Do you ever feel like you’re in the Twilight Zone?

Financial news is getting more bizarre by the day. Take today’s new for example.

Citibank’s stock price soared over news that it didn’t lose as much money Wall Street expected it to. The quarterly loss was only $966 million and revenue doubled to $24.79 billion.

Is the $45 billion we gave them since October counted in this?

I know it includes the 13,000 jobs cut in the first quarter and the dumping of $116 billion of assets.

The more entertaining part of this news, was their decision to “delay a proposed exchange of billions of dollars of preferred shares into common stock until the U.S. government completes its “stress tests” of large banks to gauge which might need more aid,” as reported by Reuters.

That seems kind of underhanded to me or am I just being sensitive.

Wasn’t the point of the stress tests to identify banks who will be in more trouble if the economy worsens? How can it be a valid test if they are delaying a major exchange of stocks?

Then there’s the report that the Senate candidates are still raising tons of money for the 2010 campaigns.

Now this is a good one, because despite the horrifying economic situation, the candidates last year raised enough cash to bail out at least one bank.

Are institutions getting bailout money allowed to contribute? I don’t see why they should be able to.

Reid has already raised $2.2 million, several Democratic candidates, according to Reuters, have already raised over $1 million, Spector raised almost $2 million and already has 6 million in the bank. Clinton’s replacement has raised over $2 million, but the Reuters story
didn’t total all the millions.

We’re getting thrown out of our homes, dumped from our jobs, surviving without health care and unable to educate our children, yet these people “governing” us, have millions in their campaign “war chests.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

The final irony to today’s news, is the story that “Steven Rattner, the leader of the Obama administration’s auto task force, was one of the investment firm executives involved with payments now under scrutiny in a state and federal investigation into an alleged kickback scheme at New York state’s pension fund,” reported Reuters.

The Treasury Department, when asked if they knew about this when Rattner was appointed, said that Rattner informed them about the pending investigation but refused to comment further.

One would think that treasury would be reluctant to put someone with an investigation into kickbacks, at the head of such a high profile and crucial task force. But no, they apparently saw no problem with it because there he is.

The scarier thought is that maybe Geithner, the tax cheat, has a suspicion that no matter who you appoint from the investment bank industry, they are likely to come under scrutiny for one shady practice or another, and therefore you hire either the one with the least chance of an investigation or the one who is most likely to survive the investigation without being imprisoned.

Either way, I am leaning more and more towards the folks that chant HEY HEY HO HO THE FEDERAL RESERVE HAS GOT TO GO!

Add to that the investment banks, nationally chartered banks, etc. etc. etc.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has his work cut out for him.

I now have to wonder if it was the New Yorkers that were the frauds and the Chicago financial institutions were all above board, or if Cuomo is a pro-active Attorney General and Lisa Madigan is simply remiss in not investigating the Chicago Board of Trade, Mercantile Exchange and the Board of Options Exchange.

Time will tell.

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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.

Clinton blames America’s drug users for Mexico’s drug war

The Latin American Herald Tribune quotes Clinton as saying,

“Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade,” Clinton told reporters earlier en route to Mexico. “Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.”

She vowed that we would work “side by side” with Mexico to eradicate the traffickers, who Clinton referred to as “gangs.”

John McCain (R-AZ) called the problem an “existential threat,” and Joe Lieberman ((D-CT)  deemed “unacceptable” the fact that not all of the $700 million appropriated for equipment and training for the Mexican security forces has been distributed.

In the meantime, the Organized Drug Enforcement Task Force (ODETF), has said that though meth labs are declining in the .S. due to restriction of ingredients, meth use is rising due to increased distribution efforts of the Mexican Drug Cartels, termed DTO’s (Drug Trafficking Organizations), by the ODETF, who are suppling the Hispanic gangs as well as their own people throughout the country.

Clinton’s perspective, mirroring Mexico’s, that drug use is the cause of this war, is neglecting basic supply and demand laws. Demand tends to influence price, not necessarily use of a product.

The automakers said Americans wanted SUV’s and that’s why they sold them. But if they hadn’t engineered them, would we have even known it was possible to demand them?

If you had one grocery store in your neighborhood, you would go there. If they shut down, would you continue to go there and demand food?

I think not, and I think it would get you nowhere. Yet we Americans, who can’t stop smoking pot or doing meth or coke, are to blame for this problem.

Why is this different? In Mexico. both political parties are accusing each other of being in the pocket of the cartels. Mexico has had a known corruption problem for years and years. Their army is on the payroll, their prosecutors, their police, etc.

And we want to give them money for Blackhawk helicopters and arms and training?

If they legalized it, and kept it in line with current prices, would we still have this problem? Would the drug lords of Mexico and Columbia, still have a black market?

Or would they trade in their AK47s for pens and ride the legal wave to wealth and happiness while we grow our way out of our current economic problem?

I would guess the latter.

CEO of drug enterprise busted in Winnetka – updated

Yes, the darlings of Winnetka have done it again. a mere two blocks from New Trier High School, the training ground for the future CEO’s of America, an enterprising 21 year old, Mark Elliot Mansheim, was arrested Wednesday and charged with “production of marijuana plants, marijuana possession and manufacture of marijuana, all felonies,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Officers executed the search warrant on the home about 3:45 p.m. Wednesday and found 75 marijuana plants “and further evidence of the production, use and distribution of [marijuana],” the release said. Also found in the home, according to the release, were growing stations, including tents equipped with lighting, irrigation and ventilation systems.

This was a breaking news story. When they get around to investigating further, like, for example, why this kid has a setup like this in his house and his parents weren’t arrested too, they will find more interesting information.

The house has been transferring hands nearly every year since 2003 when it was bought by Evelyn A. Liberis for $770,000 and quit claimed to 384 Hawthorne LLC for $0.00 in 2003, and then quit claimed and mortgaged nearly every year between Evelyn, 384 Hawthorne LLC, multiple banks,  Thomas and Melissa  Mansheim, who bought it from 384 Hawthorne LLC for $2.57 million in 2006, Steven and Constance Fapka (who took out a $1.5 million mortgage in 2008 while the Mansheim’s owned it) and somehow it ended up back with the LLC and corrected to show the Mansheim’s as owners.

The LLC lists Lloyd Gussis as the agent and the principal office as 1101 Fisher Lane in Winnetka. The managers are Kasey Tamara, Leslie Struthers and, you got it, Evelyn A. Liberis.

Makes you wonder if young Mark may be taking the fall for  what would seem to be a criminal enterprise involving Mom, Dad and who knows who these other people are.

Lovely living in the North Shore. Great neighbors. Wonderful place to raise your kids.

The newpaper’s forums are betting he gets 100 hours of community service.

I’d have the FBI investigate the whole enterprise. I’d bet it doesn’t stop there.

Wilmette Police press release

****Update****

A poster, dotherightthing, has this first hand account to offer.

first of all it wasn’t 75 plants. It was 4 plants and 71 germinated–which is basically the seed in soil. People are making it sound like he had a forest growing in his basement.

Always good to hear both sides of the story. You decide.

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?

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.

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