Boing Boing 

Wall Street as cause and beneficiary of skyrocketing university tuition

A deep, carefully argued, carefully research report from Debt and Society makes a strong case that sky-high tuition (and brutal, lifelong student debt, up 1000% in 15 years) is not primarily caused by bloated administrations or high professors' salaries. The explanation is a lot more banker-y.

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IRS says free software projects can't be nonprofits

In a disturbing precedent, the Yorba Foundation, which makes apps for GNU/Linux, has had its nonprofit status application rejected by the IRS because some of projects may benefit for-profit entities.

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How accounting forced transparency on the aristocracy and changed the world


In the 16th century, celebrated Dutch painters did a brisk trade in heroic portraits of accountants and their ledgers. That's because accounting transformed the lowlands, literally bringing accountability to the aristocracy by forcing them to keep track of, and report on, their wealth. As Jacob Soll (author of The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations) writes in the Boston Globe, from the 14th century invention of double-entry bookkeeping until the 19th century -- when accounting became a separate profession instead of something that every educated person was expected to practice -- accountancy upended the social order, elevating financial transparency to a primary virtue.

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Best-paid CEOs perform the worst


In Performance for Pay? The Relation Between CEO Incentive Compensation and Future Stock Price Performance , a paper from U of Utah business-school professors, the relationship between executive performance and executive pay is intensively investigated. The authors carefully document that the highest-paid executives in the 1,500 companies with the biggest market cops from 1994-2013 perform the worst, and that the higher a CEO's pay, the more likely it is that he'll perform worse than his low-paid colleagues. The effect was most pronounced in the 150 highest-paid CEOs.

The authors propose that sky-high pay leads CEOs to be overconfident -- after all, if they're getting $37M for a year's work, they must be pretty damned smart, so anyone who disagrees with them is clearly an idiot, after all, look at how little that critic is paid! The longer a CEO is in office, the worse his performance becomes, because he is able to pack the board with friendly cronies who keep hiking his pay and overlooking his underperformance. And CEOs suck at figuring out when to exercise their stock options, generally getting less money than they would by following conventional financial advice.

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IRS won't fix database of nonprofits, so it goes dark


Rogue archivist Carl Malamud writes, "Due to inaction by the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Congress, Public.Resource.Org has been forced to terminate access to 7,634,050 filings of nonprofit organizations. The problem is that we have been fixing the database, providing better access mechanisms and finding and redacting huge numbers of Social Security Numbers. Our peers such as GuideStar are also fixing their copies of the database."

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Jason Alexander endorses the anti-corruption Mayday PAC

Brian says, "Jason Alexander (of stage, screen & Seinfeld) has decided to endorse the Mayday PAC." Mayday.US is the super PAC that Lawrence Lessig founded to fight campaign finance corruption by raising money to send politicians to Congress if they'll promise to get the money out of politics.

Mayday.US

Help raise $5M in 30 days to send anti-corruption politicians to America with Mayday.US PAC

More than 90% of Americans believe that the US government is unduly influenced by money, and the Mayday.US super PAC is raising $5M to fund the election campaigns of politicians who'll pledge to dismantle super PACs and enact other campaign finance reforms. They raised more than $1M in 30 days last month, and this month, the goal is $5M. It's the brainchild of Lawrence Lessig, who's going to prototype the project by running five electoral campaigns in 2014, and use the lessons of those projects to win enough anti-corruption seats in 2016 to effect real change.

Again, I'm not able to contribute to Mayday.US, because I'm a Canadian and Briton. But I ask my American friends to put in $10, and promise that I'll put CAD1000 into any comparable Canadian effort and/or £1000 into a comparable UK effort. We all win when countries embrace evidence-based policy guided by doing what's best for its citizens, rather than lining the pockets of corrupting multinationals.

Mayday.US (Thanks, Brian!)

Punk hedge-fund performs "Multi Media World"

Toronto's Parkdale Hookers International Inc, "a business conglomerate, hedge fund and punk rock group" have released Multi Media World, a great punk-anthem single from their new album Echo Bubble Overdrive. (Thanks, Mark!)

Red states are most dependent on federal money


Wallethub compared the direct and indirect federal subsidy to all 50 states and DC by comparing federal taxes remitted; federal funding as a fraction of state revenue; and number of federal jobs per capita and produced a ranked list of the states with the greatest federal dependency. Unsurprisingly, the top ten are overwhelmingly Republican dominated "red" states with low state taxes and low average per-capita incomes thanks to harsh labor laws -- these states necessarily depend on federal money to make up the shortfall from their own politically expedient tax-holidays, and lack the robust middle-class who pay the largest percentage of their income in tax.

The top ten in order of dependency are Mississippi, New Mexico, Alabama, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Tennessee, South Dakota and Arizona. The five states most independent of federal subsidy are (in order): Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

The article is good and full of interesting footnotes -- for example, Delaware's seeming independence is largely illusory, an artifact of its stock franchise tax drawn from out-of-state companies.

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Matt Taibbi's The Divide: incandescent indictment of the American justice-gap

Matt Taibbi's The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap is a scorching, brilliant, incandescent indictment of the widening gap in how American justice treats the rich and the poor. Taibbi's spectacular financial reporting for Rolling Stone set him out as the best running commentator on the financial crisis and its crimes, and The Divide -- beautifully illustrated by Molly Crabapple -- shows that at full length, he's even better. Cory Doctorow reviews The Divide.Read the rest

Interview with Matt Taibbi about "The Divide"


Matt Taibbi is touring the States with his new book, The Divide, which is on my must-read list right after I finish Capital in the 21st Century. Rick Kleffel caught up with him for his San Francisco NPR show and posted the interview, along with his notes (which includes links to his previous interviews with Taibbi).

Taibbi was, until recently, the best reason to read Rolling Stone: a finance writer for the 99%, whose incandescent and meticulous columns were terrifying and enraging by turns.

The Divide

05-12-14: A 2014 Interview with Matt Taibbi

(Thanks, Rick!)

MAYDAY: Larry Lessig launches a Superpac to get money out of US politics

Lawrence Lessig has announced the next step in his campaign against corruption in American politics with the launch of MAYDAY, a Superpac intended to raise enough money through small donations (and, eventually, major ones) to elect a large enough roster of congressmen and senators that they can pass meaningful campaign finance reform, making Superpacs and other perversions of democracy a bad memory.

MAYDAY is trying to raise $1M in the next 30 days, and to build this sum into a "moneybomb" that can be dropped onto the 2016 elections. They're doing it through a Kickstarter-like mechanism, so your pledge only comes out of your bank account if the full amount is raised. They're calling it a moonshot. It's audacious, improbable, and desperately needed. I only wish that I could donate (I'm a foreigner). Tell you what, if you throw in an extra buck for me, I'll add an extra hundred pounds to the UK equivalent when and if it launches.

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UK tax authority caught sneaking in plan to sell Britons' private financial records

Just weeks after a plan to sell "anonymized" sets of British health-records collapsed in the face of massive public criticism, a new plan has emerged to sell the country's tax records to companies and researchers, prompting an even more critical response. One Tory MP called the plan "borderline insane," and tax professionals are in an uproar. The plan was buried as a brief mention in the autumn budget. HMRC's defense rests on the idea that the information in the datasets will be anonymized, something that computer scientists widely believe is effectively impossible.

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Michael Lewis's "Flash Boys": lifting the rock on crooked high-speed trading

Michael Lewis is the best finance writer in the business (see my reviews of The Big Short and Liar's Poker), a gifted storyteller with a firm grasp of his subject and real insider access and insight. He's got a new book out, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, which tells the story of the high-speed traders who turned the stock markets into (more of) a rigged game, and how the big incumbent banks fought back. The New York Times Magazine has adapted a long excerpt from the book and it's thrilling, shining a light on what New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called "insider trading 2.0."

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Gamestop as a fee-free, convenient banking institution


JWZ's law states that "Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail." A corollary is that every complex system expands until it becomes a bank. Yesterday, I wrote about how a chatbot for organizing coffee orders became a full-fledged bank.

Now, here's a 4chan post explaining a dumb/clever way of using Gamestop stores as fee-free banking institutions by pre-ordering (and pre-paying) for games, then cancelling your orders and getting a refund (to make a withdrawal), and ordering new games (to make a deposit). It's fee-free, and as a pre-orderer, you get all the bonus stuff (your bank pays you!).

This is probably more of a reflection of the total dysfunction of banking, where low interest rates and hidden inflation, as well as high fees, conspire to bleed out savers to pay for reckless speculation, but it's still a pretty clever way of getting fee-free banking from an institution with more branches, and better hours, than many banks.

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How a coffee-order chatbot turned into a bank


This great 2011 post by Roy Rapoport tells the story of how a software company created and incrementally improved a chat-bot that collected and organized the team's coffee orders -- and how the system grew, drip by drip, into a full-fledged bank. Rapoport presents it as a cautionary tale about feature creep -- but it's also a neat parable about how all currency arises from debt, which is the thesis of Debt: The First 5,000 Years, which is one of the most provocative books I've read in years.

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Photos from the Rothschilds' 1972 surrealist ball


Hang the Bankers has a set of photos from 1972 surrealist ball hosted by Marie-Hélène de Rothschild at the Château de Ferrières, with Salvador Dali in attendance. Hang the Bankers cites this as evidence of "the underlying ideology and the mind state of the occult elite," which sounds like hogwash to me. I mean, I'm all for reflexively condemning the hyper-rich, but if you're a weird shadowy billionaire aristo, better you should be spending your unimaginable riches on cool dress-up parties than tacky mega-yachts or sabotaging health care bills.

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Tim Cook to climate deniers: get bent

The National Center for Public Policy Research, group of climate deniers with stock in Apple, tried to force a motion to terminate Apple's use of renewable energy (and failed miserably). At the company's AGM, an NCPPR spokesdenier asked Apple CEO Tim Cook to defend the profit-maximization nature of green energy. Cook told him -- more or less -- to go fuck himself: "If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock."

Obama's top Trans-Pacific Partnership officials were given millions by banks before taking the job


The top Obama administration officials working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership came to government from investment banks who will benefit immensely from its provisions, which severely curtail countries' ability to pass laws regulating banks and other corporations. These top advisors, who came from Bank of America and Citigroup, were given multimillion-dollar exit bonuses when they left their employers for government. For example, the US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, was handed $4M from Citigroup as a goodbye gift on his way into his new job.

This is standard operating procedure for America's financial industry, where the largest players all have contracts guaranteeing millions to employees who leave the firm for government jobs.

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Report from a meeting of Wall Street's secret, tasteless plutocrats' club


In the process of writing his just-released book Young Money, an investigative look at the bankers who've joined Wall Street since the crash of 2008, author Kevin Roose snuck into a meeting of the secretive Kappa Beta Phi club -- an organization of hyper-rich Wall Street bankers.

Roose recorded the captains of of industry, whose shady dealing had crashed the world economy and plunged millions into untold misery, cavorting on stage, making jokes about poor people and Hillary Clinton, dressing up in drag, and singing an anthem about how much bailout money they'd suckered out of the feds, to the tune of Dixie: "In Wall Street land we’ll take our stand, said Morgan and Goldman. But first we better get some loans, so quick, get to the Fed, man."

New York Magazine has a membership roll of the Kappa Beta Phis, which is a who's who of the richest, most powerful men on Wall Street.

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The UK Gold: riveting documentary on the deep, ingrained corruption of the UK's banking centre, the City of London

Jeff writes, "Featuring a brand new soundtrack from Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Massive Attack and Elbow, and narrated by Dominic West (The Wire), journalist Marke Donne has put together a riveting documentary exposing the tax avoidance 'industry' operated by the highly secretive, centuries old institution, The City of London.

With a permanent office in Parliament, a budget of $1.2 billion and the media-avoiding tactics of the super-rich, the City relies on lobbying and silence to carry out it's offshore tax avoidance, robbing the state of tens of billions in revenue every year."

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For sale: Swiss Scrooge McDuck swimming pool/vault full of shiny coins


If you've ever dreamed of owning a bank-vault mounded high with shiny coins in which you can bathe like Scrooge McDuck, now is your chance. A Swiss bank-vault filled with 8 million Swiss 5-cent pieces is up for auction. The vault was made in 1913 for the Schweizer Volksbank. The coins -- 15 tons' worth -- were used in a 2013 installation in which they were dumped in a public square, with no security, as an exercise in public trust. The coins and the safe are presently in Basel. You will have to relocate them.

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HSBC settlement approved: no criminal charges, 5 weeks' profit in fines, deferred bonuses for laundering billions for narco-terrorists


Remember when HSBC got caught laundering billions for Mexican narco-terror cartels? Remember how they offered to pay five weeks' profits in fines and to defer their executive bonuses to escape criminal charges?

The crime-fighting legal eagles at the Department of Justice approved the settlement last week. Remember, though, if you are suspected of laundering money or selling drugs, the DoJ will take your house away and put you in jail for the rest of your life. Nice to be "too big to jail." Still, deferring multimillion-dollar bonuses has gotta hurt, huh?

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Feds spend more subsidizing undergrads than undergrads pay in tuition


Here's an analysis of the New America Foundation's Federal Education Budget Project, a wide-ranging and thorough look at the way the government spends on education. It shows that the total take from American universities in tuition for undergraduate programs is $62.6B, while the Federal government is spending $69 billion on grants, aid loans, tax breaks and other funding.

The implication is that it would be cheaper to give away university education than to charge for it, but that's not quite right (federal education funding pays for more than tuition -- it also includes housing, food and other expenses, and the feds are already subsidizing colleges out of their $69B spend). But it does suggest that the education system is really screwed up, an expensive boondoggle that is optimized for paying bondholders who own student debt, rather than turning out an educated, resilient and adaptable nation.

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South Dakota: the Bermuda of the prairie, letting billionaires avoid millions in estate tax


America's billionaires are able to avoid paying millions in inheritance taxes by renting empty storefronts in South Dakota in order to give their trust-funds an SD address, from which they can exploit a deliberate loophole in state tax-law. Over $121 billion in trust-funds is administered through South Dakota, mostly for out-of-state families -- a figure that's tripled in four years. South Dakota's corrupt tax laws also allow for avoiding millions in tax from ordinary investments by the richest people in NY and MA.

South Dakota itself has some dire poverty -- two of the 10 poorest counties in America are in SD -- and lawmakers describe their project to turn the state into "the Bermuda of the prairie" as an economic development project, creating jobs for lawyers and bankers, and "[forging] ties with prosperous families that may one day decide to build a factory or a warehouse here."

The project has failed. The entire trust industry only employs about 100 South Dakotans, but Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, a former banker, says it's worth it: "If you've got several hundred well-paying jobs, it's worth it to us."

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Apps come bundled with secret Bitcoin mining programs, paper over the practice with EULAs


Researchers at Malwarebytes have discovered that some programs covertly install Bitcoin-mining software on users' computers, papering over the practice by including sneaky language in their license agreements allowing for "computer calculations, security."

The malicious programs include YourFreeProxy from Mutual Public, AKA We Build Toolbars, LLC, AKA WBT. YourFreeProxy comes with a program called Monitor.exe, which repeatedly phones home to WBT, eventually silently downloading and installing a Bitcoin mining program called "jhProtominer."

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JP Morgan's "Twitter takeover" seeks questions from Twitter, gets flooded with critiques of banksterism #AskJPM

When JP Morgan's Twitter account announced last month that "VC Jimmy Lee" take questions from the net with the #AskJPM hashtag, they should have been able to predict what was coming next: a stream of hilarious, vicious critiques of late-stage capitalism, banksterism, and financial corruption. One day later, the Q&A was cancelled. The astonishing thing isn't how predictable this was, but how anyone at JP Morgan failed to see it coming -- the greatest irony isn't the questions raised, it was the hubris in thinking that these questions wouldn't be raised at all.

The fiasco is being called one of the worst social media disasters in corporate history, and has spawned lots of creativity, including this video of Stacy Keach and a sock puppet performing the tweets and a Matt Taibbi-sponsored haiku contest.

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Pope blasts capitalism


In a new Evangelii Gadium, Pope Francis has condemned doctrinaire capitalism, "deified markets," trickle-down economics, and the finance industry. He decried the growing gap between the rich and the poor, tax evasion by the wealthy, and characterized ruthless free-market economics as a killer that was inherently sinful.

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$147M Bitcoin transaction

A Bitcoin address with a history of large transactions just conducted a transfer worth $147M, more or less.

Rob Ford's exaggerated and imaginary savings to the taxpayers of Toronto

Rob Ford claims that he should be excused for his crack-fuelled, drunken rages while serving as mayor of Toronto, because of the billion dollars he's saved the city. But as a line-by-line analysis of Laughable Bumblefuck's fiscal claims demonstrates, he's just another politician, cooking the books.