Category Archives: Finance

Troikarchs steal still more of the Greek commons


Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party swept into power last year with a promise to end the austerity measures imposed on Greece by the financial overlords of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank.

Their vow has provd as hollow as the political vows of countless other politicians, and in the two years since, Greece has sliced pensions and health care to pay the banksters, as the country continues to record massive unemployment and deepening misery.

And now Tsipras has done it again, surrendering to their latest demands with yet another round of cuts and selloffs of the national commons, although many of his own party voted in opposition.

From Deutsche Welle:

The reforms were passed by a narrow 152-141 majority vote in Greece’s 300-seat parliament, after 152 parliamentary members of the ruling Syriza-Independent Greeks coalition approved the reform bill. Only one member of the coalition voted against the bill, along with all opposition members.

The reforms will see public assets transferred to a new asset fund created by Greece’s creditors. Assets include airports and motorways, as well as water and electricity utilities. The holding company groups together these state entities with the country’s privatization agency, the bank stability fund and state real estate. It will be led by an official chosen by Greece’s creditors, although Greece’s Finance Ministry will retain overall control.

The reforms sparked significant backlash among demonstrators and public sector workers.

Ahead of the vote, protestors outside of the parliament in Athens chanted, “Next you’ll sell the Acropolis!”

Greece’s public sector union criticized the reforms, saying that the transfer of public assets paved the way for a fire-sale to private investors. “Health, education, electricity and water are not commodities. They belong to the people,” the union said in a statement.

Workers at Greece’s public water utility companies in Athens and Thessaloniki walked out on Tuesday to protest the reforms. “They are handing over the nation’s wealth and sovereignty,” George Sinioris, head of the water company workers association said.

Graphic Representation: Scams you can bank on


When it comes to the fine art of fleecing their customers, one bank has ’em all beat.

First, from the editorial cartoonist of the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Steve Breen: They do it in stages

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Next from the editorial cartoonist of the Kansas City Star:

Lee Judge: A case of highway robbery

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And from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Mike Luckovich: Giddyup

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So what’s the big deal?

We’ll let the country’s leading exposer of financial shenangians explain it all.

From Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

Senator Elizabeth Warren questions Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf at Banking Committee Hearing

Program notes:

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s two round of questions for Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf at the September 20, 2016 Senate Banking Committee hearing entitled: “An Examination of Wells Fargo’s Unauthorized Accounts and the Regulatory Response.”

The full hearings are posted here.

We leave the last word to the editorial cartoonist of the Washington Post:

Tom Toles: Even scarier close up

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The real business of America. . .is religion


While the founders believed they were a creating a nation where Church and State were separate, including in the Constitution an Establishment Clause declaring that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” that First Amendment phrase has been subject to Supreme Court rulings allowing for churches to gain increasing power over the nation’s political institutions.

Among those rulings are decisions mandating the expenditure of tax revenues for religious schools, including direct funding through vouchers, payment for textbooks and computers, and even provision of funds for busing students to church schools and direct payments for educating students in charter schools and religious colleges. For a comprehensive review, begin here, here, here, here, and here.]

In addition, churches and their institutions receive massive tax breaks, with exemptions from income and property taxes, while salaries they pay may be exempt from Social Security and unemployment taxes.

Added to all those tax-exempt contributions from the faithful, the resulting picture is one of an institution with unparalleled economic and political clout.

No wonder that there are calls for an end of the religious tax exemptions. . .

And it’s a trillion-dollar business. . .

Just how much economic clout does organized religion wield.

In a word, huge.

From the Guardian:

Religion in the United States is worth $1.2tn a year, making it equivalent to the 15th largest national economy in the world, according to a study.

The faith economy has a higher value than the combined revenues of the top 10 technology companies in the US, including Apple, Amazon and Google, says the analysis from Georgetown University in Washington DC.

The Socioeconomic Contributions of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis [open access] calculated the $1.2tn figure by estimating the value of religious institutions, including healthcare facilities, schools, daycare and charities; media; businesses with faith backgrounds; the kosher and halal food markets; social and philanthropic programmes; and staff and overheads for congregations.

Co-author Brian Grim said it was a conservative estimate. More than 344,000 congregations across the US collectively employ hundreds of thousands of staff and buy billions of dollars worth of goods and services.

More than 150 million Americans, almost half the population, are members of faith congregations, according to the report. Although numbers are declining, the sums spent by religious organisations on social programmes have tripled in the past 15 years, to $9bn.

Twenty of the top 50 charities in the US are faith-based, with a combined operating revenue of $45.3bn.

Businesses with a religious twist

In addition to churches, schools, and religion-based NGOs, the paper also identifies major corporations with a strong religious link, including programs devoting to furthering religious agendas — programs that are also, in most cases, tax-exempt.

The following table from the study lists some of those major business entities:

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More from the study:

In 2014, a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court determined that the closely held for-profit corporation Hobby Lobby is exempt from a law that its owners religiously object to, as long as there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest. That ruling was the first time the Supreme Court recognized a for-profit business’s claim of religious belief. While the ruling was limited to closely held corporations, it sets up the situation where the boundaries of faith and business are clearly not absolute. It is therefore reasonable in any valuation of the role of faith to the U.S. economy to recognize businesses that have religious roots. This expands our purview beyond companies that have a specific religious purpose, such as producing traditional halal or kosher foods, to companies that have religion as a part of their corporate culture or founding.

To identify such companies, this second estimate includes companies identified recently as having religious roots. For instance, Deseret News recently identified 20 companies with religious roots, and CNN produced a list of religious companies besides Chick-fil-A. Also, the recent book by Oxford University business professor Theodore Malloch produced a global list of such faith-inspired companies. Not all of these would identify specifically as being faith-based. But faith is part of the founding and operating ethos. Malloch notes that although the commercial success of Walmart is well known, “less well known are Walmart’s connections to the distinct religious world of northwest Arkansas and rural America … [and its] corporate culture and how specific executives incorporated religious culture into their managerial philosophy”. . . Likewise, although the Marriot Hotels are not religiously run, John Willard Marriott, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, founded the chain and supplied many of the rooms with not only the Bible but The Book of Mormon.

Some other companies listed, however, have a more overt religious identity. Tyson Foods company, founded by John Tyson, provides 120 office chaplains for employees, ministering to the personal and spiritual needs regardless of the employee’s faith or non-faith, as the case may be. The Deseret News story notes that Tyson speaks openly about the company’s aspiration to honor God and be a faith-friendly company. Also, as a further indication of the company’s faith-orientation, Tyson recently financed the launch of the Tyson Center for Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace at the University of Arkansas.

And to close, here’s John Oliver. . .

In a repost of a segment he did a year ago on America’s ,egachurches and their egregious tax exemptions.

From Last Week Tonight:

Televangelists: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Program notes:

U.S. tax law allows television preachers to get away with almost anything. We know this from personal experience.

Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption will not be able to accept donations from Church supporters from the states of Mississippi, Nevada, Pennsylvania, or South Carolina. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Chart of the day: The Brexit delivers a pounding


From the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the Bexit’s disastrous hit on the British currency compared to the U.S. dollar:

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Chart of the day II: Recreational marijuana sales


From Marijuana Business Daily, monthly sales of recreational marijuana in the three states where it’s now legal. Should California go green in November, the Golden State should top the list:

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Trump companies in debt to China, Goldman Sachs


But of course. . .

Both candidates operate behind financial shields; Hillary through a family foundation and the Trumpster. . .well.

From the New York Times:

{A]n investigation by The New York Times into the financial maze of Mr. Trump’s real estate holdings in the United States reveals that companies he owns have at least $650 million in debt — twice the amount than can be gleaned from public filings he has made as part of his bid for the White House. The Times’s inquiry also found that Mr. Trump’s fortunes depend deeply on a wide array of financial backers, including one he has cited in attacks during his campaign.

For example, an office building on Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, of which Mr. Trump is part owner, carries a $950 million loan. Among the lenders: the Bank of China, one of the largest banks in a country that Mr. Trump has railed against as an economic foe of the United States, and Goldman Sachs, a financial institution he has said controls Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, after it paid her $675,000 in speaking fees.

Real estate projects often involve complex ownership and mortgage structures. And given Mr. Trump’s long real estate career in the United States and abroad, as well as his claim that his personal wealth exceeds $10 billion, it is safe to say that no previous major party presidential nominee has had finances nearly as complicated.

As president, Mr. Trump would have substantial sway over monetary and tax policy, as well as the power to make appointments that would directly affect his own financial empire. He would also wield influence over legislative issues that could have a significant impact on his net worth, and would have official dealings with countries in which he has business interests.

Yet The Times’s examination underscored how much of Mr. Trump’s business remains shrouded in mystery. He has declined to disclose his tax returns or allow an independent valuation of his assets.

So you’ve got the Clinton foundation, bankrolled by Goldman Sachs, oil sheikhs, and a host of major corporations, and you’ve got Trump, bankrolled by some the those very same people.

Like our pappy always said, “In America, you’ve got the best politics money can buy.”

Steve Breen: The Hillary Clinton makeover


From the editorial cartoonist of the San Diego Union-Tribune:

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And the story behind the cartoon from United Press International:

The Clinton Foundation will stop accepting all foreign donations and former President Bill Clinton will step down from running the charitable organization if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, the group said.

The Clintons have faced criticism from Republicans for alleged “pay-for-play” arrangements between foundation donors and Hillary Clinton’s State Department while she was secretary. Emails obtained by a conservative group showed Douglas Band, a top adviser to Bill Clinton, seeking to arrange access for a donor to American diplomats in Lebanon. That same adviser also tried to land a job for a former foundation employee at the State Department.

Neither of those requests were sent to Hillary Clinton directly, but several of her top aides responded, saying they would try to help.

The Clintons have denied that any financial donations to their family foundation prompted official action by the State Department. A spokeswoman for the department also downplayed the emails, obtained by the group Judicial Watch, which filed a freedom of information lawsuit against the State Department to gain access to Clinton’s emails.

The Washington Post has more:

More than half of the Clinton Foundation’s major donors would be prevented from contributing to the charity under the self-imposed ban on corporate and foreign donors the foundation said this week it would adopt if Hillary Clinton won the White House, according to a new Washington Post analysis of foundation donations.

The findings underscore the extent to which the Clintons’ sprawling global charity has come to rely on financial support from industries and overseas interests, a point that has drawn criticism from Republicans and some liberals who have said the donations represent conflicts of interest for a potential president.

The analysis, which examined donor lists posted on the foundation’s website, found that 53 percent of the donors who have given $1 million or more to the charity are corporations or foreign citizens, groups or governments. The list includes the governments of Saudi Arabia and Australia, the British bank Barclay’s, and major U.S. companies such as Coca-Cola and ExxonMobil.

The foundation’s announcement drew skepticism Friday from the right and the left as critics wondered why the Clintons have never before cut off corporate and overseas money to their charity — and why they would wait until after the election to do so.