Scandal

Crime in Japan – BBC interview 7 July

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Tomorrow, BBC World Service’s Edwin Lane will release the pre-recorded interview he conducted with me several months ago on the back of a series I wrote on Crime in Japan – Part 1 – Geriatric Jailbirds, Part 2 – Breakdown of the nuclear family and Part 3 – Fraud, Drugs, Murder, Yakuza and the Police some 15 months ago. Since then the reports have been reported in 14 different languages and reached c.5 million page/podcast impressions as the BBC also conducted an interview on BBC Radio 5 “Up all night”

The reason I ended up writing the research paper came by chance. While trawling through the Japanese National Police Agency statistics looking for data to help a client on motorcycle license trends, I stumbled over the crime stats and couldn’t believe the wealth of information that showed the sharp jumps in crime levels. There is some suggestion that much under-reporting went on several decades ago but as you can see in the reports the charts speak for themselves.

On a global basis, Japanese crime is low on almost any measure but the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has had to expand prison capacity 50% in the last decade, facilitated early release to prepare for a sharp rise in elderly inmates. The pension-age cohort in prison now represents the highest percentage of total inmates. With that the MoJ has had to apply for a supplemental budget to cover the extra cost of healthcare in prison as the average age rises.

 

Italy proves the ECB Thinks some banks more equal than others

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The ECB proves it is powerless to push member states into banking solutions. It is in fact nothing more than an accomplice. No sooner had the ECB turned a blind eye to a bailout of two banks last week, this week saw the world’s oldest bank likely to get the same treatment.  The state-backed rescue of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA may be approved by the European Commission as soon as today.

EU approval would pave the way for the third recapitalization of an Italian bank by the state this week. Last month, European authorities and Italian officials reached an agreement in principle on a rescue plan that may include a capital increase of about 8.3 billion euros ($9.4 billion) and the sale of about 26 billion euros of bad loans through securitization. Monte Paschi was forced to seek state aid after it failed to raise capital from investors in December.

All it shows is that for all the rhetoric of bail-ins and tough talk, the ECB has no choice but to let member states handle their own affairs. Italy has a banking sector with 20% NPLs with up to 50% in southern parts of the country.

In reality it shows up the ECB to be powerless to control its members. While the US can openly state it is paring back its balance sheet, the ECB has to be content with rolling over and playing dead. At the same time Italy sets precedents that become the benchmark for others to follow. Must be food for thought for all the banks that have been forced to bail-in…-all banks are equal…some more equal than others!

Edward Scissorbrains

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Johnny Depp joins the list of out of touch celebrities to suggest harm to the sitting president. Instead of accepting a democratic voting process he openly suggests assassination by an actor has happened in the past ( John Wilkes-Booth assassinated Lincoln). Is the word of an alleged wife-beating drunkard who ignored quarantine law to smuggle his dogs into Australia because he thought the rules didn’t apply to him (their video apology was so pathetic) worth listening to? The Secret Service should honestly take actors who threaten the president’s murder (jokingly or otherwise) into custody for thorough interrogation. Hollywood celebrities aren’t above the law. Hypocrites who were sadly ignored again in the recent Georgia election. Nobody cares what celebrities  think! Never a more out of touch bunch.

Illinois Police Pension can’t protect or serve – it is going bust

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Sadly the Illinois Police Pension is rapidly approaching the point of being unable to service its pension members and a taxpayer bailout looks unlikely given the State of Illinois’ mulling bankruptcy. Local Government Information Services (LGIS) writes, “At the end of 2020, LGIS estimates that the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago will have less than $150 million in assets to pay $928 million promised to 14,133 retirees the following year…Fund assets will fall from $3.2 billion at the end of 2015 to $1.4 billion at the end of 2018, $751 million at the end of 2019, and $143 million at the end of 2020, according to LGIS…LGIS analyzed 12 years of the fund’s mandated financial filings with the Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI), which regulates public pension funds. It found that– without taxpayer subsidies and the ability to use active employee contributions to pay current retirees, a practice that is illegal in the private sector– the fund would have already run completely dry, in 2015…The Chicago police pension fund held $3.2 billion in assets in 2003. It shelled out $3.8 billion more in benefits to retired police officers than it generated in investment returns between 2003 and 2015…Over that span, the fund paid out $6.9 billion and earned $3.0 billion, paying an additional $134 million in fees to investment managers.”

The public pension black hole in America is an alarming issue.  In the piece, “The Public Pension Black Hole” it was plain to see the problems of unfunded state pensions is rife across America. Take California- “The US Federal Reserve (Fed) reported in 2013 that the State of California had an official unfunded pension liability status equivalent to 43% of state revenue. However, if marked-to- market with realistic discount rates we estimate that it is equivalent to 300% of state revenue or 7x greater. Going back to 2000, California had an unfunded liability less than 11% of tax collections. As a percent of GDP it has grown from 2% to 9.7% based on official figures. If our estimate is correct, the mark-to market reality is that California’s unfunded state pension (i.e. for public servants only) is around 18% of state GDP!”

The problem for Illinois is that a taxpayer funded bailout is all but impossible. The State of Illinois ranked worst in the Fed study on unfunded liabilities.  The unfunded pension liability is around 24% of state GDP. In 2000 the unfunded gap to state revenue was 30% and in 2013 was 124% in 2013. Chicago City Wire adds that the police fund isn’t the only one in trouble.

“Chicago’s Teachers Union Pension Fund is $10.1 billion in debt. Its two municipal worker funds owe $11.2 billion and its fire department fund owes $3.5 billion…All will require taxpayer bailouts if they are going to pay retirees going into the next decade…Put in perspective, the City of Chicago’s property tax levy was $1.36 billion in 2017…Paying for retirees “as we go,” which will prove the only option once funds run dry, will require almost quadrupling city property tax bills…Last year, it would have required more than $4 billion in revenue– including $1 billion for City of Chicago workers, $1.5 billion for teachers, and $1.5 billion for retired police officers and fire fighters.”

This problem is going to get catastrophically worse with the state of bloated asset markets with puny returns. Looking at how it has been handled in the past Detroit, Michigan gives some flavor. It declared bankruptcy around this time three years ago. Its pension and healthcare obligations total north of US$10bn or 4x its annual budget. Accumulated deficits are 7x larger than collections. Dr. Wayne Winegarden of George Mason University wrote that in 2011 half of those occupying the city’s 305,000 properties didn’t pay tax. Almost 80,000 were unoccupied meaning no revenue in the door. Over the three years post the GFC Detroit’s population plunged from 1.8mn to 700,000 putting even more pressure on the shrinking tax base.

In order for states and local municipalities to overcome such gaps, they must reorganise the terms. It could be a simple task of telling retiree John Smith that his $75,000 annuity promised decades ago is now $25,000 as the alternative could be even worse if the terms are not accepted. Think of all the consumption knock on effects of this. I doubt many Americans will accept that hands down, leading to class actions and even more turmoil.

 

WaPo writer channels Kathy Griffin

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What on earth inspires people to write such things after the shooting at a Congressional baseball practice in Virginia? How does someone who tweets such vile and thoughtless texts ever pass the editorial sniff test of a newspaper like WaPo where Malcolm Harris is an occasional writer? Will we see an apology via a televised press conference where Harris will claim it was comedy and that now his life is ruined?

I note that WaPo is using “Democracy dies in darkness” on its banner – perhaps it should be “journalistic integrity dies in daylight”.

Comey testimony proves media can’t stop playing the man rather than the ball

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Comey admitted in his testimony that he was never pressured by Trump to end any investigations. Damn and blast. The media has done another collective Rachel Maddow “we’ve got his tax returns” backfire. So insistent on trying to seek revenge they forgot the old Chinese proverb, “before setting out on revenge, first dig two graves.” So eager are they to play the man they overlook basic check sheets to find balance. Trump may well be a loose cannon at times but the media is the pot still calling the kettle black.

While I long argued Trump would win the election I’ve been an advocate of trying to seek balance to the one sided argument against him. It doesn’t mean I think he is ideal.  I disagree with many (not all) things he has done and petty things (like his attitude to Merkel) are certainly not fitting the most powerful office in the world. Trump derangement syndrome is none-the-less real. The media attack dogs never seek to do moral equivalence with their beloved Obama over the same supposed crimes of leaking sensitive info or whatever. I do think Trump is Turnbull-esque in lacking judgement as well as constant cabinet reshuffles but the most twisted irony is that financial markets would seem to want him there using any wobble on the back of an impeachment scenario as an excuse rather than admit the hyper asset bubble blown for 8 years.

The mainstream media now preys on clickbait. Thinking the number of clicks, likes and shares are endorsements and can replace quality content (as much as they self appraise it’s high value added factual). In fact the revenue numbers of media outlets who continually rant  is telling. Fairfax in Australia has had two rounds of layoffs in the space of 12 months and The Guardian is openly begging for donations.

The media is surely going to keep launching salvo after salvo to try get him out of office. As stupid as they keep suggesting the ‘orange baffoon” is he keeps getting their measure. I issue a caution though. The deplorables that voted him in want him to get on with the job. With all these distractions the quest that they hope will get them under the “have not” hole is pushed further into the future. Getting an impeachment to stick and force a resignation is not high on a have not’s priority list. They need help as I argued at the time of the election. Whether Trump can provide it is a moot point but they voted for change and the “haves” ought to be careful how they indirectly impact the “have nots”

The screaming, carrying on and promoting blood sport may end up creating proper civil unrest. It’s simmering but the media as usual is oblivious to it all. In any event the last thing the world needs is instability in the world’s largest economy at this point in a peaking cycle.

Comey canned

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Well the inevitable has happened. Trump fired FBI Director Comey. Some might say this is a Nixonian ‘Saturday night massacre’ when the president removed the special Watergate prosecutor, Archibald Cox, leading to the the resignation of Elliot Richardson, then Attorney General. Now for a can of worms. Note how Trump made the explicit remark in his termination letter to Comey that the FBI Director confirmed “three times” that he was not under investigation. That remark in and of itself will get the conspiracy theorists on overdrive.

PA Democrat Senator Bob Casey said,

“This is Nixonian. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must immediately appoint a special counsel to continue the Trump/Russia investigation. On March 20th Director Comey said, ‘I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts…This investigation must be independent and thorough in order to uphold our nation’s system of justice.”

Prepare for the barrage of ‘Fake News’ claims for anyone wanting to force an independent investigation. You can see now that Trump will use the ‘three times’ to shut down the need to conduct it. If indeed nothing is wrong then he should gladly invite an independent investigation or release findings of the investigation to date. That way he clears his name. Doesn’t pass the sniff test. All this does is undermine confidence, something the world could do without.