February 6, 2013 archive

More Stupid from Matt Yglesias

Except, you know, to call it stupid is a catgory error.

Yglesias Pours the Geithner, Holder, Breuer (GHB) Banksters Immunity Doctrine in our Drinks

Bill Black, Naked Capitalism

Friday, February 1, 2013

It’s early, but Salon has published on January 30, 2013 either the funniest or saddest column of the year to date: “Are Banks Too Big To Prosecute?

The column is attributed to Matthew Yglesias, a blogger who studied philosophy as an undergraduate. It could be a brilliantly ironic satire of the Geithner, Holder and Breuer doctrine of immunity for banksters (which I am dubbing “GHB” for short). GHB is the “roofie” that the Obama administration gave us so the banksters could screw us repeatedly with impunity. Alternatively, and far more likely, Yglesias has written the saddest and most immoral apologia for elite white-collar crime that has yet made it into electronic bits. It takes a rerouted beginning student of philosophy, posing as a commentator on finance, to replace what should be a discussion that includes virtue ethics with a virtue-free, criminology-free, and economics-free apologia for the felons who became wealthy by costing the Nation $20 trillion and 10 million jobs.

Matthew Yglesias wrote a similar column on April 14, 2011 embracing the Geithner immunity doctrine. He titled it: “The Fraud Free Financial Crisis” – and it proves our family’s rule that it is impossible to compete with unintentional self-parody. In 2011, Yglesias thought we might be experiencing the first “Virgin Financial Crisis” – conceived without sin.

I find it strange that neither of Yglesias’ columns on a subject that has a vital ethical component discusses the ethics of his support for giving elite bank frauds immunity from the criminal laws. Yglesias’ relevant expertise on this subject was in ethics.

Riggs’ actions were beyond “serious.” They were criminal and they helped murderous national leaders commit murder, loot their Nations, and hide their crimes and the money they looted from U.S. and international prosecutors. Were there “serious investigations”? Not so much according to the article Yglesias relies on. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) failed to investigate competently for many years. Its examiner-in-chief of examining Riggs left the government and took a job with Riggs.

There were no “serious penalties” – in large part due to the weakness of the investigations. The senior officers who directed and were enriched by Riggs’ crimes were not prosecuted. Riggs became richer and more powerful through its crimes and its senior managers’ reputations were made by those illegal profits. Joseph Allbritton was inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame in 2002. A lower level Riggs officer was criminally investigated – but he was alleged to have embezzled from the bank.

The so-called “serious penalties” were a $25 million OCC penalty and a $16 million penalty for money laundering. At those low levels of penalties crime paid. It paid very well. The amount of funds Riggs was able to manage because it aided the looting of Equatorial Guinea was massive: $360 million. Riggs had $6.4 billion in total assets.

I don’t expect Yglesias to understand regulation or regulators, but even without relevant expertise about regulation he should have been able to see the total lack of integrity his preferred system of immunity for elite bankster frauds would create. I cannot think of any philosophical basis for believing that the senior officers of a large bank should be allowed to become wealthy by causing their bank, unlawfully, to aid murderous Dictators loot “their” Nations. The senior officers’ actions are profoundly unethical and they set the “tone at the top” that determine a bank’s ethical culture.

Fraud is a dynamic process and elite frauds are not random. Control frauds beget other control frauds. They are strongly criminogenic. Control frauds exist in all three major sectors – private enterprise, NGOs, and government. Government control frauds (“kleptocrats”) loot “their” Nations. Kleptocrats create and seek out other control frauds, such as Riggs Bank, that will aid their looting. Riggs Bank’s aid to the Dictators of Chile and Equatorial Guinea helped them murder and torture thousands of people. Control frauds are weapons of mass economic destruction, but many control frauds also maim and kill large numbers of people. Yglesias thinks a $46 million penalty assessed to a bank with $6.4 billion in assets – not the controlling officers – represents a “serious penalty” for hundreds of crimes that continued for over a decade and produced considerably greater income for the bank than the penalties and helped make the controlling officers wealthy.

Yglesias does not understand that as long as you leave the fraudulent senior officers in control they have an overwhelming interest in continuing to lie about the SDIs’ financial condition. It is absolutely essential to find the true facts about the SDIs losses – an action that the Bush and Obama administration prevented at every key stage. The stress tests, for example, are carefully designed not to find existing losses on bad assets. Two factors are essential to determine the real losses. First, one must ensure that the controlling officers have strong incentives to identify the losses instead of covering them up. “Pass through” receiverships do this superbly well. Second, one must investigate problem assets. Vigorous criminal investigations greatly aid in the detection of losses that were being covered up by the fraudulent managers. Our mantra in criminology with respect to sophisticated financial frauds is that if you don’t look; you don’t find.

Yglesias writes as if “insolvency” were some purely scientific measurement that was conducted by the regulators and that we know that the SDIs were insolvent in 2008 but are solvent now. We know no such thing. Yglesias has no concept of how to conduct a rigorous financial investigation. Think about Geithner’s incentives under Yglesias’ take on “solvency.” If Geithner ordered a rigorous investigation of the SDIs’ solvency and found that several SDIs were insolvent or even badly undercapitalized, then he (1) would be transformed into a failure and (2) he would “cause” a global crisis by triggering a “catastrophe.” Under Yglesias’ own framing of Geithner’s incentives we can only conclude that Geithner’s (and the regulators’) claims that all is well at the SDIs have no credibility because of a powerful bias by the SDIs and the regulators to hide losses.

Yglesias ends his attempt at logic by repeating his false framing of the policy options and employing euphemisms: “if saving the banks was the right thing to do, then curtailing prosecutions was the only way to execute the strategy.” I begin with the euphemism – GHB’s doctrine did not “curtail prosecutions” of SDIs and their managers for the frauds that drove the financial crisis. They prevented virtually all prosecutions of elite bank fraudsters and fraudulent banks. Indeed, they prevented virtually all prosecutions of senior officers of even non-elite banks. Worse, as we have been saying for years and as “The Untouchables” confirmed – GHB’s immunity doctrine prevented even vigorous criminal investigations of the SDIs. That denied us the facts about fraud, including how much the senior officers gained in wealth through fraud, how large were the losses their frauds caused, and how deeply did the losses drive the SDIs into insolvency. The failure to investigate and prosecute also minimized any reputational injury to the frauds – maximizing their ability to defraud us in the future. I’ve already pointed the deliberate abuse of logic exemplified by Yglesias’ false claim that preventing “prosecutions” was “the only way” of “saving the banks.” We can prosecute the SDI officers who directed the control frauds and grew wealthy through those frauds without having to prosecute the banks.

But perhaps I am being too fair to Yglesias. Perhaps he is saying that if we successfully prosecuted the SDIs’ controlling officers for using the SDIs as “weapons” to defraud the SDIs’ customers, creditors, and shareholders then we would inherently establish that the SDIs were liable through civil suits for the massive damages their frauds caused. (A corporation is normally liable for the wrongs of its officers committed in their capacity as officers.) Indeed, successful prosecutions and guilty pleas could establish “collateral estoppel” and allow the victims to easily win their civil cases against the SDIs. The damages in these civil suits should be extraordinary because fraud allows the recovery of punitive damages and the SDIs committed so many crimes that treble damages are available against the SDIs through civil RICO suits. Perhaps Yglesias, like GHB, believes that it is essential that we not be allowed to hold the officers accountable criminally and that we must act to prevent the victims of the SDIs’ frauds from receiving more than token recompense from the SDIs lest we fail to “save the banks” (by which he really means “save the SDIs”). Does Yglesias want the U.S. to add to the injury to the victims and to provide further aid and comfort to the elite fraudsters by declaring immunity from prosecution for the officers who grew rich through fraud?


A call to action from Joe Firestone

Now you probably know him better as letsgetitdone from corrente and Firedog Lake and he’s started a series which, if you have any interest in economics and the economy at all, I think you should pay attention to.

It’s called Framing Platinum Coin Seigniorage and is available in source form from New Economic Perspectives (you might want to  bookmark that).

The precis-

Framing Platinum Coin Seigniorage: Part One, Basics

Joe Firestone

Posted on January 31, 2013

How come nobody asks why, since Congress has the unlimited authority to create coins and currency, it doesn’t just create money when it deficit spends? The short answer is that Congress in 1913, constrained the Executive Branch from creating currency or bank reserves, delegated its power to do that to the Federal Reserve System, and never looked back when we went off the gold standard in 1971, even though this removed the danger of money-creation outrunning gold reserves, and also created a new monetary system based on fiat currency.

But coins, it turns out are different from currency and bank reserves. They’re the province of the Executive. And Congress provided the authority, in legislation passed in 1996, for the US Mint to create one oz. platinum bullion or proof platinum coins with arbitrary fiat face value, having no relationship to the market value of the platinum used in the coins. These coins are legal tender. When the Mint deposits them in its Public Enterprise Fund (PEF) account, the Fed must credit it with the face value of these coins. The difference between the Mint’s costs in producing the coins, and the reserves provided by the Fed is the US Mint’s “coin seigniorage” or profit from the transaction.

Platinum coins with huge face values such as $60 T, can produce seigniorage closing the revenue gap and technically end deficit spending, while still retaining the gap between tax revenues and spending that can add to aggregate demand and produce full employment. Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) is also a way for the Executive to end debt ceiling crises, since the profits could be used to repay debt instruments when they fall due, without the need to issue any more debt.

The seigniorage from a $60 T platinum coin would serve as a potent symbol of the truth that the Federal Government can never involuntarily run out of money. This is one of the central ideas of MMT that the public needs to accept routinely, to understand that the Government’s budget isn’t like their household budget. The presence of the $60 T in the public purse would be a positive enabler of progressive legislation creating benefits that people want now, but austerians say we can’t pass because “we can’t afford it.”

If all debt instruments are re-paid by using PCS, then, eventually the US would have no debt subject to the limit, or presence in the bond market, and would pay no interest to bond holders. No one would worry about the public debt, or use its size to justify blocking legislation that fulfills public purpose and promotes the general welfare.

So, PCS-based elimination of debt can end the whole austerity mind set that provides our current budgetary process with its constraining conservative cast, focused on narrow monetary cost considerations, rather than on a broader progressive framework that weighs the real costs and benefits of proposed fiscal activities of the Federal Government.

It must be done now! If it doesn’t, then people who are against the use of PCS will have time to organize against it and get it repealed by the Congress. Now that the PCS capability is widely known, the FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) Sector will be gunning for it with all the financial, political and propaganda power it can bring to bear. It will do that because using PCS, especially the $30 T or greater coin, High Value Platinum Coin Seigniorage (HVPCS) I propose, strikes at the domination of the financial and political systems by Wall Street and the big banks

HVPCS threatens the banks’ domination of the Fed, and also their role in money creation, and with it some of their income. The more time that passes without using HVPCS, the more likely it is that the Executive Branch will lose this capability to Wall Street’s persistent political efforts at repeal, and become the actual, rather than only the pretended (kabuki) prisoner of debt instruments and austerity once again.

available in orange


My hovercraft is full of eels.

On This Day In History February 6

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 6 is the 37th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 328 days remaining until the end of the year (329 in leap years).

On this day in 1952, Elizabeth II becomes the first Queen regnant of the United Kingdom and several other realms since Queen Victoria, upon the death of her father, George VI. At the exact moment of succession, she was in a treehouse at the Treetops Hotel in Kenya.

Elizabeth II (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, born 21 April 1926) is the Queen regnant of 16 independent sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. In addition, as Head of the Commonwealth, she is the figurehead of the 54-member Commonwealth of Nations and, as the British monarch, she is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

Elizabeth was educated privately at home. Her father, George VI, became King-Emperor of the British Empire in 1936. She began to undertake public duties during the Second World War, in which she served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. After the war and Indian independence George VI’s title of Emperor of India was abandoned, and the evolution of the Empire into the Commonwealth accelerated. In 1947, Elizabeth made the first of many tours around the Commonwealth, and married Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. They have four children: Charles, Anne, Andrew, and Edward.

In 1949, George VI became the first Head of the Commonwealth, a symbol of the free association of the independent countries comprising the Commonwealth of Nations. On his death in 1952, Elizabeth became Head of the Commonwealth, and constitutional monarch of seven independent Commonwealth countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon. Her coronation in 1953 was the first to be televised. During her reign, which at 58 years is one of the longest for a British monarch, she became queen of 25 other countries within the Commonwealth as they gained independence. Between 1956 and 1992, half of her realms, including South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (renamed Sri Lanka), became republics.

In 1992, which Elizabeth termed her annus horribilis (“horrible year”), two of her sons separated from their wives, her daughter divorced, and a severe fire destroyed part of Windsor Castle. Revelations on the state of her eldest son Charles’s marriage continued, and he divorced in 1996. The following year, her former daughter-in-law Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car crash in Paris. The media criticised the royal family for remaining in seclusion in the days before Diana’s funeral, but Elizabeth’s personal popularity rebounded once she had appeared in public and has since remained high. Her Silver and Golden Jubilees were celebrated in 1977 and 2002 respectively, and planning for her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 is underway.

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