California’s budget windfall could end soon, officials say
The governor’s budget office advises in a report that the surprise $5-billion bump in revenue in January may be an accounting anomaly.
By Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times
February 18, 2013, 7:02 p.m.
SACRAMENTO — The surge of revenue that showed up unexpectedly in state coffers last month may well be offset by a revenue dip in coming months, according to Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration.
The surprise money has been the source of much speculation in the Capitol. Unanticipated tax receipts filled state coffers with more than $5 billion beyond initial projections for January — more tax dollars than are allocated to the entire state university system in a year.
The revenue bump was historic. But the question for budget experts was whether lawmakers could begin allocating the windfall toward government programs and tax breaks — or whether the money amounted to an accounting anomaly.
Brown’s budget office now advises in an official cash report that it is probably the latter. Lawmakers need not do much reading between the lines to understand that the governor does not see the revenue boost as an occasion to pack the budget with extra spending.
The report says the extra money was "likely the result of major tax law changes at the federal and state level having a significant impact in the timing of revenue receipts."
That is: Taxpayers were paying a share of their bill early, getting income off their books in the hope of limiting exposure to the tax hikes that recently kicked in.
The administration was expecting that money to arrive in April. Now, officials are saying it won’t, and that just as January’s receipts soared, they’ll be offset by a spring plunge.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Tue Feb 19, 2013 12:37 pm
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US officials restate warning over China wheat crop
US foreign staff have, again, challenged official estimates of a bumper Chinese wheat harvest last year, citing disease damage, and cautioned that ideas of the corn crop may be too high too.
The US Department of Agriculture’s Beijing bureau restated an estimate made in November that China’s wheat harvest fell by more than 9m tonnes last year, to 108.0m tonnes, "due to head blight", or fusarium, outbreaks in major growing provinces such as Anhui, Henan and Hubei.
The estimate is more than 12m tonnes below the USDA’s official estimate, which is in turn in line with the figure from China’s own National Bureau of Statistics of 120.58m tonnes.
And the bureau cited as evidence of the squeeze on wheat supplies a rise in prices of some 9% rise to 2,360 remninbi a tonne in Chinese wheat prices between August and January, quoting data from analysis group JCI.
"This is a strong indication that wheat production and total available supplies are lower than Chinese official production estimates," the bureau said in a report.
Chicago wheat prices fell by more than 10% over the same period.
‘High levels of vomitoxin’
Some commentators have noted, in defending ideas of a higher wheat crop, the relatively low rate of Chinese imports, which the USDA bureau acknowledged could fall nearly 15%, to 2.0m tonnes, in 2012-13.
However, the report also flagged the impact of sales from state wheat reserves in cushioning the impact of last year’s poor harvest, especially on quality shortfalls given that these sales are largely of crop from previous years rather than 2012 crop of which "some still may be infect with head blight".
Indeed, the "possibility of high levels" of vomitoxin – a toxic residue from fusarium infections – in last year’s crop has prompted Chinese officials to order state grain companies "to strictly follow domestic safety standards while purchasing wheat".
The impact of last year’s poor crop may not be felt until further ahead, if the 2013 harvest also disappoints, forcing Chinese authorities to turn to turn to stored 2012 crop, with its vomitoxin risk.
"If 2013-14 production is less than expected or suffers from a similar disease outbreak, depending on how much of the 2012-13 wheat crop may be infected with head blight and comprise current reserve levels, there is a possibility that China may need to further increase imports in order to meet domestic demand."
‘Pests, typhoon and drought’
The data dispute is the latest in a series of wranglings over the accuracy of Chinese harvest statistics, which critics claim tend to offer inflated estimates thanks to a subsidy programme which rewards regional authorities by output, so encouraging over-reporting.
Typically, the spotlight has fallen on discrepancies in corn – in which China’s balance sheet is particularly important to markets given the country’s likely move from being self-sufficient to a perennial importer, and in quantity.
USDA estimates on Monday forecast Chinese corn imports growing from 2.0m tonnes this season to 19.5m tonnes in a decade’s time, overtaking the likes of Japan and Mexico to become the world;s top buyer.
The bureau estimated last year’s Chinese corn crop at 200m tonnes, up 4.2% year on year, but 8m tonnes below the official USDA number.
"According to agricultural sources, yields in some areas were affected by factors such as army worm outbreaks, a typhoon and drought," the report said.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:22 pm
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By Michael F. Cannon
California is one of the few states charging ahead on establishing one of ObamaCare’s health insurance “exchanges.” According to the Los Angeles Times:
California insurance officials have expressed concern about substantial rate hikes for some existing policyholders going into the exchange.
Under a new rating map approved by state lawmakers, the Department of lnsurance estimated that premiums for similar coverage could increase as much as 25% in West Los Angeles, 22% in the Sacramento area and nearly 13% in Orange County.
California officials have floated the idea of legislating lower prices. One way would be to throw West Los Angeles and Orange County into the same risk pools. That might reduce premiums in West L.A., but only by increasing premiums in Orange County. With a few simplifying assumptions, premiums in both West L.A. and the O.C. could rise by 19 percent. An alternative would be to cap premium increases. One state official proposes a cap of 8 percent. But that would just be an implicit form of government rationing. If insurers cannot charge premiums that cover their costs, they will cover fewer services.
If Oklahoma prevails in its lawsuit against the IRS, or if any similar plaintiffs prevail, California will look pretty silly for charging forward with an Exchange. California will have imposed on its employers an unnecessary tax of $2,000 per worker — a tax that California employers can avoid by relocating to states that have not created an Exchange. It will also have unnecessarily exposed 2.6 million California residents to ObamaCare’s individual mandate — i.e., a tax of $2,085 on families of four earning as little as $24,000 per year, which those residents can likewise avoid by relocating to another state.
Watch this space for development.
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City officials pull the plug on vibrator giveaway, leaving thousands dissatisfied
They must have rubbed Mayor Bloomberg the wrong way.
City officials pulled the plug on a vibrator giveaway by the Trojan condom company yesterday, disappointing potentially thousands of pleasure-seeking women who hoped to get their hands on some no-cost sex toys.
“I’m 57 years old. I should be able to get a vibrator!” declared Linda Postell, who was among hundreds of women (and men!) waiting in the heat on Pearl Street only to be left unsatisfied. “I have a problem with the smoking ban, and the soda ban — and now this!”
Trojan sent tingles of excitement across the city when it announced the giveaway of some 10,000 vibrating sex toys from hot-dog-style pushcarts.
New Yorkers line up for free vibrators on Pearl Street yesterday.
The promo was shut down, but not before Justina and Maria Santiago — mom and daughter — scored the sex toys.
Trojan began by handing out about 400 free vibrators without incident on Sixth Avenue in Rockefeller Center between 11 a.m. and noon.
The giveaways were scheduled to start at 4 p.m. in the Flatiron District and near the South Street Seaport.
As carts arrived at each location, nearly 300 women — and quite a number of guys — queued up.
But instead of climaxing in a successful giveaway, the promotion was prematurely interrupted by City Hall, which sent a dark-suited representative to put the squeeze on Trojan’s “Pleasure Carts.”
The spoilsport, who declined to identify himself, told Trojan’s reps at the Flatiron location that they had to shut down because of the size of the crowd that had gathered.
The event barely got started. The downtown event shut down about 40 minutes later, and Trojan managed to dole out just a couple of hundred battery-operated tinglers.
The decision to nix the giveaway clearly caused the mayor’s voter satisfaction ratings to plummet among the empty-handed thrill seekers.
“There’s a lot more important things the city should be worried about than a free-vibrator giveaway,” complained Park Slope bar owner Melody Henry, 42. “Bloomberg doesn’t want anyone to have fun. You can’t have a giant soda. You can’t have a vibrator.”
The Mayor’s Office insisted the vibrator switch-off was a permit issue, and not due to any prudishness.
“This activity promoting Trojan products, which impeded pedestrian and street traffic, did not have a permit,” City Hall said in a written statement. “The production company affiliated with the event is currently in discussions with the Mayor’s Office to hold a promotional event with proper permits at a later date.”
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Thu Aug 09, 2012 11:24 am
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Corrupt Government Officials Should Be In Jail … Alongside Corrupt Banksters
By Washingtons Blog – July 28th, 2012, 6:37PM Those who Benefited from Wall Street Fraud Must be Prosecuted … Including Rogue Government Officials who Aided and Abetted the Crimes
Wall Street fraud caused the Great Depression and the current financial crisis. Top economists and financial experts agree that our economy will never recover unless Wall Street fraud is prosecuted.
Yet the government has more or less made it official policy not to prosecute fraud, and instead to do everything necessary to cover up for Wall Street. For example, the Obama administration is prosecuting fewer financial crimes than under Reagan or either Bush.
For example, we pointed out in 2010:
The government’s entire strategy now – as during the S&L crisis – is to cover up how bad things are.
But it is not only a matter of covering up fraud that has already happened. The government also created an environment which greatly encouraged fraud.
Here are just a few of many potential examples:
The government-sponsored rating agencies committed massive fraud (and see this)
The Treasury department allowed banks to “cook their books”
Regulators knew of and allowed the use of debt-hiding accounting tricks by the big banks
Tim Geithner was complicit in Lehman’s accounting fraud, (and see this), and pushed to pay AIG’s CDS counterparties at full value, and then to keep the deal secret. And as Robert Reich notes, Geithner was “very much in the center of the action” regarding the secret bail out of Bear Stearns without Congressional approval. William Black points out: “Mr. Geithner, as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York since October 2003, was one of those senior regulators who failed to take any effective regulatory action to prevent the crisis, but instead covered up its depth”
The former chief accountant for the SEC says that Bernanke and Paulson broke the law and should be prosecuted
The government knew about mortgage fraud a long time ago. For example, the FBI warned of an “epidemic” of mortgage fraud in 2004. However, the FBI, DOJ and other government agencies then stood down and did nothing. See this and this. For example, the Federal Reserve turned its cheek and allowed massive fraud, and the SEC has repeatedly ignored accounting fraud. Indeed, Alan Greenspan took the position that fraud could never happen
Paulson and Bernanke falsely stated that the big banks receiving Tarp money were healthy, when they were not
Arguably, both the Bush and Obama administrations broke the law by refusing to close insolvent banks
Congress may have covered up illegal tax breaks for the big banks
Economist James K. Galbraith wrote in the introduction to his father, John Kenneth Galbraith’s, definitive study of the Great Depression, The Great Crash, 1929:
The main relevance of The Great Crash, 1929 to the great crisis of 2008 is surely here. In both cases, the government knew what it should do. Both times, it declined to do it. In the summer of 1929 a few stern words from on high, a rise in the discount rate, a tough investigation into the pyramid schemes of the day, and the house of cards on Wall Street would have tumbled before its fall destroyed the whole economy. In 2004, the FBI warned publicly of “an epidemic of mortgage fraud.” But the government did nothing, and less than nothing, delivering instead low interest rates, deregulation and clear signals that laws would not be enforced. The signals were not subtle: on one occasion the director of the Office of Thrift Supervision came to a conference with copies of the Federal Register and a chainsaw. There followed every manner of scheme to fleece the unsuspecting ….
This was fraud, perpetrated in the first instance by the government on the population, and by the rich on the poor.
The government that permits this to happen is complicit in a vast crime.
In other words, the fraud started at the very top with Greenspan, Bush, Paulson, Negraponte, Bernanke, Geithner, Rubin, Summers and all of the rest of the boys.
As William Black told me today:
In criminology jargon: they created an intensely criminogenic environment.
The government’s special inspector general in charge of oversight of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (the “TARP” bank bailouts) – Neil M. Barofsky – said today:
It was a “message to the banks ‘if we commit fraud, we break the rules, don’t worry, we’re too big — they’ll never bring the appropriate steps against us,’” Barofsky says in an interview with The Daily Ticker. “And that is why we’ve had scandal after scandal after scandal.”
This was a “global conspiracy to fix one of the most important interest rates in the world,” Barofsky continues. “[Geithner] heard this information and looked the other way. Geithner and other regulators should be held accountable, they should be fired across the board. If they knew about an ongoing fraud, and they didn’t do anything about it, they don’t deserve to have their jobs. I hope we see people in handcuffs.“
Government regulators have become so corrupted and “captured” by those they regulate that Americans know that the cop is on the take. (Even top justice officials are incredibly cozy with Wall Street fraudsters.)
Institutional corruption is killing people’s trust in our government and our institutions, which is one of the reasons the economy is faltering again.
Indeed, polls show that very few Americans believe that the U.S. government has the “consent of the governed”, a higher percentage of Americans liked King George during the Revolutionary War than like Congress today, and people are publicly discussing whether it’s a good or bad idea to “hang bankers”.
I noted 7 years ago:
I am NOT calling for the overthrow of the government. In fact, I am calling for the reinstatement of our government. I am calling for an end to lawless dictatorship and a return to the rule of law. Rather than trying to subvert the constitution, I am calling for its enforcement.
The best way to avoid all types of revolution would be for the government to start following the rule of law. I passionately hope it will do so.
While conservatives tend to view government as the problem, and liberals tend to view corporations as the problem, the real problem is the malignant, symbiotic relationship between corrupt officials and criminal corporate leaders. Without the cancerous relationship, neither side could cause so much damage. If America returns to the rule of law, we might have a fighting chance.
The justice system may be the only thing which stands between peace and violence. All of those who benefited from Wall Street fraud must be prosecuted … including corrupt government officials who aided and abetted their crimes, helped cover them up, or have blocked prosecution.
Iceland should be a role model:
Iceland has prosecuted the fraudster bank heads (and here and here) and their former prime minister, and their economy is recovering nicely… because trust is being restored in the financial system.
Indeed, even evangelical leader Pat Robertson agrees:
Pat Robertson discussed the banking crisis and glowingly spoke about how Iceland jailed many of the bankers who devastated their nation’s economy by taking out fraudulent loans. Robertson hailed the Nordic nation for its actions and said that Americans should deal with the financial crisis in the same way.
“They are putting people in jail. Prime ministers are being indicted. They are going after banks. The people said the banks are ripping us off. We don’t like what they did, and they brought our country to ruin. Suddenly, Iceland is turning around and they look like a big success story!”
“We could start putting all of those bankers in jail. There was not one banker prosecuted and so many people were lying, and so-called “no-doc loans” and liars’ loans, and none of them have been held accountable.
Iceland is leading the way and their GDP is growing, and all of a sudden, they were in a terrible mess, terrible mess, and look what is happening!”
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sat Jul 28, 2012 7:53 pm
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Treasury probe cites officials for soliciting prostitutes, accepting industry gifts, FOIA docs reveal
By Bob Cusack – 07/15/12 08:19 PM ET
Treasury Department officials have been cited for soliciting prostitutes, breaking conflict-of-interest rules and accepting gifts from corporate executives, according to the findings of official government investigations.
The revelations of unethical behavior at Treasury are detailed in little-noticed documents posted this month on governmentattic.org, which publishes agency responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
While it is not uncommon for departments within the executive branch to have personnel issues, it is unusual for these types of documents to become public. They provide a rare glimpse of internal probes within the Treasury Department, exposing different episodes of misconduct.
Investigators at the Treasury’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which responds to tips and official referrals from within the department, found that employees had engaged in unethical, and perhaps criminal, conduct.
The emergence of the OIG probe findings come in the wake of embarrassing scandals for the Obama administration at the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Secret Service. Even though the wrongdoing at Treasury is not as far-reaching or as embarrassing as those controversies, it could put the administration on the defensive with less than four months to go before the election.
Some of the OIG’s work focused on the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), an agency housed within Treasury that was created by Congress to oversee banking institutions. It also homes in on the now-defunct Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS), which recently became part of the OCC as a result of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.
The identities of the government officials who were investigated are unclear. Their names were redacted from the documents released under FOIA, consistent with FOIA law.
In 2010, an OTC employee “misused” government resources to solicit prostitutes on three separate occasions via Craigslist. While working at the OTC, investigators said, the government staffer “viewed websites offering erotic services on a weekly basis as well as communicating with and arranging meetings with women offering erotic services."
The OIG concluded that the OTC worker had violated government rules on “notoriously disgraceful conduct.” The case was referred for criminal prosecution to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which opted not to prosecute "absent aggravating circumstances such as underage prostitutes or human trafficking." The employee, who was not a political appointee, subsequently retired from the government, according to the documents.
In another finding, the OIG cited an OCC staffer for accepting golf fees and meals from bank executives. The staffer, who had received ethics training, said he believed playing golf with industry officials under the purview of OCC was “a condoned activity.”
The golf outings took place on multiple occasions during workweeks when OCC was conducting bank examinations. Many of the greens fees and meals at the golf course were paid for by corporate executives.
The OIG stated the OCC official “violated several regulations covering ethics and the conduct of employees in the performance of their official duties.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia, however, declined to pursue criminal charges.
OIG found other financial conflicts of interest with the OCC relating to contract bids and the acceptance of improper gifts such as flowers, meals and at least one limousine ride. A separate Treasury official was deemed to have a financial conflict of interest in 2010 when the bank examiner disclosed he had an overdraft protection line of credit loan from a financial institution that was regulated by the OTS.
The documents from OIG also show that a few allegations of unethical conduct were found to be without merit.
Treasury Department officials say the violations are isolated incidents.
"Treasury has a strong ethics policy that we expect all of our employees to follow, and the overwhelming majority of them do. As with any large organization, issues of misconduct occasionally arise. When that happens at Treasury, we act promptly and decisively to address them. The OIG moved aggressively to investigate the isolated instances of misconduct referenced in these documents, most of which were brought to the OIG’s attention by bureau management," a Treasury spokesman told The Hill.
An OCC spokesman said that "the agency does not comment on individual personnel matters. As your review of the documents will note, many of the investigations were found to be without merit, others are several years old, and some reference referrals made by the OTS, prior to the integration of that agency’s responsibility’s into the OCC."
Unlike most government entities, the OCC does not receive appropriations from Congress. Its operations are primarily funded from assessments levied on national banks and federal saving associations.
OCC has nearly 4,000 full-time equivalents (FTEs), while Treasury has more than 107,000 FTEs. The OIG report highlights the wrongdoing of a handful of Treasury workers.
The OIG determined that a Treasury employee in the Financial Management Services division used government resources to mail personal bills over an eight-year period.
Another ethics violation in the OIG documents focused on a Treasury Department employee in the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC).
The intoxicated OFAC official attempted to bring prohibited alcoholic beverages into a college football game, and was stopped by law enforcement.
The OFAC official was perceived to be “disorderly and disruptive” and was nearly arrested even after University of North Carolina police noticed the official’s badge and credentials. The report said the officers used “restraint because they believed him to be a law enforcement officer.” OIG found him to be in “violation of Treasury policy.”
Other than the employee who surfed the Internet for prostitutes, it’s unclear if the workers whom the OIG investigated are still employed at Treasury.
In an interview with The Hill, Eric Thorson, the inspector general at Treasury, praised senior leaders at the department for supporting the freedom to aggressively investigate allegations. He noted that Treasury is a "fairly large department," suggesting the actions of a few should not tarnish the vast majority of employees who comply with government ethics laws.
"Many organizations have people who do dumb things," he said.
Thorson stressed that the OIG findings are not comparable to GSA’s scandal of lavish spending, saying Treasury has a clear track record of not tolerating misconduct. He and other Treasury officials said that the OIG reports show Treasury’s systems are working because they have rooted out problems within the department.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Mon Jul 16, 2012 8:15 am
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