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“Relentless Wal Street Crime Spree”: Fines Are Not Adequate Deterrents To Corporate Misbehavior

When future historians look back at our era, they will doubtless be puzzled about how we allowed it to come to pass that faceless corporations were granted all the freedoms and protections of real people, but faced none of the consequences that real people face for criminal behavior. This puzzle is related to the problem I wrote about earlier this morning, in which social problems for normal people are solved with fines and jail time, but social problems caused by corporate “citizens” are given market solutions and self-regulation instead.

The latest case in point comes as six major banks guilty of manipulating currency markets were given the laughably small fine of $4.3 billion, and not a single one of the actual perpetrators is coming close to facing jail time.

On Wednesday, six massive international banks agreed to pay $4.3 billion to settle allegations from regulators in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland that their traders tried to manipulate the $5.3-trillion-a-day foreign-currency exchange market. But Wall Street watchdogs say the banks got off with a slap on the wrist.

From 2008 through 2013, traders at JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and UBS colluded to coordinate the buying and selling of 10 major currencies to manipulate prices in their favor….

In the real world, the crime spree being perpetrated by global corporations, particularly those in the financial sector, will never abate until the criminals perpetrating them are actually thrown in jail.

But critics say the banks, which were not forced to admit wrongdoing, deserved a much harsher punishment. “The global too-big-to-fail banks are again allowed to evade responsibility and accountability by using shareholders’ money to pay big fines, which will generate headlines but do little if anything to stop the relentless Wall Street crime spree,” Dennis Kelleher, the president of Better Markets, a financial reform advocacy shop, responded in a statement.

David Weidner, who covers Wall Street for MarketWatch, agrees. The settlements “appear to be just another cost-of-doing-business budget line for the banks,” he wrote. What’s more, financial reformers say, none of the employees involved in the rate-fixing will face criminal charges. “It’s corrupt, as usual,” says one House staffer. Regulators should “send crooks to jail.”

Fines are utterly inadequate to deter this sort of behavior. We understand this implicitly when it comes to check kiters and liquor store robbers. If you’re convicted of those things you go to jail. But if you collude to debase another country’s entire currency for your own profit, your company pays a small fine.

That’s going to look very weird and very corrupt in about 100 years. Or else it won’t–in which good luck to us all.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, November 15, 2014

November 19, 2014 Posted by | Big Banks, Corporations, Wall Street | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Lies That Will Kill America”: Pundits Run To The Defense Of A Massive Bank And Other Tales Of The Lapdog Media

Here in Manhattan the other day, you couldn’t miss it — the big bold headline across the front page of the tabloid New York Post,  screaming one of those sick, slick lies that are a trademark of Rupert Murdoch’s right wing media empire. There was Uncle Sam, brandishing a revolver and wearing a burglar’s mask. “UNCLE SCAM,” the headline shouted. “U.S. robs bank of $13 billion.”

Say what?  Pure whitewash, and Murdoch’s minions know it. That $13 billion dollars is the settlement JPMorgan Chase, the country’s biggest bank, is negotiating with the government to settle its own rip-off of American homeowners and investors — those shady practices that five years ago helped trigger the financial meltdown, including manipulating mortgages and sending millions of Americans into bankruptcy or foreclosure.  If anybody’s been robbed it’s not JPMorgan Chase, which can absorb the loss and probably take a tax write-off for at least part of it. No, it’s the American public. In addition to financial heartache we still have been denied the satisfaction of seeing jail time for any of the banksters who put our feet in cement and pushed us off the cliff.

This isn’t the only scandal JPMorgan Chase is juggling. A $6 billion settlement with institutional investors is in the works and criminal charges may still be filed in California.  The bank is under investigation on so many fronts it’s hard to keep them sorted out – everything from deceptive sales in its credit card unit to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme to the criminal manipulation of energy markets and bribing Chinese officials by offering jobs to their kids.

Nor is JPMorgan Chase the only culprit under scrutiny.  Bank of America was found guilty just this week of civil fraud, and a gaggle of other banks is being investigated by the government for mortgage fraud.  No wonder the camp followers at Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, CNBC and other cheerleaders have ganged up to whitewash the banks.  If justice is somehow served, this could be the biggest egg yet across the smug face of unfettered, unchecked, unaccountable capitalism.

One face in particular: Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase. One of Murdoch’s Fox Business News hosts, Charlie Gasparino, claims the Feds are on a witch hunt against Dimon for criticizing President Obama, whose administration, we are told, “is brutally determined and efficient when it comes to squashing those who oppose their policies.”  But hold on: Dimon is a Democrat, said to be Obama’s favorite banker, with so much entree he’s been doing his own negotiating with the attorney general of the United States.

But that’s crony capitalism for you, bipartisan to a fault. Rupert Murdoch has been defending Dimon in his media for a long time. Last spring, when it looked like there might be a stockholders revolt against Dimon, Murdoch was one of many bigwigs who rushed to his defense. He tweeted that JPMorgan would be “up a creek” without Dimon. “One of the smartest, toughest guys around,” Murdoch insisted. Whether Murdoch’s exaltation had an effect or not, Dimon was handily reelected.

Over the last few days, The Wall Street Journal, both Bible and supplicant of high finance as well one of Murdoch’s more reputable publications –at least in its reporting –  echoed the “UNCLE SCAM” indignation of the more lowbrowPost. The government just wants “to appease their left wing populist allies,” its editorial writers raged, with a “political shakedown and wealth-redistribution scheme.” Perhaps, the paper suggested, the White House will distribute some of the JPMorgan Chase penalty to consumers and advocacy groups and “have the checks arrive in swing Congressional districts right before the 2014 election.” We can hear the closet Bolsheviks panting for their handouts now and getting ready to use their phony ID’s to stuff the box on Election Day with multiple illegal ballots .

Such fantasies are all part of the Murdoch News Corp pattern, an unending flow of falsehood and phony populism that in reality serves only the wealthy elite. Fox News is its ministry of misinformation, the fake jewel of the News Corp crown, a 24/7 purveyor of flimflam and the occasional selective truth. Look at the pounding they’ve given Obama’s healthcare reform right from the very start, whether the non-existent death panels or claims that it would cause the highest tax increase in history.

While it’s true that the startup of Obamacare has been plagued by its website nightmare and other problems, Fox News consistently has failed to mention Republican roadblocks that prevented the program from getting proper funding or the fact that so many states ruled by Republican governors and legislatures – more than 30 — have deliberately failed to set up the insurance marketplaces critical to making the new system work. Just the other day, Eric Stern atSalon.com fact-checked a segment on Sean Hannity’s show. “Average Americans are feeling the pain of Obamacare and the healthcare overhaul train wreck,” Hannity declared, “and six of them are here tonight to tell us their stories.”

Eric Stern tracked down each of the Hannity Six and found that while their questions about health reform may have been valid, the answers they received from Hannity or had decided for themselves were not. “I don’t doubt that these six individuals believe that Obamacare is a disaster,” Stern reported. “But none of them had even visited the insurance exchange.”

And there you have the problem: ideology and self-interest trump the facts or even caring about the facts, whether it’s banking, Obamacare or global warming. Ninety seven percent of climate scientists say that climate change is happening and that humans have made it so, but only four in ten Americans realize it’s true. According to a new study in the journal Public Understanding of Science, written by a team that includes Yale University’s Anthony Leiserowitz, the more that people listen to conservative media like Fox News or Limbaugh, the less sure they are that global warming is real. And even worse, the less they trust science.

Such ignorance will kill democracy as surely as the big money that funds and encourages the media outlets, parties and individuals who spew the lies and hate. The ground is all too fertile for those who will only believe whatever best fits their resentment or particular brand of paranoia. It is, as an old song lyric goes, “the self-deception that believes the lie.” The truth will set us free; the lie will make prisoners of us all.

 

By: Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Salon, Originally Published in Bill Moyers Blog, October 25, 2013

October 26, 2013 Posted by | Big Banks, Democracy, Media | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Bank Of America’s Foreclosure Frenzy”: Maximizing Fees And Profits For Big Banks

In one corner, we have five former Bank of America Corp. employees who told a federal court they were instructed to mislead customers on the verge of losing their homes and stall their applications for loan modifications.

In another corner, we have Bank of America, which says nothing could be further from the truth.

Who’s right? If anything, the bank’s strident denials make me more inclined to believe the workers’ claims. “These allegations are absurd, patently false and contrary to Bank of America’s long-standing policy only to foreclose as a last resort when other available options to help keep people in their home have been exhausted,” Jumana Bauwens, a Bank of America spokeswoman, told Bloomberg News in an email this week.

Perhaps some of the allegations may be wrong. But to say all of them are obviously false? You have to wonder. A lot of the former employees’ claims make sense.

We have known for years that the U.S. Treasury Department’s Home Affordable Modification Program failed miserably at its stated goal of helping struggling homeowners. In part, that’s because companies and divisions of major banks that service mortgage loans often can make more money from foreclosures than from loan modifications.

It didn’t bother the banking industry’s “robo-signers” that they risked committing perjury when they signed false affidavits filed in courthouses across the country to speed foreclosures along. Now, Bank of America would have us believe that all of these former employees were making things up under penalty of perjury when they came forward and told their stories.

The former employees’ statements were filed with a federal court in Boston as part of a lawsuit against Bank of America by homeowners who say they were improperly denied permanent loan modifications. Bank of America says it will respond to the statements in greater detail in a court filing.

The workers gave horrific accounts about Bank of America’s compliance with the Home Affordable Modification Program. One consistent theme was that they said they were told to deceive borrowers about the status of their applications.

“My colleagues and I were instructed to inform homeowners that modification documents were not received on time, not received at all, or that documents were missing, even when, in fact, all documents were received in full and on time,” said Theresa Terrelonge of Grand Prairie, TX, who worked at Bank of America from 2009 to 2010 as a loan-servicing representative. She said workers “were awarded incentives such as $25 in cash, or as a restaurant gift card” based on “how many applications for loan modifications they could decline.”

Simone Gordon of Orange, NJ, who left Bank of America in 2012, gave a similar account. “Employees were rewarded by meeting a quota of placing a specific number of accounts into foreclosure, including accounts in which the borrower fulfilled a HAMP trial period,” Gordon said. “For example, a collector who placed ten or more accounts into foreclosure in a given month received a $500 bonus.” Other rewards for placing accounts into foreclosure included gift cards to Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond.

“We were regularly drilled that it was our job to maximize fees for the bank by fostering and extending delay of the HAMP modification process by any means we could — this included by lying to customers,” Gordon said.

William Wilson, a Bank of America underwriter and manager in Charlotte, NC from 2010 to 2012, described what he said was called a “blitz.” About twice a month, he said, Bank of America would order case managers and underwriters to clean out the backlog of HAMP applications by rejecting any file in which the documents were more than 60 days old. Employees were instructed to “enter a reason that would justify declining the modification to the Treasury Department,” Wilson said.

“Justifications commonly included claiming that the homeowner had failed to return requested documents or had failed to make payments,” he said. “In reality these justifications were untrue. I personally reviewed hundreds of files in which the computer systems showed that the homeowner had fulfilled a trial period plan and was entitled to a permanent loan modification,” but was nevertheless declined during a blitz.

“On many occasions, homeowners who did not receive the permanent modification that they were entitled to ultimately lost their homes to foreclosure,” he said.

After Bloomberg wrote last week about the former employees’ statements, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, Maxine Waters, sent a letter to Christy Romero, the special inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, asking that her office investigate. Yet it’s hard to get one’s hopes up about the government’s desire to get at the truth.

There already has been a $25 billion nationwide whitewash of a settlement between regulators and big banks over improper foreclosure practices, along with billion-dollar payments under a different settlement to consultants who were hired to review those practices. Nobody was prosecuted, much less wrist-slapped.

This week, the court-appointed monitor overseeing compliance with the terms of the national mortgage settlement said he found “more work needs to be done” by big mortgage servicers to improve their treatment of customers. But neither he nor the regulators have ever reported anything as dubious as the conduct described in the former Bank of America employees’ court declarations. Perhaps they just missed a bunch of stuff.

If there was a good reason to believe that the government’s priority is to investigate big banks rather than protect them, maybe Bank of America’s blanket denial would seem more credible.

 

By: Jonathan Weil, Bloomberg View, Published in The National Memo, June 21, 2013

June 23, 2013 Posted by | Big Banks, Foreclosures | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Have Banks Been Robo-Signing Credit Card Documents Too?

Several months ago, the nation’s biggest banks became embroiled in the “robo-signing” scandal, when it became clear that they had been approving thousands of foreclosures without verifying the proper documents or guaranteeing borrowers due process. The banks submitted fraudulent documents to courts and were forced to halt their foreclosures processes entirely as they sorted out what happened. “I had no idea what I was signing,” said one Bank of America employee. “We had no knowledge of whether the foreclosure could proceed or couldn’t, but regardless, we signed the documents to get these foreclosures out of the way.”

Robo-signing people into foreclosure is bad enough. But as it turns out, the practice may not have been limited to residential mortgages. American Banker, in fact, notes that JP Morgan Chase may also have been robo-signing credit card deals:

JPMorgan Chase & Co. has quietly ceased filing lawsuits to collect consumer debts around the nation, dismissing in-house attorneys and virtually shutting down a collections machine that as recently as nine months ago was racking up hundreds of millions of dollars in monthly judgments…It is unclear whether Chase has stopped pursuing collection on many claims nationwide, or if intends to pursue the debts in some other fashion. The bank has not explained its apparent moratorium and declined comment.

Chase’s halt does, however, follow scattered defeats in state courts and a whistle-blower’s allegation that it falsely overstated the balances of thousands of delinquent accounts it sold to a third party. Former Chase employees and debt collection experts insist that the bank would not have abruptly retreated from its collections efforts in the absence of trouble. […]

Robo-signing, or the high-volume production of signed legal documents, has been a key element of the governmental and media foreclosure reviews. Chase’s current pullback raises at least the possibility that at least some banks may have documentation problems in other business lines…”If sloppy record keeping and problems with false affidavits is a problem with mortgages, it’s 100 times bigger in credit card accounts,” says Michelle Weinberg of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.

As one finance blogger put it, “When a bank leaves money on the table for no obvious reason, you know that something’s not quite right.” It seems that JP Morgan, and who knows how many other banks, were attempting to collect on debts without being certain that the amount they were asking for was accurate. One whistle blower looked at $200 million in JP Morgan customer accounts and claims to have found that “half the accounts lacked adequate documentation of judgment and one-sixth listed the wrong amounts owed.”

Banks have been robo-signing documents since as least 1998, as an Associated Press investigation found, and its not all that surprising that a practice that worked so well for so long (at least in the eyes of the banks) would have migrated to other areas.

 

By: Pat Garofalo, Think Progress, January 17, 2012

January 19, 2012 Posted by | Banks, Consumers | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Forget The Rich: Tax The Poor And Middle Class

Nothing is certain but death and taxes, it used to be said, but in the madcap times we live in, even they’re up for grabs.

No matter what proof the White House provides that Osama bin Laden indeed has had his bucket kicked — and at this point even al Qaeda admits he’s dead — there still will be uncertainty. Whether they ever release those damned photos or not, a lunatic few will continue to insist that Osama’s alive and well and running a Papa John’s Pizza in Marrakesh.

As for taxes, having to pay them is no longer a sure thing either, especially if you’re a corporate giant like General Electric, with a thousand employees in its tax department, skilled in creative accounting. You’ll recall recent reports that although GE made profits last year of $5.1 billion in the United States and $14.2 billion worldwide they would pay not a penny of federal income tax. Chalk it up to billions of dollars of losses at GE Capital during the financial meltdown and a government tax break that allows companies to avoid paying US taxes on profits made overseas while “actively financing” different kinds of deals.

It gets worse. In 2009, Exxon-Mobil didn’t pay any taxes either, and last year, they had worldwide profits of $30.46 billion. Neither did Bank of America or Chevron or Boeing. According to a report last week from the office of the New York City Public Advocate, in 2009, the five companies, including GE, received a total of $3.7 billion in federal tax benefits.

As The New York Times‘ David Kocieniewski reported in March, “Although the top corporate tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, one of the highest in the world, companies have been increasingly using a maze of shelters, tax credits and subsidies to pay far less… Such strategies, as well as changes in tax laws that encouraged some businesses and professionals to file as individuals, have pushed down the corporate share of the nation’s tax receipts — from 30 percent of all federal revenue in the mid-1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009.”

What’s greasing the wheels for these advantages is, hold on to your hats, cash. Over the last decade, according to the NYC public advocate’s report, those same five companies — GE, Exxon-Mobil, Bank of America, Chevron and Boeing — gave more than $43.1 million to political campaigns. During the 2009-2010 election cycle, the five spent a combined $7.86 million in campaign contributions, a 7 percent jump over their 2007-2008 political spending.

“These tax breaks were put in place to promote growth and create jobs, not bankroll the political causes of corporate executives,” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said. “… No company that can afford to spend millions of dollars to influence our elections should be pleading poverty come tax time.”

And by the way, those campaign cash figures don’t even include all the money those companies funneled into the 2010 campaigns via trade associations and tax-exempt non-profits. Thanks to the Supreme Court Citizens United decision, we don’t know the numbers because, as per the court, the corporate biggies don’t have to tell us. Imagine them sticking out their tongues and wiggling their fingers in their ears and you have a pretty good idea of their official position on this.

Meanwhile, last week Republicans like Utah’s Orrin Hatch, ranking member of the US Senate Finance Committee, grabbed hold of an analysis by Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and wrestled it to the ground. The brief memorandum reported that in the 2009 tax year 51 percent of all American taxpayers had zero tax liability or received a refund. So why, the Republicans asked, are Democrats and others so mean, asking corporations and the rich to pay higher taxes when lots of other people — especially the poor and middle class — don’t pay taxes either?

Hatch told MSNBC, “Bastiat, the great economist of the past, said the place where you’ve got to get revenues has to come from the middle class. That’s the huge number of people that are there. So the system does need to be revamped… We have an unbalanced tax code that we’ve got to change.”

All of which flies in the face of reality. As Travis Waldron of the progressive ThinkProgress website explained, “The majority of Americans who do not pay federal income taxes don’t make enough money to qualify for even the lowest tax bracket, a problem made worse by the economic recession. That includes retired Americans, who don’t pay income taxes because they earn very little income, if they earn any at all.

“And while many low-income Americans don’t pay income taxes, they do pay taxes. Because of payroll and sales taxes — a large proportion of which are paid by low- and middle-income Americans — less than a quarter of the nation’s households don’t contribute to federal tax receipts — and the majority of the non-contributors are students, the elderly, or the unemployed.”

What’s more, ThinkProgress notes, “The top 400 taxpayers — who have more wealth than half of all Americans combined — are paying lower taxes than they have in a generation, as their tax responsibilities have slowly collapsed since the New Deal era.”  In the meantime, “working families have been asked to pay more and more.”

So maybe death and taxes are no longer certain, but one thing remains as immutable as the hills. In the words of another golden oldie, there’s nothing surer — the rich get rich and the poor get poorer.

By: Michael Winship, CommonDreams.org, May 10, 2011

May 14, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Democrats, Economy, Elections, General Electric, GOP, Government, Income Gap, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Tax Credits, Tax Increases, Tax Liabilities, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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