22 March 2012

Taibbi: Gangster Banks Keep Winning Public Debt Business - Surprised By Joy

Matt Taibbi is out with a double barrelled critique of Bank of America and JP Morgan.

It is a very important issue, vital to the public good, and it receives almost no attention from the mainstream media or the political candidates.

Why are a few large financial institutions, the recipients of enormous amounts of public monies, able to maintain an active hand in the public debt markets after multiple violations of the law, punished only by a slap on the wrist, with a promise 'not to do it again.'

Matt asks why they are able to do it. I think that is a good question.

The gangster Mackie Messer was able to get away with a life of crime in the Three Penny Opera because one of his best friends and silent accomplices was 'Tiger' Brown, the Chief of Police.

Life imitates art?

In the case of MF Global, it seems to imitate high school.

Rolling Stone
Gangster Banks Keep Winning Public Business. Why?

By Matt Taibbi
March 22, 9:40 AM ET

A friend of mine sent this article from Bloomberg, along with the simple comment: "Perfect." What's perfect? That the banks that have been caught repeatedly ripping off communities and munipalities -- banks that have paid hefty settlements for rigging bids, bribery and other sordid misdeeds -- keep winning the most public business. Apparently, our public officials aren't concerned about whom they hire to serve as the people's investment bankers.

From the piece, entitled "JPMorgan Claims No. 1 for Government Debt After Jefferson County":

JPMorgan, which emerged from the worst financial crisis since the 1930s as the most profitable U.S. bank, has parlayed crisis-era loans to cities and states and a willingness to outbid other firms in local government bond auctions into becoming the top underwriter of municipal debt last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It was the first time the firm held that rank.

The turnaround was a milestone for JPMorgan’s municipal- bond department, which has been marred by its involvement in two of the biggest scandals in the history of U.S. public finance: a so-called pay-to-play scheme in Jefferson County, Alabama, that contributed to the biggest-ever U.S. municipal bankruptcy, and a federal probe that uncovered bid rigging of municipal-bond investment products.
This story dovetails with the larger story I have out in the magazine now about Bank of America, another Too-Big-To-Fail behemoth that placed a very close second in the area of municipal bond business, according to the Bloomberg survey. Chase managed $35.7 billion in long-term bond sales, while BOA/Merrill Lynch came in at about $200 million less.

Why does this matter? Because both banks, Chase and Bank of America, have been repeatedly tied to scandals involving the issuance of public debt. Bank of America paid a $137 million settlement for rigging the bids of bond issues in numerous communities (including places as far away as Guam), while Chase also paid a big settlement of $211 million last year for more or less exactly similar offenses involving localities in 25 different states....

Read the rest here.

As a cultural aside, if you look closely at the beginning of this excerpt of film, as the people turn the corner into the square to hear the street singer, there is an address on the building on the corner on their right.

The address is 55 Wall Street, New York.

That was the headquarters at the time of the Crash of 1929 of The National City Bank, which had pioneered the mass selling of securities, under CEO Charlie Mitchell, to 'the little man' and the small speculator. You may remember the interviews with his children in one of the former mansions from the clips of "The Great Crash of 1929" by The American Experience. His son has one of the worst cases of "Long Island lockjaw" that I have heard.

It is a bit of an odd touch for a scene supposed to be of the London Docks even if you are creating a film for a German audience. Looks like the Yanks had a spot on Canary Wharf even back then.

And although I am sure it is not him, the fellow wearing a cap and smoking a pipe on the right when Mackie Messer first appears looks remarkably like Ernest Borgnine.

It is funny how one picks of these bits and pieces of things as you go through life, stuffed in a pocket of the mind for later. And then a chance encounter or thought brings them out again, and we can admire our bits and baubles, and enjoy them, or understand their meaning. Sometimes they merge into a synthesis, a picture, and at other other times they merely sparkle for a moment once again, and are gone.

I remember running across a phrase in a very old volume of Tait's Edinburgh Review many years ago, about 1974 or so, in a LIfe of William Cobbett, that at the time seemed not only antiquated but very odd, at least to me.
"He was at this time living in the bosom of his family on his farm of Botley, in the midst of domestic enjoyment of no ordinary kind, and leading no inglorious or useless life."
At that time despite having a classical education under my belt, I was a bit of a twenty-something wildling, a restless young man making his way, and such things meant nothing to me. Even at that tender, barely human age, I was a budding antiquarian bookman, and incessantly read, even the oddest things, and certainly beyond the range of my maturity and experience. But I tucked it away with many other other things, and thought little of it until now.

I understand it now, perhaps, at least I think that I do, and that is how I finally settled down, after all too many years away, roaming the world, and found real happiness, at of all places, home with loved ones, children and dogs and a small garden, as C.S. Lewis wrote, 'surprised by joy.'

I apologized to my wife a few years ago, after a visit to a friend's new home that was rather expansive, in the 15M+ range, for bringing her along on my current adventure, and causing her to curtail her home and lifestyle to something more fitting with the idea of 'sufficient simplicity.' As the ancients described it, 'in nidulo meo.'

And she looked straight at me, as only a wife of over thirty years can do, and laughed, and said, "Men are stupid. You don't know anything."

It truly is the little things that make life worth living.