Tag Archives: capitalism

How To Embezzle $100 Million

Step 1. Start a financial services firm.

Step 2. Make sure you are the only person in the company who sees the bank statements.

Step 3. “Using a combination of Photo Shop, Excel, scanners and both laser and ink jet printers… make very convincing forgeries of nearly every document that came from the Bank.”

At least, that’s how Peregrine CEO Russell Wasendorf Sr. did it – for over 20 years.

He wrote a suicide note explaining the whole scam before attempting suicide. He failed at that and has now pleaded guilty to fraud and embezzlement.

What about the Regulators? Why didn’t they catch him?

“It was relatively simple to deceive the Regulators” according to Russ. Good to know.

He ended his suicide note with “I am ready to die. I guess this is the only way out of a business I hate so much.”

It’s a far cry from his most recent “Chairman’s Letter”, where he wrote

“At PFGBEST, our consistent hallmarks remain: respectful and conscientious care of customers and their accounts; a keen sense of their evolving needs; and, the talent and resources to provide analytical, flexible and customized solutions.”

Guys like Wasendorf are fascinating to me. How high would he score on a test for psychopathy? Surely he would score highly on many of those factors.

You have to wonder how many CEOs, politicians and entrepreneurs are psychopaths? And what is it about capitalism that allows them to prosper?

Of course, the history of socialism and communism has it’s fair share of psychopaths as well. Why is it so hard for us to design a socio-economic system that weeds out psychopaths?

 

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Does Deprivation Fire Ambition?

In the NYT today, David Brooks makes some interesting points about motivation, reflecting on Romney’s latest gaff:

The final thing the comment suggests is that Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency.

But, of course, no middle-class parent acts as if this is true. Middle-class parents don’t deprive their children of benefits so they can learn to struggle on their own. They shower benefits on their children to give them more opportunities — so they can play travel sports, go on foreign trips and develop more skills.

People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation, as a tour through the world’s poorest regions makes clear.

If rich people really think benefits don’t help you, then they wouldn’t send their kids to private schools and elite universities. They wouldn’t use their personal networks to land their kids high-paying jobs in friends’ companies. They wouldn’t buy them a car, or give them a credit card or a mobile phone.

And we know this isn’t how it works.

So the next time one of your wealthy right-leaning friends tells you that the welfare system destroys ambition, you might want to point our their hypocrisy. If they really believed it, they would send their own kids to live by themselves in Kabul for a few years.

I grew up on the poverty line (by Australian standards) and I’m grateful that we had healthcare and education made available to us. If we hadn’t, I’d probably still be living in Bundaberg, either unemployed or doing some kind of manual labour. I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with those things, but it was only because I had a decent education that I could explore other opportunities.

Yes – growing up poor made me hungry. And in my 20s that was a hunger to be rich. In my 30s and 40s that turned into a hunger to improve the system.

What people like Romney don’t understand is that altruism is about enlightened self-interest. If you build a strong society of people with a decent education and decent healthcare, you will get rewarded a thousand-fold. These people will become the next generation of doctors, inventors, engineers, artists, authors, journalists, film-makers, musicians, scientists and historians that improve society for all of us.

(HT to @NikolasKozloff for the NYT link)

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Socio-Economics Is Like Soccer

economics is like soccer

We understand and accept this fact in sport. I tell my kids all the time “every member of the team is important”.

The same is true in socio-economics. The CEO can’t run a billion dollar company without the rest of the employees. The brilliant entrepreneur can’t bring that new gadget to market without the people who sweep the streets, pick up the garbage, grow the food, staff the supermarket, wait tables, and manage the petrol station. It’s all a giant web of interrelation. If we all need each other to make the whole damn thing work, then we should share the profit as well. This whole bizarre idea that the people who run companies or invent something deserve the 1% because they worked harder or are smarter is complete bullshit and easily falsifiable. I love Ayn Rand’s book, but the premise of Atlas Shrugged works both ways. Yes – when the entrepreneurs pack their bags and move to an island, society feels their loss. But if the rest of society up and left the entrepreneurs alone on the mainland, how long do you think they would survive on their own, without anyone to sweep the streets, grow the food and, by the way, BUY THEIR WONDERFUL PRODUCTS?

We all need each other. As Lester Freamon might say “All the pieces matter”.

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Lonmin Marikana Police Massacre

Around the world this year we have seen police violence whenever the people don’t submit themselves to the elite. Whether it is against Occupy Wall Street,  students in Pennsylvania or against rioters in Greece, the story always has the same ring to it – the people must submit or face violence.

Today the news out of South Africa’s third-largest platinum producer, Lonmin‘s Marikana mine, is the most chilling of all. Thirty striking miners were shot dead by police.

Al Jazeera has horrifying footage of the slaughter:

This is on top of the 8 workers who were killed last week at the same mine.

As of the time of posting, there is no mention of the latest round of violence on the (British owned) Lonmin website.

lonmin marikana website

According to Al Jazeera, the miners were getting paid about $500 a month and wanted a pay rise to $1500. They wanted Lonmin management to come down to negotiate with them but the management refused.  Possibly because their CEO, Ian Farmer, has recently been diagnosed with a serious illness. Lonmin has a market cap of $16 billion.

There had been a stand-off between the protestors and the police for a week and today it came to a bloody end.

The footage only starts with the protestors, who were wielding machetes, running towards the police when the shooting starts, but we can see what looks like tear gas behind them. Is it possible that the police shot tear gas into the crowd, who then panicked, and were mown down?

The AMCU (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) claims that Lonmin management might have been behind the initial violence via their indirect support of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), a rival union. Management setting up rival fake unions to create tension and conflict in the workforce isn’t a new tactic. See here and here.

http://www.miningweekly.com/article/amcu-blames-lonmin-management-for-mine-unrest-2012-08-14

 

I wonder how this incident maps to Lonmin’s stated corporate mission and values?

lonmin values

 

 

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The Olympic Games Bleeding The People Dry

Well it’s nearly Olympics time again and, as usual, the hype goes into overdrive. As usual it strikes me as a MASSIVE WASTE OF MONEY, particularly when most of the world is still suffering the effects of the financial crises.

The typical argument is that hosting an Olympics, while massively expensive and disruptive, drives long-term economic benefits so it’s a worthwhile exercise. Of course, you’ll see very little analysis of this argument in the media, because it wouldn’t be in their interests to actually ask hard questions about this particular topic. Why not? Because they benefit from the whole charade.

Even papers such as The Guardian are claiming that London will derive an economic benefit from hosting the Games. But how much of this is media hype to justify yet-another waste of public funds and how much of it stands up to a Cost/Benefit analysis?

Obviously many large corporations benefit from having an open faucet from the public Treasury, for example:

  • Construction companies get big dose of public funds;
  • Media companies get a bump in their advertising from an increase in viewership / circulation (hence their reluctance to criticise the whole affair);
  • and Tourism-related businesses, hospitality, etc, get a short-term bump.
Politicians from the host country get to hobnob with the sporting elite and various political, entertainment and corporate elite who visit (for example, even I got to attend a private dinner with Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates when they visited Sydney for the 2000 Olympics).
Now of course some of this translates into trickle down economics, with more employment opportunities for a few years for some people. But we can look at countries that have hosted the Olympics in past years and ask whether or not they have benefited economically or if it has been run at a loss and the funds could have been better spent on public infrastructure, education, and healthcare.

According to this report from Monash University, the Sydney Olympics Games actually cost the Australian public $2.1 billion.

According to Time.com, the Greek Olympics blew out big time:

It cost Greece about $11 billion, at least double what the Greek government had initially budgeted — and that doesn’t include the money the country has spent trying to maintain its rarely used Olympic facilities over the past eight years. It was forced — mainly by the U.S. and the U.K. — to spend $1.2 billion on security alone because of fears over terrorism, and in the months leading up to the opening ceremonies, Athens had to rush its schedule just to get construction projects completed on time.

For years, studies have shown that holding the Olympics often has severe negative economic effects on host cities, despite the temporary burst of tourism and global attention.

In 2005, Andrew Zimbalist, Robert Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College, wrote in Sports Business Daily:

Montreal’s 1976 Olympics left the city with $2.7 billion of debt that it is still paying off. The financing of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 is opaque.

The Los Angeles Games in 1984 left the organizing committee (LAOC) with a modest surplus of $335 million, but the LAOC got 67 percent of the TV money and spent little on infrastructure or new facilities. The physical legacy of the 1984 Games is close to nil.

The Barcelona Organizing Committee in 1992 broke even, but the public debt incurred rose to $6.1 billion.

Similarly, the Atlanta Organizing Committee in 1996 broke even, but the bottom line there is not encouraging. An econometric study using monthly data found that there was insignificant change in retail sales, hotel occupancy and airport traffic during the Games. The only variable that increased was hotel rates — and most of this money went to headquarters of chain hotels located in other cities.

In his paper “A Cost-Benefit Analysis of an Olympic Games”, Darren McHugh concludes that the “bottom line will be negative by hundreds of millions of dollars” (he analysed the Calgary and the Vancouver Games).

In their paper “Should Cities Go for the Gold? The Long-Term Impacts of Hosting the Olympics“, Stephen B. Billings and James Scott Holladay conclude:

Insignificant impacts for measures of population, real GDP per capita and openness is consistent with the theory that host cities bid away potential benefits in an effort to win the right to host the Games.  

I think the whole exercise is about corporations having yet another excuse to legally stick their snouts into the public trough and inhale deeply.  Instead of politicians spending those billions of dollars on education or healthcare, it goes into the pockets of the elite.

And don’t give me any nonsense about the actual sporting competition. That could be accomplished for a LOT less money and fuss, quietly, over the course of four years, in places with existing infrastructure (as many sporting events already do).

The whole exercise is another corporate capitalist scam, bleeding the 99% dry for the benefit of the 1%.

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Chomsky: It’s Hard To Look Into The Mirror.

Yesterday I spent some time transcribing the podcast interview I did with Noam Chomsky way back in 2005 for the book I’m working on. If you haven’t heard that episode, I highly recommend having a listen, even through the audio quality leaves a lot to be desired. I hadn’t listened to the full thing myself in many years and it blew me away. It’s as relevant now as it was back then (if not more so).

Anyway, here’s just one of the profound snippets from the show. I suggested to Noam that people often find it hard, after a lifetime of corporate and nationalist propaganda, to accept his view of the world. I asked him what people can do to realign their worldview. Here’s a segment of his answer:

Look into the facts. This isn’t quantum physics, the evidence is easily available if you want to look at it.

Actually one of the hardest things to do, whether in personal life or in thinking about international affairs, is just to look into the mirror. We all know this in personal life. It’s much more convenient to have illusions about yourself than to look into the mirror and see yourself honestly. Anyone who doesn’t know that is just lying to themselves. We all know it. We create an image and picture of ourselves which fits our need to believe that what we are doing is basically benign and helpful and forthcoming and sympathetic and sometimes it’s true but often it isn’t and when it isn’t we typically finds ways of explaining it away.

But if we are honest we will look into the mirror and see what the truth is and do something about it. And the same is true when you look at international affairs.

Now there’s a difference in this case. When it’s a matter of just yourself, when it’s just a matter of how you deal with it, when you try to look honestly at your own society, its history and actions and so on, you’re facing a massive deluge of propaganda and indoctrination that is trying to create a delusionary picture. So power systems are naturally conspiratorial, naturally they are going to dedicate enormous efforts to try to get the population to view the exercise of power and hierarchy and authority as if its benign and full of benign intentions. I don’t know an exception to that in history. If you read the pronouncements of even the worst monsters, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Hirohito, they are all full of the most eloquent rhetoric about their noble intentions and how they are sacrificing themselves for the benefit of the people and so on and so forth, and yes major institutions are developed to try to promulgate those ideas and in fact its true that in the countries most people believe them. So for example in Nazi Germany, until it began suffering serious military defeats, Hitler was very popular, maybe the most popular leader in German history and his conception of the nobility of their engagement in the world and domestically, that was widely accepted. Same in fascist Japan, same in Stalinist Russia. That happens and it also happens in more free societies. Furthermore, there is nothing novel about it. Centuries ago, David Hume had an important work on political philosophy called “Foundations of The Theory of Government”. His first principle of the foundation of government he pointed out that power is actually in any society, he said, power is in the hands of those who are governed. They don’t know it, but power is actually in their hands. And therefore to maintain authority it is necessary to impose consent, it is necessary to compel the general population to consent to the authority of the masters. And he said that’s true in every society, from the most free to the most despotic. And that’s basically correct. And anyone with any degree of authority knows it, whether it’s in a family or school or corporation or government or World Bank, you know that, you have to compel consent somehow and to do that we now have massive institutions, huge institutions, media, educational systems, huge public relations industries, which are, to a large extent, devoted to this. If you want to discover the truth about your own society, its history and workings and so on, you do have to overcome barriers, barriers which are erected to prevent such understanding, but it’s not very difficult, again, it’s not quantum physics.

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No Illusions Podcast #10 – Ministry of Ethics

On this episode, Chrissy and I chat with our friend Angus Scown (@angusscown) about living on a hippy commune (Angus, his wife and kids live at Crystal Waters, an eco-village a couple of hours north of Brisbane) and why Australia needs a MINISTRY OF ETHICS.

Chrissy and I were smoking Perdomo Lot 23 Maduro cigars and Angus was smoking a Perdomo Patriarch Maduro cigar.

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Why Obama is Owned by Goldman Sachs

In March 2008 I wrote a blog post called “Who Does Obama Work For?” I was interested in where the funding for his election campaign was coming from. This was still early in the campaign, about 7 months before the election. At the time, his biggest single source of funding was Goldman Sachs and their employees. (The same source, OpenSecrets.org, now lists Goldman as only the second largest contributor, after the University of California). Apparently Michael Moore also makes mention of this fact in his new film, Capitalism (which I’m yet to see…. Rob Irwin, I’m looking at you).

I just remembered this today while listening to a recent episode of No Agenda where they mentioned that Adam Storch, a Goldman Sachs VP, has been made “COO of SEC Enforcement” under the Obama administration.

It looks like investing in Obama was a good bet for Goldman. Their stock value increased from $53.31 a share when Obama was elected to about $187.32 today. And they’ve skated through the financial crisis (which some people think they deliberately  created) and hold many powerful positions in the Obama administration.

Other high level financial positions held in the Obama administration by former Goldman Sachs executives are Neel Kashkari, heading the TARP bailout; Mark  Patterson, Chief of Staff for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner; Gary Gensler, top executive at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; and finally Goldman has its top lobbyist, Michael Paese, Rep. Barney Frank’s top aide, who is the chair of the House Financial Services Committee. (source)

This is one of the inescapable downsides of capitalism. The people with the money buy the power. They also buy the media which, in turns, indoctrinates people with a belief in how great capitalism is.

Go back to sleep, America. Goldman Sachs is in control.

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Your Credit Card Has Been Compromised

It’s time for all of us to get rid of our credit cards, once and for all.

As if the "Global Financial Crisis" (or, as I like to call it, the "Greedy Fuckers Crisis") hasn’t already taught us that we need to wean ourselves off of this credit-based culture we’ve built for ourselves, then this story should. According to News.com.au, "one in five Australians is a victim of credit card fraud or computer hackers."

More quotes:

"Credit card crime is by far the biggest single fraud issue, with almost 10 per cent of those surveyed falling victim to card theft or skimming."

"The news will be an embarrassment to the banks, who repeatedly claim that their systems are secure."

The banks make BILLIONS and BILLIONS of profits every year and they STILL can’t stop credit card fraud. Why? Because they don’t care. It would cost more to fix it than it does to pay out the claims. It’s the same reason they can’t develop an e-banking system that doesn’t look like it was made my monkeys in 1993. THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU. They care about profits, not people, not customers – PROFIT. That’s why their customer satisfaction scores are in the toilet.

Credit cards are just another way that the banks, corporations and the government manages to keep us up to our eyeballs in debt. They know that human nature means that if you CAN spend it, you WILL – eventually. And then they have you by the balls. And if you’re living on debt, you’re easy to manipulate. You can’t afford to quit your job – so they can screw you down a little bit more. You can’t afford to lose your job – so you put "the economy" ahead of other issues, like "the survival of the species" when you vote in elections. You dance to their tune.

Let’s get a campaign going to get a million people to cut up their credit cards this year. Along with my other campaign to get a million people to walk away from the "big four" banks and take their banking to a smaller, member-owned credit union.

Let’s take control of our destiny people.

UPDATE: Check out @mrshlee! He already decided to cut his up! (video)

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