MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS
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More Worms In The Capitalist Apple
By Edward W. Miller, MD
"Thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbors by extortion, and thou hast forgotten me saith the Lord.-Ezekiel 22:12 (King James Version)"
"Let us Prohibit in effective fashion all corporations from making contributions for any political purpose, directly or indirectly. - Theodore Roosevelt"
With the Dow dropping over 499 points in two consecutive days and resting around 7500, the value of 401Ks dropping sharply, and over 27,000 Americans applying for unemployment insurance this week (added to the 514,000 already enrolled), the 1.2 million jobs lost in 2008 come better into focus.
The atmosphere in Washington today is much more tense than during that second weekend in September when Wall Street jolted an already anxious public with news that a failing Merrill-Lynch was being purchased by the Bank of America, that America's largest investment bank, Lehman Brothers, was declaring bankruptcy after the Feds had refused to bail them out, and that AIG, our largest insurance group, had reported $60 billion in bad debts, its stocks losing 65% in value.
The Dow on that frantic Tuesday had dropped some 504 points. In October, following a week's precipitous fall of the Dow and after Congress had modified and passed Bush Jr.'s "buy-out" plan, prominent Wall Street financier, Warren Buffett remarked, "It's an economic Pearl Harbor."
On Columbus Day financial bigwigs from Europe met with Bush and his business advisors in Washington. No detailed plan to meet the international crisis resulted, but the British decided to nationalize three major banks, the Germans promised almost half a trillion to bolster their entire banking system, while the EU president with his colleagues agreed on what is a partial nationalization of European bank, including a guarantee that covered the savings account of every citizen of the EU countries'.
Our man Paulson, joining the gang, said he "would take $250 billion from his $700 billion bailout money for a so-called "Voluntary Equity Purchase Program" wherein Washington gets to buy out preferred bank stocks while CEO's golden parachutes were supposedly limited.
"This is an investment, not an expenditure, and there is no reason to expect this program will cost taxpayers anything," Paulson said in a statement.
Aside from the nine large banks originally signed up for the program, the Treasury attracted the interest "from a broad group of banks of all sizes," Paulson added.
Paulson's plan, a partial Nationalization of the banks (Some Republican critics called it "Socialism", was similar in many respects to Roosevelt's 1933-5 RFC which, after a proclaimed "Bank Holiday" injected capital into some 6000 failing banks. Washington announced it had hired global giant Bank of New York Mellon as the lead agency to help manage the spending, lending and accounting of the 700 billion.
The precipitous market fallout, plus our obvious economic slowdown, which Bush and his Wall Street financial advisors now admit " is a real depression" didn't just sprout up over night like a mushroom on the lawn, but has been quietly spreading like a mold within our financial structure for years.
Last summer's stock market bubble and shaky recovery which, as it burst toward the end of August 2007, had cost investors over $6 trillion in US dollars, and was echoed in England where thousands of Brits stood in line to demand their money back from one of their country's largest banks. Responding to this precarious August weekend, Asian stocks dropped in value, Japan's Nikkei Index fell more than 4% and the dollar was down sharply against the Yuan, yen and Euro. This international fallout pales in contrast to our present slump.
As the March 17th 2007 Washington Post had reported: The Feds, promised some $200 Billion as a "lender of last resort" for 20 major Wall Street firms, a role it had played since its founding in 1913, but only for commercial banks. In 1902 and again in 1909, J.P. Morgan personally set aside funds to bail out potential failing banks.
This $200 billion offer of ultra-safe Treasury securities to our nation's banks and major brokerage firms, was in exchange for a variety of collateral options --including the very mortgage-backed securities that had created the financial crisis. Banks quickly unloaded some of their not so secure assets, freeing up money, as Wall Street noted: "to keep the nation's economic bloodstream flowing." This bailout by the Feds, however, did little to stem the oncoming financial storm.
The 9 July SF Chronicle reported Levi Strauss and Co. profit in the second quarter plunged 98% to $701,000 compared to $45.7 million the year before. General Motors was closing four US plants and laying off 20,000 workers, while asking management-level employees to accept early retirement. The SF Chronicle also reported that by June, the US workforce had lost 709,000 jobs in 2008, that STARBUCKS was closing 600 stores and laying off 12,000 workers, and, as THE PROGRESSIVE (May, 2008) noted: The SHARPER IMAGE declared bankruptcy, closing ninety-six US stores. As the downturn continued, on September 16 Hewlett-Packard announced a lay-off some 24,000 jobs over the next three years, and in October American Express laid off 7000. With stocks loosing 65% in value. The Dow on that frantic Tuesday had dropped some 504 points In October, following a week's precipitous fall of the Dow and after Congress had modified and passed Bush Jr.'s "buy-out" plan, prominent Wall Street financier, Warren Buffett remarked "It's an economic Pearl Harbor."
Fuelled by a virtual deregulation of financial capital markets, beginning in the1990's...widespread corruption and fraud was producing a housing bubble of epic proportions. Mortgage borrowing rose more than $4 trillion between 2003 and 2006 with $2 trillion issued in sub prime mode. "Sub prime" is "nonspeak" for inadequately-funded or often, criminally-structured mortgages, some actually programmed to fail and often sold to trusting but ignorant buyers, blacks or Spanish-speaking immigrant families, completely unaware of what they were signing at the bank.
As the Stock market continued to tumble, First on the list, the Feds gave JP Morgan Chase, $236.2 million, to buy out the 85 year-old Bear Sterns investment firm, at a price representing only 1% of what Bear Stearns had been worth only ten days before. Fallout from the Bear Stearns collapse and buyout was not hidden from an anxious public. KPFA's financial reporter noted that California Teachers Retirement Plan, investment in Bear Stearns, "had just lost $85 million." Meanwhile mortgage foreclosures by the tens of thousands were presenting themselves across the country. The HOPE NOW data program reported back in April, 2008: "More than 2 million loans were at least 60 days delinquent"
While the big boys in Wall Street were enjoying the Fed's bounty, a considerably smaller largess was directed at the American Taxpayer from Bush and Congress: On January 24th, 2008 Bush and leaders of the House provided almost $100 billion in tax rebates to 117 million taxpayers and another $40 billion in tax reductions for businesses " in a bid to avert a recession."
Like all of these "bail-out" deals, the Fed's promised, the money will eventually come out of the taxpayer's pocket. Printing extra money simply dilutes out the basic value of the US dollar on the world market, making everything we buy more expensive, while threatening the economy of other countries.
On 16 July, frightened by the INDYMAC collapse, the government announced a "massive aid package" to the two shareholder owned companies: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. According to a Reuters dispatch, that plan, which won approval from a frightened Congress, was designed to "head off a potential meltdown in financial markets."
Both Fannie and Freddie had been buying mortgages from banks and other lenders and either kept them or repackaged them into securities sold to investors as hedge funds, derivatives, etc. According to the SF Chron 25 June, 2008: "Three months after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac won the freedom to step up home-loan purchases, these government-chartered finance companies were doing what critics of the Federal Reserve and Congress had predicted: Instead of using powers granted by Congress to buy jumbo loans, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were purchasing their own mortgage-backed securities, to reduce losses and protect their stockholders... Since the rule-change took effect, in March, Fannie Mae had repackaged $24 million in jumbo loans into securities, while Freddie Mac added $220 million. In April these two spent more than $ 32.4 billion buying their own instruments. " Doing it unto others" again, in typical Wall Street fashion.
In contrast, Britain's prime minister, Gordon Brown, while urging nations to "tackle economy together," in bailing out Britain's largest banks specified that the bailout money be spent on loans to business rather than buyouts and stock dividends to the bank's investors.
The fact that the majority of the our "buyouts" were directed at Wall Street favorites didn't puzzle those Americans who understand that the Federal Reserve
System (FRS) is not Federal, but a privately owned and controlled coalition of banks. The Fed has no reserves except the paper it prints at will and the zeros it adds into its coffers via computers... The system has always been a scam. The real purpose of the Fed is to transfer wealth, such as real property, and other assets into the hands of the Fed's owners with printed paper. It is the evil product of a conspiracy of bankers and tycoons who secretly met on Jekyl Island on Christmas Eve 1913.
As Globalresearch.ca (25 July, 2008) notes: "To get their bill passed... the Wall Street faction changed the bull's name to the Federal Reserve Act and brought it three days before Christmas when Congress was preoccupied with departure for the holidays. The Bill was so obscurely written that no one really understood its provisions.
The national money supply would be printed by the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing but it would be issued as an obligation or debt of the government to a private central bank. The Federal Reserve was wholly owned by a consortium of private banks; it is controlled by bankers and it protects their interests. It issues Federal Reserve Notes (dollar bills) for the cost of printing them or, more often for the cost of entering numbers on a computer screen.) This privately issued money is then lent to the government and is owed back to the private Federal Reserve with interest. The interest is eventually refunded to the government, but only after the Fed deducts its operating expenses and a 6% guaranteed return for its bank stockholders. Congress and the President have some input in appointing the Federal Reserve Board, but the Board works behind closed doors with regional bankers, without congressional oversight or control. Bank CEOs actually sit on the Boards of the Fed's twelve branches. The banking lobby is powerful because private bankers, not the government, create our money and control who gets it.
The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was a major coup for the international bankers. They had battled for more than a century to establish a private central bank in the United States with the exclusive right to "monetize " the government's debt, i.e. to print their own money and exchange it for government securities or I.O.U.s
The Federal Reserve Act authorized a private central bank to create money out of nothing, lend it to the government at interest, and control the national money supply, expanding it or contracting it at will. Representative Charles Lindbergh, Sr. (father of America's flying hero) said: "This Act establishes the most gigantic trust on earth. When the President signs the Bill, the invisible government of the Monetary Power will be legalized... The worst legislative crime of the ages is perpetrated by this banking and currency Bill."
In March, 2008, on the Charlie Rose Show former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker said the Fed's decision to lend money to Bear Stearns to keep it from collapsing "is unprecedented and raises some real questions" about whether that's the appropriate role for the Fed... Again, on the Charlie Rose Show on October 9th, Volker said: "Our financial markets have become a Potemkin village." While on the same show Dominique Straus Kahn, present head of the IMF and France's former finance minister said that: "Financial markets cannot work alone and cannot regulate themselves." Although no one has the figures, economic experts estimate that the international derivatives markets account for around $55 trillion dollars, an example of exponential usury.
The U.S. government put Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac under federal control, "the largest financial bailout in the nation's history." The two government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) presently own or guarantee almost half of the country's $12 trillion in outstanding home mortgage debt.
The ongoing failure of millions of "sub-prime" mortgages with foreclosures across the country, the increasing reported lack of "affordable housing", along with a consumer debt of $2.52 trillion, despite assurances by Wall Street, our president and big money that " the economy is basically strong", comes as no surprise to those who have watched Congress, again and again surrender to Wall Street lobbying over the past half century.
Back on June 23rd, 1947 a newly elected Republican Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act over president Truman's veto. The results of this assault on American labor made its appearance gradually over the years as American dads, who for decades had fed and clothed their families paid their mortgages, educated their kids and provided a safe retirement, found their paychecks no longer covered all the bills, and began to accept 50 or 60 hour weeks, or found a second job. A few years later mother joined the workforce to bring home needed cash.
The present huge pyramid of debt, both public and private was made possible by thirty years of Congress' relentless deregulation of our financial markets, culminating, during the Clinton Administration, in the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which Act had prohibited banks from dealing in high-risk securities. In effect, Washington supposed regulators had become passive enablers to Wall Street's financial binge drinkers.
As columnist Robert Scheer pointed out (March 12th SF Chronicle): "The Clinton-backed Gramm-Leach-Baily Act of 1999 called the "Financial Services Modernization Act," permitted banks, stock brokers, and insurance companies to merge and was exacerbated by Bush's appointment of rapacious Corporate foxes to watch the corporate hen house." They will take care of their own... Their action was made possible only by the federal government's using your tax dollars to pick up the bad debt of the banks." This act Clinton signed overturned the Glass-Steagall Act, a major regulatory achievement of the New Deal.
As Alex Cockburn, noted in THE NATION, (Oct. 13,2008), a yea after The Clinton-backed Gramm-Leach-Baily Act was signed into law: "Gramm, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, attached a 262-page amendment to an omnibus appropriations bill right before Senate recess. Gramm's amendment became the Commodity Futures Modernization Act which ok'd deregulation of investment banks, exempting most over-the-counter derivatives, credit derivatives, hedge funds and credit default swaps from regulatory scrutiny."
Congress' attempt to rein-in Wall Street's reckless pursuit of sub prime money with the 1994 HOME OWNERSHIP AND EQUITY PROTECTION ACT, meant to police high-interest loans, proved ineffective.
A collaborating step down in the economic slide has been the not-too-subtle onslaught by the Credit-Card industry which began mailing their plastic cards out by the millions to unwary shoppers who, lacking enough cash at the Safeway checkout, found it increasingly easy to run that pretty piece of plastic through the machine. "In 2006 banks sent out 8 billion credit card applications, a 30% increase since 2005. Credit card companies now spend an average of $56 to sign up a new customer, and since 1996 when the Supreme Court struck down limits on credit card fees, the average late penalty has jumped 102% and the average fee for exceeding credit card limits rose 138%. Before long Americans found themselves with billions in credit-card debt (Mother Jones Sept 2007).
The acceptance by banks of sub-prime mortgages had begun over ten years ago as deregulation led to corporate theft in both Republican and Democratic administrations. In the past, mortgage holders who faced economic problems might go to their banker and negotiate changes in term limits or interest rates. Today their banker, who has bundled that mortgage along with a thousand others and is gambling with it on the international roulette wheel of "derivatives " and "hedge funds, may say: "Sorry I just can't lay my hands on your mortgage papers."
Corporate corruption is present at the highest level. On April 1st, 2008 (Reuters) - An internal JP Morgan Chase (JPM) memo titled "Zippy Cheats & Tricks" offered a peek into those dubious lending tactics underpinning the housing market's downward spiral. This A J.P. Morgan Chase internal memo titled: "Zippy Cheating Tricks", sneaked to the press by an employee (who has since been fired), says it all: The piece was originally obtained by reporters at THE PORTLAND Oregonian newspaper who printed it on March 27th, 2008. The sneaked memo outlined in step-by-step instructions just how to beef up mortgage applicants' statement s in order to qualify them for home loans they otherwise could not afford:
The instructions read as follows:
1. Make sure your assets input all income in base income. DO NOT break it down by overtime, commissions or bonus.
2. If your borrower is getting a gift, add it to a bank account along with the rest of the assets. Be sure to remove any mention of gift funds.
3. If you do not get (the desired results), try resubmitting with slightly higher income. Inch it up 500 to see if you can get the findings you want. Do the same for assets. Usury at its worse.
After Obama has closed Guantanamo and erased Bush's "signing statements," he still has a steep climb ahead. Will he be able to get a new Congress to intelligently weather the depression, our two wars, and return this country to the people? Not one of our politicians campaigning for the 2009 election, except Ralph Nader, mentioned that repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act should be on Congress's agenda, and that a sales tax on "derivatives" would be a good idea. The restoration of Congressional monitoring of business, weakened by the Glas-Steagall Act's has scarcely been mentioned. Cynthia Ann McKinney a former United States Representative and the 2008 Green Party nominee for President of the United States wants to abolish "derivatives"
Unlike Franklin D. Roosevelt, who faced the 1930s depression with a well-funded US treasury, Obama will be faced with a government trillions in debt while losing two wars. Congress must also halt the hemorrhaging of tax revenue by closing overseas tax shelters, revoke the Bush Jr. tax loopholes for the rich, and take the cap off Social Security contributions, forcing the wealthy to shoulder their fair share of our nation's financial support. We need to collect a tariff on all goods manufactured abroad regardless of their corporate ownership. Today EU countries charge either a VAT (value-added tax) or tariff on imports from the US and other non-EU countries.
President Obama will face a Herculean task with reluctant Republicans and some Democratic leaders who are Republicans in drag. Wish him well!
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