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Showing posts with label PMQs and Citigroup. Show all posts
Showing posts with label PMQs and Citigroup. Show all posts

Thursday, 3 November 2011

I’m finding it hard to defend BBC Scotland today …

I grew up with the BBC. My earliest memories are of the BBC in 1939 in the lead-up to war. I didn’t understand the significance of what the announcers were saying, but I saw the tension and sensed the apprehension among my older male relatives. The BBC was my ear on the world and in the 1950s it became my window on the world.  I am one of a declining minority of the population who heard William Joyce – Lord Haw Haw – live, and felt the chill at that braying voice saying “Germany calling, Germany calling”. My instinct is to defend the BBC, because it was the voice of freedom in a world infected by fascism.

Since becoming a nationalist, then a blogger and a YouTube clip poster, radio and television news broadcasts have become very important to me, and with this has come a highly-developed sensitivity to balance and bias in the media. In this period, I have to say that had I, or any Scottish voter, never mind any nationalist, relied on the Scottish or the UK press to get an idea of what was going on in Scottish politics, then the SNP governments would never have been elected, no matter how hard they campaigned on the doorsteps – their voice, and vitally, the image of their people and politicians would have been either completely absent or presented pejoratively.

It was television news and current affairs programmes that made the SNP what it is today, and the BBC, with all its failings, was in my view the major contributor to that, albeit sometimes in spite of themselves. Its nationalists critics – and by God, have they bent my ear – would never have been aware of most of the issues they were addressing without the BBC, their target. (Of course this was not true of party activists and insiders.)

Without the Politics Show Scotland, Newsnight Scotland, the weekly broadcast of FMQs, Channel 81 coverage, and, yes, the UK-level programmes like The Daily Politics, Newsnight, and Question Time, the Scottish National Party would not have had many of its best moments, its peak exposure, Alex Salmond would not have become the national and international figure he has become, nor in my view, I repeat, would the SNP have been elected to government.

Had the nationalist movement been reliant on NewsnetScotland and the army of bloggers like me, it would not remotely have been enough. The online community, vital though they are to our democracy and freedom of expression, would have had only marginal impact of they had not had the televised media to react to, to clip, to deride, to criticise, to comment on. And capable though many online commentators are, few, if any, can match the professionalism and the resources that professional journalists and commentators can bring to the debate.

But I have not been an uncritical defender of the BBC, or any media outlet, and anyone who thinks this should really take the trouble to trawl through my output over the last few years. I can say that I would have had no existence as a blogger, commentator or YouTube poster without the mainstream media. The relationship, whether I or anyone else likes it or not, is a symbiotic one.

But it has got harder and harder to ignore the blatant bias in the print media, the insidious practice of unionist propaganda by partisan headline in factual news items while a pretence at objectivity is maintained – one might say buried – in the main body of text. The Scotsman has become notorious in this regard. The Herald, often guilty of it, seems to be emerging into a period of relative objectivity, with periodic lapses.

NEWSNIGHT SCOTLAND

The focus of much of the inchoate rage of some nationalists has been Newsnight Scotland, and I have to say they have sometimes deserved it. Their position is unenviable in the schedules, with 20 minutes after the big budget Newsnight. I’ll say no more on that, because it has been covered comprehensively and effectively by Pete Martin, creative director of the Gate Worldwide in the Scotsman today in his article STV’s new contender has BBC on the ropes. Pete Martin article – Scotsman

He is referring to Scotland Tonight, with John Mackay as frontman, scheduled at 10.30 p.m. Last night, the juxtaposition and content of these two programmes pointed up, as nothing has previously done, what has gone wrong with Newsnight Scotland recently.

Leaving aside the fact that the global finance system appears to be approaching meltdown, the EU is in crisis, and the spectacularly incompetent UK Coalition government has no idea where to position itself in this maelstrom, the big story for Scotland yesterday was the ‘confidential’ advice given by Cititgroup, an international banking giant, to its investment clients which found its way at remarkable speed on to the media and into PMQs in Westminster, to avoid investment in renewable technology in Scotland while “the uncertainty created by the referendum” – a line that could not have been bettered by an uber-unionist – continued.

A correspondent yesterday, Joe Boyle, offered me this analysis of David Cameron’s delight, as he seized  upon this, an analysis that I cannot better -

Joe Boyle (by email)

It may also interest you to know that David Cameron is possibly the only head of state of the UK parliament to ever suggest ( in or out of the Parliament) that it is a bad idea for investors to invest in a part of the British Isles. Not even at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland was such a suggestion ever proposed. In fact this may well be a world first for Mr Cameron..... so potentially Guinness Book of records stuff

This statement was instantly picked up by all the news media, and uncritically reported in news bulletins from lunchtime onwards. The SNP’s response was frankly, underwhelming. In fairness, they were flat-footed initially by this bolt from the blue, and simply pointed out that the knowledge of the referendum had not deterred investment up to this point. But there could be little doubt that it was damaging – the unionist pack clearly thought so, and I for one felt that the recent SNP stance on negative stories, of lofty disdain and “we don’t do negative – keep your eyes uplifted to the shining future ..” might be a bit inadequate to cope with this.

So I dug a bit on Citigroup, relying on memory and significantly on Wikipedia – always  a risky course – and banged up a hasty blog early in the evening in the slight hope of influencing the late night media programmes Scotland Tonight and Newsnight Scotland. I realised that this was almost certainly futile, since the programmes were probably being recorded at that moment, but I retained a touching faith in powerful, albeit regional broadcasters, well-resourced, to shift gear rapidly in the face of breaking stories.

This faith was partly vindicated by Scotland Tonight and utterly betrayed by Newsnight Scotland.

Scotland Tonight led with the Citigroup story and had a former Scottish power supremo pitted against Fergus Ewing, the relevant SNP minister. Fergus Ewing was as unimpressive as the earlier SNP responses, seemed unprepared factually, and both he and Scotland Tonight did not see fit to address the elephant in the room – the facts about Citigroup, its monumental failures, losses, bailouts by the US government, strange relationships with powerful regulatory officials in the US government, etc.  Something of an open goal for Fergus Ewing, the SNP and a great story hook for any journalist worthy of the name, one would have thought. But no – not a whisper.

But at least Scotland Tonight covered the story. Newsnight Scotland seemed to have suffered an attack of amnesia about that second word in its programme title – Scotland. Instead, it chose to do its own little derivative coverage of the big European crisis, a story already covered in depth and highly professionally across the entire UK and international media all day, and by Newsnight just before Gordon Brewer launched in to his Ladybird Book of the European financial crisis.

He had chosen to aid him in this little copycat venture three arch unionists – Bill Jamieson, John McFall and Alf Young. Of the Scottish Government, a government recently elected with a massive majority and a firm mandate, not a sign, nor of anyone that could put the European story in the crucial context of Scotland at this pivotal point in its history. Of the Citigroup/renewable investment story – not a dicky bird.

This programme, by omission and by cack-handed selection of topic and panel members was, last night, an embarrassment to the BBC as a public service broadcaster, to Scottish democracy, and frankly to journalistic values.

I’m finding it hard to defend BBC Scotland today …

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Citigroup – the company attacking Scotland’s referendum and renewables targets.

David Cameron alighted on Citigroup’s investment advice to companies proposing to invest in Scotland like a fly on to a pile of shit at PMQs today.

Perhaps we should know a little more about this giant financial corporation – too big to fail – as it tries to wreck Scotland’s renewables investment by advising against investment “this side of a referendum”.


CITIGROUP

Citigroup webpage

Wkipedia on Citigroup

Citigroup used to be the largest company and bank in the world by total assets - until the global financial crisis of 2008. Today it is ranked 10th in size by composite index.

Citigroup suffered huge losses during the global financial crisis of 2008 and was rescued in November 2008 in a massive stimulus package by the U.S. government.

Despite its huge losses during the global financial crisis, Citigroup Inc. built up an enormous cash pile in the wake of the financial crisis with $462 billion USD, which is more than Sweden's nominal GDP of $458 billion USD

Citigroup and the Subprime mortgage crisis

Heavy exposure dodgy mortgages in the form of Collateralized debt obligation (CDOs), compounded by poor risk management led Citigroup into trouble as the subprime mortgage crisis worsened in 2008.

The company used complex mathematical risk models but never included the possibility of a national housing downturn, or the prospect that millions of mortgage holders would default on their mortgages.

The Head of Trading, Thomas Maheras was close friends with senior risk officer David Bushnell, which undermined risk oversight.

On the board of directors of Citigroup, was one Robert Rubin.He and a Charles Prince were said to have been influential persuading the company to move towards MBS and CDOs in the subprime mortgage market.

Robert Rubin, as US Treasury Secretary was said to be influential in lifting the regulations that allowed Travelers and Citicorp to merge in 1998.

As the crisis began to unfold, Citigroup announced on April 11, 2007, that it would eliminate 17,000 jobs, or about 5 percent of its workforce,  to cut costs and bolster its long underperforming stock.

Even after securities and brokerage firm Bear Stearns ran into serious trouble in summer 2007, Citigroup decided the possibility of trouble with its CDO's was so tiny (less than 1/100 of 1%) that they excluded them from their risk analysis

US Federal Government bail-out assistance

Over the past several decades, the United States government has engineered at least four different rescues of the institution now known as Citigroup.

Raul Salinas and alleged money laundering

In 1998, the General Accounting Office issued a report critical of Citibank's handling of funds received from Raul Salinas de Gortari, the brother of Carlos Salinas, the former president of Mexico.

The report, titled "Raul Salinas, Citibank and Alleged Money Laundering", indicated that Citibank facilitated the transfer of millions of dollars through complex financial transactions to hide the paper trail of funds. Citibank took on Raul Salinas as a client even though they did not make a thorough inquiry as to how he made his fortune

Conflicts of interest on investment research

In December 2002, Citigroup paid fines totalling $400 million, with the amount split between the states and the federal government.

The fines were part of a settlement involving charges that ten banks, including Citigroup, deceived investors with biased research.

The total settlement with the ten banks was $1.4 billion. .

Plutonomy memo

On October 16, 2005, a memo detailing how America was losing its grasp as a democracy, but rather becoming a Plutonomy. The memo was leaked to the public causing outcry against the memo's secretive nature of keeping the nation's wealthiest 1% in power over America through politics.


Enron, WorldCom and Global Crossing bankruptcies

Citigroup paid out over $3 billion in fines and legal settlements for their role in financing Enron Corporation, which collapsed amid a financial scandal in 2001.

In 2003, Citigroup paid $145 million in fines and penalties to settle claims by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Manhattan district attorney's office.

In 2005, Citigroup paid $2 billion to settle a lawsuit filed by investors in Enron. In 2008, Citigroup paid $1.66 billion to the Enron Bankruptcy Estate, which represented creditors of the bankrupt company.

In 2004, Citigroup paid $2.65 billion to settle a lawsuit concerning their role in selling stocks and bonds for WorldCom, which collapsed in 2002 in an accounting scandal.

In 2005, Citigroup paid $75 million to settle a lawsuit from investors in Global Crossing, which filed bankruptcy in 2002. Citigroup was accused of issuing exaggerated research reports and not disclosing conflicts of interest.

Citigroup proprietary government bond trading scandal

Citigroup was criticized for disrupting the European bond market by rapidly selling €11 billion worth of bonds on August 2, 2004 on the MTS Group trading platform, driving down the price, and then buying it back at cheaper prices.

2008/2009 federal rescue from bankruptcy

As the subprime mortgage crisis began to unfold, heavy exposure to toxic mortgages in the forms of Collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), compounded by poor risk management, led the company into serious trouble. Its stock market value dropped to $20.5 billion, down from $244 billion two years earlier. As a result, Citigroup and federal regulators negotiated a plan to stabilize the company.

On November 24, 2008, the U.S. government announced a massive stimulus package for Citigroup, designed to rescue the company from bankruptcy while giving the government a major say in its operations. The Treasury would provide another $20 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds in addition to $25 billion given in October. The Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) would cover 90% of the losses on its $335 billion portfolio after Citigroup absorbed the first $29 billion in losses. In return the bank would give Washington $27 billion of preferred shares and warrants to acquire stock. The government would obtain wide powers over banking operations. Citigroup agreed to try to modify mortgages, using standards set up by the FDIC after the collapse of IndyMac Bank, with the goal of keeping as many homeowners as possible in their houses. Executive salaries would be capped.

As a condition of the federal assistance, Citigroup's dividend payment was reduced to one cent per share.

In September 2011, a book titled Confidence Men|- Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President, written by former Wall Street reporter Ron Suskind, states that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner ignored a 2009 order from President Barack Obama to break up Citigroup in an enormous restructuring and liquidation.

N.B. The Treasury Department denied the account in an e-mail to the media stating "This account is simply untrue …” Aye, right …

SUMMARY

In my view, Citigroup is exactly the kind of unaccountable global financial institution that caused the crash, but was too big to fail.


It is exactly the kind of company and the kind of behaviour that has caused protesters to camp outside St. Paul's in London and in George Square in Glasgow.


Would you buy a used car from anybody with the above record, never mind accept their advice on investing in renewable energy in Scotland - the country that led the first industrial revolution and will a make a major contribution to the next one?

Keep your advice and your big mouth out of Scotland’s affairs, Citigroup - and stop interfering in our democracy.