Category Archives: Banana republic

Senator Warren and America Win in a Skirmish in a Long Struggle Against Wall Street’s Coup

There is an excellent indicator that Senator Warren’s successful effort to block the appointment of Antonio Weiss, an Obama Wall Street bundler, to a senior Treasury position while merely a skirmish was an important accomplishment. The financial media that pander most slavishly to the Wall Street and the City of London’s CEOs is enraged at Warren’s success. The headline in the UK’s Business Insider reveals their angst “Elizabeth Warren Wins, The Treasury Loses.” The article doesn’t try very hard to support that headline with facts because there is no real case to support the claim.

“A number of former Treasury officials thought Warren was way out of line, and that Weiss’ experience was perfect for the position he was being nominated for.

The White House stood by its nominee throughout, stating last month, “This is somebody who has very good knowledge of the way that the financial markets work, and that is critically important.”

No argument on that here.”

Let’s begin with logic. There’s no logical way to declare that “Treasury lost” without knowing who else is willing to take the position of Under Secretary for Domestic Finance. No one thinks President Obama selected Weiss on the merits. He was selected because he bundled Wall Street campaign contributions for Obama’s campaigns. Treasury does not “win” when we appoint such people – Wall Street wins. We have no way of knowing whether Obama will select someone for the position who is better or worse than Weiss. The Undersecretary position is prestigious enough that we know that Obama has the ability to appoint hundreds of people who would like to take the position and are better qualified than Weiss. As a matter of logic, therefore, the authors could not support their claim.

The authors also don’t seem to have felt they could even try to make a case for their claim. They simply quote authority rather than reasoning. Their effort unintentionally made Warren’s opponents look bad. Consider the extraordinary arrogance of the statement “A number of former Treasury officials thought Warren was way out of line.” A U.S. Senator who is a member of Treasury’s oversight committee is completely “in line” to oppose nominees. Warren obviously did not oppose Weiss for partisan reasons. She opposed him on the merits. Weiss does not have a strong background for the skill sets required for the Undersecretary position. Again, no one can claim with a straight face that Obama selected Weiss on the merits. Of course, the same thing was true of many of the Treasury officials who think it is “way out of line” for Senators not to rubberstamp political reward-style appointments of Wall Street bundlers.

The best that the White House could come up with was that Weiss “has very good knowledge of the way that the financial markets work.” That description fits about one million Americans.

Conclusion

Warren has given Obama a golden opportunity – a “do over.” Obama can appoint someone who has a “very good knowledge of the way that the financial markets work” – and a passion for changing how they work in order to end the Wall Street culture of corruption and create radically improved markets based on integrity and service to investors with radically reduced profits. Obama could pick someone good for America, not “Treasury” and its Wall Street overseers. It is “critically important” that the financial markets be restored to a condition in which they aid Main Street and small investors rather than acting as parasites and predators.

At this juncture, the White House is signaling its continued opposition to serious reform.

“‘We continue to believe that Mr. Weiss is an extremely well-qualified individual, who is committed to the policy goals of this Administration and firmly supports the Administration’s policies on fostering economic growth and supporting our middle class. We are pleased that he has accepted the role of counselor to the Treasury secretary.’”

The administration continues its policy of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity to openly side with the American people (all of them, not simply “our middle class”) and demand the end of the corrupt culture of Wall Street. Warren has given Obama a priceless opportunity for a “do over.” No one expects Obama to do the right thing on the appointment, but Warren is doing the right thing by giving Obama a new the chance to do the right thing.

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Elizabeth Warren Takes a Scalp: Antonio Weiss Withdraws from Nomination for #3 Position at Treasury

As readers may recall, Elizabeth Warren blasted the Administration’s nomination of a Lazard executive and senior mergers & acquisitions banker Antonio Weiss to the number three Treasury psot, assistant secretary for domestic finance. Warren’s grounds for objecting to Weiss were straightforward: his experience was no fit for the requirements of his proposed Treasury role. On top of that, he had been involved in and therefore profited from acquisitions called inversions that Treasury opposes because they reduce the taxes paid by the acquirer, which uses the acquired company to move its headquarters to a lower-tax jurisdiction.

Today Weiss withdrew as a candidate for the Treasury position.

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Answering for America’s Madness

Yves here. This post by Ann Jones discusses the difficulty that Americans have in answering questions from foreigners about large swathes of our policies. I had enough trouble explaining (mind you, not defending) the Iraq War when I lived in Sydney from 2002 to 2004, when Americans were generally still well tolerated around the world. I can’t imagine what it is like now.

Some readers will no doubt beg to differ, but it appears that our supposed leaders are operating out of a mass delusion and trying (and for the moment succeeding) in imposing it on the rest of us.

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Bill Black: Obama’s Vain Search for a TPP “Legacy”

Yves here. This post confirms what readers know all to well, that Obama will use every opportunity to sell out the middle class to corporate interests.

One thing to bear in mind is that opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and its ugly sister, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, do not split on simply party lines. This fall, when Obama was unable to get enough votes to get “fast track” approval, which the Executive Branch uses to force an up-down vote on a final trade deal, denying Congress the opportunity to influence its contents, whip counts showed that nearly 40 Republicans in the House were prepared to join Democrats in opposing it. How the numbers would break now is an open question, but that means it is worth your time and effort to call your Congressman and let them know you are firmly opposed to these toxic trade deals.

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How the Republican Campaign to Gut Dodd Frank is a Huge Gimmie to Banks and Private Equity Funds

The Republicans have been quick and shameless in using their control of both houses to try to crank up the financial services pork machine into overtime operation. The Democrats at least try to meter out their give-aways over time.

Their plan, as outlined in an important post by Simon Johnson, is to take apart Dodd Frank by dismantling key parts of it under the rubric of “clarifications” or “improvements” and to focus on technical issues that they believe to be over the general public’s head and therefore unlikely to attract interest, much the less ire. However, as Elizabeth Warren demonstrated in the fight last month over the so-called swaps pushout rule, it is possible to reduce many of these issues to their essential element, which is that Wall Street is getting yet another subsidy or back-door bailout.

Today’s example is HR 37, with the Orwellian label “Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act”.

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Michael Hudson: The War on Pensions – The US Budget Anti-Pension Law

On the Senate’s last day in session in December, it approved the government’s $1.1 trillion budget for coming fiscal year.

Few people realize how radical the new U.S. budget law was. Budget laws are supposed to decide simply what to fund and what to cut. A budget is not supposed to make new law, or to rewrite the law. But that is what happened, and it was radical.

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“Summer” Rerun: Quelle Surprise! Hank Paulson and Goldman CEO Talked to Each Other a Lot!

As I like to say, I started out on Wall Street when it was criminal only at the margin. The unseemly coziness between Goldman and keygovernment agencies in critical episodes during the crisis illustrates how much standards of conduct have deteriorated.

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Christie Allies Offer Dubious Defenses for Payments Made to His Wife’s Firm

Increasingly defensive responses from the Christie administration and friendly media outlets show that David Sirota’s relentless reporting on pension fund improprieties is starting to draw blood.

The New York Times ran a story last week that recapped (and cited) the Sirota’s reporting on a new Garden State impropriety: that of Christie’s wife, Mary Pat, being hired by hedge fund Angelo Gordon after the firm had been told by the state to liquidate a $150 million custom fund. That should be uncontroversial except Angelo Gordon has failed to sell a portion of the fund after three years, meaning it is still generating fees from New Jersey even as Christie’s wife works there. This relationship looks to run afoul of New Jersey’s strict pay-to-play rules, which state officials from “being involved” in “any official manner” in which they have direct or indirect personal or financial interest.

The Newark Star Ledger also wrote up the story, with the addendum that Tom Bruno, chairman of the state’s largest pension fund, called for an ethics investigation.

The day after the Times story appeared in print, the Newark Star Ledger in an editorial tried to depict the accounts as off base. The timing of the response, coming so quickly on the heels of the Times’ account, strongly suggests that it was planted. An all-too-consistent feature of the rebuttals to Sirota’s charges is that they play fast and loose with facts. The bone of contention is that the state is still paying fees to Angelo Gordon, when by all normal standards payments should have ceased years ago.

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Bill Black: Obama and Holder Choose Banksters Over Whistleblowers

Yves here. At this point, the Obama administration’s fealty to banksters is a “dog bites man” story. Nevertheless, it’s useful to catalogue particular incidents to show how consistent its behavior is. The latest case study is its shoddy treatment of whistleblowers.

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John Helmer: Ukraine Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko Accused in Colorado Court

Yves here. Helmer was first to provide in-depth reporting on the US citizen and State-Department supported Natalie Jaresko, who was mysteriously parachuted into the post of Ukraine Finance Minister a few weeks ago. Jaresko is in the midst of a nasty divorce from her former business partner. As Helmer wrote:

It hasn’t been rare for American spouses to go into the asset management business in the former Soviet Union, and make profits underwritten by the US Government with information supplied from their US Government positions or contacts. It is exceptional for them to fall out over the loot.

Helmer gives us the latest update on this protracted battle, and what it says about the Natalie Jaresko’s willingness to play fast and loose.

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Jeb Bush: The Forrest Gump of Financial Improprieties?

The Financial Times has an unusual story featured prominently today. As Jeb Bush has made a soft launch of his presidential campaign, the pink paper has published a surprisingly long list of financial relationships that do not put the Florida governor in a particularly good light.

The intriguing part isn’t so much a history of dubious-looking complicated money dealings. It’s the fact that many of them are live.

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Did Wall Street Need to Win the Derivatives Budget Fight to Hedge Against Oil Plunge?

Conventional wisdom among banking experts is that Wall Street’s successful fight last week to get a pet provision into the must-pass budget bill (or in political junkies’ shorthand, Cromnibus) as more a demonstration of power and a test for gutting Dodd Frank than a fight that mattered to them. But the provision they got in, which was to undo a portion of Dodd Frank that barred them from having taxpayer-backstopped deposits fund derivative positions, may prove to be more important than it seemed as the collateral damage from the 40% fall in oil prices hits investors and intermediaries.

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Bill Black: Second Circuit Decision Effectively Legalizes Insider Trading

Yves here. Bill Black is so ripshit about a Second Circuit court of appeals decision that effectively legalizes insider trading that he doesn’t unpack the workings until later his his important post. Let’s turn to Reuters (hat tip EM) for an overview:

A U.S. appeals court dealt federal prosecutors a blow in their crackdown on insider trading on Wall Street on Wednesday, overturning the convictions of two former hedge fund managers charged with making illegal trades in technology stocks.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said prosecutors presented insufficient evidence to convict Todd Newman, a former portfolio manager at Diamondback Capital Management, and Anthony Chiasson, co-founder of Level Global Investors.

The court held that defendants can only be convicted of insider trading if the person trading on confidential information knew the original tipper disclosed it in exchange for a personal benefit.

What does this mean in practical terms? The court has just provided a very-easy-to-satisfy roadmap for engaging in insider trading legally.

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