Category Archives: Politics

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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The War to Start All Wars: The 25th Anniversary of the Forgotten Invasion of Panama

Yves here. Why is war becoming a dominant line of business for a soi-disant democracy? In the 19th century, the consensus among the capitalist classes was that armed conflict was bad for business. Europe had a nearly 100 year of peace, with only short-lived conflicts as punctuation.

The rationale for America’s militaristic foreign policy was that spreading democracy would promote peace, since as conventional wisdom had it, democracies don’t go to war with other democracies. But the more accurate statement might be that many democracies (Russia and most countries in South America being noteworthy exceptions) have accepted the US security umbrella and are no longer capable of defending themselves (for instance, Mathew D. Rose noted that “much of the German military hardware is dysfunctional due to austerity and endemic corruption“). But the promise of a Pax Americana in the wake of the fall of the USSR has instead morphed into the US running ongoing wars and counterinsurgencies, even as our troops are strained to the breaking point. And it’s clear that these campaigns are more about looting than about making America and its allies safer. The classic Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War has an afterword which discusses the failed Iraq peace, pointing out that it was absurd to expect the Iraqi army to be able to stand up against foreign attack (this years before it collapsed when ISIS looked cross-eyed at it). Similarly, that a big part of the failure to reconstruct the country was due to the use of US contractors. Not only did they cost ridiculously more, but the failure to employ local firms and hire locals meant little of the spending went into the Iraq economy. Rebuilding would also have given young men meaningful and well-paid work. The absence of that made them good raw material for the opposition.

In other words, America has turned long-standing commercial logic on its head. Yet there has been perilous little in the way of complaint from the business community. Is it because one of America’s recent growth engined, the tech industry, gets far too much in the way of goodies from defense-related R&D to challenge this equation? Or that US multinationals believe, rightly or wrongly, that the safety of their extended supply chains depends on military might, and so they see their interests as aligned with US adventurism? Or is it simply that the US has gotten to be very good at propaganda (see Alex Carey, Taking the Risk out of Democracy, for a long-form treatment), with the result that many people operate from assumptions that would not stand up to scrutiny?

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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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Pepe Escobar: How China’s Eurasia Maneuvers Beat Obama’s Pivot to Asia

Yves here. We’ve commented occasionally on Obama’s failed pivot to Asia, which is clearly an effort to contain China. The centerpiece, the TransPacific Partnership, appears to be going nowhere. A meeting between Communist party chief Xi and Japan’s Abe trumped America’s presence at the ASEAN conference; our Japanese press-watcher Clive says that Putin garnered as much media coverage as did the US president. But you’d get perilous little sense of how China is outmaneuvering the US in Asia, despite considerable worries among its neighbors about its aggressive territorial claims.

This article by Pepe Escobar gives a fine overview of the measures China is taking to create greater economic integration with its Eurasian and European trade partners, to the detriment of US influence. And Washington appears to have been caught flat-footed.

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IMF, World Bank Halt Lending to Ukraine – Franklin Templeton $4 Billion Ukraine Bet Goes Bad

Yves here. While the financial media is riveted with the spectacle of the ruble meltdown and the Russian government rate hike to 17%, and the investor rush out of all things emerging markets, another drama is playing out in Ukraine. If you’ve been following this drama, the Ukraine economy is substantially intertwined with Russia’s, and Russia was already subsidizing it by giving it a break on gas prices. When things got ugly, Russia revoked the subsidy, demanded repayment of outstanding gas debts, and cut off gas shipments. This made for an ugly situation, since 70% of gas to Europe goes through pipelines that transit Ukraine meaning Ukraine could simply steal European-bound gas if they got desperate, creating a conflict with one of their new patrons. Moreover, it raised the specter that any rescue of Ukraine would wind up routing funds to Gazrpom to pay off the gas bill, another outcome unappealing to a West determined to punish Russia every way it could (the dispute over the outstanding debt is being arbitrated, with a decision due next summer, which also allows Europe to wash its hands of money going to Gazprom).

This detailed account of the wrangling over what to do about supporting the basket case of Ukraine makes a couple of issues very clear: one, the amount of funding needed is much larger than the officials want to admit to, and two, the approaches under discussion are at best stopgaps. A default and restructuring look inevitable.

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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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Yanis Varoufakis: How the United States Rolls (Post-Global Minotaur) – by Slavov Žižek

By Yanis Varoufakis, a professor of economics at the University of Athens. Originally published at his website. In this article, aptly subtitled It’s lonely being the global policeman, Slavoj evokes a parallelism between the age of extremes that began as the British Empire was losing its grip with the present moment in history. Now that the […]

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