Goldman Sachs rules the world?

The Beeb was the victim of a brain fart from a NY city trader the other day who let slip what traders really think of the world economic crisis. As he blatantly put it traders “don’t really care that much” about the prospect of an economic collapse and that he “goes to bed every night and I dream of another recession, another moment like this” Why? Because he and his trader buddies can make a ton of money out of such a recession, money incidentally that will ultimately come out of the rest of us mere mortals pockets. Can governments do anything to stop the collapse of many economies, no! According to him “Governments don’t rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world”

While I appreciate his candour, and contrary to the rumours online the Beeb has confirmed he’s for real and not a Yes Man, his words confirm what I’ve always felt about the financial markets – they do more harm than good to our economy. Clearly the half assed measures governments are now bringing in after the last economic crisis (4 years too late!) are wholly insufficient. A Tobin tax of some sort, that being a small tax on all trading activity worldwide, would now seem a good idea. This would provide a substantial review stream to fund a variety of projects worldwide (such as climate change prevention and emergency funds to deal with financial crises in the future, p). Also a Tobin tax would reduce the “take” or profit a trader can make from any individual trade while increasing his costs of engaging in speculative trading bets. In short this would greatly reduce the incentive to engage in dangerous and economically damaging speculative betting, possibly to the point of stopping it altogether.

But personally, if this trader is to be believed I’d say that a Tobin tax just doesn’t go far enough anymore. We need to consider a blanket ban on short selling or other mechanisms such as high-frequency trading as well as a crack down on Phantom Share trading (see video on that here). The penalties for violating trading rules needs to be raised higher (mandatory life sentences for certain serious breaches as well as fines equal to the economic damage caused plus punitive damages on top). Indeed I’d even go so far as to question whether it is any longer reasonable to allow financial firms to maintain their “limited liability” clause. This means that currently shareholders or board members can’t be held responsible if the company collapses and leaves behind massive debts beyond its ability to pay back. Even if the shareholders/board members pocketed billions the years leading up to the collapse creditors can’t go after a shareholders personal wealth, even if the companies collapse is clearly his fault (through incompetence or deliberate action). If I go down to the bookies and bet recklessly I loose everything. Is it reasonable for us to allow large financial firms to bet recklessly with our money, loose it all, but make lots of money for themselves and walk away not only scot free but with a massive bonus cheque? And obviously we need to tax these guys more heavily, as I’ve outlined here and here.

And I would remind traders that it is in they’re interest to see things change. There is still huge public anger at the bank bailout and I suspect that if we see another financial crisis where the fat cats profit while main street suffers I don’t think the people will take that lying down. The pressure on governments to do something about it will be fairly intensive. And there are plenty of politicians at the fringes of the main parties, or in populist right wing and socialist parties, who would jump at the chance of doing such things if they were ever elected to power. It will be a little hard for Goldman Sachs to rule the world after the FEC and FBI catch it out breaking various federal trading laws and bang all the traders up in Sing-Sing for a decade or two!

Another disturbing article by the beeb here. It seems the mathematical whiz kids are back using high tech computer programs to plan and implement trading decisions without any human intervention. People who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them! This mirrors the events of the collapse of Long Term Capital Management back in 1998. They had a trading strategy devised by a bunch of Harvard math’s whiz kids and also controlled by computers. However, their model found itself unable to deal with the consequences of good old human irrationality. Consequently when an Alcoholic Yelsin threw his Vodka bottle out of the pram and refused to pay back certain Russian debts, the computers found themselves unable to cope with the turmoil and LTCM wound up insolvent and owing literally Billions of dollars. At the time it was argued (by as many right wingers as well as lefties) that the US federal reserve should sit on its hands and perform no bailout (of either LTCM or the other wall street firms that could also go under if it went down) as well as take the management of LTCM to the cleaners over this debacle. But predictably they did ride to the rescue. This is precisely where the “too big to fail” moral hazard that led to the 2007 financial crisis has its origins, as it showed to companies like Bear Stearns, AIG or Lehman’s that they could screw up royal and the government would ride to the rescue and the bosses who screwed up would get away either scot free or with a slap on the wrist fine and a golden parachute.

Our Gordon-Gecko-is a-Commie-bastard-next-to-me Alessio Rastani also said that if you’re “prepared” for the coming financial crisis they we’ll be okay. Prepared? how? Withdraw that 5 million I don’t have in the bank and put it into US treasury bonds? Sell my soul to Beelzebub? The preparing I’d advise would be nevermind gold (which is now falling anyway) I’d invest you’re savings in canned food, bottled water, firearms (if legal in you’re area!) and maybe a few Molotov cocktails 😉 as we could well be on the verge of a perfect economic storm.

Hans and silent Darth strikes back

Those with a “real life” who don’t really care who Luke Skywalker’s old man is might want to skip this article. But there has been an interesting summary on the Beeb arts page regarding the fight between Star Wars fans and George “tinker’in” Lucas.

When the digitally re-mastered version was released, some fans just groaned a little, but they were outraged by it when they realised that GL had altered the critical confrontation when Hans Solo shot Greedo (the funny looking alien bounty hunter he shoots in the Cantina). The new version has Greeto shooting first. GL’s position is that he was trying to emphasis that Hans had no choice but to shoot Greedo. Fans say that he’s lay’s it on way too thick and is tinkering with a movie classic. The cultural equivlent of drawing a smily face on the Scream.

Anyway, it now seems he’’s at it again. A key scene in which Darth previously remained silent, now the Blue-Ray disk version has Darth Vader screaming like a sissy girl. Naturally the fans are appalled at this turn of events.

My take? Well I know what I saw when I saw the film the first time and that’s what counts. And I’’ve a copy of both the original and re-mastered at home so GL can ruin the film to his heart’s content, I’’ll just not be buying a copy of that Blue-Ray disk. What I’m not going to do is put on a tinfoil hat.

What I will say is that there’s now a huge amount of “fan fiction” out there and thus fandom has moved well beyond that of the original film.

Also I would note that there is nothing strange about an artish returning to a work and producing several versions of it. There are for example multiple versions of “the Scream” and Van Gogh’s “sunflowers“. What is uncalled for, is George Lucas attempt to rewrite history and suppress the previous versions of his work. I mean he could make a ton of money if he was smart selling the alternative versions of the SW Hexalogy to fans and Blue-ray provides the perfect means for him to do it. Although I do understand his desire to suppress all knowledge of the “star wars holiday special” :oops:. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to see it you’ll understand where he’s coming from. I include a link to it here, but with a health warning, it really is very, very bad, and I mean bad enough to make people ill, so don’t blame me (or GL) if you’re foolish enough to click on the link above.

Barney time

Another recent story, they found a sample of dinosaur feathers preserved in amber in Canada. Dinosaur feathers? Yes it seems that some dinosaurs were actually covered in feathers, not the same as the feathers used by birds, but an earlier evolution of feathers, probably intended for warmth than flight.

The end result was that far from the “terrible lizards” we know some dinosaurs would have been big fluffy beasts…something like Barney the dinosaur! So the Jurassic era was more terrifying than we thought. Rather than T-Rex running around chasing down Triceratops, it was a case of Barney types going around singing “I love you, you love me..” I wonder if Barney Zombies existed back then also?

Seriously tho, this is interesting due to its implications for evolution. It clearly shows how things don’t (as the creationists put it) pop out of nowhere. The feather evolved from a structure with a very different use by a creature related to modern birds but in many respects very different…tho then again if you’ve ever looked a chicken in the eye you suspect he’s thinking a few millions years ago and you’d have been dead meat buddy!….well either that or just remember that I love you!

50 pence tax? scrap it! Tax em more!

One issue I’ve been meaning to comment on is the current flap about the 50p tax. To the right wing it’s a silly well meaning socialist tax that costs the country more money than it earns. Chancellor George Slimy…sorry! George Osborne ;D say’s he has it under “review”and thinks its temporary. Reading between the lines I think the Tories would like to ditch it as a concession to their Eton buddies for going into coalition with a load of fluffy liberals. Unfortunately those fluffy liberals would likely walk out of government rather than sign up to such an agreement. Currently the Treasury has a review on-going to try and work out how much revenue the 50p tax actually raises and its promised that the Tory’s position will be based on this review’s outcome.

My position is that yes if it comes out showing that it raises sod all in tax, yes maybe we should get rid of it…and replace it with something stronger! The top 10% of the UK’s wealthy own 50% of the nation’s wealth and the top 1% own 21% of it, so clearly we just aren’t taxing them enough.

Now, as I stated in prior article, we cannot tax ourselves out of the current economic predicament. Some rise in general taxation, some austerity measures across the board are all part of the package of measures. But certainly, getting the rich to pay more tax is an important part of the solution. A higher “supertax” for wealthy individuals is one option, or a simple “wealth tax” would be another idea. More importantly, the key argument the Tories put forward is that if you tax the rich too heavily they’ll flee abroad (Question, Can we pick the country they flee too? I propose Somalia, they’d like it there, nobody pay’s taxes…tho they do have to pay for the AK-47’s and body guards :D). Phil Greed (sorry typo there its Green :>> ) already runs Top-shop, and many other UK stores from Monaco and dodges maybe a billion or so a year in tax. Again there is a simple solution here, tax such non-doms more rigorously. Require that anyone with a British passport (which I assume includes Phil Green, and if he doesn’t why is tax dodging foreigner a government advisor?) has to file for income tax in the UK regardless of where he lives. Or than anyone regardless of where they live or work who earns more than, say £0.5m a year in the UK also has to file for and pay income tax (based on his UK based income).

Similarly most of these tax havens where tax dodging is performed form are UK dependences. i.e. you the British tax payer help support the very regimes that are helping billionaires dodge British tax. That needs to change. Only the brit’s would allow this to happen. If all the Irish billionaires moved out to the Arran Islands and set themselves up to pay no tax, we’d have the Irish army (both of them!) the Navy (see our flagship here) and airforce in like a shot. The UK needs to make it clear that they want to remain part of the UK or commonwealth they have to get with the program, else London will simply wash its hands of these islands, cease to support them in any way (insist that they pay for coast guard support, policing, health care etc., let it be known they UK no longer feels obliged to protect these nations from invasion or attack (so they’ll have to pay for an army), nor their many flag of convince cargo ships from pirates), and begin to make it difficult to do business (a penalty tax from the UK on anyone who holds assets in these tax havens, ineligibility for government contracts, or employment (like Green!), forbid sponsorship or participation in major national events, etc.) from these Islands. This would eventually make it harder for these states to maintain they’re low tax environment and make it more difficult for tax dodgers to take advantage of the situation.

Even those tax dodgers here in the UK will often have an army of lawyers working for them finding loopholes in the tax law. A simply heavy penalty tax to punish these guys when the lawyers screw up (which inevitably they occasionally do) and as the lib dems suggested today more rigorously inspecting the tax returns of the rich will go along way towards increasing the taxes raised by HM treasury.

Either way, as I’ve stated before its in the wealthiest peoples own interest to pay more tax, as they have the most to loose in the even of a major financial crisis resulting from a sovereign debt crisis. There will be no bail out this time!

Aborted Debate

Personally, I’m of the view that as I’m a bloke and I’ll never give birth (well I hope not anyway, otherwise something pretty odd will be going on :>>), my opinions on abortion don’t really count as this is a debate that the women need to have (sorry if that sounds awfully sexist)…but considering current events…Tory bible thumper Nadine Dorries is trying to get the abortion laws changed so that providers of abortions services such as the charities Marie Stopes or the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) will be unable to supply the compulsory counselling that must be offered before an abortion is provided. Her argument is that these services have a “vested interest” in pressuring women into an abortion, given that they also supply them.

Sounds okay, until you realise that both are charities, how can you argue that they therefore have any financial gain to make by “pressuring” people into abortions? All Mrs Dorries demonstrates by this statement is her own bigoted religious views that anyone who supplies abortions is a baby killer who only does it purely to further their gay/liberal/socialist agenda, not to mention score some browning points with their buddy Beelzebub. And even if we were to take Mrs Dorries and her bible waving allies seriously, all that the Marie Stopes would have to do to get around these changes, would be to spin themselves off into two separate independent entities, one supplying abortion advice and the other the abortions. In short all you would do is create a bit more red tape and a slower less efficient abortion service (aren’t Tory’s supposed to be against red tape for these very reasons?).

Furthermore I would argue that the even if we were to let the religious brigade have they’re way here what will be the outcome? Take Ireland, it has very strict abortion legislation with one only being legal in the country if the life of the mother is in danger. The result is total hypocrisy. Women who can’t come up with a convincing “life in danger” excuse just go abroad to the UK (one of the reasons why abortions are so high in the UK is people coming in from Ireland or other former British colonies for this expressed purpose) or Europe and get an abortion there (which with Ryanair these days is not entirely expensive). In essence we’ve merely exported our abortion debate and dumped it onto some other state because Irish politicans are too spineless to take on the bible thumpers, although the wanning power of the Catholic church post the paedophile priest scandals might change that.

Even if the “pro-life” lot in the UK or US were to have they’re way, this too is the likely outcome. Women would just go to Canada or Holland and get abortions there. The only women whom you’d be preventing from having an abortion would be the lazy ones or those who couldn’t afford to travel. And of course that’s just the legal abortions, no doubt some back alley abortion clinics would soon be springing up to do the job for women unwilling to travel. Indeed in both the US and UK the hypocrisy would be even starker. Certain US states would never sign up to a ban on abortion (a democrat in NY once told me they’d sooner cede from the Union that accept that) and so it would merely be a case of crossing state lines, or going to Scotland in the case of the UK.

Again my position is, I’m in favour of a women’s right to choose, but I don’t think men should be getting involved in this debate, especially 70 year old German virgins living in the Vatican. But even if you oppose abortions, banning them or wrapping them up in more red tape does more harm than good. It just exports the problem or increases the chances of women resorting to back alley alternatives. The whole reason why we brought in abortion laws in many countries was to ensure that it was done within a proper legal frame work that balanced a women’s right to choose with health & safety and morality. The “pro-lifers” proposed to scrap this frame work and replace it with a bible. And how is that working out for you guys? In the US the religious lot tried out a system of Abstinence Only sex education under Bush, which resulted in a dramatic rise in teenage pregnancies and STD’s. So what’s the bet the same thing will happen again here with abortion?

But there’s little point in me going on. The core of this anti-abortion movement is a group of religious extremist who will ignore all logic and pesky little “facts”. They’re sole reason for opposing abortion or stem cells or gay marriage is just so they can score a few browning points with the guy upstairs, because if you read Ezekiel 25.17 backwards he seems to say he’s against these things. The social problems that such new rules will create, the fact that they will make worse the very moral questions they were supposed to put right, matters little to such people. They won’t be the ones picking up the pieces afterwards. The fact that they are increasing the power of the state at the expense of personal freedom is also ignored, even thought most conservatives think that “big government” should get off peoples backs…yet they advocate a government so big and so intrusive that it literally comes into a citizens bedroom and tells you what to do and also tells you when you’re going to have to start a family, and who you can marry. Even communist Russia was more liberal than that!

Fortunately, as I write this, the abortion bill has been killed off 368 votes to 118. Cameron voted against it, as he had previously made clear he would. Diane Abbott described it as “an attempt to import American sensationalism into abortion issues“. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Part of the reason why the religous right talk about abortion or bash the gays so much state side is because if they didn’t, they’d have to talk about something else. And what did Jesus devote the bulk of the bible too? Well talking about the poor, charity and good will, how the rich and the greedy will have trouble getting into heaven, turning the other cheek, loving thy neighbour and other “commie crap” like that ;D! And we all know how keen Perry, Bachmann and Palin are on such topics!

Still it is worrying that 118 MP’s did vote for this, can we have their names such that sensible folk know not to vote for them again?

The Colonel’s secret recipe – torture, rendition and the Koussa files

An interesting development, which the mainstream media, particularly the US ones seem to be ignoring, was the discovery by rebels of a cache of documents in the offices of Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi’s former head of intelligence. These documents reveal that there was contact and cooperation between MI6 and the CIA with the Libyan Intelligence services going back years (certainly since 2003 anyway).

Furthermore, it seems to confirm many of the long held suspicions about the Bush Adm. policy of “extraordinary rendition”, in which individuals whom the CIA suspected of being terrorists would be abducted and put on a plane to a third party state, often states with poor human rights records, such as Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia whom are nominally allies of the US, but also to states such as Syria or Libya whom the US is not on terribly good relations with. These totalitarian regimes would then torture the suspects into confessing to this and that and then pass on the information to the Americans. The third party state would get out of this both the intelligence (generally those abducted were militants opposed to the tyrants rule) as well as the opportunity to eliminate the more troublesome opponents from parts of the world it could not reach. In essence such operations may well have helped prop up totalitarian regimes that the US and UK are on record as wanting to see a regime change in.

These documents serve to clear up a number of the missing details of these operations. They also suggest that that MI6 and CIA officers assisted the Libyans in preparing sheets of questions to ask and providing them with crucial background information to use against the suspects. It also seems to specifically shoot down the MI5/MI6 “aw shucks” defence (they claim they were largely unaware of the rendition policy), yet these documents show them complicit in it since 2003. The whole point of the “rendition” policy was to get around those pesky western human rights laws without MI6/CIA agents, or for that matter Tony Blair and George Bush, ending up getting their collars felt and finding themselves persecuted for torture and human rights abuses. However, with the veil of secrecy now lifted (and the wikileaks revelations) it seems to me that this third party arms length cooperation was a little more involved than we’d been led to believe.

Beyond a certain tipping point one can be convicted of crimes against humanity, even if you’re not the individual committing the crime. As far as I’m aware neither Hitler, Goring nor the other leading nazis ever personally killed a single jew, nor did Milosevic ever (far as I’m aware) kill a single Bosnian or a Croat. But in both cases the state and military forces under they’re command must certainly did commit many hideous crimes and at both Nuremburg, the Tokyo trails and various ICC trials it has been established (see the Nuremberg Principles) that a leader can be considered responsible for actions that were committed by others acting under his direction or authority, even those involving third parties (a tactic of the Serbs was to hand Bosnians over to the Bosnian serb army knowing full well they’d be killed). Now while I’m no lawyer, I suspect these documents may indicate that MI6 and the CIA had indeed exceeded this boundary. Consequently, if I was a member of MI6/CIA involved in these renditions, or Bush/Blair, I’d be “lawyering up” just about now!

But don’t heads of state and secret agents have immunity from prosecution or something like that I here people say? Ah…no! you’ve been watching too many James Bond films! There is no such thing as a license to kill. Agents of the state (police, army, secret services) are given certain rights to do “bad stuff” but they still have to act within the legal frame work of the nation. An MI5 agent breaks into you’re home without a warrant (or in a set of specified circumstances when he can do this without a warrant) he’s committing the crime of “breaking and entering” pure and simple as that. A special branch detective shoots dead a Brazilian electrician on a train because he though he might be a suicide bomber – that’s “assault with a deadly weapon” and “manslaughter”, simple as that. Nixon came within a whisker of being impeached and convicted of a host of crimes , and Clinton was similarly impeached for the lesser crime of perjury and obstruction of justice (because he and his secretary “shared” a cigar). Of course the problem in the UK and America, as with so many other countries, is that the when the authorities break the law they tend to close ranks and are generally very slow to convict they’re own. But that certainly doesn’t amount to a get out of jail free card.

However, the problem now is that this rendition case involves a third party – the new Libyan NTC government. One or two of the leaders of the NTC were on the receiving end of Libyan security forces torture and the commander of the NTC forces in Tripoli, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, was himself subject to rendition. He has now demanded an apology off of the American and British governments for his treatment. Again while I’m no lawyer, I think he deserves a bit more than an apology here. Some compo from MI6/CIA (or indeed Bush and Blair themselves) or maybe getting to see those UK/US officials responsible convicted of their crimes would seem more appropriate.

While the UK and America can just sweep this whole matter under the carpet, its very difficult to do that if a third party state gets involved, especially if the “crime” was technically committed in their country (meaning technically they could claim jurisdiction over the matter) and they start issuing extradition requests for people. This would put the cat among the pigeons as regards the whole Megrahi situation, as the UK/US own rhetoric on Lockerbie could be spat back at them by the NTC. If the UK can demand Megrahi’s extradition on the matter of Lockerbie and the Libyans see the UK sweep this whole matter under the carpet and not convict anyone, we’ll surely they’ve the legal right to demand the extradition of one or two of the perpetrators. Bare in mind these documents mean they now have names, although the names Tony “all-smiles” Blair, George “no brains” Bush and Dick “the penguin” Cheney would be top of my extradition list.

I think the Americans were a little too clever for themselves here. They assumed when they started this whole rendition process that any incriminating evidence would be safely buried in a totalitarian state where the only rights people had was the right to do what they were told. But the Arab spring now means that Libya and Egypt are in the transition to democracy and Syria (which would be crucial, as the worst abuses were likely conducted here) may follow. These states will likely bring in (eventually!) a written constitution and a legal system. While that legal system will draw influence from Sharia law it will conform to many of the basic standards of any democratic state throughout the world.

Notably these laws, if the experience in ex-communist countries is anything to go by, will have clauses inserted regarding retrospective prosecutions. In the 1940’s – 1950’s there was an extensive period of “denazification” in many EU countries, particularly Germany where many former Nazis were held to account for the crimes they committed during the nazi period (the Nuremberg trials were but one of the larger of a whole series of similar trial processes). Similarly, many former communist states have engaged in a similar policy of prosecuting people for crimes committed in the communist era. Now while, as I’ve pointed out in prior posts, the Libyans will need to let bygones be bygones and forgive former regimes supporters for the sake of getting the country up and running again, certain people suspected of committing particularly notorious crimes will (and should) be held to account.

Take the example of Peter Fechter. He was shot dead by border guards at the Berlin wall in 1962, for attempting to defect, in full view of the Western media. He lay for several days in the no mans land just out of reach of the Western zone. The guards who shot him were, post-communism, sought out and prosecuted for this, as were several senior GDR government members for actions committed at the Berlin wall. So while again I’m no lawyer, the legal precedence seems to be that just because a crime was committed under a prior totalitarians regime it will just be water under the bridge, etc., ah!….no! We can still do you for it. The “just obeying orders” defence has been thoroughly thrashed several times.

So what are the chances of western intelligence agents or politicans being convicted? Well on a legal level, and again I’m no lawyer, but I suspect the answer is quite high. There may not be a “smoking gun” that directly links, say Blair and Bush to these crimes (yet!), but there doesn’t need to be one. Take again the case of Nuremberg. The senior nazi leadership were very careful to avoid allowing any paper trail leading directly from them to the death camps (and certainly they made sure any such links went up in smoke as the third Reich fell). However, that still didn’t get them off the hook, due to the principle of command responsibility. Also, the suggestion that such a vast operation of murder as the nazi’s constructed could have been conducted without the senior nazi’s knowing about it and approving of it is quite frankly, ludicrous in the extreme. Again, the suggestion that this program of rendition could have been enacted under the noses of Bush, Blair and senior officers of the CIA and MI6 is wholly unbelievable. Either (A they were criminally incompetent by not knowing what was going on, or (B directly involved in it.

Unfortunately at a political level its not so clear how things will pan out. The NTC leadership may be seething over this, but they need western military support and later economic support, so they may have to bite their tongue for awhile. The process of whitewashing this incident is already well under way in the UK. Cameron has announced an “inquiry”, which no doubt like all the other ones will ignore the evidence or selectively interpret it and actually do nothing about it.

However, alongside Wikileaks, the danger is serious long term damage has now been done to MI5, MI6 and the CIA. If you’re the most famous spies in the world, you’re actions regularly being talked about in public inquires or long drawn out trials, then you’re also the worst spies in the world. Spies are supposed to work in the dark, the blinding light of the public discourse is as lethal to them as sunlight is to vampires. In pursuit of their ridiculous policies Blair and Bush have undermined the effectiveness of the entire Western intelligence apparatus and made a mockery of 60 years of international law.