Liberia’s Women

April 30, 2009 at 7:05 pm | Posted in Economy, Foreign Affairs, television | Leave a comment
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(Worldfocus) For a 14-year period ending in 2003, Liberia struggled with a brutal civil war, a crippled economy and not much hope. That was until a women’s movement started to take hold — a movement that helped to drive a dictator from power and gave women the kind of opportunities they could never have dreamed of.

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“Legal chicanery and pitch darkness were the banker’s stoutest allies.”

April 30, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Posted in Economy, Historical, senate | 2 Comments
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Cong. Henry B. Steagall, Chairman House Banking Currency (between 1936 and 1937)

Cong. Henry B. Steagall, Chairman House Banking Currency (between 1936 and 1937)

Bloomberg News reported last week that “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to push for a comprehensive inquiry, saying that three-quarters of Americans want to know what led to the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and the collapse of Bear Stearns Cos. and Merrill Lynch & Co. She favors one patterned after Senate Banking Committee hearings led by Ferdinand Pecora starting in 1933 …”

As John Anderson at Firedoglake correctly points out, “the bankers want to go back to giving themselves whopping pre-Crash bonuses; continue to rip-off credit card consumers with fine print and surprise rate increases; and haven’t the least intention of letting their Congressmen change the laws to allow a bunch of bankruptcy judges to modify the mortgage terms of desperate homeowners.”

Senators Couzens, Fletcher and Special Prosecutor Ferdinand Pecora of Senate Banking Committee probing the collapse of numerous banking institutions in the Detroit area.  January 11, 1934

Senators Couzens, Fletcher and Special Prosecutor Ferdinand Pecora of Senate Banking Committee probing the collapse of numerous banking institutions in the Detroit area. January 11, 1934

This is nothing new in the world. Americans, through their elected representatives, have tried to change this dynamic before.

(Wiki) The investigation was launched by a majority-Republican Senate, under the Banking Committee’s chairman, Senator Peter Norbeck. Hearings began on April 11, 1932, but were criticized by Democratic Party members and their supporters as being little more than an attempt by the Republicans to appease the growing demands of an angry American public suffering through the Great Depression. Two chief counsels were fired for ineffectiveness, and a third resigned after the committee refused to give him broad subpoena power. In January 1933, Ferdinand Pecora, an assistant district attorney for New York County was hired to write the final report. Discovering that the investigation was incomplete, Pecora requested permission to hold an additional month of hearings. His expose of the National City Bank made banner headlines and caused the bank’s president to resign. Democrats had won the majority in the Senate, and the new President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, urged the new Democratic chairman of the Banking Committee, Senator Duncan U. Fletcher, to let Pecora continue the probe. So actively did Pecora pursue the investigation that his name became publicly identified with it, rather than the committee’s chairman.

Stock exchange leader swears to tell all before Senate probers / Underwood & Underwood, Washington.  Richard Whitney, with right hand raised, before the Senate banking committee.  c. 1932

Stock exchange leader swears to tell all before Senate probers / Underwood & Underwood, Washington. Richard Whitney, with right hand raised, before the Senate banking committee. c. 1932

As reiterated by SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt during his 1995 testimony before the United States House of Representatives, the Pecora Investigation uncovered a wide range of abusive practices on the part of banks and bank affiliates. These included a variety of conflicts of interest such as the underwriting of unsound securities in order to pay off bad bank loans as well as “pool operations” to support the price of bank stocks. The hearings galvanized broad public support for new banking and securities laws. As a result of the Pecora Commission’s findings, the United States Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Banking Act of 1933 to separate commercial and investment banking, the Securities Act of 1933 to set penalties for filing false information about stock offerings, and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which formed the SEC to regulate the stock exchanges.

[snip]

In 1939 Ferdinand Pecora published a memoir [unfortunately, out of print] that recounted details of the investigations, Wall Street Under Oath. Pecora wrote: “Bitterly hostile was Wall Street to the enactment of the regulatory legislation.” As to disclosure rules, he stated that “Had there been full disclosure of what was being done in furtherance of these schemes, they could not long have survived the fierce light of publicity and criticism. Legal chicanery and pitch darkness were the banker’s stoutest allies.”

The Banking Committee’s hearings ended on May 4, 1934, after which Pecora was appointed as one of the first commissioners of the SEC.

Morgan partner testifies. Washington, D.C., Dec. 18. Appearing at the Senate Railroad Financing Inquiry today, Arthur M. Anderson, Partner in J.P. Morgan & Co., told the Committee that his firm and other New York banks lost money through financing the terminal deal between Missouri Pacific Railroad and Terminal Share Inc. Anderson admitted that Morgan handled a $61,000,000 Missouri Pacific bond issue in 1931.  December 18, 1936.

Morgan partner testifies. Washington, D.C., Dec. 18. Appearing at the Senate Railroad Financing Inquiry today, Arthur M. Anderson, Partner in J.P. Morgan & Co., told the Committee that his firm and other New York banks "lost money" through financing the terminal deal between Missouri Pacific Railroad and Terminal Share Inc. Anderson admitted that Morgan handled a $61,000,000 Missouri Pacific bond issue in 1931. December 18, 1936.

Pecora points to the crux of the problem which is unfortunately still with us today:

That its leaders are eminently fitted to guide our nation, and that they would make a much better job of it than any other body of men, Wall Street does not for a moment doubt. Indeed, if you now hearken to the Oracles of The Street, you will hear now and then that the money-changers have been much maligned. You will be told that a whole group of high-minded men, innocent of social or economic wrongdoing, were expelled from the temple because of the excesses of a few. You will be assured that they had nothing to do with the misfortunes that overtook the country in 1929-1933; that they were simply scapegoats, sacrificed on the altar of unreasoning public opinion to satisfy the wrath of a howling mob blinding seeking victims.

This is Richard Whitney in 1934, four years before he was sent to Sing Sing prison for embezzlement, decrying the National Securities Exchange Act of 1934:

Bill Moyers has links for additional information about the Pecora Commission and the current debate.

Before the Pecora Commission of the 1930s, there was the Pujo Commission, formed in 1912 to investigate the so-called “money trust,” a small group of Wall Street bankers that exercised undue influence over the nation’s finances. The full transcripts of the Pujo Commission are available here.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. COMMITTEES. SPECIAL SUBCOMMITTE OF BANKING AND CURRENCY TO INVESTIGATE MONEY TRUSTS, KNOWN AS PUJO COMMITTEE. McMORRAN OFMI; HAYES OF CA; NEELEY OF KS; GUERNSEY OF ME; PUJO OF LA, CHAIRMAN; DAUGHTERY OF MO; BYRNES OF SC; A CLERK; HEALD OF DE; A CLERK; SAMUEL.  c. 1912

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. COMMITTEES. SPECIAL SUBCOMMITTE OF BANKING AND CURRENCY TO INVESTIGATE 'MONEY TRUSTS,' KNOWN AS 'PUJO COMMITTEE.' McMORRAN OFMI; HAYES OF CA; NEELEY OF KS; GUERNSEY OF ME; PUJO OF LA, CHAIRMAN; DAUGHTERY OF MO; BYRNES OF SC; A CLERK; HEALD OF DE; A CLERK; SAMUEL. c. 1912

(American National Biography) The majority report stated that the committee was unable
to say that a deliberate effort had been made by any group to
form a combination to control money and credit. It did conclude,
however, that such a “community of interest” among a small number
of financiers had come about through stock holdings, interlocking
directorates, and other devices for controlling financial institutions,
public utilities, railroads, and industrial corporations. The
minority report agreed that abuses existed but rejected the proposed
remedies. In all, twenty-one recommendations were made in the
majority report, including approval of bank consolidations by
the comptroller of the currency, restrictions on interlocking
bank directorates, the prohibition of voting trusts and deposits
by interstate corporations at unregulated banks, the prohibition
of loans made by banks to their own directors, and the incorporation
and regulation of bank clearing houses. Although the report was
criticized by some and its suggested reforms were not enacted
into law, the Pujo investigation was widely publicized by the
press, and it increased pressure for banking reform.

Frank N. Sheppard of Natl Bankers Assn. before Borah Slush Fund Committee, October 22, 1924

Frank N. Sheppard of Natl Bankers Ass'n. before Borah Slush Fund Committee, October 22, 1924

(See also Jay Gould)

The power of the banking lobby needs to be broken. But as the Bloomberg article notes:

Members of Congress may be reluctant to tackle the recommendations of such an inquiry because of financial industry donations to political campaigns, said Wall Street historian Charles Geisst.

Financial services has been the biggest contributor in every U.S. election cycle in the last 20 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington research group that tracks campaign money. Its individual and political action committee donations in 2007 and 2008 totaled $463.5 million, compared with $163.8 million from the health-care industry and $75.6 million from energy companies.

Interview With The President

April 29, 2009 at 7:52 pm | Posted in Economy, Obama! | Leave a comment
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Garden of the White House and corner of the White House, c. 1921.  Frances Benjamin Johston, photographer.

Garden of the White House and corner of the White House, c. 1921. Frances Benjamin Johston, photographer.

David Leonhardt, an economics columnist for The (NY) Times and a staff writer for the magazine, recently spoke for almost an hour with President Obama in the Oval Office where they had a fairly detailed conversation about the economy, jobs, education, health care, the President’s economic advisors, etc. The “lightly edited transcript” is an interesting read.

America’s Opportunity

April 25, 2009 at 9:22 am | Posted in Bush, torture | Leave a comment
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Naked young women being brutally tortured by Spanish Inquisition.  Photogravure after Jose Brito, copyrighted by G. Barrie & Son, c. 1901.

Naked young women being brutally tortured by Spanish Inquisition. Photogravure after Jose Brito, copyrighted by G. Barrie & Son, c. 1901.

As things currently stand, there will be no investigation or prosecution of crimes committed by the United States Government over the past eight years. That there are any Americans who do not consider this outrageous is hard for me to understand.

Paul Krugman had an editorial in Thursday’s New York Times which you should read but I append here Mr. Krugman’s addendum from his blog:

One addendum to today’s column: the truth, which I think everyone in the political/media establishments knows in their hearts, is that the nine months or so between the summer of 2002 and the beginning of the Iraq insurgency were a great national moral test — a test that most people in influential positions failed.

The Bush administration was obviously — yes, obviously — telling tall tales in order to promote the war it wanted: the constant insinuations of an Iraq-9/11 link, the hyping of discredited claims about a nuclear program, etc.. And the question was, should you stand up against that? Not many did — and those who did were treated as if they were crazy.

For me and many others that was a radicalizing experience; I’ll never trust “sensible” opinion again. But for those who stayed “sensible” through the test, it’s a moment they’d like to see forgotten. That, I believe, is the real reason so many want to let torture and everything else go down the memory hole.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

People who spoke against the use of torture, when not “treated as if they were crazy,” were ignored and their statements suppressed and destroyed.

If America does not investigate and prosecute war crimes committed by its own government, the terrorists will have indeed won and there will be nothing left of a once great dream that we are a people of laws and high moral ideals.

Five hundred years later people have not forgotten the Spanish Inquisition. Do Americans want this as their legacy?

Torture Is Not That Hard To Recognize.

April 24, 2009 at 9:42 am | Posted in Bush, torture | Leave a comment
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Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "Media Matters – Lawrence O’Donnell, J…", posted with vodpod

Torture is a criminal act.

April 23, 2009 at 11:18 pm | Posted in Bush, torture | 2 Comments
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If you’re not willing or able to read the Bush torture memos, at least listen to this song. YOUR GOVERNMENT engaged in this behavior. Your tax money paid the salaries of torturers, those who ordered the torture and those who “legalized” the torture, one of whom is currently a sitting Federal Judge.

If the Obama administration fails to investigate and prosecute these crimes, every member of the administration, including President Obama, will be as culpable as if they had participated directly and America will remain under a moral cloud.

What Are We Defending?

April 20, 2009 at 4:36 pm | Posted in Department of Defense, Economy, torture | Leave a comment
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M-4 tank, Fort Knox, Kentucky.  1942 June.  Alfred T. Palmer, photographer.

M-4 tank, Fort Knox, Kentucky. 1942 June. Alfred T. Palmer, photographer.

(DemocracyNow) A new study, meanwhile, from the National Priorities Project says that more than thirty-seven cents of every income tax dollar goes to military spending. By contrast, environment, energy and science spending projects split 2.8 cents of every tax dollar, while housing, community and food programs split 3.8 cents.

(WaPo) The Obama administration opposes any effort to prosecute those in the Justice Department who drafted legal memos authorizing harsh interrogations at secret CIA prisons, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said yesterday.

A Vision For High Speed Rail

April 17, 2009 at 5:42 pm | Posted in Department of Transportation, Obama Speaks | Leave a comment
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Hopes Raised, Dashed.

April 13, 2009 at 11:23 pm | Posted in Bush, Department of Defense, Foreign Affairs, law, torture | Leave a comment
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Justicia - Justice stands blindfolded as people around her are being tortured.  Pieter Bruegel (1525-1569), artist

"Justicia" - Justice stands blindfolded as people around her are being tortured. Pieter Bruegel (1525-1569), artist

Scott Horton at The Daily Beast:

Spanish prosecutors have decided to press forward with a criminal investigation targeting former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five top associates over their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantánamo, several reliable sources close to the investigation have told The Daily Beast. Their decision is expected to be announced on Tuesday before the Spanish central criminal court, the Audencia Nacional, in Madrid.

[snip]

The six defendants—in addition to Gonzales, Federal Appeals Court Judge and former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, University of California law professor and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, former Defense Department general counsel and current Chevron lawyer William J. Haynes II, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington, and former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith—are accused of having given the green light to the torture and mistreatment of prisoners held in U.S. detention in “the war on terror.”

[snip]

The Bush Six labored at length to create a legal black hole in which they could implement their policies safe from the scrutiny of American courts and the American media. Perhaps they achieved much of their objective, but the law of unintended consequences has kicked in. If U.S. courts and prosecutors will not address the matter because of a lack of jurisdiction, foreign courts appear only too happy to step in.

I am having a hard time believing that anyone will prosecute the bastards, but the Spaniards give me hope.

It’s more than sad that an American should feel more hopeful at the effectiveness of a foreign legal system than their own.

h/t Hilzoy

UPDATE (4/16/09): It looks like my small hope has been dashed, at least for now.

Violations of Justice Continue.

April 12, 2009 at 11:53 pm | Posted in Department of Justice, torture | Leave a comment
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This is disappointing, to say the least:

(NYT) The Obama administration said Friday that it would appeal a district court ruling that granted some military prisoners in Afghanistan the right to file lawsuits seeking their release. The decision signaled that the administration was not backing down in its effort to maintain the power to imprison terrorism suspects for extended periods without judicial oversight.

In a court filing, the Justice Department also asked District Judge John D. Bates not to proceed with the habeas-corpus cases of three detainees at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, Afghanistan. Judge Bates ruled last week that the three — each of whom says he was seized outside of Afghanistan — could challenge their detention in court.

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