Tag Archive: Matt Taibbi

Nov 12 2014

The Nightmare on Wall Street

Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that the banks were too big and too hard to prosecute for the “massive criminal securities fraud” behind the high risk mortgage securities that led up to the 2008 financial collapse. Instead the Justice Department opted for civil settlements with large fines with no admission of any wrong doing.

Actually, it wasn’t. It appears that the Obama administration’s chief law enforcement officer chose not to prosecute despite all the evidence at his disposal. In his return to Rolling Stones, investigative journalist Matt Taibbi introduces Alayne Fleischmann, JPMorgan Chase’s $9 billion nightmare:

She tried to stay quiet, she really did. But after eight years of keeping a heavy secret, the day came when Alayne Fleischmann couldn’t take it anymore.

“It was like watching an old lady get mugged on the street,” she says. “I thought, ‘I can’t sit by any longer.'” [..]

Fleischmann is the central witness in one of the biggest cases of white-collar crime in American history, possessing secrets that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon late last year paid $9 billion (not $13 billion as regularly reported – more on that later) to keep the public from hearing.

Back in 2006, as a deal manager at the gigantic bank, Fleischmann first witnessed, then tried to stop, what she describes as “massive criminal securities fraud” in the bank’s mortgage operations.

Thanks to a confidentiality agreement, she’s kept her mouth shut since then. “My closest family and friends don’t know what I’ve been living with,” she says. “Even my brother will only find out for the first time when he sees this interview.”

Six years after the crisis that cratered the global economy, it’s not exactly news that the country’s biggest banks stole on a grand scale. That’s why the more important part of Fleischmann’s story is in the pains Chase and the Justice Department took to silence her.

She was blocked at every turn: by asleep-on-the-job regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission, by a court system that allowed Chase to use its billions to bury her evidence, and, finally, by officials like outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, the chief architect of the crazily elaborate government policy of surrender, secrecy and cover-up. “Every time I had a chance to talk, something always got in the way,” Fleischmann says.

This past year she watched as Holder’s Justice Department struck a series of historic settlement deals with Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. The root bargain in these deals was cash for secrecy. The banks paid big fines, without trials or even judges – only secret negotiations that typically ended with the public shown nothing but vague, quasi-official papers called “statements of facts,” which were conveniently devoid of anything like actual facts.

Matt and Ms. Fleischmann joined Democracy Now‘s hosts Amy Goodman and Juan González to discuss ow JPMorgan wrecked the economy and avoided prosecution.

The full transcript can be read here

Apr 15 2014

The American Injustice Gap

Award winning journalist Matt Taibbi, now writing for First Look Media, has a new book. The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, which examines who goes to jail in America. The book examines the gap between white and blue collar crimes and why the vast majority of white-collar criminals have avoided prison since the financial crisis began, while an unequal justice system imprisons the poor and people of color on a mass scale. He joins Amy Goodman and Aaron Mate to talk about how the Depression-level income gap between the wealthy and the poor is mirrored by a “justice” gap in who is targeted for prosecution and imprisonment.



Full transcript can be read here

Here are some excerpts from Matt’s book:

Sep 30 2013

The Looting of American Workers’ Pensions

In his latest expose at Rolling Stone, contributing editor Matt Taibbi reports how Wall Street is making millions in profits looting the pension funds of American workers. He opens the piece with an outline of Rhode Island Treasure Gina Raimondo’s Rhode Island Retirement Security Act of 2011 and how state workers ended up funding their own “disenfranchisement”

What few people knew at the time was that Raimondo’s “tool kit” wasn’t just meant for local consumption. The dynamic young Rhodes scholar was allowing her state to be used as a test case for the rest of the country, at the behest of powerful out-of-state financiers with dreams of pushing pension reform down the throats of taxpayers and public workers from coast to coast. One of her key supporters was billionaire former Enron executive John Arnold – a dickishly ubiquitous young right-wing kingmaker with clear designs on becoming the next generation’s Koch brothers, and who for years had been funding a nationwide campaign to slash benefits for public workers.

Nor did anyone know that part of Raimondo’s strategy for saving money involved handing more than $1 billion – 14 percent of the state fund – to hedge funds, including a trio of well-known New York-based funds: Dan Loeb’s Third Point Capital was given $66 million, Ken Garschina’s Mason Capital got $64 million and $70 million went to Paul Singer’s Elliott Management. The funds now stood collectively to be paid tens of millions in fees every single year by the already overburdened taxpayers of her ostensibly flat-broke state. Felicitously, Loeb, Garschina and Singer serve on the board of the Manhattan Institute, a prominent conservative think tank with a history of supporting benefit-slashing reforms. The institute named Raimondo its 2011 “Urban Innovator” of the year. [..]

Today, the same Wall Street crowd that caused the crash is not merely rolling in money again but aggressively counterattacking on the public-relations front. The battle increasingly centers around public funds like state and municipal pensions. This war isn’t just about money. Crucially, in ways invisible to most Americans, it’s also about blame. In state after state, politicians are following the Rhode Island playbook, using scare tactics and lavishly funded PR campaigns to cast teachers, firefighters and cops – not bankers – as the budget-devouring boogeymen responsible for the mounting fiscal problems of America’s states and cities.

Not only did these middle-class workers already lose huge chunks of retirement money to huckster financiers in the crash, and not only are they now being asked to take the long-term hit for those years of greed and speculative excess, but in many cases they’re also being forced to sit by and watch helplessly as Gordon Gekko wanna-be’s like Loeb or scorched-earth takeover artists like Bain Capital are put in charge of their retirement savings.

In a preview of the article, Matt outlines three reasons to follow this scandal:

1)     Many states and cities have been under-paying or non-paying their required contributions into public pension funds for years, causing massive shortfalls that are seldom reported upon by local outlets.

2)     As a solution to the fiscal crises, unions and voters are being told that a key solution is seeking higher yields or more diversity through “alternative investments,” whose high fees cost nearly as much as the cuts being demanded of workers, making this a pretty straightforward wealth transfer. A series of other middlemen are also in on this game, siphoning off millions in fees from states that are publicly claiming to be broke.

3)     Many of the “alternative investments” these funds end up putting their money in are hedge funds or PE funds run by men and women who have lobbied politically against traditional union pension plans in the past, meaning union members have been giving away millions of their own retirement money essentially to fund political movements against them.

(all emphasis is mine)

Last week, Matt joined Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now! to discuss how hedge funds are looting the pension funds of American workers



Transcript can be read here

“Essentially it is a wealth transfer from teachers, cops and firemen to billionaire hedge funders,” Taibbi says. “Pension funds are one of the last great, unguarded piles of money in this country and there are going to be all sort of operators that are trying to get their hands on that money.”

Jun 21 2013

The Financial Crisis: The Ratings Agency Did It In The Back Room

Earlier this year, the Justice Department brought a $5 billion fraud law suit against the ratings agency Standard and Poors for knowingly giving triple “A” ratings to financial products the agency’s analysts understood to be unworthy. The financial crisis that began in 2007 was mostly caused by those fraudulent ratings. Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Roger Wicker (R-MI) worked together on an amendment that was included in  Dodd-Frank (pdf) to bring accountability and transparency to the ratings process. The amendment also required that the Securities and Exchange Commission conduct a study, that study has been completed (pdf). It found that there were “inherent” conflicts of interest in the system contributed to the 2008 crisis.

Contributing editor and investigative journalist for Rolling Stone Matt Taibbi published an in depth look at the ratings agencies and how ratings agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s helped trigger the meltdown with new documents. The documents surfaced from two lawsuits that files against S&P by  a diverse group of institutional plaintiffs with King County, Washington, and the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. The plaintiffs claimed that S&P, along with Morgan Stanley, fraudulently induced them to heavily invest in a pair of doomed-to-implode subprime-laden deals. Matt calls these new revelations the “Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis:

What about the ratings agencies?

That’s what “they” always say about the financial crisis and the teeming rat’s nest of corruption it left behind. Everybody else got plenty of blame: the greed-fattened banks, the sleeping regulators, the unscrupulous mortgage hucksters like spray-tanned Countrywide ex-CEO Angelo Mozilo.

But what about the ratings agencies? Isn’t it true that almost none of the fraud that’s swallowed Wall Street in the past decade could have taken place without companies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s rubber-stamping it? Aren’t they guilty, too?

Man, are they ever. And a lot more than even the least generous of us suspected.

Thanks to a mountain of evidence gathered for a pair of major lawsuits, documents that for the most part have never been seen by the general public, we now know that the nation’s two top ratings companies, Moody’s and S&P, have for many years been shameless tools for the banks, willing to give just about anything a high rating in exchange for cash.

In incriminating e-mail after incriminating e-mail, executives and analysts from these companies are caught admitting their entire business model is crooked.

Matt joined MSNBC’s All In host Chris Hayes to discuss how these newly-revealed documents are “the smoking gun of the financial crisis” revealing the corruption and dishonesty at the core the industry.

Feb 04 2013

DOJ Turns A Blind Eye to Shockingly Bad Behavior

Matt Taibbi on Big Banks’ Lack of Accountability

Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi joins Bill to discuss the continuing lack of accountability for “too big to fail” banks which continue to break laws and act unethically because they know they can get away with it. Taibbi refers specifically to the government’s recent settlement with HSBC – “a serial offender on the money laundering score” – who merely had to pay a big fine for shocking offenses, including, Taibbi says, laundering money for both drug cartels and banks connected to terrorists.

Taibbi also expresses his concern over recent Obama appointees – including Jack Lew and Mary Jo White – who go from working on behalf of major banks in the private sector to policing them in the public sector.

Matt has more on Mary Jo White and her involvement with squashing the insider trading case against future Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack by Sec investigator Gary Aguirre.

There are a few more troubling details about this incident that haven’t been disclosed publicly yet. The first involve White’s deposition about this case, which she gave in February 2007, as part of the SEC Inspector General’s investigation. In this deposition, White is asked to recount the process by which Berger came to work at D&P. There are several striking exchanges, in which she gives highly revealing answers.

First, White describes the results of her informal queries about Berger as a hire candidate. “I got some feedback,” she says, “that Paul Berger was considered very aggressive by the defense bar, the defense enforcement bar.” White is saying that lawyers who represent Wall Street banks think of Berger as being kind of a hard-ass. She is immediately asked if it is considered a good thing for an SEC official to be “aggressive”:

   Q: When you say that Berger was considered to be very aggressive, was that a positive thing for you?

   A: It was an issue to explore.

Later, she is again asked about this “aggressiveness” question, and her answers provide outstanding insight into the thinking of Wall Street’s hired legal guns – what White describes as “the defense enforcement bar.” In this exchange, White is essentially saying that she had to weigh how much Berger’s negative reputation for “aggressiveness” among her little community of bought-off banker lawyers might hurt her firm.

   Q: During your process of performing due diligence on Paul Berger, did you explore what you had heard earlier about him being very aggressive?

   A: Yes.

   Q: What did you learn about that?

   A: That some people thought he was very aggressive. That was an issue, we really did talk to a number of people about.

   Q: Did they expand on that as to why or how they thought he was aggressive?

   A: I think and as a former prosecutor, sometimes people refer to me as Attila the Hun. I understand how people can get a reputation sometimes. We were trying to obviously figure out whether this was something beyond, you always have a spectrum on the aggressiveness scale for government types and was this an issue that was beyond real commitment to the job and the mission and bringing cases, which is a positive thing in the government, to a point. Or was it a broader issue that could leave resentment in the business community or in the legal community that would hamper his ability to function well in the private sector?

It’s certainly strange that White has to qualify the idea that bringing cases is a positive thing in a government official – that bringing cases is a “positive thing . . . to a point.” Can anyone imagine the future head of the DEA saying something like, “For a prosecutor, bringing drug cases is a positive, to a point?”

Somehow this sounds like more of the same at the from the Obama administration.  

Oct 23 2012

Bill Moyers: Power & Privileges of the One Percent

Matt Taibbi, contributing editor of Rolling Stone, and journalist Chrystia Freeland, author of the new book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, joined Bill Moyers for a discussion on how the super wealthy use their increasing wealth to fund political candidates who will serve their interests.

Example: Goldman Sachs, which gave more money than any other major American corporation to Barack Obama in 2008, is switching alliances this year; their employees have given $900,000 both to Mitt Romney’s campaign and to the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future. Why? Because, says the Wall Street Journal, the Goldman Sachs gang felt betrayed by President Obama’s modest attempts at financial reform. [..]

“We have this community of rich people who genuinely believe that they are the wealth creators and they should get every advantage and break,” Taibbi tells Bill. “Whereas everybody else is a parasite and they’re living off of them”

Freeland adds, “You know, 2008 is not so long ago, and already, the anti-regulation chorus is so strong. How dare they have the gall to actually argue that too much regulation of American financial services is what is killing the economy?”

Ms. Freeland also penned an interesting article at Huffington Post on the problems of plutocrats in the late nineteenth century and how it compares with today’s plutocracy problem:

Henry George is the most famous American popular economist you’ve never heard of, a 19th century cross between Michael Lewis, Howard Dean and Ron Paul. Progress and Poverty, George’s most important book, sold three million copies and was translated into German, French, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Spanish, Russian, Hungarian, Hebrew and Mandarin. During his lifetime, George was probably the third best-known American, eclipsed only by Thomas Edison and Mark Twain. He was admired by the foreign luminaries of the age, too — Leo Tolstoy, Sun-Yat Sen and Albert Einstein, who wrote that “men like Henry George are unfortunately rare. One cannot image a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form and fervent love of justice.” George Bernard Shaw described his own thinking about the political economy as a continuation of the ideas of George, whom he had once heard deliver a speech. [..]

What George found most mysterious about the economic consequences of the industrial revolution was that its failure to deliver economic prosperity was not uniform — instead it had created a winner-take-all society: “Some get an infinitely better and easier living, but others find it hard to get a living at all. The ‘tramp’ comes with the locomotives, and almshouses and prisons are as surely the marks of ‘material progress’ as are costly dwellings, rich warehouses and magnificent churches. Upon streets lighted with gas and patrolled by uniformed policeman, beggars wait for the passer-by, and in the shadow of college, and library, and museum, are gathering the more hideous Huns and fiercer Vandals of whom Macaulay prophesied.”

George’s diagnosis was beguilingly simple — the fruits of innovation weren’t widely shared because they were going to the landlords. This was a very American indictment of industrial capitalism: at a time when Marx was responding to Europe’s version of progress and poverty with a wholesale denunciation of private property, George was an enthusiastic supporter of industry, free trade and a limited role for government. His culprits were the rentier rich, the landowners who profited hugely from industrialization and urbanization, but did not contribute to it. [..]

America today urgently needs a 21st century Henry George — a thinker who embraces the wealth-creating power of capitalism, but squarely faces the inequity of its current manifestation. That kind of thinking is missing on the right, which is still relying on Reagan-era trickle-down economics and hopes complaints about income inequality can be silenced with accusations of class war. But the left isn’t doing much better either, preferring nostalgia for the high-wage, medium-skill manufacturing jobs of the post-war era and China-bashing to a serious and original effort to figure out how to make 21st century capitalism work for the middle class. [..]

We are living in an era of comparably tumultuous economic change. The great challenge of our time is to devise the new social and political institutions we need to make the new economy work for everyone. So far, that is a historic task neither party is taking on with enough energy, honesty or originality.

Aug 16 2012

How to Kill Grandma and Grandpa Faster; or, Paul Ryan’s Gonads

In April of 2011, Rollingstone‘s contributing editor Matt Taibbi wrote a piece about Paul Ryan and budget proposal titled, Tax Cuts for the Rich on the Backs of the Middle Class; or, Paul Ryan has Balls

I heartily laughed at Matt’s description of Paul Ryan:

Paul Ryan, the Republican Party’s latest entrant in the seemingly endless series of young, prickish, over-coiffed, anal-retentive deficit Robespierres they’ve sent to the political center stage in the last decade or so, has come out with his new budget plan. All of these smug little jerks look alike to me – from Ralph Reed to Eric Cantor to Jeb Hensarling to Rand Paul and now to Ryan, they all look like overgrown kids who got nipple-twisted in the halls in high school, worked as Applebee’s shift managers in college, and are now taking revenge on the world as grownups by defunding hospice care and student loans and Sesame Street. They all look like they sleep with their ties on, and keep their feet in dress socks when doing their bi-monthly duty with their wives.

You have to admit that is scathingly accurate.

I thought of my own Tea Party House “Rat”, Michael Grimm. Grimm a former FBI agent and freshman representative from New York’s newly redrawn 11th who is currently the target of a federal grand jury investigation into the fundraising for his 2010 campaign. He fits Matt’s description to a tee.

Although Grimm is not a member of the Tea Party Caucus, he has voted lock step with them. When Grimm voted for Ryan’s first budget plan which called for a fix voucher and cuts to Medicaid that that would hurt the poor and elderly, Staten Island Tea Partiers were vocally upset with him. But I can almost guarantee they will give him a second chance to screw them, and everyone else, come November.

Back to Matt’s article. With his wry wit, he goes on to describe Ryan’s goal to reduce taxes for the wealthiest by asking seniors to cut back on their health care in order to pay for those tax breaks. That takes balls.

Never mind that each time the Republicans actually come into power, federal deficit spending explodes and these whippersnappers somehow never get around to touching Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. The key is that for the many years before that moment of truth, before these buffoons actually get a chance to put their money where their lipless little mouths are, they will stomp their feet and scream about how entitlements are bringing us to the edge of apocalypse.

The problem, of course, is that to actually make significant cuts in what is left of the “welfare state,” one has to cut Medicare and Medicaid, programs overwhelmingly patronized by white people, and particularly white seniors. So when the time comes to actually pull the trigger on the proposed reductions, the whippersnappers are quietly removed from the stage and life goes on as usual, i.e. with massive deficit spending on defense, upper-class tax cuts, bailouts, corporate subsidies, and big handouts to Pharma and the insurance industries.

This is a political game that gets played out in the media over and over again, and everyone in Washington knows how it works. Which is why it’s nauseating (but not surprising) to see so many commentators falling over themselves with praise for Ryan’s “bold” budget proposal, which is supposedly a ballsy piece of politics because it proposes backdoor cuts in Medicare and Medicaid by redounding their appropriations to the states and to block grants. Ryan is being praised for thusly taking on seniors, a traditionally untouchable political demographic .

Medicaid cuts that would deeply effect the elderly are never discussed by the media, even now with Ryan the presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee:

While the Republican vice-presidential candidate is careful to avoid touching Medicare benefits for anyone at or near retirement, his budget would impose immediate cuts to Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor that funds nursing-home care and other benefits for 6 million U.S. seniors. [..]

The proposed Medicaid changes are often overlooked amid the debate over Ryan’s Medicare plan, which has taken center stage in the presidential contest since the Wisconsin congressman was chosen as Mitt Romney’s running mate on Aug. 11. It’s politically important because those 65 and older are a crucial voting bloc. [..]

Health-care policy specialists say it’s politically easier to cut Medicaid because most voters don’t understand it. [..]

Many middle-income Americans who may be unfamiliar with Medicaid end up relying on the program in their old age because they exhaust their assets. Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care so they turn to Medicaid, which does. [..].

Without Medicaid, current and future Medicare recipients would be in deep financial trouble, as would nursing homes and hospitals that would be under obligation to treat them even if they lack coverage. Ryan’s budget would do this just to give the top 2% another tax cut that wouldn’t even be covered by the cuts.

In his last paragraph, Matt say this about Ryan and his budget:

The absurd thing is that Ryan’s act isn’t even politically courageous. It’s canny calculation, but courage it is not. It would be courageous if Ryan were, say, the president of the United States, and leaning on that budget with his full might. But Ryan is proposing a budget he knows would have no chance of passing in the Senate. He is simply playing out a part, a non-candidate for the presidency pushing a rhetorical flank for an out-of-power party leading into a presidential campaign year. If the budget is a hit with the public, the 2012 Republican candidate can run on it. If it isn’t, the Republican candidate can triangulate Ryan’s ass back into the obscurity from whence it came, and be done with him.

All Paul Ryan has are his “balls” because he certainly doesn’t have a heart or a conscience.

So much for obscurity. Little did Matt know.  

Jun 23 2012

Moyers, Taibbi and Smith on Banks

Contributing editor for Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi and Yves Smith, creator of the finance and economics blog Naked Capitalism appeared with Bill Moyers on his PBS program, Moyers and Company to discuss How Big Banks Victimize Our Democracy.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s appearances in the last two weeks before Congressional committees – many members of which received campaign contributions from the megabank – beg the question: For how long and how many ways are average Americans going to pay the price for big bank hubris, with our own government acting as accomplice? [..]

Taibbi’s latest piece is “The Scam Wall Street Learned from the Mafia.” Smith is the author of ECONned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism.

Full transcript

May 16 2012

Why the $2 Billion Chase Loss Matters to Everyone

Felix Salmon, finance blogger at Reuters and Matt Taibbi, of ‘vampire squid” fame from “Rolling Stone“, were guests on “View Point with Eliot Spitzer“, discussing the implications JPMorgan’s $2 billion trading loss and why it should matter to anyone with a banking account at Chase, or any other to big to fail bank.

Taibbi and Salmon agree JPMorgan’s risk-taking has broad implications. “JPMorgan Chase takes deposits in from every single mom and pop, and small business and large business, in the world, and the President of the United States,” Salmon says. “They’re a utility bank and it is their job and their duty … to take those deposits and lend them out into the economy. And what do they do instead? They take $360 billion and put it in a hedge fund in London.”

Jamie Dimon’s failure

by Felix Salmon

Drew’s Chief Investment Office quadrupled in size between 2006 and 2011, reaching $356 billion in total, and it’s easy to see how that happened. On the one hand, it was incredibly profitable, with the London team alone, which oversaw some $200 billion, making $5 billion of profit in 2010, more than 25% of JP Morgan’s net income for the year. At the same time JP Morgan accumulated enormous new deposits in the wake of the financial crisis, both by acquiring banks and by attracting big new clients wanting the safety of a too-big-to-fail bank. Historically, JP Morgan has served big corporations by lending them money, but nowadays, as the cash balances on corporate balance sheets get ever more enormous, the main thing these companies want from JP Morgan is a simple checking account – one where they can be sure that their money is safe.

With lots of deposits coming in, and little corporate demand for loans, it was easy for all that money to find its way to the Chief Investment Office, which could take any amount of liabilities (deposits are liabilities, for a bank) and turn them into assets generating billions of dollars in profits.

Never mind the weak tea Volker rule, what is needed is a new, revised Glass-Steagal, the break up the TBTF and protection for investors and the economy.

Dec 30 2011

Bank Robbery

Obama administration’s fear of fraud prosecutions

Cenk talks with “Rolling Stone” contributing editor Matt Taibbi about his new piece on the Obama administration’s lack of prosecutions for white collar crime. “If they pushed all these prosecutions, investors worldwide would see how epidemic corruption is on Wall Street,” Taibbi says. “They’re afraid of what the international reaction would be.” Cenk says while he doesn’t think President Obama is personally corrupt, “It’s the system that corrupts all these politicians.”

Obama and Geithner: Government, Enron-Style

by Matt Taibbi

Strongly recommend this piece at the Huffington Post by Jeff Connaughton, a former aide to Senator Ted Kaufman. Jeff is one of the smartest guys on the Hill and is particularly strong on issues surrounding Wall Street and the regulatory system. In this piece, he takes apart the oft-stated mantra that what Wall Street firms did during and after the crisis was maybe unethical, but not illegal.

He takes particular aim at Barack Obama, who recently tossed that line out on 60 Minutes in what I thought was one of the real low moments of his presidency. Here’s Jeff’s take:

   Speaking in Kansas on December 6, (Obama) said, “Too often, we’ve seen Wall Street firms violating major anti-fraud laws because the penalties are too weak and there’s no price for being a repeat offender.” Just five days later on 60 Minutes, he said, “Some of the least ethical behavior on Wall Street wasn’t illegal.” Which is it? Have there been no prosecutions because Wall Street acted legally (albeit unethically)? Or did Wall Street repeatedly violate major anti-fraud laws (and should thus find itself in the dock)?

   The President is confusing “legal” with “difficult to prosecute successfully.”

The notion that what Wall Street firms did was merely unethical and not illegal is not just mistaken but preposterous: most everyone who works in the financial services industry understands that fraud right now is not just pervasive but epidemic, with many of the biggest banks committing entire departments to the routine commission of fraud and perjury – every single one of the major banks, for instance, devotes significant manpower to robosigning affidavits for foreclosures and credit card judgments, acts which are openly and inarguably criminal.

How Banks Cheat Taxpayers

by Matt Taibbi

A good friend of mine sent me a link to a small story last week, something that deserves a little attention, post-factum.

The Bloomberg piece is about J.P. Morgan Chase winning a bid to be the lead underwriter on a $400 million bond issue by the state of Massachusetts. Chase was up against Merrill for the bid and won the race with an offer of a 2.57% interest rate, beating Merrill’s bid of 2.79. The difference in the bid saved the state of Massachusetts $880,000. [..]

Except in four out of five cases, it still doesn’t happen that way. From the same piece [emphasis mine]:

   Nationwide, about 20 percent of debt issued by states and local governments is sold through competitive bids. Issuers post public notices asking banks to make proposals and award the debt to the bidder offering the lowest interest cost. The other 80 percent are done through negotiated underwriting, where municipalities select a bank to price and sell the bonds.

By “negotiated underwriting,” what Bloomberg means is, “local governments just hand the bid over to the bank that tosses enough combined hard and soft money at the right politicians.” [..]

There is absolutely no good reason why all debt issues are not put up to competitive bids. [..]

[T]his is a bond issue, not rocket science. In most cases, all the top investment banks will offer virtually the same service, with only the price varying. Towns and cities and states lose billions of dollars every year allowing financial services companies to overcharge them for underwriting.

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