On the Global Financial Crisis…

Over the course of the previous decade, the press regarding various instances of financial mismanagement, fraudulent activity and underhanded collusion by too-big-to-fail-or-prosecute banks and investment firms has become increasingly frequent. For the financial services sector entrusted most simply with keeping funds safely where they’re deposited and not starting financial depressions, this has apparently proven to be the most challenging task in both the US and EU with Australia fairing marginally better but not without incident. Compounding these systemic failures to the severe detriment of the majority of people is the inability of the courts or governments to prosecute those personally responsible for the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) – which hence relegates the importance of the laws intended to protect the very same people they’re being used against and almost condones such behaviour by financial institutions such as Barclays, UBS, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Entire US states have been forced to declare bankruptcy, European nations have enacted increasingly harsh austerity measures, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission allowed months to pass before investigating allegations regarding the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) – with the most dire of consequences affecting those most powerless to stop them. Before we got lost in latent anger and fury however, here’s a look at the facts and figures as simply as they can be stated in their simplest form.

  • Dec 1997 – AUS – ‘CBA employee Don Nguyen writes $39m of new business in 10 months, 3.5 times his target’ 1
  • Nov 1998 – US – “Glass-Steagall legislation (‘a law passed after the Great Depression, which prevented banks with consumer deposits from engaging in risky investment banking activities’2) repealed. This allowed Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insured banks, whose deposits were guaranteed by the government, to engage in highly risky business. It also allowed the banks to bulk up, becoming bigger, more complex and unwieldy.” 3
  • Dec 2003 – US – Freddie Mac fined $125 million, Fannie Mae fined $400 million to settle federal regulator’s allegations of mismanagement at the mortgage finance giant that is blamed for a $5 billion understatement of earnings. 4
  • Apr 2004 – US – “The Securities and Exchange Commission changed the leverage rules for just five Wall Street banks… The “Bear Stearns exemption” replaced the 1977 net capitalisation rule’s 12-to-1 leverage limit. In its place, it allowed unlimited leverage for Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. These banks ramped leverage to 20-, 30-, even 40-to-1.” 5
  • Apr 2006 – US – ‘Mortgage giant Freddie Mac has agreed to pay a $3.8 million Federal Election Commission fine — the agency’s largest ever — to settle charges that it illegally raised campaign money for members of Congress.’ 6
  • 2007 – US – Collateralised debt obligations (CDO) market stands at $4 trillion and this compares with a 1998 figure of $350 million. 7
  • Sept 2007 – US – ‘Freddie Mac, the nation’s second-largest financier of home mortgages, is paying a $50 million fine to settle civil securities fraud charges brought by federal regulators in a four-year accounting lapse.’ 8

We take these charges seriously, and that’s why the Freddie Mac of today is a very different company than the Freddie Mac of the past.

– Richard Syron, Freddie Mac’s chairman and chief executive officer – 28/9/2007

  • Sep 2008 – US – the bankruptcy of the U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, and the collapse of the world’s largest insurance company, AIG, triggered a global financial crisis. 9
  • Oct 2008 – AUS – Whistleblowers tip off ASIC (Australian Securities and Investments Commission) to Don Nguyen’s fraudulent activity. 10
  • Jan 2009 – UK – British bank Lloyds-TSB paid a fine of $350m to US authorities after prosecutors accused it of faking records so clients in Iran, Libya and Sudan could do business with US institutions. 11
  • June 2009 – AUS – Whistleblowers tip off CBA to Don Nguyen’s fraudulent activity. 12
  • Feb 2010 – AUS – Whistleblowers visit ASIC head office in Sydney to demand action. 13
  • Dec 2009 – US – Swiss banking group Credit Suisse says it will pay $536m for violating US sanctions against Iran. 14
  • March 2012 – US – Wachovia settled the biggest action brought under the US bank secrecy act, through the US district court in Miami. It paid federal authorities $110m in forfeiture, for allowing transactions later proved to be connected to drug smuggling, and incurred a $50m fine for failing to monitor cash used to ship 22 tons of cocaine… Yet the total fine was less than 2% of the bank’s $12.3bn profit for 2009.’ 15
  • March 2011 – AUS – Nguyen banned for seven years. 16
  • Nov 2011 – US – RBS fined $52 million, Goldman Sachs fined $60 million, Morgan Stanley fined $102 million in order to settle charges filed by the state of Massachusetts that unfair residential mortgages were put into investment pools. 17
  • June 2012 – UK – Barclays fined £290m for its “serious, widespread” role in trying to manipulate the price of crucial interest rates that affect the cost of borrowing for millions of customers around the world. 18
  • Oct 2012 – US – ‘Royal Bank of Scotland has been fined £26million in the US for selling thousands of home loans which helped trigger the global financial crisis.’ 19
  • Nov 2012 – AUS – ‘Another CBA planner Ricky Gillespie permanently banned after forging client signatures. Seven planners now banned’. 20
  • Dec 2012 – US – British-based bank HSBC fined $1.9 billion (or about five weeks’ profit) for the largest drug-and-terrorism money-laundering case ever. Not one dollar or one day in jail from any individual, despite a decade of stupefying abuses. 21
  • June 2013 – US – ‘Former Freddie Mac CEO Richard Syron and other executives serving during his tenure failed to escape a pending case filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission over subprime mortgages….The SEC claims the former executives misled investors about the company’s subprime mortgage exposures between the dates of March 23, 2007 and Aug. 6, 2008.’ 22
  • June 2013 – US – ‘Former Goldman Sachs Vice President Fabrice Tourre lost a bid to limit a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission civil fraud case against him over a transaction that led to a $550 million settlement by the Wall Street bank’. 23

Perhaps the most galling aspect of this unprecedented set of events – as if it weren’t infuriating enough – is that along with the meagre amounts paid by these various institutions in fines, no admission of guilt was necessary. Given that Court hearings on events from the early 2000’s are still currently taking place and media coverage has at times been documenting events years after the fact, it may come as no surprise that a fundamental change in the global economic system could be years, decades or generations away…if ever.

Josh Rayson (KS)

References

1 http://www.theage.com.au/business/profit-above-all-else-how-cba-lost-savings-and-hid-its-tracks-20130531-2nhde.html

2 http://www.sonyclassics.com/awards-information/insidejob_screenplay.pdf

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/what-caused-the-financial-crisis-the-big-lie-goes-viral/2011/10/31/gIQAXlSOqM_story_1.html

4 http://www.accountingweb.com/topic/freddie-mac-agrees-pay-125-million-fine

5 http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/what-caused-the-financial-crisis-the-big-lie-goes-viral/2011/10/31/gIQAXlSOqM_story_1.html

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/companies/regulation/2006-04-18-freddie-mac_x.htm

7 http://www.europeanbusinessreview.com/?p=436

8 http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/economy/2007-09-27-3719577201_x.htm

9 http://www.sonyclassics.com/awards-information/insidejob_screenplay.pdf – Page 7

10 http://www.theage.com.au/business/profit-above-all-else-how-cba-lost-savings-and-hid-its-tracks-20130531-2nhde.html

11 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8417239.stm

12 http://www.theage.com.au/business/profit-above-all-else-how-cba-lost-savings-and-hid-its-tracks-20130531-2nhde.html

13 http://www.theage.com.au/business/profit-above-all-else-how-cba-lost-savings-and-hid-its-tracks-20130531-2nhde.html

14 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8417239.stm

15 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/03/us-bank-mexico-drug-gangs

16 http://www.theage.com.au/business/profit-above-all-else-how-cba-lost-savings-and-hid-its-tracks-20130531-2nhde.html

17 http://www.marketwatch.com/story/rbs-reaches-52-mln-settlement-with-mass-ag-2011-11-28

18 http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jun/27/barclays-chief-bob-diamond-bonus-fine

19 http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-2222676/Royal-Bank-Scotland-fined-26m-Nevada-toxic-home-loans-helped-trigger-global-financial-crisis.html

20 http://www.theage.com.au/business/profit-above-all-else-how-cba-lost-savings-and-hid-its-tracks-20130531-2nhde.html

21 http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/gangster-bankers-too-big-to-jail-20130214

22 http://www.housingwire.com/news/2013/04/01/former-freddie-mac-executives-fail-escape-subprime-fraud-case

23 http://www.4-traders.com/NATIONAL-AUSTRALIA-BANK-L-6493174/news/Ex-Goldman-VP-Tourre-loses-bid-to-narrow-SEC-fraud-case-17002778/

Advertisements

KS – Westernstrumentals

I’d like to invite you to enjoy my latest EP (written under the moniker KS) – it’s a smoked out and psychedelically tinged joint of grooves, 1 part social commentary, 2 parts humour and influenced equally by underpaid agitation and late-night relaxation.

Please listen, download, duplicate and de-stress.

Westernstrumentals

Much love and many thanks

KS – DUES

Women – Public Strain Album Review

Reviewed: 14/07/2011

Women – Public Strain

 

Label: Flemish Eye (Canada) / Jagjaguwar (US)

Released: 28/09/10

Rating: 92

The hometown of a band and the geographical location of the recording studio evidently permeates through numerous records – Turn on the Bright Lights by Interpol showcased the boisterous and brooding qualities of NYC. Through the grime came an exceptionally poignant, bold and evocative album. The dark winter of Alberta, Canada allowed Women to record their second album Public Strain during the relentless cold, yet it’s served to exude a honed sound and sensibility instead of an overtly calculated follow-up. Public Strain uses the alternating rise and fall of drones with shimmering guitars and emphatic percussion to create a criminally understated album that builds and progresses upon the self-titled debut.

Ominous bowed-guitar screeches open the album with ‘Can’t You See’, a gently lilting portion of reverb drenched, lo-fi hum. While the mood is markedly more subdued to the agitated upbeat ‘Cameras’ off the self-titled debut, a distinct undercurrent of unease remains present – owing to the dedication of Women to the album listening experience. Lead vocalist and guitarist Patrick Flegel croons with a couplet that describes the newfound territory for the listener and artist – “Not so sure I’ve seen this place before / Can’t you see? Can’t you see?”

Admittedly, few of the lyrics are decipherable on the album, but it’s this deliberate obscurity that heightens their impact. Similarly, the driving beat of ‘China Steps’ allows for groove to give way to thrash, with both aspects fusing, providing one of the standout moments in an exceptionally solid album. It’s ‘Eyesore’ though that closes out the record with a demonstration of tight rhythm and arpeggiated guitars to provide the pinnacle. Leaving the best ‘til last shows a certain amount of audacity, but it primarily highlights the faith the quartet have in this record as a whole and the songs.

A willingness to forego the clichés of pop-song structure and a desire to experiment with alternately brash and swooning guitar sounds defines the bold sophomore release. Public Strain uses just the right amount of haphazard explorations into a noisy oblivion and delicately intertwined counterpoints to provide us with one of the best of 2010.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Album Review

Wireless Bollinger – Originally Published : Jun/2011

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra

 

Label: Fat Possum Records / True Panther

Released: 21/06/2011

Rating: 80

Unknown Mortal Orchestra started out in 2010 as a doorway into the creative wilderness forNew Zealand native Ruban Neilson after the disbanding of the Flying Nun supported all-male quartet The Mint Chicks. The release of the self-titled debut calmly follows the upload of the opening track ‘Ffunny Ffrends’ to Bandcamp in late ’10 and a lengthy run of shows in the US and particularly the adopted home of Portland, Oregon. Insistent grooves underlying intricate and spirited vocals, coupled with static and sparse guitar fuzz are the force behind this coolly confident yet industrious and oddly psychedelic debut from the trio.

Upon the upload of ‘Ffunny Ffrends’, it wasn’t too long before there was label attention – even before a lineup was solidified. Perhaps in reaction to this, there remains a seeming unwillingness to post updates and showing a preference for performance and word-of-mouth over media-saturation paints UMO as primarily a live band. It’s to be expected therefore, that a finely manicured brashness demonstrating a distinct energy adorns the record, notably on tracks like ‘Bicycle’ and ‘Nerve Damage!’ On the former, maracas and guitar stabs drive the track almost mechanically as Neilsen half yelps / half croons “What a difference between what I saw / and what was before my eyes”. On the latter, wah-wah guitar gives way to a garage beat Times New Viking would be proud of and howling, cop-killing co-vocals.

Comparisons to bands from a bygone era could be drawn, but it wouldn’t do justice to the level of quality UMO has attained in distilling influences from the likes of Captain Beefheart, Sly Stone and RZA. The sounds are familiar but fresh, and though it’s difficult to gauge what will age well, the future looks very promising for Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and you should probably check this record out.

The Panics – Rain on the Humming Wire Review

Wireless Bollinger – Originally Published : Aug/2011

Label: Dew Process

Released: 29/07/2011

Rating: 55

Released after a brief hiatus on the back of the Triple J approved Cruel Guards (2007), Rain on the Humming Wire (2011) treads lightly on mildly symphonic, jaunty alt-pop. For the Melbourne via WA quintet, their fourth album shows a distillation of craft – striving for the quickest points of departure from resilient joy to somber reflections to respite. While the more compelling moments continue to come from a darker place, the album suffers in part from a lyrical broadness and over-simplification of song structure. Rather than forging new ground, the album falls a little too easily between folk, country and alt-rock luminaries rather than transcending them to create an inoffensive, pleasant yet bland album.

Humming Wire opens with familiar stomped drum hits under chiming bells in ‘Majesty’ – a piano driven ballad about the bleak story of Australian colonisation, Her Majesty and who wore what in the A-List. It’s an upbeat, jubilant ditty comparable to last year’s Hottest 100 winners – only with an Australian accent. Obviously, the role of critics isn’t in reducing art to an intellectual exercise – we genuinely enjoy hearing albums that surprise and excite us in their exploration and creativity (among other things) – but it’s difficult to listen to The Panics most recent effort without hearing a mediocre pastiche. Tracks like ‘Endless Road’ walk with purpose under a four-on-the-floor beat, but it seems to go nowhere. Flourishes of synth-horns, pounding piano and bongo fills adorn high-school poetry but ultimately amount to forgettable tune.

I don’t want to let go
I’ve held all the hands I need to hold
It seems all that I feel
I shared with you in this room was real.  

Likewise in ‘Creatures’, a wiry guitar line provides the point of interest and a few melodic licks, but the faux string-section and forced ‘oohs-and-ahs’ leaves the song sounding like a calculated exercise. On rare occasions, tracks like ‘Low on Your Supply’ connect on a more personal level – the vocal harmonies and organ atop a stripped back beat still eventuates into audience participation territory, but leaves the listener with something of substance. ‘Shot Down’ and ‘Not Quite a Home’ provide more toe-tapping moments, but it begs the question – why do The Panics – now into their 10th year together – need to fall back on utter musical simplicity?

Kudos to The Panics for consecutively charting higher with each release – it at least demonstrates a sense of aspiration – and attempting to break into the US and UK is a laudable goal – but sadly, the songs have suffered and …Humming Wire is an occasionally moody, slightly maudlin batch of disaffecting and derivative melancholia.

 

Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams Review

Wireless Bollinger – Originally Published : Oct/2011

Score: 35

Hailing from California, Dum Dum Girls are one of the better known all-female quartets happily lost in the mildly hazy nostalgia for the 60s. Along with contemporaries (Vivian Girls, Frankie Rose and the Outs and Best Coast) Indie-Pop has become a Summer-y institution full of black clad girls with guitars that have fun rockin’ out. In contrast to the Dum Dum’s earlier work though, Only In Dreams is quite challenging for all the wrong reasons. Influences are worn boldly on sleeves, and front-chick Kristen ‘Dee Dee’ Gundred pines with (occasionally excessive) sincerity atop a chugging rhythm section – but the album is driven by roughly 5 drum beats. Sure, there’s clearly discernable difference in the albums relative highlights, but for over 75% of the album, the Dum Dums are content with polished harmonies over the same “Oh Mickey” beat, four chords, repeated choruses, forgettable melodies and trite lyrics.

‘Always Looking’ is a punchy album opener riding on a hand clapping, 60’s surf riff slice of pop-homage that immediately announces the newfound introduction of the recording studio to the Dum Dums. It’s shortly after the opening verse that the first problem arises – wasn’t one of the most endearing qualities of the debut album I Will Be (2008) the organically thick crackle and fuzz of the bedroom? Removal of such an intrinsic quality – particularly to music so evidently imbued by a past era – has to severely change the aspirations for Only In Dreams. Love and loss (particularly of Dee Dee’s mother) are still the central themes, but the lyrics never seem to look past the painfully obvious – coming across as broad and maybe even a little childish.
The closing verse of ‘In My Head’ is as follows -“Come home and kiss me / Tell me you miss me / Tell me it right / Tell me it right / Don’t bother asking how my day was / Everyday drags the same just because / Without you I can’t get out of my bed / I’d rather visit you in my head / In my head / In my head / In my head / In my head.
Similarly sentimental rhymes about beds and ‘you’ litter the whole album, yet fail to make Only In Dreams strikingly personal. Rather, the most exciting moments come in the dreamy (sincerely Mazzy Star indebted) slow jam ‘Coming Down’. A reverb laden guitar, swooning vocals and a stomping beat adorned with minor key melodies provide respite from the dull rhythms, and strike somewhere more poignant. While it’s the longest track at six and a half minutes, it’s also the most gripping – and it’s understandably the Dum Dum’s choice for lead single. To follow up the funeral march though, the up-tempo “woah” filled tune ‘Wasted Away’ – again using the drum beat of choice attempts to pummel the listener into submission. By this point though, the territory being explored is already very clear to the listener, and the songs (if they weren’t already) become nothing more than a well-produced background fuzz to tap toes to.

By limiting their scope and accentuating jangly guitars, the Dum Dum Girls were able to carve out their niche among contemporaries – hell, their earlier work is still well worth checking out. By making the leap to legitimate recording studio, over-emphasising vocals and releasing an album with a striking lack of creativity, there’s little positive to say about the sophomore effort. Aside from occasionally interesting flourishes, what seems to be left of Only In Dreams are aimless guitar solos and an ultimately formulaic, over-produced, bland and repetitive bunch of songs.