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The Morning Grumpy – 1/14/13

Filed under: Morning Grumpy

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

 pitythefoo

1. I’m going to link this Matt Taibbi article at least once a week until everyone else is as pissed off as I am about the issue. It is a torturous summation of the lies and fraud surrounding the TARP bailouts of the nation’s largest banks.

With an apparently endless stream of free or almost-free money available to banks – coupled with a well-founded feeling among bankers that the government will back them up if anything goes wrong – banks have made a dramatic move into riskier and more speculative investments, including everything from high-risk corporate bonds to mortgage­backed securities to payday loans, the sleaziest and most disreputable end of the financial system. In 2011, banks increased their investments in junk-rated companies by 74 percent, and began systematically easing their lending standards in search of more high-yield customers to lend to.

This is a virtual repeat of the financial crisis, in which a wave of greed caused bankers to recklessly chase yield everywhere, to the point where lowering lending standards became the norm. Now the government, with its Implicit Guarantee, is causing exactly the same behavior – meaning the bailouts have brought us right back to where we started. “Government intervention,” says Klaus Schaeck, an expert on bailouts who has served as a World Bank consultant, “has definitely resulted in increased risk.”

And while the economy still mostly sucks overall, there’s never been a better time to be a Too Big to Fail bank. Wells Fargo reported a third-quarter profit of nearly $5 billion last year, while JP Morgan Chase pocketed $5.3 billion – roughly double what both banks earned in the third quarter of 2006, at the height of the mortgage bubble. As the driver of their success, both banks cite strong performance in – you guessed it – the mortgage market.

So what exactly did the bailout accomplish? It built a banking system that discriminates against community banks, makes Too Big to Fail banks even Too Bigger to Failier, increases risk, discourages sound business lending and punishes savings by making it even easier and more profitable to chase high-yield investments than to compete for small depositors. The bailout has also made lying on behalf of our biggest and most corrupt banks the official policy of the United States government. And if any one of those banks fails, it will cause another financial crisis, meaning we’re essentially wedded to that policy for the rest of eternity – or at least until the markets call our bluff, which could happen any minute now.

This is our America.

2. Is justice blind? Not so much when you compare which cases in our justice system are chosen for prosecution and which are chosen for settlement. This weekend, an Internet legend took his own life as the U.S. Justice Department continued to mount an unprecedented case against him for violating copyright law.

The United States government has a very different view of Mr. Swartz. In 2011, he was arrested and accused of using M.I.T.’s computers to gain illegal access to millions of scholarly papers kept by Jstor, a subscription-only service for distributing scientific and literary journals.

In the MIT case, Aaron returned the files; JSTOR did not press charges.

Yet the DOJ, in the person of Carmen M. Ortiz, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, indicted Aaron, charging him with stealing 4 million documents from MIT and JSTOR.

At his trial, which was to begin in April, he faced the possibility of millions of dollars in fines and up to 35 years in prison, punishments that friends and family say haunted him for two years and led to his suicide.

Mr. Swartz was a flash point in the debate over whether information should be made widely available. On one side were activists like Mr. Swartz and advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Students for Free Culture. On the other were governments and corporations that argued that some information must be kept private for security or commercial reasons.

And then there is how the U.S. Government handled the prosecution of HSBC Bank, which knowingly and purposefully laundered money for drug cartels and international terrorists. The bank  laundered money for at least a decade and was fined only four weeks earnings. I’ve written about it multiple times, but, as usual, The Daily Show gave the best summary of the story. HSBC was proven to be blatantly laundering billions, moving “tainted money from Mexican drug cartels and Saudi banks with ties to terrorist groups.” And we’re still waiting for an explanation about $15bn in unexplained “bulk cash”.

The US department of justice said HSBC had moved $881m for two drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia and accepted $15bn in unexplained “bulk cash”, across the bank’s counters in Mexico, Russia and other countries. In some branches the boxes of cash being deposited were so big the tellers’ windows had to be enlarged.

Not one, single, fucking indictment.

When we have organizations that are too big to indict, but we’re willing to put a kid in jail for 35 years as punishment for stealing scholarly articles (mostly financed directly or indirectly with taxpayer dollars), things have broken down beyond belief. The inequities of the justice system have always been on display for those willing to examine them, but we’re truly through the looking glass.

3. Yes, this is really happening.

the_worst_thing_ever

This is pretty much the worst thing that has ever happened. However, if you choose to set sail on the S.S. Douchella, there’s lots in store for you and your bros.

The talent line up is stellar, all of us have toured together throughout the years. There’s some really great musical chemistry on board and ticket holders can choose to be involved in interactive fun with the artists.” Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Smash Mouth, Cracker, Spin Doctors, The Verve Pipe, Marcy Playground, Ed Roland of “Collective Soul” and Ed Kowalczyk of “Live” will all be performing.

For $800 per person, you can get an ocean view stateroom in which you can hide your shame.

4. Sometime this week, the Bethlehem Steel North Administration Building or “Beth North” will probably be demolished.

bethnorth1

When it comes to preservation issues, I view myself as a pragmatist. I don’t fancy myself a committed member of the preservation community who sees every dilapidated building as a Tabula rasa onto which I project my progressive, economic, and cultural fantasies. Instead, I think each building should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, without emotion.

This building has tremendous value, not just as a piece of our community history, but in the craftsmanship and materials used to build it. On the other hand, it has laid empty for years without a hint of interest in its restoration. And it’s location along the windswept and desolate waterfront makes finding an appropriate reuse of the property as unlikely as the return of an actual steel plant.

So, what to do? Should we let the wrecking ball swing and destroy a bit of our past or should we delay until we can find an investor or alternate plan? As there seems to be no immediate need to take down the building and replace it with a new one, what’s the rush? Should this building serve as a reason for the City of Lackawanna to reassess their preservation guidelines, better secure properties, hold owners accountable for years of neglect? Absolutely.

Of all the horrible, crumbling buildings in Lackawanna, why is the Mayor so intent on the demolition of one that actually holds some community value? Is there something we’re not being told?

Or should we even care at all?

5. Glenn Beck wants you to “go Galt” in his new libertarian utopia of Independence, TX.

On his program last night, Beck revealed that his intention to “go Galt” is quite literal, unveiling grandiose plans to create an entirely self-sustaining community called Independence Park that will provide its own food and energy, produce television and film content, host research and development, serve as a marketplace for products and ideas, while also housing a theme park and serving as a residential community.

At the center — in the middle of the lake that is itself larger than all of Disney Land – Beck (with the help of David Barton) will create a massive “national archive”/learning center where people can send their children to be “deprogrammed” and elected officials can come to learn “the truth.”

I hope GlennBeckistan becomes the land of the tea party jackoffs, so the rest of us can get back to doing adult things.

Fact Of The Day: There is no physical description of Jesus in the bible. We just assume this middle eastern man was a blonde haired, blue eyed Adonis.

Quote Of The Day: “What are the American ideals? They are the development of the individual for his own and the common good; the development of the individual through liberty, and the attainment of the common good through democracy and social justice.” – Louis Brandeis

Video Of The Day: “An epidemic of whores” – Bill Burr

Song Of The Day: “Anxiety’s Door” – Merchandise

Follow me on Twitter for the “incremental grumpy” @ChrisSmithAV

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Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com


  • Jesse Griffis

    Keep beating the drum on #1 and the 2nd half of #2. The lack of any meaningful change, or any meaningful punishment for obvious crimes committed, is the most galling of Obama’s failures. You like to beat the crap out of right wingers and libertarians, but where the hell is your team on this?

  • MaxPlanck

    Chris, you can’l link to Taibbi too much. And, if anybody out there in AV world wants to overcome their low blood pressure, read his book Griftopia, which eloquently chronicles the fleecing of the economy by the financial segment and their thug-like disregard for the rule of law. 

  • I think you’re taking the wrong view on 3.  All those bands will be in the exact same place at one time, easy to take out.

  • BufChester

    #1. Ok.  I read Taibbi’s article.  I’m mad as hell.  What can I do about it?  Seriously,  what do we do?