Monday, April 1, 2013

Corporate Power Has Seized The Internet

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If your daily routine took you from one homegrown organic garden to another, bypassing vast fields choked with pesticides, you might feel pretty good about the current state of agriculture.
If your daily routine takes you from one noncommercial progressive website to another, you might feel pretty good about the current state of the Internet.
But while mass media have supplied endless raptures about a digital revolution, corporate power has seized the Internet -- and the anti-democratic grip is tightening every day.
“Most assessments of the Internet fail to ground it in political economy; they fail to understand the importance of capitalism in shaping and, for lack of a better term, domesticating the Internet,” says Robert W. McChesney in his illuminating new book, Digital Disconnect.
Plenty of commentators loudly celebrate the Internet. Some are vocal skeptics. “Both camps, with a few exceptions, have a single, deep, and often fatal flaw that severely compromises the value of their work,” McChesney writes. “That flaw, simply put, is ignorance about really existing capitalism and an underappreciation of how capitalism dominates social life. . . . Both camps miss the way capitalism defines our times and sets the terms for understanding not only the Internet, but most everything else of a social nature, including politics, in our society.”
And he adds: “The profit motive, commercialism, public relations, marketing, and advertising -- all defining features of contemporary corporate capitalism -- are foundational to any assessment of how the Internet has developed and is likely to develop.”
Concerns about the online world often fixate on cutting-edge digital tech. But, as McChesney points out, “the criticism of out-of-control technology is in large part a critique of out-of-control commercialism. The loneliness, alienation, and unhappiness sometimes ascribed to the Internet are also associated with a marketplace gone wild.”
Discourse about the Internet often proceeds as if digital technology has some kind of mind or will of its own. It does not.
For the most part, what has gone terribly wrong in digital realms is not about the technology. I often think of what Herbert Marcuse wrote in his 1964 book One-Dimensional Man: “The traditional notion of the ‘neutrality’ of technology can no longer be maintained. Technology as such cannot be isolated from the use to which it is put; the technological society is a system of domination which operates already in the concept and construction of techniques.”
Marcuse saw the technological as fully enmeshed with the political in advanced industrial society, “the latest stage in the realization of a specific historical project -- namely, the experience, transformation, and organization of nature as the mere stuff of domination.” He warned that the system’s productivity and growth potential contained “technical progress within the framework of domination.”
Fifty years later, McChesney’s book points out: “The Internet and the broader digital revolution are not inexorably determined by technology; they are shaped by how society elects to develop them. . . . In really existing capitalism, the kind Americans actually experience, wealthy individuals and large corporations have immense political power that undermines the principles of democracy. Nowhere is this truer than in communication policy making.”
Huge corporations are now running roughshod over the Internet. At the illusion-shattering core of Digital Disconnect are a pair of chapters on what corporate power has already done to the Internet -- the relentless commercialism that stalks every human online, gathering massive amounts of information to target people with ads; the decimation of privacy; the data mining and surveillance; the direct cooperation of Internet service providers, search engine companies, telecomm firms and other money-driven behemoths with the U.S. military and “national security” state; the ruthless insatiable drive, led by Apple, Google, Microsoft and other digital giants, to maximize profits.
In his new book, McChesney cogently lays out grim Internet realities. (Full disclosure: he’s on the board of directors of an organization I founded, the Institute for Public Accuracy.) Compared to Digital Disconnect, the standard media critiques of the Internet are fairy tales.
Blowing away the corporate-fueled smoke, McChesney breaks through with insights like these:
  • “The corporate media sector has spent much of the past 15 years doing everything in its immense power to limit the openness and egalitarianism of the Internet. Its survival and prosperity hinge upon making the system as closed and proprietary as possible, encouraging corporate and state surreptitious monitoring of Internet users and opening the floodgates of commercialism.”
  • “It is supremely ironic that the Internet, the much-ballyhooed champion of increased consumer power and cutthroat competition, has become one of the greatest generators of monopoly in economic history. Digital market concentration has proceeded far more furiously than in the traditional pattern found in other areas. . . As ‘killer applications’ have emerged, new digital industries have gone from competitive to oligopolistic to monopolistic at breakneck speeds.”
  • “Today, the Internet as a social medium and information system is the domain of a handful of colossal firms.”
  • “It is true that with the advent of the Internet many of the successful giants -- Apple and Google come to mind -- were begun by idealists who may have been uncertain whether they really wanted to be old-fashioned capitalists. The system in short order has whipped them into shape. Any qualms about privacy, commercialism, avoiding taxes, or paying low wages to Third World factory workers were quickly forgotten. It is not that the managers are particularly bad and greedy people -- indeed their individual moral makeup is mostly irrelevant -- but rather that the system sharply rewards some types of behavior and penalizes other types of behavior so that people either get with the program and internalize the necessary values or they fail.”
  • “The tremendous promise of the digital revolution has been compromised by capitalist appropriation and development of the Internet. In the great conflict between openness and a closed system of corporate profitability, the forces of capital have triumphed whenever an issue mattered to them. The Internet has been subjected to the capital-accumulation process, which has a clear logic of its own, inimical to much of the democratic potential of digital communication.”
  • “What seemed to be an increasingly open public sphere, removed from the world of commodity exchange, seems to be morphing into a private sphere of increasingly closed, proprietary, even monopolistic markets. The extent of this capitalist colonization of the Internet has not been as obtrusive as it might have been, because the vast reaches of cyberspace have continued to permit noncommercial utilization, although increasingly on the margins.”
  • “If the Internet is worth its salt, if it is to achieve the promise of its most euphoric celebrants and assuage the concerns of its most troubled skeptics, it has to be a force for raising the tide of democracy. That means it must help arrest the forces that promote inequality, monopoly, hypercommercialism, corruption, depoliticization, and stagnation.”
  • “Digital technologies may bring to a head, once and for all, the discrepancy between what a society could produce and what it actually does produce under capitalism. The Internet is the ultimate public good and is ideally suited for broad social development. It obliterates scarcity and is profoundly disposed toward democracy. And it is more than that. The new technologies are in the process of truly revolutionizing manufacturing, for example, making far less expensive, more efficient, environmentally sound, decentralized production possible. Under really existing capitalism, however, few of the prospective benefits may be developed -- not to mention spread widely. The corporate system will try to limit the technology to what best serves its purposes.”
The huge imbalance of digital power now afflicting the Internet is a crucial subset of what afflicts the entirety of economic relations and political power in the United States. We have a profound, far-reaching fight on our hands, at a crossroads leading toward democracy or corporate monopoly. The future of humanity is at stake.

Obama’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network Protects Bank Fraud and Insider Trading

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One indelible sign of state capture by pirate corporations and the financial jackals holding sway on Wall Street and the City of London is the ease with which former “regulators” slip into plum positions with the firms whom they supposedly “regulated” as “public servants.”

While the drone kill-crazy Obama regime has done yeoman’s work cementing in place extra-constitutional policies first enacted by the Bush gang–only to exceed Bushist depredations by a whole order of magnitude–kool-aid sipping “progressives” and troglodytic “conservatives” have given the president a free pass when it comes to policing the financial criminals who blew up the world economy.

But when it comes to US spy agencies probing and sweeping up your financial information, well, the sky’s the limit!



As Reuters reported last week, the administration “is drawing up plans” to give securocrats “full access to a massive database that contains financial data on American citizens and others who bank in the country, according to a Treasury Department document.”

That Treasury plan would give secret state apparatchiks, including those ensconced at CIA, NSA and the Pentagon free reign to rummage through the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s (FinCEN) massive database of “suspicious activity reports” routinely filed by “banks, securities dealers, casinos and money and wire transfer agencies.” The FBI and DHS already have full access to that database under the Orwellian USA Patriot Act.

Under the proposal, FinCen data will be linked “with a computer network used by US defense and law enforcement agencies to share classified information called the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System,” according to Reuters.

And since requirements for filing SARs are “so strict,” banks often “over-report,” this “raises the possibility that the financial details of ordinary citizens could wind up in the hands of spy agencies,” where it will live in perpetuity, “criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial,” as Cryptohippie famously warned.

Got that? While Wall Street drug banks are handled with care because of the “collateral consequences” that might result from a criminal referral for laundering billions of narco-dollars, the average citizen’s financial data will be fair game.

Which brings us back to Obama’s anemic regulatory regime and the “sheriffs” eager to do the bankster’s bidding.

Wall Street’s Choice

As one of the filthiest dens of corruption in Washington, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is in a league of its own.

In late January, when the president announced he was nominating former federal prosecutor Mary Jo White to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), The New York Times, as they are wont to do, proclaimed that the “White House delivered a strong message to Wall Street.”

A rather ironic assertion considering the tens of millions of dollars “earned” defending Wall Street criminals by Debevoise & Plimpton partner Mary Jo and her millionaire lawyer husband John, a partner at the white shoe corporate litigation shop Cravath, Swaine & Moore, as Above the Law disclosed.

Keep in mind that White will soon lead an agency that for years covered-up financial crimes by routinely shredding tens of thousands of case files on everything from insider trading, securities fraud, market manipulation and the Madoff and Stanford Ponzi schemes, as a 2011 Rolling Stone investigation disclosed.

As I reported nearly three years ago during my investigation into now-convicted fraudster Allen Stanford’s ties to the CIA over his role in laundering oceans of cash for the Agency’s narcotrafficking assets, the SEC’s Fort Worth office “stood down” multiple probes “at the request of another federal agency,” which regional head of enforcement Stephen J. Korotash “declined to name.”

Indeed, a 2010 report by the SEC’s Office of the Inspector General found that another “former head of Enforcement in Fort Worth,” Spencer C. Barasch, “played a significant role in multiple decisions over the years to quash investigations of Stanford,” and sought to represent the dodgy banker “on three separate occasions after he left the Commission, and in fact represented Stanford briefly in 2006 before he was informed by the SEC Ethics Office that it was improper to do so.”

Barasch eventually paid a $50,000 fine for ethics violations and “moved on.”

Despite the SEC’s documented history of sleaze and lax enforcement of rules that would earn the average citizen a one-way ticket to the slammer, on March 19 the Senate Banking Committee approved White’s nomination by a vote of 21-1; the lone dissenter was Sherrod Brown (D-OH). A vote by the full Senate could come as early as next week and she is expected to be confirmed easily.

As a former US Attorney for the Southern District in New York (1993-2002), White has been described by corporate media as a “tough as nails” prosecutor for her role in bringing down Mafia wise guy John Gotti and for running to ground criminal mastermind Ramzi Yousef, the architect of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. (For a gripping account of how the FBI and US prosecutor’s office botched that investigation and “foamed the runway” for the mass murder of 3,000 people on 9/11, readers should train their sights on Peter Lance’s exposé, 1000 Years for Revenge).

White’s record when it came to holding financial criminals to account however, was even more dubious; in fact, for more than a decade she’s defended them.

Times’ stenographers dialed back their glowing encomiums for the Obama nominee, writing that “translating that message into action will not be easy, given the complexities of the market and Wall Street’s aggressive nature.”

As reliable hands on the financial beat, Dealbook reporters routinely trumpet everything from the Justice Department’s sweetheart deal with drug money laundering and terrorist coddling banking giant HSBC to kissing Jamie Dimon’s hem over billions of JPMorgan Chase losses last year in what were euphemistically described as a “bad bet on derivatives.”

In the January puff-piece, reporters Ben Protess and Benjamin Weiser outdid themselves, claiming that with the White nomination “the president showed a renewed resolve to hold Wall Street accountable for wrongdoing.”

However, a less than laudatory piece published by Bloomberg News took those fatuous claims to task. Financial columnist Jonathan Weil observed that while “The Securities and Exchange Commission couldn’t get Ken Lewis on any securities-law violations after he helped drive Bank of America Corp. into the ground as its chief executive officer,” the agency “is poised to get his attorney as its new chairman–and Morgan Stanley’s, too.”

But hey, it’s not like the SEC is chock-a-block with conflicts of interest, right? Well, if a bracing read is what the doctor ordered, then turn your attention to a damning study released last month by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). Entitled, Dangerous Liaisons: Revolving Door at SEC Creates Risk of Regulatory Capture, author Michael Smallberg takes us on a 60-page tour of insider dealing and corruption that would make a Roman emperor blush.

According to Smallberg: “Between 2001 and 2010, more than 400 SEC alumni filed nearly 2,000 disclosure statements saying they planned to represent employers or clients before the agency. These alumni have represented companies during SEC investigations, lobbied the agency on proposed regulations, obtained waivers to soften the blow of enforcement actions, and helped clients win exemptions from federal law. On the other side of the revolving door, when industry veterans join the SEC, they may be in a position to oversee their former employers or clients, or may be forced to recuse themselves from working on crucial agency issues.”

Talk about an agency blind in both eyes by design!

A Counsel with ‘Juice’

One of the more egregious cases which came to light was SEC’s handling of a 2005 insider trading case involving former agency enforcement head, Linda Thomsen, White and her client, Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack.

Before her tenure as the agency’s chief enforcement officer, Thomsen was in private practice at the powerhouse New York law firm, Davis, Polk & Wardell. During the capitalist financial meltdown, the company represented upstanding corporate citizens such as AIG, Freddie Mack, Lehman Brothers and drug-tainted Citigroup. Bulking up a stable of attorneys well-versed in regulatory matters, the firm has hired other former SEC officials, including Commissioner Annette Nazareth and Linda Thomsen.

Before sailing off to greener shores at Davis, Polk, Nazareth’s claim to fame was standing up a voluntary “supervisory regime” for the largest “investment bank holding companies” who “policed” themselves by cratering the economy and costing taxpayers trillions in bailouts.

That program, the Consolidated Supervised Entity was scrapped in 2008. Why? According to a press release by then SEC head Christopher Cox (no slouch himself when it came to defending his corporatist masters): “The last six months have made it abundantly clear that voluntary regulation does not work. When Congress passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, it created a significant regulatory gap by failing to give to the SEC or any agency the authority to regulate large investment bank holding companies, like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns.” (emphasis added)

A “gap” large enough to fly a fleet 747s through and still have enough wiggle room to launch a dozen Saturn 5s into deep space!

And that insider trading case?

According to Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone investigation, in September 2004 SEC investigator Gary Aguirre was tasked to look into an insider trading complaint against “a hedge-fund megastar named Art Samberg. One day, with no advance research or discussion, Samberg had suddenly started buying up huge quantities of shares in a firm called Heller Financial.”

Samberg was the founder of the multibillion dollar hedge fund, Pequot Capital Management, a firm which invested in a multitude of private and public equities and what are known as “distressed securities.” These are investment instruments held by firms or government entities (paging Fannie Mae!) that are either in default, under bankruptcy protection or will soon be heading south. The most common securities of this type are bonds and bank debt (think residential mortgage backed securities and other toxic assets). Since the financial crisis, a booming market in distressed securities have earned savvy hedge fund mangers billions in fees as they seek influence with regulators over how that debt is restructured.

And since “influence” in Washington and the “juice” that comes with it on Wall Street is the name of the game, well, you get the picture.

“‘It was as if Art Samberg woke up one morning and a voice from the heavens told him to start buying Heller,’ Aguirre recalls. ‘And he wasn’t just buying shares–there were some days when he was trying to buy three times as many shares as were being traded that day.’ A few weeks later, Heller was bought by General Electric–and Samberg pocketed $18 million.”

“After some digging,” Taibbi wrote, “Aguirre found himself focusing on one suspect as the likely source who had tipped Samberg off: John Mack, a close friend of Samberg’s who had just stepped down as president of Morgan Stanley.”

According to Taibbi, “Mack flew to Switzerland to interview for a top job at Credit Suisse First Boston. Among the investment bank’s clients, as it happened, was a firm called Heller Financial. We don’t know for sure what Mack learned on his Swiss trip; years later, Mack would claim that he had thrown away his notes about the meetings.”

Rather conveniently, one might say.

In any event after returning from his Swiss Alps sojourn, in a classic case of “you scratch my back” Samberg cut his buddy Mack into a deal with a tech firm called Lucent, “a favor that netted him [Mack] more than $10 million.” Shortly thereafter, “Samberg began buying-up every Heller share in sight, right before it was snapped up by GE.”

An insider trading case worthy of further scrutiny, right? But when Aguirre told his boss [Robert Hanson] that he intended to interview Mack and the other principals, “things started getting weird.” Taibbi noted that Aguirre’s boss told the investigator that Mack “had powerful political connections.”

Indeed he did. Like other Wall Street banksters, Mack had been a fundraising “Ranger” for the 2004 George W. Bush campaign, and when it became clear that a new product line needed to be rolled out, Mack crossed party lines and backed Hillary Clinton’s ill-starred 2008 bid for the Oval Office.

How’s that for clubby “bipartisanship”!

A 2007 report (large PDF file) published by the Senate Finance Committee titled The Firing of an SEC Attorney and the Investigation of Pequot Management, disclosed that “at least three experienced SEC officials believed in the summer of 2005 that questioning John Mack was an appropriate next step in the Pequot Investigation.”

Indeed, Senate investigators revealed that “the most significant aspect” of Mack’s 2006 SEC testimony (after the statute of limitations for prosecution had expired) “is his acknowledgement that he went to Switzerland to discuss becoming CSFB’s CEO from July 26-28, 2001.”

“In view of the fact that Mack also spoke with Samberg immediately upon his return to the United States on July 29, 2001,” Senate staff disclosed, “the trading day before Samberg began heavily betting on Heller Financial stock, and on the same night Mack was permitted into a lucrative deal, there was more than a sufficient basis to justify taking Mack’s testimony in the summer of 2005.”

After first being given the go-ahead to interview Mack, “Aguirre’s direct line of supervisors” including Hanson, Mark Kreitman and Paul Berger, got cold feet. Unfortunately for Aguirre, this came after he had briefed attorneys at Mary Jo White’s old stomping ground and “criminal authorities in the Southern District opened their own investigations” into dubious deals between Samberg and Mack.

At that point, Senate investigators averred, “his supervisors’ attitudes shifted dramatically,” that is, “when officials from Morgan Stanley began contacting the SEC to learn about the potential impact of the investigation on its prospective CEO, John Mack.” Only then did Hanson warn Aguirre that “it would be difficult to subpoena John Mack because of his ‘powerful political connections’.”

Aguirre told Senate investigators that “in a face-to-face meeting” with his boss, “Hanson said it would be very difficult to get permission to question Mack because of Mack’s ‘powerful political connections’.”

Hanson however, denied everything and said during his Senate testimony “That doesn’t sound like something I would say.”

“As a general matter,” Hanson testified, “I try to alert folk above me about significant developments in investigations that may trigger calls and the like so that they are not caught flat footed. I also think that Paul [Berger] and Linda [Thomsen] would want to know if and when we are planning to take Mack’s testimony so that they can anticipate the response, which may include press calls that will likely follow. Mack’s counsel will have ‘juice’ as I described last night–meaning that they will reach out to Paul and Linda (and possibly others).”

And who was Mack’s “juiced” attorney? Why none other than Mary Jo White!

Unbeknownst to Aguirre, his supervisors were trading emails about his imminent firing from the agency. “With no knowledge of those emails,” Senate investigators disclosed that Aguirre wrote Hanson again stating, that “before and after the Mack decision, you have told [me] several times that the problem in taking Mack’s exam is his political clout, e.g., all the people that Mary Jo White can contact with a phone call.”

At the same time that Aguirre was seeking to subpoena Mack’s testimony, Morgan Stanley’s board hired Debevoise & Plimpton to vet their soon-to-be reinstalled CEO. “Only two days after being retained,” the Senate reported, “White did what the SEC did not do until more than a year later. She questioned John Mack: ‘The other thing that I did for the board to gather what information I could on that time frame was to interview John Mack himself,’” White told investigators.

But she did more than that, demonstrating she indeed had plenty of “juice.”

“That evening,” the Senate disclosed, “White sent Thomsen an e-mail message marked ‘URGENT’ and asked that Thomsen return the call ‘this evening.’ Aguirre complained that the next day White delivered the e-mails that he had subpoenaed from Morgan Stanley directly to Linda Thomsen.”

“On June 27,” Aguirre testified, “I learned that Mack-Samberg emails, which I had subpoenaed from Morgan Stanley, had been delivered directly to the Director of Enforcement, Linda Thomsen. Neither I nor other staff had heard of this happening before. Indeed, the subpoena explicitly stated that the documents were to be delivered to me.”

Evidence reviewed by the Senate Finance Committee “suggests that the reluctance to question Mack represents a much more subtle and pervasive problem than an individual partisan political favor. SEC officials were overly deferential to Mack–not because of his politics–but because he was an ‘industry captain’ who could hire influential counsel to represent him.”

“In a shocking move that was later singled out by Senate investigators,” Taibbi wrote, “the director actually appeared to reassure White, dismissing the case against Mack as ‘smoke’ rather than ‘fire’.”

“Aguirre didn’t stand a chance,” Taibbi noted. “A month after he complained to his supervisors that he was being blocked from interviewing Mack, he was summarily fired, without notice. The case against Mack was immediately dropped: all depositions canceled, no further subpoenas issued. ‘It all happened so fast, I needed a seat belt,’ recalls Aguirre, who had just received a stellar performance review from his bosses. The SEC eventually paid Aguirre a settlement of $755,000 for wrongful dismissal.”

It gets better.

In a subsequent piece, Taibbi followed-up and discovered “not only did the SEC ultimately delay the interview of Mack until after the statute of limitations had expired, and not only did the agency demand an investigation into possible alternative sources for Samberg’s tip (what Aguirre jokes was like ‘O.J.’s search for the real killers’), but the SEC official who had quashed the Mack investigation, Paul Berger, took a lucrative job working for Morgan Stanley’s law firm, Debevoise and Plimpton, just nine months after Aguirre was fired.”

As it turned out, at the exact moment that Aguirre’s investigation was being sabotaged, Senate investigators “uncovered an email to Berger from another SEC official, Lawrence West, who was also interviewing with Debevoise and Plimpton at the time.”

“The e-mail was dated September 8, 2005 and addressed to Paul Berger with the subject line, ‘Debevoise.’ The body of the message read, ‘Mary Jo [White] just called. I mentioned your interest’.”

Taibbi observed: “So Berger was passing notes in class to Mary Jo White about wanting to work for Morgan Stanley’s law firm while he was in the middle of quashing an investigation into a major insider trading case involving the CEO of the bank. After the case dies, Berger later gets the multimillion-dollar posting and the circle is closed.”

In later testimony to the Inspector General into Debevoise & Plimpton’s eventual hiring of Berger by a firm that boasts on their web site that she leads a “team” which “includes eleven former Assistant US Attorneys,” White’s comments on whether Berger was considered too “aggressive” in prosecuting Wall Street criminals is all-too-revealing.

“You always have a spectrum on the aggressiveness scale for government types and was this an issue that was beyond real commitment to the job and the mission and bringing cases,” White affirmed, “which is a positive thing in the government, to a point. Or was it a broader issue that could leave resentment in the business community or in the legal community that would hamper his ability to function well in the private sector?”

“It’s certainly strange that White has to qualify the idea that bringing cases is a positive thing in a government official–that bringing cases is a ‘positive thing . . . to a point’,” Taibbi noted. “Can anyone imagine the future head of the DEA saying something like, ‘For a prosecutor, bringing drug cases is a positive, to a point’?”

And what about Linda Thomsen? In 2008, the SEC’s inspector general, H. David Kotz, urged disciplinary action against her over her role in Aguirre’s squashed investigation of Samberg and Mack. While Samberg was eventually forced out of business, barred from working as an investment adviser and paid a $28 million fine for his shenanigans, Thomsen landed on her feet.

After refusing to answer relevant questions in 2009 before the House Committee on Financial Services probe into the SEC’s failure to investigate the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, due to a “collective desire to preserve the integrity of the investigative and prosecution processes” mind you, Thomsen resigned and rejoined Davis, Polk and Wardell.

Later that year, Kotz released a report to Congress of the IG’s investigation into a “Senior Officer” who provided “inside information” to a “former official.” As it turns out that “Senior Officer” was Linda Thomsen and that “official” was her former boss Stephen Cutler who had jumped ship and joined JPMorgan Chase.

According to The New York Times, “Kotz said his office has concluded its well-publicized investigation into whether the SEC’s enforcement director, Linda Chatman Thomsen, inappropriately provided inside information to her former boss, Stephen Cutler, now the general counsel of JPMorgan Chase, amid the bank’s negotiations to buy Bear Stearns in March 2008.”

“The inquiry,” the Times reported, “which began in response to an anonymous tip, confirmed that Mr. Cutler sought assurances from Ms. Thomsen before the takeover that JPMorgan would not be sued for prior actions by Bear Stearns.”

And who was representing JPMorgan Chase in the wake of the Bear Stearns collapse? If you guessed Mary Jo White, you’d be right again.

Less than three years later, during Senate Banking Committee confirmation hearings, White told the panel that “the American people will be my client, and I will work as zealously as possible on behalf of them.”

But when questioned by Sherrod Brown (D-OH) whether or not White agreed with US Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement which affirmed that “federal prosecutors are instructed . . . to look at . . . collateral consequences” should a financial institution or its officers be criminally charged, White agreed.

In a follow-up question, Brown wondered whether there is “a two-tiered system where we exempt the biggest banks because they have the most employees and shareholders who could be affected by criminal prosecution?”

White’s answer pretty much sums up everything that’s bent about Washington’s culture of impunity when it comes to the Wall Street crimes: “It’s a factor that prosecutors are directed to consider.”

“I do think the deferred prosecution instrument,” White asserted, “has been used a great deal on a number of companies, [and] was designed to be tough in terms of monetary sanctions, monitors–everything but the charge itself that might cause what the prosecutor might consider to be negative and undesirable collateral consequences to the public interest.”

But what about harsher sanctions such as stripped assets, handcuffs and a jail cell for drug money laundering and securities scamming banksters, punishments that might actually deter corporate crime?

Forgetaboutit!

U.S. Plans To Let Spy Agencies Scour Americans' Finances

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 The Obama administration is drawing up plans to give all U.S. spy agencies full access to a massive database that contains financial data on American citizens and others who bank in the country, according to a Treasury Department document seen by Reuters.

The proposed plan represents a major step by U.S. intelligence agencies to spot and track down terrorist networks and crime syndicates by bringing together financial databanks, criminal records and military intelligence. The plan, which legal experts say is permissible under U.S. law, is nonetheless likely to trigger intense criticism from privacy advocates.

Financial institutions that operate in the United States are required by law to file reports of "suspicious customer activity," such as large money transfers or unusually structured bank accounts, to Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

The Federal Bureau of Investigation already has full access to the database. However, intelligence agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, currently have to make case-by-case requests for information to FinCEN.

The Treasury plan would give spy agencies the ability to analyze more raw financial data than they have ever had before, helping them look for patterns that could reveal attack plots or criminal schemes.

The planning document, dated March 4, shows that the proposal is still in its early stages of development, and it is not known when implementation might begin.

Financial institutions file more than 15 million "suspicious activity reports" every year, according to Treasury. Banks, for instance, are required to report all personal cash transactions exceeding $10,000, as well as suspected incidents of money laundering, loan fraud, computer hacking or counterfeiting.

"For these reports to be of value in detecting money laundering, they must be accessible to law enforcement, counter-terrorism agencies, financial regulators, and the intelligence community," said the Treasury planning document.

A Treasury spokesperson said U.S. law permits FinCEN to share information with intelligence agencies to help detect and thwart threats to national security, provided they adhere to safeguards outlined in the Bank Secrecy Act. "Law enforcement and intelligence community members with access to this information are bound by these safeguards," the spokesperson said in a statement.

Some privacy watchdogs expressed concern about the plan when Reuters outlined it to them.

A move like the FinCEN proposal "raises concerns as to whether people could find their information in a file as a potential terrorist suspect without having the appropriate predicate for that and find themselves potentially falsely accused," said Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel for the Rule of Law Program at the Constitution Project, a non-profit watchdog group.

Despite these concerns, legal experts emphasize that this sharing of data is permissible under U.S. law. Specifically, banks' suspicious activity reporting requirements are dictated by a combination of the Bank Secrecy Act and the USA PATRIOT Act, which offer some privacy safeguards.

National security experts also maintain that a robust system for sharing criminal, financial and intelligence data among agencies will improve their ability to identify those who plan attacks on the United States.

"It's a war on money, war on corruption, on politically exposed persons, anti-money laundering, organized crime," said Amit Kumar, who advised the United Nations on Taliban sanctions and is a fellow at the Democratic think tank Center for National Policy.

SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY

The Treasury document outlines a proposal to link the FinCEN database with a computer network used by U.S. defense and law enforcement agencies to share classified information called the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System.

The plan calls for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence - set up after 9/11 to foster greater collaboration among intelligence agencies - to work with Treasury. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

More than 25,000 financial firms - including banks, securities dealers, casinos, and money and wire transfer agencies - routinely file "suspicious activity reports" to FinCEN. The requirements for filing are so strict that banks often over-report, so they cannot be accused of failing to disclose activity that later proves questionable. This over-reporting raises the possibility that the financial details of ordinary citizens could wind up in the hands of spy agencies.

Stephen Vladeck, a professor at American University's Washington College of Law, said privacy advocates have already been pushing back against the increased data-sharing activities between government agencies that followed the September 11 attacks.

"One of the real pushes from the civil liberties community has been to move away from collection restrictions on the front end and put more limits on what the government can do once it has the information," he said.

Michael German, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said that U.S. officials had floated a similar scheme to pool such data a decade ago, but that funding for the plan was later withdrawn by Congress.

He said one of the problematic aspects of the plan is that there is "wiggle room" on how the information will be used. In the past, the National CounterTerrorism Center, which is supposed to ensure that critical threat information is shared among various agencies, was obliged to "promptly identify and purge any innocent U.S. person information."

But the guidelines were subsequently loosened so that "not only can they keep the data for a number of years, but they can continue to use it," German said.

Once spy agencies get such data, German said, "it's in a black hole. Time and again, we have evidence, unfortunately well after the fact, that somebody's civil rights have been violated, that the intelligence community simply ignores the rules."

When You Weren’t Looking, Democrat Bank Stooges Launch Bills to Permit Bailouts, Deregulate Derivatives


One of the big lessons of the fraught negotiations over bailing out (or more accurately, in) Cyprus’s banks is that deregulating institutions with an implicit or explicit state guarantee is a bad idea. You’ve just given them a license to gamble with the public’s money, and you can rest assured that they will eventually avail themselves of it.

In Cyprus, bank deposits, which in theory are senior (meaning everyone else who gives money to the bank gets wiped out before they lose a penny) are proving to be not so. The reason is that there isn’t much left in the way of equity, there is pretty much no subordinated debt. The senior debt (still junior to deposits) is mainly sovereign or central bank debt. The Germans are insisting on “private sector participation” which means someone other than central banks need to take losses. Joseph Cotterill of FT Alphaville described why the officialdom decided it was too hard to go after the non-central bank bondholders:

As it is, there were lots of good reasons why a sovereign debt restructuring did not happen. I don’t want to downplay them. Notably, the fact that the bonds that were best to restructure were governed under English law, and were likely held by the kind of investor who’s willing to litigate. I listed the problems here. Around it all was the inability to get write-downs out of Cypriot domestic-law sovereign debt, because that was held by the banks which already bore big black holes in their balance sheets. Again we come up to something that could be raised in the defence of the deposit levy — local exposure was so great everywhere, that any distribution of losses would have been painful. For the widow depositor, substitute the pension fund holding local-law bonds.
In the US, depositors have actually been put in a worse position than Cyprus deposit-holders, at least if they are at the big banks that play in the derivatives casino. The regulators have turned a blind eye as banks use their depositaries to fund derivatives exposures. And as bad as that is, the depositors, unlike their Cypriot confreres, aren’t even senior creditors. Remember Lehman? When the investment bank failed, unsecured creditors (and remember, depositors are unsecured creditors) got eight cents on the dollar. One big reason was that derivatives counterparties require collateral for any exposures, meaning they are secured creditors. The 2005 bankruptcy reforms made derivatives counterparties senior to unsecured lenders. Lehman had only two itty bitty banking subsidiaries, and to my knowledge, was not gathering retail deposits. But as readers may recall, Bank of America moved most of its derivatives from its Merrill Lynch operation its depositary in late 2011. As Bloomberg reported:

Bank of America Corp. (BAC), hit by a credit downgrade last month, has moved derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary flush with insured deposits, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation…

Bank of America’s holding company — the parent of both the retail bank and the Merrill Lynch securities unit — held almost $75 trillion of derivatives at the end of June, according to data compiled by the OCC. About $53 trillion, or 71 percent, were within Bank of America NA, according to the data, which represent the notional values of the trades.
And Bank of America is hardly unique. Bloomberg again:

That compares with JPMorgan’s deposit-taking entity, JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, which contained 99 percent of the New York-based firm’s $79 trillion of notional derivatives, the OCC data show.
As we wrote at the time:

This changes the picture completely. This move reflects either criminal incompetence or abject corruption by the Fed. Even though I’ve expressed my doubts as to whether Dodd Frank resolutions will work, dumping derivatives into depositaries pretty much guarantees a Dodd Frank resolution will fail. Remember the effect of the 2005 bankruptcy law revisions: derivatives counterparties are first in line, they get to grab assets first and leave everyone else to scramble for crumbs. So this move amounts to a direct transfer from derivatives counterparties of Merrill to the taxpayer, via the FDIC, which would have to make depositors whole after derivatives counterparties grabbed collateral. It’s well nigh impossible to have an orderly wind down in this scenario. You have a derivatives counterparty land grab and an abrupt insolvency. Lehman failed over a weekend after JP Morgan grabbed collateral.

But it’s even worse than that. During the savings & loan crisis, the FDIC did not have enough in deposit insurance receipts to pay for the Resolution Trust Corporation wind-down vehicle. It had to get more funding from Congress. This move paves the way for another TARP-style shakedown of taxpayers, this time to save depositors.
Now unlike Cyprus, the US does not have a financial sector that is a ginormous multiple of the real economy, so that taxpayers almost certainly can and will foot the bill for any derivatives misadventure that digs too deeply into FDIC reserves. And don’t kid yourself about the odds of that happening. Academics that aren’t on bank meal tickets consistently find that FDIC insurance is underpriced. The last time bank losses bled the FDIC dry, in the savings & loan crisis, the FDIC got a Congressional appropriation to make up the shortfall.

A bit more than a week ago, Jim Himes (an ex Goldman officer) and Randy Hultgren introduced bills that not only aim perpetuate this situation but will make it worse. And do not labor under any delusion as to whether this bill has official support. Himes is national finance chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Bernanke made approving noises about the legislation.

The proposed legislation, which predictably is not getting much attention from the mainstream media, will grease the wheels even more for banks. And where is Elizabeth Warren when a real bill is moving forward? (The three bills we will discuss are going before the House Agricultural Committee for markup on Wednesday; a Senate version of the most obviously troubling one, as discussed immediately below, has been introduced).

Americans for Financial Reform has written a series of layperson friendly letters opposing each of these bills. The first is to pretty much eliminate Section 716 of Dodd Frank, which would force banks like Bank of America and JP Morgan to take their derivatives operations out of taxpayer-backstopped subsidiaries and house them in separately-financed operations. This is the germane section discussing the House bill (its Senate evil twin is S. 474):



Since the Senate hearings on the London Whale trade confirmed that JP Morgan has an ugly combination of terrible controls and no respect for regulators, allowing banks to continue to gamble with taxpayer deposits is asking for bigger, more costly blowups. Remember, these losses took place when financial markets were calm and JPM had simply made a big, clumsy series of wagers. What happens if we get a repeat of the crisis, of banks choking on their own highly levered bad cooking?

The second bill also makes banks impossible to resolve through a sneakier mechanism. If you read Sheila Bair’s Bull by the Horns, she recounts that it was particularly troubling to see at Citigroup how its operations took place with no relationship to legal entities. One of her big pushes with the bank was to tidy that up. And in coming up with living wills, banks who were not as loosely managed as Citi have still found it difficult to move businesses into specific legal entities so they could be resolved (as in sold or put into bankruptcy).

One proposed bill would end Dodd Frank restrictions on inter-affiliate swaps. The reason this matters is that swaps can be used to move risk, profits, or other economic exposures from one entity to another. And the effect of this sort of arrangement is to tie entities that might have been separated out legally back into one big economic hairball. That would make it impossible to hive them into pieces, so it would also impede legislation aimed at forcing the banks to break up. Think this sort of thing doesn’t happen now? One of the reasons that AIG was not broken up and sold as originally planned was that its property and casualty operations in the US are tethered together in a dense web of cross company-guarantees, turning what on paper are subsidiaries licensed and supervised in 19 states into one operation overseen by no one (I had a whole team, including two heavyweight economists and two serious insurance accounting experts, one of them a former senior examiner, trying to figure out how to get through all the cross guarantees and figure out the economics of the major subsidiaries, and after spending weeks on it with statutory filings, we concluded it was too hard).

 The third bill, HR 1003, is a more straightforward “throw sand in the gears” operation. It seeks to neuter the CFTC by requiring it to make more than twice as many cost-benefit assessments of proposed decisions, which will undermine enforcement actions. It effectively subjects regulation to a second screen, by requiring regulators to jump through another hurdle and prove that rules already passed by Congress don’t impose an undue cost relative to the supposed benefits. But that logic is heinous. First, recall that that sort of reasoning led to exploding Pintos. It was cheaper for Ford not to fix its cars and merely pay off the bereaved relatives of people who got fried. Second, the banks will always argue that tail risks, which is what a good deal of regulation is intended to reduce, are lower than they appear. But the cost of tail events, as in financial crises, are so great that it is imperative to be overinsured, since (as Nassim Nicholas Taleb has stressed) is inherently hard to measure and established approaches lowball it. And most important, he has described how complex derivatives risks are inherently unsuited to statistical measurement. Our summary of the key points of his article on what he calls the fourth quadrant:

Nassim Nicholas Taleb gave a presentation in New York yesterday which hews closely to a recent piece of his, although his talk did include some additional interesting charts and anecdotes…

First was his “fourth quadrant” construct. He sets up a 2 by 2 matrix. On one axis is phenomena that are normally distributed versus ones that have fat tails or unknown tails or unknown characteristics. On the other axis is the simple versus payoff from events. Simple payoffs are yes/no (dead or alive, for instance). “How much” payoffs are complex.

Models fail in the quadrant where you have fat or unknown tails and complex payoffs. A lot of phenomena fall there, such as epidemics, environmental problems, general risk management, insurance, natural catastrophes. And there are phenomena in that quadrant that have very complex payoffs, like payoffs from innovation, errors in analysis of deviation, derivative payoffs.

The other part that caught my attention was the estimation of fat tail risk.

As most readers know, all the fundamental models of finance theory use Gaussian (normal) distributions…Now supposedly quants have developed some fixes to various pricing and risk management models to allow for tail risk…

Taleb casts doubts on these fixes:

The tragedy is as follows. Suppose that you are deriving probabilities of future occurrences from the data, assuming (generously) that the past is representative of the future. Now, say that you estimate that an event happens every 1,000 days. You will need a lot more data than 1,000 days to ascertain its frequency, say 3,000 days. Now, what if the event happens once every 5,000 days? The estimation of this probability requires some larger number, 15,000 or more. The smaller the probability, the more observations you need, and the greater the estimation error for a set number of observations. Therefore, to estimate a rare event you need a sample that is larger and larger in inverse proportion to the occurrence of the event.

If small probability events carry large impacts, and (at the same time) these small probability events are more difficult to compute from past data itself, then: our empirical knowledge about the potential contribution—or role—of rare events (probability × consequence) is inversely proportional to their impact. This is why we should worry in the fourth quadrant!
So it isn’t just that the CTFC will be snowed under with busywork to justify its efforts, but that they are also likely to be shoehorned into a statistical template which will give the banks the upper hand. Well played!

Please contact your Senator and Representative and tell them you are firmly opposed to these bills since they are all “gimmie my bailout and leave me alone” proposals from the banks. One bit of good news here is that at least on paper, Republicans are not happy about the fact that Dodd Frank resolutions aren’t likely to work even before the launch of this effort to assure they won’t ever be attempted. Spencer Bachus issued a paper last year criticizing the inadequacy of the Dodd Frank resolution provisions. So it can’t hurt to tell Democrats that they need to stand behind Dodd Frank, and remind Republicans that they’ve stood for “no more bailouts” and they need not to allow those sneaky ex Goldman Democrats to allow Wall Street to suck resources away from Main Street. This sort of bill depends on the complacency and indifference of the public to get passed, and correctly painting its as an egregious piece of pro-bailout pork might make some Congresscritters loath to be associated with it.

Jobless Claims Rise; More Than 5 Million On Unemployment Rolls

Initial jobless claims increase 16,000 to reach 357,000. Continued unemployment claims keep declining, but nearly 5.4 million Americans are still on state or federal unemployment rolls.


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Jobless claims report showed a notable increase to initial unemployment claims and a decline to continued unemployment claims as initial claims trended well below the closely watched 400K level. 
'SoldAtTheTop' is not a pessimist by nature but a true skeptic and realist who prefers solid and sustained evidence of fundamental economic recovery to 'Goldilocks,' 'Green Shoots,' 'Mustard Seeds,' and wholesale speculation.
Seasonally adjusted “initial” unemployment claims increased by 16,000 to 357,000 claims from 341,000 claims for the prior week while seasonally adjusted “continued” claims declined by 27,000 claims to 3.050 million resulting in an “insured” unemployment rate of 2.4%.

Since the middle of 2008 though, two federal government sponsored “extended” unemployment benefit programs (the “extended benefits” and “EUC 2008” from recent legislation) have been picking up claimants that have fallen off of the traditional unemployment benefits rolls.

Currently there are some 1.90 million people receiving federal “extended” unemployment benefits.
Taken together with the latest 3.46 million people that are currently counted as receiving traditional continued unemployment benefits, there are 5.36 million people on state and federal unemployment rolls.

Homeless Turn to New Jersey's "Tent City"

Marc Faber: Not Even Gold Will Save You From What Is Coming

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 Marc Faber, who authors the Gloom Boom & Doom newsletter, is usually pretty bearish on stocks and bullish on gold.

Lately, though, gold doesn't seem like it can catch a bid.

"Despite the continued reverberations regarding the Cyprus bailout and its involvement of bank deposits, gold struggled to maintain the positive momentum created in the first two weeks of March and instead now looks very likely to move lower, towards $1580/oz," wrote Deutsche Bank commodities analyst Xiao Fu in a note this morning.

So, what does Faber have to say about it?

This morning, on Bloomberg Surveillance with Tom Keene and Alix Steel, Dr. Doom was asked why gold wasn't holding up.

Here's his explanation:

When you print money, the money does not flow evenly into the economic system. It stays essentially in the financial service industry and among people that have access to these funds, mostly well-to-do people. It does not go to the worker. I just mentioned that it doesn't flow evenly into the system.
Now from time to time it will lift the NASDAQ like between 1997 and March 2000. Then it lifted home prices in the U.S. until 2007. Then it lifted the commodity prices in 2008 until July 2008 when the global economy was already in recession. More recently it has lifted selected emerging economies, stock markets in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, up four times from 2009 lows and now the U.S.
So we are creating bubbles and bubbles and bubbles. This bubble will come to an end. My concern is that we are going to have a systemic crisis where it is going to be very difficult to hide. Even in gold, it will be difficult to hide.

Faber is, of course, still bearish on U.S. stocks. He told Bloomberg that he sees "considerable downside risk" in the market.

"Get Your Money Out of the Banks" Jim Rogers on CNBC

The Confiscation Scheme Planned for US and UK Depositors

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Confiscating the customer deposits in Cyprus banks, it seems, was not a one-off, desperate idea of a few Eurozone “troika” officials scrambling to salvage their balance sheets. A joint paper by the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Bank of England dated December 10, 2012, shows that these plans have been long in the making; that they originated with the G20 Financial Stability Board in Basel, Switzerland (discussed earlier here); and that the result will be to deliver clear title to the banks of depositor funds.  
New Zealand has a similar directive, discussed in my last article here, indicating that this isn’t just an emergency measure for troubled Eurozone countries. New Zealand’s Voxy reported on March 19th:

The National Government [is] pushing a Cyprus-style solution to bank failure in New Zealand which will see small depositors lose some of their savings to fund big bank bailouts . . . .

Open Bank Resolution (OBR) is Finance Minister Bill English’s favoured option dealing with a major bank failure. If a bank fails under OBR, all depositors will have their savings reduced overnight to fund the bank’s bail out.
Can They Do That?
Although few depositors realize it, legally the bank owns the depositor’s funds as soon as they are put in the bank. Our money becomes the bank’s, and we become unsecured creditors holding IOUs or promises to pay. (See here and here.) But until now the bank has been obligated to pay the money back on demand in the form of cash. Under the FDIC-BOE plan, our IOUs will be converted into “bank equity.”  The bank will get the money and we will get stock in the bank. With any luck we may be able to sell the stock to someone else, but when and at what price? Most people keep a deposit account so they can have ready cash to pay the bills.

The 15-page FDIC-BOE document is called “Resolving Globally Active, Systemically Important, Financial Institutions.”  It begins by explaining that the 2008 banking crisis has made it clear that some other way besides taxpayer bailouts is needed to maintain “financial stability.” Evidently anticipating that the next financial collapse will be on a grander scale than either the taxpayers or Congress is willing to underwrite, the authors state:

An efficient path for returning the sound operations of the G-SIFI to the private sector would be provided by exchanging or converting a sufficient amount of the unsecured debt from the original creditors of the failed company [meaning the depositors] into equity [or stock]. In the U.S., the new equity would become capital in one or more newly formed operating entities. In the U.K., the same approach could be used, or the equity could be used to recapitalize the failing financial company itself—thus, the highest layer of surviving bailed-in creditors would become the owners of the resolved firm. In either country, the new equity holders would take on the corresponding risk of being shareholders in a financial institution.
No exception is indicated for “insured deposits” in the U.S., meaning those under $250,000, the deposits we thought were protected by FDIC insurance. This can hardly be an oversight, since it is the FDIC that is issuing the directive. The FDIC is an insurance company funded by premiums paid by private banks.  The directive is called a “resolution process,” defined elsewhere as a plan that “would be triggered in the event of the failure of an insurer . . . .” The only  mention of “insured deposits” is in connection with existing UK legislation, which the FDIC-BOE directive goes on to say is inadequate, implying that it needs to be modified or overridden.

An Imminent Risk
If our IOUs are converted to bank stock, they will no longer be subject to insurance protection but will be “at risk” and vulnerable to being wiped out, just as the Lehman Brothers shareholders were in 2008.  That this dire scenario could actually materialize was underscored by Yves Smith in a March 19th post titled When You Weren’t Looking, Democrat Bank Stooges Launch Bills to Permit Bailouts, Deregulate Derivatives.  She writes:

In the US, depositors have actually been put in a worse position than Cyprus deposit-holders, at least if they are at the big banks that play in the derivatives casino. The regulators have turned a blind eye as banks use their depositaries to fund derivatives exposures. And as bad as that is, the depositors, unlike their Cypriot confreres, aren’t even senior creditors. Remember Lehman? When the investment bank failed, unsecured creditors (and remember, depositors are unsecured creditors) got eight cents on the dollar. One big reason was that derivatives counterparties require collateral for any exposures, meaning they are secured creditors. The 2005 bankruptcy reforms made derivatives counterparties senior to unsecured lenders.
One might wonder why the posting of collateral by a derivative counterparty, at some percentage of full exposure, makes the creditor “secured,” while the depositor who puts up 100 cents on the dollar is “unsecured.” But moving on – Smith writes:

Lehman had only two itty bitty banking subsidiaries, and to my knowledge, was not gathering retail deposits. But as readers may recall, Bank of America moved most of its derivatives from its Merrill Lynch operation [to] its depositary in late 2011.
Its “depositary” is the arm of the bank that takes deposits; and at B of A, that means lots and lots of deposits. The deposits are now subject to being wiped out by a major derivatives loss. How bad could that be? Smith quotes Bloomberg:

. . . Bank of America’s holding company . . . held almost $75 trillion of derivatives at the end of June . . . .

That compares with JPMorgan’s deposit-taking entity, JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, which contained 99 percent of the New York-based firm’s $79 trillion of notional derivatives, the OCC data show.
$75 trillion and $79 trillion in derivatives! These two mega-banks alone hold more in notional derivatives each than the entire global GDP (at $70 trillion). The “notional value” of derivatives is not the same as cash at risk, but according to a cross-post on Smith’s site:

By at least one estimate, in 2010 there was a total of $12 trillion in cash tied up (at risk) in derivatives . . . .

$12 trillion is close to the US GDP.  Smith goes on:

. . . Remember the effect of the 2005 bankruptcy law revisions: derivatives counterparties are first in line, they get to grab assets first and leave everyone else to scramble for crumbs. . . . Lehman failed over a weekend after JP Morgan grabbed collateral.

But it’s even worse than that. During the savings & loan crisis, the FDIC did not have enough in deposit insurance receipts to pay for the Resolution Trust Corporation wind-down vehicle. It had to get more funding from Congress. This move paves the way for another TARP-style shakedown of taxpayers, this time to save depositors.
Perhaps, but Congress has already been burned and is liable to balk a second time. Section 716 of the Dodd-Frank Act specifically prohibits public support for speculative derivatives activities. And in the Eurozone, while the European Stability Mechanism committed Eurozone countries to bail out failed banks, they are apparently having second thoughts there as well. On March 25th, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who played a leading role in imposing the deposit confiscation plan on Cyprus, told reporters that it would be the template for any future bank bailouts, and that “the aim is for the ESM never to have to be used.”

That explains the need for the FDIC-BOE resolution. If the anticipated enabling legislation is passed, the FDIC will no longer need to protect depositor funds; it can just confiscate them.

Worse Than a Tax
An FDIC confiscation of deposits to recapitalize the banks is far different from a simple tax on taxpayers to pay government expenses. The government’s debt is at least arguably the people’s debt, since the government is there to provide services for the people. But when the banks get into trouble with their derivative schemes, they are not serving depositors, who are not getting a cut of the profits. Taking depositor funds is simply theft.

What should be done is to raise FDIC insurance premiums and make the banks pay to keep their depositors whole, but premiums are already high; and the FDIC, like other government regulatory agencies, is subject to regulatory capture.  Deposit insurance has failed, and so has the private banking system that has depended on it for the trust that makes banking work.

The Cyprus haircut on depositors was called a “wealth tax” and was written off by commentators as “deserved,” because much of the money in Cypriot accounts belongs to foreign oligarchs, tax dodgers and money launderers. But if that template is applied in the US, it will be a tax on the poor and middle class. Wealthy Americans don’t keep most of their money in bank accounts.  They keep it in the stock market, in real estate, in over-the-counter derivatives, in gold and silver, and so forth.

Are you safe, then, if your money is in gold and silver? Apparently not – if it’s stored in a safety deposit box in the bank.  Homeland Security has reportedly told banks that it has authority to seize the contents of safety deposit boxes without a warrant when it’s a matter of “national security,” which a major bank crisis no doubt will be.

The Swedish Alternative: Nationalize the Banks
Another alternative was considered but rejected by President Obama in 2009: nationalize mega-banks that fail. In a February 2009 article titled “Are Uninsured Bank Depositors in Danger?“, Felix Salmon discussed a newsletter by Asia-based investment strategist Christopher Wood, in which Wood wrote:

It is . . . amazing that Obama does not understand the political appeal of the nationalization option. . . . [D]espite this latest setback nationalization of the banks is coming sooner or later because the realities of the situation will demand it. The result will be shareholders wiped out and bondholders forced to take debt-for-equity swaps, if not hopefully depositors.
On whether depositors could indeed be forced to become equity holders, Salmon commented:

It’s worth remembering that depositors are unsecured creditors of any bank; usually, indeed, they’re by far the largest class of unsecured creditors.
President Obama acknowledged that bank nationalization had worked in Sweden, and that the course pursued by the US Fed had not worked in Japan, which wound up instead in a “lost decade.”  But Obama opted for the Japanese approach because, according to Ed Harrison, “Americans will not tolerate nationalization.”

But that was four years ago. When Americans realize that the alternative is to have their ready cash transformed into “bank stock” of questionable marketability, moving failed mega-banks into the public sector may start to have more appeal.

The Global Elite Are Very Clearly Telling Us That They Plan To Raid Our Bank Accounts

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Don't be surprised when the global elite confiscate money from your bank account one day.  They are already very clearly telling you that they are going to do it.  Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem is the president of the Eurogroup - an organization of eurozone finance ministers that was instrumental in putting together the Cyprus "deal" - and he has said publicly that what has just happened in Cyprus will serve as a blueprint for future bank bailouts.  What that means is that when the chips are down, they are going to come after YOUR money.  So why should anyone put a large amount of money in the bank at this point?  Perhaps you can make one or two percent on your money if you shop around for a really good deal, but there is also a chance that 40 percent (or more) of your money will be confiscated if the bank fails.  And considering the fact that there are vast numbers of banks all over the United States and Europe that are teetering on the verge of insolvency, why would anyone want to take such a risk?  What the global elite have done is that they have messed around with the fundamental trust that people have in the banking system.  In order for any financial system to work, people must have faith in the safety and security of that financial system.  People put their money in the bank because they think that it will be safe there.  If you take away that feeling of safety, you jeopardize the entire system.

So exactly how did the big banks in Cyprus get into so much trouble?  Well, they have been doing exactly what hundreds of other large banks all over the U.S. and Europe have been doing.  They have been gambling with our money.  In particular, the big banks in Cyprus made huge bets on Greek sovereign debt which ended up failing.

But what happened in Cyprus is just the tip of the iceberg.  All over the planet major financial institutions are being incredibly reckless with client money.  They are leveraged to the hilt and they have transformed the global financial system into a gigantic casino.

If they win on their bets, they become fabulously wealthy.

If they lose on their bets, they know that the politicians won't let the banks fail.  They know that they will get bailed out one way or another.

And who pays?

We do.

Either our tax dollars are used to fund a government-sponsored bailout, or as we have just witnessed in Cyprus, money is directly confiscated from our bank accounts.

And then the game begins again.

People need to understand that the precedent that has just been set in Cyprus is a game changer.

The next time that a major bank fails in Greece or Italy or Spain (or in the United States for that matter), the precedent that has been set in Cyprus will be looked to as a "template" for how to handle the situation.

Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem has even publicly admitted that what just happened in Cyprus will serve as a model for future bank bailouts.  Just check out what he said a few days ago...

"If there is a risk in a bank, our first question should be 'Okay, what are you in the bank going to do about that? What can you do to recapitalise yourself?'. If the bank can't do it, then we'll talk to the shareholders and the bondholders, we'll ask them to contribute in recapitalising the bank, and if necessary the uninsured deposit holders"
Dijsselbloem insists that this will cause people "to think about the risks" before they put their money somewhere...

"It will force all financial institutions, as well as investors, to think about the risks they are taking on because they will now have to realise that it may also hurt them. The risks might come towards them."
Well, as depositors in Cyprus just found out, there is a risk that you could lose 40 percent (and that is the best case scenario) of your money if you put it in the bank.

Why would anyone want to take that risk - especially in a nation that is already experiencing very serious financial troubles such as Greece, Italy or Spain?

As if that was not enough, Dijsselbloem later went in front of the Dutch parliament and publicly defended a wealth tax like the one that was just imposed in Cyprus.

Dijsselbloem is being widely criticized, and rightfully so.  But at least he is being more honest that many other politicians.  His predecessor as the head of the Eurogroup, Jean-Claude Juncker, once said that "you have to lie" to the people in order to keep the financial markets calm...

Mr. Dijsselbloem's style contrasts with that of his predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg's prime minister, who spoke in a low mumble at news conferences and was expert at sidestepping questions. Mr. Juncker once even advocated lying as a way to prevent financial markets from panicking—as they did Monday after Mr. Dijsselbloem's comments.

"When it becomes serious, you have to lie," Mr. Juncker said in April 2011. "If you have pre-indicated possible decisions, you are feeding speculation in the financial markets."
But Dijsselbloem is certainly not the only one among the global elite that is admitting what is coming next.  Just check out what Joerg Kraemer, the chief economist at Commerzbank, recently told Handelsblatt about what he believes should be done in Italy...

"A tax rate of 15 percent on financial assets would probably be enough to push the Italian government debt to below the critical level of 100 percent of gross domestic product"
Yikes!

And as I wrote about the other day, the Finance Minister of New Zealand is proposing that bank account holders in his nation should be required to "take a haircut" if any banks in his nation fail.

They are telling us what they plan to do.

They are telling us that they plan to raid all of our bank accounts when the global financial system fails.

And calling it a "haircut" does not change the fact of what it really is.  The truth is that when they confiscate money from our bank accounts it is outright theft.  Just check out what the Daily Mail had to say about the situation in Cyprus...

People who rob old ladies in the street, or hold up security vans, are branded as thieves. Yet when Germany presides over a heist of billions of pounds from private savers’ Cyprus bank accounts, to ‘save the euro’ for the hundredth time, this is claimed as high statesmanship.

It is nothing of the sort. The deal to secure a €10?billion German bailout of the bankrupt Mediterranean island is one of the nastiest and most immoral political acts of modern times.

It has struck fear into the hearts of hundreds of millions of European citizens, because it establishes a dire precedent.
And when you cause paralysis in the banking system, a once thriving economy can freeze up almost overnight.  The following is an excerpt from a report from someone that is actually living over in Cyprus...

As it stands now, nowhere in Cyprus accepts credit or debit cards anymore for fear of not being paid, it is CASH ONLY. Businesses have stopped functioning because they cannot pay employees OR pay for the stock they receive because the banks are closed. If the banks remain closed, the economy will be destroyed and STOP COMPLETELY. Looting, robberies and theft are already on the rise. If the banks open now, there will be a massive run on the bank, and the banks will FAIL loosing all of its deposits, also causing an economic crash. TONIGHT there are demonstrations at most street corners and especially at the parliament building (just 2 miles from me).

Many are thinking that the ECB and EU are allowing Cyprus to fail as a test ground for new financial standards.

Just wanted all you guys to know the real story of whats going on here. Prayers are appreciated (although this is very interesting to watch) many of my local friends have lots of money in the banks.
Would similar things happen in the United States if there was a major banking crisis someday?

That is something to think about.

In any event, the problems in the rest of Europe continue to get even worse...

-The stock market in Greece is crashing.  It is down by more than 10 percent over the past two days.

-The stock markets in Italy and Spain are experiencing huge declines as well.  Banking stocks are being hit particularly hard.

-The Bank of Spain says that the Spanish economy will sink even deeper into recession this year.

-The latest numbers from the Spanish government show that Spain's debt problem is rapidly getting worse...

"The central government’s interest bill surged 15 percent last year to 26 billion euros, while tax receipts slumped 21 percent. The cost of servicing debt represented 30 percent of the taxes collected at the end of December, up from 20 percent a year earlier."
-The euro took quite a tumble on Thursday and the euro will likely continue to decline steadily in the weeks and months to come.

For a very long time I have been warning that the next major wave of the economic collapse is going to originate in Europe.

Hopefully people are starting to see what I am talking about.

As this point, the major banks in Europe are leveraged about 26 to 1, and that is close to the kind of leverage that Lehman Brothers had when it finally collapsed.  As a whole, European banks are drowning in debt, they are taking risks that are almost incomprehensible and now faith in those banks has been greatly undermined by what has happened in Cyprus.

Anyone that cannot see a crisis coming in Europe simply does not understand the financial world.  A moment of reckoning is rapidly approaching for Europe.  The following is from a recent article by Graham Summers...

At the end of the day, the reason Europe hasn’t been fixed is because CAPITAL SIMPLY ISN’T THERE. Europe and its alleged backstops are out of money. This includes Germany, the ECB and the mega-bailout funds such as the ESM.

Germany has already committed to bailouts that equal 5% of its GDP. The single largest transfer payment ever made by one country to another was the Marshall Plan in which the US transferred an amount equal to 5% of its GDP. Germany WILL NOT exceed this. So don’t count on more money from Germany.

The ECB is chock full of garbage debts which have been pledged as collateral for loans. If anyone of significance defaults in Europe, the ECB is insolvent. Sure it can print more money, but once the BIG collateral call hits, money printing is useless because the amount of money the ECB would have to print would implode the system.

And then of course there are the mega bailout funds such as the ESM. The only problem here is that Spain and Italy make up 30% of the ESM's supposed “funding.” That’s right, nearly one third of the mega-bailout fund’s capital will come from countries that are bankrupt themselves.

What could go wrong?
Right now, close to half of all money that is on deposit at banks in Europe is uninsured.  As people move that uninsured money out of the banks, the amount of money that will be required to "fix the banks" will go up even higher.

It would be wise to try to avoid the big banks at this point - especially those with very large exposure to derivatives.  Any financial institution that uses customer money to make reckless bets is not to be trusted.

If you can find a small local bank or credit union to do business with you will probably be better off.

And don't think that this kind of thing can never happen in the United States.

One of the key players that was pushing the idea of a "wealth tax" in Cyprus was the IMF.  And everyone knows that the IMF is heavily dominated by the United States.  In fact, the headquarters of the IMF is located right in the heart of Washington D.C. not too far from the White House.  When I worked in D.C. I would walk by the IMF headquarters quite a bit.

So if the United States thought that confiscating money from bank accounts was a great idea in Cyprus, why wouldn't they implement such a thing here under similar circumstances?

The global elite are telling us what they plan to do, and the game has dramatically changed.

Move your money while you still can.

Unfortunately, it is already too late for the people of Cyprus.