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12/25/2013 | Zero Hedge
While one may criticize now-ex CFTC commissioner Bart Chilton for years and years of sound and fury signifying nothing, countless promises of regulatory enforcement (all of which fell short of the target) and finally putting an end to precious metals manipulation only for the world to discover that while every other asset class is manipulated (involving such individuals as JPM's chief currency dealer), gold and silver are exempt, one must admit the former regulator does have a way wtih words (and of course haircuts). Sure enough, Chilton's most memorable parting gift will not be something he did, but rather what he said.
William Cohan memorializes his parting message: "As we long suspected, Wall Street continues to use every trick in its playbook to do whatever it can to eviscerate numerous post-financial-crisis rules. The arsenal includes high-powered lobbyists who outnumber lawmakers 10-to-1; $1,000-an-hour letter-writing lawyers who gain strength from negotiating over arcana; and the occasional hoodwinking of a president whose knowledge of the ways of finance are close to nil."
Chilton's take home message: “The lesson for me is: The financial sector is so powerful that they will roll things back over time,” Chilton says. “The Wall Street firms have tremendous influence, and they can impact policy to a greater degree than any one regulator or a small group of regulators can.”
Well, one sure can't say that those 30 years he spent in Washington of which nearly 7 years at the CFTC were lost on the Alexander Godunov lookalike: at least he figured out who runs the show. Of course, finding a way how to prevent the financial sector from being in charge, i.e., doing his job, would have been preferable, but close enough for government work.
What are Chilton's other laments? Why being underfunded of course. Because if the CFTC only had more money, all would have been fixed.
In fiscal 2013, for example, the CFTC requested funding of $308 million and got only $195 million ($10 million less than the previous year) despite many new responsibilities. “There are crooks who are getting away with crimes because we don’t have the resources to go after them,” Chilton says. The SEC has a similar discrepancy between its appropriation and what it needs to fulfill legal mandates.
With its regulators overwhelmed and underfunded, Wall Street firms then move to the relentless negotiation stage. “As you try to deal with the regulatory agency,” he says of Wall Street, “the first thing you do is you say, ‘Well, would you exempt us?’ And when that doesn’t work, you try to ameliorate your regulation.” If that strategy fails, the industry defaults to litigation.
Sounds like the generic justification anyone would make for failing at their job. But it could be just us.
Some more deep thoughts from Bart Chilton:
Chilton said he has noticed one additional tactic that Wall Street has been employing lately: stalling or thwarting nominees to regulatory agencies. The nomination of Timothy Massad, the U.S. Treasury Department official who managed the Troubled Asset Relief Program, to replace Gary Gensler as CFTC chairman came late in the year and a confirmation vote has now been delayed, probably to February 2014. That means further Dodd-Frank rule-writing and enforcement could be delayed, too, because only two of five commissioners will be seated and they would both have to agree to get anything done. “It’s a gift to Wall Street,” he said. “This is what they’ve been trying to do. They’ve been trying to stop Dodd-Frank.”
Chilton knows why Wall Street always seems to win. Financial-industry executives contribute more money “in every election, than any other sector, and they have made more profits in every single quarter since the fall of 2008 when many of them helped crash the economy,” he explains. “So while the rest of the nation is suffering still, and trying to get a leg up to get out of the ditch, the financial sector didn’t miss a beat.”
In case you didn’t catch Chilton’s meaning, here is the shorter version: Unless and until Wall Street’s disproportionate ability to bully Washington is curtailed, the rest of us will be held hostage to its agenda. For those interested in the fuller version, Chilton has been writing a book. Its working title: “Theft.”
Oh, we caught Chilton's meaning all right. What we are more interested in is how long after Theft is a monetary failure will the silver-haired regulator apply for a job at Goldman, JPMorgan or Citi. Because one thing we have learned observing Washington apparatchiks, is that in addition to sharing deep thoughts on occasions (if unmatched by actions), hypocrisy also happens to be a recurring theme.
For those who yearn for one last dose of Chilton's deep thoughts, here is his most recent speech, "The Boss", appropriately enough before the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, New York City. After all, the man has to get in with the publishing lobby next.
Dec 17, 2013 | Economist's View
Could it really be that no fraud was committed prior to the Great Recession? It's unlikely:The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?, by Jed S. Rakoff, NYRB: Five years have passed since the onset of what is sometimes called the Great Recession. While the economy has slowly improved, there are still millions of Americans leading lives of quiet desperation: without jobs, without resources, without hope.Who was to blame? Was it simply a result of negligence, of the kind of inordinate risk-taking commonly called a “bubble,” of an imprudent but innocent failure to maintain adequate reserves for a rainy day? Or was it the result, at least in part, of fraudulent practices, of dubious mortgages portrayed as sound risks and packaged into ever more esoteric financial instruments, the fundamental weaknesses of which were intentionally obscured?If it was the former—if the recession was due, at worst, to a lack of caution—then the criminal law has no role to play in the aftermath. ... If the Great Recession was in no part the handiwork of intentionally fraudulent practices by high-level executives, then to prosecute such executives criminally would be “scapegoating” of the most shallow and despicable kind.But if, by contrast, the Great Recession was in material part the product of intentional fraud, the failure to prosecute those responsible must be judged one of the more egregious failures of the criminal justice system in many years. Indeed, it would stand in striking contrast to the increased success that federal prosecutors have had over the past fifty years..., Michael Milken..., the so-called savings-and-loan crisis, which again had some eerie parallels to more recent events, resulted in the successful criminal prosecution of more than eight hundred individuals, right up to Charles Keating. And again, the widespread accounting frauds of the 1990s, most vividly represented by Enron and WorldCom, led directly to the successful prosecution of such previously respected CEOs as Jeffrey Skilling and Bernie Ebbers.In striking contrast with these past prosecutions, not a single high-level executive has been successfully prosecuted in connection with the recent financial crisis, and given the fact that most of the relevant criminal provisions are governed by a five-year statute of limitations, it appears likely that none will be. It may not be too soon, therefore, to ask why.One possibility, already mentioned, is that no fraud was committed. This possibility should not be discounted. ... For example, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, in its final report, uses variants of the word “fraud” no fewer than 157 times in describing what led to the crisis, concluding that there was a “systemic breakdown,” not just in accountability, but also in ethical behavior. ...[continue]...Charlie Baker
It's the second biggest failure of the Obama administration. Can't blame anyone else.
Some banks have become too big to prosecute, attorney general says
March 07, 2013 | LA Times
In remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder suggested that prior attempts at going after major banks and other financial institutions were hampered by their size, which has an "inhibiting influence on our ability to bring resolutions," reported the Hill, a newspaper covering Congress.
"I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy," he said. "I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large."
Frontline Gets Its Man: Lanny Breuer Leaves DOJ After Exposé
Posted by MARY BOTTARI on January 24, 2013
FRONTLINE: You gave a speech before the New York Bar Association. You talked about your use of nonprosecution and deferred prosecution agreements. And in that speech, you made a reference to "losing sleep at night over worrying about what a lawsuit might result in at a large financial institution." Is that really the job of a prosecutor, to worry about anything other than simply pursuing justice?
BREUER: I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against institution A, and as a result of bringing that case there's some huge economic effect, it affects the economy so that employees who had nothing to do with the wrongdoing of the company... If it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly, it's a factor we need to know and understand.
Cynthia -> Charlie Baker...
The oath of office should determine whether you prosecute or not.
Failure to prosecute the criminals only means that the negative effect the criminals are already having on the economy will continue.
The argument that the economy will be harmed by prosecuting is like saying the neighborhood won't get Thanksgiving turkeys from the drug dealer if he's put in jail.
EMichael -> Cynthia...
Course, there is that small matter of every single large investment bank in the world going under, and the effects.
Cynthia -> EMichael...
The banks are too large for us to handle, but we can go after whole nations and countries and take them over. There's no logic in this, so there can't possibly be any truth in it either.
EMichael -> Cynthia...
Let me know what countries we have successfully taken over. Not that I agree remotely with our foreign policy, but you are making a comparison that is beyond silly.
The collapse of the world banking system would have directly affected every single American(not to mention most of the rest of the people in the civilized world).
Now I would certainly listen to people who claim this effect would have been short lived and result in a better banking system. But to think it would not have happened is silly.
Cynthia -> EMichael...
Banks, like most other companies, have assets. The idea that if a bank were to go broke that it would bring down the system is a lie to con people into signing off on taxpayer bailouts. True, some steps would need to be taken to prevent a panic, but that could be handled. Those assets would be purchased by someone else - the bank would get a new name on the wall and the stockholders, bondholders and perhaps even some depositors would lose some or all of their money, but they should. To ask taxpayers to bail out failed institutions of any kind is a gross distortion of capitalism and cannot be sustained. Even worse, the fear of a bankruptcy can be used as cover for not being responsible for bad decision, and perhaps even criminal activity. Not fair for depositors, you may ask? Well, if depositors held their banks accountable for bad decisions, or something worse like criminal activity, you can bet things would shape up very quickly.
supersaurus -> EMichael...
do you really believe that if, say, one bank executive from a big financial institution and the chain of subordinates down to the guy on the telephone were prosecuted the assets would evaporate and the bank would collapse into a heap of dust?
personally I suspect that a single bank VP going to jail would produce a very salutary effect on conduct if bank management everywhere were made to believe the same sword was hanging over their necks.
Does no one pay attention to Bill Black?
Cynthia -> Jacob Lee...
Every time I listen to Bill Black, or read one of his articles, I come away with a clearer and deeper understanding of what is going on, and what has been going on, in the workings of the banking system and its relationship to our government. He has a tremendous ability to cut through layers of complexity.
It appears to me that the only way to win in this game is to not play. While we cannot completely separate from the system, there are ways of limiting our contact with it. Get rid of credit cards. Try not to borrow money. Pay down or pay off whatever debt you have. Do your banking through a credit union. Hold investments that do not require participation in the markets. Have a pantry supply of staples to fight inflation and protect against unexpected disruptions. Grow food. Seek the items you need through secondhand and thrift shops, or from small local merchants, or small producers on-line. Unplug from the two hundred channels of advertisements on cable or dish TV. The fewer contacts you have with the banking, Wall Street, and the artificially created consumption worlds, the less control they will have on your life.
This piece is a disappointing whitewash. After aptly disposing of some unconvincing excuses, and just when the trail gets hot, Rakoff peremptorily dismisses the path toward the most obvious answers out of hand:
"At the outset, however, let me say that I completely discount the argument sometimes made that no such prosecutions have been brought because the top prosecutors were often people who previously represented the financial institutions in question and/or were people who expected to be representing such institutions in the future: the so-called “revolving door.” In my experience, most federal prosecutors, at every level, are seeking to make a name for themselves, and the best way to do that is by prosecuting some high-level person."
The Justice Department is not run by a ragtag gang of free agent prosecutors pursuing fame and notoriety on their own. It is run by politically appointed officials who establish policies that there employees are to follow in the pursuit or non-pursuit of cases.
When historians look back on the era and attempt to answer the same question Rakoff poses, the very first and most obvious hypothesis they will entertain is that the answer to the question is "corruption". That is *always* the most probable prima facie explanation whenever very rich and very powerful people are not prosecuted under the laws that seem to apply to their actions. It *might* not be the correct answer in any particular case, but it surely deserves more sustained attention then Rakoff seems willing to give it.
And there are many different kinds of corruption. There is the mean and individual kind of corruption that consists in individual government officials being paid directly, now or in the future via sinecures and salaries, for not doing their jobs. There is also the kind of corruption that consists in governmental duties not being performed because of personal friendships and blinded affections between the government officials and the private sector individuals whose behavior falls within the scope of those duties.
But then there are broader and more systemic forms of corruption: the kind of corruption, for example, that occurs when entire political parties, political operations and political networks become the investment projects of a relatively small group of plutocrats, who are therefore able to direct those political creatures to their own ends, in the way any owner-shareholders are able to direct the operations of an enterprise when the latter depends on the former for its capital.
EMichael -> Dan Kervick...
Yeah, he paints with a very broad brush every single possibility of "whodunit". The answer is in there somewhere only because he included every single actor in the entire process.
DrDick -> Dan Kervick...
I think another part of this problem is that the financial sector has worked very hard and invested massively in eliminating the regulations which would have criminalized their activities and making it prohibitively difficult to prosecute those it could not eliminate. Staffing oversight agencies with Wall Street executives does not help either.
Bill Black was a regulator with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board during the deregulated Savings & Loan era and is now a Law Professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He is the author of the book: The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One.
The FHLBB made 11,000 criminal referrals from their investigations. Remember this was the 1980's which was the beginning of the Great Deregulation or march back to Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Mellon Laissez Faire. About 839 S & L officers were convicted led by Charles Keating of Lincoln Savings and Loan. This means that 90% got away so the odds are good.
The Crash of September 2008 was 40 times larger than the S & L implosion where about 1,000 of 3,200 S & L's failed or were taken over.
The mortgage brokers and appraisers on the ground who wrote these subprime mortgages did not suddenly forget how to assess the quality of a borrower. These subprime mortgages were written because the Wall Street banks provided money to the mortgage brokers and did not care about the quality of the borrower because they were going to securitize them in bundles of Collateralized Debt Obligations and sell them aided by AAA ratings bought from Standard & Poor's and Moody's. These mortgages would not have been made by Mr. Potter or even George Bailey because they held the mortgages.
The process initiated by the Wall Street bank financing and including the mortgage brokers and appraisers as well as the ratings agencies would appear to come within the sweep of the Racketeer Influence Corrupt Organization Ace.
More is involved than revenge. Deterrence is a legitimate objective. Most of the Wall Street types were educated at Ivy League institutions where, if ethics, morals, or, the Golden Rule is taught in any business school, law school, or economics department, one is hard pressed to observe that based on wall Street conduct.
It has appeared to me that by 2005 or so the subprime CDO market was a racketeering enterprise.
I have neither the time or resources to prove this, but I have an 18 inch pile of books on the financial crisis and it seems like a good hypothesis to me.
Apparently not to DOJ.
Cynthia -> save_the_rustbelt...
Eric Holder is part of the criminal syndicate. Once the large bank execs go down, he goes with them. What is always on the front of his mind is this: "Pursuing bank execs will lead directly back to many like me. We're not going there."
save_the_rustbelt -> Cynthia...
Holder will go back to his large DC law firm and make a nice 7 figure paycheck for "rainmaking."
RW (the other):
Prosecution requires referrals and referrals require investigation and there was no investigation, at least at a level commensurate with the size and complexity of the crimes; e.g., hundreds of FBI agents were moved out of white collar crime units to anti-terrorism units after 9/11 but were never replaced.
The drive to deregulate was not just about laws and regulations, it was about vitiating and starving the agencies responsible for what little enforcement was left.
Bill Black was not the only one writing about this but it was all cries in the wilderness.
Nullification is the keyword, Sarbanes Oxley was completely ignored by the DOJ in this crisis. Its a wonder why they even passed that law.
One set of laws for you and me, and no laws for the elites. It's very simple.
One factor that was only passingly referred to was the systematic deprivation
of resources for enforcement by the Republicans.
The New York Review of Books
Actually, given the fact that these securities were bought and sold at lightning speed, it is by no means obvious that even a sophisticated counterparty would have detected the problems with the arcane, convoluted mortgage-backed derivatives they were being asked to purchase. But there is a more fundamental problem with the above-quoted statement from the former head of the Criminal Division, which is that it totally misstates the law. In actuality, in a criminal fraud case the government is never required to prove—ever—that one party to a transaction relied on the word of another. The reason, of course, is that that would give a crooked seller a license to lie whenever he was dealing with a sophisticated buyer. The law, however, says that society is harmed when a seller purposely lies about a material fact, even if the immediate purchaser does not rely on that particular fact, because such misrepresentations create problems for the market as a whole. And surely there never was a situation in which the sale of dubious mortgage-backed securities created more of a problem for the marketplace, and society as a whole, than in the recent financial crisis.
The third reason the department has sometimes given for not bringing these prosecutions is that to do so would itself harm the economy. Thus, Attorney General Eric Holder himself told Congress:
It does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute—if you do bring a criminal charge—it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.
To a federal judge, who takes an oath to apply the law equally to rich and to poor, this excuse—sometimes labeled the “too big to jail” excuse—is disturbing, frankly, in what it says about the department’s apparent disregard for equality under the law.
In fairness, however, Holder (who later claimed his comment was misconstrued) was referring to the prosecution of financial institutions, rather than their CEOs. Moreover, he might have also been influenced, as his department unquestionably was, by the adverse reaction to the Arthur Anderson case, where that accounting firm was forced out of business by a prosecution that was ultimately reversed on appeal. But if we are talking about prosecuting individuals, the excuse becomes entirely irrelevant; for no one that I know of has ever contended that a big financial institution would collapse if one or more of its high-level executives were prosecuted, as opposed to the institution itself.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has been battling the banks the last few weeks in an effort to get 60 votes lined up for bankruptcy reform. He's losing.
On Monday night in an interview with a radio host back home, he came to a stark conclusion: the banks own the Senate.
"And the banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place," he said on WJJG 1530 AM's "Mornings with Ray Hanania." Progress Illinois picked up the quote.
December 09, 2013 | Economist's View
Rusty:ilsm -> Rusty...
Logically, regulations benefit those that have a hand in creating them - politicians and lobbyists who represent entrenched business interests. Certainly politicians will try with at least lip service towards some equitable aim in the public interest, but they must work with the entrenched interests to achieve anything and to maintain power. So it makes sense that often regulations serve entrenched interests and thereby increase inequality.
I did some consulting work years ago in the transport industry (did an brief excursion from the military industry complex).
No DoT (FAA, Highways, pipelines, etc) regulation is allowed without support from the industry thus we see new regulations discussed after each transport related disaster.
Once a regulation is "set", policies for enforcement are devised by the responsible agency, which leads to plans for enforcement, then budgets. Budgets is where regulations are neutered by politicians who did not stop the regulations (keep the gumint off the back of the perps).
See last Sunday's train derailment, or any pipeline explosion.
I worry more about what happens during my colonoscopy, I am much more familiar with neglect in the aerospace world.
Deregulation is just one aspect of neoliberalism. And if we view deregulation though the prism of neoliberal ideology, I think international aspect of neoliberalism is very important and, unfortunately was neglected in the article. Also internally growth of neoliberal ideology parallels the growth of the national security state. In this sense the cornerstone events for deregulation were Truman's national security doctrine, JFK assassination, the collapse of the USSR and 9/11.
I don't think that the rise of neoliberalism was just a reaction of rich on "too strict" regulation of New Deal. This view can be called "the theory of revenge of financial elite." IMHO roots are deeper as neoliberalism is also an instrument of the US foreign policy and as such the main blow hit foreign nations, and only as a blowback the USA society ;-)
In the USA, while deregulation wave did exist since Reagan (or Carter) and did enormous damage, not all elements of neoliberal doctrine were implemented. For example growing external debt might be viewed as a semi-official policy of exploiting the status of the dollar as the world reserve currency to the bitter end ("After us deluge"), neoliberal theories be damned.
So while right-wing think tanks played an important role (especially turncoat Trotskyites in those tanks, such as James Burnham and Irving Kristol), fish rots from the head: it was the USA government, and first of all foreign policy establishment, that pushed neoliberal agenda as an export product for foreign nations.
BTW both Democratic and Republican administrations pushed it on foreign nations equally effectively. With democrats often doing the most dirty job (Clinton's economic rape of Russia is one well-documented example). Actually from 1990 till now neoliberalism is the cornerstone of the US foreign policy, viewed by other countries as super-aggressive, imperial ideology, displacing Marxism and National socialism.
On the other hand the internal "implementation" of neoliberalism might also be forced by the law of diminishing returns due to monopolization of most US industries, which hit the USA in 70th and coincided with the first oil crisis of 1973.
At this point the "profit sharing" with the US workers that the latter temporary enjoyed from, say 1941 to 1973 became impractical. In other words there was no longer enough sweets for all children. That's when corrupt hired-guns from Chicago school like Friedman became so valuable. Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom" (1962) is essentially the manifest of neoliberalism.
Also in 70th it became clear the USSR became a stagnant society that represent little, if any threat to the USA ("paper tiger" as our Chinese friends aptly noted). So the US hands were freed. That weakening of the USSR position probably indirectly led to Chile coup d'état of 1973, the year neoliberalism became official US foreign policy.
And in 1991 the main obstacle for enforcing neoliberal agenda on other nations -- the existence of the USSR -- disappeared. At this point Neoliberal ideology was enshrined as the economic orthodoxy and IMF became the tool for "shock therapy" of unsuspecting nations. This neocolonial approach based on pushing foreign load (which can't be repaid due to natural backflow of money to Western banks by corrupt government officials) and then dictating draconian condition (structural adjustments) for refinancing them. Conditions that open the country like a can for the US (and other Western) multinationals (aka "Washington Consensus".). That's an interesting way to exploit corruption in the third world, while officially fighting it.
“What is a cynic? A man who knows the price
of everything and the value of nothing."
Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan
Dec 09, 2013 | Jesse's Café Américain
I thought this article below was a striking, insightful and important set of observations from Robert Reich.
Rather than merely link to it, I thought an extended excerpt was appropriate, since it strikes to the heart of a key theme of this Café, the credibility trap that diminishes the reforms essential for a sustainable recovery by co-opting transparency and equal justice under the law, making the governing process both complicit and co-dependent with even the worst abuses and frauds of the monied interests.
Pam Martens has an interesting take on the Fed's role in this shifting of power to the unelected power brokers on Wall Street which you can read here.
I listen carefully to what Robert Reich has to say, and often find it to be well founded and thoughtful. But whenever I quote or link to something of his, it seems as though I get some comment about why I like that liberal. That comes, as so many others know, with the turf of managing a thought centered blog, but it helps to illustrate one of our key problems today. We cannot even speak to one another long enough to identify the problems, without resort to slogans, labels, and shouting.
It is too bad that so many are distracted, if not ensnared, in the well-crafted emotionalism and stage play of the left vs. right puppet show which is put forward in the headlines, while the looting of the nation by its ruling class proceeds virtually unimpeded and to almost everyone's detriment, except for an obscenely fortunate few. This is what the data shows, and the role of policy in this is almost unmistakable, except for those who are willfully blind.
Are there any remaining who would still, at this late date, consider Obama as a real progressive? By now he has been repeatedly shown as merely the less repugnant of two bad choices in which the 'liberal opposition' now resembles the corporate-friendly Republicans of only a couple decades ago. But as Richard Cobden is said to have observed, 'For every credibility gap there is a gullibility gap.'
You may read the entire, original piece here.JP Morgan Chase, the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act, and the Corruption of America
By Robert Reich
Sunday, December 8, 2013
The Justice Department has just obtained documents showing that JPMorgan Chase, Wall Street’s biggest bank, has been hiring the children of China’s ruling elite in order to secure “existing and potential business opportunities” from Chinese government-run companies.
“You all know I have always been a big believer of the Sons and Daughters program,” says one JP Morgan executive in an email, because “it almost has a linear relationship” to winning assignments to advise Chinese companies. The documents even include spreadsheets that list the bank’s “track record” for converting hires into business deals.
It’s a serious offense. But let’s get real. How different is bribing China’s “princelings,” as they’re called there, from Wall Street’s ongoing program of hiring departing U.S. Treasury officials, presumably in order to grease the wheels of official Washington? Timothy Geithner, Obama’s first Treasury Secretary, is now president of the private-equity firm Warburg Pincus; Obama’s budget director Peter Orszag is now a top executive at Citigroup.
Or, for that matter, how different is what JP Morgan did in China from Wall Street’s habit of hiring the children of powerful American politicians? (I don’t mean to suggest Chelsea Clinton got her hedge-fund job at Avenue Capital LLC, where she worked from 2006 to 2009, on the basis of anything other than her financial talents.)
And how much worse is JP Morgan’s putative offense in China than the torrent of money JP Morgan and every other major Wall Street bank is pouring into the campaign coffers of American politicians — making the Street one of the major backers of Democrats as well as Republicans?
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, under which JP Morgan could be indicted for the favors it has bestowed in China, is quite strict. It prohibits American companies from paying money or offering anything of value to foreign officials for the purpose of “securing any improper advantage.” Hiring one of their children can certainly qualify as a gift, even without any direct benefit to the official.
JP Morgan couldn’t even defend itself by arguing it didn’t make any particular deal or get any specific advantage as a result of the hires. Under the Act, the gift doesn’t have to be linked to any particular benefit to the American firm as long as it’s intended to generate an advantage its competitors don’t enjoy.
Compared to this, corruption of American officials is a breeze. Consider, for example, Countrywide Financial’s generous “Friends of Angelo” lending program, named after its chief executive, Angelo R. Mozilo, that gave discounted mortgages to influential members of Congress and their staffs before the housing bubble burst. No criminal or civil charges have ever been filed related to these loans...
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is important, and JP Morgan should be nailed for bribing Chinese officials. But, if you’ll pardon me for asking, why isn’t there a Domestic Corrupt Practices Act?
Never before has so much U.S. corporate and Wall-Street money poured into our nation’s capital, as well as into our state capitals. Never before have so many Washington officials taken jobs in corporations, lobbying firms, trade associations, and on the Street immediately after leaving office. Our democracy is drowning in big money.
Corruption is corruption, and bribery is bribery, in whatever country or language it’s transacted in.
December 09, 2013 | Economist's View
Thought I'd highlight this piece from today's links:What Obama Left Out of His Inequality Speech: Regulation, by Thomas McGarity, Commentary, NY Times: President Obama’s speech on inequality last Wednesday was important in several respects. He identified the threat to economic stability, social cohesion and democratic legitimacy posed by soaring inequality of income and wealth. He put to rest the myths that inequality is mostly a problem afflicting poor minorities, that expanding the economy and reducing inequality are conflicting goals, and that the government cannot do much about the matter.Mr. Obama also outlined several principles to expand opportunity: strengthening economic productivity and competitiveness; improving education, from prekindergarten to college access to vocational training; empowering workers through collective bargaining and antidiscrimination laws and a higher minimum wage; targeting aid at the communities hardest hit by economic change and the Great Recession; and repairing the social safety net.But there’s a crucial dimension the president left out: the revival, since the mid-1970s, of the laissez-faire ideology that prevailed in the Gilded Age, roughly the 1870s through the 1910s. It’s no coincidence that this laissez-faire revival — an all-out assault on government regulation — has unfolded over the very period in which inequality has soared to levels not seen since the Gilded Age. ...[continue]...
See here for more.
Logically, regulations benefit those that have a hand in creating them - politicians and lobbyists who represent entrenched business interests. Certainly politicians will try with at least lip service towards some equitable aim in the public interest, but they must work with the entrenched interests to achieve anything and to maintain power.
So it makes sense that often regulations serve entrenched interests and thereby increase inequality.
While the world of mainstream media stock pundits would like investors to believe that there is a wall of money on the sidelines waiting anxiously to go all-in on stocks (bear in mind there's a seller for every buyer and where does the cash on the sidelines go when it is handed over to the seller in return for his stock?), as none other than Charles Schwab notes in this brief Bloomberg TV clip, "investors are less rattled" than most believe, "and have stayed invested" in large part. "There hasn't been a wholesale movement away from stocks," he goes on, busting myths asunder, adding that "investors want to see market-driven conditions, not Fed manipulated ones."
So perhaps - just perhaps - Schwab is right, if the Fed stepped away and let markets be markets once again, maybe real capital would flow once again?
Schwab goes on to discuss how the Fed's policy has hurt the older generation - "it has been a terrible thing"
Beginning at around 50 seconds, Schwab calmly dismisses one of the biggest market myths and raises a few red flags - "we see the market go up or down depending on which Fed member is speaking..."
The root cancer at the core of the U.S., and indeed global economy, is cronyism and an absence of the rule of law when it comes to oligarchs. In the U.S., this cronyism is best described as an insidious relationship between large multi-national corporations and big government to funnel all of the wealth and resources of the nation to themselves at the expense of everyone else. In a genuine free market defined by heightened competition and governed by an equal application of the rule of law to all, the 0.1% does not aggregate all of a nation’s wealth. This sort of thing only happens in crony capitalism, which is basically nothing more than complete and total insider deals to aggregate newly created money into the hands of the few. The following profile of Washington D.C.’s so-called “boom” from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pretty much tells you all you need to know.
* * *
The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.
Ever since I started writing about what is happening in the world around me, my primary theme has been that the root cancer at the core of the U.S., and indeed global economy, is cronyism and an absence of the rule of law when it comes to oligarchs. In the U.S., this cronyism is best described as an insidious relationship between large multi-national corporations and big government to funnel all of the wealth and resources of the nation to themselves at the expense of everyone else. In a genuine free market defined by heightened competition and governed by an equal application of the rule of law to all, the 0.1% does not aggregate all of a nation’s wealth. This sort of thing only happens in crony capitalism, which is basically nothing more than complete and total insider deals to aggregate newly created money into the hands of the few.
The following profile of Washington D.C.’s so-called “boom” from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pretty much tells you all you need to know. While I think the tone of the article is absurd considering this is no “economic boom,” but merely parasitic wealth extraction on a unprecedented scale, it is still quite telling. It is no coincidence that as D.C. has grown wealthier, the nation has become much, much poorer. Key excerpts below:
The avalanche of cash that made Washington rich in the last decade has transformed the culture of a once staid capital and created a new wave of well-heeled insiders.
The winners in the new Washington are not just the former senators, party consiglieri and four-star generals who have always profited from their connections. Now they are also the former bureaucrats, accountants and staff officers for whom unimagined riches are suddenly possible. They are the entrepreneurs attracted to the capital by its aura of prosperity and its super-educated workforce. They are the lawyers, lobbyists and executives who work for companies that barely had a presence in Washington before the boom.
At the same time, big companies realized that a few million spent shaping legislation could produce windfall profits. They nearly doubled the cash they poured into the capital.
Sorry these aren’t “entrepreneurs,” they are parasitic opportunists.
At Cafe Joe, a greasy spoon near the National Security Agency in suburban Maryland, software engineers with top-secret clearances merely have to look at the place mats under their fried eggs to find federal contractors trying to entice them away from their government jobs with six-figure salaries and stock options. The place-mat ads cost $250 a week. They are sold out through 2014.
During the past decade, the region added 21,000 households in the nation’s top 1 percent. No other metro area came close.
Two forces triggered the boom.
The share of money the government spent on weapons and other hardware shrank as service contracts nearly tripled in value. At the peak in 2010, companies based in Rep. James Moran’s congressional district in Northern Virginia reaped $43 billion in federal contracts — roughly as much as the state of Texas.
Back in 2000, the company spent a mere $260,000 lobbying Congress, federal records show. Its lobbyists mostly talked to lawmakers about health care: medical manufacturing issues, Medicare reimbursement rates, privacy of health records, and congressional oversight of the Food and Drug Administration.
By the end of the decade, the company had broadened its horizons dramatically. “Government relations” now accounted for $2.6 million — a tenfold increase. On one quarterly disclosure report from 2010, Boston Scientific listed 35 different pieces of legislation on which it was lobbying. They included proposals on patent reform, tax penalties for moving American jobs abroad, tax credits for research and development, rules for transporting lithium batteries, limits on workers’ ability to form labor unions and federal regulation of certain types of financial derivatives.
Government relations has become so important to the bottom line of a modern company, Becker said, that it should be a required course at business school. The numbers suggest she’s right. Companies spent about $3.5 billion annually on lobbying at the end of the last decade, a nearly 90 percent increase from 1999 after adjusting for inflation, political scientist Lee Drutman notes in a forthcoming book, “The Business of America Is Lobbying.”
And you wonder why the economy sucks?
Legal services also boomed, fueled by the growing complexities of federal business regulations. The number of lawyers in the D.C. metro area increased by a third from 2000 to 2012, nearly twice as fast as the growth rate nationwide. And those lawyers have the highest mean salaries in the country, according to George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis.
The more companies spend on influence, the lower their effective tax rates and the higher their stock returns compared with competitors’, according to recent research. A company called Strategas has built an index to track the stock performance of the 50 companies that lobby the most; last year, that index outperformed the rest of the market by 30 percent.
If you still are confused why the U.S. economy is completely stuck in the mud, look no further than the parasites of Washington D.C.
Full article here.
August 22, 2013 | www.truth-out.org
However, in Washington, for a freshman senator to imply in official correspondence made public that the Department of Justice is not doing its job in investigating, prosecuting and even fining banks and secondary lenders in regards to multiple counts of mortgage lending violations is akin to a freshman at high school accusing the principal of letting teachers steal milk money from the desks of students.
It may be professional in tone, but Warren's letter is a direct challenge to the criminal impunity provided to and limited fines assessed by the DOJ on Wall Street for their multiple schemes to defraud both mortgage borrowers and investors.
The Huffington Post featured the letter, which bluntly states:
I am concerned that this might be yet another example of the federal government's timid enforcement strategy against the nation's largest financial institutions. I believe that if DOJ and our banking regulatory agencies prove unwilling over time to take the big banks to trial or even require admission of guilt when they cheat consumers and break the law -- either out of timidity or because of a lack of resources -- then the agencies lose enormous leverage in settlement negotiations.
There are a number of federal agencies involved in the lax regulation and minimal punishment (no jail time) of the financial industry for its role, particularly in the creation of a toxic subprime mortgage scam, in the economic collapse that burst open in the autumn of 2007.
... ... ....
The Warren letter to Holder is a tour de force of knowledgeable restraint combined with a fearless call for accountability.
One key factor that Warren alludes to is that by not appropriately applying legal sanctions against those who abused the mortgage system, citizens are left to think that the mortgage holders are solely at fault, because the DOJ is protecting the mortgage lenders rather than those struggling to save their houses, families and dreams from predatory and deceptive practices.
On a purely financial -- let alone criminal -- level, Warren charges the federal government with settling for 0.6% of the total current potential liability of fines of $37 billion for lenders breaking the law.
Meanwhile, those defrauded are left living out of cars, with relatives or on the street, as the DOJ gives a nod and a wink to those in the financial elite who defrauded them.
April 17, 2013 | youtube.com
From the event at the Philadelphia Fed on April 17th, 2013 (04/17/2013) conference segment "Fixing the Banking System for Good" .
In video testimony to the Philadelphia Federal Reserve in April of 2013, Jeffrey Sachs, one of the world’s most respected economists, expresses outrage at the extent of moral bankruptcy in the American financial system and the docile president and regulators who do nothing about it.
Selected comments from Jeffrey Sachs’ Speech on Wall Street Corruption The Big Picture
April 30, 2013 at 9:21 am
Corrupt government; corrupt financial system; corrupt business culture; corrupt legal system.
Why on earth is America inheriting the Russian model ?
It’s the standard for failed countries.
For those who would like to listen to other speakers at The 31st Annual Monetary and Trade Conference where Sachs presented this (including Michael Kumhof’s presentation on The Chicago Plan Revisited, which starts at about 1:02, and which I would LOVE to see more economists discuss), here is the link.
Concerned NeighbourBiffah Bacon , April 30, 2013 at 7:15 pm
Of course he’s right. It’s truly remarkable the amount of corruption out there that is visible; just imagine how much isn’t.
My own pet theory is that the regulators made a deal early on in the crisis with the TBTF banks: “Help us levitate the markets, and we won’t throw you in jail”. If I’m right, it’s obviously been a massive success.Mark E Hoffer
This may turn your head upside down but real conservatives would be progressive right now; the “conservative” movement is actually reactionary, authoritarian, and opposed to the freedoms outlined in the constitution, itself a progressive document.
America goes through cycles of corruption and reform in our religious, political, and economic lives. Markets, banks, and the wealthy have attained outlandish powers in the past, only to crash in panics, banking scandals, and personal and professional misfeasance or failure. Our founding fathers were anti-religious in the sense that the Catholic-Anglican Protestant conflicts of Europe were part of the founding of the colonies, a dumping ground for religious outcasts that resulted in conflict and later the Great Awakening.
We are in a crisis right now. The conservative move would be to use what has worked repeatedly in the past under Progressives. Root out corruption. Provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity yada yada yada.
The reactionary move is to consolidate everything under a king or an oligarch and reject democratic government (Michigan), multiculturalism (Buchanan), Gitmo gulags, open society and secularism, go back to gold backed money (Beck, Pauls), maybe establish a national church (Southern Baptist vs mall church vs Catholics).
I don’t think we will get to a happier medium without some painful convulsions.
Sachs, and others, may appreciate..
The Propaganda System That Has Helped Create a Permanent Overclass Is Over a Century in the Making
April 29, 2013
By Andrew Gavin Marshall, Blacklisted News
Where there is the possibility of democracy, there is the inevitability of elite insecurity. All through its history, democracy has been under a sustained attack by elite interests, political, economic, and cultural. There is a simple reason for this: democracy – as in true democracy – places power with people. In such circumstances, the few who hold power become threatened. With technological changes in modern history, with literacy and education, mass communication, organization and activism, elites have had to react to the changing nature of society – locally and globally.
From the late 19th century on, the “threats” to elite interests from the possibility of true democracy mobilized institutions, ideologies, and individuals in support of power. What began was a massive social engineering project with one objective: control. Through educational institutions, the social sciences, philanthropic foundations, public relations and advertising agencies, corporations, banks, and states, powerful interests sought to reform and protect their power from the potential of popular democracy…”
June 17, 2013 | NYTimes.com
New York State’s top financial regulator is preparing to crack down on the consulting firms that banks hire to navigate legal problems like money laundering and wrongful foreclosures, according to people briefed on the plans.
In an attempt to force change upon a sector that operates with scant supervision and produces mixed results, Benjamin M. Lawsky, New York’s superintendent of financial services, plans to use an obscure state banking law to rein in banks’ use of consultants, these people said.
Among the aggressive moves under consideration, Mr. Lawsky is said to be weighing whether to ban temporarily at least one firm with a poor track record from advising banks chartered in New York. His office is also considering a new code of conduct for consultants, the people briefed on the plan said.
The state regulator’s plan is the latest threat to the multibillion-dollar consulting industry, which has already come under fire in Washington as it has evolved into something of a shadow regulator of Wall Street. In recent months, consulting firms have been faulted with inadequately handling several prominent bank regulatory problems. In a review of millions of home foreclosures nationwide, for example, consultants racked up more than $2 billion in fees while struggling to complete the assignment. In other cases, consulting firms have been accused of either underestimating the amount of tainted money routed through a bank or even enabling banks to escape regulatory scrutiny for wrongdoing.
The consulting industry, which includes some of the world’s largest accounting firms, has long defended the quality and independence of its work.
Yet the momentum for change stems from a fundamental concern about its business model: that it is fraught with conflicts of interest. While consultants are expected to take a critical look at banks, critics note, they are handpicked and paid by those same banks.
“It is worth considering the monitors’ lack of independence,” Mr. Lawsky said at a speech in Washington this year. “The monitors are hired by the banks, paid by the banks, and depend on the banks for future engagements.”
The move by Mr. Lawsky — who has a history of irking his federal counterparts by running ahead of them — could spur regulators in Washington to act against the consulting firms. After halting the foreclosure review amid the lingering problems, officials at the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, federal agencies that oversee many large banks, are already questioning the prudence of heavily relying on consultants, said people close to the agencies. In testimony before Congress in April, a senior official at the comptroller’s office said the agency was exploring new ways to curb the use of consultants and correct problems when they occur.
For now, according to the people, the agencies can instruct a bank to replace a consultant that has erred. And if the banks continue to run afoul of the law, the regulators have authority to punish them.
Still, the relationship with consultants is difficult to unwind. Regulators, grappling with scarce resources, rely on consultants to address weaknesses at banks that are hit with federal enforcement actions. Since the financial crisis, the comptroller’s office has forced banks to hire consultants after more than 130 enforcement actions, or roughly 15 percent of the cases, an analysis of government records shows.
Reinforcing their clout, consultants like Promontory Financial Group and Deloitte & Touche have established cozy ties to the regulators, routinely hiring from government agencies. Promontory was founded by Eugene A. Ludwig, a former comptroller of the currency, and nearly two-thirds of its roughly 170 senior executives once worked at agencies that regulate the financial industry.
In a previous statement about the review of foreclosed homes, Promontory said that “From Day 1, Promontory strove to conduct its review work as thoroughly and independently as possible.”
A spokesman for Deloitte said on Monday: “We share an important common goal with regulators — to safeguard the integrity of the capital markets. We welcome their insights into ways that we and others can improve our processes and procedures.”
Even if federal regulators were to take a tougher stance with consultants, they would likely face legal limitations. When the comptroller’s office fined a consulting firm in 2006, a federal appeals court later ruled that the regulator had “exceeded his statutory authority.”
At the Congressional hearing in April, the comptroller’s office petitioned Congress for greater authority. But lawmakers have yet to respond.
In the absence of federal action, Mr. Lawsky has been pursuing new avenues for regulating the consultants in New York, according to the people briefed on his plans. After searching local regulations, his office seized upon a little-known provision buried in New York state banking law dating back to the turn of the 20th century.
Under the law, the earliest version of which was created in 1892, Mr. Lawsky’s office controls access to certain regulatory documents that consultants need to review when advising a bank. The documents, including examination reports, are considered “confidential communications,” unless Mr. Lawsky’s office determines that their release will serve “the ends of justice.”
In the case of consultants, Mr. Lawsky is planning to choke off access to firms that fail to meet a set of standards, according to the people briefed on the plans. The standards Mr. Lawsky is likely to introduce would require, for example, that consultants disclose financial ties that could compromise their independence.
For consultants with a history of problems, he is weighing whether to revoke their access to the confidential information for as much as a year or more. Mr. Lawsky is considering such a move in the near future, the people said, though there are no indications of which firm he may target.
His use of the banking law mirrors how New York attorneys general have used a 1921 law, the Martin Act, as a cudgel against fraud. While Mr. Lawsky is not accusing the consultants of fraud, the banking law could enable him to take aim at their performance.
Mr. Lawsky has already criticized one prominent consultant. Last year, he accused Deloitte of helping the British bank Standard Chartered flout American sanctions on Iran. Although the bank hired Deloitte to spot suspicious money transfers from Iran routed through its New York branches, Mr. Lawsky said, the consultant instead instructed bankers on how to escape regulatory scrutiny.
Mr. Lawsky never took legal action against Deloitte, and federal officials have since placed full blame upon Standard Chartered.
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