Monday, February 21, 2011

Danny Schecter: US Economics -- One Big Ponzi Scheme

US economics: One big Ponzi scheme: While Bernie Madoff languishes in jail, bankers continue to profit as the poor lose their homes and hope.
by Danny Schecter
Al Jazeera

Thank you, Bernie, for breaking your silence - even if you are still clinging to that cover-up mode you adopted since you took the entirety of the blame for your crimes.

What is clear is that ripping off the rich is punished far more severely than ripping off the poor. The lengthy sentence you were given spared countless other greedsters and goniffs from facing the music - what music there is.

In an interview - with a reporter from The New York Times who is writing a book to cash in on a man who has already cashed out - we learn, in the vaguest terms, that Mr M believes the banks he did his crooked business with "should have known" his figures did not figure. Keeping with the deceit that has served him well over the years, he names no names.

That said, how right he may be. There were many who should have known and done something about it. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other regulators for one. Perhaps The New York Times for another. Remember, it was Madoff's confession to his sons that started him on his way to his new 12' x 12' home from home - in a federal correctional institute, where he may dream of his seized penthouse, homes and yachts - rather than any press expose.

For years, he went undetected by business journalists, who knew - or should have known - what he was up to. There are even questions about the speed with which he was sentenced, preventing him from being tried - a process which, through diligent cross-examination, would have brought us more information on the details of his dirty deals.

Do not believe all you read

Even The New York Times interview is being disputed, reports the New York Post: "The trustee representing thousands of Bernard Madoff's victims disputed a report that he personally grilled the Ponzi monster in prison."

"There has been no direct communication between them," said David Sheehan, the chief counsel for the court-appointed trustee, Irving Picard, after The New York Times reported that Picard and Madoff had met over the summer.

"The Times later changed a quote from Madoff and altered some text online that had implied Picard personally visited Bernie in the Butner, NC, lockup where he is serving a 150-year sentence. Picard did not dispute that his legal team met with Madoff."

Madoff is also still not coming clean about the web of alliances he had internationally, as well as in New York. We live in a global economy after all. We now know of Swiss and Austrian connections - but what about Israel, where this ingratiating handler was well known for his connections with Jewish philanthropists and institutions? So far, that story has yet to be told.

At the same time, the people investigating Madoff are making a small fortune. According to the Financial Times: "The army of lawyers and consultants helping to recover funds from Bernard Madoff's $19.6bn fraud stand to earn more than $1.3bn in fees, according to new figures that detail the cost of liquidating the huge Ponzi scheme."

The comments of readers to The Times appear to be more insightful than the paper’s own reports. Here is one from Texas: "I actually, sort of, feel sorry for this man. He was just doing what many investment firms were doing at the same time. He has been imprisoned as a scapegoat - yet many people since then - and to this day - are doing the same thing. Where are the indictments against the thousands of other people who did the same thing - and knowingly led this country into financial disaster?"

Banks close ranks

The best reporting on this subject is not in the mainstream press but in a music magazine, Rolling Stone, where Matt Taibbi investigates why the whole of Wall Street is not in jail: "Financial crooks brought down the world’s economy - but the feds are doing more to protect them than to prosecute them," he charges.

Madoff also believes the banks who serviced him did not want to know about his Ponzi scheme which, unfortunately, is probably true - and an attitude coming not just from the banks.

The Times report added: "He spoke with great intensity and fluency about his dealings with various banks and hedge funds, pointing to their 'willful blindness' and their failure to examine discrepancies between his regulatory filings and other information available to them.

"'They had to know,' Mr Madoff said. 'But the attitude was sort of: "If you’re doing something wrong, we don’t want to know."'"

Yves Smith of quips: "This sounds credible - but it also seems more than a tad self-serving."

Andrew Leonard asks in Salon: "Should we trust him? After all, if there is one thing we know about Bernie Madoff, it is that he is one hell of a liar. But as evidence emerges that bank executives were exchanging emails wondering about Madoff’s amazing investment record, the possibility that the banks were purposefully looking the other way is not inconceivable."

The truth is that many of us still do not really want to know - because, if we did, we would have to do something about it.

By their actions, both Democrats and Republicans clearly appear to prefer the most simplistic understandings - or misunderstandings.

To Read the Rest of the Commentary

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