It’s always intrigued me that people who are very successful in one area believe that success validates their judgment in every other area. Classic case in point: Curt Schilling. And now, of course, he blames the government for his own lack of business sense.

How municipal bond dealers robbed Americans of billions

Matt Taibbi does a real nice job on a topic that has been my own obsession for decades: Municipal bonds. Bonds are where all the political kickbacks and thievery have always been hidden, and the despicable thing is, regular people lose real, tangible things as a result, yet are none the wiser.

I remember years ago, I attended a charity banquet at a local hospital, and someone running for county council came over and said, “I was told I should come over and introduce myself to you.” He then proceeded to talk about what wonderful things he did for charities, and what a humble man he was. I stopped him: “I’m sure you’re very nice to your wife and family, and I’m sure your dog loves you. But you’re a municipal bond dealer, and that’s really all I need to know about you.”

He protested. “My firm won’t be bidding on any business with the county if I’m elected.” (Of course he was going to be elected; he was a Republican in a GOP-controlled county.) I looked at him. “Mr. N., you and I both know that all your firm has to do is rubber stamp another firm’s deal, and they’ll do the same for you. It’s corrupt and it costs the taxpayers money.” (Requiring approval from another firm is supposed to make sure the deal is fairly priced. Hah!)

After the banquet, he made a point of letting me know he was taking all the leftover food to a homeless shelter. It reminded me of those old Mafia guys who built all those magnificent churches in South Philly, presumably to buy their way into heaven.

All this corruption is hidden by many layers, helped along by the fact that – surprise, surprise – things like bond deals are exempt from public bid. So I’m very hopeful that this trial will put at least a little fear into these pinstriped scum:

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” Corallo.

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.

The defendants in the case – Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg and Peter Grimm – worked for GE Capital, the finance arm of General Electric. Along 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 – these three Wall Street wiseguys spent the past decade taking part in a breathtakingly broad scheme to skim billions of dollars from the coffers of cities and small towns across America. The banks achieved this gigantic rip-off by secretly colluding to rig the public bids on municipal bonds, a business worth $3.7 trillion. By conspiring to lower the interest rates that towns earn on these investments, the banks systematically stole from schools, hospitals, libraries and nursing homes – from “virtually every state, district and territory in the United States,” according to one settlement. And they did it so cleverly that the victims never even knew they were being ­cheated. No thumbs were broken, and nobody ended up in a landfill in New Jersey, but money disappeared, lots and lots of it, and its manner of disappearance had a familiar name: organized crime.

In fact, stripped of all the camouflaging financial verbiage, the crimes the defendants and their co-conspirators committed were virtually indistinguishable from the kind of thuggery practiced for decades by the Mafia, which has long made manipulation of public bids for things like garbage collection and construction contracts a cornerstone of its business. What’s more, in the manner of old mob trials, Wall Street’s secret machinations were revealed during the Carollo trial through crackling wiretap recordings and the lurid testimony of cooperating witnesses, who came into court with bowed heads, pointing fingers at their accomplices. The new-age gangsters even invented an elaborate code to hide their crimes. Like Elizabethan highway robbers who spoke in thieves’ cant, or Italian mobsters who talked about “getting a button man to clip the capo,” on tape after tape these Wall Street crooks coughed up phrases like “pull a nickel out” or “get to the right level” or “you’re hanging out there” – all code words used to manipulate the interest rates on municipal bonds. The only thing that made this trial different from a typical mob trial was the scale of the crime.
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If my kids did to that old woman what these kids did, I’d think of some really creative way to get my point across, like marching them to the nearest old age home and making them volunteer. This is just disgusting. I don’t think my kids would have done something like that, though, because they weren’t allowed to talk to me like that. I see far too many kids whose parents allow them to interact on that smart-ass level, and it’s all I can do not to reach out and smack them — all of them, parents included. “Oh what can I do, I can’t stop them!” Bullshit. Unless you have a kid with some kind of serious mental illness, the simple fact is, you have raised an asshole. An asshole is someone who thinks of himself as the center of the universe and has little to no empathy for anyone else.

People might not like to hear this, but I believe kids are animals and need to be trained into social behavior – or they simply conform to the Animal Farm rules of their peer pack. If you’re not doing that job (again, except under extreme circumstances), you’re not a good parent. Parents who grant their kids’ every wish? You’re raising an asshole. Parents who let their kids bully them into giving them what they demand? You’re raising an asshole. Parents who constantly tell their kids how wonderful and special they are? Raising an asshole.

Don’t even get me started on the “I can’t get my kids to go to bed/sleep in their own room” crowd. When did parents turn into such wimps? I’m pretty mild-mannered, but as I often told my kids, “When I was a little kid, all the grownups got to boss me around. And now that I’m a grownup, I’ll be damned if I let kids boss me around.”

What do you think? Overreacting or not? Are we officially old farts of the “these kids today!” variety?

Immigration re-formed

Yeah, I pretty much had the same reaction. Obama rarely makes a “bold” move unless he’s forced to by his own self-interest. Matt Stoller with a piece on Obama’s change on immigration reform. Go read the whole thing:

The only reason that Barack Obama will make policy moves in your direction is if he feels he can’t avoid it, or if you’re going to pay him or his administration off somehow. He’ll pawn you off as long as he can with PR and his own fake inspirational story; the contempt of Plouffe towards the public should show that these guys are entirely about PR. So if you immediately recognize that the only thing that matters is leverage instead of the stupid consistent appeals to the better angels of their nature or even worse, electoral advantage (as opposed to a real genuine threat from the Republicans), you’re one step up. It’s not a novel insight, but it’s worth bringing it up again when the administration reminds us so abrasively of the contempt they have for anyone paying attention to how they operate.

Mitt’s idea-free campaign

TPM’s reminder that Mitt Romney is running a campaign that’s unimaginative, cowardly and dishonest, adjectives that sum up the man as well as the campaign:

Mitt Romney’s campaign asked Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to downplay his state’s job growth after several press releases from the governor’s campaign and messages from the Florida Chamber of Commerce trumpeted gains for the month of May, according to Bloomberg News.

Florida’s unemployment rate dropped from 8.7 percent in April to 8.6 percent in May, though still significantly above the national rate of 8.2 percent.

A Romney adviser reportedly requested that Scott’s office say that Florida’s unemployment rate could improve faster under a Romney presidency, unnamed sources told Bloomberg.

The development is perhaps one of the clearest examples of the messaging predicament the Romney campaign finds itself in. For the Republican presidential nominee, the election is largely a referendum on President Obama’s handling of jobs and the economy…

No wonder Romney quickly resorts to doubletalk when anyone asks him where he stands on an issue. All of his eggs are in the same basket — our ongoing economic disaster.

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