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“The Vampire Squid Strikes Again”- Matt Taibbi Takes On Blythe Masters And The Banker Commodity Cartel | Zero Hedge

“The Vampire Squid Strikes Again”- Matt Taibbi Takes On Blythe Masters And The Banker Commodity Cartel | Zero Hedge.

The story of how JPMorgan, Goldman and the rest of the Too Big To Fails and Prosecutes, cornered, monopolized and became a full-blown cartel – with the Fed’s explicit blessing – in the physical commodity market is nothing new to regular readers: to those new to this story, we suggest reading of our story from June 2011 (over two and a half years ago),  “Goldman, JP Morgan Have Now Become A Commodity Cartel As They Slowly Recreate De Beers’ Diamond Monopoly.” That, or Matt Taibbi’s latest article written in his usual florid and accessible style, in which he explains how the “Vampire Squid strikes again” courtesy of the “loophole that destroyed the world” to wit: “it would take half a generation – till now, basically – to understand the most explosive part of the bill, which additionally legalized new forms of monopoly, allowing banks to merge with heavy industry. A tiny provision in the bill also permitted commercial banks to delve into any activity that is “complementary to a financial activity and does not pose a substantial risk to the safety or soundness of depository institutions or the financial system generally.” Complementary to a financial activity. What the hell did that mean?… Fifteen years later, in fact, it now looks like Wall Street and its lawyers took the term to be a synonym for ruthless campaigns of world domination.

Some key excerpts:

Today, banks like Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs own oil tankers, run airports and control huge quantities of coal, natural gas, heating oil, electric power and precious metals. They likewise can now be found exerting direct control over the supply of a whole galaxy of raw materials crucial to world industry and to society in general, including everything from food products to metals like zinc, copper, tin, nickel and, most infamously thanks to a recent high-profile scandal, aluminum. And they’re doing it not just here but abroad as well: In Denmark, thousands took to the streets in protest in recent weeks, vampire-squid banners in hand, when news came out that Goldman Sachs was about to buy a 19 percent stake in Dong Energy, a national electric provider. The furor inspired mass resignations of ministers from the government’s ruling coalition, as the Danish public wondered how an American investment bank could possibly hold so much influence over the state energy grid.

The motive for the Kochs, or anyone else, to hoard a commodity like oil can be almost beautiful in its simplicity. Basically, a bank or a trading company wants to buy commodities cheap in the present and sell them for a premium as futures. This trade, sometimes called “arbitraging the contango,” works best if the cost of storing your oil or metals or whatever you’re dealing with is negligible – you make more money off the futures trade if you don’t have to pay rent while you wait to deliver.

 

So when financial firms suddenly start buying oil tankers or warehouses, they could be doing so to make bets pay off, as part of a speculative strategy – which is why the banks’ sudden acquisitions of metals-storage companies in 2010 is so noteworthy.

 

These were not minor projects. The firms put high-ranking executives in charge of these operations. Goldman’s acquisition of Metro was the project of Isabelle Ealet, the bank’s then-global commodities chief. (In a curious coincidence commented upon by several sources for this story, many of Goldman’s most senior officials, including CEO Lloyd Blankfein and president Gary Cohn, started their careers in Goldman’s commodities division.)

Then there are the political connections:

In 2010, a decade after the Rich pardon, Holder was attorney general, but under Barack Obama, and two Rich-created firms, along with two banks that have been major donors to the Democratic Party, all made moves to buy up metals warehouses. In near simultaneous fashion, Goldman, Chase, Glencore and Trafigura bought companies that control warehouses all over the world for the LME, or London Metals Exchange. The LME is a privately owned exchange for world metals trading. It’s the world’s primary hub for determining metals prices and also for trading metals-based futures, options, swaps and other instruments.

 

“If they were just interested in collecting rent for metals storage, they’d have bought all kinds of warehouses,” says Manal Mehta, the founder of Sunesis Capital, a hedge fund that has done extensive research on the banks’ forays into the commodities markets. “But they seemed to focus on these official LME facilities.”

 

The JPMorgan deal seemed to be in direct violation of an order sent to the bank by the Fed in 2005, which declared the bank was not authorized to “own, operate, or invest in facilities for the extraction, transportation, storage, or distribution of commodities.” The way the Fed later explained this to the Senate was that the purchase of Henry Bath was OK because it considered the acquisition of this commodities company kosher within the context of a larger sale that the Fed was cool with – “If the bulk of the acquisition is a permissible activity, they’re allowed to include a small amount of impermissible activities.”

 

What’s more, according to LME regulations, no warehouse company can also own metal or make trades on the exchange. While they may have been following the letter of the law, they were certainly violating the spirit: Goldman preposterously seems to have engaged in all three activities simultaneously, changing a hat every time it wanted to switch roles. It conducted its metal trades through its commodities subsidiary J. Aron, and then put Metro, its warehouse company, in charge of the storage, and according to industry experts, Goldman most likely owned some metal, though the company has remained vague on the subject.

 

If you’re wondering why the LME would permit a seemingly blatant violation of its own rules, a good place to start would be to look at who owned the LME at the time. Although it eventual­ly sold itself to a Hong Kong company in 2012, in 2010 the LME was owned by a consortium of banks and financial companies. The two largest shareholders? Goldman and JPMorgan Chase.

 

Humorously, another was Koch Metals (2.32 percent), a commodities concern that’s part of the Koch brothers’ empire. The Kochs have been caught up in their own commodity-manipulation schemes, including an episode in 2008, in which they rented out huge tankers and sed them to store excess oil offshore essentially as floating warehouses, taking cheap oil out of available supply and thereby helping to drive up energy prices. Additionally, some banks have been accused of similar oil-hoarding schemes.

And then there is of course Blythe, who is now looking for a new job precisely as a result of the cartel story:

Chase’s own head of commodities operations, Blythe Masters – an even more famed Wall Street figure, sometimes described as the inventor of the credit default swap – admitted that her company’s warehouse interests weren’t just a casual thing. “Just being able to trade financial commodities is a serious limitation because financial commodities represent only a tiny fraction of the reality of the real commodity exposure picture,” she said in 2010.

 

Loosely translated, Masters was saying that there was a limited amount of money to be made simply trading commodities in the traditional legal manner. The solution? “We need to be active in the underlying physical commodity markets,” she said, “in order to understand and make prices.”

 

We need to make prices. The head of Chase’s commodities division actually said this, out loud, and it speaks to both the general unlikelihood of God’s existence and the consistently low level of competence of America’s regulators that she was not immediately zapped between the eyebrows with a thunderbolt upon doing so. Instead, the government sat by and watched as a curious phenomenon developed at all of these new bank-owned warehouses, in the aluminum markets in particular.

Finally, the big picture:

[T]he potential for wide-scale manipulation and/or new financial disasters is only part of the nightmare that this new merger of banking and industry has created. The other, perhaps even darker problem involves the new existential dangers both to the environment and to the stability of the financial system. Long before Goldman and Chase started buying up metals warehouses, for instance, Morgan Stanley had already bought up a substantial empire of physical businesses – electricity plants in a number of states, a firm that trades in heating oil, jet fuels, fertilizers, asphalt, chemicals, pipelines and a global operator of oil tankers.

 

How long before one of these fully loaded monster ships capsizes, and Morgan Stanley becomes the next BP, not only killing a gazillion birds and sea mammals off some unlucky country’s shores but also taking the financial system down with them, as lawsuits plunge the company into bankruptcy with Lehman-style repercussions? Morgan Stanley’s CEO, James Gorman, even admitted how risky his firm’s new acquisitions were last year, when he reportedly told staff that a hypothetical oil spill was “a risk we just can’t take.”

 

The regulators are almost worse. Remember the 2008 collapse happened when government bodies like the Fed, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision – whose entire expertise supposedly revolves around monitoring the safety and soundness of financial companies – somehow missed that half of Wall Street was functionally bankrupt.

 

Now that many of those financial companies have been bailed out, those same regulators who couldn’t or wouldn’t smell smoke in a raging fire last time around are suddenly in charge of deciding if companies like Morgan Stanley are taking out enough insurance on their oil tankers, or if banks like Goldman Sachs are properly handling their uranium deposits.

 

“The Fed isn’t the most enthusiastic regulator in the best of times,” says Brown. “And now we’re asking them to take this on?”

Read the full story here (Rolling Stone link), or alternatively for those curious, here is a presentation highlighting all the key aspects of the aluminum price manipulation story by the big banks.

Bailout Architect Runs For California Governor; World Laughs | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone

Bailout Architect Runs For California Governor; World Laughs | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone.

I want to apologize for this space being blank for quite some time. I actually spent the bulk of the last two days on a long blog post about the “Dr. V.” story in Grantland. But then I got all the way to the end, and realized I was completely wrong about the entire thing.

So, I spiked my own piece. Now I’ve been in Talk Radio-style “This is totally dead air, Barry” territory for about two weeks. I could swear I saw a cobweb when I logged on this morning.

So thank God for Neel Kashkari, and the news that this goofball footnote caricature of the bailout era has decided to run for Governor of California. Never in history has there been an easier subject for a blog post.

If you don’t remember Kashkari’s name, you might be excused – he was actually better known, in his 15 minutes of fame five years ago, as “The 35 year-old dingbat from Goldman someone put in charge of handing out $700 billion bailout dollars.”

Now you remember. That guy! Neel Kashkari when he first entered the world of politics was a line item, usually the last entry in a list of ex-Goldman employees handed prominent government and/or regulatory positions, as in, “. . . and, lastly, Neel Kashkari, the heretofore unknown Goldman banker put in charge of the TARP bailout program . . .”

Kashkari was not just a former Goldman banker handed a high government post – he was a former Goldman banker handed a high government post by a former Goldman banker, in this case former Goldman CEO and then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson.

Neel was also the human parallel to the original TARP proposal written by Paulson, which was famously just three pages long.

Paulson’s TARP proposal was essentially the last, unaired episode of Beavis and Butthead,with the three pages of script just containing a single scene in which Butthead walks into the U.S. Senate and says, “Can you, uh, like, give us 700 billion dollars? Uh-huh-huh.”

Kashkari then was more or less an equally blank slate, a little-known tech banker from Goldman’s San Francisco office who somehow ended up being Paulson’s choice to administer a bailout that Paulson wanted to feature no oversight whatsoever. The original three-page proposal specified no review “by any court of law or any administrative agency.”

It never came to that, not exactly – Paulson had to expand his three-page proposal – but it’s worth remembering now that the Treasury’s original plan for the bailout was to give literally unlimited powers to distribute $700 billion of taxpayer money to a low-level banker that prior to 2006, even Hank Paulson had never heard of.

So Kashkari takes the job as bailout czar and starts hurling fistfuls of cash at the banks, in a fashion that turned out later to have been beyond haphazard. Critically, even though the Treasury promised only to give out TARP funds to institutions that were “healthy” and “viable,” Kashkari had no protocol in place to even decide whether a bailout recipient was solvent or not.

They forked over billions in cash to failing institutions and then failed to enforce crucial provisions, like for instance measures put in place to prevent executives from bailout-out companies from giving themselves huge bonuses.

This latter failure was what led to one of Kashkari’s more infamous public appearances, in which Maryland congressman Elijah Cummings raked Kashkari over the coals for allowing AIG executives to give themselves $503 million in bonuses. “I wouldn’t want to be asking my friend for some money to stay afloat,” hissed Cummings. “Then my friend, who can barely afford to go to McDonald’s, sees me in a restaurant costing $150 a meal. There’s absolutely something wrong with that picture!” He added:

I’m just wondering how you feel about an AIG giving $503 million worth of bonuses on the one hand, and accepting $154 billion from hard-working taxpayers. You know, because I’m trying to make sure you get it. What really bothers me is all these other people who are lined up. They say, well, is Kashkari a chump?

After this “chump” episode, and others, Kashkari apparently became despondent. He and his wife reportedly were particularly upset by a snickering item in GawkerThe item read, “Financial Crisis Taking a Toll on Our Favorite Asshole Banker,” and made the neatly cruel observation that that Kashkari, who was a fit/lean/bald banker of Paulsonian persuasion when he arrived in Washington, had begun “putting on classic stress-related weight under his chin.”

The item featured before and after photos. The “after” photo was shot from just below chin level. It was brutal.

Now, a lot of people have been ripped in Gawker. I think everyone with a Q rating above 0.00003 has been ripped in Gawker. I personally remember having to Google-image Peter Beinart because Gawker described me as looking like the computer-generated love child of Beinart and Ashton Kutcher. It’s an Internet-age rite of passage and they give great service – I mean, Gawker’s insults are almost always really good. Probably most people who get ripped on the site flip out at first, and then laugh about it later.

Not Kashkari. He was so mortified by items like the Gawker bit that he literally disappeared into the woods like Ted Kaczynski and committed himself to a vengefully ascetic fitness regimen, apparently determined to return someday to society and have the last word.

This is not a joke. The Washington Post actually tracked Kashkari down in the woods after the bailouts. They photographed the tiny shed he’d built for himself in Nevada County, California. They were shown the incredible list-of-things-to-do he’d written on his way out of Washington. I have to keep repeating this, but this isn’t a joke:

1. buy shed
2. chop wood
3. lose twenty pounds
4. help with Hank’s book

The Post was then invited to watch as Kashkari lived out his hilarious homage to Rocky IV,getting in shape by his lonesome in the woods, fiercely splitting log after log with an ax, recalling a past slight with each blow:

Kashkari raises his ax.

“It felt like I got jumped.”

“Like three guys beat the crap out of me.”

Whack, whack.

The massive block of sugar pine breaks, the crack bouncing off the mountain.

Kashkari is recalling his testimony before Congress, while splitting logs to feed the stove for the winter. He is down to his last two chain-sawed trees.

“Members of Congress will tell you they agree with you, and then in public they blast you. I understand their anger, but the playing at politics when so much was at stake — ”

Whack. The ax blade flies off its wooden handle.

After enough of this, there was no more stress-related neck-jelly, no sir!

Kashkari, in shape again, soon-re-entered the finance world, taking a high-profile job with the bond fund PIMCO, run by notorious Wall Street insider Bill Gross.

The new choice of employer was significant because as numerous critics havesubsequently pointed out, PIMCO was one of the major beneficiaries of the government’s rescue of Wall Street. In December 2008, the Fed hired PIMCO to be one of four investment firms put in charge of managing a Fed program to buy up the toxic mortgage-backed securities that were threatening to tank the economy at the time.

Gross, at the time, warned that the government would have to “open up the balance sheet of the U.S. Treasury” (i.e. the state would need to cough up taxpayer money) in order to prevent “continuing asset and debt liquidation” (to prevent Wall Street jerks from being blown up by their own bad bets). Conveniently, Bill Gross and PIMCO happened to be sitting on $500 million of mortgage-backed holdings at the time. Which meant, as Babson College professor Peter Cohan put it:

Bill Gross, who manages $830 billion, has convinced the U.S. Treasury to use your taxpayer dollars to bail him out of his bad investments.

So Neel Kashkari was the administrator of the biggest corporate welfare program in history, took shit for it (“Beating on the Hill,” he would pencil for certain times in his calendar), went into the wilderness to get his mind and body right after the experience, then re-emerged to take a high-paying job with a company that was a significant beneficiary of government largesse.

While at PIMCO, Kashkari dipped a little toe in the lake of politics once again by penning aneditorial for the Post (“No more me-first mentality on entitlements,” July, 2010) denouncing government aid programs. He argued – and again, this is no more a joke than the Rocky-IV-cabin-in-the-woods thing was – that even though we have an economy successfully founded on self-interest, accepting government benefits, by which one assumes he means things like Medicare, is the wrong kind of selfish:

Our belief in free markets is founded on the idea that each individual acting in his or her self-interest will lead to a superior outcome for the whole. The financial crisis has reminded us that free markets are not perfect — but they do allocate capital better than any other system we know. A “me first” mentality usually makes markets more efficient.

But this “me first” mentality can also lead to shortsighted political decision making . . .

Kashkari’s solution? People who accept government benefits should take the long view and just say no:

Cutting entitlement spending requires us to think beyond what is in our own immediate self-interest. But it also runs against our sense of fairness: We have, after all, paid for entitlements for earlier generations. Is it now fair to cut my benefits? No, it isn’t. But if we don’t focus on our collective good, all of us will suffer.

Again, this came from a guy who handed out hundreds of billions of dollars of welfare to Wall Street companies, effectively subsidizing the massive compensation packages of Wall Street executives. This same person then went to work for a company that got a fat government contract to help other Wall Street investors unload their bonehead investments on the taxpayer.

Then, after all that rescue money disappeared, Kashkari made the interesting observation that there was not enough left over to pay benefits for other people. So, he effectively said to Americans on benefits, stop being so selfish. Tighten your belts. All of us will suffer otherwise.

This is the person who has now decided to run for Governor of California. It seems Jerry Brown has become his own personal Dolph Lundgren. A friend of mine sent me the news by email and suggested I say nothing at all about his decision, other than to post the headline above the following clip:

Kashkari’s platform seems to be centered around restoring jobs and schools, but also seems targeted at waste – he called Jerry Brown’s $68 billion high-speed rail project a “crazy train” and said it reflected “misplaced priorities.”

Humorously, and predictably, Kashkari’s campaign has already sprouted serious leaks. It turns out he has a somewhat spotty voting record (I do, too, to be honest, but I’m not running for governor), and he’s already had to acknowledge publicly that he has not always voted – although, he says, “I believe voting is very important.”

The Kashkari story is a perfect little allegory about the arrogance and cluelessness of the people who run the American economy. Kashkari talks passionately about free markets, forgetting that he was the individual who was actually in charge of the biggest-in-American-history government program to subvert the free market, bailing out countless institutions that should otherwise have gone out of business due to their own incompetence and corruption.

He talks about how the “free markets” allocate capital better than any system we have, but then again he was the person who had to step in when that system failed and institute a different system of capital allocation, one in which public treasure was unorganically re-allocated from taxpayers to private companies. His complaints about “misplaced priorities” are almost beneath comment – there’s just not much to say about someone who committed public funds to million-dollar bonuses but believes regular people accepting government benefits have a “me-first” mentality.

Anyway, having this guy run for public office is like a gift from the blogging gods. How funny will this get? Will this one go to 11?  I’m taking the over.

The Rumored Chase-Madoff Settlement Is Another Bad Joke | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone

The Rumored Chase-Madoff Settlement Is Another Bad Joke | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone.

Just under two months ago, when the $13 billion settlement for JP Morgan Chasewas coming down the chute, word leaked out that that the deal was no sure thing. Among other things, it was said that prosecutors investigating Chase’s role in the Bernie Madoff caper – Chase was Madoff’s banker – were insisting on a guilty plea to actual criminal charges, but that this was a deal-breaker for Chase.

Something had to give, and now, apparently, it has. Last week, it was reported that the state and Chase were preparing a separate $2 billion deal over the Madoff issues, a series of settlements that would also involve a deferred prosecution agreement.

The deferred-prosecution deal is a hair short of a guilty plea. The bank has to acknowledge the facts of the government’s case and pay penalties, but as has become common in the Too-Big-To-Fail arena, we once again have a situation in which all sides will agree that a serious crime has taken place, but no individual has to pay for that crime.

As University of Michigan law professor David Uhlmann noted in a Times editorial at the end of last week, the use of these deferred prosecution agreements has explodedsince the infamous Arthur Andersen case. In that affair, the company collapsed and28,000 jobs were lost after Arthur Andersen was convicted on a criminal charge related to its role in the Enron scandal. As Uhlmann wrote:

From 2004 through 2012, the Justice Department entered into 242 deferred prosecution and nonprosecution agreements with corporations; there had been just 26 in the preceding 12 years.

Since the AA mess, the state has been beyond hesitant to bring criminal charges against major employers for any reason. (The history of all of this is detailed in The Dividea book I have coming out early next year.) The operating rationale here is concern for the “collateral consequences” of criminal prosecutions, i.e. the lost jobs that might result from bringing charges against a big company. This was apparently the thinking in the Madoff case as well. As the Times put it in its coverage of the rumored $2 billion settlement:

The government has been reluctant to bring criminal charges against large corporations, fearing that such an action could imperil a company and throw innocent employees out of work. Those fears trace to the indictment of Enron’s accounting firm, Arthur Andersen . . .

There’s only one thing to say about this “reluctance” to prosecute (and the “fear” and “concern” for lost jobs that allegedly drives it): It’s a joke.

Yes, you might very well lose some jobs if you go around indicting huge companies on criminal charges. You might even want to avoid doing so from time to time, if the company is worth saving.

But individuals? There’s absolutely no reason why the state can’t proceed against the actual people who are guilty of crimes.

If anything, the markets might react positively to that kind of news. It certainly did so in the Adelphia case, in which the government dragged cable company executives John, Timothy and Michael Rigas out of their beds and publicly frog-marched them in handcuffs on the streets of the Upper East Side at 6 a.m.

The NYSE had been on a four-day slump up until those arrests. After they hit the news, it surged to its second-biggest one-day gain in history. From the AP report on July 25, 2002:

Although stocks began the day by extending a four-day losing streak, the arrest of top Adelphia Communications Corporation executives for allegedly looting the cable TV company triggered a broad rally that intensified as the session wore on.

Of course, that was an isolated example, and the broad market rally that day didn’t save Adelphia, which had already gone bankrupt by the time of the Rigas arrests. But certainly it gave credence to the sensible argument that the markets generally would rather see the government punish criminals than not.

Anyway, it’s hard to not notice the fact that crude Ponzi schemers like Madoff (150 years)and Allen Stanford (110 years) drew enormous penalties – essentially life terms for both – while no one from any major firm has drawn any penalty at all for abetting those frauds.

That’s an enormous discrepancy, life versus nothing. But it makes an awful kind of sense. Madoff and Stanford were safe prosecutorial targets. There was no political fallout to worry about for sending up two guys who mostly bilked other rich people out of money. Also, there were no “collateral consequences” in the form of major job losses that had to be considered, just a couple of obnoxious families that would lose their jets and their ski vacations.

But most importantly, Madoff and Stanford were simple scam artists who could have come from any generation. There was nothing systemic about their crimes. It was possible to throw them in jail without exposing widespread corruption in our financial system.

That’s what’s so disturbing about this latest Justice Department cave. It underscores the increasingly obvious fact that the federal government is not interested in getting to the bottom of our financial corruption problem. They seem more to be treating bank malfeasance as a PR issue for the American financial markets that has to be managed away, instead of a corruption problem to be thoroughly investigated and fixed.

In a way, the administration seems to have the same motivation as Chase itself – as CEOJamie Dimon put it last week, “We have to get some of these things behind us so we can do our job.”

Madoff’s con was comically crude: He never executed a single trade for a client, and instead just dumped all of their money into a single checking account. To say, as Madoff himself did, that his bank “had to know” what he was up to seems a major understatement.

Remember, independent investigator Harry Markopolos figured the whole thing outyears before the Ponzi collapsed without the benefit of complete access to Madoff’s financial information. Markopolos really needed just one insight to penetrate the Madoff mystery.

“You can’t dominate all markets,” Markopolos said, years ago. “You have to have some losses.”

That this basic truth eluded both the SEC (which somehow failed to notice the world’s largest hedge fund never making a single trade) and Madoff’s own banker for years on end points to horrific systemic problems. A prosecutor who actually cared would floor it in court against everyone who made that fraud possible until he or she got to the bottom of how these things can happen.

Our response was different. We gave 150 years to the main guy, and now it seems we’re quietly taking a check to walk away from the rest of it. It’s not going to be a surprise when it happens again.

 

The `GE Three’ Go Free – Bloomberg

The `GE Three’ Go Free – Bloomberg.

GE Three photo

Three ex-General Electric traders are seeing the outside sooner than anyone expected after their convictions were overturned. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The `GE Three’ Go Free

By Jonathan Weil Dec 5, 2013 11:38 AM EST

It wasn’t long after three former General Electric Co. executives were convicted of rigging auctions for municipal-bond investment contracts that they received the ultimate sendoff: A 7,400-word torching in Rolling Stone magazine by Matt Taibbi, the writer who branded Goldman Sachs Group Inc. with the nickname “vampire squid.”

“Someday, it will go down in history as the first trial of the modern American mafia,” Taibbi began his June 2012 opus about Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg and Peter Grimm. “Over 10 years in the making, the case allowed federal prosecutors to make public for the first time the astonishing inner workings of the reigning American crime syndicate, which now operates not out of Little Italy and Las Vegas, but out of Wall Street.”

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Then came a surprise last week, right before Thanksgiving. A federal judge ordered the men released from prison. An appeals court had reversed their convictions the day before, without explanation. An opinion would be issued “in due course,” it said. Bloomberg News ran a short story this week. The rest of the news media barely noticed.

Americans tend to like their crime stories simple: Good guys catching bad guys and sending them to jail. Nuances and complexities can complicate morality tales. The country is still baying for blood after the financial crisis. Folks want the people who they think helped crash the economy locked up and fed bread and water in place of Cristal and lobster.

The case against the former GE bankers is a reminder that high-profile financial-crime cases rarely are cut and dry. Even when prosecutors win, they still might lose later, especially if the defendants can afford top-notch appellate lawyers. Until last week the GE Three were considered criminals. Now they are innocent in the eyes of the law, and we don’t even know why yet. It’s possible that the government will appeal further and win in the end. A resolution seems far from final.

A reversal like this helps explain why some prosecutors might hesitate to bring difficult white-collar cases to trial. The Justice Department seemed to pull back from pursuing financial-crisis cases after two former Bear Stearns Cos. hedge-fund managers were acquitted of fraud charges in 2009. (One of the jurors said after their trial that she would invest with them if she had the money.) It’s easier to rack up wins by going after small fry for simpler crimes.

Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm each had been convicted on multiple counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Prosecutors accused them of paying kickbacks to brokers hired by cities and towns to oversee the bidding on municipal-investment contracts, which local governments use to invest the proceeds from bond sales. Goldberg was sentenced to four years in prison. Carollo and Grimm got three years each.

Although the appeals court hasn’t yet explained its decision, the defendants claimed that the statute of limitations had elapsed by the time they were indicted in 2010. They also complained that they hadn’t been allowed to finish cross-examining one of the government’s key witnesses after he attempted suicide during a break. The government said he couldn’t return for further questioning.

What should we make of their sudden freedom? Sometimes justice is rough. Sometimes it seems random. It’s often messy. Some judges disagree with other judges’ rulings. Some crooks get pinched while others who seem guilty as sin never get charged. Mysteries abound as to why. Insider-trading cases get hot, so other frauds get put on the backburner. The government rarely explains why it chose not to prosecute someone, leaving the public to speculate.

And what are we now to make of GE’s own decision in 2011 to enter a non-prosecution agreement with the Justice Department, under which it paid $70 million? As part of that deal, GE made this admission: “From 1999 to 2004, certain former traders who bid on municipal contracts on behalf of the company entered into unlawful agreements to manipulate the bidding process on certain relevant municipal contracts, and caused the company to make payments and engage in other related activities in connection with those agreements through at least 2006.”

In other words, the company turned against its former employees. Maybe GE could have beaten the government’s rap, given that the former executives’ convictions have been overturned. We’ll never know. Even if it turns out they got off on a technicality, Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm deserve respect for having the guts to demand that the government prove its case in court. That is something large financial institutions rarely try. Perhaps more should.

One final note: The Justice Department issued news releases to trumpet the former GE executives’ indictmentsconvictions and sentencings. It didn’t issue a news release to say that their convictions had been reversed. That sure doesn’t look like fair play or justice to me.

(Jonathan Weil is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

 

Detroit Pensioners Face Miserable 16 Cent On The Dollar Recovery | Zero Hedge

Detroit Pensioners Face Miserable 16 Cent On The Dollar Recovery | Zero Hedge. (source)

If there is ever a case study about people who built up their reputation and then squandered it for first being right for all the wrong reasons, and then being wrong for the right ones, then Meredith Whitney certainly heads the list of eligible candidates. After “predicting” the great financial crisis back in 2007 by looking at some deteriorating credit trends at Citigroup, a process that many had engaged beforehand and had come to a far more dire -and just as correct – conclusion, Whitney rose to stardom for merely regurgitating a well-known meme, however since her trumpeted call was the one closest to the Lehman-Day event when it all came crashing down, it afforded her a 5 year very lucrative stint as an advisor. Said stint has now been shuttered.

The main reason for the shuttering, of course, is that in 2010 she also called an imminent “muni” cataclysm, staking her reputation once again not only on what is fundamentally obvious, but locking in a time frame: 2011. Alas, this time her “timing” luck ran out and her call was dead wrong, leading people to question her abilities, and ultimately to give up on her “advisory” services altogether. Which in some ways is a shame because Whitney was and is quite correct about the municipal default tidal wave, as Detroit and ever more municipalities have shown, and the only question is the timing.

However, as Citi’s Matt King recent showed, when it comes to stepwise, quantum leap repricings of widely held credits, the revelation is usually a very painful, sudden and very dramatic one. This can be seen nowhere better than in the default of Lehman brothers, where while the firm’s equity was slow to admit defeat it was nothing in comparison to the abject case study in denial that the Lehman bonds put in. However, as can be seen in the chart below, when it finally came, and when bondholders realized they are screwed the morning of Monday, Septembr 15 when the Lehman bankruptcy filing was fact, the move from 80 cents on the dollar to under 10 cents took place in a heartbeat.

It is the same kind of violent and anguished repricing that all unsecrued creditors in the coming wave of heretofore “denialed” municipal bankruptcy filings will have to undergo.Starting with Detroit, where as Reuters reports, the recovery to pensioners, retirees and all other unsecured creditors will be…. 16 cents on the dollar!…  or less than what Greek bondholders got in the country’s latest (and certainly not final) bankruptcy.

From Reuters:

On Friday, city financial consultant Kenneth Buckfire said he did not have to recommend to Orr that pensions for the city’s retirees be cut as a way to help Detroit navigate through debts and liabilities that total $18.5 billion.

 

Buckfire said it was clear that the city did not have the funds to pay the unsecured pension payouts without cutting them.

 

“It was a function of the mathematics,” said Buckfire, who said he did not think it was necessary for him or anyone else to recommend pension cuts to Orr.

 

“Are you saying it was so self-evident that no one had to say it?” asked Claude Montgomery, attorney for a committee of retirees that was created by Rhodes.

 

“Yes,” Buckfire answered. 

 

Buckfire, a Detroit native and investment banker with restructuring experience, later told the court the city plans to pay unsecured creditors, including the city’s pensioners, 16 cents on the dollar. There are about 23,500 city retirees.

One wonders by how many cents on the dollar the recovery to pensioners would increase if the New York-based Miller Buckfire were to cut their advisory fee, but that is not the point of this post (it will be of a subsequent).

What is the point, is that creditors across all products, aided and abetted by the greatest credit bubble of all time blown by Benny and the Inkjets, will find the kind of violent repricings that Lehman showed take place whenever hope dies, increasingly more prevalent. And since retirees and pensioners are ultimately creditors, this is perhaps the fastest, if certainly most brutal way, to make sure that the United Welfare States of America is finally on a path of sustainability.

The only question is how will those same retirees who have just undergone an 84 cent haircut, take it. One hopes: peacefully. Because among those whose incentive to work effectively has just been cut to zero, is also the local police force. In which case if hope once again fails, it is perhaps better not to contemplate the consequences. For both Meredith Whitney, who will eventually be proven right, and for everyone else.

 

Video of the Day: Interview with Matt Taibbi About JP Morgan and the CNBC “Presstitutes” | A Lightning War for Liberty

Video of the Day: Interview with Matt Taibbi About JP Morgan and the CNBC “Presstitutes” | A Lightning War for Liberty.

The top definition of presstituteaccording to Urban Dictionary is:

1. presstitute
A member of the media who will alter their story and reporting based on financial interests or other ties with usually partisan individuals or groups.

It has become abundantly clear in recent years that the mainstream media can not be identified as anything other that a collective of mediocre, corporate/government ass-kissing presstitutes. Differentmedia outlets cater to different special interests, but the end result is all the same. MSNBC for example is essentially a straight up PR outlet for the Democratic Party, while Fox News represents the neo-con arm of the Republican Party and the military-industrial complex generally. CNBC has a special position in the presstitute media hierarchy. They basically defend Wall Street at all costs. The station represents the most important media gatekeeper for the financial oligarch, crony class.The following video is an interview on the daily political talk showMajority Report, hosted by Sam Seder. In this episode, he discusses with Matt Taibbi the recent appearance of Salon’s Alex Pareene on CNBC in which Maria Bartiromo unabashedly presstitutes herself out for Jaime Dimon and JP Morgan in an utterly embarrassing manner.The clip is a little over 16 minutes, but well worth your time. Sam Seder is pretty hilarious and his rapport with Taibbi is excellent…

 

“A Scam Of Unmatchable Balls And Cruelty” – Matt Taibbi On Wall Street’s “Triple-Fucking Of Ordinary People” | Zero Hedge

“A Scam Of Unmatchable Balls And Cruelty” – Matt Taibbi On Wall Street’s “Triple-Fucking Of Ordinary People” | Zero Hedge.

 

Holder Laid the Groundwork for “Too Big to Jail” In 1999 | Zero Hedge

Holder Laid the Groundwork for “Too Big to Jail” In 1999 | Zero Hedge.

Jesse’s Café Américain: Matt Taibbi Discusses the Market Rigging in the Swaps and LIBOR Markets By the Banks

Jesse’s Café Américain: Matt Taibbi Discusses the Market Rigging in the Swaps and LIBOR Markets By the Banks.

 

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