Thursday Reads: Closed and Quiet RoomsPosted: June 21, 2012
Suddenly it’s hot here in New England. Just last week I actually had to turn my furnace on to warm up the house! It’s been a pretty cold June here, but yesterday the temperature reached 96 in Boston. Today is supposed to be a repeat performance. As I’m writing this late on Wednesday night, it’s still 84 degrees! It has been quite a shock to the system, let me tell you.
There is apparently a heat wave stretching from Chicago to the Northeast. And how appropriate, since the Summer Solstice took place yesterday at 7:09PM Eastern time. The Summer Solstice is usually on June 21, but since 2012 is a leap year, it fell on June 20.
So last week, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon appeared before the Senate Banking Committee and got his ass kissed by the committee members–many of whom have received generous campaign donations from Dimon and/or his bank. If you haven’t read Matt Taibbi’s takedown of the committee’s embarrassing performance, please check it out. Here’s a sample:
I wasn’t prepared for just how bad it was. If not for Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, who was the only senator who understood the importance of taking the right tone with Dimon, the hearing would have been a total fiasco. Most of the rest of the senators not only supplicated before the blowdried banker like love-struck schoolgirls or hotel bellhops, they also almost all revealed themselves to be total ignoramuses with no grasp of the material they were supposed to be investigating.
That most of them had absolutely no conception of even the basics of the derivatives market was obvious. But what was even more amazing was that several of them had serious trouble even reading aloud the questions their more learned staffers prepared for them. Many seemed to be reading their own questions for the first time.
It would be one thing if this had been a bunch of hick congressmen from the plains asking a panel of MIT professors about, say, ozone depletion, or the potential dangers of nuclear fallout. But these were members of the Senate Banking Committee, asking Dimon questions as though he were an alien from another world: “Tell us, Mr. CEO, what is this ‘derivative trading’ to which you refer? How long has it been in use on your planet?” The whole tenor of the proceeding was incredibly embarrassing, and showed just how unlikely it is that you’ll ever get anything like real questioning in a Senate hearing when a) the level of general expertise among the members is so shamefully low, and b) the witness is a man who controls millions of dollars of campaign contributions.
This week it was the House Banking Committee’s turn to hear from Dimon, and they apparently did slightly better than their Senate counterparts. I was particularly struck by this quote reported by George Zornick of The Nation:
As the House Financial Services Committee hearing into recent failures at JPMorgan waned, bank CEO Jamie Dimon finally said what had already been obvious to everyone — he didn’t want to be there. “These are complex things that should be done the right way, in my opinion in closed rooms,” Dimon said. “I don’t think you make a lot of progress in an open hearing like this.” In the closed room, Dimon said, everyone would be “talking about what works, what doesn’t work, and collaborating with the business that has to conduct it.”
I was immediately reminded of a remark that Mitt Romney made in January about how inappropriate it was for President Obama to be talking about income inequality in public–that such things should only be discussed in “quiet rooms.” Watch it:
Romney tells Matt Lauer that we peasants “envy” his wealth, and then expresses shock that Obama had talked about income inequality in campaign speeches:
Romney: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.
Here is what I wrote about this at the time:
Never in my life have I heard a more naked expression of the conservative philosophy that the rich are better than the rest of us and that they alone should make important decisions. Romney clearly believes that we proles must be protected from the knowledge of how lowly we really are. Romney actually believes that discussions of government tax policies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer should not be discussed in public–such poor taste! These topics must only be talked about in “quiet rooms,” presumably in grand mansions where only the very rich and powerful can hear.
No doubt Romney is expressing a common opinion among those of his class. The good news is that Romney has so little self-awareness that he can’t seem to avoid expressing his elitist opinions in public. Does he think that the proles don’t watch TV? Or does he think we’re too stupid to understand what he’s saying?
I guess I was right. These richie-rich guys don’t want us to know what they’re really up to. Zornick notes that Dimon
is indeed quite effective in closed rooms. He’s received personal audiences with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to push back against a strong Volcker rule, and his staff has enjoyed several more. The closed rooms at JPMorgan are populated by throngs of former Congressional staffers and even former members. The bank has plied current members with millions in donations, including over $522,000 to the Senate Banking Committee, where Dimon testified last week, and $168,000 to members of the House Financial Services Committee just this year.
This works well for Dimon and his allies. The financial services industry was unable to defeat the Dodd-Frank legislation in public view because overwhelming numbers of Americans supported the bill—it was arguably the only popular piece of regulatory legislation in the Obama era—but Wall Street has operated in closed rooms over the past two years to delay and weaken the rules.
Back in January, Charles Pierce also wrote about Romney’s “quiet rooms” remark. His post is well worth reading again.
Those words, and the entitled attitude with which they are so luxuriously chandeliered, should kill any campaign being conducted in 2012. The country is still staggering, blinking, out of the rubble of an economy that was shattered by an industry full to its gunwales with Willard Romneys. He is campaigning in South Carolina, where unemployment is pushing up at 10 percent. Do those people want to leave their fates up to a bunch of fancy haircuts in “quiet rooms” where they discuss how much more flesh they can pick off the carcass of what is laughingly called the “middle class” of this country?
You mean like the one where these wonderful conversations took place among our lords of the universe, and aren’t they so very cute as they sit there making their funnies and giggle like the Pep Club while the tectonic plates of the national economy crack under their feet?
“Quiet rooms” should be enough. Willard Romney, stripper of companies, looter of pension, career gombeen man for the most unproductive “industry” in the history of man, thinks that a discussion of the nation’s staggering gap in inequality, and of the steady decline of a functioning middle-class, should be conducted in private, and not in the streets, where those hippies and their drum circles might disturb the plush japery of their betters. This is because, for Willard Romney, the world is divided into two kinds of people: Willard Romney and The Help.
I hope you don’t mind the trip down memory lane. But really, Mitt Romney and Jamie Dimon are very much alike: selfish, entitled, accustomed to being catered to, and oblivious to the needs of 99 percent of Americans. Romney sees no need to tell the peasants how much he pays in taxes, who contributes to his campaign, or even what policies he favors. We really really should bring back the guillotine.
In other news, Mitt Romney is giving a speech today in which he may have to get more specific about what he would do about Obama’s popular executive order on immigration.
Wall Street Journal: Romney’s Fine Line on Immigration
Mitt Romney’s address Thursday to Latino politicians will test whether he is willing to stake out immigration policy more in line with a growing bloc of Hispanic voters. But his bigger challenge may be striking a tone acceptable to his Republican Party, which remains deeply divided on the issue.
GOP congressional leaders are hoping Mr. Romney, with the Florida speech, will find a way to bridge divisions and define the party’s response to President Barack Obama’s announcement last week that he would allow many young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children to stay and apply for work permits.
That announcement was cheered by Hispanic leaders and likely boosted the president’s standing with Hispanics. It also reignited longstanding tensions within the GOP between those who consider aid for people who came to the U.S. illegally to be an unacceptable form of amnesty, and those looking for a softer approach—in part to appeal to Hispanic constituents.
Will he continue to equivocate on the issue, or will he finally embrace a specific policy? My money is on more beating around the bush. I’ll bet Romney would prefer to discuss the issue in “quiet rooms.”
This coming weekend, Romney will host a “retreat” in Utah for campaign donors who have raised at least $100,000 for him. It will all be very hush-hush–no press allowed. More of those discussions in “quiet rooms.”
The presumptive Republican nominee and his senior advisers and aides are hosting two days of policy sessions and campaign strategy discussions at the Deer Valley resort for more than 100 top fundraisers and their spouses. Those who raised more than $100,000 are expected to attend.
More than a dozen Republican heavy-hitters are scheduled to join the private retreat as special guests. According to a fundraiser who is attending, they include some GOP stars thought to be in contention to be Romney’s vice presidential running mate: Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. John Thune (S.D.).
George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove, who helps run American Crossroads, the well-funded GOP super PAC, is planning to speak at the retreat, said the fundraiser, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the event and spoke on the condition of anonymity. Rove’s appearance could raise questions because of laws barring any coordination between super PACs and campaigns.
Hey, rules are for the proles, not patricians like Willard Mitt Romney or Jamie Dimon for that matter.