In the first week of his new job as FBI director, James B. Comey had already heard about how training had stopped for recruits at Quantico and that the bureau wasn’t planning on bringing in any new agents next year, all because of budget cuts.
But Comey was stunned when he began visiting FBI field offices this month and heard directly from his special agents. New intelligence investigations were not being opened. Criminal cases were being closed. Informants couldn’t be paid. And there was not enough funding for agents to put gas in their cars.
“My reaction to that . . . ” Comey said about the gas. “I don’t even want to tell you what my reaction to that was.”
Archive for September 2013
Assuming that you’re asked to talk about traditional wet-shaving to a bunch of cartridge-and-canned-foam guys… Someone asked for thoughts on a talk, and here are mine:
Title and opening question: “Why do so many shavers have sensitive skin?—right where they shave, oddly enough.”
Then the damage of bearing down with blades (set at an angle you cannot control) to stretch out the cartridge life—because cartridges are expensive.
That’s on the one hand. On the other:
a light touch with a single blades shaves more easily—and more closely. I’m saying the ads are lying, and the simplest test is to try DE shaving for a month—the blades alone will run you maybe 50¢, you can get a razor for less than $3—so the total there is less than the cost of one cartridge.
Go over prep and explain that canned foam is poor prep, but again: do the experiment for yourself. Get a brush and a shaving soap or cream, learn to make a good lather (time required depends on how many practice lathers you make), and then do a week of shaves with a good lather, a week of shaves with canned foam, and another week of shaves with true lather. Decide for yourself, and don’t be swayed by the fact that shaving soap and shaving cream can run WAY less than canned foam.
And making lather is enjoyable, and the whole shaving routine is transformed into something you enjoy and look forward to. It’s the sort of thing you’d pay more to get, and yet it costs so much less than what cartridge shavers are paying now. Paying more for a worse experience. Now that‘s something worth investigating: how can a person prefer to pay a premium for an inferior experience? Finding the answer left as an exercise for the audience. (Might prompt some self-examination.)
I’ve always wondered about the phrase “to twist the truth.” How do you do that? What does a twisted truth look like?
Kevin Drum explains:
ust another quick reminder, because sometimes this stuff gets lost in the fog.
Q: Why do we need a 6-week Continuing Resolution to keep the government running?
A: Because Congress hasn’t passed a budget for the new year, which begins October 1st.
Q: And why is that?
A: There’s no mystery. Both the House and Senate passed budget resolutions months ago, but Paul Ryan and the rest of the GOP have refused to open talks with the Senate to negotiate a final budget number.
Q: Why is that?
A: They’ve been crystal clear about this. They wanted more leverage for their demands, and they figured the only way to get it was to threaten a government shutdown. Here’s the Washington Post last May:
Republicans face a listless summer, with little appetite for compromise but no leverage to shape an agreement. Without that leverage, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday, there is no point in opening formal budget negotiations between the House and the Senate.
….“The debt limit is the backstop,” Ryan said before taking the stage at a debt summit organized by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in Washington. “I’d like to go through regular order and get something done sooner rather than later. But we need to get a down payment on the debt. We need entitlement reform. We’re very serious about tax reform because we think that’s critical to economic growth and job creation. Those are the things we want to talk about.”
This is why the public is likely to blame Republicans for a government shutdown: because Republicans have been very clear all along that they were deliberately stringing out the budget process so they could use a shutdown as leverage for their demands. At the time Ryan made the statement above, it looked like we were going to hit the debt ceiling before we hit the end of the budget year, so that was the “backstop.” Now it’s turned out that the end of the budget year will come first, so that’s become the backstop instead. Either way, though, Republicans have been quite open for months about their desire to delay negotiations until they had a government shutdown of some kind to use as a threat. Now they have it, and they’re using it.
So that’s that. They’re the ones who said they wanted a shutdown as leverage. They can’t really pretend otherwise at this point.
It’s also worth noting, just for the sake of nostalgia, Ryan’s claim that he was doing this because he really, really wanted to talk about entitlement reform and tax reform. That was always laughable—nobody thinks you can negotiate stuff like that in a couple of weeks with a gun to your head—and we haven’t heard much about it since. Still, it’s worth preserving for the memory vaults.
And Kevin Drum is on a roll. Read this one.
The little video clip in this story by Neal Irwin in the Washington Post shows it all. As Irwin comments:
In their own words, here is Pareene: “I think that any time you’re looking at the greatest fine in the history of Wall Street regulation, it’s really worth asking should this guy stay in his job. In any other industry — I can’t think of another industry. If you managed a restaurant, and it got the biggest health department fine in the history of restaurants, no one would say ‘Yeah, but the restaurant’s making a lot of money. There’s only a little bit of poison in the food.’ ”
And Bartiromo: “The company continues to churn out tens of billions of dollars in earnings and hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue. How do you criticize that?”
This is Mars vs. Venus stuff, in the sense that Pareene is coming from a different planet than Bartiromo and others who are creatures of the Wall Street world. The latter group sees Dimon as the most successful of the masters of the universe, as evidenced by the fact that he steered his bank around the calamities of 2008 and has kept it roaring ahead since. In this telling, some of the unpleasantness the bank has faced, like the $6 billion “London Whale” trading loss and potential $11 billion settlement being negotiated with the Justice Department as a fine for its involvement in shady deals for mortgage securities before the crisis, are just a cost of doing business.
On the planet inhabited Pareene (and some of his supporters among the commentariat, like Felix Salmon and Kevin Roose), the fact that JPMorgan has made gobs of money under Dimon, even after accounting for those losses, is almost irrelevant. JPMorgan had been one of the (allegedly) culpable parties in all sorts of chicanery (Tim Fernholz lists the investigations here), and the CEO must take responsibility for such broad problems.
The basic divide here isn’t about the merits of these individual cases, or any personal culpability that Dimon might have in bad behavior by the bank (some of which even took place in Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, companies that JPMorgan acquired as they were on the brink of collapse during the crisis).
The question is what obligation a mega-bank like JPMorgan, and its CEO, have to society as a whole as opposed to just the shareholders who own it.
The rise of “shareholder value” as the foremost goal of corporate leaders has been one of the biggest shifts in American business of the last generation. The measure of a CEO, in our times, is not so much whether he or she builds a company that makes great products, has a large and well-compensated base of employees and contributes to the betterment of society. It is whether he or she has generated positive return on equity higher than that produced by competitors or the stock market as a whole.
By this latter accounting, Dimon has been a wild success. By the former, his record is mixed at best.
The argument over whether shareholder value ought to reign supreme is interesting enough in the context of most businesses; read Steven Pearlstein’s case for why the cult of shareholder value has gone too far. With banks, and especially the biggest banks, the case that shareholder value is the wrong thing to measure is even stronger.
If a paper clip manufacturer goes out of business, it affects the employees and customers and shareholders of that particular company, but has no broader ripples. If the last five years have taught us anything, it is how different big banks are from a paper clip company.
It was only five years ago that the demise of the fourth-largest U.S. investment bank spurred a global freeze-up in credit that caused the worst recession of modern times, a $700 billion bailout, trillions in emergency lending by the Federal Reserve and other central banks and the defining economic catastrophe of our times.
It is true that JPMorgan was one of the ports in the storm during this period, with a “fortress” balance sheet that meant it was only a reluctant acceptor of bailout money. But the experience is the clearest reminder one could imagine that giant banks play a fundamental role in making sure capital flows freely through the economy, and that when they take excessive risk or bilk customers or otherwise behave badly, the consequences are broad.
Read the whole thing. And watch the video. It’s inconceivable to Bartolomo and the other guest that anyone should be held accountable for anything (unethical behavior, illegal behavior, whatever) if he is making money. I think that this is what Jesus was talking about when He argued against wealth. These people literally have no measure of success and no purpose or goal other than making money. It’s scary.
Often one hears complaints about the “tax and spend” philosophy of Democrats. (The complaints tend to come from the Right.) The problem is: what are the alternatives? “Tax and don’t spend” means the government is run for profit, in a way: tax revenues are taken to the bank and are not spent. This is (not to put too fine a point on it) idiocy, though it is consistent with the view on the Right that the government should be considered as a family, so that when times are tough, you cut spending and try to save money (and, of course, when the government does this it depresses the economy even further, as we have repeatedly seen—Europe has been a wonderful example of the folly of that approach).
The other option, one that the GOP generally embraces, is “don’t tax and don’t spend,” so that the government is unable to do its job for the general welfare: the FDA cannot guarantee the safety of our drugs and (as we repeatedly see) our food—110 American lives are lost to contaminated food for every 1 lost to terrorism, but compare the relative budgets for fighting terrorism and fighting food contamination. We can’t fund adequately fund education, we lack funds to assist the poor, and so on. The government is (in my view) established to help the country as a whole, and it cannot do that without spending money, and it cannot have money to spend with taxing people—and it should tax people progressively: those better able to afford to pay taxes pay more, so the load on one’s daily life is equitable.
At any rate, Neal Irwin reports on the impact of cutting way back on spending (so that we don’t have to raise taxes on the wealthy) on the FBI:
We now look to be hurtling toward a shutdown of the U.S. government. While you can’t completely rule out a last-ditch deal, the real questions now revolve around “How long will it last?” and “Will the resolution also raise the debt ceiling?” and “How vicious will the circular firing squad and bigger recriminations be among House and Senate Republicans be after a deal is struck?”
But while the drama plays out on Capitol Hill, a separate report over the weekend shows what is really at stake. As our colleague Sari Horwitz reports, the new FBI director, James Comey, had an unpleasant surprise as he traveled the country to meet with agents.
The reason for the hard times at the FBI is the federal budget cuts that began with the 2011 debt ceiling deal, including the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration.
Remember the sequester? When it went into effect March 1, it appeared to be something of a bust in terms of the damage it caused, at least in terms of how that damage has played out in the public debate. The White House had been claiming that the cuts would be devastating. Then they went into effect, and, well, not much of anything happened.
As it turns out, slashing discretionary spending 5.6 percent doesn’t cause massive, immediate, camera-ready dislocations in how government works. When such effects did arise — namely in the form of long delays at airports — Congress tweaked the law to fix it. While economists attribute sluggish economic growth this year in significant part to the sequester cuts, that impact has hardly occupied the public’s attention.
The new report from the FBI Agents Association is a reminder of the smaller, less visible effects that the cuts have had across the country. Any large organization can endure budget cuts like that in the short run. People work a little harder, less urgent projects are shifted to the back burner, empty positions go unfilled, and so on. But the longer the scrimping goes on, the less those tricks can fill the gap. After seven months of sequestration cuts, here are some of the things the FBI is having to scrimp on, according to anonymous comments by agents:
Restrictions in surveillance technology means the necessary facilities used for terrorist communications won’t be monitored.
No gas means cases don’t get worked – period. Nothing is close to anything on the reservation. Witnesses and victims don’t have phones. We have to drive to them. They are too poor to drive to us. … Fewer guys – fewer cases get worked. That is the cruel truth. Real people won’t get justice. The face of the sequester is a molested Navajo kid or a beaten Apache woman, neither of whom will see justice.
We have approximately 10 very important [counter-intelligence] cases that we would open … but we can’t open them because we don’t have the [Special Agents] to work the investigations and the other agents on the squad already have full case loads.
The hiring freeze has prohibited our team from adding new agents to combat the significant surge in investment fraud and mortgage loan modification fraud. Resources are stretched and not able to completely address the financial losses experienced in our area of responsibility . . . just this past week, four known fraudsters were advertising in the classifieds for employees to expand their current fraudulent schemes, however, with our lack of resources and now the additional cuts and furloughs, we are not able to address the progressing schemes.
I … investigate street gangs. Recently … we have been facing funding shortages on the criminal side for the last couple of years. There are certain gangsters I can’t go after with a Confidential Human Source (CHS) or any other way as ‘drug buy’ money is not sufficient.
Here’s what these stories of the on-the-ground impact of sequestration on the FBI has to do with a likely government shutdown.
The effects of government on our lives are, much of the time, invisible. Things work in the background, making our lives better in ways that we don’t even notice. Government-funded weather satellites provide the raw information that allows your local forecaster to tell you whether it will rain today. NIH researchers are developing insights that might cure cancer a generation from now. And the FBI is constantly building cases that put bad guys behind bars and lead would-be bad guys to think twice before bilking the elderly in a mortgage scam or running a street gang.
That’s not to say there is no waste in government. Of course there is, as there is in any large organization. There are plenty of agencies whose missions seem outdated or unnecessary in the modern age.
But simply slashing funding for all agencies across the board, or shutting down nearly the whole government, doesn’t do anything to make government more efficient or shutter unneeded agencies. . .