Chris Christie’s Presidential Announcement Came At Taxpayer’s Expense

Chris Christie by Gage Skidmore

When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stepped into his old high school in Livingston, New Jersey to officially announce his candidacy for president many assumed – given that it was explicitly a political event – that Christie’s campaign would pick up to the tab. But that would be wrong.

A public records request by Blue Jersey writer Steve Stern (who blogs under the handle Deciminyan) revealed that Governor Christie billed New Jersey taxpayers for his presidential campaign kickoff.

Much to my surprise, the facility was NOT rented by the Christie for President organization, but rather by the Office of the Governor. Jim Gilroy, who is listed on state databases as “Aide to the Governor”, executed the contract. The school district quoted a price of $2,992. You, the taxpayer paid for this, whether or not you are a Chris Christie for President supporter.

Of course, your cost was far more. The security, aides, communications, and other ancillary expenses that go with a governor running for public office may be unavoidable. But shouldn’t the campaign have paid for the facility?

The mixture of public and political business is illegal in New Jersey with Governor Christie already plagued by a scandal involving political acts by his staff and his appointees at the New York and New Jersey Port Authority. Christie’s deputy chief of staff was directly involved in shutting down the George Washington Bridge allegedly to punish the mayor of the town of Fort Lee for not endorsing Governor Christie for re-election.

If put to a vote it is unlikely the people who paid for the event would have been happy to do so. Polls show the people of New Jersey both do not want Christie to run for president and want him to resign now that he is.

Jamie Dimon, Billionaire

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase.jpg

The ancient Athenian philosopher Anacharsis is said to have once noted that laws are no different than a spider’s web in that “They’ll restrain anyone weak and insignificant who gets caught in them, but they’ll be torn to shreds by people with power and wealth.” It would be difficult to provide a stronger example proving Anacharsis’ thesis regarding the dynamic between law and wealth than the example of JPMorgan and its CEO, Jamie Dimon. Such an example is particularly worth noting now that Mr. Dimon has reportedly breached the great elite wealth barrier of our time and become a billionaire. 

Under Dimon’s leadership – he was and is chairman, president and CEO – JPMorgan Chase went on one of the most successful corporate crime sprees in the history of American business raking in billions of revenue from clients and US taxpayers alike. The amount of wealth snatched by Dimon’s JPMorgan was almost as impressive as the firm’s ability to evade substantive legal recourse from the Department of Justice over and over again.

The litany of known offenses committed under the reign of Jamie Dimon is simply breathtaking. In many cases JPMorgan went so far as to pay large fines but did not outright admit wrongdoing:

  • JPMorgan paid out a $13 billion settlement for fraudulent activities in the mortgage securities market that led to the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis and resulting recession hollowed out the wealth of the American middle class and threw millions out of work.
  • $500 million settlement for role JPMorgan-acquired Bear Stearns played in the mortgage market.
  • The bank paid out over $600 million to settle charges of manipulating currency markets in collusion with other banks and made a mostly symbolic criminal guilty plea. 
  • Not only did JPMorgan cause the housing crisis, it fraudulently foreclosed on homeowners with faulty paperwork during the crisis and paid $50 million to settle those charges.
  • While JPMorgan lobbyists flooded Washington DC to stop regulations that would attempt to prevent reckless trading – a trader in JPMorgan’s London office known as the “London Whale” was busy recklessly trading and violating securities laws charges for which JPMorgan paid over $900 million to settle.
  • A cartel of banks including JPMorgan were involved in rigging an international interest rate known as the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) which has already led to JPMorgan paying over $100 million in fines.

It was a hell of a run and is far from over as JPMorgan could be facing charges related to political corruption in China where the megabank is suspected of hiring children of the Chinese Communist Party elite in order to curry favor with the Chinese government. Bribery almost seems quaint compared to the other crimes JPMorgan has been engaging in on Jamie Dimon’s watch.

The fines, settlements, and guilty plea have been mostly irrelevant to JPMorgan’s bottom line. In fact, once a settlement is announced JPMorgan’s stock has generally gone up as investors are usually pleased with how much loot JPMorgan was able to ultimately keep from its criminal activities.

Not surprisingly, Dimon’s JPMorgan had many enablers within the government including former lead officials at the Justice Department – Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer – that were knee-deep in conflicts of interest related to the housing crisis. Breuer, the head of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division during part of JPMorgan’s crime spree, essentially admitted in an interview with Frontline that he was more concerned with the economic consequences of bringing criminal prosecutions against the Wall Street banks than trying to deter the banks from committing future crimes.

The light touch policy at the Justice Department corresponded with unprecedented subsidies and support going to JPMorgan and other banks from Congress in the form of bailout funds known as the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) as well as loans – overt and secret – from the Federal Reserve. Dimon’s JPMorgan was apparently both Too Big To Fail and Too Big To Jail which makes his new status as a billionaire seem practically inevitable upon reflection. How could Jamie Dimon not become a billionaire under such conditions? Couldn’t anyone?

Anacharsis’ comparison of the law with spider webs reportedly came during a discussion with another Athenian philosopher and jurist, Solon. It was Solon who said “Wealth I desire to have; but wrongfully to get it, I do not wish. Justice, even if slow, is sure.” Decide which assessment of how law and wealth work you agree with after pondering the fortunes of Jamie Dimon, billionaire.

Image from Steve Jurveston under Creative Commons license.

Former Speaker Dennis Hastert Indicted for Violating Federal Banking Laws

Former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Dennis Hastert was indicted Thursday for violating federal banking laws and lying to investigators.

According to the indictment former Speaker Hastert was involved in a scheme to pay an unknown person $3.5 million to rectify a recent impropriety and was trying to game federal banking laws by withdrawing around $950,000 from his various accounts in small enough increments so as to avoid notifying authorities.

When confronted by federal agents about the suspicious withdrawals Hastert allegedly lied to the FBI and said the withdrawn cash was for his own use. The indictment does not identify the individual Hastert paid off or what transgression Hastert committed to warrant the clandestine payments.

After leaving public service in 2007, Hastert became a lobbyist to cash in on his connections and institutional knowledge of Congress. In the wake of the indictment Hastert has resigned from his position at the lobbying firm Dickstein Shapiro.

When serving Congress Hastert had a reputation for corruption perhaps most notably in the instance where he secured a congressional earmark to improve the value of land he owned. Given that the nature of the crime he is accused of committing involves well documented financial transactions it would appear that Hastert is going to have a tough time escaping all the charges brought by prosecutors.

Team Clinton Worried Sanders Will Make Hillary ‘Look Like A Corporatist’

With the official entry of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont into the 2016 presidential race comes an atypical challenger for Hillary Clinton. Unlike traditional presidential aspirants, Sanders opened his campaign by sharpening his rhetoric rather than trying to dull it down. While this may mean Clinton will not have to worry about being outflanked by Sanders for the so-called (and largely illusory) “center,” it certainly means that Clinton’s alignment with Wall Street and Corporate America is going to prove problematic in the Democratic primary given her record.

This is something, reportedly, that Team Clinton is well aware of. It would not be at all surprising that Hillary Clinton and her supporters fear a contest of ideas – the neoliberal ideology she and her husband are closely associated with is very unpopular both with the general public and most members of the Democratic Party in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Hillary Clinton knows this all too well and has been trying to distance herself from her own recent past including her husband’s presidency. Unfortunately for her, the shift looks too opportunistic and does little to neutralize the clear contrasts a Senator Sanders candidacy draws.

Insiders familiar with the Clinton campaign’s thinking described it as “frightened” of Sanders — not that he would win the nomination, but that he could damage her with the activist base by challenging her on core progressive positions in debates and make her look like a centrist or corporatist. The source described the campaign as “pleased,” at least, that O’Malley and Sanders will split the anti-Clinton vote. A Clinton spokesman declined to comment.

At his kickoff rally in Burlington, Vermont, on Tuesday, where thousands turned out to support him, Sanders vowed to “break up the largest financial institutions in the country” and provided the kinds of specifics Clinton has yet to color in. Sanders called for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. (Clinton has said she supports raising the minimum wage but has yet to say by how much.) Sanders also supports a single-payer health insurance system, expanding Social Security benefits, free tuition at public universities and universal pre-kindergarten.

Hillary Clinton is not only not illuminating her 2016 campaign platform, she is avoiding the press as best she can. Part of that is due to a few ongoing scandals concerning deleted emails and the corruption at the Clinton Foundation, but another aspect is surely due to worries over exactly what her positions should be. Crafting a poll-driven message is difficult in a country with such volatile politics, especially given that Clinton is going to be raising money from the very millionaires and billionaires her party’s base wants taxed and regulated.

Those donors, of course, will want something in return should Clinton become president. So maybe the real issue is not whether Sanders will make Hillary Clinton look like a corporatist, but whether she will govern like one if elected.

Mary Landrieu Bows To The Inevitable, Becomes DC Lobbyist

LANDPRESS
Former US Senator Mary Landrieu, who spent a long and undistinguished political career shilling for the energy industry, has joined DC lobbying firm Van Ness Feldman and will focus on serving the firm’s energy clients. Though Landrieu is banned from lobbying her former colleagues in Congress until 2017, she is free to lobby the executive branch and tell her paymasters the best way to work the Senate for maximum profit.

Though politicians becoming lobbyists has become commonplace, Landrieu’s move to Van Ness is particularly odious given her conduct in the Senate – something Landrieu actually celebrated in a press release announcing her sell-out move saying “I am proud to join Van Ness Feldman. I have always respected the firm and worked closely with them during my 18 years in the Senate.”

In exchange for then-Senator Landrieu “working closely” with them, Van Ness gave Landrieu a good deal of money:

In the 2014 election cycle, Van Ness gave more money to Landrieu in both total donations ($14,350) and from its PAC ($7,500) than to any other member of Congress; the former senator, who lost her seat in a December runoff, collected about 17 percent of the $129,800 the firm’s PAC and employees gave out…

In 2013, the firm also represented TransCanada Corp, the company in charge of building the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline if it gets final approval. Landrieu supported the construction of the pipeline while in the Senate, and even brought her Republican opponent’s (then-Rep. Bill Cassidy) bill to the Senate floor in what was viewed as a last ditch effort to potentially prevent her defeat (though the proposed route doesn’t run through Louisiana).

But to be fair, Landrieu shilled for numerous donors in the energy industry while serving in public office including Exxon Mobil, NextEra Energy, Chevron Corp and ConocoPhillips. Landrieu was an equal opportunity miscreant, she took money from the high and higher alike.

Then again, might there be a larger point worth pondering when one looks at the crooked trajectory of Mary Landrieu? Perhaps this is an opportune time to consider whether or not having career politicians necessitates a corrupt revolving door between industry and government. After all, what marketable skills does former Senator Landrieu have besides selling out the public interest?

Image via US Senate under public domain.

Malaysia’s Human Trafficking Problem Complicating TPP

Though the US Senate was perfectly willing to surrender some sovereignty to forward the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), human rights advocates were able to insert a provision into the granting of fast track authority that could doom the agreement.

A provision against human trafficking was inserted into the bill which the White House worried could knock Malaysia out of TPP given the country’s longstanding problems with human trafficking. Those problems came into focus again last week when mass graves of human trafficking victims were discovered on the Malaysia side of the Malaysia-Thailand border.

With this latest grisly discovery it is going to be considerably harder for the White House to persuade Congress to take out the human trafficking provision on TPP.

Malaysian authorities said Sunday that they have discovered a series of graves in at least 17 abandoned camps used by human traffickers on the border with Thailand where Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar have been held. The finding follows a similar discovery earlier this month by police in Thailand who unearthed dozens of bodies from shallow graves in abandoned camps on the Thai side of the border.

The grim discoveries are shedding new light on the hidden network of jungle camps run by traffickers, who have for years held countless desperate people captive while extorting ransoms from their families.

Of course, there is an opportunity for spin here by the White House and the Malaysian government – that these latest discoveries prove that Malaysia is making a good faith effort to stop human trafficking and therefore no provision within the TPP fast track bill is necessary. But Malaysia appears to be a long way away from getting control of its human trafficking problem.

The State Department notes Malaysia is not only integrally involved in international human trafficking networks but that the country’s agricultural and domestic industries use forced labor.

Talk about racing to the bottom.

Pentagon Document Shows US Knew Syria Strategy Would Aid Rise Of ISIS

A newly declassified document from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) from 2012 reveals the US government’s understanding that the policy it was pursuing in Syra would foster the rise of ISIS. As has been noted continually by critics of the Obama Administration’s Syria policy, DIA’s analysis surmised that the Syrian opposition was comprised primarily of Islamic fundamentalists who hated the US not “moderates” who wanted to build a liberal democracy as Syrian war advocates claimed.

The Obama Administration’s decision to arm the Syrian rebels – at one point even bypassing a US law against arming terrorists – did not alter the composition of the Syrian rebels and the weapons sent by the US into Syria ended up being captured by Al Qaeda and other Islamist militants.

But as the Pentagon document shows, the problem with the Obama Administration’s policy was deeper than its arms program. The US “allies” in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey specifically wanted a Sunni-based Islamic State in order to undermine Assad and check Iranian influence in the region.

In a strikingly prescient prediction, the Pentagon document explicitly forecasts the probable declaration of “an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.” Nevertheless, “Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey are supporting these efforts” by Syrian “opposition forces” fighting to “control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to Western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar)”:

“… there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).” The secret Pentagon document thus provides extraordinary confirmation that the US-led coalition currently fighting ISIS, had three years ago welcomed the emergence of an extremist “Salafist Principality” in the region as a way to undermine Assad, and block off the strategic expansion of Iran. Crucially, Iraq is labeled as an integral part of this “Shia expansion.”

So what was the point of the Obama Administration’s press strategy calling the Syrian rebels “moderates” when analysts were privately telling them that the rebels were far from moderate and their triumph would lead to an Islamic State? President Obama later repudiated his own talking point in 2014 and claimed that it had “always been a fantasy” to believe the moderates would ever be the force that prevailed within the Syrian opposition. No kidding.

Now the “Salafist Principality” previously forecast by US defense analysts has not only come into being but is proving to be quite resilient. Then again, it’s not like no one saw it coming.

US Sending Weapons To Iraq To Use Against Weapons US Previously Sent To Iraq

It’s almost like war is a business. The Pentagon announced on Thursday that the United States would be sending 2,000 AT-4 anti-tank rockets to Iraq. While the Department of Defense emphasized that the rockets were being sent to help combat suicide car bombs, there is another target anti-tank rockets might be needed for in Iraq these days – US tanks and other vehicles in the hands of ISIS.

That’s right, while ISIS is mostly made up by local reactionaries living out a fantasy from the 7th century the weapons they now have in their possession are cutting edge tech. After the Iraqi army first collapsed ISIS gained control of numerous US weapons and vehicles sent to the Iraqi army including modern US tanks. The kind you might need anti-tank rockets for.

Now with the recent fall of Ramadi to ISIS forces the militants have a new cache of US weapons:

The ISIS fleet of captured U.S. military vehicles, including M1A1 tanks, grew by more than 100 when Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) fled the provincial capital of Ramadi 60 miles west of Baghdad and abandoned their equipment , Pentagon officials said Tuesday.In addition, “there were some artillery pieces left behind,” said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, but he could not say how many.

About 100 wheeled vehicles and “in the neighborhood of dozens of tracked vehicles” were lost to ISIS when the last remaining Iraqi defenders abandoned the city of about 500,000, Warren said. The tracked vehicles were mostly armored personnel carriers but “maybe half a dozen tanks” were in the mix, Warren said. He did not say what type of tanks they were. Photos posted by ISIS on social media purported to show about 10 M1A1 Abrams tanks in their possession and large amounts of captured ammunition.

Well this is an interesting game – send weapons to Iraqi army which loses US weapons retreating from ISIS, then send more weapons to Iraqi army to fight now better-armed ISIS only to retreat again and lose more US weapons to ISIS. Rinse, repeat, and consider buying defense stocks.

But don’t worry, the US military will also be attacking some of the US military equipment – ISIS won’t get it all right away. But look on the bright side, now we have somewhere to send all those tanks that the Pentagon did not want but Congress demanded be produced.

And you thought Washington didn’t have a jobs program.

Wall Street Trading ‘Cartel’ Warned Initiates ‘Mess This Up And Sleep With One Eye Open’

Yesterday the Department of Justice announced guilty pleas from Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan and the Royal Bank of Scotland for manipulating international currency markets. The banks also agreed to pay fines totaling $5.8 billion.

In order to rig the markets in their favor the banks formed a group known as “The Cartel” where traders from Citigroup, JPMorgan, UBS, RBS, and Barclays conspired to rig LIBOR and currency exchange rates. The Cartel’s reach was extensive and the group was able to shift global currency exchange and interest rates by acting in collusion through their respective financial institutions.

To join the group, which operated an exclusive chatroom to conspire on trades, a trader would go through a gang initiation process of sorts complete with a probationary period and a threat.

The trader, who was the main Euro trader for Barclays in 2011, made various arguments about how he “would add value” to the chatroom, according to the NYDFS. Ultimately, they let him join for a one-month trial, but allegedly with a pretty ominous warning:

[M]ess this up and sleep with one eye open at night.” Fortunately for that trader (but probably not so fortunately, in the end), he was allowed to stay in the group until it was dissolved in 2012.

Banksters truly play the part sometimes. The sleep with one eye open threat is just one of many quotes from traders rigging the market that display a criminal mindset.

The banks in question claim to have terminated all the traders involved in the Cartel though they offered little in the way of evidence to prove it. Of course, we could all just trust them to do the right thing. What could go wrong?

Ukraine Corruption Problems Remain As US Plans New Propaganda War

A year after a US-backed coup forced out the democratically elected government in Ukraine under the banner of “anti-corruption” the state of affairs in Kiev remains unchanged as those in power continue to use their position to advance their private interests at the public’s expense.

The post-coup officials running the government have not only failed to reform the political system but appear to have exacerbated the problem. A new committee has been formed to investigate whether Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and friends have embezzled more than $325 million from a government already flirting with bankruptcy. The investigation comes as Ukraine’s oligarch president, Petro Poroshenko, starts another round of lobbying for foreign financial assistance which includes promises that the money will be used to clean up Ukraine politics.

Combine the corruption problems with a series of suspicious killings of journalists and dissidents in Kiev and Ukraine does not look like it is on its way to becoming a modern liberal democracy.

So what to do? The answer coming out of imperialist circles in DC is to double down on propaganda under the pretext of countering propaganda. The plan is to step up “information warfare” against Ukraine and NATO critics – especially on social media platforms – in the hopes that thwarting dissent will somehow fix post-coup Ukraine’s internal contradictions. Seems unlikely.

While the US government has already been engaging in social media “information warfare” to promote government talking points for years, the gears appear to be in motion for a new offensive. Unfortunately, the government has proven to be terrible at manipulating social media akin to how it manipulates the corporate media and the even harsher truth is that the US and NATO’s problem is with reality itself – a difficult opponent in the media space but one that has been defeated before.

In any case, this is going to get hilarious rather quickly. It is going to be nearly impossible to wage a social media “information warfare” campaign without getting exposed. As is custom the government will likely hire private defense and intelligence contractors to do the dirty work in hopes of removing its fingerprints. And, as is custom, those firms will surely screw up and embarrass their paymasters.

Get your popcorn.