FROM today, 28JUN13, I am not posting entire articles to this page, just links to the articles which are posted on my blog. Exceptions will be extremely large articles / series, and will be so noted. So click the links to view any of the articles after today, prior to today, the past full articles added to this page on 6OKT12, are below.
Does America love Wall Street NINE times more than students? 23MAI13 http://bucknacktssordidtawdryblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/does-america-love-wall-street-nine.html / Elizabeth Warren: Break up the big banks, SIGN ON: SUPPORT THE BROWN-VITTER BILL TO END "TOO BIG TO FAIL" 22MAI13 http://bucknacktssordidtawdryblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/elizabeth-warren-break-up-big-banks.html / STUDENT DEBT RELIEF: SIGN ON: HELP PASS SENATOR WARREN'S FIRST BILL 14MAI13 http://bucknacktssordidtawdryblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/student-debt-relief-sign-on-help-pass.html /
Capitol Assets: Congress’s wealthiest mostly shielded from effects of deep recession 6OKT12 / JAMIE DIMON'S JPMORGAN CHASE: WHY IT'S THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIME 14MAI12 / HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE: HOW BANK OF AMERICA SILENCED A WHOLE TOWN 9MAI12 /
Capitol Assets: Congress’s wealthiest mostly shielded from effects of deep recessionhow the 535 members of Congress handle their money, what would you find?
You would see a diversity of investment strategies and results, from those who put their money into riskier, high-growth funds to those who own safe municipal bonds. The legislators range from the super-rich to the deep-in-debt, from inherited wealth to married wealth to no wealth at all. They are entrepreneurs and farmers, oilmen and ranchers, lawyers and real estate developers.
You would find that, contrary to many popular perceptions, lawmakers don’t get rich by merely being in Congress. Rich people who go to Congress, though, keep getting richer while they’re there.
The wealthiest one-third of lawmakers were largely immune from the Great Recession, taking the fewest financial hits and watching their investments quickly recover and rise to new heights. But more than 20 percent of the members of the current Congress — 121 lawmakers — appeared to be worse off in 2010 than they had been six years earlier, and 24 saw their reported wealth slide into negative territory.
Those findings emerge from an ongoing examination of congressional finances by The Washington Post, which analyzed thousands of financial disclosure forms and public records for all members of Congress.
Most members weathered the financial crisis better than the average American, who saw median household net worth drop 39 percent from 2007 to 2010. The median estimated wealth of members of the current Congress rose 5 percent during the same period, according to their reported assets and liabilities. The wealthiest one-third of Congress gained 14 percent.
Because lawmakers are allowed to report their holdings and debts in broad ranges, it is impossible for the public to determine their precise net worth. They also are not required to reveal the value of their homes, the salaries of their spouses or money kept in non-
interest-bearing bank accounts and their congressional retirement plan.
For its analysis, The Post used the midpoint of the range of each reported holding and tracked the figures over time to determine whether the relative wealth of lawmakers had increased or declined between 2004 and 2010. Previous studies of congressional wealth have looked at Congress as a whole, rather than tracking the financial trend for each individual lawmaker. The Post created an in-depth financial portrait of each member of Congress.
Among the findings:
●The estimated wealth of Republicans was 44 percent higher than Democrats in 2004, but that disparity has virtually disappeared.
●The number of millionaires in Congress dropped after the Great Recession; the 253 who have served during the current session are the smallest group since 2004. The numbers are likely to be underestimated because lawmakers are not required to list their homes among their assets.
●Between 2004 and 2010, 72 lawmakers appeared to have doubled their estimated wealth.
●At least 150 lawmakers reported receiving more income from outside jobs and investments than from their congressional salaries of $174,000 for rank-and-file members.
●Representatives in 2010 had a median estimated wealth of $746,000; senators had $2.6 million.
●Since 2004, lawmakers reported more than 3,500 outside jobs paying their spouses more than $1,000 a year. The lawmakers are not required to report how much the spouses are paid or what they did for the money.
●Lawmakers’ wealth is held in a variety of ways: 127 primarily in real estate, 117 in institutional funds, 75 in their spouses’ names, 51 in essentially cash, 36 in specific stocks and bonds, 32 in high-turnover trading, 30 in business ownership and 20 in agriculture. More than 40 had reported assets of $25,000 or less.
The Post also found that some congressional financial interests intersected with public actions taken by legislators: 73 lawmakers sponsored or co-sponsored legislation that could have benefitted businesses or industries in which either they or their families were involved or invested. The Post will report on several of those cases Monday.
Because of the imprecise financial disclosure system, estimations of wealth can be off by millions. For example, reports for Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) between 2004 and 2010 show that her wealth most likely increased by as little as $1 million or as much as $20 million, as framed by the changes to the lowest and highest possible totals of her reported assets. The Post analysis, which takes the midpoint of the ranges, estimated the increase at $11 million.
That figure is inaccurate, said her spokesman, Matt Dennis.
“The Loweys’ net worth did not increase by anywhere near $11m from 2004-2010 — the metric you’re using presents a hugely distorted picture,” Dennis said in an e-mail.
He declined to provide more accurate values for the assets of Lowey, a 12-term congresswoman, who is married to a partner in a White Plains, N.Y., law firm.
“They’re entitled to a certain level of privacy with their finances,” Dennis said in an interview. “That’s why the system is the way it is. They want a certain standard of disclosure without sacrificing their personal privacy.”
Rebound after recession
The analysis shows that lawmakers who were well-off before the financial crisis of 2008 saw portions of their portfolios level off during the darkest days. But most of these lawmakers managed to maintain their financial footing and emerge far wealthier than they had been earlier in the decade.
Some of the richest members of Congress watched their portfolios soar between 2004 and 2010. Of the 72 lawmakers whose estimated wealth doubled during that time, it appears that 11 increased their portfolios by at least $10 million, based on the midpoint of their reported ranges.
Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Tex.) posted an estimated $22 million gain. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) saw an estimated $60 million increase in her reported wealth as the value of her husband’s commercial real estate holdings in San Francisco climbed dramatically during the first decade of the century.
“This is really driven by real estate that he has held, some of it inherited, for a number of years,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said. “San Francisco is one of the places where the market has skyrocketed in terms of price per square foot and has been fairly insulated in terms of the 2008 financial crisis.”
Another Californian has consistently ranked in the top five of the richest House members: Rep. Darrell Issa (R). He has also been one of the most successful investors on Capitol Hill, with estimated wealth of $448 million in 2010, according to The Post’s analysis.
Issa came to Congress in 2000 with a fortune he made from the sale of an electronics company that specialized in car alarms. One of his alarm systems carried a recording of his voice warning, “Please step away from the car,” if anyone got too close.
Now most of Issa’s investments are in mutual funds, bonds and securities. Issa’s chief of staff said the securities have provided an annual rate of return of between 6 and 7 percent. He also has significant investments in commercial real estate.
“He isn’t speculating on individual stocks. He isn’t a property speculator,” said Dale Neugebauer, the congressman’s chief of staff. “The properties are usually mature real estate with established renters and a predictable rate of return.”
Issa appeared to lose about $90 million in 2008, but his portfolio regained an estimated $197 million within two years of the financial meltdown. The rises were fueled by his commercial real estate ventures in San Diego and successful investments in mutual funds, bonds and other securities.
For Issa, staying patient and holding assets during the downturn paid off.
“Mr. Issa was fortunate enough to be very successful before he was elected to Congress,” Neugebauer said.
Among his real estate ventures, Greene Properties Inc. has gained the most. Issa valued the property holding company at $25 million to $50 million in 2004, a figure that would eventually exceed $50 million.
Issa presents a particular challenge of analysis. In the system Congress set up for itself, the disclosure form’s highest category of value is “more than $50 million,” with no upper limit. As with the other richest legislators who report assets in that category, there is no way for the public to tell how much Issa is worth.
The same is true of Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.). The Post analysis using the midpoints of his reported ranges shows that his estimated wealth rose from $6 million in 2004 to $34 million in 2010, boosted by stock in Trinity Petroleum and holdings in Providence Trust.
He reported the value of each of those assets as between $5 million to $25 million in 2010, up from $1 million to $5 million the year before. But such ranges obscure the real value of his assets, which could have risen just enough to switch categories or by many millions of dollars.
A spokesman for Franks did not respond to requests for comment.
Not all members of Congress were immune from the financial meltdown. Some who were enjoying modest gains and a semblance of wealth in the early years of the decade experienced the brunt of the crisis. Twenty lawmakers lost at least 50 percent of their portfolios between 2004 and 2010. Two dozen had their assets wiped out, the analysis found.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) rose to political heights in the middle of the decade — he became House majority leader in 2007 — but his finances failed to follow suit. His reported wealth declined by an estimated 90 percent between 2004 and 2010.
Hoyer, currently Democratic whip, had holdings estimated at $600,000 in 2004, not including a home in St. Mary’s County on the banks of the Patuxent River. As the markets tumbled, Hoyer’s holdings went along for the ride. Between 2007 and 2008, he lost about $249,000 in his mutual funds, joining legions of investors who watched their savings wither away as the housing and financial markets teetered.
Hoyer, the longest serving representative in Maryland history, regained some of his financial footing in 2009, with his estimated wealth bouncing back by nearly $200,000. But the next year, it dropped by $441,000 — 89 percent — apparently because of market fluctuations.
A spokeswoman for Hoyer said that his portfolio took a hit during the recession.
“Like a number of people, Mr. Hoyer’s assets experienced the effects of the financial crisis and saw a steep decline,” spokeswoman Katie Grant said.
Hoyer had plenty of company in Congress.
The estimated wealth of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) dropped from $2 million in 2004 to $1 million in 2010. Nearly half of those losses were tied to holdings in OneUnited Bank, where Waters’s husband served on the board.
Waters was the subject of a two-year House Ethics Committee investigation relating to bailout money OneUnited received under the Troubled Assets Relief Program. The bank received $12 million from TARP but is still struggling. In 2010, her husband’s stock and deposits at the bank had dropped from a range of $500,000 to $1 million to between $101,000 and $265,000.
The committee cleared her of any wrongdoing last month.
Waters declined to discuss her family’s finances.
The estimated holdings of Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) dropped from $3 million in 2004 to $848,000 in 2010. Much of the loss was due to the declining value of the music catalogues she inherited from her late husband, onetime congressman and singer-songwriter Sonny Bono. In the 1960s, Bono wrote a string of hit records that included “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On,” recording them with his pop-star partner and then-wife, Cher.
In 2004, the catalogues were worth $765,000 to $1.8 million and generated at least $385,000 in royalties, records show. By 2010, their value had fallen to between $250,000 and $500,000, and royalties fell to at least $106,000.
From bad to worse
The economic meltdown was particularly tough on members of Congress who were already struggling with their personal finances.
Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Tex.) is the only member of Congress known to have filed for personal bankruptcy after the financial crisis. In 2007, his family’s longtime food processing plant in Mercedes fell on hard times. As the economy shrank, the plant was unable to secure credit. “It took a turn for the worse during the financial crisis,” he said in an interview.
Hinojosa had not been active in the business operations for many years, but he had guaranteed a company loan. In 2010, his family closed the business and he was held liable for millions of dollars in losses. His estimated wealth fell dramatically between 2004 and 2010, the year he filed for bankruptcy, citing debts that range between $1.4 million and $5.9 million, the largest owed to Wells Fargo.
For years, Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) has been one of the most financially distressed members of Congress. He reported debts of between $2 million and $7 million in 2010. The debt is due to legal fees he incurred in the 1980s when he was a federal judge and accused of accepting bribes. A jury acquitted Hastings, but Congress impeached him.
“I paid some of them along the way,” Hastings said of the legal fees in a recent interview. “I wish I could just hit the lottery so I could pay them all.”
He said the lawyers would give him affidavits forgiving the debt if he requested it, but “what the accountants say to me is that then I would have a tax consequence.”
“Because of the liabilities, I wind up looking as if I am the poorest person” in Congress, he said.
Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr. (D-Ga.) had estimated family wealth of $184,000 in 2004. His mutual funds lost money during the recession. The biggest apparent drop in assets he reported came during 2009, from $335,000 to $9,000 in debt. By 2010, he reported holdings that were an estimated $159,000 in debt.
Bishop reported liabilities that included mortgages ranging from $250,000 to $500,000 and a debt in the same range to Greenberg Traurig, a high-powered law firm that had been representing him in an ethics case. Bishop was accused of sending federal funds to a Georgia youth program that employed his stepdaughter and her husband.
While the Office of Congressional Ethics eventually recommended that the allegations not be pursued, Bishop still owed Greenberg Traurig between $100,000 and $250,000, according to his most recent disclosure form.
Bishop declined to comment.
Many members of Congress have impressive financial backgrounds, and some of those trace their wealth back to their spouses.
The net worth of Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) rose by more than 1,000 percent between 2004 and 2010. McCaul is married to Linda McCaul, the daughter of the chief executive and founder of Clear Channel Communications, which generates nearly $6 billion in annual revenue from its network of radio stations and outdoor advertising business.
While many portfolios suffered painful losses during the economic meltdown, McCaul’s finances emerged stronger than ever because of money coming from his wife’s family. His estimated wealth skyrocketed, from $70 million in 2008 to $380 million in 2010, broadly invested in numerous companies.
After Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) married a Washington lobbyist in 2003, his financial picture vastly improved. The year before, while he was separated from his first wife, Blunt had an estimated reported wealth of $164,000. By 2010, that figure had risen to nearly $4 million.
The senator’s wife, Abigail Blunt, was a lobbyist for tobacco giant Altria at the time of their wedding. When Altria sold its Kraft Foods division in 2007, she remained with Kraft as a lobbyist.
Abigail Blunt has brought numerous investments to the marriage, including a retirement account from Altria worth between $250,000 and $500,000, stock in Altria and Kraft Foods worth between $100,000 to $250,000, and a piece of Washington real estate valued at between $1 million and $5 million.
The fortunes of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) can also be traced to his wife’s success in the corporate world. The senator’s estimated wealth jumped by more than 500 percent between 2004 and 2010, from $3 million to $17 million, The Post analysis found.
Tom and Ruth Harkin were married in 1968, but the couple didn’t begin to amass wealth until the early 2000s. Ruth Harkin worked as a prosecutor and as a lawyer for the Department of Agriculture before joining the law firm Akin Gump, where she represented companies involved in international business deals. She left to head the Overseas Private Investment Corp. before joining United Technologies as a senior vice president for international affairs and government relations.
In the early 2000s, Tom and Ruth Harkin opened mutual funds and began investing heavily in the financial markets. In disclosure forms filed with the Senate, Tom Harkin attributed much of his wealth to his wife, including her holdings in United Technologies and ConocoPhillips, where she served as a board member until recently.
Ruth Harkin also holds an unpaid position on the Iowa Board of Regents and the couple own a vacation home in the Bahamas, which is valued at between $500,000 and $1 million.
The biggest jump in the couple’s wealth occurred in 2007, a time when the stock market was reaching historic heights. The couple doubled their estimated wealth, from $8 million in 2006 to $16 million in 2007. The Great Recession shaved off about $3 million in 2008, but the Harkins rebounded in 2009, rising to an estimated $17 million.
A spokeswoman for the senator said Harkin is proud of his wife’s financial success.
“Most of the assets reported by the Harkins have been made possible by Ruth’s private-
sector work,” spokeswoman Kate Frischmann said in a statement. “He views their life partnership as crucial to his own career, but his policy and political views are his own, as are hers.
“His policy views have not been guided by personal financial interests. Nor have his actions as a Senator, or information gained as a Senator, guided business dealings.”
Bobbye Pratt contributed to this article.
Jamie Dimon's JPMorgan Chase: Why It's the Scandal of Our Time 14MAI12
They're missing the point. When CEO Jamie Dimon announced that JPMorgan Chase had incurred at least $2 billion in losses from risky, unsecured, derivatives-types trading, it uncovered the scandal of our time once and for all.
The Chase disaster gives us a much-needed a glimpse into our corrupt political system, its Wall Street paymasters, and the media voices that allow people like Dimon to escape scrutiny.
The JPMorgan Chase story is the story behind the financial crisis that has thrown millions of people out of work. It's the story behind our ever-growing wealth inequity. It's the story behind Washington's inability to prosecute criminal bankers, regulate reckless ones, and propose the economic solutions the rest of us urgently need.
Predictably, the pundits who aid and abet people like Jamie Dimon are dismissing this story's importance, pointing out that $2 billion (it could become much more) pales against the $19 billion in profit Chase reported last year.
But it was potentially $2 billion earned through crime. And more importantly, this story isn't just about Chase's errors and crimes. It's much bigger than that.
Besides, $19 billion in a single year? That's a big part of the story, too.
The Case Against Chase, its CEO, and its accomplices is too big to cover all at once. Here are the aspects of this under-reported story we plan to address in the days and weeks to come.
Depending on the day and the measurement used, JPMorgan Chase is now the largest or second-largest bank in the world. Its Japan operation alone has been cited by that nation's regulators as a systemic risk because of its size.
If Chase began to collapse because of risky betting, the government would be forced to step in again.
Jamie Dimon knows that. It's a lot easier to gamble when you know somebody else will be forced to bail you out if you lose too much.
Chase, like the other mega-banks, has systematically engaged in criminal activity for years. At the same time, it has used its vast wealth to corrupt our political and regulatory systems. And it has been aided and abetted by willing collaborators in the media, every step of the way. It gave up nearly three quarters of a billion dollars in settlements and surrendered fees to settle one case alone -- that of bribery and corruption in Jefferson County, Alabama.
Chase has paid out billions to settle charges that include perjury and forgery (in its systemic foreclosure fraud and abuse), investor fraud, and sale of unregistered securities. And these charges were for actions that took place while Jamie Dimon was the CEO.
The first of Dimon's executives have offered their resignations in this latest scandal. But investigations of everyone from Lucky Luciano onward have focused on the boss, not just the underlings. Laws like the Securities Act and Sarbanes-Oxley provide strict legal guidelines for corporate CEOs and their staff. There's strong evidence to suggest those laws have been stretched to the breaking point -- and beyond.
We may someday look back at Jamie Dimon's increasingly shrill cries of persecution as a cry for help or a plea to be caught. He has not only fought the regulation of Wall Street banks. He's used extreme language to characterize criticisms of bank activities as a) mean, b) an attack on all forms of business, and c) bigotry that is no different from racism.
Dimon has used his visibility -- and his lavish public relations budget -- to obtain highly flattering profiles of himself in major U.S. publications. And he's used that public platform for, among other things, arguing for unwise ideas in public policy areas where he has no expertise. Most of those ideas involve forcing the American people to suffer additional financial hardship in order to pay for the damage caused by Dimon and his colleagues.
Just last week Dimon was arguing for the "Simpson/Bowles plan" authored by two private individuals, which would impose the same kind of austerity on the United States as that which is currently wreaking economic and political havoc on Europe.
If nothing else, Dimon is consistent: He can't respond to reality any more effectively in the policy arena than he can in the banking sector.
Dimon argues against regulation by saying that bankers are moral and sophisticated enough to manage their businesses without oversight. But he's been making those arguments to a nation that's standing in the wreckage his colleagues left behind the last time they were allowed to play with trillions without adult supervision.
And he has somehow managed to argue simultaneously that no other bankers are as smart as he is, and that nevertheless they should be unregulated because guys like him are so smart. That doesn't make sense.
Despite Dimon's illogic and the criminal track record of his organization, he has been flattered, quoted, and profiled in major news publications at roughly the same frequency as Lindsay Lohan has been in entertainment mags, and for the same reason: He makes good copy if you don't dig too deeply.
The day before the scandal broke, in fact, Dimon punked CBS host David Gregory on Meet the Press by pontificating on political and other matters in a pre-taped interview, knowing that this story was about to break tomorrow. We won't knock Dimon for not breaking the story (there are rules about handling information at a publicly traded company, although Dimon never seems to have cared much about them before.)
But it was an embarrassment to Gregory just the same.
The flackery didn't start after this story broke. The supposedly 'hardball' coverage of this '"error" typically amounted to little more than the kind of damage control Dimon and his PR team were no doubt hoping they'd get. The incident was described as an "embarrassment," a "mistake," an "error."
Few news outlets discussed the size of JPMorgan Chase and other too-big-to-fail banks, which continued to grow even after the passage of a financial reform law. They failed to discuss what would happen if the bank got into serious trouble.
And they glided lightly over the fact that crimes may have been committed. When they did, they were quick to characterize this scandal as the work of overzealous or crooked underlings.
That's what they said in Alabama, too.
The Influence Peddlers
Banks have paid Washington lobbyists $50-60 million per year for the last few years -- and they've gotten their money's worth.
Real financial reform was hamstrung under Dodd/Frank by behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing. Even that bill's modest reforms are being undercut by Republicans from Mitt Romney downward, who are determined to avoid even the pretense of regulating the nation's reckless and criminal bank enterprises.
The White House had yet to indict a single banker for the events leading up to the financial crisis, although billions have been paid out it settlement fees for criminal activity.
When you look at it in context, $150-200 million over three years is one of the best investments Wall Street has ever made.
The Federal Reserve rescues failed bank executives -- often breaking its own rules to do it -- and yet cites the same rules when it refuses to help other businesses, or individual consumers, in ways that would do much more to restore the economy. No wonder: The Fed's board includes many of the same bankers who broke the economy -- including Jamie Dimon.
Intransigent pro-bank regulators refuse to carry out their own agencies' mandates if it would discommode Wall Street.
And Administration officials meet routinely with double-dealing bankers like Lloyd Blankfein from Goldman Sachs, according to visitor logs, while rarely laying eyes on foreclosed homeowners or other ordinary citizens.
Some of the bank executives they meet with are their own colleagues. There are so many people moving from Wall Street jobs to high government positions -- and back again -- that our country's center of economic power now resides somewhere on the Amtrak route between New York and Washington. (I'm guessing Metropark, NJ.)
Some people have called for reasonable steps in the wake of this scandal: Tighten banking regulations. Strengthen the Volcker rule. Restore Glass-Steagall.
Each of these moves would be a start -- but they would only be a start. But the story of Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase illustrates a far deeper, far more systemic problem. They highlight the broken and corrupt matrix of relationships between rich (and often lawbreaking) bankers, politicians and regulators in Washington, and supplicating figures in the national media.
This is an opportunity to explain what's wrong with our system and pursue ways of fixing it. Let's seize the moment now -- before it's too late and they break the economy again.
Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte: How Bank of America Silenced a Whole TownYou don't have to be good at your job to earn seven million dollars in a year. All you need is a few friends in the right places - places like the Federal Reserve, the Justice Department and the Treasury Department.
As the song says: "If I had a friend like Ben ..." (Bernanke, that is.)
As we've learned here in Charlotte, with friends like these covering your back the protests of people into the street - and of your own shareholders - soon fade into blissful silence.
Love and Heat
Today was a very good day for Brian Moynihan, the Bank of America CEO whose 2011 compensation package was approved today. As they were preparing to formally approve his lavish remuneration, I stood outside in a line of shareholders with a letter naming me the official representative for an investor who owns 82,000 BofA shares. Around me were about forty investors, each of whom was about to contribute in some small way to Mr. Moynihan's payday. But our little band of investors were haughtily dismissed by bank executives after waiting, some for hours, in the wilting Carolina heat.
The protesters chanted in the street as a PR executive told us we would not be admitted into the meeting - and then asked us to get off the bank's property.
All around us, in what officials acknowledged was a dry run for the Democratic Convention, city authorities had given everyone's constitutional rights the day off by declaring the protest an "extraordinary event."
As we wrote in The Nation, bank execs continued to enjoy their full constitutional protections despite working for an institution with the worst rap sheet in town. The rest of us were guilty until proven innocent. But I'll say this: It had to be the most courteous suspension of civil liberties ever, the nicest police state you'd ever want to see. But then, that's Charlotte for you: a great town filled with friendly people. They overrule the Constitution more politely than folks up North write a parking ticket.
Given the state of North Carolina's economy, you'd have thought a lot more people might take to the streets. But they'd spent the previous night thinking about love.
Love, that is, and how to ban the wrong kind of it. On the eve of the protests state residents overwhelmingly voted against same-sex marriage. There's nothing quite as good as social divisions to distract people from the hand in their pockets. In what might have been considered a bitter irony, they rejected gay marriage as protesters gathered in the town they call the "Queen City."
For the time being, only straight marrieds will have the privilege of being foreclosed uon in North Carolina by the Bank of America.
What was was truly "extraordinary" was the spectacle of watching shareholders stand by helplessly as the CEO was given what, under any objective measure, was an excessively generous chunk of change. Try to imagine this happening in any corporation except a too-big-to-fail bank:
A senior executive joins a corporation as General Counsel, and soon afterwards becomes the head of its retail division. While he's serving as the company's top lawyer and then as its top product manager the company acquires a subsidiary. According to massive lawsuits filed later by investors and the Federal government, the company illegally conceals more than one hundred million dollars in expected losses related to the acquisition.
While this individual is serving as his company's chief lawyer, which is to say the person responsible for vetting business deals for soundness and legality, the company also acquires another subsidiary for more than $4 billion. It turns out to be worthless -
No, scratch that. "Worthless" would have been better than what it turned out to be - billions of dollars better, in fact. This acquisition triggers a series of massive settlements: An $8.4 billion deal with states to settle illegal behavior. $600 million to settle a class action suit. $335 million to settle a discrimination suit. $50 to $55 million for its part of lawsuits against the acquired company's former CEO.
Oh, and billions of dollars more in complex buyback transactions.
When the corporation's CEO - the person who hired our unnamed individual - is forced to step down amid accusations of impropriety and incompetence, he takes the top spot. And as his first year in that office draws to a close the company "ends the year in a flurry of lawsuits."
After our individual has served two years as CEO, Federal investigators take action against it while saying that its business practices have actually been worse under his leadership than they were in that notorious $4 billion acquisition.
Our friend tells investors the bank doesn't need additional capital - and then, in a move that severely damages his credibility, accepts $5 billion in outside funding under less than ideal terms less than two weeks later.
The Seven Million Dollar Man
Sounds bad, you say. But how's the share price? Asked like a true investor. In this, a modern executive's most crucial performance meansurement, our friend also fails badly. The corporation's stock - which had been trading at $52 per share when our protagonist joined the senior management team - has fallen from $15 to somewhere between $7 and $8 today.
Can you imagine any corporation but a big bank that would reward this individual with continued employment as CEO, much less with a seven million dollar compensation package?
But then, Brian Moynihan doesn't run any corporation. He runs a too-big-to-fail bank. And running a too-big-to-fail bank means never having to say you're sorry. One of the acquisitions described above is Merrill Lynch. The other's Countrywide. And Federal investigators said that Moynihan's Bank of America is outdoing Angelo Mozilo's Countrywide in malfeasance and rascality.
That's right: Worse than Mozilo. How'd you like to have that engraved on your business card?
What It's About
Not that this is about Brian Moynihan. It isn't - really it isn't. It's about Ben Bernanke, and Tim Geithner, and Eric Holder. Ben Bernanke's Federal Reserve is moving aggressively to squash investor uprisings against incompetent or greedy bank executives. As Stephen Davidoff explains, that's not just shocking and baffling. It's also destructive and directly contravenes the goals the Federal Reserve should be pursuing.
(We would also add that it's morally reprehensible.)
For all of Tim Geithner's claims that TARP "made a profit," the American people actually spent plenty of money on big banks - and on Bank of America in particular. An analysis by Bloomberg estimates that the bank netted $1.5 billion from taxpayer aid. (We'd come up with a higher figure, but we'll accept the lower estimate - for now.)
Bank of America has profited greatly from taxpayer largesse. Yet, despite the billions of dollars it's paid out for illegal behavior, no one employed by the bank has been charged with any crime. Attorney General Eric Holder has yet to explain how it's possible for billions of dollars worth of crimes to commit themselves.
No wonder things went so well for Mr. Moynihan today. Activists told their stories inside the shareholders' meeting, and Moynihan and his team pretended to listen. But despite the stories they heard, despite the grumbling from their investors and the chanting in the streets, there was an eerie hush over Charlotte today.
They're Bank of America. They don't have to hear anything they don't want to hear. Their friends in Washington have built an impermeable bubble around their executive suite, and that of every big bank in the country.
Activists broke the silence on the streets, and they did it well. But only the long arm of the law can break the silence inside the bubble-world of today's too-big-to-fail bankers.