Finance

Vatican Told to Get Tough on Those Caught Laundering Money

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A European financial crimes watchdog on Dec. 15 called on the Vatican to prosecute those caught money laundering, stating the Holy See must act to ensure the success of its financial reforms.

“There is a need now for the anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing system, to deliver effective results in terms of prosecutions, convictions and confiscation,” said the report by the Council of Europe’s Moneyval oversight agency.

Although the Holy See has adopted new legislation in recent years to tackle money laundering within the city-state, there have been no indictments or prosecutions as a result of the new rules.

Let's Hold the Rich and Powerful Accountable

Here's something curious.

Big banks can't make money without cheating, manipulating interest rates, selling overly risky products and betting against their customers.

Big pharmaceuticals can't make money without paying competitors to keep their generic products off pharmacy shelves.

Google and Facebook can't make money without monetizing customers' privacy and violating their trust. Game maker Zynga can't make money, period, but its insiders did sweep $516 million off the table by unloading soon-to-plummet stock before a lousy earnings report.

Rupert Murdoch's media empire can't make money without tapping telephones and politicizing the news on which democracy depends. 

And these are the people we are supposed to trust, admire, treat as superior and as worthy of huge salaries and government bailouts.

I'm a Fraud (and So Are You)

I’m coming to terms with the realization that I’m a big, fat fake. But at least I’m in good company.

Amy’s birthday was last Sunday. We had just arrived in Portland, so we went to a fancy-pants restaurant, situated several hundred feet above the skyline, with a view of the entire surrounding city, the Willamette River and Mount Hood. We shared a bottle of wine, enjoyed outstanding service and indulged on gourmet food to celebrate her ever-growing tenure as an occupant of our planet.

The bill for the night was nearly enough to cover groceries for our family for up to two weeks.

We could manage it; we knew it was pricey before we got there. And it was fairly easy to justify too. We were making memories. It was an other step in the courtship, helping us fall in love with our new city. We had worked hard over the past eight years, establishing a church in Colorado, struggling to pay bills at times, and we’re now enjoying some material fruits of our labor.

What bullshit.

Seriously, how does anyone really justify spending that kind of money on one meal? After all, from our vantage point on the 30th floor, I could see scads of people below, standing on street corners, tucked in under sleeping bags and beneath cardboard boxes, walking wearily from one job to the next, hoping to pull together enough to make rent.

Banking For the Rest of Us

One meaning of the word “occupy” involves asserting sovereignty over a place. For the demonstrators who set up camp in lower Manhattan last fall, “occupying” was a reassertion of popular sovereignty at the very epicenter of our economic system. It was a challenge to the power that giant corporations—and Wall Street banks in particular—have amassed. It was a challenge to the way these firms have captured the levers of government and rigged policy to protect their own positions and profits at the expense of everyone else.

More than three years after their reckless greed triggered the Great Recession, the nation’s biggest banks have paid almost no penalty and are bigger than ever. In 2007, the top four banks—Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo—held assets of $4.5 trillion, which amounted to 37 percent of U.S. bank assets. Today, they control $6.2 trillion, or 45 percent of bank assets, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. For them, the recession was a brief hiccup, promptly ameliorated by a public bailout and a return to robust profitability. Last year, these four firms, together with the next two largest banks, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, paid out $144 billion in compensation, making 2011 their second highest payday ever. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average bank teller made $24,980 in 2010. Such rank-and-file employees didn’t benefit from the big bonuses and compensation packages which were heavily concentrated at the top of the corporate ladder.

Meanwhile, joblessness, staggering debt, and foreclosure have devastated countless families. Many have shared their stories on the We Are the 99 Percent Tumblr website, which should be required reading for the 1 percent. It provides a heart-breaking account of living in a society “made for them, not for us,” of drowning in debt and struggling merely to secure a means of keeping food on the table.

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Why I Love Credit Unions

I finally “moved my money” from Wells Fargo to Lafayette Federal Credit Union. It’s local. It’s half a block from work. Charlotte, the branch manager, already knows my name.

Mind you, I never actually opened an account at Wells Fargo to begin with. I opened my account 20 years ago with a regional bank. But it was bought by Bank of America. I then switched to another regional bank. But it was bought by Wachovia. Last year, Wachovia was bought out by Wells Fargo. I’ve never been a big fan of the mega-money institutions. But ever since they drove our economy into a ditch and did it, in part, by taking the homes of poor people and minorities, I felt the biblical prophets giving me a kick in the pants. Hence, the next stage of my financial pilgrimage.

Credit unions, as we know them today, originated in Europe in the 1800s as financial self-help cooperatives among small business owners and farmers in particular locales, geared toward providing for and protecting their economic sovereignty. Eventually credit unions came to be organized around seven principles: 1) voluntary membership, 2) democratic governance, 3) member control of capital, 4) autonomy and independence, 5) education of members and public in cooperative principles, 6) cooperation between cooperatives, and 7) concern for the local community.

“If love is wise,” wrote Pope Benedict in his 2009 encyclical Charity in Truth, “it can find ways of working in accordance with provident and just expediency, as is illustrated in a significant way by much of the experience of credit unions.”

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Down and Outraged

FOR A PERSON from the educated middle class who is going to pieces spiritually from lack of employment, often the hardest thing is maintaining appearances. Practically every cent and reserve of dignity is diverted into the illusion of gentility. Your clothes, technology, home, and public habits cannot be shabby. If a professional acquaintance suggests an expensive lunch, there is no avoiding it. If he or she says, “I’ll just message you when I’m leaving for the restaurant,” you must possess the proper gadget for receiving messages while in transit, for you can’t await word on your home computer when the acquaintance expects to meet 10 minutes later.

Accompanying this financial shadow play is the anguish of what to call yourself. Diplomas, publications, and authenticity of intellect don’t define your status—credibility comes from your institutional base. Establishing this base is increasingly difficult. Look at the appellations people use when they publish little essays and commentaries: There are an astonishing number of fellows, advisers, experts, strategists, associates, analysts, and specialists, not to speak of freelancers and of course consultants, whose titles are not linked to any institution. Despite privileged backgrounds, this group’s privilege is now almost entirely theoretical. Lack of property, land, stock, and savings point to the decline of their class and status. Still, their most sickening fear comes from finding themselves marooned outside institutions, with little hope of climbing back in and no skills on which to rely when their ideas and insights are of no monetary value.

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Basketball Underdogs: The Afghanistan National Team

The Olympics is the greatest representation of national athletic pride. Somehow every couple of years, patriotism is met with a degree of innocence and acceptance that is too often forgotten in conflict and negotiation.

Five years ago, Afghanistan re-entered international basketball when the county's Olympic committee decided to draft a team for the 2006 Asian Games. A year later, the committee hired Mamo Rafiq, who was the first Afghan immigrant to play in the NCAA first for Idaho State and then UC Davis.

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