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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)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Omestic_spying_generic
STELLAR WIND: THE NSA's DOMESTIC SPYING PROGRAM
Please watch this video. Then call your US Senators and Congresspeople. Tell them to open their ears. The US Constitution is at stake.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/23/opinion/the-national-security-agencys-domestic-spying-program.html

 

August 25, 2012 at 02:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Blood Diamonds

BloodDiamonds

March 7, 2012 at 04:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

24 Hour Blackout, In Opposition to SOPA and PIPA "Closed Internet" Legislation

 

Wikiblack

 

January 18, 2012 at 01:38 AM | 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 27, 2010

"SPILL BABY SPILL"
"Let's Fill Up the Land Rover and Drive to the Mall!"



May 27, 2010 at 03:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Haiti: Gov Facing Political Test

May 13, 2010 Port au Prince. Today UN spokesperson Edwin Mueller said the UN was opposed to President Rene Preval' decision to seek an extra 3 month emergency term now, delaying the elections scheduled for the end of Nov. 2010. He said the GOH could easily wait til November to determine if emergency conditions existed that required such a delay, and that elections have been held in other countries under much more turbulent conditions. He also said the UN is witholding further aid to the GOH, and will channel it only to NGOs, pending improvement in the GOH's administration of the emergency shelter camps, where at least 1.41 million people -- probably more -- are now living under miserable conditions.
Separately, opposition groups have today announced plans for protests next Monday May 17, demanding Preval's resignation. Stay tuned!!!
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May 13, 2010 at 02:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: No Real Shortage of Land -- Just Political Will

En route from Mirabelais to Port au Prince, May 13 2010
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May 13, 2010 at 02:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Is Medical Care In Haiti Really Better Now Than Before the Quake?
James S.Henry


(HEUH,Port au Prince, May 12, 2010)

0127-general-hospital-haiti_full_6001 On Monday AP carried a story, unfortunately replayed with no editing by the Huffington Post , which baldly claimed that medical care in Haiti is now actually much better and more accessible than it was before the January 12th quake.

Having spent much of the past week in Haiti visiting nurses, doctors, and medical workers at the main hospital and leading clinics in Port au Prince, as well as several of the largest camps here, I've concluded that this report is, at best, highly misleading.

At worst, it is yet another striking example of sloppy AP reporting and the virtually-unedited brave new world of "fast food" Internet journalism.

While the supply of medical care in Haiti has indeed increased since January, mainly because of the temporary influx of foreign volunteers and donations, the fact is that the demand for most kinds of care has increased even more.

For example, in the aftermath of the quake, there was an immediate need to treat traumatic injuries and perform amputations. That need, which had not really existed before Haiti, naturally got most of the world's attention.

Haiti-earthquake-boy By now that specific need has indeed mostly been met, however. Accordingly, most US volunteer surgeons and nurses have either rotated out, or are in the process of leaving.

However, according to more than a dozen nurses, doctors and health workers at HEUH, the main hospital in PauP, and at the leading clinic at the 50,000 person Camp Jean-Louis, this hardly means the country's medical needs are now being better served than before the quake.

The need for the kind of high-visibility, "ER-" type fly-in care has now been replaced by a surge in other maladies, which may be less visually-dramatic to international TV audiences, but no less life-threatening.

Unfortunately, treating these other less glamorous quake-related medical consequences demands a longer term commitment -- plus basic improvements in nutrition and community health that are -- like Adam Smith's "invisible hand" -- for the most part still nowhere to be seen.

For example, since the quake, there's been a sharp rise in under-5 age mortality and physical illnesses and injuries. These include not only infectious diseases like malaria, typhus, and diptheria, but also tetanus (from rubble), accidental poisoning toxic, injuries due to fires.

I spoke with medical workers at Partners in Health, a leading NGO that has been active in Haiti since the mid 1980s, and now operates 15 clinics here, including 4 in PauP. They attribute this surge in infant illness and injuries to the dire living conditions for the 1.412 million (as of this week) still living in temporary shelters. They also attribute many of the health problems they are seeing for kids and adults alike to the increasing prevalance of hunger and malnutrition in the camps. And that, in turn, is due in large measure to the total inadequacy of Government/NGO food and water distribution -- right up to the present.

The PIH clinic workers that I spoke with also rIMG00585-20100510-1053.jpgeport that there has been a serious increase in mental health problems, due to the quake's unusual capacity to inflict severe simultaneous traumas: the sudden loss, not only of one's loved ones and many friends, but also of shelter, job, savings, community, and sense of security. PIH mental health workers described patients who have recurrent feelings that the ground is shaking, irrepressible memories of the sights and smells of death and destruction, acute fears about entering buildings, nightmares and daymares about searching for the missing.

0f course before the quake, this country had a grand total of 17 psychiatrists, only 9 of whom were public doctors, to serve a population of at least 8.5 million. There were more Haitian mental health workers in any one of New York, Miami, Boston, and Montreal than in all of Haiti.

Now, after the quake, dedicated NGOs like Partners in Health are indeed working hard to beef up their community mental health efforts -- PIH will launch mental health services at up to 4 of its clinics this year.

However, even PIH freely admits that they are just beginning to scratch the service -- and to understand how vast the need is for post-traumatic therapy on a community-wide scale as a result of the quake. This will require a long-term commitment on all sides.

It would also be really helpful if foreign journalists would make a long-term commitment to really understanding this country, rather than treating it as an endless source of "unexpected natural disasters" and "amazing recoveries."

(C) SubmergingMarkets, 2010


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May 12, 2010 at 09:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: Getting Food to Hungry People

Outside camp at Croix d S'pres, Port au Prince, May 12, 2010.
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May 12, 2010 at 08:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: "Morning Bath"

"All God's Children" Orphanage, Mirabelais, May 12 2010
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May 12, 2010 at 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Haiti: "As Hard As It Is, There's Good People Doing Good Things Every Day."

Alfredo Merat, intrepid Hamptons musician and activist, entertaining the kids at an orphanage in Mirabelais, Central Plateu, Haiti, May 11, 2010.

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May 11, 2010 at 09:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: "As Hard As It Is, There's Good People Doing Good Things Every Day."

Alfredo Merat, intrepid Hamptons musician and activist, entertaining the kids at an orphanage in Mirabelais, Central Plateu, Haiti, May 11, 2010.

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May 11, 2010 at 08:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: The UN Defines This as Victory

Jim Henry (Tent camp, road to Mirabelais, May 11 2010.)

At the 8:30 am UN Logbase "transitional housing cluster" this morning, a meeting of (overwhelmingly white, non Haitian) representatives more than 25 NGOs and international aid agencies discussed the ongoing challenges involved in meeting the housing and shelter needs of Haiti's quake victims.

An interesting new progress report was distributed, which indicated that as of right now, countrywide, there are an estimated 1.4127 mm "people in need of shelter," including precisely 282,538 households.

To meet the needs of all these people for housing, the UN says that to date 62,732 tents and 563,558 tarps have been distributed by shelter NGOs. In addition, they have doled out some 58,999 tool kits, 107,735 kitchen sets, 196,053 mosquito nets, 339,151 "hygiene kits," 150,994 sleeping mats, and 490,383 "blankets or sheets."

On the housing front, the UN cluster leaders claim an overall coverage ratio of 113%, defined as the sum of "tents plus (# of tarps passed out, divided by 2)" -- though this ratio is still below 50 percent in a few big communes like carrefour (47%) and grande-goave (38%).

Some NGOs representatives in the audience expressed some discomfort with these metrics, however -- especially given the fast approaching rainy/ hurricane season.

For example, one rep from the Amer Red Cross suggested that perhaps "adequate drainage" or "ability to withstand high winds and rain" might be added to the success criteria. And another NGO rep suggested that perhaps the real answer was to accelerate the relocation of those in the camps back to "green" houses -- in cases where their original homes had been certified as sound -- and to speed up repairs to "yellow" houses, those which have damage, but are deemed repairable. He claimed that in many cases such repairs might be cheaper than the kind of temporary shelters that many NGOs have emphasized.

The UN cluster group leader reminded such critics that his forum was only about "transitional housing," and that such "longer-term" shelter, reconstruction, and, indeed, land tenure issues would have to reserved for (some other unspecified) cluster meeting.

To date the "transitional housing" cluster's efforts have raised about 63 % of the $122 million that was budgeted for all this activity through the end of May. The group expects to start another fund raising effort in June to complete its work on "transitional" shelter.

(c)SubmergingMarkets, 2010

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May 11, 2010 at 05:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: Shelter Situation, May 10 2010

...According to UN temporary shelter coordinators, overall coverage of 283,000 "households in need," with 1.4 mm people, is 113%. But this counts a HH as "covered" if it has been provided with 1 tent or 2 tarps. Quietly, many NGOs -- for example, the Amer Red Cross -- are scared stiff about the lack of preparation for heavy rains and hurricanes. But the focus of this "cluster" was on "transitional" housing; apparently weather resistant housing is someone else's concern.
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May 11, 2010 at 03:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti:"Transitional Shelter" NGO Meeting, UN Log Base, May 11 2010

...Lots of white faces, except for Sean Penn, who missed this week's meeting...Little discussion of the flooding threat; some debate about whether people should be encouraged to return to homes marked "green," and whether it is cheaper/safer to help people fix "yellow" (damaged but fixable) housing. One black NGO rep: "Many Haitians are staying in the tents because they think people like you will build them new houses...or are unsure what "green" and "yellow" means, if new quakes are a risk."
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May 11, 2010 at 12:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: The UN Goes in Style!

...Countless NGOs (59 big ones), UNICEF, UNCTAD, WFO, USAID...." You can't get enough of what you can't stand."
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May 11, 2010 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Haiti: At Least "There's Partners in Health"

PIH Clinic, near Camp Jean-Louis Vincent, in downtown Paup, 5/11/10. 50,000 people, 15K kids, in this camp alone. Just 2-3k are in school. Haitian gov has stopped free food distribution to the camp since March 31. PIH estimates 40-50 % are hungry. Last week alone its new nutrition center I'd 107 kids with malnutrition, included 40 seriously malnourished.

PIH now has 4 such clinics in Paup, 11 more in the central plateau, where its efforts started in the mid-1980s. Last year, before the quake, its $25 mm budget was 2x the entire Haitian gov's Ministry of Health budget. This year, it will spend $40 mm here, supporting more than 5500 community health workers, more than 200 haitian doctors and nurses, the country's only community mental health services, and 100 foreign volunteers.

Meanwhile, the GOH continues to fall down on the job. Last week it finally managed to pay some of the doctors and nurses on staff at HUEH gen hospital for the first time since Nov. Its own outpatience clinics, mobile medical services, and mental health service are virtually non-existent; there are only 9 publc health psychiatrists in the entire country, and conditions at the badly-damaged mental hospital in Paup are zoo-like. Of course the food distribution calamity noted above -- a concession to the country's private food vendors, big and small -- is a triumph of brutilitarianism over humanity.


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May 10, 2010 at 09:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: At Least "There's Partners in Health"

PIH Clinic, near Camp Jean-Louis Vincent, in downtown Paup, 5/11/10. 50,000 people, 15K kids, in this camp alone. Just 2-3k are in school. Haitian gov has stopped free food distribution to the camp since March 31. PIH estimates 40-50 % are hungry. Last week alone its new nutrition center I'd 107 kids with malnutrition, included 40 seriously malnourished.

PIH now has 4 such clinics in Paup, 11 more in the central plateau, where its efforts started in the mid-1980s. Last year, before the quake, its $25 mm budget was 2x the entire Haitian gov's Ministry of Health budget. This year, it will spend $40 mm here, supporting more than 5500 community health workers, more than 200 haitian doctors and nurses, the country's only community mental health services, and 100 foreign volunteers.

Meanwhile, the GOH continues to fall down on the job. Last week it finally managed to pay some of the doctors and nurses on staff at HUEH gen hospital for the first time since Nov. Its own outpatience clinics, mobile medical services, and mental health service are virtually non-existent; there are only 9 publc health psychiatrists in the entire country, and conditions at the badly-damaged mental hospital in Paup are zoo-like. Of course the food distribution calamity noted above -- a concession to the country's private food vendors, big and small -- is a triumph of brutilitarianism over humanity.


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May 10, 2010 at 09:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: Continuing Medical Crisis

Open air ICU, HEUH general hospital (only public hospital still open in Paup, 5/11/10.
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May 10, 2010 at 09:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Haiti: What Would We Do W/O the Olaffson?

...Landmark P aup P "Addams Family" hotel, used as a hospital by the US Marines, 1915-34; frequented by the NY London early jet set, 1950s (Graham Greene, Sir John Gielgud, Anne Bancroft, Truman Capote, Marlon Brando, etc.; young Mick Jagger), given up for dead and revived again and again -- like Haiti. Since 1988, under the tender care of Haitian-American musician Richard Morse and his family.....
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May 9, 2010 at 01:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: Using Your Head

Pacot, May 9 2010
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May 9, 2010 at 01:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: Not All Is Rubble

Dadeski, Pacot, Port au Prince, May 9 2010
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May 9, 2010 at 12:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: Rainy Season Aftermath

Matisan, May 9 2010
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May 9, 2010 at 10:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Haiti Once Had Fabulous Architects

Marche en Fer, downtown Port au Prince, May 8 2010.
It recently caught fire for the second time.
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May 8, 2010 at 08:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: Rebuilding

Croix d S'pres, May 8 2010
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May 8, 2010 at 08:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: Most Wooden Houses Survived.

.... Unfortunately Haiti has been largely deforested. Another libertarian achievement: no land reform+ few national forests+rural poverty + no forestry programs. So they built Port au Prince out of cheap cement and "sable blanc...,designed to survive hurricanes but not even 7.0 quakes. "
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May 8, 2010 at 08:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: The Perfect Free Market Economy

...Downtown Port au Prince: Marche de la Croix des Bossales, May 8 2010. No regulation, few police, no army, no courts, no taxes, no import controls, no environmental laws, no labor laws, no consumer protection, no social security contributions, few public schools, no public hospitals still functioning, no public medical care, no parks, gov buildings mostly destroyed, no foreign exchange controls....and millions of people willing to work for nothing, and, indeed, sell themselves in slavery. Question: did the world's first slave revolt (in the 1790s) ) really succeed?
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May 8, 2010 at 07:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: Cite d' Soleil, end of the dock

May 8 2010
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May 8, 2010 at 07:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: There's Always Football

Croix d'Pres, May 8 2010
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May 8, 2010 at 05:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: Bootstrapping the Country

Croix de S'Pres, May 8 2010
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May 8, 2010 at 05:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti: Giving Aid Directly to Hungry People, May 8 2010

My friends "Junior" laForest and Alfredo Merat distributing bags of rice, oil, and pasta in the camps at Croix de S'Pres...out of their own pockets. Most people here have gotten little aid.
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May 8, 2010 at 05:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti's Next Disaster?


(Port au Prince, May 8 2010)

Here's an interesting problem -- a great example of the "politics of aid" in Haiti, even though you didn't heard much about it from the mass media, let alone Bill Clinton or Michelle Obama.

Three months after the January 12th earthquake, you've still got at least 1 mm people "living" in Port au Prince, Haiti's capital city, in crowded camps of tents and makeshift shacks.

Furthermore, hurricane season is fast approaching: it lasts from June to November here. And NOAA, the US weather agency, says there could be at least a dozen Caribbean hurricanes this year. While they don't predict land fall more than a few days in advance, we know that Haiti is clearly at risk --
In 2008, it was hit by 4 hurricanes that were Class 3 or stronger.

And that was before the quake, when most people were living in concrete houses. Now those are mostly all gone.

The real problem, in other words, is not just "the rainy season;" it is the hurricane season.

The Preval government has recently received nearly $1 billion from foreign donors. But it is not spending nearly enough of that money on new housing or relocation.

Indeed, not long ago, President Preval was quoted as warning people to stay where they are, because, he said, there was a danger of "new earthquakes."

Of course earthquakes are much more unpredictable than hurricanes. But Preval evidently doesn't want to admit that to relocate a million people to better housing and safer land, he's have to have already started --- mandating relocation to rural areas where people came from, and putting up stronger shelters on gov and private lands near Port au Prince, or in the existing camps, for those who have nowhere to go.

The problem is that such a move was politically unpopular. Preval, a lame duck President, has been fighting for an extension of his term, which was supposed to expire in November. Yesterday he got at least a three month extension -- but in the interim, very little has been done about relocation.

Nor has any one else taken charge of this issue. There's been lots of bold talk from the international community about "reconstructing Haiti," and some efforts to rebuild "places that can be named after donors," like hospitals and government buildings.

But none of this really addresses the looming hurricane threat. Unfortunately, many of the hundreds of NGOs that are still here are still focused on "fighting the last war" -- dealing with the continuing dire impacts of the earthquake.

Of course the Obama Administration has had its hands, but to some extent it has also glossed over this looming hurricane threat. In a tough election year, with many Americans facing tough times, providing more aid to Haiti is not exactly popular -- although dealing with thousands of Haitian "boat people" would also be a nightmare.

Apparently the USG also doesn't want to be perceived as "intervening in internal Haitian affairs" by telling Preval to step it up. The US military, which has been helping with aid, is slated to leave the island in June.

Well, Earth to Obama: the US already crossed the Haitian intervention bridge long ago. (... Just to pick a few examples: the US trade boycott with Haiti in the 1820s-1860s; occupying the island with thousands of Marines in 1915-1930; supporting Papa Doc Duvalier and his son in the 1950s-1980s; supporting Gen. Cedras' 1991 ouster of Aristede, Aristede's first return to power in 1994, and his ouster again in 2004...)

So right now may actually be the time for another US intervention -- a humanitarian one, in the interests of saving lives, perhaps as many as were lost in the earthquake.

There's still time -- not much, but maybe just enough to get some of those empty thousands of FEMA trailers down here for people who can't go bsck to the countryside, plus mount a serious effort, mainly through incentives, to get folks able to move to do so. And right now, before it is too late.

We know that the world's donor community has "Haiti fatigue." It feels that it has already done as much as it can do for Haiti, and that the patient has stabilized. Indeed, the International Red Cross and most its affiliates have already moved on, and many other NGOs are also in the process of withdrawing.

Unfortunely the weather gods didn't get the memo about Haiti's "stabilization"....

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May 8, 2010 at 04:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cochon Noir d'Haiti: May 8 2010

...Evidently USAID didn't get them all!
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May 8, 2010 at 02:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti, May 8 2010: Pay Day!

...Workers hired by USAID for $4.80 per day to move rubble are lining up to get paid...hired for two weeks at a time... Perhaps we should try the same approach in Detroit, Hartford, Cleveland, Phoenix..!
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May 8, 2010 at 02:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 07, 2010

Haiti: Croix de S'pres Camp, May 7 2010

...These kids are receiving almost NO help from anyone...the Haitian gov and the top ten families are stealing like bandits...they know who they are, and YOU will too...
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May 7, 2010 at 06:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hait: US rice imports, May 2010

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May 7, 2010 at 01:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Croix de S'Pre may 7 2010

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May 7, 2010 at 01:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Croix de S'pre, May 7

Home-made camps
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May 7, 2010 at 01:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Port au Prince May 7 2010

Croix de S'pre, near huge camps.
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May 7, 2010 at 01:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haiti, Tres Moi Apres


This week we'll be blogging from Haiti about the continuing dire situation here, 3 months after the earthquake, and what the Preval government, the USG, other foreign governments, the UN, and more than a thousand NGOs are doing about it.
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May 7, 2010 at 12:39 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 (0)

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)