Friday, June 22, 2012


HOT ENOUGH FOR YA?: It's just become too easy. Turn to the web site of our local "newspaper"- and we used the term advisedly- and prepare for LOL anomalies and goof-ups galore.

This week's winner wasn't even an actual article but rather a rare- and in this case head-scratching- "Correction and Clarification." The Tuesday notice read:

The article “Summer begins Wednesday” published Sunday should state that summer solstice is not the hottest day of the year.


Sure enough, checking the previous Sunday, in another of those "no byline" fillers that are simply press releases with a word or two changed to protect the person guilty from charges of plagiarism, a story accompanied by a NASA graphic showing the Sun and the Earth at both equinoxes and both solstices, actually said:

The four seasons are determined by the changing sunlight, which changes while the Earth tilts its axis as it orbits the Sun. This year’s summer officially begins Wednesday. The summer solstice — the longest day of the year — in the Northern Hemisphere is when the sun reaches the northernmost point in the sky. Summer solstice is also the hottest day of the year.
(emphasis added)

It seems doubtful that NASA created that bit of science fiction and more likely that some aspiring hack at the local "newspaper" assumed that if it was summer it was hot and if it was the longest day of the summer, it must be the hottest day, too.

Apparently science is haaaard.

In professionally run newspapers these rewrites of press releases are noted as such in the article- a practice which our local Kaua`i paper has apparently dispensed with of late. But with who-the-hell-knows-who doing the job of editor these days, not only doesn't this vital bit of information appear any more but somehow, when changing a few words, information that would be pegged as patently absurd by a fifth-grader appears as gospel.

And speaking of factual matters and actual journalism, when discussing the criminal enterprise that is Wall Street capitalism and the felonious acts that have left us all one step from bankruptcy and homelessness, we admit to having an almost secret source of information that causes many to ask us "where the heck did you hear about that?"

The answer has always been "from Matt Taibbi of- believe it or not- Rolling Stone magazine."

Not only has his coverage been revelatory of the way America was and continues to be scammed by the 1% of the 1% that do investment capitalism's dirty work- along with tales of the revolving door of regulators and agency heads who, the day before, had been the ones who were perpetrating the very frauds they are now investigating- he does it in an understandable and ROTFLMAO manner.

But this week Matt has outdone himself with a story of a verdict in a trial that has escaped the media's perusal but is one of the more exemplary of precautionary tales when it comes to the "wha' hopp'n'd" aspect of the world financial collapse.

An early sentence seems to sum up what was at stake in the recent guilty verdict in the trial of three municipal bond dealers.

"The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia" is the story of how "the world's most powerful banks have, for years, been fixing the prices of almost every adjustable-rate vehicle on earth, from mortgages and credit cards to interest-rate swaps and even currencies."

Taibbi begins his sordid tale of greed and obliviousness on the part of the three financial executives and their cronies saying:

Someday, it will go down in history as the first trial of the modern American mafia. Of course, you won't hear the recent financial corruption case, United States of America v. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm, called anything like that. If you heard about it at all, you're probably either in the municipal bond business or married to an antitrust lawyer. Even then, all you probably heard was that a threesome of bit players on Wall Street got convicted of obscure antitrust violations in one of the most inscrutable, jargon-packed legal snoozefests since the government's massive case against Microsoft in the Nineties – not exactly the thrilling courtroom drama offered by the famed trials of old-school mobsters like Al Capone or Anthony "Tony Ducks" Carollo.

But this just-completed trial in downtown New York against three faceless financial executives really was historic. 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.

Taibbi essentially describes a "point shaving" scam that apparently goes on in every bond traders' office and has done so for at least decades.

Basically the way it works is that when a city, county or state borrows money for "capital improvements" it borrows the whole amount it needs- say $100 million to build a bridge. But it doesn’t pay out the whole $100 million all at once- it can take years to spend it first on consultants, then designers, then on each individual aspect of construction.

The rest gets deposited with "virtually every major bank and finance company on Wall Street – not just GE, but J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, UBS, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Wachovia and more" according to Taibbi.

There are usually three bids required and the highest interest rate is the one accepted by the borrower. But these financial executives have been shaving "points"- hundredths of a percent in interest- so that the winners provide the lowest amount possible with a revolving winner of the bids so that everyone gets a chance to steal.

The difference is kicked back to the executives in various manners. While that hundredth of a percent might only be, for instance, $50,000, imagine that times a gazillion with many deals going down daily in untold numbers of jurisdictions.

It adds up to billions that, instead of going back to the borrowers to use for hospitals, elderly services, aid for the homeless and other government services, goes into the pockets of the financial execs and corporate bottom lines.

Taibbi also tracks the money to "kickbacks" in the form of campaign contributions to elected officials to the tune of what Taibbi says is a return rate of 66 to 1- for every dollar "contributed" to someone's campaign it generates $66 in appropriations and returns to the "donor."

Read Taibbi's piece- it will be one of the best half hours you've ever invested in understanding how cavalierly and causally Wall St. brethren have been ripping us off daily.

Also check out Taibbi's blog post today that contains " a few interesting bits" that had to be left out of the magazine piece for space reasons.

Unless and until stories like this get some corporate media coverage it will go on for many years to come. We may have to skip today's Casey Anthony interview or tales of the Octomom's stripping routine but hey- we've all gotta make some sacrifices these days.

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