Banksters getting away with it

In 1969 I was lucky enough to spend half a year at the University of California at Berkeley. It was the height of the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement and general student unrest shaking the foundations of the complacent American political system. The Berkeley campus was gassed from helicopters to quell  protests. At the other end of the country Woodstock was the defining event.

Against the prevailing mood on campus my very best friend had an almost religious awakening when he got a job at the New York investment bank Morgan Stanley. While every other student only spoke contemptuously of  “banksters” he was praising the virtues of high finance and his employer and put them on a pedestal somewhere between Jesus and God.
I was reminded of this when today I a came across the story of Alayne Fleischmann : The women who cost JP Morgan Chase (another sterling New York bank) a cool US$9 billion.
Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone magazine describes her as the central witness in one of the biggest cases of white-collar crime in American history, possessing secrets that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon late last year paid $9 billion to keep the public from hearing.
And more : Morgan Chase and the Justice Department took pains to silence her.
She was blocked at every turn: by asleep-on-the-job regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission, by a court system that allowed Chase to use its billions to bury her evidence, and, finally, by officials like outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, the chief architect of the crazily elaborate government policy of surrender, secrecy and cover-up. “Every time I had a chance to talk, something always got in the way,” Fleischmann says.

Here are the highlighted quotes from the Rolling Stone article :

“I could lose everything. But if we don’t start speaking up, we’re going to get the biggest financial cover-up in history.”

“The ordinary citizen who is the target of a government investigation cannot pick up the phone, call the prosecutor and have his case dropped. But Dimon did just that.”

“The assumption they make is that I won’t blow up my life to do it. But they’re wrong about that.”

Thank you Alayne for your courage shining some light on the criminality of the (American) banking system and the corruption of the (American) justice system.

Which brings me back to the third best friend from my Berkeley days, one of the top lawyers in Hamburg. When we discussed what we were witnessing since 2008, the almost collapse of the financial system and the wealth destruction of trillions of dollars, he suggested the best way to deal with it would be through the criminal justice system.
I will believe you, my dear friend, as soon as we see the first responsible top banksters not get away with it but behind bars.

 

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Our War Heroes have died in vain

The ‘Heroes’ of all our wars have died in vain, betrayed by today’s government.

We are continuously reminded of the democratic freedoms our ancestors lost their lives for on the battlefields, which is the ability of parliament to legislate on behalf of the people. One hundred years after the Great War New Zealand seems prepared to give up these rights and freedoms despite all the solemn talk of politicians at any event commemorating their ultimate sacrifices.
The betrayal comes in the secret negotiations of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement. We are made to believe that it is just a trade agreement about access for our agricultural products like dairy and meat. In reality it is about international corporations enriching themselves by the stroke of a pen by extending patent and other intellectual property  rights and seizing power over our democratically elected government via so called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) without a single shot been fired.

In an excellent article George Monbiot  in the Guardian writing about the parallel Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) highlights the dangers and insanity – if you are not a corporation – of the later. The treaty would allow corporations to sue governments before an arbitration panel composed of corporate lawyers, at which other people have no representation, and which is not subject to judicial review.

Already, thanks to the insertion of ISDS into much smaller trade treaties, big business is engaged in an orgy of litigation, whose purpose is to strike down any law that might impinge on its anticipated future profits. The tobacco firm Philip Morris is suing governments in Uruguay and Australia for trying to discourage people from smoking. The oil firm Occidental was awarded $2.3bn in compensation from Ecuador, which terminated the company’s drilling concession in the Amazon after finding that Occidental had broken Ecuadorean law. The Swedish company Vattenfall is suing the German government for shutting down nuclear power. An Australian firm is suing El Salvador’s government for $300m for refusing permission for a goldmine over concerns it would poison the drinking water.
The same mechanism, under TPP, could be used to prevent NZ governments from defending public health and the natural world against corporate greed.
The corporate lawyers who sit on these panels are beholden only to the companies whose cases they adjudicate, who at other times are their employers.

As one of these people commented:
“When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all … Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.”

The TPP negotiations unlike the ones between the US and Europe are conducted in total secrecy. Therefore our government has failed to answer the howlingly obvious question: what’s wrong with the courts? If corporations want to sue governments, they already have a right to do so, through the courts, like anyone else. It’s not as if, with their vast budgets, they are disadvantaged in this arena. Why should they be allowed to use a separate legal system, to which the rest of us have no access? What happened to the principle of equality before the law?

This is a blatant attack on our freedom and democracy not only by international corporations but our own government.
Our heroes are turning in their graves at Gallipoli and the Western Front.

Lest We Forget.

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SIS chief: We’re about security not spying – Yeah right

New head of the SIS Rebecca Kitteridge wants to change the image of the spy agency. What is obvious is that she is on a public relations drive to change the public’s image of SIS agents.
She obviously doesn’t want to change the culture of the organisation if she is looking for “ethical young patriots“.

For one it reminds me to much of the post 9/11 US Patriot Act, which led to the abuse of power by the US government as for instance revealed by Edward Snowden.
It also reminds me of the story former Supreme Court Justice Sir Ted Thomas told a big public meeting in Auckland last year about his experience with the secret service. When he was vetted by their agents a few times for cases he was involved in as a judge they struck him rather less bright than “right wing” in their thinking.

Filling the services with patriots like that will not change the cold war culture and all the image makeover will be in vain.

PS. However I very much liked the NZ Herald photo of the lady. If only the  makeover of the SIS would be so easy.

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Vladimir Putin is not olone

Putin: The US is to blame for almost all the world’s major conflicts ( The Independent)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the US of undermining global stability, and warned that the world will face new wars if Washington does not respect the interests of other nations. During a speech in the Russian city of Sochi, the President argued that while Moscow does not see Washington as a threat US foreign policy has created chaos. Citing the wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria, he went on to accuse the US and its allies of “fighting against the results of its own policy”.
And as quoted in the Guardian :  “The exceptionalism of the United States, the way they implement their leadership, is it really a benefit? And their worldwide intervention brings peace and stability, progress and peak of democracy? Maybe we should relax and enjoy this splendour? No!” and  “Unilateral dictatorship and obtrusion of the patterns leads to opposite result. Instead of conflicts settlement – their escalation. Instead of sovereign, stable states – growing chaos. Instead of democracy – support for very dubious people, such as neo-Nazis and Islamic extremists.

Unfortunately in his criticism of US foreign policy based on the dogma of American exceptionalism Putin is not alone despite his remarks being called “diatribe” in the NZ Fairfax media. Again and again international surveys have found, which country is seen the most dangerous to world peace. In one of the latest examples researchers in their annual End of Year poll for WIN and Gallup International surveyed more than 66,000 people across 65 nations : In Gallup Poll, The Biggest Threat To World Peace Is … America ! 

Should this not cause New Zealand to pause for some thought before we again rush into another war at the side of the US ?

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John Key Minister of Double-standards

It seems a long time ago actually just earlier this year that Minister Maurice Williamson rang the police on behalf of a Chinese immigrant. His explanation that he rang in his capacity not as Minister but the electoral MP or just as a friend did not wash and he had to resign. Only a couple of months back Minister Judith Collins communicated with gutter blogger Cameron Slater. Her explanation that she rang him as a long time friend did not save her from her downfall.
This week the Prime Minster in Parliament fobbed off a question from Greens co-leader Russel Norman how often he had spoken with the same “gutter blogger” (Toby Manhire) by saying that he hadn’t spoken with him “in my capacity as Prime Minister”.
The Media comments were scathing for instance the NZ Herald editorial October 24 : “Speaker gives PM, ministers a licence to duck for cover” or Fran O’Sullivan October 25 : “When it’s the Prime Minister who is being asked to account for his own actions during Question Time, resorting to semantic gymnastics and logical contortions to avoid accountability just looks too cute by half.”

Call it ‘too cute by half’, call it ‘a cavalier disregard for the accountability and integrity of his office’ (editorial) or call it just plain arrogant the question remains why can the New Zealand voter not see the true colour/character of the man. Are we still all queuing up to have a beer with him at a barbecue ?

May be Mr Key should add a new portfolio to his list : “Minister for Double-standards”.
Come to think of it remembering the PM’s often re-played efforts on  the cat walk he should for good measure add “Minister for silly Walks”.
Sorry John Cleese.

 

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Old Snake Oil Merchants driven out of Town ?

Brian Fallow in the 23 Oct Herald alerts us to a change in economic debate with the publication of the The Piketty Phenomenon a collection of essays dealing with the groundbreaking work of the French economist’s Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. “His careful scholarship torpedoes the comfortable belief that economic growth is the rising tide that lifts all boats.”
The result of Piketty’s research, as Geoff Bertram (one of the essayists) puts it, is that: “Simply leaving the logic of the free market economy to work without restraint will produce a society with a super-rich patrimonial elite owning the lion’s share of the total wealth, and wielding the political power to go with it.” “Patrimonial” here refers to inherited wealth or belonging to what Warren Buffett has called “the lucky sperm club”.

Professor Tim Hazledine (another contributor) was struck not only by Piketty’s finding that the top 1 per cent have more than doubled their share of income since 1980 in English-speaking countries but by “the equally striking lack of such an increase in most other large rich countries such as Japan, Germany and France“.
That suggests rising inequality is the result of policy choices, in particular “the 1980s counter-Keynesian neoliberal revolution, which celebrated unrestrained greed in an ever-more permissive policy environment“.

I have lived through the crazy days of Reagan, Thatcher and “Rogernomics” from the eighties onwards. I was always struck by the audacity of the advocates of thieving by the elites from all of us of not possessing a rational intellectual argument standing up to scrutiny.  They did not dare to debate their theories instead resorted to the mantra: “There is no alternative“.
Other non-English speaking rich countries, which did not follow the economic snake oil merchants of the time had quite different and arguably better outcomes. This proves that there always was and is an alternative to the 1980s counter-Keynesian neoliberal revolution, which celebrated unrestrained greed in an ever-more permissive policy environment.

Are we now in good old fashion going to drive the snake oil merchants out of town ?
Looking at this government and the two main political parties for that matter Brian Easton (another contributor) might be correct in his pessimism that it might take another decade or so.

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Beware of call for Police State

We are witnessing a very dangerous trend of liberal democracies with universal human rights and freedoms mutating into a authoritarian police states.
One example for this concern is a recent speech and the underlying thinking of the FBI Director James Comey as reported in the NZ Herald. Comey “warns against the push by technology companies to encrypt smartphone data and operating systems, arguing that murder cases could be stalled, suspects could walk free and justice could be thwarted by a locked phone or an encrypted hard drive“. Even if he had to admit that he didn’t have an example of that yet Comey said: “Logic tells me there are going to be cases like that“.

The idea behind his attack on encryption is worth thinking about. Since when is the aim to convict criminals paramount over all other considerations like the universal right to privacy and free speech or more specific to criminal procedures the right to a fair trial ? The history of the criminal justice system is full of cases where people literally got away with murder because the police made mistakes and evidence became inadmissible. It is one of the most basic principles of the rule of law that it applies foremost to the powers of the state. The thinking of none other than the Director of the FBI trowing all this overboard just to secure convictions is very dangerous indeed. He is obviously unable – beyond his brief as the top cop – to see the fundamental human values and rights to privacy and free speech. The issue is reduced to “Encryption isn’t just a technical feature. It’s a marketing pitch.
We can only hope that the lawmakers in the US – and in New Zealand for that matter where similar calls were heard – hold the line and protect the rights of all of us not just criminals

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Rod Oram : Defend the right to debate

If you haven’t read Rod Oram’s latest column yet please do !

It hasn’t stopped to amaze me how brilliantly the government spin worked in the lead-up to the recent election. It had almost an Orwellian quality of turning the meaning of words into the opposite (war is peace and peace is war).

Dirty tricks of the ‘Right’ as revealed by Nicky Hager turned into a conspiracy of the ‘Left’.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend on the evening of the release of “Dirty Politics”, which happened just before the six o’clock news. Nobody had read the book and knew what to make of it. Was it any good and based on facts or was it just a bad election hatched job full of falsehoods ?
My friend said that we only would have to watch the reaction the next morning. If the book was bad and full of falsehoods the government would attack the book and point out mistakes. If not they would attack the author. The reaction in the morning gave us the clear answer about the quality of the book. It was obviously untouchable.
The irony was that John Key already attacked the author as a leftwing conspiracy theorist well before he  even knew what the book was about. At that time he suspected that it was going to be about spying and the GCSB.

This just goes to show how spin works totally detached from the facts. You only have to repeat it on end and you can turn truth into falsehood and falsehood into truth.

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A seat at the Big Table – let’s live up to our good ‘brand’

Even if you don’t suffer from Colonial cringe and overly rejoice at every sporting win over the Imperials or the bigger cousins across the ditch and every other occasion where we ‘punch above our weight’ you have reason to celebrate that New Zealand won a seat on the UN Security Council on the first ballot. It goes to show how much good will New Zealand enjoys around the world. This is no surprise to someone with an overseas experience or background.
Countless commentators listed as reasons for our success, the perception of New Zealand being independent from the big powers (nuclear free stance) and standing up for principle and the little guys (anti-apartheit protests even if it deprived us of one most beloved rugby contest). Our image as the clean green Paradise of the South Pacific, which underpins much of our economic success, also comes into it.
It is a little bit ironic that since those deeds, which put us in the good book of the rest of the world, we had successive leaders of the National Party who either wanted our nuclear policy ‘gone by lunch time’ or can’t even remember where they stood during the Springbok Tour in 1981. And if we are honest with ourselves and for instance look at our rivers we have to admit that we are not as clean and green as we present ourselves to the world.

Now is the time to make an extra effort to be or become true to our brand and be the good little country the world imagines when it puts us at the big table (see).

 

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