Category Archives: Liar’s Poker

Your Daily Hot Air

Bennett Left His Soul In Indiana

Let’s not get all turned around by the revelation of what a pig Tony Bennett was here in Indiana.

AP Photo

Busted

Forget him. We have to focus on the real evil here and that’s the whole concept of schools for profit. It’s as eff-u’d as health care for profit, and we know how well that‘s working out for us in this holy land.

So, we know Bennett took a powder on his new job as barn boss of the Florida state school systems yesterday in light of breaking news that he’d jiggered a school’s efficiency rating here while he was the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction. Turns out the woman who runs that school was a big time donor to Bennett and the Republican Party.

It doesn’t take a Superintendent of Public Instruction to calculate two plus two equal four.

Fine, Bennett’s paying the price now, having to give up his comfy job as penance. But we’re all stuck with charter schools. Who pays the penance for that?

My guess? Taxpayers and kids.

Some 71 charter schools are operating in Indiana, according to the state’s Department of Education. That includes the Christel House Academy, owned by GOP idolator Christel DeHaan. She made her fortune by starting a time share business with her husband, buying out his half of the business in 1989 after their divorce, and then selling the company for a cool $825 million in 1996. She opened her Indianapolis charter school in time for the 2002-03 school year.

DeHaan

DeHaan: An A+ Contributor

Christel House Indianapolis was graded C in 2012 by INDOE, even though Bennett had been running around telling anybody who’d listen that the school was an A institution. This just wouldn’t do, considering DeHaan had contributed $130,000 to Bennett’s political campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

Voila, the Christel House C became an A.

Money, natch, is magic.

And money is what drives many charter schools.

Not all charter schools are for-profit enterprises. Quite a few have popped up as alternative educational institutions where children can learn that the world is 6000 years old and that god doesn’t like Muslims.

No question our public schools need work. Many school systems are management top-heavy, have crushing bureaucracies, and reward too many teachers simply for being alive. Let’s work on those problems.

Let’s not turn the education of our kids over to profiteers and religious fanatics.

Absolutely Fabulous

At long last, some son of a bitch is going to jail for his part in the shell game that was collateralized debt obligations.

Or, as I like to characterize those intentionally byzantine financial instruments, legal larceny.

CDOs, credit default swaps, and other sleight-of-hand schemes developed by “creative” financiers set us up for the the Great Recession of 2007-08. And, no doubt, these same Wall Street shamans are working overtime to create another economic bubble. They’ll make their piles of cash upon which they’ll fall when the global economy tanks again while the rest of us hit nothing but concrete. Splat.

IBTimes UK Photo

Fabulous Fabrice

Anyway, it’s nice to see former Goldman Sachs trader Fabrice Tourre get slapped with a guilty verdict in his federal fraud trial yesterday. “Fabulous Fab,” as he liked to call himself, sold a phony bill of goods to his investor clients, telling them a credit derivative plan he’d conjured up was a good risk, even though he knew it wasn’t. Financial organs like Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg are trying to position this case as an outlier, that Fab Fab was a rogue.

They even assume the Who Me? stance that his sales spiel was rife with dense industry jargon that even they couldn’t penetrate. His patter was so dizzying, they imply, that investors were left only to understand two words out of his mouth: Trust me.

Problem is, Fab Fab wasn’t an outlier. He was normal. Goldman Sachs and other agents of Satan were stuffed to the gills with shysters like him. And WSJ and Bloomberg slobbered all over those slobs when they were making huge fees and bonuses back in the 1980s, ’90s, and ‘Aughts. The collective motto of reprobates like Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon was Trust Us.

I recommend Michael Lewis’s book Liar’s Poker as a primer if you’re interested in starting to learn about the fraud economy that sprang out of Saint Ronald Reagan’s deregulation heaven. And, by the way, don’t get me wrong, Saint Ronnie and the Republicans aren’t the only villains in the Wall Street Wild West mess we’ve found ourselves in. Dems from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton to Barack Obama sold their souls to the devil, trading in deregulation and a wink-wink attitude toward the banksters’ excesses for a share of the campaign cash support that the GOP had monopolized for decades.

Book Cover

Lewis penned his tome in hopes young folk would begin to shy away from business schools, reversing the trend of the late 20th Century wherein those university biz factories were churning out millions of grads eager only to make a killing. Funny thing is, his book had the opposite effect.

Lewis wrote in Portfolio magazine in 2008:

I had no great agenda, apart from telling what I took to be a remarkable tale, but if you got a few drinks in me and then asked what effect I thought my book would have on the world, I might have said something like, “I hope that college students trying to figure out what to do with their lives will read it and decide that itʼs silly to phony it up and abandon their passions to become financiers.” I hoped that some bright kid at, say, Ohio State University who really wanted to be an oceanographer would read my book, spurn the offer from Morgan Stanley, and set out to sea.

Somehow that message failed to come across. Six months after Liarʼs Poker was
published, I was knee-deep in letters from students at Ohio State who wanted to know if
I had any other secrets to share about Wall Street. Theyʼd read my book as a how-to
manual.

So yeah, I’m glad Fabulous Fabrice took the rap yesterday. I hope he looks fabulous in prison orange. But I won’t be totally happy until more and more greedy biz school grads, Ayn Rand-ists, and investment bank con men are wearing the same color.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“‘C’mon, people, we’re not selling truth!'” — Michael Lewis, quoting a typical PA announcement on the Salomon Brothers sales floor.

RAIN

A young guy came into the Book Corner yesterday afternoon. He’s a regular. Comes in once every week or two and buys a couple of Penguin Classics (which, BTW, are among the coolest books — they’re inexpensive and the titles are, well, classic, like “The Three Musketeers” or “Humboldt’s Gift”).

Anyway, we told each other how fabulous the weather has been the last couple of weeks. He splashed cold water on the small talk, though, by saying his father, a farmer, is worried.

The old man, the guy reported, raises corn and soybeans on his spread about forty minutes west of Bloomington. Pops’ crops need a good soaking rain, and quick.

I’ve heard talk the area’s water table is down some 1o inches.

“Things are alright right now,” the guy said, “but if we go any longer without rain, my dad’s going to be in trouble.”

ON THE TOWN

Click.

HENRY HILL IS DEAD

One of the most despicable characters ever portrayed in film was a real person. An associate of New York’s Lucchese crime gang, Henry Hill turned rat back in 1980, saving his own hide by cooperating with the Feds who slammed his old pals into the joint.

Hill then told his story to Nick Pileggi and the ensuing book, “Wiseguy” was made into the iconic mobster movie, “Goodfellas.”

Henry Hill

Ray Liotta played Hill in Martin Scorsese’s pic. The movie opens with the character Tommy DeVito repeatedly plunging a big kitchen chopping knife into the torso of a mobster named Billy Batts. Tommy is one of Hill’s two closest companions. Batts is in the trunk of Hill’s car.

Hill holds the trunk lid open as DeVito skewers Batts. The camera zooms in on Hill’s face to a freeze-frame. We hear Hill’s off-screen voice saying, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” Tony Bennett’s “I Go From Rags to Riches” begins to blare on the soundtrack and we’re off.

Ray Liotta As Henry Hill

Scorsese plays most of Hill’s story for laughs. “Goodfellas” could have been one of the darkest movies he ever made. Shoot, “Taxi Driver” might have been a giggle-fest compared to “Goodfellas” had Scorsese elected to portray Hill’s and DeVito’s and their partner Jimmie “The Gent” Conway’s workaday world straight.

I’m no shrink but I’ll guarantee you Hill et al were classic sociopaths.

Funny thing is, what should have been an abhorrent tale of evil turned out be something more akin to a recruitment ad for the Mafia.

Not that people who watched the flick actually tripped all over themselves in a rush to become connected killers and thieves but “Goodfellas” popularized the speech patterns, the music, and the outward trappings of the lifestyle of New York’s Italian-American reprobates.

“Cool” Guys

Henry Hill and his smartly dressed pals became more cool guys to be aped than terrifying monsters to be loathed.

Even Tony Bennett has to attribute a pinch of his resurgent success on “Good fellas” and similar glamorizations of Mob life.

Mob movies of the last 40 years offer stories that satisfy some of our simplest needs in a changing world. The New York Mob lived in a self-contained universe where justice was swift, morality — such as it was — was  clearly defined, and hard work and brotherhood brought rich rewards.

If most guys in real life weren’t willing to plunge chopping knives into each others’ torsi, many at least wanted to sound and look like Henry Hill and his crew.

I don’t know if Scorses intended that result. I also don’t know if he’s ever regretted creating roll models for lunkheads.

“Goodfellas” in that sense reminds me of Michael Lewis’s book, “Liar’s Poker.” Lewis describes the amoral world of the Salomon Brothers investment bank in the mid-1980’s. Saint Ronald Reagan’s deregulations and the lust for obscene amounts of cash created a gang of bond traders and salesmen who thought nothing of screwing customers, each other, and, for that matter, the nation’s economy simply to scale the company’s success ladder as measured by each participant’s year-end bonuses.

Bonuses which, by the way, far too often totaled into the hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars.

Lewis had hoped to expose this bankrupt world and thereby convince young people, who were beginning to enroll in business schools at unprecedented rates, to move into other, more worthy disciplines.

Instead, kids got off on the picture of greed and evil Lewis painted. Thousands of college students wrote to Lewis to ask him advice on how to get into the racket. He was shocked by their reaction.

Next thing you knew, avarice and narcissism had completely engulfed this holy land and, by extension, the rest of the world. The orgy went on up until the big crash on 2008. It still goes on in certain quarters today (I’m thinking Jamie Dimon and his confreres).

Talk about unintended consequences.

LET IT RAIN

For the farmers.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy.” — Fran Lebowitz (h/t to RE Paris)

GOOD RIDDANCE, ANDREW BREITBART

“I’ve never killed a man but I’ve read several obituaries with glee.” — Mark Twain

Andrew Breitbart is dead. The Earth is now a better place.

Like Twain, I don’t care much for gloating when a bad guy dies but in this case, Whoopee!

Gone, Baby, Gone

Breitbart was a character assassin, an amoral ideologue, an agent provocateur, and, well, a dick of the highest order.

Here’s the difference between a warthog like Breitbart and a human being of decency. When Shirley Sherrod heard about his death, she said, “The news of Mr. Breitbart’s death came as a surprise to me when I was informed of it this morning. My prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart’s family as they cope during this very difficult time.”

Sherrod: A Gracious Victim

This from a woman whose career serving in government was derailed by a phony-assed, maliciously edited video produced by none other than Mr. Breitbart.

And speaking of phony-assed, maliciously edited videos, it was Breitbart’s airing of the ACORN footage that led to that social service organization’s eventual bankruptcy and demise. Nice work, Andy-baby, pissing on all those folks who need food, housing, and legal services for your own professional advancement.

Naturally, the Republican candidates for president are mourning his passing as though a great public servant is gone from the scene. Rick Santorum calls his death a “huge loss, in my opinion, to our country.” Mitt Romney remembers him as a “loving husband and father.”

“Aw, He Was Such A Nice Guy.”

Reminds me of when any notorious Outfit boss kicked the bucket back in Chicago. No matter that he’d been responsible for corrupting labor unions, forcing the Mob’s way into legitimate businesses, and murdering loan sharks, recalcitrant shopkeepers and potential witnesses, his neighbors would say he was such a nice guy and a real fine family man.

Hey, people, even A. Hitler was kind to his dog Blondi. That doesn’t excuse him for his evil acts.

Anyway, Breitbart — though not Hitler or a capo, but profoundly destructive in his own way — joins such luminaries as J. Edgar Hoover, George Wallace, Orval Faubus, Curtis LeMay, and Lee Atwater in the pantheon of dead evil Americans.

It’s irrelevant that he was “a loving husband and father.”

“Welcome To Hell, Andy!”

PAYING THE PIPER

Now that Mayor Mark Kruzan doesn’t have to worry about reelection for a while, he can level with Bloomington voters about the state of the city’s finances.

They ain’t good.

Kasey Husk of the Herald Times reports this morning that Kruzan says there are “dark clouds on the horizon” for us.

Potential Cover Shot For Bloomington’s Annual Financial Report

The reason Kruzan waited until now to drop the bomb on us, apparently, is the potential that voters could have blamed him for the economic mess we’re in. That would have been stupid, of course, but then again no one ever accused the electorate, either here or nationally, of being remarkably brilliant.

Smart Enough To Know We’re Not All That Smart

Hell, an entire major political party is fired up by proud anti-intellectualism. (I won’t even link to that party — you can guess which one I mean.)

So no, the city’s empty pockets aren’t Kruzan’s fault.

But we know where the blame primarily lies — all those clever, conniving, duplicitous investment banking house unindicted felons who played our economy for hundred of billions of dollars in fees and bonuses and left it dry.

Check out Michael Lewis’s book, “Liar’s Poker” for an early snapshot of the unregulated, greenback-worshipping, hyenas that populated Goldman Sachs and the rest of the Wall Street money-squeezers back in the mid- and late-80s.

Not a one of those reprobates has ever served a minute in jail. Yet guys like Mark Kruzan have to worry that voters may turn on them because of the sins of Wall Street.

We can only hope there is a hell so that Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, and the rest of their aiders and abettors can join Andrew Breitbart in it.

IT’S ALL RELATIVE

With Russia’s presidential election three days away and Vladimir Putin looking like a shoo-in, we’re being inundated by news stories and commentary about what a despot the former KGB spook is. Deep thinkers are howling about how un-democratic the supposedly-now-democratic heart of the former Soviet Union is.
No doubt Putin’s goons have had “meetings” with dissenting journalists, his spies have added a dash of “strychnine” to the soup of neighboring pols or fed polonium pellets to expat whistle blowers, and his PR flacks are hard at work manipulating the minds of Russian couch potatoes.

That’s all true. Plus, Putin is such a charismatic tough guy that when he met the notoriously untraveled George W. Bush, this holy land’s president-at-the-time tumbled into a deep man-crush over him.

Putin Porn

Yesterday, though, I caught another side of the story. Former IU writing professor Erlene Stetson and her husband visit us at the Book Corner nearly every day when they’re in town. Her husband was born in Germany and they keep homes in both countries.

The husband — whose name I never catch because we start talking about world events and history immediately, leaving little time for idle chit-chat and social niceties, so let’s call him Mr. Stetson — started ruminating about Putin and Russia.

“It is amazing,” Mr. Stetson said, “how things have changed in Russia.”

He was talking about the Russia of today vis-a-vis that of such sweethearts as Joseph Stalin and his successors.

Mr. Stetson pointed out that even if the Russian press and TV outlets are manipulated and intimidated now and again, they’re still a hundred-fold freer than the old state media apparatus was under the Communist General Secretaries.

He also says the recent mass protests against Putin and Russian voter fraud would never, ever have been tolerated in the Soviet days.

Russia, 2012

Eastern Europeans of a certain generation view the new Russia in a state of near-awe these days, according to Mr. Stetson. Not that they envy Muscovites and the like, just that the relative relaxation of traditional Russian authoritarianism is so jarring in comparison to the bad old days.

Of course, it’s easy to look good when the object of comparison is a tyranny that, under Stalin, murdered tens of millions of people to maintain discipline, advance ideology, and just for the fun of it.

This reminds me of revisionist historians who decry the so-called Fathers of Our Country for owning slaves and treating women as decorative appendages.

White men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did indeed “own” human beings, including their lovely brides.

“Property”

Viewed through today’s lens, Washington and Jefferson appear to be monsters.

In their own day, though, the framers of the US Constitution were the most progressive thinkers on the face of the Earth. They eschewed divine authority and legislated nobility out of existence. Yes, the only US citizens that counted were white male land-owners.

But that was a hell of a leap forward from previous social set-ups. We’ve been taking leaps in fits and starts ever since.

As the late, astute Molly Ivins once wrote, “It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.”

MERCEDES BENZ

“The Lord” and Money — perhaps this should be our national anthem.

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