The Tax Payer-Funded Dumbing of America

jesus_raptors It’s hard to believe that we’re living in a political environment where elected officials are bemoaning waste in all levels of government while sending so many public funds and assets to underwrite religious indoctrination and profit private businesses.  Southern states are the bottom crawlers of any measurement of academic outcomes. My state of Louisiana is no exception.  Texas is definitely a problem.  However, it’s a national problem so those of you that live in other parts of the country shouldn’t feel smug or think it couldn’t happen to your children or grandchildren.  Two fellow Louisianans–Melissa Harris Perry and Zack Kopplin– have found that vouchers spread creationism.  That cannot be good for a future that’s dependent on educated people who need to know real science.  Let’s examine exactly what our tax dollars are funding.

First, here’s the results of Zack’s study.  Zack is currently studying at Rice University.

I first began investigating creationist school vouchers as my part of my fight against creationism in my home state of Louisiana. Over the past few months, I’ve learned creationist vouchers aren’t just a Louisiana problem—they’re an American problem. School vouchers are, as James Gill recently wrote in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “the answer to a creationist’s prayer.”

Liberty Christian School, in Anderson, Indiana, has field trips to the Creation Museum and students learn from the creationist A Beka curriculum. Kingsway Christian School, in Avon, Indiana, also has Creation Museum field trips. Mansfield Christian School, in Ohio, teaches science through the creationist Answers in Genesis website, run by the founder of the Creation Museum. The school’s Philosophy of Science page says, “the literal view of creation is foundational to a Biblical World View.”  All three of these schools, and more than 300 schools like them, are receiving taxpayer money.

So far, I have documented 310 schools, in nine states and the District of Columbia that are teaching creationism, and receiving tens of millions of dollars in public money through school voucher programs.

There is no doubt that there are hundreds more creationist voucher schools that have yet to be identified. The more than 300 CreationismWitchDoctorschools I have already found are those that have publicly stated on their websites that they teach creationism or use creationist curricula.

There are hundreds more voucher schools, across the country, that are self-identified Christian academies, that appear very similar in philosophy to the ones I’ve identified in my research as teaching creationism. These schools may not blatantly advertise that they teach creationism on their websites, or often don’t even have a website, but there is a good chance that hundreds more voucher schools are also teaching our children creationism. Some states, Arizona and Mississippi, haven’t even released lists of schools participating in their voucher programs for the public to audit.

Here are a few highlights from creationist voucher schools I have identified:

  • The Beverly Institute in Jacksonville, Florida, teaches “Evidence of a Flood,” and “Evidence against Evolution,” and ”The Evolution of Man: A Mistaken Belief.”
  • Creekside Christian Academy in McDonough, Georgia says,“The universe, a direct creation of God, refutes the man-made idea of evolution. Students will be called upon to see the divine order of creation and its implications on other subject areas.
  • Life Christian Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma says their life science class will “lead the student to recognize that God created all living things and that these living things are fearfully and wonderfully made.” Evolution is taught only in history class, where students “evaluate the theory of evolution and its flaws.” The school uses the creationist Bob Jones and CSI curriculums.
  • The principal of the Claiborne Christian School, in West Monroe, Louisiana, says in a school newsletter, “Our position at CCS on the age of the Earth and other issues is that any theory that goes against God’s Word is in error.” She also claims that scientists are “sinful men” trying to explain the world “without God” so they don’t have to be “morally accountable to Him.”
  • Trinity Academy, in Gary, uses the creationist A Beka curriculum and says it “presents the universe as the direct creation of God and refutes the man-made idea of evolution.”
  • Rocky Bayou Christian School, in Niceville, Florida, says in its section on educational philosophy, “God mandates that children be discipled for Christ. They must be trained in the biblical world view which honors Jehovah, the sovereign Creator of the universe. It recognizes that man was created in the image of God” and says “Man is presumed to be an evolutionary being shaped by matter, energy, and chance… God commands His people not to teach their children the way of the heathen.”
  • Wisconsin Lutheran High School, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, says in its biology syllabus that it teaches, “evolutionists are ‘stuck’ because they have no god, therefore they must believe in evolution” and “young earth evidence a disaster to evolutionists.”

This year, we may see even more creationist school vouchers. Both Tennessee and Texas are considering passing voucher programs. Indiana and Georgia may expand their programs.

CreationismJobsWe’ve seen some horrible examples what now passes as “science” in Louisiana thanks to the LSEA or the Lousiana Science Education Act pushed and signed by Bobby Jindal and some of the whackier senators in the Louisiana Legislature in 2008.  You can learn more about the law itself in the youtube. We’re not the only state that’s having problems now with taxpayer funded religious screeds.

The Texas Freedom Network has documented examples in Texas.  Texas passed a law that lets schools teach bible courses under the guise of discussing the importance of religion in history and literature.  They don’t even have vouchers draining funds to their evangelical madrassas yet.  It’s in the works. Right now, all this is going on in regular public schools. The stories from TFNEF are not very pretty and includes a lot of students basically getting lessons in anti-Semitism.  Here’s some examples of what they’ve found being taught in Texas. 

Today the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund released a report, authored by a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, that examines what students are learning in the 57 school districts and three charter schools that teach Bible courses. Examples from Texas public schools:

  • Instructional material in two school districts teach that racial diversity today can be traced back to Noah’s sons, a long-discredited claim that has been a foundational component of some forms of racism.
  • Religious bias is common, with most courses taught from a Protestant — often a conservative Protestant — perspective. One course, for example, assumes Christians will at some point be “raptured.” Materials include a Venn diagram showing the pros and cons of theories that posit the rapture before the returning Jesus’ 1,000-year reign and those that place it afterward. In many courses, the perspectives of Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews are often left out.
  • Anti-Jewish bias — intentional or not — is not uncommon. Some courses even portray Judaism as a flawed and incomplete religion that has been replaced by Christianity.
  • Many courses suggest or openly claim that the Bible is literally true. “The Bible is the written word of God,” students are told in one PowerPoint presentation. Some courses go so far as to suggest that the Bible can be used to verify events in history. One district, for example, teaches students that the Bible’s historical claims are largely beyond question by listing biblical events side by side with historical developments from around the globe.
  • Course materials in numerous classes are designed to evangelize rather than provide an objective study of the Bible’s influence. A book in one district makes its purpose clear in the preface: “May this study be of value to you. May you fully come to believe that ‘Jesus is the Christ, the son of God.’ And may you have ‘life in His name.’”
  • A number of courses teach students that the Bible proves Earth is just 6,000 years old.
  • Students are taught that the United States is a Christian nation founded on the Christian biblical principles taught in their classrooms.
  • Academic rigor is so poor that many courses rely mostly on memorization of Bible verses and factoids from Bible stories rather than teaching students how to analyze what they are studying. One district relies heavily on Bible cartoons from Hanna-Barbera for its high school class. Students in another district spend two days watching what lesson plans describe a “the historic documentary Ancient Aliens,” which presents “a new interpretation of angelic beings described as extraterrestrials.”

How could such courses have gone so wrong? The 2007 law included numerous guidelines designed to help public schools create academically rigorous and constitutionally appropriate courses. But the Legislature failed to appropriate funding to develop in-service training for teachers of Bible courses, and most school districts simply ignored the requirement that teachers get such training. Moreover, the State Board of Education — under the control of religious conservatives at the time — refused to adopt serious curriculum standards to help guide school districts as they planned their courses.

Jindal’s voucher experiment was recently found unconstitutional but not for the reasons that you think.  It was basically a technicality of funding and educational funding guidelines prescribed in the state’s constitution that got the law thrown out.  Address this issue and the vouchers could stick and stay.  Here’s some of the more recent news concerning what’s draining tax payer funds and passing as ‘education’ in Louisiana.

Jindal defended vouchers without once using the oft-toxic term, instead calling them scholarships, or putting them under the broader umbrella of school choice. “It is my sincere hope that what we are now putting in motion in Louisiana can be done across the country,” Jindal said. “I believe we’ve got an economic and a moral imperative to provide school choice and a quality education to every child, every student in America.”

Jindal made the case for making vouchers bipartisan. “I do not accept the notion that equal opportunity in public education should be a partisan issue,” Jindal said. Vouchers have been a third-rail policy among liberals, causing the Obama administration to do rhetorical summersaults. They’re controversial among liberals because they funnel tax dollars to private institutions — often, parochial schools that teach religion. In Louisiana, the private schools accepting voucher money have been found to teach about both creationism and the existence of the mythical Loch Ness monster.

Additionally, the schools that receive vouchers are not subjected to basic standards required of public schools AND many don’t even meet basic federal standards for basic services to special needs students.

Jindal said private schools in and near New Orleans that accepted vouchers saw more growth in student proficiency rates recently than schools statewide. (Proficiency rates are rarely reliable, since they measure two different groups of students.) Jindal also asserted that the vouchers serve all students. “It’s the money of a grandmother who wants to make sure her special education grandbaby gets the education she needs,” he said.

But according to public records, several private schools that opened their doors to voucher students with special needs had no services for such students. For example, the St. Angela Merici school’s application indicated it had no services for students with autism, mental disabilities or learning disabilities.

As for Jindal’s claims about high performing “charter” schools. I can offer you just a few links that show charter schools really aren’t performing as Jindal claims.   Again, the biggest problem is that these schools do not effectively address children with disabilities.  Schools that don’t address children with the highest needs can hardly be called anything but dysfunctional and discriminatory.  There are currently many lawsuits and stories concerning children with special needs and various charter schools.  These schools are cherry-picking students.

Families have attempted to place their disabled children in schools, but they have either been told that the school doesn’t have special-needs services or been told, gently, that their child would be better served at another school. These problems occur often enough that a due-process complaint has been filed against the Louisiana Department of Education on behalf of 4,500 students in the city with disabilities.

These issues have conveniently been left out of a number of Pollyanna-ish media reports touting the messianic nature of charter schools, and how Hurricane Katrina was a “blessing” to New Orleans’ children. A recent article at The Grio, “New Orleans Charter Schools Redefine Education Reform,” reads: “The standardized test results for fourth, eighth and tenth grade public school students have gone up since the storm hit in 2005. This may have something to do with the increasing presence of charter schools, though it is not clear.”

But test scores in those grades were already rising before the storm hit. Between 2003 and 2005, fourth-grade math results grew by 9 percent. Between 2007 and 2009, those results grew by 9.5 percent. In eighth-grade math, the growth in the percentage of kids scoring above basic levels between 2003 and 2005 was greater than the gains between 2007 and 2009. There has been a slight improvement in eighth-grade English and in math at the high school graduate level, but in both categories, the improvement in test scores builds on progress that was already occurring before the mass chartering of New Orleans.

We’ve also had problems with charter schools deliberately cheating on tests.

There’s a natural conflict there, experts say, in that most school districts are less than eager to announce they’ve found corruption in their midst.

At charter schools, the conflict might be more acute, some say, because charter boards play a role in investigations. Board members can be recruited by a school’s administrators, which might make it even more difficult for them to take a hard look at allegations.

“If you are committed to finding out the truth, you need individuals who are not connected in any way to the individuals involved,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

In Louisiana’s current setup, there is “a conflict of interest all the way up the line,” and not just as it relates to charter schools, said Gregory Cizek, a professor of educational measurement at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “No one has a really strong interest in investigating in a really searching manner,” he said.

That’s why some states have started putting such investigations under the jurisdiction of the state attorney general’s office or another independent entity, he said.

Asking the school’s own board of directors or district to handle a probe, Cizek said, is like having the IRS tell a taxpayer: “We have a problem with your tax return. Would you look it over?”

Studies of Arizona charter schools have found instances of tax payer “fleecing”.

In her examination of Arizona’s 50 largest nonprofit charter schools and all of Arizona’s nonprofit charter schools with assets exceeding $10 million, Ryman found “at least 17 contracts or arrangements, totaling more than $70 million over five years and involving about 40 school sites, in which money from the non-profit charter school went to for-profit or non-profit companies run by board members, executives or their relatives.” That says to me that in Arizona, at least, charter-school corruption isn’t the exception. It’s the rule. And that’s just in the nonprofit charter schools. Documentation for the for-profit schools is not publicly available. What are the odds that charter-school proprietors operating in the dark are less inclined to enrich themselves at public expense?

The self-dealing is entirely legal. All you have to do is get yourself an exemption from state laws requiring that goods and services be bid competitively. Clearly these exemptions aren’t difficult to acquire, because 90 percent of Arizona’s charter holders—not 90 percent of the charter schools surveyed by the Arizona Republic, but 90 percent of all the state’s charter schools—have acquired permanent exemptions from state competitive bidding requirements. No exemption has ever been withdrawn by the state. If you are a charter-school officer and you stand to benefit personally from some financial transaction with the school, you may not vote on whether to make the purchase. But that’s about the only rule.

The result? “The schools’ purchases from their own officials,” Ryman writes, “range from curriculum and business consulting to land leases and transportation services. A handful of non-profit schools outsource most of their operations to a board member’s for-profit company.”

Clearly, our state and many others have set up systems rife with self-dealing, cherry-picking and curricula that should stand in clear violation of the first amendment.  My bottom line here?  If any of these school reform initiatives come your way in your state, fight them like hell. They are just simply ways to bust teacher unions, deliver tax dollars to corporate cronies, and fund radical evangelical madrassas and religious indoctrination in the guise of science, literature, and history.  Of course, this means if you have a Republican governor, be prepared to vote and fight.


Temper Tantrum Tony

There’s a new book out by Jeffrey Toobin that confirms what we all think about SCOTUS and some of its right wing, political demagogues.  The most obvious conclusion of the many stories in the book is that Justice Scalia is temperamentally unsuited to be a judge. He should be a precinct boss from some thug district. He appears to actively bully other justices into his way of things and is the enforcer of right wing political correctness. He also throws extreme fits of temper when he doesn’t get his way. Scalia lost it over both the latest immigration suit and the health care law decision.

The book confirms previous reports that Roberts changed his vote in the landmark case over President Obama’s healthcare law after initially siding with the conservative justices. But Toobin reports — as others have implied — that what pushed Roberts away was the conservative justices’ insistence on striking down the entire health law.

“Scalia’s view of the justices as gladiators against the president unnerved Roberts,” Toobin writes.

The book describes Scalia as “furious” and “enraged” at Roberts — contradicting Scalia’s public statements brushing aside any tension.

Evidently Scalia and his cronies are so temperamentally unsuited for their jobs that they are even recognized as being more political hacks than judges by most Republican stalwarts.  This includes retired members of SCOTUS.

Much like the Republican Party, the conservative wing of the Supreme Court has gotten staunchly more conservative over the past several years, Toobin notes. He says the old guard of recent Republican justices has been deeply upset by the Roberts court.

Toobin notes the long, stammering dissent John Paul Stevens wrote and then read for the Citizens United campaign-finance case, which he said “captured everything that offended Stevens most about the Roberts court.”

It had the same effect for Justice David Souter.

“He abhorred the views of Roberts and Alito. Souter didn’t like what the Republican Party — his party — was doing to the court, or to the country,” Toobin writes.

Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor “had projected onto Roberts her idea of what a chief justice, and a Republica, should be,” Toobin writes, but her reservations grew as she watched the court overturn core pieces of her legacy. Toobin also recounts O’Connor talking to Souter about her decision to leave the court.

” ‘What makes this harder,’ O’Connor told Souter, ‘is that it’s my party that’s destroying the country.’ “

I refuse to call these people deeply conservative.  It runs contrary to the very definition of the word conservative.  These folks are just plain reactionary activists.

Although Toobin says Scalia has descended from scholar to “right-wing crank,” he notes that Scalia came to the court with a unified theory of law — originalism — and has helped recenter important cases and more general discussions around what the Founding Fathers might have intended.

Justice Clarence Thomas, known primarily for his silence during oral arguments, is the court’s “pathbreaker,” always pushing for more, driving the court to the right in much the same way the Tea Party has pushed Republicans, Toobin says.

Justices Thomas and Scalia are clearly candidates for impeachment in their refusal to recognize their conflicts of interest as well as their political thuggery of our law and Constitution. We’ve written about this before as have others.

But that’s what happened at the Supreme Court earlier this week in what Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank described as “an extraordinary display of judicial distemper” — “more campaign speech than legal opinion” – as Antonin Scalia did what Scalia usually does when things don’t go his way: he threw a temper tantrum.

In his scathing dissent in United States v. Arizona, where a 5-3 Court majority struck down that state’s infamous “papers please” immigration statute, Scalia put aside the law and launched into a highly-partisan, ad hominem, rant against the Obama administration over policies, such as the presidential directive on the DREAM Act, totally unrelated to the issues before the Court.

According to Milbank, Scalia thundered that the Obama administration “desperately wants to avoid upsetting foreign powers;” that it was acting with “willful blindness or deliberate inattention” to Arizona’s illegal immigrants; that the majority’s opinion “boggles the mind;” and that the states are “at the mercy of the Federal Executive’s refusal to enforce the nation’s immigration laws.”

Salon’s Nathan Pippenger added that Scalia offered “plenty of FOX News-ready invective” about Arizona residents who “feel themselves under siege by large numbers of illegal immigrants who invade their property, strain their social services, and even place their lives in jeopardy.”

As Scalia’s stunned audience listened to what Pippenger described as Scalia’s “bellowing, bullying and bombastic” screed, the Justice came off sounding like some crazed neo-Confederate re-enactor reminiscing about the Lost Southern Cause and “the jealousy of the states with regard to their sovereignty.”

Scalia also made the astonishing claim, as Pippenger notes, that had the Court issued its decision in the 1780s, the United States might never have happened at all since no state would have been willing to enter the Union under the conditions set by the Court.

Commentators have properly scolded Scalia for displaying an utter lack of judicial temperament, which has once again compromised the Court’s standing with the public.

Dems have been calling out Thomas and his Teabagger wife for some time for both conflicts of interest and gift taking of an extraordinary nature.

As the Supreme Court begins its fall session, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and some of their colleagues are asking the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on alleged ethical violations and raising questions on whether the justice can be impartial.

Among their charges against Thomas: that the justice failed to report at least $1.6 million that his wife, Ginni, had earned since 1997; that he might have failed to report gifts from rich supporters; and that he inappropriately solicited donations for favored non-profits, according to their letter sent to Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.).

“The Supreme Court’s greatest assets are its integrity and the public trust,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “Yet for months now, concerns have been building about the unwillingness or the inability of the Supreme Court to address allegations of potential ethics violations by Justice Clarence Thomas.”

Blumenauer was still collecting signatures on Wednesday night, and told POLITICO that 45 lawmakers have so far attached their names to the letter.

The Democrats’ concern over Ginni Thomas’s income stem from 13 years’ worth of revised disclosure reports that Thomas released in January, which detailed his wife’s earnings from Hillsdale College, the Heritage Foundation, and House Republican leaders, among other sources. Those figures had been left off Thomas’s previous disclosure forms because, the justice said at the time, he had a “misunderstanding of filing instructions.”

Wednesday’s letter is the second time Democrats have taken aim at Thomas in the last week over what they say are troubling ethical concerns. Last Thursday, 20 House Democrats called on the Justice Department to investigate the same allegations into Thomas in a letter to Judicial Conference of the United States, which oversee the federal court system.

“To believe that Justice Thomas didn’t know how to fill out a basic disclosure form is absurd,” Slaughter said last week.

Unfortunately, ideological and cowed Republicans let them slide and Dems never follow through with anything.  So, these guys get to sit in judgement of extremely important things in extremely political and unfit ways.

What on earth would it take to get them both impeached?  I would put this high on any humanitarian and patriot’s wish and activist lists, frankly.


More Congressional Sleaze: Boehner and Cantor own stock in Goldman Sachs

Seth Cline of Open Secrets Blog reports some extremely disturbing connections between Congressional leaders and Goldman Sachs.  I think it’s time for a law that places congressional investment accounts into a blind trust.

According to research by the Center for Responsive Politics, 19 current members of Congress reported holdings in Goldman Sachs during 2010. Whether by coincidence or not, most of these 19 Goldman Sachs investors in Congress are more powerful or more wealthy than their peers, or both.

Nine of them sit on either the most powerful committee in their chamber or committees charged with regulating the Wall Street giant. Moreover, seven of them are among the 25 wealthiest members of their respective chambers, according to the Center’s research.

And of the six lawmakers who fall into neither category, two are the most influential Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives: House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Altogether, the 19 had at least $480,000 and as much as $1.1 million invested in Goldman Sachs in 2010, the most recent year personal finance data are available. That’s an average of about $812,900 for these 19 lawmakers’ holdings combined.

Lawmakers are only required to report their personal assets and liabilities in broad ranges, meaning it’s impossible to know the precise value of these holdings. The Center uses the minimum and maximum values listed on the filings to calculate an average value for each asset and liability.

But these financial interests are not a one-way street: Goldman Sachs employees and its political action committee have contributed about $124,000, combined, to a dozen of the lawmakers who reported holdings in the company in 2010, according to the Center’s research. This includes all money given during the 2010 election cycle and thus far in 2011.

So, not only do Boehner and Cantor get donations from Goldman Sachs, they are also stock holders.  No wonder they want to get rid of the Volcker Rule.  Looks like Paul Ryan is an investor also.

In the leadership category are names such as Boehner and Cantor, each of whom has an average $32,500 invested in Goldman.

Goldman Sachs’ employees, meanwhile, have also contributed heavily to Boehner and Cantor.

Boehner has received $29,500, and Cantor $48,000, from them since 2009, according to the Center’s research.

Other Goldman investors with this kind of power include two members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, better known as the debt supercommittee.

The first, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), reported $1,177 invested in Goldman in 2010, and, as minority whip, is the second highest ranking Republican in the Senate.

And not only is Kyl a member of the supercommittee and party leadership, he also sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which regulates Goldman Sachs and its peers on Wall Street.

Another one of Kyl’s colleagues on the supercommittee, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), is also a Goldman investor.

Upton had an average of $8,000 invested in the company in 2010, according to the Center’s research.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), is another influential Goldman shareholder in Congress.

Ryan sits on two very important House committees: the Budget Committee, which he chairs, and the Ways and Means Committee.

Ryan reported an average of $8,000 invested in Goldman and has received $5,800 from the company’s employees so far this year after receiving $10,000 from them during the 2010 cycle, according to the Center’s research.

One of Goldman Sachs’ most valuable congressional investors is Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), whose average of $550,000 in investments in the company is far and away the most in Congress.

Additionally Neugebauer sits on the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees Wall Street and the securities and investment industry of which Goldman is a part.

That also helps explain the $9,500 Goldman Sachs employees have contributed to Neugebauer since January 2009 through the company’s political action committee.

Rep. Gary Peters (R-Mich.) is another Goldman Sachs investor on the Financial Services committee. He has an average of $8,000 invested and has received $4,500 from the company this year from its PAC.

There’s a substantial list of Republicans listed that I didn’t include in the list above..  Democrats holding GS stock include  Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).   The details are on a spreadsheet here.

Can you really believe that they’re acting in our best interest when their wealth is vested in stopping GS from doing suspect things like selling lemons to clients and placing side bets that the lemons lose?  I sure don’t.  The Volker Rule places trading restrictions on institutions like GS. It controls the types of transactions that GS can do in its proprietary trading like the example I just gave you. They settled fraud charges in the US with the SEC and are under investigation in the UK and some of Europe.  You may recall the unit and testimony before congress.  The US settlement came in 2010.  That’s the same year that these holdings were found by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The FSA opened its investigation into the bank in April after the SEC charged Goldman with misleading investors in a complex mortgage-backed security known as Abacus. The SEC claimed that Goldman had failed to disclose that a hedge fund that was betting against the security had selected some of the mortgage loans included in the portfolio, costing investors as much as $1bn.

The largest fine handed down by the UK regulator came three months ago, when JPMorgan paid a £33.3m for failing to keep client money in separate accounts.

Goldman, the world’s best-known investment bank, has seen its reputation tarnished in recent months as questions continue to swirl over whether it favoured the interests of some clients at the expense of others during the financial crisis.

The bank’s business model is also under pressure amid volatile markets and regulatory reforms that have forced it to shut some of its highly profitable “proprietary” trading operations.

No wonder we don’t see perp walks.  These folks have skin in GS.  We are so f’d.


Late Night Post: a Rogue and/or Broken Nation

There’s a pretty good amount of twitter chatter and blog posts on these thoughts at interfluidity by steve randy waldman. I understand the draw because I’ve had very similar thoughts and expressed many of them recently. I thought this would be a good discussion post to follow BostonBoomer’s last post too since it’s very much related to the post called “an echo”.

I no longer trust my own government to be the provider of a civilized society. No government is perfect or without corruptions. But in 2007, I thought I lived in a remarkably well-governed nation that had gone off-kilter under a small and mean administration. In 2011, I view my government as the sharp edge of an entrenched kleptocracy, engaged in ever more expansive schemes of surveillance and arrogating powers of ever less restrained brutality. At a visceral level, I dislike President Obama more than I have disliked any politician in my lifetime, not because he is objectively worse than most of the others — he is not — but because he disproved my hypothesis that we are a country with basically good institutions brought low by poor quality leadership. Whenever I hear the President speak and am impressed by the quality of his intellect, by his instinct towards diplomacy and finding common ground and rising above petty struggles, I despair more deeply. Not just because a leader of high quality failed to restore passably clean and beneficient government. It is worse than that. The kleptocracy has harnassed this man’s most admirable qualities and made them a powerful weapon for its own ends. He has rebranded as “moderate”, “adult”, “reasonable”, practices such as unaccountable assassination lists and Orwellian nonhostilities. He has demostrated that the way grown-ups get things done in Washington is by continually paying off thieves in suits. Perhaps it is unfair to blame Barack Obama for all this. Maybe he has done the very best a person could do under our present institutions. But then it is not unfair to detest the institutions, to wish to see them clipped, contained, or starved.

This message is followed by a mea culpa expressing profound regret for supporting the Bush Administration and the Iraq War.  Also, there’s a link to the Salon article“The due-process-free assassination of US citizens is now a reality” from Glenn Greenwald which is something we’ve previously discussed.  What drug me to the post was a response over at The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorfer who was just quoted on BB’s post.  We’re treated to some of the top ten abysmal hits of the past few years.  The bailout of banks while their bad business models still wreck havoc on our neighbors and in our cities and towns is there.  The normalization of torture and spying on citizens is listed plus a few other things that I’ve come to view as a bigger problem now than the issues surrounding Watergate and Vietnam were then.

We’ve been lied to before.  We’ve had a few of our citizen’s rights stomped about but nothing quite so systematic and unchecked.  It also seems that our institutions and especially our courts were resilient enough to stand their grounds in the past.  There were people who stood on our principles.  I’m not seeing any institutional response to the lying and executive branch power grab from Congress or the Courts or the loudest and most followed parts of the Media.

We’ve had absolutely no recompense or justice for the atrocities against liberty that we’ve experienced since 9/11. None at all.  This is what led Fiedersdorfer to ask if we were suffering from rogue leadership or broken institutions.  What ever the source, we’ve been acting like a rogue and broken nation for nearly a decade and it’s as worrisome as it is depressing.  He argues that we’ve had broken leadership during this century and that our institutions will heal.  I only wish I had his optimism.

Before pinning the blame on American institutions, let’s ponder how radically different the status quo would be if we merely adhered to longstanding laws and norms, rather than permitting our leaders to flout them in the name of protecting us from terrorism or financial collapse.

Had the Bush Administration followed the law, it never would have tortured prisoners or started secretly spying on American citizens without a warrant. If Barack Obama was as committed to fulfilling our treaty obligations as pushing his domestic agenda in an optimized political climate, he’d have investigated and prosecuted the Bush officials complicit in torture. As President Reagan wrote upon sending the Convention Against Torture to the Senate that ratified it, “Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today. The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction.’ Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”

In Libya, where Obama violated the War Powers Act, and in various countries where President Obama is waging undeclared drone wars, more scrupulous adherence to the law would force radical changes in American behavior — as would a modicum of congressional leadership, since the body has for years abdicated its responsibility. The Founders envisioned three branches of government acting as checks on one another, the members of each zealously guarding their authority and pushing back against excesses committed by their fellow branches.

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Is Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein Facing Possible Prison Time?

Lloyd Blankfein

That’s the question Naomi Prins, a former managing director of Goldman Sachs and author of It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bonuses, Bailouts, and Backroom Deals From Washington to Wall Street, asked yesterday at The Daily Beast.

I posted in a comment yesterday that I’d heard Blankfein hired a well-known Washington criminal defense attorney. Since then, the business media has been buzzing about why Blankfein hired attorney Reid Weingarten.

Big-shot Washington defense attorney Reid Weingarten, of the firm Steptoe & Johnson LLC, has represented former Enron chief accounting officer Richard Causey (who pleaded out), former Rite Aid vice chairman and chief counsel Franklin Brown (found guilty by a jury on 10 counts of conspiring to falsely inflate his company’s value), and former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers (convicted on nine felony counts by a jury). All three are in jail. Two of them, Ebbers and Causey, had undergone congressional panel investigations beforehand. Another of Weingarten’s clients, former Tyco counsel Mark Belnick, was acquitted, though Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski, who was not represented by Weingarten, was convicted and remains in jail.

Prins speculates that Blankfein may be in trouble for two possible reasons. The first is because of his own “loose lips,” when he testified before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in April.

Recall that Blankfein emphatically told the subcommittee, “We didn’t have a massive short against the housing market, and we certainly did not bet against our clients.” The 650-page subcommittee report (PDF) presented on April 13, 2011, which cites Blankfein 79 times, begs to differ.

The report accused Goldman of trading against its clients by simultaneously shorting certain subprime mortgage securities (a.k.a. “cats and dogs”) while stuffing them into the collateralized debt obligations it sold. It also suggested that Goldman executives, including Blankfein, misled Congress in testimony surrounding the Abacus CDO, Hudson, Timberwolf, and other deals, by saying it didn’t have a big short.

The second possibility is that Blankfein’s colleagues are distancing themselves from him in order to protect themselves and Goldman Sachs. Prins writes:

The top lesson I learned before leaving Goldman in the wake of Enron was Goldman’s foremost internal policy is to protect Goldman. It’s also to protect the most powerful members. When cracks manifest in the corporate armor, those two policies are at odds.

The executives running Goldman are exceedingly wealthy, not least because when the firm faced its darkest hour and lowest stock price in years during the bank-created crisis of fall 2008, the government provided it billions of dollars in the form of cheap loans, FDIC debt guarantees, TARP, AIG make-wholes, and a late-night moniker change from investment bank to bank holding company, giving the firm access to excessive Federal Reserve aid.

After the news came out that Blankfein had hired Weingarten, Goldman’s shares fell 6%, and according to Prins, that kind of thing is “frowned upon.” So Blankfein may be be trying to protect himself from being stabbed in the back by his co-workers in addition to fighting anything the Justice Department has planned for him.

I doubt if Obama and Geithner will let Blankfein go to prison, but it will be fun to watch him and the wealthy Goldman partners feeling a little bit of discomfort.

Two Reuters columnists speculated about this story today. Leigh Jones writes:

If you need to hire Reid Weingarten, your career has probably hit a rough patch.

The rule now applies to Goldman Sachs (GS.N) CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who Reuters reported on Monday has retained Weingarten, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson in Washington.

With that move, Blankfein becomes the latest in a long line of executives and high-profile people in trouble who have turned to Weingarten for help. They range from Tyco (TYC.N) corporate counsel Mark Belnick, for whom Weingarten won an acquittal, to ex-Enron accounting officer Richard Causey, who pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy, to film director Roman Polanski, who tapped Weingarten to fight extradition to the Unites States for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

Jones spends most of the piece providing background on Weingarten, but he also points out that Blankfein’s choice of attorney is telling, and like Prins he notes the market reaction:

Blankfein’s choice of Weingarten as his lawyer has raised questions about what kind of trouble the Goldman Sachs CEO might be in. The DOJ, where Weingarten once worked, is investigating the bank for mortgage-related investments it made.

While it is not unusual for company leaders to arm themselves with their own lawyers, Weingarten’s reputation as a litigator — as opposed to a lawyer who guides clients through investigations — is making Goldman investors nervous. The day that Blankfein’s hiring of Weingarten broke, the bank’s stock dropped nearly 5 percent to its lowest level since March 2009. By late Wednesday afternoon, the shares were at $109.92, up 3.2 percent from Monday’s close at $106.51.

Alison Frankel is more sanguine, arguing that Blankfein hiring an outside attorney is really no big deal.

The market assumed the worst on Monday after Reuters’ great scoop on Goldman Sachs (GS.N) CEO Lloyd Blankfein bringing in Reid Weingarten of Steptoe & Johnson to represent him in the Justice Department’s investigation of the bank. Goldman’s share price fell almost 5 percent on the fear that Weingarten’s entrance signals that DOJ is getting serious about its follow-up to the April 2011 Senate subcommittee report on the financial crisis.

In one sense, that’s reading way too much into the mere fact that Blankfein has brought in his own lawyer. It’s standard operating procedure for corporate executives at companies under investigation to have separate counsel. Consider the example of other alleged villains of the financial meltdown. Richard Fuld of Lehman (LEHKQ.PK), Joseph Cassano of AIG (AIG.N), Angelo Mozilo and David Sambol of Countrywide, John Thain of Merrill Lynch, Kenneth Lewis of Bank of America (BAC.N): They all have their own lawyers, and none of them have faced any criminal charges. Only Mozilo and Sambol even had to answer to the SEC.

She provides a number of examples of other executives doing just that. But…

Nevertheless, Blankfein’s choice of Weingarten is very intriguing. Weingarten is a great lawyer with close ties to the Justice Department, where he once worked in the Public Integrity section, and to Attorney General Eric Holder, whom he actually represented when Congress grilled Holder about President Bill Clinton’s eleven-hour pardon of financier Marc Rich. Weingarten is not, however, part of the club of white-collar defense counsel who typically get referrals from New York firms like S&C. (That group includes Andrew Levander of Dechert; Mary Jo White of Debevoise & Plimpton; Patricia Hynes of Allen & Overy; and Gary Naftalis of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, all of whom represent high-profile Wall Streeters in financial crisis cases.)

One white-collar defense lawyer who gets referrals from Wall Street firms told me it could be significant that Blankfein went outside the usual circle, turning to a lawyer best known for his trial work. “For many people, the choice of Reid Weingarten would be unusual to represent someone in a simple interview,” he said. “He’s often retained when an investigation is going to lead to a case that would go to trial.”

Hmmmm…. Okay, I’ll believe it when I see it, but I can dream, can’t I?