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A Tale of Two Citis

Despite several requests from Citi’s public-affairs department, Andrew Cockburn and the editors of Harper’s refused to discuss Mr. Cockburn’s article [“Saving the Whale, Again,” Letter from Washington, April] with anyone at Citi. The reporter made no attempt to understand the institution Citi is today or how it has changed since the financial crisis.

By virtually any measure, Citi is a stronger, safer, and smaller company than it was before the crisis or immediately following it. Our capital far exceeds pre-crisis levels and is now among the strongest in the industry. We currently employ 241,000 people, down from a peak of 375,000. Our balance sheet is smaller, with higher-quality investments. Assets in Citi Holdings once topped $700 billion — they are now below $100 billion. We’ve also reduced the number of our legal entities. In short, today’s Citi is not the bank that entered, endured, or emerged from the financial crisis. It’s a fundamentally very different firm.

Ed Skyler
Executive Vice President for Global Public Affairs, Citigroup
New York City


Andrew Cockburn responds:

It is gratifying that Citi does not dispute a single fact in my article. On the other hand, Mr. Skyler’s assertion that we “refused to discuss the article with anyone at Citi” is incorrect. We checked numerous points of fact with his staff, and they were not unhelpful.

As for Mr. Skyler’s insistence that a whole new Citigroup has emerged subsequent to the financial crisis, I am curious about when that happy transition occurred. It couldn’t have been in March 2011, when Sherry Hunt drew management’s attention to the fraudulent loans moving through their mortgage unit, since her information was totally ignored. Perhaps it took place in February of the following year, after the bank paid $158.3 million and admitted wrongdoing in settlement of the federal charges lodged on the basis of Hunt’s information. Or maybe it followed the scandals at Citi’s Banamex subsidiary in Mexico — which occurred during the past two years, under the current management’s watch.

Citi has indeed cut back its consumer business, as I noted in my article. It hopes to reap profit from proprietary trading, as evidenced by its enormous derivatives portfolio. To this end, its Washington lobbyists rammed an amendment through a complaisant Congress last December, permitting it and other banks to gamble with depositors’ money, just as it had orchestrated the repeal of Glass–Steagall during the Clinton era, with disastrous consequences. Old habits clearly die hard.


Hazed and Abused

Perhaps high schools deserve to be abolished, but not because, as Rebecca Solnit writes, they subject adolescents to rape, suicide, bullying, and misery [“Abolish High School,” Easy Chair, April].

Just 12 percent of 14,000 high school students surveyed in 2012 said that they were dissatisfied with school, and only 3 percent reported being “completely dissatisfied.” The Centers for Disease Control counts about 2,300 suicides among teenagers in 2013 (not 4,600, as Solnit writes). Meanwhile, suicide rates among Americans aged thirty to fifty-nine — the parents — are three to four times higher. If high schools must join a “list of hate groups” because 28 percent of students report being bullied, then what about adult workplaces, where 35 percent are bullied?

As for the accusation that schools are homophobic, a major survey found that older people in Massachusetts, the most gay-friendly state, support gay marriage at rates lower than younger people in Alabama, the state least friendly to gays — hardly “a less hostile adult world.” A survey of young gay men found that drug abuse, alcoholic parents, and sexual coercion lead to higher rates of suicide than bullying does.

Solnit collectively blames all young males for two rapes in Florida and Ohio, where authorities see a daily average of 21 cases of adult-perpetrated sexual abuse against children and teens. Hundreds of thousands of youths were abused by parents and caretakers in 2013. Solnit’s personal anecdotes, quips, and selective “statistics” only serve to demean adolescents.

Mike Males
Senior researcher,
Oklahoma City, Okla.


The pedestrian moral panic Rebecca Solnit exhibits obscures her one constructive point in a decidedly anti-youth screed: that younger generations should be more integrated throughout our culture rather than remanded to institutional age segregation for years on end. Adult-dominated political, business, academic, and media regimes are much more responsible for enforcing stultifying conformity on youth. Rather than creating multi-aged environments to dilute the negative consequences of the current high school system, as Solnit argues, we should invite adolescents into positions of leadership and power.

Anthony Bernier
Associate Professor, San Jose State University
San Jose, Calif.


Rebecca Solnit responds:

Anyone reading my essay with a clear mind would see that it advocates for adolescents and empathizes with their suffering. Mr. Males claims that my argument is based on “anecdotes, quips, and selective ‘statistics.’ ” Personal anecdotes belong in essays, and mine also cites scholars, studies, and statistics — not “statistics” — including the annual number of youth suicides. (The 4,600 I referred to included victims in their early twenties, and should not have been labeled “teen” suicides. I regret that error.)

Mr. Males writes, “Solnit collectively blames all young males for two rapes in Florida and Ohio” — but that’s the hallucinatory stuff of men’s-rights-movement rants. The claims that I “demean adolescents” and am “anti-youth” miss the quite obvious point that the misery of high school is caused by adults and their systems as well as by peers.

High schools are shaped by many factors, including educational policy, social convention, teachers, administrators, and students — and no two schools are alike. But thousands of high schoolers take their lives each year, far more attempt suicide, and a 2011 study demonstrated that youth-suicide rates drop meaningfully when school is not in session. Many people report that their experience of high school was or is hell, and substantial research backs up that conclusion.

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June 2015

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