Secrets and Lies of the Wall Street Bailout January 9, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: bailout, bank of america, citigroup, Economic Crisis, Federal Reserve, financial crisis, Goldman Sachs, hamp, Hank Paulson, Larry Summers, matt taibbi, Morgan Stanley, roger hollander, tarp, the fed, tim geithner, timothy geithner, Wall Street
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Roger’s note: One does not have to have a Ph.D. in Economics to understand the words “lies” and “secrets.” Matt Taibbi is one of the finest journalists writing today, and he painstakingly outlines the fraud perpetuated on the American people by the Republicrat government in collusion with the Wall Street financial institutions.
Published on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 by Rolling Stone
The federal rescue of Wall Street didn’t fix the economy – it created a permanent bailout state based on a Ponzi-like confidence scheme. And the worst may be yet to come
by Matt Taibbi
It has been four long winters since the federal government, in the hulking, shaven-skulled, Alien Nation-esque form of then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, committed $700 billion in taxpayer money to rescue Wall Street from its own chicanery and greed. To listen to the bankers and their allies in Washington tell it, you’d think the bailout was the best thing to hit the American economy since the invention of the assembly line. Not only did it prevent another Great Depression, we’ve been told, but the money has all been paid back, and the government even made a profit. No harm, no foul – right?
(Illustration by Victor Juhasz)
It was all a lie – one of the biggest and most elaborate falsehoods ever sold to the American people. We were told that the taxpayer was stepping in – only temporarily, mind you – to prop up the economy and save the world from financial catastrophe. What we actually ended up doing was the exact opposite: committing American taxpayers to permanent, blind support of an ungovernable, unregulatable, hyperconcentrated new financial system that exacerbates the greed and inequality that caused the crash, and forces Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to increase risk rather than reduce it. The result is one of those deals where one wrong decision early on blossoms into a lush nightmare of unintended consequences. We thought we were just letting a friend crash at the house for a few days; we ended up with a family of hillbillies who moved in forever, sleeping nine to a bed and building a meth lab on the front lawn.
How Wall Street Killed Financial Reform
But the most appalling part is the lying. The public has been lied to so shamelessly and so often in the course of the past four years that the failure to tell the truth to the general populace has become a kind of baked-in, official feature of the financial rescue. Money wasn’t the only thing the government gave Wall Street – it also conferred the right to hide the truth from the rest of us. And it was all done in the name of helping regular people and creating jobs. “It is,” says former bailout Inspector General Neil Barofsky, “the ultimate bait-and-switch.”
The bailout deceptions came early, late and in between. There were lies told in the first moments of their inception, and others still being told four years later. The lies, in fact, were the most important mechanisms of the bailout. The only reason investors haven’t run screaming from an obviously corrupt financial marketplace is because the government has gone to such extraordinary lengths to sell the narrative that the problems of 2008 have been fixed. Investors may not actually believe the lie, but they are impressed by how totally committed the government has been, from the very beginning, to selling it.
They Lied to Pass the Bailout
Today what few remember about the bailouts is that we had to approve them. It wasn’t like Paulson could just go out and unilaterally commit trillions of public dollars to rescue Goldman Sachs and Citigroup from their own stupidity and bad management (although the government ended up doing just that, later on). Much as with a declaration of war, a similarly extreme and expensive commitment of public resources, Paulson needed at least a film of congressional approval. And much like the Iraq War resolution, which was only secured after George W. Bush ludicrously warned that Saddam was planning to send drones to spray poison over New York City, the bailouts were pushed through Congress with a series of threats and promises that ranged from the merely ridiculous to the outright deceptive. At one meeting to discuss the original bailout bill – at 11 a.m. on September 18th, 2008 – Paulson actually told members of Congress that $5.5 trillion in wealth would disappear by 2 p.m. that day unless the government took immediate action, and that the world economy would collapse “within 24 hours.”
To be fair, Paulson started out by trying to tell the truth in his own ham-headed, narcissistic way. His first TARP proposal was a three-page absurdity pulled straight from a Beavis and Butt-Head episode – it was basically Paulson saying, “Can you, like, give me some money?” Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, remembers a call with Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. “We need $700 billion,” they told Brown, “and we need it in three days.” What’s more, the plan stipulated, Paulson could spend the money however he pleased, without review “by any court of law or any administrative agency.”
The White House and leaders of both parties actually agreed to this preposterous document, but it died in the House when 95 Democrats lined up against it. For an all-too-rare moment during the Bush administration, something resembling sanity prevailed in Washington.
So Paulson came up with a more convincing lie. On paper, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was simple: Treasury would buy $700 billion of troubled mortgages from the banks and then modify them to help struggling homeowners. Section 109 of the act, in fact, specifically empowered the Treasury secretary to “facilitate loan modifications to prevent avoidable foreclosures.” With that promise on the table, wary Democrats finally approved the bailout on October 3rd, 2008. “That provision,” says Barofsky, “is what got the bill passed.”
But within days of passage, the Fed and the Treasury unilaterally decided to abandon the planned purchase of toxic assets in favor of direct injections of billions in cash into companies like Goldman and Citigroup. Overnight, Section 109 was unceremoniously ditched, and what was pitched as a bailout of both banks and homeowners instantly became a bank-only operation – marking the first in a long series of moves in which bailout officials either casually ignored or openly defied their own promises with regard to TARP.
Congress was furious. “We’ve been lied to,” fumed Rep. David Scott, a Democrat from Georgia. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, raged at transparently douchey TARP administrator (and Goldman banker) Neel Kashkari, calling him a “chump” for the banks. And the anger was bipartisan: Republican senators David Vitter of Louisiana and James Inhofe of Oklahoma were so mad about the unilateral changes and lack of oversight that they sponsored a bill in January 2009 to cancel the remaining $350 billion of TARP.
So what did bailout officials do? They put together a proposal full of even bigger deceptions to get it past Congress a second time. That process began almost exactly four years ago – on January 12th and 15th, 2009 – when Larry Summers, the senior economic adviser to President-elect Barack Obama, sent a pair of letters to Congress. The pudgy, stubbyfingered former World Bank economist, who had been forced out as Harvard president for suggesting that women lack a natural aptitude for math and science, begged legislators to reject Vitter’s bill and leave TARP alone.
In the letters, Summers laid out a five-point plan in which the bailout was pitched as a kind of giant populist program to help ordinary Americans. Obama, Summers vowed, would use the money to stimulate bank lending to put people back to work. He even went so far as to say that banks would be denied funding unless they agreed to “increase lending above baseline levels.” He promised that “tough and transparent conditions” would be imposed on bailout recipients, who would not be allowed to use bailout funds toward “enriching shareholders or executives.” As in the original TARP bill, he pledged that bailout money would be used to aid homeowners in foreclosure. And lastly, he promised that the bailouts would be temporary – with a “plan for exit of government intervention” implemented “as quickly as possible.”
The reassurances worked. Once again, TARP survived in Congress – and once again, the bailouts were greenlighted with the aid of Democrats who fell for the old “it’ll help ordinary people” sales pitch. “I feel like they’ve given me a lot of commitment on the housing front,” explained Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat from Alaska.
But in the end, almost nothing Summers promised actually materialized. A small slice of TARP was earmarked for foreclosure relief, but the resultant aid programs for homeowners turned out to be riddled with problems, for the perfectly logical reason that none of the bailout’s architects gave a shit about them. They were drawn up practically overnight and rushed out the door for purely political reasons – to trick Congress into handing over tons of instant cash for Wall Street, with no strings attached. “Without those assurances, the level of opposition would have remained the same,” says Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a leading progressive who voted against TARP. The promise of housing aid, in particular, turned out to be a “paper tiger.”
HAMP, the signature program to aid poor homeowners, was announced by President Obama on February 18th, 2009. The move inspired CNBC commentator Rick Santelli to go berserk the next day – the infamous viral rant that essentially birthed the Tea Party. Reacting to the news that Obama was planning to use bailout funds to help poor and (presumably) minority homeowners facing foreclosure, Santelli fumed that the president wanted to “subsidize the losers’ mortgages” when he should “reward people that could carry the water, instead of drink the water.” The tirade against “water drinkers” led to the sort of spontaneous nationwide protests one might have expected months before, when we essentially gave a taxpayer-funded blank check to Gamblers Anonymous addicts, the millionaire and billionaire class.
In fact, the amount of money that eventually got spent on homeowner aid now stands as a kind of grotesque joke compared to the Himalayan mountain range of cash that got moved onto the balance sheets of the big banks more or less instantly in the first months of the bailouts. At the start, $50 billion of TARP funds were earmarked for HAMP. In 2010, the size of the program was cut to $30 billion. As of November of last year, a mere $4 billion total has been spent for loan modifications and other homeowner aid.
In short, the bailout program designed to help those lazy, job-averse, “water-drinking” minority homeowners – the one that gave birth to the Tea Party – turns out to have comprised about one percent of total TARP spending. “It’s amazing,” says Paul Kiel, who monitors bailout spending for ProPublica. “It’s probably one of the biggest failures of the Obama administration.”
The failure of HAMP underscores another damning truth – that the Bush-Obama bailout was as purely bipartisan a program as we’ve had. Imagine Obama retaining Don Rumsfeld as defense secretary and still digging for WMDs in the Iraqi desert four years after his election: That’s what it was like when he left Tim Geithner, one of the chief architects of Bush’s bailout, in command of the no-stringsattached rescue four years after Bush left office.
Yet Obama’s HAMP program, as lame as it turned out to be, still stands out as one of the few pre-bailout promises that was even partially fulfilled. Virtually every other promise Summers made in his letters turned out to be total bullshit. And that includes maybe the most important promise of all – the pledge to use the bailout money to put people back to work.
They Lied About Lending
Once TARP passed, the government quickly began loaning out billions to some 500 banks that it deemed “healthy” and “viable.” A few were cash loans, repayable at five percent within the first five years; other deals came due when a bank stock hit a predetermined price. As long as banks held TARP money, they were barred from paying out big cash bonuses to top executives.
But even before Summers promised Congress that banks would be required to increase lending as a condition for receiving bailout funds, officials had already decided not to even ask the banks to use the money to increase lending. In fact, they’d decided not to even ask banks to monitor what they did with the bailout money. Barofsky, the TARP inspector, asked Treasury to include a requirement forcing recipients to explain what they did with the taxpayer money. He was stunned when TARP administrator Kashkari rejected his proposal, telling him lenders would walk away from the program if they had to deal with too many conditions. “The banks won’t participate,” Kashkari said.
Barofsky, a former high-level drug prosecutor who was one of the only bailout officials who didn’t come from Wall Street, didn’t buy that cash-desperate banks would somehow turn down billions in aid. “It was like they were trembling with fear that the banks wouldn’t take the money,” he says. “I never found that terribly convincing.”
In the end, there was no lending requirement attached to any aspect of the bailout, and there never would be. Banks used their hundreds of billions for almost every purpose under the sun – everything, that is, but lending to the homeowners and small businesses and cities they had destroyed. And one of the most disgusting uses they found for all their billions in free government money was to help them earn even more free government money.
To guarantee their soundness, all major banks are required to keep a certain amount of reserve cash at the Fed. In years past, that money didn’t earn interest, for the logical reason that banks shouldn’t get paid to stay solvent. But in 2006 – arguing that banks were losing profits on cash parked at the Fed – regulators agreed to make small interest payments on the money. The move wasn’t set to go into effect until 2011, but when the crash hit, a section was written into TARP that launched the interest payments in October 2008.
In theory, there should never be much money in such reserve accounts, because any halfway-competent bank could make far more money lending the cash out than parking it at the Fed, where it earns a measly quarter of a percent. In August 2008, before the bailout began, there were just $2 billion in excess reserves at the Fed. But by that October, the number had ballooned to $267 billion – and by January 2009, it had grown to $843 billion. That means there was suddenly more money sitting uselessly in Fed accounts than Congress had approved for either the TARP bailout or the much-loathed Obama stimulus. Instead of lending their new cash to struggling homeowners and small businesses, as Summers had promised, the banks were literally sitting on it.
Today, excess reserves at the Fed total an astonishing $1.4 trillion.”The money is just doing nothing,” says Nomi Prins, a former Goldman executive who has spent years monitoring the distribution of bailout money.
Nothing, that is, except earning a few crumbs of risk-free interest for the banks. Prins estimates that the annual haul in interest on Fed reserves is about $3.6 billion – a relatively tiny subsidy in the scheme of things, but one that, ironically, just about matches the total amount of bailout money spent on aid to homeowners. Put another way, banks are getting paid about as much every year for not lending money as 1 million Americans received for mortgage modifications and other housing aid in the whole of the past four years.
Moreover, instead of using the bailout money as promised – to jump-start the economy – Wall Street used the funds to make the economy more dangerous. From the start, taxpayer money was used to subsidize a string of finance mergers, from the Chase-Bear Stearns deal to the Wells FargoWachovia merger to Bank of America’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch. Aided by bailout funds, being Too Big to Fail was suddenly Too Good to Pass Up.
Other banks found more creative uses for bailout money. In October 2010, Obama signed a new bailout bill creating a program called the Small Business Lending Fund, in which firms with fewer than $10 billion in assets could apply to share in a pool of $4 billion in public money. As it turned out, however, about a third of the 332 companies that took part in the program used at least some of the money to repay their original TARP loans. Small banks that still owed TARP money essentially took out cheaper loans from the government to repay their more expensive TARP loans – a move that conveniently exempted them from the limits on executive bonuses mandated by the bailout. All told, studies show, $2.2 billion of the $4 billion ended up being spent not on small-business loans, but on TARP repayment. “It’s a bit of a shell game,” admitted John Schmidt, chief operating officer of Iowa-based Heartland Financial, which took $81.7 million from the SBLF and used every penny of it to repay TARP.
Using small-business funds to pay down their own debts, parking huge amounts of cash at the Fed in the midst of a stalled economy – it’s all just evidence of what most Americans know instinctively: that the bailouts didn’t result in much new business lending. If anything, the bailouts actually hindered lending, as banks became more like house pets that grow fat and lazy on two guaranteed meals a day than wild animals that have to go out into the jungle and hunt for opportunities in order to eat. The Fed’s own analysis bears this out: In the first three months of the bailout, as taxpayer billions poured in, TARP recipients slowed down lending at a rate more than double that of banks that didn’t receive TARP funds. The biggest drop in lending – 3.1 percent – came from the biggest bailout recipient, Citigroup. A year later, the inspector general for the bailout found that lending among the nine biggest TARP recipients “did not, in fact, increase.” The bailout didn’t flood the banking system with billions in loans for small businesses, as promised. It just flooded the banking system with billions for the banks.
They Lied About the Health of the Banks
The main reason banks didn’t lend out bailout funds is actually pretty simple: Many of them needed the money just to survive. Which leads to another of the bailout’s broken promises – that taxpayer money would only be handed out to “viable” banks.
Soon after TARP passed, Paulson and other officials announced the guidelines for their unilaterally changed bailout plan. Congress had approved $700 billion to buy up toxic mortgages, but $250 billion of the money was now shifted to direct capital injections for banks. (Although Paulson claimed at the time that handing money directly to the banks was a faster way to restore market confidence than lending it to homeowners, he later confessed that he had been contemplating the direct-cash-injection plan even before the vote.) This new let’s-just-fork-over-cash portion of the bailout was called the Capital Purchase Program. Under the CPP, nine of America’s largest banks – including Citi, Wells Fargo, Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, State Street and Bank of New York Mellon – received $125 billion, or half of the funds being doled out. Since those nine firms accounted for 75 percent of all assets held in America’s banks – $11 trillion – it made sense they would get the lion’s share of the money. But in announcing the CPP, Paulson and Co. promised that they would only be stuffing cash into “healthy and viable” banks. This, at the core, was the entire justification for the bailout: That the huge infusion of taxpayer cash would not be used to rescue individual banks, but to kick-start the economy as a whole by helping healthy banks start lending again.
This announcement marked the beginning of the legend that certain Wall Street banks only took the bailout money because they were forced to – they didn’t need all those billions, you understand, they just did it for the good of the country. “We did not, at that point, need TARP,” Chase chief Jamie Dimon later claimed, insisting that he only took the money “because we were asked to by the secretary of Treasury.” Goldman chief Lloyd Blankfein similarly claimed that his bank never needed the money, and that he wouldn’t have taken it if he’d known it was “this pregnant with potential for backlash.” A joint statement by Paulson, Bernanke and FDIC chief Sheila Bair praised the nine leading banks as “healthy institutions” that were taking the cash only to “enhance the overall performance of the U.S. economy.”
But right after the bailouts began, soon-to-be Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner admitted to Barofsky, the inspector general, that he and his cohorts had picked the first nine bailout recipients because of their size, without bothering to assess their health and viability. Paulson, meanwhile, later admitted that he had serious concerns about at least one of the nine firms he had publicly pronounced healthy. And in November 2009, Bernanke gave a closed-door interview to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the body charged with investigating the causes of the economic meltdown, in which he admitted that 12 of the 13 most prominent financial companies in America were on the brink of failure during the time of the initial bailouts.
On the inside, at least, almost everyone connected with the bailout knew that the top banks were in deep trouble. “It became obvious pretty much as soon as I took the job that these companies weren’t really healthy and viable,” says Barofsky, who stepped down as TARP inspector in 2011.
This early episode would prove to be a crucial moment in the history of the bailout. It set the precedent of the government allowing unhealthy banks to not only call themselves healthy, but to get the government to endorse their claims. Projecting an image of soundness was, to the government, more important than disclosing the truth. Officials like Geithner and Paulson seemed to genuinely believe that the market’s fears about corruption in the banking system was a bigger problem than the corruption itself. Time and again, they justified TARP as a move needed to “bolster confidence” in the system – and a key to that effort was keeping the banks’ insolvency a secret. In doing so, they created a bizarre new two-tiered financial market, divided between those who knew the truth about how bad things were and those who did not.
A month or so after the bailout team called the top nine banks “healthy,” it became clear that the biggest recipient, Citigroup, had actually flat-lined on the ER table. Only weeks after Paulson and Co. gave the firm $25 billion in TARP funds, Citi – which was in the midst of posting a quarterly loss of more than $17 billion – came back begging for more. In November 2008, Citi received another $20 billion in cash and more than $300 billion in guarantees.
What’s most amazing about this isn’t that Citi got so much money, but that government-endorsed, fraudulent health ratings magically became part of its bailout. The chief financial regulators – the Fed, the FDIC and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency – use a ratings system called CAMELS to measure the fitness of institutions. CAMELS stands for Capital, Assets, Management, Earnings, Liquidity and Sensitivity to risk, and it rates firms from one to five, with one being the best and five the crappiest. In the heat of the crisis, just as Citi was receiving the second of what would turn out to be three massive federal bailouts, the bank inexplicably enjoyed a three rating – the financial equivalent of a passing grade. In her book, Bull by the Horns, then-FDIC chief Sheila Bair recounts expressing astonishment to OCC head John Dugan as to why “Citi rated as a CAMELS 3 when it was on the brink of failure.” Dugan essentially answered that “since the government planned on bailing Citi out, the OCC did not plan to change its supervisory rating.” Similarly, the FDIC ended up granting a “systemic risk exception” to Citi, allowing it access to FDIC-bailout help even though the agency knew the bank was on the verge of collapse.
The sweeping impact of these crucial decisions has never been fully appreciated. In the years preceding the bailouts, banks like Citi had been perpetuating a kind of fraud upon the public by pretending to be far healthier than they really were. In some cases, the fraud was outright, as in the case of Lehman Brothers, which was using an arcane accounting trick to book tens of billions of loans as revenues each quarter, making it look like it had more cash than it really did. In other cases, the fraud was more indirect, as in the case of Citi, which in 2007 paid out the third-highest dividend in America – $10.7 billion – despite the fact that it had lost $9.8 billion in the fourth quarter of that year alone. The whole financial sector, in fact, had taken on Ponzi-like characteristics, as many banks were hugely dependent on a continual influx of new money from things like sales of subprime mortgages to cover up massive future liabilities from toxic investments that, sooner or later, were going to come to the surface.
Now, instead of using the bailouts as a clear-the-air moment, the government decided to double down on such fraud, awarding healthy ratings to these failing banks and even twisting its numerical audits and assessments to fit the cooked-up narrative. A major component of the original TARP bailout was a promise to ensure “full and accurate accounting” by conducting regular “stress tests” of the bailout recipients. When Geithner announced his stress-test plan in February 2009, a reporter instantly blasted him with an obvious and damning question: Doesn’t the fact that you have to conduct these tests prove that bank regulators, who should already know plenty about banks’ solvency, actually have no idea who is solvent and who isn’t?
The government did wind up conducting regular stress tests of all the major bailout recipients, but the methodology proved to be such an obvious joke that it was even lampooned on Saturday Night Live. (In the skit, Geithner abandons a planned numerical score system because it would unfairly penalize bankers who were “not good at banking.”) In 2009, just after the first round of tests was released, it came out that the Fed had allowed banks to literally rejigger the numbers to make their bottom lines look better. When the Fed found Bank of America had a $50 billion capital hole, for instance, the bank persuaded examiners to cut that number by more than $15 billion because of what it said were “errors made by examiners in the analysis.” Citigroup got its number slashed from $35 billion to $5.5 billion when the bank pleaded with the Fed to give it credit for “pending transactions.”
Such meaningless parodies of oversight continue to this day. Earlier this year, Regions Financial Corp. – a company that had failed to pay back $3.5 billion in TARP loans – passed its stress test. A subsequent analysis by Bloomberg View found that Regions was effectively $525 million in the red. Nonetheless, the bank’s CEO proclaimed that the stress test “demonstrates the strength of our company.” Shortly after the test was concluded, the bank issued $900 million in stock and said it planned on using the cash to pay back some of the money it had borrowed under TARP.
This episode underscores a key feature of the bailout: the government’s decision to use lies as a form of monetary aid. State hands over taxpayer money to functionally insolvent bank; state gives regulatory thumbs up to said bank; bank uses that thumbs up to sell stock; bank pays cash back to state. What’s critical here is not that investors actually buy the Fed’s bullshit accounting – all they have to do is believe the government will backstop Regions either way, healthy or not. “Clearly, the Fed wanted it to attract new investors,” observed Bloomberg, “and those who put fresh capital into Regions this week believe the government won’t let it die.”
Through behavior like this, the government has turned the entire financial system into a kind of vast confidence game – a Ponzi-like scam in which the value of just about everything in the system is inflated because of the widespread belief that the government will step in to prevent losses. Clearly, a government that’s already in debt over its eyes for the next million years does not have enough capital on hand to rescue every Citigroup or Regions Bank in the land should they all go bust tomorrow. But the market is behaving as if Daddy will step in to once again pay the rent the next time any or all of these kids sets the couch on fire and skips out on his security deposit. Just like an actual Ponzi scheme, it works only as long as they don’t have to make good on all the promises they’ve made. They’re building an economy based not on real accounting and real numbers, but on belief. And while the signs of growth and recovery in this new faith-based economy may be fake, one aspect of the bailout has been consistently concrete: the broken promises over executive pay.
They Lied About Bonuses
hat executive bonuses on Wall Street were a political hot potato for the bailout’s architects was obvious from the start. That’s why Summers, in saving the bailout from the ire of Congress, vowed to “limit executive compensation” and devote public money to prevent another financial crisis. And it’s true, TARP did bar recipients from a whole range of exorbitant pay practices, which is one reason the biggest banks, like Goldman Sachs, worked so quickly to repay their TARP loans.
But there were all sorts of ways around the restrictions. Banks could apply to the Fed and other regulators for waivers, which were often approved (one senior FDIC official tells me he recommended denying “golden parachute” payments to Citigroup officials, only to see them approved by superiors). They could get bailouts through programs other than TARP that did not place limits on bonuses. Or they could simply pay bonuses not prohibited under TARP. In one of the worst episodes, the notorious lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac paid out more than $200 million in bonuses between 2008 and 2010, even though the firms (a) lost more than $100 billion in 2008 alone, and (b) required nearly $400 billion in federal assistance during the bailout period.
Even worse was the incredible episode in which bailout recipient AIG paid more than $1 million each to 73 employees of AIG Financial Products, the tiny unit widely blamed for having destroyed the insurance giant (and perhaps even triggered the whole crisis) with its reckless issuance of nearly half a trillion dollars in toxic credit-default swaps. The “retention bonuses,” paid after the bailout, went to 11 employees who no longer worked for AIG.
But all of these “exceptions” to the bonus restrictions are far less infuriating, it turns out, than the rule itself. TARP did indeed bar big cash-bonus payouts by firms that still owed money to the government. But those firms were allowed to issue extra compensation to executives in the form of long-term restricted stock. An independent research firm asked to analyze the stock options for The New York Times found that the top five executives at each of the 18 biggest bailout recipients received a total of $142 million in stocks and options. That’s plenty of money all by itself – but thanks in large part to the government’s overt display of support for those firms, the value of those options has soared to $457 million, an average of $4 million per executive.
In other words, we didn’t just allow banks theoretically barred from paying bonuses to pay bonuses. We actually allowed them to pay bigger bonuses than they otherwise could have. Instead of forcing the firms to reward top executives in cash, we allowed them to pay in depressed stock, the value of which we then inflated due to the government’s implicit endorsement of those firms.
All of which leads us to the last and most important deception of the bailouts:
They Lied About the Bailout Being Temporary
The bailout ended up being much bigger than anyone expected, expanded far beyond TARP to include more obscure (and in some cases far larger) programs with names like TALF, TAF, PPIP and TLGP. What’s more, some parts of the bailout were designed to extend far into the future. Companies like AIG, GM and Citigroup, for instance, were given tens of billions of deferred tax assets – allowing them to carry losses from 2008 forward to offset future profits and keep future tax bills down. Official estimates of the bailout’s costs do not include such ongoing giveaways. “This is stuff that’s never going to appear on any report,” says Barofsky.
Citigroup, all by itself, boasts more than $50 billion in deferred tax credits – which is how the firm managed to pay less in taxes in 2011 (it actually received a $144 million credit) than it paid in compensation that year to its since-ousted dingbat CEO, Vikram Pandit (who pocketed $14.9 million). The bailout, in short, enabled the very banks and financial institutions that cratered the global economy to write off the losses from their toxic deals for years to come – further depriving the government of much-needed tax revenues it could have used to help homeowners and small businesses who were screwed over by the banks in the first place.
Even worse, the $700 billion in TARP loans ended up being dwarfed by more than $7.7 trillion in secret emergency lending that the Fed awarded to Wall Street – loans that were only disclosed to the public after Congress forced an extraordinary one-time audit of the Federal Reserve. The extent of this “secret bailout” didn’t come out until November 2011, when Bloomberg Markets, which went to court to win the right to publish the data, detailed how the country’s biggest firms secretly received trillions in near-free money throughout the crisis.
Goldman Sachs, which had made such a big show of being reluctant about accepting $10 billion in TARP money, was quick to cash in on the secret loans being offered by the Fed. By the end of 2008, Goldman had snarfed up $34 billion in federal loans – and it was paying an interest rate of as low as just 0.01 percent for the huge cash infusion. Yet that funding was never disclosed to shareholders or taxpayers, a fact Goldman confirms. “We did not disclose the amount of our participation in the two programs you identify,” says Goldman spokesman Michael Duvally.
Goldman CEO Blankfein later dismissed the importance of the loans, telling the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that the bank wasn’t “relying on those mechanisms.” But in his book, Bailout, Barofsky says that Paulson told him that he believed Morgan Stanley was “just days” from collapse before government intervention, while Bernanke later admitted that Goldman would have been the next to fall.
Meanwhile, at the same moment that leading banks were taking trillions in secret loans from the Fed, top officials at those firms were buying up stock in their companies, privy to insider info that was not available to the public at large. Stephen Friedman, a Goldman director who was also chairman of the New York Fed, bought more than $4 million of Goldman stock over a five-week period in December 2008 and January 2009 – years before the extent of the firm’s lifeline from the Fed was made public. Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit bought nearly $7 million in Citi stock in November 2008, just as his firm was secretly taking out $99.5 billion in Fed loans. Jamie Dimon bought more than $11 million in Chase stock in early 2009, at a time when his firm was receiving as much as $60 billion in secret Fed loans. When asked by Rolling Stone, Chase could not point to any disclosure of the bank’s borrowing from the Fed until more than a year later, when Dimon wrote about it in a letter to shareholders in March 2010.
The stock purchases by America’s top bankers raise serious questions of insider trading. Two former high-ranking financial regulators tell Rolling Stone that the secret loans were likely subject to a 1989 guideline, issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the heat of the savings and loan crisis, which said that financial institutions should disclose the “nature, amounts and effects” of any government aid. At the end of 2011, in fact, the SEC sent letters to Citigroup, Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Wells Fargo asking them why they hadn’t fully disclosed their secret borrowing. All five megabanks essentially replied, to varying degrees of absurdity, that their massive borrowing from the Fed was not “material,” or that the piecemeal disclosure they had engaged in was adequate. Never mind that the law says investors have to be informed right away if CEOs like Dimon and Pandit decide to give themselves a $10,000 raise. According to the banks, it’s none of your business if those same CEOs are making use of a secret $50 billion charge card from the Fed.
The implications here go far beyond the question of whether Dimon and Co. committed insider trading by buying and selling stock while they had access to material nonpublic information about the bailouts. The broader and more pressing concern is the clear implication that by failing to act, federal regulators have tacitly approved the nondisclosure. Instead of trusting the markets to do the right thing when provided with accurate information, the government has instead channeled Jack Nicholson – and decided that the public just can’t handle the truth.
All of this – the willingness to call dying banks healthy, the sham stress tests, the failure to enforce bonus rules, the seeming indifference to public disclosure, not to mention the shocking lack of criminal investigations into fraud committed by bailout recipients before the crash – comprised the largest and most valuable bailout of all. Brick by brick, statement by reassuring statement, bailout officials have spent years building the government’s great Implicit Guarantee to the biggest companies on Wall Street: We will be there for you, always, no matter how much you screw up. We will lie for you and let you get away with just about anything. We will make this ongoing bailout a pervasive and permanent part of the financial system. And most important of all, we will publicly commit to this policy, being so obvious about it that the markets will be able to put an exact price tag on the value of our preferential treatment.
The first independent study that attempted to put a numerical value on the Implicit Guarantee popped up about a year after the crash, in September 2009, when Dean Baker and Travis McArthur of the Center for Economic and Policy Research published a paper called “The Value of the ‘Too Big to Fail’ Big Bank Subsidy.” Baker and McArthur found that prior to the last quarter of 2007, just before the start of the crisis, financial firms with $100 billion or more in assets were paying on average about 0.29 percent less to borrow money than smaller firms.
By the second quarter of 2009, however, once the bailouts were in full swing, that spread had widened to 0.78 percent. The conclusion was simple: Lenders were about a half a point more willing to lend to a bank with implied government backing – even a proven-stupid bank – than they were to lend to companies who “must borrow based on their own credit worthiness.” The economists estimated that the lending gap amounted to an annual subsidy of $34 billion a year to the nation’s 18 biggest banks.
Today the borrowing advantage of a big bank remains almost exactly what it was three years ago – about 50 basis points, or half a percent. “These megabanks still receive subsidies in the sense that they can borrow on the capital markets at a discount rate of 50 or 70 points because of the implicit view that these banks are Too Big to Fail,” says Sen. Brown.
Why does the market believe that? Because the officials who administered the bailouts made that point explicitly, over and over again. When Geithner announced the implementation of the stress tests in 2009, for instance, he declared that banks who didn’t have enough money to pass the test could get it from the government. “We’re going to help this process by providing a new program of capital support for those institutions that need it,” Geithner said. The message, says Barofsky, was clear: “If the banks cannot raise capital, we will do it for them.” It was an Implicit Guarantee that the banks would not be allowed to fail – a point that Geithner and other officials repeatedly stressed over the years. “The markets took all those little comments by Geithner as a clue that the government is looking out for them,” says Baker. That psychological signaling, he concludes, is responsible for the crucial half-point borrowing spread.
The inherent advantage of bigger banks – the permanent, ongoing bailout they are still receiving from the government – has led to a host of gruesome consequences. All the big banks have paid back their TARP loans, while more than 300 smaller firms are still struggling to repay their bailout debts. Even worse, the big banks, instead of breaking down into manageable parts and becoming more efficient, have grown even bigger and more unmanageable, making the economy far more concentrated and dangerous than it was before. America’s six largest banks – Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley – now have a combined 14,420 subsidiaries, making them so big as to be effectively beyond regulation. A recent study by the Kansas City Fed found that it would take 70,000 examiners to inspect such trillion-dollar banks with the same level of attention normally given to a community bank. “The complexity is so overwhelming that no regulator can follow it well enough to regulate the way we need to,” says Sen. Brown, who is drafting a bill to break up the megabanks.
Worst of all, the Implicit Guarantee has led to a dangerous shift in banking behavior. With an apparently endless stream of free or almost-free money available to banks – coupled with a well-founded feeling among bankers that the government will back them up if anything goes wrong – banks have made a dramatic move into riskier and more speculative investments, including everything from high-risk corporate bonds to mortgagebacked securities to payday loans, the sleaziest and most disreputable end of the financial system. In 2011, banks increased their investments in junk-rated companies by 74 percent, and began systematically easing their lending standards in search of more high-yield customers to lend to.
This is a virtual repeat of the financial crisis, in which a wave of greed caused bankers to recklessly chase yield everywhere, to the point where lowering lending standards became the norm. Now the government, with its Implicit Guarantee, is causing exactly the same behavior – meaning the bailouts have brought us right back to where we started. “Government intervention,” says Klaus Schaeck, an expert on bailouts who has served as a World Bank consultant, “has definitely resulted in increased risk.”
And while the economy still mostly sucks overall, there’s never been a better time to be a Too Big to Fail bank. Wells Fargo reported a third-quarter profit of nearly $5 billion last year, while JP Morgan Chase pocketed $5.3 billion – roughly double what both banks earned in the third quarter of 2006, at the height of the mortgage bubble. As the driver of their success, both banks cite strong performance in – you guessed it – the mortgage market.
So what exactly did the bailout accomplish? It built a banking system that discriminates against community banks, makes Too Big to Fail banks even Too Bigger to Failier, increases risk, discourages sound business lending and punishes savings by making it even easier and more profitable to chase high-yield investments than to compete for small depositors. The bailout has also made lying on behalf of our biggest and most corrupt banks the official policy of the United States government. And if any one of those banks fails, it will cause another financial crisis, meaning we’re essentially wedded to that policy for the rest of eternity – or at least until the markets call our bluff, which could happen any minute now.
Other than that, the bailout was a smashing success.
As Rolling Stone’s chief political reporter, Matt Taibbi’s predecessors include the likes of journalistic giants Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O’Rourke. Taibbi’s 2004 campaign journal Spanking the Donkey cemented his status as an incisive, irreverent, zero-bullshit reporter. His books include Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History, The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion, Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire.
Tags: bank of america, chase, citigroup, elizabeth warren, eric schneiderman, Federal Reserve, geithner, home foreclosures, homeowner assistance, jpmorgan, kathryn wylde, main street, robo=signing, roger bybee, tarp, Wall Street, Wells Fargo
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expose the destructive thinking of our financial and political elites.
“Corporations are people, my friend,” Mitt Romney recently declared.
That was pretty clumsy coming from a mega-millionaire Republican candidate,
as he was backing the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United
opposed by no less than 80 percent of the public because of the enormous
political power it confers
upon the rich.
But how about the notion that “Wall Street is our Main Street,” which was voiced
by Federal Reserve official Kathryn Wylde? Her assertion was especially
startling because her explicit duty is “to represent
the public” in determining how to handle the massive wrongdoing of major banks
in ramming through home foreclosures.
However, Wylde was merely being honest about the aims of federal policy. The
idea that “Wall Street is Main Street” and its protection was the uppermost goal
in the mind of top Treasury Department officials. The plight of working families
on the verge of losing their homes—well, that was somehow a much, much lower
The major banks—Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells
Fargo—are facing legal pressure from the attorneys general of all 50 states over
their practices, including “robo-signing.”
With the ownership of mortgages spread among thousands of investors due to
securities designed to minimize the risk, it becomes hopelessly complex to prove
ownership of a home when a bank wants to foreclose, as Chris Hayes of The
Nation explained on MSNBC Wednesday night.
But no sweat! Presto—the banks came up with reams of bogus documents and then
hired employees whose job was to sign affidavits saying that yes, indeed, Bank
of America owned the home in question. Untold thousands of families were thus
These unlawful practices brought together the 50 attorneys general who
demanded—no, not time in jail for bank CEOs—$20 billion in fines that would be
devoted to mortgage modifications. In exchange, the bankers would get total
immunity from prosecution.
When New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman—who this week was dismissed
from the executive committee of the 50-state AG investigation—balked at
accepting the deal, Wylde, the public’s watchdog, told
It is of concern to the industry that instead of trying to facilitate
resolving these issues, you seem to be throwing a wrench into it. Wall Street is
our Main Street — love ’em or hate ’em. They are important and we have to make
sure we are doing everything we can to support them unless they are doing
Wylde’s concern for the banks—already the recipients of taxpayers’ generous
2008 TARP bailout package—has been matched throughout the past two and a half
years of Obama administration programs designed to help homeowners.
The programs were supposed to help desperate
working families faced with rising
interest rates and falling home values to stay in their homes.
Recent reports and articles on foreclosures should assure Wylde that the
bankers have been treated with kid gloves from day one of the mortgage-relief
programs. First, the Obama Administration apparently ruled out the idea of
prosecuting bank officials for their multiple offenses, as Mary Bottari of
Bankster USA points
Perverse incentives on Wall Street allowed top executives to make more money
on flawed loans than boring old 30-year mortgages.
Even though there is widespread agreement that Wall Street’s endless appetite
for high-interest, high-fees loans to fuel the mortgage securitization machine
had a causal role in supercharging the housing bubble, not one mortgage servicer
provider or big bank CEO has been put in jail. This compares to over 1,000
successful prosecutions of top officers during the Savings and Loan crisis of
the late 1980s.
The almost uniform judgment of government officials outside Treasury
Secretary Timothy Geithner is that the homeowner assistance programs have been a
disaster. Former Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware said: “We have a $700 billion
program that basically helped all the banks but really hasn’t done a whole lot
for people who in the process of losing their homes.”
Elizabeth Warren, the consumer advocate who inspires fear and loathing among
Republicans, “grilled” Geithner at a June hearing in Washington D.C. for shaping
the programs around the needs of banks and other financial institutions rather
than homeowners, the New York Times reported:
“Forgive me, Mr. Secretary, but you say we designed the program from the
beginning, in effect you’re saying, not to save everyone,” she said. “You
designed it around servicers who, I wrote it down when you said it, ‘servicers
have done a terrible job.’
“We only have three months left, with hundreds
of thousands of families facing foreclosure,” she continued. “Is it time to
rethink whether or not a mortgage foreclosure prevention program that is based
on a group of servicers whom you describe as having done a terrible job, is a
program that perhaps should be redesigned?”
Particularly tragic is that these programs were proposed at a moment when the
public was ready
for truly innovative action to help families on the verge of losing their
With the antiforeclosure programs failing so badly, the nation is in no
condition to cope with a housing picture that is, if anything, worsening,
according to economist Jack Rasmus.
Foreclosures now approach 10 million, with some sources predicting 13-14
million before the current housing cycle bottoms. That’s about one-fourth of all
mortgages in the U.S. The numbers for homes in negative equity are even greater at around 16 million.
money. Much of our finacial services industry and their leaders are based in NY
City and adjacent areas, providing directly and indirectly 500,000 jobs.many of
them among the best paying and paying a living wage. That also means huge
precentages of tax revenues to NY City and State as well as huge amounts of
campaign contibutions/bribes to politicans of both parties. That means you don’t
want to chase them out with even sound and reasoned criminal proscution or civil
actions to Texas or other rich and corporate friendly states.
that the NYS AG is an elected position, so they too are looking for campaign
contributions thus comprimising their proscution policies. Look at what happened
to Elliot Spitzer who went after the NY Stock Exchange and AIG where somehow it
come up that he was seeing prostitutes – probably by those interests having
private investigators looking for any dirt they could throw on him to get
revenge for his active going after their abuses.
Who Are You and What Have You Done With the Community Organizer We Elected President? November 18, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis.
Tags: banking collapse, chris dodd, citigroup, clinton administration, congress, deregulation, Economic Crisis, Federal Reserve, gimothy geithner, Gramm-Leach-Bliley, hartford insurance, hedge funds, lawrence summers, neal wolin, Obama, robert rubin, Robert Scheer, roger hollander, senate banking, tarp, Wall Street
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What’s up with Barack Obama? The candidate for change once promised to take on the powerful banking interests but is now doing their bidding. Finally, a leading Democrat, in this case Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, has a good idea for monitoring the Wall Street fat cats who all but destroyed the American economy, and the Obama administration condemns it.
Dodd wants to take supervisory power from the Federal Reserve, which is controlled by the banks it pretends to monitor, and put it in the hands of a new independent agency. That makes sense given the Fed’s abject failure to properly monitor the financial sector over the past decade as that industry got drunk on greed. As Dodd’s spokeswoman Kirstin Brost put it: “The Federal Reserve flat out failed at supervising the largest, most complex firms.” But White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee frets that taking power from the Fed would cause financial industry “nervousness.” Isn’t that the whole point of government regulation-to make the bandits look over their shoulders before they launch their next destructive scam?
Not so in the view of Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, who blithely insists that the Fed “is the best agency equipped for the task of supervising the largest, most complex firms,” despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary. There is some irony in the fact that the largest of those complex firms got to be “too big to fail” because of the radical deregulatory legislation that Wolin drafted during his previous incarnation as the Treasury Department’s general counsel in the Clinton administration. Wolin is now deputy to Timothy Geithner, who as head of the New York Fed in the five years preceding the banking meltdown looked the other way as the disaster began to unfold.
Why is Barack Obama allowing these retreads from the Clinton era who went on to great riches on Wall Street to set economic policy for his administration? The fatal hallmark of this president’s financial policy is that it is being designed by the very people whose previous legislative efforts created the mess that enriched them while impoverishing the nation, and they now want more of the same.
In the Clinton years, Wolin was general counsel to then-Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, the key architect of the radical deregulation that caused the recent banking collapse. Summers went off to work for hedge funds and banks that paid him $15 million in 2008 while he was advising Obama. Meanwhile, Wolin became general counsel for Hartford Insurance Corp., which had to be bailed out by the taxpayers because it took advantage of the radical deregulation that he helped write into law.
Wolin, Geithner and Summers were all protégés of Robert Rubin, who, as Clinton’s treasury secretary, was the grand author of the strategy of freeing Wall Street firms from their Depression-era constraints. It was Wolin who, at Rubin’s behest, became a key force in drafting the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which ended the barrier between investment and commercial banks and insurance companies, thus permitting the new financial behemoths to become too big to fail. Two stunning examples of such giants that had to be rescued with public funds are Citigroup bank, where Rubin went to “earn” $120 million after leaving the Clinton White House, and the Hartford Insurance Co., where Wolin landed after he left Treasury.
Both Citigroup and Hartford would not have gotten into trouble were it not for the enabling legislation that the three Clinton officials pushed through while they were in power. But even with that law, had Geithner been on the case protecting the public interest while head of the New York Fed much of the damage could have been avoided.
Thanks to the legislation that Wolin helped write, the limits preventing mergers between insurance companies and banks imposed during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency was reversed. Hartford got into banking, and as The Washington Times observed in a scathing editorial, “Hartford … rushed to buy regulated savings and loans just so they could call themselves banks and qualify for government TARP funds.” Wolin collected his millions while the taxpayers were obliged to cover Hartford’s losses.
It is depressing for a columnist who had great hopes for Obama to be forced by the facts to credit editors at the right-wing Washington Times for getting it right when they opined: “Revolving doors between industry and the administration and fat-cat political contributors getting bailed out at taxpayer expense sound like business as usual. This certainly isn’t change we can believe in.” Please, Mr. President, say it ain’t so.
Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.
Foreclosure Fiasco Continues: The Bush-Obama Strategy of Throwing Billions at Banks Doesn’t Work June 27, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: bailout, Ben Bernanke, Bush, citigroup, commodity futures, economy, Federal Reserve, food banks, foreclosure, gary gensler, gene sperling, glass-steagall, Goldman Sachs, Larry Summers, mortgage, mortgage crisis, ned, Obama, obama administration, poverty, Robert Scheer, roger hollander, Wall Street
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Americans are now $14 trillion poorer. Many who thought they were middle class have now joined the ranks of the poor.
It’s not working. The Bush-Obama strategy of throwing trillions at the banks to solve the mortgage crisis is a huge bust. The financial moguls, while tickled pink to have $1.25 trillion in toxic assets covered by the feds, along with hundreds of billions in direct handouts, are not using that money to turn around the free fall in housing foreclosures.
As The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, “The Mortgage Bankers Association cut its forecast of home-mortgage lending this year by 27% amid deflating hopes for a boom in refinancing.” The same association said that the total refinancing under the administration’s much ballyhooed Home Affordable Refinance Program is “very low.”
Aside from a tight mortgage market, the problem in preventing foreclosures has to do with homeowners losing their jobs. Here again the administration, continuing the Bush strategy, is working the wrong end of the problem. Although President Obama was wise enough to at least launch a job stimulus program, a far greater amount of federal funding benefits Wall Street as opposed to Main Street.
State and local governments have been forced into draconian budget cuts, firing workers who are among the most reliable in making their mortgage payments–when they have jobs. Yet the Obama administration won’t spend even a small fraction of what it has wasted on the banks to cover state shortfalls.
California couldn’t get the White House to guarantee $5.5 billion in short-term notes to avert severe cuts in state and local payrolls, from prison guards to schoolteachers. Compare that with the $50 billion already given to Citigroup, plus an astounding $300 billion to guarantee that institution’s toxic assets. Citigroup benefits from being a bank “too big to fail,” although through its irresponsible actions to get that large it did as much as any company to cause this mess.
How big a mess? According to the Federal Reserve’s most recent report, seven straight quarters of declining household wealth have left Americans $14 trillion poorer. Many who thought they were middle class have now joined the ranks of the poor. Food banks are strapped and welfare rolls are dramatically on the rise, as the WSJ reports, with a 27 percent year-to-year increase in Oregon, 23 percent in South Carolina and 10 percent in California. And you have to be very poor to get on welfare, thanks to President Clinton’s so-called welfare reform, which he signed into law before he ramped up the radical deregulation of the financial services industry, enabling our economic downturn.
Citigroup, the prime mover for ending the sensible restraints of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, is now a pathetic ward of the state. But back in the day President Clinton would tour the country with Citigroup founder Sandy Weill touting the wonderful work that Weill and other moguls were doing to invest in economically depressed communities. It wasn’t really happening then, and now millions of folks in those communities have seen their houses snatched from them as if they were just pieces in a game of Monopoly that Clinton and his fat-cat buddy were playing.
Once Weill got the radical deregulation law he wanted, he issued a statement giving credit: “In particular, we congratulate President Clinton, Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, NEC [National Economic Council] Chairman Gene Sperling, Under Secretary of the Treasury Gary Gensler, Assistant Treasury Secretaries Linda Robertson and Greg Baer.”
Summers is now Obama’s top economic adviser, Sperling has been appointed legal counselor at Treasury, and Gensler, a former partner in Goldman Sachs, is head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which he once attempted to prevent from regulating derivatives when it was run by Brooksley Born. Robertson worked for Summers in pushing through the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which freed the derivatives market from adult supervision and contained the “Enron Loophole,” permitting that company to go wild. Robertson then became the top Washington lobbyist for Enron and was recently appointed senior adviser to Fed Chair Ben S. Bernanke. Baer went to work as a corporate counsel for Bank of America, which announced his appointment with a press release crediting him with having “coordinated Treasury policy” during the Clinton years in getting Glass-Steagall repealed. As a result of deregulation, B of A too spiraled out of control and ended up as a beneficiary of the Treasury’s welfare program.
Why was I so naive as to have expected this Democratic president to not do the bidding of the banks when the last president from that party joined the Republicans in giving the moguls everything they wanted? Please, Obama, prove me wrong.
Robert Scheer is Editor in Chief of Truthdig and author of a new book, The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America.
Mortgaging the White House May 2, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: bailout, bank bailout, banking barons, banksters, bill moyers, citigroup, congressional oversight, cop, economic advisor, Economic Crisis, fdr, Federal Reserve, finance industry, foreclosure, franklin delano roosevelt, geithner, great deression, gretchen morgenson, jo becker, laissez-faire, Larry Summers, michael winship, new york federal reserve, president obama, richard durbin, robert rubin, roger hollander, tarp, tarp bailout, taxpayer, treasury, Wall Street, white house
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Published on Saturday, May 2, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
In his first hundred days, FDR came out swinging. He shut down the banks, threw the money lenders from the temple, cranked out so much legislation so fast he would shout to his secretary, Grace Tully, “Grace, take a law!” Will Rogers said Congress didn’t pass bills anymore; it just waved as they went by.
President Obama’s been busy, but contrary to many of the pundits, he’s no FDR. Our new president got his political education in the world of Chicago ward politics, and seems to have adopted a strategy from the machine of that city’s longtime boss, the late Richard J. Daley, father of the current mayor there. “Don’t make no waves,” one of Daley’s henchmen used to advise, “don’t back no losers.”
Your opinion of Obama’s first 100 days depends of course on your own vantage point. But we’d argue that as part of his bending over backwards to support the banks and avoid the losers, he has blundered mightily in his choice of economic advisers.
Last week, at a hearing of the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) monitoring the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner tried to correct AFL-CIO General Counsel Damon Silvers. “I’ve practiced law and you’ve been a banker,” Silvers said. Never, Geithner replied, “I’ve only been in public service.”
We beg to differ. Read Jo Becker and Gretchen Morgenson’s front-page profile of Secretary Geithner in Monday’s New York Times, and you’ll see how Robert Rubin protégé Geithner, during the five years he was running the New York Federal Reserve, fell under the spell of the big barons of banking to whom he would one day help shovel overly generous sums of money at taxpayer expense.
During “an era of unbridled and ultimately disastrous risk-taking by the financial industry,” the Times reported, “… He forged unusually close relationships with executives of Wall Street’s giant financial institutions.
“His actions, as a regulator and later a bailout king, often aligned with the industry’s interests and desires, according to interviews with financiers, regulators and analysts and a review of Federal Reserve records.”
Wined and dined at the Four Seasons, and in corporate dining rooms and fine homes by the very men whose greed and judgment helped bring on the Great Collapse, Geithner became so much a favorite of the Club that former Citigroup chairman Sandy Weill talked with him about becoming the bank’s CEO.
According to Becker and Morgenson, “Even as banks complain that the government has attached too many intrusive strings to its financial assistance, a range of critics — lawmakers, economists and even former Federal Reserve colleagues — say that the bailout Mr. Geithner has played such a central role in fashioning is overly generous to the financial industry at taxpayer expense.”
The two reporters write that Geithner “repeatedly missed or overlooked signs” that the financial system was self-destructing. “When he did spot trouble, analysts say, his responses were too measured, or too late.”
In choosing a man to manage the bailout of the banks who’s so cozy with its players, and then installing as his White House economic adviser Larry Summers, who in the Clinton administration took a laissez-faire attitude toward the financial industry which would later enrich him, the president bought into the old fantasy that what’s best for Wall Street is best for America.
With these two as his financial gatekeepers, President Obama’s now in the position of Louis XVI being advised by Marie Antoinette to have another piece of cake until that rumble in the streets has passed on by.
In fact, other Wall Street insiders — many of them big contributors to the Obama presidential campaign, and progressive in their concern for the public interest — privately are expressing serious concerns that Geithner, Summers and their associates are leading the president and America’s taxpayers down a path toward further economic disaster.
This week, as Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois unsuccessfully fought for a congressional amendment he said would have helped 1.7 million Americans save their homes from foreclosure, the senator told a radio station back home that, “The banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”
He could say the same of the White House.
Pirate Bankers, Shadow Economies April 15, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Economic Crisis, Nigeria.
Tags: africa government, africa poltics, capital flight, citigroup, corruption perceptions, cpi, economic justice, Free Trade, G20, global shadow economy, Gordon Brown, IMF, jacob zuma, khadija sharife, nigeria dictator, nigeria oil, oecd, roger hollander, sani abacha, swiss bank account, swiss banks, tax havens, tax justice, third world corruption, third world economy, ti, transparency international, washington consensus, World Bank
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Published on Wednesday, April 15, 2009 by Foreign Policy In Focus
Corruption isn’t an issue that Jacob Zuma, the current president of the African National Congress – South Africa’s liberation party – is particularly enthusiastic about. Until prosecutors dropped charges in early April, Zuma stood accused of three dozen counts of corruption, graft, fraud, and racketeering related to a rigged multibillion-dollar arms deal. He was alleged to have accepted 783 payments from French arms multinational Thint via his financial advisor Shabir Sheik, who was later convicted for graft, fraud, and corruption. Sheik has since emerged from prison, serving just 28 months of his 15-year term.
In Africa, political power is often used as a “get out of jail free” card, immunizing the venal political elite through various mechanisms. Transparency International, the global corruption watchdog renowned for its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), argues that corruption is especially rampant in Africa. TI defines corruption as the “abuse of entrusted power for private gain,” a notion limited to the governing bodies in developing countries.
But this is only half the story. A respectable financial army plays an invaluable role in a global shadow economy. A coterie of bankers, accountants, and lawyers – based in “transparent” London, New York, and Singapore – serve as the agents of tax havens and offshore financial centers, and they’re backed by multilateral financial institutions. Corrupt government leaders get away with graft much more easily and more frequently because of these international financial enablers.
According to Global Financial Integrity’s Raymond Baker, a leading capital flight expert, an estimated $900 billion is siphoned from underdeveloped regions each year. Since the 1970s, Africa has experienced a loss of $600 billion in capital flight, a considerable portion derived from odious loans that commercial and development banks provided to despotic regimes. Harvard economist James Henry argues that that more than $1 trillion worth of loans “disappeared into corruption-ridden projects or was simply stolen outright.”
Facilitating this theft are the IMF and World Bank’s structural adjustment programs through tax competition, liberalized trade, and natural resources auctioned piecemeal to corporations. These multilateral institutions made it easier for politicians and corporations to acquire capital and then spirit it out of the country.
“The IMF pushed the Washington Consensus, pushed free trade for corporations, providing them with market access and minimum impediments in Africa such as tax competition,” said Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research LLP. “The IMF helped companies not to pay their taxes. They got it horribly wrong.”
Despite TI’s emphasis on corrupt political environments – which has since become the definition of corruption – less than 5% of capital flight comes from this narrow category, according to Murphy. A much larger portion of capital flight, 30%, derives from garden-variety crimes like drug trafficking and money laundering. Multinational internal mispricing, meanwhile, constitutes an astounding 60% of illicit flight.
“TI has got it all wrong,” stated Murphy. “Transfer mispricing constitutes the largest portion of flight capital.” But even when capital flight happens because of corruption narrowly understood, like bribery, where does the money end up? Probably tax havens and places like Switzerland, which zealously protects the privacy of its depositors. Though Sudan, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe rank near to last on CPI’s list of 180 countries, Switzerland comes in at a pristine fifth place. “The idea that Switzerland has a clean economy is a joke. It is a dirt-driven economy,” said Murphy.
Tax justice was billed as the “big issue” of the recent G20 meeting in London, a gathering of the largest economies in the world. By targeting Switzerland and numerous island economies, Prime Minister Gordon Brown conveniently shifted attention away from UK crown dependencies and overseas territories, accounting for more than a quarter of all tax havens worldwide.
And London is the head office.
“Tax havens are little more than booking centers. I’ve seen transactions where all the decisions are made in London, but booked in havens,” stated an official of Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, to John Christensen, cofounder of the Tax Justice Network and former economic advisor to Jersey, one of the world’s leading tax havens – and a UK crown dependency.
High-net-worth individuals have already secreted away more than $11.4 trillion, Christensen estimates, resulting in a loss of over $250 billion in taxes each year, minus corporate profits declared in tax havens.
The presence of tax havens, guaranteeing protection and discretion to corrupt political elites and economic criminals, directly undermines democracy and development, manipulating legal vacuums in unanticipated ways.
“The IMF is in favor of the highly flawed incentive of tax holidays. Many countries have lost huge sums of revenue, because tax incentives undermine revenue base of developing countries,” said Christensen. “Corporations prefer weak governments that are anxious to secure investments, and despotic governments,” he stated.
Over 60% of global trade occurs in unobserved vacuums. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), composed of 27 high-income countries, have decided to focus on these conduits as well as the exotic islands, thus marginalizing and absolving structural exploitation, the lax regulation, and the culture of secrecy, all of which underpins the larger OECD economies such as London.
The strength of offshore hubs – an intricate labyrinth that facilitates flight and protects the corrupt through obscuring transparency, depends on the lack of automatic exchange of information between countries experiencing capital flight and those on the receiving end. After intensive lobbying by the international financial community, the IMF removed just such a provision on information exchange from the final drafts of its Article of Agreement. Presently, governments are only able to interrogate havens when already in possession of data related to illicit financial transactions and assets. The power of offshore hubs expanded when the IMF paved the way for capital account liberalization in the late 1970s. Cross-border flows increased eightfold. Unlike tax havens, offshore hubs relocate at the first sign of financial regulation. This is often done via costly flee clauses. The move to target and regulate tax havens, which range from shell companies to conduit markets to hedge funds, shouldn’t detract from the importance of regulating offshore hubs as distinct entities.
Going after the Real Corrupters
During his days on the throne, according to the Tax Justice Network’s John Christensen, former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha had a standing order to transfer $15 million from state coffers to his Swiss bank account each day, resulting in a personal fortune of $3-$5 billion. One hundred banks (including Citigroup) knowingly protected Abacha and facilitated his plunder. Since the early 1990s, the population of Nigerians living on less than one dollar per day has increased by 10%.
Nigeria’s economy is largely dependent on hydrocarbon contracts, which is the root of the problem. “Hydrocarbon contracts in particular are very secretive, especially with regards to taxation, and it is difficult to get evidence of payment, with many political parties and politicians receiving payment on the side,” said Christensen.
Nigeria isn’t the only country subject to opaque transactions and capital flight. Wall Street’s $56 trillion tumble was triggered by toxic assets traded in the shadow economy. Suddenly, the spotlight in the United States fell on discretely marketed tax havens and powerful multinationals, many of them on the receiving end of taxpayer-subsidized bail-out funds. The Government Accountability Office reported that 83 of the top 100 corporations maintained multiple subsidiary units in tax havens.
The key to addressing corruption in the broadest sense is through country-by-country reporting. Such reports reveal the presence of multinationals in each country, trade names, financial performance, physical assets, the number of employees, sales to third parties, and intra-group trading, profits, and tax payments to the governments in each location. “Country-by-country reporting already works in the US where states all have different corporate taxes,” stated Murphy. “It would allow us to ‘look through’ havens, and if nothing of value is added there, we can simply ignore it and tax the companies where performance is happening.”
The automatic exchange of information in conjunction with country-by-country reporting would bolster accountability by precipitating automatic sanctions on havens, disincentivising capital flight and corruption. In doing so, the magnifying glass of transparency would fall on unchecked and unregulated shadow economies in developed and developing countries alike.
Now that would be an economic revolution.
Proof that Geithner’s Bank Plan Is a Massive Giveaway to the Bastards Who Started This Mess April 5, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: beithner bank plan, citigroup, fdic.taxpayer, geithner, Goldman Sachs, joshua holland, jpmorgan chase, moral hazard, Morgan Stanley, roger hollander, spencer bachus, tarp, toxic assets, treasury department, troubled assets, zombie banks
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Banks ”colluding to swap assets at inflated prices using taxpayers’ dollars.”
Recall the Geithner Bank Plan in a nutshell: private investors will partner with the government to buy those “toxic” assets off of struggling “zombie banks.” The buyers would put about 7 percent of the purchase price down, and the Treasury Department would match that with another 7 or so percent. Then the FDIC would offer government-backed loans for the remainder.
If the assets were to recover their value and turn a profit down the road, the investors would split the profits with the government. But if they don’t – if their values continue to tank, and it’s entirely likely many will — then you and I and everyone else we know who pays taxes will be on the hook for the lion’s share of the losses.
In other words, we’re letting bargain-hunters pick up the “troubled assets” that are burdening a number of financial institutions for pennies on the dollar, and limiting their downside risk if it doesn’t turn out well. It’s a pretty sweet deal for those investors. And, as I wrote when Geithner first announced the plan, it’s also pretty much the definition of “moral hazard.”
That background is important in order to understand just how incredibly infuriating this report from The Financial Times is:
US banks that have received government aid, including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, are considering buying toxic assets to be sold by rivals under the Treasury’s $1,000bn (£680bn) plan to revive the financial system.
The plans proved controversial, with critics charging that the government’s public-private partnership – which provide generous loans to investors – are intended to help banks sell, rather than acquire, troubled securities and loans.
Participating in the plan as a buyer could be complicated for Citi, which has suffered billions of dollars in writedowns on mortgage-backed assets and is about to cede a 36 per cent stake to the government.
Citi declined to comment. People close to the company said it was considering whether to take part in the plan as a seller, buyer or manager of the assets, but no decision had yet been taken.
Goldman and Morgan Stanley have large fund management units and have pledged to increase investments in distressed assets.
This week, John Mack, Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, told staff the bank was considering how to become “one of the firms that can buy these assets and package them where your clients will have access to them”.
Goldman and JPMorgan did not comment, but bankers said they were considering buying toxic assets.
Get it? We first pumped tens of billions of dollars into these institutions via the TARP, set up another program to aid them further by offering investors the opportunity to purchase the “shitpile” on their books with sweet federal subsidies, and they then turn around and now they’re essentially going to buy the assets back with taxpayer-backed loans.
Critics say that would leave the same amount of toxic assets in the system as before, but with the government now liable for most of the losses through its provision of non-recourse loans.
Administration officials reject the criticism because banking is part of a financial system, in which the owners of bank equity — such as pension funds — are the same entities that will be investing in toxic assets anyway. Seen this way, the plan simply helps to rearrange the location of these assets in the system in a way that is more transparent and acceptable to markets.
What mumbo-jumbo — “banking is part of the financial system.” Thanks, but there’s a difference between pension funds and the financial institutions who have taken boatloads of public cash because they were deemed “too big to fail.”
But the obviousness of Big Finance’s rip-off may get in the way of its success. The Financial Times warns, “public opinion may not tolerate the idea of banks selling each other their bad assets …”
And let’s give a Republican who’s trying to capitalize on that sentiment some rare credit around here …
Spencer Bachus, the top Republican on the House financial services committee, vowed after being told of the plans by the FT to introduce legislation to stop financial institutions ”gaming the system to reap taxpayer-subsidized windfalls”.
Mr Bachus added it would mark ”a new level of absurdity” if financial institutions were ”colluding to swap assets at inflated prices using taxpayers’ dollars.”
Shocking but true: Spencer Bachus is 100 percent right.
PS: Make sure to catch this piece in today’s WaPo about Giethner’s own role in creating the financial meltdown.
The TARP Dog and Pony Show February 12, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: bailout, bank executives, bank of america, bank rescue, citigroup, dean baker, Federal Reserve, geithner, J.P. Morgan, obama adminstration, roger hollander, securities, shareholders, Stimulus, stock market, taxpayer, taxpayer dollars, Wall Street
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Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s long-awaited plan for rescuing the banks left people even more confused about the Obama administration’s agenda than they had been before the announcement. This is best demonstrated by the plunge in the market, including bank stocks, that immediately followed.
While it is generally foolish to assess the merits of a policy based on the market’s response, it is a safe bet that if the plan were the unambiguous bonanza for the banks that many of us feared, bank stocks would rally based on their good fortune. At this point, we cannot be sure that it is not a giveaway, but apparently the banks do not seem to think that it is. This is one of those cases where everything will depend on the details, which we have not yet seen.
The one program that Geithner did outline with some clarity was a plan to buy up newly issued investment-grade securities backed up by car loans, credit-card debt, and student loans. This plan would expand a Federal Reserve Board initiative, which has not yet been started, from $100 billion to $1 trillion.
There is nothing obviously wrong with this proposal. It will help to extend credit in these markets, although people with questionable credit histories or who have recently lost their jobs will still have difficulty qualifying for loans. One issue that is not clear is whether there will be public disclosure of the assets purchased under this program. The Fed had not been in the practice of disclosing the details of its activities under its other programs. Either the Fed will have to change its practice, or Geithner’s commitment to openness is not as great as claimed.
This brings us to the other program that Geithner only vaguely outlined. He said that he wanted to partner with private firms to arrange for purchases of the banks’ bad assets. The Treasury would provide guarantees that would limit the losses that private firms would incur, as it has done with hundreds of billions of assets held by Citigroup, J.P. Morgan, and Bank of America.
In principle, government guarantees could make bad assets attractive to private investors. The problem is that the guarantees are in effect a subsidy to the banks, since they add an enormous amount of value to their assets. It may be difficult to know the full extent of the subsidy, since many of the prospective buyers of the banks’ junk are likely to be private-equity funds and hedge funds, both of whom have very little by way of disclosure requirements.
Fortunately, we don’t have to follow the individual trades to know whether the taxpayers are being ripped off. We just need to ask some more basic questions like “How much will this thing cost?” If the answer is anywhere much more than zero — as Geithner suggested it will be — and we still see that bank stocks carry significant value and bank executives continue to hold on to their high-paying jobs, then we will know that we have been had.
The basic point is extremely simple. We have a large number of bankrupt banks. We have a public interest in keeping the banks functioning, but we have zero public interest in giving taxpayer dollars to bank shareholders or to the executives that wrecked the banks they ran.
Geithner can design as complex a dog and pony show as he wants, but if his plan takes up hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars and does not involve wiping out the shareholders and sending the bank executives packing, then he has ripped us off.
Chalk it up to business as usual.
Tags: amy goodman, bailout, bank of america, banks, bar association, bruce marks, citigroup, department of commerce, economic justice, economic meltdown, evictions, fair housing center, fammie mae, fdic, foreclosures, gmac, Goldman Sachs, homeowners, hsbc, jpmorgan, judd gregg, kathy broka, legal aid, legal aid society, marcy kaptur, mortgage restructure, mortganges, naca, option one, paulson, pnc, predators tour, predatory lending, real estate, roger hollander, sec, sheriff's eviction, Stimulus, subprime, tarp, tim geithner, treasury department, Wachovia, Wall Street, wilbur ross
www.democracynow.org, February 3, 2009
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Democratic Congress member from the Ninth Congressional District of Ohio. She’s the longest-serving Democratic woman in the history of the House.
Bruce Marks, Founder and CEO of NACA, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, which has just successfully pressured Fannie Mac to restructure thousands of troubled mortgages.
Kathy Broka, President of the Fair Housing Center in Toledo, Ohio.
AMY GOODMAN: After an $850 billion bailout for Wall Street and another $25 billion for the auto industry, struggling homeowners still await large-scale government assistance. The Obama administration says it’s working out the details of its plan to stem foreclosures.
Well, in the absence of government action so far, some are taking action on the local level. In Michigan, Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans announced Monday he won’t enforce sales of foreclosed homes. Wayne County includes the city of Detroit and has had more than 46,000 foreclosures in the past two years. Evans says he came to the decision after reviewing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the Wall Street bailout measure known as TARP. He says the foreclosures would conflict with a provision ordering the Treasury Department to reduce foreclosures and help restructure loans. Evans said he’d be violating the law by denying foreclosed homeowners the chance at potential federal assistance. He said, “I cannot in clear conscience allow one more family to be put out of their home until I am satisfied they have been afforded every option they are entitled to under the law to avoid foreclosure.”
Meanwhile, the government-backed mortgage giant Fannie Mae has agreed to restructure mortgages after a campaign led by one of its biggest critics, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, or NACA. Fannie Mae will work with NACA to modify mortgage payments for struggling homeowners. In October, NACA held a protest outside Fannie Mae’s D.C. headquarters, blockading the entrance until being granted a meeting with top executives.
And in Ohio, Democratic Congress member Marcy Kaptur is encouraging homeowners facing foreclosures to stay in their homes. Kaptur says residents should exercise squatters’ rights to refuse being forced out because of loans she says could well have been illegal.
Congress member Kaptur joins us now from Toledo, Ohio. She is the longest-serving Democratic Congress[woman] in history. We’re also joined by Kathy Broka, president of the Fair Housing Center in Toledo. And on the line in Boston is Bruce Marks. He’s the president of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, which has just successfully pressured Fannie Mae to work with it to restructure thousands of troubled mortgages.
We’re going to go first to Ohio. Congress member Marcy Kaptur, can you repeat what you said on the floor of the House? What are you urging homeowners who could be foreclosed to do?
REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, the most important thing to do is to get legal help. And what we are finding is that if people receive a notice from a financial institution, their first reaction is fear, rather than getting proper legal representation. Here in our region, we recommend that people go to Legal Aid or the Advocates for Basic Legal Equality—or nationally, there’s a number people can call: (888) 995-HOME—and to get the proper legal representation, so they can actually have the scales of justice be balanced rather than, now, all the power to Wall Street and none of the justice to Main Street.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, explain how that works. If you have a person who’s at home, and they come to take the family out, you’re saying sit there?
REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, if it’s a sheriff’s eviction, if it’s reached that point, that is almost impossible. But we find that most of the foreclosures that haven’t reached that point, families are not getting the proper legal representation, and that’s why I’m saying that possession is nine-tenths of the law; therefore, stay in your property.
Get proper legal representation. If you believe that Wall Street has been deceptive, could have been fraudulent or tried to dupe the public, and with these subprime loans and with the kind of circuitous financing that’s been done, Wall Street cannot produce the deed nor the mortgage audit trail, you need a lawyer.
And you should stay in your home. It is your castle. It’s more than a piece of property. It’s your home.
And just because Washington hasn’t handled this bailout properly—and we never should have done it this way in the first place. We should have used the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission to resolve and do these workouts. Washington chose another road, which has been very, very destructive. I have opposed this all the way. But because they’ve done the wrong thing, you, at least, shouldn’t be the victim of what’s been happening on Wall Street and in Washington. You need a lawyer. You need a good lawyer. And you ought to get that legal representation so that the scales of justice are balanced.
AMY GOODMAN: And Congressman Kaptur, of course—Congress member Kaptur, of course, the people who are being forced out of their homes now are in the most difficult situations. How do they afford a lawyer? How can they even think along these lines?
REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, that’s why I’m recommending your Legal Aid Society. Call your local bar association or the national number, (888) 995-HOME. Most people don’t even think about getting representation, because they get a piece of paper from the bank, and they go, “Oh, it’s the bank,” and they become fearful, rather than saying, “Oh, wait a minute. This is contract law. The mortgage is a contract. I am one party. There is another party. What are my legal rights under the law as a property owner?” And many times, they are abrogating their own rights. They’re forgetting that they have rights in this proceeding. And they need to exercise those legal rights.
You know, when this mess started, when the meltdown really started back last year, 75 percent even of the subprime loans were performing. That means people were making their payments. What Washington has done and what Wall Street has done has made it so much worse. But those loans were performing loans. The other 25 percent weren’t all bad either. There were some issues, but they could have been worked out. Washington went backwards, when it should have gone forwards. It should have embraced Main Street; it embraced Wall Street first, and they trusted them again, the very same institutions, the five top ones, that have done most of the damage: JPMorgan, Wachovia, Bank of America, Citigroup and HSBC. If you get a letter from one of those, you should say, “I need a lawyer.” You need a lawyer in order to represent your interests in that contract.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re saying they did it wrong. Explain exactly what you felt was wrong and how it should have been done right and how it can be fixed now, Congress member Marcy Kaptur.
REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Alright. Well, if we look at prior meltdowns in the real estate market—and I’d love to have an hour to tell you what’s really gone wrong—but the federal institutions that were normally used to do workouts and to resolve pending bank failures are the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission. They have all the examination powers. They have enormous power to do workouts, to track that loan, to get it, to put the borrower at the same table. If they have to write down some losses, both by the lender and by the mortgagee, they do that. The Securities and Exchange Commission comes in and, through their auditors, they deal with the real valuation of property, even in a downturned economy.
Those institutions were put on the shelf. They were not used. In fact, I think one of the reasons they were not used is because when they come in, they bring examiners. They actually look at the books. They can do mortgage audit trails. And I think that Wall Street really didn’t want that, and they were powerful enough, in order to help to pass a bill, scaring Congress right before the election, before a new president was elected last fall, that they really put all the power in the Treasury Department, which isn’t a housing agency. It really doesn’t do bank regulation in the same way that the FDIC does, nor oversight. Treasury really works with Wall Street. They basically sell US debt. There’s a real circuit that goes between Wall Street and Washington, the Capitol, the US Treasury Department. So they used the wrong agency.
They brought in people from the very companies, like Goldman Sachs, to run the Treasury that had been one of the agencies—one of the companies that was going under, so they made it into a bank holding company. You can follow the trail of what they did. Meanwhile, they’re protecting their interests on Wall Street. And here on Main Street, the so-called bailout that they were given hasn’t trickled down. And so, millions and millions of families are getting foreclosure notices. They don’t have proper legal representation. The Washington-Wall Street circuit isn’t really working to allow these workouts to occur, and people are falling off the edge.
Somewhere, the scales of justice have to be balanced, and Washington has to use the traditional instruments that have worked. They have actually given power to a department that has been abysmal in its handling of taxpayer dollars. And you know what? There’s been no real oversight by the Congress, as required by that TARP law that was passed last year. So it, to me, is just an indication of how much power these institutions really have politically. But why should my constituents or the constituents of members around the country be hurt even more? They need representation in this process. They deserve it.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Marcy Kaptur, when you talk about those who caused the problem now being in charge of solving the problem, you can only think of a job description for the Treasury Secretary: be a part of the mess and don’t pay your taxes, and you, too, could be Treasury Secretary of the United States of America, Tim Geithner. Your thoughts?
REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Walk away with billions. And then—oh, Secretary Paulson came from Goldman Sachs, which, as this crisis began, carefully tucked itself as a—I call it a gambling house; it was an investment house up on Wall Street—they came under the Bank Holding Company Act. Why would they do that? Morgan Stanley did, as well. Why would they do that? They did that because they then become eligible for deposit insurance, which the good banks have paid into for decades. But Goldman didn’t pay into that. Morgan Stanley didn’t pay into that. So they all of a sudden went legit; they turned from a gambling house into a bank, just like that. Most of the public didn’t even catch that. And so, they wanted the protections, though they were high-risk institutions in their behavior, and they’ve hurt our country and the people of our country so much. They wanted to come under, put their nose under the tent of the Deposit Insurance Corporation.
You know, and then the good banks had to pay more for deposit insurance. They were powerful enough to turn the banking industry of this country almost upside-down and hurt banks in places like Ohio and caused the merger of institutions. Ohio now lost one of its major banks called National City Bank; it was merged with PNC in Pittsburgh. And the vice chair of PNC in Pittsburgh was the gentleman who invented derivatives on Wall Street. He left Wall Street and went to PNC. PNC now effectively has price control over the western part of Pennsylvania and parts of eastern Ohio now. That’s how powerful these institutions are.
And so, they’re not just powerful in Washington; they really have power out in the regions to control lines of credit, lending. It’s just unbelievable. This feels like the late 1920s and early 1930s, in terms of the concentration of the banking system itself. And if you look at the bad paper, if you look at where there’s trouble, 95 percent—95 to 98 percent of the paper really has moved to five institutions, the ones that I mentioned: JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wachovia, Citigroup and HSBC. They have this country held by the neck.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Congress member Marcy Kaptur. This term, she becomes the longest-serving Democratic congresswoman in US history. She is the dean of the Ohio congressional delegation. I hope you’ll stay with us. We are also going to go to a housing activist in Toledo, and we’ll be joined by Bruce Marks, who’s head of NACA, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America. He’s from Boston. He was blockading Fannie Mae; now he’s working with them. We’ll find out what’s happened. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about the housing crisis. Our guests are Congress member Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving congresswoman in US history. She joins us from Toledo, Ohio, as does Kathy Broka, president of the Fair Housing Center in Toledo, and Bruce Marks, founder and CEO of NACA, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America.
We’re going to come back to Toledo in a minute. But, Bruce Marks, tell us the scope of the problem in Massachusetts. And how did you, who was blockading the doors of Fannie Mae in October until you could meet with its CEO, how did you end up now working with Fannie Mae?
BRUCE MARKS: Well, it’s good to be on, Amy.
I mean, we have got offices around the country. We have got forty offices around the country. We do the best solutions out there for working people throughout this country. So if you go through NACA, you’re able to restructure your mortgage by permanently reducing your interest rate to as little as three percent and reducing your principal to make your mortgage affordable. And we’re doing it for tens of thousands of homeowners.
And in a sense, it’s done through nonviolent bank terrorism. So what we do is we confront these institutions. And yes, Fannie Mae has done the right thing. They have set the standard. But on this Saturday, Sunday and Monday, if you go to our website, Amy, and you go there, and what—we appreciate what Marcy is saying in terms of being able to—don’t leave your home, like what the sheriff in Cook County, Chicago has done—he has said, “I will not foreclose. I will not throw anybody out of their home.” But this weekend, we’re going on the Predators Tour. So when the congresswoman says that we should hold JPMorgan responsible, we should hold Option One, Wilbur Ross, who heads Option One, responsible, and GMAC. Let’s go to their homes. So if you go to our website at naca.com—and we would like the congresswoman to join us—let’s go on the Predators Tour to the homes of these CEOs with thousands of homeowners.
And this is what we’re going to do with thousands of homeowners, go into their home and say, “I want you to meet my family. I want you to see who you’re foreclosing on.” We’ve got to not just talk the talk; we’ve got to walk the walk. And walking the walk means it’s personal. If someone’s going to lose their homes, if you go to our website, you can see pictures of how the rich and the greedy are living now on our dime, on our dollar, on our homes. So we’re going—if they’re going to take our homes, we’re going to go to their homes, and we’re going to tell them, “No more.” And that’s what it has to do, not just go and stop the foreclosures. Let’s go into their communities.
And so, you can see pictures of where Jamie Dimon, CEO of Chase, lives, not just in Stamford, Connecticut, where we’re doing this event with literally thousands of homeowners, or re. Wilbur Ross, who runs Option One, or Feinberg, who runs GMAC, you can see where they live. And if you can’t come to Stamford, Connecticut, then go to their—go to Jamie Dimon’s home in Chicago or in other parts of the country, because these CEOs, they have multi-million-dollar homes. The one in Stamford, Connecticut—actually it’s in Mount Kisco, $17 million, where he lives. And so, that’s what we have to do. And also, what we’re going to do—
AMY GOODMAN: And what are you demanding when you go to their homes?
BRUCE MARKS: I’m sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: What are you demanding when you go to their homes?
BRUCE MARKS: We are demanding that they meet with the homeowners who they’re foreclosing on. We believe that if they can see, face-to-face, in the eyes of the homeowners, what they’re doing and the consequences of their actions, that that makes it personal. And we want their children to meet the children of the homeowners who are losing their homes and have those children have a conversation with each other and have their children go back to their parents and say, “Mom, Dad, is it true that you’re foreclosing on these homeowners?”
I mean, Wilbur Ross, he owns Option One. He has $1.8 billion in net worth. $1.8 billion. Jamie Dimon, $300 million. Frey—this guy is suing Bank of America, because he does not want them to do modifications. I mean, you go down the line, you can see their homes, you can have their addresses. You can go visit them, not just on our Predators Tour, but anytime you want, because they—it’s personal now.
And we’re not just going as ten or twenty people; we’re going with hundreds and thousands, because at this event, we’re also doing individual counseling, because, yes, you’re right, we have agreements with the major servicers out there where they’re required to restructure your mortgage to make that affordable for the long term. Yes, it’s nice, and it’s a good step that we say get an attorney, but it’s the confrontation, it’s the advocacy, it’s personalizing the issue that makes that work, and to get other sheriffs around the country, like they’ve done in Cook County, saying, “I’m not going to foreclose on my own. I’m not going to foreclose on hard-working people, because that’s who I am,” to do that. And, you know—and we’re able to get it done.
And Congress has been nowhere on this stuff. Where is the moratorium on the foreclosures? Where is—we still have hearings today on the refinance option by Barney Frank. We know that doesn’t work. So—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about Hope for Homeowners, and I want—
BRUCE MARKS: —when is Congress going to step up and say, “Let’s restructure mortgages to make them affordable”?
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk about the Hope for Homeowners bill, and maybe Congress member Kaptur could weigh in here. It was passed last summer. The idea is it would help out something like 450,000 homeowners to stop the foreclosures. And in the end, I think there have been twenty-one successful applications. It’s almost impossible to go through that system. Barney Frank is saying, well, now they’ve not only prevented abuse, they’ve prevented use. And so, today they’re reopening it. What’s that about, Congress member Kaptur?
REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, I am one of three Democrats that voted no on that bill. And during the debate and during our caucus meetings on the bill, Congressman Frank, who chairs the committee, and I had an ongoing debate in a very open forum, where I basically said it won’t work and that the necessary workouts were not going to be done, that the administration would find a way, because of the way that the bill was written, not to give us the immediate help that we needed. He prevailed in that vote; I did not.
But I went up to him after that vote—I’ll never forget it—and I said, “You know what, Barney?” I said, “You’re a friend of mine. We serve together. I really hope you’re right.” And my heart was breaking at that point, because I knew that hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of more people in my region, just my region, would receive foreclosure notices and would be thrown out of their homes during that period. And that is exactly what has happened. I hope that Chairman Frank will act with dispatch to bring to the table the parties that need to be brought to the table to get these workouts going.
This foreclosure crisis has tied up our entire banking system to the point where companies that want to expand in districts like ours, where unemployment is over 11.5 percent now, cannot get credit from the banks. This is having a terrible impact on the credit system of this country. And that bill was completely inadequate, and it was almost doomed to fail.
The proper way to proceed is to bring the FDIC and the SEC to the table now. I hope that the new president, President Obama, will bring the chair, will bring Sheila Bair to his office, will make necessary appointments to those boards and talk to people who’ve actually resolved bank crises in the past, like William Isaac, who had served both the Democrats and Republicans back in the 1970s and ’80s when we had these problems before. This isn’t the first time that the banks of this country have sort of done it to the American people, and there are very knowledgeable experienced people in the commercial banking world who have actually done these workouts and have systemically changed what needs to be done. They’re not being used right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Kaptur, your assessment of the Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and who he has brought on?
REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, you had asked me the question before about the influence of Wall Street in Washington. Mr. Geithner has now brought one of the major lobbyists who had lobbied for Goldman Sachs as his chief of staff, Mr. Patterson. And this revolving door between Washington and Wall Street is terribly strong. And I say, how can we trust the very people who brought us to this point to now manage the public dollars, the taxpayer dollars of the people of the United States? We need to clean out that operation, and we need to hold the Wall Street banks and all of their associates accountable to the American people. The scales of justice have to be balanced. They are far out of whack right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Broka is also in Toledo with Congress member Kaptur. She’s president of the Fair Housing Center there in Toledo. Tell us the scope of the problem, Kathy Broka. We heard Bruce Marks lay out what NACA is doing. What is Fair Housing Center in Toledo doing? How many people are being foreclosed on? How are you helping?
KATHY BROKA: Toledo is, along with Cleveland, which was considered the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis in the country—I was talking to Cleveland people months ago who had people from all over the country showing up in their offices as the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis. So we’ve been struggling with this for years.
The Fair Housing Center alone has helped save homeowners over $5 million by doing loan modifications and workouts. This is one small agency, whose primary purpose was to investigate allegations of discrimination in housing. Now, at least half of the work that we do is on foreclosures, because there were really no other agencies in the city that was doing the work, and it was the primary problem in our community. And so, we are doing workouts, but we’re one small agency. This needs to be on a massive national scale. We can’t piecemeal this any longer. I feel like my staff are little gerbils on a wheel that just keeps turning around. So, as much hard work as we do, as dedicated as my staff is, we need help.
I’m so tired of hearing how banks are saying, “Call us early, before you get in trouble.” And then we try to do that, and they tell us, “Why are you calling us? You’re not even behind yet on your mortgage payment,” even though the homeowners are doing their due diligence and know that they’ve got a loan that’s going to adjust in two to three months and that they absolutely won’t be able to keep those payments going. And so, they’re doing what the banks tell them to do. When are the banks going to do what they say they’re going to do? That’s my question.
I was watching TV not too long ago, when Maxine Waters was on trying to get in touch with one of her constituent’s lenders to see what could be done for them, and it took her over half-an-hour, maybe even longer, two, three hours, where she kept getting the runaround. If she can’t get an answer, a straight answer, from the banks, what do you think our constituents are doing? How hard do you think it is for those of us who are on the frontline trying to get these deals done to keep the homeowners in their houses?
AMY GOODMAN: What would be the single act that would help you most, would help people who are threatened with losing their homes most, Kathy Broka?
KATHY BROKA: The single act would be for the banks to do what they say they’ve been doing for months and years: just do what you say you’re doing, that you want to keep people in their houses, that you’re willing to work with them, because we get someone at a bank, we finally get a person who’s there to help, who will do these loan modifications and workouts, and then the next month they’ve been laid off, and somebody new comes on. Get people in those departments at the banks who have the authority to do workouts that make sense.
I get so tired of hearing the banks say, “Well, you know, these don’t work. These loan modifications don’t work, because we give them to homeowners, and then, two or three months later, they’re right back being in default.” But what they don’t say is, oftentimes those homeowners have gotten into workouts without any representation, the bank has thrown them something and said, “Take it or leave it,” have set them up once again for failure, and then they use those very statistics to tell the rest of the people in the United States that these are just freeloaders and why are we helping them. It’s so unfair, and it’s so untrue.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Kaptur, what do you think of the Obama stimulus plan? What do you think, the possibility that your state, that Ohio, could get something like $9 billion under the plan? How much of a stimulus is the overall plan?
REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, first of all, I’ve been concerned about how much a state like Ohio, which is in deep recession, will actually receive from this program. We appreciate the President’s leadership on extending unemployment benefits, on covering people with health insurance, on heating assistance. I call these lifeline programs, absolutely essential. The people who have been thrown out of work have paid tax dollars to help our country when she gets in a situation like this, so I think they’re getting back what they paid for, essentially.
But the real issue for Ohio is, if all Ohio gets is $9 billion or $12 billion, which some people have been saying, our population is 3.66 percent of the country. Not even discounting for unemployment, we should be receiving anywhere between $25 billion and $30 billion in the various tax provisions and the investment portions of the bill. And if we do not receive that, then my question is, to which states is that money going?
So I think that the lifeline support programs are critical, but here, regionally, right now, because our banks are not loaning, even green energy companies—we’re one of the three leading solar energy capitals in the hemisphere. I have solar companies out here that want to bring on employees. The banks won’t loan. They—we have companies that want to bring up factory floors right now, and even some of these Ohio banking institutions that have received TARP funds, the bailout funds, aren’t making loans. So it’s very important—and I hope the administration is listening to this—that—
AMY GOODMAN: Looks like we just lost the satellite. We’re going to try to bring it back. We’ve been talking to Congress member Marcy Kaptur, also Kathy Broka, president of the Fair Housing Center in Toledo. We’re going to go to a break. We’ll come back, and hopefully we’ll get her back on satellite, or we’ll get her on the phone. But we’ll wrap up that discussion, and then we’re going to turn to Sri Lanka and what’s happening there. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re back with Congress member Marcy Kaptur. Again, she is the longest-serving congresswoman in US history. Two last questions for you.
Slightly off topic, but very much a part of the stimulus package, we just got this emergency email from a fellow Ohioan, Congress member Kaptur. It is from the well known anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman. As you were talking about alternative energy, he says, “A $50 billion nuke power bomb is dropping toward Obama’s stimulus package. The desperate, dangerous nuclear power industry has dropped a $50 billion stealth bomb,” he says, “meant to irradiate the Obama Stimulus Package.
“It comes in the form of a mega-loan guarantee package that would build new reactors Wall Street [wouldn’t] finance even when it had cash.” He says, “It will take a [healthy] dose of citizen action to stop it, so start calling your Senators now.”
He says that “[t]he vaguely worded bailout-in-advance provision was snuck through the Senate Appropriations Committee in the deep night of January 27. It would provide $50 billion in loan guarantees for ‘eligible technologies’ that would technically include renewable sources and electric transmission. But the handout is clearly directed at nukes and ‘clean coal.’”
Now, this is in the Senate section. What do you think of this?
REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, I have not read the Senate bill. They’ve just been drafting that. I can tell you, in the House bill, we have $114.5 billion for green energy: for solar, for wind, for geothermal, for biofuels. These are all industries we are bringing up here in our region.
I happen to represent the nuclear power plant that in the last twenty years has had more accidents than any other one in the country. And so, my own view is—and, in fact, there was a brownout a couple years ago because of this particular—the system this particular plant is attached to. And my feeling is, until we can actually assure ourselves that these plants are operated safely, I don’t know why we would want to reward this industry. I would be very concerned about that, based on our own living history of what has happened here. This is a very dangerous technology and one that we have to exercise extraordinary responsibility. So I was—that was not in the House version, to my knowledge, and I haven’t read the Senate language.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, two questions. One is Judd Gregg as Commerce Secretary, and the other is, well, the question about you. George Voinovich has announced he will not be seeking another Senate seat. You’re the longest-serving congresswoman in history. Will you be seeking his seat in 2010?
REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, maybe I’ll just say that in terms of my tenure, I’m the longest-serving Democratic woman. There are others, Republican women, who have served thirty-five years, so I’m far from that right now, but at least on the Democratic side of the aisle, I am the longest-serving woman.
And we’ve just come through an election out here in Ohio. Our economy is in really tough straits. And I think it’s too early for anyone to say that they are or are not running. Obviously, I think every elected official in Ohio who’s a Democrat is looking at that right now. And we’ll give it some time.
AMY GOODMAN: And as for Judd Gregg, who is stepping away from his seat as senator, tapped to be the third Republican in the Obama administration in a key seat as Commerce Secretary, your thoughts on him?
REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, the Department of Commerce is a very important department, obviously. And about 60 percent of its budget is NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He comes from a coastal state in the Northeast, so I think that his knowledge of some of the issues that come before the Department of Commerce will be an asset. And we wish him very well. And the Department of Commerce, particularly in the Economic Development Administration, is very important to us here in the industrial and agricultural heartland. I would hope that the fact that he comes from a rather small state will not in any way prescribe his travels or his views about what needs to be done to help the big industrial and agricultural states to move forward economically.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Marcy Kaptur, thanks so much for being with us, again, the longest Democratic woman who has served in US history.
REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you, speaking to us from Toledo, Ohio. And thanks also to Kathy Broka, president of the Fair Housing Center in Toledo, and Bruce Marks of NACA, naca.com, that’s the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, speaking to us from Boston.