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“Who Says Crime Doesn’t Pay?”: The Bottom Line Is Crime Can Actually Pay — If It’s Big Enough

Hey, can we all just stop complaining that our government coddles Wall Street’s big money-grubbing banks?

Sure, they went belly-up and crashed our economy with their frauds, rigged casino games, and raw greed. And, yes, the Bush and Obama regimes rushed to bail them out with trillions of dollars in our public funds, while ignoring the plight of workaday people who lost jobs, homes, businesses, wealth, and hope. But come on, Buckos, have you not noticed that the feds are now socking the bankers with huuuuuge penalties for their wrongdoings?

Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs, for example, was recently punched in its corporate gut with a jaw-dropping $5 billion for its illegal schemes.

Wow, $5 billion! That’s a stunning amount that Goldman Sachs has agreed to pay to settle federal criminal charges over its shameful financial scams that helped wreck America’s economy in 2008. That’s a lot of gold, even for Goldman Sachs. It’s hard to comprehend that much money, so think of it like this: If you paid out $100,000 a day, every day for 28 years, you’d pay off just one billion dollars. So, wow, imagine having to pull Five Big B’s out of your wallet! That’s enough to make even the most arrogant and avaricious high-finance flim-flammer think twice before risking such scams, right? Thus, these negotiated settlements between the Justice Department and the big banks will effectively deter repeats of the 2008 Wall Street debacle… right?

Actually, no.

The chieftains of the Wall Street powerhouse say they are “pleased” to swallow this sour slug of medicine. It’s not because they’re contrite and eager to make amends.  Wall Street bankers don’t do contrite. They are pleased (even thrilled) because this little insider secret: Thanks to Goldman’s backroom dealing with prosecutors, the settlement is riddled with special loopholes that could eliminate nearly $2 billion from the publicized “punishment.”

For example, the deal calls for the felonious bank to put a quarter-billion dollars into affordable housing, but generous federal negotiators put incentives and credits in the fine print that will let Goldman escape with paying out less than a third of that. Also, about $2.5 billion of the settlement is to be paid to consumers hurt by the financial crisis. But the deal lets the bank deduct almost a billion of this payout from its corporate taxes — meaning you and I will subsidize Goldman’s payment. As a bank reform advocate puts it, the problem with these settlements “is that they are carefully crafted more to conceal than to reveal to the American public what really happened here.”

Also, notice that the $5 billion punishment is applied to Goldman Sachs, not the “Goldman Sackers.” The bank’s shareholders have to cough up the penalty, rather than the executives who did the bad deeds. Goldman Sachs’ CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, just awarded himself a $23 million paycheck for his work last year. That work essentially amounted to negotiating the deal with the government that makes shareholders pay for the bankers’ wrongdoings — while he and other top executives keep their jobs and pocket millions. Remember, banks don’t commit crimes — bankers do.

One more reason Wall Street bankers privately wink and grin at these seemingly huge punishments is that even paying the full $5 billion would only be relatively painful. To you and me, that sounds like a crushing number — but Goldman Sachs raked in $33 billion in revenue last year, so it’s a reasonable cost of doing business. After all, Goldman sold tens of billions of dollars in the fraudulent investment packages leading to the settlement, so the bottom line is that crime can actually pay — if it’s big enough.

 

By: Jim Hightower, Featured Post, The National Memo, May 4, 2016

May 5, 2016 Posted by | Big Banks, Corporate Crime, Financial Crisis, Wall Street | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bad Incentives Haven’t Gone Away”: You Still Need To Care About Sky-High Wall Street CEO Pay

According to a new regulatory filing, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan received a compensation package for 2013 worth $14 million, a $2 million increase over 2012. This places Moynihan third on the list of big bank CEOs, behind Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein, who made $23 million last year and JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, who made $20 million. Moynihan’s top underlings also received multi-million dollar compensation packages of their own.

With these numbers, it seems that Wall Street’s biggest banks are trying to put the financial crisis of 2008 firmly in the rear view mirror. (Never mind that many of them, most prominently JPMorgan, are still paying out hefty fines, penalties and settlements due to their actions in the lead up to that crisis.) Nothing more to see here! Back to business as usual! All’s well that ends profitably!

Over at the New York Times’ Dealbook this week, Ohio State University professor Steven Davidoff even lamented the outsized attention still garnered by CEO pay at Wall Street firms, when, for instance, tech CEOs sometimes make much more. “This double standard for finance and technology doesn’t make sense,” he wrote, adding that “perhaps it is time to call a truce on the Wall Street bias in looking at executive compensation.”

But there’s a good reason for the focus on Wall Street pay. For tech firms, misaligned incentives aren’t likely to crash the economy. For Wall Street, however, short-term risk-taking in pursuit of bigger bonuses can cause systemic problems, as several studies have shown. That’s why the Dodd-Frank financial reform law included new regulations meant to tie executive compensation at banks to longer-term performance (and it didn’t hurt that reining in Wall Street pay makes for good politics).

Sure, Davidoff is right that sky-high CEO pay deserves a broader look across the board. After all, it’s a big driver of income inequality. As the Economic Policy Institute has found, “Executives, and workers in finance, accounted for 58 percent of the expansion of income for the top 1 percent and 67 percent of the increase in income for the top 0.1 percent from 1979 to 2005.” Not only that, but taxpayers are subsidizing these big pay packages thanks to a loophole allowing corporations to write off CEO pay that is “performance based.” (Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, has introduced legislation to fix that particular problem, but given what the Republican-held House is interested in these days, I wouldn’t expect it to come up for a vote anytime soon.)

But the fact remains that Wall Street pay is unique due to its ability to cause harm to the wider economy. The simple solutions for reining in pay that would work in other industries – such as higher taxes, more transparency and stronger unions – don’t reduce that risk. And the fixes in Dodd-Frank, while helpful, haven’t done enough, as professor J. Robert Brown Jr., an expert in corporate law, wrote recently:

Executive compensation is not adequately bounded by legal standards under state law. Efforts to address these concerns by Congress have been useful but remain incomplete. The system as it currently exists does not ensure that compensation will be based upon actual performance or that the approach will not encourage excessive risk taking.

Now, Wall Street will tell you up, down and all around that its new pay packages are not like those of yesteryear. And maybe that’s even the case for now. But as 2008 fades further and further into memory, it’s worth remembering just how the economy was brought to the brink and what still hasn’t been done to fix those problems. Without firm rules, there’s nothing stopping Wall Street from slipping right back to the same old bad habits when it thinks everyone has lost interest.

 

By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, February 20, 2014

February 24, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Executive Compensation, Wall Street | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Risky Business”: Corporate Leaders Bemoan Tea Party Default Crisis Created By Their Own Donations

America’s great minds of business and finance have reached a consensus on the government shutdown and worse, the prospect of a debt default: While the latter is worse, both are bad. Those same great minds are well aware how the shutdown came to pass and why default still looms on the horizon, whether next week, next month, or next year.

Yes, the frightened corporate leaders surely know how this happened — because their money funded the Tea Party candidates and organizations responsible for the crisis.

Consider Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), a Tea Party freshman whose outspoken stupidity on a default’s potential benefits, such as an improved U.S. credit rating, has provided a bit of dark humor in these dark days. Yoho, a large-animal veterinarian, announced months ago that he would never vote to raise the debt ceiling.

Like most Republican candidates, he had no problem raising contributions from business interests, notably including contractors, insurance companies, manufacturers and agricultural processors — all of which presumably share the horror of default expressed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But no doubt Yoho parroted the usual right-wing clichés about taxes, regulation, labor, and health care, so all the business guys wrote a check without caring that Yoho is an ignorant yobbo.

Or consider Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), who came to embody the idiocy of the shutdown when he declared “we’re not going to be disrespected” by the White House, but couldn’t articulate precisely what Republicans needed in order to reopen the government and avoid default.  Another low-wattage Tea Party newcomer, Stutzman likewise raised plenty of money from commercial banks, real estate firms, insurance companies, and various manufacturers. Why do these executives write checks to elect someone like him?

Then there are the Tea Party leaders in the upper chamber, including such adornments of democracy as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and of course Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Johnson says there need be no debt default, no matter what Congress does, while Cruz, the “Defund Obamacare” mastermind, is more culpable than any other single legislator for the paralysis gripping Washington and the country. Johnson’s top donors include an investment firm called Fiduciary Management, Inc., ironically enough, as well as Northwestern Mutual, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Mass Mutual Life Insurance, and naturally, Koch Industries (which now claims, disingenuously, that it doesn’t favor the Cruz shutdown strategy or a debt default).

As for Cruz, guess who paid for his campaign? Very close to the top of the list of donors for the despised Texan is none other than Goldman Sachs — whose chairman Lloyd Blankfein showed up at the White House a few days ago to bemoan the catastrophic threat of default. Not only did Blankfein and his fellow bankers warn of what might happen if America breaches its full faith and credit, but he even hinted that the fault lies with Republican hostage takers. Which is only partially right, because Blankfein and his fellow financiers need to look in the mirror, too. Cruz also got a big check from Berkshire Hathaway, corporate home of the venerated Wall Street sage Warren Buffett, who just compared the impact of default to “a nuclear bomb.” If that nuke wipes out the markets, Berkshire’s investment in Cruz will have lit the fuse.

If any of these business leaders honestly cared about fiscal responsibility and economic growth – let alone the constant threat of shutdowns and defaults – they could step up to warn the Republicans that the money won’t be there anymore unless they cease and desist from such assaults on democracy. They have more than enough money and power to end this crisis – and make sure it never happens again – but they seem to lack the necessary character and courage.

 

By: Joe Conason, Featured Post, The National Memo, October 11, 2013

October 14, 2013 Posted by | Big Business, Default, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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