“How Much Time Is Left?” by Karl Denninger


http://beforeitsnews.com/alternative/2013/09/how-much-time-is-left-2777550.html

 “How Much Time Is Left?”

Friday, September 27, 2013 17:09

(Before It’s News) 

“How Much Time Is Left?”
by Karl Denninger

“There is an old truism: Revolution is a game for the young. It’s true. Look at the people who rose up in the Middle East. Or anywhere else for that matter.  It is rare to find a grizzled old man in the crowd, and women (of any age) are rare too. No, these sorts of things tend to require a fair bit of testosterone or, if you prefer a bit raunchier language, young and full of cum. The same dynamic is why military forces don’t draft 40 or 50 year old men. It’s not, in the world of technology, all about being able to hump a pack with no mechanical assistance, although certainly physical exertion is part of it. No, it’s the same thing – testosterone is an asset. 

So it is with alarm that I am watching this sort of display: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went so far as to call one counterproposal “stupid.” The Senate is set to take up the bill shortly after noon on Friday. The package as currently written would defund ObamaCare while also funding the government past Sept. 30, though Democrats are planning to promptly strip the ObamaCare measure. If it passes the Senate, House Republicans will then have to decide whether to insist on including anti-ObamaCare provisions.” 

Not having a final set of prices yet for Florida’s “Obamacare” choices, I’m somewhat-guessing here since what I have at this point is preliminary. But what I’m seeing is alarming. It appears that if I choose to participate I can have one of these plans for less than my catastrophic plan costs now (which I’m sure will “go away”, although I have yet to be formally notified of that.) 

Here’s the problem: I’m in really good health. I have no conditions and take no medications. Zero. My blood sugar and weight are normal, I don’t smoke and I’m quite active physically. I’m the 25% guy (or less) in my age group (~50) and all I need to do to prove that is walk around any of the public watering holes or other gathering places. So if my price is going down but I will get more than I get now then for someone sicker than me their price is going down a lot. 

Who’s price is going up? The 20ish year old person. The young family. The people who have thus far chosen (wisely, at that) to go without. So once again, as we did to our kids with college “educations” and “student loans”, we’re now doing it again, except this time it’s even worse in that you can’t “opt out” or the goons in government will come and shove a gun up your ass (via the IRS.)

Let’s be clear about this folks: We deserve to be eaten.

Yes, I said eaten.

As in caused to assume room temperature.

Then skinned.

Then slathered in BBQ sauce (to cover the bad taste.)

Then grilled.

And consumed.

And the people who should do it to you?

Your children.

Now granted, that’s harsh. And no, I’m not advocating it, I’m saying we deserve it. The people of this nation have no right to the love and respect of their offspring. None. Quite the contrary, we deserve to treated as food.  We have managed to extract promises that cannot be kept and what’s worse the attempt to do so is guaranteed to essentially enslave our younger generation.

I have for a long time lamented that the younger folks in our country seem to be very unmotivated, striving only to do what they have to in order to get by rather than being innovators and making a true effort to excel. I no longer hold this against them. I understand it. Their response to these abuses is non-violent and cannot be assailed – it is in fact logical.

Let’s me ask you the obvious but damned uncomfortable question: Would you prefer the violent – yet still logical, considering what we’ve done to them – alternative?

We, the older people in this country who not only refused to act over the last two decades of financial fraud and abuse in both the private sector and government but in addition continue to refuse to act to stop it to this very day deserve it.

Even though this attitude and passive refusal by our youth will destroy our nation’s competitiveness, the root cause of it is our pig-headed acts and the demand to write checks we cannot cash, insisting that they cash them instead so we can feast while they starve.

We lose the fundamental right to do that with our offspring when our children reach 18 and no longer have a claim on our assets and earnings power in exchange for their sustenance and protection.  Note that from birth to 18 while the relationship may have an essentially parasitic character to it there is a quid-pro-quo that we return to our kids.  You can argue over whether this is just but not whether it’s necessary, since an infant is physically incapable of survival and growth without outside assistance.

That transition from a power relationship to one of equals, even friends, is one that is supposed to happen over time from birth to emancipation. It is in fact our jobs as parents – our only job – to execute on that.

But we’ve become pigs.

We’re not content to perform that task and discharge our responsibilities. When we discovered that we can’t force our now-18 year olds to mow the lawn any more in exchange for an allowance, we then passed laws that tax them to cover our health care after we chose to be gluttonous jackasses, poisoning our bodies and then demanding the latest, most-expensive medical care that we cannot pay for ourselves. Worse, we let government and the “educational monopoly” design a system that is utterly rapacious and designed to screw our youth through uneconomic options sold to them as the “essential” educational background necessary for success.

Sure, there are exceptions. Some can claim those exceptions personally, but damn few can claim them socially. While you may claim you don’t want to burden your children you still continue to vote for, support and allow government to continue to **** the next door neighbor’s kid to get what you claim you deserve.

And don’t tell me it matters if you’re Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or otherwise. It does not. The fact of the matter is that no government can exist without the consent of the governed and no government can issue debt successfully if the people refuse to labor and thus provide something that creditors can rely on for repayment.

By going on strike en-masse we have the ability to stop all of this stupidity, from top to bottom. But we won’t do it because we are afraid. And in response to that fear, instead of standing up to what we’ve done and accepting that we must take risk in order to right what the wrongs we committed we instead choose to financially ****** and enslave those young adults we brought into this world, as if we bred them to be our slaves from the outset.

If you’re wondering why I believe we deserve to be eaten – or our youth simply shut down and refuse to make their best effort – read the above paragraph as many times as you need to until it sinks in.

‘Nuff said.”

– http://market-ticker.org/

Source: http://coyoteprime-runningcauseicantfly.blogspot.com/2013/09/how-much-time-is-left.html

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Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi’s LOOTING THE PENSION FUNDS


http://m.rollingstone.com/politics/news/looting-the-pension-funds-20130926/

// 2013-09-17T18:50:20Z
POLITICS (/POLITICS/)
Looting the Pension Funds
By MATT TAIBBI | Sep 26, 2013 AT 07:00AM

In the final months of 2011, almost two years before the city of Detroit would shock America by declaring bankruptcy in the face of what it claimed were insurmountable pension costs, the state of Rhode Island took bold action to avert what it called its own looming pension crisis. Led by its newly elected treasurer, Gina Raimondo – an ostentatiously ambitious 42-year-old Rhodes scholar and former venture capitalist – the state declared war on public pensions, ramming through an ingenious new law slashing benefits of state employees with a speed and ferocity seldom before seen by any local government.

Detroit’s Debt Crisis: Everything Must Go (http://m.rollingstone.com/politics/news/detroits-debt-crisis-everything-must-go- 20130620)

Called the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act of 2011, her plan would later be hailed as the most comprehensive pension reform ever implemented. The rap was so convincing at first that the overwhelmed local burghers of her little petri-dish state didn’t even know how to react. “She’s Yale, Harvard, Oxford – she worked on Wall Street,” says Paul Doughty, the current president of the Providence firefighters union. “Nobody wanted to be the first to raise his hand and admit he didn’t know what the fuck she was talking about.”

Soon she was being talked about as a probable candidate for Rhode Island’s 2014 gubernatorial race. By 2013, Raimondo had raised more than $2 million, a staggering sum for a still-undeclared candidate in a thimble-size state. Donors from Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs, Bain Capital and JPMorgan Chase showered her with money, with more than $247,000 coming from New York contributors alone.  A shadowy organization called EngageRI, a public-advocacy group of the 501(c)4 type whose donors were shielded from public scrutiny by the infamous Citizens United decision, spent $740,000 promoting Raimondo’s ideas. Within Rhode Island, there began to be whispers that Raimondo had her sights on the presidency. Even former Obama right hand and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel pointed to Rhode Island as an example to be followed in curing pension woes.

What few people knew at the time was that Raimondo’s “tool kit” wasn’t just meant for local consumption. The dynamic young Rhodes scholar was allowing her state to be used as a test case for the rest of the country, at the behest of powerful out-of-state financiers with dreams of pushing pension reform down the throats of taxpayers and public workers from coast to coast. One of her key supporters was billionaire former Enron executive John Arnold – a dickishly ubiquitous young right-wing kingmaker with clear designs on becoming the next generation’s Koch brothers, and who for years had been funding a nationwide campaign to slash benefits for public workers.

Nor did anyone know that part of Raimondo’s strategy for saving money involved handing more than $1 billion – 14 percent of the state fund – to hedge funds, including a trio of well-known New York-based funds: Dan Loeb’s Third Point Capital was given $66 million, Ken Garschina’s Mason Capital got $64 million and $70 million went to Paul Singer’s Elliott Management. The funds now stood collectively to be paid tens of millions in fees every single year by the already overburdened taxpayers of her ostensibly flat-broke state. Felicitously, Loeb, Garschina and Singer serve on the board of the Manhattan Institute, a prominent conservative think tank with a history of supporting benefit-slashing reforms. The institute named Raimondo its 2011 “Urban Innovator” of the year.

The state’s workers, in other words, were being forced to subsidize their own political disenfranchisement, coughing up at least $200 million to members of a group that had supported anti-labor laws. Later, when Edward Siedle, a former SEC lawyer, asked Raimondo in a column for Forbes.com how much the state was paying in fees to these hedge funds, she first claimed she didn’t know. Raimondo later told the Providence Journal she was contractually obliged to defer to hedge funds on the release of “proprietary” information, which immediately prompted a letter in protest from a series of freaked-out interest groups. Under pressure, the state later released some fee information, but the information was originally kept hidden, even from the workers themselves. “When I asked, I was basically hammered,” says Marcia Reback, a former sixth-grade schoolteacher and retired Providence Teachers Union president who serves as the lone union rep on Rhode Island’s nine-member State Investment Commission. “I couldn’t get any information about the actual costs.”

This is the third act in an improbable triple-fucking of ordinary people that Wall Street is seeking to pull off as a shocker epilogue to the crisis era. Five years ago this fall, an epidemic of fraud and thievery in the financial-services industry triggered the collapse of our economy. The resultant loss of tax revenue plunged states everywhere into spiraling fiscal crises, and local governments suffered huge losses in their retirement portfolios – remember, these public pension funds were some of the most frequently targeted suckers upon whom Wall Street dumped its fraud-riddled mortgage-backed securities in the pre-crash years.

Today, the same Wall Street crowd that caused the crash is not merely rolling in money again but aggressively counterattacking on the public-relations front. The battle increasingly centers around public funds like state and municipal pensions. This war isn’t just about money. Crucially, in ways invisible to most Americans, it’s also about blame. In state after state, politicians are following the Rhode Island playbook, using scare tactics and lavishly funded PR campaigns to cast teachers, firefighters and cops – not bankers – as the budgetdevouring boogeymen responsible for the mounting fiscal problems of America’s states and cities.

Secrets and Lies of the Bailout (http://m.rollingstone.com/politics/news/secret-and-lies-of-the-bailout-20130104)

Not only did these middle-class workers already lose huge chunks of retirement money to huckster financiers in the crash, and not only are they now being asked to take the long-term hit for those years of greed and speculative excess, but in many cases they’re also being forced to sit by and watch helplessly as Gordon Gekko wanna-be’s like Loeb or scorched-earth takeover artists like Bain Capital are put in charge of their retirement savings.

It’s a scam of almost unmatchable balls and cruelty, accomplished with the aid of some singularly spineless politicians. And it hasn’t happened overnight. This has been in the works for decades, and the fighting has been dirty all the way.

How Wall Street Killed Financial Reform (http://m.rollingstone.com/politics/news/how-wall-street-killed-financial-reform-20120510)

There’s $2.6 trillion in state pension money under management in America, and there are a lot of fingers in that pie. Any attempt to make a neat Aesop narrative about what’s wrong with the system would inevitably be an oversimplification. But in this hugely contentious, often overheated national controversy – which at times has pitted private-sector workers who’ve mostly lost their benefits already against public-sector workers who are merely about to lose them – two key angles have gone largely unreported. Namely: who got us into this mess, and who’s now being paid to get us out of it.

The siege of America’s public-fund money really began nearly 40 years ago, in 1974, when Congress passed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA. In theory, this sweeping regulatory legislation was designed to protect the retirement money of workers with pension plans. ERISA forces employers to provide information about where pension money is being invested, gives employees the right to sue for breaches of fiduciary duty, and imposes a conservative “prudent man” rule on the managers of retiree funds, dictating that they must make sensible investments and seek to minimize loss. But this landmark worker-protection law left open a major loophole: It didn’t cover public pensions. Some states were balking at federal oversight, and lawmakers, naively perhaps, simply never contemplated the possibility of local governments robbing their own workers.

Politicians quickly learned to take liberties. One common tactic involved illegally borrowing cash from public retirement funds to finance other budget needs. For many state pension funds, a significant percentage of the kitty is built up by the workers themselves, who pitch in as little as one and as much as 10 percent of their income every year. The rest of the fund is made up by contributions from the taxpayer.

In many states, the amount that the state has to kick in every year, the Annual Required Contribution (ARC), is mandated by state law.

Chris Tobe, a former trustee of the Kentucky Retirement Systems who blew the whistle to the SEC on public-fund improprieties in his state and wrote a book called Kentucky Fried Pensions, did a careful study of states and their ARCs. While some states pay 100 percent (or even more) of their required bills, Tobe concluded that in just the past decade, at least 14 states have regularly failed to make their Annual Required Contributions. In 2011, an industry website called 24/7 Wall St. compiled a list of the 10 brokest, most busted public pensions in America. “Eight of those 10 were on my list,” says Tobe.

Among the worst of these offenders are Massachusetts (made just 27 percent of its payments), New Jersey (33 percent, with the teachers’ pension getting just 10 percent of required payments) and Illinois (68 percent). In Kentucky, the state pension fund, the Kentucky Employee Retirement System (KERS), has paid less than 50 percent of its ARCs over the past 10 years, and is now basically butt-broke – the fund is 27 percent funded, which makes bankrupt Detroit, whose city pension is 77 percent full, look like the sultanate of Brunei by comparison.

Here’s what this game comes down to. Politicians run for office, promising to deliver law and order, safe and clean streets, and good schools. Then they get elected, and instead of paying for the cops, garbagemen, teachers and firefighters they only just 10 minutes ago promised voters, they intercept taxpayer money allocated for those workers and blow it on other stuff. It’s the governmental equivalent of stealing from your kids’ college fund to buy lap dances. In Rhode Island, some cities have underfunded pensions for decades. In certain years zero required dollars were contributed to the municipal pension fund. “We’d be fine if they had made all of their contributions,” says evidence firefighters union. “Instead, after they took all that money, they’re saying we’re broke. Are you fucking kidding me?”

There’s an arcane but highly disturbing twist to the practice of not paying required contributions into pension funds: The states that engage in this activity may also be committing securities fraud. Why? Because if a city or state hasn’t been making its required contributions, and this hasn’t been made plain to the ratings agencies, then that same city or state is actually concealing what in effect are massive secret loans and is actually far more broke than it is representing to investors when it goes out into the world and borrows money by issuing bonds.

Some states have been caught in the act of doing this, but the penalties have been so meager that the practice can be considered quasisanctioned. For example, in August 2010, the SEC reprimanded the state of New Jersey for serially lying about its failure to make pension ontributions throughout the 2000s. “New Jersey failed to provide certain present and historical financial information regarding its pension funding in bond-disclosure documents,” the SEC wrote, in seemingly grave language. “The state was aware of . . . the potential   effects of the underfunding.” Illinois was similarly reprimanded by the SEC for lying about its failure to make its required pension contributions. But in neither of these cases were the consequences really severe. So far, states get off with no monetary fines at all. “The SEC was mistaken if they think they sent a message to other states,” Tobe says.

But for all of this, state pension funds were more or less in decent shape prior to the financial crisis of 2008. The country, after all, had been in a historic bull market for most of the 1990s and 2000s and politicians who underpaid the ARCs during that time often did so assuming that the good times would never end. In fact, prior to the crash, state pension funds nationwide were cumulatively running a surplus. But then the crash came, and suddenly states everywhere were in a real, no-joke fiscal crisis. Tax revenues went in the crapper, and someone had to take the hit. But who? Cuts to corporate welfare and a rolled-up-newspaper whack of new taxes on the guilty finance sector seemed a good place to start, but it didn’t work out that way. Instead, it was then that the legend of pension unsustainability was born, with the help of a pair of unlikely allies.

Most people think of Pew Charitable Trusts as a centrist, nonpartisan organization committed to sanguine policy analysis and agnostic number crunching. It’s an odd reputation for an organization that was the legacy of J. Howard Pew, president of Sun Oil (the future Sunoco) during its early 20th-century petro-powerhouse days and a kind of australopithecine precursor to a Tea Party leader.

Pew had all the symptoms: an obsession with the New Deal as a threat to free society, a keen appreciation for unreadable Austrian economist F.A. Hayek and a hoggish overuse of the word “freedom.” Pew and his family left nearly $1 billion to a series of trusts, one of which was naturally called the “Freedom Trust,” whose mission was, in part, to combat “the false promises of socialism and a planned economy.”

The Great American Bubble Machine (http://m.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-great-american-bubble-machine-20100405)

Still, for decades Pew trusts engaged in all sorts of worthy endeavors, including everything from polling to press criticism. In 2007, Pew began publishing an annual study called “The Widening Gap,” which aimed to use states’ own data to show the “gap” between present pension-fund levels and future obligations. The study quickly became a leading analysis of the “unfunded liability” question.

In 2011, Pew began to align itself with a figure who was decidedly neither centrist nor nonpartisan: 39-year-old John Arnold, whom CNN/Money described (erroneously) as the “second-youngest self-made billionaire in America,” after Mark Zuckerberg. Though similar in wealth and youth, Arnold presented the stylistic opposite of Zuckerberg’s signature nerd chic: He’s a lipless, eager little jerk with the jug-eared face of a Division III women’s basketball coach, exactly what you’d expect a former Enron commodities trader to look like.

Anyone who has seen the Oscar-winning documentary The Smartest Guys in the Room and remembers those tapes of Enron traders cackling about rigging energy prices on “Grandma Millie” and jamming electricity rates “right up her ass for fucking $250 a megawatt hour” will have a sense of exactly what Arnold’s work environment was like.

The People vs. Goldman Sachs (http://m.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-people-vs-goldman-sachs-20110511)

In fact, in the book that the movie was based on, the authors portray Arnold bragging about his minions manipulating energy prices, praising them for “learning how to use the Enron bat to push around the market.” Those comments later earned Arnold visits from federal investigators, who let him get away with claiming he didn’t mean what he said.

As Enron was imploding, Arnold played a footnote role, helping himself to an $8 million bonus while the company’s pension fund was vaporizing. He and other executives were later rebuked by a bankruptcy judge for looting their own company along with other executives.  Public pension funds nationwide, reportedly, lost more than $1.5 billion thanks to their investments in Enron.

In 2002, Arnold started a hedge fund and over the course of the next few years made roughly a $3 billion fortune as the world’s most successful natural-gas trader. But after suffering losses in 2010, Arnold bowed out of hedge-funding to pursue “other interests.” He had created the Arnold Foundation, an organization dedicated, among other things, to reforming the pension system, hiring a Republican lobbyist and former chief of staff to Dick Armey named Denis Calabrese, as well as Dan Liljenquist, a Utah state senator and future Tea Party challenger to Orrin Hatch.

Soon enough, the Arnold Foundation released a curious study on pensions. On the one hand, it admitted that many states had been undercontributing to their pension funds for years. But instead of proposing that states correct the practice, the report concluded that “the way to create a sound, sustainable and fair retirement-savings program is to stop promising a [defined] benefit.”

In 2011, Arnold and Pew found each other. As detailed in a new study by progressive think tank Institute for America’s Future, Arnold and Pew struck up a relationship – and both have since been proselytizing pension reform all over America, including California, Florida, Kansas, Arizona, Kentucky and Montana. Few knew that Pew had a relationship with a right-wing, anti-pension zealot like Arnold. “The centrist reputation of Pew was a key in selling a lot of these ideas,” says Jordan Marks of the National Public Pension Coalition. Later, a Pew report claimed that the national “gap” between pension assets and future liabilities added up to some $757 billion and dryly insisted the shortfall was unbridgeable, minus some combination of “higher contributions from taxpayers and employees, deep benefit cuts and, in some cases, changes in how retirement plans are structured and benefits are distributed.”

What the study didn’t say was that this supposedly massive gap could all be chalked up to the financial crisis, which, of course, had been caused almost entirely by the greed and wide-scale fraud of the financial-services industry – particularly with regard to state pension funds.

A study by noted economist Dean Baker at the Center for Economic Policy and Research bore this out. In February 2011, Baker reported that, had public pension funds not been invested in the stock market and exposed to mortgage-backed securities, there would be no shortfall at all. He said state pension managers were of course somewhat to blame, but only “insofar as they exercised poor judgment in buying the [finance] industry’s services.”

In fact, Baker said, had public funds during the crash years simply earned modest returns equal to 30-year Treasury bonds, then publicpension assets would be $850 billion richer than they were two years after the crash. Baker reported that states were short an additional $80 billion over the same period thanks to the fact that post-crash, cash-strapped states had been paying out that much less of their mandatory ARC payments.

So even if Pew’s numbers were right, the “unfunded liability” crisis had nothing to do with the systemic unsustainability of public pensions. Thanks to a deadly combination of unscrupulous states illegally borrowing from their pensioners, and unscrupulous banks whose mass sales of fraudulent toxic subprime products crashed the market, these funds were out some $930 billion. Yet the public was being told that the problem was state workers’ benefits were simply too expensive.

In a way, this was a repeat of a shell game with retirement finance that had been going on at the federal level since the Reagan years. The supposed impending collapse of Social Security, which actually should be running a surplus of trillions of dollars, is now repeated as a simple truth. But Social Security wouldn’t be “collapsing” at all had not three decades of presidents continually burgled the cash in the Social Security trust fund to pay for tax cuts, wars and God knows what else. Same with the alleged insolvencies of state pension programs. The money may not be there, but that’s not because the program is unsustainable: It’s because bankers and politicians stole the money.

Still, the public mostly bought the line being sold by Arnold, Pew and other anti-pension figures like the Koch brothers. To most, it didn’t matter who was to blame: What mattered is that the money was gone, and there seemed to be only two possible paths forward. One led to bankruptcy, a real-enough threat that had already ravaged places like Vallejo, California; Jefferson County, Alabama; and, this summer, Detroit. In Rhode Island, the tiny town of Central Falls went bust in 2011, and even after a court-ordered plan lifted the town out of bankruptcy in 2012, the “rescue” left pensions slashed as much as 55 percent. “You had guys who were living off $24,000, and now they’re getting $12,000,” says Day. Though Day and his fellow retirees are still fighting reform, he says other union workers might rather settle than file bankruptcy. Holding up an infamous local-newspaper picture of a retired Central Falls policeman in a praying posture, as though begging not to have his whole pension taken away, Day sighs. “Guys take one look at this picture and that’s it. They’re terrified.”

Such images chilled many public workers into accepting the second path – the kind of pension reform meagerly touted by one-percentfriendly politicians like Gina Raimondo. Anyone could see that “reform” meant giving up cash. But the other parts of these schemes were murkier. Most pension-reform proposals required that states must go after higher returns by seeking out “alternative investments,” which sounds harmless enough. But we are now finding out what that term actually means – and it’s a little north of harmless.

Looting Main Street: How the Nation’s Biggest Banks Are Ripping Us Off (http://m.rollingstone.com/politics/news/looting-mainstreet-20100331)

One of the most garish early experiments in “alternative investments” came in Ohio in the late 1990s, after the Republican-controlled state assembly passed a law loosening restrictions on what kinds of things state funds could invest in. Sometime later, an investigation by the Toledo Blade revealed that the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation had bought into rare-coin funds run by a GOP fundraiser named Thomas Noe. Through Noe, Ohio put $50 million into coins and “other collectibles” – including Beanie Babies.

The scandal had repercussions all over the country, but not what you’d expect. James Drew, one of the reporters who broke the story, notes that a consequence of “Coingate” was that states stopped giving out information about where public money is invested. “If they learned anything, it’s not to stop doing it, but to keep it secret,” says Drew.

Invasion of the Home Snatchers (http://m.rollingstone.com/politics/news/matt-taibbi-courts-helping-banks-screw-overhomeowners-20101110)

In fact, in recent years more than a dozen states have carved out exemptions for hedge funds to traditional Freedom of Information Act requests, making it impossible in some cases, if not illegal, for workers to find out where their own money has been invested.  The way this works, typically, is simple: A hedge fund will refuse to take a state’s business unless it first provides legal guarantees that information about its investments won’t be disclosed to the public. The ostensible justifications for these outrageous laws are usually that disclosing commercial information about hedge funds would place them at a “competitive disadvantage.”

In 2010, the University of California reinvested its pension fund with a venture-capital group called Sequoia Capital, which in turn is a backer of a firm called Think Finance, whose business is payday lending – a form of short-term, extremely high-interest rate lending that’s basically loan-sharking without the leg-breaking, and is banned in 15 states and D.C. According to American Banker, Think Finance partnered with a Native American tribe to get around state interest-rate caps; someone borrowing $250 in its “plain green loans” program would owe $440 after 16 weeks, for a tidy annual percentage rate of 379 percent. In a more recent case, the pension fund of L.A. County union workers invested in an Embassy Suites hotel that is trying to prevent janitors and other employees from organizing.

California passed a law in 2005 making hedge-fund investments secret.  The American Federation of Teachers this spring released a list of financiers who had been connected with lobbying efforts against defined-benefit plans. Included on that list was hedge-funder Loeb of Third Point Capital, who sits on the board of StudentsFirstNY, a group that advocates for an end to these traditional plans for public workers – that is, pensions that promise a guaranteed payout based on one’s salary and years of service. When Rhode Island union rep Reback complained about hiring funds whose managers had anti-labor histories, she was told the state couldn’t make decisions based on political leanings of fund managers. That same month, Rhode Island moved to disinvest its workers’ money from firearms distributors in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Hedge funds have good reason to want to keep their fees hidden: They’re insanely expensive. The typical fee structure for private hedgefund management is a formula called “two and twenty,” meaning the hedge fund collects a two percent fee just for showing up, then gets 20 percent of any profits it earns with your money. Some hedge funds also charge a mysterious third fee, called “fund expenses,” that can run as high as half a percent – Loeb’s Third Point, for instance, charged Rhode Island just more than half a percent for “fund expenses” last year, or about $350,000. Hedge funds will also pass on their trading costs to their clients, a huge additional line item that can come to an extra percent or more and is seldom disclosed. There are even fees states pay for withdrawing from certain hedge funds.

In public finance, hedge funds will sometimes give slight discounts, but the numbers are still enormous. In Rhode Island, over the course of 20 years, Siedle projects that the state will pay $2.1 billion in fees to hedge funds, private-equity funds and venture-capital funds. Why is that number interesting? Because it very nearly matches the savings the state will be taking from workers by freezing their Cost of Living Adjustments – $2.3 billion over 20 years.

“That’s some ‘reform,'” says Siedle.  “They pretty much took the COLA and gave it to a bunch of billionaires,” hisses Day, Providence’s retired firefighter union chief.

When asked to respond to criticisms that the savings from COLA freezes could be seen as going directly into the pockets of billionaires, treasurer Raimondo replied that it was “very dangerous to look at fees in a vacuum” and that it’s worth paying more for a safer and more diverse portfolio. She compared hedge funds – inherently high-risk investments whose prospectuses typically contain front-page disclaimers saying things like, WARNING: YOU MAY LOSE EVERYTHING – to snow tires. “Sure, you pay a little more,” she says. “But you’re really happy you have them when the roads are slick.”

Raimondo recently criticized the high-fee structure of hedge funds in the Wall Street Journal and told Rolling Stone that “‘two and twenty’ doesn’t make sense anymore,” although she hired several funds at precisely those fee levels back before she faced public criticism on the issue. She did add that she was monitoring the funds’ performance. “If they underperform, they’re out,” she says.

And underperforming is likely. Even though hedge funds can and sometimes do post incredible numbers in the short-term – Loeb’s Third Point notched a 41 percent gain for Rhode Island in 2010; the following year, it earned -0.54 percent. On Wall Street, people are beginning to clue in to the fact – spikes notwithstanding – that over time, hedge funds basically suck. In 2008, Warren Buffett famously placed a million-dollar bet with the heads of a New York hedge fund called Protégé Partners that the S&P 500 index fund – a neutral bet on the entire stock market, in other words – would outperform a portfolio of five hedge funds hand-picked by the geniuses at Protégé.

Five years later, Buffett’s zero-effort, pin-the-tail-on-the-stock-market portfolio is up 8.69 percent total. Protégé’s numbers are comical in comparison; all those superminds came up with a 0.13 percent increase over five long years, meaning Buffett is beating the hedgies by nearly nine points without lifting a finger.

Union leaders all over the country have started to figure out the perils of hiring a bunch of overpriced Wall Street wizards to manage the public’s money. Among other things, investing with hedge funds is infinitely more expensive than investing with simple index funds. On Wall Street and in the investment world, the management price is measured in something called basis points, a basis point equaling one hundredth of one percent. So a state like Rhode Island, which is paying a two percent fee to hedge funds, is said to be paying an upfront fee of 200 basis points.

How much does it cost to invest public money in a simple index fund? “We’ve paid as little as .875 of a basis point,” says William Atwood, executive director of the Illinois State Board of Investment. “At most, five basis points.”

So at the low end, Atwood is paying 200 times less than the standard two percent hedge-fund fee. As an example, Atwood says, the state of Illinois paid a fee of just $57,000 last year on $550 million of public money they put into an S&P 500 index fund, which, again, is exactly the sort of plain-vanilla investment that Warren Buffett used to publicly kick the ass of Wall Street’s cockiest hedge fund.

The fees aren’t even the only costs of “alternative investments.” Many states have engaged middlemen called “placement agents” to hire hedge funds, and those placement agents – typically people with ties to state investment boards – are themselves paid enormous sums, often in the millions, just to “introduce” hedge funds to politicians holding the checkbook.

Bank of America: Too Crooked to Fail (http://m.rollingstone.com/politics/news/bank-of-america-too-crooked-to-fail-20120314)

In Kentucky, Tobe and Siedle found that KRS, the state pension funds, had paid a whopping $14 million to placement agents between 2004 and 2009. In Atlanta, a member of the city pension board complained to the SEC that the city had hired a consultant, Larry Gray, who convinced the city pension fund to invest $28 million in a hedge fund he himself owned. Raimondo says she never hired placement agents, but the state did pay a $450,000 consulting fee to a firm called Cliffwater LLC.

Doughty says the endless system of highly paid middlemen reminds him of old slapstick comedies. “It’s like the Three Stooges,” he says.  “When you ask them what happened, they’re all pointing in different directions, like, ‘He did it!'”

How Wall Street Is Using the Bailout to Stage a Revolution (http://m.rollingstone.com/politics/news/how-wall-street-is-usingthe-bailout-to-stage-a-revolution-20090402)

Even worse, placement agents are also often paid by the alternative investors. In California, the Apollo private-equity firm paid a former CalPERS board member named Alfred Villalobos a staggering $48 million for help in securing investments from state pensions, and Villalobos delivered, helping Apollo receive $3 billion of CalPERS money. Villalobos got indicted in that affair, but only because he’d lied to Apollo about disclosing his fees to CalPERS. Otherwise, despite the fact that this is in every way basically a crude kickback scheme, there’s no law at all against a placement agent taking money from a finance firm. The Government Accountability Office has condemned the practice, but it goes on.

“It’s a huge conflict of interest,” says Siedle. So when you invest your pension money in hedge funds, you might be paying a hundred times the cost or more, you might be underperforming the market, you may be supporting political movements against you, and you often have to pay what effectively is a bribe just for the privilege of hiring your crappy overpaid money manager in the first place. What’s not to like about that? Who could complain?

Once upon a time, local corruption was easy. “It was votes for jobs,” Doughty says with a sigh. A ward would turn out for a councilman, the councilman would come back with jobs from city-budget contracts – that was the deal. What’s going on with public pensions is a more confusing modern version of that local graft. With public budgets carefully scrutinized by everyone from the press to regulators, the black box of pension funds makes it the only public treasure left that’s easy to steal. Politicians quietly borrow millions from these funds by not paying their ARCs, and it’s that money, plus the savings from cuts made to worker benefits in the name of
“emergency” pension reform, that pays for an apparently endless regime of corporate tax breaks and handouts.

A notorious example in Rhode Island is, of course, 38 Studios, the doomed video-game venture of blabbering, Christ-humping ex-Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who received a $75 million loan guarantee from the state at a time when local politicians were pleading poverty. “This whole thing isn’t just about cutting payments to retirees,” says syndicated columnist David Sirota, who authored the Institute for America’s Future study on Arnold and Pew. “It’s about preserving money for corporate welfare.” Their study estimates states spend up to $120 billion a year on offshore tax loopholes and gifts to dingbats like Schilling and other subsidies – more than two and a half times as much as the $46 billion a year Pew says states are short on pension payments.

The bottom line is that the “unfunded liability” crisis is, if not exactly fictional, certainly exaggerated to an outrageous degree. Yes, we live in a new economy and, yes, it may be time to have a discussion about whether certain kinds of public employees should be receiving sizable benefit checks until death. But the idea that these benefit packages are causing the fiscal crises in our states is almost entirely a fabrication crafted by the very people who actually caused the problem. It’s like Voltaire’s maxim about noses having evolved to fit spectacles, so therefore we wear spectacles. In this case, we have an unfunded-pension-liability problem because we’ve been ripping retirees off for decades – but the solution being offered is to rip them off even more.

Everybody following this story should remember what went on in the immediate aftermath of the crash of 2008, when the federal government was so worried about the sanctity of private contracts that it doled out $182 billion in public money to AIG. That bailout guaranteed that firms like Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank could be paid off on their bets against a subprime market they themselves helped overheat, and that AIG executives could be paid the huge bonuses they naturally deserved for having run one of the world’s largest corporations into the ground. When asked why the state was paying those bonuses, Obama economic adviser Larry Summers said, “We are a country of law. . . . The government cannot just abrogate contracts.”

Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes? (http://m.rollingstone.com/politics/news/is-the-sec-covering-up-wall-street-crimes-20110817)

Now, though, states all over the country are claiming they not only need to abrogate legally binding contracts with state workers but also should seize retirement money from widows to finance years of illegal loans, giant fees to billionaires like Dan Loeb and billions in tax breaks to the Curt Schillings of the world. It ain’t right. If someone has to tighten a belt or two, let’s start there. If we’ve still got a problem after squaring those assholes away, that’s something that can be discussed. But asking cops, firefighters and teachers to take the first hit for a crisis caused by reckless pols and thieves on Wall Street is low, even by American standards.

This story is from the October 10th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.

I Have Just Read the Biggest Bunch of BullShit, That I Have Read This Year! According to CNN: “Obama heads into State of the Union on ratings uptick”


I cannot believe that “latest in a string of surveys showing Obama’s ratings inching up, including a CNN/ORC poll from late December showing Obama at a 20-month approval high”.

“Improving economic conditions have finally triggered more optimism”. Where has there been improving economic conditions? If anyone knows, please tell me, I would like to experience an improved economic condition. Did anyone else see “Dr. Benjamin Carson’s Amazing Speech at the National Prayer Breakfast with Obama Present” on youtube? Now all of the sudden, the country has miraculously recovered from economic conditions? What about the southern borders, did they get closed up too? And what about Ebola? Not talking about it, and banning the media from mentioning it, did not make it go away!

BullShit! Pure, Plain, Simple BullShit!

From CNN: The Propoganda, that they want everyone to believe can be found here:
http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/19/politics/obama-popular-state-of-the-union/index.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+rss%2Fcnn_topstories+%28RSS%3A+Top+Stories%29

Washington (CNN)President Barack Obama heads into Tuesday’s State of the Union address riding the first uptick in his approval ratings in years, but he’ll be speaking to a room full of more Republicans than Democrats for the first time, providing for a new dynamic in the annual ritual.

Fifty percent say they approve of the job Obama’s doing as president, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Monday. That’s the best Obama’s fared since the spring of 2013, and it’s the latest in a string of surveys showing Obama’s ratings inching up, including a CNN/ORC poll from late December showing Obama at a 20-month approval high.

Obama’s State of the Union wades into 2016

Improving economic conditions have finally triggered more optimism in the country, the surveys show, though many Americans still say the nation’s financial state is poor. Even as more people feel the benefits of a resurgent economy, there’s still a persistent sense among Americans that it’s not improving fast enough.

The Washington Post/ABC poll out Monday showed 56% of Americans felt the country was on the wrong track – an improvement from the 70% who felt that way in 2013, but still reflective of a majority who aren’t seeing much to crow about in the economic recovery.

That gloom is part of the reason Democrats fared so poorly in November’s midterm elections – and why Obama’s address on Tuesday will be delivered to the first GOP-majority Congress of Obama’s presidency.

The White House hopes that with improving approval poll numbers will come more unity among Democrats around Obama’s agenda, which aides say can be reduced to three words: middle class economics.

Obama tax plan: Cuts and hikes

“It’s important for us to find every single way that we can to provide some relief for middle class families because as the economy finally after six years gets to the point where people are beginning to feel it, we need to make sure we lean in so that folks have a little bit more money at the end of the week,” said David Simas, the director of Obama’s political office.

That means proposing new tax breaks for married couples where each partner works, increasing the child care tax credit and offering two years of community college free to qualified applicants.

The White House says those kinds of moves will help bolster middle-class Americans who aren’t yet feeling the economic recovery, despite plenty of data indicating the country moving further away from the recession.

But even as Obama finds himself more popular than he has been in months, his agenda appears to be facing its toughest challenge yet with Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress.

GOP leaders have already dismissed the White House tax plan as an unserious bid at tax reform, an issue both sides say they want to tackle in the final two years of Obama’s presidency. The President’s aides say they still expect to make progress.

“The State of the Union is an opportunity for the President to lay out his vision, to put forward his proposals. Republicans now in charge of Congress will have an opportunity to put forward their proposals,” Simas said. “This is the beginning of a process and we hope that it’s fruitful.”

Mark Stopa’s “The Erosion of the Judiciary”


Foreclosure Court: The Erosion of the Judiciary                                                                                                   http://www.stayinmyhome.com/foreclosure-court-the-erosion-of-the-judiciary/

Posted on September 2nd, 2013 by Mark Stopa 

I’m a big believer in the justice system.  In fact, that’s part of why I became a lawyer.  I believe in every litigant’s right to obtain a fair hearing and trial before a neutral judge and/or impartial jury.  It sounds cliché, but that’s what I do – help people navigate the judicial system in their time of need. 

In recent months, though, the judiciary in many parts of Florida (not all, but many) has turned into something I don’t recognize.  The change has been so sudden and so extreme that it’s altering the face of the judiciary and hindering that which I hold so dear – the right to fair hearings and due process.  Yes, what I consider the “core” of a fully-functioning judicial system is eroding. 

If you’re a Florida lawyer but you don’t handle foreclosure cases, you likely have no idea what I’m talking about.  After all, outside of foreclosure-world, Florida’s courts are operating like normal, business as usual.  Sure, the down economy has brought some minor changes, but all in all, our courts are functioning in a normal way. 

Foreclosure cases, though, are a totally different animal. 

I was chatting with a colleague the other day, an attorney who doesn’t handle foreclosure lawsuits, and he was shocked as I described the things I see in foreclosure court on a daily basis.  This is a seasoned attorney who was SHOCKED at what I see every day.  That made me realize … I’m not doing a good enough job of explaining the travesties I see every day in foreclosure-world. 

It’s a tough line to toe, frankly.  Bar rules prohibit me from disparaging any particular judge, so it’s sometimes difficult to explain what’s happening in foreclosure court without crossing that line.  In this blog, though, I’m going to toe that line.  Don’t misunderstand – I’m not criticizing anyone in particular.  Rather, my critique – and that’s what I see this as, a constructive critique, coupled with a hope that everyone will realize just how flawed our system has become – is aimed at the entire institution.  My concerns aren’t with any particular judge or any one ruling – they lie with the entire judicial system, the way the entire judiciary is operating right now, at least as it pertains to foreclosure cases. 

I know what you’re thinking.  I’m just a self-interested, foreclosure defense attorney who’s trying to delay foreclosures and let people live for free.  I’m upset because the courts are making that more difficult.  Right?

Before you blow off my concerns in that manner, you tell me.  Are my concerns legitimate?  Is this how a judicial system should operate?  You tell me … 

As a foreclosure defense lawyer, I’ve seen pro se homeowners attend hearings in their cases and not be allowed to speak.  Not one word.  It wasn’t that the judge didn’t hear the homeowner or didn’t realize he/she was present, either – the homeowner asked the judge to speak at a duly-noticed hearing and was not permitted to do so.  Homeowner loses, yet couldn’t say one word.  Isolated incident, you say?  I’ve personally seen it more than once. 

Not being permitted to speak has not been limited to pro se homeowners.  I have personally been threatened with criminal contempt – criminal contempt – for moving to disqualify a judge after striking my defenses without letting me say one word about those defenses.  Your defenses are stricken, you can’t talk, and if you complain about it, I’ll throw you in jail. 

In many parts of Florida, attorneys are not permitted to attend foreclosure hearings by phone – regardless of how insignificant or short the hearing may be.  Never mind that the Florida Supreme Court created a rule of judicial administration which requires phone appearances be permitted for hearings that are 15 minutes or less absent “good cause” – in many parts of Florida, attendance by phone is simply not permitted. 

I’ve heard some justify this procedure by explaining how it’s difficult to deal with phone appearances in foreclosure cases.  Really?  How is it any more difficult than in other types of cases?  Frankly, I can’t help but wonder if the prohibition on phone appearances is designed to make it harder for defense lawyers to appear in cases for homeowners, enabling the courts to push through those cases faster.  (Prohibiting phone appearances obviously makes it harder and more expensive to attend hearings, often making the difference in a homeowner’s ability to afford counsel.) 

That’s an absurd proposition, though, right?  Why would our courts care how quickly foreclosure lawsuits are litigated?  Judges are neutral arbiters – they don’t care how quickly the cases are adjudicated.  Do they? 

The answer to that question is at the heart of the problem.  In recent months, the Florida legislature has been putting immense pressure on Florida judges to clear the backlog of foreclosure lawsuits.  How much pressure?  Well, the legislature controls the amount of funding that goes to our courts – funding that is needed to retain new judges, senior judges, court staff, and clerks (basically, the funding necessary to keep all judges and JAs from being totally overwhelmed).  Unfortunately, the legislature has been giving these judges an ultimatum, kind of like parents do to their children regarding allowance.  Basically, it works like this … “if you don’t finish these foreclosure cases, we won’t give you more funding.”  As such, the legislature holds the judiciary hostage … if the judiciary doesn’t clear cases, then the legislature doesn’t give the judiciary the funding necessary to manage the many thousands of foreclosure lawsuits pending before it. 

Perhaps worse yet, and to my sheer disgust, I’m told the legislature recently cut the pay of Florida judges (for the first time in years), and the clear understanding was that it was done as a way to punish/blame the judges for not clearing up the backlog of foreclosure cases faster.  “You won’t enter judgments fast enough for our liking … we’ll cut your pay.” 

(The pay of Florida judges is public record, right?  Why is nobody talking about this?) 

The judicial system shouldn’t operate this way.  We all learned it in elementary school, how the three branches of government exist as “separate but equal” branches of government, employing a system of “checks and balances” to ensure a fully-functioning government.  But that’s not what’s happening right now, certainly not in foreclosure court.  In foreclosure-world, the legislature is king. 

You might think this is conjecture and speculation on my part.  It’s not.  I can’t go a week without hearing how the legislature is forcing judges to move cases.  Judges discuss it openly in open court, and not just to me – to everyone.  As a result of this dynamic – judges wanting to move cases – I see all sorts of crazy things I’d never see in any other area of law. 

I’ve mentioned the homeowners who can’t speak, the threats of incarcertaion, and the prohibition on phone appearances, but let’s get to some more egregious concerns. 

Judges sua sponte set trials in foreclosure cases (without a Notice of Trial having been filed, without a CMC or pretrial conference, and without discussing/clearing the date with an counsel).  This is now routine, virtually everywhere in the state. 

Judges sua sponte set trials in foreclosure cases where a motion to dismiss is outstanding and the defendant has not filed an answer. 

Judges sua sponte set trials with less than 30 days’ notice (such that, as defense counsel, you randomly receive a trial Order in the mail, reflecting you have a trial in 2 weeks).

 The sua sponte setting of trials dominates the landscape of foreclosure-world.  Banks often don’t want trials in foreclosure cases, but the judges will set them anyway.  Then, even when the plaintiffs are vocal about not wanting a trial in that particular case, judges often insist they go forward anyway.  Even stipulated/agreed Orders to continue a trial or vacate a trial Order often go unsigned. 

Sometimes, where trial has been set in violation of Rule 1.440, judges will recognize the error and fix it.  (The judges in Pinellas and Hillsborough in particular are good about this, striving to follow the law.)  In many others cases, though, judges will proceed with trial anyway.  In foreclosure circles, one county has become known for using a stamp – DENIED – right on the motion to vacate trial Order, without a hearing.  Case not at issue?  Doesn’t matter.  Less than 30 days’ notice?  Doesn’t matter.  Bank doesn’t want a trial?  Doesn’t matter.  We’re going to trial! 

Often, judges won’t proceed with trial where the defendant hasn’t filed an Answer but will essentially force the Answer to be filed forthwith.  How is this accomplished?  Easily – either deny the motion to dismiss (often without a hearing), or sua sponte set a CMC to ensure the case gets at issue.   Some courts use CMCs as a way to, in my view, browbeat parties into settling.  One county, for example, has started setting three CMCs at once – one per week for three consecutive weeks, requiring in-person attendance, at mass-motion calendars that last an hour or more, with no input from counsel on when the CMCs are scheduled.  You’re not available?  Too bad.  You don’t need a CMC three weeks in a row?  Yes, you do.  Your case will get at issue and it will be set for trial. 

Oh, and if you want to set a hearing in this county, you have to mail in a form – MAIL IN A FORM – and wait for them to respond to you, by mail, with a form that gives you a set hearing date, without any input from you on when that hearing takes place. 

What dominates the thinking from the judiciary – again, not my speculation, but something the judges openly discuss – is their desire to “close” cases.  That’s the monster that the legislature has created – evaluating the performance of judges not based on their work as judges but based on the results set forth in an Excel spreadsheet.  How many foreclosure lawsuits were filed in that county?  How many judgments have been entered?  If the ratio of judgments entered to cases filed is high enough, then the judges in that county are doing a good job and deserve more funding from the legislature.  If not, then those judges and JAs can all suffer through the many thousands of cases without more help. 

The dynamic is so perverse that I’ve seen judges refuse to cancel foreclosure sales even when both sides ask them to. 

Plaintiff’s lawyer:  “We don’t want this foreclosure sale to go forward, judge.” 

Defendant’s lawyer:  “We are living in this house.  We don’t want this foreclosure sale to go forward, judge.” 

Judge:  “Foreclosure sale will go forward as scheduled.” 

Huh? 

This dynamic is particularly difficult to take when the parties have reached a settlement.  For example, loan modifications sometimes happen after a judgment but before a sale.  That means, essentially, that both sides are willing to forego foreclosure with the homeowner resuming monthly mortgage payments.  Incredibly, based partly on their desire to “close” a case, some judges will force a foreclosure sale to go forward even when both parties don’t want it to, having settled their dispute via a loan modification.

 Plaintiff’s lawyer:  “We have agreed to a loan modification.  We want the foreclosure sale cancelled.” 

Defendant’s lawyer:  “We have agreed to a loan modification.  We want the foreclosure sale cancelled.” 

Judge:  “Foreclosure sale will go forward as scheduled.” 

Huh? 

Even when both sides are able to resolve disputes before trial, even then they sometimes can’t escape a dress-down from the judiciary.  For instance, I’ve watched judges threaten Bar grievances against lawyers – yes, Bar grievances – where they settled the lawsuit by consenting to a foreclosure judgment with a deficiency waiver and extended sale date.  Mind you, that’s a perfectly legitimate way to compromise and settle a foreclosure lawsuit – bank gets the house, homeowner avoids any further liability and gets to stay in the house longer so as to pack up and move – but the prospect of the sale date getting pushed out 4-5 months angers some judges.  “No, you can’t settle that way.  The sale has to happen sooner.”  Yes, I’ve seen settlements like this rejected with the sale set sooner than the parties agreed.

Huh? 

There’s absolutely no rule or law that requires a sale to happen sooner where the parties agree.  Unfortunately, the judges are motivated by having that case “closed” so the numbers on the spreadsheet look better for the legislature. 

My natural response is to lament the unfairness of it all.  After all, that homeowner gave up the chances of winning at trial predicated on getting more time in the house.  I find it terribly unfair that the homeowner gave up a right to trial in exchange for an extended sale date that the judge took away … right?  Some judges would scoff at that notion.  After all, I’ve heard several times, in open court, ”there is no defense to foreclosure,” or “I’ve never seen a valid defense to foreclosure,” or words of that ilk.  Never mind that I’ve had many dozens of foreclosure cases dismissed throughout Florida, including several at trial (25 different judges have dismissed a lawsuit of mine on paragraph 22 noncompliance, for example) … there is no valid defense to foreclosure and, hence, no reason for an extended sale date. 

Another county has become known for punishing any defendants who force a trial to proceed.  I personally observed the judge begin every hearing by telling the homeowners and their counsel that they “better” accept a 120-day extended sale date, as if that “offer” was rejected then it would be “off the table” after the trial.  The implication here was obvious to everyone in the room … You want to show up and force the bank to prove its case?  You’ll lose, and I’ll punish you by ruling against you and forcing you to move out sooner. 

Some would say that the way to deal with this madness is to appeal.  Easier said than done.  Homeowners facing foreclosure are often in no position to fund an appeal.  I’ve taken some appeals for free, but there’s only so many I can handle that way.  Oh, and even if you get beyond the issue of funding, go look for published decisions that are pro-homeowner in the First DCA, Third DCA, or Fifth DCA.  Many thousands of foreclosure cases have been adjudicated in those areas in the past several years.  How many favorable rulings do you think have come out of those jurisdictions during that time?  I’ll give you a hint – not many.  In many ways, appealing in those parts of the state is like standing at the bottom of Mount Everest and being told “climb.” 

Dealing with this dynamic has been very difficult in recent months.  It’s a hard pill to swallow.  It’s difficult to watch the judicial system bend at the direction of the legislature.  It’s tough to know the concept of “separation of powers” that we all learned in elementary school is being cast aside.  It’s hard to feel like the most fundamental concepts of due process are being sacrificed to push lawsuits faster when even the plaintiffs in those lawsuits don’t so desire.  It’s hard to feel like these procedures have made it impossible for me to help homeowners in certain parts of the state.  It’s frustrating that many reading this will be upset at the entire judiciary, not realizing there are many circuit judges – particularly in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and other areas within the ambit of Florida’s Second District – who are striving to be fair and follow the law notwithstanding all of the pressure from the legislature. 

Mostly, though, I’m disappointed.  I’m disappointed that such perverse procedures are happening in our courts every day yet nobody is talking about it – and many don’t even realize it’s happening.  I’m disappointed that the justice system I knew is eroding.  I’m not going to find a dictionary definition, but that’s what erosion is – a slow process of deterioration such that, before too long, that thing which previously existed is no more. 

I hope everyone shares this blog.  I hope my friends, colleagues, attorneys and homeowners all understand what’s happening in our courts.  I hope everyone stands up to the legislature and demands it stop this madness.  Most of all, I hope the erosion of our judiciary stops … soon.

Living Lies, Telling It Like It Is! Thank You!


New post on Livinglies’s Weblog

Federal Agent Misconduct in Favor of BofA and McCarthy Holthus and Levine law firm?

http://livinglies.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/federal-agent-misconduct-in-favor-of-bofa-and-mccarthy-holthus-and-levine-law-firm/

by Neil Garfield

HAS FORECLOSURE DEFENSE BECOME A TERROR THREAT?

WHO IS TERRIFIED HERE?

This is a story about abuse of power or abuse of apparent power. The object is to cover-up crimes that remain largely undetected because the complex maze created by the “Thirteen Banks.”The stakes could not be higher. Either the current major Banks will be sustained or they will come crashing down with a feeding frenzy on a carcass of a predator that stole tens of trillions of dollars from multiple countries, hundreds of millions of people, and millions of homes across the world that should, by all accounts under the Law, still belong to the owner who was displaced by foreclosure. The banks are willing to do anything and they are paying outsize fees and other legal expenses (topping $100 Billion now).

The agents involved — Mike Lum from Homeland Security, Tim Hines, FBI Agent, and Sean Locksa, FBI agent — were either moonlighting (the agents say they were acting in their official capacity) and using their badges in appropriately or they were sent to intimidate litigants with Bank of America represented by McCarthy Holthus and Levine. A few years back, I received reports that the law firm, and in particular attorney Levine, had sent letters to local prosecutors to request action against people who were defending their property from foreclosure. The agents admitted to Blomberg today that they received a “tip” and that “it” was “no longer” a criminal manner and that they had ended their investigation.

In one prior case I saw a letter and I believe I might have seen an affidavit signed by Levine. The result was a series of indictments against one individual that were later dismissed. I have no information on the other cases all dating back to around 2010. I know one of the people, the one who I know was indicted, spent the last bit of her money hiring a criminal attorney to defend her. The case was “settled with a dismissal.” She subsequently lost two homes that were previously unencumbered in a foreclosure where different parties stepped in to foreclose than the ones who asked for lift stay in her bankruptcy. None of the parties were creditors or properly identified.

I now believe I have enough information to connect the dots, and raise the question as to whether members of local, federal and state law enforcement are colluding (or are being wrongfully used by the suggestion of false information) with Bank of America and at least one law firm — McCarthy Holthus and Levine — in which litigants and perhaps witnesses are intimidated into submission to wrongful foreclosures. The information contained in this article relates primarily to Arizona and to a lesser degree, California. I have no information on any other such activity in any other state of the union.

It also appears as though Bank of America and McCarthy Holthus and Levine were taking advantage of some sloppiness at the Post Office, for which the Postmaster in Simi Valley has apologized and sent a refund to the complainant, Darrell Blomberg whose story can be read below. The interesting thing here is that Blomberg reports that McCarthy Holthus and Levine directly received a letter that was addressed to Celia Mora, a suspected robo signor who apparently lives in Simi Valley, according to the post office, but whose mail bears a San Diego postmark.

The joint terrorism task force supposedly represented by the three men identified above, will not answer calls relating to this matter. Thus we only have Blomberg’s report and my own information and analysis — and of course public record. We do have a callback received today by Blomberg who reports that the agents answered a limited number of questions.

The information contained in this report is substantially corroborated by another source who, like Blomberg I consider to have the highest integrity and who was also visited this past week by the same agents who visited Blomberg. Since no specific act was alleged in the interviews except the perfectly legal request to the post office to confirm an address of a potential witness and test mailings to see who was receiving the mailings, it is hard to conclude anything other than that these agents were being used officially or unofficially to intimidate litigants who have been successful at defending their homes in foreclosure for years, and to intimidate them into ceasing their factual and investigative help to other homeowners who are also being wrongfully foreclosed.

If these interviews were sanctioned by the terrorism task force, the FBI or Homeland security it clearly represents the use of Federal law enforcement authority for the benefit of gaining a civil advantage — a crime in most jurisdictions. How high the orders went in those organization I do not know. If there were no such orders and these agents were doing a “favor” then they are subject to discipline for misuse of their badge and deliberately misleading the persons interviewed into thinking that this was an official investigation. The agencies involved might be negligent in supervising the activity of these agents. Neither of the sources for this story have any mark on their record except the mark of distinction — one having worked for decades in law enforcement in economic crimes.

Was Darrel Blomberg getting too close to the truth?

In litigation, one of the points raised by Blomberg was that Celia Mora — allegedly signed an affidavit perhaps by herself and perhaps as a robo signor. The issue of forgery didn’t come up. There was a San Diego post mark same day as the affidavit was allegedly signed 160 miles away. Blomberg’s position was Mora had no actual authority no actual executive position or managerial position, and signed clerically under instruction without knowledge of the contents. That is it. The fact that McCarthy Holthus and Levine actually received the letter addressed to Mora through normal postal service leads one to believe that the affidavit may have been created at the law firm and perhaps even signed there in Arizona. Hence any criminal behavior suggested was not the work of Blomberg but could have been the work of the law firm or Bank of America. To my knowledge there is no investigation pending relating to the use of the mails, false documents, improper signatures, lack of authority or any of the issues presented by Blomberg.

From there it became a vague charge of harassment communicated by three Federal Agents. Harassment was the word used by the agents in the interview with Blomberg and the interview with my other source. But no specific act was stated even in passing as to what act would be investigated as harassment, no less a matter of national security. More telling, when the agents left both interviews, neither source was instructed or requested to stop any specific act. That leads to the question, if there was no conduct they sought to stop, why were they there at all?

Note that McCarthy Malthus and Levine has been replaced by the law firm of Bryan Cave since June, 2013 in Blomberg’s case. Generally speaking Greg Iannelli, Esq. handles the more sensitive pieces of litigation that could blow the lid off of the fraudulent scheme of securitization.

Read Blomberg’s account here —> 2013-08-29, Unexpected Visit from the National Joint Terrorism Task Force

Background and analysis: Why do the banks continue to use low paid clerical workers to sign affidavits and other documents for which they obviously lack authority or knowledge? Why won’t a true executive with true authority and actual personal knowledge based upon his or her own actual observation, investigation and analysis to make sure the foreclosure is proper as to the property, the persons, the balance due and the existence of a default — especially with reference to the actual creditor’s books of account?

Convenience doesn’t cover it. With legal costs topping $100 Billion it would be impossible to pass the giggle test on any explanation of convenience when it comes to the paperwork. My conclusion is that it is worth getting embarrassed in court as long as the number of times is small enough that the overall scheme is not toppled. The use of clerical personnel to sign and approve documents relating to foreclosure is akin to allowing teller’s decide whether you can have a loan on that new car or new house. It doesn’t happen. If it doesn’t happen when the “loan” goes out, then it is fair to assume that the same standards would apply when the loan turns bad and comes back in.

Think about it. The Banks are reporting record profits. U. S. Bank reported $42 Billion in just one quarter. They are attributing their profits to proprietary trading — something I have attributed to laundering the illicit retention of funds that should have been used to pay investors the principal and accrued interest that was due on the promise of investment banks when they issued bogus mortgage bonds. That money was received by the Banks as agents for the investors and therefore, whether paid or not, is a credit against the account receivable owned by the investors.

The Glaski appellate attorneys gratuitously admitted that the true owner of the debts will never be known. Yet the true relationship between the homeowners and the lenders is regarded as known and enforceable. In short, the position of the Banks is that we don’t know who this money belongs to but it must belong to someone so we are going to collect it and foreclose. We’ll get back to you later on what we did with the money. The Banks are required to take that idiotic position because (a) it is still working in court and (b) they get to avoid liability to investors, guarantors, insurers, borrowers and government agencies that could exceed $10 trillion. So $100 Billion in legal expenses is only 1% of their exposure. It is easy to see how the Math works. If the legal expenses were a far more significant portion of the money the Banks were holding then they would find another way to deal with it. 

If the false trading and laundering of money was properly entered on the books as merely repatriating money that was hidden, the investors would be spared the losses that threaten our pensions and cities. It would also alleviate or eliminate the corresponding account payable due from homeowners, city budgets and other “borrowers” who were the unwitting pawns in a scheme to defraud investors. The collateral damage to all citizens, all taxpayers, all consumers, all workers and all homeowners has been obvious since 2007.

The extraordinary story is aggravated by the knowledge that the legal expenses of the Banks has now topped $100 Billion. Like I said, think about it. Nobody spends $100 Billion unless it is worth it. It is worth the price because of the amount of liability they are avoiding, and the amount of money they stole that went offshore. The amount of the theft can be estimated in a variety of ways, and the results are always the same. They siphoned trillions of dollars from many countries. In the U.S. alone it appears that the total was in excess of $17 Trillion, which is $3 Trillion MORE than the total amount of lending on residential “loans.” Extrapolating the most recent profit report from U. S. Bank from a quarter (three months) to a year, that one Bank is reporting annual earnings from “proprietary” trading in excess of $160 Billion per year. That is one of 18 Banks that were involved in this crime against humanity. Do the math.

So the Banks retain money that they never legally earned at the expense of deceived investors, Cities and sovereign wealth funds AND at the expense of the “borrowers” in the “underlying” deals. And by not crediting the lenders, the corresponding reduction of the account payable from “Borrowers” is also absent. No consent for principal reduction is required because the balance has also been reduced or extinguished by payment. Follow the money trail and the results was astonish you. This is like organized crime with all the trimmings of governmental complicity.

Now I am reporting that based upon a pattern of conduct that appears particularly egregious in Arizona, this unholy alliance between the people who committed the wrongs and government is becoming apparent. Who would have imagined indictments and “investigations” of people litigating their cases against the Banks after the scale the crime became apparent in 2008-2009?

CAVEAT: The agents in the Blomberg interview insist they were acting in their official capacity and I take them at their word. My problem with that assumption is that it means the system is susceptible of manipulation by attorneys who have no problem playing dirty tricks to gain a civil advantage. Or, worse, it means that there are high level people in the system who are willing to look the other way when this behavior pops up.

By this point in the savings and loan scandal in the 1980’s more than 800 bank presidents and loan officers, along with mortgage brokers and originators had been convicted by a jury and were serving their sentences. This time the tally is zero. But the reverse is not true. Mortgage brokers and originators and investors who played the system against itself have been investigated, prosecuted and sentenced to prison. And even homeowners have been accused of crimes that were identical to the crimes committed by Banks on a much larger scale. Steal a million, go to jail. Steal a Trillion and get immunity because the finance system might not survive removing the criminals from our society. No longer a nation of laws we have become a nation of men, corrupt men, who continue to accumulate wealth and power as they channel their illicit gains into reported Bank “profits” and control over world natural resources.

For about three years I have been investigating an unholy alliance between a law firm, McCarthy Holthus and Levine, Bank of America, U.S. Bank and law enforcement. It appears as though they have some special influence and that local, state and Federal law enforcement agents are acting as collectors and intimidators outside the boundaries of the law. Prosecutors have followed this line of attack against those pro se litigants who are getting close to the truth that the foreclosures — all of them — were bogus, if they were based upon mortgages and deeds of trust carrying claims of securitization, arising from Assignment and Assumption Agreements, Pooling and Servicing Agreements, and false prospectuses to investors.

The attached report from Darrel Blomberg, a person of unparalleled integrity, tells the story of agents from the FBI who (whether they realized it or not) are clearly acting at the behest and for the benefit of Bank of America, who was represented by McCarthy Holthus and Levine. In the past week, the agents have been visiting at least two people based upon a “harassment” allegation. The agents declared themselves to be part of a joint terrorism task force. The act of harassment was a request for confirmation of address and confirmation of address that ended up both in the offices of Bank of America and the office of McCarthy Holthus and Levine. It was addressed to the U.S. Postmaster who apologized for gaffes in processing the requests and even refunded money to Blomberg. No investigation has been threatened by the U.S. Postal inspector against either the Bank or the law firm. And none has been threatened against Blomberg.

Having a few pages of the attempt to get address of a robo signor whose signature appears to have been forged, these agents have interviewed two people in Arizona that have been known to provide factual assistance to other homeowners and whose own cases have been spread out over many years as the Bank continues to fail in its attempt to claim ownership or verify the balance of the debt. These agents identified themselves as having been dispatched from the FBI, Homeland security and the joint task force. Whether they were merely moonlighting or were in fact dispatched by their superiors, it is clear that no criminal matter was under investigation, and that their purpose was to intimidate two people who fortunately are not easily intimidated. Based upon my investigation it appears as though that law Firm, McCarthy, Holthus and Levine who is frequently replaced by Bryan Cave, has been doing dirty work for the banks through contacts in law enforcement.

It is happening and this should be stopped before it becomes a commonplace act throughout the country.

In the final analysis the issue of ownership of the loan is going to unravel this mess because it is only then that we can look at the books of account and see what money is owed on the original account receivable for the creditor/investor/REMIC.

The analysis of ownership does not merely look to the agreements the parties entered into because the label parties give to a transaction does not determine its character. See Helvering v. Lazarus & Co. 308 U.S. 252, 255 (1939). The analysis must examine the underlying economics and the attendant facts and circumstances to determine who owns the mortgage notes for tax purposes. See id. The court in In re Kemp documents in painful detail how Countrywide failed to transfer possession of a note to the pool backing a Mortgage Backed Security (MBS) so that Countrywide failed to comply with the requirements necessary for the mortgage to comply with the REMIC rules. See In re Kemp, 440 F.R. 624 (Bkrtcy D.N.J. 2010). Defendant in this case has done exactly what was adjudicated in Kemp, failure to sufficiently show a timely transfer that complied with the strict language of the trusts’ Agreements.

As the Kemp court notes, “[f]rom the maker’s standpoint, it becomes essential to establish that the person who demands payment of a negotiable note, or to whom payment is made, is the duly qualified holder. Otherwise, the obligor is exposed to the risk of double payment, or at least to the expense of litigation incurred to prevent duplicative satisfaction of the instrument. These risks provide makers (Plaintiff in this case) with a recognizable interest in demanding proof of the chain of title” (specifically referring to the trust participants). 440 B.R. at 631 (quoting Adams v. Madison Realty & Dev., Inc., 853 F.2d 163, 168 (3d Cir. N.J. 1988). And because the originator did not comply with the legal niceties, the beneficial owner of the debt, the trustee, cannot file its proof of claim either.