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. Cory 13

How would you short London?

Here's a finance riddle: how would you short London's property bubble? House prices are up GBP50K in the last six months, our freeholder is making noises about either buying or forcing us out in order to build a giant tower, and they sold off Scotland Yard (!). They say the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent, and I've been marvelling at the irrationality of London's property market since I moved there in 2003. Just for the sake of argument, if you wanted to put a bet down on a property value crash, how would you make it? Cory 91

HOWTO make $200,000 off of the above-inflation USPS postage hike


The USPS is planning a rare, above-inflation postage stamp price-hike on Jan 26, 2014; and they're also selling "forever-stamps" that can be used at any time. Allison Schrager and Ritchie King show how these two facts in combination offer a significant arbitrage opportunity, and set out a plan to buy 10 million stamps at $0.46 and sell them at $0.48, netting $200,000 in profit, at 4.3 percent.

It's pretty thoroughly thought-through, with a detailed finance and distribution plan. I'd love to see them try it.

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Someone in Chicago used a FTL drive to play the market (or cheated)

Last Wednesday's Fed announcement that it would not taper its bond-buying program triggered huge orders on exchanges everywhere. Several of those orders on Chicago exchanges were placed 2-3 milliseconds after the announcement, which is a good 7 milliseconds faster than the speed of the light-cone emanating from DC, suggesting that either someone in Chicago has a time-machine, or can travel faster than the speed of light, or is a crooked son-of-a-monkey.

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After the Meltdown: tracking the fortunes reaped by the bankers who tanked the economy

The Center for Public Integrity's After the Meltdown series documents the fate of the regulators, executives, and firms that were most directly responsible for the subprime meltdown, and demonstrates that the top bankers for firms like Lehman got unbelievably rich due to their failures, and are still in business with lucrative consulting firms (for example, Lehman CEO Richard Fuld walked away with several hundred million in cash and now has homes in three states and a personal consulting outfit). Consumerist's Chris Morran has done a great job of summarizing the findings:

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Bullshit jobs: why we're not all working 4h days


David Graeber, who wrote last year's incredible Debt: The First 5,000 Years, has an extraordinary essay up called "On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs," which explores the phenomenon of people in productive industries (nursing, teaching, etc) being relentlessly ground down on wages, job stability and working conditions; while all the big money aggregates to the finance industry and a layer of "bullshit jobs" like corporate attorneys, administrators, etc -- who do jobs that produce no tangible benefit.

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Warren Buffet explains why you can't beat the market


In 1975, Warren Buffet wrote a memo to the Washington Post's CEO Katharine Graham about how to invest the company's pension fund. His advice -- to ignore pricey fund-managers, be patient and play the long game -- was good enough that the WaPo pension is still in rude health today. Meanwhile, stark assertions like "the rational expectation of assuring above average pension fund management is very close to nil" continue to have relevance today in questions as diverse as whether we need to pay bankers huge bonuses to keep the "best talent" on hand to how you should invest your pension.

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Student debt and tuition hikes: destroying the lives of America's children


In Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi takes a long, in-depth look at the scandal of student loans and tuition hikes, a two-headed parasite sucking America's working class and middle class dry as they plunge their children into a lifetime of ballooning debt in the vain hope of a better, college-educated future. The feds keep backing student loans, and the states keep cutting university funding, so the difference is made up by cranking up tuition and shifting the burden to future grads. Meanwhile, the laws that prohibit discharging student debt in bankruptcy, combined with ballooning default penalties (your $30K debt can rocket to $120K if you have a heart-attack and are bedridden and can't make payments) and the most ruthless, unsupervised, criminal collection agencies means that tens of millions of Americans are trapped in a nightmare that never ends -- student debt being the only debt that can be taken out of your Social Security check. Matt Taibbi is a national treasure, and Rolling Stone does us all a service by keeping him working.

If this piece moves you and you want to learn more, Don't miss "Generation of Debt," an important pamphlet on the subject from UC students.

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Unsealed court-settlement documents reveal banks stole $trillions' worth of houses


Back in 2012, the major US banks settled a federal mortgage-fraud lawsuit for $95,000,000. The suit was filed by Lynn Szymoniak, a white-collar fraud specialist, whose own house had been fraudulently foreclosed-upon. When the feds settled with the banks, the evidence detailing the scope of their fraud was sealed, but as of last week, those docs are unsealed, and Szymoniak is shouting them from the hills. The banks precipitated the subprime crash by "securitizing" mortgages -- turning mortgages into bonds that could be sold to people looking for investment income -- and the securitization process involved transferring title for homes several times over. This title-transfer has a formal legal procedure, and in the absence of that procedure, no sale had taken place. See where this is going?

The banks screwed up the title transfers. A lot. They sold bonds backed by houses they didn't own. When it came time to foreclose on those homes, they realized that they didn't actually own them, and so they committed felony after felony, forging the necessary documentation. They stole houses, by the neighborhood-load, and got away with it. The $1B settlement sounded like a big deal, back when the evidence was sealed. Now that Szymoniak's gotten it into the public eye, it's clear that $1B was a tiny slap on the wrist: the banks stole trillions of dollars' worth of houses from you and people like you, paid less than one percent in fines, and got to keep the homes.

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Court finds for man who rewrote the credit-card fine-print to give himself unlimited, interest-free credit


A wily Russian fellow crossed out the fine-print on an unsolicted credit-card application from Tinkoff Credit Systems in 2008 and wrote in his own terms, giving himself unlimited, interest-free credit and exemption from all fees, with a 3MM ruble fee should the bank change the terms and a 1MM ruble fee should they cancel his card. He crossed out the URL giving the terms and conditions and wrote in his own. And a court has ruled that his changes -- which were blindly accepted by the bank -- are binding. He's now suing them for breach of contract, since they refused to pay him the cancellation fee he'd written in -- he's seeking USD727,000.

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