October 06, 2008
Vodpod videos no longer available.
It’s Palin doing the pallin’
Hockey moms in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones
October 06, 2008
Vodpod videos no longer available.
It’s Palin doing the pallin’
Hockey moms in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones
As the myth of the free market is overcome by current events, James K. Galbraith’s new book explains both its rise and fall. His description of the dynamic and troublesome interaction between the public and private sectors is timely, instructive, and ultimately devastating. The rise of a free market ideology blurred both the distinction between these sectors and the growth of government. It did so in ways that not only contributed to greater wealth and income inequality, but also directly produced the financial crisis which is remaking the global economy on a daily basis. Join us for a discussion of the book and an exploration of the intersection of politics and policy in the response to the financial crisis.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
By Paul Craig Roberts
America has become a pretty discouraging place. If Ronald Reagan was still with us, I wonder if he would again refer to the United States as a city on a hill, a light unto the world.
I think not. Reagan brought America back from discouragement, but it didn’t stick. Subsequent administrations erased Reagan’s accomplishments. Reagan defeated stagflation and ended the cold war, producing a peace dividend to be divided among taxpayers, social programs, and national debt reduction. However, without the Soviet Union as a check on neoconservative ambition, the neoconservatives launched America on an unrealistic path of world hegemony. The economic restoration that Reagan achieved was not shored up by his successors. Instead, they used the Reagan restoration to run the American economy into the ground in ways that benefited the super rich and the military-security complex. Some of America’s best jobs were offshored in order to boost share prices and executive compensation, and the financial sector was recklessly deregulated.
Americans, for the most part, will never know what happened to them, because they no longer have a free and responsible press. They have Big Brother’s press. For example, on September 28, 2008, a New York Times editorial blamed the current financial crisis on “antiregulation disciples of the Reagan Revolution.”
What utter nonsense. Every example of deregulation that the New York Times editorial provides is located in the Clinton Administration and the George W. Bush administration. I was a member of the Reagan administration. We most certainly did not deregulate the financial system.
The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial from investment banking, was the achievement of the Democratic Clinton Administration. It happened in 1999, over a decade after Reagan left office.
It was in 2000 that derivatives and credit default swaps were excluded from regulation.
The greatest mistake was made in 2004, the year that Reagan died. That year the current Secretary of the Treasury, Henry M. Paulson Jr, was head of the investment bank Goldman Sachs. In the spring of 2004, the investment banks, led by Paulson, met with the Securities and Exchange Commission. At this meeting with the New Deal regulatory agency tasked with regulating the US financial system, Paulson convinced the SEC Commissioners to exempt the investment banks from maintaining reserves to cover losses on investments. The exemption granted by the SEC allowed the investment banks to leverage financial instruments beyond any bounds of prudence.
In place of time-proven standards of prudence, computer models engineered by hot shots determined acceptable risk. As one result Bear Stearns, for example, pushed its leverage ratio to 33 to 1. For every one dollar in equity, the investment bank had $33 of debt!
It was computer models that led to the failure of Long-Term Capital Management in 1998, the first systemic threat to the financial system. Why the SEC went along with Paulson and set aside capital requirements after the scare of Long-Term Capital Management is inexplicable.
The blame is headed toward SEC chairman Christopher Cox. This is more of Big Brother’s disinformation. Cox, like so many others, was a victim of a free market ideology, itself a reaction to over-regulation, that was boosted by academic economic opinion, rewarded with Nobel prizes, that the market “always knows best.”
The 20th century proves that the market is likely to know better than a central planning bureau. It was Soviet Communism that collapsed, not American capitalism. However, the market has to be protected from greed. It was greed, not the market, that was unleashed by deregulation during the Clinton and George W. Bush regimes.
I remember when the deregulation of the financial sector began. One of the first inroads was the legislation, written by bankers, to permit national branch banking. George Champion, former chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, testified against it. In columns I argued that national branch banking would focus banks away from local business needs.
The deregulation of the financial sector was achieved by the Democratic Clinton Administration and by the current Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, with the acquiescence of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The Paulson bailout saves his firm, Goldman Sachs. The Paulson bailout transfers the troubled financial instruments that the financial sector created from the books of the financial sector to the books of the taxpayers at the US Treasury.
This is all the bailout does. It rescues the guilty.
The Paulson bailout does not address the problem, which is the defaulting home mortgages.
The defaults will continue, because the economy is sinking into recession. Homeowners are losing their jobs, and homeowners are being hit with rising mortgage payments resulting from adjustable rate mortgages and escalator interest rate clauses in their mortgages that make homeowners unable to service their debt.
Shifting the troubled assets from the financial sectors’ books to the taxpayers’ books absolves the people who caused the problem from responsibility. As the economy declines and mortgage default rates rise, the US Treasury and the American taxpayers could end up with a $700 billion loss.
Initially, the House, but not the Senate, resisted the bailout of the financial institutions,whose executives had received millions of dollars in bonuses for wrecking the US financial system. However, the people’s representatives could not withstand the specter of martial law and Great Depression with which Paulson and the Bush administration threatened them. The people’s representatives succumbed as they did during the New Deal.
The impotence of Congress traces to the Great Depression. As Theodore Lowi in his classic book, The End of Liberalism, makes clear, the New Deal stripped Congress of its law-making power and gave it to the executive agencies. Prior to the New Deal, Congress wrote the laws. After the New Deal a bill is merely an authorization for executive agencies to create the law through regulations. The Paulson bailout has further diminished the legislative branch’s power.
Since Paulson’s bailout of his firm and his financial friends does nothing to lessen the default rate on mortgages, how will the bailout play out?
If the $700 billion bailout is based on an estimate of the current amount of bad mortgages, as the recession deepens and Americans lose their jobs, the default rate will rise. The $700 billion might not suffice. The Treasury will have to go hat in hand to its foreign creditors for more loans.
As the US Treasury has not got $7 dollars, much less $700 billion, it must borrow the bailout money from foreign creditors, already overloaded with US paper. At what point do America’s foreign bankers decide that the additions to US debt exceed what can be repaid?
This question was ignored by the bailout. There were no hearings. No one consulted China, America’s principal banker, or the Japanese, or the OPEC sovereign wealth funds, or Europe.
Does the world have a blank check for America’s mistakes?
This is the same world that is faced with American demands that countries support with money and lives America’s quest for world hegemony. Europeans are dying in Afghanistan for American hegemony. Do Europeans want their banks, which hold US dollars as their reserves, to fail so that Paulson can bail out his company and his friends?
The US dollar is the world’s reserve currency. It comprises the reserves of foreign central banks. Bush’s wars and economic policies are destroying the basis of the US dollar as reserve currency. The day the dollar loses its reserve currency role, the US government cannot pay its bills in its own currency. The result will be a dramatic reduction in US living standards.
Currently Treasuries are boosted by the habitual “flight to quality,” but as Treasury debt deepens, will investors still see quality? At what point do America’s foreign creditors cease to lend? That is the point at which American power ends. It might be close at hand.
The Paulson bailout is predicated on cleaning up financial institutions’ balance sheets and restoring the flow of credit. The assumption is that once lending resumes, the economy will pick up.
This assumption is problematic. The expansion of consumer debt, which kept the economy going in the 21st century, has reached its limit. There are no more credit cards to max out, and no more home equity to refinance and spend. The Paulson bailout might restore trust among financial institutions and enable them to lend to one another, but it doesn’t provide a jolt to consumer demand.
Moreover, there may be more shoes to drop. Credit card debt could be the next to threaten balance sheets of financial institutions. Apparently, credit card debt has been securitized and sold as well, and not all of the debt is good. In addition, the leasing programs of the car manufacturers have turned sour. As a result of high gasoline prices and absence of growth in take-home pay, the residual values of big trucks and SUVs are less than the leasing programs estimated them to be, thus creating more financial problems. Car manufacturers are canceling their leasing programs, and this will further cut into sales.
According to statistician John Williams [http://www.shadowstats.com/section/commentaries ] who measures inflation, unemployment, and GDP according to the methodology used prior to the Clinton regime’s corruption of these measures, the US unemployment rate is currently at 14.7% and the inflation rate is 13.2%. Consequently, real US GDP growth in the 21st century has been negative. [The Clinton regime (and the Boskin Commission) rigged the CPI in order to cheat retirees out of their Social Security cost of living adjustments and ceased to count discouraged workers who cannot find a job as unemployed. To be counted as unemployed, a person has to be actively seeking a job.]
This is not a picture of an economy that a bailout of financial institution balance sheets will revive. As the Paulson bailout does not address the mortgage problem per se, defaults and foreclosures are likely to rise, thus undermining the Treasury’s estimate that 90% of the mortgages backing the troubled instruments are good.
Moreover, one consequence of the ongoing financial crisis is financial concentration. It is not inconceivable that the US will end up with four giant banks: J.P. Morgan Chase, Citicorp, Bank of America, and Wachovia Wells Fargo. If defaulting credit card debt then assaults these banks’ balance sheets, who is there to take them over? Would the Treasury be able to borrow the money for another Paulson bailout?
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation refinanced one million home mortgages in order to prevent foreclosures. The refinancing apparently succeeded, and HOLC returned a profit. The problem then, as now, was not “deadbeats” who wouldn’t pay their mortgages, and the HOLC refinancing did not discourage others from paying their mortgages. Market purists who claim the only solution is for housing prices to fall to prior levels overlook that rising inventories can push prices below prior levels, thus causing more distress. They also overlook the role of interest rates. If a worsening credit crisis dries up mortgage lending and pushes mortgage interest rates higher, the rise in interest rates could offset the fall in home prices, and mortgages would remain unaffordable even in a falling housing market.
Some commentators are blaming the current mortgage problem on the pressure that the US government put on banks to lend to unqualified borrowers. The proliferation of privilege that bureaucrats pulled out of the Civil Rights Act led in 1993 to Shawmut National Corporation’s acquisition plans being blocked by federal regulators until its subsidiary entered into a consent agreement with the US Department of Justice to racially norm its mortgage lending. This agreement was quickly incorporated into the growing body of regulations. Next, Chevy Chase Federal Savings Bank was forced by the DOJ to open new branches in “majority African-American census tracts.” Chevy Chase had to provide below-market loans to preferred minorities at interest rates “at either one percent less than the prevailing rate or one-half percent below the market rate combined with a grant to be applied to the down payment requirement.” In 1995 the DOJ forced American Family Mutual Insurance Company to sell property insurance to preferred minorities on uneconomic terms. [See Roberts and Stratton, The New Color Line]
Thus, it is true that it was the federal government that forced financial institutions to abandon prudent behavior. However, these breaches of prudence only affected the earnings of individual institutions. They did not threaten the financial system. The current crisis required more than bad loans. It required securitization and its leverage. It required Fed chairman Alan Greenspan’s inappropriate low interest rates, which created a real estate boom. Rapidly rising real estate prices quickly created home equity to justify 100 percent mortgages. Wall Street analysts pushed financial companies to improve their bottom lines, which they did by extreme leveraging. The full story goes far beyond the propaganda videos put out by Republicans blaming Democrats.
An alternative to refinancing troubled mortgages would be to attempt to separate the bad mortgages from the good ones and revalue the mortgage-backed securities accordingly. If there are no further defaults, this approach would not require massive write-offs that threaten the solvency of financial institutions. However, if defaults continue, write-downs would be an ongoing enterprise.
Clearly, all Secretary Paulson thought about was getting troubled assets off the books of financial institutions.
The same reckless leadership that gave us expensive wars based on false premises has now concocted an expensive bailout that does not address the problem, which will fester and become worse.
Note: I added the video that Mike Whitney cited.
By Mike Whitney
Years from today, when the current financial crisis is over, historians are likely to agree that it would have been far better if the Bush administration had declared a state of emergency earlier in the process so that the necessary steps could have taken to avoid a complete financial meltdown. The media could have been used to bring the American people up to date on market-related developments and educated in the bizarre language of structured finance. Knowledge is power; and power can prevent panic.
Now we’re in a terrible fix. People are scared and removing their money from the banks and money markets which is intensifying the freeze in the credit markets and driving stocks into the ground like a tent stake. Meanwhile, our leaders are “caught in the headlights”, still believing they can “finesse” their way through the biggest economic cataclysm since the Great Depression. It’s madness.
If something is not done to increase the flow of credit immediately, the stock market will tumble, unemployment will spike, and many businesses will grind to a standstill. We could be just days away from a severe shock to the system. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson’s $700 billion bailout does not focus on the fundamental problems and is likely to fail. At best, it puts off the day of reckoning for a few weeks or months. Contingency plans should be put in place so the country does not have to undergo post-Katrina bedlam.
Does Congress have any idea of the mess they’ve made by passing the Bailout bill? Do they even read the papers or are they so isolated in their Capital Hill bubble-world that they’re entirely clueless? Did any Senator or congressman even notice, that while they were busy mortgaging off America’s future, the stock market was plummeting to new lows? Between the time the ballots were cast on Paulson’s bailout, and the announcement of the final tally (which was approved by a generous margin) the market went from a 310 point gain to a 157 point loss; a whopping 467 plunge in less than two hours.
Thus spake the Market: “Paulson’s bill is a fraud!”
Listen up, Congress: This massive trillion dollar deleveraging process cannot be stopped. The system is purging credit excesses which are unsustainable. The levies you’re building with this $700 billion bill may plug a few holes, but it won’t stop the flood. Economist Ludwig von Mises put it like this:
“There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought on by credit expansion. The question is only whether the crisis should come sooner as a result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.”
The best course of action is to soften the blow as much as possible for underwater homeowners and let the market correct as it should. Otherwise the dollar will be torn to shreds.
Look around; the six year Bush economic boom is vanishing before our eyes. Manufacturing is contracting, wages are stagnant, good paying jobs are headed overseas, unemployment is rising, and the middle class has shrunk every year since Bush took office. Is this the miracle of the “Washington consensus” and neoliberalism? The prosperity of the Bush era is as fake as the weapons of mass destruction; it’s all smoke and mirrors. The Federal Reserve created the massive equity bubble in housing and finance through its low interest monetary policies. Cheap money is the rich man’s method of social engineering; swift and lethal. The public be-damned. Now that the bubble is bursting, Congress needs to decide what it can do to soften the hard landing. Paulson’s bill does not do that. In fact, even Paulson’s supporters admit it’s a flop. Here’s what Martin Feldstein had to say in a Wall Street Journal editorial:
“The recent financial recovery plan that Congress enacted will not rebuild lending and credit flows. That requires a program to stop a downward overshooting of house prices and the resulting mortgage defaults….The prospect of a downward spiral of house prices depresses the value of mortgage-backed securities and therefore the capital and liquidity of financial institutions. Experts say that an additional 10% to 15% decline in house prices is needed to get back to the prebubble level. That decline would double the number of homes with negative equity, raising the total to 40% of all homes with mortgages. The mortgages of five million homeowners would then exceed the value of their homes by 30% or more, which could prompt millions of defaults.” (Martin Feldstein, “The Problem is still Falling house Prices”, WS Journal)
Get it? Feldstein doesn’t give a hoot about the struggling homeowner who is worried-sick about losing his home in foreclosure. He just wants to make sure that the banks get their blood-money back, and the only way they can do that is by putting a floor under housing prices so mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and all the other derivatives that are gunking-up the financial system begin to stabilize. Even though the article is little more than a paean to human greed; it does admit that Paulson’s bailout falls short of its objectives. It won’t work.
Not only that, but it elevates G-Sax ex-chairman to Finance Czar, with almost unlimited powers to buy whatever toxic “structured” garbage he wants without any real oversight. Who will stop the Treasury Secretary if he decides to waste the taxpayers money on the full range of impaired assets including complex derivatives, collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), low-rated MBS, or even credit default swaps (CDS), which were sold in unregulated trading and which are oftentimes nothing more than side-bets made by speculators with no direct connection to the housing market?
Is that what Congress approved? What if he decides to spend the whole $700 billion buying back mortgage-backed bonds from China and Europe, leaving US banks still underwater? (except for Goldman, of course) It’s possible; especially if he thinks China will stop purchasing our debt if we don’t back up our worthless bonds with cold hard cash.
This bailout has DISASTER written all over it.
Consider this from a September 29 report in the Washington Post:
“Twenty of the nation’s largest financial institutions owned a combined total of $2.3 trillion in mortgages as of June 30. They owned another $1.2 trillion of mortgage-backed securities. And they reported selling another $1.2 trillion in mortgage-related investments on which they retained hundreds of billions of dollars in potential liability, according to filings the firms made with regulatory agencies. The numbers do not include investments derived from mortgages in more complicated ways, such as collateralized debt obligations.” (from Paul Craig Roberts, “Can a Bailout Succeed”, counterpunch.org)
So, how does Paulson expect to recapitalize the banks–which are loaded up with $2.4 trillion in mortgage-related investments–when congress’s bill allocates a paltry $700 billion for the rescue plan? It’s impossible. Just as it is impossible to keep prices artificially high with this kind of government buy-back program. These structured investments were vastly overpriced to begin with due to the fact that the market was hyperinflated with the Fed’s low interest credit. As Doug Noland said,
“This Credit onslaught fostered huge distortions to the level and pattern of spending throughout the entire economy. It is today impossible both to generate sufficient Credit and to main previous patterns of spending. Economic upheaval and adjustment are today unavoidable.” (Doug Noland’s Credit Bubble Bulletin)
Yes, and “economic upheaval” leads to political upheaval and blood in the streets. Is that what Bush wants; a chance to deploy his North Com. troops within the United states to put down demonstrations of middle class people fighting for bread crumbs?
In less than 8 years, the Financial Sector Debt tripled, mortgage debt doubled, and financial borrowing rose 75 percent. Why? Was it because the US was producing more goods that the world wanted? Was it because production rose sharply or demand doubled?
No, it was because of asset-inflation; a chimera created by the illusionists at the Federal Reserve and the investment banks. That’s the source of the massive credit expansion which is presently collapsing and pushing the world towards another Great Depression. As Henry Liu said in his article “Liquidity Boom and Looming Crisis” in the Asia Times:
“Unlike real physical assets, virtual financial mirages that arise out of thin air can evaporate again into thin air without warning. As inflation picks up, the liquidity boom and asset inflation will draw to a close, leaving a hollowed economy devoid of substance. …A global financial crisis is inevitable”
The man who is most responsible for the current meltdown, Alan Greenspan, even admitted that he spotted the humongous equity bubble early on but refused to do anything about it. Here’s a clip from an article by Maestro in the Wall Street Journal:
“The value of equities traded on the world’s major stock exchanges has risen to more than $50 trillion, double what it was in 2002. Sharply rising home prices erupted into major housing bubbles world-wide, Japan and Germany (for differing reasons) being the only principal exceptions.” (“The Roots of the Mortgage Crisis”, Alan Greenspan, Wall Street Journal)
This admission proves Greenspan’s culpability. If he knew that stock prices had doubled their value in just 3 years, then he also knew that equities had not risen due to increases in productivity or demand.(market forces) The only reasonable explanation for the asset inflation is the deeply-flawed monetary policies of the Fed. As his own mentor, Milton Friedman famously stated, “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon”. Any capable economist would have known that the explosion in housing and equities prices was a sign of uneven inflation. Now the bubble has popped and the tremors are likely to be felt through the global economy.
No one in Congress has the foggiest idea of what is going on in the economy. They’re all in La-la Land. The credit markets are paralyzed. The capital-starved banks are dramatically cutting back on lending and making it nearly impossible for consumers to borrow or businesses to even carry out daily operations like payroll. The commercial paper market has slowed to a crawl, forcing cash strapped companies to try and access existing credit lines or sell corporate bonds. Money market rates are soaring but wary depositors keep withdrawing their money putting more pressure on financial institutions. The whole system is wading through quicksand. The banking system is breaking apart before our eyes. The $700 billion “rescue package” will not relieved the situation at all. In fact, the various rates (like Libor, Libor-OIS spread, or the TED spread) which indicate the amount of stress in interbank lending have stayed at record highs signaling huge dislocations in the near future. Are we headed for an October stock market crash?
This is from the Times Online:
“US banks borrowed a record $367.8 billion (£208 billion) a day from the Federal Reserve in the week ended October 1. Data from the US central bank shows how much financial institutions are relying on the Fed in its role as lender of last resort as short-term funding becomes almost impossible to find elsewhere. Banks’ discount window borrowings averaged $367.80 billion per day in the week ended October 1, nearly double the previous record daily average of $187.75 billion last week.”
$368 billion a day, just to keep the banking system from collapsing. Did they forget to mention that on FOX News?
And, yes; the Fed has started up the printing presses as everyone feared from the beginning. This tidbit appeared on the op-ed page of Saturday’s Wall Street Journal:
“Thursday, the Federal Reserve released the latest data on its balance sheet, which has ballooned by some $500 billion to $1.5 trillion in the past month. That may sound alarming, but it beats cutting interest rates across the board to prop up the banks. Those extra Fed assets and liabilities can be worked off as the crisis passes without the long-term inflationary impact of pushing interest rates still further into negative territory. By lending freely in a bank run until they stop running, the Fed can make banks pay for their desire for safety while contributing to financial stability.” (Wall Street Journal)
“$1.5 trillion”? But the Fed’s balance sheet is only $900 billion. Where is the extra money coming from? Gutenberg, no doubt.
Rep. Peter DeFazio made an impassioned plea on the floor of the House in a failed effort to stop Paulson’s bailout. It’s a good summary of the bill’s shortcomings as well as an indictment of its author: Rep. Peter DeFazio:
“This $700 billion bill is not aimed at the real economy in America. Not one penny of it will go to Main Street. It is aimed solely at the froth on Wall Street, the speculators on Wall Street, the non productive people on Wall Street the certifiably smart , masters of the universe, like Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson who created these weapons of financial destruction and now, lit the fuse by claiming there would be worldwide economic collapse if we didn’t pass this bill to bail out Wall Street….I believe there are simpler answers. I just came from a meeting with William Isaacs who was head of the FDIC, they deal with banks. Mr. Paulson was a speculator on Wall Street; he deals with speculation. He doesn’t understand regulative banking. (What is happening is) there is a tremendous amount of pressure being applied by some very powerful creditors such as the People’s Republic of China who own a lot of this junk ($450 billion) and they want their money back or they’re threatening us. That is not a good reason for going ahead with this faulty proposal. It does not deal with the underlying problems in housing.
If we don’t deal with the foreclosures and the deteriorating values, then, when the values drop another 5 or 10 percent, we’re going to find there’s another trillion dollars in junk securities out there and we will have already maxed out our credit and more people will have already lost their jobs. People are not spending because they are afraid they will lose their jobs. Their wages haven’t increased. They are worried about the real economy, not the Wall Street economy. This bill will not solve the underlying problems.
There is a cheaper, low cost alternative. The FDIC should declare an emergency. That would give them the power to assess the same guarantee to all bank depositors. (According to Isaacs) That would immediately free up all interbank lending. It would immediately bring a flood of foreign deposits into the US because we would be a safe haven for depositors. But Isaacs is a regulator; a regulator with experience who piloted this country out of the savings and loans crisis and saved us a bunch of money. He’s not a big-time Wall Street speculator who came down here and got appointed by George Bush with three-quarters of a billion dollars in his pocket from money he had made creating these financial weapons of mass destruction. So, we are listening to the wrong guy here…Don’t be stampeded!” (Watch the whole 5 minute video http://www.infowars.com/?p=5056)
WHO BELIEVES GEORGE BUSH!!! Rep DeFazio
October 02, 2008 C-SPAN
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DeFazio is exactly right, especially about Paulson. As the New York Times article on Friday, “Agency’s ’04 Rule Let Banks Pile Up New Debt, and Risk”, points out, Paulson, as chairman of Goldman Sachs, was one of the leaders of the five investment banks, who duped the SEC into loosening the rules on capital requirements which created the problems we are now facing.
According to the Times:
(The Big 5 investment banks) “wanted an exemption for their brokerage units from an old regulation that limited the amount of debt they could take on. The exemption would unshackle billions of dollars held in reserve as a cushion against losses on their investments. Those funds could then flow up to the parent company, enabling it to invest in the fast-growing but opaque world of mortgage-backed securities; credit derivatives, a form of insurance for bond holders; and other exotic instruments.”
This is the crux of the matter. Paulson polluted the system by bending the rules for the prudent leveraging of assets so he and his dodgy friends could maximize their profits. It’s all about the bottom line. Paulson walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars in a scam that has now put the nation’s economic future at risk.
Last year the five Wall Street behemoths had “combined assets of more than $4 trillion”. Now, everyone can see that it was all froth created through extreme leveraging that was intentionally ignored by S.E.C. boss Chris Cox. Now the banks are getting clobbered by short-sellers that are going from one financial institution to the next making them prove that they are sufficiently capitalized. They know its all a smokescreen, so they are saying, “Show me the money”. One by one, the investment banks have fallen by the wayside. If the SEC was really operating in the public’s interest, they’d being thumbing through G-Sax and Morgan Stanley’s balance sheets right now making them prove that they’re solvent. Instead, Cox has declared a moratorium on short selling while the investment banks have positioned themselves to get multi-million dollar taxpayer treats for their crappy assets. Where’s the justice?
As for Paulson’s “No Banker Left Behind” boondoggle; it is not an effective way to recapitalize the banks and it doesn’t fix the systemic problems in the credit markets. All it does is put the US at greater risk of losing its Triple A rating. If that happens it will be impossible to attract foreign capital which would be the equivalent of detonating a nuclear bomb in every city in the country. This is not the time to be putting more chips on the table like a riverboat gambler. It’s time to show judgment and restraint, otherwise this whole thing will blow up. Emergency measures should be thoroughly examined so that liquidity is provided for the credit markets as fast as possible. The markets are already in meltdown-mode.
“Real” economists–not the ideological hacks and loose cannons in the Bush administration–understand the fundamental problems and have generally agreed on a solution. It is a difficult issue, but one that anyone can grasp if they make the effort. Watch this 8 minute video with Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, http://www.cnbc.com/id/15840232?video=874100965&play=1
Stiglitz says: “There is a growing consensus among economists that any bail-out based on Paulson’s plan won’t work. If so, the huge increase in the national debt and the realization that even $700bn is not enough to rescue the US economy will erode confidence further and aggravate its weakness.
Stiglitz’s point is proven by the fact that the Dow Jones cratered after reports circulated that the House had passed the bailout. Paulson’s fiasco has not calmed the markets at all; in fact, investors have begun to race for the exits. Confidence is draining from the system faster than the deposits in the dwindling money market accounts.
“This is not a good bill…It is based on “trickle down” economics which says that is you throw enough money at Wall Street and than some of it will go into ways that help the economy, but it is not really doing what needs to be done to recapitalize the banking system, stem the hemorrhaging of foreclosures, and deal with the growing unemployment….. We have seen these problems with banks before we know how to repair them. (Stiglitz worked with the World Bank during many similar crises) So why didn’t they use these “tried and proven” methods? They (Paulson) decided that rather than a capital injection; they would try the almost impossible task of buying up all these bad assets, millions of mortgages and complex products, and hope that this will somehow solve the problem. It doesn’t fix the big hole in the banks balance sheets, unless they vastly overpay for these products (Mortgage-backed securities)”
This isn’t rocket science. Many of the economists who disapproved of the bill have been through this drill before and they know what to do. The way to proceed is to have the US Treasury buy preferred shares in the banks that are not already technically insolvent. (The insolvent banks will have to be unwound by the FDIC) This will give the banks the capital they need to continue operations while protecting the taxpayer who gets an equity share with “upside potential” when the bank starts making profits again.
This is how one goes about recapitalizing the banking system IF that is the real intention. Paulson’s phony-baloney operation suggests he has something else up his sleeve; some ulterior motive like rewarding his friends on Wall Street with boatloads of taxpayer money or buying-back the toxic mortgages from foreign investors so they don’t stop buying US debt. Here’s how Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil sums it up:
“If the government wants to save dying banks before they take others down with them, it should choose the clean and direct path: Inject capital into them. Take ownership stakes in return. And, where that’s not feasible, seize them and sell their assets in an orderly way, just as the Resolution Trust Corp. did after the 1980s savings-and-loan crisis.
Infusing capital directly, though, was too simple for Paulson. It lacked subterfuge. He decided the way to save the financial system from the evils of structured finance was through more structured finance.
Instead of asking Congress to let Treasury recapitalize needy banks, he proposed buying some of their troubled assets at above-market prices. This would have let other banks create phony capital by writing up the values of similar assets on their own balance sheets, using Treasury’s prices as their guide. Small Wonder.
In short, Paulson’s plan was one part robbery (with the banks doing the robbing) and one part accounting sleight of hand. No wonder House members rejected it.(at first)
If Paulson or congressional leaders devise a Plan B, they should look to the example of Fortis, Belgium’s biggest financial-services company. This week, the governments of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg invested 11.2 billion euros ($16.3 billion) in Fortis. In exchange, they got ownership of almost half its banking business.
That’s how a government intervention is supposed to work. The company gets fresh capital, which has the added benefit of not being fake. The buyers get equity. Legacy shareholders get slammed with dilution. And if the company recovers, the government can sell shares to the public later, maybe even at a profit.” (Jonathan Weil, Bloomberg News)
Direct capital injections is the best way to recapitalize the banks and save the taxpayer money. Paulson’s plan is just more flim-flam intended to reflate the value of sketchy assets. So far, investors and taxpayers are equally skeptical about the bill’s prospects. Interbank lending remains clogged and the VIX, the “fear gauge”, is still rising to record levels. Paulson hasn’t fooled anyone.
This bill does nothing to reduce foreclosures, reassure the markets, decrease unemployment, unfreeze the bond market, increase consumer spending, or put a floor under the stumbling dollar. All it does is hand out a few ripe plums to Paulson’s buddies on Wall Street while (temporarily) soothing the frayed nerves of China’s Finance Minister. That doesn’t mean that China will be increasing its stash of US Treasuries or other US financial assets anytime soon. As the saying goes: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, …”
Worst of all, Paulson’s bailout bill wastes precious resources on a plan that is considerably wide of the mark. These problems have to be dealt with quickly to avert a larger catastrophe. Here’s how Nouriel Roubini sees it:
“It is now clear that the US financial system – and now even the system of financing of the corporate sector – is now in cardiac arrest and at a risk of a systemic financial meltdown. I don’t use these words lightly…The Commercial paper market is shut down…Corporations have no access to long or short term credit markets. Brokers are increasingly not dealing with each other. The interbank market is seizing up…This cannot continue for more than a few days. It is the economic equivalent to cardiac arrest.” (Nouriel Roubini’s Global EconoMonitor)
The levies have already broken, and the water is flooding into the city. The Federal Reserve will be forced to act. Expect an emergency rate cut of 50 basis points or more in the next 10 days coordinated with cuts in the other G-7 countries. Also, expect another bailout by the time Obama or McCain take office. As the French premier, Francois Fillon, warned on Saturday the world is “on the edge of the abyss”.
Note: 12/13/08 Here’s the latest: Bill Moyers Journal: Glenn Greenwald + Emma Coleman Jordan + FCC Update
Updated: added videos
Bill Moyers Journal
Georgetown University’s legal and finance scholar Emma Coleman Jordan looks behind the headlines, and the politics, of the Wall Street bailout debate on the Hill and on Main Street.
Media files: colemanjordan.m4v (52.5 MB)
The JOURNAL takes an in-depth look at the news of the week to sort out the media-frenzied hype from the facts the public needs to know. Factcheck.org’s Kathleen Hall Jamieson and ON THE MEDIA’s Brooke Gladstone dissect the campaign coverage.
Media files: gladstonekhj.m4v (52.5 MB)
Updated: added videos
Bill Moyers Interviews Emma Coleman Jordan
by Dr. Michael Hudson
Global Research, October 5, 2008
An unprecedented popular protest led Congress to reject the Treasury’s initial bailout plan on Monday, September 29. Most commentators have noted how ironic and seemingly out-of-character it was that the bailout was defeated mainly by Republicans, and indeed by the party’s right-wing Bible Belt Conservatives. But would it be too much to hope that these Congressmen bore in mind the Christian ethic embodied in Matthew 18 – almost literally a Biblical condemnation of the bailout’s terms?
This wonderful passage describes how Peter came to Jesus and asked about forgiveness – mainly the forgiveness of debts. In ancient languages the words for “sin” and “debt” were the same, in an epoch when. Sinners typically atoned for their offenses and “trespasses” by making a compensation payment.
Jesus told a parable of a king calling in one of his officials, who owed him 10 thousand talents – not unlike today’s government seeking to collect monies due from Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and other Wall Street financial firms. When the royal servant was unable to come up with the money, the king consigned him and his family to debt bondage. But the official “fell down and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” The analogy here is with Mr. Paulson’s allies on Wall Street promising that, somehow, the Treasury may end up being repaid and may even make a profit by buying $700 billion in junk mortgages.
“Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.” This is what the compassionate Mr. Paulson is proposing to do. The Treasury will buy “trash for cash,” taking junk mortgages and other bad loans at whatever price the financial speculators paid, without obliging them to take a loss.
In the Matthew 18 parable the royal official “went out and found one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred pence; and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe.’” The debtor begged the creditor for forgiveness just as the creditor himself had begged the king. But the creditor was not moved, and “went out and cast the debtor into prison, till he should pay the debt.”
Other debtors saw what was happening and worried that the same fate was in store for them, so they went to the king and told him what had happened. The king got angry and called in the creditor and said, ‘Oh, thou wicked servant. I forgave thee all that debt … shouldn’t you also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?’ The king then threw him “to his tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.”
This is where Congress has dropped the ball. It is telling the banks – and the administrators whom the Treasury is hiring to recover “taxpayer money” – to act in a hard-hearted way and lead the economy even further down the road to debt peonage. Consumers, homeowners and other debtors defaulting on their student loans, car loans and medical debts are not to get relief from the shrinking economy, rising consumer prices and falling asset prices. But Wall Street is to be able to avoid any loss at all. It is supposed to repay in five years – that is, two presidential terms from now.
So the Christian parallel is broken. The moral in the above parable, Jesus explained (Matthew 18:35), was that “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses,” that is, their debts. But Wall Street and Congress must be atheists, because the way that matters are working out today, only the wealthy are being forgiven their debts, not the poor. The big sinners are going free, their victims are being stripped of their assets.
This is of course what happened historically in the Roman Empire on its way to debt bondage and serfdom. That is the secular road on which Congress set the economy last week.
© Copyright Michael Hudson, Global Research, 2008
The url address of this article is: www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=10458
A wave of selling has again engulfed the worlds equities markets on Monday. Russia’s RTS and Micex were both down more than 15% in afternoon trade after being halted for an hour at about 14.00 Moscow time. Thats after Tokyo and Hong Kong closed more than 4% lower, and with London, Frankfurt and Paris down more than 5% in lunchtime trade in Europe.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
By Malcolm Martin
The people of the United States are struggling with a marked escalation of the class war. Maybe no one has a firm grip on “what is to be done,” to borrow Lenin’s phraseology. But it is for sure a time to reject fatalism, defeatism, nihilism and any other current which involves the people in rolling over to die quietly.
If Karl Marx was right, we have reached the end times not of humanity but of the capitalist economic system. It is a time when the working class was, through its collective discipline and might, supposed to conduct and win a war with the bourgeoisie and establish its rule. Then the building of socialism was to commence. War, racism and poverty would be banished in the ensuing years along with all of capitalism’s pathological influences on man.
What are the prospects for this scenario? However likely or remote, the idea should not be given up on because the other choices are too horrific to passively accept–the Orwellian state, bands of survivalists roaming a scorched landscape, the extinction of the human being.
So it comes down to a must win for the working class and its allies among the petty bourgeois over the capitalist ruling class and its allies among the petty bourgeois (those intellectuals that spread hopelessness and confusion among working people for 30 pieces of silver).
There are, it seems, two loci of power in the ruling class. First are members of the class based on the ownership of the means of production–the financiers, the industrialist, and the other human repositories of massive wealth (Gates, Cheney, Paulson, the Bush Family, the Walton Family…). Then there is the military high command, the last card in the capitalist deck, without which, the civilian side of the ruling class is essentially powerless once their economic superstructure collapses.
An important question would seem to be, what is the potential for splitting the not wealthy military top brass from their masters? The rank-and-file soldier has already been deemed unreliable and so the formation and building of Blackwater, a private bourgeois shadow army. It’s possible that rather than writing the bourgeoisie’s errand boys in the Congress we should try to reach Petraeus, Fallon, Mullen, Odierno, Powell, Wilkerson and others and remind them of Cheney’s five Vietnam deferments before they acquiesce in his commands to the brigade shipping from Iraq in October to serve as “an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks” here inside the United States.
Meanwhile, on our side of the class struggle, there is admittedly no US political party or other formation which expresses the destiny of the working class to power and socialism. Class consciousness would seem to be an endangered sentiment. But think about it, would not the United States be the last place where a consciousness of themselves as a class would seize the minds of working people? That’s what empire, that’s what imperialism, that’s what racism functions to do.
Class consciousness can develop very quickly in a people though! It is on the rise in the US right now in the reaction to the proposed Wall Street bailout. It will accelerate as the material cocoon provided by the world’s dominant economy wears out.
Workers, united across all artificial boundaries created by capitalism, whether nation, race, sex, or religion are the only hope now. This is the only force capable of staying the hand of the bourgeoisie and insuring the human experiment “shall not perish from the earth”, to borrow Lincoln’s phraseology.
In your circle, however large or small that may be, in everything you write and say, draw the boundary lines clearly for people between the opposing forces in this final class war. Don’t confuse them with Democrats and Republicans. The ruling class is wealthy; we work for a living. Build our forces by raising class consciousness and giving every worker the best chance of making the right decisions in the battles just over the horizon now.
by Naomi Wolf
Oct 2, 2008
The following is an excerpt from my book Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries:
What are we supposed to do to reclaim freedom? We need to understand that we are bombarded with both fake patriotism and fake democracy. Only then can we get to the real American mandate.
The key ways, the phrases and metaphors, in which we are often asked to think about America tend to make us stupid, complacent, and inert. They are also, if you go back to what the great Americans wished us to identify as love of country, just plain wrong. Today, politicians often ask us to think of ourselves as a kind of “chosen people” by birthright: “Our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model to the world,” as George W. Bush asserted during the 2000 election campaign.
Over the past four decades, patriotism was often defined as uncritical support for U.S. policies–such as the Vietnam War-era bumper sticker MY COUNTRY, RIGHT OR WRONG. Patriotism was also branded as support for U.S. militarism, whatever the context or conflict or cost. Sometimes patriotism was identified with “Christian America” and sometimes even as direct evangelism in the context of statecraft. Finally patriotism was rebranded as the active silencing of dissent. John McCain, for instance, whose campaign messaging in 2008 was grounded in a theme of patriotism, recently called in public for members of MoveOn.org to be kicked out of the country. But all these rebrandings of patriotism would have dismayed the great Americans who had all at various times criticized U.S. military actions, U.S. policies, the establishment of any state religion, and most of all, criticized those who would silence disagreeing voices and dissent.
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by The Nader Team on Saturday, October 4, 2008 at 10:57:00 AM
For your Saturday viewing pleasure:
Ralph Nader, Candidate for President of the United States.
In conversation with Tabitha Soren, Former Political Reporter, MTV and NBC.
Sit back and watch a recording of Ralph Nader’s speech to the San Francisco Commonwealth Club on September 30th, 2008.
Topic A: The Bailout of Wall Street Crooks and the Grassroots Uprising Against the Corporate Dominated Two Party System.