Our economy, like our situation in Iraq, presents no good solutions. The solutions to our impending economic meltdown, being presented by the Bush administration, are to help the rich and to screw everyone else, just like all of the Bush administration's solutions. This is the biggest grab of all. They are running out of time. Just a few months before a new administration takes over and they still have a lot of looting left to do.
So many shoes are poised to drop this week that the American scene might be confused for the world's greatest-ever clog dancing festival, but a closer look will reveal a circle of cavorting skeletons.
Last week's ripe moment turned out to be the Thursday night Washington photo op when Treasury Secretary Paulson and Fed Chief Bernanke emerged from a huddle with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and just about every other legislative eminentissimo in an attempt to reassure the nation that its financial system had not turned into something like unto a truckload of stinking dead carp. I don't know about you, but I got two distinct vibes from the faces in that particular tableau: 1.) abject fear, and 2.) a total lack of conviction that they knew what they were doing.
The product of that huddle was a cockamamie scheme for the US treasury to absorb all the losses from a twenty-year binge in which Wall Street created and retailed the most complex set of swindles ever seen on this planet Earth. The background music to the tableau was the whoosh of a several trillion dollars exiting the US financial system never to be seen again.
The next day (Friday) many particulars of that scheme began to emerge -- such as the complete lack of oversight and review mechanisms for Treasury's new power to monetize private business failures and frauds -- and the stock market soared in response. Other new features of the reformed capital landscape also resolved later that day, like a new experiment aimed at eliminating the short sale as a way of guaranteeing that henceforth market bets could only be placed on the upside of the table. It will be interesting to see how that reform works out in the days ahead.
Over the weekend, all these various playerz retreated into their gilded bunkers to negotiate the details, and by Sunday night, among other things, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley -- the two remaining investment giants left standing -- announced that they would metamorphose into regular banks in order to qualify for additional truckloads of government loans in exchange for any leftover fraudulant securities still lurking in their vaults. Another new provision had the Treasury rescuing swindled foreign companies, too -- in effect, saving the world, which seemed at least, how you say, pretty ambitious.
By this morning, many new arguments had been raised by a suddenly de-zombified congress as to whether the proposed grand bail-out might reward recent Wall Street turpitudes and incentivize future mis-deeds and it looks like enough objections may be lodged to gum-up the process before it even goes into effect -- which, of course, would tend to revert the whole reeking cargo of trouble to its original train-wreck trajectory. I guess we'll see what happens now.
Some skeptics are calling Henry Paulson’s $700 billion rescue plan for the U.S. financial system “cash for trash.” Others are calling the proposed legislation the Authorization for Use of Financial Force, after the Authorization for Use of Military Force, the infamous bill that gave the Bush administration the green light to invade Iraq.
There’s justice in the gibes. Everyone agrees that something major must be done. But Mr. Paulson is demanding extraordinary power for himself — and for his successor — to deploy taxpayers’ money on behalf of a plan that, as far as I can see, doesn’t make sense.
Some are saying that we should simply trust Mr. Paulson, because he’s a smart guy who knows what he’s doing. But that’s only half true: he is a smart guy, but what, exactly, in the experience of the past year and a half — a period during which Mr. Paulson repeatedly declared the financial crisis “contained,” and then offered a series of unsuccessful fixes — justifies the belief that he knows what he’s doing? He’s making it up as he goes along, just like the rest of us.
On Saturday morning, I noted -- quoting Atrios -- the almost complete lack of debate over the ever-changing dictates issued by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. Last week, whatever Paulson said on any given day -- no bailouts; only selected bailouts; massive $700 billion bailout plan -- immediately became the unchallenged conventional wisdom.
That has all changed. Prominent economists, who had previously been defending Paulson for the most part, began voicing serious doubts about his plan. As the AP put it yesterday: "Many of the same economists and opinion-makers who'd provided a bipartisan sheen of consensus to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's previous moves have quickly begun casting doubts on the wisdom of a policy that would allow Treasury to purchase without oversight hundreds of billions of dollars of difficult-to-price assets from financial institutions." Not only Paul Krugman, who was a skeptic from the start, but conservative economic experts have also now expressed opposition, including former Bush and Romney advisor Greg Mankiw and -- in an excellent column on Saturday -- Sebastian Mallaby, who described the rapid move to embrace Paulson's plan as "extremely dangerous."
Saturday’s $700 billion junk mortgage bailout is the largest and worst giveaway since a corrupt Congress gave land grants to the railroad barons a century and a half ago. If it goes through, it will shape the coming century by giving finance unprecedented power over debtors – homebuyers, industry, state and local government, and the federal government as well.
But what threatens to be even worse is the government’s move to let the financial sector make even higher, unprecedented gains by working its way out of negative equity to “make taxpayers whole” by repaying the government’s bailout by bleeding the economy at large. nticipating congressional capitulation in this license to engage in predatory credit, the latest Sunday evening surprise is that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s own firm, Goldman Sachs, is to become bank holding company picking up the financial wreckage now that the government is covering the bad loans and investment gambles Wall Street has made.
What Mr. Paulson did not say in his weekend TV interviews, organized as what he hoped would be a series of victory laps. Neither he nor Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke nor any other Wall Street spokesman has acknowledged that the government has helped promote today’s $46 trillion debt bomb. This enormous overhead consists of the product that banks are selling – interest-bearing debt that is being added to real estate, corporate industry and personal income to price the U.S. economy out of world markets.
We have heard nothing about how Wall Street lobbyists have succeeded in killing the financial cops on Wall Street – and done the same with the consumer cops on Main Street. There is no public recognition of the fact that more money in tax cuts went to the top 1% than the bottom 80% combined.
So how much credence should we give the newest proposals for the United States to commit economic suicide by turning over the powers of government in effect to Wall Street? When they talk about “making taxpayers whole,” what really is their game?
It's the usual question that someone asks after getting hit over the head and mugged, or if they were in the immediate vicinity of an explosion.
For the American taxpayer, both of those things happened during these past two weeks.
So many unprecedented events took place in such a short period of time that it was hard to keep up. Lots of people said lots of scary things, but few stopped to break down the most important issues, which are: a) how did we get here, b) what exactly is being done, and c) what does it all mean.
Did you know that China has over $900 billion of exposure/investment in US Treasury bills and in debt issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac-- and that the Chinese government has therefore (quite understandably) been exerting its influence in Washington and elsewhere to prevent the US financial system tumbling completely off the cliff of insolvency?
The financial crisis that began in the United States spread to many corners of the globe. Now, the American bailout looks as if it is going global, too, a move that could raise its cost and intensify scrutiny by Congress and critics.
Foreign banks, which were initially excluded from the plan, lobbied successfully over the weekend to be able to sell the toxic American mortgage debt owned by their American units to the Treasury, getting the same treatment as United States banks.
Treasury Secretary Paulson is asking you to rush through a $700 billion package because "we’re literally maybe days away from a complete meltdown of our financial system".
Paulson states that it must be done quickly and that it is better than the alternatives. Fed Chairman Bernanke agrees.
The first question Congress should ask is how would Paulson or Bernanke know?
It was only a month ago Paulson was reiterating to anyone who would listen how sound our banking system is. The fact of the matter is that neither Paulson nor Bernanke saw this coming, yet now Congress is supposed to trust they now "know" the solution.
Before one can work out a solution, the first step is to identify the problem. The problem is not a lack of liquidity, it is not a lack of trust, it is not lack of consumer confidence, it is not subprime lending, and in fact the problem is not housing at all.
The problem is consumers and corporations are deep in debt with no way to service that debt.
Attempts to bail out banks and brokers at taxpayer expense will do nothing but add to consumer debt, weaken the US dollar, and literally waste $700+ billion dollars that can and should go to more productive uses.