Posts Tagged ‘mortgages’

Reversal of Fortune

October 13, 2008

When the American economy enters a downturn, you often hear the experts debating whether it is likely to be V- shaped (short and sharp) or U-shaped (longer but milder). Today, the American economy may be entering a downturn that is best described as L-shaped. It is in a very low place indeed, and likely to remain there for some time to come.

Virtually all the indicators look grim. Inflation is running at an annual rate of nearly 6 percent, its highest level in 17 years. Unemployment stands at 6 percent; there has been no net job growth in the private sector for almost a year. Housing prices have fallen faster than at any time in memory-in Florida and California, by 30 percent or more. Banks are reporting record losses, only months after their executives walked off with record bonuses as their reward. President Bush inherited a $128 billion budget surplus from Bill Clinton; this year the federal government announced the second-largest budget deficit ever reported. During the eight years of the Bush administration, the national debt has increased by more than 65 percent, to nearly $10 trillion (to which the debts of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae should now be added, according to the Congressional Budget Office). Meanwhile, we are saddled with the cost of two wars. The price tag for the one in Iraq alone will, by my estimate, ultimately exceed $3 trillion.

This tangled knot of problems will be difficult to unravel. Standard prescriptions call for raising interest rates when confronted with inflation, just as standard prescriptions call for lowering interest rates when confronted with an economic downturn. How do you do both at the same time? Not in the way that some politicians have proposed. With gasoline prices at all- time highs, John McCain has called for a rollback of gas taxes. But that would lead to more gas consumption, raise the price of gas further, increase our dependence on foreign oil, and expand our already massive trade deficit. The expanding deficit would in turn force the U.S. to continue borrowing gargantuan sums from abroad, making us even more indebted. At the same time, the higher imports of oil and petroleum-based products would lead to a weaker dollar, fueling inflationary pressures.

Millions of Americans are losing their homes. (Already, some 3.6 million have done so since the subprime- mortgage crisis began.) This social catastrophe has severe economic effects. The banks and other financial institutions that own these mortgages face stunning reverses; a few, such as Bear Stearns, have already gone belly-up. To prevent America’s $5.2 trillion home financiers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, from following suit, Congress authorized a blank check to cover their losses, but even that generosity failed to do the trick. Now the administration has taken over the two entities completely, a stunning feat for a supposedly market-oriented regime. These bailouts contribute to growing deficits in the short run, and to perverse incentives in the long run. Market economies work only when there is a system of accountability, but C.E.O.’s, investors, and creditors are walking away with billions, while American taxpayers are being asked to pick up the tab. (Freddie Mac’s chairman, Richard Syron, earned $14.5 million in 2007. Fannie Mae’s C.E.O., Daniel Mudd, earned $14.2 million that same year.) We’re looking at a new form of public-private partnership, one in which the public shoulders all the risk, and the private sector gets all the profit. While the Bush administration preaches responsibility, the words are addressed only to the less well-off. The administration talks about the impact of ‘moral hazard’ on the poor ‘speculator’ who borrowed money and bought a house beyond his ability to pay. But moral hazard somehow isn’t an issue when it comes to the high-stakes speculators in corporate boardrooms.

How Did We Get into This Mess?

A unique combination of ideology, special-interest pressure, populist politics, bad economics, and sheer incompetence has brought us to our present condition.

Ideology proclaimed that markets were always good and government always bad. While George W. Bush has done as much as he can to ensure that government lives up to that reputation-it is the one area where he has overperformed-the fact is that key problems facing our society cannot be addressed without an effective government, whether it’s maintaining national security or protecting the environment. Our economy rests on public investments in technology, such as the Internet. While Bush’s ideology led him to underestimate the importance of government, it also led him to underestimate the limitations of markets. We learned from the Depression that markets are not self- adjusting-at least, not in a time frame that matters to living people. Today everyone-even the president-accepts the need for macro-economic policy, for government to try to maintain the economy at near- full employment. But in a sleight of hand, free-market economists promoted the idea that, once the economy was restored to full employment, markets would always allocate resources efficiently. The best regulation, in their view, was no regulation at all, and if that didn’t sell, then ‘self-regulation’ was almost as good.

The underlying idea was, on the face of it, absurd: that market failures come only in macro doses, in the form of the recessions and depressions that have periodically plagued capitalist economies for the past several hundred years. Isn’t it more reasonable to assume that these failures are just the tip of the iceberg? That beneath the surface lie a myriad of smaller but harder-to-assess inefficiencies? Let me venture an analogy from biology: A patient arrives at a hospital in serious condition. Now, it may be that the patient has simply fallen victim to one of those debilitating ailments that go around from time to time and can be cured by a massive dose of antibiotics. In this case we have a macro problem with a macro solution. But it could instead be that the patient is suffering from a decade of serious abuse-smoking, drinking, overeating, lack of exercise, a fondness for crystal meth-and that it has not only taken a catastrophic toll but also left him open to opportunistic infections of every kind. In other words, a buildup of micro problems has led to a macro problem, and no cure is possible without addressing the underlying issues. The American economy today is a patient of the second kind.

Continued . . .

Michael Moore: The Rich Are Staging a Coup This Morning

September 30, 2008

by Michael Moore

Friends,

Let me cut to the chase. The biggest robbery in the history of this country is taking place as you read this. Though no guns are being used, 300 million hostages are being taken. Make no mistake about it: After stealing a half trillion dollars to line the pockets of their war-profiteering backers for the past five years, after lining the pockets of their fellow oilmen to the tune of over a hundred billion dollars in just the last two years, Bush and his cronies — who must soon vacate the White House — are looting the U.S. Treasury of every dollar they can grab. They are swiping as much of the silverware as they can on their way out the door.

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

“Even as policy makers worked on details of a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, Wall Street began looking for ways to profit from it.”Financial firms were lobbying to have all manner of troubled investments covered, not just those related to mortgages.

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

“Nobody wants to be left out of Treasury’s proposal to buy up bad assets of financial institutions.”

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

The problem is, nobody truly knows what this “collapse” is all about. Even Treasury Secretary Paulson admitted he doesn’t know the exact amount that is needed (he just picked the $700 billion number out of his head!). The head of the congressional budget office said he can’t figure it out nor can he explain it to anyone.

And yet, they are screeching about how the end is near! Panic! Recession! The Great Depression! Y2K! Bird flu! Killer bees! We must pass the bailout bill today!! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Falling for whom? NOTHING in this “bailout” package will lower the price of the gas you have to put in your car to get to work. NOTHING in this bill will protect you from losing your home. NOTHING in this bill will give you health insurance.

Health insurance? Mike, why are you bringing this up? What’s this got to do with the Wall Street collapse?

It has everything to do with it. This so-called “collapse” was triggered by the massive defaulting and foreclosures going on with people’s home mortgages. Do you know why so many Americans are losing their homes? To hear the Republicans describe it, it’s because too many working class idiots were given mortgages that they really couldn’t afford. Here’s the truth: The number one cause of people declaring bankruptcy is because of medical bills. Let me state this simply: If we had had universal health coverage, this mortgage “crisis” may never have happened.

This bailout’s mission is to protect the obscene amount of wealth that has been accumulated in the last eight years. It’s to protect the top shareholders who own and control corporate America. It’s to make sure their yachts and mansions and “way of life” go uninterrupted while the rest of America suffers and struggles to pay the bills. Let the rich suffer for once. Let them pay for the bailout. We are spending 400 million dollars a day on the war in Iraq. Let them end the war immediately and save us all another half-trillion dollars!

I have to stop writing this and you have to stop reading it. They are staging a financial coup this morning in our country. They are hoping Congress will act fast before they stop to think, before we have a chance to stop them ourselves. So stop reading this and do something — NOW! Here’s what you can do immediately:

1. Call or e-mail Senator Obama. Tell him he does not need to be sitting there trying to help prop up Bush and Cheney and the mess they’ve made. Tell him we know he has the smarts to slow this thing down and figure out what’s the best route to take. Tell him the rich have to pay for whatever help is offered. Use the leverage we have now to insist on a moratorium on home foreclosures, to insist on a move to universal health coverage, and tell him that we the people need to be in charge of the economic decisions that affect our lives, not the barons of Wall Street.

2. Take to the streets. Participate in one of the hundreds of quickly-called demonstrations that are taking place all over the country (especially those near Wall Street and DC).

3. Call your Representative in Congress and your Senators. (click here to find their phone numbers). Tell them what you told Senator Obama.

When you screw up in life, there is hell to pay. Each and every one of you reading this knows that basic lesson and has paid the consequences of your actions at some point. In this great democracy, we cannot let there be one set of rules for the vast majority of hard-working citizens, and another set of rules for the elite, who, when they screw up, are handed one more gift on a silver platter. No more! Not again!

Yours,
Michael Moore
MMFlint@aol.com
MichaelMoore.com

P.S. Having read further the details of this bailout bill, you need to know you are being lied to. They talk about how they will prevent golden parachutes. It says NOTHING about what these executives and fat cats will make in SALARY. According to Rep. Brad Sherman of California, these top managers will continue to receive million-dollar-a-month paychecks under this new bill. There is no direct ownership given to the American people for the money being handed over. Foreign banks and investors will be allowed to receive billion-dollar handouts. A large chunk of this $700 billion is going to be given directly to Chinese and Middle Eastern banks. There is NO guarantee of ever seeing that money again.

P.P.S. From talking to people I know in DC, they say the reason so many Dems are behind this is because Wall Street this weekend put a gun to their heads and said either turn over the $700 billion or the first thing we’ll start blowing up are the pension funds and 401(k)s of your middle class constituents. The Dems are scared they may make good on their threat. But this is not the time to back down or act like the typical Democrat we have witnessed for the last eight years. The Dems handed a stolen election over to Bush. The Dems gave Bush the votes he needed to invade a sovereign country. Once they took over Congress in 2007, they refused to pull the plug on the war. And now they have been cowered into being accomplices in the crime of the century. You have to call them now and say “NO!” If we let them do this, just imagine how hard it will be to get anything good done when President Obama is in the White House. THESE DEMOCRATS ARE ONLY AS STRONG AS THE BACKBONE WE GIVE THEM. CALL CONGRESS NOW.

Financial Meltdown: The Financial Edifice of U.S. Imperialism is

September 26, 2008

Raymond Lotta, Global Research, September 24, 2008

The events of the last ten days on Wall Street represent a new and more destabilizing phase of the turmoil gripping financial institutions and markets in the U.S. A financial crisis has been unfolding for more than a year. It is now the most serious financial crisis of U.S. capitalism since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And it is by no means contained or under control.

The financial edifice of U.S. imperialism is in danger of crumbling. And the U.S. ruling class is cobbling together desperate measures to prevent wholesale collapse.

This analysis examines the recent eruptions on Wall Street of mid- and late September and the deeper structural causes of the crisis.

I. Wall Street Panics, the Guardians of U.S. Capitalism Scramble

A). A Week of Deepening Financial Crisis

Two of the last two independent investment banks on Wall Street ceased to exist in mid-September. In a matter of hours, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt on September 15, while Merrill Lynch was forced into liquidation and then absorbed by Bank of America. This follows the government-promoted buyout in April of Bear Stearns, another giant investment banking firm that was on the ropes, by JPMorgan Chase.

It was only several weeks earlier that the U.S. government had taken over the two major and failing mortgage-finance giants–Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. At the time, this takeover was presented as providing an effective firewall against future financial eruptions. But it proved to be no more than the patching up of a pothole during an earthquake. This past week the government had to take over the American International Group (AIG), the giant insurance-financial firm.

AIG had over a trillion dollars in assets. It had earned enormous profits from insuring mortgage-backed investments circulating in the financial system that were held by other banks. But this has turned into a disaster. Here is some of what happened:

Through deceit and aggressive marketing, banks pushed mortgages on people. The Federal Reserve Bank had pumped low-cost funds into the banking system to prop up mortgage loans. These loans were then combined into larger groups of loans by investment banks (like Lehman Brothers) and turned into financial products that were sold on financial markets. All kinds of lending took place with these original loans as collateral. But when housing prices fell, and mortgages could not be paid, much of this collateral became worthless.

AIG was insuring much of this lending against the risk of loss. But as the losses mounted astronomically, AIG could neither cover the costs of backing this debt nor borrow funds on the financial markets to keep itself afloat.

The financial markets had basically lost confidence, and AIG’s assets tumbled in value. AIG was in danger of collapse. But if AIG went under, the probability was great that it would have taken down other financial institutions with it. This forced the government’s hand.

Normally, so-called bad debt is marketed at distress prices. During the financial storm of mid-September, not only were there no takers for debt but it also proved impossible for the financial markets to establish any kind of value on this debt.

As the pace of the financial crisis grew more frenetic during the week of September 15, the U.S. ruling class was faced with a two-fold danger: additional and cascading losses and bankruptcies in the financial sector; and the possible choking up of lending channels, which could send the economy as a whole into a rapid downward spiral.

On September 19th, the U.S. government announced what will likely turn out to be the largest bail-out operation in U.S. history. Its initial cost is $700 billion, and this is on top of the $200 billion earmarked to shore up Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and the $85 billion to bail out AIG.

B). International Dimensions

This is a rolling financial and credit crisis. It is amplifying internationally with bursts of instability. In the midst of last week’s U.S. market gyrations, the Russian stock market sank and shut down for two days. In other parts of the world, concern spread about whether dollar-based loans in global markets would continue on the scale necessary to sustain daily business operations. In response, the central banks of Germany, Japan, England, Canada, and Switzerland pumped some $185 billion into the financial markets.

And investor worry is mounting in East Asia. China, Japan, and South Korea, for instance, count on the U.S. as a major export market.

One of the most significant features of world growth and expansion over the past decade has been the deepening integration of the world capitalist economy. This is happening both on the level of production and trade—like the parts that go into an automobile being manufacturing in different factories around the world. And it is happening at the level of finance—where banks are more globally and tightly interlinked with one another through chains of borrowing and lending and even, as in the case of AIG, insuring the risks of borrowing and lending.

The rescue operation announced by the U.S. government was motivated, on the one hand, by the need to stanch the bleeding of the U.S. financial system; and, on the other, by the need to restore international confidence in the U.S. economy.


Raymond Lotta is a frequent contributor to Global Research.
Global Research Articles by Raymond Lotta

A Crisis of American Capitalism

September 20, 2008

by Lawrence R. Velvel

You don’t have to be a socialist (and I certainly am not) to understand that this capitalistic country is confronting a crisis of capitalism.  This is not merely a matter of the huge losses and meltdowns that have taken place and have threatened to bring down the whole system with them.  It is also a matter of the failure of a culture, a culture that has grown and grown since the sainted Reagan introduced the twin pillars of his morning in America:  unchecked greed and militarism.

Militarism today holds high carnival:  in Iraq, on somewhere between 700 and 1,100 American bases around the world (the exact number being a secret, even if known to the Pentagon), on huge carriers patrolling seas all over the world, in Bush/Cheney ideas that we should intervene all over the world, in a Pentagon budget of what — something in the neighborhood of 500 billion dollars or more, I suppose?

Unchecked greed also held high carnival, as it drove the housing market ever higher by means visibly pregnant with failure because they defied history, economics, human comprehension and sense:  Adjustable rate mortgages, with initially low rates that one knew — I certainly knew, often said, acted accordingly, and wholly fail to grasp why everyone didn’t know — were pregnant with disaster because they would be unsustainable for the buyers when the interest rates increased, as inevitably they would because rates always rise and fall; securitization that gave rise to so-called tranches so complicated that nobody could understand what the risks and rights were; derivatives which may be even more complicated and which nobody has a real handle on apparently.  It was all nuts (as this writer often said to people), and now it has come crashing down, as was inevitable.  The acclaimed geniuses — like Alan Greenspan (who led the way) — who lived in and loved celebrification, who profited from it, have been shown the fools that they are.  In Greenspan’s case, this is at least the second burst bubble he promoted, the other being the high tech stock market which melted down at the beginning of the 2000s.  (Of course, in America, where nothing succeeds like failure, as is oft typified by celebrified coaches, baseball managers and university presidents, Greenspan remains a great man.)

The heads of major firms have likewise fallen, as their houses of cards collapsed.  The fall of titans represents a horrid, economy-threatening failure of the culture of greed, dishonesty (which often was a major part of pushing the insane instruments on uncomprehending buyers), and unchecked capitalism, the culture which has been pushed on us by conservative intellectuals, politicians and the uncomprehending mainstream media since Reagan took office in 1981.  This vile culture (and the militarism which is in some important ways associated with it (e.g., a war for oil, huge profits for contractors)), came to dominate much of the American nation.  Now the culture of unchecked greed and celebrification of its richest practitioners has come acropper (as did the war in Iraq).  That it would come acropper was inevitable, based as it was on stupidity.  Leaders have been exposed as fools — yet again.

Continued . . .


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