Monthly Archives: October 2011
Exhibit A[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M4gz97Y9W8&feature=player_embedded#! 603 500] Comments »
What the Costumes Reveal
The party is the firm’s big annual bash. Employees wear Halloween costumes to the office, where they party until around noon, and then return to work, still in costume. I can’t tell you how people dressed for this year’s party, but I can tell you about last year’s.
That’s because a former employee of Steven J. Baum recently sent me snapshots of last year’s party. In an e-mail, she said that she wanted me to see them because they showed an appalling lack of compassion toward the homeowners — invariably poor and down on their luck — that the Baum firm had brought foreclosure proceedings against.
When we spoke later, she added that the snapshots are an accurate representation of the firm’s mind-set. “There is this really cavalier attitude,” she said. “It doesn’t matter that people are going to lose their homes.” Nor does the firm try to help people get mortgage modifications; the pressure, always, is to foreclose. I told her I wanted to post the photos on The Times’s Web site so that readers could see them. She agreed, but asked to remain anonymous because she said she fears retaliation.
Let me describe a few of the photos. In one, two Baum employees are dressed like homeless people. One is holding a bottle of liquor. The other has a sign around her neck that reads: “3rd party squatter. I lost my home and I was never served.” My source said that “I was never served” is meant to mock “the typical excuse” of the homeowner trying to evade a foreclosure proceeding.
A second picture shows a coffin with a picture of a woman whose eyes have been cut out. A sign on the coffin reads: “Rest in Peace. Crazy Susie.” The reference is to Susan Chana Lask, a lawyer who had filed a class-action suit against Steven J. Baum — and had posteda YouTube video denouncing the firm’s foreclosure practices. “She was a thorn in their side,” said my source.
A third photograph shows a corner of Baum’s office decorated to look like a row of foreclosed homes. Another shows a sign that reads, “Baum Estates” — needless to say, it’s also full of foreclosed houses. Most of the other pictures show either mock homeless camps or mock foreclosure signs — or both. My source told me that not every Baum department used the party to make fun of the troubled homeowners they made their living suing. But some clearly did. The adjective she’d used when she sent them to me — “appalling” — struck me as exactly right.
These pictures are hardly the first piece of evidence that the Baum firm treats homeowners shabbily — or that it uses dubious legal practices to do so. It is under investigation by the New York attorney general, Eric Schneiderman. It recently agreed to pay $2 million to resolve an investigation by the Department of Justice into whether the firm had “filed misleading pleadings, affidavits, and mortgage assignments in the state and federal courts in New York.” (In the press release announcing the settlement, Baum acknowledged only that “it occasionally made inadvertent errors.”)
MFY Legal Services, which defends homeowners, and Harwood Feffer, a large class-action firm, have filed a class-action suit claiming that Steven J. Baum has consistently failed to file certain papers that are necessary to allow for a state-mandated settlement conference that can lead to a modification. Judge Arthur Schack of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn once described Baum’s foreclosure filings as “operating in a parallel mortgage universe, unrelated to the real universe.” (My source told me that one Baum employee dressed up as Judge Schack at a previous Halloween party.)
I saw the firm operate up close when I wrote several columns about Lilla Roberts, a 73-year-old homeowner who had spent three years in foreclosure hell. Although she had a steady income and was a good candidate for a modification, the Baum firm treated her mercilessly.
When I called a press spokesman for Steven J. Baum to ask about the photographs, he sent me a statement a few hours later. “It has been suggested that some employees dress in … attire that mocks or attempts to belittle the plight of those who have lost their homes,” the statement read. “Nothing could be further from the truth.” It described this column as “another attempt by The New York Times to attack our firm and our work.”
I encourage you to look at the photographs with this column on the Web. Then judge for yourself the veracity of Steven J. Baum’s denial.
What Do the Top 1% Really Pay in Taxes?
Income Declines for Top Earners, While Effective Tax Rates Creep Up
Washington, DC, October 24, 2011–The income earned by the top 1% of Americans has declined for the second year in a row while their average tax rate has increased, according to a new Tax Foundation study. The average federal tax rate for those reporting at least $343,927 in income has increased from 22.5% in 2007 to 24.0% in 2009, while the average income for the top 1% has declined from $1.4 million to $1 million over the same period.
The Tax Foundation’s analysis is based on new data from the Internal Revenue Service on individual income taxes, reporting on calendar year 2009. The amount of individual income tax paid steeply declined by $166 billion, twice the decline from 2007 to 2008. Nationally, average effective income tax rates were at their lowest levels since the IRS began tracking them in 1986. The average tax rate for returns with a positive liability went from 12.2% in 2008 to 11.1% in 2009.
“During a time of economic downturn, we expect to see significant changes in both total income reported and the share of taxes paid by those with the highest incomes,” said Logan. “Unlike middle-income wage-earners whose incomes and tax liabilities are fairly steady, high-income people tend to realize significant capital gains that fluctuate wildly with the economy, causing their income tax liabilities to fluctuate as well.”
In 2009, the top 1% of tax returns earned 16.9% of adjusted gross income and paid 36.7% of all federal individual income taxes. In 2008 those figures were 20.0% and 38.0%, respectively. Each year from 2005 to 2007, the top 1 percent’s constantly growing share of income earned and taxes paid set a record. The 2008 reversal of this trend continued in 2009.
The study also takes a look at the very highest earners, the top 0.1 percent of tax returns, which the IRS only began singling out in recent years. In 2009, those 138,000 tax returns accounted for nearly 7.8% of adjusted gross income earned (down from almost 10% in 2008), and they paid around 17% of the nation’s federal individual income taxes (down from 18.5% percent in 2008).
“The very highest income group—the top one-tenth of one percent—actually has a lower average effective income tax rate than the rest of the top 1 percent of returns because these extremely high-income returns are more likely to have income from capital gains and dividends, which are typically taxed at lower rates,” said Logan. “It’s worth pointing out that in the case of capital gains and dividends, however, income derived from these sources has already been taxed once by the corporate income tax, which is not included in the current study, meaning the average effective tax rate numbers can be somewhat misleading.”
See the research here.Comments »
Why the latest eurozone bail-out is destined to fail within weeks
Liam Halligan, Economic Agenda
I want last week’s European bail-out to work. My sincere hope is that collective and decisive action by the eurozone’s large member states will stabilize global markets, at least for a while, so allowing the global economy to catch its breath.
As someone who works in financial services, I follow the markets – in the West, across Asia and the entire world – closer than most. Since the Bear Stearns collapse in March 2008, through the demise of Lehman Brothers and its ghastly aftermath, much of my professional life has been dominated by the angry flashing of those little lights on a Bloomberg screen.
In recent years, the violent gyrations on financial markets have been deeply discomforting, causing angst among market professionals, like me – but that is the least significant aspect. For those little lights represent, of course, the ebbs and flows of cash which, in turn, determines the fate of real businesses. It is at the sharp end of employment and livelihoods, dispossessed homes and broken families that the human impact of financial turbulence is most keenly felt.
So, yes, I want such turbulence, which will never be fully-eradicated, nor should it be in a free-market system, to now lessen to more manageable levels. Yet the responses of our politicians to recent financial troubles – hiding behind complexity and kicking the can down the road – have not only failed to temper the volatility, but have actually made it much worse.
Last week’s eurozone “agreement”, for all the related fanfare, was a case in point. Far from making the situation clearer, allowing investors to make considered assessments, this latest announcement made Western Europe’s grotesque debt crisis even more acute, sowing further infectious spores of confusion.
The deal itself, unveiled dramatically in the early hours of Thursday, was met with the now obligatory “relief rally”. The FTSE All-World equity index soared 4.1pc, helped by signs of renewed US economic growth. European bank shares spiked no less than 12pc on Thursday, as traders recognised, for all the official obfuscation, the latest dollop of government largesse.
By late Thursday, though, and certainly on Friday, the warning signs were there. Global bond markets, by character more sober and smarter than the excitable equity guys, were voting against the deal. This is alarming. For it is only by selling more bonds that the eurozone’s deeply indebted governments can roll-over their enormous liabilities and keep the show on the road.
Some say Western governments shouldn’t “accept” what the market says. “Who do these trading people think they are,” I hear from the lips of the educated but financially-illiterate political elite. Let’s be clear – if global bond markets stop lending to a number of large Western economies, we are in the realms of unpaid state wages and pensions, transport chaos and closures of schools and hospitals – sparking the prospect of serious civil unrest. Forgive my intemperate tone, but these are the dangers we face. And I’m afraid the only rational response to Thursday’s announcement is that the probability of such undesirable outcomes has just been increased.
European leaders have reached an “agreement”, we were told, with the private holders of Greek debt, who now accept a 50pc write-down on their stakes. This is predicated on an additional €120bn (£105bn) cash-injection by EU member states and the IMF. By paying bond-holders less, and making other savings, the hope is that Greece can cut its sovereign debt from 150pc of GDP to 120pc in the next few years.
This deal was presented as a “victory” by the eurocrats. After all, back in July those nasty private creditors agreed only to a 21pc “haircut” on their Greek debt. The deal is “voluntary”, though, nothing having been decided except the “50pc haircut” headline. In reality, by bargaining hard over coupons and maturities – how much the bonds will pay annually, and for how long – those who so unwisely lent money to Greece (eager to reap high yields, while always expecting a bail-out) will get a much sweeter deal. This is the discussion that will take place, behind closed doors, during the coming months. But that sweeter deal will need to be paid for with yet more sovereign borrowing, by some eurozone government or other, plus further sack-loads of taxpayers’ cash.
It is telling that Greek bond-holders themselves were on Friday reassuring their investors that the reduction in the net present value of their stakes, compared with the “21pc haircut” deal, “will not be overly onerous”. In addition, the July agreement, while also “voluntary”, included a 90pc creditors’ participation. Thursday’s variant cited no such number.
So, the centre-piece of last week’s “package” is far less decisive than meets the eye. It was, in fact, singularly indecisive. The hope that Greece will clean-up its balance sheet autonomously now relies even more on a privatization programme that is already laughably behind schedule. So the moral hazard will go on, making it tougher still for the governments of Portugal, Ireland and the other eurozone “peripheries” to sell to their electorates the virtues of fiscal responsibility. These are not clever-clever academic points. I’m pointing-out, quite simply, what the bond markets will have noticed.
Read the rest here.
Justina Jensen, 23, of 341 Hanover St., is charged with felony prostitution. Police allege Jensen met a teen at the local protest, which is an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, and used the Internet to arrange a first liaison for the girl with a man who turned out to be an undercover police officer.
Police said the teen’s mother called them Thursday about noon to say her daughter was missing and that her photograph had been posted on a website advertising adult party entertainment.
Court documents show the mother told police she and a friend had used the website to negotiate a deal for the friend to pay for sex with the teen.
Investigators looked at the website and found the girl’s photo posted there, along with pictures of three other women, in an advertisement offering men to “come and have fun with four beautiful ladies” in Manchester.
Police said a woman who called herself “Remy” negotiated a telephone deal for “Mad Mike” to pay $150 to have sex with the teen called “Jewel.”
An undercover officer, identifying himself as “Mad Mike,” called “Remy” to find out where to go and she gave him her 341 Hanover St. address.
When he arrived at the address and Jensen confirmed she was “Remy,” the officer identified himself as a police officer and told Jensen she was under arrest. Police said Jensen attempted to reenter the building to escape, but the officer was able to stop her and, after some resistance, handcuff her.
The missing teen was found inside Jensen’s third-floor apartment. Court documents show the teenage girl told police that Jensen had taken her photo and posted it on the website and said Jensen was going to start training her to be a prostitute, with her first customer scheduled to be “Mad Mike.”
Police said Jensen was using her residence to facilitate prostitution involving an individual under the age of 18, so she is charged with felony prostitution. She was also charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest.
In Circuit Court-Manchester District Division Friday, Jensen repeatedly dozed off while waiting to be arraigned.
Jensen could enter no plea to the felony in Circuit Court, so a probable cause hearing was set for Nov. 10, when there will be a status hearing on the misdemeanor resisting arrest charge.
Police prosecutor Capt. Robert Cunha asked Judge Gregory Michael to set bail of $10,000 cash/surety for Jensen, with bail conditions that include no contact with the minor girl and a waiver of extradition.
Cunha said that in addition to concern for public safety, there is concern about two suicide attempts made by Jensen following her arrest.
He said she attempted to strangle herself with her shoelaces when she was left alone briefly in an interview room at the police department and, after she was taken to the Elliot Hospital, attempted to strangle herself with the ties of the hospital jonny. Cunha said Jensen struggled so violently at the hospital that she had to be sedated.
Cunha also said Jensen’s ties to the city are not strong. He said she was convicted of a similar charge earlier this year in New York.