Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

Drachma redux, Hoffa’s killers, besting JPMorgan

Steven Brill
May 22, 2012 12:47 UTC

1. Printing drachmas?

What actually will happen if Greece leaves the euro zone and goes back to its own currency? How would that work? Is there a printing press somewhere busily churning out drachmas just in case? Or did they keep the old ones in storage? How will Greeks get new drachmas? Will they exchange their euros for them? How will the exchange rates be determined? How will all the software for cash registers and credit card and e-commerce transactions be reprogrammed?

2. Searching for Jimmy Hoffa’s assassins:

We’re approaching, in two months, the 37th anniversary of the disappearance of Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa. I wrote a book about the union three years after his disappearance that pinpointed how he was murdered and who did it. Although the FBI spelled out in an internal memo and in various affidavits seeking search warrants pretty much the same scenario and suspects that I reported, the feds were never able to make a case because no one would talk and Hoffa’s body was never found. (It was probably incinerated in a mob-connected sanitation plant near Detroit.)

However, the case is still officially open. In fact, I’m told there is at least one FBI agent still assigned to it. With almost all of the people involved in taking out Hoffa now dead, what does that agent do all day? A great story commemorating the anniversary would not only spend a few days with that agent but also check in on Hoffa’s son, James, who is now the Teamsters president. Portrayed in my book as a completely clean lawyer who did some union-related legal work, James took over his father’s old job in 1999. When I spent time with him in the years just after his father’s murder he was seethingly bitter about how the mob element that controlled the union in partnership with his father had turned on the elder Hoffa. But he was also understandably afraid to say much about it publicly. What’s he got to say all these years later?

3. Are gift cards the new currency?

Last month’s mammoth takedown in the New York Times of Wal-Mart’s alleged cover-up of allegations of corporate bribery in Mexico reported that one alleged method of spreading payments to local Mexican officials was by giving them Wal-Mart gift cards. That got me wondering how that kind of accounting was handled.

It’s one thing to disguise a bribe by recording it as a fee paid to a lawyer or other middleman, who passes it on to the corrupt official. But how would depleting the gift card inventory that way be explained? Or are controls on gift cards so lax that this can be done routinely? What about gift cards at other large retailers? Do they hand them out to “friends” this way? Again, this seems like an easier way to dispense illicit corporate funds than cutting a check or creating a cash stash.

The Dodd-Frank effect, unions and private equity, and Newt’s expenses

Steven Brill
Jan 31, 2012 13:19 UTC

1. The Dodd-Frank effect: Good, bad or both?

Although the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the mega-agency created by the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory bill, has only been in existence for about six months, all of the Republican presidential candidates and GOP congressional leaders have slammed the agency and called for its abolition. Their central charge is that the regulations it has already promulgated are strangling the financial system and disabling banks from making the kinds of loans to small businesses and potential homeowners that would reignite the economy.

For example, in the Jan. 23 Republican presidential debate Mitt Romney said he had spoken to a banker in New York who said he had “hundreds of lawyers” tied up trying to navigate the new regulations.

Some sophisticated financial reporter, or team of reporters, needs to dig into that – with specifics. What exactly is the new agency requiring that is gumming up the works? What new rules are drawing the most persuasive complaints? How burdensome are they? How many lawyers and others are actually involved who were not working on the same types of regulations before? What abuses are the new rules intended to prevent? Which ones, if any, really do seem indefensible and which ones, if any, seem smartly crafted and worth the extra burden?

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