01/29/2013 archive

GOP Is Still the Party of Stupid

In his speech to Republican Party official in Charlotte, NC, Gov. Bobby Jindal said that

the GOP must stop being the party of stupid.” The problem there is that actions, including Gov. Jindal’s, just reinforce how stupid the GOP is, especially when it comes to the economy.

Bad news for Jindal: Florida, Texas rely heavily on property and biz taxes

by Tyler Bridges, The Lens

As he seeks to eliminate the state’s income tax, Gov. Bobby Jindal has cast a covetous eye both west and east. The tax systems in Florida and Texas should serve as a model for Louisiana’s, the governor believes.

Neither state has an income tax, he notes, and both have reputations as hospitable to business investment.

But to make Louisiana look more like Florida and Texas, Jindal’s plan would have to include two significant elements that he dislikes: taxes on business and higher property taxes. [..]

“Most states have a three-legged stool for raising revenue,” said Jim Richardson, a Louisiana State University economist who co-chaired PAR’s tax study. “Texas and Florida have two legs – sales and property – since they don’t have an income tax.” Under the Jindal plan, “Louisiana would have a one-and-a-half-legged stool – sales taxes and some local property taxes.” [..]

In an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman said it would raise the taxes on every tax dollar the poor make going against “the Republican argument that high marginal tax rates discourage work“.

“In our system, the highest marginal tax rates — the biggest disincentives to work in our system — are not for the rich. They are for lower-income workers who are in that range where if you earn a little bit more you start to lose benefits, you start to lose Medicaid, you lose housing subsidies,” the Nobel Prize-winning economist said. “This is going to raise taxes precisely on the people who actually have the biggest disincentives to work. So it’s actually, even from that old supply-side incentive thing, this is going in the wrong direction.”

In his Monday New York Times column, Prof. Krugman called the Republicans “Makers, Takers, Fakers

Like the new acknowledgment that the perception of being the party of the rich is a problem, this represents a departure for the G.O.P. – but in the opposite direction. In the past, Republicans would justify tax cuts for the rich either by claiming that they would pay for themselves or by claiming that they could make up for lost revenue by cutting wasteful spending. But what we’re seeing now is open, explicit reverse Robin Hoodism: taking from ordinary families and giving to the rich. That is, even as Republicans look for a way to sound more sympathetic and less extreme, their actual policies are taking another sharp right turn.

Despite the lessons of the 2012 election, the Republicans, in states that are not checked by Democrats, are pushing tax policies that punish the poor and the middle class and benefit the wealthy.

Giving It All Away

While Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner was packing up his office making way for the next puppet of the banks and Wall Street, Jack Lew, the top executives of major companies that were bailed out by the tax payers were getting their pay-offs.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for the Trouble Asset Relief Program — which keeps tabs on taxpayer bailouts — singled out for blame “pay czar” Patricia Geoghegan, the Treasury official tasked with reining in excessive pay increases for executives at bailed-out companies. [..]

Executives, the report contends, got pay bumps in 2012 for leading their bailed-out companies in profitable directions. But they also got raises when their units performed poorly: An executive at Ally’s residential mortgage unit saw his paycheck rise in 2012 even though Treasury knew that division of the bank was about to file for bankruptcy. The executive, Treasury said, was deemed “critical to successful restructuring.”

Another executive, at GM, saw a $50,000 pay increase not because of good performance, Geoghegan is quoted in the report as saying, but because “GM wanted to retain the employee and ‘do a little extra for him.'”

At AIG, which had by far the best remunerated executives of the three companies in 2012, the top 25 earners made nearly $108 million combined. CEO Robert Benmosche’s pay was $10.5 million. (AIG repaid its government loans in late 2012 and is no longer under Treasury oversight.)

The SIGTARP, which keeps tabs on taxpayer bailouts, is supposed to keep a lid on excessive pay for the CEO’s.  Ms. Geoghegan relinquished her authority to the companies involved to determine the size of pay increases. The result was that all but one of the 69 companies SIGTARP oversees received an annual payout of at least $1 million, and nearly a quarter received pay packages in excess of $5 million.

And the Treasury Department has sone nothing to fix the economy because under Timothy Geithner it was too busy bailing out Wall Street and the banks:

(T)he economy has already lost more than $7 trillion in output ($20,000 per person) compared with what the Congressional Budget Office projected in January of 2008. We will probably lose at least another $4 trillion before the economy gets back to anything resembling full employment. And millions of people have seen their lives turned upside down by their inability to get jobs, being thrown out of their homes, or their parents’ inability to get a job. And this is all because of the folks in Washington’s inability to manage the economy.

But the Wall Street banks are bigger and fatter than ever. As a result of the crisis, many mergers were rushed through that might have otherwise been subject to serious regulatory scrutiny. For example, J.P. Morgan was allowed to take over Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, two huge banks that both faced collapse in the crisis. Bank of America took over Merrill Lynch and Countrywide. By contrast, there can be little doubt that without the helping hand of Timothy Geithner, most or all of the Wall Street banks would have been sunk by their own recklessness.

There is one other hoary myth that needs to be put to rest as Timothy Geithner heads off to greener pastures. The claim that we made money on the bailout is one of those lines that should immediately discredit the teller. We made money on the loans in the same way that if the government issued mortgages at 1 percent interest it would make money, since the vast majority of the mortgages would be repaid.

The TARP money and other bailout loans were given to banks at way below market interest rates at a time when liquidity carried an enormous premium. Serious people know this, and the people who don’t are not worth listening to. It was a massive giveaway, as the Congressional Oversight Panel determined at the time.

Meanwhile, states are refusing to raise minimum wages to keep the many workers from falling deeper into poverty.

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

New York Times Editorial: Now We’re Talking

The thousand-mile journey to comprehensive immigration reform has begun, as you might expect for Washington, with a single memo. Eight senators, four from each party, released it on Monday: a statement of principles behind a deal to overhaul the system in one big bill. It calls for more border and workplace enforcement, more visas for needed workers and legalization – with a path to citizenship – for 11 million undocumented immigrants.

The statement lacks specifics and leaves a lot of room for disappointment and retreat. But what’s encouraging is that it exists at all. No longer does the immigration debate consist of two groups yelling across a void. No longer is the discussion hopelessly immobilized by Republicans who have categorically rejected any deal that includes any hint of “amnesty.”

Richard (RJ) Eskow: As Federal Prosecutors Cash In, Big Bankers Go Unpunished

We needed heroes after the financial crisis. Instead we got bureaucrats, compromisers, and perhaps something much worse. Federal law enforcement officials, our “thin gray line” against banker crime, were charged with restoring the balance of justice and reducing the threat of future crises. Seems they had other things on their minds.

Now the Administration’s first-term posse is riding off into the sunset. The most visible departure is Deputy Attorney General Lanny Breuer. Remember those submissive or avaricious sheriffs in the old Westerns, the ones who were always letting the bad guys run wild ?  “Sorry, Ma’am, I’d like to help you and the boy but there ain’t nothin’ I can do.”  That’s Breuer, whose shattered credibility and extreme reluctance to prosecute has become the stuff of legend.  

But he’s not the only one. Meet the senior partners in a firm that be more aptly named “Covington, Burling, and Justice.”

William K. Black: By Their Responses, Ye Shall Know Them

You often cannot evaluate a person’s character until they are under pressure. Their response to substantive criticism reveals an important aspect of character. While we learn the most from substantive criticism, the process is almost always painful. For people in positions of power, the substantive criticism is particularly vital and useful because far too often people fail to “speak truth to power.” They fear being excluded from the debate and marginalized should they criticize the false statements that the powerful make in order to maintain and extend their power. [..]

Journalists constantly face the ethical issue of whether to speak truth to power. They need access to the powerful to do their jobs. Journalists also want to be viewed as “serious” and the powerful often define as “unserious” any journalist who criticizes the powerful and the myths that the powerful spread in order to maintain and exploit their power. Far too often, journalists decide against speaking truth to power. This self-censorship is particularly damaging because it is invisible to the public and because it inherently degrades the journalist’s integrity.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: The Urgency of Growth

If you care about deficits, you should want our economy to grow faster. If you care about lifting up the poor and reducing unemployment, you should want our economy to grow faster. And if you are a committed capitalist and hope to make more money, you should want our economy to grow faster.

The moment’s highest priority should be speeding economic growth and ending the waste, human and economic, left by the Great Recession. But you would never know this because the conversation in our nation’s capital is being held hostage by a ludicrous cycle of phony fiscal deadlines driven by a misplaced belief that the only thing we have to fear is the budget deficit.

John Nichols: Priebus Is What Happens When a Party Loses Its Self-Respect

The Republican National Committee has retained Reince Priebus as party chairman, keeping the failed leader in a position previously occupied by Mark Hanna, Lee Atwater and Haley Barbour.

Even as he accepted his new term, Priebus acknowledged that he and his minions have led their party far from the American mainstream. “We have to build better relationships in minority communities, urban centers and college towns,” he admitted in his acceptence speech. [..]

Priebus was not reelected to build a multiracial, multiethnic party that embraces diversity and seeks to deliver a message of opportunity for all. The whole point of his chairmanship has been to combat the politics of inclusion that Republicans decry Barack Obama for practicing.

That has placed the once honorable Republican Party on the wrong side of history, and of American progress.

Harold Meyerson: Employees? Consumers? Feh!

The Republican war on the NLRB and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Should the Supreme Court uphold it, last Friday’s decision by three Reagan-appointees to the D.C. Circuit Appellate Court appears at first glance to rejigger the balance of power between Congress and the president. The appellate justices struck down three recess appointments that President Obama had made to the five-member National Labor Relations Board during the break between the 2011 and 2012 sessions of Congress partly on the grounds that Congress wasn’t formally in recess, since one and sometimes two Republicans showed up to nominally keep it in session for the sole reason of denying Obama the right to recess appointments. Two of the three justices went further, ruling that the president can’t really make recess appointments at all. [..]

The real issue here is who Obama appointed, and to what agencies. The recess appointments he made in the 2011-2012 break were to the NLRB (two Democrats, one Republican) and the directorship of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray). Obama had sent these nominations to the Hill, but invoking the 60-vote supermajority rule, Republicans refused to consider them. They made clear that their problem with Cordray wasn’t Cordray; it was that they opposed the very existence of the Bureau, which had been created as part of Dodd-Frank in 2010. The idea of an agency that represented financial consumers solely-as opposed to other agencies like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Controller of the Currency-struck them as a terrible idea. They proposed to amend the act by reconstituting the bureau as an agency, with multiple board members, that represented banks’ interests as well as their consumers. In short, they proposed a house divided against itself.

The Shame Prize

The shame prize award was made in Davos during the World Economic Forum as a counter-WEF event.  Shell also “won” a shame prize, but I spoke on Goldman Sachs, the role of epidemics of accounting control fraud, and the WEF’s anti-regulatory and pro-executive compensation policies.  I explained that the anti-regulatory policies were intended to fuel the destructive regulatory “race to the bottom” and why the executive and professional compensation policies maximized the incentives to defraud.  I also explained that WEF was a fraud denier.  Collectively, these three WEF policies contributed to creating the intensely criminogenic environments that produce the epidemics of accounting control fraud driving our worst financial crises.

Goldman Sachs Proof that God hates its Customers

By William K. Black, New Economic Perspectives

Posted on January 26, 2013

Goldman Sachs is a fitting recipient of the “Public Eye” shame prize, but it is vital to remember that Goldman is not a singular rotten apple in a healthy bushel.  It is characteristic of the abuses that become endemic when powerful plutocrats achieve de facto immunity from the criminal laws.

Indeed, this discussion understates Goldman’s culpability because Goldman’s executives were principal architects of the crisis.  Its former CEO, Robert Rubin, led the disastrous deregulation in the Clinton administration and was a leader in pushing Citicorp to become a major contributor to the hyper-inflation of the bubble.  Henry Paulson, when he was Goldman’s CEO, made Goldman a leading “vector” spreading fraudulent mortgages through the global financial system (and creating Goldman’s holdings of toxic mortgages that produced huge, fictional, accounting income in the short-term – making Paulson’s already large compensation massive).

Goldman Sachs: Doing "God’s Work" by inflicting the Wages of Sin Globally

By William K. Black, New Economic Perspectives

Posted on January 26, 2013

The central point that I want to stress as a white-collar criminologist and effective financial regulator is that Goldman Sachs is not a singular “rotten apple” in a healthy bushel of banks.  Goldman Sachs is the norm for systemically dangerous institutions (SDIs) (the so-called “too big to fail” banks).  Impunity from the laws, crony capitalism that degrades democracy, and massive national subsidies produce exceptionally criminogenic environments.  Those environments are so perverse that they produce epidemics of “control fraud.”  Control fraud occurs when the persons who control a seemingly legitimate entity use it as a “weapon” to defraud.  In finance, accounting is the “weapon of choice.”  It is important to remember, however, that other forms of control fraud maim and kill thousands.

Large, individual accounting control frauds cause greater financial losses than all other forms of property crime – combined.  Accounting control frauds are weapons of mass financial destruction.  One of the crippling flaws of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is ignoring private sector control frauds.  Control fraud makes a mockery of “stakeholder” theory.  Accounting control fraud, for example, aims its stake at the heart of its stakeholders.  The principal intended victims are the shareholders and the creditors (which includes the workers).  Other forms of control fraud primarily target the customers.  If the WEF wishes to effectively protect stakeholders it is imperative that they undertake a sea change and make the detection, prevention, and sanctioning of control fraud one of their central priorities.  WEF does the opposite, it wishes away fraud with propaganda because the alternative is to admit that many of its dominant participants are the central problem – they are degrading the state of the world.

WEF has been acting for decades to make banking criminogenic.  They have pushed the three “de’s” – deregulation, desupervision, and de facto decriminalization.  They have favored executive compensation systems.  They have pushed for ease of entry.  And they have spread the myth that fraud by corporate elites is “rare.”  WEF has optimized the intensely criminogenic environments that produce recurrent, intensifying fraud epidemics, bubbles, and financial crises.

WEF’s complacency about accounting control fraud has led to its embarrassing failures in finance.  It’s “competitiveness” scales and “financial market development” scales have praised the most criminogenic financial systems – Iceland, Ireland, the UK, the U.S., and Spain – even as the largest banks in those Nations were (in reality) destroyed along with the much of the national economy.  Similarly, the WEF’s “global risks” series has proven unable to identify the major financial risks until the hurricane has roared through the system.  The central problems are the same – the WEF “stakeholder” premise and the WEF’s domination by powerful corporations is an elaborate propaganda apparatus that assumes away the reality of how CEOs running control frauds use compensation (and the power to hire, promote, and fire) and political power to deliberately create the perverse incentives that produce widespread fraud.  The irony is that the WEF’s dogmas have encouraged elite frauds to drive stakes through the stakeholders.

On This Day In History January 29

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.

January 29 is the 29th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 336 days remaining until the end of the year (337 in leap years).

On this day in 1845, Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem “The Raven,” beginning “Once upon a midnight dreary,” is published on this day in the New York Evening Mirror.

“The Raven” is a narrative poem by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in January 1845. It is often noted for its musicality, stylized language, and supernatural atmosphere. It tells of a talking raven’s mysterious visit to a distraught lover, tracing the man’s slow descent into madness. The lover, often identified as being a student, is lamenting the loss of his love, Lenore. Sitting on a bust of Pallas, the raven seems to further instigate his distress with its constant repetition of the word “Nevermore”. The poem makes use of a number of folk and classical references.

Poe claimed to have written the poem very logically and methodically, intending to create a poem that would appeal to both critical and popular tastes, as he explained in his 1846 follow-up essay “The Philosophy of Composition”. The poem was inspired in part by a talking raven in the novel Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty by Charles Dickens. Poe borrows the complex rhythm and meter of Elizabeth Barrett‘s poem “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship”, and makes use of internal rhyme as well as alliteration throughout.