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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Masters of the universe (part 2)

Remember Blythe Masters? Perhaps not, but then who has a long memory these days?

If you can cast your mind back 4 years you may remember one female Labour politician saying the 2008 crash wouldn't have happened if Lehman had been called Lehman Sisters. Silly claim because as we all knew the systemic disaster that is the credit default swap sprang from the loins of the derivatives team run by the ever so definitely female Blythe Masters at J.P. Morgan.

Quite an achievement, but where does a career go after that?  Well in Ms. Blythe's case, back to NY to build up the physical commodities business at JPM, and by all accounts it seemed to be goin fairly well with the business becoming one of the largest on Wall Street, active in electricity and gas trading. But then it all went horribly wrong .... again.

JPMorgan Chase has just agreed to pay $410 million to the nation’s energy regulator, a move that will allow the bank to settle allegations that traders in its Houston offices manipulated electricity markets in California and Michigan. The pact announced on Tuesday is a record settlement for the regulator, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has ramped up its policing of Wall Street trading in recent months.

While the regulator fined the bank, it stopped short of penalizing individual JPMorgan executives. That decision is a reversal from earlier this year, when the regulator warned JPMorgan that it might seek to sanction Blythe Masters, the influential leader of the bank’s commodities business. Initially, investigators also planned to recommend that the agency hold three of her employees “individually liable.”

The accusations of market manipulation initially surfaced this spring in a confidential commission document, reviewed by The New York Times. The document, a warning that investigators would recommend that the agency pursue civil charges, had originally concluded that Ms. Masters gave “false and misleading statements” under oath.

From the outset, JPMorgan argued that Ms. Masters never made false statements.

The accusations against JPMorgan originated from its rights to sell electricity from power plants that it acquired after the bank took over Bear Stearns in an emergency rescue in 2008.

The plants that the bank inherited were outdated and inefficient. Still, the regulator said, traders in Houston found a work around. To transform the power plants into profit generators, the agency said, JPMorgan’s traders adopted eight different “schemes” from September 2010 to June 2011.

The trading strategies offered electricity at prices that appeared falsely attractive to state energy authorities. The effort prompted authorities in California and Michigan to make excessive payments that helped drive up energy prices, the regulator said.

As part of the settlement on Tuesday, JPMorgan will pay a civil penalty of $285 million to the Treasury Department. JPMorgan will also pay $125 million in “unjust profits,” the energy regulator said on Tuesday. That money will go to ratepayers in both California and the Midwest, where JPMorgan’s trading practices, the agency said, drove up prices for electricity.

Honestly, these women.

You have to feel a bit sorry for Mohammed Morsi

After years of listening to the West talking about the value of democracy, the Egyptians hold what appear to be reasonably free and fair elections, and Mr Morsi wins.  Not the result perhaps that everyone in the west was generally hoping for, but hey, that's democracy and, fair enough Mr Mohrsi gets to take charge.

Fast forward a few years and things may not have run that smoothly.  There is serious rioting in the streets, and the army, as they often do, decides that as self appointed guardian of the nation, they have to step in and take over.

Which is not so good for Mr Morsi, particularly because he is carted off to some unknown place while the current boys in charge figure up some trumped up charges to put him on trial.  Of course he is generally immune from prosecution during his time as head of government so they have to try to dig up some dirt going back to 2011 accusing him of plotting with Hamas to free prisoners from Egyptian jails. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't, but if he did, Mr Morsi probably considers himself to be like those who stormed the Bastille.

Certainly this democracy thing is hard to figure out.

But then they really rub salt into the wound, because who should pop up to talk to Mr Morsi for a couple of hours in his salubrious oubliette than the unelected and unaccountable Lady Ashton, whose rise without trace echoes that of many of the leaders of the former National Democratic Party. Although, no doubt she was able to lecture him on the democratic systems of the west.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Once a slimeball always a slimeball

An email sent by the then British ambassador in Tripoli details how a prisoner transfer agreement would be signed once Libya “fulfils its promise” to buy an air defence system. The last Labour government, always insisted that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s release was not linked to commercial deals.

The email, which contained a briefing on the UK’s relations with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, was sent on June 8 2008 by Sir Vincent Fean, the then UK ambassador, to Tony Blair’s private office, ahead of a visit soon after he stepped down as prime minister. Blair flew to Tripoli to meet Gaddafi on June 10, in a private jet provided by  Gaddafi  , one of at least six visits Blair made to Libya after leaving Downing Street.

The 1,300 word briefing explains how keen Britain was to do deals with Gaddafi. It also suggests that:
  • the UK made it a key objective for Libya to invest its £80  billion sovereign wealth fund through the City of London
  • the UK was privately critical of then President George Bush for “shooting the US in the foot” by continuing to put a block on Libyan assets in America, in the process scuppering business deals
  • the Department for International Development was eager to use another Libyan fund worth £130 million to pay for schemes in Sierra Leone and other poverty-stricken countries.
The release of Megrahi in August 2009 caused a huge furore, with the Government insisting he had been released on compassionate grounds because he was suffering from terminal cancer, and that the decision was taken solely by the Scottish government.

Megrahi had been convicted in 2001 of the murder of 270 people when PanAm flight 103 from London to New York blew up over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988. It remains Britain’s single worst terrorist atrocity.
Libya had been putting pressure on the UK to release Megrahi and in May 2007, just before he left Downing Street, Mr Blair travelled to Sirte to meet Gaddafi and Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, Libya’s then prime minister.

At that meeting, according to Sir Vincent’s email, Mr Blair and Mr Baghdadi agreed that Libya would buy the missile defence system from MBDA, a weapons manufacturer part-owned by BAE Systems. The pair also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA), which the Libyans believed would pave the way for Megrahi’s release.

The British government initially intended the agreement to explicitly exclude Megrahi. However, ministers relented under pressure from Libya. In December 2007, Jack Straw, then justice secretary, told his Scottish counterpart that he had been unable to secure an exclusion, but said any application to transfer Megrahi under the agreement would still have to be signed off by Scottish ministers.

With Mr Blair returning in June 2008 — as a guest of Gaddafi on his private jet — the government appears to have used the chance to press its case for the arms deal to be sealed. At the time, Britain was on the brink of an economic and banking crisis, and Libya, through the Libyan Investment Authority, had billions of pounds in reserves.

Sir Vincent gave Mr Blair’s office a briefing on the state of relations with Libya. The email suggests that Mr Blair was being used as a conduit. Sir Vincent wrote: “There is one bilateral issue which I hope TB [Tony Blair] can raise, as a legacy issue. On 29 May 07 in Sirte, he and Libya’s PM agreed that Libya would buy an air defence system (Jernas) from the UK (MBDA). One year on, MBDA are now back in Tripoli (since 8 June) aiming to agree and sign the contract now — worth £400 million, and up to 2,000 jobs in the UK.

“Saif [Gaddafi’s son] says they are to come back to conclude; but there is opposition within the Libyan armed forces, from those in the Russian defence equipment camp. We think we have Col Q’s [Gaddafi’s] goodwill for this contract: it would be very helpful if he expressed it more clearly. This issue can also be raised with Libya’s PM, and the Planning Minister. It was PM Baghdadi who told the media on 29 May 07 that Libya would buy British.

“Linked (by Libya) is the issue of the 4 bilateral Justice agreements about which TB signed an MoU with Baghdadi on 29 May. The MoU says they will be negotiated within the year: they have been. They are all ready for signature in London as soon as Libya fulfils its promise on Jernas.”

The PTA was signed in November 2008 by Bill Rammell, a foreign office minister.

Megrahi was diagnosed with prostate cancer and released in August 2009 on compassionate grounds when he was given three months to live. He died in May 2012.

The Libyans never signed the arms deal, MBDA said yesterday. “MBDA operates, at all times, strictly within the limits of clearly defined export licensing regimes issued by the relevant Government authorities,” a spokesman said.

“All MBDA’s dealings with Libya were purely commercial and in accordance with the EU directive at the time.” The disclosure of the email, which was obtained by The Sunday Telegraph as a result of a Freedom of Information request, angered the relatives of victims of the bombing.

Pam Dix, whose brother Peter died at Lockerbie, said: “It appears from this email that the British government was making a clear correlation between arms dealing with Libya and the signing of the prisoner transfer agreement.

“We were told Megrahi’s release was a matter strictly for the Scottish government but this shows the dirty dealing that was going on behind the scenes.”

Mandelslime, who was business secretary when Megrahi was released, said he was unaware of any possible links between commercial deals and negotiations over a release.  Strange then that he should be all over the libyans and the Gadhaffi family, but totally ignorant of the UK ambassador's views.  But then we never did find how someone earning less than £150,000 a year before tax for all of his 40 year career could go from having to touch up Geoffrey Rodinson for a loan for a £300,000 flay in the 1990's to buying an £8 million house for cash 15 years later.

Jack Straw, who negotiated the PTA, said no deals were done over Megrahi, and it was always a decision for the Scottish government. Except that the ambassador's memo shows that deals were done.

The email from Sir Vincent also informed Mr Blair on the latest stage of Megrahi’s bid for release, and urged him to fend off any demands that he be sent back. By 2008, Megrahi was appealing against his conviction for mass murder. “Col Q may very well raise Megrahi,” wrote Sir Vincent, “Saif [Gaddafi’s son] raised the case … last week. It is now before the Scottish Appeal Court and sub-judice.

A spokesman for Blair said that the prisoner transfer agreements did not relate to Megrahi. The email, he added, did not show “that the UK government was trying to link the defence deal and Megrahi. Actually it shows the opposite — that any linkage was from the Libyan side."

Which is actually a travesty of the truth.  The memo mentions Magrahi by name, not that that would mean anything to the lying shyster.

Friday, 26 July 2013

An excessive build-up of mucus

At least that is how my dictionary describes catarrh, or to give it its modern Arabic spelling, Qatar.

And that is how the current debate over the 2022 World Cup sounds. Well we all know how the Qataris won the bidding.  It wasn't down to their excellent record in the competition - they have never qualified.  Nor was it down to the excellent quality of their stadiums and practice facilities - they have 3 and they are not fit for purpose.

Nor was it even due to their climate. As everyone else realised at the time and it is now dawning on FIFA, 50C is no temperature to watch football, let alone play it. And after a few years the Qataris now say that they would like to interrupt the European football season, requesting that the various leagues interrupt their multi-billion TV schedules so their audiences can watch Tunisia v Bolivia or Taiwan v Costa Rica.

The reason of course, as is always the case in modern global sport, was money, lots of money.  Possibly due to the bribery of football associations who were promised stadiums by the Qataris. Possibly due to the bribery of  the representatives f those associations, and possibly due to the bribery of Blatter and his muckers.  They have plenty of form as Panorama exposed two years ago.

In any event, the one set of interested parties that has always been overlooked is the fans.  Assuming that the tournament is played in the summer but not at the peak of the summer in June, allowing some time for post-season acclimatisation, that would imply the usual three week mid to late July timetable. Still thirsty weather, which is a shame for the average beer drinking fan.  Alcohol is usually available in the swankier restaurants in Qatar at 3 to 5 times the price in the same sort of venue in London, and is also available to licensed expats. But it is not available at all during Ramadan, which in 2022 begins on July 10th.

Monday, 15 July 2013

How the state lies to you

A fascinating story on the BBC about the failures of the NHS, notable not so much for the way the NHS has covered up its failings so much as the way that such dishonesty is endemic in parts of the state sector.

The headline reads
NHS failings 'suppressed for electoral reasons'
which seems fairly clear. It goes on to say
An independent expert on mortality rates has suggested that ministers have suppressed details of NHS failings to avoid losing votes.
Prof Sir Brian Jarman said a "basic problem" with the NHS was that the government both provided health services and monitored them.

Now I don't know how you read that, but to a simple reader like me, it would appear that this is a failing of current ministers.  But no, although the article does mention Andy Burnham a few times, you have to read down to paragraph 11 before you find that the BBC admits that this was actually a story about suppression of bad performance by ministers in the previous Labour government.

However, not content with misleading us about how much the last Labour government misinformed us about the failings of the state run health system, the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation gives its political masters to cover itself with a spin doctor's fig leaf.

Not so, says Andy Burnham, the last government "established independence" by setting up the independent regulator and that "was not the move of a government that wanted to hide".

Which is the least convincing piece of logic I have heard in a long time. Because they set up an independent regulator they can't have suppressed any reports.  Pull the other one. We know that the Care Quality Commission pulled bad reports and we know that they acted under pressure from ministers.

The trouble is that the BBC lets Labour get away with this flimsy thinking, Not surprising when their reporting is so stilted as evidence by the article.

Friday, 5 July 2013

And this is a crime?

"The wife of a convicted terrorist has pleaded guilty to failing to provide information that might have helped in his arrest and prosecution."

Or so says the meejah.  But there must be more to it than that. I think I would be guilty of the same offence, even though I have never met the guy, becuase I have also failed to provide any information that might have helped in his arrest and prosecution.