Matt Taibbi Follows the Money in Iowa AG Tom Miller’s Faux Tough Posture in 50 State Mortgage Settlement Negotiations

We’ve taken aim repeatedly at Tom Miller’s obvious soft touch toward banks in his role as lead negotiator in the 50 state attorney generals negotiation over foreclosure abuses. Some of his questionable actions:

Promising to put people in jail, then quickly reversing himself

Working closely with the bank-friendly Treasury Department when the state and Federal legal issues are very different, rendering the rationale for cooperation suspect

Failing to undertake any meaningful investigations, which would have given the state AGs leverage in settlement talks

Not acting in a manner consistent with a lead negotiator role: negotiating AGAINST the AG group on behalf of the Administration, and springing a preliminary term sheet on them rather than involving them in developing it

Putting terms forward piecemeal, and in particular, not disclosing the terms of the release even to fellow AGs. In a deal, you make a complete offer and then see if the other side accepts or counteroffers. Would anyone deal with a homebuyer put in a bid for your home for, say, $220,000 and then came back the next day and said, “The tile in the master bathroom is kind of old, I want you to replace that too. Oh, and repaint it and the guest bedroom.”

We had assumed that the reason for Miller’s bending-over-backwards stance was that he was currying favor with the Administration in the hope of winning the nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But Matt Taibbi has found what appears to be an even more logical explanation: out of state bank-friendly donors dumped lots of dough into Miller’s fundraising coffers. And I mean LOTS (at least by state AG standards). From Taibbi:

A hilarious report has come out courtesy of the National Institute of Money in State Politics, showing that Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller – who is coordinating the investigation into the banks’ improper mortgage dealings – increased his campaign contributions from the finance sector this year by a factor of 88! He has raised $261,445 from finance, insurance and real estate contributors since he announced that he was going to be coordinating the investigation into improper foreclosure practices. That is 88 times as much as they gave him not over last year, but over the previous decade….

Put it this way. If the banks had to pay what they actually owed – from the registration taxes/fees they avoided by using the electronic registry system MERS to the money taken from investors in toxic mortgage-backed securities to the fees and payments stolen from homeowners via predatory loan practices and illegal foreclosures – they would probably all go out of business. That’s how much money is at stake here: the very future of financial giants like Bank of America and Citi and JP Morgan Chase is hanging to a very significant degree on the decisions of politicians like Miller.

Hence the sudden avalanche of money sent Miller’s way. The numbers are laughable. In 2006, out -of-state donors gave Miller’s campaign $10,508. For the 2010 cycle, that number was $497,357. Three lawyers by themselves – Al Gore’s attorney David Boies, plus Donald Flexner and Robert Silver, all partners in the firm Boies, Schiller and Flexner – gave Miller a total of $60,000.

So here we have it: yet another example of the best justice money can buy. Which means small fry like you and me go begging.

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  1. guidothekp

    Shakedown, dude. All these people who are not in DC or NYC or somehow in the corridors of power will make money now by doing what Russians did in the 90s after the collapse of Soviet Union — ‘kidnap’ a rich man and return him for ransom. The modus operandi here is — go after the guy with money, shake him down, and let him go.

    Since corruption trickles all the way down, why shouldn’t a rat make money like this?

    1. DownSouth

      This is something that has always intrigued me—-the two-tiered U.S. criminal justice system. It’s anarchy for the BPs and Goldman Sachs of the world, and tyranny for the rest of us.

      Here in Mexico, where I’ve lived for the past 10 years, it’s anarchy for everybody. Even the lowly motorist has the opportunity to settle traffic infractions on-the-spot. A little mordida is all it takes.

      But not so in the U.S. Only the rich and the powerful get to play the corruption game. How do they do it, maintaining such a blatant double standard?

      I’m like you, having always been convinced that “corruption trickles all the way down.” But so far in the U.S. it hasn’t happened. Maybe it just takes a little bit more time before the entire system becomes vitiated from top to bottom. Or maybe not. Maybe the double standard is here to stay, since the most outrageous and in-your-face corruption, at the highest levels of the U.S. government, seems to be almost a daily affair now. It even enjoys the imprimatur and participation (as in the case of Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife) of the United States Supreme Court. But just try doing the same when you get stopped for a speeding ticket, or appear in traffic court.

      1. Dave of Maryland

        The root of the problem isn’t corruption, which is why you haven’t seen it further down.

        The root of the problem is ignorance & contempt for those less well off than ourselves, combined with intense insularity. You see this in small towns all over the country.

        Are small-town locals corrupt? Ever go out driving during the day? See cars weaving all over the road? Drunks, every one of them. Why haven’t they ever been arrested?

        Because no drunks are ever stopped before 8 pm. And every chief of police, every sheriff, every town councilor, every city employee, in every city & town in this country, knows this full well. There’s just as many drunks among city employees as there are among the rest of us. The difference is that they know the rules. The real rules. Drunks aren’t stopped during the day because you just might be stopping the chief of police’s daughter. We can’t have that now, can we?

        1. desmoinesdem

          Lots of corruption in small towns. I’ve heard stories in Iowa about small-town police pulling people over w/license plates from outside the county. If you give a donation to the right cause you don’t get a ticket.

          1. chad

            very true, i grew up in a town with a population of 860. Interestingly, the door swings both ways. Give the wrong person a ticket and the officer is out of a job.

      2. Paul Tioxon

        He argued in articles for above journals, for the European Commission,[10] and for a book volume Government of the Shadows (2009)[11] that U.S. hegemonic power divided the single Western state into a “dual state”: a regular democratic hierarchy versus a security hierarchy linked to the U.S. With reference to Schmitt,[12] Morgenthau and Fraenkel,[13] he developed the concept of “dual state” as composed by a regular democratic state or “public state” (Peter Dale Scott)[14] that acts according to the rule of law, and by a covert “deep state” or “security state” able to veto the decisions of the former (Morgenthau)[15] and to “securitize” regular politics by making certain activities an issue of life and death (Wæver).[16] Cold War military coups or coup attempts (i.e. Turkey, Greece, Italy, France and Spain) were understood in terms of the “veto power” of the “deep state”, which “securitized” regular democratic activities by the use of terrorism or what in Italy has been called the “strategy of tension”.[17] Tunander quotes his conversation with former CIA Director and former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, who spoke about a Swedish “dual state”: the neutral “Political Sweden” versus the “Military Sweden” that, according to Schlesinger, was “planning to get the USA involved as soon as possible”.[18] Tunander quotes U.S. secretaries of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, as saying: when it came to the most sensitive issues, as the Swedish-U.S. military ties, there was only one rule: “Nothing on paper”.[19]

        rnst Fraenkel was the first to analyze the multi-dimensionality of the National Socialist political order and to characterize it with the terms normative state and prerogative state. Fraenkel’s analysis of the Dual State – conceptualized as a permanent state of emergency, aimed not only at destroying the civil legal order, but civil society as well…

        ~ Michael Wildt, The political order of the Volksgemeinschaft: Ernst Fraenkel’s Dual State revisited

        [ Fraenkel, Ernst. The Dual State: A Contribution to the Theory of Dictatorship.Translated From the German by E.A. Shils, in Collaboration with Edith Lowenstein and Klaus Knorr. New York: Oxford University Press, 1941 ]:

        This classic study is one of the standard works on constitutional law, jurisprudence and judicial administration in Nazi Germany. Also considered one of the finest analyses of totalitarianism, it was written in Germany in the late 1930s and completed in the United States in 1940, where Fraenkel [1898-1975] lived after fleeing the Nazis in 1938. The title derives from Fraenkel’s thesis that National Socialism divided the law into two co-existing areas. The first of these, The Normative State, protects the legal order as expressed in statutes, decisions of courts and the activities of administrative agencies. Its counterpart is the Prerogative State, which is governed by the party. It exercised “unlimited arbitrariness and violence unchecked by any legal guarantees”. “As a detailed record of what has happened to the Rechtstaat under totalitarian auspices, this book is without rival.”

        ~ Fritz Morstein Marx, Harvard Law Review

    2. Eric

      “Shakedown, dude. … ‘Kidnap’ a rich man and return him for ransom. … Go after the guy with money, shake him down, and let him go.” The underlying assumption, there, that the banksters were tycoons who were being exploited by government officials, would have made sense here if this were a conservative website, but this is a progressive website, and progressives aren’t such psychopaths as to assume that the banksters who are the subjects of the state AGs’ prosecution are the victims here. The idea that Tom Miller is “shaking down” the heads of JPKMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Morgan Stanley, is vile, and “guidothekp” should know better than to assume that they’re the victims here.

      1. Doug Terpstra

        Good point, Eric. Miller is not an extortionist, he’s just a cheap whore*. Well okay, relatively cheap, by Obama’s standards, though I’m sure the fat campaign bribes are only part of it. If not the CFPB chair, he’s probably got a plum “regulatory” position promised as a stepping stone to a full-fledged bankster liar-lobbyist position.

        * This is not intended to impugn or in any way denigrate legitimate prostitutes, who provide service and value to society.

      2. chad

        “..would have made sense here if this were a conservative website, but this is a progressive website,..”

        I thought this was a financial website.

      3. monday1929

        Eric, it’s sort of like a corrupt local cop shaking down a mass murderer foe a few hundred dollars. Pay-up and you can continue to kill. And some of the progressives here might be closer to what true conservatives might stand for- like the rule of law. Is that now a progressive cause?

    3. NOTaREALmerican

      Re: Shakedown, dude.

      HA!! THAT is a brilliant description of what is happening too. So simple even a sociopath could figure it out. And as the USSR and USSA are now run by sociopaths it makes perfect sense.

      Brilliant! Good post.

  2. ambrit

    Ferdinand Pecorra he ain’t, but then, where’s the political will to push investigations, much less actual remedies? Most importantly, where are the “Bonus Marchers” when we need them? Admittedly, we’re a lot closer to a formal Police State now than then, but social movements for “redress of grievences” seldom heed “official” exhortations. Hoover had to let MacArthur indulge his penchant for paternalism, (with the help of Cavalry and a few tanks,) to make the disturbance “go away.” What form will the “triggering event” for the next social reform movement take? Being a working class older white male, I’m truly perplexed.
    Keep up the good work.

    1. monday1929

      The death of a White, middle aged, upper middle class protester could bring the revolution a bit closer.

  3. Skippy

    Americana replete…let just turn the hole thing (USA) into Texas and slap checks down moments before Congressional sessions.

    Skippy…yeah I know they kicked them out to the foyer, after that one bloke was passing them out like confetti just before a vote.

    1. DownSouth

      Yes, it is an “old, old story.”

      Reinhold Niebuhr wrote about it 79 years ago, back in 1932 in his book Moral Man & Immoral Society:

      Thus, for instance, a laissez faire economic theory is maintained in an industrial era through the ignorant belief that the general welfare is best served by placing the least possible political restraints upon economic activity. The history of the past hundred years is a refutation of the theory; but it is still maintained, or is dying a too lingering death, particularly in nations as politically incompetent as our own. Its survival is due to the ignorance of those who suffer injustice from the application of this theory to modern industrial life but fail to attribute their difficulties to the social anarchy and political irresponsibility which the theory sanctions. Their ignorance permits the beneficiaries of the present anarchic industrial system to make dishonest use of the waning prestige of laissez faire economics. The men of power in modern industry would not, of course, capitulate simply because the social philosophy by which they justify their policies had been discredited. When power is robbed of the shining armor of political, moral and philosophical theories, by which it defends itself, it will fight on without armor; but it will be more vulnerable, and the strength of its enemies is increased.

      When economic power desires to be left alone it uses the philosophy of laissez faire to discourage political restraint upon economic freedom. When it wants to make use of the police power of the state to subdue rebellions and discontent in the ranks of its helots, it justifies the use of political coercion and the resulting suppression of liberties by insisting that peace is more precious than freedom and that its only desire is social peace… If psychological and social scientists overestimate the possibilities of improving social relations by the development of intelligence, that may be regarded as an understandable naiveté of rationalists, who naturally incline to attribute too much power to reason and to recognise its limits too grudgingly. Men will not cease to be dishonest merely because their dishonesties have been revealed or because they have discovered their own deceptions. Whenever men hold unequal power in society, they will strive to maintain it. They will use whatever means are most convenient to that end and will seek to justify them by the most plausible arguments they are able to devise.

      1. Skippy

        “Thus, for instance, a laissez faire economic theory is maintained in an industrial era through the ignorant belief that the general welfare is best served by placing the least possible political restraints upon economic activity.”


        It amazes me, the signage along the logic trains tracks ie: general welfare, political restraints, economic activity et al….its just blows by…express freight straight to the vaults.

        Skippy…the world super power, where no one knows their own history…what could go

        1. DownSouth

          “…the signage along the logic trains tracks…”

          That was the great lesson that I took away from Carroll Quigley’s The Evolution of Civilizations—-that there are two ways to destroy science and democracy. One is obvious, the use of irrationality. But the other, the use of rationality, is much more subtle, delusory and beguiling.

          Niebuhr and Martin Luther King alluded to how rationality is used to dynamite science and democracy, but Quigley spells it out, taking us back 3,000 years and laying out in plain English how the interregnum in the use of science and democracy began.

          The discipline of economics is a triumph of rationality over science and democracy.

          1. Birch

            John Ralston Saul wrote lots about the dangers of rationalism in “Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West”. Of course, Johnathan Swift tore a strip off of reason a long time ago, in the third book of Gulliver’s Travels (where he details what, 400 years later, we know as the Green Revolution) and many other essays.

          2. Glenn Condell

            ‘That was the great lesson that I took away from Carroll Quigley’s The Evolution of Civilizations’

            DS, are there any important books which touch on our concerns which you HAVEN”T read? Really appreciate the insights your reading brings, tx for doing some of the hard yards for us.

            ‘that there are two ways to destroy science and democracy. One is obvious, the use of irrationality. But the other, the use of rationality, is much more subtle, delusory and beguiling’

            Irrational rationality, or rational irrationality?

            It’s rarely noticed, the extent to which key power centres in our polity opposed to science (which seeks all truths however unpleasant, primarily with the engine of skepticism and doubt) and to genuine democracy (which means freedom for individuals, but also for individuals to form collectives) actually utilise the functionality of these hated abstractions in order to control them, and render them safe for us children. Hence, the armies of anti-AGW scientists and the rallying cry of freedom under which people like Scott Walker defenestrate worker’s rights on behalf of their masters.

  4. psychohistorian

    Un Fucking Banana Republic Believable!

    I know deep down that this is really serious shit but I can’t help but sit here laughing uproariously.

    There sure are a lot of folks running around NAKED out there these days.

    It makes the Portland Mayor Sam Adams corruption that I am a victim of seem rather pedantic.

    Its too bad so many innocent people are affected by the sickening demise of American Imperialism. I sure wish it would hurry up!!!!

  5. jake chase

    Perhaps I am misremembering, but didn’t Goldman buy BHO for $350k? Could be the greatest ROI in history. Perhaps they call these tiny amounts Chump Change for a reason. I imagine those masters of the universe spend more on cigars.

    1. DownSouth

      Obama is only the tip of the iceberg, most of which is hidden from view underneath the water.

      Obama is the end-product of a full court press began by the plutocrats at least 45 years ago. That’s what was so enlightening about this post and comment thread from yesterday. It gave what Robert Hughes called “the protean energies of capitalism” new meaning.

  6. monday1929

    Finance is not buying Tom Miller. They are merely supporting a person who shares their beliefs and goals…..
    of investigating and prosecuting Financ…..wait a second, oh yes, it IS clearly a bribe.

    Tom Crowl- does your new Patent provide a means for the people to buy and own politicians through small contributions?

    Tom Miller- does your family know that you have been purchased?

  7. Random Blowhard

    Meh, the rule of law and “clean governance” is only for first world countries with thriving economies. The United States of Argentina has no need for the rule of law, let them eat bailouts…

  8. Jim Clausen

    I just popped off this e-mail to my attorney general miller.

    Dear General Miller,

    Now that reports have gone nationwide about the “sudden” increase in campaign contributions from out of state donors, do you think your sham investigation and report is more or less credible?

    When I heard you were in charge of this group I had high hopes for criminal prosecutions as did you. Now I understand that you have been “influenced” to change the investigation to suit the client. Here I thought We the People were the client. I guess we all have our price.

    This is one less vote you will have in the future. It probably matters little since I am an Iowa citizen and not an out of state entity who has deeper pockets. Shame on you.

  9. Elliot X

    Now that this corruption story has reached the level of Rolling Stone and Naked Capitalism, it’s time for damage control. Time for that courageous investigative journalist known as Ezra Klein to step in and assure the public: “Nothing to see here, folks, let’s move along”.

  10. john

    I had a potential client from Columbia several years ago who’s largest surprise about doing “business” with the government here was how inexpensive it was.

    Miller is an astonishingly cheap “investment”.

    1. sheenyglass

      Seriously. Its shocking how little money it takes to influence politicians. I think its because campaign finance restrictions limiting donation amounts create incentives to 1) sell out to as many people as possible and 2) provide a de facto bribe cap.

      Sometimes I wonder if we would be better off lifting the donation limits to force the plutocrats to pay fair market value for their politicians. At least then they would suffer some wallet-pain for it…

    2. curlydan

      I don’t give investment advice except to say “do the opposite of me–it works really well”, but I can confidently say that your best ROI long-term if you’re a business owner is to give money to a politician.

  11. john

    I wonder where he’ll work when he decides he needs to spend more time with his family? And which firms in Des Moines are benefiting from the influx, as well.

  12. kravitz

    I believe the line went something like “Tom, we know what you are. We just have to agree on a price.” Can’t recall the movie…

    1. DownSouth

      Was it this one?

      “Best joke about prostitution ever done was by Bernard Shaw. He was at a party once and he told this woman that everyone would agree to do anything for money, if the price was high enough. `Surely not, she said.’ `Oh yes,’ he said. `Well, I wouldn’t,’ she said. `Oh yes you would,’ he said. `For instance,’ he said, `would you sleep with me for… for a million pounds?’ `Well,’ she said, `maybe for a million I would, yes.’ `Would you do it for ten shillings?’ said Bernard Shaw. `Certainly not!’ said the woman `What do you take me for? A prostitute?’ `We’ve established that already,’ said Bernard Shaw. `We’re just trying to fix your price now!’ “

      1. craazyman

        You Might Need a Lawyer After This One

        I don’t know.

        What if she just layed down on the bed in her street clothes, fell asleep, got up in the morning, and left.

        Easy money. Easier even than being a bankster, and no violation of contract. :)

    1. NOTaREALmerican

      Re: We must come to the realization that some of our countrymen are pond scum.

      All societies have some percentage of smart sociopaths. The trick WAS to keep them from investing the government. Unfortunately, when you make the government worth infesting there’s no way to keep them away.

      Hence, we’re doomed to rule by the sociopaths.

  13. desmoinesdem

    Good post–added to Bleeding Heartland’s piece on the Follow the Money report.

    However, I think some important context is missing here. First, Miller ran unopposed in 2006 and had only a token GOP opponent in 2002. Last year he had a strong challenger who out-raised him, so of course his fundraising was going to be a lot higher in 2010.

    Second, Miller got a fairly substantial amount of campaign donations from attorneys and law firms involved in mortgage-related litigation against major lenders. So he was getting money from both sides–not just those who would have wanted him to go easy on the big banks.

    1. monday1929

      Actually, it seems to explain the timing of his about-face. Initially he catered to the litigants against the banks, then the banks outbid the litigants. A chart and timeline of the contributions by each group, and his change of stance, could help a jury convict Tom Miller.

      1. DownSouth

        Monday1929 said: “Initially he catered to the litigants against the banks, then the banks outbid the litigants.”

        The U.S. is getting to be more and more like Mexico every day. What you describe is criminal justice Mexican style!

        In Mexico, if somebody hits you over the head and steals your wallet (or if you have somebody you don’t like and are willing to spend a little money and lie to make life hell for them), you have to pay the ministerio publico (MP or prosecutor), let’s say, 5000 pesos to get him motivated. But then if the perp outbids you, let’s say he will pay the MP 10,000 pesos, and you want your case prosecuted, then you have to up the bid to 15,000 pesos. So the victim and the perp get into what they call a subasta (auction or bidding war).

        In 2003 Mexico City retained the legal genius and former NY city mayor Rudolph Giuliani to tell them how to fix their corrupt criminal justice system. Giuliani recommended the city pay the MPs and the police a bonus for each perp they apprehended and processed. So then the police and MPs just went about arresting and prosecuting people for the most petty of offenses, or for no offense at all. In this system, which is still operative, those able and willing to pay the police and MP more than what the city pays are immediately set free.

        Much of this is explained in the documentary El Tunel which can be viewed online Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

        The prison scam is a little different in Mexico than it is in the U.S. As the article you cite points out, in the U.S. the mullet is the taxpayer. In Mexico the mullet is the prisoner and his family. Since the government only spends on average 130 pesos per day per prisoner, those who operate the prisons must shake down the prisoners and their families to make a “good living.” That part is explained in this documentary Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

        1. DownSouth


          The article about the prisons was not cited by you, but by Doug Terpstra down the thread.

  14. desmoinesdem

    Forgot to mention that I also suspect the Obama administration’s policy of always going easy on banks has influenced Miller’s negotiating posture more than Miller’s own campaign donations. Miller is not going to drive a hard bargain when everything else the president and Treasury Department have done screams, “No consequences for crooks in the financial sector.”

  15. Dave of Maryland

    This was an endemic problem in the Middle East. Israelis would bribe or otherwise blackmail their opponents in the West Bank, Egypt & Lebanon. Divide & conquer.

    After 30 years of corrupt & worthless governments, the result was the emergence of hard-line religious fundamentalists – the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in the West Bank & Gaza, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Religious fundamentalism was the rock that could not be bribed or blackmailed or corrupted. After a few more years, real leadership emerged in Lebanon & the Israelis haven’t slept soundly since.

    The results, in Lebanon, have been encouraging. So one solution, perhaps the only one, is to turn matters over to the fundamentalists. We have our own home-grown sorts. Let ’em take over the Republican party. I’d vote for them in a heartbeat. They got weird views on evolution? How much money did evolution ever put in your pocket?

    1. DownSouth

      Dave of Maryland said: “Religious fundamentalism was the rock that could not be bribed or blackmailed or corrupted.”

      A similar phenomenon to what you describe happened in the city of Geneva in the 1500s. As the eminent religious scholar Alister McGrath explains:

      Events in the absence of Farel and Calvin had demonstrated the close interdependence of reformation and autonomy, of morals and morale. Although the city council was concerned primarily with the independence and morale of the city, the fact that Farel’s religious agenda could not be evaded gradually dawned. The pro-Farel party probably had little enthusiasm for religious reformation or the enforcement of public morals; nevertheless, it seemed that the survival of the Genevan republic hinged upon them.

      Calvinism was essential for the survival of the city. As David Sloan Wilson puts it:

      McGrath was suggesting that for the citizens of Geneva to have a strong morale, they must have a strong and unified sense of right and wrong. Like the much smaller hunter-gatherer groups described by Chris Boehm, they needed to be a moral community. That was evidently what the religion provided and that even a strong, democratically elected government lacked…

      Above all, the social practices specified by the Ecclesiastical Ordinances appeared designed to prevent the all-important problem of cheating from within. Martin Bucer, another Protestant reformer and contemporary of Calvin, put it this way: “Where there is no discipline and excommunication, there is no Christian community.” My translation: if you can’t get rid of cheating by excluding the behavior (discipline) or the person if necessary (excommunication), you can forget about creating a cooperative society.

      But even though you get some of the facts straight, yours is a partial truth. You conclude:

      So one solution, perhaps the only one, is to turn matters over to the fundamentalists. We have our own home-grown sorts. Let ‘em take over the Republican party. I’d vote for them in a heartbeat.

      The evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt, writing in The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, gives a much more nuanced, and complete, presentation of the facts than you do:

      When it [the virtue hypothesis] is evaluated in the way that Ben Franklin meant it, as a claim about virtue more broadly, it becomes so profoundly true that it raises the question of whether cultural conservatives are correct in their critique of modern life and its restricted, permissive morality. Should we in the West try to return to a more virtue-based morality?

      …Durkheim, the sociologist who found that freedom from social ties is correlated with suicide also gave us the word “anomie” (normlessness). Anomie is the condition of a society in which there are no clear rules, norms, or standards of value. In an anomic society, people can do as they please; but without any clear standards or respected social institutions to enforce those standards, it is harder for people to find things they want to do. Anomie breeds feelings of rootlessness and anxiety and leads to an increase of amoral and antisocial behavior. Modern sociological research strongly supports Durkheim…

      My colleague at the University of Virginia, the sociologist James Hunter, carries Durkheim’s ideas forward into the current debate about character education. In his provocative book “The Death of Character,” Hunter traces out how America lost its older ideas about virtue and character…

      I believe Hunter’s analysis is correct, but I am not yet convinced that we are worse off, overall, with our restricted modern morality. One thing that often distresses me in old movies and television programs, even up through the 1960s, is how limited were the lives of women and African Americans. We have paid a price for our inclusiveness, but we have bought ourselves a more humane society, with greater opportunity for racial minorities, women, gay people, the handicapped, and others—-that is, for most people. And even if some people think the price was too steep, we can’t go back, either to a pre-consumer society or to ethnically homogenous enclaves. All we can do is search for ways that we might reduce our anomie without excluding large classes of people….

      For many liberals, diversity has become an unquestionable good—-like justice, freedom, and happiness, the more diversity, the better.

      My research on morality, however, spurred me to question it. Given how easy it is to divide people into hostile groups based on trivial differences, I wondered whether celebrating diversity might also encourage division, whereas celebrating commonality would help people form cohesive groups and communities. I quickly realized that there are two main kinds of diversity—-demographic and moral. Demographic diversity is about socio-demographic categories such as race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, age, and handicapped status. Calling for demographic diversity is in large measure calling for justice, for the inclusion of previously excluded groups. Moral diversity, on the other hand, is essentially what Durkheim described as anomie: a lack of consensus on moral norms and values. Once you make this distinction, you see that nobody can coherently even want moral diversity. If you are pro-choice on the issue of abortion, would you prefer that there be a wide variety of opinions and no dominant one? Or would you prefer that everyone agree with you and the laws of the land reflect that agreement? If you prefer diversity on an issue, the issue is not a moral issue for you; it is a matter of personal taste…

      Conservatives want schools to teach lessons that will create a positive and uniquely American identity, including a heavy dose of American history and civics, using English as the only national language. Liberals are justifiably wary of jingoism, nationalism, and the focus on books by “dead white males,” but I think everyone who cares about education should remember that the American motto of e pluribus, unum (from many, one) has two parts. The celebration of pluribus should be balanced by policies that strengthen unum…

      Franklin may be right that leadership on virtue can never come from the major political actors; it will have to come from a movement of people, such as the people of a town who come together and agree to create moral coherence across the many areas of children’s lives. Such movements are happening now. The developmental psychologist William Damon calls them “youth charter” movements, for they involve the cooperation of all parties to childrearing—-parents, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, and the children themselves—-who come to consensus on a “character” describing the community’s shared understandings, obligations, and values and committing all parties to expect and uphold the same high standards of behavior in all settings. Maybe youth charter communities can’t rival the moral richness of ancient Athens, but they are doing something to reduce their own anomie while far exceeding Athens in justice.

      Are Americans so far gone that they cannot even agree on values that are almost universally shared by all cultures throughout the world, such as honesty, justice, courage, benevolence, self-restraint, loyalty and respect for authority? Is it necessary to sacrifice justice in order to achieve other virtues, as the resort to fundamentalism you urge would entail?

      I personally like what Michael Allen Gillespie had to say on the subject:

      Natural necessity, chance and contingency, subconscious passions and drives, the structure of economic and political life, and many other factors determine us in ways we do not understand and cannot ultimately control. At our best and most courageous, we confront the questions this world poses and in our own limited ways seek to answer them. This quest, however, is not without its dangers. Questions disrupt and unsettle our lives and we are often all too ready to accept partial truths and gross simplifications to escape from their perplexity. The tragedies of our own century have taught us, however, that it is better to suffer the anxiety that questions engender than to give overhasty answers to them. With these difficulties and dangers in mind, we must still attempt to give at least tentative answers to the perplexing questions that punctuate our existence.

  16. Frank

    This should not be a surprise. Go to downtown Des Moines Iowa and you will see where Wells Fargo and countless other finance, insurance and credit card companies are located. The reason for there location in Iowa is because the regulation is so company friendly, lax regulation and anti-consumer bias.

    All the bad actor annuity insurance companies domicile there. It is astounding to see all the new high rises dominated by consumer finance companies. Once you are there it becomes quite apparent why they locate in Iowa and it is not the workforce.

  17. Hugh

    A two-tiered justice system is just an aspect of capitalistic feudalism, one law for the lords and another for the serfs.

    There are 2 1/2 million Americans behind bars. We have 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its prisoners. Incarceration in this country is a form of social repression and control. It is a natural outgrowth of class war. Ask yourself are Americans inherently more lawless than the rest of the world? If we are such a great country with great ideals how come so many of us get locked up? Would we have such a large prison population if we lived in a fairer society with much less wealth inequality in it?

  18. Doug Terpstra

    “If we are such a great country with great ideals how come so many of us get locked up?”

    Well, of course you know this, but in a culture of rigged market cannibalism, prisons are profitable. It’s the neo-slavery of neoliberalism, which may now have reached its own bubble proportions. From

    “The private prison industry feeling the fiscal pinch”—

    “Well even the prison industry is feeling the pinch of America’s budget crisis. Is seems there are not enough bodies for the bunks. We have the largest prison population in the world, and where corporations see an opportunity to make money they’re going to grab it, but the corporations never figured on the fact that they would have to deal with a declining prison population. Hell, between kickbacks and illegal aliens the future looked rosy as hell for the for profit prison industry. ‘When you put the profit motive into a private jail, by design, in order to increase your dollars, your revenues, your profits, you need more folks in there and they need to stay longer,’ says Bill Magers, mayor of the county seat of Sherman, a leading opponent. ‘This is an industry that simply deals with human beings as a commodity, to be bought, sold and traded. Slavery still exists in this country, they’ve just changed the name to “penal system.”‘”

    A scary thought. Apparently the for-profit prisons now have excess capacity; empty holds in the new slave ships for many more of us and that doesn’t include the reported empty FEMA prison camps.

    Nature abhors a vacuum, as do robber barons, so in Arizona, the private prison industry, Corrections Corporation of America, helped write the cruel “show me your papers” immigration law AZ-SB-1070 and supports Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s brown roundup campaign to empty fill cots.

    From NPR October 2010: “Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law”

    1. DownSouth

      Great stuff, Doug.

      I loved this quote from Michael Huff, the ALEC spokesman:

      ALEC is the conservative, free market oriented, limited government group. That’s why we’re in existence.

      That just about says it all. They’re for limited governemnt, free market, laissez faire, etc., unless it has to do with the security state, and then all of a sudden they’re conservative.

      When it comes to expanding the security state, BIG government is swell, and money is no object.

      What these people are is 24 kt. hypocrites.

      1. Doug Terpstra

        “24 kt. hypocrites” indeed, or as my father-in-law calls them, “putos desvergonzados” (shameless whores). This mercenary spirit, which has so thoroughly infected the “top” of American culture otherwise so obsessively prudish about superficial morality, is like a madness or dementia that is brilliant but utterly incapable of self-awareness, unable to recognize its own shadow.

    1. DownSouth

      From the story you linked:

      Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller dismissed a recent report on his 2010 campaign contributions from those involved in the banking industry, calling it “false and misleading at its core.”

      Yep. The reason Miller is being attacked is because he is such arch enemy of the banksters.

      I think it’s important to understand that if we didn’t have the nitty gritty from Yves about how Miller has become a handmaiden of the banking industry, it would be pretty easy for us to buy into this load of BS.

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