Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), the strongest tropical typhoon ever recorded, has resulted in devastating consequences for the Philippines. The natural disaster took the lives of more than 10,000 people.
An estimated 615,000 residents have been displaced. Up to 4.3 million people have been affected, according to government sources.
The tragedy has become a talking point at Warsaw Climate Change Conference under UN auspices. The plight of Typhoon Haiyan has casually been assigned without evidence to the impacts of global warming.
While there is no scientific evidence that the super typhoon was the consequence of global warming, opening statements at the Warsaw summit hinted in no uncertain terms to a verified casual relationship. The executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), Christiana Figueres, stated (without evidence) that the typhoon was part of the “sobering reality” of global warming.
In turn, the Philippines’ UN representative at the Climate Change talks, Yeb Sano, stated in his address at the opening session that “Typhoons such as Yolanda (Haiyan) and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action. Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change.”
In a bitter irony, the tragedy in the Philippines has contributed to reinforcing a consensus which indirectly feeds the pockets of corporations lobbying for a new deal on carbon trade. ‘Cap-and-trade’ is a multibillion dollar bonanza which is supported by the global warming consensus.
According to UNFCC executive director Christiana Figueres, “We must clarify finance that enables the entire world to move towards low-carbon development…We must launch the construction of a mechanism that helps vulnerable populations to respond to the unanticipated effects of climate change.”
Known and documented, cap-and-trade markets are manipulated. What is at stake is the trade in carbon derivatives which is controlled by powerful financial institutions including JP Morgan Chase. In 2008, Simon Linnett, executive vice-chairman of Rothschild, acknowledged the nature of this multibillion dollar business.
“As a banker, I also welcome the fact that the cap-and-trade system is becoming the dominant methodology for CO2 control. Unlike taxation, or plain regulation, cap-and-trade offers the greatest scope for private sector involvement and innovation,” he said, as quoted by The Telegraph.
Cap-and-trade packaged into derivative products feeds on the global warming consensus. Without it, this multibillion dollar trade would fall flat.
The humanitarian crisis in the Philippines bears no relationship to global warming. The social impacts of Typhoon Haiyan are aggravated due to the lack of infrastructure and social services, not to mention the absence of a coherent housing policy. Those most affected by the typhoon are living in poverty in make-shift homes.
A reduction of CO2 emissions – as suggested by Yeb Sano in his address at the Warsaw summit – will not resolve the plight of an impoverished population.
In the Philippines, the social impacts of natural disasters are invariably exacerbated by a macro-economic policy framework imposed by Manila’s external creditors.
What is at stake is the deadly thrust of neoliberal economic reforms. For more than 25 years – since the demise of the Marcos dictatorship – the International Monetary Fund’s “economic medicine” under the helm of the Washington Consensus has prevailed, largely serving the interests of financial institutions and corporations in mining and agribusiness.
The government of Philippine President Benigno Aquino has embarked upon a renewed wave of austerity measures which involves sweeping privatization and the curtailment of social programs. In turn, a large chunk of the state budget has been redirected to the military, which is collaborating with the Pentagon under Obama’s “Asia Pivot.” This program – which serves the interests of Washington at the expense of the Philippines population – also includes a $1.7 billion purchase of advanced weapons systems.
Now we have had a few days to reflect on the terrible events of last week, we can start to piece together some of the facts.
First of all, as it is the thing that really matters above all, fatalities. The good news, if it can be termed that, is that the death toll is likely to be around 2000 to 2500, according to the Philippine President. This is much less than the 10,000 originally feared to have died.
As far as the storm itself was concerned, the official statistics from the Philippine Met Agency, PAGASA, remain the same as those issued at the time. The table below compares these with the original satellite estimates put out by the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre, JTWC, and that were subsequently used by the media around the world to claim that Yolanda was the “strongest storm ever”.
|Sustained Wind Speed mph||147||195|
Global Power Project, Part 4
In May, JPMorgan Chase was listed as the largest bank in the world with assets at roughly $4 trillion — some $1.53 trillion of it in derivatives. This was reported a month after the announcement that the bank had posted a record first-quarter profit of $6.5 billion.
Jamie Dimon, the bank’s CEO and Chairman, has faced a host of scandals in relation to his management of the megabank, including the loss of roughly $6 billion through the London branch of the bank — losses that Dimon was accused of hiding. A 300-page report by the U.S. Senate, investigating the “creative accounting” of JPMorgan, noted that the bank “hid losses, did not share information with its regulators, and misled the public” in what one banking regulator referred to as “make believe voodoo magic.” Stated bluntly in The New York Times, JPMorgan Chase, the largest derivatives dealer in the world, “is too big to regulate.”
In the midst of the scandal, the bank faced a potential “revolt” of its shareholders in a bid to strip Dimon of his dual role as CEO and Chairman. In confidential government reports which were leaked to The New York Times, the bank was accused of “manipulative schemes” which transformed “money-losing power plants into powerful profit centers” while executives made “false and misleading statements” under oath.
Yet even in the midst of scandal, Jamie Dimon was praised in a storm of support by billionaires, corporate kingpins and media barons. Calling JPMorgan Chase “as good a bank as there is,” New York City mayor and billionaire media baron Michael Bloomberg went on to call Dimon “a very smart, honest, great executive.” News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch praised Dimon as “one of the smartest, toughest guys around,” while Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, referred to him as a “great leader” and said he had earned the “right to hold both Chairman and CEO titles.” To top it off, billionaire investor and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet, dubbed Dimon “a fabulous banker.”
And the adoration goes all the way to the top rung. In 2009, The New York Times referred to Jamie Dimon as “President Obama’s favorite banker.” In 2010, Obama told Bloomberg BusinessWeek that he didn’t “begrudge” bank CEOs like Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs for their massive bonuses of $17 and $9 million, respectively. Obama explained: “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.” The president added, “I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen.”
In May of 2012, Obama rushed to Jamie Dimon’s defense in light of the financial scandals, stating that Dimon was “one of the smartest bankers we got.” The Financial Times referred to Dimon as “the last king of Wall Street.” And when finally faced with the decision to strip Dimon of his dual role as chairman and CEO, Obama’s “favorite banker” ended up winning “a decisive victory” by maintaining both his roles.
But this is just the surface of JPMorgan Chase’s financial manipulations. The bank, in fact, was at the forefront of creating Credit Default Swaps (CDS), a key aspect of the derivatives market that led to the inflation and subsequent blowout of the housing bubble. JPMorgan developed these “financial instruments” as a type of insurance policy in 1994, allowing the bank to trade its debt (in the form of loans to corporations and governments) to third parties, thus handing off the risk and removing the debts from its accounts, which allowed it to make further loans. JPMorgan opened up the first CDS desk in New York in 1997, “a division that would eventually earn the name the Morgan Mafia for the number of former members who went on to senior positions at global banks and hedge funds.” Back in 2003, the same Warren Buffet who would later praise Dimon referred to credit default swaps as “financial weapons of mass destruction.”
JPMorgan was also at the forefront in the United States pushing for financial deregulation, particularly the slow-motion dismantling of the Glass-Steagall Act that had been put in place in 1933 in response to the financial speculation which had helped spark the Great Depression. After hearing proposals from banks such as Citicorp, JP Morgan and Bankers Trust, which advocated the loosening of “restrictions” put in place by Glass-Steagall, the Federal Reserve Board in 1987 voted to ease many of the regulations. That same year, Alan Greenspan, who had previously been a director of JP Morgan, became the chairman of the Fed. In 1989, the Fed approved an application submitted by JP Morgan, Chase Manhattan, Citicorp and Bankers Trust to further reduce the regulations imposed by Glass-Steagall. In 1990, JP Morgan became “the first bank to receive permission from the Federal Reserve to underwrite securities.”
Financial deregulation accelerated under President Clinton, much to the delight of Wall Street banks, which were then permitted to merge into megabanks, with JPMorgan merging with Chase Manhattan to form JPMorgan Chase. As early as 2006 and 2007, multiple megabanks were beginning to bet against the housing market through various hedge funds, allowing them to make profits on the housing collapse they created. JPMorgan continued to sell mortgages as it bet against the mortgage market, passing on the risk while it hedged its bets to profit from the failure and losses of others. In 2011, the bank paid a $153 million fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to settle allegations of “securities fraud.”
In the midst of the financial crisis in 2008, JPMorgan Chase became not only a major criminal, but also a prime beneficiary. In 2007, the global investment bank Bear Stearns was named by Fortune magazine as the second “most admired” financial securities company in the United States, while Lehman Brothers was put in first place. As the financial crisis erupted, Bear Stearns executives “discovered” that they were “nearly out of cash” in March of 2008. The CEO of Bear Stearns, Alan Schwartz, made a phone call to Jamie Dimon — JPMorgan Chase was the clearing agent for Bear Stearns — asking for an overnight loan. Dimon, who also sat on the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, turned there instead of providing the loan through his own bank. The president of the New York Fed – who was elected by the banks that own the New York Fed – was Timothy Geithner. Geithner began discussions with Bear Stearns, and the following morning he held a meeting with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, where they agreed to an emergency loan for Bear Stearns, providing the funds through JPMorgan Chase.
Over the following day, Geithner and Paulson informed Bear Stearns that it must sell the bank within days, and a deal was negotiated in which JPMorgan Chase would purchase Bear Stearns at $2 per share. Though Dimon had first refused to purchase the failed bank, he now engaged in negotiations with Geithner who won over Dimon by guaranteeing $30 billion for JPMorgan to purchase the sunken bank. Long story short: through the New York Fed, the U.S. government purchased billions of dollars in bad debts made by Bear Stearns, including $16 billion in credit default swaps that were downgraded to “junk” assets, while JPMorgan Chase acquired $360 billion in Bear Stearns assets with little or no risk.
With the purchase of Bear Stearns facilitated by the New York Fed, and for the benefit of JPMorgan, Geithner continued in his role as willing servant to the banks who had elected him as president. Then, in September of 2008 when the insurance conglomerate American International Group (AIG) plunged into crisis and sought support from the government, the Fed and Treasury initially refused. AIG turned to JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, who went to the government to pressure for state support. The New York Fed, with Geithner at the helm, again organized a secret bailout of the institution, valued at $85 billion. In October, the government added an extra $38 billion to the AIG bailout, and the New York Fed provided a further $40 billion in November. Overall, U.S. taxpayers bailed out the insurance giant with $150 billion.
Because many banks kept junk assets with AIG which didn’t affect its balance sheets, the insurance giant was allowed to continue making risky loans. Meanwhile, the New York Fed, noted Bloomberg journalist David Reilly, acted as “a black-ops outfit for the nation’s central bank,” and as a “quasi-governmental institution [which] isn’t subject to citizen intrusions such as freedom of information requests.” The AIG bailout, wrote Reilly, revealed what could be described as a “secret banking cabal.” Through AIG, bailout funds went to American, French, German, British, Swiss, Dutch and even Canadian banks. Goldman Sachs received over $12 billion, and billions also went to Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wachovia, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase.
JPMorgan Chase was using bailout money from the government to purchase other banks and companies. As one executive at the bankcommented in regards to a $25 billion bailout from the government, “I think there are going to be some great opportunities for us to grow in this environment.” The banks repaid the bailout loans from other bailout funds they got from government, siphoning off taxpayer moneyback and forth and rewarding them for their risky behavior. One university study noted that banks with political access – whether through lobbying efforts or board membership on the Fed – were more likely to get bailout funds, and in bigger numbers, than other banks. Notably among the most politically connected banks were Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley.
According to a 2012 study by the International Monetary Fund and Bloomberg magazine, JPMorgan Chase continues to receive government support far beyond the bailouts, as it is a major recipient of corporate welfare and state subsidies. In fact, according to the study, the biggest bank in the world gets roughly $14 billion per year in state subsidies and welfare, largely helping “the bank pay big salaries and bonuses.”
The Biggest and Most Connected Bank
Not only is JPMorgan Chase the biggest bank in the world with over $4 trillion in assets, but its power and influence extends far beyond financial matters. It is a major political force in the world, highly integrated within the network of global elites who make up the plutocratic ruling class. As the subject of study for the Global Power Project, I examined 55 people at JPMorgan Chase, including all members of the executive committee, the board of directors and the international advisory council.
Of the 55 individuals examined at the bank, a total of 13 (or roughly 24%) of the individuals were either members or held leadership positions (previously or presently) with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The CFR has been at the heart of the foreign-policy elite of the United States since it was created in 1921. Further, a total of eight JPMorgan officials held leadership positions in the World Economic Forum, the second most represented institutional affiliation of the bank. Holding yearly conferences that bring together thousands of participants from elite financial, corporate, political, cultural, media and other institutions, the WEF is one of the principal forums for the global elite, with JPMorgan operating right there at the center.
The next most represented institution is the Trilateral Commission, with 5 individuals at JPMorgan Chase holding membership in the international think tank – or “global policy group” – uniting elites from North America, Western Europe and Japan (and now also including China, India, and other Pacific-rim nations). The Trilateral Commission itself was founded in 1973 by the CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank – which later merged into JPMorgan Chase – David Rockefeller.
In descending order, the other most highly represented institutions having cross membership between leadership positions with JPMorgan Chase are: the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (4), the Business Council (4), Citigroup (4), Bilderberg (4), the Group of Thirty (4), Sara Lee Corporation (3), Harvard (3), American Express (3), American International Group (3), the Business Roundtable (3), Rolls Royce (3), the Center for Strategic and International Studies – CSIS (3), the European Round Table of Industrialists (3), the Peterson Institute for International Economics (2), the U.S.-China Business Council (2), and the National Petroleum Council (2).
Institutions which hold two individual cross leadership positions with JPMorgan Chase include: the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the University of Chicago, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., General Electric, Asia Business Council, the U.S. President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the Coca-Cola Company, National Bank of Kuwait Advisory Board, INSEAD, China-United States Exchange Foundation, Mitsubishi, the Carlyle Group, and the IMF.
Meet the Elites at JPMorgan Chase
It’s worth taking a look at some specific individuals who serve in a leadership and/or advisory capacity to JPMorgan Chase to get an idea of the composition of some of these global plutocrats.
Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, sits on the boards of directors of: the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Harvard Business School, and Catalyst. He is a Trustee of the New York University School of Medicine, a member of the Executive Committee of the Business Council, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum, a member of the Financial Services Forum, and a member of the International Advisory Panel of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
Members of the board of JPMorgan Chase include James A. Bell, former President of Boeing and a current member of the board of Dow Chemical; Crandall C. Bowles, a director of Deere & Company and the Sara Lee Corporation, a former director of Wachovia, a Trustee of the Brookings Institution, on the Governing Board of the Wilderness Society, and a member of the Business Council and the Economic Club of New York. Other JPM board members include Stephen B. Burke, CEO of NBC Universal and Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation; David M. Cote, the Chairman and CEO of Honeywell International who sits on President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, on the advisory panel to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), and is a member of the Trilateral Commission; and Lee Raymond, director of the Business Council for International Understanding, who sits on the advisory panel to KKR, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and former Chairman of the National Petroleum Council as well as former Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, from which he retired in 2006 with a compensation package of $398 million.
JPMorgan Chase has an International Council which provides advice to the bank’s leadership on economic, political and social trends across various regions and around the world. The International Council is chaired by Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the UK, who also sits as an adviser to Zurich Financial. The Council includes Khalid A. Al-Falih, the President and CEO of Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabian Oil Company), the world’s largest oil company, who also sits on the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is also on JPMorgan’s International Council, and sits as Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Annan is also on the boards of the United Nations Foundation, the World Economic Forum, and he is a member of the Global Board of Advisors of the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Council includes the third richest man in Mexico, Alberto Bailléres, as well as the Chairman and CEO of Telecom Italia, Franco Bernabé, who was the former CEO of Eni, one of the world’s largest oil companies (and Italy’s largest corporation), as well as the former Vice Chairman of Rothschild Europe. Bernabé sits on the board of PetroChina, China’s largest oil company. Bernabé is also a member of the European Round Table of Industrialists (a group of roughly 50 major European CEOs who directly advocate and work with EU political leaders in designing and implementing policy), he was a former Advisory Board member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the board of FIAT, and is actively a member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Meetings.
Martin Feldstein, a prominent Economics professor at Harvard and the President Emeritus of the National Bureau of Economic Research, is another member of the International Council. Feldstein was the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers to President Ronald Reagan and sat on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (an “independent” group that advises the president on intelligence matters) under President George W. Bush (from 2007-2009). President Obama appointed Feldstein to the Economic Recovery Advisory Board, and he also sits on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a member of the Trilateral Commission, a participant in Bilderberg Meetings, and is a member of the International Advisory Board of the National Bank of Kuwait.
Gao Xi-Qing is the Vice Chairman, President and Chief Investment Officer of the China Investment Corporation (CIC), China’s sovereign investment fund. He was referred to by the Atlantic as “the man who oversees $200 billion of China’s $2 trillion in dollar holdings.” Another notable Chinese member of the International Council is Tung Chee Hwa, the former Chief Executive and President of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, a core policy-making institution in the government of Hong Kong. Tung Chee Hwa is also the Vice Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a major political advisory group in the People’s Republic of China, once chaired by Mao Zedong. Tung Chee Hwa as well is the founder and Chairman of the China-United States Exchange Foundation, and a former member of the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Carla A. Hills is the only woman on the JPMorgan International Council, and is Chairman and CEO of Hills & Company International, a global consulting firm. She was the former United States Trade Representative in the George H.W. Bush administration, where she was the primary negotiator for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). She is also the Co-Chair of the Council on Foreign Relations, and sits on the International Boards of Rolls Royce and the Coca-Cola Company, as well as sitting on the board of directors of Gilead Sciences. Hills is a Counselor and Trustee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a major American think tank where she also sits as Co-Chair of the Advisory Board (alongside Zbigniew Brzezinski, co-founder of the Trilateral Commission). In addition, Hills is a member of the Executive Committee of both the Trilateral Commission and the Peterson Institute for International Economics, as well as sitting on the boards of the International Crisis Group and the US-China Business Council, as Chair of the National Committee on US-China Relations, and Chair of the Inter-American Dialogue.
Henry Kissinger – former U.S. Secretary of State, National Security Adviser to President Richard Nixon, and Secretary of State to President Ford – also sits on the International Council of JPMorgan. Kissinger was a former adviser to Nelson Rockefeller, who recruited Kissinger as director of the Special Studies Project of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in the 1950s. Kissinger was a director of the Council on Foreign Relations from 1977-1981, is a member of the Trilateral Commission, a former member of the Steering Committee and continuous participant in the Bilderberg Meetings, and is founder and chair of Kissinger Associates, an international consulting and advisory firm. Kissinger Chaired the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America during the Reagan administration, which provided justification for Reagan’s wars in Central America, and he was also a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1984-1990, advising both Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Alongside Zbigniew Brzezinski, Kissinger was a member of the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy of the National Security Council and Defense Department, established in the late 1980s to develop a long-term strategy for the United States in the world. Kissinger has also been a member of the Defense Policy Board, providing “independent” advice to the Pentagon leadership on matters of foreign policy, from 2001 to the present, for both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. Kissinger is also a Counselor and Trustee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Honorary Governor of the Foreign Policy Association, an Honorary Member of the International Olympic Committee, an adviser to the board of directors of American Express, and is a Trustee Emeritus of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition, Kissinger is a director of the International Rescue Committee, the Atlantic Institute, and is on the advisory board of the RAND Center for Global Risk and Security, as well as Honorary Chairman of the China-United States Exchange Foundation.
Mustafa V. Koc is also a member of the International Council, and is Chairman of Koc Holding AS, Turkey’s largest multinational corporation. He also sits on the International Advisory Board of Rolls Royce, the Global Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Meetings, a former member of the International Advisory Board of the National Bank of Kuwait, and is Honorary Chairman of the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s High Advisory Council.
Gérard Mestrallet is the Chairman and CEO of GDF Suez, one of the largest energy conglomerates in the world, and is on the board of Suez Environment (one of the major water privatization companies in the world), and also sits on the supervisory board of AXA, a major global French financial conglomerate. He is also an advisory board member of Siemens, and is a member of the European Round Table of Industrialists and the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum.
John S. Watson is the Chairman and CEO of Chevron Corporation. He is on the board of the American Petroleum Institute and is a member of the National Petroleum Council, the Business Roundtable, the Business Council, the American Society of Corporate Executives, and the Chancellor’s Board of Advisors of the University of California Davis. He is also a member of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum.
The Chairman of JPMorgan Chase International, Jacob A. Frenkel, is Chairman and CEO of the Group of Thirty, and a member of the International Council. He is also a former Vice Chairman of American International Group (from 2004 to 2009, when it was rescued with the massive government bailout); the former Chairman of Merrill Lynch International (from 2000 to 2004), and the former Governor of the Bank of Israel (from 1991 to 2000). Frenkel was an Economic Counselor and Director of Research at the International Monetary Fund (from 1987 to 1991) and prior to that he was the David Rockefeller Professor of International Economics at the University of Chicago (from 1973 to 1987). In addition, Frenkel is the former Editor of the Journal of Political Economy, former Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Inter-American Development Bank, and a former member of the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations. Frenkel is currently a member of the board of directors of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a member of the Trilateral Commission, member of the International Advisory Council of the China Development Bank, member of the board of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, member of the Economic Advisory panel of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, member of the Council for the United States and Italy, member of the Investment Advisory Council of the Prime Minister of Turkey, and sits on the board of Loews Corporation.
To sum: it should be clear, from the evidence, that the leadership of JPMorgan Chase is not an isolated group of individuals involved in finance and exclusively relegated to the banking world, but a highly networked and influential group consisting of central figures in the global plutocracy – referred to as the “Transnational Capitalist Class” – with significant economic, social and political power. To refer to JPMorgan Chase simply as “a bank” is like referring to the United States as just “a country.” A geopolitical force unto itself, and a conglomerate embedded within a transnational network of elite institutions and individuals, JPMorgan Chase goes beyond the financial indicators. Put simply, it is one of the most powerful banks in the world.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, the research director of Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and has a weekly podcast with BoilingFrogsPost.
Charged with regulating Wall Street, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has become a launching pad for former agency employees—by the hundreds—to become part of the industry they once oversaw.
The study also found numerous other concerns with the “revolving door” between the SEC and financial firms. These included agency workers trying to help corporations influence agency regulations, defending companies suspected of breaking the law, and helping them avoid tougher enforcement actions.
Perhaps the most high-profile concern in this arena is President Obama’s nomination of Mary Jo White to become the new SEC chief. During her most recent job at the firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, White’s clients included JPMorgan Chase, General Electric, Verizon Communications, former Bank of America chief executive Kenneth Lewis, and Rajat Gupta, the former Goldman Sachs board member convicted of insider trading.
“The revolving door is moving faster than ever,” Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said after reading POGO’s findings. “The SEC has to fix this problem once and for all. That involves more disclosure, more meaningful restrictions, and top-to-bottom application of the rules without waivers that make any restrictions meaningless.”
After a year and a half of bungled work and plenty of criticism, the Obama administration decided to close down its review of mortgage fraud this week and order banks to pay a sum that consumer advocates say falls short of what’s fair.
The Independent Foreclosure Review was established 18 months ago to vet how banks handled home foreclosures and to compensate Americans for any wrongdoing.
In the end, federal regulators decided on an $8.5 billion settlement that banks must pay. But of this total, only $3.3 billion is actual cash, while another $5.2 billion represents “credits” that financial institutions will receive for avoiding future foreclosure.
The $3.3 billion in funds will be distributed to about 3.8 million borrowers who were eligible to have their foreclosures reviewed. That amounts to approximately $870 per homeowner.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, one of the federal regulators that managed the review and negotiated the new settlement, would not reveal to the media how it decided on the $3.3 billion figure.
As for the review itself, the process was wrought with problems, starting with the fact that banks were allowed to hire “independent” consultants to review mortgage files—consultants who often turned out to have business relationships with the banks they were reviewing, thus creating potential conflicts of interest.
In what the New York Times declared as a “dark day for the rule of law” on December 11, 2012, HSBC, the world’s second largest bank, failed to be indicted for extensive criminal activities in laundering money to and from regimes under sanctions, Mexican drug cartels, and terrorist organizations (including al-Qaeda). While admitting culpability, and with guilt assured, state and federal authorities in the United States decided not to indict the bank “over concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system.” Instead, HSBC agreed to pay a $1.92 billion settlement.
The fear was that an indictment would be a “death sentence” for HSBC. The U.S. Justice Department, which was prosecuting the case, was told by the U.S. Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve that taking such an “aggressive stance” against HSBC could have negative effects upon the economy. Instead, the bank was to forfeit $1.2 billion and pay $700 million in fines on top of that for violating the Bank Secrecy Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act. In a statement, HSBC’s CEO stated, “We accept responsibility for our past mistakes… We are committed to protecting the integrity of the global financial system. To this end, we will continue to work closely with governments and regulators around the world.” With more than $7 billion in Mexican drug cartel money laundered through HSBC alone, the fine amounts to a slap on the wrist, no more than a cost-benefit analysis of doing business: if the ‘cost’ of laundering billions in drug money is less than the ‘benefit,’ the policy will continue.
As part of the settlement, not one banker at HSBC was to be charged in the case. The New York Times acknowledged that, “the government has bought into the notion that too big to fail is too big to jail.” HSBC joins a list of some of the world’s other largest banks in paying fines for criminal activities, including Credit Suisse, Lloyds, ABN Amro and ING, among others. The U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer referred to the settlement as an example of HSBC “being held accountable for stunning failures of oversight.” Lanny Breuer, who heads the Justice Department’s criminal division, which was responsible for prosecuting the case against HSBC, was previously a partner at a law firm (along with the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder) where they represented a number of major banks and other conglomerates in cases dealing with foreclosure fraud. While Breuer and Holder were partners at Covington & Burling, the firm represented notable clients such as Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo, among others. It seems that at the Justice Department, they continue to have the same job: protecting the major banks from being persecuted for criminal behaviour.
With a great deal of focus on the $1.9 billion in fines being paid out by HSBC, little mention was made of the fact that HSBC had roughly $2.5 trillion in assets, and earned $22 billion in profits in 2011. But not to worry, HSBC’s executive said that they “accept responsibility for our past mistakes,” and added: “We have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again.” So not only did the executives of the world’s second largest bank apologize for laundering billions in drug money (along with other crimes), but they apologized… again. Thus, they pay a comparably small fine and face no criminal charges. I wonder if a crack dealer from a ghetto in the United States could avoid criminal prosecution if he were to apologize not once, but twice. Actually, we don’t have to wonder. In May of 2012, as HSBC executives were testifying before the U.S. Senate in Washington D.C., admitting their role in drug money laundering, a poor black man was convicted of peddling 5.5 grams of crack cocaine just across the river from the U.S. Capitol building, and he was given 10 years in prison.
Back in August the bank stated that they had put aside $700 million to pay fines for illegal activities, which conveniently was the exact amount they were fined by the U.S. Justice Department (not including the forfeiture of profits). Lanny Breuer declared the settlement to be “a very just, very real and very powerful result.” Indeed, one could agree that the results are “powerful” and “very real,” in that they provide a legal state-sanctioned decision that big banks will not be prosecuted for their vast criminal activities, precisely because they are big banks. The “very real” result of this is that we can guarantee that such criminal behaviour will continue, since the banks will continue to be protected by the state. With news of the settlement, HSBC’s market share price rose by 2.8%, a clear sign that “financial markets” also reward criminal behaviour and the “pervasively polluted” culture at HSBC (in the words of the U.S. Senate report).
Jack Blum, a Washington attorney and former special counsel for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who specializes in money laundering and financial crimes stated that, “If these people aren’t prosecuted, who will be?” He further asked: “What do you have to do to be prosecuted? They have crossed every bright line in bank compliance. When is there an offense that’s bad enough for a big bank to be prosecuted?” But the Justice Department’s Lanny Breuer explained that his department had to consider “the collateral consequences” of prosecutions: “If you prosecute one of the largest banks in the world, do you risk that people will lose their jobs, other financial institutions and other parties will leave the bank, and there will be some kind of event in the world economy?”
In other words, the U.S. Justice Department decided that big banks are above the law, because if they weren’t, there would be severe consequences for the financial system. And this is not just good news for HSBC, the “favourite” bank of Mexican drug cartels (according to Bloomberg), but it’s good news for all banks. After all, HSBC is not the only bank engaged in laundering drug money and other illegal activities. Back in 2010, Wachovia (now part of Wells Fargo) paid roughly $160 million in fines for laundering some $378.4 billion in drug money. Drug money has also been found to be laundered through other major financial institutions, including Bank of America, Banco Santander, Citigroup, and the banking branch of American Express. Nearly all of the world’s largest banks have been or are currently being investigated for other crimes, including rigging interest rates (in what’s known as the Libor scandal), and other forms of fraud. Among the banks being investigated for criminal activity by U.S. prosecutors are Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS, Bank of America, Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Credit Suisse, Lloyds, Rabobank, Royal Bank of Canada, and Société Générale, among others. Regulators and investigators of the Libor scandal – “the biggest financial scandal ever” – report that the world’s largest banks engage in “organized fraud” and function like a “cartel” or “mafia.”
The pervasive criminality of this “international cartel” is so consistent that one commentator with the Guardian has referred to global banks as “the financial services wing of the drug cartels.” But indeed, where could be a better place for drug cartels to deposit their profits than with a financial cartel? And why would banks give up their pivotal role in the global drug trade? While the pharmaceutical drug industry records annual revenues in the hundreds of billions of dollars (which is nothing to ignore), the global trade in illicit drugs, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, amounted to roughly 2.3-5.5% of global GDP, around $2.1 trillion (U.S.) in 2009. That same year, the same United Nations office reported that billions of dollars in drug money saved the major global banks during the financial crisis, as “the only liquid investment capital” pouring into banks. Roughly $325 billion in drug money was absorbed by the financial system in 2009. It is in the interest of banks to continue profiting off of the global drug trade, and now they have been given a full green light by the Obama administration to continue.
Welcome to the world of financial criminality, the “international cartel” of drug money banks and their political protectors. These banks not only launder billions in drug money, finance terrorists and commit massive fraud, but they create massive financial and economic crises, and then our governments give them trillions of dollars in bailouts, again rewarding them for creating crises and committing criminal acts. On top of that, we, the people, are handed the bill for the bailouts and have to pay for them through reduced standards of living by being punished into poverty through ‘austerity measures’ and have our labour, resources, and societies exploited through ‘structural reform’ policies. These criminal banks dominate the global economy, and dictate policies to national political oligarchies. Their greed, power, and parasitic nature knows no bounds.
The fact that the Justice Department refused to prosecute HSBC because of the effects it could have on the financial system should be a clear sign that the financial system does not function for the benefit of people and society as a whole, and thus, that it needs to be dramatically changed, cartels need to be destroyed, banks broken up, criminal behaviour punished (not rewarded), and that people should dictate the policies of society, not a small network of international criminal cartel banks.
But then, that would be rational, so naturally it’s not even up for discussion.
Why the banks must be nationalized
Since September 15, 2008 the United States economy has been like a ticking time bomb with the unregulated activities of the banks the fuse that is slowly burning. This fuse has affected the international banking system and while citizens of the United States are focused on an electoral contest, the issues of the future of the U.S banking system, the future of the dollar and the future of the Euro are bringing home the reality of the capitalist depression. Two weeks ago, Paul Krugman released a book entitled, End this Depression Now. This book sought to galvanize action by the US government to stimulate the economy based on the twentieth century Keynesian ideas of stimulating growth. Increasingly, it is becoming clearer that far more drastic political measures will be needed if the international financial system is to be protected from the gambling of the top bankers in the United States. Wealth creation and a new economic system are needed to meet the needs of human beings.
This reality was brought home last Thursday, May 10, when it was revealed that J. P Morgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States had been involved in the most risky type of speculative trading that was not supposed to be undertaken by a federally insured depository institution. The nature of the speculative trading is still covered up by the media but from what has been coming out there were bets placed by a derivative trader who was placing US$100billion bets that the US economy would recover. One report called the operation ‘trades in the synthetic derivatives hedging business.’
Whether this is the real cause of the attention to JP Morgan Chase will only come to light when the media and the representatives of the people call for the removal of Jamie Dimon, the CEO of this bank and takes over the bank. While the information on the $3 billion loss is as opaque as the business world of the financial system, the nature of the risk that was being undertaken is reserved exclusively for the big banks and offers multi- million dollar profits in this ether world that is called financial capitalism.
JPMorgan Chase is currently one of the biggest banks in the world supposedly with $2.1 trillion in assets and more than 239,000 employees. I used the word ‘supposedly’ because JP Morgan Chase was one of the recipients of more than$26 billion of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the American International Group (AIG) in September 2008. Troubled Assets was the term coined by the US government to hide from the world the state of the insolvency of the US banking system where the big banks had overextended themselves in the housing bubble issuing what was then called mortgage backed securities. These banks are still mired in the toxic mess from the orgy of speculation of that era and JP Morgan compounded its own risky position by taking over the bad bank, Washington Mutual.
The Bank JP Morgan Chase grew bigger and riskier after absorbing two of the failed banks at the center of the MBS debacle. JPS acquired Bears Stearns and Washington Mutual. Hence on top of its own involvement in the casino economy, JP Morgan Chase had taken on two failed banks in an attempt to save the US financial system.
The Tarp instrument was the means through which the US government had ‘bailed out the banks and investment houses in 2008. JP Morgan Chase was involved in the same credit default swaps (CDS) that was at the core of the gambling that brought down the system in 2008. The speculative activities of the Banks have increased since 2008 and now the press is seeking to lay the blame on one derivatives trader in London. According to the media, speculation by a derivatives trader in London has produced a $2 billion trading loss for JP Morgan Chase. It is still not clear the extent of the loss but we know that it is in the same category as the losses at MF Global last year. These losses add to the scandal after scandal and are supposed to be on par with the other debacles of 2008 when two major Wall Street institutions, Bear Stearns and then Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. This year the progressive forces must renew the call for the nationalization of the big banks which are supposed to be too big to fail.
THE ARROGANCE OF THE BIG BANKS
The rise and impending collapse of J P Morgan Chase is a cautionary tale about the fortunes (or currently misfortunes ) of the US banking system. Older readers will remember the name Chase Manhattan Bank and the era when David Rockefeller and this bank stood at the apex of US capitalism. Today Chase Manhattan no longer exists and has been absorbed through the mergers and acquisitions of the years of neo-liberal capitalism. Then there was the other major US capitalist whose fortunes were made when there were the most brutal forms of exploitation of workers. This was the banker and industrialist, John Pierpont Morgan. The career of JP Morgan was symbolic of the merger of industrial and bank capital to create financial capitalism at the turn of the twentieth century. Today at the start of the 21st century JP Morgan Chase is the result of the combination of several large U.S. banking companies over the last decade including Chase Manhattan Bank, J.P. Morgan & Co., Bank One, Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual. Going back further, the predecessors of the current banking behemoth include major banking firms among which are Chemical Bank, Manufacturers Hanover, First Chicago Bank, National Bank of Detroit, Texas Commerce Bank, Providian Financial and Great Western Bank.
JP Morgan Chase is a textbook case of what happened to US banks during the era of neo-liberalism when the Glass Steagall Act was repealed separating investment banking from federally insured deposit banks. Much attention has been paid to the two poster children of the new casino type operators who claim to be bankers, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase and Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs. These two are just at the top of the massive political structure that squeezes the mass of the citizens of the world for the top 1 per cent. In the book ‘13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown’, the authors Simon Johnson and James Kwak have detailed the evolution of the neo-liberal world that was spun by these bankers. According to Johnson and Kwak, the bankers created new money machines with new schemes such as securitization, high yield debt, arbitrage trading and derivatives. On top of these serial innovations we now have a new one called value at risk. Later we will be told what is synthetic derivatives hedging business. These “serial innovations created the new money machines that fueled the rapid, massive growth in the size, profitability and wealth of the financial sector over the last three decades.”
It is the accrued power of these bankers that now threatens the global system of capitalism. After the tremors of the financial markets in 2008 these same banks that called for deregulation called for bail outs because they were too big to fail. For a while, there had been word of the depth of the hole in other banks and we are still waiting for the information on Bank of America which is still under wraps with Wikileaks. Only two months ago, the Federal Reserve completed a “stress test” of the 19 largest US banks, which gave all of them a green light in terms of solvency and approved increased dividends or stock buybacks for 15 of the 19 banks. This exposure of JP Morgan exposes the fraud of the so called stress tests.
Although the banking system was propped up and we are informed in the media that these banks recently passed ‘stress tests,’ the news about the risky bets of JP Morgan is a stark reminder that the time bomb is ticking. Since that fateful week in September 2008, far from resolving the crisis of the US financial system, the bailout of Wall Street that had been orchestrated by the Federal government has resulted in a further centralization of financial assets in a handful of giant institutions that dominate American society. The further centralization now means that five of the 13 banks—JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs — held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011. The big five have increased their viselike grip on the US economy over the past five years: in 2006, their financial holdings amounted to 43 percent of US gross domestic product. By the end of 2011, that figure had risen to 56 percent.
JP MORGAN AT THE FOREFRONT OF OPPOSING REGULATION
JP Dimon is the CEO of JP Morgan Chase. He has been the most active among the bankers in manipulating the system playing both sides of the political game and arguing against the regulation of the banks. Jamie Dimon was paid over US $23 million last year and now it is coming out that it is the accounting scams that produced the paper profits that enabled the big bonuses for Dimon and the traders who were urged to make riskier bets. Dimon has been the most active in the press and in his visits to the Obama White House. He has argued for the ‘markets’ to take their course when his bank has been in operation in a world that is beyond the reach of markets. While the world of these bankers is beyond the ‘market’ these are the financiers who promote the myth that the development of a generalized market (the least regulated possible) and democracy are complimentary to one another. The same bankers who argue that the economic sphere and the political sphere are separate and that the market does not need the state are the same bankers who are expending billions to lobby so that the limited regulations proposed by the Dodd-Frank legislation of 2010 are not affected. The Dodd-Frank legislation included one particular clause called the Volcker rule that was supposed to ban proprietary trading by the lords of the universe.
Jamie Dimon has been described by Barack Obama as one of the smartest bankers in the United States. Obama was simply exposing the subservience of the federal government to the bankers who are the same group pouring millions into both campaigns. The bankers are ensuring that whichever party wins in November, the US banking system will be protected. Barack Obama timidly called for regulating JP Morgan while actively engaging the soliciting of funds from one of the most notorious ‘private equity’ firms in New York. The close relationship between the private equity firms and the bankers constitute the power of the top one per cent and the US government acts to serve this one per cent. After the big scare of 2008 there was fear internationally that there would be a run on the dollar. It was this fear that induced the members of the US government to pass the Dodd-Frank Legislation to prevent the obscene conflict of interest of the banks and investment houses. The expedient which was supposed to prevent the conflict of interest was the Volcker rule, named after the former Treasury Secretary of an era before financialization. The rule placed trading restrictions on financial institutions. In the 2010 legislation, the Volcker rule separates investment banking, private equity and proprietary trading (hedge fund) sections of financial institutions from their consumer lending arms. Banks are not allowed to simultaneously enter into an advisory and creditor role with clients, such as with private equity firms. The Volcker rule aims to minimize conflicts of interest between banks and their clients through separating the various types of business practices financial institutions engage in.
JP Dimon has been the leader in opposing the Volcker rule because his organization has been at the forefront of the practice where a hedge fund is operating inside a commercial bank. Commercial banks are federally insured and are different from investment banks. Under the rules of the so called market, bankers are not supposed to take deposits from customers and then use the same deposits to make speculative bets. This was not supposed to happen but when the banks became huge money machines, they operated above the law. This is how a bank such as JP Morgan controls assets that are worth 20 per cent of the GDP of the USA.
BANKS MUST BE NATIONALIZED
Jamie Dimon sits on the Board of the Federal Reserve of New York. This is the most important position of the US financial system because this is the reserve system that holds the foreign reserves of 60 per cent of the economies of the world. JP Morgan Chase is a particularly critical financial institution, since in addition to its vast holdings; it serves as one of the two main clearing banks in New York City, along with Bank of New York Mellon, handling financial transactions for all other banks. Any challenge to its solvency immediately puts a question mark over the whole financial system. Central bankers all over the world are following with interest the call for Jamie Dimon to be removed from the Board of the Federal Reserve of New York because of conflicts of interest. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York carries out foreign exchange-related activities on behalf of the Federal Reserve System and the U.S. Treasury. In this capacity, the bank monitors and analyzes global financial market developments, manages the U.S. foreign currency reserves, and from time to time intervenes in the foreign exchange market. The bank also executes foreign exchange transactions on behalf of customers.
Tim Geithner now Treasury Secretary was the former President of the Federal Reserve Board of New York. It was under Geithner when billions were handed over to the bankers after 2008. Then Geithner was trying to save the US financial system so that foreigners will not pull their reserves out of the dollar. As Treasury Secretary, Geithner was reported to have had secret meetings with Jamie Dimon in March this year when news first surfaced of the synthetic trades.
Elizabeth Warren, now running for a Senate seat in Massachusetts, has called for the resignation of Jamie Dimon from the Federal Reserve Board of New York. Every citizen will understand that there is a conflict of interest [involved in] sitting on a board that is supposed to regulate the operations of JP Morgan Chase. But conflict of interest has never been a problem for the US capitalists. They changed the rules to suit themselves. However, this was before the era when other societies had alternatives. From China to Venezuela and from Argentina to Japan, central bankers are seeking ways to exit from the contagion of the speculative trading of US bankers.
Last year the world was exposed to the realities of the insolvency of the US financial system when there was the debate on the debt ceiling. Now it has been revealed that the debt ceiling will have to be raised again. This is sending shudders down the spine of financial institutions around the world.
The political struggles over the future of the US financial system are maturing. In order to pre-empt utter disaster the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas has called for the big banks to be broken up. The big banks continue to act on the assumption that the US dollar will be the reserve currency of international trade, especially now that the Euro is in disarray. These big banks are of the view that the US government will continue the devaluation of the US dollar without a response from the rest of the world. It is this understanding which has influenced the bankers to believe that the US government will intervene to bail them out when they make speculative bets that the US economy will improve. Many refuse to accept that this is a depression.
Sober elements understand that the banks must be broken up and this was stated explicitly in the annual report of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The letter from the head of the Dallas Federal Reserve is entitled, Choosing the Road to Prosperity Why We Must End Too Big to Fail—Now. In this letter, Richard Fisher from the Dallas Federal Reserve argues that the situation of the big banks is a disaster in waiting. Fisher would force the big banks to reorganize and get much smaller. And he would require “harsh and non-negotiable consequences” for any bank that ends in trouble and seeks government aid, including removal of its leaders, replacement of its board, voiding all compensation and bonus contracts and clawing back any bonus compensation for the two previous years.
It is now understood by these sober elements in the USA that the Big Banks may be not only too big to fail, but also too big to save.
The politicians in the USA are compromised and refuse to see the reality. It is the task of the progressive forces to keep the discussions on the JP Morgan losses on the table in order to educate the people on the nature of the depression. The major media houses such as the New York Times are attempting to manage this story saying that this $3-4 billion loss is a drop in the bucket. From the financial papers there is the buzz that one’s loss is another person’s gain. This is cold comfort to the poor all over the world who are suffering in the midst of this depression. In 2008 the government socialized the losses while the profits were privatized. The bailout was one of the biggest transfers of wealth from the poor of the world to the rich. These bankers now need another bail out and the US government will have to increase the debt ceiling.
For the moment the Occupy Wall Street Movement has made it impossible for the government to bail out the banks again. However, far from bailing out the bankers, speculators such as Corzine of MF Global and Jamie Dimon should be prosecuted. It is not enough to say that what JP Morgan was doing was inappropriate from a federally insured depository institution. It is time for the people to call for these banks to be taken over and the big bankers removed.
It is now time for audacity and more audacity. Nationalization and political education at the moment is more important than the elections. Bankers like JP Morgan profit from war and these forces want another big war so that the capitalists can recover. The peace and justice forces must be more vigilant. The JP Morgan Chase debacle heightens the desperation of the top one per cent in the USA.
- The Need For An Independent Investigation Into JP Morgan Chase (baselinescenario.com)
Gasoline and heating oil prices are ratcheting up. In California, some motorists are paying over $5 per gallon. President Obama declared that “there is no quick fix” for this problem. Meanwhile, the hapless but howling Republicans are blaming him for the fuel surge as if he is a price control czar.
Indeed, President Obama has some proper power to cool off retail petroleum prices. David Stockman, President Ronald Reagan’s Budget Director, said it plainly on CNN last week, “Stop beating the war drums right now [against Iran], and Obama could do that, and he could say the neocons are history.” Having done his stint on Wall Street, Stockman knows that war talk by the war hawks inside and outside of our government is just what the speculators on the New York Mercantile Exchange want to hear as they bid up the price. Your gasoline prices are not charging up due to strains between supply and demand. Speculation, with those notorious derivatives and swaps, is what is poking larger holes in your fuel budget, according to Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement lawyers. The too-big-to-fail Wall Street gamblers – Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley – are at it again.
Dr. Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America documented that speculation added $600 to the average family’s gasoline expenditures in 2011. Earlier, the head of Exxon/Mobil estimated that speculation was responsible for over $40 per barrel in price increase at a time when oil was more than $100 per barrel.
Last June, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman, Gary Gensler, declared in New York City that “huge inflows of speculative money create a self-fulfilling prophecy that drives up commodity prices.”
Mr. Gensler and the CFTC received more legislated authority to police these Wall Street gamblers, but key members of Congress refused to give him a budget to, in his words, “be a more effective cop on the beat,” at a time of sharply-increasing trading volume. Congressional campaign budgets are being swelled by campaign contributions from those very Wall Street gamblers. This is called “cash-register politics.” Meanwhile, you the people pay and pay at the pump and wonder why no one is doing anything about it.
But an inadequate budget only explains part of Mr. Gensler’s problems. He is continually undermined by other CFTC Commissioners who do not want real enforcement action. He also seems to be wearing down under the pressure.
Back in the 1970s, a sudden increase in gasoline prices – even a few cents – led to an uproar among consumers and demands for regulation, price controls and other government action. Now that the New York Mercantile Exchange, with its big banking and hedge fund speculators loading up on fat profits and bonuses is right here in the U.S., officials are throwing up their hands saying “there are no quick fixes.”
Yet by the constant Israeli-Obama-Hillary Clinton-Congressional-AIPAC belligerent talk about Iran developing a capability to produce nuclear weapons is provoking Tehran’s warnings about the Straits of Hormuz, and the oil price speculators are having a field day with your gas dollars.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) regularly demands that that Obama’s regulators impose limits on oil speculations. He asserts that the “skyrocketing price of gas and oil has nothing to do with the fundamentals of supply and demand.” Even Goldman Sachs analyst, David Greely, claimed Wall Street speculation in the futures market is driving up oil prices.
In response to such clamorings, President Obama announced in April 2011 a new inter-agency working group to combat fraud. Don’t hold your breath waiting for any action here.
So why doesn’t President Obama invite the various industries such as the trucking and airline companies that are hurt by spiraling oil prices, together with consumer groups, motorist organizations, such as AAA and Better World Society, and the relevant government agencies to generate the pressure on Congress and the recalcitrant members of the CFTC to stop fronting for the Wall Street casino giants?
Mr. Obama and Energy Secretary Chu keep saying that there is enough oil in world markets and that speculatively-driven higher oil prices are undermining the U.S. economic recovery. Yet Mr. Obama seems unwilling to fully use his administration’s existing authority to crack down on the surging speculation.
There is much more action possible under current statutory authority for the regulators to use and earn their salaries. They need to hear louder rumblings from the people. While the people need, whenever possible and safe, to walk short distances instead of drive there, if only to stiffen their determination to fight back in more than one way.
Why the Feds Won’t Prosecute the Big Wall Street Banks
Yesterday the Department of Justice and 49 state attorneys general announced the long anticipated $25 billion deal with 5 large Wall Street firms — Bank of America Corporation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Company, Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc. — to settle foreclosure and mortgage servicing abuses. Unfortunately, the settlement is not yet 24 hours old and cracks are emerging.
Each major corruption settlement with Wall Street, and they are legion over the past 15 years, triggers a commemorative magazine cover. I keep some favorites handy.
The October 1996 cover of Registered Representative Magazine, the trade magazine for financial consultants and stock brokers, blared in 48 point bold red type: “How the NASD Was Corrupted.” That issue focused on the years of price fixing of stocks traded on the Nasdaq market by the biggest firms on Wall Street while the self regulatory body, the National Association of Securities Dealers, was dominated by the same firms and looked the other way. (Think SEC today.)
The Department of Justice, then under Janet Reno, had this to say about the settlement: “We have found substantial evidence of coercion and other misconduct in this industry. By providing for the random monitoring of traders’ telephone calls, we expect to deter future price fixing on Nasdaq.” At the time, Reno said the “law does not provide the Department with statutory authority to recover damages or monetary penalties in such cases.”
The next big corruption probe drew a giant green serpent wrapped around the street sign for Wall Street on the cover of BusinessWeek with the rhetorical question: “Wall Street: How Corrupt Is It?” That settlement collectively cost the big firms $1.4 billion for peddling fake stock research to the public to induce investors to buy bad companies while the same analysts called the firms “dogs” and “crap” in internal emails. The announcement of the deal came on April 28, 2003 from the SEC, the New York Attorney General of that day, Eliot Spitzer, the NASD, the New York Stock Exchange and state securities regulators — all gushing over how great this deal was for the public and how it was going to reform Wall Street.
New York Magazine has found an odd way of commemorating the crumbs available to illegally evicted and displaced children and families under the current settlement. The current magazine cover has a Wall Street guy clasping his… uh…private portfolio…with the headline: “The
Emasculation of Wall Street.” If Wall Street is being emasculated, you sure can’t tell it from yesterday’s settlement.
Not only did Wall Street settle its robo-signing, illegal foreclosures and servicing problems with the Department of Justice and 49 state attorneys general (Oklahoma settled independently) but lost in the headlines was that the two major regulators of national banks, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Reserve, also settled with the biggest Wall Street banks in a decidedly cozy deal that effectively lets them off without a monetary fine as long as they pay under the federal-state settlement agreement.
The OCC settled with Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo for a combined $394 million but here’s the cozy part: “the OCC agrees to hold in abeyance imposition of such penalties provided the servicers make payments and take other actions under the federal-state settlement with a value equal to at least the penalty amounts that each servicer acknowledges that the OCC could impose…”
The Federal Reserve issued monetary sanctions of $766.5 million against the parent holding companies: Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Ally Financial, Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Wells Fargo & Co. and two mortgage servicers GMAC Mortgage, LLC a subsidiary of Ally Financial, Inc., and EMC Mortgage Corporation, a subsidiary of JPMorgan Chase & Co. But again, the Wall Street firms can get off the hook for paying these sums by simply paying them under the $25 billion federal-state settlement.
The specifics of just what the state attorneys general agreed to is unknown, even to some of the attorneys general. According to the web site set up to inform the public about the settlement both the primary “Settlement Document” and the “Executive Summary” will be “coming soon.” Without those documents available for public perusal, there is the reasonable suspicion that the public has once again been feted to lipstick on a pig, as they like to say on Wall Street.
One striking problem is that California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris states on her web site and in this video that California is getting $18 billion. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
says on her web site that Florida is receiving $8.4 billion. Those two amounts would leave a negative figure for the other 47 states that agreed to the $25 billion deal.
There’s also something peculiar about the Federal Department of Justice and 49 states setting up an informational web site that ends in .com instead of .gov. Register.com shows the web site has used a privacy shield to block the name of the owner of the site.
Corporate media is reporting that the deal settles only foreclosure and servicing abuses. But this web site states: “The agreement settles only some aspects of the banks conduct related to the financial crisis (foreclosure practices, loan servicing, and origination of loans) in return for the second largest state attorneys general recovery in history and direct relief to distressed borrowers while they can still use it.” The Florida Attorney General concedes on her web site that the deal with the state includes loan origination issues. That may not sit well with residents of a state where massive loan origination frauds occurred.
I called the AG’s office in Massachusetts – historically a tough regulator when it comes to Wall Street. The spokesperson could not answer why loan origination is included on the settlement web site.
Why is mortgage loan origination a big deal? Because tens of thousands of consumers were victimized in a bait and switch racket, believing they were getting a fixed rate mortgage only to find out a few years down the road that they had an adjustable rate mortgage that reset and doubled or even tripled their monthly payment – making it impossible to stay in their home; an effective wealth stripping enterprise by Wall Street against decent, hardworking families across America.
Other abuses in loan origination abounded. The Federal Trade Commission took this testimony from Michele V. Handzel, a former Branch Manager for CitiFinancial, a unit of Citigroup. Ms. Handzel is comparing the practices of CitiFinancial after it acquired another firm, The Associates.
“CitiFinancial put much more pressure on employees than the Associates did to include as many credit insurance and ancillary products as possible on every loan….In fact, I feel that the credit insurance sales practices at CitiFinancial were worse than at The Associates. From January to June 2001, the policy was that no personal loan at CitiFinancial would be approved if it did not include some type of credit insurance, nor would a real estate loan be approved without some type of ancillary product…There were several internal measures in place to effectuate this policy. For instance, District Managers would frequently refuse to send a loan to underwriting if it did not include some type of insurance product. Moreover, loans that were closed and did not include any insurance would be identified by CitiFinancial’s internal insurance auditors, and the employee who closed the loan would be written up…Closings at CitiFinancial resembled those at The Associates – they were brief. Personal loan closings took approximately 10 minutes. Real estate loan closings took a little longer but also did not provide a lot of details about the loan. At CitiFinancial, I was instructed to do a ‘closed folder’ closing, meaning that information would be discussed orally first. Only after the borrower indicated that he wanted to sign would the employee open the folder and have the borrower sign the papers.”
In the past, Wall Street knew it could steal billions and settle with its easily maneuvered regulators for millions. It did this time and time again, never having to admit to any crime. Wall Street translated this to mean that crime was a lucrative profit center. This latest settlement raises the potential of this profit center. Wall Street now understands that it can steal trillions and settle for billions.
And just why is it that the Feds can’t or won’t prosecute the biggest of the Wall Street firms? Because they are the Federal Government’s bond brokers, the primary dealers who contractually agree to buy Treasury bills or notes or bonds at every U.S. Treasury auction. They may be serially corrupt, but Uncle Sam needs those contractual guarantees of its primary dealers to be sure it can pull off its debt auctions. And the U.S. government cannot engage in contracts with convicted financial felons.
And it won’t break up these bloated behemoths because big balance sheets are just what a government with $15 trillion in debt is looking for in a bond broker.
Pam Martens worked on Wall Street for 21 years. She spent the last decade of her career advocating against Wall Street’s private justice system, which keeps its crimes shielded from public courtrooms. She maintains, along with Russ Martens, an ongoing archive dedicated to this financial era at www.WallStreetOnParade.com. She has no security position, long or short, in any company mentioned in this article. She is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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