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Journal Archives

Looking Back at the Repeal of Glass-Steagall, or, How the Banks Caught Casino Fever

** Taking a look back, here are links to how the votes went down

Senate Vote: http://www.govtrack.us/...
House Vote: http://www.govtrack.us/...

If you’ve been reading ND20, you know that the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act has been a key issue in both understanding the causes of the financial crisis and thinking about how to move forward. Glass-Steagall Act was introduced during the Great Depression, and was repealed in 1999, paving the way for banks to invest in nasty things like mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations.

As part of our ‘New Agenda for America’ series on the 80th anniversary of the Great Crash, TARP watchdog Elizabeth Warren weighed in on how President Roosevelt and the New Dealers brought innovative ideas to prevent another economic disaster, including Glass-Steagall, which separated banking from high-risk financial speculation (see “The Great Lesson”). Way back in the spring, Rob Johnson, Director of Financial Reform at the Roosevelt Institute, appeared on Al Jazeera to talk about the disastrous impact of doing away with the Glass-Steagall Act (Braintruster Rob Johnson Talks Bailouts to Fault Lines). More recently, Roosevelt Institute Braintruster Bruce Judson argued on this blog that we need an updated “Glass-Steagall 2.0″ that categorizes financial institutions and restricts their activities according (see Glass-Steagall 2.0: The American People Deserve An Explanation).

As our colleagues at Common Dreams point out, today is the 10-year anniversary of Glass-Steagall’s repeal. Robert Weissman writes: “It is an anniversary worth noting for what it teaches us about forestalling financial crises, the consequences of maniacal deregulation, and the out-of-control political power of the megafinancial institutions.”

Weissman notes that Glass-Steagall remained law until 1998, when Citicorp and Travelers Group announced they were merging:

Such a combination of banking and insurance companies was illegal under the Bank Holding Company Act, but was excused due to a loophole that provided a two-year review period of proposed mergers. The merger was premised on the expectation that Glass-Steagall would be repealed. Citigroup’s co-chairs Sandy Weill and John Reed led a swarm of industry executives and lobbyists who trammeled the halls of Congress to make sure a deal was cut. But as the deal-making on the bill moved into its final phase in Fall 1999, fears ran high that the entire exercise would collapse. (Reed now says repeal of Glass-Steagall was a mistake.)

Robert Rubin stepped into the breach. Having recently stepped aside as Treasury Secretary, Rubin was at the time negotiating the terms of his next job as an executive without portfolio at Citigroup. But this was not public knowledge at the time. Deploying the credibility built up as part of what the media had labeled “The Committee to Save the World” (Rubin, Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and then-Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, so named for their interventions in addressing the Asian financial crisis in 1997), Rubin helped broker the final deal.

The Financial Services Modernization Act, also known as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, formally repealed Glass-Steagall. Among a long list of deregulatory moves large and small over the last two decades, Gramm-Leach-Bliley was the signal piece of financial deregulation.

The result? Casino fever took over commercial banking industry. Weissman quotes Roosevelt Institute Braintruster and Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz:

in full: http://rooseveltinstitute.org/new-roosevelt/looking-back-repeal-glass-steagall-or-how-banks-caught-casino-fever

Dispatches: Restoring Justice to the US Justice System ( Human Rights Watch )

July 15, 2015

Yesterday, two days before his visit to the El Reno federal prison in Oklahoma – the first visit to a prison by a sitting United States president – President Barack Obama made a long-overdue and compelling call for the reform of the US criminal justice system.

In a speech before the civil rights organization the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP) in Philadelphia, Obama referred to the US criminal justice system as “one aspect of American life that remains particularly skewed by race and by wealth, a source of inequity that has ripple effects on families and on communities and ultimately on our nation.”

It was a strong assertion. Obama’s speech encapsulated many of the concerns Human Rights Watch has raised in more than 20 years of research into the US criminal justice system: from the scourge of prison rape to the harms of solitary confinement; from racial disparities in drug enforcement to unfair sentences.

Obama specifically pointed to the damage caused by excessively long, disproportionate sentences, particularly for drug offenders: “In far too many cases, the punishment simply does not fit the crime. If you’re a low-level drug dealer, or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society. You have to be held accountable and make amends. But you don’t owe 20 years. You don’t owe a life sentence. That's disproportionate to the price that should be paid.” To that end, Obama called for mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes to be reduced, and in some cases eliminated.

in full: https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/07/15/dispatches-restoring-justice-us-justice-system

Israel's fall from grace

*In other words, Bibi's meme has been shot to hell

Meron Rapoport
Tuesday 14 July 2015 21:04 UTC

The deal with Iran takes the steam out of Netanyahu's political and military strategy. But that may prove to be Israel's lesser problem

Just four months ago, in March 2015, one month before election day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Washington to deliver what was described as the "speech of his life". The goal was to convince the American Congress not to allow a nuclear deal with Iran, which poses "a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world", as did the Nazi regime at its time.

The news coming Tuesday morning from Vienna, announcing a deal between Iran and the P 5 + 1 group (United States, Russia, Britian, France, China and Germany), may therefore mean that Netanyahu failed in what he himself portrayed as his historic mission: to prevent this deal with Islamic regime in Teheran which, according to him, will pave the way for a nuclear Iran in the very near future.

If Netanyahu believes in what he said in Congress earlier this year, he may feel that Israel now is dangerously closer to its doomsday end, that nuclear Iran will be able to fulfill its dream of wiping Israel off the map. It must be a very chilling feeling. If, on the other hand, he used – or abused – the Iranian threat as a pretext to garner votes among the already frightened Israeli electorate, the Iran deal may mark one of his most bitter political defeats.

True or false, the Iranian threat was one of the main flags, at times it has been the only one, which Netanyahu carried since he was reelected in 2009. He did not invest in this issue only his political and oratorical (some would add demagogical) skills. According to ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu's governments spent 11bn NIS ($2.9bn) on military preparations for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/israels-fall-grace-2034426860#sthash.lwZ4OSZM.dpuf

Pistachios, iPhones and flights: How will Iranians benefit from nuclear deal?

Talk is focusing on energy reform and big business investment, but initial change in Iran likely to be much more day-to-day

Simona Sikimic
Tuesday 14 July 2015 19:13 UTC
Last update:
Tuesday 14 July 2015 23:23 UTC

An Iranian grocer displays pistachios to a customer at his shop in Tehran (AFP)

After years of negotiations and much speculation, the Iranian nuclear deal has finally been penned.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that a “new chapter of hope” had been opened while US President Barack Obama said that the deal offered “an opportunity to move in a new direction”.

If all goes according to plan, Iran will scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief, with the current agreement dictating nuclear development for the next 25 years.

Rosamund de Sybel, a director at the investigative and integrity consulting firm, K2 Intelligence , told MEE that she expects the lifting of “sanctions on oil exports and the banking sector to probably double Iran’s economic growth over the next few years”.

Economic growth estimates vary vastly from a 2 percent increase to a stellar 8 percent boost in the next few years although de Sybel says that a middle ground scenario - where growth would likely climb from around 3 percent today to 6 percent by 2017 - is most likely.

- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/pistachios-iphones-and-flights-how-ordinary-iranians-will-benefit-deal-1788282382#sthash.wI4SxJoY.dpuf

Readers React Bernie Sanders: So you're saying there's a chance?

In his column on Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders this week, The Times’ Doyle McManus asked, “How far can Sanders go?”

Although he answered his own question (“A Sanders presidency? Sorry liberals. It’s not going to happen”), a dozen Times readers cheerfully, pointedly and specifically begged to differ.

Steve Binder in Oxnard, with an almost audible sigh, wrote:

I guess McManus stopped believing in Santa Claus at too early an age. I’m sure he doesn’t remember the “miracle on ice,” when a group of young American amateur hockey players defeated the Russians and win the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics. I’m sure he thought that Hillary Rodham Clinton was a slam dunk when a relatively unknown black man entered the 2008 presidential race. I think McManus doesn’t realize how angry the American public is with both parties, and that people are looking for someone who tells it like it is and has a track record to prove it. Someone like Bernie Sanders.

Domenico Maceri in San Luis Obispo says the question is outdated:

Sanders has already gone far. He may not make it to the White House, but he has already made valuable contributions in shifting the campaign toward serious ideas. The media should pay serious attention to what he is saying instead of focusing their attention on the racist comments we hear from Donald Trump.

June Stephenson Bailey in Palm Desert pointedly observed:

I am a 95-year-old Democrat, feminist, author — and previous supporter of Hillary Clinton. I am today switching support to Sanders because he is more effectively telling what Republicans have done to our country, changing it from a democracy — government run by the people — to a plutocracy — government run by the people with the most money.

While I feel the discomfort of disloyalty to Clinton, I have weighed what I believe to be in the better interest of our country. Clinton has the support of the establishment, but Sanders is awakening the previously disenchanted nonvoters, and the first-time hopeful young voters, to the destructive force of inequality that holds 99% of us in wage stagnation.


LIBOR: History’s Largest Financial Crime that the WSJ and NYT Would Like You to Forget

By William K. Black
Quito: July 8, 2015

I read a BBC story about the LIBOR criminal trial in the UK and was going to write to criticize its woeful analytics. In preparation I checked the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to see how they reported the devastating testimony in the trial. I could not, however, find any coverage in my electronic searches and viewing their web pages.

To review the bidding, the LIBOR bid rigging cartel was the largest cartel in history, manipulating the prices of an estimated $300+ trillion in assets. That is a figure considerably larger than the world’s combined GDP. Here are typical statements by the Department of Justice (DOJ) about the LIBOR cartel.

“For years, employees at Deutsche Bank illegally manipulated interest rates around the globe – including LIBORs for U.S. Dollar, Yen, Swiss Franc and Pound Sterling, as well as EURIBOR – in the hopes of fraudulently moving the market to generate profits for their traders at the expense of the bank’s counterparties,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “Deutsche Bank is the sixth major financial institution that has admitted its misconduct in this wide-ranging criminal investigation, and today’s criminal resolution represents the largest penalty to date in the LIBOR investigation.”

snip* Until recently, I called the LIBOR cartels the largest in history by at least three orders of magnitude. The rigging of foreign exchange (FX) “markets,” however, is so large that that I now have to say that they represent the two largest cartels in history by roughly three orders of magnitude. Both cartels consisted of most of the world’s largest and most elite banks. Indeed, UBS has admitted that after it signed its anti-prosecution agreement with DOJ for its massive LIBOR frauds it violated that deal by continuing to rig the FX “markets” as a member of a group that called itself “the Cartel.” Contrary to theoclassical ideology, both cartels persisted for many years and were ended only by (desultory) government action.

remainder in full: http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2015/07/libor-historys-largest-financial-crime-that-the-wsj-and-nyt-would-like-you-to-forget.html

Joseph Stiglitz calls for US to intervene over Greece

By Damien Sharkov 7/9/15 at 6:57 PM

Nobel prize-winning economist and former chief economist of the World Bank Joseph Stiglitz has predicted "depression without end" if the austerity programme in Greece continues and called on the US to be "generous with our friends in Greece" as it once was generous with Germany after the Second World War.

Writing in Time magazine Stiglitz calls on Germany and the US to remember the past and claims that Germany has engaged in "propaganda" by portraying Greece not sympathetically but as "a long-failed state that refuses to go along with the minimal conditions demanded in return for generous aid."

snip* "Greece needs unconditional humanitarian aid; it needs Americans to buy its products, take its vacations, and show a solidarity with Greece and a humanity that its European partners were not able to display," Stiglitz writes.

Stiglitz claims that should Greece lose the euro it "may not be easy" but it would not be "the end of the world" for Greece, citing the example of Argentina's decision to unpeg their peso from the US dollar's hard currency instead of introducing more cuts to pay off debt.


The New York Times Urges the Troika to “Make an Example of Greece”

By William K. Black
Quito: July 7, 2015

It is often the moral and economic blindness of New York Times articles about the EU crisis that is most striking. The newest entry in this field is entitled “Now Europe Must Decide Whether to Make an Example of Greece.” That is a chilling phrase most associated in our popular culture with a Consigliere and his Don deciding whether to order a mob “hit.” It is, therefore, fitting (albeit over the top) as a criticism of the troika’s economic, political, and propaganda war against the Greek people. Except that the article is actually another salvo in that war.

Let’s start with the obvious – except to the NYT. “Europe” isn’t “decid[ing]” anything. The troika is making the decisions. More precisely, it is the CEOs of the elite German corporations and banks that direct the troika’s policies that are making the decisions. The troika simply implements those decisions. The troika consists of the ECB, the IMF, and the European Commission. None of these three entities represents “Europe.” None of them will hold a democratic referendum of the peoples of “Europe” to determine policies. Indeed, they are apoplectic that the Greek government dared to ask the people of Greece through a democratic process whether to give in to the troika’s latest efforts to extort the Greek government to inflict ever more destructive and economically illiterate malpractice on the Greek people.

Second, the troika has been “mak[ing] an example of Greece” for at least five years. It extorted Greece to inflict the economic malpractice of austerity in response to a Great Recession. The result was just what economists warned – Greece was forced, gratuitously, into worse-than-Great Depression levels of unemployment that persist today seven years after Lehman’s collapse. In this process, the troika blocked a prior referendum proposed by Greece’s Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou in late 2011 and forced him to resign for daring to propose democratic decision-making. Read the Guardian’s risible account of the 2010 coup that the troika engineered in Greece for an unintended insight as to how the UK’s “New Labour” Party has become an anti-labor party of austerity and “aspirational” hostility to efforts to contain the City of London’s criminal culture.

Third, the troika and a host of heads of state that have caused grave harm to workers in their nations responded immediately to the election of the anti-austerity Syriza party in Greece in January 2015 by shouting their increased eagerness to “make an example of Greece” for daring to elect Syriza. The government of Spain, for example, is desperate for the troika to double-down and “make an example of Greece” by crushing its economy in order to stave off the newly created and surging Podemos anti-austerity party that won key municipal elections in Spain. Prominent German elected officials have made explicit their desire to force Syriza (and Greece) to fail because they oppose its politics.

in full: http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2015/07/the-new-york-times-urges-the-troika-to-make-an-example-of-greece.html

UN report is a reminder: Over 1.5 million people live in the Gaza Strip. It is not a battlefield

June 29, 2015

Brief humanitarian ceasefire in Beit Hanoun, 26 July 2014. Photo: Muhamad Sabah, B'Tselem.

Last summer’s Gaza conflict, known as Operation Protective Edge, began on 8 July 2014 and ended about fifty days later, on 26 August 2014. The devastation it would leave in its wake was known even when the fighting was still underway. The massive scale of it became clear once it was over. According to UN figures, more than 2,200 people were killed in Gaza, nearly 70% of them civilians who did not take part in the hostilities, including hundreds of women and children. Thousands of houses were destroyed and tens of thousands of people were displaced from their homes. According to B’Tselem figures, six civilians – including a young boy – were killed in Israel and 66 members of the Israeli security forces were killed in the fighting. There are no figures to convey the terror and fear experienced by millions of people during and after the war.

Even during the fighting, Israeli officials, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu down to the officers serving in the Gaza Strip, all claimed that the military was doing everything in its power to avoid harm to civilians, above and beyond its legal obligations, and far more than any other army does. They claimed that any harm caused to civilians during the fighting in Gaza was Hamas’ fault, as Hamas had carried out its activities from within the civilian population, using it as a human shield, and made the conscious choice to place this population and its property in harm’s way.

This was the official position adopted by the Israeli government. Statements to this effect were also made in response to the report published on 22 June 2015 by the commission of inquiry (COI) appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. The report examined the lawfulness of the conduct by both Israel and Palestinian armed groups during the fighting in Gaza.

In its report, the COI rejects Israel’s position, holding that Israel is responsible for the massive harm it inflicted on the civilian population in the Gaza Strip over the summer. The COI goes on to find that the Israeli military did not do enough to prevent harm to civilians and that in some cases, persisted in a policy that had already been proven to cause massive harm to civilians. These findings do not address any specific action taken by the military during the fighting. Rather, the COI rejects the prevailing view among Israeli government and military officials regarding what is permitted and what is not during fighting in a densely populated area such as the Gaza Strip. According to the COI’s report, the massive harm to the civilian population during the fighting cannot be justified in any way, and international humanitarian law (IHL) cannot be interpreted in such a way that would make this harm lawful.

in full: http://www.btselem.org/gaza_strip/20150630_un_report_on_gaza

BBC Propaganda War v. Greece Reaches New Low After “No” Vote

By William K. Black
Quito: July 6, 2015

If you want to know why economic policy has gone insane in the UK you simply have to read the work of the BBC’s “Economics editor,” Robert Peston. I showed one example of his failed effort to terrify the Greeks into voting “Yes” in favor of continuing the self-destructive policies that have forced Greece into worse-than-Great Depression levels of unemployment in my most recent column. Peston argued that the Greeks had to submit to the troika’s demands that it make these policies even more economically illiterate and self-destructive because the troika would otherwise ensure that Greece’s economy was “utterly crippled.” As you know, the EU stands for “ever closer union.”

But Peston has been moved to new depths of propaganda and rage by the Greek “No” vote. In his July 6, 2015 column entitled “Huge costs of Greece staying in or quitting the euro” he lies by commission and omission. I’ll begin with his deceptive description of the ECB, which provides a “target rich environment.”

As for the ECB, it does not wish to be seen as Greece’s Judge Dredd. It will take its lead from any statement by eurozone government heads on whether there is a realistic chance of a new deal to rescue the finances of the ailing Greek state.

This would be an excellent opportunity for the “Economics editor” of one of the world’s top publications to bring economic facts to bear. The ECB is the EU’s central bank. A key role of a central bank is to provide liquidity to its banks – which include the Greek banks. The ECB, in response to the Greeks daring to vote democratically on whether to succumb to the ECB’s blackmail, pulled the provision of liquidity to Greek banks. So, the principal starting point of any analysis of the ECB’s role is to know that they deliberately refused to meet their responsibility to provide liquidity to the banks in order to extort the Greeks to exacerbate policies that ensure that the troika will increase the harm to the Greek people and economy rather than “rescue the finances of the ailing Greek state.”

in full: http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2015/07/bbc-propaganda-war-v-greece-reaches-new-low-after-no-vote.html
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