Digby sez, specifically about Mitt Romney's refusal to release any more detailed information about how he made his money, where he parks it, what taxes he does or does not pay on it, etc:
It didn't used to be considered ethical to "game" the system just because you could. Yes there have always been game players. But leaders and statesmen were not supposed to be among them. Indeed, until recently "game players" were held in disrepute. [...]I'm not sure I remember a time when the titans of industry and banking, as a group, ever shied away from gaming whatever system needed gaming. While local businessmen have historically tended towards more upstanding behavior (possibly because having to deal with your neighbors directly, after screwing them, does not lend itself to a long or prosperous life), the largest business institutions have almost always held to the rule that they are allowed to do whatever they are allowed to do, and more to the point, they are also allowed to do all the things they are not allowed to do so long as they don't get caught. Or so long as the repercussions for doing so are less significant than the profits to be made.
[I]f you cannot count on the leaders at the top to have some sense of ethical boundaries beyond explicit legal constraints, you have a problem and a big one. We're already dealing with the fallout from our elastic definition of war since 9/11 and the stretching of norms that came during the torture regime. (Today it's, "well, assassinations are better than torture, right? Killing happens in war all the time.") Now we're seeing a presidential candidate and his supporters babble like Wall Street pirates about the tax system being a "game" (with the winners presumably being the ones who can get away with paying the least.) This is the sickness at the core of elite American life. The winners are, by definition, the ones who get away with the most.
What seems to have happened of late is that more of that behavior has, for perhaps obvious reasons, shifted into the political sphere. Political figures who seem to care honestly about helping their communities, as opposed to ones merely willing to pay lip service to the premise, are more often considered sentimentalists or rubes. There used to at least be the rosy premise that some of the people seeking to lead government would be in it to make America a better place, but the definition of better place now consists almost entirely of what the same captains of finance and industry (a.k.a., the crooks, as per above) believe would make it better. It isn't just notions of caring for the poor and the sick that are now scoffed at as socialistic functions of government; even re-paving community roads is met with skepticism and hostility. And in Congress, the standard of behavior has steadily declined from the level of what should be done to what is the lowest level that can be gotten away with. The hostage-taking over the debt ceiling was an institutional example; dear Rep. Joe Wilson shouting You lie! at the president of the United States during a State of the Union speech was a personal one. There was never any legal requirement that representatives refrain from shouting things at the president during a speech, but a general social decorum was in place that said if you did such a thing, your peers would at the least be angry with you.
Super PACs are another fine example. They exist at all because ethical restraints on the role of business in elections were loosened. The rules on them are scant, and even those are all but ignored: Nobody with any integrity above that of common crook can seriously claim that American Crossroads is an issue-based advocacy group, and not one focused on helping specific candidates in very specific races. Where once we were told that corporate spending in campaigns would be countered by the disapprobation those corporate entities received from the public, thus providing counterbalance to any institution that attempted undue or exceptional influence in campaigns, we are now told that we are not even allowed to know which companies those are. They are not legally obliged to tell us, and anyone citing an ethical reason is quickly rebutted with the very specific reminder that no, they are not legally obliged to tell us.
It is the Wall Streetification of politics. We were told that government should be run more like a business, and in the standards of behavior, the manipulations of events, and the general running of the show for the benefit of the elected "executive class," not the powerless shareholders, we are receiving exactly that. Given the steady trading of personnel between government, banking titans, other industry titans and the lobbyist class that provides for a luxurious halfway house between the two, it would seem obvious that the two institutions would begin sharing more and more behavioral and ethical quirks and, indeed, begin to share the same motives.
As for the Libor scandal itself, the vast scale of the economic damage involved (and how easily it was accomplished, and how perfectly reasonable it appears to have seemed to all involved parties, at the time) is difficult to comprehend. It seems a rather difficult thing to even level fines against, if all the allegations are proved. Instead it seems to suggest that only a corporate death sentence can possibly put an end to the excesses of an entire financial generation so devoid of ethics as to be, at this point, irredeemable. Previously socialist notions like breaking the large banks into pieces, or restoring post-Depression regulations against the mixing of true banks and glorified gambling institutions, now seem the only possible path to take. We cannot simply start decapitating our moral-less upper class, French Revolution-style, but we can certainly decapitate the institutions that allow them to make great deals of money in ways that explicitly (and often gleefully) harm all the rest of us. The big banks have essentially been putting arsenic in our economic drinking water—and no matter how often they are caught, or what the damages have been, they have kept doing it. It simply must stop.
As for the same vultures in government, that is an even more difficult proposition. Removing their food supply (corporate electioneering, post-career financial rewards in industry, and the like) would seem the only solution, but the New Constitution, as interpreted by our recent courts, seems to assert that politicians have more right to money than poor Americans have to food. Whether it is ethical is not the issue. Whether it is even legal is not the issue. The only moral issue considered by our new political business class is what can be done without getting caught.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2008:
Muslim Americans and Arab-Americans, along with members of some other ethnic groups, are therefore understandably alarmed that the Department of Justice may soon have the tools to bring them under investigation without any proof of wrongdoing. ... [They] have already suffered from being profiled in a de facto sense. Unsurprisingly, to have that injustice become policy concerns them. The protests would be even louder if so many in the community were not afraid to speak up and draw attention to themselves ...That’s Juan Cole in his Thursday Salon smackdown of the FBI’s proposed new system for profiling Muslims and Arab-Americans.
As SusanG pointed out yesterday, no less a personage than U.S. Attorney General Mike Mukasey says that merely having a particular national origin or ethnicity will not be grounds for investigating anyone under the profiling system. Because, the A.G. says, the administration believes in constitutional guarantees, or rather, what he actually said was, "we value the Constitution." Uh-huh. Value it for the same reason my parents used to value mail-order catalogs in the outhouse.
In Congress, I suspect, there is a cohort that would fund cattle cars and barbed wire if the administration made the request. So no way a little old profiling proposal would set them atwitch. But the minority of members in the Senate and House who really do value the Constitution—enough to actually show some spine about it, I mean—ought to be pointing out, loudly, that this latest proposal is all part of the total package of torture, rendition, secret prisons, warrantless wiretapping, government snooping into the records of activists and dissidents, national security letters, denial of habeas corpus, ad nauseam.
"Kagro in the Morning" had an extra-special first hour today, welcoming DemFromCT for his usual polling and issues round-up. He was followed by Ozymandius, author of one of yesterday's top recommended diaries on the LIBOR scandal. (Listen to the podcast to learn his true, secret identity!) His appearance was the first of what we hope will be many appearances on our shows for members of the community.
If you were bored and gobsmacked by Mitt Romney's speech today before the NAACP, here is a very different one by the Rev. Dr. William Barber. Given all the attention that Romney received, it is, as Denise Oliver Velez says in her post, too bad that Barber's appearance is so hard to find. So, watch him here, or watch him in her post. But watch him. And hear him. [MB]