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Saturday, January 07, 2017

The Curious World of Donald Trump’s Private Russian Connections
James S. Henry

 

06TRUMPSOHOweb2-master675
Donald Trump, Tevfik Arif, and Felix Sater

 Did the American people really know they were putting such a "well-connected" guy in the White House?

 Intro by David Cay Johnston

Pulitizer-Prize winning author, The Making of Donald Trump.

Throughout Donald Trump's presidential campaign, he expressed glowing admiration for Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Many of Trump's adoring comments were utterly gratuitous. After his Electoral College victory, Trump continued praising the former head of the KGB while dismissing the finding of all 17 American national security agencies that Putin had directed Russian government interference to help Trump in the 2016 American presidential election.

 As veteran investigative economist and journalist Jim Henry shows below, a robust public record helps to explain the fealty of Trump and his family to this murderous autocrat and the network of Russian oligarchs.

 Putin and his billionaire friends have plundered the wealth of their own people. They have also run numerous schemes to defraud governments and investors in the United States and Europe. From public records, using his renowned analytical skills, Henry shows what the mainstream news media in United States have failed to report in any meaningful way: for at least three decades Donald Trump has profited from his connections to the Russian oligarchs, whose own fortunes now depend on their continued fealty to Putin.

We don't know the full relationship between Donald Trump, the Trump family and their enterprises with the network of the world– class criminals known as the Russian oligarchs. Henry acknowledges that his article poses more questions than answers, establishes more connections than full explanations. But what Henry does show should prompt every American to rise up in defense of their country, to demand a thorough out in the open Congressional investigation with no holds barred. The national security of United States of America and of peace around the world, especially in Europe, may depend on how thoroughly we understand the rich network of relationships between the 45th president and the Russian oligarchy. When Donald Trump chooses to exercise, or not exercise, his power to restrain Putin's drive to invade independent countries and seize their wealth, as well as to loot countries beyond his control, Americans need to know in whose interest the president 's acting or looking the other way.

 

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Tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are.”

—Cervantes

“I’ve always been blessed with a kind of intuition about people that allows me to sense who the sleazy guys are, and I stay far away.”

—Donald Trump, Surviving at the Top

Even before the November 8 election, many leading Democrats were vociferously demanding that the FBI disclose the fruits of its investigations into Putin-backed Russian hackers. Instead FBI Director Comey decided to temporarily revive his zombie-like investigation of Hillary’s emails. That decision may well have had an important impact on the election, but it did nothing to resolve the allegations about Putin. Even now, after the CIA has disclosed an abstract of its own still-secret investigation, it is fair to say that we still lack the cyberspace equivalent of a smoking gun.

Fortunately, however, for those of us who are curious about Trump’s Russian connections, there is another readily accessible body of published and other Internet material that has so far received surprisingly little attention. This suggests that whatever the nature of President-elect Donald Trump’s relationship with President Putin, he has certainly managed to accumulate direct and indirect connections with a far-flung private Russian/FSU network of outright mobsters, oligarchs, fraudsters, and kleptocrats. Vladimir-putin-judo

Any one of these connections might have occurred at random. But the overall pattern is a veritable Star Wars bar scene of unsavory characters, with Donald Trump seated right in the middle. The analytical challenge is to map this network—a task that most journalists and law enforcement agencies, focused on individual cases, have failed to do.

Of course, to label this network “private” may be a stretch, given that in Putin’s Russia, even the toughest mobsters learn the hard way to maintain a respectful relationship with the “New Tsar.” But here the central question pertains to our new Tsar. Did the American people really know they were putting such a “well-connected” guy in the White House?

The Big Picture: Kleptocracy and Capital Flight

A few of Donald Trump’s connections to oligarchs and assorted thugs have already received sporadic press attention -- for example, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s reported relationship with exiled Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash. But no one has pulled the connections together, used them to identify still more relationships, and developed an image of the overall patterns.

Nor has anyone related these cases to one of the most central facts about modern Russia: its emergence since the 1990s as a world-class kleptocracy, second only to China as a source of illicit capital and criminal loot, with more than $1.3 trillion of net offshore “flight wealth” as of 2016.[1]

  TOP30FLIGHTWEALTHCOUNTRIES2010-14

This tidal wave of illicit capital is hardly just Putin’s doing. It is in fact a symptom of one of the most epic failures in modern political economy -- one for which the West bears a great deal of responsibility. This is the failure, in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in the late 1980s, to ensure that Russia acquires the kind of strong, middle-class-centric economic and political base that is required for democratic capitalism, the rule of law, and stable, peaceful relationships with its neighbors.

Instead, from 1992 to the Russian debt crisis of August 1998, the West in general—and the U.S. Treasury, USAID, the State Department, the IMF/World Bank, the ERDB, and many leading economists in particular—actively promoted and, indeed, helped to finance one of the most massive transfers of public wealth into private hands that the world has ever seen.

For example, Russia’s 1992 “voucher privatization” program permitted a tiny elite of former state-owned company managers and party apparatchiks to acquire control over a vast number of public enterprises, often with the help of outright mobsters. A majority of Gazprom, the state energy company that controlled a third of the world’s gas reserves, was sold for $230 million; Russia’s entire national electric grid was privatized for $630 million; ZIL, Russia's largest auto company, went for about $4 million; ports, ships, oil, iron and steel, aluminum, much of the high-tech arms and airlines industries, the world’s largest diamond mines, and most of Russia’s banking system also went for a song.

In 1994–96, under the infamous “loans-for-shares” program, Russia privatized 150 state-owned companies for just $12 billion, most of which was loaned to a handful of well-connected buyers by the state—and indirectly by the World Bank and the IMF. The principal beneficiaries of this “privatization”—actually, cartelization—were initially just 25 or so budding oligarchs with the insider connections to buy these properties and the muscle to hold them.[2] The happy few who made personal fortunes from this feeding frenzy —in a sense, the very first of the new kleptocrats—not only included numerous Russian officials, but also leading gringo investors/advisers, Harvard professors, USAID advisers, and bankers at Credit Suisse First Boston and other Wall Street investment banks. As the renowned development economist Alex Gerschenkron, an authority on Russian development, once said, "If we were in Vienna, we would have said, "We wish we could play it on the piano!"

For the vast majority of ordinary Russian citizens, this extreme re-concentration of wealth coincided with nothing less than a full-scale 1930s-type depression, a sudden “shock therapy”-induced rise in domestic price levels that wiped out the private savings of millions, rampant lawlessness, a public health crisis, and a sharp decline in life expectancy and birth rates.

Sadly, this neoliberal “market reform” policy package that was introduced at a Stalin-like pace from 1992 to late 1998 was not only condoned but partly designed and financed by senior Clinton Administration officials, neoliberal economists, and innumerable USAID, World Bank, and IMF officials. The few dissenting voices included some of the West's best economic brains -- Nobel laureates like James Tobin, Kenneth Arrow, Lawrence Klein, and Joseph Stiglitz. They also included Moscow University’s Sergei Glaziev, who now serves as President Putin’s chief economic advisor.[3] Unfortunately, they were no match for the folks with the cash.

There was also an important intervention in Russian politics. In January 1996 a secret team of professional U.S. political consultants arrived in Moscow to discover that, as CNN put it back then, “The only thing voters like less than Boris Yeltsin is the prospect of upheaval.” The experts' solution was one of earliest "Our brand is crisis" campaign strategies, in which Yeltsin was “spun” as the only alternative to "chaos." To support him, in March 1996 the IMF also pitched in with $10.1 billion of new loans, on top of $17.3 billion of IMF/World Bank loans that had already been made.

With all this outside help, plus ample contributions from Russia’s new elite, Yeltsin went from just 8 percent approval in the January 1996 polls to a 54-41 percent victory over the Communist Party candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, in the second round of the July 1996 election. At the time, mainstream media like Time and the New York Times were delighted. Very few outside Russia questioned the wisdom of this blatant intervention in post-Soviet Russia’s first democratic election, or the West's right to do it in order to protect itself.

By the late 1990s the actual chaos that resulted from Yeltsin's warped policies had laid the foundations for a strong counterrevolution, including the rise of ex-KGB officer Putin and a massive outpouring of oligarchic flight capital that has continued virtually up to the present. For ordinary Russians, as noted, this was disastrous. But for many banks, private bankers, hedge funds, law firms, and accounting firms, for leading oil companies like ExxonMobil and BP, as well as for needy borrowers like the Trump Organization the opportunity to feed on post-Soviet spoils was a godsend. This was vulture capitalism at its worst.

The nine-lived Trump, in particular, had just suffered a string of six successive bankruptcies. So the massive illicit outflows from Russia and oil-rich FSU members like Kazahkstan and Azerbaijan from the mid-1990s provided precisely the kind of undiscriminating investors that he needed. These outflows arrived at just the right time to fund several of Trump's post-2000 high-risk real estate and casino ventures – most of which failed. As Donald Trump, Jr., executive vice president of development and acquisitions for the Trump Organization, told the “Bridging U.S. and Emerging Markets Real Estate” conference in Manhattan in September 2008, on the basis, he said, of his own “half dozen trips to Russia in 18 months”:

"[I]n terms of high-end product influx into the United States, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

All this helps to explain one of the most intriguing puzzles about Donald Trump’s long, turbulent business career: how he managed to keep financing it, despite a dismal track record of failed projects.[4]

According to the “official story,” this was simply due to a combination of brilliant deal-making, Trump’s gold-plated brand, and raw animal spirits – with $916 million of creative tax dodging as a kicker. But this official story is hokum. The truth is that, since the late 1990s, Trump was also greatly assisted by these abundant new sources of global finance, especially from "submerging markets" like Russia

This suggests that neither Trump nor Putin is an “uncaused cause.” They are not evil twins, exactly, but they are both byproducts of the same neoliberal policy scams that were peddled to Russia’s struggling new democracy.

A Guided Tour of Trump's Russian/FSU Connections

The following roundup of Trump’s Russo-Soviet business connections is based on published sources, interviews with former law enforcement staff and other experts in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Iceland, searches of online corporate registries,[5] and a detailed analysis of offshore company data from the Panama Papers.[6] Given the sheer scope of Trump’s activities, there are undoubtedly other worthy cases, but our interest here is in overall patterns.

Note that none of the activities and business connections related here necessarily involved criminal conduct. While several key players do have criminal records, few of their prolific business dealings have been thoroughly investigated, and of course they all deserve the presumption of innocence. Furthermore, several of these players reside in countries where activities like bribery, tax dodging, and other financial chicanery are either not illegal or are rarely prosecuted. As former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey once said, when it comes to financial chicanery, the difference between “legal” and “illegal” is often just “the width of a prison wall.”

So why spend time collecting and reviewing material that may either not point to anything illegal and or in some cases may even be impossible to verify? Because, we submit, the mere fact that such assertions are widely made is of legitimate public interest in its own right. In other words, when it comes to evaluating the probity of senior public officials, the public has the right to know about any material allegations—true, false, or, most commonly, unprovable—about their business partners and associates, so long as this information is clearly labeled as unverified.

Furthermore, the individual case-based approach to investigations employed by most investigative journalists and law enforcement often misses the big picture: the global networks of influence and finance, licit and illicit, that exist among business people, investors, kleptocrats, organized criminals, and politicians, as well as the "enablers" -- banks, accounting firms, law firms, and havens.

Any particular component of these networks might easily disappear without making any difference. But the networks live on. It is these shadowy transnational networks that really deserve scrutiny.

Bayrock Group LLC—Kazakhstan and Tevfik Arif

 We’ll begin our tour of Trump's Russian/FSU connections with several business relationships that evolved out of the curious case of Bayrock Group LLC, a spectacularly unsuccessful New York real estate development company that surfaced in the early 2000s and, by 2014, had all but disappeared except for a few lawsuits. As of 2007, Bayrock and its partners reportedly had more than $2 billion of Trump-branded deals in the works. But most of these either never materialized or were miserable failures, for reasons that will soon become obvious.

Bayrock’s “white elephants” included the 46-story Trump SoHo condo-hotel on Spring Street in New York City, for which the principle developer was a partnership formed by Bayrock and FL Group, an Icelandic investment company. Completed in 2010, the SoHo soon became the subject of prolonged civil litigation by disgruntled condo buyers. The building was foreclosed by creditors and resold in 2014 after more than $3 million of customer down payments had to be refunded. Similarly, Bayrock’s Trump International Hotel & Tower in Fort Lauderdale was foreclosed and resold in 2012, while at least three other Trump-branded properties in the United States, plus many other “project concepts” that Bayrock had contemplated, from Istanbul and Kiev to Moscow and Warsaw, also never happened.

Carelessness about due diligence with respect to potential partners and associates is one of Donald Trump’s more predictable qualities. Acting on the seat of the pants, he had hooked up with Bayrock rather quickly in 2005, becoming an 18 percent minority equity partner in the Trump SoHo, and agreeing to license his brand and manage the building.[7]

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Donald Trump and Tevfik Arif

 Exhibit A in the panoply of former Trump business partners is Bayrock’s former Chairman, Tevfik Arif (aka Arifov), an émigré from Kazakhstan who reportedly took up residence in Brooklyn in the 1990s. Trump also had extensive contacts with another key Bayrock Russian-American from Brooklyn, Felix Sater (aka Satter), discussed below.[8] Trump has lately had some difficulty recalling very much about either Arif or Sater. But this is hardly surprising, given what we now know about them. Trump described his introduction to Bayrock in a 2013 deposition for a lawsuit that was brought by investors in the Fort Lauderdale project, one of Trump’s first with Bayrock: “Well, we had a tenant in …Trump Tower called Bayrock, and Bayrock was interested in getting us into deals.”[9]

According to several reports, Tevfik Arif was originally from Kazakhstan, a Soviet republic until 1992. Born in 1950, Arif worked for 17 years in the Soviet Ministry of Commerce and Trade, serving as Deputy Director of Hotel Management by the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse.[10] In the early 1990s he relocated to Turkey, where he reportedly helped to develop properties for the Rixos Hotel chain. Not long thereafter he relocated to Brooklyn, founded Bayrock, opened an office in the Trump Tower, and started to pursue projects with Trump and other investors.[11]

Tevfik Arif was not Bayrock’s only connection to Kazakhstan. A 2007 Bayrock investor presentation refers to Alexander Mashevich’s “Eurasia Group” as a strategic partner for Bayrock’s equity finance. Together with two other prominent Kazakh billionaires, Patokh Chodiev (aka “Shodiyev”) and Alijan Ibragimov, Mashkevich reportedly ran the “Eurasian Natural Resources Cooperation.” In Kazakhstan these three are sometimes referred to as “the Trio.”[12]

The Trio has apparently worked together ever since Gorbachev's late 1980s perestroika in metals and other natural resources. It was during this period that they first acquired a significant degree of control over Kazakhstan’s vast mineral and gas reserves. Naturally they found it useful to become friends with Nursaltan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s long-time ruler. Indeed, State Department cables leaked by Wikileaks in November 2010 describe a close relationship between “the Trio” and the seemingly-perpetual Nazarbayev kleptocracy.

In any case, the Trio has recently attracted the attention of many other investigators and news outlets, including the September 11 Commission Report, the Guardian, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal. In addition to resource grabbing, the litany of the Trio's alleged activities include money laundering, bribery, and racketeering.[13] In 2005, according to U.S. State Department cables released by Wikileaks, Chodiev (referred to in a State Department cable as “Fatokh Shodiyev”) was recorded on video attending the birthday of reputed Uzbek mob boss Salim Abduvaliyeva and presenting him with a $10,000 “gift” or “tribute.”

According to the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, Chodiev and Mashkevich also became close associates of a curious Russian-Canadian businessman, Boris J. Birshtein. who happens to have been the father-in-law of another key Russian-Canadian business associate of Donald Trump in Toronto. We will return to Birshtein below.

The Trio also turn up in the April 2016 Panama Papers database as the apparent beneficial owners of a Cook Islands company, “International Financial Limited.” [14] The Belgian newspapers Het Laatste Nieuws, Le Soir, and La Libre Belgique have reported that Chodiev paid €23 million to obtain a “Class B” banking license for this same company, permitting it to make international currency trades. In the words of a leading Belgian financial regulator, that would “make all money laundering undetectable.”

The Panama Papers also indicate that some of Arif’s connections at the Rixos Hotel Group may have ties to Kazakhstan. For example, one offshore company listed in the Panama Papers database, “Group Rixos Hotel,” reportedly acts as an intermediary for four BVI offshore companies.[15] Rixos Hotel’s CEO, Fettah Tamince, is listed as having been a shareholder for two of these companies, while a shareholder in another—“Hazara Asset Management”—had the same name as the son of a recent Kazakhstan Minister for Sports and Tourism. As of 2012, this Kazakh official was described as the third-most influential deputy in the country’s Mazhilis (the lower house of Parliament), in a Forbes-Kazakhstan article.

According to a 2015 lawsuit against Bayrock by Jody Kriss, one of its former employees, Bayrock started to receive millions of dollars in equity contributions in 2004, supposedly by way of Arif’s brother in Russia, who allegedly “had access to cash accounts at a chromium refinery in Kazakhstan.”

This as-yet unproven allegation might well just be an attempt by the plaintiff to extract a more attractive settlement from Bayrock and its original principals. But it is also consistent with fact that chromium is indeed one of the Kazakh natural resources that is reportedly controlled by the Trio.

As for Arif, his most recent visible brush with the law came in 2010, when he and other members of Bayrock’s Eurasian Trio were arrested together in Turkey during a police raid on a suspected prostitution ring, according to the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot.

At the time, Turkish investigators reportedly asserted that Arif might be the head of a criminal organization that was trafficking in Russian and Ukrainian escorts, allegedly including some as young as 13.[16] According to these assertions, big-ticket clients were making their selections by way of a modeling agency website, with Arif allegedly handling the logistics. Especially galling to Turkish authorities, the preferred venue was reportedly a yacht that had once belonged to the widely-revered Turkish leader Atatürk. It was also alleged that Arif may have also provided lodging for young women at Rixos Group hotels.[17]

According to Russian media, two senior Kazakh officials were also arrested during this incident, although the Turkish Foreign Ministry quickly dismissed this allegation as “groundless.” In the end, all the charges against Arif resulting from this incident were dismissed in 2012 by Turkish courts, and his spokespeople have subsequently denied all involvement.

Finally, despite Bayrock’s demise and these other legal entanglements, Arif has apparently remained active. For example, Bloomberg reports that, as of 2013, he, his son, and Rixos Hotels’ CEO Fettah Tamince had partnered to pursue the rather controversial business of advancing funds to cash-strapped high-profile soccer players, in exchange for a share of their future marketing revenues and team transfer fees. In the case of Arif and his partners, this new-wave form of indentured servitude was reportedly implemented by way of a UK- and Malta-based hedge fund, Doyen Capital LLP. Because this practice is subject to innumerable potential abuses, including the possibility of subjecting athletes or clubs to undue pressure to sign over valuable rights and fees, UEFA, Europe’s governing soccer body, wants to ban it. But FIFA, the notorious global football regulator, has been customarily slow to act. To date, Doyen Capital LLP has reportedly taken financial gambles on several well-known players, including the Brazilian star Neymar.

The Case of Bayrock LLC—Felix Sater

06TRUMPSOHOweb2-master675Our second exhibit is Felix Sater, the senior Bayrock executive introduced earlier. This is the fellow who worked at Bayrock from 2002 to 2008 and negotiated several important deals with the Trump Organization and other investors. When Trump was asked who at Bayrock had brought him the Fort Lauderdale project in the 2013 deposition cited above, he replied: “It could have been Felix Sater, it could have been—I really don’t know who it might have been, but somebody from Bayrock.” [18]

Although Sater left Bayrock in 2008, by 2010 he was reportedly back in Trump Tower as a “senior advisor” to the Trump Organization – at least on his business card -- with his own office in the building.

Sater has also testified under oath that he had escorted Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump around Moscow in 2006, had met frequently with Donald over several years, and had once flown with him to Colorado. And although this might easily have been staged, he is also reported to have visited Trump Tower in July 2016 and made a personal $5,400 contribution to Trump’s campaign.

Whatever Felix Sater has been up to recently, the key point is that by 2002, at the latest,[19] Tevfik Arif decided to hire him as Bayrock’s COO and managing director. This was despite the fact that by then Felix had already compiled an astonishing track record as a professional criminal, with multiple felony pleas and convictions, extensive connections to organized crime, and — the ultimate prize —a virtual “get out of jail free card,” based on an informant relationship with the FBI and the CIA that is vaguely reminiscent of Whitey Bulger.[20]

Sater, a Brooklyn resident like Arif, was born in Russia in 1966. He reportedly emigrated with his family to the United States in the mid-1970s and settled in “Little Odessa.” It seems that his father, Mikhael Sheferovsky (aka Michael Sater), may have been engaged in Russian mob activity before he arrived in the United States. According to a certified U.S. Supreme Court petition, Felix Sater’s FBI handler stated that he “was well familiar with the crimes of Sater and his (Sater’s) father, a (Semion) Mogilevich crime syndicate boss.” [21] A 1998 FBI report reportedly said Mogilevich’s organization had “approximately 250 members,” and was involved in trafficking nuclear materials, weapons and more as well as money laundering. (See below.)

But Michael Sater may have been less ambitious than his son. His only reported U.S. criminal conviction came in 2000, when he pled guilty to two felony counts for extorting Brooklyn restaurants, grocery stores, and clinics. He was released with three years’ probation. Interestingly, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York who handled that case at the time was Ms. Loretta Lynch, who succeeded Eric Holder as US Attorney General in 2014. Back in 2000, she was also overseeing a budding informant relationship and a plea bargain with Michael’s son Felix, which may help to explain the father's sentence.

By then young Felix Sater was already well on his way to a career as a prototypical Russian-American mobster. In 1991 he stabbed a commodity trader in the face with a margarita glass stem in a Manhattan bar, severing a nerve. He was convicted of a felony and sent to prison. As Trump tells it, Sater simply “got into a barroom fight, which a lot of people do.” The sentence for this felony conviction could not have been very long, because by 1993 27-year-old Felix was already a trader in a brand new Brooklyn-based commodity firm called “White Rock Partners,” an innovative joint venture among four New York crime families and the Russian mob aimed at bringing state-of-the art financial fraud to Wall Street.

Five years later, in 1998, Felix Sater pled guilty to stock racketeering, as one of 19 U.S.-and Russian mob-connected traders who participated in a $40 million “pump and dump” securities fraud scheme. Facing twenty years in Federal prison, Sater and Gennady Klotsman, a fellow Russian-American who'd been with him on the night of the Manhattan bar fight, turned "snitch" and helped the Department of Justice prosecute their co-conspirators.[22] Reportedly, so did Salvatore Lauria, another "trader” involved in the scheme. According to the Jody Kriss lawsuit, Lauria later joined Bayrock as an off-the-books paid “consultant.” Initially their cooperation, which lasted from 1998 until at least late 2001, was kept secret, until it was inadvertently revealed in a March 2000 press release by U.S. Attorney Lynch.

Unfortunately for Sater, about the same time the NYPD also reportedly discovered that he'd had been running a money-laundering scheme and illicit gun sales out of a Manhattan storage locker. He and Klotsman fled to Russia. However, according to the New York Times, citing Klotsman and Lauria, soon after the events of September 11, 2001 the ever-creative Sater succeeded in brokering information about the black market for Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the CIA and the FBI. According to Klotsman, this strategy “bought Felix his freedom,” allowing him to return to Brooklyn. It is still not clear precisely what information Sater actually provided, but in 2015 US Attorney General Loretta Lynch publicly commended him for sharing information that she described as “crucial to national security.”

SaterBizCardMeanwhile, Sater’s sentence for his financial crimes continued to be deferred even after his official cooperation in that case ceased in late 2001. His files remained sealed, and he managed to avoid any sentencing for those crimes at all until October 23, 2009. When he finally appeared before the Eastern District's Judge I. Leo Glasser, Felix received a $25,000 fine, no jail time, and no probation, in a quiet proceeding that attracted no press attention. Some compared this sentence to Judge Glasser's earlier sentence of Mafia hit man “Sammy the Bull” Gravano to 4.5 years for 19 murders, in exchange for “cooperating against John Gotti.”

In any case, between 2002 and 2008, when Felix Sater finally left Bayrock LLC, and well beyond, his ability to avoid jail and conceal his criminal roots enabled him to enjoy a lucrative new career as Bayrock’s chief operating officer. In that position, he was in charge of negotiating aggressive property deals all over the planet, even while—according to lawsuits by former Bayrock investors — engaging in still more financial fraud. The only apparent difference was that he changed his name from “Sater” to “Satter.” [23]

In the 2013 deposition cited earlier, Trump went on to say “I don’t see Felix as being a member of the Mafia.” Asked if he had any evidence for this claim, Trump conceded “I have none.”[24]

As for Sater’s pal Klotsman, the past few years have not been kind. As of December 2016 he is in a Russian penal colony, working off a ten-year sentence for a failed $2.8 million Moscow diamond heist in August 2010. In 2016 Klotsman was reportedly placed on a “top-ten list” of Americans that the Russians were willing to exchange for high-value Russian prisoners in U.S. custody, like the infamous arms dealer Viktor Bout. So far there have been no takers. But with Donald Trump as President, who knows?

The Case of Iceland’s FL Group

 One of the most serious frauds alleged in the recent Bayrock lawsuit involves FL Group, an Icelandic private investment fund that is really a saga all its own.

Iceland is not usually thought of as a major offshore financial center. It is a small snowy island in the North Atlantic, closer to Greenland than to the UK or Europe, with only 330,000 citizens and a total GDP of just $17 billion. Twenty years ago, its main exports were cod and aluminum – with the imported bauxite smelted there to take advantage of the island's low electricity costs.

But in the 1990s Iceland’s tiny neoliberal political elite had what they all told themselves was a brilliant idea: "Let's privatize our state-owned banks, deregulate capital markets, and turn them loose on the world!" By the time all three of the resulting privatized banks, as well as FL Group, failed in 2008, the combined bank loan portfolio amounted to more than 12.5 times Iceland’s GDP -- the highest country debt ratio in the entire world.

Iceland1
Iceland 2008 - All Cross-Holdings

For purposes of our story, the most interesting thing about Iceland is that, long before this crisis hit and utterly bankrupted FL Group, our two key Russian/FSU/Brooklyn mobster-mavens, Arif and Sater, had somehow stumbled on this obscure Iceland fund. Indeed, in early 2007 they persuaded FL Group to invest $50 million in a project to build the Trump SoHo in mid-town Manhattan.

According to the Kriss lawsuit, at the same time, FL Group and Bayrock’s Felix Sater also agreed in principle to pursue up to an additional $2 billion in other Trump-related deals. The Kriss lawsuit further alleges that FL Group (FLG) also agreed to work with Bayrock to facilitate outright tax fraud on more than $250 million of potential earnings. In particular, it alleges that FLG agreed to provide the $50 million in exchange for a 62 percent stake in the four Bayrock Trump projects, but Bayrock would structure the contract as a “loan.” This meant that Bayrock would not have to pay taxes on the initial proceeds, while FLG’s anticipated $250 million of dividends would be channeled through a Delaware company and characterized as “interest payments,” allowing Bayrock to avoid up to $100 million in taxes. For tax purposes, Bayrock would pretend that their actual partner was a Delaware partnership that it had formed with FLG, “FLG Property I LLC,” rather than FLG itself.

The Trump Organization has denied any involvement with FLG. However, as an equity partner in the Trump SoHo, with a significant 18 percent equity stake in this one deal alone, Donald Trump himself had to sign off on the Bayrock-FLG deal.

This raises many questions. Most of these will have to await the outcome of the Kriss litigation, which might well take years, especially now that Trump is President. But several of these questions just leap off the page.

First, how much did President-elect Trump know about the partners and the inner workings of this deal? After all, he had a significant equity stake in it, unlike many of his “brand-name only” deals, and it was also supposed to finance several of his most important East Coast properties.

Second, how did the FL Group and Bayrock come together to do this dodgy deal in the first place? One former FL Group manager alleges that the deal arrived by accident, a “relatively small deal" was nothing special on either side.[25] The Kriss lawsuit, on the other hand, alleges that FLG was a well-known source of easy money from dodgy sources like Kazakhstan and Russia, and that other Bayrock players with criminal histories— like Salvatore Lauria, for example—were involved in making the introductions.

At this stage the evidence with respect to this second question is incomplete. But there are already some interesting indications that FL Group’s willingness to generously finance Bayrock’s peculiar Russian/FSU/Brooklyn team, its rather poorly-conceived Trump projects, and its purported tax dodging were not simply due to Icelandic backwardness. There is much more for us to know about Iceland’s “special” relationship with Russian finance. In this regard, there are several puzzles to be resolved.

First, it turns out that FL Group, Iceland’s largest private investment fund until it crashed in 2008, had several owners/investors with deep Russian business connections, including several key investors in all three top Iceland banks.

Second, it turns out that FL Group had constructed an incredible maze of cross-shareholding, lending, and cross-derivatives relationships with all these major banks, as illustrated by the following snapshot of cross-shareholding among Iceland’s financial institutions and companies as of 2008.[26]

ICELANDALLGROUPS2010SIC
Cross-shareholding Relationships, FLG and Other Leading Icelandic Financial Institutions, 2008

 

This thicket of cross-dealing made it almost impossible to regulate “control fraud,” where insiders at leading financial institutions went on a self-serving binge, borrowing and lending to finance risky investments of all kinds. It became difficult to determine which institutions were net borrowers or investors, as the concentration of ownership and self-dealing in the financial system just soared.

Third, FL Group make a variety of peculiar loans to Russian-connected oligarchs as well as to Bayrock. For example, as discussed below, Alex Shnaider, the Russian-Canadian billionaire who later became Donald Trump’s Toronto business partner, secured a €45.8 million loan to buy a yacht from Kaupthing Bank during the same period, while a company

Cross-shareholding Relationships, FLG and Other Leading Icelandic Financial Institutions, 2008

belonging to another Russian billionaire who reportedly owns an important vodka franchise got an even larger loan.[27]  

Fourth, Iceland’s largest banks also made a series of extraordinary loans to Russian interests during the run-up to the 2008 crisis. For example, one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs, a close friend of President Putin, nearly managed to secure at least €400 million (or, some say, up to 4 times that much) from Kaupthing, Iceland’s largest bank, in late September 2008, just as the financial crisis was breaking wide open. This bank also had important direct and indirect investments in FL Group. Indeed, until December 2006, it is reported to have employed the FL Group private equity manager who allegedly negotiated Felix Sater’s $50 million deal in early 2007.[28]

Fifth, there are unconfirmed accounts of a secret U.S. Federal Reserve report that unnamed Iceland banks were being used for Russian money laundering.[29] Furthermore, Kaupthing Bank’s repeated requests to open a New York branch in 2007–08 were rejected by the Fed. Similar unconfirmed rumors repeatedly appeared in Danish and German publications, as did allegations about the supposed Kazakh origins of FLG’s cash to be “laundered” in the Kriss lawsuit.

Sixth, there is the peculiar fact is that when Iceland’s banks went belly-up in October 2008, their private banking subsidiaries in Luxembourg, which were managing at least €8 billion of private assets, were suddenly seized by Luxembourg banking authorities and transferred to a new bank, Banque Havilland. This happened so fast that Iceland’s Central Bank was prevented from learning anything about the identities or portfolio sizes of the Iceland banks’ private offshore clients. But again, there were rumors of some important Russian names.

Finally, there is the rather odd phone call that Russia’s Ambassador to Iceland made to Iceland’s Prime Minister at 6:45 a.m. on October 7, 2008, the day after the financial crisis hit Iceland. According to the PM's own account, the Russian Ambassador informed him that then Prime-Minister Putin was willing to consider offering Iceland a €4 billion Russian bailout.

Of course this alleged Putin offer was modified not long thereafter to a willingness to entertain an Icelandic negotiating team in Moscow. By the time the Iceland team got to Moscow later that year, Russia’s willingness to lend had cooled, and Iceland ended up accepting a $2.1 billion IMF "stabilization package" instead. But according to a member of the negotiating team, the reasons for the reversal are still a mystery. Perhaps Putin had reconsidered because he simply decided that Russia had to worry about its own considerable financial problems. Or perhaps he had discovered that Iceland’s banks had indeed been very generous to Russian interests on the lending side, while -- given Luxembourg’s fact actions -- any Russian private wealth invested in Iceland banks was already safe.

On the other hand, there may be a simpler explanation for Iceland’s peculiar generosity to sketchy partners like Bayrock. After all, right up to the last minute before the October 2008 meltdown, the whole world had awarded Iceland AAA ratings – depositors queued up in London to open high-yield Iceland bank accounts, its bank stocks were booming, and the compensation paid to its financiers was off the charts. So why would anyone worry about making a few more dubious deals?

Overall, therefore, with respect to these odd “Russia-Iceland” connections, the proverbial jury is still out. But all these Icelandic puzzles are intriguing and bear further investigation.

The Case of the Trump Toronto Tower and Hotel—Alex Shnaider

 Our fourth case study of Trump's business associates concerns the 48-year-old Russian-Canadian billionaire Alex Shnaider, who co-financed the seventy-story Trump Tower and Hotel, Canada’s tallest building. It opened in Toronto in 2012. Unfortunately, like so many of Trump’s other Russia/FSU-financed projects, this massive Toronto condo-hotel project went belly-up this November and has now entered foreclosure.

Shnaider
Donald Trump and Alex Shnaider

According to an online profile of Shnaider by a Ukrainian news agency, Alex Shnaider was born in Leningrad in 1968, the son of "Евсей Шнайдер," or "Evsei Shnaider" in Russian.[30] A recent Forbes article says that he and his family emigrated to Israel from Russia when he was four and then relocated to Toronto when he was 13-14. The Ukrainian news agency says that Alex's familly soon established "one of the most successful stories in Toronto's Russian quarter, " and that young Alex, with "an entrepreneurial streak," "helped his father Evsei Shnaider in the business, placing goods on the shelves and wiping floors."

Eventually that proved to be a great decision – Shnaider prospered in the New World. Much of this was no doubt due to raw talent. But it also appears that for a time he got significant helping hand from his (now reportedly x) father-in-law,   another colorful Russian-Canadian, Boris J. Birshtein.

Originally from Lithuania, Birshtein, now about 69, has been a Canadian citizen since at least 1982.[31] He resided in Zurich for a time in the early 1990s, but then returned to Toronto and New York.[32] One of his key companies was called Seabeco SA, a "trading" company that was registered in Zurich in December 1982.[33] By the early 1990s Birshtein and his partners had started many other Seabeco-related companies in a wide variety of locations, inclding Antwerp,[34] Toronto,[35] Winnipeg,[36] Moscow, Delaware,[37] Panama, [38] and Zurich.[39] Several of these are still active.[40] He often staffed them with directors and officers from a far-flung network of Russians, emissaries from other FSU countries like Kirgizstan and Moldova, and recent Russia/FSU emigres to Canada.[41]

According to the Financial Times and the FBI, in addition to running Seabeco, Birshtein was a close business associate of Sergei Mikhaylov, the reputed head of Solntsevskaya Bratva, the Russian mob's largest branch, and the world’s highest-grossing organized crime group as of 2014, according to Fortune. [42] A 1996 FBI intelligence report cited by the FT claims that Birshtein hosted a meeting in his Tel Aviv office for Mikhaylov, the Ukrainian-born Semion Mogilevich, and several other leaders of the Russo/FSU mafia, in order to discuss “the sharing interests in Ukraine.”[43] A subsequent 1998 FBI Intelligence report on the "Semion Mogilevich Organization" repeated the same charge,[44] and described Mogilevich's successful attempts at gaining control over Ukraine privatization assets. This FT article also described how Birshtein and his associates had acquired extraordinary influence with key Ukraine officials, including President Leonid Kuchma, with the help of up to $5 million of payoffs.[45] Citing Swiss and Belgian investigators, the FT also claimed that Birshtein and Mikhaylov jointly controlled a Belgian company called MAB International in the early 1990s.[46] During that period, those same investigators reportedly observed transfers worth millions of dollars between accounts held by Mikhaylov, Birshtein, and Alexander Volkov, Seabeco's representative in Ukraine.

In 1993, the Yeltsin government reportedly accused Birshtein of illegally exporting seven million tons of Russian oil and laundering the proceeds.[47] Dmytro Iakoubovski, a former associate of Birshtein’s who had also moved to Toronto, was said to be cooperating with the Russian investigation. One night a gunman fired three shots into Iakoubovski’s home, leaving a note warning him to cease his cooperation, according to a New York Times article published that year. As noted above, according to the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, two members of Bayrock’s Eurasian Trio were also involved in Seabeco during this period as well—Patokh Chodiev and Alexander Mashkevich. Chodiev reportedly first met Birshtein through the Soviet Foreign Ministry, and then went on to run Seabeco’s Moscow office before joining its Belgium office in 1991. Le Soir further claims that Mashkevich worked for Seabeco too, and that this was actually how he and Chodiev had first met.

All this is fascinating, but what about the connections between Birshtein and Trump's Toronto business associate, Alex Shnaider? Again, the leads we have are tantalizing.The Toronto Globe and Mail reported that in 1991, while enrolled in law school, young Alex Shnaider started working for Birshtein at Seabeco’s Zurich headquarters, where he was reportedly introduced to steel trading. Evidently this was much more than just a job; the Zurich company registry lists "Alex Shnaider" as a Director of "Seabeco Metals AG" from March 1993 to January 1994. [48]

In 1994, according to this account, reportedly left Seabeco in January 1994 to start his own trading company in Antwerp, in partnership with a Belgian trader-partner. Curiously, Le Soir also says that Mikhaylov and Birshtein co-founded MAB International in Antwerp in January 1994. Is it far-fetched to suspect that Alex Shnaider and mob boss Mikhaylov might have crossed paths, since they were both in the same city and they were both close to Shnaider’s father-in-law?

According to Forbes, soon after Shnaider moved to Antwerp, he started visiting the factories of his steel trading partners in Ukraine.[49] His favorite client was the Zaporizhstal steel mill, the Ukraine's fourth largest. At the Zaporizhstal mill he reportedly met Eduard Shifrin (aka Shyfrin), a metals trader with a Ph.D. in metallurgical engineering. Together they founded Midland Resource Holdings Ltd. in 1994.[50]

As the Forbes piece argues, with privatization sweeping Eastern Europe, private investors were jockeying to buy up the government’s shares in Zaprozhstal. But most traders lacked the financial backing and political connectons to accumulate large risky positions. Shnaider and Shifrin, in contrast, started buying up shares without limit, as if their pockets and connections were very deep. By 2001 they had purchased 93 percent of the plant for about $70 million, a stake that would be worth much more just five years later, when Shnaider reportedly turned down a $1.2 billion offer.

Today Midland Resources Holdings Ltd. reportedly generates more than $4 billion a year of revenue and has numerous subsidiaries all across Eastern Europe.[51] Shnaider also reportedly owns Talon International Development, the firm that oversaw construction of the Trump hotel-tower in Toronto. All this wealth apparently helped Iceland's FL Group decide that it could afford to extend a €48.5 million loan to Alex Shnaider in 2008 to buy a yacht. [52]

            As of December 2016, a search of the Panama Papers database found no less than 28 offshore companies that have been associated with “Midland Resources Holding Limited.”[53] According to the database, "Midland Resources Holding Limited" was a shareholder in at least two of these companies, alongside an individual named “Oleg Sheykhametov.”[54] The two companies, Olave Equities Limited and Colley International Marketing SA, were both registered and active in the British Virgin Islands from 2007–10.[55] A Russian restaurateur by that same name reportedly runs a sushi franchise owned by two other alleged Solntsevskaya mob associates, Lev Kvetnoy and Andrei Skoch, both of whom are pictured below with Sergei Mikhaylov below. Of course mere inclusion in such a group photo is no evidence of any wrong-doing. (INSERT Picture Link here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/28/man-behind-megafon.) According to Forbes, Kvetnoy is the 55th richest person in Russia and Skoch, now a deputy in the Russian Duma, is the 18th. [56]           

            Finally, it is also intriguing to note that Bori Birshtein is also listed as the President of "ME Moldova Enterprises AG," a Zurich-based company" that was founded in November1992, transferred to the canton of Schwyz in September 1994, and liquidated and cancelled in January 1999.[57] Birshstein was a member of the company's board of directors from November 1992 to January 1994, when he became its President. At that point he was succeeded as President in June 1994 by one "Evsei Shnaider, Canadian citizen, resident in Zurich," who was also listed as Director of the company in September 1994.[58] " Evsei Schnaider" is also listed in the Panama registry as a Treasurer and Director of "The Seabeco Group Inc," formed on December 6, 1991, [59]and as Treasurer and Director of Seabeco Security International Inc.," formed on December 10, 1991. As of December 2016, both companies are still in existence.[60] Boris Birstein is listed as President and Director of both companies.[61]

The Case of Paul Manafort’s Ukrainian Oligarchs

 Our fifth Trump associate profile concerns the Russo/Ukrainian connections of Paul Manafort, the former Washington lobbyist who served as Donald Trump’s national campaign director from April 2016 to August 2016. Manafort’s partner, Rick Davis, also served as national campaign manager for Senator John McCain in 2008, so this may not just be a Trump association.

 

Firtash
Dymytro Firtash

One of Manafort’s biggest clients was the dubious pro-Russian Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash. By his own admission, Firtash maintains strong ties with a recurrent figure on this scene, the reputed Ukrainian/Russian mob boss Semion Mogilevich. His most important other links are almost certainly to Putin. Otherwise it is difficult to explain how this former used-car salesman could gain a lock on trading goods for gas in Turkmenstan and also become a lynchpin investor in the Swiss company RosUrEnergo, which controls Gazprom's gas sales to Europe[62]

In 2008, Manafort teamed up with a former manager of the Trump Organization to purchase the Drake Hotel in New York for up to $850 million, with Firtash agreeing to invest $112 million. According to a lawsuit brought against Manafort and Firtash, the key point of the deal was not to make a carefully-planned investment in real estate, but to simply launder part of the huge profits that Firtash had skimmed while brokering dodgy natural gas deals between Russia and Ukraine, with Mogilevich acting as a “silent partner.”

Ultimately Firtash pulled out of this Drake Hotel deal. The reasons are unclear – it has been suggestd that he needed to focus on the 2015 collapse and nationalization of his Group DF's Bank Nadra back home in the Ukraine.[63] But it certainly doesn't appear to have changed his behiavor. Since 2014 there have been a spate of other Firtash-related prosecutions, with the US try to extradict from Austria in order to stand trial on allegations that his vast spidernet "Group DF" had paid $18.5 million in bribes to Indian officials to secure mining licenses. The Austrian court, knowing Firtash like a brother, required him to put up a record-busting €125 mm bail while he awaits a decision. [64] And just last month, Spain has also tried to extradite Firtash on a separate money laundering case, involving washing €10 million through Spanish property investments.

After Firtash pulled out of the deal, Manafort reportedly turned to Trump, but he declined to engage. Manafort stepped down as Trump’s campaign manager in August of 2016 in response to press investigations into his ties not only to Firtash, but to the Ukraine's previous pro-Russian Yanukovych government, which had been deposed by a uprising in 2014.  However, following the November 8 election, Manafort reportedly returned to advise Trump on staffing his new administration.  He got an assist from Putin -- on November 30 a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Ukraine of leaking stories about Manafort in an effort to hurt Trump.

The Case of “Well-Connected” Russia/FSU Mobsters

 Finally, several other interesting Russo/FSU connections have a more residential flavor, but they are a source of very important leads about the Trump network.

Indeed, partly because it has no prying co-op board, Trump Tower in New York has received press attention for including among its many honest residents tax-dodgers, bribers, arms dealers, convicted cocaine traffickers, and corrupt former FIFA officials. [65]

Mogilevich
Semion Mogilevich

One typical example involves the alleged Russian mobster Anatoly Golubchik, who went to prison in 2014 for running an illegal gambling ring out of Trump Tower -- not only the headquarters of the Trump Organization but also the former headquarters of Bayrock Group LLC. This operation reportedly took up the entire 51st floor. Also reportedly involved in it was the alleged mobster Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, [66] who has the distinction of making the Forbes 2008 list of the World’s Ten Most Wanted Criminals, and whose organization the FBI believed to be tied to Mogilevich’s. Even as this gambling ring was still operating in Trump Tower, Tokhtakhounov reportedly travelled to Moscow to attend Donald Trump’s 2013 Miss Universe contest as a special VIP.

In the Panama Papers database we do find the name “Anatoly Golubchik.” Interestingly, his particular offshore company, "Lytton Ventures Inc.," [67] shares a corporate director, Stanley Williams, with a company that may well be connected to our old friend Semion Mogilevich, the Russian mafia’s alleged “Boss of Bosses” who has appeared so frequently above. Thus Lytton Ventures Inc. shares this particular director with another company that is held under the name of “Galina Telesh.”[68] According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, multiple offshore companies belonging to Semion Mogilevich have been registered under this same name -- which just happens to be that of Mogilevich’s first wife.

A 2003 indictment of Mogilevich also mentions two offshore companies that he is said to have owned, with names that include the terms “Arbat” and “Arigon.” The same corporate director shared by Golubchik and Telesh also happens to be a director of a company called Westix Ltd.,[69] which shares its Moscow address with “Arigon Overseas” and “Arbat Capital.”[70] And another company with that same director appears to belong to Dariga Nazarbayeva, the eldest daughter of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the long-lived President of Kazakhstan. Dariga is expected to take his place if he ever decides to leave office or proves to be mortal.

Lastly, Dmytro Firtash—the Mogilevich pal and Manafort client that we met earlier—also turns up in the Panama Papers database, as part of Galina Telesh’s network neighborhood. A director of Telesh’s “Barlow Investing,” Vasliki Andreou, was also a nominee director of a Cyprus company called “Toromont Ltd.,” while another Toromont Ltd. nominee director, Annex Holdings Ltd., a St. Kitts company, is also listed as a shareholder in Firtash’s Group DF Ltd., along with Firtash himself.[71] And Group DF’s CEO, who allegedly worked with Manafort to channel Firtash’s funding into the Drake Hotel venture, is also listed in the Panama Papers database as a Group DF shareholder. Moreover, a 2006 Financial Times investigation identified three other offshore companies that are linked to both Firtash and Telesh.[72] 

FIRtashneighborhood
Anatoly Golubchik’s Panama Papers Network Neighborhood

Of course, all of these curious relationships may just be meaningless coincidences. After all, the director shared by Telesh and Golubchik is also listed in the same role for more than 200 other companies, and more than a thousand companies besides Arbat Capital and Arigon Overseas share Westix’s corporate address. In the burgeoning land of offshore havens and shell-game corporate citizenship, there is no such thing as overcrowding. The appropriate way to view all this evidence is to regard it as "Socratic:" raising important unanswered questions – not providing definite answers.

In any case, returning to Trump's relationships through Trump Tower, another odd one involves the 1990s-vintage fraudulent company YBM Magnex International. YBM, ostensibly a world-class manufacturer of industrial magnets, was founded indirectly in Newtown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1995 by the "boss of bosses," Semion Mogilevich, Moscow’s “brainy Don.”

This is a fellow with an incredible history, even if only one-half of what has been written about him is true. [73] Unfortunately, we have to focus here only on the bits that are most relevant.. Born in Kiev, and now a citizen of Israel as well as the Ukraine and Russia, Semion, now 70, is a lifelong criminal. But he boasts an undergraduate economics degree from Lviv University, and is reported to take special pride in designing sophisticated, virtually undetectable financial frauds that take years to put in place. To pull them off, he often relies on the human frailties of top bankers, stock brokers, accountants, business magnates, and key politicians.[74]

In YBM’s case, for a mere $2.4 million in bribes, Semion and his henchmen spent years in the 1990s launching a product-free, fictitious company on the still-badly under-regulated Toronto Stock Exchange. Along the way they succeeded in securing the support of several leading Toronto business people and a former Ontario Province Premier to sit on YBM’s board. They also paid the “Big Four” accounting firm Deloitte Touche very handsomely to issue glowing audits. By mid-1998, YBM’s stock price had gone from less than $.10 to $20, and Semion cashed out at least $18 million—a relatively big fraud for its day—before the FBI raid its YBM's corporate headquarters. When it did so, it found piles of bogus invoices for magnets, but no magnets. [75]

In 2003, Mogilevich was indicted in Philadelphia on 45 felony counts for this $150 million stock fraud. But there is no extradition treaty between the United States and Russia, and no chance that Russia will ever extradite Semion voluntarily; he is arguably a national treasure, especially now. Acknowledging these realities, or perhaps for other reasons, the FBI quietly removed Mogilevich from its Top Ten Most Wanted list in 2015, where he had resided for the previous six years.[76]

For our purposes, one of the most interesting things to note about this YBM Magnex case is that its CEO was a Russian-American named Jacob Bogatin, who was also indicted in the Philadelphia case. His brother David had served in the Soviet Army in a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft unit, helping to shoot down American jet pilots like Senator John McCain. Since the early 1990s, David Bogatin was considered by the FBI to be one of the key members of Semion Mogilevich’s Russian organized crime family in the United States, with a long string of convictions for big-ticket Mogilevich-type offenses like financial fraud and tax dodging.

At one point, David Bogatin owned five separate condos in Trump Tower that Donald Trump had reportedly sold to him personally.[77] And Vyacheslav Ivankov, another key Mogilevich lieutenant in the United States during the 1990s, also resided for a time at Trump Tower, and reportedly had in his personal phone book the private telephone and fax numbers for the Trump Organization’s office in that building.[78]

________

So what have we learned from this deep dive into the network of Donald Trump's Russian/FSU connections?

¶ First, the President-Elect really is very "well-connected," with an extensive network of unsavory global underground connections that may well be unprecedented in White House history. In choosing his associates, evidently Donald Trump only pays cursory attention to questions of background, character and integrity.

¶ Second, Donald Trump has also literally spent decades cultivating senior relationships of all kinds with Russia and the FSU. And public and private senior Russian figures of all kinds have likewise spent decades cultivating him, not only as a business partner, but as a "useful idiot."

After all, on September 1, 1987 (!), Trump was already willing to spend a $94,801 on full-page ads in the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, calling for the US to stop spending money to defend Japan, Europe, and the Persian Gulf, "an area of only marginal significance to the US for its oil supplies, but one upon which Japan and others are almost totally dependent.''[79]

This is one key reason why just this week, Robert Gates, a registered Republican who has served Secretary of Defense under Presidents from both parties, as well as Director and Deputy Director of the CIA, critized the response of Congress and the White House to the alleged Putin-backed hacking as far too "laid back." [80]

¶ Third, even beyond questions of illegality, the public clearly has a right to know much more than it already does about the nature of such global connections. As our opening quote from Cervantes suggests, these relationships are probably a pretty good leading indicator of how Presidents will behave once in office.

Unfortunately, for many reasons, this year American voters never really got the chance to decide whether such low connections and entanglements belong at the world’s high peak of official power. In the waning days of the Obama Administration, with the Electoral College about to ratify Trump's election and Congress in recess, it is too late to establish the kind of bipartisan 9/11-type commission that would be needed to explore these connections in detail.

Finally, the long-run consequence of careless interventions in other countries is that they often come back to haunt us.  In Russia's case, it just has.

♥♥♥ 

James S. Henry, Esq. is an investigative economist and lawyer who has written widely about offshore and onshore tax havens, kleptocracy, and pirate banking. He is the author of The Blood Bankers (Basic Books, 2003,2005), a classic investigation of where the money went that was loaned to key debtor countries in the 1970s-1990s. He is a Senior Fellow at the Columbia University's Center on Sustainable Investment, a Global Justice Fellow at Yale, a Senior Advisor at the Tax Justice Network, and a member of the New York Bar. He has pursued frontline investigations of odious debt, flight capital, and corruption in more than 50 developing countries, including Russia, China, South Africa, Brazil, the Philippines, Argentina, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Panama.

 

[1] Author’s estimates; see globalhavenindustry.com for more details.

[2] For an overview and critical discussion, see http://prutland.faculty.wesleyan.edu/files/2015/08/The-role-of-the-IMF-in-Russia.pdf.

[3] See Lawrence Klein and Marshall Pomer, Russia's Economic Transition Gone Awry (Stanford U. Press, 2002); see also James S. Henry and Marshall Pomer, "A Pile of Ruble," The New Republic, 1998, 219 (10), 20-21.

[4] See this Washington Post report, which counts just six bankruptcies to the Trump Organization’s credit, but excludes failed projects like the Trump SoHo, the Toronto condo-hotel, the Fort Lauderdale condo-hotel, and many others Trump was a minority investor or had simply licensed his brand.

[5] For example, the Swiss federal and cantonal corporate registries, available at http://zefix.admin.ch.

[6] For ICIJ's April 2016 "Panama Papers" database of offshore companies, see https://offshoreleaks.icij.org.

[7] Trump’s minority equity deal with Bayrock was unlike many others, where he simply licensed his name. See this March 2008 New York Magazine piece.

[8] “I dealt mostly with Tevfik,” he said in 2007 http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/05/26/inside-donald-trumps-empire-why-he-wont-run-for-president.html

[9] Case 1:09-cv-21406-KMW Document 408-1. Entered on FLSD Docket 11/26/2013. p. 15. https://archive.org/stream/DonaldTrumpArchive/Branding%20%20DJT%20Fort%20Lauderdale%20Depo%2011-5-2013#page/n19/mode/2up.

[10] https://kazakhbusinessbulletin.wordpress.com/kazakh-businessman/tevfik-arif/.

[11] Bayrock reported its co-ownership of six Rixos hotels in a 2007 press release.

[12] See also Salihovic, Elnur, Major Players in the Muslim Business World, p.107

https://books.google.com/books?id=aSa1DAAAQBAJ&pg=PA107&lpg=PA107&dq=%22the+trio%22+kazakhstan&source=bl&ots=pwxBZWjuGi&sig=v43XY1UxLhub0YayYH6vY1lcAJc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwigx6Hi08rQAhUJwiYKHSoQACQ4ChDoAQgnMAM#v=onepage&q=%22the%20trio%22%20kazakhstan&f=false; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/industry/mining/8171468/US-ambassador-unimpressed-by-food-at-oligarch-Alexander-Mashkevichs-house.html.

[13] See also http://www.sahistory.org.za/sites/default/files/file%20uploads%20/alastair_fraser_miles_larmer_zambia_mining_anbook4you.pdf; http://www.brusselstimes.com/belgium/3302/the-belgian-billionaire-georges-forrest-denies-any-involvement-in-kazakhgate; http://archives.lesoir.be/le-parquet-de-bruxelles-enquete-kazakhgate-tractebel-co_t-19991228-Z0HNTZ.html.

[14] According to the Panama Papers database, "International Financial Limited" was registered on April 3, 1998, but is no longer active today, although no precise deregistration date is available. See https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/167402.

[15]According to the Panama Papers, “Group Rixos Hotel” is still active company, while three of the four companies it serves were struck off in 2007 and the fourth, Hazara Asset Management, in 2013.

[16] http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4048812,00.html.

[17] See also [17] http://turizmguncel.com/haber/savarona-zanlilari-sorgulanirken-ismailov-adliyeye-gitti-h3325.html; [17] http://www.legrandsoir.info/Machkevitch-et-ses-complices-blanchis-par-la-justice-turque.html.

[18] Case 1:09-cv-21406-KMW Document 408-1. Entered on FLSD Docket 11/26/2013. p. 16. https://archive.org/stream/DonaldTrumpArchive/Branding%20%20DJT%20Fort%20Lauderdale%20Depo%2011-5-2013#page/n19/mode/2up.

[19]The exact date that Sater joined Bayrock is unclear. A New York Times article says 2003, but this appears to be too late. Sater says 1999, but this is much too early. A certified petition filed with the U.S. Supreme Court places the time around 2002, which is more consistent with Sater’s other activities during this period, including his cooperation with the Department of Justice on the Coppa case in 1998–2001, and his foreign travel.

[20] See https://www.ft.com/content/549ddfaa-5fa5-11e6-b38c-7b39cbb1138a; http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/06/us/politics/donald-trump-soho-settlement.html; https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/former-mafia-linked-figure-describes-association-with-trump/2016/05/17/cec6c2c6-16d3-11e6-aa55-670cabef46e0_story.html

; [20] http://c10.nrostatic.com/sites/default/files/Palmer-Petition-for-a-writ-of-certiorari-14-676.pdf. Note that previous accounts of Sater's activities have overlooked the role that this very permissive relationship with federal law enforcement, especially the FBI, may have played in encouraging Sater's subsequent risk-taking and financial crimes. See http://c10.nrostatic.com/sites/default/files/Palmer-Petition-for-a-writ-of-certiorari-14-676.pdf.

[21] See http://c10.nrostatic.com/sites/default/files/Palmer-Petition-for-a-writ-of-certiorari-14-676.pdf, 13.

[22] Sater’s 1998 case, never formally sealed, was U.S. v. Sater, 98-CR-1101 (E.D.N.Y.) The case in which Sater secretly informed was U.S. v. Coppa, 00-CR-196 (E.D.N.Y.). See also http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/11/06/trump-s-russia-towers-he-just-can-t-get-them-up.html.

[23] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/17/nyregion/17trump.html. Sater also may have taken other steps to conceal his criminal past. According to the 2015 lawsuit filed by x Bayrocker Jody Kriss, Arif agreed to pay Sater his $1 million salary under the table, allowing Sater to pretend that he lacked resources to compensate any victims of his prior financial frauds. See Kriss v. Bayrock, pp. 2, 18, at https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/2638421/Kriss-v-Bayrock-Complaint.pdf The lawsuit also alleges that Sater may have held a majority of Bayrock's ownership, but that Arif, Sater and other Bayrock officers may have conspired to hide this by listing Arif as the sole owner on offering documents.

[24] See https://archive.org/stream/DonaldTrumpArchive/Branding%20%20DJT%20Fort%20Lauderdale%20Depo%2011-5-2013#page/n153/mode/2up, 155.

[25] "Former FL Group manager," interview with London, August 2016. Sigrun Davidsdottir, Iceland journalist.

[26] See "Report of the Special Investigation Commission on the 2008 Financial Crisis." (April 12, 2010), available at http://www.rna.is/eldri-nefndir/addragandi-og-orsakir-falls-islensku-bankanna-2008/skyrsla-nefndarinnar/english/.

[27] These loans are disclosed in the Kaupthing Bank's "Corporate Credit – Disclosure of Large Exposures > €40 mm." loan book, September 15, 2008. This document was disclosed by Wikileaks in 2009   See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/5968231/Kaupthing-leak-exposes-loans.html; http://file.wikileaks.info/leak/kaupthing-bank-before-crash-2008.pdf, p.145 (€79.5mm construction yacht loan to Russian vodka magnate Yuri Shefler's Serena Equity Ltd.;   p. 208: (€45.8 mm yacht construction loan to Canadian-Russian billionaire Alex Shnaider's Filbert Pacific Ltd..

[28] Kriss lawsuit, op. cit.; author's analysis of Kaupthing/ FL G employees published career histories.

[29] Author's interview, "Iceland Economist," Reykjavik, July 2016.

[30] http://uniad.com.ua/main/940-dose-aleksa-shnajdera-sovladelca-zaporozhstali.html. The passage in Russian, with the father's name underlined, is as follows: "Родители Алекса Шнайдера владели одним из первых успешных русских  магазинов в русском квартале Торонто. Алекс помогал в бизнесе отцу – Евсею Шнайдеру, расставляя на полках товар и протирая полы. С юных лет в Алексе зрела предпринимательская жилка.  Живя с родителями, он стал занимать деньги у их друзей и торговать тканями и электроникой с разваливающимися в конце 80-х годов советскими предприятиями." "Евсею Шнайде

ру" is the dative case of "Евсей Шнайдер," or "Evsei Shnaider," the father's name in Russian.

[31] The Zurich company registry (http://www.zefix.ch/info/ger/ZH020.htm) reports that "Seabeco SA" (CHE-104.863.207) was initially registered on December 16, 1982, with "Boris Joseph Birshtein, Canadian citizen, resident in Toronto" as its President. It entered liquidation on May 5, 1999, in Arth, handled by the Swiss trustee Paul Barth. The Zurich company registry listed "Boris Joseph Birshtein, Canadian citizen, resident in Toronto," as the President of Seabeco Kirgizstan AG in 1992, while "Boris Joseph Birshtein, Canadian citizen, resident in Zurich," was listed as the company's President in 1993. "Boris Birshtein" is also listed as the President and director of a 1991 Panama company, The Seabeco Group, Inc. as of December 6 1991. See below.

[32] See http://blog.marcelsel.com/2015/02/26/quand-kubla-et-de-decker-tournent-kazakh/.

[33] The Zurich company registry reports that "Seabeco SA" (CHE-104.863.207) was initially registered on December 16, 1982, with "Boris Joseph Birshtein, Canadian citizen, resident in Toronto" as its President. According to the registry, it entered liquidation on May 5, 1999. See also https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/soc.culture.ukrainian/1mtgIacNtMw. The liquidation was handled by the Swiss trustee Paul Barth, in Arth.

[34] For Seabeco's Antwerp subsidiary, see http://archives.lesoir.be/mafia-russe-la-justice-suisse-fond-sur-anvers-et-bruxel_t-19970317-Z0DFVX.html.

[35] "Royal HTM Group, Inc." of Toronto, (Canadian Federal Corporation # 624476-9), owned 50-50 by Birshtein and his nephew. See https://www.ic.gc.ca/app/scr/cc/CorporationsCanada/fdrlCrpDtls.html?corpId=6244769&V_TOKEN=1481946919835&crpNm=Royal%20HTM%20Group,%20Inc.&crpNmbr=&bsNmbr= .

[36] Birshtein was a director of Seabeco Capital Inc. (Canadian Federal Incorporatio # 248194-4,) a Winnipeg company created 6/2/1989 and dissolved 12/22/1992 )https://www.ic.gc.ca/app/scr/cc/CorporationsCanada/fdrlCrpDtls.html?corpId=2481944&V_TOKEN=1481931998238&crpNm=Seabeco&crpNmbr=&bsNmbr=

[37] Since 1998, Boris Birshtein (Toronto) has also served as Chairman, CEO, and a principle shareholder of "Trimol Group Inc.," a publicly-traded Delaware company that trades over the counter. (Symbol: TMOL). Its product line is supposedly "computerized photo identification and database management system utilized in the production of variety of secure essential government identification documents." See https://www.bloomberg.com/quote/TMOL:US; https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1011733/0000950123-98-005826.txt.

However, according to Trimol's July 2015 10-K (http://www.wikinvest.com/stock/Trimol_Group_Inc_(TMOL)/Filing/10-K/2015/10-K/D20069370) the company has only had one customer, the former FSU member Moldova, with which Trimol's wholly-owned subsidiary Intercomsoft concluded a contract in 1996 for the producton of a National Passport and Population Registration system. That contract was not renewed in 2006, and the subsidiary and Trimol have had no revenues since then. Accordingly, as of 2016 Trimol has only two part time employees, its two principle shareholders, Birshtein and his nephew, who, directly and indirectly account for 79 percent of Trimol's shares outstanding. According to the July 2015 10-K, Birshtein, in particular, owned 54 percent of TMOL's outstanding 78.3 million shares, including 3.9 million by way of "Magnum Associates, Inc.," which the 10-K says only has Birshtein as a shareholder, and 34.7 million by way of yet another Canadian company, "Royal HTM Group, Inc." of Ontario (Canadian Federal Corporation # 624476-9), which is owned 50-50 by Birshtein and a nephew. It is interesting to note according to the Panama Papers database, a Panama company called "Magnum Associates Inc. was incorporated on December 10, 1987, and struck off on March 10, 1989.   See https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10213728. As of December 2016, TMOL's stock price was zero.

[38] See the case of Trimol Group Inc above. The Seabeco Group, Inc., a Panama company that was formed in December 1991, apparently still exists. Boris J. Birshtein is listed as this company's Director and President. See "The Seabeco Group Inc." registered in Panama by Morgan Y Morgan, 1991-12.06, with "Numero de Ficha" 254192, http://ohuiginn.net/panama/company/id/254192; https://opencorporates.com/companies/pa/254192.

[39] As of December 2016, the Zurich company registry (http://www.zefix.ch/info/ger/ZH020.htm) listed a Zurich company called "Conim Investment AG" (CH-020.3.002.334-7) was originally formed in May 1992, and in January 1995 was transferred to Arth, in the Canton of Schwyz, where it is still in existence. (CHE-102.029.498). This is confirmed by the Schwyz Canton registery: https://sz.chregister.ch/cr-portal/auszug/auszug.xhtml?uid=CHE-102.029.498. According to these registries, Conim Investment AG is the successor company to two other Zurich campanies, "Seabeco Kirgizstan AG,"formed in 1992, and "KD Kirgizstan Development AG," its direct successor.   (http://zh.powernet.ch/webservices/net/HRG/HRG.asmx/getHRGHTML?chnr=CH-020.3.002.334-7&amt=020&toBeModified=0&validOnly=0&lang=1&sort=).

The Swiss federal company registry also reports the following Swiss companies in which Boris J.Birshtein has been an officer and or director, all of which are now in liquidation: (1) Seabeco Trade and Finance AG (CH-020.3.002.179-4, 4/3/92-11/30/98 ), ; (2) Seabeco SA (CHE-104.863.207,12/16/82-5/9/99) ; (3) Seabeco Metals AG (4/3/92-6/11/96); (4) BNB Trading AG (CH-020.3.002.181-9, 1/10/92-11/19/98 ); and (5) ME Moldova Enterprises AG (CH-020.3.003.104-1, 11/10/92-9/16/94). All of these liquidations were handled by the same trustee, Paul Barth in Arth.

[40] As of December 2016, active Birshtein companies include "Conim Investment AG" (CH-020.3.002.334-7) in the Swiss Canton of Schwyz and he Seabeco Group, Inc. in Panama.

[41] For example, the Zurich and Schwyz company registries indicates that the following have been board members of Birshtein companies: (1) Seabeco Trade and Finance AG: Iouri Orlov (citizen of Russia, resident of Moscow), Alexander Griaznov (citizen of Russia, resident of Basserdorf Switzerland), and Igor Filippov (citizen of Russia, resident of Basel). (2) ME Moldova Enterprises: Andrei Keptein (citizen of FSU/ Moldova; Evsei Shnaider (Russian émigré to Canada); (3) Seabeco Kirigizstan/ Conim Investment AG: Sanjarbek Almatov (citizen of Bishkek, FSU/ Kirgizstan), Toursounbek Tchynguychev (citizen of Bishkek, FSU/Kirgizstan), Evsei Shnaider (Russian émigré to Canada); (4) BNB Trading AG: Yuri Spivak (Russian émigré to Canada; (5) Seabeco Metals AG: Alex Shnaider (Russian émigré to Canada).

[42] Charles Clover, "Ukraine: Questions over Kuchma's adviser cast shadows," FT, October 30, 1999, available at http://willzuzak.ca/lp/clover01.html See also Misha Glenny, 2009. McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld. (New York: Vintage Books), 63-65.

[43] Charles Clover, "Ukraine: Questions over Kuchma's adviser cast shadows," FT, October 30, 1999, available at http://willzuzak.ca/lp/clover01.html .

[44] See FBI, Organizational Intelligence Unit (August 1998), "Semion Mogilevich Organization: Eurasian Organized Crime," available at http://www.larryjkolb.com/file/docs/fbimogilevich.pdf.

[45] Charles Clover, "Ukraine: Questions over Kuchma's adviser cast shadows," FT, October 30, 1999, available at http://willzuzak.ca/lp/clover01.html

[46] Charles Clover, "Ukraine: Questions over Kuchma's adviser cast shadows," FT, October 30, 1999, available at http://willzuzak.ca/lp/clover01.html .

[47] Toronto Star, Aug 28, 1993 “Boris knows everyone,”

http://www.telusplanet.net/public/mozuz/crime/lemieszewski20001103.html#bottom%288%29.

[48] See Zurich corporate registry for "Seabeco Metals AG" (CH-020.3.002.181-9), formed 4/3/92 and liquidated 6/11/96.

[49] http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2005/0328/132.html

[50] http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=20412545

[51] http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=20412545.

[52] See Kaupthing Bank, "Loan Book, September 2008," wikileaks: https://wikileaks.org/wiki/Financial_collapse:_Confidential_exposure_analysis_of_205_companies_each_owing_above_EUR45M_to_Icelandic_bank_Kaupthing,_26_Sep_2008

[53]The Panama Papers database provides an address for “Midland Resources Holding Limited" (https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12085103) that exactly matches the company's corporate address in Guernsey, as noted by Bloomberg's corporate data base. Here are the 28 companies that are associated with Midland in database:  

Aligory Business Ltd., https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10127460;

Anglesey Business Ltd., https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10123508;

Blue Industrial Skies Inc., https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10130255;  

Cl 850 Aviation Holdings Ltd., https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10122735;

Cl 850 Aircraft Investments Ltd., https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10122774;

Caray Business Inc., https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10131819;

Challenger Aircraft Company Limited, https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12155627;

Colley International Marketing S.A., https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10123599;

East International Realty Ltd., https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10122122;

Filbert Pacific Limited, https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10199822;

Gorlane Business Inc., https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10210594;

Jabar Incorporated, https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10110254;

Jervois Holdings Inc.( https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12125131) ,

Kerryhill Investments Corp., https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10103732;

Leaterby International Investments Corp., https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10202817

Maddocks Equities Ltd.,( https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12085103,

Maverfin Holding Inc.( https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12130837),

Midland Maritime Holding Ltd.( https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12136120),

Midland River-Sea Holding Ltd. (https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12136120),

Midland Drybulk Holding Ltd.( https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12136120),

Midland Fundco Ltd. (https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12136120),

Norson Investments Corp.( https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12130837),

Olave Equities Limited, https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12155627; https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10125740;

Orlion Business Incorporated, https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12155627

Perseus Global Inc., https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10111891;

Sellana Investments Global Corp., https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12155627

Stogan Assets Incorporated, https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10206109

Toomish Asset Ltd., https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10128146.

[54] With the address "11 First Tverskaya-Yamskaya Street; apt. 42; Moscow; Russia." https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10123599;; https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12078236; https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10125740.

[55] As for the Midland-related offshore vehicles still listed as active, one shareholder in two of them -- -- Stogan Assets Incorporated and Blue Sky Industries Inc. -- happens to have the same name as Russia’s Deputy Culture Minister Gregory Pirumov, reportedly arrested in March 2016 on embezzlement charges. The “Gregory Pirumov” in the Panama Papers (https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/250440) has a registered address in Moscow (4 Beregkovskaia Quay; 121059), as do the reported agents of these two companies: "Global Secretary Services Ltd. Mal. Tolmachevskiy pereulok 10 Office No.3 Moscow, Russia 119017 Attention: Katya Skupova)." See https://panamadb.org/entity/stogan-assets-incorporated_189367. A "Georgy Pirumov" is also listed separately in the Panama Papers as having been a shareholder in the same two companies (https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/10206109; https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/12111401.) For what it is worth, in September 2016, one "Georgy Pirumov" was convicted in Moscow of "illegally taking over a building in Gogolevsky Boulevard," and sentenced to 20 months in a minimum-security correctional facility. See The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, Sept 15, 2016, http://en.sledcom.ru/news/item/1067178/. At this point, however, we need to emphasize that there is still plenty that needs to be investigated -- we cannot yet confirm whether "Georgy" and "Gregory" are the same person, whether they are related, how they might be related to Shnaider's Mineral Resources, or whether they are the same people named in the articles just noted above about criminal prosecutions.

[56] http://www.forbes.com/profile/lev-kvetnoi/.

[57] See Schwyz canton corporate registry, https://sz.chregister.ch/cr-portal/suche/suche.xhtml, ""ME Moldova Enterprises AG," CH-130.0.007.159-5.

[58] See Zurich corporate registry, http://www.zefix.ch/info/ger/ZH020.htm, "ME Moldova Enterprises AG," CH-020.3.003.104-1 (11/10/92-9/16/94).

[59] See "Seabeco Group Inc.," Panama Corporate Registry # 254192, https://opencorporates.com/companies/pa/254192, formed 12-6-1991.

[60] See "Seabeco Security Intl Inc." Panama Corporate Registry #254206, formed 12-10-1991," https://opencorporates.com/companies/pa/254206.

[61] Ibid, footnotes 58 and 59.

[62] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/Dmytro-firtash-spain-seeks-extradition-for-ukrainian-oligarch-linked-to-senior-tories-for-alleged-a7439621.html

[63] See http://www.unian.info/economics/1041128-nadra-bank-owned-by-firtash-declared-insolvent.html.

[64] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/Dmytro-firtash-spain-seeks-extradition-for-ukrainian-oligarch-linked-to-senior-tories-for-alleged-a7439621.html

[65] See http://transparency.org.ru/en/news/first-we-take-miami-why-russian-businessmen-and-criminals-move-into-trump-s-towers.

[66] A.K.A. "Tochtachunov." See FBI, Organizational Intelligence Unit (August 1998), "Semion Mogilevich Organization: Eurasian Organized Crime," available at http://www.larryjkolb.com/file/docs/fbimogilevich.pdf., 1.

[67]According to the Panama Papers, as of December 2016, Lytton Ventures Inc., incorporated in 2006, was still an active company but its registration jurisdiction was listed as "unknown." See https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/207427.

[68] For Telesh’s company the director’s name is given as “Stanley Williams,” as compared with “Stanley Edward Williams” in Golubchik’s, but they have the same address. See https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/196083. Telesh’s company, Barlow Investing, was incorporated in 2004. In the PP database, as of December 2016 its status was “Transferred Out,” although its de-registration date and registration jurisdiction are unknown.

[69] Westix Ltd., registered in 2005, is still active, according to the Panama Papers. See https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/214472.

[70] In the Panama Papers, Telesh’s company and Golubchik’s reportedly have the same director, one Stanley Williams. Williams is also reportedly a director of Westix, which shares its address with two other offshore companies that use corporate names that Mogilevich has reportedly used at least twice each in the past. Arbat Capital, registered in 2003, was still active as of December 2016, as was Arigon Overseas, registered in 2007.

[71] See the diagram below.

[72]These three offshore companies are not in the Panama Papers data base. https://www.ft.com/content/29f06170-12a2-11db-aecf-0000779e2340. Firtash acknowledged these connections to Telesh but still told FT reporters that he didn’t know her. The three companies identified in the report are (1) Highrock Holdings, which Firtash and Telesh each reportedly owned 1/3rd of, and where Firtash served as director beginning in 2001; (2) Agatheas Holdings, where Firtash apparently replaced Telesh as director in 2003; and (3) Elmstad Trading, a Cyprus company owned by Firtash which in 2002 transferred the shares of a Russian company named Rinvey to Telesh and two other people: one of them Firtash’s lawyer and the other the wife of a reputed Mogilevich business partner. See also http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/03/19/married-to-the-ukrainian-mob/.

[73] On Mogilevich, see, for example, http://rumafia.com/en/eksklyuziv/kidala-vseya-strany-pervaya-chast.html.

[74] See also FBI, Organizational Intelligence Unit (August 1998), "Semion Mogilevich Organization; Eurasian Organized Crime," available at http://www.larryjkolb.com/file/docs/fbimogilevich.pdf.

[75] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/how-to-spot-fraud-and-be-a-vigilant-investor/article556022/

[76] See https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/stories/2009/october/mogilevich_102109;

 

http://www.slate.com/blogs/crime/2013/08/05/semion_mogilevich_fbi_ten_most_wanted_list_this_obese_mob_boss_is_twice.html.

[77]David Cay Johnston, interview with the author, November 2016. Wayne Barrett, Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention (Regan Arts, 2016).

[78]Johnston, interview; see also http://russianmafiagangster.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-superpower-of-crime.html. [78] In another interesting coincidence, the President of YBM Magnex was also reportedly a financial director of Highrock in the late 1990s, before Manafort-client Dmytro Firtash joined the company as a director in 2001. See note 151. http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/03/19/married-to-the-ukrainian-mob/.

 

[79] http://www.apnewsarchive.com/1987/Trump-U-S-Should-Stop-Paying-To-Defend-Countries-that-Can-Protect-Selves/id-05133dbe63ace98766527ec7d16ede08.

[80] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/18/robert-gates-russia-election-interference-donald-trump-hillary-clinton.

***

January 7, 2017 at 11:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 01, 2014

Understanding Argentina's Pseudo-Debt Crisis

 

ImagesFor those who are interested in Argentina's recent troubles with the debt vultures, here is Chapter VII from my book The Blood Bankers. (New York: Basic Books, 2005).  

No important political or economic event can be Images-6 understood without an historical analysis.  

This chapter provides the essential historical background  that you need to understand where Argentina's current crisis came from, and its "debt problem" is so deep-rooted. 

Download 07FINALFINALCHAPTERSEVENARGENTINA42112003.

Griesa_thomas.jpg_1328648940 Images-7Here are a few of my recent TV and newspaper interviews on the subject: (1),  (2), and (3). And here is the 2012 US Court of Appeals decision that upheld US Federal District Court Judge Thomas P. Griesa's 2011 rulings in favor of the vulture funds. 

 
Download USCOURTS-ca2-12-00916-0.pdf
 
More later!  Stay tuned! 

August 1, 2014 at 05:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Real Wolves of Wall Street

Please click on this image to get a real sense

of what "too big to jail" is all about: CorpCrimes

February 28, 2014 at 09:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Gaddafi's Fellow Travelers
James S. Henry

(An earlier version of this appeared today as a Forbes column.)

GaddafiCartoon I recall one cold wintry Saturday evening about three years ago in Vermont,  and a dinner conversation among a small group of former business colleagues, including  HBS Professor Michael E. Porter, the eminent competitive strategist.

He’d just returned from Tripoli, where he’d been working on what he told us was a  “strategy project” for the Gaddafi regime with a raft of consultants from Monitor Group, the Cambridge-based consulting firm that he’d helped to found in the early 1980s.  

For about thirty minutes or so he shared with us how excited they all were to be working to reform the Libyan economy, and how Colonel Gaddafi and his sons now really seemed to “get it.”

Clearly Prof. Porter felt this was all pretty cool. When asPorterked about the issue of democracy and the rule of law, he rather quickly brushed aside such concerns, suggesting that they were sort of beside the point – after all, as the case of China supposedly demonstrated, all those annoying traditional liberal values sometimes just need to get out of the way of progress.

At the end of all this, there was a brief silence. I suspect that most of those at the table were slightly discomforted by Prof. Porter’s blunt, hard-nosed neoliberal analysis, and certainly by his apparent intoxication with the infamous Libyan dictator. But he was,  after all,  an eminent Harvard professor. And unlike us, he’d not only been to the country, but had met its most senior leaders personally.

Finally, however, my friend Roger Kline, a wise old McKinsey partner, broke the silence with a simple, direct, slightly impolitic question,  which would be answered only by the silence that it provoked from Professor Porter:  “Doesn’t it ever bother you at all, Michael, to be working for a terrorist?

***

As the spirit of doom hovers over the last remnants of Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year-long dictatorship, and most Libyans are celebrating his departure with sheer delight, there is much less joy in a handful of top-tier academic and professional-class households in Cambridge, Princeton, Georgetown, Baltimore,  East Lansing, and London.Porter'sNeoliberalSoup

For Mighty Muammar has indeed struck out -- contrary to the hopes  and  expectations of some of our very best and brightest experts on  “competitive country strategy," “global democratic governance," "the idea that is America,” and “soft power.”

After all, from their perspective, whatever Gaddafi's flaws, his blood-stained but deep-pocketed regime was certainly not like that of Kim Jong Il.

Unlike Kim, Gaddafi had been willing to pay quite handsomely to PinochetDemocracyBlood hear them spout off about their pet aerie-faerie neoliberal theories of political and economic development.

 
Meanwhile, Gaddifi's  government also ordered up an expensive grab-bag of university grants, endowments, special education for Libyan police and diplomats, ginned-up degrees for his dim-witted family members, lots of slick lobbying and lawyering, plus a large number of custom press portraits by leading Western academics gurus none of whom ever bothered to disclose the fact that they were all on Brother Leader's  payroll.

This sordid tale first began to trickle out about two years ago from the Libyan opposition,  but it really picked up steam after the Revolution began in February 2011.  The interested reader can look here, here, here, here, and here for  the gory details.

But right now, just as the Gaddafis are about to take their rightful place in history’s waste bin, it is worth recalling the highlights  for several reasons.Hanfstaengl

First, we’d like to make sure that all of the leading academic   collaborateurs who helped to legitimate Gaddafi's abattoir receive their due: the  very first installment of the “Milton Friedman/ "Putzi" Hanfstaengl Iron Cross Award. Friedman_pinochet

Second, we'd like to require all these collaborateurs to donate the millions of dollars of blood money and the  thousands of frequent flier miles they accumulated as unregistered foreign agents for Gaddafi’s regime to Libya’s teeming hospitals and orphanages.

Together, these two simple steps might help to insure that this kind of totally uncool dictatorship rebranding is brought to a screeching halt.

REBRANDING GADDAFI

Images This tale really began in 2003, when the Gaddafi regime, seeking to end an annoying economic  boycott,  gave its solemn word  to swear off terrorism forever, cease dabbling in nuclear technology, pay compensation for the 1988 Pan Am 103/Lockerbie bombing, and "accept responsibility for the actions of its officials,” whatever that meant.

Not surprisingly, given Gaddafi's horrific track record, most ordinary Westerners, not to mention the hard-pressed LBUSHBLAIRBERLUSCONIibyan opposition, were deeply skeptical.

But Western leaders and policy experts were curiously much more receptive to Libya’s extraordinary effort to upgrade its image from “terror camp” to “the West’s best new pragmatic partner in the Middle East."

Indeed, it turned out to be a very fertile time for this kind of rebranding effort. First, even though Libya’s U-turn had largely been  motivated by economic self-interest, George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and Silvio Berlusconi welcomed it as a badly-needed victory in the “war on terror.”  Berlusconi and Blair even flew directly to Tripoli to welcome the “reborn” Gaddafi back into the community of nations.

BERLUSCONIGADDAFI Nor, in the US, was the welcome committee just limited to Republicans. In July  2008, Democrats Carl Levin and (now Vice President) Joe Biden played a key role in guiding S.1330 through the US Senate.

This  scurrilous bill, signed into law by President Bush, controversially granted Gaddafi complete legal immunity for the Lockerbie bombing, so long as he paid a (rather paltry) agreed-upon sum to the victims’ families.

Second, Libya’s U-turn opened the door to a whole bevy of Holy-Water merchants and academic medicine men. These instant Libyan "experts" were eager to offer Gaddafi not only absolution, but also their very latest pet theories about everything from “competitive clusters" and "strong democracy" to “the Third Way.”

They were also eager to see test such theories in Gaddafi’s living laboratory -- especially if the dictator was willing to subsidize the  clinical trials. Not since Boris Yeltsin, General Suharto, and General Pinochet have neoliberal academics had such a golden opportunity to test their theories on real live human subjects at country scale.  BLAIRGADDAFI

Third, to a large extent mainly for PR purposes,  Western experts also made much of their opportunity to "dialogue" in person with real live Libyans. Well, perhaps not so much with the nascent opposition, which was mainly abroad, in hiding,  in jail, or dead.

 Of course, according to Gaddafi & Sons, confirmed by US intelligence officials like John Negroponte – who got much of his info about Libya from his brother Nicholas, who got it from Gaddafi & Sons (see below) – the Libyan opposition consisted of radical "al Qaeda” sympathizers or the members of “dissident tribes” in Libya’s supposedly “very tribal” society, anyway.

Their received image of Libya, seen through Gaddafi-colored lens, was curiously similar to the self-image that South Africa’s apartheid regime used to project – a deeply “tribal” society that required strong-armed rule to preserve it  from the radical horde at the gates.

75px-Snake-oil In any case,  Western experts were generally quite happy to take the Gaddafis’ word -- and his moolah --  for all this, and to participate in  one-sided “dialogues” with Brother Leader  himself whenever he was able to spare the time.

This delighted Brother Leader. No doubt this was partly because of  3076876128_8511664b49_s his  deep intellectual curiousity about the very latest  economic and political theories. But, more practically, it also meant that prominent Western expert after expert had to fly  thousands of miles to Tripoli and back just to help his regime flaunt its wares on Libyan State TV and lend him unprecedented respectability.

Ultimately, you see, Gaddafi had  all these neoliberal academics pegged to the tee.

He understood from the start that many were frustrated by their powerlessness in (more) democratic Western societies.  Their secret wet dream is the absolute dictator who takes them seriously, and able and willing to test their theories on command, without the need for messy democratic processes.

Indeed, Gaddafi's personal power n Libya was so complete that he never even bothered to give himself a formal title other than "Colonel."

THE CARAVAN

Toadies_-_Mister_Love_300px From 2004 on, therefore, Tripoli became a kind of alternative Mecca for a veritable “Who’s Who” of leading Western intelligentsia. Among the key interlocutors were Professor Porter; Cambridge  University/LSE’s   “Baron” Anthony Giddens and George Joffe; LSE’s Director Sir Howard Davies (now resigned), and Professor David Held,  its leading expert on “globalization;”  and Monitor Group’s Rajeev Singh Molares (now at Alcatel), Mark Fuller (recently resigned as its Chair), and Bruce J. Allyn (formerly the head of Monitor’s Moscow office).

75px-Francis_Fukuyama Others who tagged along for the camel ride included Ann-Marie 75px-Lewis-pre Slaughter, Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School; Princeton Professors Bernard Lewis and Andrew Moravcsik; the insidious neo-con Richard Perle (2 visits); MIT Professor Emeritus Nicholas Negroponte (several visits), brother of  US DNI John Negroponte, and the former head of the MIT Media Labs,  who was very eager to get Libyan funding for his ill-fated pet “One 75px-Voa_chinese_Joseph_Nye_03Aug10 Laptop Per Child” project; a flurry of other Harvard profs, including the Kennedy School’s Robert Putnam, Joseph Nye, and Marshall Ganz, an organizer-guru who became involved in another tidy little dictatorship, Syria; and Johns Hopkins' "end of history" champion Francis Fukuyama, who made history himself by pulling down a record $80,000 for a single audience with Brother Leader.

Perle  Nor were journalists entirely immune from the attractions of the 75x75 Libyan honeypot. Here,  the Monitor ringmasters also went for high-profile celebrities, including Al Jazeera's David Frost, who collected $91,429 for a single visit.  They also nearly  recruited several others before the project got terminated.  One Monitor project memo reports, for example,  that:

“Monitor approached (Fareed) Zakaria who said that he is very interested in travelling to Libya in order to meet with the Leader….Monitor also approached ( the New York Times’ Thomas) Friedman who said that he was interested in travelling to Libya at some point in the future.

Images-4 Collectively this respectability caravan made dozens of such Gaddafi-tour site visits, logging tens of thousands of First Class miles and receiving millions of dollars in fees to commune about the “New Libya" – all the while helping to launder the regime’s  blood-stained image.

This activity seems to have gone far beyond simply helping Libya to restructure its economy and political system along more open,  competitive lines. Indeed, it is now clear that the regime probably never seriously intended any meaningful reforms, but was mainly trying to curry influence and favors.

The experts’ punch list included such dubious activities as ghost-writing Saif Gaddafi’s PhD thesis; helping to design a “national security agency” for Libya (!), quite probably with inputs from folks like the Negropontes and Richard Dearlove, the Monitor “senior advisor” who ran the UK’s MI6 from 1999 to 2004; offering to ghost-write a puffed-up version of Brother Leader’s collected works;  and, all along, orchestrating a flurry of favorable press coverage in influential papers like the Washingon Post, the New York Times, the International Herald, and the Guardian.

All of this was done without without ever bothering (until this Spring, in the case of Monitor Company) to register as what many of these high-toned folks truly turned out to be:  foreign agents of the Government of Libya.

BETTER SAIF THAN SORRY

There are many glaring examples of outright shilling for the Gaddafis by these brown-nosing academic and consulting mercenaries, but a handful captures the essential odor.

Images-7 One good example was LSE Professor Emeritus/ Blair confidant/ Baron Anthony Gidden’s bold March 2007 speculation in the UK’s Guardian newspaper that Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya might soon turn out to be “the Norway of North Africa.” The piece mentioned Lord Giddens’ impressive academic credentials, but  it neglected to mention the fact that he had received $67,000 in fees from Libya, plus First Class round-trip travel expenses for at least two hajjs to visit with Brother Leader and his staff in Tripoli.

Another example is Rutgers Professor Emeritus Ben Barber’s even more wildly enthusiastic August 2007 Washington Post endorsement of the “surprisingly flexible and pragmatic” Gaddafi andImages-5 his “gifted son Saif.” Of course Saif is much more familiar to the rest of us now for his blood-curdling “rivers of blood” speech on February 20, 2011, which contributed mightily to the subsequent polarization and bloodshed.

Images-6 Professor Barber’s piece reminded his readers that he was a  best-selling author and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the think-tank Demos. But it neglected to mention the fact that he’d also made multiple all-expense-paid trips to Tripoli, for which he’d been paid at least $100,000 in fees by the Libyan Government.

A third example is HBS Professor Michael E. Porter’s February 23 2007 Business Week interview, in which he reported that he had “taken on” a consulting project in Libya,  as if this were some kind of beneficent act. Gaddafi,  he maintained with a straight face, MarkFuller  wasn’t really a dictator after all: “In a sense, decision-making is widely distributed in (Libya). People [consider Libya] a dictatorship, but it really doesn't work that way. That is another reason for optimism.” (Emphasis added).

75px-Monitor.svg Prof. Porter neglected to mention the fact that he and FullerJoe1 Monitor Group, the Cambridge consulting firm that he, plus HBS grads Joe Fuller and Mark Fuller, had founded in the early 1980s, were not only earning several million dollars for their Libyan strategy work, but were also up to their proverbial eyeballs in a second multi-million dollar PR project to bolster Gaddafi’s image.

THE IMPACT

All this salacious material is interesting.  But did it really have any harmful impacts on Libya?  Or is all this merely frivolous second-guessing?

The answer is that this kind of orchestrated air-brushing of the Gaddafi regime by leading Western consultants and academics clearly was not only enormously harmful to the interests of most Libyans, but also that these negative impacts were entirely foreseeable – and, indeed, were anticipated by many critics who had the same intuitive reaction as Roger Kline (see above.)

✔ The academic white-washing helped to conceal the fact that the Gaddafi regime was enormously unpopular with its own people – that the opposition was broad based, that high-level corruption was rife, and that  the “tribal”/al Qaeda paradigm of the Libyan opposition was simplistic and dangerously misleading, not to mention self-serving for the Gaddafi clan.

Academic air-brushing also contributed to the misleading view that “reforming Libya" was mainly just a technocratic exercise for the insider-elite and their Western advisors,  to which constitutive matters like elections, rights, the rule of law, and genuine popular representation could take a back seat.

The bevy of  big-name Western intellectuals and consultants who courted the Gaddafis not only inflated their egos even larger than they already were, but also encouraged them to believe they could easily  buy influence, as well as arms, in the West -- and delay fundamental political reforms.

In short, the white-washing and the kid glove treatment of the Gaddafi regime by leading Western academics may well have discouraged that regime from pursuing deeper political reforms much earlier, and from negotiating in good faith once conflict increased.Fellowtraveler

In other words, it probably cost lives.  

 If and when the Gaddafi clan is captured and put on trial, either in  Libya or before the ICC, we hope that these courts seize the opportunity to examine the conduct and responsibilty of these  neoliberal fellow travelers of dictatorship very closely.     

***

So, in the waning hours of the Gaddafi regime,  it is important to recall that Brother Leader and his band of thugs did not simply become a menace to Libya’s people and the world on their own.

Nor was his particular brand of madness simply due to the “usual suspects:” anti-Western radicalism, liberation ideology,  Gaddafi's own imperialistic ambitions in Africa, his idiosyncratic version of political Islam, or even the fact that he spent far too much time spent frolicking in the desert sun with Ukrainian nurses.

No – while Gaddafi’s buddies in Venezuela still portray  him as a stalwart opponent of Western imperialism,  the fact is that in recent years he actually continued to increase his influence in the West only with the really quite extraordinary assistance of prominent, high-priced, incredibly smart, but ultimately quite gullible Western “friends.”

(c) JSH 2011

 

August 26, 2011 at 04:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

TAX OFFSHORE LOOT!
A Modest Proposal for Improving Global Tax Justice NOW
James S. Henry

Robin460

(Note: The following article also recently appeared in Forbes.)

How can we get the world's wealthiest scoundrels – arms dealers, dictators, drug barons, tax evaders – to help us pay for the soaring costs of deficits, disaster relief, climate change, and development?

Simple: levy a modest withholding tax on untaxed private offshore loot

Many above-ground economies around the world are struggling, but Fatrich the global economic underground is booming. By my estimate, there's $15 to $20 trillion of private wealth sitting offshore in bank accounts, brokerage accounts, and hedge fund portfolios, completely untaxed.

Money_laundering Much of this offshore wealth derives from capital flight and the proceeds of past and present tax evasion. Another key source is crime. At least a third comes from developing countries -- more than their outstanding foreign debt.   This wealth is incredible concentrated. Nearly half of it is owned by 91,000 people -- 0.001% of the world's population.  Ninety percent is owned by the planet's wealthiest 10 million people.

146082857v8_225x225_Front Let's tax it. The pile of offshore anonymous loot is now large enough so that even a very modest 0.5% global withholding tax would yield at least $50 to $100 billion a year.

This "global scofflaw tax" could be used to help pay our own staggering unpaid bills for debt service, retirement insurance, and heath care, as well as the developing world's bills for disaster relief and climate change.

By reducing incentives for capital flight and tax evasion, a tax on illicit, anonymous wealth would also help countries to depend less heavily on debt, inflationary finance, and regressive taxes.

Is it feasible?   Yes. The majority of these assets are managed Alg_ubs by the top 50 global banks. As of September 2009, these banks accounted for $8.1 trillion of all offshore assets under management -- 72% of the offshore industry's total. The top 10 banks manage 40 percent.

Images-1 In other words, the real "tax haven" problem is not tiny island havens on the periphery of the system. The real problem is the global "pirate banking" industry, with an assist by the best lawyers, accountants, and lobbyists money can buy. At its core are the world's true tax havens: institutions like JPMorganChase, UBS, Credit Suisse, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Barclay's, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Pictet & Cie, Goldman Sachs, and ABN Amro. They are all based, not in picturesque principalities or remote tropical paradises, but in New York, London, Amsterdam, Zurich, Geneva, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, and Singapore.  They fall firmly under the jurisdiction of First World government agencies.3253574971_c8494b57aa_o

Capital may be "mobile," but it rarely travels without an escort. For  decades these institutions have operated "Capital Flight Air," recruiting clients and teaching them how to hide wealth offshore, launder it, and access it remotely.

Now they are going to help us tax it.

Images-3 These highly-visible institutions should be required to withhold a 0827wyly modest 0.5% tax, prorated each quarter, on the value of their clients' assets – which they already track on a daily basis. The proceeds could be turned over to First World tax authorities, with a disproportionate share dedicated to development aid.

Only anonymous wealth should be taxed. If the beneficial owners can show they're paying taxes on their offshore assets back home, they can claim rebates. Most will just pay up.

Images Over time, we can continue to chip away at "tax havens," trying to make the world's 80-odd havens less secret while helping developing countries enforce their own tax codes.Images-2

But that's a long war. The haven system has taken decades to build,  and it will probably take decades to dismantle. Right now there's something simple that OECD countries can do to collect badly-needed revenue from the world's wealthiest crooks – no questions asked.

August 4, 2010 at 05:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 06, 2010

THE GOLDMAN SACHS CASE
Part III: "Jokers to My Right"
James S. Henry


 
MortgageIndustrialComplex
Well, la gente Americano may not know the difference between a synthetic CDO and a snow shovel,  but the masses are clearly frothing for a  taste of banquero al la brasa, fresh from the spit.

"Financial reform," whatever that means, is now far more popular than "health care reform."  And it has only recently  become even more so, in the wake of all the recent investigations and prosecutions -- Warren Buffett  might say "persecutions" -- of the "demon bank" Goldman Sachs.     

Evidently the masses' appetite for banker blood was  only slightly sated by the SEC's April 16th civil charges against Goldman, Senator Levin's  11-hour show-trial  of senior Goldman officials on April  27, and the "entirely coincidental"  announcement on April 30th that the US Justice Department --   which is under  strong political pressure  to bring more fraud cases to trial, but also tends to screw them up -- has launched a criminal investigation into Goldman's mortgage trading.

INSIDE BASEBALL

In the wake of this populist uprising, Senate Republicans have suddenly adopted "financial reform" as their cause too,  allowing the Senate to commence debate this week on Senator Dodd's 1600-page reform bill. 

However, this promises to be a lengthy process.  While reform proponents like US PIRG and Americans for Financial Reform were hoping for final action as early as this week,  Senator Reid  now  expects to have a Senate bill by Memorial Day at the earliest, and Obama only expects to be able to sign a bill by September. 

That's just two months ahead of the fall 2010 elections, so there's not much room for error.  But the beleaguered Democrats may just be figuring  that they'd rather bash banks than run on their rather mixed track record on health care reformunemployment, climate change,  and offshore drilling, let alone -- Wodin forbid --  immigration reform.     

In any case,  Senator Dodd's  bill has now been through more permutations than a Greek budget forecast.  The latest one  discards the $50 billion bank restructuring fund as well as new reporting requirements  that would helped to spot abusive lending practices.

These concessions apparently were part of retiring Senator Chris Dodd's Grail-like quest for that elusive 60th (Republican) vote -- rumored to be hidden away and  guarded by an ancient secret order known as "Maine Republicans."  

A GOAT RODEO

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, leading Republicans, aided by several Democrats from big-bank states like New York, California, and Illinois, and countless lobbyists,  have been trying to weaken other key provisions in the bill, which was already pretty tame to begin with. 

The most important  measures at issue pertain to derivatives and proprietary trading, the power of the new Consumer Financial Products Bureau (especially, according to Senator Shelby, the Federal Reserve's shameless power grab over orthodontists),  the regulation of large "non-banks,"  and (interestingly, from a states' rights perspective)  the power of states to preempt federal regulation. 

On the other hand,  the bill has also inspired dozens of amendments  from a cross-section of Senators who appear to be genuinely concerned  -- even apart from the opportunities for grandstanding  -- that the Dodd bill isn't nearly hard-hitting enough.

Some of these amendments are purely populist anger-management devices that don't really have much to do with preventing future financial crises. 

These include Senator Sanders' proposals to revive usury laws and audit the Federal Reserve, a proposal by Senators Barbara Boxer and Jim Webb  for a one-time  surtax on bank bonuses, Senator Mark Udall's proposal for free credit reports, and Senator Tom Harkin's proposal to cap ATM fees.

The very first amendment adopted was also in this performative utterance  category: Senator Barbara Boxer's bold declaration that "no taxpayer funds shall be used" to prevent the liquidation of any financial company in "receivership." 

Cynics were quick to point out that in any real banking crisis, this kind of broad promise would be unenforceable, since it would also be among the very first measures to be repealed. 

STRUCTURAL REFORM?

Other proposed amendments sound like more serious attempts at structural reform.

These include  the Brown-Kaufman amendment that tries to limit the number of "too big to fail" institutions by placing upper limits on the share of system-wide insured deposits and other liabilities held by any one bank holding company, and the Merkley-Levin amendment, which  attempts to  "ban" proprietary trading and hedge fund investments by US banks, and also  defines tougher fiduciary standards for market-makers.  

But so far neither of these measures has received the imprimatur of the Senate Banking Committee, let alone Senator  Reid.  This means that for all practical purposes they are may amount to escape valves for venting popular steam,  but little more. 

This is especially true, given the delayed schedule that Reid, Dodd, and the Obama Administration seem to have accepted, which will relieve the pressure for such reforms.

Furthermore,  upon closer inspection, both proposals leave much to be desired.  Indeed, one gets the distinct impression that they dreamed up by Hill staffers on the midnight shift to appease the  latest  cause célèbre,

For example, the Brown-Kaufman amendment,   highly touted by  chic  liberal "banking experts" like Simon Johnson, doesn't mandate the seizure and breakup of any particular large-scale financial institutions directly.  Nor does empower the FTC to set tougher standards for competition in this industry, as it might have done, or even specify what kind of industry structure would be desirable from the standpoint of avoiding banking crises. 

To a large extent that simply reflects the paucity of knowledge about the relationship between structure and behavior in financial services. As a bootstrap, the amendment  specifies arbitrary caps on bank activities that may or may not be related to actual misbehavior -- for example, the share of "insured deposits" managed by any one bank holding company (≤ 10%), and the ratio of "non-deposit liabilities to US GDP" (≤ 2%).

This has arbitrary consequences. Under the limits in the amendment,  for example, Wells Fargo and Citigroup, the # 4 and #1 banks in the country by asset size, would  nearly avoid any breakup, while JPMorgan and BankAmerica would feel much more pressure. 

Meanwhile, evil Goldman Sachs' minimal .3% shares under both limits would leave it plenty of room to grow -- perhaps even by acquiring the extra share that the "Big Four" would have to spin off.

Furthermore,  even the largest US institutions might be able to avoid  the caps by devoting more attention to  large-scale private banking customers, whose deposits and other investments would avoid these regulations,  or by conducting more of their risky business through offshore banking centers.

Indeed, this also suggests a key problem with the Merkley-Levin amendment as well: it is a  US  solo act. It  completely ignores the fact that  even our largest banks, and the US financial system as a whole, are part  of a competitive global financial market.

As  this week's Greco-European financial crisis has underscored, to be effective,  bank regulation and structural reform must be conducted on a coordinated international basis. Unilateral initiatives only drive bad behavior to the myriad of under-regulated offshore and onshore financial centers.

From this perspective, I'm  surprised that  Senator Levin,  a long-time critic of offshore financial centers, has proceed in such a ham-handed way  with this.  This  was his year to finally round up global support to crack down on offshore centers -- a precondition for effective global bank regulation.  Instead he decided to  target Goldman and pursue this wayward, sloppy attempt  at unilateral reform -- as if  the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands, let alone London and Zurich and Singapore and Hong Kong, are not waiting in the wings. 

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?   

If we step back from this political goat rodeo, what have we learned about the political economy of financiali reform?  No of Banks and Staff 1992-2010 label
 


CONSOLIDATION (UNDER BOTH PARTIES)


First, as shown in the above chart, the US banking industry has indeed undergone a major structural transformation, especially December 1992. The following 15 years became the era of Wild West banking, when all the lessons that should have been learned from the Third World debt crisis were forgotten.  It became an era of rampant deregulation, rising US public and private debt levels, and asset speculation.

The impacts on financial structure were far reaching and rapid. Back in December 1992,  there were more than 13,500 banks, and the top four US banks accounted for less than 10 percent of the sector's jobs. 

Already by 1998, there was a decided increase in this concentration level, to more than 20 percent.  Today there are fewer than 8000 banks. The top 4 alone  -- Citigroup, JPMorganChase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo -- now employ more than 800,000 people, over 40 percent of the US total. Indeed, together with the failed banks they acquired, the top four banks have accounted for almost all the sector's employment growth;  the rest of the sector has shrunk.

Tiny Goldman has also been growing, but it now only accounts for about 18,900, less than 10 percent of any one of the top four.  

MarketshareTop419902010label 

This growing concentration is also reflected in most key US banking markets, especially the markets for deposits, overall bank loans, real estate loans in general, home mortgages, and credit derivatives. As indicated, in each of these markets, the market share commanded by top four banks  has increased from less than 10 percent in 1992 to 40-50 percent or more by 2010. In the case of the credit derivatives market, the share now approaches 90 percent.

Nor has this increasing concentration been accounted for by superior performance. Indeed, the "big four" also now account for more than 78 percent of all bad home mortgages -- behind in payments, or suspended entirely. While some of that is accounted for by the acquisition of failing institutions, most of it is not.  GoldmanMktShare 

THE ECONOMICS OF GOLDMAN BASHING

Third, once again, for the sake of Goldman bashers in the audience, as indicated above, its share of each of these key market indicators is trivial. Even in credit derivatives, the segment for which Goldman has taken such a beating, its market share today is just 8 percent, compared to the "Big Four's" commanding 88 percent. And Goldman's share of real estate loans, home loans, insured and uninsured bank deposits, and bad home mortgages are even lower.

Just to pick one example: today the "top 4" banks have more than $204 billion of bad home loans, compared with Goldman's $0.0 of such loans.  

From this standpoint, the Levin hearings were a stellar example of  completely ignoring industry economics. They singled out a smaller,  more successful,  widely-envied target for political scapegoating, while ignoring the much more economically  much more important financial giants. 

THE MORTGAGE-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

The  key driver on the domestic side of all these developments is a political-economy complex that in the long run has had perhaps as profound an influence on our nation's political and economic system as the  legendary "military industrial" complex.  This is  what we've called (in the first chart above) the "US mortgage-industrial complex," including financial institutions, real estate firms, and insurance companies. From 1992 to 2010, in comparable $2010, this industry spent an average of $2793 per day per US Senator and Congressman on federal campaign contributions and lobbying -- far more than the corresponding levels in the 1970s and 1980s.  

Except for the insurance industry -- where health care reform efforts by Clinton and Obama tilted the giving -- Democrats and Republicans have more or less divided this kitty pretty evenly. It is also important to note that more than 71 percent of total federal spending by these industries  from 1990 to 2010  was on lobbyists, not campaign contributions. While  cases like the recent Citizens United decision may affect this balance,

Mortgageinduscomplexbytypeofspending
 
 

Furthermore, within the financial services industry, the top four US  banks alone have accounted for at least 20 percent of all spending on federal lobbying and campaign contributions (in comparable $2010) from 1992 to 2010. Investment banks as a group -- including Goldman, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley, UBS, Credit Suisse, and their key predecessors, especially Paine Webber and Dean Witter -- added another 8 percent.   But once again, by comparison, and contrary to its reputation as the premier political operator in Washington,   Goldman Sach's share of total "real" spending on lobbying and contributions was relatively small -- just 2.2 percent. 

This was just 40 percent of what Citigroup spent, and less than 60 percent of what JPMorganChase spent during  this same period.  

C'mon guys -- Is it any really wonder that Jamie Dimon gets invited to the Obama White House for dinner while Lloyd Blankfein gets served for dinner on a spit up on the Hill?  

FINALFEDSPENDINGTOP4VSALLOTHERS

Ironically,  if it were just a question of a given institution's loyalty to the Democratic Party, Goldman -- and indeed Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns as well -- would have clearly had the inside edge. As shown below,  these investment firms clearly preferred Democrats over the long haul. FedContribbyPartyandDonor
 
Ironically, to paraphrase Senator Levin, especially in Goldman's case the Democratic Party appears at least so far to have "put its own interests and profits" first, basically turning a blind eye  -- at least so far -- to the substantially much larger potential misbehavior of the "big four."

Meanwhile, when President Obama traveled to New York two weeks ago to give a speech on the urgent need for financial reform, the peripatetic Mr. Dimon could be found in Chicago.  He was rumored to have met with CME and/or Board of Trade executives to prepare to invest in an exciting new "derivatives exchange," should JPMorgan need to transfer its substantial share of that business -- several times Goldman's market share, even in credit derivatives -- to an open exchange. 


JOKERS TO MY RIGHT 

So all this concentration of political and economic power in US financial markets would appear to make a strong prima facie case for a serious structural reform, perhaps even along the lines of the Brown-Kaufman amendment,  n'est pas?  Unfortunately, no.

As we argued earlier, that amendment sets very crude targets that bear little immediate relationship to bank misbehavior or even political influence. At worst, the caps might just force bad behavior like risky derivatives and hedge fund investing offshore. And the bill's  current caps would, at best, just force banks like Cit, JPM, and BankAmerica to shed less than 10 percent of their market shares, setting them back to -- say -- 2005 levels.

In other words, they're not a substitute for effective regulation. But that puts us back in the chicken-egg problem with "regulatory capture."

My own particular solution to these dilemmas is suggested by the following chart -- although it also suggests MarketCAPTOPBANKS2010
that the most opportune time to implement it has already come and gone.  In terms of the current  banal  American political  discourse,   it would be probably be  quickly dismissed as  'socialist,"  although that term is such a catch-all that it has really become virtually useless, except as a device for red-baiting timid liberals.  

THE CHILEAN MODEL

So don't take my word for it; let's ask the ghost of Chile's General Pinochet, whom I'm quite certain no one ever accused of being a "socialist," at least not to his face. For years he was best known among economists as one of the key political proponents of Milton Friedman's so-called "Chicago School" of ultra-free market economics.  But in February 1983, during a severe crisis when all the banks in Chile failed, Pinochet showed that he could be quite pragmatic -- with a little arm-twisting from from leading US banks, which threatened to cut off his trade lines if he didn't nationalize the banks' debts.

So, after swearing up and down that private debts and private banks would never be nationalized, Pinochet's government did so. Three to six years later, after restructuring the banks and cleaning them up,  and privatizing their substantial investments in other companies, they were sold back to the Chilean people and the private sector -- for a nice profit. (Similar policies were also followed by "socialist" Sweden in the case of a 1990s banking crisis, but the Pinochet example provides a more instructive example for so-called conservatives. Much earlier, General Douglas MacArthur, a lifelong Republican,  also employed similar pragmatic tactics in restructuring Japanese banks in the early 1950s.) 

Now this is the plan that the US Treasury (under Paulson and then Geithner) might have adopted in the Fall 2008 - Spring 2010, if only it had not been so hide-bound -- and in the case of the Obama Administration, so wary of being termed a "socialist." 

In hindsight, the economics of such a pragmatic temporary government takeover and reprivatization would have been compelling. At its market low in March 2009, the  combined "market cap" of the "big four" banks was just $120 billion -- including $5 billion for Citi and $15 billion for Bank of American.  This was a mere fraction of the capital and loans that were ultimately provided to them. (At that point Goldman's market cap had fallen to $37 billion from $80 billion a year earlier -- not as steep a decline as the giants, but clearly no picnic for its shareholders, either.)

Only a year later, while the "demon bank" Goldman has recovered to more or less where it was in June 2008, before the crisis, the market cap of the "top four"  US banks is now nearly six times higher than its low in March 2009, and, indeed, at an all time high -- well above both previous peaks.

Too bad the US taxpayers have only captured a small fraction of that $500 billion industry gain.

Too bad the US Treasury hasn't exercized strong "socialist" control over these institutions, changing the way they behavior directly, and restructuring them in the interests of the economy as a whole before selling them back to the private sector.

Too bad that "big four" lobbyists are now back in force on the ground in Washington DC, influencing the fine print of the "financial reform" bill in ways that we will probably only understand years hence. Despite its woes, undoubtedly this will be a bumper year for political spending by the  financial services industry.  

Of course, President Obama  IS now being widely demonized as a "socialist"  -- anyway.

***

(c)JSH, SubmergingMarkets, 2010

       


   

   

 



May 6, 2010 at 02:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

THE GOLDMAN SACHS CASE
Part II: "The Crucible"
James S. Henry


Salem Whatever the ultimate legal merits of the SEC's case against Goldman Sachs -- and those appear to me to be questionable at best --  6a00d83455f15269e20133ecfd9a4b970b-580wi its most important contributions are being made right now. They are not judicial, but political. 

'Lord knows I've been about as critical as one can possibly be of Wall Street banks, as well as of unfettered free marktets. (See, for example, a, b, and c.)

However, after listing to today's  showdown hearings before  US Senator Carl M. Levin's Permanent Investigations Subcommittee,  I'm convinced that:

(1) If anyone needs the benefit of the new "financial literacy" program proposed  by S.3217, Senator Dodd's proposed financial reform bill, it is the US Senate. Many  members of the Senate -- and by extension, the House -- don't  seem to understand very basic things about  the structure and role of private capital markets, finance, and business economics, let alone global competition. In the world's largest capitalist economy, this level of ignorance  on behalf of our political elite is really mind-boggling.

Blankfein2 (2) After 18 months of intensive investigation, the US Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations  and the SEC have not so far been able to find anything that is clearly illegal to pin on Goldman Sachs.

(3) On the other hand, on the secondary trading side of Goldman's  business, Goldman traders  clearly have "market maker" ethics, not investment adviser ethics. They've grown accustomed simply to  providing market liquidity for whatever securities clients  happen to want -- or can be persuaded to want, even if Goldman is taking opposite positions at the very same time in the very same securities. 

For example, regardless of what Goldman's own sales people  felt about the terrible quality of the synthetic Goldmanlevinshorts CDOs they were selling in 2007  -- including many securities packaged out of  "stated income" mortgages --  they continued to sell anything for which there was a current price.  

Goldman's trader culture simply  doesn't  buy the notion that market makers  have any "duty to serve the best interests of their clients. In competitive world, this amoral culture may well be essential to being a successful "market  maker,"  and Goldman is one of the most successful secondary traders in the world  However, if we expect some higher standard of behavior toward clients, this is likely to require new rules; Goldman will never get there on its own.

Of course, in a highly competitive global market,  any such rnew ules might just cause  this entire business to move offshore, to London, Hong Kong, Singapore, or any number of other offshore financial centers.

Tourre2 (4) With great respect to Michael Lewis, the notion that Goldman Sachs engaged in a hugely profitable "big short" in 2007-2008, in the sense of secretly betting systematically against the same securities that it was underwriting for its clients, is easily overstated. Goldman's investment portfolio in mortgage securities turned negative in early 2007,  was net short all year long in 2007, and at times had up to $13 billion of gross shorts, the bank's net profits from all this shorting that year was $500 mllion to $1 billion. The following year, 2008, its mortgage portfolio lost $1.8 billion 

(5) There appears to be enormous pent-up rage and ressentiment in the country at large, right now, driven by the financial crisis, the slow recovery, high unemployment, and the loss of homes and pensions, on the one hand, and the widespread perception that banks not only created the crisis, but have also profited immensely from it.  Most people may not know a CDO from a dustpan, but there is a very disturbing tendency to seek scapegoats, dividing the world into villains and victims. Ironically,  the most obvious targets include companies like Goldman Sachs, one of our most successful, better-managed, if trader-ridden  companies.

(6) Compared to other major US banks, Goldman Sachs' role in the credit derivatives market, the mortgage Levin market, and bank lending in general, as well as in the roots of the most recent crisis, was minor at best. Indeed, compared with the more than $240 billion of past due/non-performing mortgage loans now on the books of the "big four" banks,  the sums involved even in Goldman's most questionable deals were trivial. Why the US Senate and the SEC decided to focus so heavily on Goldman, as compared with Citi, Bank of America, JP Morgan, and Wells Fargo, is an interesting political-economic puzzle.  

(7) On the other hand, these other major  private banks, plus Lehman  Brothers and Bear Stearns, were by far the largest players in the private mortgage market. If they  had followed Goldman's risk management, accounting, disclosure, and leverage practices, the worst of this crisis might well have been avoided.  Indeed, it appears that one reason these generally much larger firms did not adopt such practices was because -- unlike Goldman -- they genuinely believed they were "too big to fail."  

(8) Going forward, the real problem with Goldman market was not, by and large,  illegal behavior, but an excess of perfectly legal behavior that may well be socially unproductive and way under-regulated.  Especially in a world where other countries have fallen behind in the move to  update their financial regulations, dealing with this problem will require much more than lawsuits and investigative hearings.  


IN THE DARK TRUNKS...

Images Today's hearings probably came as close to fireworks  as investment banking and "structured finance"  ever gets.  In one corner there was 6a00d83455f15269e20134802d29fd970c-580wi Goldman Sach's slightly shaken,  but still-unbent  CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein (Harvard '75/ HLS '78).

 

There was also Blankfein's articulate, amiable  life-time Goldman employee David Viniar  (HBS '80); the now-notorious, side-lined 31-year old Goldman VP Fabrice P. (aka "fabulous Fab") Tourre (Stanford M.S. '01),  architect of the particular "synthetic CDO" at the heart of the SEC case;  and several other  past and present stars from the "devil bank's" specialists in mortgage banking.  

Apparently not pressent was Goldman's President and COO,  Gary D. Cohn (American U, 'whenever)  (aka "Aeolus,"). Perhaps he had flown to Athens to arrange more  cosmetic "dirty debt swaps"  for Greece,   

Article-0-092B46B6000005DC-273_233x423Ring-side support for the Goldman front line  was  provided by a hand-picked team of  very high-priced trainer/coaches.  This included former Democratic House Speaker Richard Gephardt,  former Reagan Chief of Staff Ken Duberst225px-Gary_D._Cohn_-_World_Economic_Forum_Annual_Meeting_Davos_2010ein, and Janice O'Connell (aka "Puerta Giratoria"), a former key aid to Senator Dodd.

 Senator Dodd, the retiring Chair of the Senate Banking Committee, has been working since November on  S.3217, an epic 1600-page bill that Senate Republicans (with perhaps a little help from Fed staffers who opposed the bill) have  just prevented from coming to a vote

Of course Goldman has also hired Obama's own former chief counsel Gregory Craig as a key member of its defense team.

Hedge-fund-managers-xmas-card

Once taken seriously as a "liberal" Democratic Presidential candidate, Gephardt has gone the way of all flesh, and is now  completely preoccupied with serving such worthy clients as Peabody Energy, the world's largest private coal company; NAPEO, an association of "professional employer organizations" that is trying to dis-intermediate what little remains of labor rights for outsourced workers; UnitedHealthCare, a stalwart opponent of the "public option" in health care reform; and of coursImages-2e, Goldman Sachs, which has also employed the  prosaic Missourian to pitch the (really insidious) idea of "infrastructure privatization"  all over the country to cash-strapped state and local governments.

IN THE WHITE TRUNKS.. 

In the other corner is the aging  heavyweight champion from Michigan. Senator Levin (Harvard Law '59), is a Carl_enron low-key but tenacious warrior, with a mean-right hook; Goldman would do well not to underestimate him.   He's a  veteran critic, investigator, and opponent  of  global financial chicanery, dirty banks, and tax havens -- except perhaps when it comes to GM's captive leasing shells and re-insurance companies in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda (Heh, even a Dem's  gotta eat!)  

Sen. Levin is backed up by several knowledgeable, tough cross-examiners, especially Democratic Sen. Kaufman of Delaware and Republican Senator Collins of Maine. On the other hand, Republican Senators McCain and Sen Tom Coburn  were a bit more  "understanding" of Goldman's basic amoral attitude toward market-making. 

FIRST ROUND

In handicapping this contest, some observers predicted that the best and brightest from our nation's leading  investment bank  would basically roll over the "old folks" from the Senate.

Panel In the first few hours, however, it quickly became clear that the bankers were a little under-prepared for the Senators' often-times impatient, hard-nosed tone, especially from former Prosecutor Levin, Collins, and Kaufman.

Nor were they prepared for the widespread, if perhaps naive and even "Midwestern" view  that there was just something fundamentally wrong with the lines Goldman drew between pure "market-making" and providing investment advice.

LEVIN DOG

For example, Sen. Levin  was a real rat terrier  on the question  of whether it was ethical for Goldman market-makers in 2007 to  be aggressively pushing clients like Bear Stearns  to buy a CDO security called "Timberwolf" that Goldman's own internal analysts had called  "shitty."  Meanwhile, Goldman's ABS group was shorting Bear by buying puts.  The panel of five present or former Goldman executives had trouble recognizing that there was any problem at all -- given the fact that, from a legal standpoint, Goldman had fully informed these clients about the risks they were taking.

For another $2 billion "Hudson" CLevin2DO deal that Goldman sold from its inventory, the firm's own sales people characterized the product as "junk," and indicated that more sophisticated customers might not buy it.  Yet, according to Senator Levin,  Goldman's selling documents for a portion of the sale characterized  the deal as one where Goldman's interests and the client's interests were "aligned" because Goldman retained an equity interest in the Hudson package. In Senator Levin's view, this  "retention" was misleading, simply because Goldman took time to sell down its position.

On the question of the Abacus transaction at the core of the SEC law suit,  Sen. Levin was able to establish that the  Goldman's  Tourre never told the German bank that invested in the deal that  John Paulson, the hedge fund manager who helped choose the portfolio, although he claimed to have told portfolio selection manager ACA.  Oddly enough, from what we heard about other "raw deals" today for the first time, this now appears to have been perhaps the weakest deal for SEC to attack.

Similarly, Senator Collins pressed a group of Goldman securities "market-makers"  very hard about whether  or not they felt they had a "duty" to work in the "best interests of their clients." The responses she received indicated that these Goldman executives, while insisting on the organization's high ethical standards, also simply "did not get" the point that there might be some higher ethical, let alone legal,  duties to clients, for pure market makers, beyond just providing them with legally-required disclosure.

CONTEXT

Senator Levin claimed that these hearings have been in the works for more than a year. He says that it is just sheer coincidence that they are occurring soon after the SEC decided to file its case by a narrow 3-2 party lines vote, and right when Senator Dodd's reform bill just happens to be on the verge of being introduced. 

Other sources indicate that Levin's investigation had been scheduled to continue through May, and that it was abruptly rescheduled after the SEC vote.

Furthermore, for someone who is supposedly holding hearings to gather facts and find out what was really went on,  Senator Levin had already formed quite a few strong opinions prior to hearing from any witnesses -Anti_banker_small- as shown in his latest press release.  

 But so what?  Even if  he's was a little simplistic, filled with anti-bank animus, and eager to portray the financial crisis as a kind of morality play,  and even if there's no big payoff other than the theatrics, it was definitely kind of fun to  watch the "show trial" -- finally  see someone  asking  big bankers tough questions under oath.  After all,  regardless of what  "caused" the financial crisis and its interminable aftermath,  it is pretty clear who is paying for it -- and it is certainly  was neither these Senators nor the bankers in the dock. 

( Stay tuned for Part III, which takes a closer look the Goldman Sachs case in light of these hearings, and consider the broader question of other "big bank" roles in the crisis.)

***

(c) JSHenry, SubmergingMarkets (2010)

April 27, 2010 at 07:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

THE GOLDMAN SACHS CASE
Part I: "Clowns to the Left of Me"
James S. Henry


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Goldman Defense PDF

Monty_python_witch Bankers_1294271c Well, we no longer have to worry only about corrupt bankers in Kyrgystan. Ever since the Goldman Sachs case erupted last week,  there's been plenty of fresh banker blood in the water right here at home, with scores of financial pundits, professors-cum-prosecutors, and political piranha swirling around the wounded giants in the banking industry as if they were a herd of cattle crossing a tributary on the upper Rio Negro.

This feeding frenzy was precipitated by last Friday's surprising SEC announcement of civil fraud chargesKillerfish against Goldman Sachs -- heretofore by far the most profitable, highly-respected, and, indeed, public-spirited US investment bank.     

Despite6a00d8341c652b53ef0120a8704c30970b-120wi -- or more likely because of --  Goldman Sach's  relatively clean track record and  illustrious credentials, many commentators  have assumed a certain Madame Defarge pose, reigning  down  censure and derision from the penultimate rungs of their  mobile moral pedestals. 

Over the weekend, for example,  Huffington  featured a  half dozen vituperative columns on the subject, including  a Vanity Fair contributing editor's feverish claim that the whole affair was somehow deeply connected to one high-level Wall Street marriage, and an MSNBC host's denunciation of Goldman 356323163v_225x225_Front_padToSquare-truefor refusing to appear on his show -- his show ! There was also a plea from Madame Ariana for criminal charges.

In fact, this is a case where, as we'll see in Part III, the SEC's civil charges against Goldman Sachs are not only highly debatable, but largely beside the point.  

Kuttner Meanwhile, Bob Kuttner,  another Huffy perennial, and one of our most prolific popularizers of conventional liberal dogma, asserted  that Goldman demonstrates conclusively that Wall Street en tout  is nothing but an on-going criminal enterprise, up to its eyeballs in outright fraud

In a lurch toward financial Ludditism, Bob figuratively placed his hands on his hips, stomped his feet,  and demanded nothing less than a "radical simplification of the financial system" -- leaving it to the reader's imagination to determine just what the hell that means. 

Will we still be permitted to use ATMs, checking accounts and paper currency, or  will we all soon have to return to  wampum beads and n-party barter?    56

Elsewhere, the Daily Beast published a de facto job application  from Harvard Law's Prof. Alan Dershowitz -- otherwise well known in the legal profession as "He whose key clients are either fabulously wealthy or innocent."  

Prof. Dershowitz argues -- quite rightly -- that Goldman'  behavior, while no doubt morally reprehensible, was also by no means clearly illegal. On the other hand, he also says the law is so vague that hedge fund investor Paulson might even be charged with conspiracy to commit fraud.

Well, ok -- except for the article's faint suggestion that for a modest  fee, our country's  finest criminal lawyer may just be available to help explain all  this to a judge --  and also to argue that  "only a tiny fraction of investment bankers who abuse their clients actually commit murder."  

THE RECKONING

0506-fmi_m_0 Finally, there is the omni-present, virtually unavoidable  Simon Johnson, a Peterson Institute Fellow, MIT B-school prof, book author, "public intellectual,"  and  "contributing business editor" at Huffington.

This week has been  Prof. Johnson's heure de gloire, and he is living it to the fullest.

All week long he could be found at all hours on nearly every cable  news channel and web site, pitching his own increasingly Puritanical, if not neo-Manichean views of the banking crisis and Goldman's role in it.

At first,  Prof. Johnson merely expressed delight that the US had finally reached its "Pecora moment" --   referring to the 1933-34 US Senate investigation of Wall Street that, indeed, makes the modest $8 million  Angelides Commission look like a California '68 love-in.

But by mid-week he'd had moved on to a much harsher assessment.

Not only is Goldman guilty as sin, but  hedge fund investor John Paulson,Newalqaida one of the key parties to the Goldman transaction, deserves to be "banned for life" from the securities industry.  If necessary, Johnson says, the US Congress should even  pass an ex post facto bill of attainder!

Piranha-eat-cows-1 Now of course Prof. Johnson hails from the UK.

He may therefore not be aware that the US Constitution (Article 1, Section 9) has explicitly prohibited both ex post facto laws and bills of attainder (legislative decrees that punish  a single individual or group without trial) ever since 1788.

Just this month, a US federal  district court in New York struck down Congressional sanctions that singled out ACORN, the community organizing group on precisely these grounds. The case is now on appeal.

Indeed, even in the UK, there have been no bills of attainder since 1798

MATERIAL OMISSIONS

Despite Prof. Johnson's limited grasp of US or even UK law, and his Draconian appetites, I've  actually grown rather fond  of him lately -- or at least more understanding.

This is partly because since he left the IMF in September 2008, he's apparently had a kind of  road-to-Damacus epiphany.

He now realizes, as if for the first time, the enormous carnage that has been inflicted by a comparative handful of giant global banks, as well as  the huge potential rewards  of  decrying these outrages from the roof tops.

356509241v_225x225_Front_padToSquare-true One of only nine "former IMF Chief Economists" who still walk amongst us,  Prof. Johnson may have only served in that post briefly,  from March 2007 until September 2008. 

But that 1+ year was more than enough  time for him to leave a lasting impression at the IMF. 

He is still fondly remembered at the IMF not only for  having entirely missed the 2007-08 mortgage crisis even as it was unfolding, but also  for deciding in July 2008,     less than 3 months before the entire global financial system nearly 356322446v_225x225_Front_padToSquare-true collapsed, to sharply increase the IMF's growth forecast for both 2008 and 2009. 

That was  just one month before the otherwise-feckless Bush SEC initiated the 18-month investigation of Goldman Sachs that  ultimately led  to last week's charges. 

If and when the Goldman Sachs case ever comes to trial, therefore, it may be interesting for Goldman's attorneys --   perhaps Prof. Dershowitz -- to consider calling Prof. Johnson as a witness for the defense.

After all, he probably qualifies  as an expert on the heart-rending experience of just how difficult it was even for highly-trained experts to have clear peripheral vision, much less perfect foresight, back in the heady days of the real estate boom.

John-Paulson He may also be able to instruct the jury on the fine arts of concealing what one really believes  in order to reconcile the divergent interests of multiple clients. 

In Prof. Johnson's case, these included IMF senior management,  executive directors, and a myriad of country officials who were all pressuring the IMF to inflate its forecasts back in 2008,  just as housing markets and financial markets were beginning to crumble.

In July 2008, on Prof. Johnson's watch,  they temporarily prevailed.

From this angle, the IMF Chief Economist's role might even be compared to that of a certain young Goldman Sachs VP. 

CONSOLATIONS

Even in the dark days ahead, therefore,  Goldman Sachs execs have at least a few consolations.

First, they can remind themselves that there were very damn few heroes in this sordid tale -- journalists, politicians,  public intellectuals, and economists included. 

Indeed,  Brooklyn-born investor John Paulson may turn out to have been, if not quite a "hero," at least  one of the few relatively  straightforward and consistent players in the lot.  

At least in his own investing, he consistently opposed the systematic distortions about the housing miracle and  the exaggerate  forecasts --  dare one say frauds? -- that institutions the US Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and Prof. Johnson's own IMF employed in the final stage of the real estate bubble, in a failed attempt to achieve a 'soft landing.'  

Second, while it may be hard for us to imagine,  things might actually have turned out a whole lot worse. 

Goldman Sachs might well have relied on Prof. Johnson's sophisticated, bullish forecasts rather than on  John Paulson's intuitive short-side skepticism. 

How much money would Goldman's clients, investors, and the rest of us have lost then?

☀☀☀

© JSH, SubmergingMarkets, 2010.




April 22, 2010 at 06:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, April 01, 2010

ORDINARY INJUSTICE
Even Beyond Guantanamo, Rendition, and Torture, the US Criminal (In)Justice System Is a National Disgrace
James S. Henry

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CRIMAMERICACHART (click on graph to expand)

In 1840, Tocqueville, otherwise usually an astute observer of American society, proclaimed that “there is no 8968 country where criminal justice is administered with more kindness than in the US.” 

In the modern-day  “Law and Order”/ Perry Mason made-for-TV  version of this story, the US is still viewed by many as having,  in author Amy Bachs words,  “the world’s finest criminal justice system.”

Certainly this is the preferred self-image when, as it is wont to do, the US criticizes the quality of criminal justice in other countries.

 In this sanguine view, US prosecutors, police, investigators, and judges leave no stones unturned to see that crimes are punished, justice is done, and the  US Constitution is respected.

Juries take their independence seriously and fight tooth and claw for the truth;  parole officers and prison wardens are all deeply committed to “correction.”

Public defenders are not only thoroughly informed about  the latest nuances of criminal law,  but also work tirelessly to insure that each and every defendant has his day in court.  

MainAmy_BachRachel_Gracie Fortunately, Ms. Bach, a young New York attorney and law professor,  has provided a compelling, well-researched antidote to this conventional fairy tale. 

Her new book, the product of seven years of first-hand research in the bowels of the state and local court systems of New York, George, Mississippi, and Chicago, focuses on “ordinary injustice -- the routine failure of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys as a community  to deliver on the Constitution’s basic promises.

EXCEPTIONS?

Tocqueville was not alone in his naivete'. Initially, the sheer amount of attention given to criminal justice in the US Constitution as well as state constitutions led many observers to  expect that the US  really might be distinctive.

StoryIndeed, criminal rights are the subject of Article I’s explicit reiteration of habeas corpus, plus four  of the first ten amendments (known  collectively as the “Bill of Rights”), and their extension to states and non-citizens by the XIV th  Amendment.

Of  course legal scholars have long been aware of serious gaps between theory and practice  with respect to such rights.  But the gaps have usually been regarded as exceptions. 

Many of the exceptions have occurred in times of war or perceived security  threats  – for example, the Sedition Acts of 1798 and 1918, the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans, the frequent persecution of labor unions, civil rights workers,  and Left wing dissidents from the 1880s right up through the 1970s,  the 2001 Patriot Act, the NSA's illegal spying program, and the systematic mistreatment of "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo and elsewhere. 

Other exceptions have involved the application of "Jim Crow justice” to native Americans, Afro-Americans, and other minorities.

Overall,  however,  most legal scholars have treated these episodes as abnormal deviations. In the long run,  the system as a whole is supposedly always improving,  always trying to do the right thing. 

On this theory,  the US Constitution and the courts that interpret it  are a kind of homeostatic machine, with built-in stabilizers that eventually prevent any serious rights violations from becoming permanent.

THE REALITY: FAST-FOOD JUSTICE

Ccritics on the Left have long maintained that in practice, no such automatic stabilizers  exist. From this perspective,  securing human rights is not ever accomplished once and for all, but  requires a constant, repetitive struggle.

It is also conceivable that "path dependency" and "feedback loops" in the legal system may  be destabilizing. The erosion of rights in one period may increase the chance that rights continue to erode later on.

Critics of the conventional view have also argued that rich people and poor people – including the indigent defendants who now account for about 70 to 90 percent of all felony cases –  essentially confront two very different US criminal justice systems,  especially in state and local courts. 

Only a tiny fraction of mainly affluent criminal defendants ever receive   full-blown Perry Mason/ Alan Derschowitz-type adversarial trials -- and even there, as Harvey Silverglate's recent book emphasizes, even the affluent still face the hazards of vague statutes and prosecutorial zeal. 

Meanwhile, 90 percent of criminal defendants soon learn the hard way that their nominal "rights"  consist of one brief collect call from a jail cell, followed by a tango with an alliance of police, prosecutors, and public defenders whose shared objective is to talk them into pleading guilty.

As Clarence Darrow said in his 1902 address to the inmates at the Cook County Jail, “First and foremost, people are sent to jail because they are poor.” And as the American Bar Association  -- not usually aligned with wild-eyed radicals -- reiterated in 2004, “The indigent defense system in the US remains in a state of crisis.”

Gat_0000_0001_0_img0083  This pervasive “fast food”/ assembly-line plea bargain system  is hardly new, although it has recently become a much greater problem than ever before because of soaring rates of incarceration in the US, as we'll see below. 

DETAILS FROM THE FRONT

 The special merit of Ms. Bach’s book  is that she takes such pat generalizations  about “ordinary injustice” down from the shelf  and brings them to life with a series of extraordinary case studies.

In doing so, she tackles one of the main challenges that confronts any investigator who seeks to understand how the criminal justice system really works. This is the fact that “ordinary injustice,” while pervasive,  is very hard to observe without detailed, painstaking field work.

 As Ms. Bach emphasizes,  this lack of transparency also prevents the public from being able to tell  just what they are getting for the hundreds of billions of  taxes  spent on the criminal justice system --  as well as  how the courts are doing with respect to delivering what is supposed to be their key product – justice. 

 One immediate benefit of Ms. Bach's field work is a rich trove of amazing real world stories about how the system actually works.

 ✔   For example,  in her book we meet a Troy New York city judge who routinely fails to inform defendants in his court Blindjustice of their rights to counsel, imposes $50,000 bails for $27 thefts and $25,000 bails for loitering, and enters guilty pleas for defendants without even bothering to tell them.  

 ✔  We meet a Georgia public defender who runs a “meet’ em, greet’em, and plead ‘em”  shop that delivers just 4 trials in 1500 cases, with guilty pleas entered in more than half of these cases without any lawyer present or any witnesses interviewed. 

 ✔  We meet Mississippi prosecutors who are so concerned about their win/loss records and reelections  that they simply “disappear” all the harder-to-prosecute cases from their files. 

  We meet a Chicago prosecutor who allows two iinnocent young people to sit in jail for 19 years before he finally works up the gumption to examine the relevant DNA evidence. This new evidence not only cleared them, but it also helped to disclose a much larger  police conspiracy.

  Ms. Bach also reminds us of the unbelievable 2001 case before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Texas)  where the court labored hard to overrule a lower court decision that would have permitted a defendant on trial for his life to receive the death sentence, despite the fact that his attorney had been fast asleep through much of the trial.  

PATTERNS

Amy Bach’s  book is more than just a series of such horror stories, however.  By doing  painstaking legal anthropology in multiple locations, she's been able to go beyond the limits of the typical one-off journalistic expose about the courts. (See, for example,  A, B, and C.) 

Bach's focus is on identifying recurrent patterns of misbehavior. These patterns were unfortunately  not “exceptional” at all,  but routine and widespread.

Prison Most important, her research underscores the fact that  ordinary injustice is not just due to isolated “bad apples.”  There is a system at work here.  Indeed, injustice thrives on a culture of tolerance for illegal practices  cultivated in whole communities of lawyers, judges, and police over many years.  This culture, and the “fast food”  plea bargaining  that  it facilitates,  are at the root of all her cases. 

Unfortunately Ms. Bach offers no real solutions to the problems that she has described so well. She ends up leaning rather heavily on a fond hope that “new metrics”  will be developed to measure how well individual courts actually deliver “justice” -- sort of the legal equivalent of "No Child Left Behind."  

There may be something to this. But in my experience,  metrics, whether in education or judicial policy,  are the last refuge of the policy wonk.  They will  undoubtedly be a  long time coming. This is  partly because of budget constraints. But  it is also because if the metrics are really worth a damn, they will  provoke stiff resistance from the  very same bureaucratic interests that Ms. Bach had to overcome  in her own research. 

Pending the dawn of this brave new world of  metrics,  I suspect that we will just have to depend on a handful of dedicated lawyers,  investigative journalists, and creative legal scholars like Ms. Bach to keep an eye on the courts,  root out what’s really going on,  and insist that all of the rights we have on paper and take for granted are  still around when we really need them.

ROOT CAUSES

So where does “ordinary injustice” come from, and what can we do about it?  Fundamentally, as noted, the kind of ordinary injustice described by Ms. Bach basically exists because of the “fast food” plea bargaining system. But as she also recognizes,  it would be a waste of time to outlaw this directly. This is  because the plea bargaining treadmill basically derives from the unsuccessful attempt to reconcile several deeply-inconsistent public demands. 

First,   9/11, the war on terror and GWB notwithstanding, most Americans still fundamentally believe in freedom.  Most of us still want to preserve the Bill of Rights --  at least on paper. 

Second,  we all want to save money – especially in these times.  Implementing the full-blown version of theCrowdedPrisons adversarial trials in  every case would be very costly. While taxpayers value human rights, they’re not all frothing to pay a whole lot for them. This is partly just because at any given point in time   their value is a little abstract --  like health insurance before you become ill.

Of course the truth is that the  “fast food” system is anything but cheap. The entire  system –  courts, prisons and police – now costs US taxpayers over $250 billion a year.  That figure has been growing like Topsy – it  is now at least three times the 1990 level.

Over  80 percent  of these costs are born by the hard-pressed state and local governments.  Most of the funds are digested by police and prisons;  courts only account for about one fifth.  Even so, it is far from clear that ordinary  taxpayers  – most of whom never expect to see the inside of a criminal court or jailhouse  themselves --  would be willing to pay anything more to help defend the poor  or curb ordinary injustice. 

Third, what US taxpayers do care about, at least until now,  is “fighting crime,” especially drug-related and lower-level  street crime. Ever since the 1970s, these have been the fastest growing contributors to system-wide criminal justice costs.

For many  taxpayers, under the influence of thirty  years of campaign propaganda from  the “war on drugs” industry and “tough-on-street crime” politicians, this has usually been reduced to  “lock ‘em up  and throw away the key, as fast as possible.” 

The result is that today, in the US, the number of inmates in our local jails and state and federal prisons is at an all-time high: over 2.3 million, 6.8 times the number in 1974.

This means the US has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world. It is  754 per 100,000, higher than Russia (610), Cuba (531), Iran (223), and China (119),  let alone developed countries like the UK (152), Canada (116), France (96), Germany (88), and Japan (63).


  Indeed, southern states like Louisiana (1138), Georgia (1021), Texas (976),  Mississippi (955), Oklahoma (919), Alabama (890),  Florida (835), and South Carolina (830) have distinguished themselves with even higher rates -- by far the highest rates of incarceration in the world.
  This policy appears to be driven in part by the political benefits of so-called "prison gerrymandering," which permits prisoners to be counted as residents of the places where prisons are located, rather than where they come from, for purposes of allocating legislative seats. 


This alone helps to explain the fact that annual cost of all US prisons now exceeds $80 billion a year. Indeed, the annual cost of warehousing prisoners in California and New York prisons is at least $50,000 per year per prisoner – much more than the cost of providing them with full time jobs outside!  In addition, in the US, there are over 9 million former prisoners who are now outside prison. More than  5.1 million others remain under supervision, on parole or probation.

090823-prison-hmed-11a.hmedium All told,  the US now has more than 11.3 million past and present inmates. This is  the world’s largest domestic criminal population, an incredible 23.5 percent of all current prisoners in the world.  No doubt the sheer scale of our “criminal industry experience curve”   gives us at least one  clear national competitive advantage -- in crime.  

Indeed, because of our  propensity to throw people in jail regardless of what becomes of them there,  we now account for over a third of the entire world’s living past and present prisoners.  Not surprisingly, this also affords us by far the most costly judicial and corrections systems that the world has ever seen.

For all these costly incarcerations, despite the vast sums and short-cuts associated with processing all of these millions through the pipeline as rapidly as possible, there is not one speck of evidence that this system has contributed one Greek drachma to falling crime or safer streets. 

Indeed, the best evidence is just the opposite. Over two-thirds of US offenders who are released from Justice2 prison are likely to be re-arrested within three years.  Reactionary voices may argue that this just shows we should hold more of them longer, a sure recipe for system bankruptcy. What it really shows is the complete lack of  any real “correction” or retraining in most US prisons. The system that the entire criminal justice machine works so hard to get people into as fast as possible has become the world’s largest training ground for serial offenders.

In short,   if we really want to understand the roots of "ordinary injustice,"  as well as  the intense pressure that each and every player in the US criminal justice system feels to cut corners and slash costs each and every day,  we need to look no further than this self-perpetuating  failed prison state-within-a-state.

After all, this particular failed state already has a total population of current inmates and former inmates under supervision that is greater than Somalia’s!

 

***

April 1, 2010 at 04:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 22, 2010

"WE HAVE LIFT-OFF!"
What a Difference a Day Makes to Obama's "Base"
James S. Henry

ObamaHealthCare It was altogether fitting and proper that yesterday's historic House vote on health care reform took place on the first day of Spring 2010. All across the country, progressive activists -- including many of us who worked hard for President Obama's election not only in November 2008 but in endless primaries before that --  have been  in a deep funk about the Administration's "failure to launch" on a wide range of issues, from health care and immigration reform to climate change and financial regulation, to Guantanamo and Middle East peace talks.

For months it seemed as if our two-party system had been surrendered to  a one-party veto,  that  Hill Democrats had become feckless and supine,  and that  "Si Se Puede" had somehow been translated into "Beltway" as "No Way, Jose."

Now the clouds have lifted, at least temporarily, and the first rocket soars skyward. Of course this is only the beginning. But it sure feels good for a change to be staring up at the sky, watching that baby split the clouds.

PURISTS

 Some purists on the Left are already denouncing the House bill as a handout to insurance companies that falls far short of the "single payer" or "Mao200132public option" alternatives of their dreams. Of course the bill also does not extend public subsidies to cover abortions -- although that was already the case under existing Federal law.  

 Despite these shortcomings, most progressive observers -- including Krugman, Kucinich, and Michael Moore -- see this as a critical step forward.

They realize that the only alternative to passing the House bill was a Republican victory that would not only have jeopardized the rest of the Democratic agenda for the rest of this year, but would have also led to a catastrophic defeat at the polls in November.

Short of organizing yet another doomed Third Party quest, they  also realize that there is simply no alternative to pushing for further reforms within the Democratic Party.

BAGGERS

Meanwhile, on the Right, as usual, there is Sturm, Drang, und Zorn, all of which add up to a strong primaTeabaggers3 facie case for providing free anger management coverage to qualified Republicans  in the final Senate health care bill.  

Vulture capitalist Mitt Romney, author of a not-wildly-dissimilar Massachusetts health plan, has already promised to seek to "repeal" the bill, while a group of mainly Red State attorney generals is threatening  to challenge the bill's constitutionality.

Meanwhile, the rag-tag "Tea Bag" army has completely lost control, exposing its frothing bigotry and astounding ignorance for everyone to see.

Angryright Far from being intimidated by these reactionaries, Democrats should be delighted. Not only is all the adolescent right-wing rage unappealing, but it is a sure sign that our policies are finally shaking things up.

BASE JUMP

Net net, the impact of this bill's passage on Obama's  "base" is one of its most important consequences -- in addition to  the series of health care reforms that are now much more likely to follow.

Eventually these  reforms really will help the millions of Americans who struggle each and every day with our high-cost,  minimally-efficient health care system. 

Meanwhile, this victory has an immediate short-term payoff. It reminds Obama's  "base"  that, as President Obama said last night, "Big changes are still possible in America." 

It also  reminds us of how good it feels to actually win.

Far beyond health care,  as the American Right clearly fears more than anything else, this  could provide a huge lift for many other progressive reforms.

Houston, we have lift off!

***


March 22, 2010 at 01:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

THE ROBIN HOOD TAX

Why Doesn't Obama Support This Very Modest Progressive Tax?
Just Guess Who Opposes It!
James S. Henry

While we wait patiently for any signs whatsoever of progressive change in America, progress is still being made, deo gratis, elsewhere. Of course this is no thanks to the banker-minded Spartans who still occupy the Trojan Horse that is become the US Treasury Department.

Today the European Parliament adopted a resolution supporting the kind of global financial transactions tax that is discussed in the extraordinary performance by Bill Nighy below. For more information about the European action, please follow this link.

NGOs like Tax Justice Network International, Oxfam GB, Global Financial Integrity, Action Aid, New Rules, Christian Aid have all been working hard to support this proposal. They could use your active involvement and support -- right now.

As the Puritan minister Stephan Marshall once said in a sermon addressed to Parliament in 1641, "You have great works to do, the planting of a new heaven and a new earth among us, and great works have great enemies."

(If for some odd reason the video does not appear below, please travel here to get it.)


March 9, 2010 at 10:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

True Unemployment: 20% and Still Rising
Send Geithner Home to Wall Street!
His Legacy: 30+ MM Underemployed, Failed Stimulus, No Bank Reform, Soaring Deficits, Sinking $$
James S. Henry

Reservearmyjsh112009 Geithner2 With official US unemployment now at 10.2 percent,  the third highest among the 29 OECD countries,  and unofficial unemployment at least two times  higher, more than 30 million American workers and their families are now being forcefully reminded  every day that "the reserve army of the unemployed" is not just pure Marxist rhetoric.  

While China and most developing countries are already recovering nicely from this First World-made debt crisis, all indications are that US unemployment is still rising, and that we will soon see a new postwar record -- -- two years after the "Great Recession," the longest and deepest since the 1930s,  began in December 2007. 

UNEMPLOYMENT:  GET REAL

To get the real unemployment picture, we need to adjust the official statistics upwards. First, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics' own data shows, the "official" rate leaves out many workers who are (a) underemployed, working only part time when they'd prefer full time jobs (9.3 million now); (b) fully unemployed,  and desirous of jobs, but not counted in the official statistics because they've given up look (2.3 to 5.6 million). Allowing for these two adjustments already boosts "underemployment" to the 17.5% figure cited in some recent press reports.

But even that figure is too low.  First,  it omits the country's 20 million "self-employed" (incorporated and unincorporated), a growing share of the labor force. All  are counted as "employed" in the official statistics, no matter how underutilized they are. Yet other surveys report that this group is also experiencing serious underemployment.

Furthermore, the official statistics also leave out  about 1.6 million who are now serving in the military, plus the record 2.33 million  US prison inmate population. Both populations are heavily young, male,  and undereducated, and would therefore experience relatively high unemployment. This is especially important for the sake of historical comparability  -- say, for comparisons with the 1930s, when the US military  and the prison populations were both tiny. 

In addition, of course, when the Great Recession started there were at least 8 to 10 million undocumented workers in the US, none of whom appear in the official statistics. Whatever we think of illegal immigration, the fact is that most of these workers have not been able to return to their homelands, and are still here, quietly suffering through this recession. Indeed, to the extent that they are unable to draw on unemployment benefits and other social programs to cushion the blow, they are being forced to compete with the rest of us more fiercely than ever.

All told, therefore, as shown in the adjacent chart (click to pop up), this makes the "real" US unemployment in October 2009 at least 20 percent or more -- twice the official rate.

TO WHOM DO WE TURN?

One might have expected this historic jobs crisis to have provoked a quick, decisive response from Washington  Unfortunately, American workers have also recently been reminded that, disturbingly, the Democratic Party can simply no longer be counted Picture-141on to put labor's interests ahead of capital's. 

This was evident to some of us when Obama's first stimulus package was being designed -- given that it was loaded up with so many Christmas goodies for special interests and so many regressive tax cuts. 

But by now it should be clear to anyone but the most bullet-headed diehard party ideologues.

Whatever else Obama's February 2009 stimulus package has accomplished, it simply hasn't created nearly enough new jobs, fast enough.

Codepinkfiregeithner-1 Nor has it provided nearly enough aid to debt-ridden homeowners --  as the continued record-setting pace of home foreclosures and bankruptcies testifies.

These basic policy shortcomings are not due to some Herbert Hoover or Ronald Reagan.  While Obama obviously inherited a mess, by now enough time has passed that his administration has become responsible for  its continuation.

How high does unemployment have to go for the Obama Administration to actually  want to do something more about it?

When FDR took office in March 1933, unemployment stood at nearly 25 percent of the labor force, and heFigure5.4 immediately took decisive action to make sure that unemployment was reduced, by establishing targeted federal job creation programs, attacking anti-competitive practices by large banks and corporations, and making sure debt relief got through to small businesses, farmers, and homeowners. 

What is it about the character of the Obama Administration that has made its response so different?

THE FIFTH COLUMN

As we've argued for some time (See "The Pseudo Stimulus," The Nation, February 3, 2009, and "Too Big Not to Fail," The Nation, February 23, 2009),  one basic problem seems to be that Obama's Administration, unlike FDR's, has been overly dependent from the get-go on pro-Wall Street insider/ fifth columnists, captained by the Supreme "Jimmy Do-little"/  Andrew Mellon of the period,  Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. 

Not only has Geithner  been far too slow to recognize that the first stimulus was woefully inadequate.

Unemployment-line-nyc-depression Time and again, he and his x Goldman groupies at Treasury have also piled out of the Trojan horse to defend traditional Wall Street prerogatives. They have:

  • ☛Opposed serious restrictions on executive compensation and perks for senior bank staff that are unrelated to performance;
  • ☛Opposed  clawbacks or windfall profits taxes on the hundreds of millions in stock options  granted by bailed-out banks last spring;
☛Opposed serious debt relief for homeowners, and failed to strengthen the loan modification program introduced last spring, even after it had clearly failed;

☛Failed to fight hard for "cram-down" legislation that would have required banks to accelerate loan Unemployment-1modifications;

☛Opposed   the establishment of a new independent consumer protection agency for financial products; 

☛Opposed forcing banks that have accepted US aid to accelerate lending to small business and homeowners;

☛Opposed proposals for a "Tobin tax" on financial transactions, as suggested by the UK and France, as a way of financing climate change aid;

☛Opposed G20 proposals to clean up a wide variety of tax haven abuses by major bank and companies around the globe;

☛Failed to achieve any serious reforms whatsoever  of financial regulation, more than a year after the crisis;

☛Failed to get anywhere with the vaunted "toxic asset buyback" program;

☛Insisted that any reforms leave the ultimate regulatory authority in the hands of the US Federal Reserve  -- an anti-democratic, pro-Wall Street institution if ever there was one, whose policy errors  have contributed significantly to this costly crisis. 

LOSE THE BOZO

Of course at this stage, with US budget deficits at a postwar high, and controversial measures like health care reform, climate change, Afghanistan, and immigration still in stuck in traffic, plus a mid-term Congressional election fast approaching,  it may well be too late for the Obama Administration to propose a second stimulus. If this were going to happen, it  would have needed Treasury and White House leadership already. 

Geitherobama1 It is not too late, however, for Obama to send a signal that he actually holds his own senior executives accountable.

Secretary Geithner, I'm told, already has multiple job offers from at least a half a dozen leading banks and hedge funds, so he will only profit from this exit  -- which he probably anticipated all along. 

By clearing the decks and bringing in a fresh team with some new, more progressive ideas,  more daring-do, and independence, this could  help prevent Obama from repeating Jimmy Carter's sad, rapid one-term involution. 

In any case, when the history of the Obama Administration is written, it is worth remembering that at least a few progressives warned about all this very early  --  the risks of adopting a "pseudo-stimulus," failing to aid small debtors and businesses, and failing to exert strong control over the banks.

Ultimately, that may be one of the biggest costs of this crisis --  the lost opportunity to show that Democrats really are still capable of providing the country with outstanding, disinterested economic leadership in times of crisis. 

(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2009

November 10, 2009 at 01:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, November 02, 2009

"WHO KNEW?": WILMINGTON NAMED WORLD'S WORST HAVEN

Wild Protests in Geneva, Vaduz, and Guernsey
James S. Henry


Sevy_swiss_gnomes

"Delaware Named As Better Place to Hide Money Than Switzerland"

"Delaware Beats Switzerland As Most Secretive Financial Center"

"Delaware Most Opaque Haven, Switzerland Third."


(Geneva) Thousands of angry private bankers from SwitzerlandLiechtenstein, and the Channel Islands have taken to the streets to denounce Delaware's official designation as the world's worst "financial secrecy center" by the heretofore-renowned international critic of tax havens, TJN International.

"Surely this is one contest that we deserved to win," said a leading Geneva private banker. "We feel like Ist-imf3 Chicago after the Olympics selection."

A Guernsey banker echoed his sentiments. "I smell a rat. Just because the US VP is from Delaware, the fix must have been in. Our assets have been flowing out since 2005. Now we know where they've gone."

"Wilmington.  Who'd' a thunk it?"

For the past few years jurisdictions like Switzerland,  Liechtenstein, and the Channel Islands  have indeed been competing vigorously for the prize of the "world's worst haven."

Riot3 According to Dubios Pictet von Hentsch, another  long-time Swiss banker, "I don't know what they want from us. We have tried everything -- including  having many senior bankers from our largest banks get indicted and convicted for helping thousands of wealthy foreigners evade taxes!

"This was supposed to be OUR YEAR!"

"We've also been laundering all those smarmy Euros  for decades! This is the thanks we get?  Meh!  " 

"What's happened to "pay-for-performance" in financial services?"

A Vaduz-based private banker from BIL, the legendary Liechtenstein private money-laundering bank owned by the Crown Prince's family, also expressed shock and dismay.

"We're just a tiny developing country (even if we do happen to have the world's highest per capita income.) How's our Crown Prince supposed to feel after this? After all our efforts to help wealthy foreigners all over the planet evade taxes over the last decade, we lose to...Wilmington? Meh!"

"All the really dirty money has been flowing to an even tinier, more obscure place than we are:  this place Wilmington_Delaware_aerial_view called  WilmingtonAnd we didn't even know about it. We are obviously a little embarrassed." 

"Personally Dirty+Money+V.5(DJ+RPM)I've never been to Wilmington. But I am dying to go there now. Are there any direct flights?"

 A Singapore banker commented, "Wilmington?  Uh, where is that, exactly?  Surely If its number one, it must be packed with non-doms, wealthy sheiks, fancy hotels and shops, and of course lots and lots of ultra-ancient, ultra-discrete private banks, law firms, and accounting firms." 

"How is the skiing and the diving, by the way? Not good? Meh!"

Other sources confirm that  until it was disclosed by TJN,  Wilmington's  role in global financial chicanery was  one of the world's best kept secrets. 

"Apparently all the truly sophisticated dirty money goes there," said a Panama lawyer.

 "It's a facade-- purposefully understated, if you will."

"Of course we had all heard rumors. But now  that it has been officially2008031817roubiniDentro_20080319 confirmed by TJN,  it must be true."

A_dirty_rat_with_a_lot_of_dirty_laundry__1137403701

 "I tell you,  you  Americans are something else.  For years you have been pointing the fingers at the rest of us, while secretly preparing this bid. 

Now it turns out to be you who are the real winners. Meh!"

A Luxembourg private banker commented: "We got the third highest per capita incomes in the world and these peons  in Wilmington wanna piece of our pie!! " 


THE WAY THE WORLD WORKS

The Luxembourg private banker agreed to expand a bit on why he thinks the first prize for Wilmington is just so unfair.

"Ok, sure, yeah, everybody has known for some time that First World countries like the US, the UK, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg  are the world's largest ultimate havens -- at least since that book Banqueros Y Lavadolares (1996) laid out the whole story.  Foreign money has been  flowing out of higher-tax places and developing countries for decades. 

Images-1 "Part of it is just natural risk-diversification. For example, what moron wants to keep all his hard-earned shekels in a place like Mexico? The place is a cesspool of corruption, on the front lines of the drug wars, with lots of kidnappings, and the courts for sale to the highest bidder.  You wanna keep all your money there or pay taxes to a government like that?  Knock yourself out."

"But  it isn't just a question of diversifying away from country risk, because that doesn't explain why all the money gets invested in FIRST WORLD banks. 

We First World havens also worked really hard  to become the world's top laundromats, so the money would come here."  

THE BEST TAX CODE THAT MONEY CAN BUY.......

"First of all,  we got the tax laws right, hiring the best lawyers on the planet to design them to attract capital flight and tax evasion, as well as any criminal proceeds that happen to come along for the ride. 

None of these rich countries wealthy foreign investors on, say,  the interest income they get from, say, bank deposits at UBS or HSBC or Citigroup,  or our 200 offshore banks in Luxembourg.  And sure we'll respond if the US Department of Justice comes a callin'."

"But we sure as hell don't report this income to, say, the Mexican IRS.

"So all the wealthy foreigners from developing countries investing in First World banks?"

"There are no big customers secrets!  The banks know who they are! 

"We have to. They are all our private banking clients!"  

"So Angel Gurria can keep his lousy foreign accounts in New York and Geneva, we ain't gonna tell 37577175DSC_0672a-200 nobody." 

You see -- even if the US IRS knew the "beneficial owners" of every offshore account in Luxembourg, and New York, and London, and Wilmington, the income these owners earn isn't taxable here. And under the rules we've set,  no  First World government is going to turn over this information to some no-count Third World country Hey, there's big bucks at stake! "

"It isn't  about "secrecy," my friend.  It's about tax laws and the people who write them. Or at least that's what we always thought -- until now!"

 ....WRITTEN BY PRIVATE BANKERS

Number two,  we build a vast global pirate banking industry.  We put together  top fifty most powerful First World Banks, law firms, and accounting firms in the world, and unleashed them on the developing world, where most of this  

"Who do you think made all these tax and banking laws, Elwin?  Did they just sorta pop up?"

"Naw, this haven stuff is a big business.

Robert-rubin "So our  lobbyists went to work and designed all these  tax laws, plus the banking laws that accomodated them.  If  we don't get it done with lobbyists, we  get a Treasury Secretary or two -- likeForeclosure-Phil-Gramm28may08 Robert Rubin, who came from Goldman Sachs and went back to work at Citigroup, or former US Senator Phil Gramm, who was Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee for five years before he left the Senate to become Vice Chairman of UBS.

"Understand one thing:   the City of London, Geneva, Zurich, and New York City would barely exist without this offshore banking/ investments businesses. Naturally Singapore and Hong Kong and Dubai now want a piece of action."

THE IRRELEVANCE OF "SECRECY" TO TAX JUSTICE

"You see, my friend -- that's why we're so troubled by Wilmington's victory here.

Bush-SPY-ON-YOU We don't understand how all the pure "corporate secrecy" in the world has anything necessarily at all to do with being an outstanding tax haven -- or the flip side, with taking money out of poor countries and keeping it outside, tax free. Or with "tax justice."

"We always thought: we take care of the tax laws and have an aggressive private banking industry, then  we will win."

"Since  the banks and hedge funds know who their clients are anyway, the government could always order them to cough the info up, whether or not there's a single "secret" beneficiary anywhere.

On the other hand, you could have all the most perfect information on beneficial owners in the world, and if you can't get First World governments to either (a)  tax foreigners on their investments or (b) share the information with developing countries, it won't matter. "

REDOMICILIATION - WAH? 

"But now, according to this index,  it isn't enough for us havens not to tax foreigners. It isn't enough for us to have the world's most aggressive private bankers."

"Now we gotta get down and  compete with Wilmington Delaware on all the 14 technical/legal factors in this stupid index!  You look closely at this fancy index,  which took two years to complete. 

"You find, for example, that  Luxembourg lost first place to Delaware just because Delaware corporate law allows redomiciliation and ours doesn't?  

"What private banking client ever heard of redomiciliation in Delaware? Of redomiciliation anywhere? Tax rates? Sure. Information exchange? Sure. Great private banking services? Absolutely.  Redomiciliation??

Are you shitting me?"

"Any corporate lawyer worth his salt knows you can accomplish the same thing in lots of other ways."But now that CNN is talking about it, you're gonna have every two bit crook in the world running around saying "Redom....redom....Nah nah nah-nah nah...You ain't got it, we're heading to Wilmington!"

Who are they working for, the Delaware Secretary of State?" 

A NEW DAY DAWNS IN WILMINGTON

Meanwhile, in Wilmington, the town's 72,000 residents woke up this morning to discover that the world had literally shifted under their feet.

"Our cover has finally been blown," said one local banker. "I'm not sureMoney-launderer_medium this is a prize we wanted to win. Certainly it comes as a huge surprise to most of our community -- except for the tiny, carefully selected group that have been in on the secret. "

"The VP was not one of them, so we think he's in the clear. Hopefully."

"TJN really knows their stuff. I think they even sent a small squad of undercover investigators here last summer -- a group of Brits, mainly.

 "We immediately suspected them of being up to something, but we didn't know until now just how much sleuthing they were doing. We thought they were here for the nightlife, the boys and girls. It never pays to try and fool those folks."

"After all, after having had a hand in the design of offshore havens in Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Barbuda, Belize, Bermuda, BVI, the Cayman Islands, the Cook Islands, Cyprus, Gilbraltar,  Guernsey, Hong Kong, the Isle of Man, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nauru, Niue, St. Kitts,  St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Singapore, the Turks and Caicos, and the UAE, they really know a good haven when they see one."

Electiondayinfreetown "Naturally our heart goes out to all the other secretive financial centers in the world. It's never fun to go to bed one night thinking you were number one,  and discover that some tiny town thAlg_bidenat no one has heard of has beaten you to a pulp."

"The downside?  Well, it'll probably be much harder to be a secretive financial  center, obviously.  And now we'll have all those smarmy Euros, plus a lot of Florida cosmetic surgeons  coming here with their bags of cash. Meh!"

"Personally I'm already thinking about moving to Wyoming." 


(c) JSH 2009

November 2, 2009 at 07:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 26, 2009

"WHAT MIDDLE CLASS"?

Global Wealth Inequality (2007-08 Average)
James S. Henry and Brent Blackwelder
(Click chart)

Globaldistoffshore200809 Res Ipsa Loquitur.

October 26, 2009 at 01:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Pittsburgh's State of Siege

Suppressiing Dissent With High-Priced Cop Toys

James S. Henry
Download PDF

3953363973_bdf039ae20 Studentinjury2

You didn't hear much about it from any major US news organizations, but there was a very disturbing case of gratuitous police-led violence and intimidation at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh on September 23rd-25th, 2009. Perhaps the only consolation is that it allowed those of us who were there to get a close look at some of the disturbing "brave new world:  technologies for anti-democratic crowd control. These were initially developed by the US military to fight terrorists on the high seas and abroad, in places like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq, but are now coming home to roost.  Indeed, ironically enough, this is one of the few remaining global growth industries where the US is still the undisputed world leader, as we'll see below.


Police2 One local newspaper account described  the events at the Pittsburgh G20  as a "clash" between the police, protesters, and college students. 

Indeed, a handful of storefronts were reportedly broken on Thursday September 24 by a  few unknown vandals. 

However, based on our own visit to the summit,  interviews with several students and other eye witnesses,  and a careful review of the significant amount of video footage that is available online, the only real "clash"  that occurred in Pittsburgh on September 23-25, 2009, was between lawless policing and the Bill of Rights. 

The most aggressive large-scale policing abuses occurred from 9 pm to 11:30 pm on Friday September 25th near Schenley Park, in the middle of the University of Pittsburgh campus. This was miles away from the downtown area where the G20 had met, and, in any case, it was hours after the G20 had ended.

This particular case of aggressive policing -- "Hammer and Anvil," as the operation was described on police scanners -- was clearly not just a matter of a few "bad apples." 

Rather, it appears to have been part of a willful, highly-organized, one-sided, rather  high-tech experiment or training exercise in very aggressive crowd control by nothing less than a really scary uniformed mob.

New York police sometimes describe their firemen counterparts, tongue in cheek, as "robbers with boots." In this case we have no hesitation at all in describing this uniformed mob in Pittsburgh as "assailants with badges."

Their actions resulted in the unlawful suppression of the civil rights of  hundreds of otherwise-peaceful students who were just "hanging out with their friends on a Friday night in Oakland," or attending a free jazz/blues concert in Schenley Park. 

Essentially they got trapped in a cyclone of conflicting and inconsistent police directives to "leave the area." The result was nearly 200 arrests, gassings, beatings, and the deployment of dogs and rubber bullets against dozens of innocent people.

In addition to the students,  this aggressive policing also assaulted the civil rights of a small number of relatively-peaceful protesters and quite a few ordinary Pittsburgh residents, most of whom were as innocent as bystanders can possibly be these days. 

Why did this occur?  In addition to whatever top-down "experiment" or training action was being conducted there appears to have been an extraordinary amojnt of pent-up police frustration and anger.  For example, one student overheard a policeman piling out of a rented Budget van near Schenley Park around 9:50 PM Friday.

The officer was heard to exclaim, "Time to kick some ass!"

This is disturbing, but perhaps not all that surprising. After all, thousands of police had  basically stood around for days in  riot gear, sweltering in the "Indian Summer" heat, dealing with  the tensions associated with potential terrorist attacks as well as all the hassles of managing large-scale protest marches, even if peaceful.There was also the inevitable tensions of social class and culture among police, Guardsman, and college students.

On the other hand, precisely because such tensions are so predictable, those in direct command or higher political office, and, indeed University officials, should have acted forcefully to corral them.

JOIN THE CLUB


ArrestedstudentposedwithpoliceAll this means that Pittsburgh  has unfortunately now joined the growing list of  cities around the world that have experienced such serious conflicts -- mainly in connection with  economic summits or national political conventions.

The list of summit frays includes this summer's G-8 in Italylast Spring's G20 in London,  the September '08 RNC in Minneapolis,  the '04 RNC in New York City, Miami's Free Trade Area of the Americas Summit (11/03),  Quebec (4/01),  Naples (3/01), Montreal (10/00),  Prague 9/00), Washington D.C. (4/00),  the  November '99 WTO "Battle in Seattle," the J18 in London (6/99), Madrid (10/1994), and Berlin (9/88).

President Obama had  originally selected Pittsburgh for the G20 because he hoped to showcase its recovery  since the 1980s, especially in the last  few years, under a Democratic Mayor, in a Democratic state that he barely carried in the 2008 Presidential contest. 

In seeking to explain such events, therefore, it alway helps to keep a firm eye on the question -- whose interests did really  this serve?

In retrospect, the failure of these leaders to control the police at the G20 has created a serious blemish on the city's reputation for good government. It may have also to some extent undermined Obama’s relations with college students and other activists  who worked so hard for his election in this key state. And it certainly did not help the reputation of the Democratic Party in Pittsburgh or Pensylvania at large.

TIANANMEN FLASHBACKS

To journalists like me who happened to have been in Beijing in May 1989, during the buildup to the June 4th massacre in Tiananmen Square,  Pittsburgh also bears an interesting resemblance. The analogy may sound a little strained, but bear with me.  

(1)  As in Beijing, there was a very large deputized police force from all over the country.  These included  over 1000 police "volunteers" (out of 4000 total police and 2500 National Guardsmen) who were ported in just for the G20.

According to the conventional wisdom, not being from the same community is likely to reduce your inhibitions when it comes to macing and kicking the crap out of unarmed, defenseless young people.

The guest policeman also included several hundred police who were under the command of Miami Police 2076 Chief John F. Timoney,  pioneer of the infamous "Miami model" for suppressing protest that was first deployed at the Miami Free Trade Area of the Americas Conference in November 2003. (Here’s the Miami model checklist, most of which was repeated in Pittsburgh.)

As one writer has observed, Timoney, who  also served as Police Chief in Philadelphia,   "(L)iterally transformed the city into a police state war zone with tanks, blockades and “non-lethal” (but severely damaging) artillery."

It is unclear to what extent he played a similar role behind-the-scenes in Pittsburgh this year, but there certainly is a strong sulfurous odor.     Scaredstudents

(2) As in Beijing, In Pittsburgh there were no identifying badges on officers' uniforms, and they also refused to provide any identifying personal information in response to questions. Several photographers also complained about receiving threats and actual damage to their cameras.

(3) As in Beijing, there was simply no  direct contest between the power of the security forces once they mobilized, and those of the unarmed students.   The only kind of victory that the students could possibly have one in both cases was a moral one -- by essentially sacrificing their bodies and their rights to a tidal wave of repression.

Indeed, the "clash" theory of these events looks even odder once we take into account the  fact that on Friday night in Pittsburgh, for example, unarmed students and protesters faced  hundreds of police in full riot gear,  armed for bear with equipped  muzzled attack dogs, gas, smoke canisters, rubber bullets, bean-bag shotguns, pepper pellets, long-range pepper spray,  at least four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters (courtesty of New York Governor Patterson and his National Guard's 3-142nd Assault Helicopter Battalion unit),  plus several brand new "acoustic cannons" (see below). There were also probably dozens of undercover agents provocateurs -- at least three of whom were actually "outed" by the students. 

The police were also actively monitoring student communications on web sites like Twitter.

 From this angle, a key difference with Bejing  in 1989 was that the Chinese authorities felt genuinely  threatened by the growth of student power and the democracy movement, and feared being ousted,from power.  and  were therefore able to justify their brutality as part of a zero-sum game. In the case of Pittsburgh, whatever police violence occurred was entirely gratuitous.

Police6 (4) As in Beijing, the Pittsburgh police  really liked deploying loud, repetitive warnings, broadcast from sound-trucks -- like the following,  broadcast  repeatedly last Thursday and Friday: 

"I hereby declare this to be an unlawful assembly. I order all those assembled to immediately disburse. You must leave the immediate vicinity. If you remain in this immediate vicinity, you will be in violation of the Pennsylvania crimes code, no matter what your purpose is. You must leave. If you do not disburse, you may be arrested and/or subject to other police action. Other police action may include actual physical removal, the use of riot control agents, and/or less lethal munitions, which could risk of injury to those who remain."

The fact is that this warning was itself completely unlawful.  Putting on the NYCLU lawyer's hat for a moment, absent a "clear and present danger" to the public peace, these threats violated the First Amendment's explicit recognition of right to "peacefully assemble.” 

In effect, the fact is that the police and National Guard in Pittsburgh  temporarily seized control over public streets, parks, and other public spaces, and exercised it arbitrarily.  By the time the victims of these outrageous civil rights infringements have their day in court, the damage will have been long since done.

(5) As in Beijing, the police and military decided  to launch their biggest raid late at nightafter the summit had ended most major mediaPolice11 had gone home, and the courts had closed for the weekend.

Of course, there were no tanks, no real bullets, and no fatalities in Pittsburgh. Unlike the April '09 G20 and the Genoa G8 protests, no civilians died as a direct result of police actions. But the Pittsburgh students who were on the receiving end of all this unprovoked police brutality -- like one who was shot four times in the back and legs with rubber bullets, and another who was gassed and shot in the face -- may be forgiven for wondering just how close they came to emulating their peers in Europe.

GLOBAL  COP TOYS

Police behavior at all these global summits has evolved over time into a rather high-tech affair that would make Iranian crowd control experts turn  bright green with envy. 

5c6c33b0-9c3f-49e6-8ca5-d5aea8751de5_300 For example,  last week's G20 featured one of the largest US deployments ever against civilian demonstrators of  "LRADS," or acoustic cannons

These sophisticated  "phase array" device s emit a targeted 30-degree beam of 100+decibel  sound that is effective up to several hundred yards, and is potentially very harmful to the human ear. 

LRAD2Manufactured by San Diego's tiny American Technology Corporation (NASDQ: ATCO), the $37,500 so-call "500X" version of the sound cannon that was used in Pittsburg was developed at the behest of the US military, reportedly in response to the USS Cole incident in 2000,  to help the Navy repel hostile forces at sea.

The Pittsburgh units  were apparently  purchased by  local sheriffs' departments across the country with the help of recent grants from the US Department of Homeland Security. Officially the grants have been justtified in the name of improving communications with the public, by permitting clearer voice channels (!), but that's a cover story -- the true purpose is crowd control. ( Roll tape: LRAD-500X_SDCo_Sheriff1).

Other recent ATCO customers include the US Army (for "force protection" in Iraq  and Afghanistan), and  the US Navy and the navies of Japan and Singapore, for communicating with potentially-hostile vessels at sea. 

In 2008 ATCO flogged its wares at the biannual China Police Forum, Asia's largest mart for police security equipment. Obviously China would make a terrific reference customer, since it is one of the global front-runners in the brutal suppression of mass dissent.

ATCO also has a 2007 contract with the US Marine Corps' "Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program" to develop new, even more powerful weapons, euphemistically branded  "acoustic hailing devices." Saakashvili

Police3 Until recently the most widely-publicized use of LRADS had been against Somali pirates. The devices have also been deployed against "insurgents" by the US military in Fallujah,  by the increasingly-unpopular, anything-but-democratic regime of Mikhail Saakashvili in the Republic of Georgia, and by New York City at the RNC in 2005.

Just two weeks before the Pittsburgh G20,  they turned up  in San Diego, where the Sheriff's Department provoked controversy by stationing them near a Congressional town hall forum -- just in case.

This growing  use of LRADs for domestic crowd control in theSomalis_called_pirates_while_the_West_du US is worrisome, not only because it is a potent anti-civil liberties weapon, because -- just like tasers,  rubber bullets, OC gas, and other so-called "non-lethal but actually just "less lethal" weapons" -- they can cause serious injuries to ears, and perhaps even provoke strokes. 

TECHNOLOGY BLOWBACK

For all the homeland security technology buffs in the audience, you may rest assured that LRADs are hardly the  only Military potential "less-lethal" free speech-and-assembly killers in the pipeline. 

In the last decade the non-lethal weapons arena has exploded, and the US appears to be  far ahead, assisted by ample  R&D grants and purchase contracts from organizations like the Department of Justice's "National Institute of Justice," DHS's multi-billion dollar Homeland Security Grant Program, the U.S Coast Guard, and the Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, and DOD's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) Program

The industry has also been aided by key contractors like ATCO, spearheaded by legendary engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur "Woody" Norris;  and Penn State's Advanced Research Lab -- home of the Institute for Emerging Defense Technologies.   NIJ also works closely with police organizations like PERF, and international organizations like the UK's Home Office Scientific Development Branch.

In the first instance, the development of such non-lethal technologies is usually justified by their potential for providing an alternative to heavier weaponry, thereby reducing civilian casualties in combat situations.

The fact that the US military now has at least 750 military bases around the world, and has also recently  been playing an important "military policing" role in countries like Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, underscored DOD's rationale for these technologies.

The problem is that just as in the case of the LRAD,  once developed, it is very difficult to wall such technologies out of the US, or restrict them to "pro-civilian/pro-democratic" uses, like providing clearer amplification for outdoor announcements.  

Even aside from their technical merits, the competitive nature of the global law enforcement equipment industry  virtually insures that every tin-horn US sheriff, as well as every Chinese party boss in Urumqi, will soon have access to these very latest tools in the arsenal for suppressing dissent.  

The ultimate irony, of course, is that the first generation of all  these powerful new free speech suppressors have all been developed,  not by authoritarian China, Iran, Burma or North Korea, but by US,  ostensibly still the leader of the "Free World." 

TOYS IN THE PIPELINE

So what's in store for those who are on the front lines of popular dissent?  We assume that some of the juiciest details are classified. But even a cursory review of public sources reveals that the following new crowd-control technologies may soon be coming to an economic summit near you.  (See this recent UK review for more details.). 

"Area Denial Systems." This is a powerful new "directed-energy" device that generates a precise, targeted beam of "millimeter waves," producing an "intolerable heating sensation on an adversary's skin." 

Under development by the US military since at least the late 1980s, this class of "non-lethal" weapons is now close to field deployment. Its key advantage over LRADs is that it has about ten times the range. Raytheon is already supplying its "Silent Guardian" version of the system to the US Army.

The next step required to bring this product to the police market will be to make it smaller and more mobile. According to this week's New Scientist, a new highly-portable, battery-powered version of the system, called the "Thermal Laser," will soon become available -- though it has yet to show that demonstrate conclusively that it is within the bounds of the UN Binding Protocol on Laser Weapons.
Apple-1984

New Riot-Control Chemicals and Delivery Systems.

Subject to the dicey question of whether these new "calmative," drug-like agents are outside the boundaries of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (to which the US and 187 other countries are signatories), these would not irritate their targets, unlike pepper spray or tear gas, but calm them down.

In the words of one DOD/JNLWD research director:  "We need something...like anesthetic agents, that would put everyone to sleep or in a good mood..." Or as the former Marine Corps commander of the program said," "I would like a magic dust that would put everyone in a building to sleep.." Among the delivery mechanisms considered: drinking water, aerosol spray, or rubber bullet. (Apparently the old-fashioned, tried-and-true "light up, inhale, and pass on" method is not a candidate.) The College of Medicine at Penn State's ARL, locGluegunated 135 miles east of Pittsburgh, has been especially active in advocating the advantages of such new chemical weapons.
Unfortunately for it, DOD apparently believes that the CWC and its current regulations prohibit it from funding the developing such magic dust directly, so it is working through DOJ and DOE to do so.

Glue Guns. If all else fails, UK's Home Office reports that another approach to "less- lethal" crowd control weaponry is also making progress -- a gigantic glue gun that sprays at least some 30 feet, bemingling its target audience in one huge adhesive dissident-ball.

Apparently still unsolved is the question of precisely what becomes of all those who are stuck together, or how the police avoid becoming entangled with them. But undoubtedly millions of pounds  are being devoted to solving these issues even as we speak.

SUMMARY

I went to Pittsburgh last week on behalf of  Tax Justice Network, a global NGO that is concerned about the harmful impacts that tax havens and dodgy behavior by First World banks, MNCs, lawyers, and accountants are having, especially on developing countries. I was under no illusion that the reforms we   were rather politely advocating would quickly be adopted, but at least we'd  say our piece,  if anyone cared to listen.

I came away with the depressing sense that the G20 summit, like its many predecessors,  was never intended  to be a listening post for independent, outside opinions. But even worse, it had actually become, in practice, an excuse for the criminalization of dissent in capital cities all over the globe, even in those that are nominally the most free,  by way of the vast new security measures that it requires and subsidizes,and the repressive tactics that it legitimized. 

In this day and age, of course,  we are told that almost any amount of security is too little.  And this heightened sense of insecurity  is certainly not aided by having the world's top 20 leaders regularly shuffling from pitstop to pitstop,  trying to conduct the world’s business from a traveling roadshow.

But I was struck by just how unnecessary,  senseless, and counterproductive almost all of the repressive policing tactics deployed in Pittsburgh really were -- how they ran roughshod over many of our  most precious freedoms, freedoms  that we are supposedly trying to protect.   And to what a degree whatever “terrorists” there are out there have already won, by  succeeding in creating a society that is really is often ruled by fear instead of justice, by force instead of discourse.

Rather than, say,  simply allowing the overwhelmingly non-violent demonstrators and students at that peaceful Friday night blues concert  to have their say, instead some 200 people were arrested and scores were gassed, clubbed, rubber-bulleted, and imprinted with galling memories that will last a lifetime. The City of Pittsburgh and its residents will certainly be fighting criminal cases and civil rights law suits for years to come.  I supposed we are meant to be consoled by the fact that, as the New York Times chose to emphasize this week, things are much more repressive in Guinea.

So perhaps it is time to establish a permanent location for all these global summits. Perhaps one of the Caribbean tax havens, like Antigua or St. Kitts, would do -- journalists always like the sun, and after TJN gets done with them, these havens are going to need to find a new calling anyway!  

***


   









 




October 2, 2009 at 08:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, September 11, 2009

TWO MEMORABLE SEPTEMBER 11ths
James S. Henry

Many of us have our own strong private recollections of September 11, 2001.  I happened to havTwin_towers1e been at  Boston's Logan Airport that morning, boarding a prop plane for an American Eagle flight to Long Island's Islip Airport. It was leaving around 8 am from Gate 22,  at roughly the same time that Mohammed Atta and four other reputed Saudi hijackers of Flight 11 were taking off from Gate 26 at the very same terminal, along with 86 other passengers and crew.  We must have passed each other, but I didn't notice them. I do have a distinct recollection that security at the check-in  that morning was very lax, but other than that, my own flight was uneventful -- until we landed in Islip and heard the shocking news that two planes had just hit the twin towers. So "death  reached by and took another....."

My heart goes out to all who lost loved ones on that awful morning. May we redouble our efforts to establish a Truth Commission, and determine the full story, yet untold.

***

But it is important to put our 9/11 in context. This was not the only September 11th that is etched indelibly in my memory -- let alone the most important case of international terrorism.  

I also distinctly recall the Chilean coup of September 11,  1973  very clearly.  I was at­tend­ing a graduate economics course at Harvard  taught by a protégé  of  Chicago Professor Milton Friedman. One of my fellow  students was Sebastian Pinera, a member of one of Chile's oldest fami­lies, the future owner of the airline LanChile,  and right now the leading conservative candidate  in Chile's upcoming December 2009  Presidential elections

Sebastian had somehow  gotten word  halfway through  the class that Allende  had been ousted.  He was  absolutely jubilant -- We won!,”  he cheered.                                                        

The profes­sor, a prominent econometrician from the University of Chicago,  shared Sebastian's de­light. Like   many other American  econo mists, he saw the overthrow as a victory for the neoliberal doctrines preached  by leading Chicago economists like Friedman and Arnold Harberger,  who both later consulted directly for Pinochet’s  junta.

Fig. 8.3. Pinochet and Kissinger Over  the next twenty years, these “Los Chicago Boys” came to       eFoto_jp12xert  a strong influence on Chilean  economic policy.   The label was  perhaps a little  un­fair  to Chicago -- there was certainly no shortage of Harvard  disciples of  brutilitarian free-market doctrines.

  For example,   Jose Pinera,   my classmate’s brother,  was also  Harvard- trained.  He eventually became one of the main architectof Pinochet's labor policies,  which included a  ban on strikes and  closed shops,  the privati­zation of all pension funds, and sharp cuts in  real wages, jobs, and  unemploy­ment benefits.  

In hindsight,  Pinochet’s little laboratory conducted the first in a Pinera series of   experiments by the New Right  that culminated in the neoliberal programs of Margaret Thatcher  and  Ronald Reagan  in the First World, Waterboard-run and a lengthy list of Third World imitators.  Among  First World democracies, their programs were  mod­er­ated  somewhat by the need for popular support. But  in countries like  Chile, Brazil, Mexico,  and Argentina,  where the lines between rich and poor were starker  and the political systems were basically rigged, much  less time was wasted on democratic  niceties.  

 To their credit, a few principled  conservatives were bothered by  the resulting dirty little al­liance between dic­tatorship and  liberal economic reform. But  many others -- including Sebastian, who opposed  holding plebiscites on Pinochet  in 1980 and 1988 --   got lost in the thorny thicket of distinctions between “authoritarian” and “totalitarian”  regimes. 

 Tail1 In Chile’s case,  the resulting repression produced at least 3197 murders, disappearances and extra-judicial killings (about the same number as 9/11 in this country). [i] There were also thou­sands of secret arrest s and tortures (including 35,000 identified victims of torture and abuse ). All told, Chile spent six­teen long  years without  free elec­tions, in what  had previously been  one of Latin America’s  most  democratic coun­tries.

Of course we now know that all this state terrorism was tolerated, supported and indeed encouraged by the Nixon Administration and its dictator friends elswhere in Latin America -- presumably on the cocka-mamie theory that othewise we'd have Fidel running Santiago.  In fact the narrowly-elected Allende would have held elections when his term was up, and he probably would have lost.

 However, these points are pretty general -- repression is very concrete. As Herr Friedman reportedly told General Pinochet at a Santiago audience in l975,  “When you cut the tail off a dog you don't cut it off inch by inch. You cut it off at the root.”  I   Victor2 remember a 1974 lecture by another Chilean economist, Orlando Letelier, who was killed  in l976 by a car bomb  planted by the DINA, Pinochet’s secret police, in Washington D.C.  And I remember  Victor Jara, a  talented Chilean guitarist whose music I greatly admired.   When the junta seized power he was arrested and transported  to a soccer stadium in Santiago where “political”  prisoners were held. The police took him out in front of the crowd  and they cut off his hands.........

***
 

 

S-allende  The overthrow of Salvador Allende's elected Popular Unity government in September  1973  was greeted with jubilation by Chile's propertied  classes.  He’d been elected with a 36 percent plurality  in l970, and  the Popular Unity coalition’s  support in­creased to 44 per­cent in the March 1973 Congressional elections. But   the  elite  was  eager for a change by any means.  From l968 to l973, at first under the Christian Democrat  Eduardo Frei Montalva and then Salvador Allende,   government spending as a share of GNP had in­creased from fifteen  to forty percent.  A third of  large farms and many  pri­vate companies had been nationalized at  low prices;   there was   700 percent infla­tion and frequent shortages of consumer goods; Chile’s foreign debt  had reached the un­precedented  level of $2.5 billion. Foreign investment dried up and  flight capital was pouring into  accounts at Bankers Trust, Chase and JPMorgan, Chile’s leading creditors.

The good old CIA, multinationals like ITT, and the USG certainly played a prominent role in 1970-73 coup activity that followed -- with a hefty dose of financial chicanery, in order to, in Nixon’s words’ “make the economy scream.” But intervention had not started there.

0001206774-07-000627_CORNING_PIX13 For example, according to former CIA agent Philip Agee, who had been stationed in Uruguay in the early 1960s, future Bush Pioneer and Presidential Library trustee John M. Hennessy, Chairman of Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) from 1989 to 1996, had been the Assistant Manager at Citibank’s Montevideo branch in 1964, and reportedly helped to transfer substantial funding to the campaign of Eduardo Frei Montalva,  who was running for President against Allende that year. Frei won the election, and served as President from 1964 to 1970.  In the early 1970s, Hennessy later became Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs in the Nixon Administration, reportedly coordinating economic pressures against Allende’s government.[ii] In 1974, having succeeded at that Hennessy returned to Wall Street, where he became Managing Director of First Boston Corp., which was later acquired by Credit Suisse.    

In any case, despite the CIA’s involvement, the sufficient conditions for the 1973 coup against Allende were Jan092009victims provided by a “Francoist” alliance of military officers, the Catholic Church’s hierar­chy, the top ten percent of landowners and industrialists, and the next twenty per­cent of the income distribution, the so-called “middle class.”  Immediately after the coup  these folks began to get what they thought  they wanted.

LOS CHICAGO BOYS
 

Chicago_School_400 The junta turned to a small band of inexperienced but supremely self-righteous  economists, “los Chicago boys,” so named because their mentors University of Chicago economist and future Nobel laureate Professors Milton Friedman and  Arnold Harberger.

After Pinochet took power, there was actually a prolonged period when several different economic camps competed for the junta’s favor. But Friedman and Harberger,  who was Dean of the Chicago Economics Faculty,  seem to have tipped the balance when they visited Chile in March 1975. Since the 1950s, with the support of the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, Harberger had developed a close relationship between the University of Chicago  and Chile’s Catholic University, where he had taught as a Visiting Professor.  With support from the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, scholarships were provided for bright young Chileans who wanted to study economics.  Many of these Chicago-trained economists returned to Catholic University to teach, and later served in Pinochet’s government.

 Their trip was sponsored by the Chilean businessman Javier Vial, head of the business group BHC, one of the country’s largest conglomerates, the eventual owner of Banco de Chile, the country’s largest private bank at that time, and 60 other companies. He was also a very strongFOTO17120040927204441 supporter of Pinochet’s dictatorship, on personal terms with the General.[iii]  Friedman reportedly got $30,000 for the three-day trip. His wife Rose  reportedly objected to the visit because Pinochet’s hard right regime and the goose-stepping Chilean military  reminded her of Nazi Germany.  But Professor Friedman tried to assuage her guilt by requesting the release of two Jewish political prisoners who were supposed in the custody of Pinochet’s police.

 Just one month after the visit, in April 1975,  the junta introduced an orthodox monetarist “shock plan,” along the lines that Friedman and Harberger had recommended.  And Professor Friedman’s  Chicago-trained protégé Sergio de Castro replaced Fernando Leniz as Minister of the Economy. Other key neoliberals  on Pinochet’s economic team included Pablo Baraona, President of the Central Bank, Alvaro Bardon and Jorge Cauas Lama at Treasury, Rolf Lüders as Treasury Minister and Minister of the Economy, and Juan Carlos Mendez as Director of the Budget.  Unfortunately the two Jewish prisoners were never located.

 This tiny band’s shared vision of Chile’s future was one that later became common among neoliberal Third World governments -- sort of a low-wage, export-oriented  Asian tiger, complete with weak unions, low inflation, privatized pension funds, and a minimal state --  apart from the police, the military, and the national copper company, of course, whose income went to the military. 

To pursue this anti-Marxist utopia they started out with a sharp recessionary  shock. They banned strikes, abolished price con­trols for  food and housing, and slashed tariffs from 100 percent to 10 percent in just two years. The  junta also intro­duced Latin America’s most radi­cal  privatization program ever. In l973-74, more than  250 nationalized companies were re­turned to  their former owners and 200 more were sold off at bargain prices.  These were not the  mid­dle-class privatiza­tions  of France, Japan, or  the UK, where the buyers  included  millions of small investors.  Like other developing countries,  Chile had a very  thin capital market, and hard times had  made it even thinner. So the big buyers at this fire sale were a handful of closely-held   grupos  like  Javier Vial and Cruzat-Larrain, which owned most of the local banks,  and also had very strong ties to foreign  banks.[iv]

All these changes set the stage for the dictatorship’s 1977-81 phase,  which was de­scribed at the time by the Wall Street Journal’s neoconservative editorial page in even more glowing terms than it reserved for the Argentine junta --   as “the Chilean economic mira­cle.” Indeed, during this brief period, when the economy was recovering from the sharp recession that los Chicago Boys had engineered, growth averaged  5-8 percent a year. 

 But what was perhaps most miraculous was the regime’s inability to foresee  that its  economic policies -- in addition to increasing poverty and inequality --  were about to cave in on each other, completely bankrupting the country and forcing  the national­iza­tion of the entire private sector. 

THE CHICAGO ROAD TO SOCIALISM -- AND BACK
 

By l977,  the junta had wiped out  any organized political opposition  and achieved most of its early economic goals. But the neoliberal  ideologues  pushed  it on to new extremes.  Under José Pinera’s 1979 radical right “Plan Laboral,” the government abolished closed shops for unions and tried to privatize everything from  health care and pensions to education. The 1980-81 pension fund privatization, which substituted a “fully funded” system administered by privately-managed pension funds – managed by institutions like Citigroup and Aetna, which came to dominate the highly-concentrated private system -  for the old “pay-as-you-go” government system,   was probably the most successful of these reforms. [v]  Many others succeeded only  in cutting social spending, while sacred cows like mili­tary spending and the nationalized copper company were  spared. 

The copper company was fa­mous because of the uproar provoked when Allende seized it from Anaconda in 1971. But Pinochet kept it nationalized --  a secret law  gave the military  ten percent of its profits.  So even under the junta, Chile’s largest  enterprise and exporter remained “socialist.”

In any case, the junta’s most important  neoliberal experiments -- and worst mistakes -- concerned macroe­conomic policy.  Here the point man was  Sergio  de Castro,  the los Chicago Imagen_46c222b2304db Boy who became Pinochet’s second Finance Minister in l979. Like Argentina’s “Wizard”  de Hoz,  De Castro was a strict believer in the monetarist view that the best way  to fight inflation in “small” economies like Chile  was  by  eliminat­ing tar­iffs, deregulating capital and trade, and maintaining a fixed exchange rate.[vi]   So he fixed Chile’s peso at 39 pesos to the dollar and held it there  from July l979 until June l982.   With copper prices in a slump and the size of the state sec­tor shrinking,  this was only possible be­cause foreign banks were willing to lend money hand-over-fist to Chile’s private sector.  Foreign  banks were sympathetic to  Pinochet’s conservative economists, much as they had been to the Argentine junta’s de Hoz;  they were also flush with cash and  very compet­itive, given Chile’s high real domestic interest rates.  

So, just as in Argentina,  many domestic borrowers took advantage of  fixed exchange rates and the temporary generosity of their foreign bankers to make lucrative  back-to-back deals.  For example,  Javier Vial, the sponsor of Friedman’s 1975 visit, and Chile’s richest man by 1978, acquired control over Banco de Chile in the late l970s and used it as a front to borrow heavily from foreign banks like Bankers Trust and  Chase. When he was its President,  Banco de Chile, in turn, reloaned the dollars to Vial’s many other private companies, including sev­eral that were based in Panama, like Banco Andino.  All these shenanigans be­came public af­ter Vial’s empire cracked in 1983.  In 1997, after a 14 year investigation, he was sentenced to 4.5 years in jail for bank fraud, and former Economy and Treasury Minister  Rolf Lüders, who’d owed 10 percent of BHC, was sentenced to four years.[vii]  Chile had gotten  stuck with his debts when the bank failed and was nationalized.   All this was no surprise to his foreign bankers -- as one former Bankers Trust officer who had personally  handled Vial’s Panama accounts told me, “We knew he was lending to himself, but  no one wanted to pull the plug.” [viii]  

Images As a result of de Castro’s policies,   Chile’s private foreign debt boomed  during  the “miracle” years.  In  l981 alone,  $6 billion of new credits were issued by foreign banks, a huge amount for this small economy, mainly  to  the leading domestic private banks like Banco de Chile, Banco de Santiago,  Banco Internacional, and Banco Colocadora, whose grupos,  in turn, owned a huge equity stake in Chile’s private sector.  From l980 to l982, private  foreign debt doubled; by l982  the total foreign debt had ap­proached $20  billion,     two-thirds of  it private.  The Central Bank re­peatedly warned  that it was not responsible  for the  private debt, but  it  al­lowed the spree to continue.  Given   all the “cheap” dollars and low tariffs, im­ports  also soared --   luxury imports became  Chile’s equivalent of flight capi­tal.  

A NEOLIBERAL CRISIS

The whole situation  finally began to  unravel in  May  1981  when Crav, a leading sugar company, failed.  The real crunch came in the summer of l982  when the Latin American debt panic dried up new loans, forcing  Chile to devalue and tighten interest rates, a lethal combination.  By January 1983 unemploy­ment   was thirty  percent,  and the six top private banks and the country's two largest pri­vate “grupos,” Vial  and Cruzat-Larrain, had also both folded. 

At this point Finance Minister de Castro began to get  intense pressure from foreign banks  like Chase and Bankers Trust to “nationalize”  the private foreign debt.  For a while he stuck to his free-market principles, reminding them of his  earlier warnings -- that such a move  would be no more justified than Allende’s nationalizations, and that this was, after all, private foreign debt, freely contracted, presumably with compensation for the risks of default built into the interest rates.  

But  the great big banks were not concerned with  such abstract princi­ples -- any more than they are today.   In January 1983,  they  quietly cut off  all Chile’s foreign trade credit lines – to the point where oil tankers en route to Santiago started to turn around and head home.   De Castro was forced to resign, and his replacement quickly declared that, indeed, the junta would as­sume responsibility for the private foreign debt (though not its offshore flight assets!) after all.  In the words of one Chilean banker, “Pinochet achieved what Allende only dreamed of -- the complete so­cialization of  our private sector.”[ix]   

Hernan_buchi1 Nor was this  the end of the story. When Pinochet’s fourth Finance Minister, a de Castro protégé named Hernan Buchi, took office in l985, he had to em­bark on  yet another, even larger  round of privatizations, simply  to rid the government of all the debt-ridden companies that the government had just acquired through the forced nationalization.  

(To his credit, General Pinochet did support the compulsory nationalization of Chile's largest banks -- as compared with the far more generous, CEO-friendly bailouts that the US Treasury has recently employed.)

Subsequently,  foreign bankers, the World Bank, Wall Street, and the IMF all gave Buchi  and the Pinochet regime rave re­views for their brilliant privatization strategy,  designed to attract foreign investment, boost savings,  and downsize Chile’s state.  But they never seemed to acknowledge why his privatization program  had been necessary  and possi­ble  in the first place  -- because  in 1983, neoliberal policies had produced a disaster, and   the junta and Chilean taxpayers had been forced by its  foreign credi­tors to take the fall for so many bad debts.

Finally, capping it all,  whom do you suppose were the main beneficiaries of Chile’s latest round of priva­ti­za­tions?  To  avoid the insider-trading outrages that had characterized many of the 1970s privatizations – helping groups like Vial and Cruzat to grow quickly --   Buchi did offer low-cost loans to workers and pension funds to help them buy stock.  By l988 worker-owned funds owned 14 percent of the privatized shares,  not a bad achievement in worker control for an ostensibly right-wing regime.

But two other kinds of investors became even more important.  The first were  foreign  investors, especially Sergio de Castro’s old friends, the foreign banks. In l986, under the  Central Bank’s “Chapter 19” program,  they  were al­lowed to swap their  (dubious) nationalized loans for equity in state-owned companies that were  priva­tized on very  fa­vorable terms.  

 As a result,  Bankers Trust obtained forty percent  of Provida, the country’s largest pension fund, plus  Pilmaiquen, a power plant, for   half its book value;   Aetna Insurance bought the country’s second largest pension fund;   Chase, MHT, and Citibank  also acquired major  local interests. Already by 1990,  a handful of foreign-managed pension funds   controlled seventy percent of  Chile’s pension system,  its largest pool of  capital.  Alan Bond, the er­ratic  Australian investor whose  financial em­pire  later collapsed,  was even permitted to buy the fa­mous telephone company that ITT  had fought Allende so hard for.  COPEC, Chile’s oil company, which had been privatized for a song to Grupo Cruzat-Larrain in 1976, had since turned into a debt-ridden conglomeration of fishing, mining, forestry, and finance companies, including half of Banco de Santiago.   When Cruzat cratered in 1983, Chile’s government re-acquired ownership of the now-heavily indebted COPEC, which was also by then Chile’s largest private enterprise. Four years later, it reprivatized COPEC to Grupo Angelini, another leading Chilean private conglomerate, again at fire-sale prices. And so the cycle continued.....[x] 

All told, this  “Chapter 19”  debt-equity swap program was credited  by its supporters -- especially the banks -- with reducing Chile’s debt by more than $2 billion. Of course it was a little ironic for the banks to be praising this achievement. Many others saw  the program  as a dead give-away.  By assuming  all the pri­vate foreign debt in the first place, Chile had rewarded bad lending.   And after a decade of tight-fisted government  many of the  privatized assets had actually been in pretty good shape.  Except for the copper company and a few military sup­pliers, the only ones the government retained were “dogs” no one else wanted.  It made little sense to let foreigners trade du­bious loans for valuable equity  at rock-bottom prices  -- maybe even less sense than Allende’s    nationalizations.  It seems that Chile hadn’t really eliminated state intervention; it had merely inverted its class bias.

The other key investor in Buchi’s  privatizations was the good old Chilean elite -- like Sebastian and his brother.   As we’ve seen, while the government nationalized  private debts,   it didn’t touch  private foreign assets.  And Buchi now offered flight capitalists  a gener­ous tax amnesty  if they brought their money  home.  His “Chapter 18” program  allowed them to buy   debt from the banks and swap it for  government bonds or equity in state companies at very  favorable prices.  By l990,  this program had brought in another $2 billion. Again, the banks and their clients  naturally sang Chapter 18’s praises. However,  it re­warded tax evasion and effectively swapped for­eign  for domestic debt that may  well prove more costly to service in the long run. Such criticisms meant little to the  officials in charge of the program, however -- some of them even benefited  from it personally. Soon after he left government, for example, Jose Pinera be­came president of an electric utility that had been privatized. And his brother ended up owning the privatized national airline – which he proceeded to turn into quite a profitable enterprise, even while serving in Chile’s Senate.

So the  circle was complete:  having been bailed out of their foreign debts by the government,  Chile’s  elite and the foreign banks now bought back their assets at less than fifty- sixty cents on the dollar, often with the very same flight dollars  that the original loans had financed! 

Here we have one of the purest cases of abusive banking,  one that poses the ques­tion of the foreign banks’ responsibility very clearly. For  Chile’s  1983 debt crisis obviously had little  to do with  inefficient public enterprises, excessive public debts,  godless Marxists, welfare-state liberals,   or  all the other usual suspects blamed by neoliberals.   At that point, fully two-thirds of  its  foreign debt was  private, and Pinochet and Co. had long since elimi­nated much of the state’s inefficiency, not to mention the political opposition.  Yet by the end of l983,  Chile  had ended up with one of the highest per capita foreign debts in the world, as well as  one of the developing world’s largest state sectors.

And this “Chicago road to socialism,” it seems, was taken in part because there was no  political opposition, no ac­countability – no one to say “enough” to the foreign banks, the domestic elites, their unregulated domestic banks, and the generals. So perhaps democracy had its uses, after all; perhaps  “free markets” alone were not sufficient. 

One could almost imagine the righteous tail-cutters in Chicago, taking a break for a micro-second from their round-the-clock crusade for more-perfect markets, experiencing perhaps just a momentary tremor of self-doubt.

*** 

 


 

[i] As of 2001, Chile officially recognized the existence of 3197 disappearances and extrajudicial killings  between September 11, 1973 and March 11, 1990, when the elected government  of Patricio Aylwyn assumed power. See “Korean Panel To Cooperate with Chile To Reveal Truth over Mysterious Deaths,” Korean Herald, February 7, 2001.  

 

[ii] See Morton Halperin, Jerry Berman, Robert Borosage, and Christine Marwick, The Lawless State.  The crimes of the U.S. Intelligence Agencies. (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), 16.

 

 

[iii]  For more about Vial, see “La Nueva Derrota,” Que Pasa, November 10, 1997; S. Rosenfed and J.L. Marre, “Chile’s Rich,” NACLA Report on the Americas, May/June 1997.

 

 

[iv]  See “Milton Friedman: Gurú a regañadientes, “ Revista Qué Pasa, February 28, 1998.

 

This account of the l973-78 period benefited greatly from  an excellent paper by Paul E. Sigmund, “Chile: Privatization, Reprivatization, Hyperprivatization.” (Princeton University, unpublished, July 1989).

 

 

[v] See, for example, Rodrigo Acuña R. and Augusto Iglesias P., “Chile's Pension Reform After 20 Years,” The World Bank -  Social Protection Discussion Paper No. 0129, December 2001.  Chile’s pension reform, which substituted a privately-funded system for the traditional “pay as you go” government system, was enabled by the fact that its military government could simply mandate the substitution. Subsequent attempts at privatization in more democratic countries like Argentina and Uruguay proved much less successful. 

 

 

[vi] This theory, espoused by arch-monetarists like Colombia University’s  Robert Mundell, argued that this policy would constrain inflation to the world rate by making a large share of the money supply endogenous.  It basically ignored exchange rate specu­lation and capital flight.

 

 

[vii]  For Vial’s and Lüder’s October 28, 1997 sentences, see “La Nueva Derrota,” Que Pasa, November 10, 1997, available at www. quepasa.cl/revista/1386/18.html..

 

 

[viii] "Chile Military Analyst,"  Sao Paulo, 2.21.89; “Miami Banker,” 5.91.

 

 

[ix] Raul Fernandez, former Director of Public Credit for Costa Rica, International Bank of Miami,  4.22.88. 

 

 

[x] See the account of COPEC in S. Rosenfed and J.L. Marre, “Chile’s Rich,” NACLA Report on the Americas, May/June 1997.

September 11, 2009 at 04:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

TOO BIG NOT TO FAIL?
James S. Henry

(A version of the following story appeared in the Nation on February 23, 2009, here )

3195449564_c57044bb8f_o Even if a global economic recovery still eludes us, has President Obama's new team at least already achieved a stunning turnaround in US economic policy?

Or has the administration just been fighting the last war,paying far too much attention to ancient history, special interests, political correctness, and its own pre-recession agenda, in its programs to stimulate the economy, fix the banks and providing debt relief to homeowners?.

For lifelong students of the Great Depression like Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Larry Summers, it probably seems that Obama's economics team is on track.

In less than a month, Obama has pushed his record $787 billion stimulus bill through a highly partisan Congress. The resulting projected federal deficits will be even larger as a share of of national income than those incurred under FDR, until World War II. At a time when unemployment is rising sharply, this should be good news for the economy--- if the plan is sufficiently stimulating.

On February 10, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced a bold, if somewhat imprecise, $2.5 trillion program to relieve US banks of dodgy assets once and for all. Combined with trillions in other loans and guarantees from the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve, this is designed to avoid another costly Great Depression-type error, in which scores of banks were allowed to fail and credit markets seized up. If the plan really is expected to work, that should also be good news for the economy.

Herbert_hoover1 Bernanke also concluded from his lengthy studies of the Great Depression that the Federal Reserve had blown it way back then by keeping monetary policy too tight. So ever since last summer he's made the US money supply as loose as loose can be, ballooning the Fed's balance sheet to nearly $1 trillion and driving real interest rates down to zero, while pressuring his counterparts in Europe and Japan to folllow suit.

Obama's team also has emphasized the importance of avoiding the beggar-thy-neighbor "protectionism" of the 1930s--aside from a little "Buy American" language in the stimulus bill and a few remarks from Geithner about China. If loose monetary policy and tighter lips are sufficient for recovery, it should be just around the corner.

Finally, in the course of Obama's drive to pass the stimulus, he traveled to troubled communities in Indiana, Florida and Arizona and heard first-hand that millions of American homeowners and small businesses could use a little financial aid of their own right now. So Obama has committed $275 billion of the remaining TARP/"Financial Stability" funds to this purpose. In principle, this should also be good news for the economy--if we really believe that the plan has what it takes to stem the galloping pace of foreclosures and bankruptcies.

Obama and his team may really believe that their first month in office compares favorably with FDR's in 1933. Historical pitfalls have been avoided, and there has been no shortage of good intentions, optimism and action. The new president has also assembled a team that includes, by its own admission, the nation's brightest economists and its most experienced veterans of the Fed and the Treasury.

Fdr1 But something seems to be missing. During FDR's first few months in office, and well into his second term, he received an overwhelmingly positive response not only from the public at large but also from the stock market, despite the fact that FDR and Wall Street generally detested each other.

In contrast, the reaction of global stock markets and market analysts to Obama's flurry of policy initiatives has been overwhelmingly negative. In the past week alone, since the passage of the stimulus, the announcement of the Geithner plan and the president's new plan for mortgage relief, the stock market has declined more than 10 percent. Indeed, the country's largest banks and auto companies, which were supposed to be the beneficiaries of much of these new programs, are on the brink of bankruptcy.

So what's the problem? Actually there are several problems. The first, as I noted in part one of this series, "The Pseudo Stimulus," there really is much less to Obama's stimulus than meets the eye and far less than will be needed to head off the dramatic increase in unemployment that is fast approaching.

For reasons of political convenience and a desire to move quickly, Obama and his advisors decided to appease a handful of key Republican senators, rather than seize the bully pulpit and rally support around a larger, more direct spending package with more debt relief for homeowners.

Ultimately Obama succeeded in getting just three "moderate" Republican senators and zero HouseFDR12 Republicans to support the package. (Eleven House Democrats also voted against it.) These votes were costly. The final bill ended up slashing almost $40 billion from the package, while boosting the share of tax cuts to nearly 40 percent--including almost half of all relief provided in the critical first year when it is essential to get the downturn under control.

Most macroeconomists still believe that under conditions of excess capacity, tax cuts generate much less employment per dollar of lost revenue than almost any kind of spending, because upper-income types will save the proceeds or use them to pay down debts. Furthermore, many of the tax cuts in Obama's bill are regressive, even allowing for his favorites, "Make Work Pay," the earned income credit and child care credit. This means their impact on jobs will be even more limited.

For example, of $214 billion of individual tax cuts in the first two years, $100 billion will go to the top 20 percent, while the bottom 60 percent gets $81 billion. Indeed, for one of the largest single tax cuts in the bill, the $70 billion reduction in the "alternative minimum tax," 70 percent will go to the top 10 percent, while the bottom 60 percent--including most unemployed workers--get .5 percent. So Obama's vaunted plan relies on this premier-class AMT cut, plus another $100 billion of business tax breaks, for 27 percent of its first two years of "stimulus."

On top of this, Republicans like Arlen Specter also have shown that they give no ground to Democrats when it comes to sausage-making. I won't repeat part one's list of trinkets, except to note that almost all the worst projects survived, and indeed were only enhanced by the solons' scrutiny.

As a former Minnesotan I'm all in favor of free WiFi for each and every one of the nation's two million farmers; I've also recently written here in glowing terms about the merits of government- sponsored research and development and "green housing." But this kind of spending has little to do with putting millions of unemployed people--most of whom are in urban areas--back to work.

All told, at least $200 billion of this stimulus spending, on top of the $200 billion of wasteful tax cuts, is not remotely related to the urgent goal of creating as many jobs as possible in the next twelve to eighteen months. The cause of recovery was hijacked by a weird coalition of environmentalists, energy companies, venture capitalists, public-sector unions, state governors, tax-cut nuts and other special interests.

The stimulus program was supposed to realize Obama's declared goal of saving or creating at least 4 million new jobs by 2012--even then, at the average cost of $200,000 per job. According to the Congressional Budget Office, even that level of job creation would only reduce the US unemployment rate by an average of less than one percentage point a year by 2012, for a cumulative reduction of 2.5 to 3 percent relative to the CBO's projections of what unemployment will look like without the program.

By the time the Senate got through with it, Obama's stimulus became much weaker. So most economists now agree that it will be lucky to create or save even an extra 2.5 million jobs by 2012--about a 1.5 to 2 percentage-point cumulative reduction in the official unemployment rate by 2012, at an average cost to taxpayers of $315,000 per job.

The contrast with FDR's focus on spending programs that really did put people back to work, is striking.

THE REAL UNEMPLOYMENT RATE

Unemployment Recent trends in unemployment help us to understand just how much work we will have to do to define victory and to see how close we really may come to another Great Depression.

    All the standard measures of unemployment are woefully inadequate, but the shortcomings change with the times. In good times, with tight labor markets, conservative economists find it satisfying to remind us that the degree of "involuntary" unemployment is probably overstated, because workers can afford to game the welfare system--for example, by collecting unemployment insurance while refusing reasonable job offers.

    In hard times like these, however, official unemployment rates seriously understate the degree of slack and hardship in labor markets. For example, in addition to the 13 million people now unemployed (that's 8.5 percent of the labor force) another 7.8 million workers report that they are underemployed; at least 2.1 million to 5.9 million more (none of whom are collecting unemployment) say they're not in the labor force because they've given up looking. By another measure, the peak labor force participation rate, established when labor markets were very tight in 1999 and 2000, shows the potential supply of labor not counted as unemployed is even larger--10.6 million right now.

    All told, this means by now there are already at least 23 million to 33 million American adults who are already experiencing increased unemployment, up from 13 million to 17 million from a year ago. By the end of 2009, as the official unemployment rate passes 10 percent and the other indicators of slack labor markets grow as well, this figure will swell to 40 million American adults--at least 9 million to 18 million more under-utilized workers than we have now.

    A majority of these people have families. Furthermore, the unemployed population constantly turns over, with a median duration of joblessness that now exceeds ten weeks. This means that during the next year, up to one-third of the entire US population will personally encounter someone facing the harsh realities of involuntary unemployment, and perhaps homelessness and poverty as well.

    These figures omit several other kinds of "hidden" unemployment that are not recorded in conventional labor force and unemployment statistics: the 1.44 million people on active duty in the military and the unemployment they would face if and when they return to civilian life; the 2.3 million inmates in federal, state and local prisons, all of whom are omitted from labor force and unemployment statistics; and the estimated 8.1 million undocumented workers in the United States who are in the labor force.

    In many ways undocumented workers are the most vulnerable victims of the crisis. Most support families either abroad or home. Many also have been working hard here for years and have now lost their jobs, without any unemployment insurance, healthcare, rights to Social Security or other benefits. And since Congress has not been able to agree on a decent immigration reform bill, they may not even be able to count on achieving US citizenship, after years of working and waiting. Now they face a hard choice between remaining here, unemployed, or returning to violent, corruption-ridden "Bantustans" in Mexico, Central America, the Philippines and elsewhere.

    It's important to take these factors into account when we consider how this downturn compares with earlier financial crises. Unemployment statistics for the 1930s are difficult to compare with our current situation, given the different statistical procedures employed and the very different demographics in the two eras. But my analysis shows that it is possible that this crisis may turn out to be comparable to the situation in 1933, when unemployment peaked at roughly 25 percent of the US labor force.

    This analysis provides a context for assessing Obama's original goal of creating/saving 3 million to 4 million jobs by 2012. The fact is, even that original goal simply wasn't anywhere close to being ambitious enough--and it certainly won't be met under the sadly compromised final "stimulus" plan. The negative reaction of global stock markets markets to Obama's plans so far appears to confirm this. We're going to have to stop the political games and get serious.

    GEITHNER'S TARP II

    GEITHNER_001 What about the second leg of Obama's new post-Depression economics policy initiatives, Geithner's plan to inject yet another $2.5 trillion of ("public-private") capital into US banks to get rid of their toxic assets?

    Markets reacted negatively to the plan not because investors necessarily opposed his new toxic asset buyback scheme. Most analysts felt that his long-anticipated statement was long on rhetoric about "stress tests and transparency" but short on digestible content--like being invited to dinner and then served pictures of food.

    Indeed, like his website, FinancialStability.gov, Geithner's plan remains under construction. But critics may have missed the point--this lack of detail actually may be a political necessity. If the American people understood just how high a price the Obama adminstration may be willing to pay simply to keep our country's largest failing private banks private, we might need a few more guards at the Winter Palace.

    Tim Geithner is not a former Wall Street insider in the Paulson/Rubin mold, nor was he ever for a single PeterGeithner day a community organizer. He's an ambitious and cautious policy technocrat, whose lucrative private-sector career and board seats are still in front of him. We'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who, at age 47.5, had already punched more establishment tickets. His grandfather was a Ford Motor executive and Eisenhower adviser; his father is a Ford Foundation officer who raised Tim on three continents. He graduated from Dartmouth and Johns Hopkins, became a consultant for Kissinger Associates, a protégé of Robert Rubin and Larry Summers at Treasury in the 1990s, an IMF policy director in 2001-2003, a Council on Foreign Relations fellow and finally head of the Federal Reserve of New York. As of the end of 2008, he was still a member of the CFR, the Group of Thirty and the Economic Club of New York, organizations not routinely associated with sponsoring deep reforms in post-capitalist economies.

    Geithner has seen his share of banking crises firsthand: Mexico in 1995, when the entire banking system had to be re-nationalized; Thailand, Indonesia and Russia in 1997-98; Argentina in 2001; and now the biggest one of all right here. All of the Third World crises just noted ended badly--costly, poorly-managed fiascos that did nothing to enhance the reputations of the US Treasury and the IMF. But perhaps Geithner was just an apparatchik. He worked closely last year with Hank Paulson and Bernanke on Bear Stearns bailout, the Lehman/Merrill decisions, the AIG takeover and TARP I. So he probably understands full well not only the gory details of program design but also two fundamental political realities.

    The first is that while nationalizing top-tier global banks may be politically acceptable in places like Norway, Sweden, Chile, Iceland, Ireland and even Japan and the UK, it is still viscerally opposed by most members of the power elite in New York and Washington--including most of his former club members.

    The second is that by now, most American taxpayers have simply had it with huge Wall Street bailouts, supine members of Congress, overpaid banker chutzpadiks and high-handed Treasury secretaries. If they were ever asked, there is no way in Naraka that taxpayers would ever approve yet another open-ended injection of public capital into banks--especially one costing three times the entire "stimulus" and three-and-a-half times TARP I.

    So the trick is to not ask them. With bank stocks sinking every day, the credit crunch hampering recovery and high expectations about policy changes, Geithner had to say something. But not too much. The whole subtext of his vague announcement was to finesse the question of precisely where all the money would come from. The hope was that this would buy time to line up private capital, perhaps by negotiating some kind of insurance subsidy that would induce it to participate. The hope was that this would do enough to stem the decline in bank stock prices and redirect attention away from the new "N"-word--nationalization. 

    WELFARE FOR BIG BANKERS

    Fat_cat The public outrage is justified. Since October, more than 360 US banks (out of 8,367) have already received at least $353 billion of TARP I funds from the Treasury. This is by far the largest corporate bailout in US history, more than twenty times the original $17.4 billion auto industry bailout.

    Of this, more than half went to the top fifteen banks in the country. This includes $145 billion of capital injections awarded to Citigroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan and Wells Fargo, the top four US commercial banks; another $10 billion each for Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, two worthy investment banks that decided to become commercial banks to avail themselves of federal aid; and a grand total of $84 billion to the rest of the US banks. There was also $40 billion in capital injections and $113 billion in credit in AIG, the profligate insurance company that sold so many flaky credit derivative swaps to investment banks like Goldman that it pioneered a whole new new "too fraudulent to fail" rule. In addition, by now US banks have also received at least $1.82 trillion of federal loan guarantees and $872 billion in federal loans.

    These sums need to be viewed in the context of the staggering amount of government assistance that has recently been provided to private financial institutions all over the world. By February 2008, by my reckoning, banks and insurance companies have already absorbed at least $817 billion of government capital injections, $251 billion of toxic asset purchases, $2.6 trillion of government loans and $5.9 trillion of government debt guarantees. If we added the guarantees for once quasi-private entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the loan guarantees double to $10.9 trillion.

    To put all this in perspective, the 1980s savings and loan crisis cost taxpayers from $150 billion to $300 billlion in comparable 2007 dollars. The 1998-99 Asian banking crisis cost $400 billion. Japan's prolonged banking crisis in the 1990s cost $750 billion. And the total amount of debt relief received by all Third World countries on the $4 trillion of dodgy foreign debt that they incurred from 1970 to 2006 was just $310 billion.

    Those crises are completely over, while this one is still unfolding, so its ultimate cost is still uncertain. Already it is clear that ordinary taxpayers around the world are on the hook for total losses that will easily dwarf all the costs of all these other recent banking crises combined--including $2 trillion to $4 trillion of further bank write-offs beyond the $1 trillion of losses already recognized. Since no government on earth has the surpluses on hand needed to fund such largesse, this means that we will be paying for this bailout one way or another for the rest of our lives, and probably for our children's lives as well, through increased inflation, taxation and reduced government services.

    Never has so much been given to so few by many. Yet despite all this public generosity, much of the US banks' recent behavior been execrable. For example, in December we learned that the US Treasury got preferred securities in exchange for the first $254 billion of TARP funds that, right off the bat, were worth $78 billion less than the funds they received.

    We've also watched with amazement as they've continued to fund corporate jets and other perks, and as several of the largest recipients of TARP funds have paid extravagant bonuses to senior executives for "performance" in 2008--a year when the banking industry contributed mightily to the tanking of the entire global economy. Nor have most banks been forthcoming about what they've actually done with all the TARP money--except to to concede that they haven't done much new net lending. After all, they say, in this economic environment, with regulators suddenly breathing down their necks about leverage and toxic assets, they are not eager to take risks.

    That's all well and good at the micro level, but at the level of the overall economy, we badly need banks to swallow hard and start churning out new loans--and not just to gold-plated borrowers who don't really need the money. Since TARP I funds were not dedicated to new lending, and, indeed, since policy makers like Paulson, Bernanke and (presumably) Geithner decided to leave TARP I's use entirely up to the banks' discretion, this period of extreme largesse and low interest rates has also coincided with tight credit markets--except for well-off corporations and elite borrowers and refinancers, who have actually been the main beneficiaries of Bernanke's low-interest rate policy.

    So while both the Federal Reserve and the Treasury have been busy demonstrating that they have finally taken the lessons of the Great Depression to heart, and have been setting records for generosity and loose lending, at the end of the day they still allowed the private banking system to keep its elephant in the hallway, blocking the road to recovery.

      In the four months since receiving the first TARP Installment, the US banking industry has become a supersized version of the US auto industry--on the verge of bankruptcy, kept afloat by government capital, loans and loan guarantees, with no long-run strategy other than to continue its well-funded lobbying efforts and heavy campaign contributions and to occasionally show up in DC before toothless Congressional committees for well-choreographed rituals of contrition.

      Since October 2008, the net worth of the entire US banking system-- all 8,367 domestic-owned US banks--has declined by $420 billion, to just $540 billion. In other words, TARP was one of the worst investment decisions in corporate history--the banks' net worth has declined by more one dollar of equity value for each additional dollar of TARP funds injected.

      Indeed, the net worth of two of the largest banks in the system, Citigroup and Bank of America, is now around $30 billion, less than half of the $70 billion in government capital that they have received from TARP I, on top of $424 billion of federal loan guarantees. Not only has their own "value added" during this period evidently been negative. For a fraction of the funds we've given these two banks, we could have stopped begging them to clean up their balance sheets, restructure their mortgages, stop wasting money, change their compensation plans and initiate sensible new lending programs. We could have bought a controlling share, hired new management from the droves of idle bankers now out on the street and re-privatized them at a profit for taxpayers in two to three years--just as successful "turnaround nationalization" programs have done again and again in these situations, from Norway to Chile.

      No wonder that growing numbers of critics--not just hard-core lefties and Nobel laureates like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz but even pragmatic politicians like South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham--have started to break the taboo and talk explicitly about "nationalization."

      But in an important sense the taboo had really already been shattered by TARP I, last year's expansion of FDIC deposit insurance and all the other new federal loan guarantees for the bank. In effect, these already "nationalized" the banks' debts. Now we're just talking about the other side of the balance sheet, where there might at least be some value, if only under new management.

      TOXIC ALTERNATIVES

      Geithner is hardly unaware of this short-term nationalization approach to the credit crunch, or of the Timothy_geithner_reuters success it has in many other markets. But he has apparently rejected it in favor of a much more costly and uncertain route--establishing a public-private bailout fund that will somehow entice the banks to sell off their lousy assets and still have enough equity left to survive as private entities.

      The limitations of this approach are best understood by taking another close look at Citigroup and Bank of America, two of the most troubled institutions in this story. On their most recent balance sheets reported to the FDIC, these two big banks alone accounted for $4.1 trillion of official on-balance-sheet "assets"--mostly loans and federal securities, but also a hefty amount of potentially dodgy mortgage-backed securities and other asset-based securities.

      Right off the bat, therefore, at least by the accounting numbers, these two top banks alone now account for more than 30 percent of all the assets outstanding in the entire US banking industry. Indeed, the top fifteen banks account for over 60 percent. This represents an incredible increase in banking industry concentration since the early 1990s, when Citibank and Bank of America held just 7 percent of all US bank assets, and the top fifteen banks held 21 percent.

      This increase in industry concentration was hardly an accident. It originated in the desires of bank executives to grow, boosting market share, short-term earnings, stock prices and the executive bonuses driven by those metrics. But it also reflected the gloves-off stance that Congress, regulators and antitrust enforcement took toward bank expansion during this period. And that, in turn, was probably related to the more than $1 billion contributed by the financial services industry, their lobbyists and law firms, to politicians of both major parties since 1990, which turned the Senate Banking Committee the House Financial Services Committee and other key Congressional committees, in effect, into wholly owned subsidiaries of the banking industry.

      Now how much might all these assets on the banks' balance sheets actually be worth? There is no active exchange for most bank assets, especially those that are hardest to value in this environment, like mortgage-backed securities. And by law, the banks are permitted to value the assets on their books at "fair market value"--in essence, whatever their accountants tell them they are likely to be worth, given historical experience with loan losses. But the difference between these accounting numbers and today's market value for these assets may be huge--up to half or more of book value. And the banks have a strong incentive to hold on to the loans and hope that things get better, rather than sell them off right now at whatever the market will bear. After all, as soon as they start selling down one loan bundle, they may be required to "mark to market" all similar ones. And the resulting writedowns might well be enough to wipe out all stockholder equity, leading to insolvency.

      03fed4-600 This whole situation is reminescent of the 1980s Third World debt crisis, when banks like Citibank, Morgan and Chase resisted for years the demands of policy makers and developing countries to write down or sell off the billions of overvalued loans on their books--for no other reason than, as one former Chase banker put it, "a rolling loan gathers no loss." Similar behavior occurred during the prolonged Japanese debt crisis of the 1990s, when banks stubbornly resisted the efforts to get them to "mark to market" because several of them realized they would be bankrupt and no longer with us if they did so.

      There's not really much moral culpability here. At ground level, from the standpoint of any individual bank, this behavior is understandable. After all, they have just gone through a period of careless underwriting, and are trying to reduce their loan losses and improve their capital ratios--just like most bank regulators want them to do. The larger banks have balance sheets that are best described as follows: "On the left side (assets), nothing is right; on the right side (deposits and other capital), nothing is left." And since the economy is still slipping at an unpredictable pace all around them, no loan officer is eager to take on more risks. So it is hardly surprising that in the last quarter of 2008, even as the TARP money started to flow, US bank lending suffered its sharpest decline since 1980. It also makes perfect sense for them to resist selling off its loans and securities at what may eventually turn out to have been fire-sale prices.

      While all this may be well and good for bankers, however, for rest of us it means that even after all those trillions in federal bailouts and loan guarantees, the economy is still starved for credit. The fact that major banks as a group continue to sit on all these lousy loans at book value, rather than selling them off and writing them down, means that they don't have much room on their balance sheets and in their capital/asset ratios for new loans. So the credit crunch continues. And banks that we eventually may find out were really insolvent may walk around in a trance for months or even years, like a scene from Night of the Living Dead. We're not talking about restoring the loose lending of the 2005-2007 bubble; we're talking about the essential liquidity needed to keep the wheels from coming off, stimulate demand and stem the decline in housing prices.

        The importance of all this becomes clearer when we take a close look at the composition of Citigroup's and Bank of America's $4.1 trillion of assets outstanding. It turns out that these include $1.3 trillion of real estate loans and mortgage-backed securities (22 percent of the US industry's total), $153 billion of credit card loans (38 percent of the total) and $150 billion of auto loans, student loans and other loans to individuals (25 percent). Clearly all these book values may be severely at risk in the current economic crisis.

        But these potentially troubled categories of assets only add up to about $1.6 trillion; why is Geithner Large_Geithner talking about a $2.5 trillion program? The FDIC's latest statistic a provides a clue. It reveals the dominant role that the country's top banks have also played in issuing derivatives, including not only interest rate and currency swaps, but also in more notorious debt-based over-the-counter derivatives. As of September 2008, JPMorganChase, Citigroup and Bank of America accounted for an incredible 90 percent of $7.9 trillion of these "off-balance sheet" credit derivatives that have been guaranteed by these banks themselves--including $2.6 trillion guaranteed by B of A and Citi. So when Secretary Geithner was talking about running "stress tests"--scenarios for future housing prices, default rates and interest rates--against the balance sheets of particular banks, he was not talking about First Federal of Tuscaloosa or Suffolk County National in Riverhead. They've probably never guaranteed a credit derivative in their lives, much less tucked anything away in some Cayman Island "special purpose vehicle." Clearly, Geithner had his friends on Wall Street in mind.

        REALLY A POLITICAL PROBLEM

        In short, we have a choice to make: we can spend perhaps $150 billion to $200 billion buying out the equity of a handful of leading banks that have gotten themselves in this mess and reform them. This would involve taking them over immediately, installing new managers, giving their creditors a haircut, writing down the toxic assets (which the government-owned bank could do without fear of market reactions) and then preparing them for privatization when the market recovers.

        Or we can follow Secretary Geithner's lead, fiddle around for months, throwing trillions more of government capital, loan guarantees and portfolio insurance at the problem, without any guarantee that the resulting cockamamie approach to creating a "public-private" toxic bank will ever work--while the same old troubled institutions are left standing, no longer encumbered by their dodgy assets perhaps, but still encumbered by dodgy managements.

        There are lots of technical issues to be weighed in making this choice. But after reviewing all the objections to the kind of short-term, temporary, partial nationalization, I'm convinced that the most important issues are simply political, a choice between our commitment to a failed, hands-off model of bailouts and banking regulation and decisive, FDR-like action.

        It is precisely because it is so hard to value these dodgy assets at all that we are even having this discussion. Given the absence of competitive markets for the assets, the uncertain environment and their dependence on taxpayer subsidies and insurance, the prices established are intrinsically political. Either they will be set so low that banks will have to take such massive writedowns that their shareholder equity will disappear entirely anyway, or--more likely--the prices or insurance arrangements will be set so that even more taxpayer wealth is transferred to these very same top-tier banks.

        Meanwhile, the whole economy is hostage to this decision. We have no time to waste. We should get on with it, making use of one of the clearest market signals available in this situation--the current value of Citibank and Bank of America shares.

        This argument is not at all anti-market, or necessarily even anti-bank. At their best, private markets, entrepreneurship and innovation are absolutely essential. My real objection is to a very specific kind of bank-dominated political economy. To call this "capitalism" is to have Ayn Rand and Friedrich von Hayek turning somersaults in the crypt. Time and again, this pathological form of pro-bank development has jeopardized the prosperity, stability and innovation of the small businesses, inventors and would-be savers who are the backbone of market economies. Bank-dominated political economies don't really deserve to be called "capitalism," since big bankers have never really been entrepreneurs who are content to stick to the capitalist rules of the game. Instead, they periodically demand the divine right to take unlimited risks, privatize the resulting gains and stick the rest of us with any resulting losses.

        It is time for accountability, we are told by our new president. If so, we should start by holding the world's largest banks, hedge funds, insurance companies, mortgage brokers and private equity firms, together with their many friends in accounting, law, public relations, credit rating, central banking and higher office accountable for this crisis--if in no other way than by refusing to award them this even more massive TARP II bailout, permitting them to rob us, once again, with both hands.

        ***

        February 28, 2009 at 03:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

        Saturday, October 11, 2008

        HANK PAULSON'S OCTOBER REVOLUTION
        Why This Republican X-Banker Has Decided to (Partially) Socialize Our Entire Banking System
        James S. Henry

         "We have made changes, Sire. Yes, it is true, we have made changes. But we have made them at the right time. And the right time is, when there is no other choice."

        -- Conservative adviser to King Edward VII, explaining his support for liberal reforms

        OctoberrevolutionWe may have just reached a critical turning point in American political economy -- not only in our efforts to overcome the burgeoning global banking crisis, but also to overcome the pernicious influence of free-market fundamentalism, which has dominated US economic policy for the last 30 years.

        Ironically enough, the person who deserves more credit than anyone else for helping us to reach these goals is our current Treasury Secretary, a lifelong die-hard Republican and former Wall Street king-pin.

        Last night, a few hours after the US stock market closed,  the Bush Administration, embodied in Henry M. Paulson,Jr.,  announced that in order to stem the continuing turmoil in capital markets,  in conjunction with other G-7 countries, the US federal government will begin "as sBernankepaulson_s1274_2oon as we can" to use taxpayer money to buy preferred equity in private financial institutions, especially banks.

        Depending on how it is implemented, this could very well amount to a partial nationalization of the entire US banking system by the US Government. Are you paying attention here, Hugo, Fidel, and Evo? 

        This marks a very sharp U turn in recent US policy. Indeed, just two weeks ago, in their September 23rd testimony before Congress, Paulson and Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke dismissed such equity investments as a "losing strategy," compared to their preferred scheme, a government-run "reverse auction" to buy up to $700 billion of "toxic" bank assets.

        Paulsonplunge_3

        HAIL MARY

        This policy U-turn was not due to sudden new insights generated by careful academic analysis or some precise economic model. 

        It feels more like a Hail-Mary pass,  coming at the end of  one of the most disastrous weekly stock market performances in US and global history.

        That, in turn, was preceded by ten exhausting days of political goat-rodeo and Congressional negotiations over the infamous "$700 billion bailout," on top of the preceding six exhausting months of  more or less ad hoc, increasingly expensive but largely unsuccessful one-off  interventions in money markets and the banking system by the US Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and a myriad other US bank regulators. 

        Meanwhile, there has been an even more quirky set of poorly-coordinated improvisational remedies administered by diverse regulators in the UK, Germany, France, Iceland, and Belgium. 

        At the end of all this,  fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) have continued to spread across global capital markets, as policymakers stumble into each other, national banking systems compete for deposits, the US Treasury becomes (ironically) a huge depository for safe-haven flight capital, and no one manages to get ahead of the crisis.

        If the FUD continued to spread, and global credit remained on lock-down,  the forthcoming global recession -- already likely to plunge real growth in Europe and the US  to zero or less next year, China to 6 - 8 percent or less, and the rest of the developing world to 4-6 percent -- would become dire indeed. 

        So one answer to the riddle of Paulson's "sudden conversion" is that he simply had no alternative. Given that ad hoc bailouts, coordinated interest rate cuts, increased deposit insurance, the extension of government insurance and liquidity to money market funds, the commercial paper market, on top of the takeovers of AIG and Fannie/ Freddie, had not done the job, nationaliziation -- really internationalization, since global banks are involved, and other countries will presumably be asked to contribute -- is one of the few arrows left in his quiver.

        Dowclose_081009
        A NOBLE TRADITION

        This will hardly be the first US experience with quasi-nationalization. Indeed, on September 16, the Federal Reserve had effectively "nationalized" the giant insurance company AIG, acquiring 80 percent of its equity in exchange for an $85 billion loan. And on September 7, the US Government announced that it had formally taken over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the world's largest players in the "secondary" mortgage market, with more than $1.6 trillion of assets. All told, these are probably the largest nationalizations anywhere in human history.

        Way back in the 1930s and 1940s,  the US Reconstruction Finance Corporation seized and recapitalized many banks. The FDIC has also done this many times since then.

        European governments have even longer histories of direct intervention in banking markets.  And several of them moved almost too quickly in the last year to nationalize particular banks -- for example, the UK's Northern Rock in February 2008 and Fortis in September 2008.

        Of course, most of these recent cases have involved failing institutions, where the government was a "lender of last resort." As discussed below, Paulson's plan is rather different.

        Even farther back, in the early 19th century, states like Virginia and Pennsylvania often invested directly in state-chartered banks to set them up and keep them going. Those were not especially happy experiences with government ownership.

        But this is hardly a great time for champions of private capital markets to be quibbling about the efficiency costs of government intervention -- private markets in the US alone have just lost $7 trillion of market cap in the last year, including $3 trillion in the last 3 weeks. And the global "opportunity cost" of the crisis is probably at least twice this high.     

        A GLOBAL RECOVERY FUND?

         If done right,   Paulson's PIP  (Public Investment Program) will be much broader,  more proactive and more innovative than previous bank nationalizations.

        For example, one idea would be to establish a "Global Recovery Fund," permitting fresh private capital, "sovereign wealth funds" like those in Norway and the UAE, and European, Latin and Asian countries that have a clear stake in restoring the world's financial sector to health to invest alongside the US Treasury.

        Even, Heaven help us, the IMF and the World Bank's IFC might participate in such a fund.  They have run out of developing country crises to solve, are looking for a new role, and have $billions in untapped credit lines. 

        Such an approach would help to share the heavy burden placed on US taxpayers, and make this program more politically palatable than the TARP bailout proved to be.

        A global fund would also help to diversify investment risks across many more countries and banks. 

        Indeed, the USG and its new partners might even become lenders of far-from-last resort, clearing the way for threatened but essentially-healthy institutions  to survive the financial contagion, raise much more private capital as well, and, most important, turn each and every  new $1 of equity into $10 to $15 of new lending.

        If the fund is successful in reviving the world's financial system, and restoring banks to financial health, taxpayers and investors will no doubt all be paid back handsomely. But the most important benefits may be the "hidden" ones -- the catastrophic losses that would be avoided by preventing further chaos and market decline.

        This is very different from Paulson's original TARP buy-back scheme, which promised to boost bank equity informally by way of overpaying for toxic assets with highly-uncertain values. 

        Ironically, that approach just rewards those companies with the very worst  portfolios and lending practiceswhile enabling much less increased lending.

        Indeed, TARP's only comparative advantage seems to have been that by avoiding direct government investment in the private sector, it did not violate any red lines of so-called free-market conservatives.

        In hindsight, however, given TARP's birth pains, plus the fact that the market value of all US publicly-traded stocks fell from $12.9 trillion on September 19 to $9.2 trillion in the three weeks after Paulson Plan I was announced.

        So respecting this neoliberal ideological taboo may well have just cost US investors -- most of whom are taxpayers -- at least $1 to $2 trillion of  market value that might have been saved with an immediate recapitalization plan.

        With that much extra dough,  we could almost afford to wage another Iraq-scale war somewhere. 

        Bolivianacionalizacion1 REMAINING ISSUES

        The PIP program faces many challenges.  It needs careful guidelines about how to value investments, which banks will be eligible, and how they will be incented to participate. There needs to be controls the propensity of Treasury officials to have "revolving door" relationships with the companies they are investing in.

        It is also vital to  focus on the program's central objective -- a temporary Hanklenin investment to stabilize the financial system, returning the investment (hopefully with gains)  to the Treasury as soon as possible.   

        The US Treasury also needs to decide what corporate rights we should get for our money.

        For example, Mr. Warren Buffett, everyone's favorite wealthy investor these days,  would probably demand  protections against non-dilution and excessive dividends to other shareholders, and perhaps voting rights as well, if he were the investor. If  taxpayers are investing and taking all this risk, why is Warren's money any more deserving of such rights than ours?

        None of these issues are insurmountable. Furthermore, purchasing equity in established, publicly-traded institutions will certainly be a whole lot easier than setting up brand new, complex "reverse auction" markets for previously untraded mortgage-backed securities, much less insurance on them.

        In any case, as we'll examine in Part II of this article, given the incredibly shaky structure of the global banking system's balance sheet, especially in the US and Europe, at this point Hank Paulson's public equity investment plan is really the US Treasury's only option for putting our banking system back on its feet.

        So viva Comrade Hank!  Y Viva la Revolucion! 

        But investors, workers, home owners, students, beware:    it still pays to be conservative here, despite  Hank's Revolution. 

        Because even if the government invest heavily in all these banks, no one is still quite sure what all those $trillions of asset-backed securities on and off their balance sheets are worth.

        We may not find out until the housing market touches bottom and there are comprehensive audits of major financial institutions and their hedge fund buddies. 

        So keep at least some of your powder dry and hang on to your hats -- the ride will continue next week. 

        (c) SubmergingMarkets,

        October 11, 2008 at 04:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

        Saturday, September 20, 2008

        SOCIALISM FOR BANKERS, SAVAGE CAPITALISM FOR EVERYONE ELSE?
        Bailout Jeopardizes the Entire Progressive Agenda
        James S. Henry

        Classwar "“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” --  Warren Buffet, June 2008

        Ladies and gentlemen: pardon my intemperance,  but it is high time for some moral outrage --  and a little good old-fashioned class warfare as well, in the sense of a return to seriously-progressive taxation and equity returns for public financing.

        After all, as this week's proposed record-setting Wall Street277_cartoon_bank_bailout_hurwitt_sm bailout with taxpayer money demonstrates once again,  those in charge of running this country have no problem whatsoever waging "class warfare" against the rest of us -- the middle classes, workers and the poor -- whenever it suits their interests.

        At a time when millions of Americans are facing bankruptcy and the risk of losing their homes without any help whatsoever from Washington DC,  the CEOs and speculators who created this mess, and the top 1 percent of households that owns at least 34 percent of financial stocks, and the top 10 percent that owns 85 percent of them, have teamed up with their "bipartisan" cronies in Congress, the US Treasury and the White House to stick us with the bill, plus all of the risk, plus none of the upside.

        Upon close inspection, the Treasury's proposal is nothing more than a bum's rush for unlimited power over hundreds of $billions, to be distributed at Secretary Paulson's discretion behind closed doors and without adequate Congressional oversight.

        This time they have gone too far.

        As discussed below, the cost of this bailout could easily jeopardize our ability to pay for the entire economic reform program that millions of ordinary citizens across both major parties have been demanding.

        Rpaulsonmedium260

        Some kind of bailout may indeed be needed from the standpoint of managing the so-called "systemic risk" to our financial system.

        However, as discussed below, the Paulson plan does not really tackle the real problem head on. Thsi is the fact that many financial institutions, including hundreds of banks, are undercapitalized, and need more equity per dollar of debt, not just fewer bad assets.

        To provide that, we may well want to mandate debt restructurings and debt swaps, or provide more equity capital .

        If private markets can't deliver and we need to inject public capital into financial services companies on a temporary basis, so be it. But it should only be in return for equity returns that compensate the pubilc for the huge risks that it is taking.

        Call that "socialism" if you wish -- I think we are already well beyond that point -- sort of like Chilean economists became in 1983, when the entire private banking sector collapsed and was nationalized -- successfully -- by the heretofore "Los Chicago Boys."

        To me, public equity investment, in combination with increased progressive taxation, should be viewed as just one possible way to get these companies the equity they need, while providing fair compensation to the suppliers of capital and participation in any "upside," if there is one.

        Absent such measures, progressives certainly have much less reason to support this plan. After all, the increased public debt burdens that it would impose are so large that they could easily jeopardize our ability to pay for the entire economic reform program that millions of ordinary citizens (across both major parties) have been demanding.

        From this angle, the Paulson program, in effect, is a cleverly-designed program to "nationalize" hundreds of billions of risky, lousy assets of  private financial institutions, without acquiring any public stake in the private institutions themselves, and without raising any tax revenue from the class of people who not only created this mess, but would now like to be bailed out. 

        Any mega-bailout should come at a high price for those who made it necessary.

        In particular, we must make sure that the butcher's bill is paid by the tiny elite that was responsible for creating this mess in the first place.

        This is not about retribution. It is about insuring taxpayers are truly rewarded for the risks that they are taking -- isn't that the capitalist way?  And it is also about making sure that this kind of thing never happens again.

        After all, the real tragedy of this bailout is its opportunity cost. Consider a well-managed $1 trillion "matching" investment in strategic growth sectors like energy and health....If we really wanted to insure our competitive health, we would not be investing $1 trillion in lousy bank portolios generated by the chicanery-prone financial services sector.

        CAPITALISTS AT THE TROUGH

        Bush_bernanke_080118_mn In financial terms, this latest Wall Street bailout is likely to cost US taxpayers at least $100-$150 billion per year of new debt service costs -- just for starters.

        This estimate is consistent with the $700 billion ("at any point in time") that President Bush and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson are requesting from Congress this week to fund their virtually-unfettered ("unreviewable by any court") new "Troubled Asset Relief Program." (TARP)

        The sheer scale of Paulson's proposal implies that federal authorities plan to acquire at least $3 trillion of mortgage-backed securities, derivatives, and other distressed assets from private firms -- on top of Fannie/ Freddie Mac's $5.3 trillion mortgage securities portfolio. How the Fed and the Treasury actually propose to determine the fair market value of all these untrade-able assets is anyone's guess. But since  40 percent derive from the exuberant, fraud-prone days of 2006-7, they will probably all be subject to steep (60-90 percent) discounts from book value.

        27_scaredwoman_lgl That's consistent with the 78 percent  "haircut" that Merrill Lynch took on the value of  its entire mortgage-backed securities portfolio earlier this month -- actually, more like a 94.6% haircut, the portion that it received in cash.

        This implies, by the way, that if the Federal Government were required to "mark to market" their $29 billion March 2008 investment in Bear Stearns' securities, it would now have a cash value of just $1.6 billion. Not a very hopeful sign from a taxpayer's standpoint.

        Paulson's latest proposal dictates another sharp increase in the federal debt limit, to $11.313 trillion. This limit stood at just $5.8 trillion when Bush took office in 2001.  By October 2007 it stood at $9.8 trillion. Then it jumped again to $10.6 trillion in July 2008, during in the Fannie/Freddie meltdown. As of March 2008, the actual amount of Federal debt outstanding was $9.82, just six months behind the limit and gaining.   

        Newborrowing2_3

        All this new TARP debt will be on top of $200 billion of new debt that was issued to buy Fannie/Freddie's preferred stock, plus the assumed risk for their $1.7 trillion of debt and $3.1 trillion of agency mortgage-backed securities.

        It is also in addition to  the $85 billion 2-year credit line that Federal Reserve just extended to AIG, the $29 billion "non-recourse" loan provided for the Bear Stearns deal noted above; $63 billion of similar Federal Reserve lending to banks this year; $180 billion of newly-available Federal Reserve "reciprocal currency swap lines:" $5 billion of other emergency Treasury buybacks of mortgage-backed securities;  $12 billion of Treasury-funded FDIC losses on commercial bank failures this year (including IndyMac's record failure in July); perhaps another $455 billion of Federal Reserve loans already collateralized by very risky bank assets;  and the FDIC's request for up to $400 billion of Treasury-backed borrowings to handle  the many new bank failures yet to come.

        There is also the record $486+ billion budget deficit  (net of $180 billion borrowed this year from Social Security trust fund) that the Bush Administration has compiled for 2008/09, drivem in part by the continued $12-$15 billion per month cost of the Iraq and Afghan Wars and the impact of the deepening recession on tax revenues. Longer term,  there is also the projected $1.7 trillion to $2.7 trillion "long run" cost of those wars (through 2017). 

        All told, then, we're talking about borrowing at least another $1-1.4 trillion of federal debt to finance a record level of lousy banking.

        COMPARED TO WHAT?

        By comparison, Detroit's latest request for a mere $25 billion bailout looks miserly. And if we were in Vienna, we would say, "We wish we could play it on the piano!"

        Compared to other bailouts, this is by far the largest ever.

        For example, the total amount of debt relief provided to all Third World countries by the World Bank/IMF, export credit agencies, and foreign governments from 1970 to 2006 totaled just $334 billion ($2008), about 8 percent of all the loans. (Henry, 2007). Charleskeating45_2

        The savings and loan bailout in the late 1980s cost just $170 billion ($2008).

        And the FDIC's 1984 bailout of Continental Illiinois, the largest bank failure up to this year, was (in $2008) just $8 billion (eventually reduced to $1.6 billion by asset recoveries).

        Meanwhile, compared with other countries that are well on their way to building forward-looking "sovereign wealth funds" to make strategic investments all over the world, the US seems to be on a drive to create this introverted "sovereign toxic debt dump." 

        CASH COST

        No one has a very precise idea of how much all this will cost, not only because many of the securities are complex and thinly traded,  but also because their value depends to a great extent on the future of the US housing market. Housing prices  have already fallen by 20-32 percent in the top 20 markets since mid-2006, and they continue to fall in 11 out of 20  major markets, especially Florida,  southern California, and Arizona, where the roller-coaster has been the most steep.

        Failboat

        At current T-bond rates (2-4 percent for 2-10 year bonds, the most likely maturities), near-term cash cost of this year's bailu is likely to be an extra $40 to $60 billion a year in interest payments alone. 

        Furthermore, since the borrowed funds will be invested in high-risk assets, the most important potential costs involve  capital risk. There's a good chance that, as in the case of Bear Stearns, we'll ultimately get much less than $.50 for each $1 borrowed and invested. For example, Fannie and Freddie alone could easily be sitting on $500 billion of losses (=$2 trillion/$5.3 trillion* 50% default*50% asset recovery).

        This could easily make the long-run cost of this bailout to taxpayers at least $150 billion a year.   

        No wonder traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange reportedly broke out singing "the Internationale" when they heard about the bailout.

        But the direct financial costs of the bailout are only the beginning....

        HIJACKING THE FUTURE

        Middleclass_2 Last week's events produced terabytes of erudite discussion by an army of Wall Street journalists, prophets and pundits about short-selling rules, "covered bonds," and the structure of the financial services.

        This is absolutely par for the course, as modern financial crisis journalism is concerned -- the "story" is always told mainly from the standpoint of what's in it for the industry, the banks, the regulators, and the investors.   

        For the 90 percent of Americans who own no money-market funds, and less than 15 percent of all stocks and bonds, however, this bailout means just one thing.

        All of the money has just been spent.  And it has not been spent on you.

        For example, unless we demand an increase in taxes on the rich, big banks, and  big corporations, as well as some public equity  in exchange for the use of all this money, we can expect that the long-term costs of this bailout will "crowd out" almost all of the $140 to $160 billion of new federal programs that Barack Obama proposed. It will certainly make it impossible for Obama to finance his programs without either borrowing even more heavily, or going well beyond the  tax increases (on oil companies and the upper middle classes) that he has proposed.

        Without such changes, there will be no federal money available for comprehensive health insurance, or the reform of the health care delivery system.Obamaagendacost

        There will be no additional funding for pre-school education, child care, or college tuition.

        There will be no additional funding for investments in energy conservation, wind, or  solar power.

        There will be no additional investments in national infrastructure (e.g., the reconstruction of our aging roads, highways, and bridges to "somewhere.")

        Highway privatization and toll roads, here we come.

        There will be no money to bail out the millions of Americans who are on the brink of losing their homes.

        The supply of housing loans and other credit will remain tight, despite the bailout.

        Indeed, if the economic elite has its way,  the long-sought dream of "a home for every middle-class American family" may be abandoned as a goal of government policy.

        Meanwhile, the government-sponsored consolidation of the financial services industry will make financial services more profitable than ever.

        This is good news for the "owners of the means of finance." For the rest of us, it means steeper fees and rates.  And if we fail to keep up with the new charges, we'll  face the rough justice delivered by the latest  bankruptcy "reform," which was rammed through the Congress in 2005 with support from many top Democrats.   

        103473_f520 There will be no money to shore up the long-run drain on Social Security or Medicare.

        Indeed, ironically enough, this latest bank bailout may even increase the financial pressure to privatize these comparatively successful government programs.

        There will be no extra money to house our thousands of new homeless people,  relieve poverty, rebuild New Orleans, or support immigration reform.

        There will be no additional funds for national parks.

        Indeed, we might as well start  by privatizing our national and state parks, and drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,  Yosemite,  the Grand Canyon, and right off the Santa Barbara coast. We're going to need those federal lease royalties. (Perhaps the oil barons will lend us an advance.) 

        There will be no funds available for increased homeland security.

        There will certainly be no "middle-class" tax cut.  Absent a progressive tax reform, the only "cut" the middle class is going to receive is another sharp reduction in  living standards.

        TRUMPING REAGAN

        All told, the Bush/Paulson "permissive banking/ massive bailout" model  beats even the old 1980s vintage Reagan formula, which tried to force government down-sizing with huge tax cuts. 

        Contrary to the sales pitch, those cuts never produced any incremental tax revenues, let alone any significant down-sizing.  It has simply proved too easy for the federal government to borrow. And "conservatives" can always find wars, farm subsidies, defense contractors,  and "bridges to nowhere" to spend the money on, just as fast as liberals. 

        Lately, however, it appears that US debt levels may indeed be reaching the point where they could impose a limit on increased spending.  Given the sheer size of the new federal debt obligations, foreign creditors,who have recently been supplying more than half of new Federal borrowing, have been muttering about taking their lending elsewhere. And outside the financial services industry, Main Street companies are concerned being "crowded out" by record federal borrowing.

        THE ALTERNATIVE -- THE "GET REAL" NEW DEAL

        To make sure that real economic reform is still feasible, we need to demand a "Get Real/ New Deal" from Congress right now. 

        At a minimum, this Get Real/New Deal package should consider measures like: 

        (1) The restoration of stiff progressive income and estate taxes on the top 1 percent of the population (with net incomes over $500,000 a year and estates over $5 million) -- especially on excessive CEO and hedge fund manager compensation;

        (2) Much more aggressive enforcement and tougher penalties against big-ticket corporate and individual tax dodgers;

        (3) Tougher regulation of financial institutions  -- possibly by a new agency that, unlike the US Federal Reserve, the SEC, and the US Treasury, is not "captive" to the industry;

        (4) A crackdown on the offshore havens that have been used by leading banks, corporations,  and hedge funds to circumvent our securities and tax laws;

        (5) The immediate revision of the punitive bankruptcy law that Congress enacted in 2005 at the behest of this now-bankrupt elite; and

        (6) While we are at it, stiff "pro-green" luxury taxes on mega-mansions, private jets, Land Rovers, yachts, and all other energy-inefficient upscale toys. 

        We also need (7) a National Commission to investigate the root causes of this financial crisis from top to bottom, and actually (unlike the hapless, ineffectual 9/11 Commission) hold people accountable.

        Finaily, if the pubilc is going to provide so much of the risk capital for this restructuring, we should demand (8) public equity in the private financial institutions that receive so much of our help.

        This will permit taxpayers to share in the upside of this restructuring, rather than just the downside risks.

        Along the way, this will require that we explain to Secretary Paulson that this country is not Goldman Sachs. Even after 8 years of President Bush, this is still a democracy. 

        Secretary Paulson is not going to be given unfettered discretion to hand out closet "liquidity injections" to his buddies on the street -- no matter how worthy they are. 

        Dp1774112 Over time, this progressive Real/ New Deal would help raise the hundreds of billions in new tax revenue needed to offset the costs of this bailout.

        This will be essential, if the Federal Government is to be able to afford key reforms like health insurance, clean energy, and investments in education.

        These may not matter very much to Wall Street executives, financial analysts, Treasury and Federal Reserve executives, or the more than 120-130 Members of Congress and 40-45 US Senators who earn more than $1 million a year -- and are already covered by a generous "national health care" package of their own design.

        But these  are the key "systemic risks" that ordinary Americans face. 

        These reforms may sound ambitious. So is the bailout.  And the reforms that we are discussing are only fair.

        After all, we the American people have recently been the very model of forgiveness and understanding. 

        We have tolerated and footed the bill for stolen elections,  highly-preventable terrorist attacks, gross mismanagement of "natural" disasters, prolonged, poorly conceived, costly wars, rampant high-level corruption, pervasive violations of the US Constitution,  and the systematic looting of the Treasury by politically-connected  defense contractors, oil companies, oligopolistic cable TV and telecommunications firms, hedge fund operators, big-ticket tax evaders, and our top classes in general.

        Does "class" still matter in America?  You betcha -- perhaps more than ever. But enough is enough.  Call your Congressperson now. Demand a"Get Real/ New Deal" qualifier to the bailout package before it is too late. We deserve to get much more for our money. So do our kids.

        (c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008



        September 20, 2008 at 04:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

        Friday, September 05, 2008

        NARRATIVES, NOT IDEAS
        McCain's Contradictory, Fearful Vision of the Next Four Years
        James S. Henry

        Amygoodmanarrest82008_3 Outside the Republican convention hall, Twin City cops and National Guardsmen in full-scale battle gear were arresting credentialed journalists like Amy Goodman and pepper-spraying peaceful demonstrators -- though you didn't hear much about that from the respectable TV commentators who were safe inside, battling balloon drops.   

        Inside the hall, we were treated to an odd combination of "Naughty Librarian" Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain trying for the nth time to appear natural while reading the teleprompter and bashing his own party, and 2380 raucous Republican delegates -- 1.5 percent black, 5 percent Hispanic, 32 percent female,  80 percent over 50, and nearly 100 percent over-fed  -- trying to appear jubilant, grinding to the heavy-metal rhythms that someone in Mccain904b_s_20080904214223the RNC hierarchy must have thought were a cool idea.   

        We also had yet another recapitulation of the Arizona Senator's horrific five years in a POW camp, after being shot down on his 23rd mission over Hanoi back in 1967.

        Indeed, if McCain somehow manages to win this election, he will have no one more to thank than Nguyen Van Dai, theAleqm5jgx4h7ojtbaavncigl6ogpzvda 68-year old retired  Vietnamese colonel who actually launched the SAM missile that downed McCain's A-4 Skyhawk on October 27, 1967.

        In any case, after watching the Republican Convention from mind-numbing start to finish, it is now crystal clear that,  apart from McCain's 41-year-old combat narrative -- supplemented by the less familiar narrative about Palin's decade-long  battle to combine procreation, small-time government, and the Assembly of God's "Plan for Alaska" -- the Republican Party has become the equivalent of the US housing industry.

        It is intellectually bankrupt, with almost no new ideas. As former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan correctly put it, "They went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives."

        Worse than that, the Republican Party has also turned its back on many of its old favorite best ideas and brand values -- for example,  "small government," "balanWaroftheworldsced budgets," "non-intervention," "environmental protection," and "the US Constitution."

        Palin's first 15-minutes of fame temporarily blinded many commentators  to this basic fact.  But even the most faithful die-hard Republican strategists now agree that, apart from the novelty of her Bat Mitsvah,  this abbreviated convention was a gigantic, expensive messaging mess -- and, on balance,  a gift to the hapless Democrats -- who are otherwise still fully capable of losing this race, even with a full-scale political and economic gale at their backs.

        We'll explore the numerous contradictions in McCain's program below.

        (c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008

        CONTRADICTIONS EVERYWHERE

        I. CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN?

        Obviously McCain is trying to jump on the "party of change"Change bandwagon. This is hardly a strategic insight,  given overwhelming popular discontent with the "country's direction" and Obama's success with this theme.

        On the level of practical policies, however, it is a little late. 

        Indeed, it has really been McCain's policy team that has been doing most of the "changing." 

        >For example,  McCain has adopted the idea, which he once opposed,  of extending Bush's tax cuts for corporations and the rich -- the $10 trillion long-run cost of which  is even larger than th $7 trillion that Bush's cost.

        Even if we abolish all future Congressional "earmarks," this scheme would cause the US deficit to soar even higher than its record $500 billion current level.

        If we have learned anything from the last eight years, it is that such tax cuts don't pay for themselves or reduce government spending; they just produce larger government deficits. 

        >McCain's gone completely quiet on the constitutional issues of torture, closing Guantanamo, and illegal surveillance.

        To some extent so has Obama. But these were supposed to be the kind of "vintage maverick" issues where McCain spoke truth to power.
        080328_mccaingramm_lerer
        >He's got nothing to offer on the deepening economic recession or the national housing crisis, beyond more of the same.

        His close friend former Senator Phil Gramm has resigned as Co-Chair of the campaign, but he is still likely to be named McCain's Secretary of the Treasury. 

        Yet he is a leading banking industry shill and an opponent of tougher regulation, whose efforts helped contribute to the lax lending policies that have produced the joint housing/banking crisis.

        > McCain's ideas about privatizing education, health insurance, Medicare and Social Security are all warmed- over versions of the same proposals the Republicans have tried and failed to implement for over a decade, despite their control of Congress for much of this period.

        Especially with the new, probably Democratic-controlled House and Senate, these proposals will be dead on arrival. We will not have "change," but four more years of stasis.

        > McCain's only ideas for solving the energy crisis are (1) drilling offshore or in 061908_nuclearpowerplant Alaska, and (2) building more nuclear power plants.

        Regardless what one thinks of them, these two tactics would both take years to have any impact.

        Even if they could overcome the substantial state and federal regulatory obstacles in their way,  they would not produce any additional energy for at least 10 to 12 years.

        In contrast, conservation and alternative energy sources like wind and solar produce benefits very quickly 

        > McCain has nothing interesting to say about a whole host of pressing international economic issues, including the faltering WTO round, addressing global poverty, and reviving the global Kyoto accords on the environment.

        >On the question of Iraq,  McCain still opposes the idea of a definite timetable for withdrawal, which even the Iraqi Government now supports.

        > On the questions of Iran and Georgia, McCain has sounded even more aggressive than VP Cheney, who wisely did not even bother to attend his own Party's convention.

        II. "ANTI-WASHINGTON?" 

        At least since Barry Goldwater, the Republican Party simply can't get enough of portraying itself as "outside the Beltway," the underdog from the hinterland, and the victim of some vast liberal media conspiracy.

        A visitor from another planet might be surprised to learn that  the Republican Party has actually won the White House 9 out of 16 times since 1948. And John McCain, in particular, has been a member of Congress since 1982.

        Furthermore, it also controlled the US House of Representatives from 1996 to 2006, and the US Senate from 2000 to the present, with enough seats to prevent any Democratic initiatives.  It  has of course controlled the White House from 2000 to the present. Along the way, it has also taken control of the US Supreme Court and the leadership of key "independent"  federal agencies, like the Federal Reserve. Jackabramoffmain

        The Republican Party has also recently compiled a record number of convictions for illegal lobbying activities -- indeed, shortly before McCain was deliver his acceptance, the legendary White House intimate Jack Abramoff was receiving a four-year jail sentence for corruption and bribery. 

        The only "change" we can be sure of will come when -- as now appears likely -- the Republican Party  loses control of all these institutions this November.

        III.  A BIPARTISAN MAVERICK? 

        Maverick As noted above,  McCain has actually become less and less of a maverick, and more and more partisan, as time goes by.

        The night before his own address to the convention, his own VP candidate could not have been more partisan in her feral attacks on Obama.

        Indeed, just by nominating this hard-right, anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-environment, anti-libertarian for VP despite her self-evident lack of credentials,  rather than choosing any number of more talented, moderate Republican women (or men), McCain has clearly helped to polarize the national debate.

        This puts paid to all the rhetoric about bipartisanship in his acceptance speech.

        IV. OPPOSED TO BIG BROTHER? 

        Romneybluffton We were amazed and delighted to hear Mitch Romney describe his party not only as "the party of ideas," but as being opposed to "Big Brother."   

        It seems that Mitch should stick to pillaging troubled companies, his forte. Is he really not aware that it is the Bush Administration that has been conducting illegal wiretaps and e-mail surveillance on millions of Americans during the last six years?

        V. NATIONAL SECURITY EXPERIENCE? WHERE'S OSAMA? 

         To listen to McCain, Bush, Giuliani, Romney, and Co., our visitor from another planet would probably conclude not only that 9/11 did  not happen on the Republican Party's watch, but also that the Iraq War was eminently justified -- indeed, in candidate Palin's memorable words, it is "a task from God".

        Sitroom20070101 According to the rhetoric at the Republican convention, the war against Osama Bin Laden and  the Taleban in Afghanistan and Pakistan (remember them?  the original perpetrators of 9/11?)  must also be going so well that we can:

        (1) Afford not to mention Osama or Afghanistan at all;

        (2) Afford to extend NATO to Georgia and the Ukraine, right on Russia's borders;

        (3) Afford to call Iran "the biggest supporter of state terrorism," and threaten it  with military force! 

        When it comes to national security, Republicans do have this praiseworthy tendency to recall over and over again great moments of courage and honor that occurred long ago -- say 41 years ago.

        But when it comes to all the shameful events that have happened on their own watch in just the last eight years,  they become forgetful.

        In my experience, Republicans are systematically incapable of apologizing for anything, even when they are grossly in the wrong.  Indeed, that is a pretty good litmus test for a Republican.

        >Lest we forget, Osama bin Laden, still safely ensconced in Pakistan (our putative ally), was the author of 9/11. Next week we'll commemorate the 7th anniversary of that date -- why has he not been brought to justice in seven years?

        > Lest we forget,   it was the Bush Administration -- especially Condi Rice and George Tenet -- that ignored numerous signals that allowed 9/11 to happen.

        > Lest we forget, Mayor Giuliani was the genius who located the World Trade Center's  Rudy_giuliani_kerik_thumb emergency command post right across from the Twin Towers with a diesel fuel tank (even though they'd been an obvious target since at least 1993),  ordered the cheap Motorola radios for NYC first- responders, and recommended the mobbed-up former Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik to be head of the Department of Homeland Security. 

        >Lest we forget, it was the Bush Administration -- with the so-called "maverick/military expert" John McCain toeing the party line, unlike Obama -- that took us to war in Iraq on a pack of lies.

        Osama_wherewaldoLest we forget, it was the Bush Administration that, once we got there, completely mismanaged the war effort -- for example, by choosing Kissinger protege  L. Paul Bremer to administer the situation.

        Bremer's very first decision was to disband the Iraqi Army -- alienating all those thousands of Sunnis who have recently become our best friends in the "Awakening,"  and setting the stage for Al Qaeda's first real entry into the country -- on US coat-tails!

        THE IRAQ/ AFGHAN CONUNDRUM

        Finally, returning once more to the question of Iraq, it seems as if the Republican Party is trying to pull off the same game it played with 9/11.Splash

        Rather than talking about responsibility for the original fiasco, the Republicans want to focus on claiming credit for what transpired after the event. 

        In the case of 9/11, they took credit for managing the crisis after the attack, ignoring their utter mismanagement before.

        In the case of Iraq, they are even more cynical:  McCain and the Republicans like to take credit for the progress since January 2007, ignoring the nearly four years of disastrous management after the March 2003 invasion.   

        In this spirit, McCain also likes to talk about the "surge" a lot, which he claims is a big success. 

        The surge was not his idea, but he takes credit for having supported it ever since General Petraeus and President Bush first introduced it in early 2007. 

        Obama, he says,  opposed it,  preferring a timetable that  would have "lost the war."

        In fact Obama has never insisted on such any such timetable.

        He did, however, courageously oppose entering Iraq in the first place, which would have made the surge unnecessary.

        In retrospect,  Obama's fundamental political and military judgment looks pretty astute, compared with "experienced" McCain.

        If Obama had been in charge, we might have saved $2 trillion and thousands of young lives.

        340x On the other hand, in McCain's case, despite saying that he "hates war," he has yet to ever oppose one.

        He still actually believes, like George W. Bush, that the US made a terrible mistake by withdrawing from Vietnam in 1973! 

        True, if we'd followed Obama's course, Saddam & Co. might still be in power, just like Kim Jong Il or Robert Mugabe or the tyrants in Burma (and China!)   

        But Saddam would not have any more "weapons of mass destruction" than he ever had. Under the pressures of continued isolation, backed by the UN, his own people might have overthrown him, or he might have died of a heart attack. We can never say.

        What is clear is that the main reason that the surge has "worked" is that we are now working closely with many of Saddam's former supporters among the Sunni "Awakening," who have turned on al Qaeda.

        The Sunnis have "awakened" partly just because we finally decided to pay them, and partly because they got sick of being ordered around by these fanatical extremists -- who'd never taken root in Iraq before the US invaded the country, outraged the local population, and created a seedbed for insurgency.

        It is also because many Shiites have wisely decided that the fastest way to get the US out of Iraq is to quiet down, supporting the Maliki government, probably with the backing of Iran.

        Ironically, for someone so concerned about Iran's supposed threat to the region, McCain does not acknowledge the fact that the Iraq invasion, and the continued US presence there,  have only strengthened Iran's hand.

        So it is as misleading for McCain and the Republicans to take credit for the surge as it is for them to take credit for fighting the (very incomplete) war against al Qaeda and the Taleban in Afghanistan, in the wake of 9/11.

        Once again, however, if you have no original ideas or solutions of your own, it is tempting to concentrate on telling stories about the past.

        (c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008

        September 5, 2008 at 07:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

        Thursday, September 04, 2008

        OBAMA: "PALIN/MCCAIN HAVE NOTHING TO OFFER BUT PERSONAL ATTACKS"

        September 4, 2008 at 09:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

        Saturday, July 26, 2008

        "MAKE FREDDIE AND FANNIE GO GREEN!"
        Attach Green Strings to Those $Billions of Bailout Greenbacks!
        Brent Blackwelder and James S. Henry

        Solarpanels_2 19fannie1_75x751

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        With Congress about to "lend" at least $300 billion to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation's two giant mortgage lenders, shouldn't we at least insist in getting some lending policies that help promote energy-efficient new housing for all this money?

        For the full article, go here. 

        (Note:  Brent Blackwelder is President of Friends of the Earth. He is not only a committed environmentalist but a straight arrow.  Unlike the others on this page, he has never pocketed $millions from a $9 billion corporate earnings overstatement or mismanaged a gigantic corporation, let alone defended white-collar criminals, barred FBI agents from sharing intellligence with the CIA and DOD, or helped to shield former senior CIA and NSA officials from responsibility for 9/11.)

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        July 26, 2008 at 03:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

        Thursday, July 24, 2008

        "ATTACK OF THE GLOBAL PIRATE BANKERS!"
        The Great White Sharks at UBS and LGT
        James S. Henry

        (Note: The following is an expanded version of our article that appeared in the July 22, 2008 online edition of The Nation, available here.)

        "For what is the crime of burgling a bank, compared with the crime of building one?"Nationlogo_5
        -- Brecht

        The Hearing

        Levin_carl060328_2 Last week in Washington we got a rare look inside the global private banking industry, whose high purpose it is to gather up the assets of the world's wealthiest people and many of its worst villains, and shelter them from tax collectors, prosecutors, creditors, disgruntled business associates, family members and each other.

        Thursday's standing-room-only hearing on tax haven banks and taxPrincehansadamii compliance was held by the US Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Michigan Senator Carl Levin, a regular critic of tax havens--except when it comes to offshore leasing companies owned by US auto companies. He presented the results of his Committee's six-month investigation of two of Europe's most venerable financial institutions - LGT Group, the largest bank in Liechtenstein and the personal fiefdom of Crown Prince Hans-Adam II and the royal family, with more than $200 billion in client assets; and UBS, Switzerland's largest bank and the world's largest private wealth manager, with $1.9 trillion in client assets and nearly 84,000 employees in fifty countries, including 32,000 in the United States.Kieber

        Images The theatrics included videotaped testimony by Heinrich3030_kieber Kieber, a Liechtenstein computer expert in a witness protection program with a $7 million bounty on his head, for supplying a list of at least 1,400 LGT clients - some say more than 4,500 - to tax authorities in Europe and the United States; two former American clients of LGT, who took the Fifth Amendment; Martin Liechti, head of UBS international private banking for North and South America, who'd been detained in Miami since April, and who also took the Fifth; Douglas H. Shulman, our sixth IRS commissioner in eight years, who conceded that Martinliechtiubs offshore tax evasion must be a "serious, growing" problem even though the IRS has no idea how large it is; and Mark610x1 Branson, CFO of UBS's Global Wealth Management group, who apologized profusely, pledged to cooperate with the IRS (within the limits of Swiss secrecy) and surprised the Committee by announcing that UBS has decided (for the third time since 2002) to "exit" the shady business of providing new secret Swiss accounts to wealthy Americans.

        There were also several other potential witnesses whose Cov_lowypeter_032307 importance was underscored by their absence. Peter S. Lowy, of Beverly Hills, another former LGT client who'd been subpoenaed, is a key member of the Westfield Group, the world's largest shopping mall dynasty, which has interests in and operates 55 US malls and 63 others around the world with a combined value of more than $60 billion, holds the lease for a new shopping mall at the reconstructed World Trade Center, has many other properties in Australia and Israel, and was recently awarded a L3 billion project for the UK's largest shopping mall, in time for the 2012 Olympics.

        His lawyer, the renowned Washington fixer Robert S.Srobertbennettsmall Bennett, reported that Lowy was "out of the country" and would appear later, probably also just to take the Fifth. Perhaps he traveled to Australia, where his family is also reportedly facing an LGT-related tax audit. (Bennett's law partner, David Zornow, the head of Skadden, Arps' White Collar Crime practice, represents UBS's Liechti.)

        Steven D. Greenfield, a leading New York City toy vendor and private equity investor whose business had been personally recruited by the Crown Prince's brother, went AWOL and did not bother to send a lawyer.

        LGT Group declined to follow UBS's contrite example and also failed to appear.

        Robertwolfubs Also missing from the roster were two prominent UBS executives: Robert Wolf, CEO of UBS Americas, who has reportedly raised over $500,000 for Barack Obama, bundled more than $370,850 for him this year from his bank alone, making UBS Obama's fifth-largest corporate donor, and had private dinners with the junior Senator from Illinois; and former Texas Senator Phil Gramm, vice chairman of UBS Securities LLC, a leading lobbyist for UBS until March, and until recently, John McCain's senior economics adviser. (In 1995, while preparing his own ultimately-unsuccessful race for the Republican Presidential nomination, Gramm commented memorably, "I have the most reliable friend you can have in American politics, and that's ready money.") Images2

        While neither of these UBS executives have been directly implicated in the tax scandal, both might reasonably be questioned about precisely what the rest of UBS in the States knew about the Swiss program, what it implies for US tax policy, and whether those who complain about UBS's knowing facilitation of tax fraud are just whining.

        Small_courter While they were on the subject of offshore abuses, the Senate might also have wanted to depose former top McCain fundraiser James Courter, who also resigned last week, after it was disclosed that his telecom firm, IDT, had been fined $1.3 million by the FCC for using a haven company in the Turks and Caicos to pay bribes to former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

        The Cases

        This crowded docket, combined with the UBS mea culpa, almost distracted us from the sordid details of the Levin Committee's actual findings.

        UBS: UBS opened its first American branch in 1939, and for all we know, has likely been facilitating tax fraud ever since, but the Senate investigation focused only on 2000 to 2007. During this period, even as UBS was sharply expanding its onshore US operations by acquiring Paine Webber, expanding in investment and retail banking, it also mounted a top-secret effort to recruit wealthy Americans, spirit their money to Switzerland and other havens and conceal their assets from the IRS.

        This program, aimed at people with a net worth of $40 million to $50 million each, was staffed by fifty to eighty senior calling officers and 1,000 client advisors. Based in Zurich, Geneva, and Lugano, each officer made two to ten surreptitious trips per year to the United States, calling on thirty to forty existing clients per visit and trying to recruit new ones by attending HNW (high net worth) watering holes like Miami's Art Basel and the UBS Regatta in Newport. By 2007, this program had garnered 20,000 American clients, with offshore assets at UBS alone worth $20 billion.

        To achieve these results, UBS established an elaborate formal training program, which coached bankers on how to avoid surveillance by US customs and law enforcement, falsify visas, encrypt communications, secretly move money in and out of the country and market security products even without broker/dealer licenses.

        Meanwhile, back in 2001, UBS had signed a formal "qualified intermediary" agreement with the US Treasury. Under this program, it agreed either to withhold taxes against American clients who had Swiss accounts and owned US stocks, or disclose their identities. However, when UBS's American clients refused to go along with these arrangements, the bank just caved in and lied to the US government. Eventually, it concealed 19,000 such clients, partly by helping to form hundreds of offshore companies. This cost the US Treasury an estimated $200 million per year in lost taxes.

        In early July 2008, a US court approved a "John Doe" subpoena for UBS, demanding the identities of these 19,000 undisclosed clients. However, as of last week's Senate hearing, UBS has refused to disclose them. While it maintains that it is no longer accepting new Swiss accounts from Americans, it is also insisting on the distinction between "tax fraud" and "tax evasion," reserving full disclosure only for cases involving criminal tax fraud, which is much harder to prove under Swiss law. This means it may be difficult to ever know whether it has kept its commitments.

        Ultimately UBS got caught, not by virtue of diligent law enforcement, much less the Senate's investigation, but by sheer accident. In late June, Bradley Birkenfeld, a senior private banker who'd worked with UBS from 2001 until late 2005 out of Switzerland, and then continued to service the same clients from Miami, pleaded guilty to helping dozens of wealthy American clients launder money. His name surfaced when his largest client, Igor Olenicoff, a Russian emigré property developer from Southern California, was accidentally discovered by the IRS to be reporting much less income tax than he needed to justify his $1.6 billion measurement on the Forbes 400 list of billionaires.

        With Birkenfeld's help, Olenicoff succeeded in parking several hundred million of unreported assets offshore--including millions in accounts controlled by a Bahamian company that he said had been set by former Russian Premier Boris Yeltsin. Ultimately, Olenicoff settled with the IRS for $52 million in back taxes, one of the largest tax evasion cases in Southern California history, and also agreed to repatriate $346 million from Switzerland and Liechtenstein. In theory he faced up to three years of jail time, but--following standard US practice of going easy on big-ticket tax evaders who have no "priors"--he received only two years probation and three weeks of community service.

        As noted, Olenicoff also gave up his UBS private bankers, including Birkenfeld, who plead guilty in June to facilitating tax fraud and is now awaiting sentencing--the first US prosecution of a foreign private banker in history. It was Birkenfeld's revelations, in turn, that led to the disclosure of UBS' program for wealthy Americans, and at least one-half of the Senate investigation.

        The most important point is that this entire program would clearly have been impossible without the knowledge and approval of the bank's most senior officials in Switzerland, and probably some senior US executives as well -- although the Committee did not press this point. As former UBS CEO Peter Wuffli once said, "A company is only as ethical as its people." From this standpoint, we have reason to be concerned that UBS's behavior may repeat itself, so long as so many of these same senior executives remain in place.

        LGT: For all its pretensions to nobility, Liechtenstein is well-known in the trade as the "place for money with the stains that won't come out," a flexible jurisdiction whose "trusts" and "foundations" are basic necessities for everyone from Colombian drug lords and the Saudi royals to the Suhartos, Marcoses, Russian oligarchs, and Sicilian mafia.

        As detailed by the Senate investigation, LGT Group has certainly lived up to this reputation in the US market. It maintained a program that was, if anything, even more sophisticated and discreet than that of UBS for large fortunes. Among its specialties: setting up conduit companies in bland places like Canada, allowing clients to transfer money without attracting attention; leaving the designation of "beneficiaries" up to corporations controlled by potential beneficiaries themselves, a neat way of avoiding "know your customer" rules; rarely visiting clients at home, let alone mailing, e-mailing, or phoning them, certainly never from a Liechtenstein post office, Internet address, or area code; shifting the names of trust beneficiaries to very old folks just before death to make it look like a repatriation of capital was an inheritance.

        In terms of precise trade craft, indeed, LGT had it all over UBS. It only really got caught red-handed when it tried to modernize and trusted Heinrich Kieber, a fellow citizen and IT expert ,who turned out to be either a valiant whistleblower, a well-paid extortionist (he was paid $7.5 million by the German IRS alone for his DVDs), or both.

        The Implications

        So what do we learn from all this? Many will consider these revelations shocking. After all, just as the US government is facing a $500 billion deficit, millions of Americans are fighting to save their homes, cars, and college educations from the consequences of predatory lending, and inequalities of wealth and income are greater than at any time since the late 1920s, we learn that for decades, the world's largest banks have been helping wealthy Americans steal billions in tax revenues from the rest of us. At the very least, this suggests that it may be time to put the issue of big-ticket tax evasion, offshore and on, back on the front burner. But we also need historical perspective. Those who have studied this subject for decades also realize that achieving reform in this arena is not a matter of a few criminal prosecutions. It is a continuous game, requiring persistence and constant adaptations to the opponents, because we are playing against some of the world's most powerful vested interests, with huge fortunes at stake.

        After all, offshore tax evasion by wealthy Americans is hardly new. For example, in May 1937, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. wrote a lengthy letter to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, explaining why tax revenues had failed to meet his expectations despite a sharp rise in tax rates. Some rich folks didn't mind paying up, given the hard times so many Americans were facing during the Depression. As Edward Filene, the Boston department store magnate, famously remarked, "Why shouldn't the American people take half their money from me? I took all of it from them." However, according to Morgenthau, many other rich people busied themselves inventing new ways to dodge taxes, notably by secreting funds offshore in brand new havens like the Bahamas, Panama, and.... Newfoundland!

        Scroll forward to the Castle Bank and Trust case of the early 1970s, when another IRS investigation of offshore banking disclosed a list of several hundred wealthy Americans who'd set up trusts in the Bahamas and Cayman Islands. Just as the investigation was picking up steam and the names were about to be publicized, a new IRS Commissioner came in and shut it down--officially because the otherwise-lawless Nixon Administration suddenly got concerned about due process. Few names on the list--a copy of which appears in my forthcoming book, Pirate Bankers, were ever investigated.

        Scroll forward now to the late 1990s, when the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the European Union and the US Treasury once again became excited about offshore tax havens. As the EU launched its "savings tax directive" on cross-border interest, a Cayman banker surfaced to report that more than 95 percent of his nearly 2,000 clients were Americans, and the IRS discovered 1 million to 2 million Americans using credit cards from offshore banks. Meanwhile, the OECD's favorite tool became the "blacklist." A list of thirty-five to forty "havens" was evaluated on the basis of abstract criteria like the quality of anti-money laundering programs and the willingness to negotiate information sharing agreements.

        Unfortunately this "name and shame" approach didn't have much success. First, the OECD had no success against jurisdictions like Monaco, Andorra, and Liechtenstein that are basically shameless. Second, the OECD's definition of "haven" was highly selective. It omitted many emerging havens like Dubai, the Malaysian island of Labuan, Estonia, Singapore, and for certain purposes even Denmark, whose importance has recently increased. As we'll see, it also ignored the role of major onshore havens like London and New York, which have been very attractive to the world's non-resident rich, especially from the developing world.

        Third, blacklisting havens focused on the wrong dimension. As Senator Levin's hearing has underscored, the real problem is a global pirate banking industry that cuts across individual havens, and includes many of our largest, most influential commercial and investment banks, hedge funds, law firms, and accounting firms. From their standpoint, it doesn't much matter whether a particular haven survives, so long as others turn up to take their place in providing anonymity, security, and low-tax returns. Up to now, despite blacklisting, the supply of new tax haven vehicles has been very elastic.

        On the other hand, as the UBS and LGT cases show, the dominant players in global private banking are relatively stable institutions--which makes sense, given their clients' need for stable sanctuaries. This suggests that it makes more sense to focus on regulating institutions than regulating or blacklisting physical places.

        Until the UBS case, this seemed to be much more difficult than, say, beating up on some tiny and distant sultry island for shady people. Even now, after the Birkenfeld case supplied the first private banker prosecution, we have yet to see the first criminal prosecution of a top-tier private bank--apart from BCCI in the early 1990s, which had already failed and was hardly top-tier.

        This is not because of a shortage of despicable behavior. For example, UBS, like most of its competitors in global private banking, has a long history of engaging in perfidious behavior, apologizing for it, and then turning back to the future. This includes UBS's involvement in South Africa's apartheid debt and the accounts scandals of the 1980s involving the Marcos family; Benazir Bhutto, Mobutu Sese Seko, Holocaust victims, and Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha in the 1990s; the 2001 Enron bankruptcy, and the Menem arms-purchasing scandal in Argentina; the 2003 Parmalat scandal; the 2004-2006 Iran/ Cuba/Saddam funds transfers scandal, for which it was fined $100 million by the Federal Reserve; the 2008 Massachusetts and New York securities fraud cases, and now the Birkenfeld matter. Furthermore, as the Committee report noted, UBS has a history of violating even its own policies. From this angle, unapologetic LGT is at least not hypocritical.

        It is also well to remember that UBS and LGT are hardly the only global private banks involved in recruiting wealthy clients to move money offshore. The Committee report indicates a long list of other banks that also provided offshore services to American clients involved in the UBS and LGT cases--including Citibank (Swiss), HSBC, Barclays (Birkenfeld's original employer), Credit Suisse, Lloyds TSB, Standard Chartered, Banque du Gotthard, Centrum, Bank Jacob Safra, and Bank of Montreal. In addition, there are dozens of other non-US and US banks that are also active in the offshore US private banking market. This suggests the shortcomings of a case-by-case prosecutorial approach, and the value of designing regulations to improve behavior and provide ongoing feedback about taxpayer compliance.

        In principle, one can imagine many such improvements in regulation, assuming a compliant Congress. For example, as proposed in the "Stop Haven Abuses Act" (S-681) introduced in 2006 and revised in February 2007 by Senators Levin, Coleman, and Obama, there would be a rebuttable presumption that offshore shell corporations and trusts are owned by those who establish them. This would eliminate the "Q.I. rule" exception, which allowed hundreds of UBS clients to avoid reporting to the IRS simply by moving their assets to into shell companies.

        We could also institute many other changes, including an increase in the painfully short, three-year statute of limitations for investigating and proposing changes in offshore tax liabilities; tightening up on anti-money laundering legislation; levying withholding taxes against hedge funds; raising the penalties for abusive tax shelters, and requiring banks that open offshore entities for US clients to report them to the US Treasury.

        Key Tasks

        However, most of these proposed rule changes have the flavor of stopgaps, technical gimmicks that are still far too focused on individual taxpayers rather than the private banking industry--the advisers, enablers, and systems operators. If we're right that this industry had become an unregulated, untaxed black hole--a multi-billion-dollar global "bad"--we need to focus on two key tasks.

        The first is to create appropriate incentives for the global private banking industry to do the right thing. We need to find ways to tax the behavior of tax-evading institutions, their CEOs, senior managers, and even shareholders, to punish them for more misbehavior, and perhaps also reward them for bringing the money home with a brief one-time tax amnesty. In the short run, there have to be more Bradley Birkenfelds, more exposés, and more penalties for banks and bankers alike. Mere apologies, however heartfelt, should not be enough.

        The second challenge is to organize a global alliance around this issue. This is more difficult, although steps are already being taken. Global organizations like Tax Justice International, Oxfam GB, Friends of the Earth, Global Witness, and Christian Aid are converging on a new global campaign around the issue of havens and offshore tax evasion. They've been enlisting support for this effort from countries like Norway, Chile, Brazil, Spain, and France, organizations like the UNDP, the World Bank, and even the International Monetary Fund.

        This is very exciting, but the organizers face one critical problem--the fact there are serious conflicts of interest among developed and developing countries. The fact is that the United States, the UK and other developed countries not only lose tax revenue to haven banking; they also profit from it, because their own banks are so deeply engaged in it, especially when it involves developing countries.

        Back in April 1986, this author broke the story that Citibank was actually taking far more capital out of Latin America and other developing countries than it was lending to them, despite its reputation as the largest Third-World lender. Indeed, the business of helping Third-World elites decapitalize their own countries had become so large and lucrative that Citi's private banking group was the bank's single most profitable division.

        To achieve that feat, Citigroup resorted to skullduggery and the flouting of local laws all over the planet. This included repeatedly sending teams of private bankers undercover to countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela; helping to set up thousands of shell companies and bank accounts in offshore havens and secretly transferring funds to them; teaching its clients money-laundering tricks like mis-invoicing and back-to-back loans; designing ways to communicate with clients that kept their financial secrets safe; and overall, concealing vast sums of flight capital from Third World tax authorities (and their competitors), while lobbying Congress to insure that any foreign capital that arrived in the United States enjoyed near-zero taxes and near-Swiss secrecy. For a time the resulting tax breaks and lax banking rules that applied to "nonresident aliens" from other countries made the United States, in effect, one of the world's largest tax havens.

        In short, from the 1970s to the 1990s, banks like Citigroup, BankAmerica, and JP Morgan Chase (and UBS, Credit Suisse, RBS, Paribas and Barclays, etc.) were behaving throughout the Third World just as badly as UBS has recently been behaving here. And their very success laid the foundations for the global, private-haven banking industry with which the IRS is now struggling.

        At the time, it seemed that their behavior was hurtful mainly to the developing world, which wasn't strong enough to hold Senate hearings and put Citibankers in jail. But lately it has become clear that the system has grown large enough to consume its creators.

        In the last thirty years, fueled by the globalization of financial services, lousy lending, capital flight, and mind-boggling corruption, a relatively small number of major banks, law firms, accounting firms, asset managers, insurance companies, and hedge funds have come to launder and conceal at least $10 trillion to $15 trillion of private untaxed anonymous cross-border wealth.

        Rich people the world over, including tens of thousands of wealthy Americans, are now free to opt in to this sophisticated, secretive, utterly unprincipled global private banking industry. They can become, in effect, residents of nowhere for tax purposes, citizens of a brave new virtual country, which offers its inhabitants unprecedented freedom from the taxes, regulations, and moral restraints that the rest of us take for granted. They wield enormous political influence even without paying taxes, merely by making contributions, threatening to withhold them--or better yet, threatening to abscond with their capital unless certain conditions are met. In a sense, this is the ultimate libertarian pipe dream: representation without taxation. But it is a nightmare for the rest of us, and we must design and organize our way around it.

        Afterword

        Let me just add one paragraph for those in the audience who don’t automatically stand up and cheer every time someone figures out a new way to boost tax revenues, even through better law enforcement.

        Why should we care whether Davy Jones is clever enough to fiddle with his IRS bill, even by way of offshore banks?  Wouldn’t the funds just be wasted if they went to the government rather than to finance Davy’s yacht tender in Marbella? Or won’t the government just borrow and spend anyway, regardless of revenues?

        Well, in these  straightened times, with a gargantuan federal deficit, most state and local governments running out of debt capacity, stagflation, a weak dollar,  private debt at record levels, and rising unemployment,  just imagine that every extra dollar for that yacht tender is coming right out of  the funds available for schools, teachers, hospitals, roads, police, and fire protection – local services. The free lunches have all been mortaged, or given away in capital gains tax cuts for the same social class that is also are evading what little taxes they still have to pay.  Meanwhile,  $1 spent on a yacht tender goes right to the bottom, while $1 spent on  food, salaries, or even roads has a much greater multipler, and benefits a more deserving class. 

        Perhaps best of all, think of the difference between giving an exra $1 to the hard-working child care worker down the street, compared with $1 to some wealthy scion of a giant shopping mall dynasty who spends his life just trying to spend his inheritance.

                                                                            ***

        About James S. Henry

        James S. Henry is a New York-based investigative journalist who has written widely on the problems of tax havens, debt, and development. His most recent book, The Blood Bankers (Basic Books, 2005), examined where the money went that was loaned to eight developing nations. His forthcoming book, Pirate Bankers (2009), examines the history and structure of the global private banking industry.

        July 24, 2008 at 01:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

        Tuesday, July 01, 2008

        THE EDUCATION OF DR. PHIL GRAMM
        UBS Role Raises Basic Questions About McCain's Key Economic Adviser
        James S. Henry

        "A company is only as ethical as its people." 
        -- Peter Wuffli, x UBS CEO

        John McCain has long since admitted that he has a great deal to learn when it comes to economics.  But it turns out that hisMccain own chief economic advisor,  former US Senator Dr. Phil Gramm, has also needed rather extensive retraining lately. Unfortunately this has been acquired mainly at the expense of millions of US home buyers, honest taxpayers, former Enron employees, and would-be enforcers of our (bank-driven,  loophole-ridden) anti-money laundering laws.

        GRAMM CRACKERS

        Gramm, a somewhat goofy-looking, deceptively slow-talking business economist from Georgia, spent 12 years teaching economics at Texas A&M before getting elected to Congress as a conservative Democrat in 1978. By 1982 he'd switched sides, joining the Reagan Revolution to become one of the Republican Party's most outspoken champions of deregulation, tax cuts, and spending controls -- so long as this didn't affect his pet interest groups.

        Enron In the next two decades,  Dr. Gramm was perhaps the Senate's leading proponent of  financial services deregulation, weakened restrictions commodity trading, credit cards, consumer banking, and predatory lending practices, in addition to leading the fight against Hillary Clinton's health insurance reforms. As chairman of the Senate Banking Committee from 1996 to 2000, he was a key author of legislation that eliminated most of the legal barriers between US banks, brokerages, investment banks, and insurance companies that had been in place since the 1930s.

        Phil was also a determined opponent of tougher IRS tax enforcement, and a principal author of a 2000 law that exempted companies like Enron from regulation for online energy trading activities. Of course this made sound economic sense. After all, Phil's wife Wendy was a member of Enron's board, and Enron was Phil's largest corporate contributor in the 1990s.

        In 2000-2002, both before and after 9/11, Phil also became the key opponent of tougher anti-money laundering regulations, and -- not coincidentally-- one of the largest recipients of contributions from the powerful financial services lobby. Among independent journalists, all this helped to make him known by a variety of sobriquets, including "Foreclosure Phil," "Slick Philly," and "The Personal Representative of the Bank of Antigua."

        U-BS-er

        Images This track record stood Dr. Gramm in good stead when it came time to seek new employment in 2003, after the Republicans lost control of the Senate.  Naturally enough,  he gravitated toward his friends in the global private banking industry, whose noble calling it is to gather the assets of the world's wealthiest people and protect and conceal them from taxes, regulation, and expropriation, not to mention  embittered family members, ex-lovers and business partners,  and each other.   

        Since 2002, Dr. Gramm has served as Vice Chairman of UBS Investment Bank, which is owned by UBS AG, the largest Swiss bank, the world's 16th largest commercial bank,  and the world's largest private asset manager, with more than 80,000 employees and offices in 50 countries.

        Even after joining McCain's campaign during the summer of 2007, Dr. Gramm continued to serve as a registered Washington lobbyist for UBS from 2004 until April 2008, lobbying Congress to maintain weak restrictions on sub-prime lending and predatory lending.

        BAD TIMING

        In hindsight, Dr. Gramm's recent crusade for even more financial freedom turned out to be  ill-timed,  for several reasons.

        First, this was hardly the moment for even more financial deregulation than the US had already digested in the 1990s. After 2002, on Dr. Gramm's watch, UBS became one of the most world's aggressive banks, helping to foment and finance the sub-prime lending crisis that has already cost nearly three million Americans their homes, generated more than $250 billion in bank losses, and driven a $7.7 trillion hole in global equity markets.

        Since November 2007 UBS alone has written off $37 billions in mortgage-related assets, the largest write-off for any Ubsstock62008bank.  In July 2007, UBS's McKinsey-trained CEO, Peter Wuffli, was forced to resign, and in April 2008 its $24 million -per-year Chairman, Marcel Ospel, was given the toe. Since then its stock price has plummeted more than 70 percent,  to its lowest level since 2002.

        Meanwhile, the bank also revealed itself to be curiously insensitive to US financial regulations. For example, in May 2004, it was fined $100 million by the US Federal Reserve for violating an embargo on funds transfers to countries like Iran and Cuba. 

        Finally, it now turns out that Dr.Gramm's  colleagues at the bank have also been up to their eyeballs in yet another dubious business:  helping up to 20,000 wealthy American tax cheats hide their wealth offshore and commit outright tax fraud, cheating the IRS out of tens of $billions in tax revenue.

        SWISS CHEESE

        Late last month, Bradley Birkenfield, a senior private banker who'd worked with UBS from 2001 until 2006 out of Switzerland, and then continued to service their clients out of Miami,  pleaded guilty to helpingOlenicoffincourt21 dozens of his wealthy American clients launder their money. His name had originally surfaced when  a Southern California billionaire property developer, Igor M. Olenicoff, had been discovered by the IRS to be paying much less income tax than his status on the Forbes 400 list status warranted.

        With the help of Birkenfield and other UBS private bankers, Olenicoff, who'd first established offshore accounts as early as 1992, succeeded in parking at least several hundred million of unreported assets offshore.(Download bankers-indicment-in-florida.pdf)

        Ultimately Olenicoff settled with the IRS for $52 million in back taxes, one of the largest tax evasion cases in Southern California history. He also agreed to repatriate $346 million that he had parked in Switzerland and Liechtentstein.

        In theory he also faced up to 3 years of jail time, but in practice -- following the standard US practice of going easy on big-ticket tax evaders with no priors -- his maxmum exposure was just six months under standard US sentencing guidelines. Indeed, ultimately Olenicoff only got two years probation and 3 weeks of "community service."   

        One also gets the sense that this case was a bit like the cat pulling on the sweater yarn. According to Forbes, Olenicoff reported that many of his other foreign accounts were controlled by Sovereign Bancorp Ltd., a Bahamian company that he claimed had been set by former Russian Premier Boris Yeltsin.

        Images_2 In any case, in the process of making up for lost time with the IRS,  Olenicoff also gave up his two UBS private bankers, Birkenfield, and According to Birkenfield, he was just one of more than 50 UBS private bankers who visited the US out of Switzerland each quarter. This case,  the first US prosecution of a foreign private banker ever, signals that even the Bush Administration has become fed up with the estimated $100 billion per year in lost tax revenues that such practices are costing, and has decided to make an example of Dr. Gramm's employers.

        UBS'  sin was that it took "you be us" a step too far.  Like other major global banks, UBS AG had signed a "qualified intermediary" agreement with the US Treasury in 200(x), giving its corporate word that it would either insure that its clients were not US citizens, or withhold appropriate taxes. But when UBS AG's American clients refused to go along with such arrangements, UBS just caved in and lied to the US Government. 

        As a result, despite his cooperation, Birkenfield, the former UBS private banker,  is likely get serious jail time this August. Meanwhile, the DOJ has just  issued a "John Doe" summons to UBS AG, requiring it to turn over the identify of its entire list of wealthy American clients. The head of UBS AG's Global Private Banking business unit has been arrested and detained in the US on "material witness" charges, pending resolution of this dispute.  The private banker's wealthy clients are experiencing the tender mercies of the IRS's tax fraud department as we speak -- not only from this US case, but also from the recent scandal involving Liechtenstein's largest bank, where many UBS clients were also channeled.  UBS's shareholders all over the globe must be quaking in their boots, fearing the bank could be subject to massive fines or even a corporate indictment that would prevent it from doing business in the US ever again.

        QUESTIONS FOR DR. PHIL

        The questions for Dr. Gramm arising out of these scandals are many.   

        • First,  was Dr. Gramm completely unaware that UBS AG had organized this massive illicit global campaign to elicit capital flight from the US and other "honest-tax" jurisdictions,  conceal it in low-tax havens like Liechtenstein,  and completely shelter it from the taxes that ordinary taxpayers have little choice but to pay?
        • Second, are any of these 20,000 wealthy tax cheats from Texas?  Does Dr. Phil know any of them personally? 
        • Third,  what kind of changes, if any,  in laws pertaining to "qualified intermediaries," offshore havens, private banking, and international tax havens does Dr. Gramm believe are necessary? Would he, for example, support the reform bill on foreign havens and "qualified intermediary" rules that Senators Levin and Obama have co-authored? Precisely when will John McCain sign up to endorse that legislation?
        • Fourth, what else has Dr. Phil learned from all these cases?  Has he changed any of his views on the morality of tax dodging, money laundering, and predatory lending?  Is all this just a matter of "sauve qui peut" -- of whatever we can all get away with, especially the rich?  Does John McCain agree with him on such matters?  What then remains, alas, of "patriotism" and "national sacrifice," two of McCain's favorite leitmotifs?
        • Finally, given that John McCain really does need sound advice on economic issues like the mortgage crisis, taxation, and money laundering from a "qualified intermediary" of his own,  does all this experience really qualify Dr. Phil Gramm to fill the bill?

        (c) SubmergingMarkets 2008

        July 1, 2008 at 08:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

        Sunday, May 11, 2008

        BRINGING THE WAR BACK HOME (Part I.)
        Jordan C. Haerter, 19, Killed In Ramadi
        James S. Henry

        "To save this world, you asked this man to die.
        Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?"
        -- Auden

        Sag_harbor_3Monday April 28th was an unusually chilly wet morning in Sag Harbor, New York, even for April, our "cruelest month."  But that didn't prevent more than a third of Sag Harbor's 2,200 year-around residents from lining the flag-lined streets and filling the Old Whalers' Church to capacity to mourn the loss of  US Marine Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, age 19.

        Even apart from the drizzle, there was hardly a dry eye in the38191822_2 village. The Rev. Steven Howarth offered a moving recollection of Jordan's short life, describing his popularity, impatience with book learning, determination to learn to fly at 16 and to join the military at 17, and his courage under fire. The minister asked the crowd to take comfort in the fact that Jordan would undoubtedly be granted eternal life in the after-world.

        After the service, a long cortege made its way slowly to Oakland Cemetery, where Jordan Haerter was buried with full military honors, accompanied by his family, dozens of classmates, scores of police, firemen, Marines in dress uniform,  local American Legion members, and a squadron of motorcyclists Funeral068_2from an organization called the Patriotic Guard. More than a hundred school children from Jordan's former elementary school stood in the rain across from the church, carrying little star-spangled American flags and signs that read, "We will remember." Every local newspaper, radio station, and TV station in the Hamptons carried extensive coverage of the funeral and Jordan's story.

        Everyone agreed that Jordan had behaved courageously in Iraq, and that his death was a tragic loss for the whole community.

        Standing in the rain that day, and at the wake the afternoon before, I found myself struggling with very mixed emotions about this young man's death. On the one hand, I was proud of his courage and sacrifice. On the other, I couldn't help wondering why on earth he had decided to enlist and serve in a war that for many years has been so discredited. Who was responsible for that? Was this only George Bush's war, or do we all bear some responsibility for the fact that young men and women from all across this country -- not to mention scores of Iraqis -- continue to die every day?  Given the fact that bad wars  will continue to be a reality, what special responsibility do military recruiters, high school principles, teachers, guidance counselors, religious and political leaders, veterans, and other leaders in the community bear for at least making sure that the Jordan Haerters of this world make truly-informed decisions when they enlist?   

        YET ANOTHER STATISTIC

        Less than one week earlier, Jordan had become another statistic in the seemly-interminable Iraq War. At approximately 7:30 a.m. Baghdad time on April 22nd, Jordan and another Marine had been killed by a suicide bomber at a military checkpoint in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province in Iraq. Two Iraqi policemen and 24 other Iraqis were also injured in the incident.

        According to military sources, Haerter, an ace rifleman -- his platoon's  "high shooter" --  was credited with shooting the driver of the bomb-laden truck before it detonated, quite possibly saving the lives of more than 30 Marines and Iraqis who were standing nearby.

        Haerter became Sag Harbor's first Iraq War casualty, and indeed, its first combat fatality since World War II. He was also the first Suffolk County resident, 31st Long Islander, 203rd New Yorker, 4053rd American soldier (plus 186 contractors), and 253rd American 19-year old to die in Iraq since the US-backed invasion in March 2003.

        Jordan had been in Iraq just one month, on his very first trip ever outside the US.

        PREPARING FOR WAR

        Obithaerter

        Jordan, a life-long Sag Harbor resident,  was  the only child of Christian Haerter and JoAnn Lyles, who had been divorced in the 1990s. Christian, 50, ran a water treatment business and JoAnn, with whom Jordan lived, worked at a building supply company. Jordan's grandfather Werner, a tool-and-die maker at the local Bulova Watch plant until  it closed in 1981, had emigrated to Sag Harbor from Germany by way of Canada in 1953. He died in 1994, when Jordan was four. 

        Jordan was reportedly a well-liked, pretty conventional teenager with average-to-good grades and a bit of a willful streak. According to local newspaper accounts, his passions were for driving a small outboard motor boat on Peconic Bay, hanging out with his friends, driving his 1991 Toyota 4Runner on muddy back-trails around Sag Harbor, and eating his grandmother Lilly Haerter's spaetzle and home-grown blueberries.

        There was also flying. According to a widely-repeated story about Jordan, at age 16, he'd started taking flying lessons on his own, even though he had not informed his parents and was not yet old enough to legally drive himself to airport.

        Jordan was just as single-minded about joining the Marines. He and a high school classmate -- Josh DiStefano, one of his closest friends --  entered the US 38220457Marine Corps together in September 2006, just three months after graduating from Sag Harbor's Pierson High School, and one month after Jordan turned 18.

        According to another close friend, Jordan had met a Marine recruiter at Pierson's annual "Career Day" that spring. Soon after, at a meeting with a high school guidance counselor, he stunned his mother with the news that he had decided to join the Marines. 

        At the time Jordan was still just 17, so his parents still had to sign off on his four-year commitment to the Marines' delayed-entry program. They did so reluctantly, but without much opposition  -- they'd always encouraged Jordan to be action-oriented and to get a "real world" education.  Jordan apparently used the enlistment bonus that he collected from the Marines to buy a new Dodge Ram pickup truck -- the same truck that his friend Josh would drive in Jordan's April 28th funeral procession.

        WHERE WERE THE WARNING LABELS?

        Jordan's reasons for joining the Marines are not entirely clear. Of course most young men his age are now avoiding military service like the plague. That is one reason why there has  been a crisis in military recruiting.

        This, in turn,  is partly because the five-year old Iraq War is by now widely regarded by most Americans as an unmitigated fiasco, none of whose official justifications -- WMDs, Saddam's supposed ties to Al Qaeda, "democratization," or even the value of controlling Iraq's oil supplies -- have held up.

        At best we are now down to a faith-based argument about whether things will be more  or less disastrous if we exit the country now rather than at some ill-defined time in the future -- not exactly an inspiring ground for enlisting.

        What is clear that Iraq is a very dangerous way to spend one's youth. Not only have there been more than 4075 US military fatalities, but there have also been at least 30,000 Americans physically wounded, 3000-5000 of whom have injuries so severe that they probably would have died in earlier wars that lacked today's rapid medical evacuations.

        According to a RAND studyPtsd1 released in April, 31.7 percent, or 520,000 of the 1.64 million American military personnel who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001 also suffer from "post-traumatic stress syndrome" (PTSD), depression, and/or "traumatic brain injury" (TBI) induced by explosive devices. These "less visible" injuries have not only contributed  to a surge in suicides by US military personnel -- an estimated 6000 suicides in 2005 alone, growing at 20 percent in 2006-2007, with more than 12,000 attempts each year. Thus the number of  Iraq-related suicide deaths in the American military far exceeds the number of combat deaths.

        These mental injuries also impose a high cost on the families and friends of returning veterans, especially given the acute shortage of psychiatric care for returning veterans and their families. The Rand study found that only about half of those with such conditions were getting treatment, and half of those who have been treated got inadequate treatment.

        Ptsdap Some cynics have even suggested that the military's understatement of these problems is partly due to the fact that the US military is so dependent on "voluntary" reenlistment that it is afraid to focus on PTSD and TBI  -- both of which are amplified by the long tours of duty that troops are facing.

        There is also evidence that such battlefield risks are systematically understated by recruiters, who are under severe pressure to fill quotas. Certainly there are is nothing comparable to the hazard warnings, "truth in lending," and SEC  anti-fraud disclosure notices attached to, say,  cigarette packages, drug prescriptions, car purchases, mortgages, and private equity investments that apply to these life-and-death enlistment decisions by 17-19 year olds. This has lead to widespread demands for new "truth in recruiting" standards, and restrictions on recruiter access to the nation's public high schools.

        Finally, from an economic standpoint, military service -- now entirely voluntary, except for the "stop-loss" orders that has affected more than 80,000 reservists -- is simply not very competitive, as discussed below. Unless a student has virtually no civilian job alternatives, and either can't get into college  at all or can't afford to go, the military is likely to be a losing economic proposition, unless it somehow plays a role in some longer-term career plan (see below).

        WHAT WAS HE THINKING?

        As noted, Jordan's family says that his decision to join the Marines came as a complete surprise.

        While other family members had served in the military, there was no tradition of volunteering for duty in Jordan's family. His grandfather Werner, whom Jordan had known as a child, had been drafted into the German Army in World War II, and his other grandfather John Lyle had been drafted into the US Army. Jordan's father Christian had never served.381918131

        He spoke no foreign languages and,  as noted, he'd never traveled outside the US. In high school, he'd shown no particular interest in world events or history. Although he appears to have supported the War after enlisting, he'd never expressed strong feelings about the Iraq War before doing so.   

        From age five on, Jordan had enjoyed playing shoot-'em-up games on the computer, which he would later actually compare with some of his experiences in the military. He'd also insisted that his Halloween costumes, meticulously designed by his mother, be accurate copies of those worn by soldiers in America's Revolutionary War. But such interests didn't differ all that much from those of any other Sag Harbor boys.

        Nor does it seem that Jordan's decision to enlist in the Marines for the minimum term of four years strictly  a matter of short-term job opportunities. True, he had probably received a small ($10,000 or less) signing bounty for enlisting. At the time of his death, however, Lance Cpl Haerter's "E-3" pay grade was earning him just  $19,044 a year before taxes, plus food and housing allowances. By his fourth year in the service, depending on his rank, that might have increased to $25,000 per year at most -- less than $12 per hour. But that wage rate should have been easy for Jordan to beat in the Hamptons.   

        A TIDY PLAN

        What appears more likely is that Jordan's decision to enlist was part of a longer-term career plan, which tended to understate the risks of being a Marine in Iraq, and overstate the chances of using military service as a stepping stone.  His family says that after hisNew_logo_19 four-year commitment to the Marines, he intended to join the Sag Harbor Village Police Department, get married, and eventually take over his father's water treatment business.

        For the first 18 months of Jordan's enlistment,  this plan appeared to be on track. He was assigned to "the Walking Dead," Alpha Company,  First Battalion, the 9th Marine Regiment out of Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.  which had served with distinction in Vietnam, Korea, and World War II. After boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina and another year of training at Camp LeJeune and in northern Virginia and California, he was sent to Iraq in March 2008.

        Once there, things also seemed to go well at first.  On Monday April 21,  the very day before his death, Jordan's mother received a letter from him, in which Jordan reported that Iraq was "easier than I expected," and assured her that he would take care to return home safely.

        Unfortunately, as we'll discuss below,  all this overlooked just a few complexities -- the unpredictable, maniacal nature of the Iraq War, and the tensions that are deeply embedded in the US military's  "surge" strategy.....especially in Jordan's first and only Iraqi destination, Ramadi. (Continued in Part II.)

                                                 (c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008


         


        May 11, 2008 at 01:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

        Saturday, April 26, 2008

        THE CLINTONS ARE STILL AT LARGE!
        Part I. BLACKENING OBAMA, EVEN IF IT ELECTS JOHN MCCAIN
        James S. Henry

        For six months now, partly under the influence of Senator Barack Obama's refreshingly naiveAf057b9b4af44fceaec485c9fcbe01cb_2 quest  for a higher level of discourse in American politics, we've resisted the temptation to "go negative" on his arch-rival -- "Sir Hillary" Diane Rodham Clinton, the relentless one-and-one-third term New York Senator,  two-term First Lady, five-term Arkansas Governor's wife, and life-long honorary Queen of the State of Blind, Unbridled Ambition.   

        Along the way, we've watched aghast as some of our closest associates -- people who describe themselves as "Democrats" and "Hillary supporters," but really turn out to be Obama haters who threaten to vote for John McCain in November if Hillary is not the Democratic nominee -- have tried nearly every trick in the book to tear Obama down.   

        Clinton_blackfaceBLACK FACE

        For example, on January 4, 2008,  just one day after the Iowa primary, one pundit was overheard suggesting to members of Sir Hillary's inner circle that the best way to undermine Obama's surprisingly broad appeal would be to "blacken" him. 

        At the time, Hillary's campaign was still reeling from her third-place finish in Iowa, based on the fact that Barack had done so well across conventional racial, ethnic, gender, and age boundaries.   

        Evidently the advice was taken. This helps to explain Hillary's odd, a-historical comments on January 7 in New Hampshire, when she compared Lyndon Johnson's role in securing US civil rights legislation during the 1960s to that of Martin Luther King, Jr. ("It took a President to get it done."

        (Actually it took a mass protest movement, based on years of organization and lots of blood, sweat, and tears, to get it done. Hillary's inaccurate recollections about that period may be have been due to the fact that in 1964, at age 17, she had spent her time campaigning actively for Barry Goldwater, the Republican Presidential candidate who opposed the US Civil Rights Act.) Queenhillary

        This cynical tactic also helps to explain Bill Clinton's patronizing remarks in South Carolina on January 26, when he compared Obama's campaign to the Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1984 and 1988 Presidential bids -- as if Obama were just another "black niche" candidate. 

        The point is that these statements were deliberately made,  regardless of their merit, because the Clinton camp wanted to provoke rebuttals from prominent black celebrities like the Rev. Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and Spike Lee.

        Bill and Hillary probably knew full well that this might well cost them votes in a handful of states like South Carolina, where blacks are a majority of registered Democrats. Indeed, they were both widely criticized for their remarks.

        However,  in their cynical calculus, what really mattered was that the official black response would remind white voters elsewhere that  while Senator Obama might seem to be "articulate and bright and clean" (in Joe Biden's memorable description),  he's really just (as one anonymous Clinton campaign adviser put it) "the black candidate."

        DIE HARDISM...OR WORSE?

        In the short term, many observers thought that such cynical tactics had backfired. Indeed they may have. Contrary to Hillary's best laid plans, Barack not only survived "Super Tuesday" on February 5, but went on to acquire a commanding lead in delegates.

        Even after the most recent machine-state primary in Pennsylvania, Barack still leads by at least 133 delegates. If the latest polls in the remaining nine primaries hold up,  Hillary would need  to capture at least 73 percent of the remaining unpledged "super delegates" to win. (Click on the chart below.)Chartone4262008_2

        Unfortunately, this situation appears to have only redoubled the Clintons' willingness to engage in McCarthyite tactics, including  race-baiting and "guilt by association,"  regardless of the impact on the Democratic Party's chances in November.

        The Clintons are notorious for pursuing their own interests at the expense of the Party (just ask Bill Bradley, Al Gore, and John Kerry). But this spectacle is setting new records.

        These tactics include trying to smear Senator Obama with the radical views of the Rev. Wright, the Rev. James Meeks, or even the Rev. Louis Farrakhan; reminding people of the Senator's admitted occasional drug use 25 years ago (as compared with Gov. Bill Clinton's denied, much heavier use of cocaine during the same period); and attacking Obama for having a few corrupt contributors in Chicago ("...NOT Chicago!!!") like Antoin "Tony" Rezko (compared with the Clintons' legions of corrupt contributors); and associating Obama with former Weatherman and now Distinguished University of Chicago Prof. William Ayers, who was never convicted of anything (while Bill Clinton had sought fit to pardon two formerRezkojpg_20080125_08_09_45_4128240 Weathermen who'd been convicted of involvement in terror-related crimes.)

        The tactics also include promoting the idea that Obama can't possibly appeal to white working -class voters, Hispanics, Jews, or Catholics in battleground states, simply because.... well, you see, the country may just not be "ready" for a "black" President -- whatever those terms mean.

        Of course the Clintons argue that dwelling on such material now is justified because Karl Rove and the Republicans would only focus on it later. Furthermore, Obama's prolonged side-show with his former pastor appears to have done a perfectly job of undermining his campaign without much help from them.

        This is mostly self-serving flim-flam. The fact is that Hillary & Co. have run a terrible campaign, and are now reduced to relying on hyping bogus issues like Rev. Wright rather than talking about real issues.

        If the Clintons had not underestimated Obama so badly, they would have At this point, if they believe that the Democratic Party will reject Obama and opt for Hillary, they are delusional -- such a move would only lead the majority of Party activists that has supported Obama overwhelmingly to sit this election out.  By continuing to battle Obama down all the way to the convention, the Clinton machine is wasting precious attention and resources that ought to be devoted to attacking the real enemy.

        THE AGENDA

        So why are the Clintonistas employing these Die-Hard, polarizing, kamikaze-style tactics?

        Well, first, the hard-core stormtroopers down in the Bunker actually still hope to achieve a "Hail Mary" knock-out in the last few primaries,  shocking the super-delegates into a wholesale defection from Obama. They simply can't admit that it is far too late for anything other than an Obama candidacy.

        Taking Second, Clinton supporters have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this battle, and many of them have been preparing for it literally for decades. Many of them genuinely resent Obama's upstart campaign, and feel entitled to reclaim their White House.

        Third,  many (highly-paid) Clinton campaign operatives are not exactly looking forward to seeking real jobs in the midst of a recession.

        Fourth,  key Clinton supporters desperately fear being left out in the cold if Obama wins the nomination, let alone the Presidency, for as much as another eight years. Especially for those in Hillary's "boomer" generation, that's an eternity.

        Finally, and most cynically of all, if 72-year old John McCain wins the Presidency, the odds are that he will only last one term. That would give Hillary another shot in four years.

        Whereas if 47-year old Obama wins, he might well last two terms -- by which time Hillary will be approaching dotage and Bill Clinton will be in a retirement community for sexual predators. 

        From the standpoint of naked Clinton self-interest, therefore,  the cynical calculus prevails again.

        You see, it is a far far better thing to go after one's fellow Democrat with all the malevolence that one can muster, even at the risk of ruining his chances this November, than to withdraw now and help his chances.

        Naturally this kind of cynical strategy has attracted all kinds of miscreants, Republicans-in-sheeps' clothing, stragglers, pimps, shills, camp followers, and hangers-on.

        There ought to be a special place in Hell for such people. 

        But if there is not, we should endeavor to create one right here on Earth.

        (c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008




        April 26, 2008 at 04:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

        Thursday, April 17, 2008

        SNATCHING VICTORY?
        The Democrats Descend Into the Politics of Mutually-Assured Destruction
        James S. Henry

        On an occasion of this kind, it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one's mind. It becomes a pleasure.

        -- Oscar Wilde

        Isn't this a pretty picture?  080204news_election_3

        On the one hand, after seven long years of catastrophic incompetence in Washington, our country is literally begging for new ideas and leadership, especially from the erstwhile Party of the Opposition.

        Recent polls show that an unprecedented 81 percent of Americans believe their country is "on the wrong track," while President Bush's approval rating has sunk to an all-time low of 28 percent. There is a growing popular demand for decisive government action on any number of issues that have been festering while "Nero" Bush and "Imperator" Cheney have been fiddling.

        THE DEMAND FOR CHANGE

        John "McSame's" feisty personality notwithstanding, this is not the ideal moment to be plumping for free-market solutions, let alone more tax cuts for the extremely rich,  hands-off deregulation for our wondrous mortgage banking, health care, automotive, airlines, handgun, coal-fired utility, and social insurance industries, and the unending prospect of more unilateral, open-ended wars.

        No -- this is a time that cries out for smart, can-do, progressive, and -- yes -- youthful government.

        Its precise slogan should be:  Yes, we had better -- or else.

         
        REAL ISSUES

        At the risk of depressing our readers, among the many tough issues that demand this  pragmatic approach right now are the following:

        >Containing the mortgage crisis and the deep recession that it has produced.
        >
        Withdrawing from Iraq as soon as possible, while discouraging Iran from filling the void.
        >
        Intensifying the hunt for Bin Laden, without losing Pakistan and Afghanistan to a Taleban revival.
        >
        Protecting our nation against the genuine on-going global terrorist menace.
        >
        Fixing our high-cost, inhumane health insurance system once and for all.
        >
        Biting the bullet on climate change and global warming.1101940404_400_2
        >
        Rebuilding public education and college assistance
        .
        >
        Guaranteeing the financial integrity of Social Security and Medicare.
        >
        Restoring civil liberties and reversing the drift toward a state of siege.
        >
        Reviving American's reputation in the world and its relations with key allies.

        20080404_poll_graphic190> Revising our increasingly disfunctional "free trade" agreements.
        >Reviving efforts to prosecute corrupt politicians, war profiteers, and big-ticket tax evaders to the limits of the law, as opposed to granting them Presidential pardons.
        >Slashing government waste, especially the bloated $800+billion "total war"  budget and the huge agro-industry subsidies that are literally wiping out poor farmers all over the world. 

        All together,  this adds up to a demand for nothing less than at least a decade of intense regime change right here at home.

        THE SUPPLY OF CHANGE ?

        Is the Party of the Opposition up to this challenge?  Unfortunately, the habitually ham-handed Democratic Party,  as well as much of broadcast journalism,  have responded to the soaring demand for substantive change and attention to real issues by focusing on.....Well, what, exactly?

        Hilarydailynews Let's see.  If last night's televised debate in Philadelphia is any indication, both candidate Hillary Clinton and the news media -- or at least pro-Hillary flacks like ABC News' George Stephanopoulos and the ponderous, self-important Charles Gibson --  are far more concerned with (1) Obama's Rev. Wright's alleged relationships with Rev. Farrakhan and a visiting Hamas associate, (2) Obama's even more tangential relationship with an obscure former Chicago "Weatherman" named Ayers, (3)his recent (really quite defensible) "Bittergate" comments about the roots of working-class culture, and (4) the torturous question of whether or not the Junior Senator from Illinois should demonstrate his patriotism by wearing a flag pin on his lapel.

        >>As if Hillary and Bill have not accumulated a long list of even more dubious relationships,  several of whom had to be pardoned.

        >>As if  Stephanopolous did not get his questions about Ayers directly from Fox News' mad-hatter host Sean Hannity the day before the debate.

        >> As if there were not -- by definition -- quite a few other black males at Louis Farrakhan's  rather successful 1995 "Million Man March" in Washington, D.C.  -- at least 670,000 to 1 million, according to one careful aerial survey.

        >>As if one could find a single photo on the Internet of John McCain wearing a flag pin -- although George W. Bush wears one all the time. George_w_bush

        >>As if Gibson and his sidekick did not tilt so far to starboard in their questioning that one Washington Post journalist titled his review,  "In Pa. Debate, The Clear Loser Is ABC."

        LAST GASP

        This attempt to focus on a series of jaundiced Obama "gotchas" is actually a sign of Hillary's increasing desperation. 

        Obviously she is furious at having been repeatedly up-staged and out-campaigned over the past year -- despite her vast experience, wealth, and connections with wealthy donors and lobbyists, not to mention Bill. The smooth-talking Chicago upstart with the Harvard Law degree and the Bill Clinton-like hard luck story is actually trying to deprive her of her rightful place in history!

        Hillary's focus on character assassination also reflects her sheer frustration at the fact that Obama now clearly has the inside track for the nomination.

        This has not been a pleasant month for Ms.Clinton. She's just fired her long-time campaign strategist, after firing her campaign manager. She's just been caught in a bald-face lie about coming under fire in Tuzla. Her lead in Pennsylvania has dropped to five points. With just 10 primaries left to go, Obama is now at least 139 delegates ahead. Even if Hillary captures, as expected, more than half of the delegates elected in these primaries, she will still need to win two-thirds of the remaining 319 uncommitted "superdelegates."  Obama just needs 125. (Click on chart.)Slideone_2

        That's a pretty large gap for Hillary to overcome -- especially considering the fact that Obama's fund-raising machine allows him to outspend his rival by two-to-one in key states.

        This explains Hillary's increasing reliance on negative advertising in Pennsylvania and the other primary states, her endless repetitions of the Rev. Wright and "Bittergate" story, and her grasping at all those other petty straws in last night's debate -- even while conceding that Obama, with all his flaws, could still beat John McCain in November.

        In short, those of us who long for probing discussions of serious issues will probably have to look elsewhere than Hillary, let alone ABC News.  And we should certainly not expect to hear much about them until Hillary faces facts and does the right thing -- which, just to spell it out for her clearly, is not to remain in this race "until the last dog dies."

        (c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008      

          

         




         

         

         


         

        April 17, 2008 at 05:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

        Tuesday, February 12, 2008

        John McCain: "No We Can't"
        Reviving The "Daisy" Strategy in 2008
        James S. Henry

        Mccain_bomb_4 My friends:  we have spent far too much time and treasure on the prolonged, intense, but ultimately intra-familial and largely issues-free beauty contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.   

        Now that that contest is finally drawing to a close, it is time for us to focus like a gamma-ray laser on the real enemy in the fast-approaching November 2008 Presidential election -- Senator John McCain, the bellicose 5'7" septuagenarian fly-boy from Arizona.  

        What is it about Air Force-trained Republican Senators from Arizona, anyway? 

        Mccain_bushhug767929_3 In many respects this year's race recalls 1964, when Senator Barry Goldwater, another war-mongering, outspoken, short-tempered Air Force veteran and Republican Presidential candidate from Arizona,  scared the B'Jesus out of the entire country with his threats to use nuclear weapons preemptively ("Let's lob a nuclear bomb into the men's room at the Kremlin").

        Usually such pro-war designs are kept well hidden until after the election, as the Bush Administration did in 2000 --  and, indeed, as President Lyndon Johnson did in the 1964 election, when he made Goldwater out to be a mad-man (the "Daisy" strategy," after the notorious political ad by that name: Download 20_johnson_64.mov). Johnson conveniently failed to tell the public during the election campaign that he was also a mad-man, already planning to park more than 500,000 US troops in Vietnam within a year.   

        In any case, not since 1964 have the Democrats faced a Republican candidate who is as openly pro-war as John McCain is. This should provide them with  a remarkable opportunity for party unity,  a clear brand, and victory in November.     

        Gopteam_071664r1 However, it is very important to reunite the Party and get moving. McCain is already attracting fuzzy-minded support from  moderate Democrats and independents who are beguiled by his tough-guy "maverick" image -- especially lower middle-class white males who are (a) bearing the brunt of this year's  economic downturn, and (b) not entirely comfortable with voting for either  Barack  ("the black guy"_ or ("that woman") Hillary. Oddly enough, many of these folks also claim to be anti-war.

        Partly because the Democrats have been so distracted by their own interminable (..19 debates??!...six months of primaries?) nominating process, the most  telling criticisms of John McCain have so far been provided by his enemies among the Very Far Right Ranters (VFRRs), including leading professional ranters  like Anne Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and James C. Dodson. This crew complains that McCain doesn't quite pass muster on pet right issues like undocumented immigration, gay marriage, and tax cuts. Ironically, Barry Goldwater himself would have also failed these same litmus tests. Indeed, if the 1964 Presidential election had been fought on social issues and the economy rather than on war and peace, the former Air Force Major General from Arizona would most likely have carried many more states than the 6 that he did carry. Defeating Goldwater in 1964 may not have absolutely required the war-mongering issue, but it certainly helped.  

        Some conservatives have also criticized McCain's preference for voluptuous office assistants and fly-boy-style socializing.  From their angle, he also lacks appropriate Christian zeal, was once involved in the shady "Keating Five" savings-and-loan scandal,  and has an intermittent work ethic.

        Indeed, in the last five Congresses he missed an incredible 21 percent of all Senate votes, including 56 percent in the current 110th Congress. This high rate of absenteeism is also no doubt partly due to the Presidential race, McCain's long-standing battle with cancer, and the fact that at age 71.5,  he is already the oldest living leading Presidential candidate ever, having already lived longer than over half of all US Presidents.

        Images_2 The real problem for Democrats and independents, however, should not be McCain's lack of religious fervor, moldy old rumors about the Keating Five or extra-marital relationships, his age, or even his absenteeism, unless that is due to health problems.

        And after this year's endless bouts of the smooth-talking ignoramus the Rt. Reverend Huckabee, the lack of religious zeal and ideological purity in a leading Republican candidate is really rather refreshing.

        No -- our core problems with John McCain are twofold. First,  whenever he actually manages to show up in the Senate and legislate, the  results are usually far to the right of what most Democrats, independents, and sensible people in general stand for  -- and what both Barack and Hillary, in particular,  stand for.

        For example,  while Barack and Hillary have both earned lifetime voting scores from the American Conservative Union (ACU) of just 8 percent, McCain's  lifetime score is 82. While this may be insufficient for VFRRs like Limbaugh and Coulter, it is well above the tail end of the Republican Senate distribution.

        McCain may have mellowed slightly in recent years -- in 2006, for example, his ACU score was just 65.  However, this is still higher than any Senate Democrat, and it is more than three times the 17 rating scored by McCain's turncoat friend Joe Lieberman.  Indeed, on a wide range of key issues that progressives and independents should really care about --  from Supreme Court nominations and extending Bush's tax cuts for the rich to the State Children's Health Insurance program, setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, and  bankruptcy reform, and even on his own trademark issues like campaign finance, immigration, the definition of torture, and the Bush tax cuts, the senior Senator from the Grand Canyon state is usually a big disappointment.   

        20071113_mccain Second, and even more important, on the most crucial issue of our time, the conduct of present and future wars,  McCain appears to have quite frankly gone completely off the rails.

        Misguided Democratic Party strategists like John Podesta, Mark Penn, and Bob Schrum notwithstanding,  this issue of the war, and not just "the economy" or "health care," should be at center stage for this election. 

        This is precisely because, on the one hand,  military affairs are supposed to be McCain's core competence, and because, on the other hand, he has gotten this central issue completely wrong.      

        As discussed below, while millions of Iraqis continue to vote with their feet and either flee abroad or stay there, McCain just keeps repeating the big lie that "the surge is working."

        In fact the main reasons that US military casualties,  and, to a lesser extent, Iraqi civilian casualties have dropped is not because of "the surge," but because (a) Baghdad has been ethnically cleansed, and is now a sharply divided, Shiite-dominated enclave;  (b) Sunni insurgents, fed up with al-Qaeda, have decided temporarily to ally with the "occupiers" and assert control over the "foreign terrorists;" and (c) Iran has temporarily decided to cut down on its support for attacks on US troops, in the interests of undermining the "neocon" coalition in the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel that is plumping for a McCain-style bombing. (See the video below).

        None of this implies that the surge has achieved anything more than a kind of stop-gap temporary stabilization of this very ill patient's condition -- a Bush Adminstration effort that just happens to coincide with a Presidential election year. Since it is unlikely that the surge is sustainable, in terms of troops and dollars, and since its benefits are likely to be temporary, McCain should be compelled to explain on every possible occasion whether the slim increased chance that a Republican president will get elected is really worth the price.

        466284925_964c617f1f_oBut McCain is at least consistent. Apparently he also still believes that the Vietnam War could have been won with just a little more persistence and less interference from Washington.
         

        For all his putative military experience, therefore,  in the grand tradition of Major General/ Senator Goldwater and Air Force General Curtis {"Bombs Away") LeMay,  in his 20 hours of flight time over North Vietnam, and his five years of captivity, apparently John McCain never 250pxcurtis_lemay_usaf managed to learn the fundamental lesson that millions of ground troops have learned the hard way -- that guerrilla wars, and, indeed, wars on terror,  are ultimately won or lost by political and economic development, not by military tactics. And, furthermore,  that the blind over-application of military force to a hostile civilian population by an occupying army and Air Force can actually increase enemy resistance much faster than it can be controlled.

        Far from repeating the 2004 Kerry campaign's central mistake and focusing this campaign only on the US economy, therefore, it will be vital for us to keep McCain's extraordinary appetite for war in plain view.

        The more general question of why so many Air Force professionals -- including, for example, the Israeli General who was widely blamed for mismanaging last year's conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon -- tend to systematically overestimate the efficacy of military power, will be left for another time. Plainly this is not just an Arizona malady.

         For the interested reader, the following is a smattering of sundry provocative materials with respect to Senator McCain. Not all of it is worth taking seriously --- some of it even resembles the scurrilous attacks on John Kerry's war record in 2004,  when McCain, it should be recalled, came to Kerry's defense.  We've presented it here in the interests of of airing it out and redirecting our attention to the clear and present danger of a Republican Party that, even in its death throes,  may still be able to unite around this "great white hawk" from Arizona. 

         

        The "Surge" Is Working?"
        "100 More Years in Iraq?"

        ""MIA Cover-Up Artist?""

        ""War Hero?""

         

        From VietnamVeteransAgainstJohnMcCain:

        FACT SHEET:  Military record of John Sidney McCain

        "Both McCain III’s father and grandfather were Admirals in the United States Navy.  His father Admiral  John S. ”Junior” McCain was commander of U.S. forces in Europe - later commander of American forces in Vietnam while McCain III was being held prisoner of war. His grandfather John S. McCain, Sr. commanded naval aviation at the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. McCain III, like his father and grandfather, also attended the United States Naval Academy.  McCain III finished near the bottom of his graduating class in 1958.

        McCain III lost five U.S. Navy aircraft: Images_2

        1 - Student pilot McCain III lost jet number one in 1958 when he plunged into Corpus Christi Bay while practicing landings.

        2 - Pilot McCain III lost another plane two years later while he was deployed in the Mediterranean. ”Flying too low over the Iberian Peninsula, he took out some power lines  which led to a spate of newspaper stories in which he was predictably identified as the son of an admiral.

        3 - Pilot McCain III lost number three in 1965 when he was returning from flying a Navy trainer solo to Philadelphia for an Army-Navy football game.  McCain III radioed, ”I’ve got a flameout” and ejected at one thousand feet. The plane crashed to the ground and McCain III floated to a deserted beach.

        4 - Combat pilot McCain III lost his fourth on July 29, 1967, soon after he was assigned to the USS Forrestal as an A-4 Skyhawk combat pilot. While waiting his turn for takeoff, an accidently fired rocket slammed into McCain Jr’s. plane. He escaped from the burning aircraft, but the explosions that followed killed 134 sailors, destroyed at least 20 aircraft, and threatened to sink the ship.

        5 - Combat pilot McCain III lost a fifth plane three months later (Oct. 26, 1967) during his 23rd mission over North Vietnam when he failed to avoid a surface-to-air missile. McCain III ejected from the plane breaking both arms and a leg in the process and subsequently parachuted into Truc Bach Lake near Hanoi. After being pulled from the lake by the North Vietnamese, McCain III was bayoneted in his left foot and shoulder and struck by a rifle butt. He was then transported to the Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton.

        Mccain1 The 1973 New York Daily News labeled POW McCain III a “PW Songbird” On McCain III’s fourth day of being denied medical treatment, slapped, and threatened with death by the communist (they were demanding military information in exchange for medical treatment), McCain III broke and told his interrogator, ”O.K., I’ll give you military information if you will take me to the hospital.” U.S. News and World Report, May 14, 1973 article written by former POW John McCain.

        It was then that the communist learned that McCain III’s father was Admiral John S. McCain, the soon-to-be commander of all U.S. Forces in the Pacific. The Vietnamese rushed McCain III to Gai Lam military hospital (U.S. government documents), a medical facility normally unavailable for U.S. POWs. By Nov. 9, 1967 (U.S. government documents) Hanoi press was quoting McCain III describing his mission including the number of aircraft in his flight, information about rescue ships, and the order of which U.S. attacks would take place. 

        While in still in North Vietnam’s military hospital, McCain III gave an interview to prominent French television reporter Francois Chalais for a series titled Life in Hanoi. Chalais’ interview with McCain III was aired in Europe. Vietnamese doctors operated on McCain’s Leg in early December, 1967. Six weeks after he was shot down, McCain was taken from the hospital and delivered to a U.S. POW camp, In May of 1968,  McCain III allowed himself to be interviewed by two North Vietnamese generals at separate times.”  May 14, 1973 article written by former POW John McCain In August 1968, other POWs learned for the first time that John McCain III had been taken prisoner. Mccain_bush_hug

        On June 5, 1969,  the New York Daily News  reported  in  a article headlined  Reds Say PW Songbird Is Pilot Son of Admiral,   “ . . . Hanoi has aired a broadcast in which the pilot son of  United States Commander in the Pacific, Adm. John McCain, purportedly admits to having  bombed civilian targets in North Vietnam and praises medical treatment he has received since being taken prisoner . . .” 

        The Washington Post explained McCain III’s broadcast: “The English- Language broadcast beamed at South Vietnam was one of a series using American prisoners. It was in response to a plea by Defense Secretary Melvin S. Laird, May 19, that North Vietnam treat prisoners according to the humanitarian standards set forth by the Geneva Convention.”

        Mcaincu1 In 1970, McCain III agreed to an interview with Dr. Fernando Barral, a Spanish psychiatrist who was living in Cuba at the time. The meeting between Barral and McCain III (which was photographed by the Vietnamese) took place away from the prison at the office of the Committee for Foreign Cultural Relations in Hanoi (declassified government document). During the meeting, POW McCain sipped coffee and ate oranges and cakes with the Cuban. While talking with Barral, McCain III further seriously violated the military Code of Conduct by failing to evade answering questions ”to the utmost of his ability” when he, according government documents, helped Barral by answering questions in Spanish, a language McCain had learned in school. The interview was published  in January 1970.

        McCain III was released from North Vietnam March 15, 1973 In 1993, during one of his many trips back to Hanoi, McCain asked the Vietnamese not to make public any records they hold pertaining to returned U.S.  POWs.  McCain III claims, that while a POW, he tried to kill himself.

        McCain III was awarded “medals for valor” equal to nearly a medal-and-a-half for each hour he spent in combat For 23 combat missions (an estimated 20 hours over enemy territory), the U.S. Navy awarded McCain III, the son of famous admirals, a Silver Star, a Legion of Merit Mcain_bu2 for Valor, a Distinguished Flying Cross, three Bronze Stars, two Commendation medals plus two Purple Hearts and a dozen service medals.

        McCain had roughly 20 hours in combat,” explains Bill Bell, a veteran of Vietnam and former chief of the U.S. Office for POW/MIA Affairs -- the first official U.S. representative in Vietnam since the 1973 fall of Saigon. “Since McCain got 28 medals,” Bell continued, “that equals to about a medal-and-a-half for each hour he spent in combat.  There were infantry guys -- grunts on the ground -- who had more than 7,000 hours in combat and I can tell you that there were times and situations where I’m sure a prison cell would have looked pretty good to them by comparison. The question really is how many guys got that number of medals for not being shot down.”

        For years, McCain has been an unchecked master at manipulating an overly friendly and biased news media. The former POW turned Congressman, turned U.S. Senator, has managed to gloss over his failures as a pilot and his collaborations with the enemy to become America’s POW-hero presidential candidate."

        Another Bellicose Wack-a-Doodle?

        "Legendary Temper Could Undermine McCain" Friday, May 25, 2007  By RALPH VARTABEDIAN and MICHAEL FINNEGAN

        SPECIAL FROM THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

        0_12_300_227_mccain_lieberman" An angry, profane exchange between Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and another Republican senator last week prompted a new round of questions about whether McCain's legendary temper is becoming a liability in his campaign for the presidency. In a private meeting just off the Senate floor, McCain got into a shouting match with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, over details of a compromise on immigration legislation. Cornyn accused McCain of being too busy with his campaign to take part in the negotiations, prompting McCain to utter, "F... you." McCain spokesman Danny Diaz acknowledged that a "spirited exchange" took place but said media reports over the weekend had exaggerated its intensity. McCain's political handlers have plenty of experience in explaining McCain's salty language and strident attacks. His temper has ranged far and wide, directed at other members of the Senate, congressional staffers, heads of government agencies, corporate chieftains, high-ranking military officers and teenage campaign volunteers.

        McCain has shouted at people for any number of reasons, including errors of judgment, disagreements on public policy and even how to set up a podium. "In McCain's world, there aren't legitimate differences of opinions," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which differs with McCain on some conservative issues. "There is his way and there is evil. That is how he approaches issues. That is one of the reasons for conservative nervousness about him." His temper has been an issue for years. In the 2000 presidential primaries, McCain was dubbed "Senator Hothead" by Newsweek.

        That year, he won endorsement from only a few Senate colleagues, not so much because of his conservative credentials but because of his frequent attacks and volatile personality. "McCain notes," which offer apologies after heated words, are held by many members of Congress. McCain has written about what he describes as his impatience in three books. "Although I try to refrain from being intentionally discourteous, I am demonstrative in showing my displeasure. I am often impatient and can speak and act abruptly," he wrote in "Why Courage Matters" in 2004. In a 1999 interview with the Los Angeles Times, McCain admitted, "I do everything I can to keep my anger under control. I wake up daily and tell myself, 'You must do everything possible to stay cool, calm and collected today.' "

        One bureaucrat who felt McCain's wrath was former NASA administrator Daniel Goldin, who was called in by McCain in 1999, not long after a $125 million probe crashed on Mars because of confusion over the use of metric units. McCain's Senate Commerce Committee had oversight over NASA. "McCain went ballistic the moment Goldin walked into McCain's office," said a participant in the meeting. "He was shouting and using profanity, saying he was sick of NASA's screw-ups. It went on for a few minutes and then he kicked Goldin out of the office." Goldin started walking down the hallway but was summoned back to the senator's office by a McCain aide. "When he came back in, McCain started yelling at Goldin all over again. And then McCain kicked Goldin out a second time, before he ever said a word," the source said.

        Julian Zelizer, a history and politics professor at Boston University, said the spectacle of a senator getting into "yelling matches with his colleague" undermines his leadership image. "It is an issue he needs to be cautious with," Zelizer said. Until the latest flap, McCain had managed lately to quell the image that he is easily angered. His campaign leadership took sharp exception to the entire matter, characterizing it as political theater. "If something is written every time members of Congress and leading politicians, behind closed doors, try to get the other's attention, and tempers flare, you'd run out of ink," said John Weaver, McCain's chief campaign strategist. Nonetheless, the issue was used effectively in the 2000 primaries by opponents who planted rumors that he was unstable because of his years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Although some ex-POWs did have psychological problems, McCain came through the experience in good psychological shape, said Navy doctors.

        As for his temper, "John McCain is John McCain," said Dr. Bob Hain, director of the Navy's Robert E. Mitchell Center for Prisoner of War Studies. Meanwhile, Democrats said McCain was in deep trouble on the matter. "Apparently, John McCain's do-anything-to-win campaign strategy doesn't include anger management classes," said Damien LaVera, Democratic National Committee spokesman. "We have had eight years of cowboy diplomacy and McCain is even more of a cowboy than the current president," said Roger Salazar, a Democratic political consultant who worked for John Edwards in 2004. "The public wants somebody who is strong but can sit across from allies and adversaries without lunging at them."

        (c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008

        February 12, 2008 at 03:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

        Friday, January 19, 2007

        Bolivia's Growing Regional Conflict
        James S. Henry and Donald K. Ranvaud

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        Join the Discussion

        Genimageaspx The new year is already off to a turbulent start in Bolivia. During the week of January 7 to 15, up to six thousands supporters of President Evo Morales' MAS party-- mainly cocaleros from the Chapare coca-growing region,  campesinos, and indigenous groups --  showed up uninvited in Cochabamba,  Bolivia's third largest city of 800,000,  in the country's center. 

        024n2mun1_mini They had come to demand the resignation of Cochabamba'sManfred_reyes_villa_s_1   right-wing Governor, Manfred Villa-Reyes, who has become an outspoken leader of the "autonomista" movement since his election in December 2005. This movement is seeking greater "states rights" for the country's nine provinces, especially the wealthier, whiter provinces of Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz, and Tarija in the south and east, where most of Bolivia's natural gas and richest farms are located.

        070111_bolivia_3_1 As shown in the accompanying exclusive video footage from Cochabamba (Parts I, Part II). shot by Bolivian film crews working under the direction of Donald K.Ranvaud (Constant070113_paz_cochabamba_3 Gardener, City of God, Central Station, etc.), the MAS supporters encountered a fierce reaction from the city's middle-class residents and pro-autonomista forces.

        These included a crowd of more than 1000 well-organized stick-waiving militants who attacked the cocaleros and campesinos aggressively on January 13th. In the ensuing conflict, at least two people were killed and more than 150 were injured.

        By Saturday January 14th, calm had returned. Manfred came back from Santa Cruz, where he had fled out of fear for his own safety, and  Morales returned from Nicaragua, where he had been attending Daniel Ortega's Presidential inauguration. Steps were taken on all sides to pacify the situation -- including the deployment of the Bolivian Army.

        Bolivia_map However, as we'll discuss below, the potential for renewed conflict is very high.

        This is not only because none of the fundamental economic and political causes of the conflict have been addressed.  It is also because Bolivia's political leaders on all sides have not exactly shown the maturity and capacity for compromise that will be essential to avoid a "lose-lose" outcome. 

        ROOTS OF THE CONFLICT

        035n1mun1_mini Regional tensions have been building up in Boivia for several decades. The potential for conflict is explosive because it is closely aligned with many other deep-seated social fault-lines – the distribution of natural wealth; poverty and education; the concentration of organized communities like the cocaleros, indigenous groups, and obreros; and the distribution of support for parties and organizations like PODEMOS, Manfred Reyes-Vlla’s NFR, and “Nacion Camba” on the Right, and MAS, the cocaleros, the campesinos, the Central Obreros, and the social movements on the Left.

        F130107i10 One crucial factor is that Bolivia’s most valuable natural resources, arable land and natural gas (and the refineries, pipelines and agribusiness facilities needed to exploit them), are concentrated in Bolivia’s wealthier eastern and southern states. Together Tarija, Santa Cruz, Beni, and Pando account for just 30 percent of Bolivia’s population, but more tha two-thirds of its natural wealth. While MAS has captured a third of the vote in Santa Cruz, Evo’s poorer, more indigenous (“Kolla”) base is much stronger in the five western states. In the state of Cochabamba, a key battleground in the recent crisis, Evo’s party controls 12 out of 14 provinces, and has been pressing hard to oust Manfred.

        PRECIPITATING FACTORS

        The regional conflict has recently come to a head for several reasons.

        Bolivia_brazil_pipeline First, since Evo's election in December 2005,  he has been asserting greater federal control over land, natural gas, and tax revenues.

        He has also renegotiated Bolivia’s gas export contracts with Brazil and Argentina, tripling the revenue that the country realizes from its gas exports. Under Bolivia’s current federal system, at least 40 percent of this increased revenue will go to the states.

        Map Ironically enough, the “Camba” states –- which were heavily subsidized by the “Kolla” ones before gas and soybeans took off in the 1970s and 1980s -- have benefited greatly from MAS’ new economic policies. But this has not led them Camba states to support Evo – if anything, it has increased their desire for secession.

        Evo has also launched a tough new anti-corruption campaign – one of the most aggressive in Latin America. Focused on increased transparency and accountability for government spending, this is intended to address the long-standing popular conviction that a large share of Bolivia's Treasury ends up benefiting powerful private interests. It is also designed to insure that any increased gas revenues will be used wisely.

        The program is very popular with ordinary Bolivians, but it has not won Evo many friends among the state bureaucracies, the diplomatic corps, and politicians – for example, Governors like Manfred, who has often been accused of corruption, and of being a lackey of Delozada_1 former President Goni Sanchez de Losada -- whose extradition from the US on "genocide" charges is about to be requested by Evo's government.

        Third, in August 2006, Evo convened a “Constituent Assembly” to rewrite Bolivia’s constitution – a key MAS promise to its followers. But when the delegates to the CA were elected, MAS failed to win the 2/3rds needed to control it. So the CA has bogged down in procedural fights, with PODEMOS and other center-right parties blocking efforts to permit majority rule.

        Finally,  in response to these MAS initiatives, the autonomistas have recently become much more aggressive and well-organized – some say, with outside support. Key politicians on the Right (especially “Colonel” Manfred) have seized the opportunity to make a national name for themselves.

        In July 2006, Bolivia held a national referendum on whether to grant more power over revenues and spending to the country’s nine departments. The autonomistas lost by a wide margin.

        Images_7 Despite this, in December 2006, six of the country’s nine governors -- including Manfred, the four Camba state governors, and Jose Luis Paredes, La Paz’ non-MAS Governor -- met in La Paz and demanded yet another (very costly) referendum on autonomy.

        This triggered the massive confrontation noted above. Encouraged by Evo -- and perhaps also aided by support and organization from Venezuela -- more than 6000 of Evo’s supporters assembled in Cochabamba to demand Governor Manfred’s resignation. Many of his middle-class supporters stayed behind and engaged in sharp street battles with the cocaleros. Their included a band of more than a thousand stick-wavers militants who attacked the cocaleros with paramilitary-like discipline. At least three of those arrested were carrying guns and long knives. 

        SHARED RESPONSIBILITY

        No one emerges from this conflict with clean hands. On the Left, key leaders like Oscar Olivares and Edgar Patano have supported the use of mass demonstrations almost as if the MAS could not rely on normal legal and electoral processes. Evo failed to discourage his supporters from occupying Cochabamba, despite the fact that Manfred had also been legally elected in 2005, and that while his call for a second referendum was provocative, it was not illegal.

        Once the conflict started, Evo also took his time returning from Ortega’s inauguration. He didn’t arrive in Cochabamba until January 14, after the violence had subsided. Once there, he didn’t advise his followers to disband or retract their demands for Manfred’s resignation.

        On the Right, the autonomistas and their political allies, especially Manfred, Paredes, and the four Camba governors, have also been provocative. Their demands for separatism and another regional referendum, as well as their refusal to compromise on CA voting procedures have been incendiary. Even more disturbing, the willingness of autonomistas to organize armed groups to attack MAS demonstrators indicates the potential for escalation.

        WAYS FORWARD?

        024n2mun1_mini_1 There are now signs that both sides in this conflict are attempting to step back from the precipice, at least for the moment. With the Bolivian Army’s help, peace has returned to Cochabamba. Manfred has withdrawn his call for a second referendum.

        As a way of defusing the demand for his resignation, MAS has introduced an emergency bill in Congress calling for a referendum revocatorio. This would require Bolivia’s elected officials -- mayors, governors, ministers, and even the President himself – to submit to referenda on their performance if they are accused of corruption, mishandling cash, human rights violations, or the failure to fulfill electoral promises. Evo’s Vice President, Alvaro Garcia Linares, has reaffirmed Manfred’s authority and offered to guarantee his safety.

        Garcia_lineraStill, demands for the resignations of Manfred and Paredes have continued. Paredes has threatened that he and all the Camba state governors would all resign if Manfred were ousted. While peace has been restored, thousands of social movement activists are still very agitated.

        Overall, the situation remains a power keg, with social peace owning a great deal to the continued presence and neutrality of the Army.  While a full-scale civil war has been averted for the time being, this could easily turn out to be a classic “lose-lose” situation -- especially if extremists on the Right and Left abandon their commitments to democratic procedures. The sharp escalation of this conflict in early January underscored the immaturity of Bolivia’s political leadership and the precarious state of its democracy.

        On the other hand, as is often the case when decisive historical turning points are reached, this crisis might just possibly turn out to be constructive.

        Bolivia’s leaders can seize the moment and achieve breakthroughs on key issues  like revenue-sharing, corruption, the Constituent Assembly, and the role of popular referendums, they may be able to achieve political innovations that will be of great interest to other Latin America democracies -- and the rest of us.

        After all, despite centuries of oppression and brutal class conflict, Bolivia is  one of the few countries in the Americas that did not kill off its indigenous majority. Unlike other Latin American countries like Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, and Guatemala, Bolivia has  also  managed to avoid extreme social violence and civil war. We are hopeful that Bolivia's exceptionalism in this regard will be maintained.  But  it  could be sorely tested in the weeks and months to come.

        (c) SubmergingMarkets, BuenaOnda Films, 2007

        January 19, 2007 at 07:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

        Monday, January 01, 2007

        REMEMBERING THE GENERAL
        Part I: Overview
        James S. Henry

        Mascaras1_small_1


        I was born a Chilean,  I am a Chilean,
        I will die a Chilean.
        They, the fascists, were born traitors,
        live as traitors, and will be remembered forever as fascist traitors.

        -- Orlando Letelier, 1932-76


        Both Chile's General AugustoPinocaaaa_1 Pinochet and Saddam Hussein, two formerly US-backed dictators, have at last had to confront Higher Authorities that they were unable to intimidate, compromise, or evade.

        Hang31__1However, unlike Saddam, who was hanged in the middle of a night on December 30, 2006, by a nervous Iraqi Government tribunal,  Pinochet managed to escape human justice for his crimes, and died of natural causes at the age of 91. 

        How does the General deserve to be remembered? Did he not richly deserve the same fate as Saddam? And how did he manage to avoid it? 

        Was he simply a ruthless, corrupt right-wing tyrant, the puppet of foreign interests and their handmaidens, like ITT,  Nixon, Kissinger, the CIA, George H.W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and Reagan?   

        Giulianipinochet1_2 Or was he, as many of his defenders still maintain,  an essential bulwark against the Leftist Horde in Latin America?

        If perhaps not exactly the world's staunchest defender of political liberalism, was he at least -- as Thatcher, some neoliberal  economists, The Wall Street Journal, and even supposedly "liberal" newspapers like The Washington Post now maintain --  a staunch defender of  "free markets" who deserves much of the credit for Chile's economic performance since the 1970s?

        As we'll see,  most conventional portraits of General Pinochet are flat-out wrong, not only with respect to his alleged role in combating Soviet expansionism, but also with respect to his regime's alleged beneficial influence on Chile's economy.

        First,  Pinochet was at best only a non-essential bit player in the anti-Soviet struggle.  Allende's broad-based social democratic "revolution" was never taken seriously by Moscow or Havana. Nor was it strong enough to mount a Cuban-style revolution, or even to precipitate a civil war. Left to its own devices, Allende's "leftish" alliance would probably have burned itself out by the next election or plebiscite in 1974.

        Images10Furthermore, even if Chile's leftists had somehow managed to create a "Soviet Republic of Patagonia," tiny Chile was already completely surrounded by other countries that had much greater strategic importance to the West.

        By 1973, they either already had their own right-wing dictatorships (Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia), or were well on the way (Argentina and Uruguay).

        Images11In short,  killing off Chile's long-standing democracy was gratuitous -- the political equivalent of exaggeratinging Iraq's "slam dunk" WMD threat
        .

        All the repression was for nothing.

        Fig_74_milton_friedman_5On the economic front, Pinochet's interregnum was also a costly, needless detour. 

        Indeed, one key reason why Chile's so-called "economic miracle" has proved to be so successful in the long run -- with great help from human capital finally brought back home by many well-educated returning "Leftists" who were  driven out of country in 1973-90 -- was precisely because Pinochet's first decade of experiments with "Los Chicago economics" proved to be so disastrous. Giving Pinochet credit for the subsequent corrective reforms is like crediting Leonid Brezhnev with last decade's revival of economic growth in Eastern Europe.

        (For more details, see Parts II and III...)

         

           


        January 1, 2007 at 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

        Friday, December 15, 2006

        Blood Diamonds
        Part 1: The Empire Strikes Back!
        by James S. Henry

        "...(O)ne of the great dramas of Africa: extremely rich areas are reduced to theaters of misery...."

        -- Rafael Marques, Angolan journalist (July 2006)

        "For each $9 of rough diamonds sold abroad, our customers, after cutting them, collect something like $56..." 

        -- Sandra Vasconcelos, Endiama (2005)

        "We found the Kalahari clean. For years and years the Bushman have lived off the land....thousands of years...We did not buy the Kalahari. God gave it to us. He did not loan it to us. He gave it to us. Forever. I do not speak in anger, because I am not angry. But I want the freedom that we once had."

        -- Bushman, Last Voice of an Ancient Tongue, Ulwazi Radio, 1997 

         


        Wdclogo_2 The global diamond industry, led by giants like De Beers, RTZBHP10m_1 Bililton, and Alrosa  Co Ltd., Russia's state-owned diamond company,  a handful of aggressive independents like Israel's Lev LevievBeny Steinmetz's BSG Group, and Daniel Gertier's DGI, a hundred other key "diamantaires" in New York,  Ramat-Gan, Antwerp,  Dubai, Mumbai, and Hong Kong,  and leading "diamond industry banks" like ABN-AMRO, is not exactly renowned for its abiding concern about the welfare of the millions of diamond miners, cutters,  polishers, and their families who live in developing countries.

        But the industry -- whose top five corporate members still control more than 80 percent of the 160 million carets that are produced and sold each year into the $70 billlion  world-wide retail diamond jewelry market -- certainly does have an undeniable long-standing concern for its own product's image.

        PERENNIAL FEARS

        Indeed, for decades, observers of the diamond industry have warned that it was teetering on the brink of a price collapse, because the industry's prosperity has been based on a combination of artificial demand and equally-artificial -- but often more unstable -- control over supply.

        Most of the doomsayers have always predicted that the inevitable downfall, when itGlitter_cover came, would arrive from the supply side, in the form of some major new diamond find that produced a flood of raw diamonds onto the global market.

        The precise culprits, in turn, were expected to be artificial diamonds (in the 1960s and 1970s), "an avalanche of Australian diamonds" (in the 1980s,) and Russian diamonds (in the 1990s.)

        This supply-side pessimism has lately been muted, given the failure of the earlier predictions and the fact that raw diamond prices -- though not, buyers beware,  retail diamond resale prices!! --  have recently increased at a hefty 10-12 percent per year.  There is also some evidence that really big "kimberlite mines" are becoming harder and harder to find.

        However, there are still an awful lot of raw diamonds out there waiting to found, and one does still hear warnings about the long-overpredicted Malthusian glut, now from new sources like deep mines in Angola, Namibia's offshore fields, Gabon, Zambia, and the Canadian Northwest.

        THE REAL THREAT?

        Meanwhile, the other key threat to the industry's artificial price structure -- where_787698_diamonds300 retail prices are at least 7 to 10 times the cost of raw diamonds -- comes from the demand side. This is the concern that diamonds may lose the patina of glamour, rarity and respectability that the industry has carefully cultivated since the 1940s.

        It is therefore not surprising that the industry has been deeply disturbed by the December 8, 2006, release of Blood Diamond, a block-buster Hollywood film that stars Leonard DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, and Djinmon Hounsou.

        0521686369 While extraordinarily violent and a bit too long, the film is entertaining, mildly informative, and far from "foolish" -- the sniff that it received from one snide NYT reviewer -- who clearly knew nothing about the subject matter, other than, perhaps, the fact that the Times' own Fortunoff- and Tiffany-laden ad department didn't care for  the film. 

        Indeed,  this film does provide the most critical big-screen view to date of the diamond industry's sordid global track record, not only in Africa, but also in Brazil, India, Russia, and, indeed, Canada and Australia, where diamonds have often been used to finance civil wars, corruption, and environmental degradation, and  indigenous peoples often been pushed aside to make room for the industry's priorities.

        Surely the film is a small offset to decades of the diamond cartel's shameless exploitation of Hollywood films, leading ladies like Marilyn Monroe, Elisabeth Taylor, and Lauren Bacall, and scores of supermodels, rock stars, and impresarios.

        INDUSTRY WHITE WASH
         

        Chap1adj240Dismayed at the potential negative impact of the film ever since the industry first learned about Blood Diamond in late 2005, it is reportedly spending at least an extra $15 million on a  PR campaign that responds to the film  -- in addition to the $200 million per year that the World Diamond Council already spends on regular marketing.

        For example, if you Google "blood diamonds," for example, you'll see that the industry has purchased top billing for its own version of the "facts" regarding this film. Always eager for a new marketing angle, some diamond merchants have also seized the opportunity to pitch their own product lines as "conflict diamond - free."

        DEF JAM'S  BLACK WASH

        This shameless PR campaign has also included a "black wash" effort by the multimillionaire hip hop impresario Russell Simmons, whoRussell_simmons_100x100 launched his own diamond jewelry line by way of the Simmons Jewelry Co. in 2004,  in partnershp with long-time New York diamond dealer M. Fabrikant & Sons.

        Simmonslogo Simmons, who admits to "making a lot of money by selling diamonds," rushed back to New York on December 6 from a whirlwind nine-day private jet tour of diamond mines in South Africa and Botswana -- but, admittedly,  not in conflict-ridden Sierre Leone, Angola, the Congo, the Ivory Coast or Chad.

        Simmons was originally scheduled to travel with one of his latest flames, the  27-year old Czech supermodel and Fortunoff promoter, Petra Nemcova. But Petra reportedly preferred to stay home and accept a huge diamond engagement ring of her own from British singer/soldier James Blunt, whose 2005 pop hit "You're Beautiful" was recently nominated the "fourth most annoying thing in Britain," next to cold-callers, queue-jumpers, and caravans.

        The timing of Simmons' trip, which he filmed for UUtube, just happened to coincide with the December 8 release of the Warner Brothers feature.

        Farrakha Upon his return, Simmons held a press conference, accompanied by his estranged wife Kimora Lee Simmons and Dr. Benjamin  F. Chavis Mohammed, a former civil rights activitist and fellow investor in the jewelry company who is perhaps best remembered for being fired as NAACP Director in 1994  after settling a costly sexual harassment suit, and for joining the Rev. Louis Farrakhan's Nation of islam. Simmons' astounding conclusion from his wonder-tour: "Bling isn't so bad."

        Whatever the credibility of Simmons and his fellow instant experts, it was  evidently not enough to save M. Fabricant & Sons,  which filed for Chapter 11 in November.

        THE GODS MUST (STILL) BE CRAZY

        Simmons managed to tour a few major diamond mines on his African safari, but apparently heKalaharibush lacked time to examine the contentious land dispute between the Kalahari  San Bushmen, the members of one of Africa's oldest indigenous groups,  and the Botswana Government -- with the diamond industry's influence lurking right offstage.

        In the 1990s, after diamond deposits were reportedly discovered on the Bushmen's traditional lands, the Botwana Government -- which owns 15 percent of De Beers, is a 50-50 partner with De Beers in the Debswana diamond venture, the largest diamond producer in Africa, and derives half its revenue from diamond mining -- has pressured the Bushmen to leave their tribal lands.

        The methods used were not subtle. To force the Bushmen into resettlement camps outside the Reserve, the Botswana Government closed schools and clinics, cut off water supplies, and subjected members of the group to threats, beatings, and other forms of intimidation for hunting on their own land -- all of it ordained by F.G. Mogae, Botswana's President,  who declared in February 2005 that he 'could not allow the Bushmen to return to the Kalahari." Those who have been resettled have been living in destitution, without jobs and little to do except drink. (See a recent BBC video on the subject.) 

        WeareveryhappyThankfully, on December 13, 2006, Botswana's High Court ruled that in 2002, more than 1000 Bushmen had been illegally evicted by the Botswana Government from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, where they'd lived for 30,000 years.

        The Botswana Attorney General has already attempted to attached strict conditions to the ruling, so this struggle is far from over. But at least the first prolonged legal battle has been won -- thanks to the determination of the Bushmen, public-spirited lawyers like Gordon Bennett, their legal counsel, courageous crusaders like Professor Kenneth Good, and  NGOs like Survival International, which has supported the legal battle.

        In the wake of this decision, as usual,  the global diamond industry, led by De Beers, has denied that any responsibility whatsoever for the displacement of the Bushmen.

        Images_6However, the fact is that De Beers and other companies has been prospecting actively in the Kalahari Reserve, especially around the Bushman community of Gope (see this video),  where De Beers has falsely claimed that no Bushmen were living when it started mining. It has actively opposed recognizing the rights of indigeneous peoples in Africa. In 2002, at the time of the eviction, Debswana's Managing Director -- appointed by De Beers -- commented that "The government was justified in removing the Basarwa (Bushmen)….’.

        De Beers' behavior in Botswana has so outraged activists that they have joinedBoycottdebeerslogo together with prominent actors like Julie Christie and several Nemcova-like supermodels who used to appear in De Beers ads, in an appeal for people to boycott the now-UK-based giant -- which has lately been trying to move downstream into retail diamonds.

        However, De Beers is far from alone in this effort.  Indeed, as has often been the case with  "conflict diamonds," less well-known foreign companies have been permitted to do much of the nastier pioneering. 

        In Botswana's case, these have included Vancouver-based Motapa Diamonds and Isle of Jersey-based Petra Diamonds Ltd. both of which have have obtained licenses to explore and develop milliions of acres, including CKGR lands. Petra is not unfamiliar with "conflict diamonds;" it is perhaps best known for a failed 2000 attempt to invest in a $1 billion diamond project in the war-torn DR Congo, in which Zimbabwe's corrupt dicator, Robert Mugabe, reportedly held a 40 percent interest.

        In the case of Botswana, in September 2005 Petra acquired the country's largest single prospecting license -- covering 30,000 square miles, nearly the size of Austria -- by purchasing Kalahari Diamonds Ltd, a company that was 20 percent owned by BHP Billiton and 10 percent by the World Bank/IFC -- which apparently saw the sponsorship of CKGR mining as somehow consistent with its own financial imperatives, if not its developmental mission. (!!!). Petra has also licensed proprietary explorations technology from BHP Billiton, and offered it development rights, a front-runner for the Australian giant.

        Blood_1 Meanwhile, at least 29 of the 239 Bushmen who filed the lawsuit have perished while living in settlement camps, waiting for the case to be decided, and many others are impoverished. 

        Perhaps the diamond industry's $15 million might be better spent simply helping these Bushmen return to their homes -- and also settling up with  the Nama people in South Africa, the Intuit and Kree peoples in Canada, and the aborigines in Australia.

        FAR CRY

        Meanwhile, as we'll examine in Part II, despite the "Kimberly Process" that was adopted by many -- but not all -- key diamond producers in 2003, the fact is that diamonds continue to pour out of conflict zones like the Congo, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast, providing the revenues that finance continuing bloodshed.

        The industry's vaunted estimate that they account for just "1 percent" of total production is based on thin air -- there are so many loopholes in the current transnational supply chain that there is just no way of knowing. Of course, given the scale of the global industry, and the poverty of the countries involved, even a tiny percent of the global market can make a huge difference on the ground.

        Furthermore, in cases like Angola, the Kimberly Process has provided an excuse for corrupt governments to team up with private security firms and diamond traders to crack down on independent alluvial miners.

        Finally, the diamond industry still has much work to do on other fronts --  pollution, deforestation, and, most important, the task of creating a fairer division of the spoils, in an industry where the overwhelming share of value-added is still captured by just a handful of First World countries. 

        The objective here is not to kill the golden goose. In principal, the diamond industry should be able to reduce world inequality and poverty, since almost all retail buyers are relatively-affluent people in rich countries, while more than 80 percent of all retail diamonds come from poor countries.

        But beyond eliminating traffic in "blood diamonds," however,  we should also demand that this industry starts to redress its even more fundamental misbehaviors.

                                                                   ***

        (c) SubmergingMarkets,2006


        December 15, 2006 at 12:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

        Saturday, August 19, 2006

        BEYOND DEBT RELIEF
        The Next Stage In the Fight for Global Social Justice
        James S. Henry

        Images12“Third World debt relief”  has become a little like Boston’s “Big Dig,” the Middle East “peace process,” and the “ultimate cure for cancer” -- long anticipated, endlessly discussed, and perpetually, it seems, just around the corner.Live8angie2

        At the end of the day, after decades of effort, the fact is that very little Third World debt relief has actually been achieved.

        There is also mounting evidence that even the paltry amount of debt relief that has been achieved has not done very much good. 

        This is partly  because debt relief tends t19991101bonoo reinforce questionable policies and bad habits that get developing countries into hock in the first place.  It is also because debt relief has reinforced the prerogatives of IMF/World Bank econo-crats, whose policies have often been incredibly detrimental. 

        Finally, debt relief is also often a very poor substitute for other forms of aid and development finance. 

        Furthermore, most of the costs of debt relief have been born by ordinary First and Third World taxpayers, while the global banks and Third World elites that have profited enormously from all the lousy projects, capital flight, and corruption that were financed by the debt have escaped scot-free.

        This is not to suggest that the debt relief campaign has been utterly pointless.

        It has provided a bully pulpit for scores of entertainers, politicians, economists, religious leaders, and NGOs. It  has occasionally reminded us of the persistent problems of global poverty and inequality.

        I180pxgeldofpopet has also provided an excuse for some pretty good free concerts.

        From the standpoint of actually providing enough increased aid to improve living conditions in debt-ridden countries, however, debt relief has been a disappointment. In the immortal words of Bono himself, "We still haven't found what we're looking for."

        Fortunately, there is an alternative strategy that would have much greater impact. But this strategy would require a more combative stance on the part of anti-debt activists, and it would almost certainly not generate nearly as many convivial press conferences or photo opportunities.

        “Fact Check, Please”

        Surprisingly, there have been few efforts to take stock of debt relief efforts, to see whether this game has really been worth the candle.

        It is high time that we took a closer look. After all, it is now more than 30 years since Zaire’s bilateral debts were rescheduled by the Paris Club in 1976, 27 years since UNCTAD’s $6 billion write-off for 45 developing countries in 1977-79, 23 years since the climax of the so-called “Third World debt crisis” in 1983,  and more than a decade since the inauguration of the IMF/World Bank’s debt relief program for “Heavily-Indebted Poor Countries” (“HIPCs”) in 1996. 

        On the debt relief campaign side, it is two decades since the formation of the UK Debt Crisis Network, eight years since the 70,000-strong “Drop the Debt” demos at G-8’s May 1998 meetings in Birmingham, and over a year since the “Live-8/End Poverty Now” fiesta at Gleneagles.

        Along the way, there have been Bradley Plans, Mitterand Plans, Lawson Plans, Mizakawa Plans, Sachs Plans, Evian Plans, and more than 200 debt rescheduling by the Paris Club on increasingly generous terms -- Toronto terms (’88-‘91), London (‘91-‘94) terms, Naples terms (’95-96), Lyon terms (’96-99), and Cologne terms (’99-).

        Most recently, in the wake of “Live 8,” the G-8, the World Bank, and the IMF launched their “Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative” (“MDRI”) with a great deal of fanfare, declaring that it will be worth at least “$40 to $50 billion” to the two score  countries that are eligible. 












        Realities

        Despite all this activity, the fact is that developing country debt is now greater than ever before, and is still increasing in real terms. For most countries,  the debt burden – as measured by  the ratio of debt service to national income – is even higher than in the early 1980s, at the peak of the so-called “Third World debt crisis.” 

        By our estimates,  as of 2006, the nominal stock of all developing country foreign debt outstanding was $3.24 trillion. This debt generated about $550 billion of debt service payment each year for First World  banks, bondholders, and multilateral institutions.

        That includes $41 billion a year that was paid by the world’s 60  poorest countries, whose per capita incomes are all below $825 a year. Even after twenty-five years of “debt relief,” this annual bill for debt service still almost entirely offsets the $40-$45 billion of foreign aid that these countries receive each year. Their debt burden also remains higher, relative to national income, than it was the early 1980s.   

        As discussed below, most heavy debtors also have very little to show for all this debt.  So these payments are, in effect,  a “shark fee” paid to First World creditors  for funds that have long since vanished into the ether – and a not a few offshore private bank accounts.

        Present Value

        Since most existing Third World debt was contracted at higher interest rates than now prevail, the “present value” of the debt -- a better measure of its true economic cost -- is actually even higher: nearly $3.7 trillion. 

        China and India alone now account for about $.5 trillion of this developing country “PV debt.”  Both countries  were relatively careful about foreign borrowing, and they also largely ignored IMF/World Bank policy advice, so their debt burdens are small, relative to national income. But in absolute terms, their debts are large, simply because they are so huge.  They can easily afford it --  thanks in part to their non-neoliberal economic strategies, both countries now have high-growth economies and large stockpiles of reserves.

        Of the other $3.2 trillion of “PV debt,” however, $2.6 trillion is owed by 26 low-income and 49 middle-income countries that pursued “high debt” growth strategies. 

        These heavily-indebted countries have about 1.6 billion residents – over a quarter of the world’s population, a share that has been steadily increasing.

        After decades of debt relief, their “PV debt/ national income ratios” are all in the relatively-high 60-90 percent range. Debt service consumes 4 to 9 percent of national income each year,  more than they spend on education or health, and far more than they receive in foreign aid.   
        III. Where’s the “Relief”?

        These numbers beg a question -- what have all the professional debt relievers at the World Bank, the IMF, and the Paris Club,  not to mention debt relief activists, been up to all these years?  How much debt relief have they actually secured, who received it, and how helpful has it been?

        To begin with, it is not easy to measure “debt relief.” The definitions of debt relief  employed by debtor countries, commercial creditors, bilateral creditors, and multilateral organizations like the IMF/World Bank, the OECD, the Paris Club, and the Bank for International Settlements vary significantly, and the reported data is subject to huge discrepancies.  This helps to account for the fact that only a handful of systematic attempts to measure debt relief have ever been attempted.   

        As usual, however, some things can be said. This article provides the most comprehensive estimate of debt relief to date, based on a careful review of these data sources and our own independent analysis. 





        Overall Relief

        Our first key finding is that the actual amount of debt relief provided to all developing countries to date has been pretty modest.

        From 1982 through 2005, in comparable $2006 NPV terms, the total value of all low- and middle-income developing country debt  that was “relieved” -- rescheduled, written down, or cancelled –- was only $310 billion -- just 7.8 percent of all the pre-relief debt outstanding.   

        Low-Income Relief

        The relief ratio for the world’s 60 poorest countries  has been higher – about 28 percent of their pre-relief debt levels. All told, in PV terms, these countries have received  about $161 billion of debt relief – more than half of all the debt relief to date.  This is now saving the recipient countries about $15.3 billion per year of debt service.

        This  is certainly nothing to sneeze at.  But it is a far cry from the extra $50 billion to $100 billion per year of cash aid that most leading development experts believe will be needed if developing countries  are to attain the (rather modest) “Millennium Development Goals” that were set back in 2000 by the UN, with a target date of 2015.   

        It is also important to remember that most low-income countries have been waiting a very long time for even this modicum of debt relief, most of did not start arriving until the late 1990s. By then, several countries that had not been “highly-indebted” to begin with had become so, just by dint of the delay.

        Debt Relief Sources – Low-Income Countries

        Our analysis shows that 30 percent of  this low-income debt relief has come from the World Bank/ IMF’s HIPC and MDRI programs. Another 30 percent has come from Russia alone, which forgave a substantial load of bilateral debt that were owed to it by Nicaragua, Vietnam, and Yemen, when Russia joined the Paris Club in 1997. In February 2006, Russia also wrote off another $5+ billion debt that was  owed by Afghanistan.

        Finally, another $65 billion of debt relief for low-income countries  was provided by the Paris Club, an association of First World export credit agencies (EGCs) like the US EXIM Bank and the UK’s EGCD.  These agencies have a strong “client base” among the ranks of First World exporters, contractors, and engineering firms. All these private entities received significant business from the first round of Third World lending, in the form of orders for large projects.  They are now eager to have the EGCs forgive still more loans,  at taxpayer expense, in order  to clear the way for another round of project finance.

        On the other hand, leading global banks like Citigroup, UBS, JPMorganChase, Goldman Sachs,  Deutsche Bank, BNP, and ABN-Amro, and Barclays, have provided a grand total of just $1.5 billion of low-income debt relief,  mostly by way of the HIPC program.

        In the 1970s and early 1980s, of course,  these giant international banks led the way in syndicating loans for developing countries. At the same time, many of them also became pioneers in “private banking,” the dubious business of helping Third (and First) World elites park their capital offshore and onshore, as free of taxes and regulations as humanly possible. 

        Since the early 1990s, apart from China and India, these private banks have largely handed over the task of providing new loans to low-income countries to multilateral institutions like the IMF, the World Bank, and the IDB, as well as to the EGCs.  Ironically, this has permitted them to focus on more lucrative Third World markets, including low-debt/ high-growth markets like China and India.


        For middle-income countries, while the foreign loan business was booming in the 1970s and early 1980s,  these banks became deeply involved in stashing abroad the proceeds of the banks’ own country loan syndicates.   For low-income countries, private bankers  were more often called upon to recycle the proceeds of  loans from the development banks, the IMF, and the EGCs, as well as the proceeds of various government-owned asset rip-offs. 

        Overall, therefore,  from the standpoint of debt relief, these First World financial giants have provided very little debt relief. This is despite the fact that they have not only reaped enormous profits from Third World lending, but also continue to reap enormous profits from Third World private banking. In the wake of the debt crisis, they have also been able to scoop up undervalued financial assets – banks, pension funds, and insurance companies – in countries like Mexico, the Philippines, and Brazil. In good times and in bad, in other words, these private institutions have always found ways to prosper, help their clients  launder money, evade taxes, and conceal ill-gotten gains, and they have never been reluctant to profit from social catastrophe.

        We will return to these financial giants below, because the history of their involvement in this story suggests one possible antidote for our “debt relief” blues.

        B. Middle-Income Relief

        So-called “middle-income” countries like Brazil and Mexico have received $149 billion of debt relief –- just 4.3 percent of their $3.4 trillion of pre-relief debt outstanding.  As discussed below, most of this was obtained by the early 1990s, by way of Paris Club restructuring and  the Brady Plan.

        This reflected the high priority given to these large, lucrative, highly-indebted markets in the 1980s by First World banks and governments, mainly because such a large share of their loan portfolios was tied up in them. 

        That, indeed, was the true meaning of the “Third World debt crisis,” so far as First World bankers, central bankers, officials and, indeed, most First World journalists was concerned.  It was viewed primarily as a ‘crisis’  for the banks and their shareholders. Over time, as they managed to reduce their exposure, the “crisis” disappeared from the headlines  – except for the countries involved. 

        Debt Relief Sources – Middle-Income Countries

        Overall, private banks provided $75 billion of debt relief to middle-income countries, about half the total. Most of this was achieved through debt swaps and buy-backs. The Paris Club added another $28 billion, mainly by way of traditional bilateral debt rescheduling.

        The US Treasury added $47 billion, by way of the Baker Plan (1985-89) and the Brady Plan (1989-95.)  On its own,  the Baker Plan actually increased  middle-income country debt by $77 billion, consuming $45 billion of US taxpayer subsidies in the process.

        From 1995 to 2002, the US Treasury, the World Bank, and the IMF also provided short-term financial relief to several large middle-income countries like Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Indonesia. In theory, these were pure reschedulings, with all loans paid back with interest,  and no net impact on “PV debt” levels.

        In practice, several of these bailouts were completely mismanaged. Indonesia, Mexico, and Argentina were all permitted to use their emergency dollar loans to bail out dozens of domestic banks and companies -- which just happened to be connected to influential members of the local elite, who were also “not unknown” to leading private bankers and US Treasury Secretaries.

        So a large share of these bailout loans was wasted on outright graft. On the other hand, countries were still expected to service the bailout loans,  often at very high interest rates. Given their reluctance to raise taxes, especially on capital,  most countries repaid the bailout loans by boosting domestic debt – in effect, by printing money. For example, Mexico’s bailout in the mid-1990s ended up costing the country’s taxpayers more than $70 billion, while Indonesia’s bailouts ended up costing the country at least $50 billion.  In effect,  the  bailouts actually ended up increasing overall country debt levels,  just as the Baker Plan had done. Our estimates of debt relief have generously omitted the impact of these bailouts, which would make the total amount of debt relief even smaller.

        Overall, during the 1970s and 1980s, middle-income countries like Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Iraq, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Turkey, and Venezuela became the world’s largest debtors. Combined with the fact that they have also received so little debt relief since the early 1990s, this helps us to understand why their debt service costs soared to all-time highs since 2000, in real terms, and relative to national income.  Recent debt relief programs have focused almost entirely on low-income countries, ignoring the situation of heavily-indebted middle-income countries.  This is another strategic choice that debt relievers may want to reconsider.

        The Political Economy of “Debt Relief”

        So what’s gone wrong with debt relief? Why has so little been achieved after all these years? Whose interests have been served, and whose have been ignored or gored? Is there a different strategy that could have  been more effective?

        A. The Roots of the “Debt” Crisis

        To understand this disappointing debt relief track record, it will be helpful to review the origins of the so-called “Third World debt crisis.”  This continuing crisis had its roots in the fact that from the early 1970s to 2003, developing countries absorbed  more than $6.8 trillion  of foreign loans, aid, and investment, much more foreign capital than they had ever before received.

        A handful of developing countries managed this enormous capital influx more or less successfully -- for example, Asian countries like Korea, China, India, Korea, Malaysia, and Vietnam. For a variety of historical reasons, they were able to resist the influence of First World development banks and private banks. Today they are the real winners in the globalization sweepstakes, ranking among the world’s fastest growing economies  and the First World’s most important suppliers, customers, and potential competitors. 

        Our concern here is not with this handful of winners, but with the great majority of the world’s 150 developing countries.  In general, compared with the winners,  they have been much more open to unrestricted foreign capital and trade since the 1970s, as well as policy advice from the “BWIs” (the Bretton Woods institutions – the World Bank and the IMF).  For many countries this close encounter with global capitalism has proved to be troublesome – indeed, for many,  disastrous.   

        In effect, these countries have conducted a very risky policy experiment for several decades.  By now the results are clear. Across country income levels, these countries have  paid a very heavy price for unfettered access and dependence on foreign banks. Indeed, we are hard-pressed to find a single exception to the miserable track record of this “wide open, debt-heavy, bank-promoted” growth strategy.

        Lousy Regimes and Unproductive Debts

        Overall, we estimate that more than a trillion dollars – at least 25 to 35 percent  -- of the $3.7 trillion foreign debt that compiled by low- and middle-income countries from 1970 to 2004  either disappeared into poorly-planned, corruption-ridden "development" projects, or was simply stolen outright. 
        For several of the largest debtors, like the Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Nigeria, the share of the debt that was wasted was even higher. Indeed, one of the most important patterns underlying the  “debt crisis” was that borrowing, wasteful projects, capital flight, and corruption were all concentrated in a comparative handful of countries.   As we’ll argue, this is crucial fact for those who seek to revitalize the debt relief movement to understand,  because it implies that the interests at stake are far greater than those that have come to the surface in the struggle for “low income” debt relief. 
        Low-Income Heavy Borrowers

        In the case of the 48 low-income countries that eventually qualified for debt relief from the BWIs  under the HIPC and MDRI programs, a similar pattern of concentration applies. In the early 1980s,  the real value of these countries’ debts increased by 70 percent in just six years.  By the time the World Bank got around to launching HIPC in 1996, their debts had increased another 7-10 percent.  Just 11 of these low-income countries –- including Bolivia, Congo Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Sudan, and Zambia -- accounted for 68 percent of  this group’s debt increase from 1980 to 1986.

        All these top low-income borrowers were not only desperately poor to begin with,  but they were also either “weak open states” run by kleptocratic dictators, or  were caught up in bloody civil wars –  in most cases, both at once.   Sometimes the causality flowed in both directions -- excess debt could exacerbate political instability. But the primary relationship was the unsavory combination of weak states, corrupt leaders, wide open capital markets, and symbiotic relationships with “easy money” and seductive bankers.

        Extending this analysis to the key middle-income debtors noted  above, we find similar long-run patterns of mis-government, weak states, and wide-open banking.

        All this suggests that the heaviest debtors got into troubles for reasons that only were only  superficially related to  the usual villains in the orthodox neoliberal account of debt crises -- “exogenous shocks,” “policy errors,“ “liquidity crises,” and – when pushed to acknowledge the existence of corruption and capital flight – a “lack of transparency in the management of natural resources.”  Those countries that are deepest in debt and most in need of relief today include countries that have long been among the most consistently mis-governed, wide-open, and “mis-banked.” While natural resource wealth like minerals and oil have indeed often turned out to contribute to economic mismanagement,  their presence is not a sufficient condition for such mismanagement – the decisive question is the relationship between foreign and domestic elites.   

        From the standpoint of debt relief, this pattern presents a dilemma –Without insisting on deep political reforms,  simply providing countries with more relief alone might accomplish little – they are likely to dig themselves right back into a hole. After all, corrupt dictatorships like the Central African Republic have been more or less continuously in arrears on their foreign debts since at least 1971!

        The Debt/Flight Cycle

        Servicing these huge unproductive debts took a large bite out of these countries’ export earnings and government revenues,  draining funds that were badly needed for health, education, and other forms of  public investment, and helping to produce crisis after  financial crisis. Growth, investment, and employment were throttled by the continuing need – enforced by First World creditors --  to generate enough foreign exchange to service the loans.

        Meanwhile, even as all this foreign capital was rushing in, an unprecedented quantity of flight capital – including a substantial portion of the loan proceeds – headed for the exits.

        Of course Third World capital flight is an old story, associated with long-standing factors like individual country political risk, unstable currencies, bank secrecy, the rise of “offshore havens,”  and the absence of global income tax enforcement. 

        But the dramatic increase in poorly-managed financial inflows to the developing world in the 1970s and early 1980s – especially foreign loans and aid – boosted these capital outflows by an order of magnitude. They basically overwhelmed existing political institutions in many countries, producing the largest tidal wave of flight capital in history, and fundamentally revolutionizing offshore private banking markets. 

        We simply cannot account for this sharp increase in flight capital unless we take into accounts its close relationship to all this “lousy lending and loose aid.” 

        Poorly-controlled lending and foreign aid contributed to the rise of global flight capital in the first place.  From one standpoint it did so in a purely mathematical sense, by providing the foreign exchange that was needed to finance capital flight. But that doesn’t explain why these new “loanable funds” didn’t become a net addition to investment  in the borrowers’ economies. The loans also stimulated additional capital flight, for several reasons: (1) they destabilized the economies of many newly-indebted countries, providing more capital than they could productively absorb in a short period of time; (2) the inflows provided sources of government revenue that were not directly responsible to taxpayers. This generated enormous opportunities for corruption and waste, partly by way of poorly-planned projects with weak financial controls, and partly by providing Finance Ministers, central bankers, and other insiders with dollars they could use to  speculate against their own currencies; (3) the debt flows laid the foundations for a new, highly-efficient global haven network, which made it possible to spirit funds offshore and stash them in anonymous, tax-evading investments.  It is no coincidence that this network was dominated by the very same global banks that led the way in Third World syndicated lending. 

        All this combined to encourage Third World officials and wealthy elites to move a significant share of their private wealth offshore, even as their own governments were borrowing more heavily abroad than ever before.   

        Part of the resulting flight wave took the form of large stocks of strong-currency “mattress money” that was hoarded by residents of Third World countries -- especially $100 bills, Swiss francs, Deutschmarks, British pounds, and after 2002,  €100, €200, and €500 notes. By 2006, for example, the total stock of US currency outstanding was $912 billion. At least two-thirds of it was held offshore, especially in developing countries with a history of devaluations.   

        An even larger amount  of capital flight was accounted by  private “elite” funds that were spirited to offshore banking havens  – often, it turns out,  with the clandestine assistance of the very same First World banks, law firms, and accounting firms.

        The outflows that resulted from this “debt-flight” cycle were massive -- by my estimates, an average of $160 billion per year (in real $2000),  each year, on average,  from 1977 to 2003.   

        Furthermore, a great deal of  this flight capital was permitted to accumulate offshore in tax-free investments,  especially bank deposits and government bonds by nonresidents, which were specifically exempted from taxation by First World countries. By the early 1990s, he total stock of untaxed Third World private flight wealth soon came to exceed the stock of all Third World foreign debt. 

        Indeed, for the largest “debtors,” like Venezuela, Nigeria, Argentina, and Mexico – the same countries that dominated borrowing --  the value of all the foreign flight wealth owned by their elites is almost certainly now worth several times the value of their outstanding  foreign debts.   

        For so-called “debtor” countries, therefore,  the real problem was never simply  a “debt” problem; it was  an “asset” problem – a problem of collecting taxes, controlling corruption, managing state-owned resources, and recovering foreign loot.  All this, in turn, was based on the fact that a huge share of private wealth had simply flown the coop, under the “watchful eyes” of the BWIs, other multilateral institutions, Wall Street, and the City of London.

        Meanwhile, these countries’ public sectors – and ultimately ordinary taxpayers – were stuck with having to service all these unproductive debts, while their legal systems, banking systems, and capital markets also ended up riddled with corruption.

        Conventional economists have not ignored these phenomena completely. But they have tended to compartmentalize them into “institutional” problems like “corruption” and “transparency,” and have treated them as “endogenous” to particular countries.  In this approach, the individual country is the appropriate unit of analysis. In fact, however, such local problems were greatly exacerbated by a global problem – the structure of the transnational system for financing development, on the one hand, and for stashing vast quantities of untaxed private capital  -- from whatever source derived --  on the other.

        Human Capital Flight

        This underground river of financial flight was also accompanied by an increased  outflow of “human capital” as well,  as large parts of the developing world became jobless and unlivable, and a significant share of its precious skilled labor decamped for growth poles like Silicon Valley and other booming First World labor markets. My own estimate for the net economic value of this displaced Third World “human flight” wealth, as of 2006,  is  $2.5 to $3.0 trillion. 

        This offshore human capital does send home a stream of remittance income that is now estimated at $100 billion- $200 billion a year. But much of this is wasted on high transfer costs and other misspending. Clearly, a country that chooses to depend heavily on labor exports – as the Philippines, Mexico, Haiti, and Ecuador have done, is a poor substitute for generating jobs and incomes at home.   

        Summary – Roots of the Crisis

        Overall, the impact of the patterns just described on Third World incomes and welfare has been devastating.  Except for the handful of globalization winners that managed to avoid the “debt trap” and neoliberal nostrums, real incomes in the Third World basically stagnated or declined from 1980 to 2005.   While growth has revived since then, especially among commodity  exporters, large parts of the developing world are still struggling to regain their pre-1980 levels of consumption, social spending, and domestic tranquility. 

        In addition to prolonged stagnation, many countries have also experienced sharp increases in unemployment, poverty, inequality,  environmental degradation, insecurity,  crime, violence, and political instability, all of which were exacerbated by the debt-flight crisis.

        Of course, instability was sometimes beneficial – in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico,  the Philippines, and South Africa, financial crises helped to undermine autocratic regimes. But we should be able to democratize without so much hardship.

        All these Third World troubles provided a striking contrast to the First World’s relative prosperity during this period. To be sure,  there were brief hiccups at the hands of oil price spikes in 1973 and 1979, plus recessions of 1982-83, 1990-91, and 2001-03. Japan stagnated in the 1990s, and France and Germany also experienced prolonged doldrums. But these were the exceptions. Overall, a large share of the world’s poor basically treaded water, while most First World residents paddled by.  (continued on page 27)


        B. “Can’t Get No Relief!”

        Whatever one thinks of neoliberal policies, therefore,  it is very hard to make this track record look like an achievement. This perspective should help us to view  “debt relief” in a different light.

        Given this history,  we might well have expected that at least by now,  First World governments, the BWIs, and even the global private banking industry would have acknowledged their partial  responsibility, pitched in, and offered to share a large portion  of the bill.

        Obviously this hasn’t happened. As the sidebar discusses, this is not because of any principled opposition to “debt relief” per se. Indeed, debt relief turns out to be a venerable capitalist institution, at least where the debtors in question have clout. 

        Nor was it possible for the countries themselves to agree on a unilateral moratorium on debt service.  More generally, while a handful of individual countries -- Argentina in 2001-2, Russia after World War I, and Cuba in the early 1960s and 1980s –- have declared debt moratoria on their own,  Third World debtors as a whole have never been able to marshal the collective will needed to take this step. 

        Given this, the only alternative has been to rely on voluntary actions by First World creditors, as accelerated by appeals to conscience. We’ve seen the rather modest results that this approach has achieved.

        Several key factors are at work here:

        •    Sticks. Most developing countries believe they are too dependent on the  trade finance and aid to risk outright defiance of international creditors.

        •    Carrots. Many members of the Third World elite have been “bought in.” One common reward is the opportunity to participate in international ventures and receive foreign loans and investments.  Beyond that, there is a whole range of other incentives, including  offshore accounts, insider profits, and outright bribes and kickbacks. There are also more subtle forms of influence  -- Dow Jones board seats (Mexico’s Salinas), positions at prestigious universities, banks and BWIs (Mexico’s Zedillo at Yale, Argentina’s Cavallo at NYU, (Bolivia’s ex-Finance Minister Juan Cariaga) and any number of other former officials at the World Bank/ IFC) participation in other exclusive organizations (for example, the Council of the Americas, the Council on Foreign Relations, or the Inter-American Dialogue), and even more subtle forms of ideological influence. These intra-developing world networks have been relatively weak.

        •    The Banking Cartel. Compared with the debtor countries,  the global financial services industry is very well organized. Country specialists at leading banks and BWIs have dealt with the same debt problems over and over again, while on the country side, dozens of debt negotiators  have come and gone.  Specialists like Citigroup’s William Rhodes and Chase’s Francis Mason were adept at isolating more militant countries and exploiting inter-country rivalries. Boilerplate language in standard country loan and bond contracts – for example, jurisdiction and cross-default clauses – also helped to perpetuate the “creditor cartel.” 

        •    Declining Political Competition.  After 1990, the Soviet Empire ceased to be a serious competitor for Third World affections. Interestingly, from that point on, the real value of total First World aid and aid per capita to developing countries fell until late 1990s.  Meanwhile, First World banks completed write-downs of Third World loans, and  the BWIs and other official institutions displaced them as the principle source of new low-income loans.  With credit risk effectively transferred to the public sector, and the largest debtors focused on the neoliberal reforms that the BWIs were demanding in exchange for debt relief, debtor country support for joint relief atrophied.



        With country debtors so fragmented, “small-scale” debt relief became just another instrument of neoliberal reform, while the cause of “large-scale” debt relief was relegated to the NGO community, without much developing country involvement. The resulting “movement” was a loosely-run coalition of First World NGOs and well-meaning celebrities. Lacking a strong political base, the movement mounted a series of intermittent media campaigns. It also assumed the supplicant position of appealing to the “better selves” of  politicians like Tony Blair and George Bush, central bankers, and BWI bureaucrats – a hard-nosed, flea-bitten bunch if ever there was one.

        The Best-Laid Plans…     

        One factor that certainly has not played a role in the failure to achieve substantial debt relief is a shortage of clever proposals from the First World policy establishment.

        Indeed, ever since Third World borrowing took off in the 1970s, there has been a plethora of schemes for “international credit commissions,” “debt facilities,” debt buybacks,  debt-equity swaps, and “exit bonds.” In the last decade, as frustrations with HIPC grew, there have also been proposals for a new “sovereign debt restructuring agency,” global bankruptcy courts, and modifications in the boilerplate contracts noted above.

        These proposals provided grist for a steady stream of journal articles and conferences, but very few made much practical difference. The overall pattern was  one of cautious incrementalism -- a  series of modest proposals, each one just slightly more ambitious than its predecessor, and all doomed to be ineffectual – but with the  saving grace that at least no powerful financial interests would be offended.

        A. The Baker Plan

        The majority of today’s Third World population  was not even born in October 1985 when Reagan’s second Treasury Secretary, James A. Baker III, announced his “Baker Plan” for debt relief. This acknowledged the fact that the market-based debt rescheduling approach to the debt crisis pursued by commercial banks since 1982 wasn’t working.  Indeed, traditional rescheduling was aggravating the problem, because banks had ceased to provide new loans, while continuing to role over back-due interest at higher and higher interest rates.

        The Baker Plan hoped to change this by offering a combination of new loans funded by US taxpayers and the MFIs, plus some private bank loans, in exchange for “market reforms” in the recipient countries. It was motivated by the conventional notion that the 1980s debt crisis was basically a short-term “liquidity” problem, not a reflection of deeper structural interests. Supposedly a fresh round of (government-subsidized) new loans, conditioned on reforms, would allow debtor countries to “grow their way” out of the “temporary” crisis.

        By 1989, the Baker had produced a grand total of $32 billion of new loans,   mainly to 15 middle-income countries like Mexico and Brazil. This was achieved at a cost of  $45 billion to First World taxpayers, by way of the US Treasury. By comparison, the gross external debt of all developing countries at the time was about $1 trillion, so the amount of relief provided was relatively small. Indeed, to the extent that the Plan added $77 billion to Third World debt,   it actually constituted negative debt relief.

        Finally, of course, both Plans omitted almost all low-income countries completely, partly because First World exposure to them was limited,  and partly because at that point, the notion of writing down “development loans” was still  anathema to the World Bank and the IMF.

        B. “Market-Based” Debt Relief

        While observers were waiting for the Baker Plan to work in the late 1980s,  private banks  were also busy retiring to manage some $26 billion of debt on their own, by way of so-called “market-based” methods, including buy-backs and debt swaps. Some of these techniques had harmful consequences for the countries involved. They also tended to reinforce the de facto “takeover” of the Third World debt problem by the BWIs and other official lenders. With our support, however, they succeeded in offsetting part of the Baker Plans’ harmful effect on debt levels, however. 
        C. The Brady Plan

        When these two approaches failed to make much of a dent in the problem, James Baker’s successor, former Wall Street investment banker Nick Brady came up with a more aggressive debt swap plan in March 1989. The key motivator was not just generosity. Brazil’s February 1987 attempted moratorium on interest payments had set a dangerous precedent,  and Mexico’s rigged July 1988 Presidential transition, combined with its huge debt overhang and declining oil prices, suggested that a more widespread default might occur unless more debt relief were forthcoming. 

        Under Brady’s plan, first implemented by Mexico in July 1989, private banks agreed to swap their country loans at 30-35 percent discounts for a menu of new country bonds, whose interest and principle were securitized by bonds issued by US Treasury, the World Bank, the IMF, and Japan’s Export-Import Bank – backed up, in turn, by reserves from the debtor countries. 

        By the end of the Brady Plan in 1993, this “semi-voluntary” incentives scheme had provided another relatively small dose of relief, mainly to about 16 Latin American, middle-income countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico, plus US favorites like Poland, the Philippines, and Jordan.  With the help of taxpayer subsidies, it also succeeded in virtually wiping out the debts owed by several small developing countries – Guyana, Mozambique, Niger, and Uganda – to private banks. By 1994, just prior to Mexico’s “Tequila Crisis,” the Brady Plan had yielded about $124 billion (in $2006 NPV terms) of debt reduction – at a cost of $66 billion in taxpayer subsidies.  To date, it remains the largest – and most costly -- initiative in the entire debt relief arena.

        Some have argued that Brady Plan also had a beneficial indirect effect on the total amount of new loans and investments received by debtor countries in 1989-93, by way of its impact on equity markets and direct investment.  However, these gains were more than offset by increased capital flight, leaving a net benefit to developing countries that was almost certainly lower than the initial First World tax subsidies.

        Furthermore, any such gains were largely wiped out by the subsequent financial crises in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Nigeria, Peru, and the Philippines in 1995-99. These were partly due to the brief surge of undisciplined borrowing, facilitated by the Brady Plan   Indeed, while the early 1990s produced a reduction in debt service relative to exports and national income for the 16 countries, by the end of 1990s, most of the “Brady Bunch” had seen their debt burdens return to pre-Plan levels. 

        Overall, therefore, this provides a graphic illustration of the point noted earlier: without basic institutional reform – not just “market” reforms within one country, but more general reforms of the global financial system – debt relief in one period may just lead to increased borrowing and another crisis in the next.

        D. “Traditional” Bilateral Relief – Low Income Countries

        As noted, these early debt relief initiatives were focused mainly on the world’s largest debtors, although a handful of low-income countries took advantage of them. By the late 1980s, there was a growing recognition of the trend described earlier – that the debts of low-income countries were exploding. 

        These countries were also paying astronomical debt service bills, despite the fact that they had all qualified for “concessional” finance. By 1986, 19 out of the (future) 38 HIPC low-income countries were devoting at least 5 percent of national income to servicing their foreign debts, and many countries were paying much more. On average, debt service consumed over a third of their export revenues, compared with less than 10 percent  a decade earlier.  And the “present value” of their low-income country debt had continued to rise throughout the Baker/Brady Plan period. By 1992, the debt was three times the l980 level, and well above the 1986 level.  Finally, from 1985 on, private bank lending to low-countries had  only  been exceeded by lending by development banks and export credit agencies.

        One of the first to recognize the need for a closer focus on low-income debt was another UK Chancellor, Nigel Lawson. In 1987 he proposed that the Paris Club refocus its negotiations with debtor countries on trying to reduce  their “debt overhang” – the present value of their expected future debt service payments.  This  was a striking contrast to conventional debt relief, where the goal of rescheduling had always been to  avoid write-downs and preserve the loans’ present value by stretching out repayment. Once again,  that had assumed that the key debt problem was one of “illiquidity” and that the nasty random shocks would soon reverse themselves. As Lawson and other observers had come to recognize, in the absence of serious intervention, the resulting “debt overhang” might just become permanent.

        Lawson’s proposal launched the Paris Club on a prolonged series of debt restructurings. In the next decade,  it conducted 90 bilateral restructurings with 73 individual countries, on increasingly-generous term sheets.  By 1998, this effort – supplemented by assistance for debt swaps from the World Bank/IDA’s Debt Facility --  had produced another $95 billion of debt relief. 
        E. HIPC

        In September 1996, the BWIs established the “HIPC Initiative,” their first comprehensive debt relief program ever, targeted at “heavily-indebted developing countries.” They didn’t take this initiative unilaterally – they were responding to numerous complaints from NGOs and the debtor countries, who said that existing  relief programs were not doing enough for the world’s poorest, most insolvent countries, and that it was  also high time for multilateral lenders like the IMF and the World Bank to finally share the costs.

        Initially the program was supposed to include the 41 low-income countries that had been included on the World Bank’s first list of “HIPCs” in 1994. That list was supposed to have been determined by objective criteria, including real income levels and the “sustainability” of projected debt service levels,  relative to projected exports. But such criteria are of course anything but objective, especially where acute foreign policy interests are concerned. The original list of countries  would have included all those with per capita incomes less than $695 in 1993, plus (a) PV debt to income ratios of at least 80 percent,  or (b) debt service to export ratios of at least 220 percent. Those criteria would have admitted such major debtors as Angola, Nigeria, Kenya, Vietnam and Yemen.  On the other hand,  it would have also omitted future HIPCs like Malawi, Guyana,  and Gambia. As of 1996, the countries on this original HIPC list accounted for $244 billion of debt and 672 million people – about 63 percent of all low-income country debt and more than a third of all low-income country residents.

        Qualifications

        For a variety of reasons – including shifting admissions criteria, the desire of the BWIs to contain costs, and sheer geopolitics – this initial list was soon altered.  Seven countries, including several large low-income debtors like Kenya, Nigeria, and Angola, were eliminated, while nine much smaller countries suddenly qualified for relief.   When the dust settled, there were still precisely 41 countries on the HIPC debt relief list. However, compared with the original list, as of 1996, they now only accounted for 39 percent of all low-income country debt –- indeed, only 6 percent of all developing country debt --  and just 23 percent of all low-income country residents.

        This downsizing was partly just due to BWI self-interest. The World Bank is a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, funded by its own long-term bond sales, as well as by First World contributions.  It is always very concerned about securing its own cash flow and debt rating.

        In principle, contributions from the BWI’s  First World members could always make up any shortfalls.  In practice, however, the World Bank liked to avoid having to solicit contributions from the US Congress – it always meant difficult hearings where the Bank had to explain where Togo or the Comoros was, and why it deserved assistance.

        Initially the BWIs had proposed to fund HIPC debt relief by liquidating part of the IMF’s huge 3.22 metric tons of gold reserves, whose market value had increased to several times book value.  Indeed, in 1999-2000, the IMF had conducted a round-trip sale and buyback of 12.9 million ounces with Brazil and Mexico, booking the profit to fund HIPC’s initial costs.  Here, however, another powerful set of interests intruded. The BWIs’ proposal for a much larger gold sale were successfully scuttled by the World Gold Council’s lobby, whose membership includes 23 leading global gold mining companies, including the US’ Newmont Mining, South Africa’s AngloGold, and Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp. 

        So debt relief turned out to be  something that  the BWIs  had to fund on a “pay as you go” basis,  through bond sales and periodic contributions from its First World  members. The larger the amount of debt relief, the smaller the World Bank’s own loan portfolio, and the more it feared that its own bond rating and financial independence might be jeopardized. So it had an innate bias in favor of providing less debt relief.

        As for the precise list of qualifying countries, there were many anomalies. For example, as of the mid-1990s, Angola, Kenya, Nigeria, and Yemen all had higher debt burdens and lower per capita incomes than many of the countries on the final HIPC list, but they were excluded. 

        On the other hand, at the behest of France, HIPC analysts also designed specific rules so that the Ivory Coast would be included, despite the fact that it had a higher per capita income and lower debt burdens than many other countries on the list. Guyana,  a bauxite-rich former British colony in northeast South America with a population of just 750,000 and a  real per capita income of $3600 – clearly a “middle income” country, if anyone cared to object – was also admitted.

        Meanwhile, HIPC excluded 29 other mainly middle-income countries that had been classified by the World Bank itself as “severely indebted,” including “dirty debt” leaders like Argentina, Ecuador, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines. In many cases their debt burdens were much heavier than those that were admitted to the HIPC club.   (continued below)

        All these exclusions were important, because it turned out that while the “HIPC 38” did reduce their debt service payments by about $2 billion a year from 1996 to 2003, debt service payments by non-HIPC low income countries actually increased by several times this figure.   

        Overall,  the BWI’s filters with respect to “sustainable debt” and income were inconsistently applied. They were intended to contain the size of debt relief and focus it on tiny, more malleable countries.

        The Long March

        Debt critics were naturally a little disappointed at HIPC’s modest scope, relative to the size of all outstanding Third World debt. But at least they thought they could count on the BWIs to provide speedy debt relief to those countries on the HIPC list.

        Unfortunately, even for those countries, the journey usually proved to be a very long march. The World Bank and the IMF decided to impose   a  long, drawn-out, tortuous process before countries actually got any relief, conditioning it on a menu of all the BWIs favorite neoliberal reforms, including privatization, tariff cuts, and balanced budgets.

        This was especially hard to account, in light of the fact that the HIPCs on the final list were hardly prime prospects for First World banks, contractors, or equipment suppliers. Fully half had populations smaller than New Jersey’s, with per capita incomes averaging less than $1100, and average life expectancies of just 49 years. So offering this crowd debt relief was unlikely to set a dangerous “moral hazard” precedent.
        Nevertheless, under the original 1996 “HIPC I” scheme, countries were supposed to spend three years implementing such reforms under the WB/IMF’s watchful eye before they reached a “decision point.” Then a debt relief package would be assembled and a modest amount of debt service relief would be approved.
        Countries were then supposed to continue their good behavior for another 3 years before reaching the “completion point,” at which point they’d finally see a serious reduction in debt service.
        Even then, they wouldn’t receive a total debt write-off, but only a partial subsidy, reducing debt service to a level that the WB/IMF considered “sustainable,” relative to projected exports. 
        Along the way, countries were also expected to draw up an IMF/World Bank-approved “Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper,” negotiate a “Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility,” and engage the IMF and the World Bank in regular, rather intrusive “Staff Monitoring Programs.”
        To some extent, all this policy paternalism was justified by the fact that, as we’ve seen, many of these countries were unstable, poorly-governed, war-torn places. This is the old “more sand, same rat-holes” aid dilemma noted earlier – those countries most in need of assistance are also often precisely the ones with the most limited ability to use it wisely. Furthermore, under the influence of neoliberal policies, state institutions in many of these countries have become even weaker.

        However, from the standpoint of delivering debt relief in a timely fashion,  the BWI’s strictures clearly went beyond the pal. Many BWI technocrats  adopted a kind of righteous, almost creditor-like stance toward the countries – perhaps because, after all,  the BWIs are substantial creditors.  They may also prefer gradual debt relief because this preserves their control. In any case, all of this is a poor substitute for the more constructive  neutral role that, say,  a “trustee in bankruptcy” would typically play in bankruptcy proceedings.

        Combined with country backwardness, this  creditor-cum-neoliberal-reformer mentality had  predictable results. Indeed, if HIPC’s  true goal was to avoid giving meaningful debt relief, it almost succeeded!  By 2000, just six countries – Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Guyana, Mali, Mozambique, and Uganda - had managed to reach “completion,” and zero debt relief had been dispensed. Eventually, HIPC I afforded a grand total of $3.7 billion  of debt relief  to these six countries.    Even this amount was not distributed immediately in most cases, but was spread out over decades. For example, Uganda’s debt service relief from the World Bank was stretched out over 23 years, Mozambique’s over 31 years,  and Guyana will still be collecting $1 million per year of debt relief in 2050!

        Would that First World  creditors and the BWIs had been anywhere near as circumspect about making loans to developing countries as they have been  about administering debt relief!













        HIPC II

        In June 1999,  following the massive “Drop the Debt” rallies at the May 1998 G-8 meeting in Birmingham, the WB/IMF launched “HIPC II,”  supposedly a faster, more generous version of HIPC I. But even this version soon proved to be embarrassingly slow. By 2006, of the 38 countries on the initial HIPC list way back in 1996, just 18 had reached  the “completion point.” Eleven others had reached their “decision points,” after a median wait of 49 months, but five of these were reporting “slow progress.”  Of the other original nine, just one was both ready to qualify and interested in participating. 

        To fill out the ranks, in 2006 the WB/IMF identified six more low-income countries that might still be able to qualify for HIPC relief before the curtains finally descend in December 2006. However, only two of these were both ready and willing to try for this deadline. 

        All told, compared with the original target group, at the end, HIPC was down to providing debt relief  to countries that accounted for just 18 percent of outstanding low-income debt and 13 percent of the world’s low income population.

        The HIPC Sweepstakes

        Those countries that managed to navigate all the HIPC hurdles did finally receive some debt relief – all told, for HIPC I and HIPC II,  a grand total reduction in debt service of $832 million per year for 2001-2006, compared with debt payments in 1998-99.  This sum was divided among for all 27 countries that had reached their completion or decision points. 

        Some countries did much better than others.  For example, middle-income Guyana progressed quickly through the program, qualifying for debt relief to the tune of $937 per capita from both HIPCs  – compared with the “HIPC 38’s” average of just $75 per capita.  Indeed, Guyana became something of a pro at debt relief – by 2006, it had achieved a record total of $2971 for each of its citizens,  from all debt relief programs to date. 

        Sao Tome, Nicaragua, Congo Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Zambia, Bolivia, DR Congo, Mozambique, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Burundi also did relatively well on a per capita basis, all realizing more than $100 of HIPC relief per citizen. 

        In terms of the share of all HIPC relief received, the clear winner was DR Congo, Mobutu’s old stomping ground,  which commanded an astounding 18.2 percent of al HIPC relief, and, indeed, nearly 8 percent of all First World debt relief received by low-income countries.

        In these terms, other winners included Nicaragua (9.5% of HIPC, 10.8% of all relief), Zambia (7.2%/4.9%), Ethiopia (5.7%/5.5%), Ghana (6.2%/2.6%), Tanzania (5.8%/4.8%), Bolivia (3.7%/4.2%) and Mozambique (5.8%/6.7%), which single-handedly captured 55 percent of HIPC I’s $3.7 billion benefit.

        Compared with our original list of “war-torn debt-heavy dictatorships,”  there is a huge overlap: The top ten low-income borrowers  in 1980-86 accounted for more than half of both HIPC relief and all First World debt relief distributed from 1988 through 2006.  On the other hand, many other indebted low-income countries received much less debt relief, both in per capita and absolute terms. 

        This per country/ per capita debt relief analysis, presented here for the first time,  underscores several of the most serious problems with using debt relief as a substitute for development aid.

        Of course it is difficult to insure that reductions in debt service (or the increased borrowing that occur in the aftermath of debt reductions)  will be applied to worthy causes. (“The Control Problem.”)

        Even apart from that, as noted in the accompanying tables,  the amount of relief available varies wildly across countries, according to factors that may have very little to do with development needs. (“The Correlation Problem.”)

        The BWIs in charge of the HIPC program tried to tackle the “Control Problem” by insisting on country “poverty reduction” programs and policy reforms, and by monitoring government spending,  and so forth.  Whether or not that has worked is a matter of dispute – there is a strong case to be made that most of this conditionality was counterproductive. Clearly it succeeded in slowing down the distribution of relief.

        But there is nothing that HIPC could  do about the “Correlation” problem – the lack of proportionality between debt relief and development needs. Relying on debt relief, in other words,  inevitably means that some of the worst-governed, most  profligate countries in the world may reap the greatest rewards.

        Overall HIPC Results

        As noted, HIPC does appear to have reduced foreign debt service burdens somewhat, especially for the 18 countries that managed to complete the program – although domestic debt service may be another story.

        However, 11 of the original 38 HIPC countries still had higher debt service/income ratios in 2004 than in 1996. Indeed,  to this day, poor Burundi is still laboring under a PV debt/income ratio of 91 percent!

        Furthermore, debt service ratios had already declined for 25 out of the 38 countries from 1986 to 1996, prior to HIPC’s existence. Debt service burdens also declined for many other low-income countries that didn’t enroll in HIPC, as well as for the 9 “pre-decision point” countries that have so far received no relief from it.  So it is not easy to call the HIPC program a “success,” even for those countries that have been able to reach the finish line. 

        What is also indisputable is that the total amount of debt relief achieved by HIPC to date has been very modest. While conventional press accounts often refer to HIPC as providing at least “$50 to $60  billion” of debt relief to developing countries, the more accurate estimate is at most $41.3 billion by 2006. This is less than 10 percent of all low-income country debt outstanding. 

        Of this, $7.6 billion was awarded to the original six countries in the HIPC I program, and another $33.7 billion is expected to be received by the other 23 countries that have at least reached  the “decision point.”  The potential cost of providing relief to the remaining 9 to 15 countries that might still qualify for HIPC is estimated at $21 billion, but very little of this will ever be forthcoming.  Indeed, the timing  and levels of relief are still highly uncertain for half of the 11 “decision point” countries.

        Once again, all these figures refer to the present values of expected future debt service relief, not to current cash transfers. As of 2006, only a third of HIPC I’s relief and less than 20 percent of HIPC II’s had actually been “banked” – an average of less than $1 billion of cash savings per year, to be divided up among all these very poor countries.

        The High Costs of HIPC Relief   

        Even these modest savings were not cost-free to the countries involved. To comply with the BWI’s demands  for HIPC relief, developing countries were required to the usual panoply of neoliberal reforms, many of which had perverse political and economic side effects. There are many examples that illustrate this point.   

        F. MDRI

        Our final stop on the debt relief train is the “Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative” (“MDRI”), announced with so much fanfare at the July 2005 G-8 meetings.  On closer inspection, this debt relief plan was even less impressive and generous than HIPC.

        By 2004,  many debtor countries  and First World NGOs had finally had it with HIPC.  However, MDRI only really came together because the UK Chancellor, Gordon Brown, saw a chance to earn some political capital, make up for the UK’s lagging foreign aid contributions, and  heal some of the bad feelings that had been generated by the UK’s support for the Iraq War, all at very little cost.

        With HIPC already set to expire,  and with so much low-income debt still outstanding, Brown decided to work closely – and indeed help to fund -- the Live 8/”End Poverty Now” alliance’s “free” concerts.  The collaboration with the NGOs was facilitated by the fact that one of Brown’s senior advisors, a former UBS banker, was an Oxfam board member, while Tony Blair’s senior advisor on debt policy was Oxfam’s former Policy Director. 

        These connections no doubt smoothed the reception for Brown’s proposals in the NGO world,  but they ultimately failed to achieve very much incremental debt  relief for poor countries.

        To begin with, the actual cash value of the debt relief provided by MDRI is  far less than the "$40 to $50 billion" that was widely touted in the press. 

        The face value of the IMF, World Bank, and African Development bank debts of the low-income countries that may be eligible  for cancellation adds up to about $38.2 billion. 

        But MDRI’s debt relief, like HIPC’s will not distributed in one fell swoop.  Given the concessional interest rates that already applied to most of the loans in question, and that fact that many of them were already in arrears, the actual debt service savings that these countries may realize from the program is just $.95 billion per year, on average, distributed over the next 37 years, to be divided among 42 countries.

        This may appear to be a modest sum to First World residents who are  used to seeing much larger sums spent on farm subsidies, submarines, highway programs, and invasions of distant countries.  But it is undeniably a large share of the $2.9 billion that the top 19 likely qualifiers for the program spend each year on education, or the $2.4 billion they spend on public health.

        Still,  the  G-8 debt cancellation gets us just 6 percent of the way home toward, say, the Blair/Brown Commission for Africa’s proposed $25-$30 billion per year of increased aid for low-income countries in Africa.

        It also compares rather unfavorably with the $1.3  billion per week that the Iraq War was costing in 2005, and the $2 billion a week that it is costing now.   

        Furthermore, to qualify for this MDRI relief, countries will still have to go through many of the same hoops that HIPC put them through. At least 8 countries among the 42 – including large debtors like Somalia and the Sudan --  may never meet these qualifications.

        Even for the top 19 countries that are likely to qualify, MDRI will still leaves them with $23.5 billion of higher-priced bilateral government debt and private debt that are outside the program, with an annual debt service bill of $800 million a year. And here again, of course, the point bears repeating – the countries have virtually nothing to show for all these debts.

        Finally, even assuming - optimistically - that MDRI’s  42 potential beneficiaries would otherwise continue to pay the $.7 billion to $1.3 billion of debt service owed to the BWIs and the AfDB over the next 37 years without arrearages or defaults, the "net present value" of this debt cancellation is not $40 billion, but at most $15 billion. In fact, given the  likelihood that some debtors may not qualify for the program, the PV of expected MDRI debt relief is really closer to $10 billion.

        In fact, from the standpoint of World Bank and African Development Bank bondholders,  they may well prefer to have their member countries to take them out of these "dog countries."

        Indeed, that might even be a very profitable deal for the World Bank,  since its cost of funds  is not the 3-3.5 percent paid – if and when  they pay -- by these low-income debtors, but at least 4.7 to 5 percent. Assuming that the members of the World Bank’s Executive Board will honor their pledges, exchanging a stream of highly-uncertain debt service payments from these benighted countries for $10 billion  to $15 billion of cold hard cash may look like a pretty good deal for the Bank.  Certainly it is better than having to play bill collector to all those nasty hell-holes.

        And I bet you thought “debt relief” was all about generosity!

        VI.  Summary – A Modest Proposal

        So what are the key lessons from this saga for would-be debt relievers? And where should debt campaigners focus their energies now?

        1. Beyond the BWIs.

        As we’ve argued, it is no accident that twenty-five years after the debt crisis, some of the poorest countries on the planet, as well as many middle-income countries, continue to be struggling with their foreign debts. 

        If we accept the basic premise of debt relief – that debtors who have become hopelessly in debt  deserve a chance to wipe the slate clean, once and for all,  then our conventional approach to debt relief, as administered by the IMF, World Bank,  the US Treasury, and the Paris Club, is a failure.  Not only has it failed to deliver the goods, but it has also had very high operating costs, in term of  delays, administration, and excessive conditionality.

        Evidently it was not enough that so much of loans that these countries borrowed was wasted, stolen and laundered right under the noses of our leading banks. Debtor countries were then expected to jump through elaborate BWI policy hoops, testing out all their favorite policy prescriptions in order  to avoid having to continue paying for it for the rest of their lives.

        In particular,  the huge World Bank and IMF bureaucracies  have proved to be far better at rationing  debt relief than at  making sure that impoverished countries don’t get up to their eyeballs in debt in the first place.

        Indeed, Russia alone – which is itself still heavily-indebted  --  has been far more generous and expeditious  with developing countries than the BWIs.
        If we are really serious about providing substantial amounts of debt relief, we will to find or design new institutions to administer debt relief. 

        2. Beyond Narrow Debt Relief.

        It not really surprising that First World governments and the BWIs tend to side with international creditors -- as, indeed, governments have often sided with landlords, enclosers, gamekeepers, slave-owners, and other propertied interests.

        What is surprising is that, despite the very high stakes for developing countries, and the availability of so much potential mass support for a fairer solution, the debt relief campaign has been so ineffective.

        This is no doubt partly just because it is difficult to sustain a global not-for-profit campaign across multiple activists and NGOs. It is also because the campaign faces powerful entrenched interests.

        But another difficulty may be of our own making. Compared with the dire needs of many countries and the sheer volume of “dubious debt” and capital flight, we believe that the debt relief movements’ demands have simply been far too meek.

        To make a real difference, the debt relief movement needs to get much tougher on two  closely-related  but necessarily more contentious aspects of the “debt” problem:

        (1)  Dubious debt, contracted by non-democratic or dishonest governments and wasted on overpriced projects, shady bank bailouts, cut-rate privatizations, capital flight, and corruption. As noted earlier, my own rough estimate is that such debt may account for at least a third of the $3.7 trillion of developing country debt outstanding. 

        (2) The huge stock of anonymous, untaxed  Third World flight wealth that now sits offshore – much of it originally financed by dubious loans, as well as by resource diversions,  privatization rip-offs, and other financial chicanery. 

        Most of this wealth – estimated at  $4 trillion to $5 trillion for the Third World alone – has been invested in First World assets, where it generates tax-free returns for its owners and handsome fees for  the global private banking industry.

        Obviously the sums at stake here are much larger the debt relief campaign has tacked so far. The issue also affects middle-income debtor countries as well as low-income ones. Finally, it also begs the question of the on-going responsibility of leading private global financial institutions, law firms, and accounting firms that built the pipelines for Third World flight capital, and continue to service it.  Since the 1980s, several of these institutions have become many times larger and more influential than the World Bank or the IMF.

        If the debt relief movement had the will to tackle such problems, there is much that could be done.

        For example, we could imagine:

        (1) Systematic debt audits, and a global asset recovery institution that helped developing countries recovery stolen assets;

        (2) Revitalization of the “odious debt” doctrine,  which specifies that debts contracted by dictatorships and/ or spent on non-public purposes or personal enrichment are unenforceable.

        (3) Promotion of  international tax cooperation and information exchange between First and Third World tax authorities – including as one early step the creation of a “Tax Department” at the World Bank, which doesn’t even have one!

        (4) Codes of conduct for transnational banks, law firms, accounting firms, and corporations, prohibiting their active facilitation of dubious lending, money laundering, and  tax evasion.

        (5) The enactment of a uniform, minimum, multilateral  withholding tax on offshore “anonymous” capital – the proceeds of could be used to fund development relief. 

        Many other  ideas along these lines are conceivable. Obviously a great deal of organization and education across multiple NGOs would be needed to tackle even one of them. But the most important requirement is nerve – the willingness to move beyond the debt movement’s all-too-narrow focus, to tackle the real issues in this arena.

        3.  The Limits of Debt Relief

        Earlier in this essay, we  expressed serious doubts about the "more