The Worst Bank|In the World

     In “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” the Conservative government threatens to execute one of Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s fellow officers unless Col. Buendía retreats. Col. Buendía replies that “in three months he expected to establish his headquarters in Macondo. If he did not find Colonel Gerineldo Márquez alive at that time he would shoot out of hand all the officers he held prisoner at that moment, starting with the generals, and he would give orders to his subordinates to do the same for the rest of the war. Three months later, when he entered Macondo in triumph, the first embrace he received on the swamp road was that of Colonel Gerineldo Márquez.”
     That, I am afraid, is the only way that the United States will be able to rein in the banks.
     The crises in credit, derivatives, lending, mortgages and foreclosures would all end next week if the government dragged out the CEOs of a few giant banks and executed them.
     I suggest the government start with the CEO of JP Morgan Chase. If that doesn’t work, it should execute the entire Chase board of directors, then its presidents, vice presidents, and on down the line.
     But the government – like the bank – prefers to execute privates and corporals, while letting the generals continue to rape and pillage.
     How pathetic is the Obama administration’s policy on giant corporations? Well, on Thursday it sent to Congress legislation that would require public companies to give shareholders a nonbinding vote on executives’ pay.
     That ought to fix things right up.
     So far as I can tell, JP Morgan is the sleaziest bank in the United States. I say this from experience, having read summaries of about 4,000 lawsuits a day – 20,000 a week for 5 years – as news editor for this page.
      I’ve seen some sleazy operators – Halliburton, KBR and Wal-Mart come to mind – but the Chase Banks are doing more damage to more people than all of them, and our cowardly Congress and president are doing nothing to stop it.
     In the past 18 months alone, Morgan Chase has been served with 67 class actions in 16 states and the District of Columbia – about one class action a week. They offer persuasive evidence that Morgan Chase has juggled its books to the tune of billions of dollars, targeted blacks and Hispanics for predatory lending, committed wholesale securities violations, fixed prices in the derivatives market, offered consumer loans at low interest then immediately called in the loans and jacked up the interest rates, arranged false appraisals for houses, used bait-and-switch tactics on lending and mortgages, hired a collector who defamed a family the bank was trying to collect from, defrauded shareholders, stiffed workers for overtime, charged credit-card customers bogus and improper fees, offered misleading “debt counseling,” manipulated the Auction Rate Securities market, forced employees to work off the clock, and offered to “rescue” mortgage holders from foreclosure but simply sucked more money from them by charging them to apply for a mortgage readjustment and then denying it.
      And that’s not all.
     Maybe not all of these charges are true – but as Sam Spade said to Miss Wonderly, look at the number of them.
     Other banks do this. But to my knowledge – knowledge gained from reading summaries of 1 million lawsuits, and thousands of filings – Morgan Chase leads the pack in chiseling its customers.
      By the way, I personally have had no run-ins with Morgan Chase. I don’t use credit cards, and though Morgan Chase holds the mortgage on my house, I got it 13 years ago from Washington Mutual, which Morgan Chase bought after it collapsed. The bank takes my mortgage payments automatically, electronically, so I have never had a problem with the payments – though I wouldn’t put it past them.
      I have a friend, though, a lawyer, who had a problem. She recently made a credit card payment on time, but because Morgan Chase did not “credit” her until the next day, it fined her $39 and jacked up her interest rate from 9 percent to 28 percent. She paid off the balance and will never do business with that bank again.
     “They’re screwing themselves,” she said.
     It’s true. And some day Morgan Chase will screw with the wrong customer – the wrong city or state, the wrong bank or the wrong country – and it will get what it’s got coming.
     Morgan Chase will end the way my friend Dave’s grandfather did.
     Dave’s grandpa came over from the Old Country a century ago, and ended up working for the Mafia – a lower to midlevel guy. Dave said he controlled the numbers and loan sharking in Red Bank, New Jersey – pretty much the same thing Morgan Chase does today.
     “When he died,” Dave said, “people came from miles around to spit on his grave.”

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