Do you still live in that absurd fantasy world where you think the money in your bank account, retirement account, investment account is real? Maybe you were too distracted by the Kardashians or Dancing With The Stars and don’t know what MF means. Maybe you missed the Bloomberg reports about Paulson, Bernake and Geithner sending trillions of dollars shooting across the globe. But let’s play a little game here……
Let’s say you’re an elected Florida judge who is fully invested in the Florida Retirement System. You log on every morning to the Florida Retirement System website . You grab a cup of coffee, and you read the headline (full report here) from your retirement portfolio manager:
Florida Retirement Pension Plan Exceeds Returns of 22%!
And you think to yourself, “Man, this is great, a few more years on the bench and then the wife and I will retire out in the country. I’m going to really get my fly fishing down and stare out my window watching all the grand kids running around catching butterflies and jumping in the lake while I sit on my laptop writing that legal thriller I’ve been outlining in my head after all these years sitting on the bench.”
It’s such a beautiful picture. The sun shining, the birds chirping, beloved dog staring up with worshiping eyes. You switch off the computer, don the robe and begin another day, a judge in a judicial system that is abused by the legislative and executive branches of Florida’s government funded as it is with .07% of the state’s budget.
Your day starts as it always does…walking into chaos. It’s not yet 9:00 am but your judicial assistant is already about to blow her stack. When she arrived at court, the voice mail had 100 messages and she had 200 emails. The fax machine spewed 200 pages of URGENT faxes all over the floor….before it ran out of paper and shut down. And this was just the start of an average day for the poor woman who has been with you…and worked for the State of Florida…for 30 years. You’re quite fond of her and know you’d be totally lost if this amazing woman finally got fed up and walked out. But you know she can’t. Despite decades of dedicated service to you and to the people of the State of Florida, her pay and benefits have been reduced over the last several years. But what’s really got her set off today is the headline in today’s paper:
Rick Scott says court employees are paid too much, recommends 5% pay cut!
You know she’s right to be furious. She’s the backbone of your courtroom and she’s getting kicked and punched everywhere she turns. Both she and you take some solace in the fact that she is likewise invested in the same retirement system that you are invested in. She has her own piece of the $128 billion dollar portfolio of the FRS Pension Plan. You both know that if you can hold out for a few more years, you can both count on your share of the proceeds….for the rest of your lives. And after 30 years of this, you know that you’ve both earned it…..just a few more years…..
The big baritone voice of the Sheriff rings out announcing that court is in session and you have entered the courtroom. (he’s invested in the FRS as well) This morning’s 9:00 am docket is jammed full with nearly 100 foreclosure cases. The courtroom is filled with plaintiff and defense attorneys and packed with homeowners. Scanning down the docket you see the same familiar names you’ve been seeing for years, Bank of New York Mellon and Deutsche Bank. As you start calling the cases, it’s like Ground Hog Day and deja vu all over again. Not a single piece of paper in the file is in order. The Plaintiffs are trying their best but they can’t answer a single question clearly. Where is the promissory note? Why is this Affidavit of Amounts Due and Owing so screwed up? Why did this foreclosure start off called Wells Fargo and now it’s called Bank of New York Mellon? Why are you asking me to cancel 15 foreclosure sales in cases that were filed five years ago where no homeowner even bothered to defend? All these questions and you haven’t even had a single defense attorney or consumer say a word yet.
And then a homeowner is comes to the podium. “Uh, Oh” you think…another one of them. You’ve started to see more and more of them. He’s wheeling in one of those carts and the wife’s here with him. He’s got a suit on and it’s obvious this suit only comes out for the occasional funeral or church service. You can tell by his hands and face that this guy works with his body and has for years. The story he tells you is one you’ve heard way, way too many times before. He’s mailed in reams of paperwork. Tax returns, bank statements, letters, birth certificates, death certificates. He doesn’t know why, but he mailed in his high school diploma. He explains that he and his wife have been trying to pay their mortgage for years now, but the bank won’t take their money. Now in years past, you would have listened to a story like this quite skeptically. But you see the wife sitting right there with all those files. After every statement, she puts her hand on the next colored file folder. The guy says,
“Your honor, lookie here at all these checks, we was sending them into Bank of New York just like we were ‘sposed to but they sent them back and we can’t figure out why. Me and my wife are good honest people and we want to pay our mortgage and keep our home, why are they sending our checks back? Why won’t they work with us?”
You don’t need to hear a word from the wife whose sitting there with every check and every fax and every piece of paper…you know that every single word of what they’re saying is true. You’re steaming now because it’s a question you ask over and over many, many times a day. More and more times a day you’re asking the very same question. You don’t even bother turning to the plaintiffs attorney, they have no answer at all. They have no idea who Deutsche Bank is or who Bank of New York Mellon is. Their only connection and the closest they can come to providing any answers is the same place the defendant standing in front of you can turn to…a black hole of an 800 number that rings somewhere over in India.
And the reality of all this chaos and insanity sinks deep into the pit of your stomach. These damn banks can’t get a single thing straight in the hundreds of thousands of foreclosure cases pending in courtrooms all across this state and it scares the hell out of me. Why? Well, part of it comes from a statement released by the Florida Retirement System:
BNY Mellon and Deutsche provide custody and/or banking services to the Florida State Board of Administration.
That’s right. The same gang that can’t shoot straight in foreclosure courtroom is in control of the retirement system that’s holding the $128 billion of retirement money for judges and sheriffs and judicial assistants and everyone else whose invested in Florida’s retirement system. And so you wonder…
“If they can’t get foreclosures right should I have any confidence that they’ve gotten my retirement right?”
(And just one more parting shot here……read the press release….a 22% return! Huh? Did I miss something? How was this even possible in 2011? That’s an extraordinary increase….but then, what do I know…)
One more thought…..what if we took some of that $128 billion, removed it from the Yankee banks and bought real, fixed, solid assets that weren’t going to evaporate when the stock market and banking system collapses? What if Florida took a few billion dollars, purchased a few million homes (I hear prices are kinda low now) then turned around and gave mortgages on them to the retirees and those that are invested in the FRS? Bet the JA’s and Sheriffs would take damn good care of a solid home when they were making a mortgage payment that fed into their own retirement plan…..but that’s just crazy talk right….I mean after all, I’m sure we can all trust the Wall Street Wizards with all their charts and graphs and high rates of return….can’t we?