Daily Archive: 11/15/2013

Nov 15 2013

The China Connection and Other Travails of a TBTF Bank

JP Morgan Chase is once again under investigation by the Department of Justice. This time for possibly bribing the daughter of the Chinese prime minister with a lucrative business deal to gain preferential treatment on the Chinese markets.

To promote its standing in China, JPMorgan Chase turned to a seemingly obscure consulting firm run by a 32-year-old executive named Lily Chang.

Ms. Chang’s firm, which received a $75,000-a-month contract from JPMorgan, appeared to have only two employees. And on the surface, Ms. Chang lacked the influence and public name recognition needed to unlock business for the bank.

But what was known to JPMorgan executives in Hong Kong, and some executives at other major companies, was that “Lily Chang” was not her real name. It was an alias for Wen Ruchun, the only daughter of Wen Jiabao, who at the time was China’s prime minister, with oversight of the economy and its financial institutions.

While the bank emerged from the financial crisis stronger than it ever was, Moody’s Investors Service cut its ratings of the JPMC and three other banks after deciding the government would be less likely to help them repay creditors in a crisis. JPMorgan was cut to A3 from A2. According to Trace, the bond-price reporting system of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the yield on JPMorgan’s $2 billion of 3.375 percent subordinated notes due May 2023 slipped 10 basis points to 4.3 percent.

Moody’s said that there was less likelihood of a widespread bailout of banks by the United States government as there was during the financial crisis five years ago and that bank debt holders would be forced to shoulder more of the losses in the future.

But the rating agency said it expected banks would be required by regulators in the United States to hold a higher level of capital, which was likely to result in higher recoveries for creditors in any future bank default. [..]

Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the Federal Reserve has been limited in its ability to provide taxpayer money to individual banks, and failing banks would be wound down in a so-called orderly liquidation, in which creditors would bear the bulk of the burden of the losses.

However, some critics have expressed doubts that regulators could handle the liquidation of one or more of the nation’s largest banks in a severe financial crisis.

In the midst of this, somebody at JPMC thought it would be a great idea to hold a Twitter Q&A with the public using the hashtag #AskJPM. The results were extremely amusing but a major PR #FAIL for the bank. Award winning actor Stacy Keech, the voice of American Greed, reads some of the best tweets verbatim.

If you’re a poet and good at writing haiku, Rolling Stone‘s contributing editor Matt Taibbi is offering a Jaime Dimon tee shirt for the best “J.P. Morgan Chase Q&A Fiasco” haiku. Matt will announce the winner Monday.

Nov 15 2013

Yellen Opposed to Fed Audit

Even as President Barack Obama’s nominee to chair the Federal Reserve is committed to transparency, Janet Yellen is opposed to an audit of the central bank’s monetary policy decisions.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has proposed legislation that would subject the Federal Reserve to a full audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), offering Congress a look at the internal operations of the famously opaque institution. Tea partiers like Paul aren’t the only people who support an audit: the proposal has also garnered support among labor leaders such as AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, progressive economists like Dean Baker, and Congressional liberals such as Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla.

Paul has threatened to block Yellen’s nomination unless his proposal for a Fed audit gets a vote in the Senate. His office did not respond to a request for comment on Yellen’s remarks.

Yellen, who currently serves as vice chair of the Federal Reserve, also indicated during the confirmation hearing that her tenure would not represent a significant break from that of outgoing chair Ben Bernanke. She defended the Fed’s policy of buying Treasury bonds as a form of economic stimulus and hinted that she would continue with policies in that vein if confirmed.

The Federal Reserve has only been audited once in 2010 after the proposal for a one time only audit, sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, was attached to the Dodd-Frank Finance Reform bill. That audit revealed trillions in secret bailouts to banks around the world.

“This is a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you’re-on-your-own individualism for everyone else,” U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, said in a statement.

The majority of loans were issues by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). [..]

The report notes that all the short-term, emergency loans were repaid, or are expected to be repaid.

The emergency loans included eight broad-based programs, and also provided assistance for certain individual financial institutions. The Fed provided loans to JP Morgan Chase bank to acquire Bear Stearns, a failed investment firm; provided loans to keep American International Group (AIG), a multinational insurance corporation, afloat; extended lending commitments to Bank of America and Citigroup; and purchased risky mortgage-backed securities to get them off private banks’ books. [..]

Some of the financial institutions secretly receiving loans were meanwhile claiming in their public reports to have ample cash reserves, Bloomberg noted.

The Federal Reserve has neither explained how they legally justified several of the emergency loans, nor how they decided to provide assistance to certain firms but not others.

Nov 15 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Ian Welsh: The Obamacare Fiasco

I think Schadenfraude nicely sums up what I’m feeling about Obama’s troubles with his signature health care bill, though I do feel  sorry for people who are being hurt by Obamacare.

It’s not the website that is killing Obama, of course, it’s the cancellation of pre-existing policies (though the website is an unforced mistake).  Obama told people they could keep their policies, but that decision was never his to make, it was up to insurance companies.  Since there is no robust public option, Obama does not have any significant leverage over the insurance companies, there is nothing he can do to them, so why shouldn’t they do what is in their best interest? [..]

When you are dealing with bad people, you must assume bad faith; bad behavior.  You must plan for it.  The best option was always Medicare-for-all (and I was told by at least one House staffer that they could pass it if they really wanted to and were willing to go nuclear.)  The problem with Obama has always been this sickening need to be one of the boys.  He appears to genuinely like and genuinely admire the people who have “made it” in this society-people like Jamie Dimon and the people who run insurance  and drug companies.  He thinks you can make deals with these people, and make sure everyone wins.

You can’t.  These people are the most successful parasites ever produced by our nasty form of sociopathic capitalism.  You can only give them what they want or you can rip them from the body politic, so they stop sucking the blood from the host they’re killing.

Paul Krugman: The Money Trap

When Greece hit the skids almost four years ago, some analysts (myself included) thought that we might be seeing the beginning of the end for the euro, Europe’s common currency. Others were more optimistic, believing that tough love – temporary aid tied to reform – would soon produce recovery. Both camps were wrong. What we actually got was a rolling crisis that never seems to reach any kind of resolution. Every time Europe seems ready to go over the edge, policy makers find a way to avoid complete disaster. But every time there are hints of true recovery, something else goes wrong.

And here we go again. Not long ago, European officials were declaring that the Continent had turned the corner, that market confidence was returning and growth was resuming. But now there’s a new source of concern, as the specter of deflation looms over much of Europe. And the debate over how to respond is turning seriously ugly.

New York Times Editorial Board: British Press Freedom Under Threat

Britain has a long tradition of a free, inquisitive press. That freedom, so essential to democratic accountability, is being challenged by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron.

Unlike the United States, Britain has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom. Parliamentary committees and the police are now exploiting that lack of protection to harass, intimidate and possibly prosecute [The Guardian newspaper for its publication of information based on National Security Agency documents that were leaked by Edward Snowden. The New York Times has published similar material, believing that the public has a clear interest in learning about and debating the N.S.A.’s out-of-control spying on private communications. That interest is shared by the British public as well.

Robert Creamer: It’s Economic Inequality Stupid — What to Do About the Biggest Crisis Facing America

In 1992, the Clinton for President campaign is said to have had a poster on the wall of its war room that read: It’s the Economy Stupid. The object of the slogan was to keep the campaign on task.

Its goal was to make sure that every campaign message ultimately returned to the question of the economy. The campaign was convinced that no matter what else diverted their attention, the ultimate outcome of the election would hinge on who the voters thought would fix that broken economy.

Today, we would do well to have a poster that reminds us: It’s Economic Inequality Stupid. That’s because a good case can be made that to deal with any of our most pressing economic, social and economic problems, we must end the massive — still growing — disparity in distribution and control of the fruits of our economy.

Robert Reich: Having the Backbone to Set Minimum Standards for Health Insurance

Democrats are showing once again they have the backbones of banana slugs.

The Affordable Care Act was meant to hold insurers to a higher standards. So it stands to reason that some insurers will have to cancel their lousy sub-standard policies.

But spineless Democrats (including my old boss Bill Clinton) are caving in to the Republican-fueled outrage that the President “misled” Americans into thinking they could keep their old lousy policies — and are now urging the White House to forget the new standards and let people keep what they had before.

And some congressional Republicans are all too eager to join them, and allow insurers to offer whatever crap they were offering before — exposing families to more than $12,700 in out-of-pocket expenses, canceling policies of people who get seriously sick, failing to cover prescription drugs, and so on.

Dave Johnson: Imagine Democracy

“We the People.” How many of us have really thought through the implications of these three words? Can people today even imagine a government that is on the side of We the People, instead of being rigged to benefit the already-wealthy and crush the hopes and efforts of the rest of us?

Since the early 1970s corporate/conservative-funded interests have pounded the public 24/7/365 with unceasing propaganda promoting the idea that government can’t do anything right, business always does everything better and more “efficiently,” market solutions (one-dollar-one-vote) are better than public (one-person-one-vote) solutions, and so on.

Meanwhile democracy does not have a marketing budget, and for so long now so many people have not even heard that there can be another side, another approach to solving our problems and making our lives better. People just hear over and over that “government is bad, efforts to do things for each other are bad, but private business for profit is good.”

Nov 15 2013

On This Day In History November 15

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

November 15 is the 319th day of the year (320th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 46 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1867, On this day in 1867, the first stock ticker is unveiled in New York City. The advent of the ticker ultimately revolutionized the stock market by making up-to-the-minute prices available to investors around the country. Prior to this development, information from the New York Stock Exchange, which has been around since 1792, traveled by mail or messenger.

The ticker was the brainchild of Edward Calahan, who configured a telegraph machine to print stock quotes on streams of paper tape (the same paper tape later used in ticker-tape parades). The ticker, which caught on quickly with investors, got its name from the sound its type wheel made.

Calahan worked for the Gold & Stock Telegraph Company, which rented its tickers to brokerage houses and regional exchanges for a fee and then transmitted the latest gold and stock prices to all its machines at the same time. In 1869, Thomas Edison, a former telegraph operator, patented an improved, easier-to-use version of Calahan’s ticker. Edison’s ticker was his first lucrative invention and, through the manufacture and sale of stock tickers and other telegraphic devices, he made enough money to open his own lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey, where he developed the light bulb and phonograph, among other transformative inventions.

Stock tickers in various buildings were connected using technology based on the then-recently invented telegraph machines, with the advantage that the output was readable text, instead of the dots and dashes of Morse code. The machines printed a series of ticker symbols (usually shortened forms of a company’s name), followed by brief information about the price of that company’s stock; the thin strip of paper they were printed on was called ticker tape. As with all these terms, the word ticker comes from the distinct tapping (or ticking) noise the machines made while printing. Pulses on the telegraph line made a letter wheel turn step by step until the right letter or symbol was reached and then printed. A typical 32 symbol letter wheel had to turn on average 15 steps until the next letter could be printed resulting in a very slow printing speed of 1 letter per second. In 1883, ticker transmitter keyboards resembled the keyboard of a piano with black keys indicating letters and the white keys indicating numbers and fractions, corresponding to two rotating type wheels in the connected ticker tape printers.

Newer and more efficient tickers became available in the 1930s and 1960s but the physical ticker tape phase was quickly coming to a close being followed by the electronic phase. These newer and better tickers still had an approximate 15 to 20 minute delay. Stock ticker machines became obsolete in the 1960s, replaced by computer networks; none have been manufactured for use for decades. However, working reproductions of at least one model are now being manufactured for museums and collectors. It was not until 1996 that a ticker type electronic device was produced that could operate in true real time.

Simulated ticker displays, named after the original machines, still exist as part of the display of television news channels and on some World Wide Web pages-see news ticker. One of the most famous displays is the simulated ticker located at One Times Square in New York City.

Ticker tapes then and now contain generally the same information. The ticker symbol is a unique set of characters used to identify the company. The shares traded is the volume for the trade being quoted. Price traded refers to the price per share of a particular trade. Change direction is a visual cue showing whether the stock is trading higher or lower than the previous trade, hence the terms downtick and uptick. Change amount refers to the difference in price from the previous day’s closing. These are reflected in the modern style tickers that we see every day. Many today include color to indicate whether a stock is trading higher than the previous day’s (green), lower than previous (red), or has remained unchanged (blue or white).

Nov 15 2013

Rolling Jubilee

Occupy Wall Street activists buy $15m of Americans’ personal debt

Adam Gabbatt, The Guardian

Tuesday 12 November 2013 10.34 EST

Rolling Jubilee, set up by Occupy’s Strike Debt group following the street protests that swept the world in 2011, launched on 15 November 2012. The group purchases personal debt cheaply from banks before “abolishing” it, freeing individuals from their bills.

By purchasing the debt at knockdown prices the group has managed to free $14,734,569.87 of personal debt, mainly medical debt, spending only $400,000.



The group is able to buy debt so cheaply due to the nature of the “secondary debt market”. If individuals consistently fail to pay bills from credit cards, loans, or medical insurance the bank or lender that issued the funds will eventually cut its losses by selling that debt to a third party. These sales occur for a fraction of the debt’s true values – typically for five cents on the dollar – and debt-buying companies then attempt to recoup the debt from the individual debtor and thus make a profit.



(Andrew Ross, a member of Strike Debt and professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University says) “Very few people know how cheaply their debts have been bought by collectors. It changes the psychology of the debtor, knowing this.

“So when you get called up by the debt collector, and you’re being asked to pay the full amount of your debt, you now know that the debt collector has bought your debt very, very cheaply. As cheaply as we bought it. And that gives you moral ammunition to have a different conversation with the debt collector.”

Occupy Wall Street’s debt buying strikes at the heart of capitalism

Alex Andreou, The Guardian

Wednesday 13 November 2013 11.20 EST

When the Occupy movement came into being in the summer of 2011, its critics said that a lack of identifiable objectives and strategy for achieving them meant it was doomed to fail. This was a monumental underestimation of its potential impact. Two years on, the debate about the ethics of corporate capitalism in its current form, the fairness of the remuneration of those at the top, the widening wealth gap and the morality of tax avoidance is alive and well. The concept of the “99%” is now part of the collective consciousness. All this is, in no small part, down to the fuse lit by the Occupy movement.



One of the most significant, and perhaps the most threatening to the status quo, is the Strike Debt group, of which the Rolling Jubilee project forms part.

The idea is that, those freed from debt and those sympathetic to the movement, then donate into the fund to keep it “rolling” forward; hence the name. The fund has already raised $600,000 and has used $400,000 of this to purchase and cancel an astonishing $14.7m of debt, primarily focusing on medical bills. This strikes at the very heart of the system, not only by using its own perverse rules against it, but critically by revealing the illusory and circular nature of debt.

Capitalism requires a layer of cheap, flexible labour to operate optimally. It is not a coincidence that the most successful global economy, by any traditional capitalist measure, is an authoritarian quasi-communist state. Many, myself included, have been arguing that our current predicament is not crisis-consequent austerity, but a permanent adjustment. David Cameron on Monday confirmed as much. The great lie, peddled by Thatcher and Reagan, was the idea that we could all be middle class, white-collar professionals within a neoliberal economy. It was simply not true.



This is why the debate on the back-door privatisation of medical and education services in this country matters so much. The extraction of profit from these two key areas changes the social contract in a fundamental way. The idea is no longer that the state will educate you and keep you healthy, so that you may continue to contribute with both your work and your taxes. It has mutated instead into “you will borrow money from the state’s private partners in order to become educated and stay healthy, so that you may continue to contribute to their bottom line”. All of the 99%, in a very real way, work in part for an assortment of financial institutions, largely invisible and certainly unaccountable.

Iceland’s – strangely unreported – decision to write down mortgage debt for its citizens, undermines that notion. A rejection of traditional systems of credit and money as a response to austerity, such as in the barter markets of Volos in Greece and Turin in Italy undermines that notion. The Rolling Jubilee project undermines that notion in a significant way, by asking the sizzling question: “If a corporation is prepared to accept five cents on the dollar in exchange for our debts, if that is our debt’s open market value, how much do we really owe?”