Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Bailout We Don't Need

Although this article was published on my birthday, I'm only now publishing, because I've been so busy. I was 63 years old, and graduated in 1963. So, I like Sept. 25, 2008___that's neat. Anyway, Galbraith's ideas are here put forth, along with this article, by Dr. Paul Davidson, in the accompanying pdf___sensible ideas for addressing our financial mess. These fundamentals must be addressed first, in any viable financial assistance plan... (continued below in James Galbraith piece)

Oct. 3, Financial and Corporate System is in Cardiac Arrest: The Risk of the Mother of All Bank Runs, by Nouriel Roubini
"The suggested policy actions are extreme and radical but the times and conditions in financial markets and the corporate sector are also extreme. Thus, to avoid another Great Depression radical and unorthodox policy action needs to be taken now both in the US and in other advanced economies as the credit crisis and liquidity crisis is now becoming virulent even in Europe and other advanced economies. This credit crisis is both a crisis of confidence and illiquidity and a crisis of credit and solvency. But while the insolvent institutions should go bust we have now reached a point where many financial institutions and now non financial firms may become insolvent because of pure illiquidity; and this would lead to an extremely severe economic contraction similar to an economic depression rather than a mild recession. At this point the US, the advanced economies (and now likely even some emerging market economies) will experience an ugly recession and an ugly financial and banking crisis regardless of what we do from now on. What radical policy action can only do is preventing what will now be an ugly and nasty two-year recession and financial crisis from turning into a systemic meltdown and a decade long economic depression. The financial and economic conditions are extreme; thus extreme policy action is needed now to save the global economy from an ugly depression."

New Oct. 2, A quick guide to the “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008″, by Fabius Maximus

By James K. Galbraith
Thursday, September 25, 2008
How To Solve The U.S. Housing Problem and Avoid A Recession: A Revived HOLC and RTC
"The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too"
$596 Trillion Derivatives Exposure___BIS

The over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives market showed relatively steady growth in the second half of 2007, amid the turmoil in global financial markets. Notional amounts of all categories of OTC contracts rose by 15% to $596 trillion at the end of December (Table 1), following a 24% increase in the first half of the year.1 Growth remained particularly strong in the credit segment, where the notional amounts of outstanding credit default swaps (CDSs) increased by 36% to $58 trillion. Expansion in the foreign exchange, interest rate and commodities segments was also relatively robust, recording double digit growth rates, while the equity segment showed a negative growth rate.

Now that all five big investment banks -- Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley -- have disappeared or morphed into regular banks, a question arises.

Is this bailout still necessary?

The point of the bailout is to buy assets that are illiquid but not worthless. But regular banks hold assets like that all the time. They're called "loans."

With banks, runs occur only when depositors panic, because they fear the loan book is bad. Deposit insurance takes care of that. So why not eliminate the pointless $100,000 cap on federal deposit insurance and go take inventory? If a bank is solvent, money market funds would flow in, eliminating the need to insure those separately. If it isn't, the FDIC has the bridge bank facility to take care of that.

Next, put half a trillion dollars into the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. fund -- a cosmetic gesture -- and as much money into that agency and the FBI as is needed for examiners, auditors and investigators. Keep $200 billion or more in reserve, so the Treasury can recapitalize banks by buying preferred shares if necessary -- as Warren Buffett did this week with Goldman Sachs. Review the situation in three months, when Congress comes back. Hedge funds should be left on their own. You can't save everyone, and those investors aren't poor.

With this solution, the systemic financial threat should go away. Does that mean the economy would quickly recover? No. Sadly, it does not. Two vast economic problems will confront the next president immediately. First, the underlying housing crisis: There are too many houses out there, too many vacant or unsold, too many homeowners underwater. Credit will not start to flow, as some suggest, simply because the crisis is contained. There have to be borrowers, and there has to be collateral. There won't be enough.

In Texas, recovery from the 1980s oil bust took seven years and the pull of strong national economic growth. The present slump is national, and it can't be cured that way. But it could be resolved in three years, rather than 10, by a new Home Owners Loan Corp., which would rewrite mortgages, manage rental conversions and decide when vacant, degraded properties should be demolished. Set it up like a draft board in each community, under federal guidelines, and get to work.

The second great crisis is in state and local government. Just Tuesday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced $1.5 billion in public spending cuts. The scenario is playing out everywhere: Schools, fire departments, police stations, parks, libraries and water projects are getting the ax, while essential maintenance gets deferred and important capital projects don't get built. This is pernicious when unemployment is rising and when we have all the real resources we need to preserve services and expand public investment. It's also unnecessary.

What to do? Reenact Richard Nixon's great idea: federal revenue sharing. States and localities should get the funds to plug their revenue gaps and maintain real public spending, per capita, for the next three to five years. Also, enact the National Infrastructure Bank, making bond revenue available in a revolving fund for capital improvements. There is work to do. There are people to do it. Bring them together. What could be easier or more sensible?

Here's another problem: the wealth loss to near-retirees and the elderly from a declining stock market as things shake out. How about taking care of this, with rough justice, through a supplement to Social Security? If you need a revenue source, impose a turnover tax on stocks.

Next, let's think about what the next upswing should try to achieve and how it should be powered. If the 1960s were about raising baby boomers and the '90s about technology, what should the '10s and '20s be about? It's obvious: energy and climate change. That's where the present great unmet needs are.

So, let's use the next few years to plan, mapping out a program of energy conservation, reconstruction and renewable power. Let's get the public sector and the universities working on it. And let's prepare the private sector so that when the credit crunch finally ends, we'll have the firms, the labs, the standards and the talent in place, ready to go.

Some will ask if we can afford it. To see the answer, don't look at budget projections. Just look at interest rates. Last week, in the panic, the federal government could fund itself, short term, for free. It could have raised money for 30 years and paid less than 4 percent. That's far less than it cost back in 2000.

No country in this situation is broke, or insolvent, or even in much trouble. For once, Wall Street's own markets speak the truth. The financially challenged customer isn't Uncle Sam. He's up on Wall Street, where deregulation, greed and fraud ran wild.

James K. Galbraith is the author of "The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Plunder___Danny Schechter

NEWIs Purchasing $700 billion of Toxic Assets the Best Way to Recapitalize the Financial System? No! It is Rather a Disgrace and Rip-Off Benefitting only the Shareholders and Unsecured Creditors of Banks by Nouriel Roubini
Sept. 28, Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008
NEW Sept. 29, The US and global financial crisis is becoming much more severe in spite of the Treasury rescue plan. The risk of a total systemic meltdown is now as high as ever...by Nouriel Roubini
Reviewing Danny Schechter's "Plunder"
Contributed by Stephen Lendman on Thu, 2008-09-18 14:31.
In sections: United States Economics/Trade
Reviewing Danny Schechter's "Plunder: Investigating Our Economic Calamity and the Subprime Scandal" - by Stephen Lendman

Nouriel Roubini___The Shadow Banking System Is Unravelling
World Economic Forum
Let's Take A Higher Road...
Sept. 23, William Greider___"Goldman Sachs Socialism"
Sept. 26, China banks told to halt lending to US banks-SCMP
Sept. 27, Last Friday’s Debate___The Irresponsibility Twins...
Sept. 28, Obama___The Perfect Unification Storm___A True Patriot

Danny Schechter is a media activist, critic, independent filmmaker, TV producer as well as an author of 10 books and lecturer on media issues. Some call him "The News Dissector," and that's the name of his popular blog on media issues. He's also co-founder of Media Channel.org. It covers the "political, cultural and social impacts of the media," and provides information unavailable in the mainstream.

Schechter's books include Media Wars; Embedded - Weapons of Mass Deception; The Death of Media; The More You Watch The Less You Know; and his newest and subject of this review, Plunder. Subtitled: Investigating Our Economic Calamity and the Subprime Scandal, Schechter examines the fallout from the current economic and financial crisis. What the mainstream media (MSM) suppresses:

-- decades of wealth transfers to the rich;

-- the economy in recession;

-- the result of multiple imploding bubbles: housing, mortgage finance, and an alphabet soup of SDOs, SIVs, SPVs, and a whole menu of levered-up, high-risk securitized assets amounting to financial alchemy; largely outright fraud;

-- the risk things may worsen;

-- from drowning in debt and speculative excess;

-- bankrupt by some measures;

-- huge amounts of corruption;

-- government hiding how bad it is; complicit in it as well;

-- over one million homeowners foreclosed since summer 2007;

-- another million are 90 days past due on payments; foreclosures about to go out on them;

-- three million more potentially in coming months with up to five million total at risk over the next few years in the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression and too little government help provided too late;

-- rising unemployment;

-- failing banks;

-- rising inflation; and

-- consumers maxed out on credit and strapped by indebtedness the way Schechter portrayed them in his 2006 film titled "In Debt We Trust."

Schechter's book is timely, important, and frightening. He does a masterful job deconstructing a complicated subject. One covered up in the mainstream. Its dark side papered over suppressed.

Schechter explains it fully and clearly for lay readers to understand. It's essential they do it because it touches everyone. No one knows how bad it may get, but the current crisis has legs. The worst of it may be ahead, and before it ends millions may feel it painfully. "Plunder" provides ammunition. A blueprint of what's unfolding. Explaining that government help won't be forthcoming, so we're responsible for making the best of a very bad situation.

It begins with understanding the scandalous dilemma unfolding. The complicity of government and Wall Street behind it. The dominant media promoting it. What author Kevin Phillips calls the "rise of big finance" and "global crisis of American capitalism;" "Frankenstein finance;" and a problem so potentially grave that "there may no longer be a plausible way out."

Schechter calls it "financialization" to describe "the kind of control (a Credit and Loan Complex) exert(s) over society every bit as insidious as the Military-Industrial Complex." Made up of Wall Street; big banks; an array of finance, credit card and related companies preying on middle-America and the poor and transferring enormous wealth to the rich. A regulatory environment allowing it. Creating an open field for fraud. Taking full advantage because so-called "watchdogs" are part of the problem. The administration and Federal Reserve as well. The entire power structure allied against working people. A shameful and potentially disastrous situation as a result.

Schechter envisions a different future and dedicates his book to one "free of debt and a world where markets serve the public interest." Light years from what "Credit Card Nation" author Robert Manning writes in the Preface:

-- industrial employment ravaged by neoliberal "free trade" and corporate outsourcing;

-- malls replacing factories as the economy's engine;

-- declining wages in the face of soaring expenses;

-- most families dependent on credit to survive;

-- the calamitous effects of banking deregulation;

-- a corrupted "symbiotic financial-industrial complex" called "financialization;"

-- a new Gilded Age exalting greed;

-- turning consumers into debt slaves; and

-- making the country "perilously dependent" on foreign capital sources for economic security.

Schechter continues in his prologue:

-- sinking markets from a "full-blown credit/debt crisis;"

-- "waves of layoffs," bankruptcies and foreclosures;

-- distorted media coverage on causes and solutions;

-- fear that the worst is ahead;

-- the infectious effect of the spreading "subprime crisis;"

-- trillions of dollars being lost;

-- millions of homeowners at risk; millions of working people also;

-- a Ponzi scheme writ large; the bigger they are, the harder they implode; what PIMCO's Managing Director and economist Paul McCulley calls a "Minsky Moment" that derives from economist Hyman Minsky's analysis; the unwinding of excess exuberance; deflating euphoria; proving market bubbles always burst, and their downward momentum is far more severe and faster than their upside; and

-- a "calculated crime" putting America and the global economy at risk; Schechter says "This is an angry book (because) so many of us are in denial or unaware of the importance of economic forces in shaping our future;" he also rails at his colleagues who've done "such a poor job reporting on the run-up to this disaster."

Schechter chronicles what happened. The threat of depression. Alerting people to the possibility. Highlighting concern about the victims. Challenging the media and chastising their ignoring and distorting the story. Telling us that "democracy must have an economic underpinning and a commitment to fairness." Offering ways to achieve it. Explain how debt restructured the economy and created "a burden that many will never crawl out of." Exposing "shameless profiteers" and calling for an investigation of their crimes and prosecution. Asking for debt relief for Americans. "Urging citizens to get involved and (demand) politicians respond." Getting upset and aroused enough to act.

"It's the Economy Stupid," according to Schechter in his introduction, and, of course, it always is but especially when times are hard. What Senator Chris Dodd calls "a 50-state Katrina," but these waters are rising and uncertainty remains on whether something far more calamitous is coming.

Corruption is pervasive. The public uneasy but largely uninformed. The worst of what's going on is hidden. A vast shady network of "interconnected institutions working through highly legalized and poorly understood systems." Moving unimaginable sums around the world in seconds. Seducing people into the most outrageous schemes involving unrepayable debt. Then having to borrow more to service amounts already unaffordable. Heading for what money manager Jeremy Grantham calls a "slow motion trainwreck"- the inevitability that bubbles always burst. His advice in the current environment. What he calls the "first truly global bubble:" hunker down and "take as little risk as possible" because "I for one am officially scared."

The Origins of the Scandal

When it began, "subprime lending" wasn't a term in common usage, let alone understood outside financial circles. One of its late 1990s originators was Obama campaign finance chairperson Penny Pritzker when she served on the Board of the failed family-owned Hinsdale, IL Superior Bank. It cost the FDIC $700 million and depositors another $65 million, while Pritzker made millions on predatory lending now called "subprime" mortgage schemes. One definition is as follows: "the practice of making loans to borrowers who do not qualify for the best market interest rates because of their deficient credit history." Another in the recent environment was to force-feed them to the largest number of homebuying prospects possible.

There's lots of them, and predatory lenders took full advantage until things erupted into scandal, and the economy headed south. Only then did regulators take notice and decide to investigate - into how "banks, credit rating firms, and lenders value and disclose complex mortgage-backed securities." Three areas specifically, according to Reuters: "the securitization process, the origination process and the retail area." Also insider trading, a common illegal practice that's rarely caught or even looked for. However, the scope of the investigation would be narrow, and its aim was "deterrence." Of what, asked Schechter, now that the horse is out of the barn, and investors and mortgage holders are left holding the bag?

When it's too late to matter, they agree, along with critics, that "inadequate disclosure (or lack of transparency) was at the root of the problem." According to a Senate report, it began in 1997 when house prices began appreciating and registered a 124% gain by 2006. Housing was driving the economy with seven million subprime mortgage loans. Business boomed. Underwriting standards deteriorated, while banks and other lenders invented new ways to make money - "fast" and easy.

In the 1980s, state usury rate ceilings were lifted, creating a whole new market for people who previously couldn't qualify. At higher interest rates, fees, and other add-ons they did. Most borrowers got so-called "2/28" and "3/27" hybrid adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs). They originated with low fixed "teaser" rates, good for a two-year period. Afterwards, they're reset semi-annually based on an interest-rate benchmark, or the current going rate. For many holders, payments soared 30% and became unaffordable, and by 2004, 90% of subprime loans were these type ARMs. It was well-known in the industry that "these borrowers (are) most likely to default or become delinquent (and) face foreclosure." The idea was to cash in and let holders take the pain.

Here's how the scheme worked. "So-called 'intermediaries,' unregulated and often unscrupulous mortgage brokers, hustled their way into the housing market" and took over. Using a range of tactics, including "deceptive advertising to block-to-block solicitations to get people to buy and sell, always promising more than they (could) deliver."

So-called "birddogs" were used to get prospects, and all kinds of practices were employed - "abusive, illegal and predatory." They pushed, "enticed...seduced (even) threatened." According to the Joint Economic Report, "For 2006, Inside Mortgage Finance estimates that 63.3% of all subprime originations came through brokers....19.4% through retail channels (and) 17.4% through correspondent lenders....broker share increas(ed steadily) from 2003 through 2006." These companies aren't regulated and pretty much operate freely. By 2005, the percent of securitized subprime mortgages reached "a peak value of more than 81%...."

Housing sales were on a roll, and so was Wall Street, quick to see a lucrative new income stream and ready to cash in. "Now they could make fees originating loans and even more money selling the paper into (the) secondary market, where mortgages could be securitized and sold again for even more money as investments."

The Finmanac financial blog explained its origination:

-- when Solomon Brothers launched Mortgage-Based Securities (MBS) in the 1980s - "bonds with bundles of mortgages, bought from bank lenders, as collateral;"

-- they used a "special purpose vehicle known as Collateralized Mortgage Obligation (CMO);"

-- monthly installments were used to pay interest; and

-- others were quick to cash in on the scheme.

The secondary market became a marriage between "the most reputable financial organizations and the sleaziest grass-roots operators. As is often the case, sleaze moved upwards" because the potential profits were huge but so are the risks.

"Since anyone can originate a loan and sell it to the Investment Banks (to package and sell as MBS), it tempts originators (to write) risky loans (without) worry(ing) about payback(s):"

-- slicing MBS into tranches by risk profile handles the problem;

-- so does having different maturity dates;

-- they're rated by S & P, Fitch and other agencies for legitimacy;

-- hedge and some pension funds bought the most risky paper;

-- risks were discounted because the potential returns were huge as long as economic conditions stayed sound and/or markets continued to rise; and

-- it always helps to have friendly Fed chairmen like Alan Greenspan fueling bubbles.

At the height of the 2000 one he said: "Lofty equity prices have reduced the cost of capital. The result has been a veritable explosion of (high-tech) spending (and) I see nothing to suggest that these opportunities will peter out anytime soon." A week later the Nasdaq peaked. Dropped 78% to its bottom. The S & P 500 49%, and retail investors lost out while Greenspan was busy engineering another bubble now unwinding at the cost of trillions of dollars, millions of people hurt, and the "Maestro" assuming none of the blame.

Economist Anna Schwartz said otherwise and called the Federal Reserve the main cause of today's trouble. She told The Sunday Telegraph: "There never would have been a sub-prime mortgage crisis if the Fed had been alert. This is something Alan Greenspan must answer for." The US Treasury also as one of its senior officials warned subprime lenders about it but was ignored. Even worse, despite state efforts to ban predatory practices, the Bush administration blocked attempts to curtail them and bears major responsibility.

Schechter refers to "an unholy trinity of private players, Wall street firms, and non-regulating regulators" who saw a way to profit hugely. Do it with shady practices, and thus partner in a "criminal conspiracy" to rip off millions of working Americans. "It was the largest robbery in history - not a bank heist but a heist by banks."

The Real Capital of America (and the World)

Wall Street, of course - a city with "a history of causing disasters from its earliest days." Succeeding ones keep getting bigger, but unaffected most often are the powerful banks and investment houses. "Masters of the universe," according to author Tom Wolfe. Well insulated in their luxury board rooms with power, incomes and privileges afforded royalty. Treated like them also in a culture that "rewards clever and devious strategies" within or outside the law. No one is guilty unless caught. Rarely ever does it happen, and when it does the penalties are inconsequential compared to enormous ill-gotten gains. Incentive enough for players to invent new schemes, and they do.

This time, however, they may have been too smart by half. They overreached and are themselves hurt by the fallout. Some won't survive. Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers already. Others barely hanging on. Merrill Lynch forced to sell out cheap to Bank of America. The Fed bailing out AIG, and it's anyone's guess who or what's next or if the worst is yet to come. When trouble first surfaced, "only a handful of writers and analysts" understood what was going on - chickens coming home to roost, "a crime in progress, a white collar crime wave" involving trillions of dollars, from working people to the rich. The Wall Street crowd. Mortgage brokers, banks and investment houses, rating agencies and appraisers who overvalued homes for higher fees. Well-designed schemes to let the devil take the hindmost, and they are but so are the perpetrators. Schechter is right calling this "a big story - one of the biggest" and from which "consumers and citizens" have to learn how to cope. It won't be easy.

The Unspoken Context

Crime writ large, and in early 2008 the FBI announced 14 unnamed mortgage companies were being investigated. Ones engaged in predatory lending. That may have deliberately steered customers to more expensive loans and concealed hidden payments and fees. In some cases unfairly jacked up for even higher profits. Targeting the most vulnerable. A 2008 Inner City Press/Fair Finance Watch study confirmed these practices. It called mortgage brokers "the wild, wild west of Capitalism."

Shadowy operators using aggressive, unethical marketing in ghetto and low-income neighborhoods. Making phone solicitations. Door-to-door canvassing. Posing as debt consolidation experts with home improvement schemes and foreclosure "rescue" services. Merchants of sleaze cornering victims and entrapping them in unrepayable debt. Criminal fraud involving respectable bankers as well. Willing to engage in dirty practices because the profits were so tempting and the market so huge. Too big to pass up so it wasn't.

From 2004 to 2006, Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) mushroomed from $157 billion to $559 billion, and 10 investment banks underwrote 70% of $486 billion in 2006 securitizations. Players made millions and top executives far more. A gravy train, and collectively in 2006, at the cycle's peak, the big banks earned $130 billion. It looked like more ahead, and their schemes were perfectly legal in an unregulated environment permitting them. They still are short of future regulatory reform that may or may not come but never will be close to what's needed. Not when both parties embrace a pro-corporate agenda and won't allow it.

The Charleston Observer published a flow chart on how predatory lending typically works:

-- low income, minority and the elderly are targets;

-- loan originators contact and high-pressure them to sign up;

-- brokers arrange loans between targets and lenders;

-- appraisers inflate property values for higher fees and new business;

-- lenders may "bundle" new loans to sell off to other institutions; and

-- Wall Street sits atop this enormous pyramid; in the "catbird seat;" orchestrating the process; and redistributing millions of loan bundles into pools to back up investments worldwide.

Borrowers have no idea how they're being used and set up to be scammed by future mortgage resets. Unaffordable so that millions will lose everything in foreclosure. "Where are the prosecutors," asks Schechter? A Congressional probe. Indictments to go after the guilty. Faint hope along with any chance for redress for victims. No chance either for most people to understand an "opaque and unregulated global financial system" with obscure terminology, according to economist Nouriel Roubini. A highly levered "financial monster that eventually leads to uncertainty, panic, market seizure, liquidity crunch, systemic risk and economic hard landing."

In spring 2006, over a year before things began unravelling, Schechter wrote about inadequate and deceptive media coverage in an article titled "Investigating the Nation's Exploding Credit Squeeze." He examined losers and winners and suggested concrete approaches for responsible reporting:

-- doing it regularly and truthfully about a serious growing problem;

-- identifying the key corporate institutions involved;

-- spotlighting how special interests and lobbyists influence Congress for favorable policies and deregulation;

-- credit card companies also and how their ad dollars affect media coverage of their practices;

-- predatory lending methods in poor neighborhoods; crimes committed against vulnerable working people;

-- what people can do to fight back; and

-- getting people involved at state and local levels; enlisting attorney generals to file class action lawsuits; and pressuring key legislators.

Strong material but the response was "tepid" as well as to a follow-up email campaign with tens of thousands of requests for more media coverage of a vital national issue - well before the crisis hit and a public spotlight might have cooled it. Big Media prefer a sanitized world of market "ups and downs" and one-sided Wall Street and Washington views - unrelated to the real world, what affects most people, and it got Schechter to ask: "where's the outrage?"

Chronicling the Implosion, 2007

In his blogs, newsletters, and articles, Schechter "tracked the evolution of the crisis by week" - a story still evolving about "an economy that is....still unraveling," It began in July 2007 when Dusseldorf-based IKB surprised markets with a profit warning. It set off sharp falls in other German bank shares, and ended up with IKB needing $11.8 billion in bailout aid to survive. Cracks also began showing up in the multi-trillion dollar US securitization markets. They created a crisis for two Bear Stearns (BS) hedge funds. Like IKB, they were heavily into subprime mortgages, highly levered, and it forced BS to sell out to JP Morgan Chase for pennies on the dollar.

Things then began spreading, and it was soon apparent the trouble was systemic, growing, and could touch down wherever outsized risks were taken. According to Business Week, what began as subprime now affected other kinds of debt as well and far more seriously than originally thought. Involving "real money" and danger, "the kind that terrifies bankers and the elite."

The Dow Average topped out in early October and headed down while government jawboning and Fed interest rate cuts and huge liquidity injections didn't help. They still haven't as markets remain volatile, and no one for sure knows what's coming. So jitters remain high and with good reason. The economy is far from healthy. Contagion is spreading offshore. Unemployment is rising. So are foreclosures. Inflation also, and hundreds of billions of bailout dollars haven't helped.

None of this should have happened, and warning signs should have been heeded early on. Schechter chronicled it daily as events unfolded and explained that things were pretty bad and getting worse. Bankers were debating how to handle record losses. Desperation and even panic began surfacing. And America's debt crunch became a personal crisis for millions.

His book reviewed events as they unfolded:

-- jawboning after Wall Street and bankers began reacting and "blaming everybody but themselves;"

-- pundits then "calling for higher standards of transparency;"

-- bailouts involving real money in the hundreds of billions; first the Fed, then major central banks around the world;

-- the result: very little; continued panic; more lending companies imploded; 247 up to April 2008;

-- then interest rate cuts and still no relief; mortgage rates rose as banks are reluctant to lend and want higher returns when they do; after the government's Fannie and Freddie takeover, 30-year fixed-rates fell from 6.26% to 5.88%, but with the economy weak and consumers strapped it's not clear how much this will help, at least in the short term;

-- multi-billions in writedowns continue, likely more coming ahead, and "bear in mind," Schechter observes: "the banks created these problems by lowering their standards and working in collusion with the alchemists at the rating agencies that turned their junk into gold." And government regulators looked the other way and let it happen.

Throughout the crisis, real analysis and understanding was missing - like the 50 million "Missing Americans" Bill Moyers profiled on PBS. The ones Michael Harrington called "The Other America" in which he documented the country's poverty and influenced policy debate in Washington as a result. Today's victims are largely above the poverty line but just barely with two wage-earners and one or both having multiple (low-paying) jobs. They became predatory lending targets, but practically nothing is being done to help them. Billions for the perpetrators. Lip service only for the vulnerable.

What Happens Now?

Crucial to understand is that the current economic crisis "is an outgrowth of the very corporatist policies that will haunt this country for decades." Plus our costly wars. "Obscenely high levels of corruption," and many other characteristics of a nation off its moorings and in trouble. This one in "the quicksand of debt and delusion." Proving unfettered capitalism doesn't work. At a time Business Week magazine suggested "an irresistible force (is) meet(ing) an immovable object." The force is the economy and object an unrepayable wall of debt.

Despite billions of Fed-injected liquidity, the crisis persists and may be worsening. No one knows for sure or how or when it will end. Trillions have been lost. More still to come. Serious talk about a depression. The middle class is shrinking. People are entrapped by debt. Worldwide respect for the country plummeted, and 81% of the public believes things are headed in the wrong direction. Banks are failing. Real estate hit the wall, and in February the Economist magazine wrote that "The world had a weekend to save it from collapsing."

Contagion is spreading everywhere affecting Wall Street, large and smaller banks, investment firms, insurance companies, hedge funds, non-bank lenders, and the greater economy dependent on them. Experts believe fixing things could take years and would require a vast overhaul of a clearly failed system. Establishing workable regulation. Reinstating Glass-Steagall to separate commercial from investment banks. Curbing speculation, and ending the whole range of predatory lending practices. Under a two-party duopoly, chances for that are practically nil.

Debt As A Global Issue

For better or worse, a global economic system interlocks nations and markets. When the US catches cold, pneumonia threatens the world, and it shows in what the Vigilant Investor website reported: that in one week months back the Fed, ECB, and Japanese and Australian central banks injected $458 billion into the markets "to allow the big players to avoid selling off otherwise healthy assets to cover for heavy losses related to the unfolding housing debacle in the US, led over the cliff by subprimes." And in America, the combination of credit card and other debt remains a ticking time bomb some see as another eventual bubble to burst.

They're worried about what author Kevin Phillips calls "a house of cards" built on "reckless finance." And longtime Wall Street economist Henry Kaufman blames years of irresponsible federal banking for "allowing the expansion of credit in huge magnitudes" and calling today's crisis a "global calamity." Former Fed director of monetary affairs and its policy-making panel secretary, Vincent Reinhart, compares today to "the great contraction" of the 1930s and "the great inflation of the 1970s."

Little of this gets media attention or is addressed in political discourse. Never mind huge structural problems, an economy in crisis, millions in duress, and barely a sign of remedial help coming for the vulnerable. As conditions worsen "when will the American people realize how badly they have been had and turn on the plunderers," asks Schechter? The politicians and regulators also who allowed it.

How did it happen:

-- "warnings were ignored;" for example from Bruce Marks, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) CEO; in 2000, he testified before Congress and warned about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac engaging in predatory subprime lending; all for naught;

-- "the (Alan Greenspan) Fed encourag(ing) the securitization of mortgages calling it 'financial innovation;' " and

-- "Wall Street firms ignor(ing) worries (from) their own risk managers (and engaging in) shadowy underground banking....They made a fortune - until they didn't."

Hundreds of small players have been indicted but only a few symbolic "truly fat cats" and none of the fattest. The way it always is.

Last Words

Capitalism is characterized by economic ups and downs, speculative frenzies, and panics. But, as Schechter observes, "Few have posed such a serious threat to the entire financial system, (yet most media) coverage has been relegated to not widely read business sections (and) the fortunes of CEOs and business enterprises, not citizens, consumers and most of all homeowners" who've lost or may lose their homes and livelihoods.

Even worse, "many newspapers and TV outlets were complicit." They got huge amounts of ad revenue (often deceptive) from "shady mortgage lenders and credit card companies that encouraged readers and viewers to accept more debt. Some major newspapers are connected with local real estate syndicates and get kickbacks from sales tied to their extensive advertising of homes for sale." Worse still is that coverage (once it began) "may have missed the truly criminal aspects of this crisis" even though there's plenty of evidence around and the FBI is currently investigating 14 mortgage companies.

Overall reporting largely supports business and hesitates being critical. It builds confidence instead, stays upbeat, generates more heat than light, and engages in what Schechter calls "Investotainment" as their specialty. Well layered with deception and boosterism as well.

They ignored victims dating back to the 1990s and even warnings from people like David Walker, the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and Government Accounting Office (GEO) head. For years, he was a voice in the wilderness about our growing debt burden that could lead to a sudden collapse and threaten national security. The National Association of Business Economists as well saying: "The combined threat of subprime loan defaults and excessive indebtedness has supplanted terrorism and the Middle East as the biggest short-term threat to the US economy."

And John Kenneth Galbraith in his 1961 classic, "The Great Crash 1929," now prophetic: "The fact was that American enterprise in the twenties had opened its hospitable arms to an exceptional number of promoters, grafters, swindlers, impostors, and frauds. This, in the long history of such activities, was a kind of flood tide of corporate larceny."

Writer Mike Whitney updates it in one of his commentaries saying: "The financial system has been handed over to scam-artists and fraudsters who've created a multi-trillion dollar inverted pyramid of shaky, hyper-inflated, subprime slop that they've sold around the world, with the tacit support of the ratings agencies and the US political establishment."

The story has legs. Banks are in serious trouble. By mid-summer, seven had failed, others since, and many dozens more are at risk. Worldwide as well as contagion spreads everywhere. Huge write-downs have been taken. Unknown amounts more may follow. The Fed has injected over $900 billion to stabilize things with little idea if it will. Then add in lost homes, lender foreclosure costs, falling property prices, equity losses, multiple deflating bubbles, and hundreds of billions for wars and debt service, and the picture is grim, frightening, and according to some experts in the early innings.

Consider a recent "truly stunning but not widely reported" Bank of America study on current "Credit Crisis" losses - $7.7 trillion dollars in equity value globally since the October market peak. Affecting nations everywhere, B of A called it "one of the most vicious (crises) in financial history." Investor George Soros calls it a "systemic crisis," the result of "easy credit, financial innovation and contagion." And economist Ludwig von Misses once said: "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."

Schechter concludes by adding: "Bubbles are rarely foreseen (or want to be seen), as investors scramble into opportunities delivering high returns....self-interest and money-making are the real drivers in the world of finance." They also drive politics, and now at a time of crisis, it's "hard to believe that as the house of cards comes tumbling down, there seems to be a trifecta of failure. The government is unwilling to act decisively. The Congress prevaricates. And the media (engages in) boosterism" and keeps the public uninformed "at the very time when exposure might have stopped these practices before they became too deep and/or expensive to 'fix.' "

Little wonder 81% of the public believes the country is headed in the wrong direction. George Bush's approval rating fluctuates from the low to high 20s. And the July Rasmussen Reports gave Congress its lowest ever rating at 9% with only 2% of respondents calling its performance excellent. Imagine future poll numbers if the economy crashes, millions more become unemployed, lose their homes, and hundreds of billions keep being spent on fruitless wars by whomever becomes president and whichever party controls Washington. Imagine also how people affected will respond or should.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at: lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at www.sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Global Research News Hour on www.RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The International Financial Architecture

I posted this snippet on _____ last night. I hope I can stir some interest by the candidates, as I mailed it to them as well.(this is a repost of an older message, yet very timely, again)

The International Financial Architecture

I'd like to discuss a serious issue - The IFA. I believe we could accomplish more by bringing this subject into the platform debate more than any other subject, as this is where the neocons may have us over a barrel, publicly. If we were to make this subject our own, we could gain the upper hand intellectually and marketwise - the real power. The International Financial Architecture needs major reform - Reform of the IMF, The World Bank, The WTO, The International Court - The entire Bretton Woods System, including and especially the world's 37+ tax havens. Ann Pettifor's book, "Real World Economic Outlook" states that 7.1 million super wealthy families are net worth $26.2 Trillion dollars - that's more than half of real global GDP. Much of this money is in/booked to the tax havens. We as Democrats must understand these complex markets to truly resolve the real world and national problems, as these international institutions actually control our national destiny. We could accomplish more by our candidates bringing this into the national debate more than any other goal, as it has financial hegemony over all our desires. Without this debate being brought to the front, we are simply spinning our wheels on ice!

Common Sense
- Lloyd Gillespie, Retired Engineer/Economist (November 16, 2003; Rockland, ME)

MacroMouse - IFA(older post also, yet appropriate)

"We need a fixed value monetary system. At the present time, we have none. Under floating exchanges, America is simply a powerful ship on an ocean, with no rudder. Old gold, silver, and other known standards will no longer work. They will not work due to the massive increases in communication's speed, the varied endowments of nations' natural resources, and encrypted international speculative opportunities. Therefore, we need a new system. INTERNAL EXCHANGE CLEARING is such a system. It is an entirely new fixed value enhancing - [production standard] - monetary system, to benefit all humankind."

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Reform the International Financial System


President Richard Nixon's decision to end the Bretton Woods agreement in 1971 was a milestone in the erosion of the Western social contract. This decision ushered in a new international monetary system--one in which international payments in dollars would be made by private banks rather than exchanges of gold between the Federal Reserve and other central banks, and the value of the dollar would be determined by supply and demand.

This new dollar-centric international monetary system has been a powerful force in shaping the global economy and is, to a great extent, responsible for the current pattern of globalization. For the United States, it has meant that US policy-makers have had to hold real US interest rates higher than those of other strong currencies and have had to accept a higher value of the dollar relative to other major currencies. This has not only led to slower US economic growth but has made US goods less competitive vis-a-vis those of other economies. Thus the cost of American dollar hegemony has been the loss of export markets and, along with it, the loss of relatively good jobs in the tradable-goods sector of the economy.

For developing countries, the consequences have been no less serious. The post-Bretton Woods system has pushed more and more economies toward export-led growth, which tends to suppress domestic wages and regulatory standards. Countries that cannot pay for imports and attract foreign investment in their own currencies must "earn" these external currencies, mainly dollars, by exporting more than they import to one or a few countries that issue the global means of payment. To remain competitive with other nations and insure continued access to these markets, they have adopted policies that maintain downward pressure on wages and exchange rates and have shunned those that stimulate the demand necessary for sustained development.

This export-led growth paradigm created by the current international monetary system appears to have benefited the United States, the key currency country, especially in recent years, enabling us to consume more than we produce. A large share of the dollars that flow out of the United States to pay for imports flows back as investments in US financial assets. This foreign investment expands credit and allows Americans to spend more and save less. It also makes many Americans feel wealthier than they actually are by fueling inflated real estate and equity prices. But the cost of this pattern of growth has been the rapid buildup of both domestic and external debt.

This extraordinary growth in both US domestic and external debt now raises questions about the sustainability of this paradigm. Will highly indebted US households be forced to reduce their spending? If so, will a fall in imports reduce foreign financial investment, raise interest rates and induce or exacerbate a recession? And if the United States does, in fact, falter in its role as buyer of last resort in the global economy, what policies in which countries will insure continued growth?

To build a new global social contract, the underlying logic of the international financial system must be radically altered. What is needed is a new international monetary regime that can open access to international trade and investment for all nations on equal terms by allowing all currencies to be used in cross-border as well as domestic transactions. Keynes's international clearing agency could serve as a basic structure for such a system, reclaiming the public sector's role in global payments through a process of debiting and crediting cross-border payments against reserve accounts held with the clearing agency by member countries, with changes in reserves used to determine periodic adjustments in exchange rates.

An international monetary system based on the idea of an international clearing agency could also be designed to create a true lender of last resort, replacing the current ad hoc facilities, which depend on taxpayer donations. This would provide an effective channel for containing damaging financial crises and maintaining the financial stability needed for balanced growth in the global economy. It would also permit a resumption of the demand-led growth policies that are a necessary support for a new, global social contract.

Jane D'Arista is an author, lecturer and former Congressional staff economist who writes for the Financial Markets Center.