Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Jamie Dimon, Billionaire

The ancient Athenian philosopher Anacharsis is said to have once noted that laws are no different than a spider's web in that "They'll restrain anyone weak and insignificant who gets caught in them, but they'll be torn to shreds by people with power and wealth." It would be difficult to provide a stronger example proving Anacharsis' thesis regarding the dynamic between law and wealth than the example of JPMorgan and its CEO, Jamie Dimon. Such an example is particularly worth noting now that Mr. Dimon has reportedly breached the great elite wealth barrier of our time and become a billionaire. 

Under Dimon's leadership - he was and is chairman, president and CEO - JPMorgan Chase went on one of the most successful corporate crime sprees in the history of American business raking in billions of revenue from clients and US taxpayers alike. The amount of wealth snatched by Dimon's JPMorgan was almost as impressive as the firm's ability to evade substantive legal recourse from the Department of Justice over and over again.

The litany of known offenses committed under the reign of Jamie Dimon is simply breathtaking. In many cases JPMorgan went so far as to pay large fines but did not outright admit wrongdoing:
  • JPMorgan paid out a $13 billion settlement for fraudulent activities in the mortgage securities market that led to the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis and resulting recession hollowed out the wealth of the American middle class and threw millions out of work.
  • $500 million settlement for role JPMorgan-acquired Bear Stearns played in the mortgage market.
  • The bank paid out over $600 million to settle charges of manipulating currency markets in collusion with other banks and made a mostly symbolic criminal guilty plea. 
  • Not only did JPMorgan cause the housing crisis, it fraudulently foreclosed on homeowners with faulty paperwork during the crisis and paid $50 million to settle those charges.
  • While JPMorgan lobbyists flooded Washington DC to stop regulations that would attempt to prevent reckless trading - a trader in JPMorgan's London office known as the "London Whale" was busy recklessly trading and violating securities laws charges for which JPMorgan paid over $900 million to settle.
  • A cartel of banks including JPMorgan were involved in rigging an international interest rate known as the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) which has already led to JPMorgan paying over $100 million in fines.
It was a hell of a run and is far from over as JPMorgan could be facing charges related to political corruption in China where the megabank is suspected of hiring children of the Chinese Communist Party elite in order to curry favor with the Chinese government. Bribery almost seems quaint compared to the other crimes JPMorgan has been engaging in on Jamie Dimon's watch.

The fines, settlements, and guilty plea have been mostly irrelevant to JPMorgan's bottom line. In fact, once a settlement is announced JPMorgan's stock has generally gone up as investors are usually pleased with how much loot JPMorgan was able to ultimately keep from its criminal activities.

Not surprisingly, Dimon's JPMorgan had many enablers including former lead officials at the Justice Department - Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer - that were knee-deep in conflicts of interest related to the housing crisis. Breuer, the head of the Department of Justice's Criminal Division during part of JPMorgan's crime spree, essentially admitted in an interview with Frontline that he was more concerned with the economic consequences of bringing criminal prosecutions against the Wall Street banks than trying to deter the banks from committing future crimes.

The light touch policy at the Justice Department corresponded with unprecedented subsidies and support going to JPMorgan and other banks from Congress in the form of bailout funds known as the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) as well as loans - overt and secret - from the Federal Reserve. Dimon's JPMorgan was apparently both Too Big To Fail and Too Big To Jail which makes his new status as a billionaire seem practically inevitable upon reflection. How could Jamie Dimon not become a billionaire under such conditions? Couldn't anyone?

Anacharsis' comparison of the law with spider webs reportedly came during a discussion with another Athenian philosopher and jurist, Solon. It was Solon who said "Wealth I desire to have; but wrongfully to get it, I do not wish. Justice, even if slow, is sure." Decide which assessment of how law and wealth work you agree with after pondering the fortunes of Jamie Dimon, billionaire.

Monday, May 11, 2015

DNI Clapper's Lawyer Claiming Clapper Lied To Congress Because He 'Forgot' About NSA Program

From the Department of you can't be serious. The top lawyer for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is making a novel argument as to why Clapper did not technically commit perjury despite saying something he knew to be untrue while testifying under oath before Congress - Clapper somehow "forgot" about a massive and highly controversial secret spying program he oversees. 

Yes, you read that right. The general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Robert Litt, is trying to get his boss out of trouble by claiming that the DNI had some kind of epic brain fart while testifying before Congress. Litt's explanation is that Clapper "mistakenly" thought he was not running a global dragnet program that was vacuuming up private data from American citizens without a warrant when asked by Senator Wyden in a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee if he was doing just that.

Seriously, this is the current explanation.
Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper wasn’t lying when he wrongly told Congress in 2013 that the government does not “wittingly” collect information about millions of Americans, according to his top lawyer. He just forgot. 
“This was not an untruth or a falsehood. This was just a mistake on his part,” Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said during a panel discussion hosted by the Advisory Committee on Transparency on Friday. “We all make mistakes.”
Slow clap for Clapper and his intrepid legal team. But just when you thought it could not get any more absurd you remember that Clapper had a completely different explanation for why he lied to Congress just after the Snowden leaks came out. Clapper's first explanation for lying was not that he made a mistake but that he had strategically looked for the "least untruthful" answer to give without damaging intelligence operations.

So did he forget or did he lie to Congress under oath for what he believed was a good cause?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Obama And Clinton Endorse USA Freedom Act After Court Ruling

In the aftermath of yesterday's court ruling and the looming June 1st deadline to reauthorize the section of the PATRIOT Act the court ruled illegal, the Democratic Party establishment appears to have shifted somewhat on domestic spying. President Barack Obama, through a White House spokesman, has said he supports the USA Freedom Act - which would reform the phone collection program.

Hillary Clinton also endorsed the NSA reform bill tweeting: "Congress should move ahead now with the USA Freedom Act—a good step forward in ongoing efforts to protect our security & civil liberties."

One of the USA Freedom Act's biggest promoters is Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner who helped author the PATRIOT Act. Sensenbrenner has been adamant post-Snowden that the NSA was never given the powers it was using under the bill he helped write. After the court decision Sensenbrenner reaffirmed his view saying that Congress never intended Section 215 to authorize bulk collection of phone records and that "This program is illegal and based on a blatant misinterpretation of the law. It's time for Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act in order to protect both civil liberties and national security with legally authorized surveillance."

But the USA Freedom Act is by no means fundamental reform. While the bill would reform NSA's bulk collection practices domestically it would leave in place the massive spying apparatus along with the unrestricted information warfare overseas that will inevitably lead to the agency vacuuming up US citizen's data.

The truth likely is that as long as the US maintains its national security state mentality and massively funds permanent agencies of war like the NSA there will always be these kind of abuses. Ultimately, the greatest impact from the Snowden disclosures may be the public being more vigilant with their private information and more skeptical of the state's claims regarding power.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Bernie Sanders Hits Obama For Promoting TPP At Nike Headquarters

Independent US Senator and Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders took President Obama to task for shilling for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at the headquarters of Nike, Inc and told him to cancel his trip as a sign that Obama genuinely cares about workers. Senator Sanders noted in a letter he sent to the president that Nike has outsourced production of its shoes to countries like Vietnam and paid workers 56 cents an hour to produce goods sold in the United States for hundreds of dollars.

The letter also highlights the need for manufacturing jobs like the ones Nike has shipped to Asia to be located in the US with Sanders writing "While manufacturing may not be the most glamorous job, I'm sure that there are workers across America, from Baltimore to Los Angeles to Vermont to Ferguson, who would be more than happy to be paid $15-$20 an hour to manufacture the Nike products they buy."

The tactics used by the Obama Administration to sell TPP to Congress and the American people mirror those used by the Clinton Administration to sell NAFTA - a trade deal that cost jobs and did nothing to improve labor and environmental standards. In the final analysis, NAFTA was a net negative for the country despite all the promises.

Now the Obama Administration and corporate lobbyists are trying to sell NAFTA on steroids as some kind of job and economic stimulus package despite economists detailing that TPP is unlikely to create much growth, if any. The deal has been literally written by transnational corporations for transnational corporations who have zero loyalty to the US, workers, or the environment.

While this deal may be popular with President Obama's former employer, Business International, it is a complete loser for the average American who will not only not see gains from this "trade" deal. In fact, this deal not only offers the 99% nothing but more job losses, it removes sovereign power from the United States and hands it to corporate tribunals. Power that - as Hillary Clinton once noted - is used by corporations like Phillip Morris to subvert public health laws.

So far, Senator Sanders remains the only person running in the Democratic presidential primary to openly oppose TPP.

NSA Metadata Program Revealed By Edward Snowden Ruled Illegal

The Second District US Court of Appeals has ruled that the NSA's bulk collection phone records program “exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized.” The appellate court decision overturns a lower court ruling that upheld the bulk collection program as necessary and legal. The ruling leaves it up to Congress to decide a new "landscape" for the law and noted the likelihood that the Supreme Court would have to weigh in on the constitutionality of the program.

The bulk collection phone records program was revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and is authorized - according to the government - under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. The court ruled on statutory not constitutional grounds leaving the more fundamental question over Fourth Amendment concerns ultimately to the Supreme Court.

Congress is set to debate reauthorizing Section 215 later this month as its authority expires on June 1st.
The bulk collection of Americans' phone records by the government exceeds what Congress has allowed, a federal appeals court said Thursday as it asked Congress to step in and decide how best to protect national security and privacy interests. A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan permitted the National Security Agency program to continue temporarily as it exists, and all but pleaded for Congress to better define where the boundaries exist. 
"In light of the asserted national security interests at stake, we deem it prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may (or may not) profoundly alter the legal landscape," the opinion written by Circuit Judge Gerald Lynch said."If Congress decides to authorize the collection of the data desired by the government under conditions identical to those now in place, the program will continue in the future under that authorization," the ruling said. "If Congress decides to institute a substantially modified program, the constitutional issues will certainly differ considerably from those currently raised."
Many members of Congress who voted for the PATRIOT Act claimed ignorance after the Snowden revelations, that they never knew Section 215 would be/was being used in such an expansive way. Now the court has called their bluff and demanded Congress - fully informed thanks to Snowden - decide how far they want state surveillance powers to legally go.

The ruling also sets the stage for the Supreme Court to make a major ruling on domestic spying powers which is far from easy to predict given the variety of views both liberal and conservative justices have shown on Fourth Amendment issues.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fed Chair Yellen Met With Firm Involved In Fed Leak Case

The Department of Justice has now opened a criminal investigation into the leaking of information about a Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMA) meeting. Details of the meeting were disclosed without authorization by a financial consulting firm, Medley Global Advisors, and have led to questions about whether members of the Fed may have made unauthorized disclosures.

Federal Chairwoman Janet Yellen wrote a letter to two members of Congress acknowledging the investigation and noted she had a meeting with Medley Global Advisors. Yellen said that meeting was not relevant to the leak investigation as it occurred during a different time and period and she would never divulge confidential information.

The information contained within a FOMC can be very lucrative for traders given that the decisions made at FOMC meetings undeniably move markets. Knowing about that confidential inside information before it is announced could lead to millions if not tens of millions of dollars in gains for Wall Street speculators.
Ms. Yellen said her own name was among those on the list of Fed officials who had contact with Medley Global Advisors, a firm that sells analysis and reporting to investors. Medley issued a report in October 2012 containing detailed information about the prior meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, or F.O.M.C., in September. Ms. Yellen said, however, that her meeting took place in June. 
“Nothing Medley Global Advisors reported in October about the events of the September 2012 F.O.M.C. meeting could have been conveyed in June, and let me assure you that, in any case, I did not convey any confidential information,” she wrote in the letter, which was posted on the Fed’s website Monday evening.
Of course, if Yellen did not convey any confidential information - what was the point of the meeting? Medley can read public statements just fine, the firm makes its money by providing its clients with information they can not get elsewhere.

The Fed FOMC leak case comes just a short time after the New York Federal Reserve was involved in the leaking of confidential information to Goldman Sachs. The head of the New York Fed, William Dudley, is the former Chief Economist of Goldman Sachs. The incestuous nature of Wall Street and its "regulators" has proven to be problematic again and again - it will be interesting to see how far DOJ takes this case.