Two items today, neither shining a very good light on the capital uber alles crowd. Our first one is about what kind of people aspire to run what they consider one of this country’s most important institutions – the New York Stock Exchange:

A 32-year member of the New York Stock Exchange was charged yesterday with making a death threat to another NYSE seatholder who is suing the exchange to block its purchase of Archipelago Holdings Inc.

Edward A. Reiss, 65, turned himself in to the New York Police Department at the Midtown North Precinct in Manhattan and was released after aggravated harassment charges were filed. The NYPD has been investigating a telephone message that threatened William Higgins.

Higgins, along with three other NYSE members, filed a lawsuit in May to block the Big Board’s acquisition…

Threatening to have someone whacked because they disagreed? I guess that’s what blog/forum bullies do when they get some power. I almost said when they grow up, but…well, you know.

But wait, that’s not the big story. After the break, let’s go to our courtroom reporter for the latest in high finance:

Accounting firm KPMG LLP on Monday agreed to pay $456 million to settle a federal probe of its sales of fraudulent tax shelters, avoiding a criminal indictment that might have crippled the firm.

The accounting firm generated at least $11 billion in phony tax losses for wealthy individuals and prevented the government from collecting $2.5 billion in tax receipts, the department said.

Let’s put that in perspective, shall we? KPMG’s clients got away with the equivalent of stealing $20 from each and every household in the US. After the settlement the government is still out 80% of that, with the burden falling on the rest of us. And the kicker? This is just one case, and probably just about the only one the IRS has retained the budget and skills to prosecute. How many more of these schemes go unchallenged and even unnoticed due to lack of resources, amounting to how much out of everyone else’s pockets? Can you see why I instantly distrust any claim or proposal from people who claim that our economic system is doing just fine except that we need even less regulation, and that we’d all be living in paradise if we just trusted the people at the top of the pyramid even more? When someone lets me know right off the bat that they have abandoned reason in favor of dogma, is it any wonder that I withdraw the benefit of the doubt?