Congo forces leaders to pay taxes – ours?

The Democratic Republic of Congo, faced with a fiscal crisis, is now forcing their leaders to pay taxes. Reuters reports

Amid a growing budget shortfall, the government is under pressure to cut costs and boost tax revenues.

Budget Minister Michel Lokola told Reuters that last month’s decision to tax government salaries at source, rather than rely on employees to pay taxes after receiving their salaries, had already raised roughly $1 million.

“They just weren’t paying. The government ministers we replaced, the MPs, the senators, they didn’t pay,” said Lokola, who entered the government last October in a cabinet shake-up that saw his predecessor Adolphe Muzito named prime minister.

Lokola said the move was partly aimed at setting a good example, adding that Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s government salary was also subject to the measure.

“He is aware of this, and he approves of it … I don’t see how we can expect the private sector to pay their taxes if we don’t pay ourselves,” he said.

So even a country we look upon with derision, the Congo, has realized the benefit of taxing the elite of their country. As we have seen, politicians in this country appear to have an aversion to paying their taxes, and can’t even comprehend the tax code that they wrote, as evidenced by Tom Daschle, who didn’t know the limo was taxable.

So will Geithner, considering the fiscal crisis we, ourselves, are facing, implement a program of ferreting out government tax cheats and garnishing their taxpayer-paid wages?

I doubt it.

He’s a tax cheat.

Nothing like the fox guarding the hen house.

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Bailing out investors won’t help the economy

Reuters led the story of yesterday’s stock market rally with the following:

Stocks rose on Wednesday, with the benchmark S&P 500 index attempting the first two-day advance in a month, as investors held out hope that Washington would restore confidence in banks by relieving them of money-losing assets.

This is a rather disingenuous conclusion to derive from the rally message. Investors don’t care about confidence in the banking system, they care about their toxic investment making money again.

Those that did not see this debacle coming, and did not get out of these investments in time, are hoping that the bailout will be big enough to allow then to recoup their losses.

Geithner is working on a plan to relieve the banks of their bad assets – at taxpayer expense of course.

But, according to Reuters, Geithner “promised action within weeks and said he was moving deliberately to minimize risks of losses for taxpayers.”

Minimize risks of losses for taxpayers.

And conversely maximize the potential of gains for investors?

Bailing out these insolvent big banks by buying their bad debt with our money, while leaving the current management in place that not only created the problem but grew filthy rich while they did it,  is just a crime.

I would say he has no vision of the future, when we the taxpayers have to pay for this, but then, he’s not a taxpayer, so why would he care?

Can you say depression, boys and girls?

Clinton, Rubin and Summers, Graham, Leach and Bliley – thank you

In the early 1900’s, commercial banks began to establish security affiliates that floated bond issues and underwrote corporate stock issues. (In underwriting, a bank guarantees to furnish a definite sum of money by a definite date to a business or government entity in return for an issue of bonds or stock.)

Then the stock market crashed.

In 1930 the Bank of the United States failed, reportedly because of activities of its security affiliates that created artificial conditions in the market, FDR closed the banks for four days, 4000 failed permanently, and Congress created the Glass-Steagall Act of 1932, then amended it in the Banking Act of 1933.

The act forced a separation of commercial and investment banks by preventing commercial banks from underwriting securities, with the exception of U.S. Treasury and federal agency securities, and municipal and state general obligation securities.

More specifically, the act authorizes Federal Reserve banks to use government obligations and commercial paper as collateral for their note issues, in order to encourage expansion of the currency. Banks can also offer advisory services regarding investments for their customers, as well as buy and sell securities for their customers. However, information gained from providing such services cannot be used by a bank when it acts as a lender.

Likewise, investment banks cannot engage in the business of receiving deposits.

A bank is defined as an institution organized under the laws of the United States, any state of the United States, the District of Columbia, any territory of the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, or the Virgin Islands, that both accepts demand deposits (deposits that the depositor may withdraw by check or similar means for payment to third parties or others) and is engaged in the business of making commercial loans (12 U.S.C.A. § 1841 (c)(1) [1988]).

Investment banking consists mostly of securities underwriting and related activities; making a market in securities; and setting up corporate mergers, acquisitions, and restructuring. Investment banking also includes services provided by brokers or dealers in transactions in the secondary market. A secondary market is one where securities are bought and sold subsequent to their original issuance.

It also created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to protect depositors in the future.

The Act was passed because it was largely believed, after hearings in Congress, that commercial banks were being too speculative in the pre-Depression era, not only because they were investing their assets but also because they were buying new issues for resale to the public. Thus, banks became greedy, taking on huge risks in the hope of even bigger rewards. Banking itself became sloppy and objectives became blurred. Unsound loans were issued to companies in which the bank had invested, and clients would be encouraged to invest in those same stocks.

Enter the Clinton Era and the Graham-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, the act which ultimately repealed the Glass-Steagull Act. The final bi-partisan version passed in the Senate 90-8-1 and in the House: 362-57-15. Without forcing a veto vote, this bipartisan, veto proof legislation was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on November 12, 1999, though most of his Democratic colleagues voted against it, initially (Senate 54-44, House 343-86).

The Graham-Leach-Bliley Act sought to “modernize” financial services–that is, end regulations that prevented the merger of banks, stock brokerage companies, and insurance companies. It nullified all prior acts that strictly regulated those who stored your money such as the Bank Holding Company Act that prohibited a bank from controlling a non-bank company which passed in 1956 and the 1982 amendment that further forbid banks from conducting general insurance underwriting or agency activities.

Why is this related to today? According to the Online Law Encylopedia,

The expansion of commercial banks into securities underwriting was substantial until the 1929 stock market crash and the subsequent Depression. In 1930 the Bank of the United States failed, reportedly because of activities of its security affiliates that created artificial conditions in the market.

As a result of the bank closings and already devastated economy, public confidence in the U.S. financial structure was low.

Is this sounding at all familiar? It should be.

The Glass-Steagull Act made all of that history, GLBA repealed it and history, my friends, is repeating itself.

*****************************************************************************************************************

Fast forward to October 2011 – With unemployment remaining steadily at over 9 percent for the last several years, foreclosures at an all time high and banks squeezing the dimes out of people with fees for everything but walking in the door, groups around the country are occupying financial districts, parks, banks and anywhere they believe they will have an impact. In New York occupiers shut down the Brooklyn Bridge and in Chicago they have been camped out for a couple of weeks on a corner that conveniently houses the Board of Trade, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Bank of America down the street. A recent rally joined by four other groups including several labor unions, shut down Monroe Street between Michigan and Columbus — ironically on Columbus Day.

Sources GLBA, Glass-Steagull(1), Glass-Steagull(2)

So why are we asking the experts anything?

NABE, the National Association of Business Economists, today released the results of their annual member survey. Reuters reports they predicted “the recession-hit economy would begin to recover in the second half of this year, returning to a potential growth trend in 2010.”

I wondered who these people were, and if they were the same people that missed this economic problem altogether, and were wondering for a year or two if we “might” be in a recession.

I found another survey summary that led to the current question, the topic of this entry. What do you think? Here’s what NABE says of its members:

Substantial percentages of economists report little familiarity with complex instruments and other financial innovations. Despite the prevalence of NABE members holding advanced degrees in economics and other business-related disciplines, substantial percentages admitted to having little or no familiarity with the structure, activities, and risks associated with hedge funds (45%), private equity funds (40%), asset-backed securitization (48%), credit default swaps (CDS, 68%) and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs, 51%).

That was in August 2007, when they also thought:

The five-year housing outlook remains largely positive. A slight plurality (42%) of respondents expects U.S. home prices to be flat, on average, over the next five years. But respondents who expect home prices to rise on average over the next five years (41%) far outnumber those who expect prices to fall (16%). NABE members continue to place low odds (1 in 10) on a large drop in U.S. home prices similar to that experienced in Japan during the 1990s.

No comment.

Follow the yellow gold road…..

What a couple of days it’s been in the financial world. Allen Stanford, scammer extraordinaire, whereabouts still unknown, is now known to have contributed large sums of money to congressional recipients, to vote against a financial services antifraud bill that would have linked the databases of state and federal banking, securities and insurance regulators. The bill died in the Senate.

Biggest recipients of his cash?

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. ($45,900); Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. ($28,150); Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. ($27,500); and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas ($19,700). Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, also received $41,375.

The full list is here and here.

Barack Obama’s presidential campaign fund received only $4600 and it was immediately donated, yesterday, to a Chicago charity, according to the Chicago Tribune.

But the other big story is the deal Swiss UBS Bank made with the feds. Accused of assisting U.S. citizens avoid income taxes, UBS Bank has agreed to lift the veil of secrecy and identify “certain” clients. This could be 17,000 of their 20,000 clients whose combined deposits are worth $20 billion dollars.

In July 2008,Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mi) was calling for them to clean up their act. According to The Consumerist Levin told ABC News “UBS’s banking license should be revoked until the bank “cleans up its act.”” He listed the following as what the bank does to conceal its clients names and assets.

* Code Names for Clients
* Pay Phones, not Business Phones
* Foreign Area Codes
* Undeclared Accounts
* Encrypted Computers
* Transfer Companies to Cover Tracks
* Foreign Shell Companies
* Fake Charitable Trusts
* Straw Man Settlors
* Captive Trustees
* Anonymous Wire Transfers
* Disguised Business Trips
* Counter-Surveillance Training
* Foreign Credit Cards
* Hold Mail
* Shred Files

Prepared by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, July 2008.

For the record, Levin took no money from Stanford or his PAC. I’ll bet he even pays his taxes – all of them. Can he be Treasury Secretary?

Reuters reports the deal with UBS goes like this:

Swiss bank UBS AG has agreed to a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that would let the bank avoid tax-violation charges in exchange for identifying some of its U.S. account holders and paying $780 million in fines.

Here are the key terms of the deal:

– UBS, under orders by Swiss market regulators, is to give the United States identities and account information of “certain” U.S. customers. Details are to be filed under seal with U.S. federal court and turned over as soon as the court accepts the agreement.

– UBS agrees to pay $780 million in fines, interest and penalties. This includes $200 million to be paid to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The remainder is to be paid to the Justice Department over 18 months, with options to pay early or extend the terms up to four years.

– UBS acknowledges that it helped U.S. taxpayers open accounts that concealed their identities from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. About 17,000 of 20,000 U.S. cross-border clients concealed their identities and the existence of their accounts, with $20 billion in assets, from the IRS, the Justice Department said.

Some of these clients are unindicted co-conspirators.

The business generated about $200 million a year in revenue for UBS from 2002 to 2007, it said.

– UBS agrees to quit providing cross-border banking services to U.S. clients with undeclared accounts.

– After 18 months, the U.S. government will recommend dismissal of charges against UBS providing it honors the terms of the agreement.

The Stanford saga, in the meantime, continues to rock the world of the wealthy.

Venezuela seized a local bank affiliated with the Stanford Group, after there was a rush to withdraw funds through online banking. According to Reuters,

Depositors withdrew cash using Internet banking services. The bank takes deposits and makes loans only in the OPEC nation’s local currency.

“Most depositors of Stanford Bank Venezuela are from the (highest) income classes. They move their funds on the Internet, and this allowed for a massive withdrawal that pushed the bank into a precarious state,” Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez told reporters.

“The authorities were forced to take the decision to intervene and there will be an immediate sale,” he added.

And in Antigua, the Associated Press reports that customers were turned away from the Stanford bank there, because its assets were frozen. Depositors were arriving by private jet to withdraw their cash and were panicking when they discovered they couldn’t. One man, who owned a software firm, complained that his life savings was in that bank.

Let me guess. There is no F.D.I.C. insurance in Antigua.

It would seem this is just the beginning (of the end?).

Wonder how many of our congresspeople have offshore accounts? We already know they have an aversion to paying taxes.

Wonder if Geithner has one?

But most of all, I wonder if anyone who is caught will go to jail, go directly to jail, not pass go, and not collect $200.

And second I would like to know, will their assets be seized?

If the answer to the second question is yes, I would recommend to the Treasury Department and President Obama, that the assets seized from anyone in the financial industry caught up in these, or any future messes uncovered by the IRS and the FBI, be dumped into an account called the TARP Rebate Fund, which recoups the cash for the taxpayers, from the cheats and thieves who bought us this mess in the first place. (Oh, did I say bought, I meant brought – Freudian slip). And any congresspeople who return campaign contributions from any of these cheats, should also be dumped into this fund.

As a matter of fact, start with Geithner‘s payments, Daschle‘s Kellefer‘s and Solis‘. It would be a good start.

And any congress person who is found to have an offshore account in the UBS debacle, should be bounced from their office, forbidden from holding any public office anywhere in the U.S. or its territories, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

These people all need to do serious jail time. Nothing like seized assets and jail time to straighten up a class of people.

Is there a law against “betraying the public trust?” Because if there isn’t there should be.

Sentence: 20 to life in a Supermax prison. Enjoy. You built it.

Most scams are run out of Texas and Florida….

What little people have known for years, apparently wealthy people are learning the hard way. If it seems to good to be true, and it is coming from Florida or Texas…..it is.

First was Madoff, who was running his pyramid scheme for 20 years until it recently fell apart, leaving in its wake West Palm Beach millionaires and a long list of people with cash to burn, selling their estate jewelery to make ends meet and now, Texas enters the financial scam scene.

Texas billionaire Allen Stanford, has been charged by the SEC in a civil complaint with “fraud of shocking magnitude that has spread its tentacles throughout the world,” said Rose Romero, regional director of the SEC’s office in Fort Worth, Texas, and reported by Reuters.

Stanford, who holds dual U.S.-Antigua citizenship, has dropped off the face of the earth and failed to respond to a subpoena. The SEC can’t understand it.

SIB, his company, oversees $50 billion in assets (this seems to be a magic number, Madoff was charged in a $50 billion fraud scheme).

Maybe the SEC doesn’t consider it worth their time to investigate, unless it amounts to enough money to warrant Barbuda and Antigua’s prime minister to consider the consequences “catastrophic.”

Stanford’s banks are based there and, according to Reuters, “he owns the country’s largest newspaper, heads a local commercial bank, is the biggest private employer, its top investor and is the first American to receive a knighthood from its government.”

He is accused of selling $8 billion in CD’s “by promising high return rates that exceed those available through true certificates of deposits offered by traditional banks.”

Reuters lists additional SEC allegations as the following:

— Stanford’s Antigua-based bank reported identical returns of 15.71 percent in 1995 and 1996, which the SEC called “improbable” and suspicious.

— Ninety percent of the offshore bank’s claimed investment portfolio was in a “black box” shielded from any independent oversight, and only Stanford and aide James Davis, also charged, knew details of the bulk of the portfolio.

— Stanford failed to cooperate with the SEC probe and continued to mislead investors by falsely saying the SEC had frozen accounts or the company had ordered a moratorium on CD redemptions.

— A major, unidentified clearing firm stopped processing wires to SIB for purchase of SIB-issued CDs after the clearing firm was unable to obtain information about the company’s financial condition.

— Stanford used false information to promote a mutual fund program separate from the CDs. The program grew to more than $1.2 billion from less than $10 million in 2004.

In Antigua, hundreds were lining up to get their money out, Panama regulators seized one of the Standford’s local affiliates, the local arm of its financial group pulled itself off of Columbia’s stock exchange, and Adolph Ogi, the former president of Switzerland, quit his post on the advisory board of Stanford Financial Group.

Despite all of this, Reuters states that “There were no signs of imminent criminal charges against Stanford, whose personal fortune was estimated by Forbes Magazine last year at $2.2 billion. A Justice Department spokesman would not confirm or deny the existence of a criminal investigation.”

I would think criminal charges would be a no-brainer, considering the amount of money involved, the 30,000 clients and the 131 countries in which he operated.

But no.

Why, you ask?

Because Reuters also reported this:

Stanford was also expanding his political reach, opening a Washington lobbying office about two years ago after buying the Washington Research Group, a policy study unit of Charles Schwab & Co, in 2005.

Stanford spent $2.8 million on lobbying in 2008, according to records accessed through the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions. His political action committee and employees donated about $2.4 million to parties and candidates for federal office since 1989.

Campaign finance reform won’t fix this, the only thing that will is term limits for Congress and supermax prisons for the influence purchasers.

From Chicago – signs of the economic hard times

On Friday and Monday, my train was empty, as were others I checked with – all coming from different directions into Chicago’s Loop (financial center). Layoffs? Four-day work weeks?

Normally one cannot find a parking space ANYWHERE near Union Station (home of Metra and Amtrak) at any time of the day, even when gas prices were $4 a gallon and our (Metra’s) ridership was up. This week – park anywhere, not a problem.

Traffic has been a nightmare for a few years now. I can’t tell you how many times an ambulance can’t get down the street because of all the cars (and the stupid people driving them who won’t get out of the way). Last week? Ambulances were flying down the street with only a siren blaring – no horns honking at all. Clear passage.

That’s good for them, but to me, is not a sign of good economic times. Sorry, they are not all riding their bikes. Actually – haven’t seen many of them lately either.

The Edens expressway, which normally starts rush hour at about 6:30am (rush hour being a euphemism for an expressway that is a parking lot), is also traffic free. Yesterday at 7:30 am, it was 19 minutes from Dempster to the Circle interchange. Normally, at that hour, it would be at least 40 minutes. 19 minutes is how long it takes at 3 in the morning.

For those of you not familiar with Chicago, this expressway leads into the Loop, the heart of Chicago’s downtown where banks, the Board of Trade, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Board of Options Exchange, and the Futures Market call home. It is also the seat of city government has congressional offices, the mayor is here, the Cook County Board, courts, lawyers, pick ’em, they’re here.

No traffic.

Not good.

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