The “Ethics” of Wall Street

Most of you know I spent my life in banking, much of it on the international side.  Banking, especially investment banking is the epitome of the capitalist state.  Are there any ethics on Wall Street?  How does one not fall into the trap set up as follows: You are supposed to serve the best interests of your client but suppose you can make a lot of money by working against your client’s best interest behind his back?

I originally posted this piece soon after the Greek debacle several years ago.  With Puerto  Rico now in the banker’s gun sights it seemed like a good time repeat it.

 

Goldman Sachs Manhattan headquarters

Goldman Headquarters

Well the Greek deal with the European troika isn’t quite yet done but appears to be on the road to getting done leaving Greece with additional  years of depression level austerity and crushing debt.  A decade ago Greek debt was 100% of GDP; it will peak at 200% in a couple of years.

In the opinion of the IMF such debt levels are unsustainable.  Yesterday the IMF attacked the package put together by Germany and the new “northern league”.  The IMF called for some level of debt forgiveness.  It could mean that the IMF will not lend anymore money to Greece until some Greek debt is forgiven.

During this week there have also been articles both supporting and critical of the role played by Goldman, Sachs in the Greek drama.

Greece has been accused of masking it’s true debt levels when it entered the Euro-zone.  And it appears it was Goldman, Sachs that helped them do it – or perhaps put the Greeks up to it – not that this would make the Greeks totally not guilty.

What was Goldman’s role?  Well, let us remember it is all about the money.

First a bit about the culture of investment banking.

“A slovenly 32-year old junior trader with terrible social skills, zero management ability and no one reporting to him can make millions of dollars a year. He’s the guy you read about in the newspaper making three times the CEO’s salary. He’s the guy that all the other firms are trying to poach. And he’s the guy that used to be referred to admiringly as a “big swinging dick.”  You learn very quickly in investment banking that status is not all about the titles, it’s all about the money.”

“Now, as an individual, your ostensible goal is to serve your clients by giving them the best advice on financial products and transactions to fit their short- and long-term goals. The payoff comes in the form a fee for capital raised, a merger completed or a financial transaction completed. The reality is you as an individual make more money – and hence have higher status – the more transactions you do, the more complex and bigger the deals you do.”

Are there any ethics in such a culture?  Or only legal restrictions?

“Suppose  your client wants to do a deal that you don’t think is advisable or ethical; or if you uncover damaging information about your client that makes you believe the terms of a deal need to be altered.  Then suppose you can arrange a deal that you believe is not in your client’s best interests but which earns your company more money.  What do you do?”

All available evidence says that the Greeks were actively looking for ways to reduce their apparent fiscal debt levels and deficit numbers without having to reduce spending or raise taxes. It’s called having your cake and eating it too.

She got rich

Enter Antigone Loudiadis – a relationship manager for the “Greek desk” at Goldman’s London office and the cross-currency swaps arranged by Goldman, the purpose of which was to hide the level of Greek debt from the European troika.

Now cross currency swaps are perfectly routine – a country has borrowed let us say US dollars but it’s currency is the Euro.  The country with the foreign dollar debt swaps it for the equivalent Euros, pays interest on the Euro debt, receives interest payment on the dollar debt and then at a point in time, in the future,  swaps the principal back.  When transacted at spot exchange rates, cross-currency swaps of this type have zero present value at inception,

Here’s the thing though. As an individual you will always come to a point where a client is  begging you to do something that is legal, makes lots of money for your company, but that you feel may be  unethical.

According to “Risk” magazine  the cross-currency swaps transacted by Goldman for Greece’s public debt division were ‘off-market’ – the spot exchange rate was not used for re-denominating the principal of the foreign currency debt.

Apparently a weaker level of foreign exchange rate was used when valuing the dollar principal creating a mismatch between the domestic and foreign currency swap.

Suppose a dollar equaled a euro.  If I wanted to swap $1billion for a five year period, I would receive E1billion in return.  Now suppose while the euro and the dollar were equal I wanted to swap $1 billion but I want the deal to state that the dollar amount is worth E1.25 billion.

This is essentially what Goldman did – arranged by Antigone Loudiadis.

The effect of this was to create an up front payment by Goldman to Greece at inception, (in the example above it would amount to E250 million) and an increased stream of interest payments to Greece during the lifetime of the swap. Goldman would recoup these non-standard cash flows at maturity, receiving a large ‘balloon’ cash payment from Greece.

These transactions allowed them to take U.S. Dollar and Yen-denominated debt and transfer them into Euros at exchange  rates which made the level of Yen/Dollar debt look lower until the swap transaction came due and Greece was forced to make a balloon payment to Goldman.

Under Ms Loudiadis’s guidance, Goldman swapped debt issued by Greece in dollars and yen for euros which were priced at a historical exchange rate that made the debt look smaller than it actually was. The swaps reportedly made about 2 per cent of Greece’s debt disappear from its national accounts.

The size and structure of the deal enabled the bank to charge a far bigger fee than is usual in swap transactions, and Goldman persuaded Greece not to test the transaction with competitors to ensure it was getting good value for money.

Now none of this was illegal.  Additionally there were no EU rules regarding this sort of thing.  The EU was interested in the level of  borrowings – of “debt” – it was not interested and didn’t look at foreign exchange swaps.  The fact is that these transactions made Greek “debt” look lower than it actually was.

Greece knew it (although now it claims not) – but Goldman knew it as well and has not received nearly the same amount of criticism.

In Goldman’s “defense”, other investment banks would have offered the same deal to Greece if Goldman had not.  And Greece was not the first to use this scheme – Italy did it first before Greece was admitted to the Euro.  And it was not illegal – no one will go to jail.  And it wss not against Eurozone regulations – they did not yet exist to cover these transactions.

“Italy played this game as far back as 1996.  And, that’s the crux of the matter. As a banker, you never re-invent the wheel. If a deal works and makes lots of money, you shop that deal around to everyone you can until it doesn’t. If you don’t, your competitors will.”

As Goldman Chairman Lloyd Blankfein says “We are doing God’s work!”.

Continuing their nefarious ways, it is reported that Goldman sold the balloon payments due at the end of the transactions to Greek banks.  And then bet against Greece by buying a credit default swap from a major German bank.  If Greece defaulted and left the Euro-zone German banks would not only eat their own losses; they would eat Goldman’s as well.

Brilliant, as they say in England.  Simply brilliant.  And totally routine.

Goldman made hundreds of millions of dollars on these deals – helping Greece hide the true level of it’s debt.  “It has its tentacles in nearly everything that can be monetized. Its muscular trading department (almost 50 percent of revenues) controls the world’s supply and demand for most industrial commodities, including aluminum, oil, copper, coal, wheat, natural gas, nickel and tin. Its powerful investment banking business enjoys worldwide power and influence among most of the world’s elected governments and dictators. Its investment management business has few rivals, and today GS has over $1 trillion in assets. Goldman is a veritable money machine.  It has more ex-government administrators, ex-Cabinet members, politicians and ex-politicians, ex-administration and administration advisers, state and county commissioners and ex-commissioners, and judges and ex-judges on retainer than it has employees on its payroll.”

From “Risk” magazine:

The morality of all this

“What other purpose can these transactions serve other than to mask the true indebtedness of Greece?  Did anyone actually break the law? If these are legal transactions, does Goldman Sachs have any responsibility inform the EU of the deals? Should Goldman’s bankers have refused Greece’s wishes, knowing that some other banker would collect the fees? Why does this matter now other than in regards to Greece’s credibility in future sovereign debt deals?

These are all good questions.  But, the Wall Street Journal article gets to the heart of things and why the deals happened.

Ms. Loudiadis became a Goldman partner in 2000. A cerebral Oxford University graduate, she was eventually named co-head of the company’s investment-banking group in Europe, making as much as $12 million in annual compensation, according to someone familiar with the matter. She lives an exclusive neighborhood in West London known for its sprawling white stucco homes.

From a banker’s perspective, that’s what this is all about – money, and the status that goes with it.”

The only losers in this capitalist game were the millions of poor Greeks, those who wouldn’t know an off-market currency swap from Iggy Azalea.  They remain homeless and on the bread lines.

Athenian poverty – this is the  “ethics” of Wall Street billionaires.

.

————————————————-

 

http://www.risk.net/risk-magazine/feature/1498135/revealed-goldman-sachs-mega-deal-greece

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2010/02/a-bankers-perspective-of-the-greece-derivatives-debt-dodge.html

 

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

“I Like to be in America!”

The dour stone-faced German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble made a joke in 2015.

“According to Bloomberg, Schaeuble said, “I offered my friend [US Treasury Secretary] Jack Lew these days that we could take Puerto Rico into the euro zone if the U.S. were willing to take Greece into the dollar union.”

Hahaha!  That’s so funny Wolfie!!  It’s a banker joke.

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory defaulted in 2015 precipitating the largest default in municipal bond history by missing a $58 million payment; it made a partial payment of only $628,000.

All of this had echoes of Greece.

Puerto Richo has $74 billion in debt, equal to 100% of its GNP.   Puerto Rico has the population of Connecticut and an economy smaller than Nebraska’s. It also has more debt  than any U.S. state government except California, New York and Massachusetts. The debt, a result of financial mismanagement, Wall Street complicity and good intentions gone awry, will limit the territory’s ability to rebuild after being destroyed by a hurricane.

Greece’s debt ratio is  twice it’s GNP but it is a sovereign nation able to access various international monetary agencies.  Puerto Rico is not.  Greece can go back to the Drachma.  Puerto Rico cannot abandon the dollar.

Both Greece and Puerto Rico are tied to a much large economy with which it shares a currency and both are in a form of death spiral, their economies shrinking as they struggle to raise ever more funds from their shrinking economies to pay the piper – err – bankers.

Puerto Rico clearly allowed a debt crisis to creep up during the boom years, when the underlying problems were hidden from view and creditors lent without a second thought, banking on an implicit guarantee from the US sovereign state that did not in fact exist.

Puerto Rico was already struggling with its debt load when Hurricane Maria hit in September.  After President Donald Trump toured damaged sites on the island Oct. 3, he said of the debt “we’re going to have to wipe that out,” though his budget director said this shouldn’t be taken literally.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and most learn English as well as Spanish at a very young age.  They are leaving Puerto Rico in droves for the mainland; the population of the island has fallen by more than 1% each year for the last decade.  As the young workers left the economy has shrunk.

Puerto Rico’s bonds were tax exempt “munies” held by many Americans through bond funds.  After all, they were rated “investment grade” by those old standbys, Moodys and S&P and the United States of America would never allow Puerto Rico to default.  The fact that the rates were a little better than other similarly rated bonds made the buyers even more greedy; they should have known that the increased rate usually indicates increased risk.  So there is $74 billion worth of these bonds out there and no conceivable way to pay them at full value.

They began trading the day after the default tat a 30%+ discount – .70 cents on the dollaror lower.  By 8:30 a.m. ET last Wednesday after Trump opened his mouth, the benchmark 8% coupon general obligation bonds maturing in 2035 were trading at just 34 cents on the dollar. It traded as high as 44 cents on Tuesday and 57 cents a month ago.

Washington took “action” after Puerto Rico stated in 2015 that it was unable to pay its borrowings and the defaults began to pile up.  It set up a financial oversight committee.

Unlike the bonds of most states and municipalities, Puerto Rico’s are exempt from local, state and federal taxes everywhere in the U.S., making the debt attractive to mutual funds. As a result, they were once held by about half of open-end muni funds. (They’re now mostly held by hedge funds and big investment firms betting they’ll rebound.) The competitive advantage made it easy for Puerto Rico to double its debt in 10 years by selling bonds to plug annual budget deficits and pay for operating expenses — the same combination that brought New York City to the brink of bankruptcy in the 1970s.

Wall Street smoothed the island’s path to fiscal debacle, reaping more than $900 million in fees to manage Puerto Rico’s $126.6 billion of bond sales since 2000.

Puerto Rico has a special tax status that dates to 1917 . It has relied on tax breaks to drive economic development, attracting pharmaceutical, textile and electronics companies. The U.S. phased out the incentives from the mid-1990s to 2006, contributing to the loss of 80,000 jobs. Since 2006, the island’s economy has contracted every year except one and its poverty rate is double that of Mississippi, the poorest state.

The population of 3.4 million was shrinking before Maria struck; 400,000 have left since 2008. With so many businesses destroyed, more people are likely to head to the mainland in search of jobs, leaving fewer people behind to pay taxes. It may take months to restore power.

Now Puerto Rico has it’s own legal system and it is not covered by U.S. bankruptcy law – therefore there is no Chapter 9 equivalent bankruptcy which, for example allowed Detroit to reorganize it’s finances in an orderly fashion.

Enter the “vulture funds” – buying up Puerto Rico bonds at substantial discounts from those who want to dump them and demanding that Puerto Rico “tighten it’s belt” and pay up.

Puerto Rico’s governor, Alejandro García Padilla, said dramatic austerity would perpetuate the island’s “vicious cycle” as the shriveling economy accelerates a mass exodus of those of working-age.

Yet the hedge fund managers  have pushed home their narrative that Puerto Ricans are feckless, living beyond their means, and could easily pay if they tightened their belts.  They are for example “massively overspending on education”; hundreds of schools can be closed!

Perhaps Puerto Ricans are over-eating as well.

A group of hedge funds recruited a team of former IMF officials to push their case that Puerto Rico is able to pay its debts if it reins in public spending.  All this could turn into a massive legal fiasco to be fought out in the Courts of Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile the hedge fund managers are quietly betting whether or not the U.S. government will bail them out at a nice tidy profit.  Congress however has come out firmly against anything that smacked of a federal bailout for Puerto Rico.  Nor has it granted Puerto Rico Chapter 9 protection which would bar creditors from seizing assets willie-nillie  The Hispanic vote or the Wall Street vote and money – what to do, what to do?

The U.S. acquired Puerto Rico from Spain after Teddy Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill.  Spain ceded the Philippines and Puerto Rico to the U.S.   Spain also granted Cuba it’s independence, rather than cede it to the U.S.

We granted independence to the Philippines but held on to P.R. as a coaling station in the Caribbean.   Neither would we grant it full statehood,

The last vote on the subject was 54% for statehood, the rest divided between the status-quo or independence.  Congress will not grant statehood as P.R. would most likely enter as a solid state for Democrats.  Recall the last admissions to statehood when I was young.  Hawaii, a Democratic state was admitted only when Alaska, a Republican state was ready for admission as well.

A typical IMF study said the island should be exempted from the US minimum wage to restore competitiveness, a de facto call for an internal devaluation — an experiment pursued with varying results in Greece, Portugal, Latvia, and Ireland.  We need to make these U.S. citizens poorer in order to pay the hedge fund managers their annual bonuses.

For the world, Puerto Rico is becoming a test case of whether hedge funds and financial creditors can legitimately dictate terms to sub-sovereign states, or whether there is a greater social interest in limiting their legal powers.

Meanwhile 90% of Puerto Rico is in the dark, vast areas are totally destroyed and our President revels in throwing paper towels at the crowds while tweeting no one could have done a better job than he has done in Puerto Rico,  Besides, we all know they are shiftless and lazy.

Besides, He has more important fish to fry – there are still NFL football players protesting during the national anthem on Sunday afternoons.

.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

On “Thoughts and Prayers”

Having lived now just 5 years short of the proverbial four score I am no longer surprised by te ability of politicians to turn an innocent, innocuous phrase into a near profanity.

It’s become a sort of twisted American ritual: A lone white male shooter opens fire on a crowd of people. Americans cry out for someone to do something and are met with shoulder shrugs, mumblings about “the price of freedom” and assurances that the people elected to protect them are sending their “thoughts and prayers.”

It’s not that there is anything wrong with praying for those who are suffering. In fact, if you are a religious believer, it’s an imperative.   I, however am in the camp of those who dismiss prayer as superstitious mumbo-jumbo.   I’m not in your face about it; I am simply not a believer.  On the other hand, if you do believe then by all means go ahead and pray.  I don’t think it does any significant harm.

Unless of course it’s all you do.  You do not act or offer solutions. You simply send your “thoughts and prayers.”

That’s not enough. Nor is it what we hire politicians to do. We elect them to fix problems, enact policies and keep us safe.

“Instead, we have elected officials — many of them self-described conservative Christians who also happen to take money from the National Rifle Association — using cries for “thoughts and prayers” as some sort of inoculation against responsibility or action when it comes to gun violence.”

In his address to the nation on Monday, instead of offering specific action, President Trump and his White House team avoided any discussion of policy, as though it were only a spiritual matter.

“We pray for the entire nation to find unity and peace, and we pray for the day when evil is banished, and the innocent are safe from hatred and from fear.”

Now far be it for me to lecture Christians on anything but this non-believer does believe that the words of Jesus must inspire Christians to action, not merely words.

“If we profess to follow Jesus, all of our talk must be indivisibly connected to all of our deeds. If there are no deeds, then the talk is meaningless,” the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III. “The contrived, empty platitudes [from these politicians] are a public relations gimmick to avoid confronting this ideologically captive religion which bears no fruit.”

The “ideologically captive religion” to which Rivers refers is white evangelical Christianity, which has so intertwined itself with the Republican Party and conservative political ideology, it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins.

Strangely, when it comes to other issues these same Christians don’t feign helplessness and limit solutions to “thoughts and prayers.” If the shooter in Las Vegas had been named Mohammed, you can be sure that these same leaders would be offering a laundry list of “solutions” to keep more Mohammeds out of America. For that matter, have you ever seen a politician just throw up his or her hands about legalized abortion — which has been the law of the land for 40 years — and say there is nothing that can be done, but “thoughts and prayers” all around?”

And the religious fought tooth and nail not to have to provide contraception to  woman employees with health insurance benefits because doing so would violate their “deeply held” religious beliefs.

Indeed the actions of the religious concerning these issues reveals the deep hypocrisy of offering up prayers for a problem you are unwilling to resolve.

The Good Samaritan did not simply offer a prayer and walk by the traveler who was beaten and left half dead on the road.  Nor did Jesus tell the cold and hungry “Go in peace, be warm and well fed.”

I know many find it particularly painful to watch elected officials use their Christian faith to attempt to spiritualize mass murder, while their inaction leads to people traumatized, maimed, disabled or dead. Mass shootings are not acts of God. They are not natural disasters. We know they are preventable, because no other country lives with this kind of madness. Contrary to NRA propaganda, those countries that are not beset by gun violence — such as Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom — are no less “free” than the United States.

If your “thoughts and prayers” are truly with someone then you must want to do something to help them.  Jesus prayed.  But then he acted.

The acolyte of the Tridentine Mass remembers the words of Confession:

I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have failed to do.”

The words of absolution:  “Go and sin no more.”

We know what we have left undone.   And so do you.

.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Freedom vs. “Freedom”

Ready for the Zombie Apocalypse

So how free are we?

I posed that question in a post back in 2013 which I re-posted here in 20115:

https://toritto.wordpress.com/2015/07/12/how-free-are-we-2/

This week we had another slaughter of innocents in Las Vegas committed by someone whose motives remain unknown.  No manifesto.  No suicide note.  No indication of serious mental illness in his past.  The investigation goes on pushing poor Puerto Rico to the inside pages of the papers or a brief mention on the 6 P.M. news.

As usual, a great cry goes up from a majority of Americans for Congress to do something!

Congress responds with maybe it should take a look at regulating “bump stops” which are a simple attachment turning a semi-automatic weapon (you have to pull the trigger each time you fire) into fully automatic machine gun like weapon.  Hold on to the trigger and loose 100 rounds or so in 7 seconds.  Mind you, Congress will not look at the availability of semi-automatic weapons which I can buy at any gun show without a by your leave.  Just the bump stock.  Nice.

Now our fellow citizens overwhelmingly reject the idea that we should do nothing and let the killings continue. Majorities of voters in both parties favor universal background checks, a ban on assault-style weapons, and measures to prevent the mentally ill and those on no-fly watch lists from buying guns.

Yet nothing happens.  Why is that?

We have become a “non-majoritarian democracy.”  We like to think the people rule – but they don’t.  The Constitution of the Republic was crafted with enough “checks and balances” to insure that the people don’t rule.

The non-majoritarian nature of our institutions was brought home in 2013. After the Sandy Hook slaughter of children, the Senate voted 54-to-46 in favor of a background-checks amendment crafted by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa. Those 54 votes were not enough to overcome a filibuster, which the GOP regularly abused during the Obama years. Worse, since most large-state senators voted for Manchin-Toomey, the 54 “yes” votes came from lawmakers representing 63 percent of the population. Their will was foiled by those who speak for just 37 percent of us.

As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump has noted, if all 50 senators from the 25 smallest states voted for a bill and Vice President Pence cast his lot with them, senators representing just 16 percent of Americans could overrule those representing 84 percent.

This problem will get worse. David Birdsell, a Baruch College political scientist, has calculated that by 2040, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states — and be represented by only 30 of the 100 senators.

The Electoral College, meanwhile, is increasingly out of line with the popular vote. In raw terms, Trump had the largest popular vote deficit of any Electoral College winner; some 1.9 million. It was the second time in just five elections that the two were at odds. Here again, the failure of our institutions to account for the movement to metropolitan areas is the culprit. In 1960, 63 percent of Americans lived in metros; by 2010, 84 percent did.

The United States is now a non-majoritarian democracy. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, that’s because it is. Claims that our republic is democratic are undermined by a system that vastly over-represents the interests of rural areas and small states. This leaves the large share of Americans in metropolitan areas with limited influence over national policy. Nowhere is the imbalance more dramatic or destructive than on the issue of gun control.

If Hillary had won by 5 million votes in the states she won in 2016 she still would not be President.  So much for “democracy.”

“But we are not a democracy!  We are a Republic!”  say conservatives.  The system is designed to protect minorities from the “tyranny of the majority.”  This is usually spouted by those who write about the “Democrat” Party.  It was popular when I was a kid; the John Birch Society used it all the time against civil rights advocates.  Look it up if you’re too young to know of the JBS.   Actually the checks and balances  seem designed to protect the men of property – the 1% – and keep them in charge.  IMHO of course.

The House is no better than the Senate or the Electoral College in this regard.   Mischievously drawn district lines vastly distort the preferences of those who cast ballots. After the 2010 Census, the GOP controlled the redrawing of congressional boundaries in most key states. The result? The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School concluded that Republicans derived a net benefit of at least 16 seats from biased boundaries, about two-thirds of their current House margin.

There is currently a case before the Supreme Court on district lines in Wisconsin alleging they are unconstitutionally drawn and violate the “one man one vote” rule.  The Court of course has been thoroughly politicized with 4 reliable Liberal votes and 4 reliably conservative votes.  One man, Justice Kennedy is considered the “swing vote.”  The fate of millions of Wisconsin voters will come down to one man’s opinion.

“Voter-suppression efforts and the disenfranchisement of former felons in many states further skew electoral outcomes, as does the power of money in politics.

A renewed Voting Rights Act and universal voter registration could restore access to the ballot box to those who have lost it. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is trying to move us toward the popular election of the president. And our campaign finance system badly needs repair.

Our paralysis on guns reflects a looming legitimacy crisis in our system.”

The majority in this country has become captive of a minority of the population which strongly believes that “government is the problem” and the less it does the better.

Addressing such issues will not be easy or come soon.  The need however will become more apparent as freedom becomes “freedom.”

.

From the Voice of America, Richie Havens’ “Freedom”

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Marathon – A Re-Post

Posted soon after the Boston Marathon bombing

Martin Richard, 8 was killed in the bombing at the Boston Marathon while watching runners cross the finish line with his family. Photocredit: facebook

“Peace”
“No more hurting people”
A little prince wise beyond his years
eyes filled with promise
of great deeds to come.

Greeting the victors
adding his accolades
Athens triumphant
a laurel wreath
crowning Pheidippides.

Amongst the multitude in the agora
the shadow of death
stunted specters
souls without hope, their darkness falling
over a prince of hopes and dreams

Wails from the multitude
the wise princely eyes
covered with coins
payment to Charon
for the journey ‘cross the Styx.

And the multitude wept
as the Oracles screamed
and spoke in babble;
fists shaken at heaven
asking why, while Zeus was silent

And Zeus answered
“Shake not your fists at heaven asking why
for some things you cannot know;
take comfort that you are not alone
after all, did not the gods abandon even mighty Troy?”

.

——————————————

Photo – Martin Richard, 8 was killed in the bombing at the Boston Marathon while watching runners cross the finish line with his family.

Photo credit:Lucia Brawley/Personal Photo

—————————————————–

 

Posted in Poetry, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

From The Archives

Yesterday I took a peek at my stats and was surprised to see a number of hits on a post I put up more than three years ago.  It was not previously one of the “favorites” in the archive but it moved up in the rankings recently.

Some one is obviously impressed by my prescience, my insight, my gift of foresight.

🙂

When I read it again I must say even I was impressed!  Here it is from July 28, 2014:

Hillary Clinton official Secretary of State portrait crop.jpg

 

Well it’s been a hot Summer here in Florida with the usual weather – hot, humid, high in the nineties, chance of scattered thunderstorms.

Saturday I received my gubernatorial Primary ballot – the Democratic primary is next month. I’ve yet to fill it out and mail it in. Pretty sad that the only Democratic candidate for Governor here in Florida with a chance of winning the general election is a former Republican.

Which got me thinking again over morning coffee.

Does anyone know what Hillary stands for? Good luck with that. Any controversy at this point might tarnish the march to the coronation.

Yes, she’s currently on her grand book tour telling us all about the “hard choices” she had to make as Secretary of State.  So many of her supporters are waiting breathlessly for the word that yes, she is a candidate for President. The procession to the oval office can then officially begin.

But does anyone have any idea of her positions? I mean, what is Hillary FOR?

Seems at this point she is running strictly on her resume yet there is a serious, rumbling populist undercurrent for change in this country, on the right and the left.  Is Hillary for “change”? Or just more of the same?  Just another corporatist pol, “fighting for the middle-class”?  Aren’t they all?

Lately she has been speaking in the vacuous platitudes of a well off, sheltered and out of touch political hack – avoiding virtually all policy issues. It is reported that she has earned some $12 million on speaking engagements since leaving State.  Not bad. Democrats, including Hillary, have collected as much money, if not more from Wall Street as Republicans.

Let’s face it; our foreign policy is in shambles. Hillary ran the show for four years with little to show for it. Oh yes. “Hard choices”. Does she shoulder any of the blame for our current mess or is John Kerry the patsy?

Is she for war and empire? Usually she is. Does she take money from banks? Damn right.  Does she support repeal of NAFTA?  Reinstating Glass -Stegall? Who knows. I doubt it.  She can’t run on those planks – her husband Bill’s “signature” achievements.

Is she for universal health care and a single payer system? Reversing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy? Raising the minimum wage?  Where does she stand on income inequality and what does she think should be done about it?

Legalizing marijuana? Closing Gitmo? Reining in the NSA?  Cutting defense spending? Bringing troops home? Negotiating with “terrorists”? Does she support reversing Citizens United and Hobby Lobby with anything but lip service?  Where is she on immigration?

What ever happened to Democrats?  Where the hell is the Democratic left?   Besides being against hate speech and for gay marriage and women’s health, what are they doing for working men and women?

Rand Paul, who can’t be wrong all the time,  is the only voice speaking against empire and our military adventures around the world. He and Elizabeth Warren are the lone voices feared by banksters.  Everyone else, including Hillary, seem pretty milquetoast; ready to do as they are told by those with the big checkbooks.

Pretty sad.

Seems to me Hillary stands for “more of the same”. We can all celebrate the election of a woman like we celebrated the election of a black man. What a great country!!  Then we can go back to our exceptionalist “normal” and minimum wage jobs.

And status quo.

In the words of Emma G:  “If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal!”.

S.O.S.

.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Had Enough Yet?

Listen to the machine guns and explain to me why they are legal?

 

Well the Las Vegas death toll reached 59 last night with 527 injured and taken to hospital, many in critical condition and/or requiring surgery.  The media trumpets the attainment of a new record: the worst mass killing in U.S. history.

There is a grim record-keeping involved here, one that itself highlights the ways in which the horror of mass shootings begins to blur, owing to their sheer frequency. By mathematic calculation, the deadliest shooting is “the worst.” But, by a different measure, five years ago, we didn’t think that any shooting could be worse than the one that killed twenty children, just six and seven years old, and seven adults, in Newtown, Connecticut. Two summers ago, we felt something similar when nine people in a Charleston church were murdered by a young man whom they had invited to join them in prayer.

The distance between forty-nine dead in Orlando and at least fifty-nine thusfar in Las Vegas is sixteen months. The deadliest shooting before Orlando, the massacre at Virginia Tech, which claimed the lives of thirty-two people, held that terrible distinction for nine years—not a small amount of time, but damning by another measure, in that our “worst” tragedy could not exist for a decade without being surpassed.

On the other hand, Stephen Paddock, the alleged Las Vegas gunman, was equipped with weaponry far advanced from the collection of firearms that Charles Whitman used to murder fourteen people, from the University of Texas clock tower when I was 24, some fifty-one years ago.  Records were made to be broken.

Stephen Paddock had 22 guns with him in his room at the Mandalay Bay; he had 21 more at home. At least two guns were “automatic weapons” mounted on tripods (!); one at each of the two windows in his room.

Let’s call these “automatic weapons” what they are.  They are machine guns.  They may originally have been semi-automatic “assault rifles” which can easily and cheaply made into fully automatic machine guns.  These weapons are designed for one purpose only; to kill as many people as possible.  No one hunts deer with these guns.

If you listen to any of the multitude of videos from the scene you will hear the sounds heard in war.  You could have been at Ia Drang or Dak To or on Omaha Beach.  Machine gun fire.  The only sound lacking was artillery.

WHY ARE MACHINE GUNS SOLD IN THIS COUNTRY!

Because the NRA says it’s your “god given” right to own a machine gun?

Our killer was 1,200 feet from the concert and had no trouble reaching the new record for mass murder.  If e had a rifle he might have killed a few but he would not have caused the carnage he did picking off innocents one at a time from 1,200 feet.

Polling shows Republican voters support some gun control measures. Nearly 90 percent of GOP voters say that the mentally ill should not be able to purchase a gun, according to a June survey by the Pew Research Center. Seventy-seven percent want background checks for private sales or weapons purchased at gun shows. And 54 percent would ban the assault-style weapons that are frequently used in mass shootings.

Makes no difference to Congress.  When I was young the NRA was a respectable organization representing hunters, rural America and safety. Some two decades ago it began the change into the trade association of gun and ammunition manufacturers. Yesterday the stock of gun manufacturers was up on the New York exchanges.  Sort of tells you something.

Nevada has some of the weakest gun laws in America.  Just about anyone can legally buy a gun.  Machine guns are totally legal.  And Nevada does not have any restrictions on the number and type of guns you own.  So our killer owned over 40 guns including at least two machine guns.  Pretty soon maybe the NRA will get hand grenades, RPGs and cruise missiles approved for individual purchase and deployment on my private property.

There is a point in the joke.  Hand grenades, RPGs and cruise missiles are verboten.  So what’s the rationale for legalized machine guns?  No one hunts with them or uses them for home protection where a pistol will do fine.

Never mind Toritto.  You’re soft on the Second Amendment.

Yesterday our illustrious President offered his “warmest condolences” to the families of the murdered and injured in Vegas – as if he was sending a sympathy card on the death of a 96 year old great grandmother who died peacefully in her sleep.

And of course it is time for all of us to “come together” at this time of “pure evil.”  Not one word about the availability of machine guns to just about anybody making this evil possible.  It was only several months ago that he lifted an Obama restriction on those with a history of mental illness allowing them to purchase firearms.

But of course this is not the time to talk policy.  Sean Hannity, buffoon of the fever swamp Fox News lambasted Democrats and members of the media who are calling for tougher gun control laws.

“The Fox News host accused gun control advocates of “politicizing the tragedy in an absolutely despicable display.” He said such discussions in the wake of the mass shooting, which left nearly 60 people dead and 500 injured at a country music festival in Las Vegas, were “so shameful,” “exploitative” and “pathetic.”  Should I laugh my ass off now or wait a decent interval?

Let’s not talk about it now; lets wait a decent interval while we “pray” and hopefully the story will go away and we can all “move on.”

Meanwhile in Congress,  a  proposal tucked into the larger SHARE Act (The Sportsman’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act!)  would effectively make it easier to buy a silencer by lifting restrictions and a federal tax on the accessory.

A sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., argues that the proposal, called the Hearing Protection Act, is focused on protecting law-abiding gun owners from hearing damage.  I can’t help but smile – our good Congressman wants to protect the hearing of gun owners.  Smirk.  Soon you’ll be shot at and not even know where the bullets are coming from!  The House has wisely put off voting on this crap until Las Vegas blows over.  As Jimmie Kimmel said last night, these folks have an NRA money clip attached around their balls.

Meanwhile the media drones on today running interviews with crying teens, vigils, memorials, lighted candles, continuously deifying every cop, fireman, “first responder” hero, coming together, unity etc. etc. etc.  Not once have I heard anything from MSM or government about the availability of machine guns, gun show loopholes (we are big in this regard here in Florida.  I could buy a couple of machine guns at any red neck gun show), background checks, registration of firearms so we know about someone stockpiling weapons for which he has no apparent use.  We don’t want to talk about policy during this time of grieving.

WHAT BETTER TIME?   IF NOT NOW, WHEN?

The answer unfortunately is never.  After the 20 kids and 6 teachers were slaughtered in New Town, Obama couldn’t get anything passed either – and the Dems controlled both houses of Congress back then.  Everyone is on the take.

In my lifetime there has been only ONE time gun restrictions were passed – and they were passed when Ronald Reagan was Governor of California.

The Mulford Act was a 1967 California bill that repealed a law allowing public carrying of loaded firearms. Named after Republican assemblyman Don Mulford, the bill was crafted in response to members of the Black Panther Party who were conducting armed patrols of Oakland neighborhoods while they were conducting what would later be termed “cop watching”. They  garnered national attention after the Black Panthers marched bearing arms upon the California State Capitol protesting police violence in black neighborhoods.

Panthers marching around with legal guns got their attention.   White fascist militias with guns are ok you see.  Armed lefties in open carry states marching on the capital, Antifa militias for example, are another matter.

Governor Reagan was present when the protesters arrived at the California state capital and later commented that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.”    In a later press conference, Reagan .added that the Mulford Act “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.”

Amen Ronnie.

Prayers don’t mean squat if you won’t do anything.

‘-

Reagan on guns – “An AK47 is not a sporting weapon!”

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments