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Journal Archives

Isis in Iraq: Assyrian Christian militia keep well-armed militants at bay - but they are running out

*Iraq is becoming a land of exiles.

“We have only 90 rounds for each of our Kalashnikovs and we haven’t the money to buy more ammunition,” says Sergon, commander of a band of two dozen ill-armed Christian militiamen living in the deserted village of Bakufa, close to the Isis frontline. The 1,500 Assyrian Christians who once lived in Bakufa fled when Isis fighters from Mosul 18 miles to the south captured and later lost the village during their offensive last August.

The Isis men are now dug in a mile away from Bakufa. On a field radio we can hear one of the fighters loudly demanding in Arabic that somebody bring him some drinking water. “We also hear them talking in Turkish and English,” says Sergon. “But, going by their accents, we think those speaking English are Chechens and Afghans, who don’t have a common language.

The Christians of Nineveh Plain around Mosul, who lived here for 1,800 years, have become refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan or in Turkey, Lebanon or further afield. “I wish they would come back,” says Peshmerga General Wahid Majid Mohammed, commander of 420 soldiers on this section of the front, somewhat unrealistically. “It is 75 per cent safe here,” he says, which is hardly reassuring, particularly when he adds that there is no electricity or drinking water in Bakufa. As we speak, he twice sends out patrols to assess the damage caused by the latest US air strikes, which take place several times a day.

At one end of the large room where Sergon and his men are sitting with their ageing weaponry, there is a large Assyrian flag. “Once, we Assyrians were a great empire,” says one of the fighters, as if seeking solace in the distant past for present weakness. Aside from their lack of weapons, the militiamen have only one vehicle, no electric generator and depend on the Kurdish Peshmerga for food. Overall, the meagre resources of the so-called Dweekh Newsha militia, 300-strong and founded last August to show that Iraqi Christians can defend themselves, only emphasises their vulnerability in the face of thousands of well-equipped Isis fighters.


The Worst Article Title by an Economist about the Crisis

Posted on February 20, 2015 by William Black

This column discusses the most embarrassing title of an economic study of the U.S. financial crisis. It rivals the most embarrassing title of an economic study of the Icelandic crisis.

“The 2010 Academy Award-winning documentary Inside Job tells how Mishkin changed the name of the study from ‘Financial Stability in Iceland’ to ‘Financial Instability in Iceland’ on his curriculum vitae.”

Geetesh Bhardwaj of AIG Financial Products and Rajdeep Sengupta, a St. Louis Fed economist, entitled their September/October 2008 article: “Where’s the Smoking Gun? A Study of Underwriting Standards for US Subprime Mortgages.”

Earth to AIG Financial Products: You are the “Smoking Gun”

Indeed, you’re the billowing trench mortar that was about to blow up the global economy by defaulting on hundreds of billions of dollars in Credit Default Swaps (CDS) at the time your economist finished the article.

in full: http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2015/02/the-worst-article-title-by-an-economist-about-the-crisis.html

The Bernie Buzz Update: Profitable Corporations Duck Taxes

Sen. Bernie Sanders this week issued a new report that provides a fresh glimpse into the far-reaching corporate tax avoidance strategies of large and profitable companies represented by the Business Roundtable, including what he calls the "legalized tax fraud” of sheltering profits in offshore tax havens. The report shows for the first time how more than half of the companies represented by the Business Roundtable are collectively holding more than $1 trillion in profits in offshore tax haven countries where money is not subject to U.S. taxes. A number of huge corporations – including General Electric, Boeing, Duke Energy and Verizon – not only have paid nothing in federal income tax in recent years, they received refunds from the IRS.

“Instead of sheltering profits in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens, the largest corporations in this country must pay their fair share of taxes so that our country has the revenue we need to rebuild America and reduce the deficit,” Bernie said. "At a time when corporations are making record-breaking profits, while the middle class is disappearing and senior poverty is on the rise, the last thing we should be doing is giving huge tax breaks to profitable corporations that don’t need it.” Bernie will soon reintroduce legislation to crack down on corporate tax avoidance by making sure that profits shifted to offshore tax haven subsidiaries are taxed at the top U.S. corporate tax rate.

Legalized Tax Fraud : How Top US Corporations Continue to Profit Through Offshore Tax Havens


Isis: Paranoid but determined, Islamic State is ready for a fight to the death in Mosul


“I fled Mosul when Isis threatened to conscript my brother as one of its fighters, though he is under 18 years of age,” says Ali Hussein Mustafa, a student who left the city a week ago. The self-styled “Islamic State” is seeking to bolster its military forces as it wages war on many fronts and it has introduced a new rule under which men under the age of 18 are no longer exempt from conscription.

The Iraqi government is threatening that it will soon send its army north to recapture Mosul, a city of two million, the loss of which last June was the first in a string of victories by Isis. The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced this week in an interview that “we are now planning an offensive against Mosul in a few months”.

If the army does attack it will face formidable resistance from the armed forces of Isis that may now number well over 100,000 in Iraq and Syria. Moreover, people in Mosul, the northern capital of Iraq, are divided in their loyalties, judging by interviews with The Independent conducted this month, either after they left the city or by mobile phone, although Isis has banned their use. In a predominantly Sunni Arab city, many are more frightened of largely Shia Iraqi government forces than they are of those on the side of Isis, though they may not like either.

“Some fighters treat the residents cruelly and harshly, while others are well-educated and treat the people well,” says Ali. He cites a local mathematics teacher who joined Isis recently “but was very kind to people and gave money and food to the poor. He often asked me whether I have any information about widows and the disabled in the city. He was donating part of his salary to them.”

in full: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-paranoid-but-determined-islamic-state-is-ready-for-a-fightto-the-death-in-mosul-10052377.html

The Study that Foreshadowed the Three Fraud Epidemics that Drove the Crisis

By William K. Black. Bloomington, MN: February 15, 2015

I will be writing a series of articles concerning the three mortgage fraud epidemics that hyper-inflated the bubble and drove the financial crisis prompted by four recent economic studies of mortgage fraud. My goal is to integrate the results of those studies with the work of criminologists, investigators, and data from other sources such as Clayton.

In economics and white-collar criminology, we teach our students the very useful concept of “revealed preferences.” We take what potential perpetrators say they would do and why they claim they took an action with cartons of salt. Their actions generally speak far louder and more candidly than do their words. I will show in this series how valuable revealed preferences are in analyzing the data and testing rival research hypotheses. (I will explain why I feel the recurrent failure to state these hypotheses expressly leads to serious error.)

I have come to the view that a concept that I term “revealed biases” is a useful corollary to “revealed preferences.” The National Institute of Justice virtually never funds empirical studies of elite white-collar criminals (a classic “revealed bias”). OMB suggests research programs exclusively for blue collar crime – in the midst of the largest and most destructive epidemics of elite white-collar crime in history. I wrote my first column in this series about an example of revealed biases in discussions of econometric studies of mortgage fraud.

The Piskorski, Seru, and Witkin (PSW) Study

The four studies can be read without charge. (The most recent study was behind a pay wall when I wrote by first article in this series.) In this and my next column I discuss two excellent studies by multiple authors. I have written previously about a February 2013 study entitled: “Asset Quality Misrepresentation by Financial Intermediaries: Evidence from RMBS Market.” The co-authors are Tomasz Piskorski (Columbia GSB), Amit Seru (University of Chicago and NBER), and James Witkin (collectively, PSW). (RMBS is an acronym for Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities.) (I discussed the PSW study extensively in an academic talk I gave on February 26, 2013 at Columbia that Piskorksi was able to attend.) This column begins the process of showing how adding the research findings and theoretical developments of criminologists, (effective) regulators, and economists on “control fraud” (aka “looting”) to the excellent work by of these finance authors can be useful to understanding the ongoing crisis and limiting or even preventing future crises. This column focuses on the PSW study’s findings and a few key interpretations of those findings. The next column discusses the most recent study on liar’s loans by Amir Sufi and Atif Mian.


The World of Our Grandchildren

Noam Chomsky discusses ISIS, Israel, climate change, and the kind of world future generations may inherit.

Jacobin is proud to feature an interview with journalist David Barsamian and Professor Noam Chomsky. In it, Chomsky explains the roots of ISIS and why the United States and its allies are responsible for the group’s emergence. In particular, he argues that the 2003 invasion of Iraq provoked the sectarian divisions that have resulted in the destabilization of Iraqi society. The result was a climate where Saudi-funded radicals could thrive.

The interview also touches on Israel’s most recent massacre in the Gaza Strip, putting it in the context of the vital role Israel has always played for the United States. Chomsky then turns to today’s racist scapegoating of Guatemalan immigrants, tracing the conditions that lead them to leave their homes to the Reagan administration’s brutal destruction of the country.

Finally, Chomsky shares his thoughts on the growing movement for climate justice and why he thinks it is the most urgent of our time. The full exchange will be broadcast by Alternative Radio.

There are few voices more vital to the Left than Professor Chomsky’s. We hope you read and share the interview widely.

remainder in full: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/02/noam-chomsky-interview-jacobin/

The City of London is so Criminogenic That It Boggles Even Its Banking Apologists

Posted on February 12, 2015 by William Black

HSBC’s most recent scandal is the perfect holiday gift. Whatever genre of entertainment one favors – from blood diamonds to drug cartels to rollicking royals to sport stars HSBC was happy to aid the wealthiest stars of your genre to illegally evade their taxes. Taxes were once termed the price we paid for civilization, but they now represent the price the wealthy brag to each other about refusing to pay as they pillage civilization. Because the City of London “won” the “regulatory race to the bottom” it is the worst “vector” for the epidemic of sleaze led by our most elite bankers. Oh, sorry, I let reality intrude in that last sentence.

The “respectable” government people in the UK and the U.S. (and Ireland) insist that we are experiencing the first virgin crisis – consisting of hundreds of thousands of fraudulent transactions by bankers – in which not a single CEO of the largest banks knew that his bank was a massive criminal enterprise. The long-running (anti) morality play with an extended run in each of these three nations claims that we are experiencing the first “Virgin Crisis” conceived without sin in these bank C-Suites. In every case, the bank CEOs – paid like Croesus because they are financial geniuses and managerial wizards – has been bamboozled by the tiny folks in the banks’ “org charts.” Such a betrayal of the trust that the elite bank CEOs reposed in these unworthy junior officers and employees! The pain of the elite bank CEOs is palpable – having their reputation besmirched by their ungrateful and immoral lesser. We’ll put aside who it is that crafts the perverse incentives that created the City of London’s (and Wall Street’s) corrupt financial cultures for the same reason that the CEOs’ apologists put aside that unsettling question.

The latest installment from the UK comes in the testimony of Martin Wheatley, the chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) about HSBC’s latest scandal. Wheatley decried the “staggering” number of scandals the City of London’s banks have committed. Of course, “banks” can only commit scandals through “bankers,” so we all eagerly await which bank CEO will finally be prosecuted. As with the Rebbe’s response at the end of Fiddler on the Roof, we will all have to “wait somewhere else” for a real prosecutor to appear and redeem the promises to protect us from the unjust no matter how great their wealth and power.

Wheatley’s testimony began digging his own political grave.

“He told MPs: ‘I think it’s quite clear that the number of scandals that we’ve seen in financial services, particularly in banks, has been staggering, and the latest allegations I think are equally scandalous.’

Mr Wheatley said he had not known about the specific latest claims about HSBC until they emerged in recent days, though the wider issue of its alleged misconduct had already been made public following leaks in 2007.”

in full: http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2015/02/city-london-criminogenic-boggles-even-banking-apologists.html

HCJ to state: Demolish nine structures in the settlement of Ofra

9 Feb 2015

In a dramatic decision, Israel’s High Court of Justice (former President A. Grunis, President M. Naor, and Justice I. Amit) ruled Sunday that the state must carry out demolition orders issued for nine illegal structures built on privately-owned Palestinian land in the West Bank settlement of Ofra. The Court accepted the petition filed by Palestinian residents of nearby villages and Israeli human rights organizations Yesh Din and B’Tselem to enforce the law regarding illegal construction in the area. In light of the state’s claim that the nine structures essentially share the status of many other houses in Ofra, the ruling has far-reaching implications for the issue of illegal construction on privately-owned Palestinian land.

The petition was filed in 2008 by five Palestinians from the village of ‘Ein Yabrud and Israeli rights organizations Yesh Din and B’Tselem against the minister of defense, OC Central Command, and the head of the civil administration, while construction of the structures and their connection to infrastructure was under way. The petitioners demanded that the court instruct the authorities to carry out demolition orders previously issued for the structures, prevent their connection to power, water and sewage networks and prevent people from taking up residence in the structures pending a ruling on the matter. In June 2008, the HCJ issued an interim order forbidding further construction or use of nine houses. In March 2009, after being notified that the order had been violated and people had taken up residence in the houses, the Court also issued an order nisi instructing representatives of the state to explain why the stop-work and demolition orders had not been implemented.

Unlike in other cases concerning illegal Israeli construction on Palestinian land in the West Bank, the state claimed in this petition that due to “special circumstances”, the usual priorities for enforcement of planning and building laws did not apply in this case. The “special circumstances”, the state explained, were that most structures in Ofra had been unlawfully erected on privately-owned Palestinian land, i.e. their status was almost identical to that of the nine structures under examination. The state’s problematic argument was that as almost the entire settlement of Ofra had been built on privately-owned Palestinian land, there was no justification to demolish those particular nine structures – although they were new and the petition was filed before they were completed. Therefore, the state argued, the fate of the nine structures would be determined along with the rest of the settlement, through negotiations on a permanent-status agreement with the Palestinians. State representatives referred to Ofra throughout the court sessions as “the largest illegal outpost in the West Bank”.

Last night, the Court rejected the state’s position and ordered execution of the demolition orders issued for the nine structures. In the ruling, the Court harshly criticized the conduct of various parties who worked to expedite construction of the structures after the petition was filed, in order to have them inhabited before the Court ruled on the matter: “The petition that lies before us pertains to structures that were unquestionably built illegally. They were constructed on registered land that is privately-owned by Palestinians . In addition, the construction was carried out in breach of stop-work orders and demolition orders issued by the authorities, and was completed in what appears to be foul play after the petition was filed.”


Absent Victims ( Joshua Oppenheimer, the director of The Act of Killing )

January 26, 2015

Joshua Oppenheimer, the director of The Act of Killing, discusses his follow-up documentary, The Look of Silence, about those who survived the Indonesian genocide of 1965

By Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

Adi tests the vision of a death squad leader who helped kill his brother. Photograph by Lars Skree © Final Cut for Real

When a new documentary by an unknown director appeared on the program of the 2012 Telluride Film Festival, few knew what was in store. The fact that two celebrated auteurs—Werner Herzog and Errol Morris—had attached their names to the project as executive producers hinted at its distinction. But even by their standards, and those of a film festival renowned for premiering the finest films of the year, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing was astonishing work. Its subject was one the least-known genocides of the twentieth century, the awful months in Suharto’s Indonesia, between the fall of 1965 and the spring of 1966, when at least half a million suspected Communists and sympathizers—along with artists, intellectuals, and residents of the wrong village—were slain by a regime with ties to a Cold War-era CIA. But unlike most historical documentaries, Oppenheimer’s film wasn’t concerned so much with exposition, with establishing the hard facts of the atrocities. The young American director instead took a radical tack: he turned his camera on the perpetrators. He asked a charismatic crew of aging killers, none of whom have ever had to answer for their roles in the genocide, to reenact their crimes on film. In doing so, they employ film noir tropes, footage of majestic waterfalls, and music-video kitsch involving giant plastic fish. The result offers us a rare glimpse at the tales mass murderers tell themselves to cope with their ruthless pasts.

Since its launch, The Act of Killing’s bevy of prizes and plaudits has grown to include a BAFTA and an Oscar nomination for best documentary. More remarkably, it has “opened a space for conversation,” Oppenheimer says, in a country that has yet to collectively reckon with this dark chapter of its history. The conversation continues in his new film, The Look of Silence, which considers the genocide from a different perspective. Whereas The Act of Killing examines the lasting impacts of violence through the narratives of its perpetrators, Oppenheimer’s follow-up focuses on victims. Less radical and more intimate than its predecessor, The Look of Silence, which will be released in June, tells the story of a village optometrist, Adi Rukun, who lost his brother to the genocide. We follow Rukun into the home of his aging parents, and then into the lush yards and houses of similarly aged killers nearby, where he questions the transgressors with gentle force—often while giving them eye exams—about not-forgotten crimes.

In Telluride, where The Look of Silence was screened, public radio journalist Mirissa Neff and I interviewed Oppenheimer about his craft and his decade-long, two-film project which, a couple of weeks after we spoke, earned him a MacArthur fellowship.

It seems fair to say that The Look of Silence and The Act of Killing aren’t so much two discrete pieces as they are two parts of a single project. How did this larger project come about?


Oral Testimony, William K.Black Dublin,Ireland,Oireachtas’ Joint Committee of Inquiry/Banking Crisis

Posted on February 8, 2015 by William Black

Note: This oral testimony was delivered on February 5, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland before the Oireachtas’ Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis. These are my prepared remarks. My actual oral testimony differed considerably. A transcript is available from the Inquiry, as is complete video.

To: Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis
From: William K. Black
Date: February 3, 2015

Oral Testimony of William K. Black


Thank you for the invitation to assist Ireland as you face among the most important questions Ireland and many other nations must answer correctly if we are to put a stop to our recurrent, intensifying financial crises. I am William K. Black and I come to you wearing four disciplinary and three institutional “hats.” My primary appointment is in economics with a joint appointment in law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I am a white-collar criminologist and a former senior financial regulator. My research specialties include elite white-collar crime and corruption, regulation, and financial crises. I am the Distinguished Scholar in Residence for Financial Regulation at the University of Minnesota’s Law School. I am a professor at the Instituto de Altos Estudios Nacionales es la Universidad de Posgrado del Estado in Quito, Ecuador. My testimony, of course, is solely my personal views rather than the official position of any of these universities.

There is Nothing More Expensive than Failed Banking Regulation

remainder in full: http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2015/02/oral-testimony-william-k-black.html
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