Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 9th, 2016

The movie The Big Short could be important for the Sanders campaign and voter turnout

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I just watched The Big Short on Amazon streaming. (I always get SD since HD is sort of pointless given my vision.) It’s an extremely interesting and well-done movie that makes a complex situation comprehensible by unconventional means—e.g., breaking the fourth wall for a character to tell us that the scene being presented in this dramatization actually did happen, or stopping the action for a little self-contained tutorial—sort of “whatever it takes” to tell the story and keep the viewer because the story is, indeed, breathtaking in its scope and deliberate and carefully planned (and successful) dishonesty, which revealed that the entire system is fixed and operates on fraud.

Really worth seeing. And think about the Sanders campaign while you watch.

Some good funny bits, too.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2016 at 7:45 pm

Posted in Business, Memes, Movies & TV

Theft of Your Money on Wall Street: Another GAO Report Won’t Help

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

It was considered big news last week that House members Maxine Waters of the Financial Services Committee and Al Green of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations have requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) launch an investigation of “regulatory capture” on Wall Street.

That news broke on Friday, one day after Senator Elizabeth Warren grilled the head of a Wall Street self-regulatory agency in a Senate hearing on a new study showing that stockbrokers with serial records of misconduct are allowed to remain in the industry. Warren also cited another recent study showing that even when investors prevail in arbitrations against bad brokers, they may never get paid. According to the study, over $60 million in fines owed to investors have not been paid since 2013.

The individual that Senator Warren was grilling is Richard Ketchum, head of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a self-regulatory body financed by Wall Street that oversees brokerage firms and has a division that runs a private justice system known as mandatory arbitration that hears all claims against bad brokers. FINRA was previously known as the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) but its reputation became so damaged as a self-regulator that it changed its name to FINRA. (Like that was really going to help.)

What the public doesn’t know is that for over 30 years, the GAO has been investigating these identical problems on Wall Street and making recommendations for cleaning up the mess. After 30 years, it should be abundantly clear that reading GAO reports and shaking one’s head isn’t getting the job done. Serious, radical reform of Wall Street is necessary and that means eliminating crony regulators and the entire self-regulatory system.

As far back as 1978, the GAO published the results of an investigation into the Securities and Exchange Commission’s oversight of the self-regulatory actions of the NASD. The report found flaws in the NASD’s examinations of brokerage firms and that the SEC had “not dealt aggressively enough with inspection oversight problems.”

Again in 1994, the GAO looked into unscrupulous broker activity on Wall Street. The study found that there was the perception that the SEC and NASD were “lenient” in disciplinary actions and that some brokers that had been barred from keeping a license to make securities transactions were entering other sectors of the financial services industry.

By July 17, 1996, this egregiously flawed system of oversight led to the U.S. Justice Department charging the largest firms on Wall Street with price fixing on the electronic stock market known as Nasdaq, while the self-regulator, the NASD, was aware of the problems but simply ignored them. The Justice Department findings made it clear that the price fixing had been taking place for more than a decade. (The more recent cartel activity of rigging Libor and rigging foreign currency markets by Wall Street banks is simply an extension of what was transpiring in 1996.)

The outrage was so widespread in 1996 that the trade magazine, Registered Representative, ran a cover story titled “How the NASD Was Corrupted.” The magazine cover included this assessment:

“The SEC’s investigation of the NASD uncovered a self-regulatory system corrupted by the influence of powerful market making firms. Top NASD officials knew about problems and chose to look the other way. NASD staff went along. Even the SEC had plenty of clues that something was amiss.”

By 2003, Wall Street was reeling from news coverage of how regulators had allowed Wall Street stock research to become corrupted in order for the banks to get investment banking deals. The PBS program, Frontline, aired a program on May 8, 2003 titled “The Wall Street Fix.” Correspondent Hedrick Smith tells viewers: “It’s a story of pervasive corruption here on Wall Street, how brokers and analysts shaped and hyped the telecom boom, pocketed enormous profits and then took millions of ordinary investors on a catastrophic ride, $2 trillion in losses on WorldCom and other telecom stocks.”

A year earlier, BusinessWeek had asked this simple question on its cover: “Wall Street: How Corrupt Is It?” with a snake curled around the street sign suggesting the answer.

As for the regulators and Congress tolerating investors being victimized twice – first by the unscrupulous broker and then when their arbitration award is not paid – (should the investor be so lucky to have his or her case heard before non conflicted arbitrators), the GAO has been investigating unpaid awards for almost two decades with nothing to show for it.

In a report titled “Securities Arbitration: Actions Needed to Address Problem of Unpaid Awards,” the GAO found that 49 percent of the arbitration awards to investors were not paid at all in 1998 and 12 percent were only partially paid. GAO said it “estimated that the amount of unpaid awards was about $129 million, or 80 percent of the $161 million awarded to investors during 1998.”

And here we are, 18 years later, with Senator Warren asking the head of NASD’s successor, FINRA, what he plans to do about $60 million in unpaid awards to investors dating back to 2013.

FINRA also likes to brag about how much it has done to help investors by setting upBrokerCheck, where investors can check to see if their stockbroker has a disciplinary history.  But the problems here are myriad. We put in a broker’s name whom we know was licensed and employed at Smith Barney as a retail broker over a long period. The broker doesn’t even exist in the database. Nor does he exist in the Investment Advisor lookup. He just doesn’t exist. Brokers with five, six and even seven arbitration claims against them are still employed at the same firm. But you wouldn’t know that from the BrokerCheck system which shows serial employer name changes when it is actually the same firm. So the uninitiated at the GAO or SEC might assume that the broker is being fired for misconduct and moving to a new firm when he is actually sitting in the same seat for three decades without any serious disciplinary measures being taken because he is producing large commissions for his firm.

Another problem is . . .

Continue reading.

Really: see The Big Short. Our finance industry is not just a “rigged game,” it’s crooked.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2016 at 3:19 pm

Hillary Clinton Wants to Regulate Fracking, but Still Accepts a Lot of Fracking Money

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Much as with Wall Street: Clinton says that she will crack down, but she’s getting an awful lot of money from Wall Street, both personally and to her campaign. What does Wall Street know that makes them so ready to give her money? When she says she wants to regulate fracking, I think she probably wants the same regulations that the fracking industry wants. Industries love regulations that they can write themselves. And of course a president chooses the regulators, often with (lots of) industry input, thus Obama’s choice of a Wall Street lawyer to head the SEC, and thus the SEC’s languid regulation of Wall Street. (I’m watching The Big Short on Amazon streaming.)

Alex Emmons reports in The Intercept:

Hillary Clinton continues to fundraise with fracking investors, despite her assertion Sunday that she would largely curtail fracking inside the U.S.

Fracking is a controversial mining technique used to extract natural gas from shale rock. It releases vast quantities of methane into the atmosphere and groundwater, frequently poisoning the water supply of nearby communities.

On Wednesday, Clinton will appear at a $575-a-head fundraising lunch at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel on the Northern California coast hosted by Alisa Wood, a partner at the international private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR).

In 2009, KKR began heavily investing in fracking, purchasing large shares of three North American oil and gas companies, and selling two of them for billions in profits. The third was hit hard by plummeting gas prices, anddeclared bankruptcy last year. But KKR was not deterred, and still owns a large portfolio of small fossil fuel companies, at least two of which — Cinco Industries and Comstock Resources — use fracking.

During the Democratic debate Sunday night, a student at the University of Michigan asked both candidates whether they supported fracking.

Clinton said she did, but with three big caveats:

“You know, I don’t support it when any locality or any state is against it, number one. I don’t support it when the release of methane or contamination of water is present. I don’t support it — number three — unless we can require that anybody who fracks has to tell us exactly what chemicals they are using. So by the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.”

When asked the same question, Sanders said, “My answer — my answer is a lot shorter. No, I do not support fracking.”

In July, Bernie Sanders and former presidential candidate Martin O’Malleypledged not to accept donations from fossil fuel companies. Clinton did not sign the pledge.

Many of Clinton’s largest fundraisers are lobbyists for oil and gas corporations. Some of her largest contribution bundlers are lobbyists representing Chevron, Cheniere Energy, and TransCanada — all companies that use fracking.

Prior to announcing her candidacy, Clinton also received $990,000 for speeches she made to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce — a heavy investor in TransCanada and the Keystone XL pipeline.

After a rally in Iowa last December, Clinton claimed to be unaware she ever received donations from fossil fuel companies. “Well, I don’t know that I ever have. I’m not exactly one of their favorites,” she said. “Have I? OK, well, I’ll check on that. They certainly haven’t made that much of an impression on me if I don’t even know it.”

An investigation by Mother Jones found that Hillary Clinton personally lobbied for U.S. fracking rights overseas as secretary of state. Speaking at a 2010 conference of foreign ministers, Clinton said, “I know that in some places [it] is controversial, but [shale] gas is the cleanest fossil fuel available for power today.”

Clinton’s last statement is false: shale gas is dirtier than coal. But Clinton is (wisely) not running on her honesty. She changes her story (and, presumably, beliefs) as needed. She was in favor of the Iraq War before we invaded and for years afterward, until it became clear that the public knew that war was a horrible mistake. Then her position abruptly changed. She strongly supported TPP until it was clear that the public was against it. Then her position abruptly changed.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2016 at 12:57 pm

Let Inspectors General Do Their Job

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The editorial board of the NY Times:

In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, Congress in 1978 passed the Inspector General Act, establishing independent watchdogs whose job it is to uncover waste, fraud or abuse across scores of federal departments and agencies.

These public servants are “our eyes and ears within the executive branch,” as Senator Charles Grassley of Iowadescribed them in December.

Under the 1978 law, inspectors general, who are based in the agencies, have access to “all records” needed to do their job. But since the early days of the Obama administration, many agencies have systematically thwarted that access for whole categories of information — including, most notably, grand jury testimony, personal credit data and information from wiretaps.

The effect has been to slow down investigations into, among other things, the shooting of civilians during Drug Enforcement Administration raids in Honduras, sexual assaults in the Peace Corps and the F.B.I.’s antiterrorism powers. Inspectors general have spent time and taxpayer dollars arguing for access to documents they should, by law, have in hand — denying the American people the robust scrutiny of their federal government.

Last July, the Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal opinions to the president, issued a 68-page memo defending this obstructive behavior. Because certain documents are protected by statute from being disclosed publicly, the memo reasoned, agency officials must determine whether to hand them over to inspectors general.

This makes no sense. The whole point of an independent monitor is to counteract the self-interest of the agency it monitors. Giving inspectors general access to critical information is not the same as making that information public. Congress understood this back in 1978, and it has since reiterated the need for total, unmediated access — most recently in 2014, when it barred federal agencies from spending any money to deny inspectors general “timely access to all records.”

Equally important, for nearly three decades no one questioned the authority of inspectors general to obtain sensitive or protected information, and no one accused them of mishandling it. The problems began in 2010, when lawyers for the Federal Bureau of Investigation started to claim that they were barred by law from handing over certain documents. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Obama promised a transparent administration, but Obama promises don’t mean much.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2016 at 11:43 am

Order your Rockwell 6S now: Price goes up $20 on Saturday

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I just received an email from Rockwell. Among other things, it says:

Now that all the pre-orders and free upgrade Rockwell 6S’s have been shipped out, we’re able to flip over to regular orders! Any new orders placed through will ship out within 2 business days. It’s important to note that in order to better reflect the final total costs of manufacturing the Rockwell 6S, the price of the Rockwell 6S will be increasing from $79.99 to $99.99 on the morning of Saturday March 12th. This price still reflects an incredible value for a adjustable all stainless steel razor and will allow us to continue to maintain the highest quality standards in the on-going production of the Rockwell 6S. Of course we owe you our backers and supporters a huge debt of gratitude and so wanted to make this price change public to you can share the information with friends or get an extra Rockwell 6S yourself before March 12th. If you know anyone who you think would benefit from the customizable shave of a Rockwell 6S, point them our way! Also, friendly reminder: Father’s Day is only about three months away – it’s never too early to get a head start on gift preparation.

I do recommend this razor highly, and I wondered at the $80 price: it seemed too low for what you get. The $100 price seems more in line with the razor’s quality and capability.

So if you think you might want one, or plan to give one as a graduation gift or the like, ordering now will save you $20.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2016 at 10:43 am

Posted in Shaving

The Black Mamba, a great razor, with Meißner Tremonia Indian Flavour and the Omega 20102

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SOTD 2016-03-09

What a wonderful shave today! The prep was MR GLO, as is almost always the case, and then I used the Omega 20102 shown to make a great lather from Meißner Tremonia’s Indian Flavour shaving soap. I love the fragrance, and this brush is well broken in: made a great lather and absolutely no need to try to stretch out the third pass. I had plenty of lather for all three passes, and the brush felt very nice. This is the brush I recommend when novices want a boar brush: it has a large-enough knot to have good capacity, and I like the stubby wooden handle.

RazoRock’s Black Mamba is another of the first-rate, world-class razors that Italian Barber turns out, unfortunately in limited runs for a short time only. The razors are truly remarkably good, and I do hope that the upcoming slant will produced in larger production runs for a longer time. I certainly will try to buy one the instant they are released, whenever that may be. His track record in razor design is impressive.

With the Black Mamba I got a totally comfortable and very efficient shave, ending with an absolutely smooth face. A good splash of Saint Charles Shave’s Dark Rose aftershave, and I am ready to walk—except it’s raining.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2016 at 8:48 am

Posted in Shaving

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