing effect of federal taxes was smaller’ in 2007 than in 1979, as ‘the composition of federal revenues shifted away from progressive income taxes to less-progressive payroll taxes,’ the budget office said.” But, hey, let’s sweat that deficit.
Along the same lines, Naked Capitalism‘s Yves Smith responds to the disclosure that repeat offender Bank of America is trying — with the Fed’s help — to foist their more toxic assets into FDIC-backed accounts (meaning that taxpayers will eat the losses.) “[T]his move amounts to a direct transfer from derivatives counterparties of Merrill to the taxpayer, via the FDIC, which would have to make depositors whole after derivatives counterparties grabbed collateral.“
Continues Smith: “The FDIC is understandably ripshit…Bill Black said that the Bloomberg editors toned down his remarks considerably. He said, ‘Any competent regulator would respond: ‘No, Hell NO!’ It’s time that the public also say no, and loudly, to yet another route for running a drip feed from taxpayers to banksters.‘” (Cartoon via here.)
“The contrast in fortunes between those on top of the economic heap and those buried in the rubble couldn’t be starker. The 10 biggest banks now control more than three-quarters of the country’s banking assets. Profits have bounced back, while compensation at publicly traded Wall Street firms hit a record $135 billion in 2010. Meanwhile, more than 24 million Americans are out of work or can’t find full-time work, and nearly $9 trillion in household wealth has vanished. There seems to be no correlation between who drove the crisis and who is paying the price.“
As Bank of America pays a pittance to other banks for its malfeasance, former chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Phil Angelides looks into how the winners are now rewriting the history of the 2008 financial collapse. “So, how do you revise the historical narrative when the evidence of what led to economic catastrophe is so overwhelming and the events at issue so recent? You and your political allies just do it. And you bet on the old axiom that a lie is halfway around the world before the truth can tie its shoes.” Attorney General Schneiderman, our nation turns its lowly eyes to you.
As the alleged perps try to get off by paying the (to-them) meager sum of $5 billion, a confidential audit conducted by HUD finds (surprise, surprise) compelling evidence of rampant foreclosure fraud at the big banks. “The audits accuse the five major lenders of violating the False Claims Act, a Civil War-era law crafted as a weapon against firms that swindle the government…The audit on Bank of America finds that the company — the nation’s largest handler of home loans — failed to correct faulty foreclosure practices even after imposing a moratorium that lifted last October.“
And, in very related news, someone has finally stepped up to the plate with regards to the roots of the financial crisis: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has announced he’s officially going to look into the Street’s role in precipitating the meltdown. “The inquiry appears to be quite broad, with the attorney general’s requests for information covering many aspects of the banks’ loan pooling operations.” Godspeed, Mr. Schneiderman.
“‘This was maybe America’s last chance to fight back against the greed of the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats, to generate some serious discussion about public interest and common good that sustains any democratic experiment,’ West laments…’I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone.“
In a discussion with TruthOut‘s Chris Hedges, Cornel West — who admittedly is nursing some rather petty personal grievances here as well — lays hard into the DLC-centrism of President Obama. “I have to take some responsibility,’ he admits of his support for Obama as we sit in his book-lined office. ‘I could have been reading into it more than was there.‘” You and me both, brother. You and me both.
In Rolling Stone, a simile-happy Matt Taibbi reiterates the open-and-shut fraud and perjury case against Goldman Sachs that was laid out last month in the Levin report — a case that, thus far, nobody in a prosecutorial position seems to be taking up. Too busy going after Wikileaks, I guess.
“To recap: Goldman, to get $1.2 billion in crap off its books, dumps a huge lot of deadly mortgages on its clients, lies about where that crap came from and claims it believes in the product even as it’s betting $2 billion against it. When its victims try to run out of the burning house, Goldman stands in the doorway, blasts them all with gasoline before they can escape, and then has the balls to send a bill overcharging its victims for the pleasure of getting fried.”
“The outlook isn’t sunshine and roses: Rick Raymond, of the College Parents of America, notes, ‘Graduates are not the first to be hired when the job markets begins to improve. We’re seeing shocking numbers of people with undergraduates degrees who can’t get work.’”
According to a new poll conducted by Twentysomething, a whopping 85% of college grads are moving back in with their parents after graduation. They’re also facing the worst job market on record and holding a record amount of college debt.
In other words, it’s crisis time. Should we ramp up government spending and fashion 21st-century versions of jobs programs like the CCC, WPA, and NYA? Or should we cut public sector jobs and just concentrate on lowering corporate taxes? hey, Win the Future™ and all that.
In very related news, see also NYT columnist William Cohan on the same subject yesterday: “Not only did the government’s theory fail in practice — unemployment remains relentlessly and historically high and American businesses seem intent on hoarding, rather than spending, the $2 trillion in cash on their collective balance sheets — but it also lost a once-in-a-century opportunity to change the mores of a momentarily chastened Wall Street, which remains badly in need of substantive reform. This is more than a shame; it is prima facie evidence of how deep Wall Street’s hooks have been — and continue to be — into the powers that be in Washington (and vice versa).“
“This chart puts the class war in simple, visual terms. On the left you have the ‘shared sacrifices’ and ‘painful cuts’ that the Republicans claim we must make to get our fiscal house in order. On the right, you can plainly see WHY these cuts are ‘necessary.’” Via JackDean and several other sites, This is What Class War Looks Like.
But, hey, Win the Future and all that.
“‘There can be no conceivable justification for requiring a soldier to surrender all his clothing, remain naked in his cell for seven hours, and then stand at attention the subsequent morning,’ he wrote. ‘This treatment is even more degrading considering that Pfc. Manning is being monitored — both by direct observation and by video — at all times.‘”
Sometimes I don’t post here because I’m really busy. Sometimes I don’t post here because the news is too damned depressing: The United States takes another big step towards Miniluv by applying Dubya-era torture and intimidation techniques to an American citizen in custody for leaking, Bradley Manning. (Y’see, it’s a four lights = five lights kinda thing. Manning has to break — and then, like Zubadayah and KSM, voice untruths — for there to be any sort of possible criminal conspiracy case against Wikileaks.)
What is there to say, really? State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley already correctly stated that this abusive treatment of Manning was “ridiculous, counterproductive, and stupid,” and, within days, he was fired for stating the obvious.
The president, meanwhile, assures us everything is ok because the Pentagon said so: “I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are.” This, as Glenn Greenwald (who’s been on top of this all the way) points out, is exactly the same rationale Dubya used to use: “‘When [Bush] asked ‘the most senior legal officers in the U.S. government’ to review interrogation methods, ‘they assured me they did not constitute torture.’” Well, ok then.
So let’s review. Dubya’s administration constructs an illegal and unconstitutional torture regime — Nobody goes to jail, and nothing changes. (Look forward, not backward!) The Dubya administration lies to the American people in order to prosecute a war of choice in Iraq. Nobody goes to jail, and nothing changes. Through greed and outright fraud, Wall Street traders implode the global economy to the tune of trillions of dollars, and, with the convenient exception of Bernie Madoff, nobody goes to jail, and nothing changes. (Synthetic junk, anyone?) Big banks continue their crime spree by engaging in a massive epidemic of foreclosure fraud, and nobody goes to jail (but we’ll make them promise not to do it again!)
Oh, and an Army private leaks “secret” documents (so secret they were available to millions of people) because “[h]e wanted people held accountable and wanted to see this didn’t happen again” — the very definition of whistleblowing — and now we’re treating him like Winston Smith. (Then again, our president does despise whistleblowers.)
Should Manning be in U.S. custody right now? Yes. He took an oath to the United States military and, knowing full well the consequences, broke it in an act of civil disobedience. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime — I get that. But should Manning be abused and tortured in U.S. custody? Of course not — Nobody should be. In fact, I thought we elected Barack Obama as president to make sure this never happened again.
Nope, sorry. Instead, President Obama fired Crowley and is owning what’s happening to Manning right now. He also just reinstated and normalized indefinite detentions at Gitmo. (Obama the constitutional scholar? Meet the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.) And when not perpetuating Dubya-era illegalities, he (and new lefty-bashing chief of staff) spend their days talking up the deficit, talking down regulation, and hoping the Chamber and the NRA take their meetings. Feel those winds of change, y’all. (Obama meme pic above via here.)
Update: “Based on 30 years of government experience, if you have to explain why a guy is standing naked in the middle of a jail cell, you have a policy in need of urgent review.” P.J. Crowley reflects on his recent firing. “I stand by what I said. The United States should set the global standard for treatment of its citizens – and then exceed it. It is what the world expects of us. It is what we should expect of ourselves.“
Strange powers have our enemies, and strange weaknesses! In Wired, Nate Anderson of Ars Technica fdelves into the story behind the highly troubling HBGary leaks. Among other things, these leaks have already revealed that:
In other words, they do not fear the law because it has forsaken these lands. And, hey, when you consider that nobody has yet gone to jail for lying the American people into a trillion-dollar war, setting up an illegal, unconstitutional, and inhumane torture regime, or fraudulently abetting or even precipitating a multi-trillion-dollar economic meltdown, their brazen calculation seems like a pretty safe bet.
“The Fed accepted a total of $1.31 trillion in junk-rated collateral between Sept. 15, 2008 and May 12, 2009 through the Primary Dealer Credit Facility. TARP was nothing compared to this.” (Also, $500 billion of that junk was rated CCC or below, which — given the rampant grade inflation going on at all the rating agencies — means it was really garbage.)
So, yeah, Wikileaks isn’t the only document dump in town this week. As mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act (after much pushing from below), the Federal Reserve today released information about some of its dealings from December 2007 to July 2010. And, while folks are just now delving into the intel, it already seems that some of the bodies buried during the financial crisis are now floating to the surface: “A quick analysis…indicates that Citigroup was the greatest beneficiary, drawing on a total of $1.8 trillion in loans, followed by Merrill Lynch, which used $1.5 trillion; Morgan Stanley, which drew $1.4 trillion; and Bear Stearns, which used $960 billion.“
In very related news, former Alan Grayson staffer (and a Hill friend of mine) Matthew Stoller lays out a compelling case for a harder stance against the Fed from the Left from now on. Some brief excerpts:
“It is good that this debate is happening. It means that we will be able to examine the real power structure of the American order, rather than the minor food fights allowable in our current political system. This will bring deep disagreements, profound ones, but also remarkable possibility. Modern American industrial policy is to push capital into housing, move manufacturing abroad, build a massive defense establishment, and maintain an oligarchic financial sector. This system isn’t a structural inevitability. People built it, and people are unbuilding it…
Like most American institutions, the Fed has shrouded itself in myth, with self-serving officials discussing the immaculate design of the central bank as untouchable, secretive, an autocratic and technocratic adult in the world of democratic children. But the Fed, and specifically the people who run it, are responsible for declining wages, for de-industrialization, for bubbles, and for the systemic corruption of American capital markets.”
Also on this topic, it comes out today that Bank of America was given a break by the SEC on a securities fraud settlement “‘because of the nation’s perilous economic situation at the time’ and the fact that it had received billions of dollars in taxpayer aid, according to the report by the SEC’s inspector general…Specifically, during settlement negotiations, Bank of America won relief from sanctions that could have hurt its investment banking business.“
To tie this back to the top, according to Bloomberg’s Lizzie O’Leary, who’s also been parsing the new Fed data, “52% of the collateral Bank of America pledged to the #Fed’s PDCF was rated Ba/BB or lower, or didn’t have available ratings.” (And, let’s keep in mind, PDCF was only one of several emergency programs.)
So, in other words, the government kept banks like BoA alive by buying up trillions in toxic assets and looking askance at their illegal activity. They repaid us with record bonuses for themselves and an epidemic of foreclosure fraud — the “getaway car for the financial crisis,” as a friend well put it — that’s screwing over millions of American families. And in terms of fixing bad behavior on the Street, nothing changed whatsoever. Boy, that’s some deal.
After another embarrassing document dump by Wikileaks — this time diplomatic cables, next time Bank of America? — Attorney General Holder threatens the prosecution of Julian Assange, an Australian citizen — most likely under the Espionage Act, the same catch-all 1917 law used to lock up Eugene Debs back in the day.
First of all, Gawker‘s John Cook has already explained why this attempted line of prosecution doesn’t work. However docile the “nation’s watchdogs” remain on any other given day, the newspapers that published these leaks would have to be considered co-conspirators in any Espionage Act-related indictment. “We think its fairly obvious that the Department of Justice won’t go after the Times or any of the other papers involved in the story. But if it doesn’t, that’s just evidence that its attempt to use the Espionage Act to go after Assange isn’t about enforcing laws: It’s about retribution, harassment, and rattling sabers.“
Secondly, if Assange wants to avoid federal prosecution, perhaps he should just…I dunno…torture somebody? Or maybe rip off the American people for trillions of dollars? Or how ’bout just spying on Americans via warrantless wiretap? Apparently, disclosing those kinds of secrets is one of those look-forward-not-backward kinda things.
Let’s get real here. There’s no threat to our troops in these leaks — Even the Pentagon admits that. (A more overlooked problem, as a friend pointed out, is what this leak might mean for human rights workers.) Wikleaks’ methods are of the blunderbuss variety, yes. (That probably speaks in their favor: They don’t seem to tailor their leaks to suit a predetermined spin. They just dump data. And, hey, somebody should be doing the media’s job.) And, sure, Assange comes off as more than a bit pretentious, but what of it? If being a jackass were a crime, our prison system in this country would be completely broken…oh wait, it already is.
In the end, as Glenn Greenwald well put it, “our government and political culture is so far toward the extreme pole of excessive, improper secrecy that that is clearly the far more significant threat.” You’d think an administration that ran on unparalleled transparency in government might feel the same way. But, sadly, like its predecessor, the only crime this administration really seems to hate is whistleblowing.
That is the stark question driving Charles Ferguson’s well-laid-out prosecutorial brief Inside Job, which works to explain exactly how we ended up in the most calamitous economic straits since the 1930s. If you’ve been keeping up on current events at all, even if by comic books, stick figures, or Oliver Stone flicks, then you won’t be surprised by the frustrating tale Inside Job has to tell. But unlke the more inchoate and disorganized Casino Jack and the United States of Money earlier this year, which ultimately let its subject wriggle off the hook, Inside Job tells its sad, sordid story clearly, concisely, and well.
The central through-line of the financial crisis by now is well-known. Basically, Wall Steet banksters — relying heavily on “market innovations” (i.e. unregulated toys) like securitization, collaterized debt obligations (CDOs) and credit default swaps — spent the first decade of the 21st century engaged in a trillion-dollar orgy of avarice, criminality, and fraud. And, a few prominent casualties like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns aside, the perpetrators of these financial misdeeds mostly walked away unscathed from the economic devastation they wrought. In fact, they’re doing better than ever.
Said banksters got away with this from start to finish mainly becauset they could, thanks to thirty years of deregulation and an absolute bipartisan chokehold on the political process. So, when the bill came due in 2008, these masters of the free market just got the Fed to socialize their losses, thus handing the damage over to the American taxpayer by way of Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson (former Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs) and his successor, Tim Geithner (no stranger to Wall Street himself.)
As I said recently, my thoughts on the relative necessity of TARP have shifted a good deal since 2008, but, surprisingly, Ferguson doesn’t really get into that debate here. Inside Job is more broad in its focus: It aims instead to show how Wall Street has systematically corrupted both our political process and our economics departments over the course of decades, and nobody is safe from its wrath. Sure, it was probably a tremendously bad idea to let an Ayn Rand acolyte like Alan Greenspan call the shots for the American economy for so long, but he’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are other fish to fry.
After all, it is President Clinton and his financial lieutenants, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, who preside over the death of Glass-Steagall, the original sin that precipitates all the later shenanigans. It is also they who work to keep prescient regulators like Brooksley Born from sounding the alarm. And, after the house of cards has collapsed in 2008, and President Obama steps up to the plate promising “change we can believe in,” who does he pull out of the bullpen to lead us but…the irrepressibly porcine Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, the Chair of the New York Fed? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. (But remember, folks, Obama is really an anti-business socialist.)
What goes for the US government goes for the academy as well. As Ferguson shows, Milton Friedman aficionadoes and Reagan/Bush policy guys like Marty Feldstein of Harvard and Glenn Hubbard of Columbia, who now find themselves atop prestigious Ivy League economics departments, are all too happy to give an academic imprimatur to bad bankster behavior, as long as they see a piece of the cut. (Nobody gets it worse than Columbia prof and former Fed governor Frederic Mishkin, who appears here to have walked into a battle of wits completely unarmed.)
In the meantime, Ferguson fleshes out the documentary with related vignettes on the financial crisis and those who brought us low — some work, some don’t. The movie begins with the cautionary tale of Iceland, about as pure a real-time case study into the abysmal failures of deregulation as you can ask for. (If that doesn’t do ya, try Ireland.) But the film ends as badly as it starts well, with an overheated monologue about the way forward, cut to swelling music and images of the Statue of Liberty — a cliche that serves to dissipate much of the pent-up anger of the last 90 minutes. (Perhaps Inside Job should’ve used the lightning strike.)
What’s more, at times Ferguson seems to try too hard to frame guilty men, and never more so than when he has a former psychiatrist-to-the-bankster-stars opine about cocaine abuse and prostitution all over the Street. Sure, it’s unsavory, and I see the ultimate point here — that these petty crimes could’ve been used to flip the lower-level traders if anyone had had tried to bring a RICO case against these jokers. But this sort of bad behavior, however frat-tastically douchey, is extraneous to the real crime at hand, and it seems really out of place when you’re using fallen crusader Elliot Spitzer as a witness for the prosecution.)
Still, overall, Inside Job is a very solid documentary that manages to capture its elusive quarry, and in a better world it would result in more serious consequences for the banksters who put us in this mess. Make no mistake — this is a crime story. As Massachusetts rep Michael Capuano observes in the trailer, and as Woody Guthrie put it many moons ago, “some rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.” Thing is, when Pretty Boy Floyd or John Dillinger robbed banks back in the day, they got shot. When the banks rob you…well, that’s apparently another thing entirely.
Like W before it, Oliver Stone’s peppy, decently enjoyable, and ultimately far too convivial Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which I caught as the first leg of a three-film swing two weeks ago, suggests the director has moved out of the near-decade-long nadir that brought us Any Given Sunday and World Trade Center. (Rock bottom was, without a doubt, Alexander.)
Wall Street 2 turns out to be a brisk two hours, and its ability to explain some relatively complex financial goings-on in a crowd-pleasing format is admirable. Still, the movie also ends up feeling like a missed opportunity. Bringing 80′s corporate raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) back to comment on the amoral rapacity of today’s financial sector could be a stroke of genius, and the movie is most entertaining when it shows how the greed and corruption of today’s Wall Street has outpaced anything Gekko could ever have imagined back in the American Psycho era. (“Someone reminded me I once said, ‘Greed is good.’ Now, it seems it’s legal.“)
But even more than W, a movie which treated the many foibles of our 43rd president with kid gloves, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a film that seems lacking in sufficient indignation. I mean, those venerable and self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe, the Titans of Wall Street, managed to plunge the entire American economy into a death spiral and pass the bill off to the increasingly jobless American taxpayer. And yet, they still managed to avoid any seriously damaging regulation as a consequence, and, at the end of the day, they give themselves record bonuses for two years running. And all Stone can muster up about it is this? Where’s the outrage?
To be fair, avarice and plunder are central to Stone’s story here, bubbles abound (Stone does love to beat a metaphor to death), and the film does dramatize the September 2008 collapse and subsequent bailout, with Wall Street tycoons Josh Brolin and Eli Wallach, among others, worriedly communing with Hank Paulson and Tim Geithner lookalikes in a darkly-lit Federal Reserve antechamber. The problem isn’t the content so much as the tone. Eventually, you get the sense that, despite all their bad behavior, Stone likes and looks up to these guys. (This may be because Stone’s father was a Wall Street banker, so this may be the film where a director who continually relies on characters with daddy issues is now trying to work out his own.)
As a result, Wall Street feels confused — It doesn’t really seem to know which tale it wants to tell. On one hand, we have the story I just mentioned — the obvious sickness and eventual collapse of the financial sector. But then we also have the story of our protagonist, Jake Moore (Shia LaBoeuf) — a savvier operator than Charlie Sheen ever was — who shuffles through various potential father figures (Gekko, Brolin, and, in the early going, Frank Langella) and woos the professional-blogger daughter of the fallen Gekko king (Carey Mulligan — By the way, Stone doesn’t seem to have a handle on what blogging’s about. We wear pajamas all day, and we don’t have sleek Facebook-looking offices.)
And then we have the Return of Gordon Gekko himself. Now on the CNBC book and lecture circuit, a seemingly chastened Gekko wants Jake’s help to reconnect with his prodigal daughter. In the meantime, he teaches Jake a thing or two about the way the Game is played at the top. And hewatches today’s unsustainable financial shenanigans with wry bemusement — he likes to discourse on tulips — and perhaps a little jealousy. Does Gekko want a seat at the table again? Well, he’s Gordon Gekko. What do you think? (For what it’s worth, Douglas is great fun here — let’s hope it’s not his last performance — but his character is getting a bit of the Ridley Scott’s Hannibal treatment. To my mind, Gekko makes for a better villain than he does an anti-hero.)
In any case, Stone has a lot of balls in the air throughout Money Never Sleeps and as the film goes on they become more and more clumsily handled. This flaw becomes glaringly obvious in the final reel, when the film suffers from more endings than Return of the King, including one — in front of Lady Gekko’s apartment — that comes out of nowhere and feels exceedingly cheap. (The movie even has three closing-credit sequences — one focused on time, one one family, and one on money — Four if you count all the bubbles floating around. Stone apparently couldn’t decide what his film was about.)
There’s a lot of upside to Money Never Sleeps — It’s a surprisingly fun movie at times, and the acting is solid across the board. (People like to hate on Shia LaBoeuf, but I actually think he’s a pretty good actor. Here, he even starts to seem a bit like his father from a more ill-conceived sequel, Harrison Ford — although with less finger and family issues.) Still, I wish the movie weren’t so confused about its purpose, and I definitely wish it took a more aggrieved stance towards its bankster subjects. I don’t want to watch these jokers having totally random Ducati races. I want to see them in jail. (Then again, be careful what you wish for: Gekko says several times here that it’s the next collapse we really need to worry about, and that could happen at any time…like, say, now.)
“‘The potential for exit in terms of emigration is huge and it’s a major part of the Irish story’…’Ireland is on the verge of losing a whole generation. People are simply not able to get a job in Ireland, not happy with the quality of life here and they are upping and leaving.“
Faced, like so many other nations, with a bank-fueled financial meltdown and a grueling austerity program to make up the slack (sound familiar?), the Irish are — well, according to Reuters at least — either leaving or taking it in stride…for now. “‘It’s a cultural characteristic of the Irish people,’ said portrait photographer Kevin Abosch as he strode down O’Connell Street. ‘Generations of pacifism have been bred into them.’“
Particularly as I was just writing up The Town, it reminds me of that line from The Departed: “If we’re not gonna make it, it’s gotta be you that gets out, cause I’m not capable. I’m f**king Irish, I’ll deal with something being wrong for the rest of my life.”
In a must-read series at Slate, Timothy Noah delves into income inequality in America, a.k.a. “The Great Divergence.” “Even Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Board chairman and onetime Ayn Rand acolyte, has registered concern. ‘This is not the type of thing which a democratic society — a capitalist democratic society — can really accept without addressing,’ Greenspan said in 2005.“
“I don’t know what my biggest contribution has been. I think it has been simply showing up for work every day, trying to fight the good fight for average people…But I leave more discontented when I came here because of the terrible things that have been done to this economy by political leaders who allowed Wall Street to turn Wall Street banks into gambling casinos which damned near destroyed the economy.“
On the eve of his retirement, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee David Obey has some choice words for the administration, and himself. “I think the more important thing was what was my biggest failure…our failure to stop the ripoff of the middle class by the economic elite of this country, and this is not just something that happened because of the forces of the market.”
“[E]very investment expert knows two truths about investing: 1) Past performance is no indication of future performance. 2) You need to consider a company’s track record. Right, yes, those are opposites. And it’s pretty much all that anyone knows about investing.“
In the WSJ, Dilbert’s Scott Adams makes the case for investing in thoroughly evil companies. “People ask me how it feels to take the side of moral bankruptcy. Answer: Pretty good! Thanks for asking. How’s it feel to be a disgruntled victim?“
As the Gulf runs black, it’s the same old story: FDL’s David Dayen brings us up-to-date on the idiotic and/or corrupt shenanigans coming to light in the wake of the (still-gushing) Deepwater Horizon gusher. “This is all a consequence of aggressive deregulation by industry, the maneuvers whereby powerful interests save billions in safety costs. They follow the rules at their discretion, they practically own the regulatory agency. It’s amazing how much this mirrors the problems on Wall Street. And just like with Goldman Sachs, the criminal justice system may get involved.” (Pic via TBP.)
Update: “‘We don’t have any idea how to stop this,’ Simmons said of the Gulf leak. Some of the proposed strategies — such as temporarily plugging the leaking pipe with a jet of golf balls and other material — are a ‘joke,’ he added. ‘We really are in unprecedented waters.’“
In fact, what they did was violate one of the prime rules of trading: never try to catch a falling knife. The market was falling fast and furious at the point they entered the pit to buy equity futures, so why did they take such an enormous risk? We learned yesterday that both of these firms, plus Goldman Sachs, were such superb traders in the market that none of them had a single losing trading day all last quarter. This type of risky trade is not how you get to be a superb trader.“
Over at the Agonist, Numerian digs deep into last week’s “Flash Crash” — and comes to some very troubling conclusions. To wit, the big players know the thresholds where the trading algorithms kick in, and thus, basically, the fix is in. “The stock market seems to be nothing but a playground for the big banks and other connected firms who get a preview peek at everything that goes through the market, and who can program their computers to skim profits off daily with no risk whatever. The stock market is also, quite possibly, prone to more serious manipulation that resulted in last Thursday’s crash.“
Oof. I’m out of my comfort zone when it comes to understanding market behavior, so I hope someone has a better explanation for the Flash Crash than the disconcertingly plausible one offered here. (Just saying Greece doesn’t quite cut it, I don’t think.)
“Last week, Congress decided it would not confront Too Big To Fail, the single gravest threat to our collective financial security. But there are still several key Wall Street reforms worth fighting for–reforms that must be enacted before the next crisis hits, with or without a big bank break-up. And fortunately, key Senators have authored amendments dealing with each one.” In HuffPo, Zach Carter delineates the most worthwhile progressive amendments to financial reform still up for debate in the Senate. A good encapsulation of the state of play.
“‘I think he’s a guy who’s willing to get down into the weeds,’ said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who is No. 4 in GOP leadership. ‘Because he immerses himself in that and understands it so well — the positions he adopts may not always be the ones that everyone else in our conference comes to.’“
Hmmm, that explains a lot. In trying to explain why Sen. Bob Corker has been bucking the GOP line on financial reform of late, Sen. John Thune gaffe-tastically concedes that it’s because Corker actually tries to figure out what he’s talking about. “When Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama started working on a draft outline of a GOP alternative to the Democrats’ bill, Corker said he didn’t plan on spending ‘any time’ on it. ‘At the end of the day — look it’s a messaging piece, isn’t it?’ Corker smiled.“