The Morning Grumpy – 2/19/13

19 Feb

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

 Tea party

1. Matt Taibbi breaks down the story of how HSBC Bank hooked up with terrorists and drug traffickers, laundered billions of criminal dollars, and got away with it.

For at least half a decade, the storied British colonial banking power helped to wash hundreds of millions of dollars for drug mobs, including Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, suspected in tens of thousands of murders just in the past 10 years – people so totally evil, jokes former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, that “they make the guys on Wall Street look good.” The bank also moved money for organizations linked to Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and for Russian gangsters; helped countries like Iran, the Sudan and North Korea evade sanctions; and, in between helping murderers and terrorists and rogue states, aided countless common tax cheats in hiding their cash.

“They violated every goddamn law in the book,” says Jack Blum, an attorney and former Senate investigator who headed a major bribery investigation against Lockheed in the 1970s that led to the passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “They took every imaginable form of illegal and illicit business.”

That nobody from the bank went to jail or paid a dollar in individual fines is nothing new in this era of financial crisis. What is different about this settlement is that the Justice Department, for the first time, admitted why it decided to go soft on this particular kind of criminal. It was worried that anything more than a wrist slap for HSBC might undermine the world economy. “Had the U.S. authorities decided to press criminal charges,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer at a press conference to announce the settlement, “HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the U.S., the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilized.”

It was the dawn of a new era. In the years just after 9/11, even being breathed on by a suspected terrorist could land you in extralegal detention for the rest of your life. But now, when you’re Too Big to Jail, you can cop to laundering terrorist cash and violating the Trading With the Enemy Act, and not only will you not be prosecuted for it, but the government will go out of its way to make sure you won’t lose your license. Some on the Hill put it to me this way: OK, fine, no jail time, but they can’t even pull their charter? Are you kidding?

Decades from now, the refusal to prosecute, punish, or even sternly reprimand the banks and traders who nearly destroyed our economy and broke untold number of laws may well be the legacy of the Obama Administration. As Taibbi said in an “Ask Me Anything” session or “AMA” on Reddit.com,

“Again, to repeat, breaking up the banks is the big thing,” he typed to Reddit users. “That should be the Holy Grail of activist goals. Everything flows from the Too Big Too Fail problem. If that can be accomplished, we’re off and running.”

2. $7,000,000,000 was spent on the 2012 federal elections.

That’s how much candidates, parties, PACs, super-PACs, and politically active nonprofits spent last year to influence races up and down the ballot. As Politico reported, Ellen Weintraub, the chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission, announced the $7 billion figure this week. Candidates spent the bulk of the 2012 total, at $3.2 billion, while parties spent $2 billion and outside groups $2.1 billion.

Bill Moyers breaks it down.

And then for good measure, Moyers gives an example of how the money spent on these elections buys access and favor.

3. Turning a city into a startup. Interesting ideas from former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Q: You open your book with the 2011 election in Los Angeles when only 12 percent of registered voters went to the polls. How can you expect digital tools change that level of citizen apathy?

A: It is not just e-government and online efficiency. It is a new distribution of decision making, collaboration, active participation, and citizen engagement. A whole generation of folks who have grown up as digital natives are also the generation of choice, the participation generation. Their expectations of service are different than digital immigrants like myself, who are used to a professor student model, the broadcast model. You have to be customized not standardized. Half a billion people are spending time on online games. The typical young person spends more time each year on online games than in the classroom. How can we harness that energy, not just for Angry Birds but for a Citizenville app for democracy?

A good start is putting all government datasets online so third party developers can build nimble and more responsive citizen engagement tools.

4. America, the land of opportunity? Not as much as it used to be.

It’s not that social mobility is impossible, but that the upwardly mobile American is becoming a statistical oddity. According to research from the Brookings Institution, only 58 percent of Americans born into the bottom fifth of income earners move out of that category, and just 6 percent born into the bottom fifth move into the top. Economic mobility in the United States is lower than in most of Europe and lower than in all of Scandinavia.

This is what happens in a nation that refuses to modernize its education system or expand educational opportunities to those at the lower end of the economic spectrum.

Unless current trends in education are reversed, the situation is likely to get even worse. In some cases it seems as if policy has actually been designed to reduce opportunity: government support for many state schools has been steadily gutted over the last few decades — and especially in the last few years. Meanwhile, students are crushed by giant student loan debts that are almost impossible to discharge, even in bankruptcy. This is happening at the same time that a college education is more important than ever for getting a good job.

When liberals tell you why income inequality and wealth concentration matter, this is what we’re talking about.

5. A comprehensive, completely unnecessary, and utterly fascinating legitimate data breakdown and analysis of American porn stars. Also, note that everyone in porn is called a “star”.

For the first time, a massive data set of 10,000 porn stars has been extracted from the world’s largest database of adult films and performers. I’ve spent the last six months analyzing it to discover the truth about what the average performer looks like, what they do on film, and how their role has evolved over the last forty years.

I was able to scrutinize adult performers in a way no man, despite regular attempts to do so, had ever managed before, and find out once and for all which stereotypes about porn stars are true, which are bogus, and what these men and women have been doing for the last forty years.

I don’t like infographics, I LOVE them and this article puts forward one of the most majestic sets of infographics I’ve seen, even though the topic is utterly frivolous. In a nation that spends over $13BN each year on porn (Utah being the home of the most frequent consumers), this is cool data.

Fact Of The Day:  John D. Rockefeller’s net worth, translated into today’s dollars, would be up to $663 billion, or almost 10x the worth of today’s richest man

Quote Of The Day:  “For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives.” – Franklin Roosevelt

Video Of The Day:  “Playing Golf” – Godfrey

Song Of The Day:  “Love Is The Drug” – Roxy Music

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11 Responses to “The Morning Grumpy – 2/19/13”

  1. Jesse Griffis February 19, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    Connect the dots between #2 and #1.

    WHY was there $7 Billion spent on the election? Because once you do that, you can get away with egregious illegal behavior and profit from it!

    American Democracy: Catch the Fever (Dreams)!

  2. Jesse Griffis February 19, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    On #4: http://www.investined.org/

    Liberals crying about income inequality are aiming their guns at the wrong problem. School monopolies cater to the lowest common denominator (as they inevitably must). School choice gives kids born in the ‘wrong’ part of town a chance to get the hell out.

    Sure, income inequality sucks, but attacking the top end is attacking a symptom, not the disease.

    • Ryan February 19, 2013 at 11:22 am #

      School choice gives kids born in the ‘wrong’ part of town a chance to get the hell out.

      Uhh.. Not exactly

      http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/15/us-usa-charters-admissions-idUSBRE91E0HF20130215
      http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/charter-schools/

      • Michael Rebmann February 19, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

         Charter schools do not amount to school choice.  They are still public schools, limited in number by government and other regulations.  School choice would be more along the lines of offering parents a voucher for each child of school age.  The parents would be able to apply that voucher to ANY school of their choosing, including religious, parochial, private, etc.  That would create a climate of competition that would result in schools that cater to a wide variety of students of all aptitudes.  Schools could target vocational training, science training, computer training…virtually anything and everything for everyone.

        One of the inherent failures of the public school system is the one size fits all approach.  That marginalizes students at both ends of the IQ spectrum.  The bureaucratic behemoth controlling public schools does not allow for the flexibility to address the needs of different types of students.

        Although Charter Schools are a step in the right direction, don’t point to their government imposed shortcomings as a failure of the schools.  It is a failure of the public education system.

      • Ryan February 19, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

        At what point are their failings government imposed? You should probably consider reading links before responding to them.

      • Michael Rebmann February 19, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

        Oh?  But I did read the links, both of them.  I guess that’s why you asked a question I already answered and didn’t bother with a substantive response.  There’s a difference between reading and comprehending, I did both, whereas you appeared to have failed at the latter.

  3. Anony Mouse February 19, 2013 at 10:46 am #

    Hi.  I am noteing that Artvoice uses Disqus.   ty,    AM

  4. Michael Rebmann February 19, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    Limit the federal government to the enumerated powers and you eliminate the huge amount of money spent on elections to buy favors.  That would fix a hell of a lot of problems in this country, reestablish States’ Rights and improve the economy, as well as economic opportunity.

    • saltecks February 20, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

       Except the biggest boondoggle  for federal spending, as far as lobbyist are concerned, is defense spending, which is an enumerated power.

  5. Brian Castner February 19, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    Question: anyone doing any serious talking (I don’t mean separatists in Texas) about America as a Too Big To Fail entity that needs to be broken up? I don’t mean pundits, I mean thinkers with data. If banks, car companies, mortgage holders, investment firms etc fail when they start tossing around $trillions, and if our Congress and Presidents (of any party) are incapable of managing and governing seriously, and if the most successful countries in the world are small (Holland, Norway, Singapore, etc), then when do we have the conversation? Or is this just the same as when the conventional wisdom said the Presidency was too big for one person during the Carter years – will we elect Reagan or Clinton again and everyone will be happy?

  6. Anony Mouse February 19, 2013 at 6:42 pm #

    Why does this site has fuzzy ws!  Why was my earlier comment deleted?

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