Roger is probably one of the best players that ever played the game. He’s been so great to tennis, because he is such a personality. Everybody loves Roger - the way he plays, the way he acts on the court as a sportsman, off the court. Everybody’s got so much respect for him now, and I think the longer he stays in tennis, the better it is for tennis.” - Stefan Edberg

A new movie exposes the 'ridiculous' case against the one bank charged after the 2008 crisis

(Thomas Sung in “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail."Sean Lyness.)
Following the 2008 mortgage crisis, which led to a $700 billion government bailout, the biggest financial institutions in the country were given a light tap on the wrist in fines and penalties. None were brought to criminal court.

But that wasn’t the case for a small, family-owned bank tucked inside Chinatown in New York City.

In 2012, Abacus Federal Savings Bank was indicted on charges of fraud in relation to hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of mortgages that had been sold to Fannie Mae from 2005 to 2010. It’s the only bank to be indicted in connection to the 2008 crisis.

The case of Abacus, a reliable institution for thousands of Chinese immigrants that is run by Thomas Sung, who’s considered the George Bailey of Chinatown, was a shock for many in the community, while for the rest of the country the news seemed to tell a story of a dishonest bank that was finally getting its comeuppance.

But as we see in the new documentary "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” by Steve James (“Hoop Dreams,” “Life Itself”), the bank’s surprising decision to fight the charges from the New York County District Attorney’s Office led to a David-versus-Goliath court battle that revealed how thin the case against Abacus really was. James spent the length of the three-month trial following the Sung family and trying to clear their name (the charges were dismissed in 2015).

“The point of view of this film is clear from the start — it’s kind of clear from the title,” James told Business Insider. “We think this was a miscarriage of justice.”

(“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail."PBS)
James learned of the case through his producer Mark Mitten, who knew the Sungs. The filmmaker had an initial meeting with Sung and his daughters, Jill and Vera — who are executives at the bank — and Heather, who actually worked at the New York DA’s office when the bank was charged (she left shortly after). Then James knew he wanted to tell their story. But he didn’t want it to be one-sided, which started the long road to get people from the DA’s office to talk on camera.

"We didn’t get them to talk for the film until after the trial, though we tried throughout,” said James, who felt it was crucial to have the other perspective in the movie, even if he didn’t agree with it. “There are not two equal sides of the story, but that aside, it doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility to really articulate the case against the Sungs, because my feeling is by really laying out the case against them you also not just hear the case — you see how weak the case against them was.”

Because James wasn’t allowed to film in the courtroom during the trial, he had to come up with another way not just to show what happened inside but also to make it compelling.

“We actually hired a courtroom artist to go in several days and make some baseline illustrations,” James said. “Then we embellished them. There’s angles in those sequences that no courtroom artist could ever get.”

Showing over-the-shoulder sketches and detailed reactions of the Sungs matched the compelling testimony. Especially the DA’s star witness, former Abacus loan manager Ken Yu (who was fired after bank executives learned he was committing fraud), practically admitting how he pulled off his illegal acts behind the backs of everyone at Abacus while on the stand. Yu became the figure who ultimately unraveled the prosecutors’ case.

Another hurdle was simply telling a story set in the financial world that would keep audiences interested — always a challenge. James recalls a day when he and the crew were shooting in an empty courtroom and an officer with them asked which case they were doing the movie on.

“I told him Abacus, and after I explained he said, ‘Oh, that’s a paper trial,’” James recalled. “That was translation for a boring trial. It’s not sexy. And that was the challenge. This wasn’t one of the big banks being put on trial, but we felt a duty to tell the story and the ridiculousness of the DA’s case.”

“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” opens in select theaters Friday.

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8/10 greatest Federer moments of the 2012 Tennis season

↳ Unbelievable shots: (left to right, top to bottom) World Tour Finals: Final against Djokovic, Australian Open: R4 against Tomic, Indian Wells: R2 against Kudla, Wimbledon: Final against Murray, US Open: QF against Berdych, Basel: SF against Mathieu

Justice Department Not Charging George Zimmerman In Death Of Trayvon Martin

The Justice Department said Tuesday that it will not bring federal charges against George Zimmerman for the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin:

“The death of Trayvon Martin was a devastating tragedy. It shook an entire community, drew the attention of millions across the nation, and sparked a painful but necessary dialogue throughout the country,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Though a comprehensive investigation found that the high standard for a federal hate crime prosecution cannot be met under the circumstances here, this young man’s premature death necessitates that we continue the dialogue and be unafraid of confronting the issues and tensions his passing brought to the surface. We, as a nation, must take concrete steps to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future.”

Following the shooting, a team of some of the department’s most experienced civil rights prosecutors and FBI agents conducted a comprehensive, independent investigation of the events of Feb. 26, 2012. The federal investigation was opened and conducted separately from the state of Florida’s investigation of the shooting under local laws. Once the state initiated the second-degree murder prosecution, federal investigators began monitoring the state’s case and halted active investigation in order not to interfere with the state’s trial. Federal investigators provided reports of interviews and other evidence they obtained to the state’s prosecution team.

(Click here for more info from BuzzFeed News)

Google reportedly blackmailed websites into giving it content for free

In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission investigated Google to determine whether the company’s monopoly on the search market violated anti-trust laws. The Commission ultimately accepted a settlement with the search giant, but a confidential FTC report obtained by The Wall Street Journal reveals how deeply divided the Commission was over whether to sue.

As part of the settlement, Google agreed to make minor changes to its business practicesand argued that the report did not show wrongdoing. But key FTC officials, after collecting nine million documents in the course of the investigation, wanted to take direct legal action against the company. The report reveals why.

According to the report, for one example, Google took content from companies like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Amazon. In the latter case, Google lifted product rankings and placed them in their own search results for those products. When the companies complained to Google about the process, Google threatened to remove them entirely from results. TheJournal quotes this section of the report: “It is clear that Google’s threat was intended to produce, and did produce, the desired effect, which was to coerce Yelp and TripAdvisor into backing down.” The Commission ultimately had Google agree to let websites opt outof the process.

The Journal highlights two other concerns from the FTC. For one, Google reportedly restricted websites that published its search results from collaborating with competing search engines. In other cases, Google refused to allow data obtained from its ad campaigns to be used in campaigns with other services. According to the report, Larry Page personally asked this process to continue, before the FTC eventually convinced Google to shut it down. As for search results themselves, according to the report (as quoted in the Journal), Google “adopted a strategy of demoting, or refusing to display, links to certain vertical websites in highly commercial categories.”

Google ultimately made only minor concessions after the FTC’s investigation, and as the Commission decided against more forceful action, it was widely seen as a win for the company. But the report describes what happened more acutely: it was “a close call.”


1. Tyndale House Publishers

This Christian book and Bible publisher, which sued the federal government in 2012 over the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to cover contraception, said in a statement provided to HuffPost that it was “delighted” with the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.

“We hope the way is now clear for our court to rule that Tyndale House Publishers is not obligated to provide early abortion-causing items, which we find morally objectionable,” the statement said. Tyndale House, which is based in Illinois, has 260 full-time employees, according to court documents. Among other things, the company is known for publishing the works of evangelical icon and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.

2. Trijicon
Trijicon, a Michigan-based company that makes rifle scopes, is no stranger to church-versus-state controversies. In 2010, it was revealed that the manufacturer had been stamping Bible verses onto its gun sights, many of which were used by U.S. and British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The company later agreed to stop the practice.) In August of last year, a district court granted Trijicon a preliminary injunction in its case challenging the federal government’s mandate that companies with more than 50 employees provide coverage for birth control or pay a fine. Trijicon has more than 200 employees, according to the court filing.

For the full list of companies read on here.

The Government Is Quietly Giving Way More Housing Aid to Rich People Than Poor People

The Center for Budget Policy Priorities released a number of charts today that shows how much the federal government favors high-income households over low-income ones in housing benefits.

This largely results from the fact that homeowners receive significantly more aid than renters and high-income Americans are much more likely to be homeowners.

In 2012, the federal government gave out $240 billion in housing aid. Income data is not available for all of it, but of what is available, more than half went to those with incomes greater than $100,000 ($81.6 billion). Only $40 billion went to those with incomes less than $50,000.

Overall, high income households receive four times as much in housing aid as low-income ones.