Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Feds seek to air consumer finance complaints

leave a comment »

Jeff Horowitz reports at The Big Story:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has heard from hundreds of thousands of consumers who feel wronged by banks and finance companies. Now the agency wants the public to hear from those consumers too.

On Wednesday, the bureau proposed allowing consumers to publish online the details of their complaints against lenders and financial service providers. Those narratives would augment the bureau’s consumer complaint database, which lists complaints about checking accounts, credit cards, student loans and other financial products. If consumers choose to make their complaints public, the companies involved would then be given a chance to write a public response.

“By proposing to share people’s stories, we are giving consumers an opportunity to be heard by the entire world and not simply by a government agency and its officials,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in remarks prepared for a Thursday event in El Paso, Texas.

The consumer bureau’s current database simply lists the company being complained about, a general subject matter like “deposits and withdrawals,” and whether the complaint has been resolved. By adding the narratives, the bureau believes it will help consumers determine where to take their business and identify systemic problems. A similar complaint reporting system is already in place at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which seeks to identify dangerous products from appliances to toys.

Consumer groups were elated by the bureau’s proposal, which Ruth Susswein, a deputy director at Consumer Action, called “essential for consumers to protect themselves.” Banks have complained bitterly about . . .

Continue reading.

This is excellent news—indeed, the complaints from the banks show how good it is. And as we saw in the previous article, making Federal databases open to the public whenever possible can help mitigate fraud and bad practice.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2014 at 10:13 am

Why Are Obstetricians Among the Top Billers for Group Psychotherapy in Illinois?

leave a comment »

The simple answer is that Medicare was not reviewing its billing data and seemed to have little interest in stopping fraud.  Charles Ornstein reports in ProPublica:

A few years ago, Illinois’ Medicaid program for the poor noticed some odd trends in its billings for group psychotherapy sessions.

Nursing home residents were being taken several times a week to off-site locations, and Medicaid was picking up the tab for both the services and the transportation.

And then there was this: The sessions were often being performed by obstetrician/gynecologists, oncologists and urologists — “people who didn’t have any training really in psychiatry,” Medicaid director Theresa Eagleson recalled.

So Medicaid began cracking down, and spending plummeted after new rules were implemented. In July 2012 the program stopped paying for group psychotherapy altogether for residents of nursing homes.

Yet Illinois doctors are still billing the federal Medicare program for large numbers of the same services, a ProPublica analysis of federal data shows.

Medicare paid Illinois providers for more than 290,000 group psychotherapy sessions in 2012 — more than twice as many sessions as were reimbursed to providers in New York, the state with the second-highest total.

Among the highest billers for group psychotherapy in Illinois were three ob/gyns and a thoracic surgeon. The four combined for 37,864 sessions that year, more than the total for all providers in the state of California. They were reimbursed more than $730,000 by Medicare in 2012 just for psychotherapy sessions, according to an analysis of a separate Medicare data set released in April.

“That’s not good,” Eagleson said when told of the Medicare numbers.

Medicare’s recent data release has led to a string of analyses showing how waste and fraud is inflating the nation’s bill for health care. This work has echoed the findings of ProPublica’s investigation last year into Medicare’s prescription drug program known as Part D, which had fewer barriers to waste and fraud than other government health care programs – and was making less effective use of its own data.

Of the Illinois ob/gyns billing for group psychotherapy, . . .

Continue reading.

Some of these physicians should face criminal charges for fraud and also lose their license to practice medicine.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2014 at 10:09 am

Glaser, Cuomo, and the Refusals That Made the Story

leave a comment »

I blogged earlier on Andrew Cuomo, who increasingly seems to be corrupt, and his relationship with Howard Glaser. Nicole Bronzan has a brief article in ProPublica—and there’s a podcast at the link:

Justin Elliott (@JustinElliott) was doing his poking around a year ago when he uncovered a story he hadn’t even known existed, he tells Assistant Managing Editor Eric Umansky (@ericuman) in this week’s podcast.

Looking into the relationship between Howard Glaser, a mortgage industry lobbyist, and Andrew Cuomo, now New York’s governor, he filed a Freedom of Information request for Glaser’s emails in that capacity. The state denied the request, citing Glaser’s role as a consultant in Cuomo’s investigation into the mortgage industry during his time as attorney general — a previously unreported fact.

It was a surprising twist on the revolving door between government and industry, Elliott says: “Howard Glaser was on both sides of that door at the same time, and not only that, at least two of the companies that Andrew Cuomo was investigating as attorney general were actually acknowledged clients of Glaser.”

Umansky takes a moment to “savor the deliciousness” of that turn of events. “In the course of objecting to and fighting our open records request,” he says, “their argument for that actually turned out to be revealing another story to us.”

In the end, one of Glaser’s clients ended up getting immunity, Elliott says, which may have made sense for the investigation, but it’s never been reported that Cuomo ever used any information obtained as part of the deal with the due diligence firm Clayton. “It’s not clear why this deal was made,” he says.

Meanwhile, Glaser had a prominent role in news reports about Cuomo’s investigations, including the story that broke the news of the 2007 deal with Clayton, Elliott says– but without mention of his role consulting for the attorney general’s office. “If you read the New York Times story, which we link to in our story, who’s quoted in it? None other than Howard Glaser, as a mortgage consultant,” he says. “Story doesn’t mention the fact that Glaser had worked for both Clayton and Cuomo.”

Asked for answers about all this, Glaser instead began a Twitter campaign against ProPublica and its founding funder weeks before the article was published, Elliott says.

That “prebuttal” of the story actually worked against him in the end, Umansky says, calling it one of the “great moments in PR management.” In response to Glaser’s tweets, “a number of reporters started tweeting about their interest in seeing what the story was.”

By publishing time, ProPublica’s publicity team already had a head start, thanks to Glaser.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

D.C. man exonerated in 1982 rape and murder; DNA reveals FBI error in conviction

leave a comment »

This was an FBI “elite” unit. God knows what their regular units do. Keith Alexander and Spencer Hsu report for the Washington Post:

A D.C. Superior Court judge concluded Monday that DNA evidence exonerates a man who spent 26 years in prison for the 1982 rape and murder of a Washington woman.

Kevin Martin’s case marks the fifth time in as many years that federal prosecutors in D.C. acknowledged that errors by an elite FBI forensic unit have led to a wrongful conviction.

U.S. attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. joined defense calls to vacate Martin’s conviction and declare him innocent of the rape and murder of Ursula C. Brown. Machen cited DNA evidence that contradicts a previous finding by forensic experts linking Martin to a hair collected at the scene.

Martin, who had long professed innocence in the killing, left the D.C. courthouse with his name cleared. He was paroled in 2009 and lives in San Francisco.

“I am free at last. I am humbled. I never gave up,” Martin said, hugging and high-fiving his attorneys. Martin’s younger sister, his fiancée, his 6-year-old niece and other family members gathered around.

“I just want to live,” said Martin, 50,

The hearing came as Machen’s office nears the end of a 2-1 / 2 year review of all local convictions involving FBI hair matches that was launched in 2012 after demands by the D.C. Public Defender Service. The service has worked to exonerate four men convicted by such matches since 2009. And the troubling problems exposed in the FBI lab’s methods have led the FBI and Justice Department to undertake a nationwide review of more than 2,100 convictions in the 1980s and 1990s.

Martin’s is the first exoneration uncovered by District prosecutors, who also say it is the only one found by the local review. PDS praised the effort to clear Martin’s name but criticized the U.S. Attorney’s Office review as secretive and the disclosure of results as incomplete and overdue. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 11:29 am

What happens if the internet’s not open and free: Government propaganda dept.

leave a comment »

Julia Ioffe writes in The New Republic:

id you know Malaysia Air Flight 17 was full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam? Did you know that, for some darkly inexplicable reason, on July 17, MH17 moved off the standard flight path that it had taken every time before, and moved north, toward rebel-held areas outside Donetsk? Or that the dispatchers summoned the plane lower just before the crash? Or that the plane had been recently reinsured? Or that the Ukrainian army has air defense systems in the area? Or that it was the result of the Ukrainian military mistaking MH17 for Putin’s presidential plane, which looks strangely similar?

Did you know that the crash of MH17 was all part of an American conspiracy to provoke a big war with Russia?

Well, it’s all true—at least if you live in Russia, because this is the Malaysia Airlines crash story that you’d be seeing.

As the crisis surrounding the plane crash deepens and as calls for Vladimir Putin to act grow louder, it’s worth noting that they’re not really getting through to Putin’s subjects. The picture of the catastrophe that the Russian people are seeing on their television screens is very different from that on screens in much of the rest of the world, and the discrepancy does not bode well for a sane resolution to this stand-off. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 8:40 am

Posted in Government, Media

The “Show Me” state refuses to be shown re: Prescription drug database

leave a comment »

Missouri is the only state that refuses to create a prescription drug database to detect and prevent prescription drug abuse. The reasons seem to be a refusal to be shown. The NY Times story by Alan Schwarz begins:

On his office phone at L & S Pharmacy, Richard Logan listened as a doctor’s office detailed how a patient had just left with her third prescription for painkillers in only nine days — and was quite possibly getting more, illegally, elsewhere.

Mr. Logan, 61, holstered two guns, slipped on a bulletproof vest and jumped into his truck. Because in his small corner of America’s epidemic of prescription drug abuse, Mr. Logan is no ordinary pharmacist. He is also a sheriff’s deputy who, when alerted to someone acquiring fraudulent drug prescriptions, goes out to catch that person himself.

“I’m only one guy, and for every person we get to, there are probably 100 who we can’t,” Mr. Logan said. “How many people have to get addicted and die for us to do what everyone else is doing about it?”
Continue reading the main story

His frustration stems from this: Missouri is the only state in America that has declined to keep a prescription drug database — the primary tool the other 49 states use to identify people who acquire excess prescriptions for addictive painkillers and tranquilizers, as well as the physicians who overprescribe them.

Not having the database has not only hampered Missouri’s ability to combat prescription drug abuse, but also attracted people from neighboring states looking to stockpile pills and bring them home to take themselves or sell to others, according to law enforcement officials, legislators and data compiled by a prescription drug processing firm.

“Welcome to Missouri — America’s Drugstore,” said Dr. Douglas Char, an emergency room physician in St. Louis. “We aren’t just allowing abuse, we’ve created a business model for dealers.”

Drug monitoring programs, whose procedures and powers can vary significantly from state to state, all share a similar strategy: to require doctors, pharmacists or both to enter all prescriptions into a database that can — or, in some states, must — be consulted later to make sure patients do not get excess medication.

Because many states’ programs appear effective, Missouri has been urged to put one into effect. Among those calling for a change are Missouri medical associations, members of Congress from neighboring states, the White House and even Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, the St. Louis-based manufacturer of oxycodone, the highly abused prescription painkiller.

But while proponents say the vast majority of the Legislature supports the measure, it has been blocked by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 8:33 am

Growing pains of legal marijuana

leave a comment »

It will take a while to figure out best practices, and that is why we try to preserve cultural knowledge—i.e., things painfully and slowly worked out. I sound like I’m becoming a conservative.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2014 at 2:47 pm

When Rhode Island accidentally legalized prostitution, rape decreased sharply

with one comment

Also gonorrhea dropped sharply. Hmm.

Prostitution-and-rape

The Washington Post report is by Max Ehrenfreund:

For decades, few people noticed that legislators in Providence had deleted crucial language from Rhode Island state law in 1980. It wasn’t until a 2003 court case that police, to their chagrin, discovered they couldn’t prevent prostitutes and their customers from engaging in commercial exchange.

For the next six years until legislators corrected their error, the oldest profession was not a crime in Rhode Island — and public health and public safety substantially improved as a result, according to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The statewide incidence of gonorrhea among women declined by 39 percent, and the number of rapes reported to police in the state declined by 31 percent, according to the paper.

The study by Baylor University’s Scott Cunningham and Manisha Shah of the University of California, Los Angeles contributes to an impassioned, long-running debate about prostitution among advocates for women’s rights. Their work appears to be the first quantitative evidence that removing criminal penalties for prostitutes can reduce violence against women and curtail sexually transmitted infections in society generally — and dramatically so. Yet opponents argue that legal prostitution would encourage traffickers to kidnap women and girls into lives of sexual slavery. . .

Continue reading. Worries about what might happen seem misplaced. Better to focus on what does happen.

See next post on decriminalizing all drugs. (We know what happens when we make the drugs illegal, and it’s very bad indeed. Let’s see what happens when we legalize, regulate, and tax the drugs, and tread addiction as a medical problem rather than a crime.)

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 3:03 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Wall Street seems to be able to direct malicious government prosecutions

leave a comment »

Pam Martens reports in Wall Street on Parade:

Wall Street On Parade has been reporting for the past six months on a series of tragic, sudden deaths of Information Technology workers at JPMorgan. Now coming to the fore are stories of relentless prosecutions of Wall Street’s IT workers by Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance. Bloomberg News reports today that Vance is engaged in at least four prosecutions of Wall Street workers over theft of computer code or other intellectual property.

Bestselling author, Michael Lewis, devoted a significant part of his latest book, Flash Boys, to the prosecution of Sergey Aleynikov over alleged stolen computer code. Aleynikov had been working for Goldman Sachs when he received an offer to move to a hedge fund and build a system from scratch. Aleynikov accepted the offer but agreed to stay at Goldman for six weeks to train his colleagues. (That does not seem like the action of a person on the run with stolen computer code.)

That was 2009. For the past five years, Aleynikov has been arrested and jailed by the Feds, had his conviction overturned by the Second Circuit Appeals Court, rearrested by the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, and now faces more prosecution over the same set of facts: namely, that he took computer code that belonged to Goldman Sachs. Aleynikov is said to be among the best coders in the industry. He is increasingly being seen as the victim of malicious prosecution at the behest of the powerful Goldman Sachs.

According to the Lewis book, on the very same day that Kevin Marino, Aleynikov’s lawyer, gave his oral arguments to the Appeals Court, “the judges ordered Serge released, on the grounds that the laws he stood accused of breaking did not actually apply to his case.” He had been in prison for a year.

When the Second Circuit Appeals Court handed down its opinion of the case in December 2010, it found that Aleynikov had neither taken a tangible good from Goldman nor had he stolen a product involved in interstate commerce – noting that at oral argument the government “was unable to identify a single product that affects interstate commerce.”

But the hounds from hell were not finished with Aleynikov. Approximately six months after his vindication by the Second Circuit Appeals Court, the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, arrested Aleynikov, placed him in jail on essentially the same charges, and sought to have bail denied on the basis that he was a flight risk. Lewis notes in the book that the prosecutor put in charge of the case, Joanne Li, was actually the flight risk – Li soon fled the case, getting a job at Citigroup.

The ill repute that is now surrounding the Vance case is sending a message to close observers that this is more about harassing IT workers and delivering a cautionary warning to others than it is about punishing a real crime.

On Friday, June 20 of this year, New York State Judge Ronald A. Zweibel found that Aleynikov’s arrest at the hands of the Feds had been illegal. The Judge wrote that the FBI agent “did not have probable cause to arrest defendant, let alone search him or his home.” The Judge further noted that the “defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated.”

The Judge also ruled that Aleynikov’s computer property seized by the FBI should have been returned to him after his case was overturned by the Federal Appeals Court. Instead, the Federal prosecutors turned the computers over to Vance’s office.

After Zweibel’s ruling, Aleynikov’s lawyer, Kevin Marino, released a statement saying that the Judge’s decision “represents a damning indictment of those assistant U.S. attorneys, assistant district attorneys and FBI agents who have now twice pursued an unlawful prosecution of an innocent man at the behest of Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs.” Marino added that Goldman “not only provoked but has been an active co-conspirator in the government’s case against Mr. Aleynikov.”

Is co-conspirator too strong a word? To comprehend the arrest and imprisonment of IT workers on Wall Street, one has to have context.

For many decades, there was a saying on Wall Street that . . .

Continue reading.

It’s pretty clear that Wall Street controls at least some of the Federal government. They do not use their power to good ends.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 10:24 am

The corruption of Andrew Cuomo

leave a comment »

I think Cuomo has shown his true colors, and they are unattractive in the extreme. Consider this report from Justin Elliott in ProPublica:

In early 2007, when he was New York State attorney general, Andrew Cuomo brought on a longtime confidant as a consultant on mortgage industry investigations, a move that has gone undisclosed until now.

The friend was Howard Glaser and he had another job at the same time: consultant and lobbyist for the very industry Cuomo was investigating.

Glaser, who went on to become a top state official in Cuomo’s gubernatorial administration, was operating a lucrative consulting firm, the Glaser Group, with a host of mortgage industry clients.

Later that year, Glaser provided insights on Cuomo’s investigations to industry players on a conference call hosted by an investment bank.

Cuomo’s office ended up giving immunity to one of Glaser’s clients a year into his term as attorney general.

In the end, experts say, the mortgage investigations Cuomo touted as “wide-ranging” came to little, even as he held one of the country’s most powerful prosecutorial positions through the financial crisis and its aftermath.

Glaser’s role in the attorney general’s investigations was disclosed to ProPublica in response to a public records request. The extent of his work is unclear, as is how long it lasted. Glaser told ProPublica the scope of the work was limited. While it was a formal arrangement, it was unpaid.

Cuomo’s office referred questions to Steven Cohen, who was chief of staff when Cuomo was attorney general. “There is no doubt Glaser provided advice to the governor when he was attorney general,” said Cohen. “The role he served was as a general consultant on the industry overall. He did not provide advice on specific investigations.”

Glaser also said that, despite the investment bank conference call, he never advised clients on Cuomo investigations.

One person who worked in the mortgage industry during that time said Glaser had a reputation as having Cuomo’s ear.

“If you needed to get to Cuomo, Glaser was the guy to go to,” the person said.

Before becoming a lobbyist for the mortgage industry, Glaser worked in the late 1990s under Cuomo at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he was known as Cuomo’s “right-hand man” and “hammer.”

Glaser declined to release a list of his clients from the period he worked for the attorney general. . .

Continue reading.

This is similar to Obama’s picking a telecommunications industry lobbyist to head the FCC or a Wall Street defense lawyer to head the SEC: finding foxes to guard chicken coops. It shows where Cuomo’s (and Obama’s) true loyalties lie.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 10:18 am

Can the FCC keep states from banning public Internet?

leave a comment »

Corporations will do anything to make money (read this article on how they are leeching money from higher education), and one tactic is to get states to make it illegal for cities to offer free (and quite good) broadband services to residents. The FCC might be able to forestall this heavy-handed tactic, as Brian Fung explains:

While everyone’s worked up about how to keep the Internet an open platform, another little-known controversy is quickly gaining steam. How it plays out could determine whether millions of Americans get to build their own, local alternatives to big, corporate ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon.

Last night, House lawmakers pushed through legislation that would effectively undo those prospects for many cities around the country. In an amendment to a must-pass funding bill, Republicans led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee approved an amendment that would prohibit federal regulators from ensuring cities’ ability to sell their own high-speed broadband directly to consumers.

Cities have lately been taking matters into their own hands, attempting to lay down publicly owned fiber optic cables where they say there are gaps in coverage, quality or price from incumbent ISPs. In Blackburn’s state, Chattanooga has emerged as a prominent example of a city that successfully challenged the status quo; the local government now offers 1 Gbps service for $70 a month. (Those speeds are roughly 100 times faster than the national average.) Longmont, Colo. is also moving forward with its municipal broadband project despite earlier resistance from the cable industry.

In Longmont and various other jurisdictions, though, state laws have made it difficult if not impossible for cities to build their own broadband networks. Some states, like Colorado, require voter referendums to reach a certain threshold before it’ll let cities proceed. Google Fiber reportedly passed over Boulder, Colo. because of such restrictions, meaning that consumers missed out on a potentially game-changing service.

Other states have sought to ban municipal networks outright: Earlier this year, Kansas tried to outlaw city broadband before public opposition convinced the legislature to back down. New Mexico is also considering a ban.

The Federal Communications Commission has signaled its intention to intervene, saying that its congressional charter, the Communications Act of 1996, gives it the authority to overturn or “preempt” the state-level restrictions. A federal court seemed to agree with that interpretation of the law in January when it wrote that the bans posed a “paradigmatic barrier to infrastructure investment” that the FCC is empowered to move against.

“If the people, acting through their elected local governments, want to pursue competitive community broadband, they shouldn’t be stopped by state laws promoted by cable and telephone companies that don’t want that competition,” wrote FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a recent blog post.

But opponents of intervention argue that whatever the law says about the FCC’s authority, the agency must first deal with a higher constitutional problem. By leaping into the municipal broadband debate, the FCC would be inserting itself into the relationship between states and their cities — a potential no-no when it comes to the issue of federalism. . .

Continue reading. Later in the article:

“If the people, acting through their elected local governments, want to pursue competitive community broadband, they shouldn’t be stopped by state laws promoted by cable and telephone companies that don’t want that competition,” wrote FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a recent blog post.

The GOP pretty much hates anything the government does that benefits the public. The GOP wants businesses to make money from the public in every way possible, because the GOP derives its support from businesses. It’s very difficult to see any benefit to the people of the state for the legislature to make it illegal for cities to offer a municipal broadband service—and the vigorous public reaction in Kansas showed that the state legislature was doing this in obedience to private businesses, not out of a concern for citizens.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 9:09 am

I ♥ Senator Warren

leave a comment »

Pam Martens reports in Wall Street on Parade how Senator Warren asked some very pertinent questions of Fed Chair Yellen—and got totally unsatisfactory answers.

Yesterday, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen delivered her Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Senate Banking Committee. Yellen deftly maneuvered questions on slack in the job market, asset bubbles on Wall Street, and assorted digs at the explosion of the Fed’s balance sheet to over $4 trillion as a result of quantitative easing.

When it finally came to the turn of the last Senator on the docket to quiz Yellen, Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Fed Chair gave her a big, warm smile at the beginning of the questioning, likely figuring she was about to steal home and get big kudos for her performance back at the Fed.

Things didn’t go as planned.

Senator Warren has apparently been looking at the bare bones 35-pages released to the public for the various “living wills” or wind-down plans if a systemically important (too-big-to-fail) bank gets into trouble again and compared these to the cryptic, unintelligible tomes of paper that constitute the real wind-down plans behind the Fed’s equally opaque draperies.
Senator Elizabeth Warren Questioning Janet Yellen During Senate Hearing on July 15, 2014

Senator Elizabeth Warren Questioning Janet Yellen During Senate Hearing on July 15, 2014

Warren opened her questioning of Yellen by reminding the Fed Chair that Section 165 of the financial reform legislation known as Dodd-Frank mandated that large financial institutions submit plans to the Federal Reserve and the FDIC explaining how they could be “rapidly” liquidated without bringing down the economy – as occurred in 2008.

To drive home her point, Warren compared the situation of Lehman Brothers at the time of its collapse in 2008 to the Wall Street behemoth, JPMorgan today. Lehman, said Warren, had $639 billion in assets and 209 subsidiaries when it failed and it took three years to unwind the bank. Today, said Warren, JPMorgan has $2.5 trillion in assets and a staggering 3,391 subsidiaries.

Warren pointedly asked Yellen if these big Wall Street banks had ever given the Fed wind-down plans that were “credible.”

Yellen proceeded to bury herself pretty deeply in her answer. She said it was her “understanding” that there is a “process.” (Surely the Fed Chair should be completely on top of this critical piece of the Fed’s supervisory role of the largest bank holding companies in the country and have more than just an “understanding.”) Yellen went on to say that the wind-down plans are “complex” and some plans encompass “tens of thousands of pages.”

Yellen added: “I think what was intended is this interpretation you’re talking about, whether they’re credible, in other words, do they facilitate an orderly resolution, and I think we need to give these firms feedback.”

“Feedback” to banks which have exponentially increased in size since the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression and have consistently demonstrated illegal cartel and consumer rip-off behavior was clearly not the answer Warren had in mind.

Warren responded: . . .

Continue reading. You’ll learn how another Obama appointee, Stanley Fischer, basically said that the Fed has no intention of complying with the law. Fischer, a creature of Citigroup (at the link: a story about Citigroup’s shady if not criminal operation—and it probably is criminal, but DoJ and the SEC are not really good against the wealthy), is apparently pledged to protect his former employer and the source of his wealth.

Obama has done a poor job with his choices to regulate Wall Streeet, though better than the abysmal job done by George W. Bush.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 10:38 am

The SEC continues to cater to Wall Street

leave a comment »

Mary Jo White, Obama’s choice to run the SEC, is turning out to be much as one feared: subservient to the demands of Wall Street. Read this article by Jesse Eisinger in ProPublica. It begins:

When a financial titan like Laurence D. Fink lobbies Washington, the natural instinct is to make sure the citizenry pats itself down to check that everyone still has their wallets, watches and belts.

Mr. Fink has been making the case that gargantuan asset managers — coincidentally, like the firm he heads, BlackRock — should not be given the dreaded label of Systemically Important Financial Institution. Being a S.I.F.I. means that you are capable of transmitting all manner of systemic financial diseases to trading partners and customers and need an extra measure of regulation.

Such Washington spectacles are made all the worse when the head regulator of Mr. Fink’s firm echoes industry talking points. Mary Jo White, the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, BlackRock’s main regulator, has been on a genuflecting tour to reassure asset managers that they have a sympathetic ear in the nation’s capital. The S.E.C. has been jostling for turf over this question. Recently, Ms. White disagreed with the Treasury Department, telling the industry that it isn’t “overreacting” to the process.

But just because Mr. Fink is talking his book and Ms. White is acting the sycophant doesn’t mean they are wrong. Large asset managers shouldn’t be designated S.I.F.I.s.

Regulators have clear tasks left unfinished from the financial crisis. Where they have made progress, it’s been inadequate. This needs to be the relentless focus. Asset managers don’t top the list.

O.K., some context is in order. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 10:24 am

Smoking gun on GM lies

leave a comment »

This is why executives should face prison terms: their high salaries are in exchange for responsibility as well as authority, and they should be prosecuted.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

15 July 2014 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Good news: Those who hated us for our freedoms must be hating us a lot less these days

leave a comment »

Andrea Peterson has a good article in the Washington Post, in which she quotes this from a new report by Pew Research:

The Snowden revelations appear to have damaged one major element of America’s global image: its reputation for protecting individual liberties. In 22 of 36 countries surveyed in both 2013 and 2014, people are significantly less likely to believe the U.S. government respects the personal freedoms of its citizens. In six nations, the decline was 20 percentage points or more.

pewsnowden

 

Read the whole thing. More charts and graphs at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 4:50 pm

Ever Wondered Why the World is a Mess? Here’s why.

leave a comment »

Roberto Savio explains at the Inter Press Service News Agency:

Addressing this column to the younger generations, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, offers ten explanations of how the current mess in which the world finds itself came about.

ROME, Jul 11 2014 (IPS) – While the Third World War has not been formally declared, conflicts throughout the world are reaching levels unseen since 1944.

Of course, for the large majority of people throughout the world, news about these conflicts is just part of our daily news, but another share of our daily news is about the mess in our countries.

This is so complex and confusing that many people have given up the effort to attempt any form of deep understanding, so I thought it would be useful to offer ten explanations of how we succeeded in creating this mess.

1) The world, as it now exists, was largely shaped by the colonial powers, which divided the world among themselves, carving out states without any consideration for existing ethnic, religious or cultural realities. This was especially true of Africa and the Arab world, where the concept of state was imposed on systems of tribes and clans.

Just to give a few examples, none of the present-day Arab countries existed prior to colonialism. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, the Gulf Countries (including Saudi Arabia) were all parts of the Ottoman Empire. When this disappeared with the First World War (like the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian empires), the winners – Britain and France – sat down at a table and drafted the boundaries of countries to be run by them, as they had done before with Africa. So, never look at those countries as equivalent to countries with a history of national identity.

2) After the end of the colonial era, it was inevitable that to keep these artificial countries alive, and avoid their disintegration, strongmen would be needed to cover the void left by the colonial powers. The rules of democracy were used only to reach power, with very few exceptions. The Arab Spring did indeed get rid of dictators and autocrats, just to replace them with chaos and warring factions (as in Libya) or with a new autocrat, as in Egypt.

The case of Yugoslavia is instructive. After the Second World War, Marshal Tito dismantled the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and created the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. But we all know that Yugoslavia did not survive the death of its strongman.

The lesson is that without creating a really participatory and unifying process of citizens, with a strong civil society, local identities will always play the most decisive role. So it will take some before many of the new countries will be considered real countries devoid of internal conflicts.

3) Since the Second World War, the meddling of the colonial and super powers in the process of consolidation of new countries has been a very good example of man-made disaster.

Take the case of Iraq. When the United States took over administration of the country in 2003 after its invasion, General Jay Garner was appointed and lasted just a month, because he was considered too open to local views.

Garner was replaced by a diplomat, Jan Bremmer, who took up his post after a two-hour briefing by the then Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice. Bremmer immediately proceeded to dissolve the army (creating 250,000 unemployed) and firing anyone in the administration who was a member of the Ba’ath party, the party of Saddam Hussein. This destabilised the country, and today’s mess is a direct result of this decision.

The current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whom Washington is trying to remove as the cause of polarisation between Shiites and Sunnis, was the preferred American candidate. So was the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, who is now virulently anti-American. This is a tradition that goes back to the first U.S. intervention in Vietnam, where Washington put in place Ngo Dihn Dien, who turned against its views, until he was assassinated.

There is no space here to give example of similar mistakes (albeit less important) by other Western powers. The point is that all leaders installed from outside do not last long and bring instability.

4) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 2:21 pm

Brookings: One political party is actively working to make government fail

leave a comment »

Talk about stating the obvious! As Kevin Drum points out, our current migration crisis is completely due to an obstructionist political party. Christopher Ingraham and Tom Hamburger write in the Washington Post:

The federal government is failing now more than ever. That’s the conclusion of a unique taxonomy of federal ball-dropping just released by Paul C. Light, a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Light analyzed 41 high-profile cases of federal failure from 2001 to the present day, culled from the Pew Research Center’s News Interest Index. Because it’s ultimately derived from news accounts, the contours of the list are roughly what you’d expect. It starts with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and ends – for now – with the VA waiting list debacle in Phoenix. In between it covers everything from the search for WMDs in Iraq to Hurricane Katrina to Operation Fast and Furious. You check out the full list in an interactive over at the Brookings website, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

As with any qualitative taxonomy, there’s plenty of room quibble over which government mishaps made the cut and which didn’t. For instance, last year’s government shutdown, and the debt ceiling brinkmanship that led to the loss of S&P’s AAA credit rating for U.S. debt in 2011, didn’t make the cut. This is because Light focused only on “management/delivery failures by agencies. Some of these failures involved poorly crafted policy as a contributor, but failure had to come from the bureaucracy in some way.” So business-as-usual gridlock in Congress doesn’t make the cut.

Setting aside questions of inclusion/exclusion, Light’s work is the only methodologically rigorous account of government failures we know of, so it’s worth hearing what he has to say about these failures, what caused them, and how similar missteps can be avoided in the future.

Light breaks down the myriad factors that contribute to each of the failures he studies – bad policy, limited resources, and structural, leadership and cultural shortcomings. The study tracks the growing failure rate through the past five presidents. While many factors contribute to the generally increasing frequency of bureaucratic failures, the fluctuating numbers do reflect on an administration’s overall managerial competence. Light believes that Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush led especially competent White House teams. Reagan, his study shows, averaged 1.6 failures per year during the final part of his term.

On the other hand, George W. Bush’s administration was the most failure-ridden of them all. W. averaged 3.1 failures per year – overseeing more than twice as many annual failures as his father. . .

Continue reading. Article includes graphs, and also includes this quotation from Light’s report:

Republicans exploited the Democratic cowardice by doing everything in their power to undermine performance. They stonewalled needed policy changes, and made implementation of new programs as difficult as possible; they cut budgets, staffs, and collateral capacity to a minimum, proving the adage that the logical extension of doing more with less is doing everything with nothing; they used the presidential appointments process to decapitate key agencies, and appointed more than their share of unqualified executives; and they muddied mission, tolerated unethical conduct, and gamed the performance measure process to guarantee failing scores for as many government policies as possible.

As the WaPo article notes:

Republicans exploited the Democratic cowardice by doing everything in their power to undermine performance. They stonewalled needed policy changes, and made implementation of new programs as difficult as possible; they cut budgets, staffs, and collateral capacity to a minimum, proving the adage that the logical extension of doing more with less is doing everything with nothing; they used the presidential appointments process to decapitate key agencies, and appointed more than their share of unqualified executives; and they muddied mission, tolerated unethical conduct, and gamed the performance measure process to guarantee failing scores for as many government policies as possible.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 12:45 pm

Interesting defense to charge of corruption: He says it was fraud, not corruption (and that apparently is fine)

leave a comment »

I have to admit that defending oneself against charges of corruption (taking £12,000 per mont (roughly $20,500 per month) to lobby Parliament and the British government on behalf of the Cayman Islands was simply against the rules of Parliament, but the member (of the House of Lords) made the interesting defense that, although he was accepting the money for the lobbying, he actually had no plans whatsoever to do any lobbying. So it was okay??

I do not understand this at all. Perhaps it is one of those cultural differences. Here’s the story by Melanie Newman at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

Conservative peer Lord Blencathra – formerly known as David Maclean – has been ordered to apologise to the House of Lords for signing a contract with the Cayman Islands government under which he pledged to lobby both Houses of Parliament.

The move follows a two-year investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism into the former Tory Chief Whip’s activities as director of the Cayman Islands Government Office in London.

Related story: Conservative peer hired as tax haven lobbyist

The Standards Commissioner for the House of Lords ruled today that by signing the contract Lord Blencathra broke the House of Lords Code of Conduct and ordered an apology.

But the Commissioner, Paul Kernaghan, accepted the peer’s assurances that despite signing the £12,000 per month contract, Lord Blencathra had not intended to lobby either House and did not do so.

Lord Blencathra’s apology is likely to take place on Thursday July 17, after the report into his conduct is formally considered by the House of Lords.

Two complaints

The apology follows two complaints to the Standards Commissioner about the peer’s conduct by the Labour MP Paul Flynn. The investigation into the first of these complaints found Lord Blencathra had not lobbied Parliament or ministers for gain and therefore had not breached the Code.

A second inquiry was opened in March 2014 after the Bureau revealed that under his contract the peer was required to promote the Caymans’ interests to peers, MPs and the government.

In the latest report published today, the Standards Commissioner for the House of Lords concludes that “by agreeing to a contract which would involve the provision of parliamentary services Lord Blencathra breached paragraph 8(d) of the Code of Conduct (which prohibits members from accepting or agreeing to accept payment or other reward in return for providing parliamentary advice or services).

“Although the Commissioner finds that there is no evidence that Lord Blencathra in fact provided such services, the mere existence of that contractual term put him in breach of the Code.” . . .

 

Continue reading.

I am still bemused that his defense—that it was his intent to defraud the Cayman Islands, taking the money and not rendering the service, is so readily accepted.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 11:59 am

Posted in Government, Law

Still Living With Jack Bauer in a Terrified New American World

leave a comment »

Rebecca Gordon has a good column at TomDispatch.com:

Once upon a time, if a character on TV or in a movie tortured someone, it was a sure sign that he was a bad guy. Now, the torturers are the all-American heroes. From 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, it’s been the good guys who wielded the pliers and the waterboards. We’re not only living in a post-9/11 world, we’re stuck with Jack Bauer in the 25th hour.

In 2002, Cofer Black, the former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told a Senate committee, “All I want to say is that there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.” He wanted them to understand that Americans now live in a changed world, where, from the point of view of the national security state, anything goes. It was, as he and various top officials in the Bush administration saw it, a dangerous place in which terrorists might be lurking in any airport security line and who knew where else.

Dark-skinned foreigners promoting disturbing religions were driven to destroy us because, as President George W. Bush said more than once, “they hate our freedoms.” It was “them or us.” In such a frightening new world, we were assured, our survival depended in part on brave men and women willing to break precedent and torture some of our enemies for information that would save civilization itself. As part of a new American creed, we learned that torture was the price of security.

These were the ruling fantasies of the era, onscreen and off. But didn’t that sorry phase of our national life end when Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney departed? Wasn’t it over once Barack Obama entered the Oval Office and issued an executive order closing the CIA black sites that the Bush administration had set up across the planet, forbidding what had euphemistically come to be called “enhanced interrogation techniques?” As it happens, no. Though it’s seldom commented upon, the infrastructure for, the capacity for, and the personnel to staff a system of institutionalized state torture remain in place, ready to bloom like a desert plant in a rain shower the next time fear shakes the United States.

There are several important reasons why the resurgence of torture remains a possibility in post-Bush America:

* Torture did not necessarily end when Obama took office.

* We have never had a full accounting of all the torture programs in the “war on terror.”

* Not one of the senior government officials responsible for activities that amounted to war crimes has been held accountable, nor were any of the actual torturers ever brought to court.

Torture Did Not Necessarily End When Obama Took Office

The president’s executive order directed the CIA to close its detention centers “as expeditiously as possible” and not to open any new ones. No such orders were given, however, to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a clandestine force composed of elite fighters from several branches of the U.S. armed forces. JSOC had run its own secret detention centers in Iraq. At Camp Nama, interrogations took place in the ominously named “Black Room.” According to the New York Times, the camp’s chilling motto was “no blood, no foul.” JSOC is presently deployed on several continents, including Africa, where gathering “intelligence” forms an important part of its duties.

The president’s executive order still permits “rendition” — the transfer of a terror suspect to another country for interrogation, which in the Bush years meant to the prisons of regimes notorious for torture. It does, however, impose some constraints on the practice. Such “transfers” must be approved by a special committee composed of the director of national intelligence, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the secretary of homeland security, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is to be chaired by the attorney general. The committee must not “transfer… individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control.”

This last constraint, however, has been in place at least since 1994, when the Senate ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment. That did not prevent the rendition of people like Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian citizen sent by the United States to Syria, where he endured 10 months of torture in an underground cell. Nor did it save Binyam Mohammed, whose Moroccan jailers sliced his chest and penis with a scalpel — once a month for 18 months, according to British human rights lawyer Andy Worthington.

Nor has the CIA itself been prepared to end all its torture programs. In his confirmation hearings, Obama’s first CIA director Leon Panetta told members of Congress that “if the approved techniques were ‘not sufficient’ to get a detainee to divulge details he was suspected of knowing about an imminent attack, he would ask for ‘additional authority’ to use other methods.” It is, however, unlikely that such “other methods” could be brought to bear on the spur of the moment. To do so, you need an infrastructure and trained personnel. You need to be ready, with skills honed.

Torture, though by another name, still goes on in the American prison complex at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. President Obama came into office promising to close Guantánamo within a year. It’s a promise he repeats occasionally, but the prison is still open, and some detainees are still being held indefinitely. Those who use the only instrument they have to resist their hellish limbo — a hunger strike — are strapped into chairs and force-fed. In case you think such “feeding” is a humanitarian act, Guantánamo prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel described the experience in a New York Times op-ed in April 2013:

“I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat, and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.”

The U.S. has a long history of involvement with torture — from its war in the Philippines at the dawn of the twentieth century on. It has also, as in Latin America in the 1960s, trained torturers serving other regimes. But until 9/11 top officials in this country had never publicly approved of torture. Whatever might happen behind closed doors (or in training sessions provided by the School of the Americas, for example), in public, everyone — government officials, the press, and the public — agreed that torture was wrong.

That consensus no longer exists today. After 9/11 those “gloves” came off. Waterboarding prisoners who might have information about a plot that could threaten us was a “no brainer” for Vice President Dick Cheney, and he wasn’t alone. In those years, torture, always called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a phrase the media quickly picked up), became a commonplace, even celebrated, feature of our new landscape. Will it remain that way?

We Have Never Had a Full Accounting of All the Torture Programs Used in the “War on Terror”

Thanks to the work of persistent reporters, we now know many pieces of the torture puzzle, but we still have nothing like a complete, coherent narrative. And if we don’t know just what happened in those torture years, we are unlikely to be able to dismantle the existing infrastructure, which means we won’t be able to keep it from happening again.

In addition, . . .

Continue reading.

The US is becoming a frightening place as it becomes ever more frightened. Many men fear to go in public unless they are armed. (Some were upset at not being able to carry a gun into the polling place, so frightening is it to be unarmed in America today.) Having to arm yourself to go to the store is a new kind of United States.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 6:18 pm

The American Century (1914-2014) has ended

leave a comment »

This article by Michael Lind in Salon makes a very good case, IMO.

In 1914, the American Century began. This year the American Century ended. America’s foreign policy is in a state of collapse, America’s economy doesn’t work well, and American democracy is broken. The days when other countries looked to the U.S. as a successful model of foreign policy prudence, democratic capitalism and liberal democracy may be over. The American Century, 1914-2014. RIP.

A hundred years ago, World War I marked the emergence of the U.S. as the dominant world power. Already by the late nineteenth century, the U.S. had the world’s biggest economy. But it took the First World War to catalyze the emergence of the U.S. as the most important player in geopolitics. The U.S. tipped the balance against Imperial Germany, first by loans to its enemies after 1914 and then by entering the war directly in 1917.

Twice more in the twentieth century the U.S. intervened to prevent a hostile power from dominating Europe and the world, in World War II and the Cold War. Following the end of the Cold War, America’s bipartisan elite undertook the project of creating permanent American global hegemony. The basis of America’s hegemonic project was a bargain with the two major powers of Europe, Germany and Russia, and the two major powers of Asia, Japan and China. The U.S. proposed to make Russia and China perpetual military protectorates, as it had already done during the Cold War with Germany and Japan. In return, the U.S. would keep its markets open to their exports and look after their international security interests.

This vision of a solitary American globocop policing the world on behalf of other great powers that voluntarily abandon militarism for trade has been shared by the Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama administrations. But by 2014 the post-Cold War grand strategy of the United States had collapsed.

China and Russia have rudely declined America’s offer to make them subservient military satellites, like Japan and Germany. China has been building up its military, engaging in cyber-attacks on the U.S., and intimidating its neighbors, to promote the end of American military primacy in East Asia.

Meanwhile, Russia has responded to the expansion of the U.S.-led NATO alliance to its borders by going to war with Georgia in 2008 to deter Georgian membership in NATO and then, in 2014, seizing Crimea from Ukraine, after Washington promoted a rebellion against the pro-Russian Ukrainian president.

There are even signs of a Sino-Russian alliance against the U.S. The prospect excites some neoconservatives and neoliberal hawks, who had been quiet following the American military disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in a second Cold War against a Sino-Russian axis, the European Union, with its economy comparable to America’s, will not provide reliable support. Russia is a nuisance, not a threat to Europe. China doesn’t threaten Europe and Europeans want Chinese trade and investment too much. In Asia, only a fool would bet on the ability of a ramshackle alliance of the U.S., Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia to “contain” China.

The U.S. still has by far the world’s most powerful and sophisticated military — but what good is it? Russia knows the U.S. won’t go to war over Ukraine. China knows the U.S. won’t go to war over this or that reef or island in the South China Sea. As Chairman Mao would have said, America is a paper tiger.

The U.S. military was able to destroy the autocratic governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — but all the foreign policy agencies of the U.S. have been unable to help create functioning states to replace them. Since 2003, Uncle Sam has learned that it is easier to kick over anthills than to build them.

In addition to having a huge military that for the most part can neither intimidate strong adversaries nor pacify weak ones, America has an economy that for decades has failed to deliver sustained growth that is widely shared. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 9:20 am

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,191 other followers

%d bloggers like this: