You know the joke: 4:30 p.m. is better than an hour away from 5:00 p.m., right? Thursday is better than a week away from the weekend. For folks traveling home for the Lunar New Year holiday in China, there are four days left to get home, and the train stations are crazy-full. But today is better than five days away from family and friends.
Goldman Sachs questions capitalism
YEAH. I KNOW. I did a double-take when I read the hed on this piece. In a GS analysts’ note they wrote, “There are broader questions to be asked about the efficacy of capitalism.” They’re freaking out because the market isn’t acting the way it’s supposed to, where new entrants respond to fat margins generated by first-to-market or mature producers.
I wonder how much longer it will take them to realize they killed the golden goose with their plutocratic rewards for oligopolies? How long before they realize this isn’t capitalism at all?
Whistleblower tells Swiss (and banks) to get over themselves on whistleblowing
Interviewed last week, former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld said, “We have to make some changes in Switzerland — it’s long overdue … The environment there is hostile toward people exposing corruption.” Birkenfeld’s remarks prod Swiss lawmakers currently at work on whistleblowing legislation. When passed, the law is not expected to offer protections employees have in the U.S. and the UK (and we know those are thin and constantly under attack). But perhaps the law will prevent cases like Nestle SA’s suit against a former executive who disclosed food safety risks. That suit and another alleging a former UBS employee libeled the bank may be affected assuming the EU adopts the same approach toward whistleblowing and corruption reduction.
“Computer failure” at IRS halts acceptance of tax return e-filings
No details about the nature of the “computer failure” apart from a “hardware problem” or “hardware failure” appeared in any reports yesterday afternoon and overnight. The IRS expects to have repairs completed today to allow e-filings once again; filings already submitted are not affected.
FBI agent on new car purchases: entering ‘wild, wild west’
Four cybersecurity experts spoke at a meeting of the Automotive Press Association in Detroit yesterday, one of whom was an FBI cyber squad agent. The feedback from the speakers wasn’t reassuring, apart from the observation by a specialist from a start-up automotive cyber security firm that they did not know of a “real world incident where someone’s vehicle was attacked and taken over remotely by someone hacking into the vehicle.” A lawyer whose firm handles automotive industry cyber threats undercut any feeling of relief with an observation that judges aren’t savvy about cyber crime on vehicles. I think I’ll stick with my old school car for a while longer.
The Repair Coalition formed to protect the ‘Right to Repair’
Speaking of old school car, I hope I can continue to get it repaired in the future without worrying about lawsuits for copyright violations. We’ve already seen tractor owners in conflict with John Deere over repairs, and exemptions to copyright for repair have been granted only after tedious and costly effort, and then to the farmer only, not to their mechanic. Hence the emergence of The Repair Coalition, which takes aim at repealing the DMCA’s Section 1201 — terms in it make it illegal to “circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under [the DMCA].”
It’s long been an American ethic to “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without,” an ethic we need to restore to primacy if we are to reduce our CO2 footprint. Repairing rather than tossing goods is essential to our environmental health, let alone a necessity when wages for lower income workers remain stagnant.
That’s a wrap — I could go on but now we’re better than a day away from Friday. Whew.
In the wake of the Boston bombing, Mayor Bloomberg had some fairly alarming things to say about privacy.
“The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry,” Mr. Bloomberg said during a press conference in Midtown. “But we live in a complex world where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”
But apparently he — or at least his company — even has a cavalier approach to the privacy of those in his own class.
Goldman Sachs recently discovered that Bloomberg reporters were monitoring Goldman activity on their $20,000 a year Bloomberg terminals.
The ability to snoop on Bloomberg terminal users came to light recently when Goldman officials learned that at least one reporter at the news service had access to a wide array of information about customer usage, sources said.
In one instance, a Bloomberg reporter asked a Goldman executive if a partner at the bank had recently left the firm — noting casually that he hadn’t logged into his Bloomberg terminal in some time, sources added.
Goldman later learned that Bloomberg staffers could determine not only which of its employees had logged into Bloomberg’s proprietary terminals but how many times they had used particular functions, insiders said.
The matter raised serious concerns for the firm about how secure information exchanged through the terminals within the firm actually was — and if the privacy of their business strategy had been compromised.
“You can basically see how many times someone has looked up news stories or if they used their messaging functions,” said one Goldman insider.
“Limited customer relationship data has long been available to our journalists, and has never included clients’ security-level data, position data, trading data or messages,” said Bloomberg spokesman Ty Trippet.
“In light of [Goldman’s] concern as well as a general heightened sensitivity to data access, we decided to disable journalist access to this customer relationship information for all clients,” he noted.
Now, normally I’d be laughing my ass off at MOTUs spying on MOTUs. Particularly the thought of MOTUs paying $20,000 a year for the privilege of being spied on.
But I am worried about what this will do for Bloomberg’s business model. Bloomberg News happens to do a lot of (freely-accessible) journalism, subsidized by MOTUs paying for these terminals. If MOTUs get squeamish, it might cut back on actual journalism.
For the moment, at least, it does confirm that MOTU reticence about surveillance has more to do with their belief that their most guarded activities aren’t watched than with a real disinterest in spying.
Update: See this Quartz article for a description of everything Bloomberg employees could snoop on.
DOJ has been doing a lot of immunizing of late. There’s Lloyd Blankfein, who not only ripped off his clients with “one shitty deal,” he then lied to Congress about it. There’s Matt Zirbel,* the CIA officer who had Gul Rahman doused with water and left to freeze to death in the Salt Pit. And there’s Joe Arpaio, who used the Maricopa County Sherriff’s office to investigate his political enemies.
DOJ immunized all these men in the last month, in spite of a vast amount of publicly available evidence clearly showing their crimes. And while DOJ had the courage to announce their decision about Blankfein and Goldman Sachs on a typical news day, not so their announcements about Zirbel and Arpaio–DOJ slipped those announcements into the journalistic distraction of Paul Ryan’s dishonest speech and Clint Eastwood’s empty chair, and the more generalized distraction of an imminent holiday weekend.
But with these grants of immunity, DOJ cleared the board of most of the politically contentious cases of immunized criminals just in time for election season. The Goldman banksters could donate with no worries, the NatSec types wouldn’t pull an October surprise, and Republicans couldn’t claim Arpaio was caught in a witch hunt because of the witch hunts he himself conducted.
DOJ cleared most, though not all, of the politically contentious cases they plan to clear though. The exception may prove the rule.
By now you’ve heard that Goldman Sachs will not be prosecuted for lying to its customers and having its CEO lie to Congress.
“The department and investigative agencies ultimately concluded that the burden of proof to bring a criminal case could not be met based on the law and facts as they exist at this time,” the department said.
Mind you, it’s not a surprise that Lloyd Blankfein wasn’t prosecuted. That’s because DOJ basically rewrote law in the last couple of years to make sure Scott Bloch, the former Special Counsel, would do no jail time for lying to Congress. As a result they’ve basically taken that inconvenient law off the books. As Congress continues to pursue DOJ for Fast and Furious, I’m sure that’s a comforting thought for some in the Department.
Still, let’s pretend for a moment that DOJ really didn’t believe they could prosecute this case.
That leaves us at a place where actual people are subject to the rule of law but corporations–because DOJ is simply helpless, helpless!! against those big bad corporations–are not. If DOJ really refuses to prosecute any corporations for the very same crimes they’re imprisoning actual people for, it needs to start considering how it is rushing our country headlong toward Banana Republic status. That is, if it can’t or won’t prosecute corporations but–perhaps to justify taking a salary until such time the prosecutors check out and join the corporations they’ve set free–still jails the little people, then DOJ has become just another cog in the machine slowly turning our great democracy into a NeoFeudal land.
Reuters reports this morning that Japan’s lower house of parliament has passed a law authorizing creation of a new nuclear regulatory agency. The second paragraph of the story stands out to me:
The 2011 Fukushima disaster cast a harsh spotlight on the cozy ties between regulators, politicians and utilities – known as Japan’s “nuclear village” – that experts say were a major factor in the failure to avert the crisis triggered when a huge earthquake and tsunami devastated the plant, causing meltdowns.
The underlying cause of the “nuclear village” where regulators are captured by the industry they regulate and the politicians also are owned by the same system applies equally as well to the situation that enabled the meltdown of global financial markets in 2008. There is far less recognition of the village aspect of Wall Street’s lack of regulation in the financial crisis, and where there have been moves ostensibly toward regulation or even prosecution of crimes, they have been a sham:
On March 9 — 45 days after the speech and 30 days after the announcement — we met with Schneiderman in New York City and asked him for an update. He had just returned from Washington, where he had been personally looking for office space. As of that date, he had no office, no phones, no staff and no executive director. None of the 55 staff members promised by Holder had materialized. On April 2, we bumped into Schneiderman on a train leaving Washington for New York and learned that the situation was the same.
Tuesday, calls to the Justice Department’s switchboard requesting to be connected with the working group produced the answer, “I really don’t know where to send you.” After being transferred to the attorney general’s office and asking for a phone number for the working group, the answer was, “I’m not aware of one.”
The promises of the President have led to little or no concrete action.
In fact, the new Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group was the sixth such entity formed since the start of the financial crisis in 2009. The grand total of staff working for all of the previous five groups was one, according to a surprised Schneiderman. In Washington, where staffs grow like cherry blossoms, this is a remarkable occurrence.
We are led to conclude that Donovan was right. The settlement and working group — taken together — were a coup: a public relations coup for the White House and the banks. The media hailed the resolution for a few days and then turned their attention to other topics and controversies.
But for 12 million American homeowners, collectively $700 billion under water, this was just another in a long series of sham transactions.
Perhaps in homage to the Schneiderman and other sham units, the Reuters article on Japan’s new agency does show a bit of caution regarding the new agency:
The legislation, however, swiftly came under fire for appearing to weaken the government’s commitment to decommissioning reactors after 40 years in operation, even as it drafts an energy program to reduce nuclear power’s role.
Under a deal ending months of bickering by ruling and opposition parties, the new regulatory commission could revise a rule limiting the life of reactors to 40 years in principle.
“Does this reflect the sentiment of the citizens, who are seeking an exit from nuclear power?” queried an editorial in the Tokyo Shimbun daily. “Won’t it instead make what was supposed to be a rare exception par for the course?”
And as for the coziness between politicians in the US and the financial industry, we need look no further than Wednesday’s appearance by Jamie Dimon before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. One of Marcy’s tweets during the hearing says all we need to know about that “hearing”:
BOB CORKER WIPE THAT SPOOGE FROM YOUR CHIN RIGHT NOW!
Japan’s response to its meltdown has been to shut down all nuclear plants while the framework for how they will operate if they are allowed to restart is debated. Imagine how much better off the world would be if JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs had been shut down while a proper regulatory framework for them was developed.
I’ve got that wonderfully satisfied yet mildly sick feeling I used to get after eating too many sweets as a kid, what with all the schadenfreude directed at Jamie Dimon and his $2 billion loss.
But I’m particularly struck by this story, in which Gretchen Morgenson recounts how Jamie DImon called Paul Volcker and Richard Fisher “infantile” at a party a month ago, for warning about Too Big To Fail banks. That piece of news, like all the rest, added to my sugar buzz. But I was struck by this passage, describing Morgenson’s sources.
The party, sponsored by JPMorgan for a group of its wealthy private clients, took place at the sumptuous Mansion on Turtle Creek hotel. Mr. Dimon was on hand to thank the guests for their patronage and their trust.
During the party, Mr. Dimon took questions from the crowd, according to an attendee who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of alienating the bank. One guest asked about the problem of too-big-to-fail banks and the arguments made by Mr. Volcker and Mr. Fisher.
Mr. Dimon responded that he had just two words to describe them: “infantile” and “nonfactual.” He went on to lambaste Mr. Fisher further, according to the attendee. Some in the room were taken aback by the comments.
That is, Morgenson’s source(s) is not some entry level trader. He or she is a private client, a very rich person, whom Dimon was brought in to suck up to. Not just suck up to, but “thank … for their trust.”
Here we are a month later and Dimon and JPM generally have proven that trust was misplaced. If it were me, I’d be pulling my money out of JPM before Dimon pulls an MF Global with it. Yet even still, this very rich person is afraid of “alienating the bank.”
Not that that’s surprising. After all, Goldman Sachs still commands the kind of fear that leads people to invest with it, even after it became clear it was suckering clients to buy shitpile that it could then short.
Still, if there’s a sign of just how perverse our finance system is right now, it’s that the rich people Dimon is supposed to be sucking up to actually fear him, even after he has been disgraced.
As business professor Clive Boddy describes it, banksters like Jamie Dimon succeed–and cause great catastrophe–because they are able to exploit the chaos of today’s business environment while ignoring the consequences of their ruthlessness.
Boddy says psychopaths take advantage of the “relative chaotic nature of the modern corporation,” including “rapid change, constant renewal” and high turnover of “key personnel.” Such circumstances allow them to ascend through a combination of “charm” and “charisma,” which makes “their behaviour invisible” and “makes them appear normal and even to be ideal leaders.”
They “largely caused the crisis” because their “single- minded pursuit of their own self-enrichment and self- aggrandizement to the exclusion of all other considerations has led to an abandonment of the old-fashioned concept of noblesse oblige, equality, fairness, or of any real notion of corporate social responsibility.”
Boddy doesn’t name names, but the type of personality he describes is recognizable to all from the financial crisis.
He says the unnamed “they” seem “to be unaffected” by the corporate collapses they cause. These psychopaths “present themselves as glibly unbothered by the chaos around them, unconcerned about those who have lost their jobs, savings and investments, and as lacking any regrets about what they have done.
Meanwhile, a Reuters article offers a possible explanation for how millions of MF Global funds disappeared: because its clearing firm, JP Morgan Chase, dawdled while clearing hundreds of millions of dollars in securities MF Global sold to Goldman Sachs as an effort to stay afloat.
MF Global unloaded hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of securities to Goldman Sachs in the days leading up to its collapse, according to two former MF Global employees with direct knowledge of the transactions. But it did not immediately receive payment from its clearing firm and lender, JPMorgan Chase & Co , one of the sources said.
The sale of securities to Goldman occurred on October 27, just days before MF Global Holdings Ltd filed for bankruptcy on October 31, the ex-employees said. One of the employees said the transaction was cleared with JPMorgan Chase.
JPMorgan has fought aggressively in bankruptcy court to protect its interests, and received a lien on some of MF Global’s assets in exchange for granting the firm $8 million to fund its bankruptcy costs. The lien puts JPMorgan’s interests ahead of MF Global customers who have not yet received an estimated $900 million worth of money from their accounts, which remain frozen as regulators search for missing funds.
As it turns out, a week before JPMC was stalling on clearing MF Global’s sales, Jamie Dimon sent out an email to JPMC employees boasting about the firm’s expansion at a time of strife for the industry.
“2011 was another year of challenges, both for JPMorgan Chase and for countries around the world,” Dimon wrote in a year-end e-mail to staff. “There is a lot of frustration out there and more than a little hostility toward our industry.”
JPMorgan hired 16,000 people in the U.S. in 2011, Dimon said in the letter, expanding its total workforce to more than 260,000 in a year when financial companies announced more than 200,000 job cuts and protests against Wall Street firms spread worldwide. The New York-based lender is adding about 175 branches a year in the U.S., he said.
“In the face of challenges, JPMorgan Chase is doing its part,” Dimon wrote. “We have not shrunk back.”
I tell you, indefinite detention looks better and better for Jamie Dimon.
Now that they’re dancing on Moammar Qaddafi’s grave (or would be, if the rebels would end the trophy show of his body so he can be buried), they’re no doubt faced with a dilemma.
How to get all the money they bribed Qaddafi with over the years back into circulation, paying for consultants on reconstruction and generating fees for their banks?
I expect we’ll see a series of articles like this one, expressing shock–shock!–that Qaddai managed to loot $200 billion from his country.
Moammar Kadafi secretly salted away more than $200 billion in bank accounts, real estate and corporate investments around the world before he was killed, about $30,000 for every Libyan citizen and double the amount that Western governments previously had suspected, according to senior Libyan officials.
The new estimates of the deposed dictator’s hidden cash, gold reserves and investments are “staggering,” one person who has studied detailed records of the asset search said Friday. “No one truly appreciated the scope of it.”
Oh, I’m sure some people “appreciated the scope of it”–like the Goldman Sachs banksters who “lost” almost all of Libya’s investment fund for it. And it’s not like our government hasn’t been fully aware this has been going on. That’s all before you assume we’ve been using SWIFT to monitor Qaddafi’s looting in the name of counterterrorism.
Better for those who want to continue to profit off this money to express shock, though, or Libyans and others might cop on that the big play here is to continue to profit.
(In related news, see this Real News Network video on the looting in Sub-Saharan Africa.)
The NYT has what I assume to be a bizarre form of beat sweetener on Goldman Sachs today. It spends most of 1,300 words speculating on who might replace CEO Lloyd Blankfein if he were to step down, exploring three possible candidates in depth.
But here’s the explanation for why they think such speculation appropriate:
Two friends of Mr. Blankfein, 56, say he has told them since last summer that he is exhausted from leading the company through the financial crisis and that he would consider stepping down when he could do so gracefully, without the move appearing to be anything but voluntary.
To be sure, Mr. Blankfein may decide to stay a while, despite the chatter to the contrary. And as far as Goldman is concerned, Mr. Blankfein is not going anywhere. A spokesman for the firm, Lucas van Praag, declined to comment other than to note that Mr. Blankfein “says he has never felt so energetic and has no plans to retire.”
The NYT repeats that comment from the spokesperson without noting that its reliance on three sources “briefed on the situation” of discussions of Blankfein’s departure sort of contradicts that spin.
The most amazing part of the article, though, is the way in which it frames Blankfein’s possible departure in terms of an SEC probe settled a year ago. While it raises the Levin report on the causes of the financial crash, it somehow neglects to mention Levin’s announcement he was making a criminal referral to DOJ.
Roger Freeman, a financial analyst at Barclays Capital, said Mr. Blankfein might wait to see his firm through the final negotiations with Washington over new regulatory rules for the banking industry in the second half of 2011, before handing Goldman to a younger team in 2012. “This has been an exhausting period,” Mr. Freeman said. “It would not be a surprising time to see a change.”
As the economy stumbled, Goldman’s success brought harsh public criticism, as lawmakers and even some clients complained that Goldman was no longer putting clients first.
That argument gained strength after the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Goldman of fraud last April in connection with a mortgage security it had created and sold. Goldman settled the case last July, paying a penalty of $550 million.
While the firm is clearly doing well, the public ire persists, especially in Washington. On Wednesday, after issuing a report examining the roots of the financial crisis, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan was sharply critical of Goldman’s bet against housing. “Why would Goldman deny what was so obvious, that they were engaged in a huge short in the year 2007?” Senator Levin said. “Because they gained at the expense of their clients and they used abusive practices to do it.”
Hey, NYT? Here’s what Levin also said:
But Levin made clear he has bigger hopes for this examination: he sees the report as perhaps one last chance for U.S. prosecutors to finally reel in the big fish that has eluded them since the markets started melting down in 2007.Levin said he believes execs at Goldman (GS) crossed the line in trying to soft-pedal the extent of the firm’s bets against the staggering U.S. housing market as the credit bubble collapsed in 2006 and 2007.
The firm privately referred to these multibillion-dollar positions as “the big short,” the report indicates – showing, in Levin’s view, that Goldman did indeed have the systematic wager against U.S. housing that it has long denied. He said he was referring the case to the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“In my judgment, Goldman clearly misled their clients and they misled Congress,” Levin told reporters on a conference call Wednesday morning before the report was released. [my emphasis]
Now, I assume a story like this is all about helping Goldman push Blankfein out as part of a deal it eventually will make with DOJ to persuade it to settle any investigation arising from the Levin referral. That is, this is all about supporting Goldman’s effort to make it look like Blankfein is leaving–if he does–on his own terms. And, in turn, supporting DOJ’s apparent fierce determination not to try any of the criminals who crashed our economy.
It’s just not clear why the NYT really thinks the story–lacking the crucial detail to explain why this might be news–is “news.”
After a drawn out battle to liberate the records of the Fed’s discount window lending, they’ve finally been released. Bloomberg (who led the legal fight to liberate them) has made the records available here.
While it’s going to take a while for those who understand this stuff to collate the data–the Fed released individual PDFs–thus far there are two stories. First, when Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn testified to the FCIC that Goldman had only accessed the window once–and that at the request of the Fed–he appears to have not been telling the truth.
Goldman Sachs Bank USA, a unit of the company, took overnight loans from the Federal Reserve on Sept. 23, Oct. 1, and Oct. 23 in 2008 as well as on Sept. 9, 2009, and Jan. 11, 2010, according to the data released today. The largest loan was $50 million on Sept. 23 and the smallest was $1 million on the most recent two occasions.
Goldman Sachs President and Chief Operating Officer Gary D. Cohn told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission June 30 that “we used it one night at the request of the Fed to make sure our systems were linked with their systems, and it was for a de minimis amount of money.” Peter J. Wallison, a member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, then asked, “you never had to use it after that?”
“No, and as I said, we used it on the Fed’s request,” Cohn replied.
Maybe now that we’ve established the principle that people should go to jail for lying like this, we can finally send a bankster to jail?
Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, observes that Jamie Dimon was serving on the Board of the NY Fed at the same time as sucking at its teat.
Under court order, the Federal Reserve today identified more banks that took loans during the financial crisis using a once-secret system that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called “welfare for the rich and powerful.”A Sanders provision in the Wall Street reform law already had forced the Fed last Dec. 1 to name banks that took trillions of dollars in emergency loans during the crisis.
“The Federal Reserve bailout was welfare for the rich and powerful and you-are-on-your-own rugged individualism for everyone else,” Sanders said. “The information released by the Fed today should never have been kept secret. This money does not belong to the Federal Reserve; it belongs to the American people. I applaud Bloomberg News, Fox News and others for their success in lifting another veil of secrecy at the Fed.”
Sanders said the latest disclosure raises questions about conflicts of interest. While Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, served on the board of directors of the New York Fed, in one month alone, April of 2008, JPMorgan Chase received a combined $313 billion in Fed loans.
“This is an obvious conflict of interest on its face that must be investigated as part of the independent audit that my amendment requires to be completed this summer. When JPMorgan Chase was telling the world about their great financial success, it seems like they were using the Fed’s discount window as a giant piggy bank.”
I guess this is the kind of information about the banksters about which we little people are supposed to remain ignorant?