You Can Take That To The Bank.

That used to be a statement of certainty. Americans once considered the bank a place of safety for their money; an island of certainty in an uncertain world. No longer. With the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999, banks have become little more than high-end casinos – only casinos have some semblance of integrity.

When banks lost their high-stakes bets in 2008, they collapsed our economy. And, in an act of unparalleled hubris, they turned to taxpayers to help them avoid bankruptcy. Instead of paying a significant price for their wantonness, the “too-big-to-fail” banks continued with business as usual, even continuing to pay their executives six and seven-figure bonuses. Meanwhile, other Americans slogged through the greatest recession in history, losing as much as $7 trillion through a combination of home foreclosures, lost salaries, lost interest and lost pensions.

And who made off with most of that money? Why Wall Street, of course.

Given their recent history, one would expect that at least some of the bankers who caused the problems would have been convicted of crimes. They weren’t. Instead, they have continued to profit. Worse, they have continued to game the system. They continue to oppose the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. They continue to oppose the Consumer Protection Agency. And they continue to gamble with your money.

In fact, since the banking collapse of 2008, bankers seem to have upped their game; engaging in numerous financial scams and committing outright crimes. To wit: UBS paid $2.3 billion in fines when it was discovered that one of its traders hid €5 billion in losses. Wells Fargo paid $175 million to settle accusations that it discriminated against African-Americans and Hispanic borrowers. JPMorgan Chase gambled $2 billion and lost nearly $6 billion. Barclays paid $450 million to settle charges that it manipulated LIBOR, the global interest rate, and UBS paid $1.5 billion to settle similar charges. USBC paid $1.9 billion to settle a money laundering probe. And Barclays was recently fined £284,432,000 for its role in rigging the foreign exchange market.

Though the banks have admitted to felonies and paid billions in fines, they have yet to pay any real penalty. As far as I can tell, only two bankers have gone to jail. And the rest are unrepentant. Indeed, a recent poll of Wall Street traders found that a significant percentage would be willing to commit a crime if it resulted in a payback of $10 million. (Keep in mind that, on Wall Street, $10 million is chump change.)

But instead of cracking down on the banksters, a GOP-controlled Congress seems determined to deregulate Wall Street. (They know who butters their bread or, more precisely, makes the majority of their campaign contributions.) So you don’t have to be a financial expert to know that there will be many more scandals to come.

You can take that to the bank…er…mattress…or whatever.

Whatever Happened To Sportsmanship?

Tom Brady’s involvement in Deflategate is further evidence of the decline of sports. At their best, sports teach the benefits of teamwork, hard work, determination, fairness and sportsmanship. But over the years, those attributes have been replaced by the effects of money and swollen egos. Witness the seeming indifference by the New England Patriots when caught spying on practices of opposing teams and Tom Brady’s ridicule of those who have suggested that manipulating the air pressure in footballs gave him an unfair advantage.

Unfortunately, Brady and the Patriots are not alone. When it was discovered that an Auburn University booster paid Cam Newton’s father at least $100,000 to influence his son to attend the school, no punishment was meted out to either the quarterback or the university. When it was determined that a Big 10 basketball program had broken NCAA recruiting rules, the fans howled with righteous indignation that “everybody does the same thing.” When Heisman Trophy winner, Reggie Bush, was found to have received thousands in cash to attend USC, he faced no greater penalty than volunteering to return his Heisman Trophy but the school was banned from post-season play for two years. And when Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston was accused of raping a Florida State student, he not only continued to play for the university. He was rewarded by becoming the NFL’s number one draft choice.

In the NBA, it was well-known that the league had two sets of rules: those for Michael Jordan and those for everybody else. An NBA official was found to have influenced the outcome of a playoff game. He was fired and paid a price. But the entire affair was quickly swept under the rug.

Cheating in sports has become so commonplace that fans of the self-proclaimed nation’s best collegiate football league, the SEC, brag “If you’re not cheating, you’re not really trying.”

It hasn’t always been this way.

When “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and the Chicago White Sox were believed to have thrown the World Series, he and several of his teammates were banned from baseball even though there was little evidence of their transgressions. Pete Rose was banned from baseball and the Hall of Fame when it was found that he had bet on other Major League games, even though there was no evidence that he bet on his own games. But, today, it seems the only sports figures held accountable for breaking the rules are children. This past year, Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team was stripped of its Little League title when it was determined that it had fielded players from outside its designated area.

Shouldn’t today’s collegiate and pro sports figures be held to the same standard?

If it’s serious about protecting the integrity of the league (or, more accurately, establishing some semblance of integrity), the NFL should ban Tom Brady from participation for at least a year. And given the fact that the New England Patriots have been involved in multiple cheating scandals, the NFL should ban the franchise from the playoffs for at least a year. It doesn’t matter that the Patriots almost certainly would have defeated the Colts with properly inflated footballs anyway. How many times have Brady and the Patriots used under-inflated footballs in the past? How many close games have the Patriots won as the result of their cheating? Isn’t that the point? No one knows but Brady and his staff of “deflaters.”

The misguided belief that all teams cheat is no excuse for Brady’s behavior. Not all teams or players cheat. And allowing behavior such as Brady’s only cheapens sports. Severe penalties are the only way to ensure the fairness of sports that are awash in billions of dollars. But I don’t expect the NFL to impose such penalties. It is far more likely that the NFL will suspend Brady for a game or two and fine him a relatively insignificant amount of money if, indeed, it penalizes him at all.

That would be a shame. Without rules, sports are little more than entertainment…and not very good entertainment at that.

America’s Biggest Losers.

Texans have always been proud of their state’s size and independence as clearly expressed in the tourism slogan: ” It’s like a whole other country.”

Since the territory was annexed from Mexico, Texans have seemed to deny their relationship to the US, proudly referring to their state as “The great republic of Texas.” In 1861, the state declared its secession from the US and joined the Confederate States of America which fought to maintain slavery. More recently, former Texas governor and wannabe US president, Rick Perry, again raised the possibility of secession after an African-American was elected president.

Obviously, the state has not fully embraced the notion of statehood, except when there is an obvious economic benefit, such as lucrative oil and gas subsidies, the deployment of US Border Patrol agents to stem the immigration of Mexicans into their former colony, or the construction of military bases within its borders. In fact, many Texans seem to view the US in the same way they viewed their former landlords. They want the benefits of statehood, they want to control the land and all of its resources. But they refuse to acknowledge national supremacy when it comes to obeying laws and paying taxes.

These attitudes have never been more apparent than now.

You see, recently, the US Department of Defense announced a coordinated training exercise involving government troops stationed in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Utah. The training exercise, called Jade Helm 15, is not the first such exercise to be held in Texas. But it is the first to be held with an African-American occupying the White House. So, not too surprisingly, the right-wing conspiracy theories have run wild. A number of Texans have become convinced that the US military is coming to take away Texas’ freedom; that US troops are coming for their guns; that US troops are going to enslave Texans on behalf of the United Nations.

Not even public meetings with military leaders could dissuade Texans from their batcrap crazy notions. The racist conspiracy theorists openly accused the leaders of trying to sell them a pack of lies. Given such lunacy, one would think the state’s top office-holder would step in and reassure his constituents.

Of course, he did.

But instead of bringing some sanity to the situation, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that he was ordering the Texas National Guard to “monitor” the military exercises saying, “During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.”

This is going to be fun!

So the branches of the US military, with all of their weaponry are going to be “monitored” by the weekend warriors of the Texas National Guard? And, if it is determined that the constitutional rights of Texans are in danger of being infringed, the Guard is going to act. But who determines those rights are in danger? The governor? The lead conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones? The Texas Tea Party rabble? Are we to believe that the many loyal Texans in the military are going to willingly enslave their friends and neighbors? And if they try, do the Texas lunatics think their Guard is so powerful that it can defeat the world’s most powerful military?

The slogan says that Texas is “like a whole other country.” That is certainly true. But many of its residents seem to be from a whole other planet!