Category Archives: Banksters

First They Jailed the Bankers, Now Every Icelander to Get Paid in Bank Sale

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Claire Bernish
AntiMedia : October 29, 2015

First, Iceland jailed its crooked bankers for their direct involvement in the financial crisis of 2008. Now, every Icelander will receive a payout for the sale of one of its three largest banks, Íslandsbanki.

If Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson has his way — and he likely will — Icelanders will be paid kr 30,000 after the government takes over ownership of the bank. Íslandsbanki would be second of the three largest banks under State proprietorship.

“I am saying that the government take [sic] some decided portion, 5%, and simply hand it over to the people of this country,” he stated.

Because Icelanders took control of their government, they effectively own the banks. Benediktsson believes this will bring foreign capital into the country and ultimately fuel the economy — which, incidentally, remains the only European nation to recover fully from the 2008 crisis. Iceland even managed to pay its outstanding debt to the IMF in full — in advance of the due date.

Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Budget Committee vice chairperson, explained the move would facilitate the lifting of capital controls, though he wasn’t convinced State ownership would be the ideal solution. Former Finance Minister Steingrímur J. Sigfússon sided with Þórðarson, telling a radio show, “we shouldn’t lose the banks to the hands of fools” and that Iceland would benefit from a shift in focus to separate “commercial banking from investment banking.”

Plans haven’t yet been firmly set for when the takeover and subsequent payments to every person in the country will occur, but Iceland’s revolutionary approach to dealing with the international financial meltdown of 2008 certainly deserves every bit of the attention it’s garnered.

Iceland recently jailed its 26th banker — with 74 years of prison time amongst them — for causing the financial chaos. Meanwhile, U.S. banking criminals were rewarded for their fraud and market manipulation with an enormous bailout at the taxpayer’s expense.

(The Anti Media cc)

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The world has simply shifted private debt to the public balance sheet

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October 21, 2015: Excerpted from Artemis Capital Management letter to investors

The arms race of devaluation is not free and has come at the cost of massive global debt expansion. There is no precedent in financial history for a robust economic recovery absent either debt reduction or rampant inflation. We never deleveraged, in fact we just doubled down. According to a recent McKinsey study the world has reached $200 trillion of debt in 2014 (286% of global GDP), which is a staggering 40% increase from 2007 levels (+$57 trillion). In China, debt has grown four times faster than GDP since 2007, and half of that debt is linked to their property market. The world has simply shifted private debt to the public balance sheet.

20151021_debt1_0

The private risk transfer to the public balance sheet can also be seen in the evolution of credit default swap pricing since 2007. Notice the sharp divergence between global sovereign CDS (red) and financial corporate CDS (blue) starting in 2013. The next major global crash will likely be driven by unhealthy sovereign credit rather than corporate credit. The next Lehman moment will be the financial collapse of a major developed country instead of a bank.

ddebt2_0

There are those who point to aggressive central banking of the late-1930s as the model for de-leveraging post-depression but this argument is highly flawed.

We didn’t financially engineer our way out of the Great Depression – we won a World War.

It’s extremely helpful in the de-leveraging process if you are the only capitalist industrial power left in the world untouched by utter and complete destruction. De-leveraging from the Great Depression had as much to do with the blood, sweat, and tears of American soldiers, the development of nuclear weapons, and the fact we were an ocean removed from the battlefield on both sides, as anything related to fiscal and monetary policy from the era.

I don’t think some investors are being radically honest when they omit this brutal truth in their analysis of late-1930s as model to argue for more quantitative easing. More quantitative easing is a great thing if you run a large risk parity fund but it will not help the American middle class.

Artemis Capital Management / Zero Hedge

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If you think that was a crash…

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The Burning Platform : September 7, 2015

Last week’s volatility to the downside was entirely predictable, as the first leg down during this ongoing market crash reached the correction stage of 11%. The technical bounce was a given, as the 30 year old HFT MBAs on Wall Street have been trained like rats to BTFD. In their lemming like minds, it has worked for the last six years of this Federal Reserve created “bull market”, so why wouldn’t it work now. Last week was their first lesson in why it doesn’t work during bear markets, and we’ve entered a bear market. John Hussman seems amused at the shallowness of the arguments by Wall Street shills and CNBC cheerleaders about the future of the stock market in his weekly letter. After this modest pullback from all-time highs, the S&P 500 is still overvalued by 92%:

Following the market decline of recent weeks, the most reliable valuation measures we identify now project average annual nominal returns for the S&P 500 of about 0.5% in the next 10 years. On a broad range of historically reliable valuation measures (see Ockham’s Razor and the Market Cycle) the May peak in the S&P 500 reached valuations averaging about 114% above run-of-the-mill historical norms – more than double the valuation levels that have historically been associated with the 10% average expected market returns that investors have enjoyed over the long-term. At present, those measures have retreated to about 92% above historical norms.

Keep in mind that low interest rates don’t raise the estimated 10-year expected return on stocks from the current 0.5% level. Low interest rates only make the low expected return on stocks somewhat more “acceptable” because the alternatives are similarly dismal. The Federal Reserve’s policies of zero interest rates and quantitative easing have done nothing but to encourage yield-seeking speculation, bringing valuations to extreme levels, and leaving prospective future investment returns equally depressed.

Those who assert that high equity valuations are “justified” by low interest rates are actually (and probably unknowingly) saying that 0.5% expected returns on equities over the coming decade are a-okay with them. But it’s critically important to understand that while low interest may help to explain why current market valuations have been driven to obscene levels, low rates do not change the relationship – the correspondence – between elevated valuation levels and dismal subsequent long-term market returns.

It is time to assume crash positions because we have not experienced anything approaching a crash thus far. We’ve hit nothing but an air pocket.  As Dr. Hussman points out so succinctly, market crashes do not happen at the peak. There is usually an initial 10% to 14% decline as the smart money exits stage left, then the lemming dip buyers pile in and drive the market back up, but fail in bringing it above the initial high. It’s only then that sentiment deteriorates, support levels are broken, and all hell breaks loose. That time is coming.

The market decline of recent weeks was not a crash. It was merely an air-pocket. It was probably just a start. Such air pockets are typical when overvalued, overbought, overbullish conditions are joined by deterioration in market internals, as we’ve observed in recent months. They are the downside of the “unpleasant skew” that typically results from that combination – a series of small but persistent marginal new highs, followed by an abrupt vertical decline that erases weeks or months of gains within a handful of sessions (see Air Pockets, Free-Falls, and Crashes).

Actual market crashes involve a much larger and concerted shift toward investor risk-aversion, which doesn’t really happen right off of a market peak. Historically, market crashes don’t even start until the market has first retreated by 10-14%, and then recovers about half of that loss, offering investors hope that things have stabilized (look for example at the 1929 and 1987 instances). The extensive vertical losses that characterize a crash follow only after the market breaks that apparent “support,” leading to a relentless free-fall that inflicts several times the loss that we’ve seen in recent weeks.

It’s hysterical watching the paid Wall Street hucksters paraded on CNBC and the other corporate media propaganda outlets trying to calm the muppets so they can continue to fleece them. The highly paid talking heads, bubble headed bimbo spokesmodels, and captured shill “experts” like Cramer, blather about the 10% decline as if it has been an extreme over-reaction to a meaningless possible .25% increase in an obscure Fed lever and the complete collapse of the China bubble economy. They knowingly ignore the extreme valuations of our stock market to levels only seen in 1929 and 2000. Their goal is to keep the muppets in the market so their advertising revenue stream from Wall Street continues unabated.

The reason why the word “crash” has been bandied about to describe the recent selloff, I think, is partly because investors have lost all perspective of the losses that have historically been associated with that word, but mostly because it gives market cheerleaders the needed “cover” to encourage investors to continue speculating near record market valuations. After all, everyone “knows” that investors shouldn’t sell after a crash, thus the endless flurry of articles advising “selling in a crash is a textbook mistake,” “selling off stocks during a crash is a terrible idea”, “whatever you do, don’t sell”, “market crash: don’t rush to press the panic button,” “the worst investing move during a market crash,” … you get the idea.

Hand-in-hand with the exaggeration of the recent decline as a “crash” and “panic” is the exaggeration of investor sentiment as being wildly bearish. The actual shift has been from outright bulls to the “correction” camp, but that’s a rather meaningless shift since anyone but the most ardent bull would characterize current conditions as being at least a market correction. Historically, durable intermediate and cyclical lows are characterized by a significant increase in the number of outright bears. That’s not yet apparent here. Indeed, Investors Intelligence still reports the percentage of bearish investment advisors at just 26.8%.

The reason people lose so much money during market crashes is because of their cognitive dissonance and normalcy bias. They don’t want to think about the possibility of losing 50% of their money, even though history, facts, and common sense all point towards a dramatic crash. They will be convinced to stay in the market by the dramatic rallies that occur during bear market crashes. Six of the largest one day gains in history occurred during the 2008/2009 crash. Did that result in people not losing 55% of their money over a few month period? Selling now would not be a panic move, it would be a rational move.

It’s generally true that one doesn’t want to sell stocks into a crash (as I’ve often observed, once an extremely overvalued market begins to deteriorate internally, the best time to panic is before everyone else does). Still, the recent decline doesn’t nearly qualify as a crash. For the record, those familiar with market history also know that even “don’t sell stocks into a crash ” isn’t universally true. Recall, as an extreme example, that from September 3 to November 13, 1929, the Dow Industrials plunged by -47.9%. The market briefly recovered about half of that loss by early 1930. Even so, it turned out that investors would ultimately wish they had sold at the low of the 1929 crash. By July 8, 1932, the Dow had dropped an additional -79.3% from the November 1929 trough. In any event, the recent market retreat, at its lowest closing point, took the S&P 500 only -12.2% from its high, and at present, the index is down just -9.7% from its highest closing level in history. To call the recent market retreat a “crash” is an offense to informed discussion of the financial markets.

The biggest fallacy bought into by the ignorant masses and the intellectual academic elites is that the Federal Reserve’s purposeful blowing of this enormous bubble has increased the wealth of the nation. It has done nothing of the sort. It has increased the debt of the nation, while starving the productive wealth creating segments of the nation. They have created paper wealth by encouraging reckless gambling by Wall Street and the corporations using shareholder funds to buy back their stock at all-time highs. As we saw in 2000 and 2007, paper wealth can vaporize overnight.

Keep in mind that when paper wealth is “lost,” nobody gets it. Quantitative easing has not made the nation “wealthier”, nor will the massive paper loss we expect over the completion of the market cycle make the nation “poorer.” As I detailed in June (see When Paper Wealth Vanishes):

“As in equal or lesser speculative bubbles across history, there’s a common delusion that elevated stock prices represent wealth to their holders. That is a fallacy, and we can hardly believe that given the collapses that followed the 2000 and 2007 extremes, investors (and even Fed policymakers) would again fall for that fallacy so readily. The actual wealth is in the cash flows that are ultimately delivered into the hands of shareholders over time. Individuals can realize their paper wealth by selling now to some other investor and receiving cash in return, but only a small proportion of investors can actually convert current paper wealth into cash by selling to other investors without disrupting the bubble. The new buyer then receives whatever cash flows the stock delivers into the hands of existing holders, and can eventually sell the claim to the remaining stream of future cash flows to yet another investor. Ultimately, a share of stock is nothing but a claim on the long-term stream of cash flows that will be delivered into the hands of its holders over time. The current price and the future cash flows are linked together by a rate of return: the higher the price you pay today for a given stream of future cash flows, the lower the rate of return you can expect achieve by holding that investment over the long-term.”

The Federal Reserve has been successful in redistributing the wealth of the nation to the .1% who control the levers of our economic, financial, and political systems, from the working middle class who do the heavy lifting in this country. Redistributing wealth through speculation, rigging markets, printing money and throwing savers and senior citizens under the bus is not creating wealth. The biggest debt bubble in world history will lead to the greatest financial collapse in world history. Act rationally and get your money out of the stock market now.

Read Hussman’s Weekly Letter
Source: http://www.theburningplatform.com/2015/09/07/if-you-think-that-was-a-crash/

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When “Virtuous Debt” Turns Ferociously Vicious: The Mother Of All Corporate Margin Calls On Deck

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Zero Hedge/Bawerk

Corporate foie gras

One of the arguments put forth in the bull vs. bear debate is that the solidity of US non-financial corporations have never been stronger. The amount of cash held by non-financial corporations has risen 150 per cent since the depth of the crisis in 2009. With such a massive cushion to stave off whatever the market may throw at them, they will be able to cope, or so it is held.

In addition, we know that financial corporations are flush with cash, or excess reserves held at the Federal Reserve. Throughout the various quantitative easing (QE) programs conducted by the Federal Reserve, commercial banks have been force fed cash as ducks on a foie gras farm. This has swelled their excess reserves to the unprecedented, and what would be thought unimaginable only few years’ back, level of US$2.6 trillion.

With all this cash the system should be, again according to the perma-bulls, more than ready to withstand the shock from the ongoing global deleveraging, a stronger dollar, emerging market blow-ups and the forthcoming US recession.

We beg to differ. When it comes to excess reserves they are most likely already “spoken” as a form of collateral in shadow banking chains. While the initial effect from QE on the shadow banking system was massive deflationary shock as all the high quality securities used in re-hypothecated collateral chains were soaked up by the Federal Reserve, it is a safe bet that excess reserves has to some extent filled that void.

In the non-financial sector on the other hand cash is, well, plain old cash. With more than US$1 trillion of the stuff on their balance sheet complacency is destined to be prevalent. And it is.

Credit market instruments, i.e., debt, have also risen at a tremendous rate. Net debt, that is credit market liabilities less cash, has actually never been higher. As the chart below shows, sitting at more than US$6.6 trillion, non-financial net debt outstrips even the high from 2008.

Now, if we express the gargantuan debt load as share of market value of non-financial equities outstanding things looks not only sustainable, but outright sound. At only 30 per cent the debt to equity ratio is at multiyear lows. We need to go all the way back to the peak of the dot-com folly to find today’s equal.

And it is exactly the folly of the dot-com (and went) that best epitomizes todays manic corporate debt issuance. According to Bloomberg more than US$2.7 trillion in stock buybacks has been effectuated over the last six years. We would be amiss if we didn’t mention that this spending spree, not on capital goods or R&D that will help propel future growth mind you, but on liability massaging, coincided with ZIRP.

Investors desperate for yield have more than happy to lend US Inc. trillions of dollars, even though it is used mainly to buy back own stock. Not surprisingly this also help goose the market value of equites outstanding; also known as the denominator in the ratio presented in our chart.

So more debt begets higher market value of equites which in turn improves the debt/equity ratio which gives the incentive to issue more debt ad infinitum. Or in a slightly simpler version, debt begets more debt.

We have seen the story before. In the shaded grey areas we highlight episodes when the virtuous relationship turns ferociously vicious. Remember, markets take the escalator up, but the elevator down. And the longer the escalator the further down the elevator goes.


Source: Federal Reserve Flow of Funds (Z.1), Bawerk.net

When the US recession hits (see here for more) the massive gap between the green and red line in our chart above will close in short order and the calamity will be even worse than last time, which incidentally was far worse than the time before that.

And this Ladies and Gentlemen is aggregate demand management in practice where, for some unexplained reason, the abundance of savings does not clear the market for investable funds not even at the zero lower bound.

The fact that central bank perverts capital markets and is to a large extent responsible for the very same secular stagnation central bankers believe they must fight, seems lost on today’s intelligentsia.

* * *

Back to ZH here, in addition to Bawerk’s explanation of what may be the biggest “non-financial sector” margin call ever on deck, we just wanted to underscore one of the main points made in the piece above, namely the stability – or rather lack thereof – of US Commercial banks, whose cash assets according to the most recent H.8 statement amounts to $2.8 trillion. The problem is that of this, over $2.5 trillion comes from the Fed’s excess reserves which at some point will be unwound, meaning the true cash level of US banks – when one excludes excess reserves – has not budged at all since the financial crisis, and has in fact declined to a pro forma level of just over $200 billion.


Only The Date Is Unknown

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economicnoise.com : August 11, 2015

The US and world economies are frauds that are coming unraveled. The Greek bailout is the most recent example of “kick the can down the road” solutions. The US housing bubble was an attempt to cover up/recover from the dot-com bust. Now the US is in a financial bubble engineered to recover from the housing bubble debacle. Soon this bubble will burst. Only the date is unknown.

Two predictions can be made with reasonable confidence:

  • The stock market is likely to be halved and that might be optimistic. Only the date is unknown.
  • The economy will eventually resemble the Great Depression. Only the date is unknown.

Nothing is ever certain. An experienced CFO told me at the beginning of my career that “even the impossible has a 20% probability.” In deference to him and years of empirical evidence, I put the the above two events as virtually certain, i.e., an 80% probability.

The Current Problem

Phoenix Capital provided reasons to expect horrible outcomes:dow death cross

  • The REAL problem for the financial system is the bond bubble. In 2008 when the crisis hit it was $80 trillion. It has since grown to over $100 trillion.
  • The derivatives market that uses this bond bubble as collateral is over $555 trillion in size.
  • Many of the large multinational corporations, sovereign governments, and even municipalities have used derivatives to fake earnings and hide debt. NO ONE knows to what degree this has been the case, but given that 20% of corporate CFOs have admitted to faking earnings in the past, it’s likely a significant amount.
  • Corporations today are more leveraged than they were in 2007. As Stanley Druckenmiller noted recently, in 2007 corporate bonds were $3.5 trillion… today they are $7 trillion: an amount equal to nearly 50% of US GDP.
  • The Central Banks are now all leveraged at levels greater than or equal to where Lehman Brothers was when it imploded. The Fed is leveraged at 78 to 1. The ECB is leveraged at over 26 to 1. Lehman Brothers was leveraged at 30 to 1.
  • The Central Banks have no idea how to exit their strategies. Fed minutes released from 2009 show Janet Yellen was worried about how to exit when the Fed’s balance sheet was $1.3 trillion (back in 2009). Today it’s over $4.5 trillion.

The cumulative effects of decades of interventions to mask economic weakness are harmful to the economy. Statistical manipulation and outright lies in government reporting of economic conditions suggest that times are becoming ever more desperate for the political class. There is not enough bailing wire in the world to hold this train wreck in check. Nor is there any way to solve the massive problems created over decades.

Mac Slavo believes we are already in a world-wide depression stating:

With stock markets in China having self destructed, Greece and Europe in another crisis, and corporate earnings for some of the world’s biggest corporations showing lackluster performance, it should be clear that the situation is rapidly deteriorating.

But for the last several years America has appeared to remain fairly insulated from overt crisis. We were told that a recovery had taken hold, jobs were returning and consumer confidence had reached new highs, propaganda which drove millions of investors back into stock markets and real estate. No one in the mainstream world, it seems, believes there’s anything to be concerned about.


Except there is.

Nassim Taleb described the problem:

Uncertainty should not bother you. We may not be able to forecast when a bridge will break, but we can identify which ones are faulty and poorly built. We can assess vulnerability. And today the financial bridges across the world are very vulnerable. Politicians prescribe ever larger doses of pain killer in the form of financial bailouts, which consists in curing debt with debt, like curing an addiction with an addiction, that is to say it is not a cure. This cycle will end, like it always does, spectacularly.

Each intervention has been bigger than the previous one. And they are needed more frequently. Bad times are here and have been despite what government says. Worse times lie ahead. Only the date is unknown.

(read the full article at economicnoise.com)

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The Crisis Is Spreading: China, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Sweden…

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Keith Dicker
IceCap : August 2015

Governments all around the world have borrowed too much money and the weight of these debts are choking economic growth.

And to make matters worse – these very same governments and their central banks have implemented various plans that have only made matters worse.

The global debt crisis has escalated to a point where the government bond bubble has inflated itself to become the mother of all bubbles. It’s going to burst, and when it does it wont be pretty.

Further evidence to support our view is as follows:

Canada – the collapse in oil and commodity markets has pushed the country into recession and the Canadian Dollar to decline to levels lower than that reached during the 2008 crisis.

Oil dependent provinces Alberta and Newfoundland remain in deep denial. Since everyone in these provinces have only ever experienced a booming oil market, many naively believe things will bounce back – and quickly.

Meanwhile, both Toronto and Vancouver housing markets also remain in denial as they continue to go gangbusters. Buyers today are likely buying at all-time highs.

And as we predicted last year, the Bank of Canada has cut (not raised) interest rates twice in the last 6 months.

We fully expect the Bank of Canada to eventually cut interest rates to 0% and start a money printing program as well. And for the stunner – NEGATIVE interest rates will not be that far behind.

Australia – Over the last 20 years, China has been viewed as the growth engine of the world, and justifiably so. With annual growth rates between 8% to 15%, China’s economy was literally eating every rock, stalk and barrel of practically every commodity in the world.

And naturally, any country or company that produced these commodities made a tonne of money – including Australia.

Today, China’s growth rate has slowed to about 3% which is a dramatic slow down compared to what it achieved in the past. This slowdown and China’s effort to even maintain these rates, will have significant repercussions around the world.

And the first up to bear the brunt of this slowdown is its closest supplier of raw materials – Australia.

With dark clouds on the economic horizon, the Australian government and central bank is doing everything possible to prevent the unpreventable recession.

Interest rates have been reduced to all-time historical lows, meanwhile the Australian Dollar has plummeted -25% over the last year. Yet – the negative outlook has not improved.

Brazil – Like Australia, Brazil has benefitted immensely from China’s growth. And now, also like Australia, it too is feeling the affects of the dramatic Chinese slowdown.

The economy has now declined for 12 consecutive months making it both the longest and deepest recession in 25 years.

But wait – it gets worse. Despite declining growth, inflation continues to soar higher causing interest rates to rise as well.

And if that wasn’t bad, also know that the Brazilian currency has fell off the cliff at -53%.

Sweden – Unlike Australia and Brazil, Sweden relies very little on China as a buyer of last resort. Yet, the Swedish economy is also not very hot these days.

In fact, instead of spectacular and dramatic declines in anything, it is doing the exact opposite – it just isn’t moving.

While Sweden isn’t in the Eurozone, it is smack dab next to it and that in itself is reason enough for the lack of growth. We’ve written before how the debt crisis in the Eurozone is acting like a giant, slow moving tornado that is sucking the life out of the economy and everything near by. And unfortunately for Sweden, it is very near by.

While economic growth in the Nordic state hasn’t declined, it hasn’t accelerated either – and this is what has many worried.

So worried, that the central bank shocked everyone not once but twice, by first announcing that they would begin to print money, and then when they announced that interest rates would be NEGATIVE.

These actions are so severe, that we need to repeat them:

1) MONEY PRINTING
2) NEGATIVE INTEREST RATES

It is hoped that these actions will cause people and companies to loosen their wallets and start spending again. Yet, what the government and the central bank doesn’t understand is that these actions will actually make the problem worse.

As the global economy continues to move as we expect, there is nothing Sweden can do to change what is coming – a global recession and a significantly weaker Krona.

China, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Sweden – it is beyond us how anyone can declare the crisis isn’t spreading.

* * *

IceCap’s full letter below

US Military Uses IMF and World Bank to Launder 85% of Its Black Budget

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Jake Anderson
The Anti Media: August 13, 2015

[…] The CIA and and NSA alone garnered $52.6 billion in funding in 2013 while the Department of Defense black ops budget for secret military projects exceeds this number. It is estimated to be $58.7 billion for the fiscal year 2015.

What is the black budget? Officially, it is the military’s appropriations for “spy satellites, stealth bombers, next-missile-spotting radars, next-gen drones, and ultra-powerful eavesdropping gear.

However, of greater interest to some may be the clandestine nature and full scope of the black budget, which, according to analyst Catherine Austin Fitts, goes far beyond classified appropriations. Based on her research, some of which can be found in her piece “What’s Up With the Black Budget?,” Fitts concludes that the during the last decade, global financial elites have configured an elaborate system that makes most of the military budget unauditable. This is because the real black budget includes money acquired by intelligence groups via narcotics trafficking, predatory lending, and various kinds of other financial fraud.

The result of this vast, geopolitically-sanctioned money laundering scheme is that Housing and Urban Devopment and other agencies are used for drug trafficking and securities fraud. According to Fitts, the scheme allows for at least 85 percent of the U.S. federal budget to remain unaudited.

Fitts has been researching this issue since 2001, when she began to believe that a financial coup d’etat was underway. Specifically, she suspected that the banks, corporations, and investors acting in each global region were part of a “global heist,” whereby capital was being sucked out of each country. She was right.

As Fitts asserts,

“[She] served as Assistant Secretary of Housing at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the United States where I oversaw billions of government investment in US communities…..I later found out that the government contractor leading the War on Drugs strategy for U.S. aid to Peru, Colombia and Bolivia was the same contractor in charge of knowledge management for HUD enforcement. This Washington-Wall Street game was a global game. The peasant women of Latin America were up against the same financial pirates and business model as the people in South Central Los Angeles, West Philadelphia, Baltimore and the South Bronx.”

This is part of an even larger financial scheme. It is fairly well-established by now that international financial institutions like the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund operate primarily as instruments of corporate power and nation-controlling infrastructure investment mechanisms. For example, the primary purpose of the World Bank is to bully developing countries into borrowing money for infrastructure investments that will fleece trillions of dollars while permanently indebting these “debtor” nations to West. But how exactly does the World Bank go about doing this?

John Perkins wrote about this paradigm in his book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman. During the 1970s, Perkins worked for the international engineering consulting firm, Chas T. Main, as an “economic hitman.” He says the operations of the World Bank are nothing less than “pure economic colonization on behalf of powerful corporations and banks that use the United States government as their tool.”

In his book, Perkins discusses Joseph Stiglitz, the Chief Economist for the World Bank from 1997-2000, at length. Stiglitz described the four-step plan for bamboozling developing countries into becoming debtor nations:

Step One, according to Stiglitz, is to convince a nation to privatize its state industries.

 

Step Two utilizes “capital market liberalization,” which refers to the sudden influx of speculative investment money that depletes national reserves and property values while triggering a large interest bump by the IMF.

 

Step Three, Stiglitz says, is “Market-Based Pricing,” which means raising the prices on food, water and cooking gas. This leads to “Step Three and a Half: The IMF Riot.” Examples of this can be seen in Indonesia, Bolivia, Ecuador and many other countries where the IMF’s actions have caused financial turmoil and social strife.

 

Step Four, of course, is “free trade,” where all barriers to the exploitation of local produce are eliminated.

[…]

(read the full article at The Anti Media)

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Greek “Hell” Remains After Athens Uses Creditor Money To Repay Creditors

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Zero Hedge: July 20, 2015

Earlier today, Greece used up virtually its entire €7.1 billion bridge loan from the EU to repay its creditors: between the money due to the ECB, the arrears to the IMF and the cash borrowed from the Greek central bank, Athens had about €300 million left over from the entire inbound wire to use as it sees fit just hours after the money was received, and then promptly sent right back.

Or, as some put it, Greece collected a 4% transaction fee for facilitating a €6.8 billion payment from its creditors to its creditors.

So does this mean things are “fixed” in Greece, if only temporarily? Not exactly, as the following table shows, there is exactly one month until the next €3.2 billion payment is due to the ECB. So unless Europe finalizes the terms of the third €86 billion EFSF bailout in the next 4 weeks, Greece will need another bridge loan just to repay the ECB.

Ok, but if Greece somehow survives until the end of 2015 despite a new government and with blistering VAT hikes, even as bank lines to withdraw money refuse to go away, then will it finally be ok?

Well, no.

As we showed before when we showed the various Greek circle of debt hell, unless Greece finds a way to access the market once again following its “triumphal return” in mid-2014 when it issued bonds that cost investors (with other people’s money) their 2015 bonus, it is only then that the Greek debt repayment hell begins.

(read the full article at zero hedge)

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How Goldman Sachs Profited From the Greek Debt Crisis

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Robert B. Reich
The Nation : July 16, 2015

The investment bank made millions by helping to hide the true extent of the debt, and in the process almost doubled it.

The Greek debt crisis offers another illustration of Wall Street’s powers of persuasion and predation, although the Street is missing from most accounts.

The crisis was exacerbated years ago by a deal with Goldman Sachs, engineered by Goldman’s current CEO, Lloyd Blankfein. Blankfein and his Goldman team helped Greece hide the true extent of its debt, and in the process almost doubled it. And just as with the American subprime crisis, and the current plight of many American cities, Wall Street’s predatory lending played an important although little-recognized role.

In 2001, Greece was looking for ways to disguise its mounting financial troubles. The Maastricht Treaty required all eurozone member states to show improvement in their public finances, but Greece was heading in the wrong direction. Then Goldman Sachs came to the rescue, arranging a secret loan of 2.8 billion euros for Greece, disguised as an off-the-books “cross-currency swap”—a complicated transaction in which Greece’s foreign-currency debt was converted into a domestic-currency obligation using a fictitious market exchange rate.

As a result, about 2 percent of Greece’s debt magically disappeared from its national accounts. Christoforos Sardelis, then head of Greece’s Public Debt Management Agency, later described the deal to Bloomberg Business as “a very sexy story between two sinners.” For its services, Goldman received a whopping 600 million euros ($793 million), according to Spyros Papanicolaou, who took over from Sardelis in 2005. That came to about 12 percent of Goldman’s revenue from its giant trading and principal-investments unit in 2001—which posted record sales that year. The unit was run by Blankfein.

Then the deal turned sour. After the 9/11 attacks, bond yields plunged, resulting in a big loss for Greece because of the formula Goldman had used to compute the country’s debt repayments under the swap. By 2005, Greece owed almost double what it had put into the deal, pushing its off-the-books debt from 2.8 billion euros to 5.1 billion. In 2005, the deal was restructured and that 5.1 billion euros in debt locked in. Perhaps not incidentally, Mario Draghi, now head of the European Central Bank and a major player in the current Greek drama, was then managing director of Goldman’s international division.

Greece wasn’t the only sinner. Until 2008, European Union accounting rules allowed member nations to manage their debt with so-called off-market rates in swaps, pushed by Goldman and other Wall Street banks. In the late 1990s, JPMorgan enabled Italy to hide its debt by swapping currency at a favorable exchange rate, thereby committing Italy to future payments that didn’t appear on its national accounts as future liabilities.

But Greece was in the worst shape, and Goldman was the biggest enabler. Undoubtedly, Greece suffers from years of corruption and tax avoidance by its wealthy. But Goldman wasn’t an innocent bystander: It padded its profits by leveraging Greece to the hilt—along with much of the rest of the global economy. Other Wall Street banks did the same. When the bubble burst, all that leveraging pulled the world economy to its knees.

[…]

Meanwhile, cities and states across America have been forced to cut essential services because they’re trapped in similar deals sold to them by Wall Street banks. Many of these deals have involved swaps analogous to the ones Goldman sold the Greek government. And much like the assurances it made to the Greek government, Goldman and other banks assured the municipalities that the swaps would let them borrow more cheaply than if they relied on traditional fixed-rate bonds—while downplaying the risks they faced. Then, as interest rates plunged and the swaps turned out to cost far more, Goldman and the other banks refused to let the municipalities refinance without paying hefty fees to terminate the deals.

Three years ago, the Detroit Water Department had to pay Goldman and other banks penalties totaling $547 million to terminate costly interest-rate swaps. Forty percent of Detroit’s water bills still go to paying off the penalty. Residents of Detroit whose water has been shut off because they can’t pay have no idea that Goldman and other big banks are responsible. Likewise, the Chicago school system—whose budget is already cut to the bone—must pay over $200 million in termination penalties on a Wall Street deal that had Chicago schools paying $36 million a year in interest-rate swaps.

A deal involving interest-rate swaps that Goldman struck with Oakland, California, more than a decade ago has ended up costing the city about $4 million a year, but Goldman has refused to allow Oakland out of the contract unless it ponies up a $16 million termination fee—prompting the city council to pass a resolution to boycott Goldman. When confronted at a shareholder meeting about it, Blankfein explained that it was against shareholder interests to tear up a valid contract.

Goldman Sachs and the other giant Wall Street banks are masterful at selling complex deals by exaggerating their benefits and minimizing their costs and risks. That’s how they earn giant fees. When a client gets into trouble—whether that client is an American homeowner, a US city, or Greece—Goldman ducks and hides behind legal formalities and shareholder interests.

Borrowers that get into trouble are rarely blameless, of course: They spent too much, and were gullible or stupid enough to buy Goldman’s pitches. Greece brought on its own problems, as did many American homeowners and municipalities.

But in all of these cases, Goldman knew very well what it was doing. It knew more about the real risks and costs of the deals it proposed than those who accepted them. “It is an issue of morality,” said the shareholder at the Goldman meeting where Oakland came up. Exactly.

(Full article at The Nation)

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Greece Is Just The Beginning: The 21st Century ‘Enclosures’ Have Begun

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Paul Craig Roberts : July 15, 2015

All of Europe, and insouciant Americans and Canadians as well, are put on notice by Syriza’s surrender to the agents of the One Percent. The message from the collapse of Syriza is that the social welfare system throughout the West will be dismantled.

The Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has agreed to the One Percent’s looting of the Greek people of the advances in social welfare that the Greeks achieved in the post-World War II 20th century. Pensions and health care for the elderly are on the way out. The One Percent needs the money.

The protected Greek islands, ports, water companies, airports, the entire panoply of national patrimony, is to be sold to the One Percent. At bargain prices, of course, but the subsequent water bills will not be bargains.

This is the third round of austerity imposed on Greece, austerity that has required the complicity of the Greeks’ own governments. The austerity agreements serve as a cover for the looting of the Greek people literally of everything. The IMF is one member of the Troika that is imposing the austerity, despite the fact that the IMF’s economists have said that the austerity measures have proven to be a mistake. The Greek economy has been driven down by the austerity. Therefore, Greece’s indebtedness has increased as a burden. Each round of austerity makes the debt less payable.

But when the One Percent is looting, facts are of no interest. The austerity, that is the looting, has gone forward despite the fact that the IMF’s economists cannot justify it.

Greek democracy has proven itself to be impotent. The looting is going forward despite the vote one week ago by the Greek people rejecting it. So what we observe in Alexis Tsipras is an elected prime minister representing not the Greek people but the One Percent.

The One Percent’s sigh of relief has been heard around the world. The last European leftist party, or what passes as leftist, has been brought to heel, just like Britain’s Labour Party, the French Socialist Party, and all the rest.

Without an ideology to sustain it, the European left is dead (read the full article at Paul Craig Roberts)

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The Euro-Summit ‘Agreement’ on Greece – annotated by Yanis Varoufakis

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Yanis Varoufakis
July 15, 2015

The Euro Summit statement (or Terms of Greece’s Surrender – as it will go down in history) follows, annotated by yours truly. The original text is untouched with my notes confined to square brackets (and in red). Read and weep… [For a pdf copy click here.]

Euro Summit Statement Brussels, 12 July 2015

The Euro Summit stresses the crucial need to rebuild trust with the Greek authorities [i.e. the Greek government must introduce new stringent austerity directed at the weakest Greeks that have already suffered grossly] as a pre- requisite for a possible future agreement on a new ESM programme [i.e. for a new extend-and-pretend loan].

In this context, the ownership by the Greek authorities is key [i.e. the Syriza government must sign a declaration of having defected to the troika’s ‘logic’], and successful implementation should follow policy commitments.

A euro area Member State requesting financial assistance from the ESM is expected to address, wherever possible, a similar request to the IMF This is a precondition for the Eurogroup to agree on a new ESM programme. Therefore Greece will request continued IMF support (monitoring and financing) from March 2016 [i.e. Berlin continues to believe that the Commission cannot be trusted to ‘police’ Europe’s own ‘bailout’ programs].

Given the need to rebuild trust with Greece, the Euro Summit welcomes the commitments of the Greek authorities to legislate without delay a first set of measures [i.e. Greece must subject itself to fiscal waterboarding, even before any financing is offered]. These measures, taken in full prior agreement with the Institutions, will include:

By 15 July

  • the streamlining of the VAT system [i.e. making it more regressive, through rate rises that encourage more VAT evasion]and the broadening of the tax base to increase revenue [i.e. dealing a major blow at the only Greek growth industry – tourism].
  • upfront measures to improve long-term sustainability of the pension system as part of a comprehensive pension reform programme [i.e. reducing the lowest of the low of pensions, while ignoring that the depletion of pension funds’ capital due to the 2012 troika-designed PSI and the ill effects of low employment & undeclared paid labour].
  • the safeguarding of the full legal independence of ELSTAT [i.e. the troika demands complete control of the way Greece’s budget balance is computed, with a view to controlling fully the magnitude of austerity it imposes on the government.]
  • full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, in particular by making the Fiscal Council operational before finalizing the MoU and introducing quasi-automatic spending cuts in case of deviations from ambitious primary surplus targets after seeking advice from the Fiscal Council and subject to prior approval of the Institutions [i.e. the Greek government, which knows that the imposed fiscal targets will never be achieved under the imposed austerity, must commit to further, automated austerity as a result of the troika’s newest failures.]

By 22 July

  • the adoption of the Code of Civil Procedure, which is a major overhaul of procedures and arrangements for the civil justice system and can significantly accelerate the judicial process and reduce costs [i.e. foreclosures, evictions and liquidation of thousands of homes and businesses who are not in a position to keep up with their mortgages/loans.]
  • the transposition of the BRRD with support from the European Commission.

Immediately, and only subsequent to legal implementation of the first four above-mentioned measures as well as endorsement of all the commitments included in this document by the Greek Parliament, verified by the Institutions and the Eurogroup, may a decision to mandate the Institutions to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) be taken [i.e. The Syriza government must be humiliated to the extent that it is asked to impose harsh austerity upon itself as a first step towards requesting another toxic bailout loan, of the sort that Syriza became internationally famous for opposing.]

This decision would be taken subject to national procedures having been completed and if the preconditions of Article 13 of the ESM Treaty are met on the basis of the assessment referred to in Article 13.1. In order to form the basis for a successful conclusion of the MoU, the Greek offer of reform measures needs to be seriously strengthened to take into account the strongly deteriorated economic and fiscal position of the country during the last year [i.e. the Syriza government must accept the lie that it, and not the asphyxiation tactics of the creditors, caused the sharp economic deterioration of the past six months – the victim is being asked to take the blame by the on behalf of the villain.]

The Greek government needs to formally commit to strengthening their proposals [i.e. to make them more regressive and more inhuman] in a number of areas identified by the Institutions, with a satisfactory clear timetable for legislation and implementation, including structural benchmarks, milestones and quantitative benchmarks, to have clarity on the direction of policies over the medium-run. They notably need, in agreement with the Institutions, to:

  • carry out ambitious pension reforms [i.e. cuts] and specify policies to fully compensate for the fiscal impact of the Constitutional Court ruling on the 2012 pension reform [i.e. cancel the Court’s decision in favour of pensioners] and to implement the zero deficit clause [i.e. cut by 85% the secondary pensions that the Syriza government fought tooth and nail to preserve over the past five months] or mutually agreeable alternative measures [i.e. find ‘equivalent’ victims] by October 2015;
  • adopt more ambitious product market reforms with a clear timetable for implementation of all OECD toolkit I recommendations [i.e. the recommendations that the OECD has now renounced after having re-designed these reforms in collaboration with the Syriza government], including Sunday trade, sales periods, pharmacy ownership, milk and bakeries, except over-the-counter pharmaceutical products, which will be implemented in a next step, as well as for the opening of macro-critical closed professions (e.g. ferry transportation). On the follow-up of the OECD toolkit-II, manufacturing needs to be included in the prior action;
  • on energy markets, proceed with the privatisation of the electricity transmission network operator (ADMIE), unless replacement measures can be found that have equivalent effect on competition, as agreed by the Institutions [i.e. ADMIE will be sold off to specific foreign vested interests at the behest of the Institutions.]
  • on labour markets, undertake rigorous reviews and modernisation of collective bargaining [i.e. to make sure that no collective bargaining is allowed], industrial action [i.e. that must be banned] and, in line with the relevant EU directive and best practice, collective dismissals [i.e. that should be allowed at the employers’ whim], along the timetable and the approach agreed with the Institutions [i.e. the Troika decides.]

On the basis of these reviews, labour market policies should be aligned with international and European best practices, and should not involve a return to past policy settings which are not compatible with the goals of promoting sustainable and inclusive growth [i.e. there should be no mechanisms that waged labour can use to extract better conditions from employers.]

  • adopt the necessary steps to strengthen the financial sector, including decisive action on non-performing loans [i.e. a tsunami of foreclosures is ante portas] and measures to strengthen governance of the HFSF and the banks [i.e. the Greek people who maintain the HFSF and the banks will have precisely zero control over the HFSF and the banks.], in particular by eliminating any possibility for political interference especially in appointment processes. [i.e. except the political interference of the Troika.] On top of that, the Greek authorities shall take the following actions:
  • to develop a significantly scaled up privatisation programme with improved governance; valuable Greek assets will be transferred to an independent fund that will monetize the assets through privatisations and other means [i.e. an East German-like Treuhand is envisaged to sell off all public property but without the equivalent large investments that W. Germany put into E. Germany in compensation for the Treuhand disaster.] The monetization of the assets will be one source to make the scheduled repayment of the new loan of ESM and generate over the life of the new loan a targeted total of EUR 50bn of which EUR 25bn will be used for the repayment of recapitalization of banks and other assets and 50 % of every remaining euro (i.e. 50% of EUR 25bn) will be used for decreasing the debt to GDP ratio and the remaining 50 % will be used for investments [i.e. public property will be sold off and the pitiful sums will go toward servicing an un-serviceable debt – with precisely nothing left over for public or private investments.] This fund would be established in Greece and be managed by the Greek authorities under the supervision of the relevant European Institutions [i.e. it will be nominally in Greece but, just like the HFSF or the Bank of Greece, it will be controlled fully by the creditors.] In agreement with Institutions and building on best international practices, a legislative framework should be adopted to ensure transparent procedures and adequate asset sale pricing, according to OECD principles and standards on the management of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) [i.e. the Troika will do what it likes.]
  • in line with the Greek government ambitions, to modernise and significantly strengthen the Greek administration, and to put in place a programme, under the auspices of the European Commission, for capacity-building and de-politicizing the Greek administration [i.e. Turning Greece into a democracy-free zone modelled on Brussels, a form of supposedly technocratic government, which is politically toxic and macro-economically inept] A first proposal should be provided by 20 July after discussions with the Institutions. The Greek government commits to reduce further the costs of the Greek administration [i.e. to reduce the lowest wages while increasing a little the wages some of the Troika-friendly apparatchiks], in line with a schedule agreed with the Institutions.
  • to fully normalize working methods with the Institutions, including the necessary work on the ground in Athens, to improve programme implementation and monitoring [i.e. The Troika strikes back and demands that the Greek government invite it to return to Athens as Conqueror – the Carthaginian Peace in all its glory.] The government needs to consult and agree with the Institutions on all draft legislation in relevant areas with adequate time before submitting it for public consultation or to Parliament [i.e. Greek Parliament must, again, after five months of short-lived independence, become an appendage of the Troika – passing translated legislation mechanistically.] The Euro Summit stresses again that implementation is key, and in that context welcomes the intention of the Greek authorities to request by 20 July support from the Institutions and Member States for technical assistance, and asks the European Commission to coordinate this support from Europe;
  • With the exception of the humanitarian crisis bill, the Greek government will reexamine with a view to amending legislations that were introduced counter to the February 20 agreement by backtracking on previous programme commitments or identify clear compensatory equivalents for the vested rights that were subsequently created [i.e. In addition to promising that it will no longer legislative autonomously, the Greek government will retrospectively annul all Bills it passed over the past five months.]

The above-listed commitments are minimum requirements to start the negotiations with the Greek authorities. However, the Euro Summit made it clear that the start of negotiations does not preclude any final possible agreement on a new ESM programme, which will have to be based on a decision on the whole package (including financing needs, debt sustainability and possible bridge financing) [i.e. self-flagellate, impose further austerity upon an economy crushed by austerity, and then we shall see whether the Eurogroup will grave you with another toxic, unsustainable loans.]

The Euro Summit takes note of the possible programme financing needs of between EUR 82 and 86bn, as assessed by the Institutions [i.e. the Eurogroup conjured up a huge number, well above what is necessary, in order to signal the debt restructuring is out and that debt bondage ad infinitum is the name of the game.] It invites the Institutions to explore possibilities to reduce the financing envelope, through an alternative fiscal path or higher privatisation proceeds [i.e. And, yes, it may possible that pigs will fly.] Restoring market access, which is an objective of any financial assistance programme, lowers the need to draw on the total financing envelope [i.e. which is something the creditors will do their utmost to avoid, e.g. by ensuring that Greece will only enter the ECB’s quantitative easing program in 2018, once quantitative easing is… over.]

The Euro Summit takes note of the urgent financing needs of Greece which underline the need for very swift progress in reaching a decision on a new MoU: these are estimated to amount to EUR 7bn by 20 July and an additional EUR 5bn by mid August [i.e. Extend and Pretend gets another spin.] The Euro Summit acknowledges the importance of ensuring that the Greek sovereign can clear its arrears to the IMF and to the Bank of Greece and honour its debt obligations in the coming weeks to create conditions which allow for an orderly conclusion of the negotiations. The risks of not concluding swiftly the negotiations remain fully with Greece [i.e. Once more, demanding that the victim takes all the blame in behalf of the villain.] The Euro Summit invites the Eurogroup to discuss these issues as a matter of urgency.

Given the acute challenges of the Greek financial sector, the total envelope of a possible new ESM programme would have to include the establishment of a buffer of EUR 10 to 25bn for the banking sector in order to address potential bank recapitalisation needs and resolution costs, of which EUR 10bn would be made available immediately in a segregated account at the ESM [i.e. the Troika admits that the 2013-14 recapitalisation of the banks, which would only need a top up of at most 10 billion, was insufficient – but, of course, blames it on… the Syriza government.]

The Euro Summit is aware that a rapid decision on a new programme is a condition to allow banks to reopen, thus avoiding an increase in the total financing envelope [i.e. The Troika closed Greece’s banks to force the Syriza government to capitulate and now cries out for their re-opening.] The ECB/SSM will conduct a comprehensive assessment after the summer. The overall buffer will cater for possible capital shortfalls following the comprehensive assessment after the legal framework is applied.

There are serious concerns regarding the sustainability of Greek debt [N.b. Really? Gosh!] This is due to the easing of policies during the last twelve months, which resulted in the recent deterioration in the domestic macroeconomic and financial environment [i.e. It is not the Extend and Pretend ‘bailout’ loans of 2010 and 2012 that, in conjunction with GDP-sapping austerity, caused the debt to scale immense heights – it was the prospect, and reality, of a government that criticized the the Extend and Pretend ‘bailout’ loans that… caused Debt’s Unustainability!]

The Euro Summit recalls that the euro area Member States have, throughout the last few years, adopted a remarkable set of measures supporting Greece’s debt sustainability, which have smoothed Greece’s debt servicing path and reduced costs significantly [i.e. The 1st & 2nd ‘bailout’ programs failed, the debt skyrocketing as it was always going to since the real purpose of the ‘bailout’ programs was to transfer banking losses to Europe’s taxpayers.] Against this background, in the context of a possible future ESM programme, and in line with the spirit of the Eurogroup statement of November 2012 [i.e. a promise of debt restructure to the previous Greek government was never kept by the creditors], the Eurogroup stands ready to consider, if necessary, possible additional measures (possible longer grace and payment periods) aiming at ensuring that gross financing needs remain at a sustainable level. These measures will be conditional upon full implementation of the measures to be agreed in a possible new programme and will be considered after the first positive completion of a review [i.e. Yet again, the Troika shall let the Greek government labour under un-payable debt and when, as a result, the program fails, poverty rises further and incomes collapse much more, then we may haircut some of the debt – as the Troika did in 2012.]

The Euro Summit stresses that nominal haircuts on the debt cannot be undertaken [N.b. The Syriza government has been suggesting, since January, a moderate debt restructure, with no haircuts, maximizing the expected net present value of Greece’s repayments to creditors’ – which was rejected by the Troika because their aim was, simply, to humiliate Syriza.] Greek authorities reiterate their unequivocal commitment to honour their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and in a timely manner [N.b. Which can only happen after a substantial debt restrucuture.] Provided that all the necessary conditions contained in this document are fulfilled, the Eurogroup and ESM Board of Governors may, in accordance with Article 13.2 of the ESM Treaty, mandate the Institutions to negotiate a new ESM programme, if the preconditions of Article 13 of the ESM Treaty are met on the basis of the assessment referred to in Article 13.1. To help support growth and job creation in Greece (in the next 3-5 years) [N.b. Having already destroyed growth and jobs for the past five years…] the Commission will work closely with the Greek authorities to mobilise up to EUR 35bn (under various EU programmes) to fund investment and economic activity, including in SMEs [i.e. Will use the same order of magnitude of structural funds, plus some fantasy money, as were available in 2010-2014.] As an exceptional measure and given the unique situation of Greece the Commission will propose to increase the level of pre-financing by EUR 1bn to give an immediate boost to investment to be dealt with by the EU co-legislators [i.e. Of the headline 35 billion, consider 1 billion as real money.] The Investment Plan for Europe will also provide funding opportunities for Greece [i.e. the same plan that most Eurozone ministers of finance refer to as a phantom program].

(Source: Yanis Varoufakis)

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Rand Paul sues Obama over foreign banking law

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Ralph Z. Hallow
The Washington Times : July 14, 2015

Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday officially sued the Obama administration, seeking to stop it from enforcing a federal banking law that has led large numbers of Americans overseas to renounce their citizenship.

In a move with implications for his 2016 presidential bid, Mr. Paul joined six other plaintiffs in a suit filed by Republicans Overseas Action (ROA), arguing that the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit maintains Mr. Paul has unique standing as a plaintiff since it argues the Obama administration violated the right of himself and other 99 senators to advise and consent on agreements with foreign countries.

The 2010 law, passed by a Democratic Congress, has been a centerpiece of President Obama’s campaign to crack down on wealthy Americans he says have been dodging taxes by hiding their money overseas.

But it has become enormously controversial, empowering foreign banks to turn over overseas Americans’ private information to foreign governments, who then must turn it over to the Treasury Department.

The lawsuit argues the agreements the Treasury Department reached with foreign countries to gain access to Americans’ banking information violates the Constitution’s Article II, Section 2 that requires two-thirds of U.S. senators present and voting to approve a foreign treaty.

The suit also claims the law has inflicted unprecedented hardship on American expatriates, preventing them from getting banking services overseas and causing many to renounce their citizenship to avoid onerous invasions of their privacy and financial penalties.

The lawsuit could also have a political impact as the Republican Party tries to recruit the 8.7 million U.S. citizens living and working abroad to back it in next year’s presidential elections. That would be a significant advantage for the GOP’s presidential nominee if enough absentee overseas votes are cast in swing state where small margins make large differences in awarding electoral college votes to Oval Office hopefuls.

“This lawsuit speaks volumes about the Obama administration’s lawlessness and disregard for the Constitution,” said Jim Bopp Jr., lead attorney for the plaintiffs who, collectively, have eight separate constitutional claims against the law and its enforcement mechanisms.

(read the full article at The Washington Times

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When Wall Street offers free money, watch out

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By Allan Sloan and Cezary Podkul
The Washington Post & ProPublica : July 11, 2015

If there were ever a time not to bet the moon on the stock and bond markets, it’s now, with U.S. stocks at near-record highs and interest rates on quality bonds at near-record lows. But Wall Street is urging state and local governments to do just that — and they’re listening.

Despite the risks, governments are lining up to issue billions of dollars in new debt to replenish their depleted pension funds and, as a bonus, take some pressure off strapped budgets. In some cases, the borrowing makes their balance sheets look vastly better. Bankers, who make fat fees for raising the money, are encouraging this borrow-and-bet trend. Their sales pitch is that borrowing at today’s low interest rates all but guarantees a profit for the governments because they can invest the proceeds in their pension funds and for decades earn returns higher than the 5 percent or so in interest that they will pay on the bonds.

But there’s a catch: If the timing is wrong, these so-called pension obligation bonds could clobber the finances of the government issuers. Pension funds and beneficiaries will be better off because pensions will be more soundly financed. But taxpayers — present and future — might be considerably worse off. They will be running huge risks and could get stuck with a massive tab.

“It’s sold as a magic bean,” said Todd Ely, a professor at the University of Colorado at Denver who has studied pension bonds. “But when it goes bad, it’s not free. Then it isn’t really magic. If it could be counted on to work as often as it’s supposed to, then everyone would be doing it.”

Plenty of takers are bellying up to the borrowing bar. Governments sold $670 million worth of pension bonds through the first half of this year, more than double the $300 million raised for all of last year, according to deal-trackers at Thomson Reuters.

That total would more than double if Kansas completes a pending $1 billion deal, which would be its biggest bond issue. A $3 billion sale is under consideration in Pennsylvania, that state’s largest as well. Lawmakers recently rejected record multibillion-dollar deals in Kentucky and Colorado, but those proposals are expected to resurface. And new proposals are being pitched to other governments.

Pension bonds have waxed and waned since the 1980s, but the current boom is different. An examination by The Washington Post and ProPublica found that it’s being driven not only by the prospect of investment profits but also by a new accounting quirk that has largely escaped public notice while morphing into a major marketing tool for Wall Street banks.

The quirk stems from a rule change that was meant to force governments to more clearly disclose the health of their pension funds. But a side effect is to allow governments with extremely underfunded pensions to slash reported shortfalls by $2 or more for each $1 borrowed.

(read the full article at Washington Post)


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DEA asset “El Chapo” Guzman escapes from prison

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Alternative Free Press

Yesterday, Sinaloa Cartel drug-lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped from prison in Mexico.

In 2014 it was reported that Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other federal agents had forged a secret alliance with top level Sinaloa drug cartel members by permitting the narco gangsters to traffic drugs into the U.S., and in a reverse sting, the DEA is accused of allegedly allowing the dealers to ship U.S. made weapons into Mexico without facing prosecution.

Anabel Hernández has received numerous awards for her work, including the 2012 Golden Pen of Freedom Award from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. Last year she told Nick Alexandrov:

There is no “drug war.” I have been investigating the drug cartels for almost 10 years. I have access to a great deal of information—documents, court files, testimonies of members of the Mexican and US governments—and I can tell you that in Mexico there has never, never been a “war on drugs.” The government, from the mid-1970s until today, has been involved with the drug cartels.

Hernández says she has documents showing that prior to Guzman’s arrest, the authorities always knew where he was, and they consistently protected him. Considering that, it is reasonable to question whether Guzman was allowed to escape.

“I was an informant for U.S. Federal Agents, and the agents cut a deal with (me), and members of the Sinaloa Cartel that allowed us to traffic tons of narcotics into the U.S., and to traffic illegal guns across the Mexico-U.S. Border without fear of prosecution under an immunity agreement,” said Vicente Zambada-Niebla in a bombshell court filing in federal court in Chicago Illinois.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said in 2009 that he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were “the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.

Michael Ruppert exposed government drug-dealing in Los Angeles during the 1990s, he explains that “with 250 billion dollars a year in illegal drug money moved, laundered through the American economy, that money benefits Wall Street. That’s the point of having the prohibitive drug trade, which the CIA effectively manages for the benefit of Wall Street. So the purpose of the Agency being involved in the drug trade has been to generate illegal cash, fluid liquid capital, which gives those who can get their hands on it an unfair advantage in the marketplace…. The drug money is always going through Wall Street. Wall Street smells money and doesn’t care where the money comes from; they’ll go for the drug money.”

Compiled by Alternative Free Press
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Crony Eric Holder Returns as Hero to Law Firm That Lobbies for Big Banks

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Lee Fang
The Intercept : July 6, 2015

After failing to criminally prosecute any of the financial firms responsible for the market collapse in 2008, former Attorney General Eric Holder is returning to Covington & Burling, a corporate law firm known for serving Wall Street clients.

The move completes one of the more troubling trips through the revolving door for a cabinet secretary. Holder worked at Covington from 2001 right up to being sworn in as attorney general in Feburary 2009. And Covington literally kept an office empty for him, awaiting his return.

The Covington & Burling client list has included four of the largest banks, including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Lobbying records show that Wells Fargo is still a client of Covington. Covington recently represented Citigroup over a civil lawsuit relating to the bank’s role in Libor manipulation.

Covington was also deeply involved with a company known as MERS, which was later responsible for falsifying mortgage documents on an industrial scale. “Court records show that Covington, in the late 1990s, provided legal opinion letters needed to create MERS on behalf of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and several other large banks,” according to an investigation by Reuters.

The Department of Justice under Holder not only failed to pursue criminal prosecutions of the banks responsible for the mortage meltdown, but in fact de-prioritized investigations of mortgage fraud, making it the “lowest-ranked criminal threat,” according to an inspector general report.

For insiders, the Holder decision to return to Covington was never a mystery. Timothy Hester, the chairman of Covington, told the National Law Journal that Holder’s return to the firm had been “a project” of his ever since Holder left to the join the administration in 2009. When the firm moved to a new building last year, it kept an 11th-story corner office reserved for Holder.

[…]

As Covington prepared for Holder’s return, the firm continued to represent clients before the Department of Justice. For instance, Covington negotiated with the department on behalf of GlaxoSmithKline for a plea agreement in 2010.

Holder’s critics charge that he made a career out of institutionalizing “Too Big to Prosecute” rules within the department. In 1999, as a deputy attorney general, Holder authored a memo arguing that officials should consider the “collateral consequences” when prosecuting corporate crimes. In 2012, Holder’s enforcement chief, Lanny Breuer, admitted during a speech to the New York City Bar Association that the department may go easy on certain corporate criminals if they believe prosecutions may disrupt financial markets or cause layoffs. “In some cases, the health of an industry or the markets are a real factor,” Breuer said.

Rather than face accountability for their failures, the incentive structure of modern Washington is designed to reward both men. Breuer left the department in 2013 to rejoin Covington. Holder is set to become among the highest-earning partners at the firm, with compensation in the seven or eight figures.

(read the full article at The Intercept)

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Greece — The One Biggest Lie You Are Being Told By The Media

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Truth & Satire: July 3, 2015

Every single mainstream media has the following narrative for the economic crisis in Greece: the government spent too much money and went broke; the generous banks gave them money, but Greece still can’t pay the bills because it mismanaged the money that was given. It sounds quite reasonable, right?

Except that it is a big fat lie … not only about Greece, but about other European countries such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland who are all experiencing various degrees of austerity. It was also the same big, fat lie that was used by banks and corporations to exploit many Latin American, Asian and African countries for many decades.

Greece did not fail on its own. It was made to fail.

In summary, the banks wrecked the Greek government, and then deliberately pushed it into unsustainable debt … while revenue-generating public assets were sold off to oligarchs and international corporations. The rest of the article is about how and why.

If you are a fan of mafia movies, you know how the mafia would take over a popular restaurant. First, they would do something to disrupt the business – stage a murder at the restaurant or start a fire. When the business starts to suffer, the Godfather would generously offer some money as a token of friendship. In return, Greasy Thumb takes over the restaurant’s accounting, Big Joey is put in charge of procurement, and so on. Needless to say, it’s a journey down a spiral of misery for the owner who will soon be broke and, if lucky, alive.

Now, let’s map the mafia story to international finance in four stages.

Stage 1: The first and foremost reason that Greece got into trouble was the “Great Financial Crisis” of 2008 that was the brainchild of Wall Street and international bankers. If you remember, banks came up with an awesome idea of giving subprime mortgages to anyone who can fog a mirror. They then packaged up all these ticking financial bombs and sold them as “mortgage-backed securities” for a huge profit to various financial entities in countries around the world.

A big enabler of this criminal activity was another branch of the banking system, the group of rating agencies – S&P, Fitch and Moody’s – who gave stellar ratings to these destined-to-fail financial products. Unscrupulous politicians such as Tony Blair joined Goldman Sachs and peddled these dangerous securities to pension funds and municipalities and countries around Europe. Banks and Wall Street gurus made hundreds of billions of dollars in this scheme.

But this was just Stage 1 of their enormous scam. There was much more profit to be made in the next three stages!

Stage 2 is when the financial time bombs exploded. Commercial and investment banks around the world started collapsing in a matter of weeks. Governments at local and regional level saw their investments and assets evaporate. Chaos everywhere!

Vultures like Goldman Sachs and other big banks profited enormously in three ways: one, they could buy other banks such as Lehman brothers and Washington Mutual for pennies on the dollar. Second, more heinously, Goldman Sachs and insiders such as John Paulson (who recently donated $400 million to Harvard) had made bets that these securities would blow up. Paulson made billions, and the media celebrated his acumen. (For an analogy, imagine the terrorists betting on 9/11 and profiting from it.) Third, to scrub salt in the wound, the big banks demanded a bailout from the very citizens whose lives the bankers had ruined! Bankers have chutzpah. In the U.S., they got hundreds of billions of dollars from the taxpayers and trillions from the Federal Reserve Bank which is nothing but a front group for the bankers.

In Greece, the domestic banks got more than $30 billion of bailout from the Greek people. Let that sink in for a moment – the supposedly irresponsible Greek government had to bail out the hardcore capitalist bankers.

Stage 3 is when the banks force the government to accept massive debts. For a biology metaphor, consider a virus or a bacteria. All of them have unique strategies to weaken the immune system of the host. One of the proven techniques used by the parasitic international bankers is to downgrade the bonds of a country. And that’s exactly what the bankers did, starting at the end of 2009. This immediately makes the interest rates (“yields”) on the bonds go up, making it more and more expensive for the country to borrow money or even just roll over the existing bonds.

From 2009 to mid 2010, the yields on 10-year Greek bonds almost tripled! This cruel financial assault brought the Greek government to its knees, and the banksters won their first debt deal of a whopping 110 billion Euros.

The banks also control the politics of nations. In 2011, when the Greek prime minister refused to accept a second massive bailout, the banks forced him out of the office and immediately replaced him with the Vice President of ECB (European Central Bank)! No elections needed. Screw democracy. And what would this new guy do? Sign on the dotted line of every paperwork that the bankers bring in.

(By the way, the very next day, the exact same thing happened in Italy where the Prime Minister resigned, only to be replaced by a banker/economist puppet. Ten days later, Spain had a premature election where a “technocrat” banker puppet won the election).

The puppet masters had the best month ever in November 2011.

Few months later, in 2012, the exact bond market manipulation was used when the banksters turned up the Greek bonds’ yields to 50%!!! This financial terrorism immediately had the desired effect: The Greek parliament agreed to a second massive bailout, even larger than the first one.

Now, here is another fact that most people don’t understand. The loans are not just simple loans like you would get from a credit card or a bank. These loans come with very special strings attached that demand privatization of a country’s assets. If you have seen Godfather III, you would remember Hyman Roth, the investor who was carving up Cuba among his friends. Replace Hyman Roth with Goldman Sachs or IMF (International Monetary Fund) or ECB, and you get the picture.

Stage 4: Now, the rape and humiliation of a nation begin. For the debt that was forced upon them, Greece had to sell many of its profitable assets to oligarchs and international corporations. And privatizations are ruthless, involving everything and anything that is profitable. In Greece, privatization included water, electricity, post offices, airport services, national banks, telecommunication, port authorities (which is huge in a country that is a world leader in shipping) etc.

In addition to that, the banker tyrants also get to dictate every single line item in the government’s budget. Want to cut military spending? NO! Want to raise tax on the oligarchs or big corporations? NO! Such micro-management is non-existent in any other creditor-debtor relationship.

So what happens after privatization and despotism under bankers? Of course, the government’s revenue goes down and the debt increases further. How do you “fix” that? Of course, cut spending! Lay off public workers, cut minimum wage, cut pensions (same as our social security), cut public services, and raise taxes on things that would affect the 99% but not the 1%. For example, pension has been cut in half and sales tax increase to more than 20%. All these measures have resulted in Greece going through a financial calamity that is worse than the Great Depression of the U.S. in the 1930s.

Of course, the ever-manipulative bankers demand immediate privatization of all media which means that the country now gets photogenic TV anchors who spew propaganda every day and tell the people that crooked and greedy banksters are saviors; and slavery under austerity is so much better than the alternative.

If every Greek person had known the truth about austerity, they wouldn’t have fallen for this. Same goes for Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland and other countries going through austerity.The sad aspect of all this is that these are not unique strategies. Since World War II, these predatory practices have been used countless times by the IMF and the World Bank in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

(read the full article at Truth & Satire)

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The Global Template for Collapse: The Enchanting Charms of Cheap, Easy Credit

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Charles Hugh Smith
Of Two Minds : June 29, 2015

Cheap, easy credit has created moral hazard and nurtured magical thinking throughout the global economy.

According to polls, the majority of Greek citizens want the benefits of membership in the euro/EU and the end of EU-imposed austerity. The idea that these are mutually exclusive doesn’t seem to register.

This is the discreet charm of magical thinking: it promises an escape from the difficulties of hard choices, tough trade-offs, the disruption of vested interests and most painfully, the breakdown of the debt machine that has enabled the distribution of swag to virtually everyone in the system (a torrent to those at the top, a trickle to the majority at the bottom, but swag nonetheless).

If we had to summarize the insidious charm of magical thinking, we might start with the overpowering appeal of using credit to ease all difficulties.

Need money to fund various healthcare/national defense rackets? Borrow the money. Need to keep people employed building ghost cities in the middle of nowhere? Borrow the money. Need to keep buying shares of the company’s stock to push the value of each share ever higher? Borrow the money.

The problem with cheap, easy credit is Cheap, easy credit destroys discipline. The lifetime costs of debt taken on to fund bridges to nowhere, healthcare/national defense rackets, ghost cities, stock buybacks, etc. are never calculated. The opportunity costs are also never calculated.

When credit is costly and hard to get, marginal borrowers can’t get loans and nobody dares borrow at high rates of interest for low-yield, high-risk schemes. When credit is costly and hard to get, what doesn’t pencil out doesn’t get funded.

When credit is cheap and easy to get, every scheme and racket gets funding because hey, why not? The cost is low (at the moment) and the gain might be fantastic. But even if the gain is unknown, the kickback/campaign contributions make it worthwhile even if the scheme fails.

Professional economists are duty-bound to claim national economies are not merely extensions of households. But this is just another falsity passed off as sophisticated truth by a profession that is being discredited by the reality of its failed policies, failed theories and failed predictions.

Since human psychology remains the dominant force in all economics, the household and national economies can only differ in scale.

In the 1970s, credit was scarce and hard to get. Young workers qualified for a $300 limit credit card, and it took careful management of that responsibility (always paying on time, etc.) to get a meager increase to $500. Mortgage rates were high (10%+) and your income and household balance sheet were scrutinized before any lender took a chance on lending you tens of thousands of dollars to buy a house. After all, the bank would be stuck with the losses if you defaulted.

Then came financialization. Banks could skim the profits from originating loans and offload the risk of default onto towns in Norway, credulous pension funds and other greater fools.

And if a default threatened the bank–for example, Greece in 2011–the bank simply bought political power and shifted the debt onto taxpayers. “The ATMs will stop working,” the bankers threatened their political flunkies in Congress in 2008, and the bought-and-paid-for toadies in Congress and the Federal Reserve obediently shifted trillions of dollars in private liabilities and sketchy debt-based “assets” such as mortgages onto the taxpayers and the Fed balance sheet.

The same transfer of risk and losses occurred in Europe, as these charts demonstrate: (Source: If Greece Defaults, Europe’s Taxpayers Lose)

Here is the debt in 2009–mostly owed to private banks and bondholders:

Here is the debt in 2015–almost all was shifted onto the backs of taxpayers:

 

Ask yourself this: if you could shift risk and losses to the taxpayers, how would that affect your investing/gambling? Wouldn’t you take much higher risks, knowing that losses would not fall to you but to abstract taxpayers? Of course you would, and this is the essence of moral hazard–the disconnect of risk and consequence.

Cheap, easy credit has created moral hazard and nurtured magical thinking throughout the global economy. The heart of magical thinking is that consequences have been disappeared or shifted onto others by financial enchantment.

(Read the full article at of two minds)

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This Is What A Volcker Rule Loophole Looks Like

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Daniel Drew
dark-bid: June 14, 2015

After the carnage of the 2008 crash, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker proposed a rule that would prevent banks from making short-term proprietary trades with financial instruments. In other words, no gambling allowed. This rule would become known as The Volcker Rule, and it went into partial effect on April 1, 2014. Full compliance is required by July 21, 2015. Of course, the bank lobbyists were hard at work, and numerous exceptions and loopholes were created. The definition of “financial instruments” did not include currencies, despite the fact that currencies are the basis of the modern financial system and should be considered the ultimate financial instrument. Also, banks were allowed to “hedge” their risks. As JPMorgan demonstrated in 2012, apparently, it is possible to lose $6 billion while hedging risks with credit derivatives.

JPMorgan is at it again – this time, with the Swiss franc. On January 15 of this year, the Swiss Central Bank sent shockwaves around the financial world when they abruptly abandoned the 1.20 EURCHF floor.

The Wall Street Journal reported that JPMorgan made up to $300 million in the ensuing trading chaos. With the FX market facing a severe shortage of liquidity, JPMorgan stepped in. However, as with any illiquid market, the dealers call the shots. Bid/ask spreads can explode, creating enormous transaction costs for anyone who has to trade. These parties included desperate retail FX brokers and small clients who were bankrupted by the Swiss central bankers. As the WSJ reported,

J.P. Morgan filled client orders at a certain rate, allowing them to quickly assess their position and continue trading when liquidity dried up in the market, this person said. The bank told clients it would fill orders at 1.02 francs per euro while the Swiss currency grew from 1.20 francs per euro to nearly .85 on Jan. 15, the person said. It is unclear how long the bank offered this rate to clients.

By setting the fill 15% away from the last price, JPMorgan was able to lock in any gains from a long franc position instantly. It also gave the firm’s traders an anchor so they knew where they were at. What if the clients could get a more advantageous rate at another bank? It didn’t matter. 1.02 was the price. If JPMorgan’s traders saw a better rate elsewhere, they could trade with that third party and effectively arbitrage the market against their own clients. Of course, it was all transparent. You knew you were getting 1.02, but if your bankrupt broker is margin calling you at any price, there’s not much you can do. It was JPMorgan’s market.

The chaos of the Swiss bank bluff showed up in JPMorgan’s first quarter report. In the trading section that reports the firm’s value at risk, January 15 stands out like LeBron James in his 5th grade class picture.

JPMorgan VAR

With free reign to trade currencies and under the guise of “market making,” JPMorgan raped the accounts of retail FX brokers and small clients who never could have imagined that the Swiss Central Bank would turn the stable franc into one of the most volatile currencies of the decade. It also appears that The Wall Street Journal overstated the $300 million headline number. According to JPMorgan, they made about $200 million that day.

The fact that JPMorgan still takes value at risk (VAR) seriously is another irony. Wall Street anti-hero Nassim Taleb has made multiple fortunes betting on improbable events via out-of-the-money put options, and he remains one of the most steadfast critics of VAR. Taleb has an arcane style of communication, but the summary of his criticism is that VAR is based on the normal distribution, which underestimates the effects of extreme price moves. Furthermore, the very idea that wild events can be predicted by any model is an arrogant assumption, according to Taleb. A white paper by the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) verifies Taleb’s assertions.

(read the full article at dark-bid)

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Iceland Imprisoned Its Bankers And Let Banks Go Bust: What Happened Next In 3 Charts

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Zero Hedge : June 11, 2015

This year, Iceland will become the first European country that hit crisis in 2008 to beat its pre-crisis peak of economic output. In spite of its total 180-degree treatment of nefarious bankers, the banking system, and the people of its nation when compared to America (or The UK), Iceland has proved that there is a different (better) option that western dogma would suggest. As abhorrent as this prospect is to the mainstream’s talking heads and Keynesian Klowns who bloviate wildly on macro-economics and endless counterfactuals, Iceland came to that fork in the road, and took it…

 

As The Independent reports,

While the UK government nationalised Lloyds and RBS with tax-payers’ money and the US government bought stakes in its key banks, Iceland adopted a different approach. It said it would shore up domestic bank accounts. Everyone else was left to fight over the remaining cash.

 

It also imposed capital controls restricting what ordinary people could do with their money– a measure some saw as a violation of free market economics.

 

The plan worked. Iceland took a huge financial hit, just like every other country caught in the crisis.

 

 

This year the International Monetary Fund declared that Iceland had achieved economic recovery ‘without compromising its welfare model’ of universal healthcare and education.

 

Other measures of progress like the country’s unemployment rate, compare just as well with countries like the US.

 

 

Rather than maintaining the value of the krona artificially, Iceland chose to accept inflation.

 

This pushed prices higher at home but helped exports abroad – in contrast to many countries in the EU, which are now fighting deflation, or prices that keep decreasing year on year.

 

 

With the reduction of capital controls – tempered by the 39 per cent tax – it continues to make progress.

 

“Today is a milestone, a very happy milestone,” Iceland’s finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson told the Guardian when he announced the tax.

*  *  *

But apart from the economics… Iceland also allowed bankers to be prosecuted as criminals – in contrast to the US and Europe, where banks were fined, but chief executives escaped punishment. The chief executive, chairman, Luxembourg ceo and second largest shareholder of Kaupthing, an Icelandic bank that collapsed, were sentenced in February to between four and five years in prison for market manipulation.

“Why should we have a part of our society that is not being policed or without responsibility?” said special prosecutor Olafur Hauksson at the time. “It is dangerous that someone is too big to investigate – it gives a sense there is a safe haven.”

Wikileaks Releases Documents from Shady “Trade in Services Agreement,” or TISA

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Michael Krieger
Liberty Blitzkrieg: June 5, 2015

If it sounds complicated, it is. The important point is that this trade agreement contains a crucial discussion of governments’ abilities to meaningfully protect civil liberties. And it is not being treated as a human rights discussion. It is being framed solely as an economic issue, ignoring the implications for human rights, and it is being held in a classified document that the public is now seeing months after it was negotiated, and only because it was released through WikiLeaks. 

The process is also highly secretive—in fact, trade agreement texts are classified. While the executive branch does consult with members of Congress, even congressional staffers with security clearance have until recently been prevented from seeing the texts. Furthermore, certain trade industry advisers are allowed access to U.S. negotiating objectives and negotiators that the public and public interest groups do not have.

– From the Slate article: Privacy Is Not a Barrier to Trade

If you haven’t heard about about the Trade in Services Agreement, aka TISA, don’t worry, you’re not alone. While I had heard of it before, I never read anything substantial about it until today. What sparked my reading interest on the subject were a series of very troubling articles published via several media outlets following a document dump by Wikileaks. Here’s how the whistleblower organization describes the TISA leak on it document release page:

WikiLeaks releases today 17 secret documents from the ongoing TISA (Trade In Services Agreement) negotiations which cover the United States, the European Union and 23 other countries including Turkey, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Pakistan, Taiwan & Israel — which together comprise two-thirds of global GDP. “Services” now account for nearly 80 per cent of the US and EU economies and even in developing countries like Pakistan account for 53 per cent of the economy. While the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has become well known in recent months in the United States, the TISA is the larger component of the strategic TPP-TISA-TTIP ‘T-treaty trinity’. All parts of the trinity notably exclude the ‘BRICS’ countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. 

I’ve covered the extreme dangers of what’s colloquially known as trade “fast track” authority previously. In the post, As the Senate Prepares to Vote on “Fast Track,” Here’s a Quick Primer on the Dangers of the TPP, I noted:

Passing this corporate giveaway masquerading as a “free trade deal” is a lengthy process; a process that begins today with a Senate vote on Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as “fast track.”  Passing TPA would be Congress agreeing to neuter itself to a yes or no vote on a trade pact and ceding its power to amend it. Even worse, it would give trade deals this expedited process for six years, thus outlasting the current Administration, and applying to other “trade” deals like the TTIPMind you, TPA is being voted on while the TPP text remains completely hidden from the public.

Naturally, “fast track” ultimately passed through the corrupt, rancid body known as the U.S. Senate despite the best efforts of people such as Elizabeth Warren to stop it. As noted in the above paragraph, fast track isn’t just about the TPP, it covers other deals already well in the works such as TTIP and TISA. Makes you wonder whether these other deals are even worse.

For more information on TISA, let’s turn to the Huffington Post:

The latest leak purports to include 17 documents from negotiations on the Trade In Services Agreement, a blandly named trade deal that would cover the United States, the European Union and more than 20 other countries. More than 80 percent of the United States economy is in service sectors.

According to the Wikileaks release, TISA, as the deal is known, would take a major step towards deregulating financial industries, and could affect everything from local maritime and air traffic rules to domestic regulations on almost anything if an internationally traded service is involved.

The pact would be one of three enormous deals whose passage through Congress could be eased with passage of Trade Promotion Authority, also known as fast-track authority. The Senate has passed fast-track, and it could be taken up in the House this month.

“Today’s leaks of TISA (trade in services) text reveal once again how dangerous Fast Track Authority is when it comes to protecting citizen rights vs. corporate rights,” he added. “This TISA text again favors privatization over public services, limits governmental action on issues ranging from safety to the environment using trade as a smokescreen to limit citizen rights.”

The Office of the United States Trade Representative and top European officials have repeatedly denied that TISA or the Transatlantic deal would impact local laws, releasing a joint statement to that effect earlier this spring.

Still, the Wikileaks documents suggest that World Trade Organization-style tribunals would be expanded under TISA, and that such tribunals convened to resolve trade disputes can impact local laws. One such WTO tribunal ruled last month that the United States must repeal its laws requiring meat to be labeled with its country of origin, or face punitive tariffs on exports.

I covered this ruling a couple of weeks ago in the post: Congress Moves to Eliminate Labels Showing Consumers Where Meat Comes from Following WTO Ruling

Moving along to the UK Independent’s coverage of TISA:

Wikileaks has warned that governments negotiating a far-reaching global service agreement are ‘surrendering a large part of their global sovereignty’ and exacerbating the social inequality of poorer countries in the process.

The Trade in Services Agreement exposed in a 17 document dump by Wikileaks on Thursday relates to ongoing negotiations to lock market liberalizations into global law.

Under the agreement, retailers like Zara or Marks & Spencers would have the right to open stores in any of the signing countries and be treated like domestic companies. A nationalized service, such as the British telecoms industry in the eighties, would have to ensure it was not harming competition under these terms. 

Wikileaks says that corporations would be able to use the law in its current form to hold sway over governments, deciding whether laws promoting culture, protecting the environment or ensuring equal access to services were ‘unnecessarily burdensome’, or whether knowledge of indigenous culture or public services was essential to achieve ‘parity’.

“In other words, unaccountable private ‘trade’ tribunals would decide how countries could regulate activities that are fundamental to social well-being,” Wikileaks said.

No wonder these deals are being keep so secret. Let’s now turn to Slate, which examined TISA’s potential threat to a human right that is increasingly under attack: personal privacy.

On Wednesday, WikiLeaks released the draft text of the biggest international agreement you’ve probably never heard of: the Trade in Services Agreement, or TISA. And buried in one of the 12 leaked chapters (which are mostly on things like “air transport services” and “competitive delivery services”) is a volatile and crucial debate about online privacy and the global Internet.

Trade agreements used to focus on things like tariffs, but they aren’t just about trade anymore. They consist of hundreds of chapters of detailed regulations, on subjects ranging from textiles to intellectual property law. TISA purports to promote fair and open global competition in services, thus increasing jobs. (You may have also heard about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, another trade agreement currently being negotiated and criticized. This one’s even more mammoth.) TISA is being negotiated between 23 countries representing some 75 percent of the global services market. Buried in its e-commerce annex are rules that will reshape the relationship between the free flow of information and online privacy.

The Internet is global, but privacy regulations incorporate localized norms. The U.S., for example, protects only some things, like your video-watching history and health information, while the European Union has a comprehensive framework for safeguarding far more information.

But TISA is different. The leaked draft language, proposed by the U.S. and several other countries, states that a government may not prevent a foreign services company “from transferring, [accessing, processing or storing] information, including personal information, within or outside the Party’s territory.” Essentially, this says that privacy protections could be treated as barriers to trade. This language could strike most privacy regulations as they apply to foreign companies—and not just in the EU. It would also apply to U.S. regulation of foreign companies at home. For instance, U.S. health privacy law requires patient consent for health information to be shared. This, technically, is a restriction on transferring information that could be invalidated by TISA, if nothing changes. 

The subject matter TISA covers is already governed by a global agreement called GATS, which has an exception for privacy protections. In other words, privacy protections are explicitly not treated as trade barriers in GATS. The leaked draft language from TISA shows that there is an ongoing debate between countries over whether to create an explicit privacy exception within TISA itself. The result of this debate is hugely important for states that want privacy laws.

If it sounds complicated, it is. The important point is that this trade agreement contains a crucial discussion of governments’ abilities to meaningfully protect civil liberties. And it is not being treated as a human rights discussion. It is being framed solely as an economic issue, ignoring the implications for human rights, and it is being held in a classified document that the public is now seeing months after it was negotiated, and only because it was released through WikiLeaks. 

TISA’s contents are not all bad, and protection of an open global Internet through trade could theoretically be a good thing. But these fine points should be openly debated, not bartered away in an enormous agreement that bundles privacy together with maritime transport services.

The process is also highly secretive—in fact, trade agreement texts are classified. While the executive branch does consult with members of Congress, even congressional staffers with security clearance have until recently been prevented from seeing the texts. Furthermore, certain trade industry advisers are allowed access to U.S. negotiating objectives and negotiators that the public and public interest groups do not have.

Trade agreements governing civil liberties (and jobs, and the environment, and public health … ) need to receive meaningful input from the public and its real representatives—not after negotiations are concluded, not through a Congress hampered by excessive executive secrecy, and not through vague negotiating objectives that fail to meaningfully address human rights and other values.

Fast track just passed in the Senate. Senators including Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio tried to stop its passage but narrowly lost. Now, the vote is coming up in the House—maybe as soon as this week. About 2 million Americans have already signed a petition against the legislation. It would be sad indeed if one of the few times Congress decides to actually pass legislation, embrace bipartisanship, and show support of the president is a law that enables states to bargain away citizens’ freedoms behind closed doors.

Actually, it would’t be sad, it would make perfect sense. As George Carlin so accurately noted:

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 9.47.50 AM

Finally, from the New Republic:

On Wednesday, WikiLeaks brought this agreement into the spotlight by releasing 17 key TiSA-related documents, including 11 full chapters under negotiation. Though the outline for this agreement has been in place for nearly a year, these documents were supposed to remain classified for five years after being signed, an example of the secrecy surrounding the agreement, which outstrips even the TPP.

TiSA has been negotiated since 2013, between the United States, the European Union, and 22 other nations, including Canada, Mexico, Australia, Israel, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, and others scattered across South America and Asia. Overall, 12 of the G20 nations are represented, and negotiations have carefully incorporated practically every advanced economy except for the “BRICS” coalition of emerging markets (which stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

The deal would liberalize global trade of services, an expansive definition that encompasses air and maritime transport, package delivery, e-commerce, telecommunications, accountancy, engineering, consulting, health care, private education, financial services and more, covering close to 80 percent of the U.S. economy. Though member parties insist that the agreement would simply stop discrimination against foreign service providers, the text shows that TiSA would restrict how governments can manage their public laws through an effective regulatory cap. It could also dismantle and privatize state-owned enterprises, and turn those services over to the private sector. You begin to sound like the guy hanging out in front of the local food co-op passing around leaflets about One World Government when you talk about TiSA, but it really would clear the way for further corporate domination over sovereign countries and their citizens.

You need to either be a trade lawyer or a very alert reader to know what’s going on. But between the text and a series of analyses released by WikiLeaks, you get a sense for what the countries negotiating TiSA want.

First, they want to limit regulation on service sectors, whether at the national, provincial or local level. The agreement has “standstill” clauses to freeze regulations in place and prevent future rulemaking for professional licensing and qualifications or technical standards. And a companion “ratchet” clause would make any broken trade barrier irreversible.

No restrictions could be placed on foreign investment—corporations could control entire sectors. 

Corporations would get to comment on any new regulatory attempts, and enforce this regulatory straitjacket through a dispute mechanism similar to the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process in other trade agreements, where they could win money equal to “expected future profits” lost through violations of the regulatory cap.

For an example of how this would work, let’s look at financial services. It too has a “standstill” clause, which given the unpredictability of future crises could leave governments helpless to stop a new and dangerous financial innovation. In fact, Switzerland has proposed that all TiSA countries must allow “any new financial service” to enter their market. So-called “prudential regulations” to protect investors or depositors are theoretically allowed, but they must not act contrary to TiSA rules, rendering them somewhat irrelevant.

Most controversially, all financial services suppliers could transfer individual client data out of a TiSA country for processing, regardless of national privacy laws. This free flow of data across borders is true for the e-commerce annex as well; it breaks with thousands of years of precedent on locally kept business records, and has privacy advocates alarmed.

(read the full article at Liberty Blitzkrieg)

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