Tag Archives: bailout

The Elephant in the Room

Elephant in the roomWe’ve all heard the mind-numbing numbers:  $14 trillion of national debt that will grow to $20 trillion by 2010, but is it real?

Technically, and by the political definition, yes. It is the cumulative difference between actual revenues and spending. But by any reasonable accounting standard, our definition of national debt is hoax. More precisely, it is a political hoax within a hoax.

Almost two-thirds of the national debt is owed to us – mostly to our own government and its agencies. So when the pundits of doom talk about the impending explosion of interest on the national debt, one should smirk, a bit. We have systematically plundered Social Security, Civil Service and Military retirement funds (and other trusts) – like corporate America, we are never going to pay our pensions back, we’re going to change the rules. The Federal Reserve has purchased trillions of our national debt (quantitative easing) – in effect, it has already been paid by devaluing our currency. We have also allowed “banks” to go to the Fed money window for trillions of dollars at almost no cost that they have turned around and used to buy huge amounts of our debt making incredible profits – paying them back is little more than accounting.

Only about one-third of our national debt is owned by American and overseas investors. Were the Fed sponsored debt already paid with imaginary dollars subtracted from the $14 trillion, we owe far less than than the 76% to GDP ratio we hear so often. It would be more like 25% – an amount that would rank us among the most solvent countries in the world.

How did we get in this situation? You know. The Bush, now Obama, tax cuts for the rich when combined with the unfunded wars, the bailout of Wall Street and the stimulus bill, total almost all of it. To their credit, the Dems, in passing the “Affordable” Health Care Act and losing the mid-terms, will save a couple of trillion in the next decade, but we trillions on the table as bribes to health insurance companies and big pharma to get the bill passed. The surplus to debt happened in less than ten years. It could be undone in less than 151.

Except… for the non-debt debt – the elephant2 in the room – our unfunded liabilities. It would take, perhaps, $100 trillion to fully fund our pension and veterans obligations while continuing to fund Medicaid and other off-the-book obligations. A $38 billion cut, which almost forced a government shutdown, is stomping on ants while the elephants are jumping over the wall. Silly politics. Televised sport and nothing else. Look for the reruns to begin airing in a few days.

The only responsible way to address the real debt, is to get politicians out of our accounting and health care3. Treat Social Security, Disability and Medicare as tax financed programs – without a cap, not pretend trust funds. Require all tax cuts, breaks and subsidies have a sunset provision that forces a new and separate vote to continue. Stop treating earned and unearned income differently. Plug the loopholes. Send all corporate lobbyists to Guantanamo subject to military tribunals. Pass legislation limiting political contributions so they can only be made by individuals. Require competitive bidding for all government contracts. Give the states access to the Fed money window. Get out of the wars, slash the Pentagon, NSA/CIA budgets, require a two-thirds vote in Congress to wage war and support the UN to be the world’s peace keeper. Pass immigration reform to get the 20 million here undocumented, to pay legal taxes and Social Security and have access to better paying jobs. Create a Roosevelt-like works program that offers an alternative to long-term unemployment. Require two years of community or military service for our young people and offer college as a reward. Invest in a national system of medical clinics, private or public, to implement much of Medicaid. Do something. Don’t just cut something. The systems, political, economic and accounting, are unsustainable and broken.

 

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1 By going back to historically low top rates, getting the hell out of the wars, requiring those too big to succeed without taxpayer funds to fail and getting people back to work. Duh.
2 Yes, it is ironic that the elephant is the symbol of the GOP.
3 I know, I know, I know, you are thinking, what the hell does he want to go and write about this for? Ignorance is bliss. Leave it to Nobel prize winning economists and people running for office to make this stuff up. Just couldn’t help myself.

Dog Days News

So Blago’s guilty of lying, but after six and half years of Justice Department investigations, many millions spent, federal prosecutors couldn’t convince 12 of his peers that he was guilty of any of the other 23 charges. Blago will likely be re-tried.

Our hemisphere is having the hottest summer ever recorded – wildfires in Russia, an iceberg four times the size of Manhattan has broken off Greenland, and Pakistan has more than 20 million affected by flooding with 8+ million in desperate need of food and clean water – yet, the Climate and Energy Bill is being held hostage by Senate Republicans who continue to deny global climate change has been caused by their hot air.

Caffeinated by the tea party, a one-word “no” platform, 309 Senate bills on Republican hold, gay marriage and immigration laws in the courts, a Muslim community center in Manhattan, and the Bush economy/legacy of failure abandoned on Obama’s doorstep, the Republicans are so poorly managed they only have $10.9 million for fall campaigns – now they get a $1 million partial bailout from News Corp., the owner of the Wall Street Journal and Fox Not-Really-News.

With a “real” unemployment rate of 16.5%, a net loss of 131,000 jobs last month, wage growth a misnomer, the current rate of bankruptcies near a 5-year high, record numbers without health insurance, record numbers of foreclosures, exports tanking, trade deficits exploding, bank earnings weakening, 80% of the exiting stimulus allocated to the states, but only 47% spent, and a second stimulus bill dead in the Senate waters –  the $10 billion subsidy just passed to pay states to keep or hire teachers has many school districts saying they aren’t going to rehire teachers, they’ll try to save it to help next year which is sure to be worse.

Haiti is still in ruins, 1.5 million people are still displaced, only about 10% of the money pledged (including the US contribution) has actually been given, Bill Clinton is out doing collections while Hillary is leading by example: she’s contributed $10 via text to relief efforts, but there’s still hope – Fugees’ rapper Wyclef Jean is running for President.

Gone in August:  Oscar-winning actress, Patricia Neal (84, lung cancer); Bobby Hebb, ‘Sunny’ singer-songwriter (72, lung cancer); “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” baseball player Bobby Thomson (86, long illness); jazz singer, civil rights activist, Abbey Lincoln (80, long illness); actor Paul Rudd (70, pancreatic cancer); film and TV producer, David Wolper (82, heart failure); former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (87, plane crash in the bad weather that they didn’t check for before taking off); celebrity plastic surgeon, Frank Ryan (50, texting while driving); writer, pundit, segregationist, James Kilpatrick (89, heart failure); Gap Band musician, Robert Wilson (53, heart attack); singer for the Diamonds, Ted Kowalski (79, heart disease); Pardon by Bill Clinton for accepting kickbacks, 18 term Congressman and former Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committe, Dan Rostenkowski (82, unspecified); bluegrass bassist, Mitch Jayne (82, cancer); guitarist, Catfish Collins (66, cancer); writer, philosopher, Mary Anne Warren (88, unknown); Georgia goobernatorial candidate, Karen Handel (48, failed to convince 1,244 more voters she was less evil than Nathan Deal); HP CEO, Mark Hurd (53, complications from greed and sex-related hubris); hate radio host, Dr. Laura Schlessinger (63, fatal hemmoraging of the N word on air); the last US combat troops in Iraq (7, campaign promise); unimaginable numbers of aquatic creatures and birds, plus 80% of the oil that leaked into the Gulf from BP’s Macondo well (3 months, greed, negligence, inadequate regulation and political bribery).

Update, August 21, 2010:

  • Blago: Jurors report that there was only one holdout juror unconvinced of Blago’s guilt on most of the other charges.
  • Hottest Summer: Now heavy rains have devastated China and North Korea leaving 4,000 dead or missing, more than 50,000 displaced and ‘extremely dangerous” cracks have been found in the Three Gorges dam threatening hundreds of thousands.
  • Republican Fundraising: Politico reports the RNC now has only $5.5 million on hand for the midterm elections and $2.2 million in debt.
  • Jobs: For the week ending Aug. 14, new unemployment filings exceeded 500,000 – the worst job report since Nov. 2009.
  • Hope in Haiti: The Haiti electoral commission ruled yesterday that Wyclef Jean is ineligible to run for president .

Jubilee for the middle class

The American middle class is dying off in huge numbers. It has been going on for more than a decade, but we are facing a catastrophe of biblical proportions. I have a plan to stop it and to save those left.

Hyperbole? You decide.

Formerly known as the middle classWhen someone speaks for the middle class, most often they continue to use a post-World War II snapshot. Average salary. Average house. Average everything. Most Americans believe they are a member. Because of the enormous changes in concentration of wealth, they are wrong. More Americans than they realize are actually poor by prime time standards. More are joining them every day. But this piece is not about the poor.

Lcurve.com took the most recent census figures (it has gotten worse since then) and plotted it on a football field (sports metaphors are the best way to communicate complicated issues in terms that sound good, but seldom do more than confuse things further). If median income were used, the stack of money earned at the fifty yard line would equal a stack of $100 bills, 1.6 inches high (median household income ranging from $61,000 in Maryland to $31,000 in West Virginia  – 1.6  inches is about the size of your big toe, OK, a boy’s big toe). At the five yard line, the stack of $100 bills is 4″ high. At the one foot line, the stack of $100 bills is 40 inches tall, or 3-feet, 4 inches. At the one inch line, the stack is over 30 miles high.

The middle class now lives somewhere between the five and the ten yard line. At one time, and in my lifetime, they owned half the field.

There are many advocates for the poor – I am among them, but they can do without me for the day. Admittedly, the working poor are suffering something terrible and are too busy working three jobs to advocate for themselves and only have Joe Biden. The rich? They hire hire lobbyists. Today, I’m focusing on the middle class.  The faux alter ego of the rich… and the poor. The people who are portrayed on television commercials during prime time. Beautiful, healthy, making-it- in-America kind of people who bought in to the American work ethic, performed to it, and subsequently have more to lose and yet further to fall. They are the poster children for the American dream.

Formerly known as the middle classThese are the people who look as if they made it – good education, ambition, hard work and a couple of good decisions landed them with a good job and on a career path. They had the audacity of hope ten years ago. They bought into the ownership society. They believed. They purchased more home than they needed because they knew it would grow in value along with their wages. They had good credit and used it. They consumed and charged some of it on their single-digit-rate credit cards. They pay huge amounts of income, property and sales taxes. Buy or lease the new cars. Send their kids to private schools in new uniforms. And go out to dinner.

Where are they today? They are holding on by their nails (no longer professionally manicured). They are being squeezed to death. Those who didn’t get laid off are working longer hours, many for less pay. The raises and the bonuses, known as the big hits, didn’t happen as hoped and planned, unless they are on Wall Street.  The AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) has hit them hard. Very hard, an annual battering. Their property taxes skyrocketed because they bought their houses before the prices fell, but after the reassessments. Some have extended families who are out of work or under-employed. They have had to help out. Their health insurance has gone up, along with their co-pays and their need for care. Their equity lines have been cut , and not-so-coincidentally, so too have their credit card limits. For the first time in modern history, consumers are paying against their credit card debt before paying their mortgage payments – a feeble attempt at false liquidity at the risk of the most basic of human needs – housing.

One by one, they were either a day late paying their credit card bill, or a dollar short on guessing their new lower credit limits. The late charge, or over-limit fee hit their Equifax report and their 3% Chase card with the $30,000 balance, and $35,000 credit limit overnight turned into a 33% card with a $30,000 limit. Their monthly payments went up by a thousand dollars and with it all their “disposable income.” Suddenly, all the other cards matched the 33% rate. They cut back immediately, but it wasn’t enough. They cashed out their retirement. Got rid of their extra car. Postponed their health needs. Then the collectors started calling. They never knew they were living on the edge. The precipice was looming.

I’m not making this up. Our middle class – those making $100,000 to $250,000 a year are suffocating – their financial livelihood is being squeezed out of them, and with it their contribution to consumerism. Almost all of the air is going to the bank (a euphemism for “the company store”). They have exhausted their savings, have no equity, no credit, less than zero leftover money, and are losing it. Sure, many have been able to hold on to that one nice car and that wonderful home with the for-sale sign in the front yard. But their “comfortable” life is only in the living room. Disposable income provides economic freedom – it is gone.

I realize that creating sympathy for those on the five yard line is almost impossible. These are the people that we all need to take us out of the recession. They are the customers of those who are still working. They are, or were , the employers of the working poor. These are the people who pay the taxes that keep our government working. Ironically, they are the only class who are still vaguely in touch with those on the one foot line, who otherwise, would (pick one or more: have no friends at all; no one to betray, or no one to aspire to them).

So, what’s my plan? My proposal? A middle class bail out that won’t cost the taxpayer a dime.
Premise: those who are already 30 to 90 days behind on their credit cards and owing the exorbitant interest rates are unlikely to make it. Fortunately for the banks, all of these accounts are insured… by AIG. Yes, the company that is 80+% owned by the US government. The insurance that banks have on these accounts returns 70-80% of the balance to them, which is why they add on all the late payments and hidden charges in order to jack up the balance prior to handing the debt to AIG. The banks get it all back and the government ends up picking up the tab.

I propose that we offer a deal to save those middle class patrons who can still be saved. A deal that won’t cost the taxpayers a penny. In return for cutting up their credit cards, getting no new ones, paying on time and not declaring bankruptcy, we (using the rates being charged to banks) would let them pay off their debt at near zero interest rate (the near zero will pay for the servicing). If they renege, the deal goes back to the bank to collect and they don’t get another chance.

For someone who has $100,000 in credit card debt, this will save them $25-$30,000 a year – about the same deal they had before this “greatest economic crisis since the great depression” began. Enough money to pay off their debt in a few years instead of never. To get their mortgage caught up and keep them in their home. Enough for them to get back soon to consuming, paying taxes and saving us all.

What about all that interest that’s being written off, is that a cost to someone? Only on paper. The government now lends money to banks for virtually nothing (it is why the banks have so much to gamble on Wall Street). The banks are charging exorbitant rates for credit cards, but their earnings are only on paper,  as much of it will never be collected. They justify these rates and charges because of the risk of default, but this isn’t new money or new risk. The only thing that changed was the economy. Why should we bail out the banks, give them free money for their bad decisions and not bail out the people, who – should they survive –  pay for the bank bailout? The banks do not deserve the spread and bankruptcy is bad for everyone (except the banks).

This solution is not another big government bailout (even the servicing can be privatized). It is simply extending, for a limited time, the rate we charge banks to a group who had the audacity of belief in the American dream and wants to pay their debt. They bear the costs, are responsible for their decisions, and will give us all a chance to get out of this mess.

One more note – this is fairly progressive. Credit card debt is relative. Credit card jubilee (at least in concept) could be just the thing to get us out of this mess.

New China Syndrome

maoThe Chinese are a bunch of commies. Just look at how they are handling the economic crisis. When their largest trading partner (us), suddenly announced a banking crisis, massive new unemployment, the loss of a third of stock market value and plans for massive borrowing to fund stimulus programs that would take years to recover and surely devalue its currency, what did they do? When they were faced with canceled contracts, factory closings, empty cargo ships and 20 million unemployed, how did they handle it? Well, they sure didn’t bailout Shiji Avenue.

They bailed out people – a purely communist idea if I ever heard one. Their program’s goal was to stimulate the economy and to create demand for factory capacity. To keep people employed. To keep them happy and healthy. To keep them spending. And, most of all, to keep them from overthrowing the government.

The Chinese are funding massive infrastructure programs – building roads, railroads and public housing – and Chinese actually use shovels and had them ready. They didn’t bail out banks. What they did was let the Chinese banks compete to finance the state programs, which kept the banks profitable. They didn’t send money to huge businesses to make up for imaginary losses, they sent money directly to individuals who did something totally expected: they spent it. Business didn’t shut down, because people where buying. Layoffs stopped. Factories reopened, shifted production to what their Chinese consumers wanted, and production increased 8.3% in March. Per capita disposable income is up. Real estate markets are improving. The Shanghai stock market is up 40%. Chinese auto sales rose 37% last month. And the Chinese GDP, which will slow from previous years when the US was buying, is expected to be 7-8%. The US GDP is currently down 6.29%. It’s a communist plot.

Chrysler Rejects Bailout

newdummyChrysler CEO “Test Dummy Bob” Nardelli (formerly known as Home Depot CEO “Builder Bob”) has signaled bold new initiatives to save the deeply troubled company. With sales even lower than forecast, Chrysler announced it would reject additional Federal TARP money as they don’t need to make or finance any new cars.

Rumors at Chrysler, suggest that may not be the only reason. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, insiders say Nardelli has signed an exclusive deal with the Republican party to sell a new, and potentially, brand-saving car to be named the “Tea Bag”. “The 2010 Chrysler Tea Bag is the perfect family car to push off a cliff (sic: or dump in a local bay),” said industry analysts on last night’s Fox news, “plus, it will have zero air pollution and get unlimited mileage while falling and that ought to please the liberal media.”

car_over_cliffTechnically, the Tea Bag will only require putting a new logo on already manufactured Chryslers. Restructuring plans call for firing remaining union workers and use executives to put the new Tea Bag logos on their existing inventory of cars.

In a conflicting report, The Washington Post reported today that Chrysler is rejecting the bailout because its top executives refused to sign an agreement limiting executive compensation as they prepare to negotiate union concessions.


In the Public Trust

Great Depression

Debates rage in Congress, State Houses and on Cable News over government intrusion on business. Talk of bailouts, nationalizing banks, regulating hedge funds, limiting power companies’ pollution, charging fair grazing fees and mining rights on public lands, direct loans to corporations, pseudo-government corporate ownership, government-sponsored investment funds, companies too-big-to-fail, corporate campaign contributions, limiting offshore tax havens, unfair government competition with cable and telephone suppliers over opening up the broadcast spectrum to free wireless internet to everyone, and unfair government competition with private insurers over universal medical coverage (to name more than a few), has brought labels of socialism, big government and anti-business back to the forefront of popular Google searches. So, what is the role of business vis-a-vis government?

Before there were corporations, there was government. Before government, there were people. Corporations are allowed to exist only because government gives them the standing. Likewise, at least in the US, government is only allowed to exist because of a special pact – a contract, if you will, with the people. We refer to it most often as the Constitution. It is the people, who have inalienable rights. Not government. And certainly not business.

While individuals have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” corporations do not. For much of US history, to create what we now call a corporation, required an act of a state legislature and those charters were closely regulated to protect the public interest (the federal government can only create corporate entities from the powers derived from the Constitution – for instance, Federal Banks). Things changed dramatically in late 20th century as states wishing to attract more “bizness,” loosened regulations (Delaware and Nevada are the most notorious for lack of regulation and where the largest corporations who have not yet gone offshore to escape almost any regulation or taxes, are most likely chartered).

Corporations, when combined with inexhaustible supplies of capital; limited stockholder representation in management; competition between states who would look the other way on regulation in exchange for the hope of jobs and campaign contributions; an inexhaustible supply of workers – legal or otherwise; new manufacturing and distribution methods; the expansion of the patent laws; the proliferation of lobbyists and their perks; the lack of transparency of what they were doing before it was too late; their unlimited budget for lawyers; and the opportunity for profit, lead quickly, of course, to monopolies, aka: cartels (and predatory pricing, price gouging, manipulation of markets by limiting supplies, collusion, discriminatory trade, tort reform, inability to organize workers, fraud, bribery, dangerous products, pollution, more lobbying, George W. Bush, etc.). Nefarious monopolies were first outlawed around 50BC, and in the US in 1894, but the laws are largely ignored here except during times when the majority of the Supreme Court was appointed by Democrats. There are some exceptions to the monopoly law. Most notable are professional sports and public utilities which are supposed to maintain infrastructure for a public service and be closely regulated, but the power to corrupt will always trump good intentions.

By now, your thoughts must be screaming, “when will you get to the point?” How ‘bout I skip the rest of the civics lesson and offer it now? Our government need not protect an industry or corporation’s ability to profit when it is contrary to the public trust. Government needs to do what’s good for the people. Practical examples:

• We’ve gone to digital television to open up the underutilized television broadcast spectrum. Our so-called public utilities (cable, satellite providers, wired and wireless phone companies and power companies – okay, not all in this list are still public utilities) want to own this spectrum so they can continue to do what they do best: provide as little service as possible while charging us as much as possible. Problem is, this bandwidth (and about a billion dollars or so, some cooperation/mergers and some maintenance) could provide internet access for everyone and the enhanced internet could be used to replace all cell and television service saving the people hundreds of billions every year. What is in the public good?

• US employers need to be more globally competitive, yet the cost of providing employee heath insurance is among their greatest expense. The number of uninsured in the US is about 50 million and rising. As a society, we pay for care anyway through indigent care expenses, lost productive and taxed wages, and early death of the uninsured. The problem is that we have the health insurance industry and they have lobbyists. Ditto the unions. Ditto big-pharma. Now ask yourself, what’s in the public good? Maintaining a vibrant health insurance industry, helping executives and union members have extravagant health plans and allowing the drug companies to overcharge? Or, making business more competitive and everyone more healthy at a lower cost?

• Admittedly, any regulation of hedge funds would make them less competitive with the criminals in other countries and it may mean that some of these imaginary deals will end up being made offshore, but since they do absolutely nothing to positively improve the human condition short of enriching the schemers themselves, is it really in the public good that they should do whatever they want and answer to no one when the result of this practice so far, has led to financial ruin of hundreds of millions? Ask yourself if government would be acting in the public trust to keep this unregulated (which they are now) or even under-regulated, which any lobbyist-inspired Congressional compromise would surely render?

• Admittedly, the financial industry funds more campaign contributions and lobbyists than any other group; likewise, community giving, and we’d miss that for a while. But clearly history has shown us that the FDIC can take over, fix and re-privatize a bank without anyone suffering, other than the executives and shareholders who took the failed risks and should be responsible. What is in the public good of doing otherwise?

• In your wildest dreams, does anyone believe that power companies with investments in dirty coal (Georgia Power comes to mind) will ever reduce their pollution unless forced to or incented to? Yes, it would cost their customers some money through increased rates. Money that companies in states with public regulation have long ago paid. But just to top it off, please note that Georgia Power’s lobbyist just bribed the legislature to pass an increase in rates for a fictitious nuclear reactor they pretend they are going to build 10 years from now even though no reactor has been licensed in the US in more than 20 years. Scandalous, for sure. In the public interest? Not.

Government must be for the people. Not for the corporations.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” –Declaration of Independence as originally written by Thomas Jefferson, 1776. ME 1:29, Papers 1:315

Almost Great Depression To Be Over This Week

Golfer President Obama

Exactly when this economic crisis began is arguable. Republicans often suggest that it was left from the Clinton years and point to evidence including excess growth, albeit benign, in 1994 and evidence of excess fluidity being addressed in December 2002. While there was occasional discussion by pundits on talk radio and the Sunday shows, the impending crisis didn’t begin to make the headlines until the Spring of 2008. Noticeably limping before the Masters and coinciding with the Bear Stearns collapse. By mid June 2008, it became obvious that things were not going to turn around any time soon and Tiger Woods announced after his heroic limping playoff victory at the US Open, that he would undergo more reconstructive surgery and would be out for ten months. Reaction on was immediate and has continued. Indymac Bank was nationalized. $300 billion subprime mortgage guarantee was put into law. The Fed nationalized Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. Bank of America took over Merrill Lynch. Lehman Brothers collapsed. The Fed lent $85 billion to AIG. Paulson announced a financial rescue. WaMu was nationalized. Citigroup took over Wachovia. Congress passed the $700 billion TARP bailout bill. The crisis spread around the world. Obama was elected to stand in for our multi-racial and multi-cultural role model superstar icon. The markets continued to tank. Millions lost their jobs. Millions lost their health insurance. Wars continued. And so on.

It’s finally officially over. Tiger Woods is back on the PGA Tour this week at the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona (Sen. McCain, R). While experts believe it may be many more months before the recovery is complete, all the world awaits the markets’ reaction.