All posts by shekenne

Now THAT’S a Retirement Speech!

In the wake of the Great Recession, the SEC has come in for plenty of criticism from academics and pundits who follow financial regulation. But few critiques have been as blunt and biting as the one recently issued by a retiring SEC lawyer.

James Kidney had joined the SEC in 1986. He made a speech at his retirement party last month that has garnered considerable attention, not least because his audience was composed primarily of SEC lawyers and alumni.

Kidney had campaigned within the agency to bring charges against more executives, especially in the SEC’s  case against Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS)

According to a copy of his remarks that found its way to Bloomberg News, Kidney said the SEC had become “an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors. On the rare occasions when enforcement does go to the penthouse, good manners are paramount. Tough enforcement, risky enforcement, is subject to extensive negotiation and weakening.”

Kidney said his superiors were more focused on getting high-paying jobs after their government service than on bringing difficult cases. The agency’s penalties, Kidney said, have become “at most a tollbooth on the bankster turnpike.”

“I have had bosses, and bosses of my bosses, whose names we all know, who made little secret that they were here to punch their ticket,” Kidney said. “They mouthed serious regard for the mission of the commission, but their actions were tentative and fearful in many instances.” 

Kidney’s remarks serve as a reminder that no senior executive at a major financial firm has gone to jail; for that matter, the SEC has brought civil charges against only a handful. 

The revolving door between government agencies and those they are supposed to be regulating is an open secret–and a clear impediment to vigorous enforcement of the laws.

Sometimes, it takes an inside guy to remind us outside folks why things aren’t working the way they should.

Spelling Out the Koch Agenda

Reasonable people who don’t follow politics closely can be forgiven for dismissing Democrats’ focus on the Koch brothers as just a political tactic– not unlike the Republicans’ attacks on George Soros.  They’re all rich and politically active. So what?

Senator Bernie Sanders begs to differ–and so should we.  Sanders points out that the brothers are worth 80 billion dollars (including an increase of 12 billion in the last year alone), and he points to the extent of their involvement in the political process–and the degree to which they have used their enormous resources to misinform and confuse, most recently funding political spots that flat-out lie about the Affordable Care Act, which–along with Medicare and Medicaid– they are intent upon repealing. (I guess when poor people get health care, it offends their peculiar version of justice.)

David Koch ran as the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential candidate in 1980. And Sanders suggests we take a look at the platform on which he ran:

  • “We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws, and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission.”
  • “We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
  • “We oppose any compulsory insurance or tax-supported plan to provide health services, including those which finance abortion services.”
  • “We also favor the deregulation of the medical insurance industry.”
  • “We favor the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system. Pending that repeal, participation in Social Security should be made voluntary.”
  • “We propose the abolition of the governmental Postal Service. The present system, in addition to being inefficient, encourages governmental surveillance of private correspondence.  Pending abolition, we call for an end to the monopoly system and for allowing free competition in all aspects of postal service.”
  • “We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.”
  • “We support the eventual repeal of all taxation.”
  • “As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.”
  • “We support repeal of all laws which impede the ability of any person to find employment, such as minimum wage laws.”
  • “We advocate the complete separation of education and State.  Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.”
  • “We condemn compulsory education laws … and we call for the immediate repeal of such laws.”
  • “We support the repeal of all taxes on the income or property of private schools, whether profit or non-profit.”
  • “We support the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.”
  • “We support abolition of the Department of Energy.”
  • “We call for the dissolution of all government agencies concerned with transportation, including the Department of Transportation.”
  • “We demand the return of America’s railroad system to private ownership. We call for the privatization of the public roads and national highway system.”
  • “We specifically oppose laws requiring an individual to buy or use so-called “self-protection” equipment such as safety belts, air bags, or crash helmets.”
  • “We advocate the abolition of the Federal Aviation Administration.”
  • “We advocate the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration.”
  • “We support an end to all subsidies for child-bearing built into our present laws, including all welfare plans and the provision of tax-supported services for children.”
  • “We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and ‘aid to the poor’ programs. All these government programs are privacy-invading, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient. The proper source of help for such persons is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.”
  • “We call for the privatization of the inland waterways, and of the distribution system that brings water to industry, agriculture and households.”
  • “We call for the repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.”
  • “We call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”
  • “We support the repeal of all state usury laws.”

The Koch brothers want to repeal every major piece of legislation that levels the playing field or protects the middle class, the elderly, children, the sick, and the most vulnerable in this country, and thanks to Citizens United  and McCutcheon, they can spend unlimited amounts of money to buy the American government they want.

They’ve realized that the Libertarian party can’t deliver their particular version of “liberty”–but properly funded, they hope the GOP can.

They may be right.

 

If You Wonder Why I’m Always in a Bad Mood…

Here are a few of the things that make me want to go to bed and pull the covers over my head. (H/T to Juanita Jean and the World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Parlor).

Furious parents and citizens of Oklahoma took to the streets early Thursday, protesting against Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos.  Protesters allege the show is blatantly promoting an anti-Creationist agenda and is ‘standing against the Judeo-Christian moors and values of the Saddleback Township community and others nationwide.”

The fact that they can’t spell “mores” is the least of it…The fact that they can’t tell the difference between science and religion is infinitely depressing.

And another “Christian” heard from, this time from Virginia.

Virginia GOP state delegate and congressional candidate Bob Marshall is standing by his claim that disabled children are God’s punishment for women who have an abortion. “Nature takes its vengeance on subsequent children,” Marshall said in 2010. “It’s a special punishment, Christians would suggest.”

I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, the kind of God who would get back at “sinful” women by punishing innocent children really doesn’t seem worth worshipping…

Impressively crazy as those entrants are, South Carolina isn’t about to give up its hopes of winning the All-batshit competition.

On Thursday, a Senate committee in South Carolina voted to expand the state’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” law to approve the use of deadly force to protect a fetus. The proposal would grant pregnant women protection from prosecution if they were defending their “unborn children,” defined as “the offspring of human beings from conception until birth.”

At least they didn’t vote to arm each fetus. They must be libruls…

South Carolina’s legislature is also having a heated debate over a proposal–triggered by a third-grader who is clearly more scientifically literate than many S.C. lawmakers–to name the wooly mammoth the “State Fossil.”

Sen. Kevin Bryant, a pharmacist and self-described born-again Christian who has compared President Obama with Osama bin Laden, voted to sustain a veto by Governor Nikki Haley of funding for a rape crisis center, and called climate change a “hoax,” proposed amending the bill to include three verses from the Book of Genesis detailing God’s creation of the Earth and its living inhabitants—including mammoths.

The proposal has subsequently been bogged down as legislators debate the additional language.

Meanwhile, Dispatches from the Culture Wars reports that the Louisiana legislature wants to pass a law making the King James Version of the Bible the official state book, and Miami-Dade County in Florida is closing all the bathrooms in polling places. And then there’s this.

And Indiana Governor Mike Pence really thinks he could be President.

We’re doomed. Really.

 

I Know I’m a Broken Record…

It really, really gripes me that taxpayers are subsidizing Walmart’s bottom line. I’ve beaten that drum repeatedly, but when I saw this video, the message was presented in so clear and compelling a way, I just had to share.

In fairness, let me point out that this analysis applies equally to the many other greedy recipients of corporate welfare. (McDonalds, I’m looking at you!)

You either believe in markets or you don’t. Walmart and its ilk may beat the drum for capitalism, but they don’t want to abide by its terms, and compete fair and square in the market–without public subsidy.

 

Necessary Distinctions

I’ve spent a fair amount of time on this blog criticizing corporate interests–Big Oil, the Kochs, all the mega-corporations evading taxes by any means arguably lawful, and others of that ilk. But a recent story reminded me that markets often exert powerful pressure for good, and not just because competition tends to drive down prices and make goods and services affordable. The vast majority of businesses operate in competitive markets that reward good behavior as well as low prices.

A good example is the fight for equal rights for GLBT citizens. Business has been in the forefront of that fight.

The link in the first paragraph is to an article about Chik-fil-A, which is furiously backpedaling from the anti-gay remarks made last year by its founder and CEO. While it would be nice if that retreat was the result of some sort of moral epiphany, the truth is that it has been forced by the realities of the market. (As one consultant recently wrote,  ”There are few more treacherous actions a CEO can take than to make derogatory comments about gay men and lesbians or to be publicly exposed for funding anti-gay causes.”)

Chick-fil-A’s socially conservative agenda, which formerly led the company to donate millions to charitable groups opposed to gay marriage, has been tempered. This, just as the company aims to quickly expand into Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Southern hospitality must give way to urban reality as the 1,800 store chain moves to compete with big city success stories like McDonald’s, Panera Bread and Chipotle.

Homophobia, racism, anti-Semetism and the like are bad for business. That lesson has been learned by hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, middle-managers and HR folks–and along the way, many of them have become true believers in the value of valuing diversity. Their advocacy, in turn, has moved the entire culture in a more inclusive direction.

For every asshole who is buying politicians and squirreling profits away in the Cayman Islands, there are twenty companies genuinely making America a better place–by treating GLBT people fairly, by becoming more environmentally conscious, by adopting local schools or supporting civic and charitable causes.

We need to rein in the bad actors, but we also need to appreciate the good guys. Even the guys who are only being good because that’s what the market rewards.