Archive for the ‘Business’ Category
Courage costs money, so… Sony Pictures Cancels Holiday Release of ‘The Interview’ After Threats
Not “Land of the Craven,” perhaps, but certainly not “land of the Brave”. I suppose that, in those instances in which bravery would show a profit as measured against risks. The risks to the companies was, I think, too great: One small injury or riot or (God forbid) terrorist attack in one theater—given that they were “warned”—would be catastrophic. So prudence wins. But let’s stomp swaggering out with this land of the courageous and brave.
The thing is, that sort of threat is easy to make and pretty low cost. If it’s demonstrated that it works, terrorists and rogue nations can play the US like a piano—to prevent which, of course, was the whole idea of showing courage and resoluteness. That ship, I fear, has sailed.
Elizabeth Warren, you done good: The feds are suing Sprint for charging Americans ‘hundreds of millions’ in bogus fees
Thanks to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for doing exactly what the GOP feared: protecting the finances of consumers. Read this joyous story, so appropriate to this (or at least to some) season.
Frances Robles reports in the NY Times on how corrupt the Obama Administration has become: it now sells government actions for cash contributions. How low can you go? I didn’t realize that “Hope” would lead to this sort of thing:
The Obama administration overturned a ban preventing a wealthy, politically connected Ecuadorean woman from entering the United States after her family gave tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns, according to finance records and government officials.
The woman, Estefanía Isaías, had been barred from coming to the United States after being caught fraudulently obtaining visas for her maids. But the ban was lifted at the request of the State Department under former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton so that Ms. Isaías could work for an Obama fund-raiser with close ties to the administration.
It was one of several favorable decisions the Obama administration made in recent years involving the Isaías family, which the government of Ecuadoraccuses of buying protection from Washington and living comfortably in Miami off the profits of a looted bank in Ecuador.
The family, which has been investigated by federal law enforcement agencies on suspicion of money laundering and immigration fraud, has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to American political campaigns in recent years. During that time, it has repeatedly received favorable treatment from the highest levels of the American government, including from New Jersey’s senior senator and the State Department.
The Obama administration has allowed the family’s patriarchs, Roberto and William Isaías, to remain in the United States, refusing to extradite them to Ecuador. The two brothers were sentenced in absentia in 2012 to eight years in prison, accused of running their bank into the ground and then presenting false balance sheets to profit from bailout funds. In a highly politicized case, Ecuador says the fraud cost the country $400 million.
The family’s affairs have rankled Ecuador and strained relations with the United States at a time when the two nations are also at odds over another international fugitive: Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, who has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
But while scrutiny has typically focused on whether the family’s generous campaign donations have helped its patriarchs avoid extradition, the unorthodox help given to Ms. Isaías, the daughter of Roberto, has received little attention.
In the spring of 2011, Ms. Isaías, a television executive, was in a difficult situation.
Her father and uncle were Ecuadorean fugitives living in Miami, but she was barred from entering the United States after she brought maids into the country under false visa pretenses and left them at her parents’ Miami home while she traveled.
“Alien smuggling” is what American consular officials in Ecuador called it.
American diplomats began enforcing the ban against Ms. Isaías, blocking her from coming to Miami for a job with a communications strategist who had raised up to $500,000 for President Obama.
What happened next illustrates the kind of access and influence available to people with vast amounts of money. . .
Continue reading. It just gets worse and worse: the corruption in this case is highly visible and quite overt. But no one gives a damn.
It would probably be helpful to everyone if the Obama Administration simply posted a price list: the amount of cash required for different types of favors—something along the lines of what Duke Cunningham did when he was in Congress:
The sentencing memorandum includes the California Republican’s “bribery menu” on one of his congressional note cards, “starkly framed” under the seal of the United States Congress.
The card shows an escalating scale for bribes, starting at $140,000 and a luxury yacht for a $16 million Defense Department contract. Each additional $1 million in contract value required a $50,000 bribe.
The rate dropped to $25,000 per additional million once the contract went above $20 million.
From a good Wikipedia article, here’s what Duke’s menu looked like:
I’m sure the Obama Administration can come up with a neater price list.
Obama has one thing going for him that the Dukester did not: The Obama Administration controls the Department of Justice, so the Administration can easily put the kibosh on any effort to enforce anti-corruption laws—not that the Obama DOJ seems at all interested in prosecuting well-connected people (cf. the lack of prosecution of bankers, of torturers, et al.).
UPDATE: The NY Times just published my comment to the story:
Does the Obama Administration publish a price list for favors, as Duke Cunningham did when he was in Congress? I think that would expedite cashing in on their position. Bribes—or, as they are tactfully called, “cash contributions to campaigns”—seem to work easiest if people know how much they have to pay for specific actions.
This is outright corruption, but of course the Obama Administration is not going to turn its own Justice Department on itself (not that the Obama DOJ is all that interested in prosecution anyway: not on torturers, not on bankers, not on anyone with any influence). This corruption in the Executive Branch is properly investigated by a (dysfunctional and rightly disrespected) Congress.
The US is not doing well these days.
It’s a four-part series and just fascinating. Here’s the first part:
And note this:
Via Business Insider: “As the war over income inequality wages on, super-rich Seattle entrepreneur Nick Hanauer has been raising the hackles of his fellow 1-percenters, espousing the contrarian argument that rich people don’t actually create jobs. The position is controversial — so much so that TED is refusing to post a talk that Hanauer gave on the subject. National Journal reports today that TED officials decided not to put Hanauer’s March 1 speech up online after deeming his remarks “too politically controversial” for the site…”.
It’s not controversial at all: the notion that jobs are created on the supply side (rather than in response to demand) is jejune. But you can see why the rich like it—and do not want it tested.
I must say that I have lost considerable respect for TED. Their lack of courage is noticeable, I fear.
Michael Lewis has written some excellent books—IMO he is clearly superior to Malcolm Gladwell, who is too glib by half. At BloombergView.com, Lewis lists eight wishes:
It’s a wonderful life on Wall Street, yet here is a holiday wish list to make it even better.
1. The financial sector rids itself of anyone with even the faintest reason to believe that he or she is unusually clever.
All those who have scored highly on standardized tests, or been invited to join Mensa, or finished in the top quartile of any graduating class will be banned. Most of our recent financial calamities — collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps on subprime mortgage bonds, trading algorithms that prey on ordinary investors, the gaming of rating companies’ models, the rigging of the Greek government’s books so the country might disguise its true indebtedness — required a great deal of ingenuity. Lesser minds would have been incapable of causing so much damage.
Of course, it’s not easy to prevent clever people from working in finance, or from doing anything else they want to do. Perhaps now more than ever, clever people are habituated to being paid to ignore the spirit of any rule — which is one reason they have become such a problem on Wall Street. Upon seeing a new rule they do not think, “What social purpose does this serve, and how can I help it to do the job?” They think, “How can I game it?” If it pays to disguise their intellects, clever people will do it better than anyone else. Without further regulation, our entire society would soon be operating in the spirit of the Philadelphia 76ers: Kids tanking the SAT, parents choosing high schools that guarantee failure, intellectual prodigies scheming to gain entry to Chico State. No single rule, by itself, is capable of protecting the rest of us from their intellects. We’ll need more rules.
2. No person under the age of 35 will be allowed to work on Wall Street.
Upon leaving school, young people, no matter how persuasively dimwitted, will be required to earn their living in the so-called real economy. Any job will do: fracker, street performer, chief of marketing for a medical marijuana dispensary. If and when Americans turn 35, and still wish to work in finance, they will carry with them memories of ordinary market forces, and perhaps be grateful to our society for having created an industry that is not subjected to them. At the very least, they will know that some huge number of people — their former fellow street performers, say — will be seriously pissed off at them if they do risky things on Wall Street to undermine the real economy. No one wants a bunch of pissed-off street performers coming after them. To that end …
3. Women will henceforth make all Wall Street trading decisions.
Men are more prone to financial risk-taking, and overconfidence, and so will be banned from even secondary roles on Wall Street trading desks — though they will be permitted to do whatever damage they would like in their private investment accounts. Trading is a bit like pornography: Women may like it, but they don’t like it nearly as much as men, and they certainly don’t like it in ways that create difficulties for society. Put them in charge of all financial decision-making and the decisions will be more boring, but more sociable. Of course, this raises a practical question: How will our society find enough women older than 35, with no special intellectual ability, to fill all of Wall Street’s trading jobs? Well …
4. Wall Street will take the resources it once hurled at Harvard and Yale universities, to recruit their students, and invest in America’s leading retirement communities, to recruit . . .
Continue reading. Fun stuff.