Stressed Bankers, Corrupt Cops Earn Hallmark Cards: Opening Line

A joyous International Anti-Corruption Day to all! And to the person at the United Nations who chose mid-December for such a sober annual reflection, we can only say, we love your sense of irony.

If at Thanksgiving and Christmas we celebrate all we have, surely Anti-Corruption Day is a time to salute those whose dishonesty and depravity provides the standard by which we measure ourselves. Our Happy Anti-Corruption Day cards (Hallmark, we know it’s only a matter of time) are addressed to:

5) Ray Nagin, former mayor of New Orleans: After Hurricane Katrina he was all up in our grill about how government was failing the people of a great American city. After leaving office, he marketed himself as a motivational speaker. Turns out, his motivations were sketchy the whole time. In February, he was convicted of bribery, fraud and money laundering, accused of taking cash and vacations from contractors seeking city business. Per the New York Times: “Most of the schemes took place after Hurricane Katrina, when contractors crowded into the city for rebuilding work.” Right under our collective noses, in other words. He’s in prison while appealing his conviction.

4) Jeffrey Burnham, a former TD Bank vice president and regional mortgage sales manager, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for buying $1,000 bottles of champagne and $750 lap dances, to the tune of $240,000, on his corporate credit card. From the Portland Press Herald: “Burnham said he spent the bank’s money at strip clubs in Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Florida as a way to help him cope with the stress of his job, which included having to fire subordinates who did not meet sales goals.” That does sound stressful.

3) The 121 countries that basically flunked this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index, as measured by Transparency International. At the top of this group of underachievers -- at rock bottom, in other words -- are Somalia and North Korea, to whom we say, why can’t you be more like Denmark and New Zealand?

2) The fictitious “Rachel from card services” and every real, unscrupulous person involved in the robo-calling menace that seems barely to have been slowed by the Federal Trade Commission’s toothless “National Do Not Call Registry.” If one of those calls intrudes on your quiet today, consider pressing 1 to speak to a real person. Wish that person Happy Anti-Corruption Day. Add four-letter words to make it your own.

1) The Philadelphia Police Department, which, no matter the competition, seems intent on keeping its sash forever as king of corrupt law enforcement. The latest embarrassment, a case against seven veteran narcotics officers, sounds more like marauding than mere abuse of power. “You can’t teach corruption,” a police union official said in denying a cultural problem within the department. No, sometimes corruption seems like a natural-born gift. Like at FIFA.

Happy holiday.

***

Today’s primary U.S. economic indicators are JOLTS job openings and the Census Bureau’s wholesale inventories report, both at 10 a.m. EST.

U.S. earnings include Burlington Stores, HD Supply Holdings, UTi Worldwide and AutoZone, all before the bell. Not much after the bell.

Loral holds its annual meeting.

A short time ago, the U.K. said industrial output and factory production declined instead of rising as economists had forecast.

***

- Stocks in China plunged overnight, European equities are falling and so are U.S. index futures. - CIA “torture report" expected from Senate Intelligence Committee today, and U.S. forces around the world are placed on higher alert. - Obama speaks about immigration in Nashville, Tennessee. - Affordable Care Act enrollment data will be examined by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at 9:30 a.m. in Washington. - U.S. general says Iraqi security forces months away from retaking ground from Islamic State. You know, just in case I.S. needed to get things ready. - Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, asks Governor Andrew Cuomo for authorization to investigate all police-related deaths of unarmed civilians. - Position limits will be discussed by the CFTC’s Agricultural Advisory Committee at 10 a.m. in Washington. - Goldman Sachs holds its U.S. Financial Services Conference. - Nobel Peace Prize winners Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi hold a press conference in Oslo at 1 p.m. local time, 7 a.m. EST. - Duke and Duchess of Cambridge enjoy their last day in NYC. At least the weather will make them feel at home. - Uber banned in New Delhi after driver accused of raping female passenger. - Protests over police killings shut highway in third night of California Bay Area demonstrations and converge on Barclays Center in Brooklyn. - Death toll rises to at least 21 in wake of tropic storm in Philippines. - FBI mole suspected of aiding IRA plot to assassinate Margaret Thatcher. - Meanwhile, Thatcher and John Major were being tracked by British men in the late 1990s. - Kenyan police have killed 500 in extrajudicial campaign against terrorism. - The softer side of Putin. - Pew survey finds most Americans say Internet makes them ‘‘better informed’’ (about cats). - ESPN announces MLB trade citing information from faked Twitter account of Fox reporter. - Daughter of Korean Air Lines chairman resigns as vice president after freaking out over how nuts were served in first class during flight from JFK to South Korea. - This year was ‘‘devastating’’ for children, Unicef says. - Tor and the dark web are not as opaque to law enforcement anymore. - Thieves caught plundering relics in cave where Dead Sea scrolls found. - Is there life on Mars?

***

The last question we had for Matthew Leising about his story today on the wild west that is trading in cash Treasuries was something to the effect of what kind of uproar/hell/weeping and gnashing of teeth would arise if the U.S. government decided to step in after reading this story and impose -- or try to -- total, real-time regulation on that market.

‘‘That’s a good question,’’ he said. ‘‘I think a lot of people are satisfied with leaving it alone.’’

In the process of digging into an arbitration claim HTG Capital Partners filed with futures exchange owner CME Group, Leising unspooled what he called the Swiss cheese of regulation in cash Treasuries. Here’s what we think he means: Take a block of Swiss cheese, then pour a gallon of water over it. Voila.

At the heart of the complaint is the concept of ‘‘spoofing,’’ or ‘‘pull and hit,’’ a system by which traders can manipulate the price of a Treasury by feigning interest until their spurious bids or offers nudge the price closer to where they want it to be. Now that trading is approaching light speed, this tactic is a lot more powerful and a lot more prevalent, Leising finds.

(In fact, there’s an anecdote in the story about how spoofing managed to exceed the speed of light between New York and Chicago. Enjoy it.)

The New York Fed supposedly has ‘‘primary responsibility for day-to-day surveillance,’’ according to a 1998 study of how the government regulates the market, the last time anyone dusted off this topic. But that’s not what the Fed’s website says -- it makes no mention of that role -- and Eric Pajonk, a spokesman for the New York Fed, wouldn’t elaborate.

The SEC is mostly powerless because -- get this -- U.S. debt is exempt from being defined as a security under the law that gives the SEC its authority, and neither does the Treasury have any mandate for enforcement actions. Treasuries aren’t priced on Trace, for some reason, and as of now, spoofing is not illegal, per se.

‘‘There is no specific rule against this in the cash market,” Leising tells us. He contacted the Treasury, of course, and Adam Hodge, a spokesman, said this in an e-mailed statement:

“As market mechanics evolve, we will continue to make human capital and infrastructure investments to enhance our ability to stay abreast of market dynamics.”

OK, when?

***

Brian Sullivan tells us the downpours expected along the coast in the Mid-Atlantic and U.S. Northeast are the product of a storm system that’s trapped in place and prepared to lash us with as much as two to three inches of rain in places. It’s the next entrant in what he calls a storm chain, when conditions just keep producing another miserable day (unless you’re a duck).

But wait, there’s more. Tomorrow we also get high winds, making air travel that much trickier, rendering umbrellas that much less useful, trees and branches less like to stay where they are.

We’ll take it. You know how much snow that would be?

***

Our journalist heart was thawed just a bit by a recent article in Atlantic magazine about Hogeway, “the Dutch village where everyone has dementia.”

The “cutting-edge elderly-care facility” is “run like a more benevolent version of ‘The Truman Show,’” the article reported, with “caretakers posing in street clothes” and “uniquely stylized homes, furnished around the time period when residents’ short-term memories stopped properly functioning.”

For anybody with aging parents -- or anybody planning on getting old, for that matter -- Hogeway sounds like an idyllic balance of care, security and autonomy.

Turns out the autonomy part can be a mixed blessing when dementia is involved.

Bryan Gruley today digs into the case of an Iowa state representative, now 78, who has been charged with raping his wife, on the grounds that because of her Alzheimer’s disease, she lacked the mental capacity to consent to sex.

“The State of Iowa vs. Henry Rayhons offers a rare look into a complex and thinly explored dilemma that will arise with increasing frequency as the 65-and-over population expands and the number of people with dementia grows,” Gruley writes. “It suggests how ill-equipped nursing homes and law enforcement agencies are to deal with the nuances of dementia, especially when sex is involved.”

The story is compelling both because it seems so unique and because one day it might not be.

***

It was Christmastime in 1990 and we were managing A&R Beverage, a beer distributorship at 61st and Market Streets under the elevated subway tracks in extreme West Philadelphia -- a couple doors from the Wheels of Soul motorcycle club.

It was the kind of place that made the girlfriend cry in fear the first time she set foot in it, but then doe-eyed girls from Cardinal O’Hara who wore scrunchies in their hair and pom-pom peds in their tennis sneakers had no business being in this part of town, and she never was there again.

The guy who came in with a VCR for sale was a semi-regular -- in this neighborhood, you kept track -- but not, like, a regular-regular. Clearly he had stolen it, or so we thought, because, well, this guy wasn’t a door-to-door VCR salesman.

It looked like it was right off the truck. We looked both ways and forked over the $100 we had in our pocket. A few customers later, with closing time approaching, we thought we’d get a head start on the instruction manual, but it turns out you don’t need to learn much about operating a couple bricks.

So, wherever you are, Laxminarayan Krishnamurthy, we can’t pronounce your name, but we feel you.

***

Back in May we hit upon a story from the Smithsonian’s website (no, really) about the looming shortage of bourbon. This was occurring because the brown liquor was getting chic, what with the flossers having moved on from their appletinis and Woo Woos to dabble in something with a little more fortitude.

Well, the Guardian reports our fears of having to resort to sarsaparilla are as yet unfounded. There will still be bumps in supply -- the story’s descriptions reminded us of coffee or cocoa growers -- but with robust plans for expanded distilling and production, they should be short-lived. Then there’s this:

"While the oldest whiskey will disappear off shelves at exorbitant prices, stores will still have the majority of mid-range bottles to stock,’’ the story says.

This is where things go wrong. The drink in American lore has never been one of upscale tastes, and any fatuous or greedy efforts to concoct some snotty top-shelf versions misses the soul of that booze.

We get the illustration of this when George Bailey and Clarence the angel are ordering drinks in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and Clarence orders a mulled wine.

“We serve (pronounced ‘‘soive") hard drinks in here for men who wanna get drunk fast,’’ Nick the bartender barks.

He’s not talking about vodka.

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