Criminal Fraud – by whose definition?

Over the last week there has been two separate news items about two very separate men, who are linked only by the virtue of them both working in the banking industry.  What differentiates them at this moment is that one is in prison and the other is not.  After reading the two articles it struck me that the only thing that keeps one of them in jail and the other out, is scale, job title and the ability to bullshit, as neither one has seemingly been blessed with a strong business acumen.

So lets look at the hapless bastard who is now in prison and was refused bail this week because of (quote) “the serious allegations backed up with cogent evidence”.  I am of course referring to the UBS trader – Kweku Adoboli.  Kweku’s “crime” is to have lost UBS £1.5bn in alleged unauthorised trading.  Apparently he is accused of doing this to (quote) “try and make personal gain”.

Now lets look at Fred Goodwin, who until this week was better known as Sir Fred Goodwin, who headed RBS bank until it collapsed in 2008.  He has just been stripped of his knighthood that he was given in 2004 for – “services to banking”.  Sir Fred was so adept at providing his services that by 2008 RBS had suffered losses of £24bn and needed a £45bn injection of taxpayers money.  Did Fred provide these services for free or did he do this to “try and make personal gain”?  I will let you come to your own conclusion on that vexing question after ruminating on Fred’s compensation.

 2001: £733,000 salary, £825,000 bonus
2002: £832,000 salary, £1.73m bonus
2003: £898,000 salary, £990,000 bonus
2004: £990,000 salary, £1.5m bonus
2005: £1.09m salary, £1.76m bonus
2006: £1.19m salary, £2.76m bonus
2007: £1.29m salary, £2.86m bonus
2008: £1.3m salary, no bonus awarded

Total: £20.75m

Pension pot: Worth £342,500 per year (although this was cut from £703,000 per year)

So lets go back to my earlier thoughts;

Scale: – £1.5bn loss versus £24bn

Job Title: ‘Trader’ on the Delta one desk versus ‘Chief Executive’ of RBS.

Ability to bullshit: who got a knightedhood for “services to banking”?

Consider the two cases and think about the scale of the respective losses, which situation required a massive injection of taxpayers money and which had the greatest knock on damage to the UK economy and you begin to realise that we all live in a complete fantasy world that would be impossible to dream up without some very serious drugs and you could never sell it as a television series because you would told that your idea was “to far divorced from reality”.

Final thought – ‘Sorry, who is in prison’?

Accountability

With all of the crap that is happening in the world it is good to see that accountability is still ‘alive and reasonably well’. It hasn’t yet managed to be applied in all the areas that it should but I am heartily encouraged to see the recent surge of accountability that has surprised a number of individuals and companies.  My highlights include;

“Bunga Bunga” Berlusconi who resigned last night after 17 years in power.  On his drive to the Presidential Palace hostile crowds were yelling “buffoon” and “gangster”.  After his resignation was accepted he “left by a side exit”.  It will be interesting to see how the Italian legal system now accelerate their move against him.  He is already involved in several trials for fraud, corruption and having sex with an under-age girl.  He should also be charged with having a patently false hairstyle!  I would like to wager a bet that as he was driving in the motorcade towards the Palace, listening to the wild ‘encouragement’ of the crowds he sent up a silent prayer of thanks that it was happening in Italy and not Libya.

Speaking of Libya, imagine being able to step back in time one year and having a conversation with Gaddafi.  “Shag, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you are fucked. In 12 months time they are going to drag you out of a drainage ditch looking like complete shit and with a really bad hair day, push you around,throw you on the back of a truck, drive off at great speed and then shoot you through the head, good luck with all of that”.  Do you think he would have believed you?

To Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali – “I am not sure how to tell you this, but think very carefully about where you buy your vegetables!”

The Greeks waking up to the fact (extremely reluctantly) that they, like most people in Europe will be required to pay taxes, actually perform a job of work when they go to their government sponsored job, assuming of course they have a job and that lawyers, surgeons etc may have to actually do something without getting an envelope with €1,000 in it when someone wants to engage their services.

Egypt, Algeria, Syria.  I have no idea what sort of deluded fantasy Assad has constructed in his head about how this will play out for him but I am prepared to bet a sizeable sum of money that what ever the picture is that he currently has in his head it will be quite divorced from the eventual reality.

The Roman Catholic Church is now accepting that they will be paying compensation to its victims after decades of pretending that their policy of not allowing priests to live like normal human males does have a downside and that the term “any port in a storm” does not extended to young boys puckered arseholes.

Then we move to Rupert Murdoch and the dynasty that he has worked all his life to create. Six months ago he was poised to take over BSkyB, he had unfettered access Number 10 and his key newspaper News of the World was pouring money into the Murdoch cash registers.  How things have changed.  NoW is closed, many former executives arrested, son dragged back before select committee’s, government investigations on both sides of the Atlantic and litigation lawyers sharpening their knives everywhere.  The ignominy of once having people queued up to metaphorically lick your arse and now the same people wouldn’t hesitate to reverse the bus over your head. 

I am sure the former chairman of Olympus would gladly give his right testicle for the opportunity to revisit his decision to fire Michael Woodford.  That act of hubris resulted in the stock price dropping 80%, Olympus being put on a delisting watch by the Tokyo Stock Exchange, multi-government investigations and KPMG and E&Y being asked “to explain”.  All of this within one month.

Lastly, the Israel-Palestine issue.  With the UNESCO vote of October 31, 107 countries voted in favour of admitting Palestine into UNESCO and only 14 countries voted against. What is very interesting to understand, but is not widely reported is that the 107 countries represents 77.5% of the world’s population and the 14 countries just 7.3%.  There is no doubt left as to where the opinion of “mankind”is headed on the decision grant Palestine a fundamental human right which both the US and Israel have blocked for so long – independence and statehood.  Like many spoilt children, America threw its toys out of the pram and immediately cancelled UNESCO funding.  That is clearly going to work in its favour particularly as the balance of power and opinion moves away from the US.  Well done.

A voice of reason amid the madness

 

An interesting article that is worth the time it takes to read.

“I hear all this, ‘well, this is class warfare, this is whatever’. No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear:

You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.”

– Elizabeth Warren

 

– 61 per cent of Americans “always or usually” live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 per cent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007

– 66 per cent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1 per cent of Americans

– 43 per cent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement

– 24 per cent of American workers say that they have postponed their planned retirement age

– Only the top 5 per cent of US households earned enough to match the rise in housing costs since 1975

– In 1950, the ratio of the average executive’s paycheck to the average worker’s paycheck was about 30 to 1; since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 and 500 to 1

– The bottom 50 per cent of income earners in the US now collectively own less than 1 per cent of the nation’s wealth

– More than 40 per cent of Americans who are actually employed are now working in service jobs, which are often low paying.

 

DSK & The Fortune-Teller

Here is a small tale.  Like all tales there is not really any reliable way to say if it actually happened or not.

Eighteen months ago, a man who felt that his life was on the right trajectory, he had a job that gave him access to a lot of very important people (they thought they were important and that is all that really matters), he travelled ALOT, he earn’t very good money, was married to a nearly as famous beautiful woman and most wonderfully lived in a society where there is an absolute expectation in the collective consciousness that a man in such a position in life should selflessly share his penis with as many women as possible.  Having ruminated on his exceptional luck and good fortune whilst in the shower that morning, there was this little niggle of doubt that he wasn’t really reaching his full potential.  He remembered that one of his other powerful friends and given him the number of an excellent fortune teller who by sheer coincidence lived in the very city where he had woken up that very morning.  He called his extremely efficient PA and rescheduled all of his morning meetings and hailed a cab, directing it to the address on the card.

Agreeing to meet DSK he entered into a small private front room of the womans house.  She asked him for a item of jewellery that only he had worn.  He handed over his watch that he had worn for the last 8 years.  She closed her eyes whilst holding the watch.  After 3 or 4 uncomfortable minutes of silence she opened her eyes and looked straight into DSK eyes.  She held his gaze for what felt like ages and she then had a very small smile which creased her lips.

She said to him;

“There is much I can tell you, but I will tell you the one thing that is most important for you. You will be famous.  You will be famous beyond your wildest dreams.  You will be in every newspaper in the world, you will feature on all major news channels, you will be the subject of talk shows and public debates.  You will be remembered long after your death and you will be held up as an example to all of your peers”.

Quite understandably DSK was ecstatic with news and tipped the fortune-teller handsomely.  Walking down the street he felt like he was walking on air, life was full of optimism.  He thought to himself, “that’s it, my future clearly lies in politics, I am going to replace the current little gnome at the Elysee Palace”.

How interesting life can be.

An insight to my alien life

Prompted by something that I recently read, I thought about my complete reluctance to learn the language of the country where I currently live, which is The Netherlands.  Some would say – to my shame I have been living here for 11 years and I know only a small amount more of the Dutch language than when I arrived.  Fortunately (for me) living in Amsterdam which is truly a multi-cultural city, you can use English to achieve pretty much everything.

However, I have realised something very important this week.  By being a foreigner and not speaking the language you are essentially free.  Let me explain.  When you understand the language where you live, you are constantly immersed in ‘noise’.  You listen (unintentionally) to conversations all around you, being in the workplace, on the street, out to dinner, shopping – wherever.  You tend to flick through the local newspapers that are delivered, unrequested, through your mailbox.  You ‘listen’ to radio and you will sometimes be drawn into something on TV.  You are constantly immersed in others ‘noise’, where there is no escape.  This impacts everyone and not necessarily in the right way.  I listen to the comments and observations our friends who are Dutch.   A reasonable amount of their thoughts are devoted to ‘what is wrong’ or ‘what is going wrong’ around them and I have realised that in many ways, they have little choice.

I am free of all of this.  I don’t read the local newspapers, I don’t watch TV at all, I have absolutely zero interest in politics and ‘status’ is irrelevant.  I have no interest whatsoever about a Dutch persons ‘perceived’ status in the Dutch scheme of things and they certainly have no interest in mine, because to them I am irrelevant.  I cannot help them increase their ‘status’ in any way and correspondingly they cannot help me.  This is important because most societies people’s relevant status is important to themselves and those around them.  People inadvertently show reverence to those they perceive are above them and indifference to those they think are below them.  A lot of unconscious time is given to reference checking where you are within your culture, which is always reinforced in so many subtle ways via the media.  You can see this with the amount of air time and hype given to Dutch ‘celebrities’ who are mostly a media creation because they have little real talent and are only relevant to the domestic Dutch.  However, if you are not part of the cultural it is irrelevant.  Another important benefit of this is that it allows you to not be too concerned about being seen to do “the right thing”, whatever that may be, because you are largely forgiven everything because you are the “foreigner who doesn’t understand”.

So last Friday evening, I was sitting in bed on the 7th floor of our building, looking out over the lights of Amsterdam, realising that I am completely free from all of this.  I am allowed to live my life in the way that I want to, I don’t have to “care” about the constant nuanced messages of Dutch society and I personally feel both privileged and lucky, because to be free of the external ‘noise’  in your mind is a gift that most do not have the luxury of experiencing.

Dutch pragmatisim

One of the reasons that I really enjoy living in Holland is that you cannot beat Dutch pragmatisim.  Following is an excerpt of an article in the local press –

Utrecht city council wants to set up its own marijuana growing service to supply the city’s cannabis cafes, the NRC reports.

While selling small amounts of marijuana is tolerated, large-scale cultivation is illegal, creating a grey area between demand and supply.

In addition, there is no quality control with the current system and a risk of contamination, council officials say.

Grow your own

So the city wants to experiment with a new sort of coffee shop – the name for cannabis cafes – which would be members only and grow its own plants.

By law, the police turn a blind eye if people have up to five plants for personal use. So if each member of the coffee shop grows those five plants in the same greenhouse, the problem would be solved, the council argues.

The fine details still have to be worked out, but the city has said it will not operate the coffee shop or be in charge of weed production.