Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Bank Tower

Recently I found myself holding three
international checks.

Our credit union had returned one in Canadian Dollars.
There was another Canadian check in US Dollars.

The third was a check from Malaysia, in US Dollars
drawn on an American Bank which has no branches in Texas.

I called Frost Bank and was told by a nice man
that if I opened an account, their International Services
Department would take care of me.

A Personal Banking Officer began taking information,
glared at me when my cell phone rang, or maybe it was when
I said we worked with several writers in Iran.

The call was Jay who had parking issues.

The Personal Banking Officer was definitely cool by the time
I said our monthly deposits would be below $100,000,
or was it when I showed her the check from Malaysia?

Earlier over the phone the rep in San Antonio, who suggested
I go to the downtown Austin location to open an account,
had asked "Homeland Security" questions.

"Do you buy or sell explosives?"

"Do you receive money from Iraq, Iran, Palestine, North Korea, Africa?"

"Do you have a website?"

"We publish poetry," I said.

From now on we’ll use credit cards or wire transfers
I was thinking to myself.

"We work with poets in Iran," I said, "but that
has nothing to do with banking."

Soon my Personal Account Officer disappeared
to "check some things."

I wondered if she was reading our website.

Jay arrived and began talking about pearl farms in China.

She returned with questions.

"How much money do you earn a year?"

"Are you going to be depositing only foreign checks?"

"Do you intend to transfer all your banking to Frost Bank?"

She disappeared again, returned, took our three foreign checks
to the teller, explaining, "I don’t know how they do this."

Jay said that clams die in water that is too warm, or polluted
and the gigantic pearl industry in China and the Philippines
was endangered.

I said, "Where is their International Services Department?"

She returned and said the checks would take up to eight weeks
to clear, and would be deposited "for collection."

"You will be charged $22 each."

"The check in Canadian Dollars could take six months,"
she said.

"An Insufficient Funds charge?" I asked.

"Exactly," she said.

Jay indicated we would call another bank.

"You assume the checks are bad?"

"We don’t know you," she said.

"The one drawn on an American Bank —"
I said, "I believe it is a Cashier’s Check.
Isn’t that basically money?"

"I don’t feel comfortable opening an account for you," she said.

I must have looked surprised because she added,
"I don’t have to open an account for anyone if I don’t want to."

I must have looked incredulous because she said,
"I think you only want this account to deposit foreign checks."

I was thinking about the nice man on the telephone
in San Antonio who told me to do exactly that.

Jay stood up, began to leave.

"We have been thrown out," he said.

* Googling around I found Frost Bank to be major share holders in GW’s
early oil scam — Harken Oil. (scroll down to pg. 16)

** And this from the June 5, 1999 issue of The Texas Observor
linking Harken, Frost Bank and the Bush family role in
the S & L deals and war profiteering in the Middle East.

... Reporters have been particularly intrigued by George W.’s adventure in the oil industry, and well they might be. There was something about it that smacked of a shell game run by a very fast hand. With a pittance of his own money but several million dollars from his family’s Wall Street buddies, George W. launched an oil company in the mid-1970s. It was a failure. But before breathing its last, the company was absorbed by Spectrum 7, another rinky-dink oil company bankrolled by Reagan-Bush types. It, too, was a failure. This time the deathbed rescue, in 1986, was a merger into Harken Energy, yet another company with slender prospects.

Since he had an unbroken record of failures, George W. had nothing to offer Harken but his name. That was enough. He was made a company director and ultimately wound up with 1.5 million shares of Harken stock, making him the company’s third-largest non-institutional stockholder. He was also paid handsomely as a "consultant," though shortly after the merger he moved back to Washington to help his father run for president. For Harken, that was the best move he could have made, it seems. In 1990, to the astonishment of the oil industry, little Harken — which had never drilled in water — beat out the international giant, Amoco, to win an exclusive offshore contract with the Persian Gulf nation, Bahrain.

When a Mother Jones reporter asked a Harken insider if George W.’s presence had helped win the contract, he responded: "Hell, that’s why he’s on the damn board. You say, ‘By the way, the president’s son sits on our board.’ You use that. There’s nothing wrong with that."

Legally or morally wrong, of course not. But tacky, yes, like being used as a shill. Anyway, there’s no doubt about the wrongness of George W.’s next step. When the Bahrain contract was made public, Harken’s stock jumped in value, and he sold 212,140 shares — 60 percent of his holdings — for $848,500. Nice timing. Eight days later the company issued its quarterly report, showing a stunning loss of $23 million, and a month later the Gulf crisis exploded. The two blows caused Harken stock to drop nearly 50 percent from what it was when George W. cashed in.

As a member of Harken’s audit committee, he had been privy to the company’s lousy financial condition. And it’s possible, even likely, that President Bush, loaded with C.I.A. data, warned him of the coming crisis. Did George W. sell because he had this exclusive, insider information that wasn’t available to the public? That would have been a violation of Securities and Exchange Commission regulations. There’s no question that he waited eight months to file a disclosure of his sale with the S.E.C. — another violation.

The S.E.C. took no punitive action. But that wasn’t surprising. By then the Reagan-Bush administrations had gutted the regulatory agencies.

Which brings us to one of the interesting conundrums encountered in Bush finances. The contract with Bahrain would have been impossible to carry out by Harken alone; it needed big, big bucks. These were supplied by the Bass family of Fort Worth, a clan of billionaires. Was this a quid pro quo or just a happy coincidence? Of course, the Basses may have simply wanted to take a gamble, as they often did. On the other hand, they may have felt some obligation to help George W.’s company as a kind of payback; after all, his father’s administration had given $2 billion in tax-exempt subsidies to a group of "vultures" (to use Newsweek’s generic term) headed by Robert Bass, to help pick the carcass of the $16.3 billion American Savings and Loan, the biggest insolvent S&L in the country, but still very fleshy.

Robert Bass’ good fortune on that occasion may have had something to do with the fact that he was a member of Vice President Bush’s "Team 100," a knot of rich men, each of whom contributed $100,000 or more to Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign. On the other hand, so much money, so many favors have been passed back and forth over the years between the Bushes and their incredibly wealthy backers, it is probably foolish to try to figure out all the quid pro quos that tie their daisy chain together.

Remember, 1988 was the year that the S&L industry, which had been plundered throughout the Reagan-Bush administration by a horde of crooks, began to have all its rot exposed. Vice President Bush managed to keep some of it under cover until after the election — particularly the role of his son Neil, who had been on the board of the infamous Silverado Banking, Savings and Loan of Denver. (The bank’s chairman took out insurance, so to speak, by helping to raise $300,000 for Bush’s presidential race.) Silverado — or "Desperado," as buffs of the S&L crime wave called it — ultimately went bottom up (costing taxpayers an estimated $1 billion, not counting interest) because of bad debts, among which were the $132 million that Neil’s two partners in an oil company defaulted on. One of Neil’s partners sold some office buildings to Silverado for several times their economic worth; Neil, as a board member, voted to approve the purchases. For his conflict of interest, Neil would later pay a $50,000 fine and become known, in some circles, as the "poster boy of bunko banking."

There was so much smoke rising from the Silverado ledgers that bank examiners had wanted to close down the establishment in the summer of 1988, but that would have inevitably spotlighted the Republican candidate’s son. According to Time magazine, a phone call from the White House — the identity of the person on that end of the line is still unknown — persuaded the examiners to hold off until December 9 before putting a lock on Silverado’s door. The Bush boys have been amazingly adept at using the elder George’s political rank to swing business deals (some of them a bit sticky), raise gobs of money, and cover up business blunders. And they do it without much attention or criticism from the mainstream press....

©Susan Bright, 2003

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.

Announcement: The Plain View Press e-store has just gone online.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Frost Bank customer police... it is a sign of their ignorance and closed mind. Frost Bank would not open an account for a corporation sole because they did not know what it was and did not know me. How can you know someone before they are a customer? Oh, I know, come from a privileged family with big bucks. Then they can do no wrong, right? I went to another bank and had no problem.

8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read your piece about Frost Bank and the foreign checks. I can relate! I have had major run-ins with big banks including Bank of America and Wells Fargo. My mother worked for banks for many years of shabby exploitative treatment. The minute she got sick with what was her terminal illness, they fired her.

I would rank banks behind only insurance companies (and some obvious nominees like Enron, Halliburton) on the sleaze scale. I still battle with them when I have to, which is pretty often.


5:44 PM  

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