Monday, September 8, 2008

The Incredible Scam Continues As A Corrupt System Teeters Toward Collapse

The main-stream media, mouth-piece of the financial, largely corporate, elite, has been feeding a constant stream of the usual BS to the people coerced into supporting their increasingly untenable pyramid scheme of greed and speculation, and the volume has increased dramatically since Sunday’s announcement by the administration that it has begun the biggest bailout of private interests in American history. The transfer of our declining wealth to the rich is being promoted as the only thing they can do to help alleviate the problems of affected home owners and to save your financial choices and well being, but it will ultimately only help save a scandalous and failed system that serves the interests of “capital markets” and the wealthy around the world. That’s why the stock market rallied today. A “capital market” is a euphemism for the the interests of wealthy elites who control our “democracy,” who exploit you at every opportunity, and their financial stability and survival is what our government is now all about. (A similar, though hopefully less draconian, situation exists in Baker City) While they pick your poor pocket, the media asks you “How lucky can you get?” and pretends that the monstrously mendacious McCain, one of the infamous “Keating 5” is a war hero and a true reformer.

If you don’t read any of these blogs, please read the first article below in its entirety, if you can tear yourself away from "Public" Broadcasting, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News pundits, and the other popular propagandists. Two of the articles are by academics, and a third is by a journalist and financial consultant. Your time spent on it may just help you in your search for the truth.

In This Issue:

- Modern Debt Peonage

- US Waves Goodbye to Prosperity and Democracy

- Why The Fannie-Freddie Bailout Will Fail

- Jon Stewart on Sarah Palin Choice ( Humorous VIDEO)

- George W. Bush’s Early Promises - He was smirking because the joke was on us

“Modern Debt Peonage”?

 Economic Democracy Is Turning Into a Financial Oligarchy

An interview with Michael Hudson, former Wall Street economist specializing in the balance of payments and real estate at the Chase Manhattan Bank (now JP Morgan Chase & Co.), Arthur Anderson, and later at the Hudson Institute (no relation).
By Mike Whitney

08/09/08 "ICH"

<”On Friday afternoon the government announced plans to place the two mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, under “conservatorship.” Shareholders will be virtually wiped out (their stock already had plunged by over 90 per cent) but the US Treasury will step in to protect the companies’ debt. To some extent it also will protect their preferred shares, which Morgan-Chase have marked down only by half.

This seems to be the most sweeping government intervention into the financial markets in American history. If these two companies are nationalized, it will add $5.3 trillion dollars to the nation's balance sheet. So my first question is, why is the Treasury bailing out bondholders and other investors in their mortgage IOUs? What is the public interest in all this?

Hudson: The Treasury emphasized that it was under a Sunday afternoon deadline to finalize the takeover details before the Asian markets opened for trading. This concern reflects the balance-of-payments and hence military dimension to the bailout. The central banks of China, Japan and Korea are major holders of these securities, precisely because of the large size of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – their $5.3 trillion in mortgage-backed debt that you mention, and the $11 trillion overall U.S. mortgage market.

When you look at the balance sheet of U.S. assets available for foreign central banks to buy with the $2.5 to $3.5 trillion of surplus dollars they hold, real estate is the only asset category large enough to absorb the balance-of-payments outflows that U.S. military spending, foreign trade and investment-capital flight are throwing off. When the U.S. military spends money abroad to fight the New Cold War, these dollars are recycled increasingly into U.S. mortgage-backed securities, because there is no other market large enough to absorb the sums involved. Remember, we do not permit foreigners – especially Asians – to buy high-tech, “national security” or key infrastructure. The government would prefer to see them buy harmless real estate trophies such as Rockefeller Center, or minority shares in banks with negative equity such as Citibank shares sold to the Saudis and Bahrainis.

But there is a limit on how nakedly the U.S. Government can exploit foreign central banks. It does need to keep dollar recycling going, in order to prevent a sharp dollar depreciation. The Treasury therefore has given informal assurances to foreign governments that they will guarantee at least the dollar value of the money their central banks are recycling. (These governments still will lose as the dollar plunges against hard currencies – just about every currency except the dollar these days.) A failure to provide investment guarantees to foreigners would thwart the continuation of U.S. overseas military spending! And once foreigners are bailed out, the Treasury has to bail out domestic American investors as well, simply for political reasons.

Fannie and Freddie have been loading up on risky mortgages for ages, under-stating the risks largely to increase their stock price so that their CEOs can pay themselves tens of millions of dollars in salary and stock options. Now they are essentially insolvent, as the principal itself is in question. There was widespread criticism of this year after year after year. Why was nothing done?

Hudson: Fannie and Freddie were notorious for their heavy Washington lobbying. They bought the support of Congressmen and Senators who managed to get onto the financial oversight committees so that they would be in a position to collect campaign financing from Wall Street that wanted to make sure that no real regulation would take place.

On the broadest level, Treasury Secretary Paulson has said that these companies are being taken over in order to reflate the real estate market. Fannie and Freddie were almost single-handedly supporting the junk mortgage market that was making Wall Street rich.

The CEOs claimed to pay themselves for “innovation.” In today’s Orwellian vocabulary financial “innovation” means the creation of special rent-extracting privilege. The privilege was being able to get the proverbial “free ride” (that is, economic rent) by borrowing at low-interest government rates to buy and repackage mortgages to sell at a high-interest markup. Their “innovation” lies in the ambiguity that enabled them to pose as public-sector borrowers when they wanted to borrow at low rates, and private-sector arbitrageurs when they wanted to get a rake-off from higher margins.

The government’s auditors are now finding out that their other innovation was to cook the accounting books, Enron-style. As mortgage arrears and defaults mounted up, Fannie and Freddie did not mark down their mortgage holdings to realistic prices. They said they would do this in a year or so – by 2009, after the Bush Administration’s deregulators have left office. The idea was to blame it all on Obama when they finally failed.

But at the deepest level of all, the “innovation” that created a rent-extracting loophole was the deception that making more and more bad-mortgage loans could continue for a prolonged period of time. The reality is that no exponential rise in debt ever has been able to be paid for more than a few years, because no economy ever has been able to produce a surplus fast enough to keep pace with the “magic of compound interest.” That phrase is itself a synonym for the exponential growth of debt.

The Road to Debt Peonage

In an earlier interview you said: “The economy has reached its debt limit and is entering its insolvency phase. We are not in a cycle but the end of an era. The old world of debt pyramiding to a fraudulent degree cannot be restored.” Would you expand on this in view of today’s developments?

Hudson: How long can more and more money can be pumped into the real estate market, while disposable personal income is not growing by enough to pay these debts? How can people pay mortgages in excess of the rental value of their property? Where is the “market demand” to come from? Speculators already withdrew from the real estate market by late 2006 – and in that year they represented about a sixth of all purchases.

The best that this weekend’s bailout can do is to postpone the losses on bad mortgage debts. But this is a far cry from actually restoring the ability of debtors to pay. Mr. Paulson talks about more lending to support real estate prices. But this will prevent housing from falling to levels that people can afford without running deeper and deeper into mortgage debt. Housing prices are still way, way above the traditional definition of equilibrium – prices whose carrying charges are just about equal to what it would cost to rent over time.

The Treasury’s aim is to revive Fannie and Freddie as lenders – and hence as vehicles for the U.S. economy to borrow from the foreign central banks and large institutional investors that I mentioned above. More lending is supposed to support real estate prices from falling quite so far as they otherwise would – and in fact, the aim is to keep the debt pyramid growing. The only way to do this is to lend mortgage debtors enough to pay the interest and amortization charges on the existing volume of debt they have been loaded down with. And since most people aren’t really earning any more – and in fact are finding their budgets squeezed – the only basis for borrowing more is to inflate the price of real estate that is being pledged as collateral for mortgage refinancing.

It is pure hypocrisy for Wall Street’s Hank Paulson to claim that all this is being done to “help home owners.” They are vehicles off whom to make money, not the beneficiaries. They are at the bottom of an increasingly carnivorous and extractive financial food chain.

Nearly all real estate experts are in agreement that for the next year or two, many of today’s homeowners will find themselves locked into where they are now living. Their situation is much like medieval serfs were tied to their land. They can’t sell, because the market price won’t cover the mortgage they owe, and they don’t have the savings to pay the difference.
Matters are aggravated by the fact that interest rates are scheduled to reset at higher non-teaser rates for the rest of this next year and 2010, increasing the financial burden. You may remember that Alan Greenspan recommended that homebuyers take out adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) because the average American moves every three years. By the time the mortgage interest rate jumped, he explained, they could sell to a new buyer in this game of musical chairs – presumably with more and more chairs being added all the times, and plusher ones to boot.

But homeowners can’t move today, so they find themselves stuck with rising interest charges on top of their rising fuel and heating and electricity charges, transportation charges, food costs, health insurance and even property taxes as these begin to catch up with the rise in Bubble Prices.

The government has carefully avoided nationalizing the companies and thereby taking them onto its own balance sheet. It has created a “conservatorship” (a word that my spellchecker does not recognize). So the bailout of Fannie and Freddie looks like the Republicans are trying to play the financial just-pretend game simply until they leave office in February, after which time they can blame the failure of the “miracle of compound debt interest” on the incoming Democratic Congress.
So it’s politics as usual: play for the short run. In the long run – even next year – the real estate market will continue to drift down.

The economic news keeps getting grimmer and grimmer, but you’d never know it by listening to the politicians at the Republican Convention. The only time the economy was brought up at all was in the context of praise for free markets and globalization. The housing crash and credit market meltdown were not mentioned. Could you tell us what you think the rising unemployment numbers, falling consumer demand, skyrocketing foreclosures and ongoing troubles in the credit markets mean for America’s future? Is this just a blip on the radar or are we in the middle of a major retrenchment that will result in falling living standards and a deep, protracted recession?

Hudson: The Republicans prefer to distract attention from how the Bush regime has failed over the past eight years. If attention can be focused on Iraq and terrorism, on personalities and style, serious discussion of such matters may be crowded out. That’s what the news media are for.

When politicians do talk about the economy, the basic strategy is to fight the November election over who has the nicest dream for what people would like to believe. Amazing as it seems, a large number of Americans actually expect to have a good chance of becoming millionaires. They’re simply not looking at the debt side of the balance sheet.

The most striking economic dynamic today is polarization between those who live off the returns to wealth (finance and property extracting interest and rent, plus capital gains as asset prices are inflated) and those who live off what they can earn, struggling to pay the taxes and debts they are taking on. The national income and product accounts – GNP and national income – don’t say anything about the polarization of property, and doesn’t include capital gains, which are how most wealth is being achieved these days, not by actual direct investment to increase the means of production as lobbyists for trickle-down economic theory claim.

Here’s how things look today: The richest 1 per cent of the population receive 57.5 per cent of all the income generated by wealth – that is, payment for privilege, most of it inherited. These returns – interest, rent and capital gains – are not primarily a return for enterprise. They are pure inertia, weighing down markets. They do not “free” markets, except by providing a free lunch to the wealthiest families. The richest 20 per cent of the population receives some 86 per cent of all this income – that is what actually is increasing household balance sheets.

What people still view as an economic democracy is turning into a financial oligarchy. Politicians are looking for campaign support mainly from this oligarchy because that is where the money is. So they talk about a happy-face economy to appeal to American optimism, while being quite pragmatic in knowing who to serve if they want to get ahead and not be blackballed.

During the 1990s the bottom 90 per cent of the population tried to catch up by going into debt to buy homes and other property. What they didn’t see was that an insatiable growth in debt is needed to keep a real estate and finance bubble expanding. All this credit imposes financial charges, which have been largely responsible for polarizing wealth ownership so sharply in recent decades.

These debt charges have grown so heavy that debtors are able to pay only by borrowing the interest that is falling due. They have been able to borrow for the past few years by pledging real estate or other collateral whose prices are being inflated by Federal Reserve policy. The Treasury also contributes by giving tax favoritism, un-taxing property and finance. This forces labor and tangible industrial capital to pick up the fiscal slack, even as they are being forced to carry a heavier debt burden.
Homeowners do not gain by this higher market “equilibrium” price for housing. Higher prices simply mean more debt overhead. Rising price/rent and price/earnings ratios for debt-financed properties, stocks and bonds oblige wage earners to go deeper and deeper into debt, devoting more and more years of their working life to pay for housing and to buy income-yielding stocks and bonds for their retirement.

Debt expansion to buy property seems self-justifying as long as asset prices are rising. This asset-price inflation is euphemized as “wealth creation” by focusing on real estate, stock and bond prices – even as disposable personal income and living and working conditions are eroded.

So to come back to your broad question. . .”>

For rest of article see:

US Waves Goodbye to Prosperity and Democracy

By David Hirst

08/09/08 "The Age" -- - THE events of the weekend begin the greatest intervention in the US economy by the Federal Government since the Great Depression, with the Bear Stearns rescue but a splutter on this road we must now travel.

If you were wondering what all the flag-waving at the Republican convention has been about, it is now clear. Americans are waving goodbye to the prosperity the nation has enjoyed since the Great Depression and a final goodbye to democracy. But while preparation for the most important decision made in the nation's post-depression financial history towered above the conventions, I don't think the fate of Freddie and Fannie and the remaining government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) was mentioned during either convention.

And the politicians. President Bush has long authorised the Treasury to open its purse strings and, naturally, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said he did not expect the line of endless taxpayer credit to be used. This is like signing an authority to go to war and saying we don't expect to go to war. Once the authority is given, it will happen. It was always laughable to expect otherwise. Paulson "briefed" John McCain and Barack Obama on the "plan". The fact is that while America, and the world, wait to see who will govern, Mr Paulson has decided to take matters out of the politicians' hands.

They willingly agreed. The ultimate political power, to spend taxpayers' money, has been tossed away. Obviously the economy is too important to be left to the politicians. Instead it is to be put into "conservatorship". It has come to this.
. . . .
For rest of article see:
David Hirst is a journalist, documentary maker, financial consultant and investor. His column, Planet Wall Street, is syndicated by News Bites, a Melbourne-based sharemarket and business news publisher.

Why The Fannie-Freddie Bailout Will Fail 

By Martin D. Weiss, Ph.D.

08/09/08 "ICH" - -- With yesterday's announcement of the most massive federal bailout of all time, it's now official: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two largest mortgage lenders on Earth, are bankrupt.

Some Washington bigwigs and bureaucrats will inevitably try to spin it. They'll avoid the "b" word with vengeance. They'll push the "c" word (conservatorship) with passion. And in the newspeak of 21st century bailouts, they'll tell you "it all depends on what the definition of solvency is."

The truth: Without their accounting smoke and mirrors, Fannie and Freddie have no capital. The government is seizing control of their operations. Their chief executives are getting fired. Common shareholders will be virtually wiped out. Preferred shareholders will get pennies. If that's not wholesale bankruptcy, what is?

Some Wall Street pundits and pros will also try to twist the facts to their own liking. They'll treat the bailout like long-awaited manna from heaven. They'll declare that the "credit crisis is now behind us." They may even jump in to buy select financial stocks. And then they'll try to persuade you to do the same.

The reality: This was the same pitch we heard in August of last year when the world's central banks made a coordinated attempt to rescue credit markets with massive injections of fresh cash. It was also the same pitch we heard in March when the Fed bailed out Bear Stearns. But each time, the crisis got progressively worse. Each time, investors lost fortunes.
Together, both Washington and Wall Street are trying to persuade you that, "no matter what, the government will save us from financial disaster." But the real lessons already learned from these events are another matter entirely:

Lesson #1. Each successive round of the credit crisis is far deeper and broader than the previous.
In 2007, the big news was big losses; in 2008, it's big bankruptcies.

In March, the failure of Bear Stearns shattered $395 billion in assets. Now, just six months later, the failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is impacting $1.7 trillion in combined assets, or over four times more. And considering the $5.3 trillion in mortgages that Fannie-Freddie own or guarantee, the impact is actually thirteen times greater than the Bear Stearns failure.

Lesson #2. Despite unprecedented countermeasures, Washington has been unable to stem the tide.

Yes, the Fed can inject hundreds of billions into the banking system. But if banks don't lend, the money goes nowhere.
Sure, the Treasury can inject up to $200 billion of capital into Fannie and Freddie. But if their mortgage portfolio is full of holes, all that new capital goes down the drain.

And of course, the U.S. government has vast resources. But if the $49 trillion mountain of U.S. debts and the $180 trillion pile-up of U.S. derivatives are beginning to crumble, all those resources don't amount to more than a band-aid and a prayer.

Lesson #3. Shareholders are the first victims.

Bear Stearns shareholders got wiped out. Fannie and Freddie Mac shareholders are getting wiped out. Ditto for shareholders in any of Detroit's Big Three that go belly-up, any bank taken over by the FDIC or any insurer taken over by state insurance commissioners.

The Next Lesson: 
The Primary Mission of the Fannie-Freddie 
Bailout Will Ultimately End in Failure

Most people assume that when the government steps in, that's it. The story dies and investors shift their attention to other concerns. In smaller bailouts, perhaps. But not in this Mother of All Bailouts.

The taxpayer cost for just these two companies — up to $200 billion — is more than the total cost of bailing out thousands of S&Ls in the 1970s. But it's still just a fraction of the liability the government is now assuming.

First, because the number of home foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies has now surged to a shocking four million — and a substantial portion of the massive losses stemming from this calamity have yet to appear on Fannie's and Freddie's books.
Second, because the U.S. recession is still in an early stage, with surging unemployment just beginning to cause still another surge in foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies.

Third, even before Fannie and Freddie begin to feel the full brunt of the mortgage and recession calamity, their capital had already been grossly overstated.

Indeed, right at this moment, while Wall Street analysts are trying to evaluate the details of a bailout plan that's supposed to save them, regulators and their advisers are poring over the Freddie-Fannie accounting mess they're supposed to inherit. According to Gretchen Morgenson and Charles Duhigg's column in yesterday's New York Times, "Mortgage Giant Overstated the Size of Its Capital Base" ...

Freddie Mac's portfolio contains many securities backed by subprime and Alt-A loans. But the company has not written down the value of many of those loans to reflect current market prices.

For years, both Freddie and Fannie have effectively recognized losses whenever payments on a loan are 90 days past due. But in recent months, the companies saidthey would wait until payments were TWO YEARS late. As a result, tens of thousands of other loans have also not been marked down in value.

Both companies have grossly inflated their capital by relying on accumulated tax credits that can supposedly be used to offset future profits. Fannie says it gets a $36 billion capital boost from tax credits, while Freddie claims a $28 billion benefit. But unless these companies can generate profits, which now seems highly unlikely, all of the tax credits are useless. Not one penny of these so-called "assets" could ever be sold. And every single penny will now vanish as the company goes into receivership.

In short, the federal government is buying a pig in a poke — a bottomless pit that will suck up many times more capital than they're revealing.

My forecast:

Just to keep Fannie and Freddie solvent will take so much capital, there will be no funds available to pursue the primary mission of this bailout — to pump money into the mortgage market and save it from collapse. That mission will ultimately end in failure.

The Most Important Lesson of All:
As the U.S. Treasury Assumes 
Responsibility for $5.3 Trillion in Mortgages, 
It Places Its Own Borrowing Ability at Risk 

The immediate reason the government decided not to wait any longer to bail out Freddie and Fannie was very simple: All over the world, investors were beginning to reject their bonds, refusing to lend them any more money. So the price of Fannie and Freddie bonds plunged, and the yields on those bonds went through the roof.

As a result, to borrow money, Fannie-Freddie had to pay higher and higher interest rates, far above the rates paid by the U.S. Treasury Department. And they had to pass those higher rates on to any homeowner taking out a new home loan, driving 30-year fixed-rate mortgages sharply higher as well.

Now, with the U.S. Treasury itself stepping in to directly guarantee Fannie-Freddie debts, Washington and Wall Street are hoping this rapidly deteriorating scenario will be reversed.

They hope investors will flock back to Fannie and Freddie bonds.

They hope investors will resume lending them money at a rate that's much closer to the Treasury rates.
And they hope Fannie and Freddie will again be able to feed that low-cost money into the mortgage market just like they used to.

In other words, they hope the U.S. Treasury will lift up the credit of Fannie and Freddie.

There's just one not-so-small hitch in this rosy scenario: Fannie's and Freddie's mortgage obligations are just as big as the total amount of Treasury debt outstanding.So rather than the Treasury lifting up Fannie and Freddie, what about a scenario in which Fannie and Freddie drag down the U.S. Treasury?

To understand the magnitude of this dilemma, just look at the numbers ...

Mortgages owned or guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie: $5.3 trillion.

Treasury securities outstanding as of March 31, according to the Fed's Flow of Funds (report page 87, pdf page 95): Also $5.3 trillion.

If Fannie's and Freddie's obligations were equivalent to 10% or even 20% of the U.S. Treasury debts, the idea that they could fit under the Treasury's "full faith and credit" umbrella might make sense. But that's not the situation we have here — Fannie's and Freddie's obligations are the equivalent of 100% of the Treasury's debts.

And it's actually worse than that:

Short Video from Jon Stewart Show:
Jon Stewart : On Sarah Palin Hypocrisy

Bush’s Early Promises

The following is one of the few good tidbits from tonight’s Lehrer “Propaganda Hour” on PBS. One should think about it before deciding how to vote in this year’s election for one, or none, one of the elite’s two chosen candidates.

When asked at the first presidential debate prior to his election about what he would do with the $230 BILLION surplus he inherited from the Democrats, which had been projected to become a $4.5 TRILLION surplus over the next decade, Bush noted that he was a Governor from West Texas with executive experience (sound familiar), and responded, with the usual don’t believe this nonsense smirk on his face, that:

“I want to take one half of the surplus and dedicate it social security, one quarter of the surplus for important projects, and I want to send one quarter of the surplus back to the people who pay the bills.”

I realize this was before he started the wars his neocon friends and choice for VP had planned for us before he became president, but. . . .

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