Monday, April 16, 2012

Dear, Dear Congress

"Mr. Horton, who has already helped a few clients fill out Form 8938, said that for most individual filers, 'even if we’re talking about a modest set of accounts, it’s going to take a full Saturday to do,'" in For Americans Abroad, Taxes Just Got More Complicated

I am writing from the center of capitalism with Chinese characteristics, but not the home of Red (Ticker) Tape. Please read this article in the New York Times and ask yourself if this is the silly hyperbole of a liberal grey lady's irresponsible staff reporter.

If you think that Sen. Max Baucus is right and there are dozens of English teachers, soldiers, sailors, and foreign service members--albeit serving their culture and country--who are enriching themselves with off-shore bank accounts, you ought to provide me, in your sweet response penned by an unpaid intern or some LA who pays less taxes than Warren Buffet's secretary, with some evidence that it is so. Everybody I know is relatively poor.

I arrived here in February 2011 and now, ehere, it is the day after traditional US Tax Day 2012, except that April 15 is a Sunday and I file in special Massachusetts, where Monday is also holy for long distance runners and Minutemen. My forms are done, I am told. My father, with power of attorney, has put his John Hancock on them. My questions are unanswered, though.

Wither can I legally invest? Where do I belong? Am I a man without a country?

These are the facts (Will they lead to an international arrest warrant?): My things are stored in Claremont, NH; my CapitolOne account forwards to my twin sister in West Roxbury, MA; my Bank of America accounts, which I would love to shuck, have my parents address in Brookline, MA; my renewed license was sent to a friend in Concord, NH. I no longer maintain a post office box in Concord, NH, because it expired and mail all gets lost en route to me in China, anyway....which may be no fault of the US Postal Service. I owed New Hampshire something like $54, because my grandparents left me some money, but my "burden of taxation is softened by a $92,900 exclusion that allows many expatriates to avoid any U.S. liability."

Even to consolidate my many addresses into one domestic or foreign address seems an insurmountable task.

I would like to divest from Bank of America. The same oracle bone that prompted me to ask my father about investing in Google before it went public ("flash in the pan" he ill-advised and we laugh about it still...especially, again, on the eternal, sketchy eve of Facebook's public offering) and Matt Tabbai's ruthless pen have convinced me that I should distance myself from the summer soldiers and sunshine patriots of the constricting BoA. BUT I CANNOT!

These are additional facts: I called Vanguard and Fidelity, where I was advised that banking rules would not even allow them to re-direct me to their website for ideas. I cannot move the chump retirement change that I earned for fourteen months of service to the State of New Hampshire. I cannot move the checking account which has hardly enough in it to buy the car that Rep. Dennis Kucinich grew up in or a flight home.

The people that my honest family of quiet Brahmins pay to meticulously prepare our taxes are at a loss for what to do. It does not automatically make me a patriot that my ancestors sailed on the Mayflower, built the breastworks around Manhattan during the War for Independence, imported china from China (see footnote), and died on the field of battle in Korea's cold hills; however, I tell you that I am such a lover of my country. While I may have marched with Granny D and made company with some from the War Tax Resisters League, clapped for James Farmer, Jr. and Henry David Thoreau, and adored Dorothy Day, I am every bit as American as you...and I pay my taxes the way that Big Ben clocks the minutes near Greenwich.

Like millions of American boys, I have had delusion, spilled upon me by adoring old ladies in their simple, well-meaning adynatons, that "Someday you will be the President [implying when hell freezes and Congress is full of honest souls]." Your inability to do anything about anything is inspiration to run--far, far away to Siberia's southern shores. Here I find myself helpless.

America may be "alone among industrialized countries in taxing on the basis of nationality, rather than residence"; however, I feel homeless and abandoned. The expatriate community is weaker than the Puerto Rican electorate and the unfortunate Washingtonian denizens, who darken your doorways. Where do I turn for relief from this red tape?

Alexander Putnam Lee
Changchun, CHINA

[This material was added on April 20 as an update to this article.]

April 19, 2012

Dow Jones posts fake release for two hours; bank gets fake website blacklisted, briefly
Bank of America executives, investors, and opponents alike reacted with surprise to yesterday's news—posted for two hours on Dow Jones Newswire and elsewhere—that the mammoth financial institution, realizing it was heading for a taxpayer bailout, was asking Americans to start thinking about what they'll do with the bank once they own it, and to start advertising that vision too.

The news, of course, was a hoax. 

The fake website was quickly, but temporarily, blacklisted by Google as a potential "phishing scam," despite the site containing no forms, spyware, or other characteristics of a site engaging in phishing. Firefox and Google Chrome users who tried to load were warned that the site may be "dangerous," while some individuals with Gmail accounts reported that emails containing the URL were bounced back or not delivered. An investigation by Raw Story concluded that "It's likely that Bank of America reported the site to Google as a phishing scam." Shortly after the article's publication—and with the help of thousands of volunteers complaining to Google—the website was taken off the blacklist. 

Today's reports of slumping profits make the fake site all the more timely. "This site is a forum for people to imagine what they could do with this bank," said Jane O'Heely of the Yes Lab, one of the site's creators. "The ideas we've gotten already show we all know as much as bankers about how a bank ought to be run—and actually, a good deal more."
"A bank doesn't have to be something that charges you fees, invests your money in things you abhor, destroys poor communities with predatory lending, and then threatens to take down the global economy if you don't agree to bail it out," said Logan Price, who helped create "Thinking of alternatives to this nightmare is not rocket science."

The hoax was perpetrated by means of a fake press release; it was followed two hours later with a fake angry retort, so that no journalist would be fooled for very long. "We wanted to get people thinking about how they'd run banking differently, not to really fool anyone," noted O'Heely. "The whole fake release thing was just a way to publicize it and get people posting ideas and ads." 

"Any response by Bank of America would just help spread the word, and they seem to know that," added O'Heely. When Bank of America got Google to blacklist the website as "phishing" (which it was not), the Yes Lab mobilized 4000 volunteers to complain, which quickly worked to de-list the site and give this press release a small extra hook.
The website's centerpiece is an open call to American taxpayers to begin considering what they will do after a bailout, when they'll have a chance to become the company’s majority owners. The "bank" also asks the public to advertise their visions with a tool for generating web banners—images that could give Bank of America a very real "google problem" not unlike Chevron's. The site also includes a letter from CEO Brian Moynihan that admits to the bank's many failings—short-sighted investment decisions and the massive accumulation of le gal liabilities, causing plummeting share prices and inexorably pushing the company towards a public bailout. 

The website was a collaboration between the Yes Lab, Rainforest Action Network, and New Bottom Line. A number of folks within Occupy Wall Street's Alternative Banking working group also helped with the site. Like other Yes Lab websites, this one is hosted by May First / People Link

The website comes at a time of rampant distrust of big banks. Even top Federal Government regulators have recently called for the end of "too big to fail." As Harvey Rosenblum, the head of the Dallas Fed’s research department, recently wrote: "Many of the biggest banks have sputtered, their balance sheets still clogged with toxic assets accumulated in the boom years... creating a residue of distrust for the government, the banking system, the Fed and capitalism itself." 

"Most Americans, and even some regulators, see what's wrong with the state of our banking system," said Price. "We have a real opportunity to safely and proactively push this company towards managed bankruptcy and create smaller, more responsive financial institutions that help American communities rather than harm them."

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