Tuesday, September 30, 2008

(Temporary?) No to the bailout robbery: Zingales, Hartmann, Michael Moore

Thank goodness for elections?! According to Democracy Now, it seems that virtually all the Republican votes and some(?) of the Democrat votes against the bailout monstrosity were in closely contested districts. (Isn’t it a shame that all the NYC contingent felt sufficiently secure to support Bush (with the notable exception of Congressman Serrano) because they are all in safe districts?

Another disillusionment is the erstwhile NYT columnist and economics professor, Paul Krugman, to whom we have turned for a semblance of sanity in these years of horror (but not on “free trade”).

Yet, on this most vital issue, he puts on the hat of a Democratic Party functionary – as if he were gunning for a top position in an Obama administration. In recent columns he writes that this bill is ok and that doing nothing is not an option: meaning we must follow the Pelosi-Reid line of getting behind the Cheney-Bush policy of bum rushing us and confusing us into further sinking the economy.

So why did Pelosi and Reid decide to support Bush in the face of the overwhelming opposition of the voters? One can see that they’re not leaders, they’re timid and ineffectual. They’re afraid of the press just as much as they are of Cheney and Bush. (Or are the two the same?)

Second, we can guess that they were assured by the likes of Robert Rubin that there are plenty of large donors to the Democratic party who would also be feeding from the same trough – never mind the consequences. Else, why would they vote against the clear wishes, not to mention the needs, of the vast majority of their constituents?

I offer a few paragraphs from some of the leading voices of sanity, including two who show that if the purpose was really to help the economy, there are sane, wise and practical ways to do it.


Luigi Zingales, NY Sun 9.29.08
Debating Paulson's Bailout: It's a Big Price

If banks and financial institutions find it difficult to recapitalize, it is because investors are uncertain about the value of the assets in their portfolios and do not want to overpay. Will government do better at valuing those assets? In a negotiation between government officials and a banker with a bonus at risk, who will have more clout in determining the price? Mr. Paulson's plan would create a charitable institution that provides welfare to the rich — at taxpayers' expense.

If the government subsidy is large enough, it will succeed in stopping the crisis. But, again, at what price? Aside from costing billions of taxpayer dollars, Mr. Paulson's plan violates the fundamental capitalist principle that whoever reaps the gains also bears the losses. Remember that in America's Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980s, the government had to bail out those institutions, because their deposits were federally insured. But in this case, the government does not have to bail out the debt-holders of Bear Sterns, AIG, or any of the other financial institutions that will benefit from Mr. Paulson's plan.

Since we do not have time for Chapter 11 proceedings and we do not want to bail out all the creditors, the lesser evil is to do what judges do in contentious and overextended bankruptcy processes: impose a restructuring plan on creditors, with part of the debt forgiven in exchange for equity or warrants.

[Zingales spends several paragraphs explaining his solution: forcing debt forgiveness, which he writes was done successfully during FDR’s term; which allowed and stock and bond prices to soar after the Supreme Court upheld the decision. –-This shows that there are rational solutions out there if the evil doers would allow them.]

Forcing a debt-for-equity swap or debt forgiveness would be no greater a violation of private property rights than a massive bailout. But, for the major players in the financial sector, it is much more appealing to be bailed out by the taxpayers.

Indeed, for the financial industry, the appeal of Mr. Paulson's proposal is precisely that it taxes the many and benefits the few. Since the many — taxpayers — are dispersed, we cannot put up a good fight in Congress, whereas the financial industry is well represented politically. For six of the last 13 years, the Treasury Secretary was a Goldman Sachs alumnus.

The decisions that Congress must make now will affect not only the American economy's short-term prospects, but will shape the type of capitalism that we will have for the next 50 years. Do we want to live in a system where profits are private, but losses are socialized, where taxpayer money is used to prop up failed firms? Or do we want to live in a system where people are held accountable for their decisions, where imprudent behavior is penalized and prudent behavior rewarded?

For anyone who believes in free markets, the most serious risk of the current situation is that the interest of a few financiers will undermine the capitalist system's fundamental workings. The time has come to save capitalism from the capitalists.

Thom Hartmann
How Wall Street Can Bail Itself Out Without Destroying The Dollar

September 26, 2008 by CommonDreams.org

For Grover "Drown Government In The Bathtub" Norquist, this bailout deal will work out very well. At a proposed cost of $4,780 per taxpayer, it'll further the David Stockman strategy of so indebting us that the next president won't have the luxury of even thinking of new social spending (expanding health care, social security, education, infrastructure, etc.); taxes will even have to be raised just to pay for the bailout. It'll debase our currency, driving up commodity prices and interest rates, which will benefit the Investor Class while further impoverishing the pesky Middle Class, rendering them less prone to protest (because they're so busy working trying to pay off their debt). It'll create stagflation for at least the next half decade, which can be blamed on Democrats who currently control Congress and, should Obama be elected, be blamed on him.

But there's another way: Create an agency to fund the bailout, loan that agency the money from the treasury, and then have that agency tax Wall Street to pay us (the treasury) back.

It's been done before, and has several benefits.

In the United Kingdom, for example, whenever you buy or sell a share of stock (or a credit swap or a derivative, or any other activity of that sort) you pay a small tax on the transaction. We did the same thing here in the US from 1914 to 1966 (and, before that, we did it to finance the Spanish American War and the Civil War).

For us, this Securities Turnover Excise Tax (STET) was a revenue source. For example, if we were to instate a .25 percent STET (tax) on every stock, swap, derivitive, or other trade today, it would produce - in its first year - around $150 billion in revenue. Wall Street would be generating the money to fund its own bailout. (For comparison, as best I can determine, the UK's STET is .25 percent, and Taiwan just dropped theirs from .60 to .30 percent.)

But there are other benefits.

As John Maynard Keynes pointed out in his seminal economics tome, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money in 1936, such a securities transaction tax would have the effect of "mitigating the predominance of speculation over enterprise."

In other words, it would tamp down toxic speculation, while encouraging healthy investment


Michael Moore’s
The Rich Are Staging a Coup This Morning

September 29, 2008

No matter what they say, no matter how many scare words they use, they are up to their old tricks of creating fear and confusion in order to make and keep themselves and the upper one percent filthy rich. Just read the first four paragraphs of the lead story in last Monday's New York Times and you can see what the real deal is:

"Even as policy makers worked on details of a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, Wall Street began looking for ways to profit from it.

"Financial firms were lobbying to have all manner of troubled investments covered, not just those related to mortgages.

"At the same time, investment firms were jockeying to oversee all the assets that Treasury plans to take off the books of financial institutions, a role that could earn them hundreds of millions of dollars a year in fees.

"Nobody wants to be left out of Treasury's proposal to buy up bad assets of financial institutions."

Unbelievable. Wall Street and its backers created this mess and now they are going to clean up like bandits. Even Rudy Giuliani is lobbying for his firm to be hired (and paid) to "consult" in the bailout.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Republican's (temporarily) to the rescue + Moshe Adler on toxic $700 B pill

Counterpunch continues to publish some of the best analysis I've seen:
Here's Moshe Adler on why Bush $700 B bailout is, surprise, surprise, exactly the wrong medicine.

And the claim that the credit system is clogged is not true because there is no object that can be removed in order to clear it. What is true is that the securities that Wall Street invented are toxic. But this is precisely why they should remain where they belong, in the vaults of those who created and pushed them. Otherwise they will poison the rest of us, the poorest among us the most.

There is no doubt that economic uncertainty leads to low investments and low borrowing. There is also no doubt that mortgage-based-securities are partially responsible for this uncertainty, although the rising price of oil plays an important role as well. But, as Keynes pointed out during the Great Depression, nobody knows how to restore lenders and investors? confidence once it has been lost. And, in all likelihood, passing the mortgage backed security to the government will decrease, not increase, this confidence.

Thank goodness there's been at least a delay. The worst part is that the Democrats were all too ready to sign on the dotted line no matter how malevolent the pill; and it's the Republicans who stopped it. Does this mean I need to vote Republican? After all we vote our pocketbooks, and they, temporarily at least, saved my pocketbook!!?? What is going on??

The great fear of course is that Bush and Cheney will do what's necessary to get the rebels back on board and the monster will go forward this weekend.

Adler continues with what will happen when the toxic baby is born

If the government acquires these securities, it will be left to a government employee (or, more likely, to a private contractor) to decide when ?the price is right? to sell them. But the volume of these securities is fantastically large, and nobody knows how to price them anyway. The effect on financial markets will be colossal. Business schools will start teaching new courses devoted to predicting the behavior of this bureaucrat. New financial instruments will be invented to take advantage of this new "expertise." The government employee herself will either succumb, or be accused of succumbing, to an overwhelming temptation to sell the old-new securities for prices that will benefit those closest to her. The calls to regulate the new-new securities and to monitor the government employee in charge of selling the old-new securities will be deafening. The level of economic uncertainty will increase many times over, and unemployment will increase along with it.

Read more:

September 26, 2008
Return to Trickle Down
Bailing Out Wall Street Won't Save Main Street


PS: Here’s Bush on the economy [if he doesn’t get his $700 B added to the national debt].
“This sucker’s going down.”
Isn’t it clear that that’s exactly what he wants?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Michael Hudson: $700 Billion (with a B) Giveaway Insanity + Update + Michael Collins

Here's Michael Hudson's analysis. Quoting the Financial Times, he writes:

“The simplest way to recapitalize institutions,” He concludes, is “by forcing them to raise equity and halt dividends. If that did not work, there could be forced conversions of debt into equity. The attraction of debt-equity swaps is that they would create losses for creditors, which are essential for the long-run health of any financial system.” This is the key: if debts cannot be paid, then creditors must take losses.

That's the point, to recapitalize institutions, so that they can resume lubricating the economy with their loans. The Bush plan, the only one on the table, is not meant to do this, and if any recapitalization happens, it's marginal and by the way. The main point is to throw money down the toilet bowl, as they did/are doing in Iraq, and if some of it goes into the pockets of their cronies, their base, that's well and good. But their main objective is to destroy, and once again, they've cleverly forced Congress and Obama (advised by Robert Rubin) to go along with it.
(Latest sound bite: Schumer wants it done today.)

The Big Bank Job
The Insanity of the $700 Billion Giveaway
September 25, 2008


As Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf noted on Wednesday, Sept. 24, the problem is that the face value of mortgage loans and a raft of other bad loans far exceeds current market prices or prices that are likely to be realized this year, next year or the year after that. They are packaged into what the financial press rightly calls “toxic.” The bailout is not efficient, he writes, “because it can only deal with insolvency by buying bad assets at far above their true value, thereby guaranteeing big losses for taxpayers and providing an open-ended bail-out to the most irresponsible investors.” “The simplest way to recapitalize institutions,” He concludes, is “by forcing them to raise equity and halt dividends. If that did not work, there could be forced conversions of debt into equity. The attraction of debt-equity swaps is that they would create losses for creditors, which are essential for the long-run health of any financial system.” This is the key: if debts cannot be paid, then creditors must take losses.

These bad loans are toxic because they can only be sold at a loss – if at all, because foreign investors no longer trust the U.S. investment bankers or money managers to be honest. That is the problem that Congress is not willing to come out and face. Many of these loans are outright fraudulent. And they are being sold by crooks. Crooks who work for banks. Crooks who use accounting fraud – such as the fraud that led to the firing of Maurice Greenberg at A.I.G. and his counterparts at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other companies engaging in Enron-type accounting.

Read more:


We’re done for. They’re determined to get it done this week or weekend, It’s going to be $700 billion. Will it include immunity? Any Congressional oversight will be meaningless – Bush would veto anything useful. It’s clearly going to do long term harm which is the point. Cheney and Bush are already chortling over another trillion added to the national debt. ( At the G8 Climate Summit in Japan in July, Bush joked to fellow leaders: “Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter.”)

One question is whether the bailout of the criminals will do any short term good.

The only possible silver lining is that McCain’s attempt at a bum rush into passing this thing may backlash.

But we’ve got to concede that they have handled this public relations job with malevolent brilliance. McCain’s numbers had been tanking -–who knows if this will stop the slide temporarily or not. But their main objective, to destroy the economy, to force Congress into doing the worst possible thing, barring some miracle, will have been accomplished. And this despite the whole country’s desperate anger over such a giveaway to the villains. Even worse, the Democrats and Obama are going to be seen as enablers at the very least.


Here's Michael Collins
Stunning ripoff isn't it. They threaten us with deprivation, then demand $700 billion. Who do they think they're kidding.
Peace, Michael Collins
The Money Party (7):

Bailout Blackmail - Just Say No!
By Michael Collins
Thursday, 25 September 2008,Wash. DC

We're being blackmailed into accepting the responsibility and debt for the worst managed financial institutions in the history of this country. The starting price, our debt, is $700 billion dollars.
What's really about to happen is that the failed financial institutions will be rewarded for their bad behavior. As a result, they and others will be encouraged to do it again. It's just a matter of time.
Link @ "Scoop": http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0809/S00311.htm
This article may be copied in whole or part with attribution of authorship, a link to this article, and acknowledgment for any images used.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Democrats Supporting $700 Billion Bailout + Update

I write this as I'm watching the Senate hearings on Federal Intervention in Financial Markets: the 700 Billion bailout -- mostly with the sound off, noting from time to time the captions…I also watched much of the coverage of the issue including interviews with Republican Senator Kyle and Democrat Chris Dodd on the PBS news hour yesterday.

It doesn’t seem that hard to read between the lines. Pelosi and Dodd are supporting the President. Reid seems to be wavering about whether or not to put up a fight. My guess is that Bush has the votes to push it through both Houses immediately --this week -- despite the country’s outrage. They understand, like Lady Macbeth, that if it is to be done, it must be done quickly.

Watching Paulson fumfer (what’s a good English equivalent?) meaninglessly as he pretends to answer questions, dancing around the outrageous proposal, revealing that he’s aware that there will be no accountability is truly sickening.

What the Democrats will do if this goes through is, to coin a phrase, put lipstick on a pig, in the same fashion as they pretended to dress up their compliance with the FISA telecom unaccountability bill. Since Bush'll veto anything meaningful, they’ll claim that they have added accountability to the grand theft of an incredible $700 billion, which will be passed to the usual suspects, and do little or nothing to regain some of the balance that the economy requires.

The market understands this and that’s why it fell so hard yesterday. Nothing stabilizing is being offered. That’s why the dollar fell and oil spiked. Paulson and Bush and Cheney don’t want to do anything that will help and are opportunistically using the situation to make it as bad as they can.

The key could be Schumer, Hillary and Obama. If they don’t come out strongly against such a bill, we’re toast.

Too lazy to call Congress I managed to find an online petition to sign.

No to the bailout:


Here's another one:

Email your Senators and Representative and spread the word:

Update on 700B giveaway

Watching a little of the latest Barney Frank interview on Charlie Rose, it seems clear that he’s playing ball with Bush. Why would he do that? My guess is that just like so many of them, he’s in Wall Street’s pocket -- ready and willing to throw billions at the criminals with no thought to the economy.

Sadly it’s looking like lipstick on a pig as previously predicted. They’ll dress it up a little bit, some meaningless oversight here, some irrelevant amendment about CEO salaries there and pass it this week or this weekend. That’s the clue: any quick bill will be Bush’s bill and it’ll be the disaster everyone can now see. One ominous soundbite I heard was that the White House was willing to negotiate.

If the leadership were going to resist they would offer a more moderate bill (say $150 B) targeted not at Wall Street and their foreign counterparts, but at homeowners/ foreclosures.

Although Dodd, Hillary, Obama (and Schumer?) may not be on board, if Pelosi and Reid give it the nod, they'll go forward quickly. And the guess now is that with most of the Republicans and enough Democrats, they’ll have the votes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mark Crispin Miller (emptywheel) NO! to bailout + urls + Alex Cockburn etc

How many people think that Cheney and Bush are distressed by the devolution of our financial system and are seriously trying to make it right? They are just as distressed by the thousands of dead young people who have already come home in bodybags -- perhaps the smallest symbol of the ongoing horror.
OK, I see you're all with me on this one.
Fewer I suspect agree with me that the reason that they are chortling while we piss our pants is because they actively want to destroy the possibility of civil life everywhere, in order to exercise their power of destruction. What's the use of having nuclear weapons unless you're going to use them? Their agenda of permanent war is the vehicle for their goals.
Let's examine one piece of evidence. A couple of months before Eliot Spitzer's career blew up in scandal, he testified before Congress regarding his initiative and that of one or two other governors to rein in some of the burgeoning abuses of the home mortgage system in their states. Spitzer testified that the Cheney-Bush administration used their power to stop him and the others from putting an end to some of the abuses. .
Now why would Bush and Cheney do that?

Here's a brief piece circulated by Mark Crispin's Miller and see his links below to more strong pieces.


By: emptywheel
September 20, 2008


CR has posted the "bailout plan," as it currently stands.
Glenn Greenwald has an important response, as does gjohnsit over at DKos.

But here's all you need to know. Hank Paulson is asking for $700,000,000,000. That's $2,333 from every man, woman, and child in the United States.
In exchange for that money, Paulson is unwilling to accept any demands to make markets more transparent, limit executive compensation, or assist homeowners fighting foreclosure. The sole purpose of that $700,000,000,000 is to bail out Wall Street and only Wall Street, but not to fix it, or our larger economy.
He is asking to be absolutely unbound by any law when he spends that money.
Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.
The only "string" attached is a semi-annual Congressional report--one in which they would have zero leverage to influence his choices.
Within three months of the first exercise of the authority granted in section 2(a), and semiannually thereafter, the Secretary shall report to the Committees on the Budget, Financial Services, and Ways and Means of the House of Representatives and the Committees on the Budget, Finance, and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate with respect to the authorities exercised under this Act and the considerations required by section 3.
Paulson didn't even have the class to call this a "review"--which underscores the degree to which he wants to be unbound by any and all review, legal, congressional, or anything else.
Hank Paulson--one of the CEOs who got us into this mess--is asking each and every American to give him $2,333 to do with as he sees fit, with absolutely no strings attached.
For more News From Underground, visit http://markcrispinmiller.com

Glenn Greenwald at Salon:

James Moore at HuffPost:

gjohnsit at DailyKos:

William Greider in The Nation:

Here's Alex Cockburn's take, in less than a sentence, on what they're doing to us:
"... a bailout program designed to bail out the thieves running our financial system, and stick middle America with the pricetag – heftier than you can imagine"

And Cockburn's recommendations for further reading.
For the practicalities and implications of the thievery on Wall Street I highly recommend the pieces on our site this weekend by Michael Hudson, Pam Martens and our other writers

See also Democracy Now last week for the segment with Michael Hudson who explained very clearly that indeed we're bailing out the thieves as well as carrying the economic destruction forward. --RB

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New York Review of Books: Indiana's Supreme Court Photo ID law argument ringered?

Andrew Hacker in the New York Review of Books, points to a difficult to understand factoid regarding the recent crucial Supreme Court decision upholding Indiana’s law requiring a government document with a photograph in order to vote. It turns out that the lawyer arguing the plaintiff’s case against the Indiana law was effectively playing for the opposite team. When s/he was pressed by the judges for the number of people who would be affected by the law, s/he understated it by more than 10 times!! 43,000 instead of 673,926.
Hacker's article is certainly worth reading though depressing, as it looks clearly at the racial aspects of the campaign which now seems as if it will spell doom for our last hope for some change. --RB

New York Review of Books · September 25, 2008
From: Obama: The Price of Being Black
By Andrew Hacker


In a 6–3 decision in April written by John Paul Stevens, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board , the Supreme Court upheld a 2005 Indiana law requiring voters in that state to produce a government document with a photograph at the polls. In practical terms, this meant a passport or a driver's license. Since less than a third of adults have a passport, the Indiana case focused largely on how many adults lack a license to drive. During oral arguments, several justices pressed the plaintiff's lawyer for an answer. For reasons I cannot fathom, he kept using the number 43,000, for a state whose voting-age population is 4.6 million. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration, in an easily obtained report, says that 673,926 adult residents of Indiana have no license, which works out to a not trivial 14.7 percent of the state's potential electorate. Had that percentage been stressed, we can conjecture that Justices Stevens and Anthony Kennedy might have shifted their position.