Archive for February 23rd, 2011
There are those who believe we have made great strides with Dodd-Frank and if we implement it well, all will be fine. Some believe that that the industry is over-regulated, which may be true, but we should not confuse over-regulated with well-regulated. And some of us are certain that in spite of all that’s been done and debated, the soundness of the largest financial institutions and the systemic risks they continue to pose is no better. In my view, it is even worse than before the crisis. As well-intentioned as the Dodd-Frank Act may be, it will not improve outcomes.
It was not intended to improve outcomes. It was intended to polish the knobs of Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein and others by not only providing the cover for the Statute of Limitations to expire, but also to prevent meaningful reform.
There are many villains in the story of the recent crisis and much written to name them, describe them and even curse them. If you want to know how it happened, read “Thirteen Bankers” and “All the Devils Are Here.” If you want to know how to fix the problem, I highly recommend “Regulating Wall Street,” from New York University’s Stern School of Business. If you want to understand why the American public refuses to ignore the injustices associated with executive compensation in bailed out companies versus budget cuts borne by the middle class, read Rolling Stone’s article “Why isn’t Wall Street in Jail?” If you wonder why “no one saw it coming” then I suggest you read up on Brooksley Born or, a decade later, Meredith Whitney.
You could also read the upcoming book Leverage, which will point out not just why it happened this time, but more-importantly why it always happens, why we have a history of doing the same stupid things and why we had better change our ways – along with how we can.
But I get ahead of myself…. by a few months….
Or, you might even read the remarks of an Iowa-educated bank regulator turned-policy maker in Kansas City. Fifteen years ago, I gave a speech entitled “Rethinking Financial Regulation,” which summarized the major threats facing our financial system. My suggestion then was to take steps to reduce interdependencies among large institutions and to limit them to relatively safe activities if they chose to provide essential banking and payments services and be protected by the federal safety net.
Eh. The problem with the system as it exists today Mr. Hoenig is that it is designed to allow people in these institutions to lie.
Sound banking is not all that difficult to do. One Dollar of Capital along with forcing all derivative and other market bets into the open where they’re blinded and exchange-traded (so as to force margin supervision on a nightly basis) solves nearly all the problems.
But that means there’s no scam to be had in complex securitized products. You can’t appear to “create money out of air” by ignoring the common law of business balance. You can’t lie to people and get away with it.
Instead, banking becomes a simple and low-margin thing. It’s a payment-clearing mechanism, primarily.
We must make the largest institutions more manageable, more competitive, and more accountable. We must break up the largest banks, and could do so by expanding the Volcker Rule and significantly narrowing the scope of institutions that are now more powerful and more of a threat to our capitalistic system than prior to the crisis.
How about just prosecuting the scams, starting with the one at The Fed. You know, the butchering of the English language where “stable prices” becomes “2% inflation” – which in fact turns into about 3%, or looked at another way, a ninety-five percent devaluation of purchasing power of the dollar over 100 years.
It is no coincidence that two principal features of this crisis were heavily bloated safety nets and major financial institutions that were treated as being too big to fail. History shows that these two elements have become more intertwined – the growth of one is linked to growth of the other, in an increasingly pernicious cycle.
Actually, you could simply call it what it is – financial terrorism.
What do you think the authorities would call it were I to call in a threat to blow up the financial landscape if I didn’t get $700 billion? Is that really any different than threatening to do it with a hydrogen bomb?
Both are, in essence, the same thing. Both are a threat to blow everyone – and everything in the economy – to bits if you don’t get what you want. And both are born of first creating a mess which leads to to make a demand that the government “cannot refuse.”
Let’s just call it what it is: Financial Terrorism.
Then Hoenig goes on to advocate a few things….
More effective supervision. The idea of more effective regulation and supervision is a major focus in the Dodd-Frank Act.
Really? Where is the “or else” in that legislation? Can you find a criminal penalty? Nope. There isn’t one. It is therefore well over a thousand pages of exactly nothing, because there is no penalty if the law is ignored.
As an example, two decades ago we were told that supervision based on “prompt corrective action” was the answer to the thrift and banking crisis of the 1980s. This system may have led to more timely supervisory enforcement steps and established a timeframe for the resolution of most institutions.
Prompt corrective action was ignored because there is no penalty clause in the legislation. It therefore is a legal nullity, and the results were obvious.
Higher capital standards. I also support stronger capital standards, especially in the form of a maximum leverage ratio based on equity capital. The idea of more effective regulation and supervision is a major focus in the Dodd-Frank Act.
One dollar of capital against each dollar of unbacked credit exposure, marked to the market nightly.
End of problem.
Of course, that presumes that anyone in positions of power and authority actually want to fix it.
Isn’t it easier to steal huge bonuses and then kick some of it back through “campaign contributions” to lawmakers?
Now there’s something to think about.
This effectively puts a stop to ALL illegal foreclosures. No proper documentation? Forget it.
The bottom line is this: Either the original issue of that mortgage and its subsequent securitization went through all previously-required assignments and you can prove it or your ability to convey a title via Trustee Sale is gone.
Awwww those poor widdle banksters that cheated on the rules…. looks like Arizona has had enough of their games and is going to body-slam them all in favor of their citizens. BRAVO!
Now to get this introduced and passed in all 50 states….. a refreshing instance of legislation that actually both defends property rights and fits on one page!
|THIRD READ:||DATE||AYES||NAYS||NV||EXC||EMER||AMEND||RFE||2/3 VOTE||RESULT|
|TRANSMIT TO HOUSE:||02/22/11|
On the way to the House…..
Put a fork in ‘em – they’re
As The Obamas And The Ultra-Wealthy Live The High Life Most Americans Are Going Through Economic Hell
Barack Obama recently made the following statement to American families that are struggling to survive in this economy: “If you’re a family trying to cut back, you might skip going out to dinner, or you might put off a vacation.” A few days after making that statement Obama sent his wife and children off on yet another vacation, this time to a luxury ski hotel in Vail, Colorado. But the Obamas are not the only ones enjoying the high life. Wealthy corporate executives and greedy Wall Street fatcats insist that profit margins are too tight to hire more American workers, and yet sales of luxury cars, private jets and vacation homes are soaring. Meanwhile, most American families are going through economic hell right now. In 2010, more Americans than ever before were living below the poverty line. Over 4 million Americans have been unemployed for more than a year, and over 5 million Americans are at least two months behind on their mortgage payments. As the Obamas and wealthy corporate executives jet off to fancy ski resorts, half of all American workers are earning $505 or less per week and 55 percent of American families are living paycheck to paycheck. Something is very wrong with this picture.
So is there anything wrong with working hard and enjoying the fruits of success? Of course not, as long as it was done honestly and not on the backs of the American taxpayers. But the truth is that many of the corporate executives that are enjoying luxury vacations right now would not even have companies to run if the American taxpayers had not stepped in and bailed them out during the financial crisis. Thanks to the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve, Wall Street bankers and top corporate executives are once again enjoying bonuses that most of us would consider obscene.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of the country is suffering very deeply.
Over the past several decades, the biggest financial institutions and the biggest corporations have worked really hard to “fix” the rules of the game in their favor. The truth is that our economy is no longer a “free market” capitalist system. Rather, what we have now is more accurately described as “corporatism” or “neo-feudalism”. The big corporations dominate almost everything, and whatever they don’t dominate the government does.
One of the key features of a “corporatist” system is that it tends to funnel all the wealth to the very top.
Back in 1976, the top 1 percent of earners in the United States took in 8.9 percent of all income. By 2007, that number had risen to 23.5 percent.
There are two different Americas today. There is the America of the gated communities, the private planes and the good life, and there is the America of declining wages, thrift stores and rising desperation.
What is saddest of all is that the most vulnerable people in society often suffer the most from all of this.
According to one recent study, approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States were living below the poverty line in 2010.
Do you think that the Obamas are thinking about any of this while they are enjoying their stay at a luxury ski hotel in Vail, Colorado?
The truth is that leadership is not just about words. Leadership is about setting an example.
Back in August, Michelle Obama took her daughter Sasha and 40 of her friends for a vacation in Spain.
So what was the bill to the taxpayers for that little jaunt across the pond?
It is estimated that vacation alone cost U.S. taxpayers $375,000.
Hey, Barack Obama won the most votes in 2008 and so if he wants his family to get as much enjoyment out of these four years as they can that is his prerogative.
However, if he wants to tell American families that they “might put off a vacation” after all the vacations that the Obamas have taken over the past two years then he is just being a massive hypocrite.
According to the New York Post, Barack Obama enjoyed a total of 10 separate vacations that stretched over a total of 90 vacation days during the years of 2009 and 2010.
During his first two years in office, he also managed to play 29 rounds of golf.
Oh, but it is the rest of us that have to cut back on our vacations.
But it is not just the Obamas that are enjoying the high life right now.
The wealthy have recovered nicely from the “recession” and now they are spending money by the gobs once again.
According to Moody’s Analytics, the wealthiest 5% of households in the United States account for approximately 37% of all consumer spending.
Life is very good in America if you have got enough money.
A recent article in USA Today detailed some of the things that wealthy corporate executives are spending money on in 2011….
Luxury and high-end marketers have picked up on what they hope is a growing trend, offering products that bank on a looming spending spree. Germany’s PG-Bikes is rolling out the $80,000 Black Trail, a battery-powered bicycle. Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille is selling $525,000 timepieces. Steinway has launched a John Lennon-themed grand piano — at $90,000 and up. After selling out a $245,000 model, automaker Porsche is planning the 918 Spyder, a hybrid car that could sell for more than $630,000.
Nearly all luxury brands experienced a resurgence in 2010. Just check out some of the sales increases for luxury car brands….
At the exact same time, however, life is getting really, really hard for the rest of America.
As I wrote about yesterday, the U.S. middle class continues to be decimated even in the midst of this “economic recovery”.
There are tens of millions of Americans that would like to have a full-time job that are not able to get a full-time job. The number of Americans on food stamps has gone from about 26 million at the start of 2007 to 43 million today and it continues to set a brand new record every single month. One out of every six Americans is now enrolled in at least one anti-poverty program run by the federal government.
Our economy has become a complete and total nightmare.
Over the past couple of days some of the readers of this column have been sharing some of their economic horror stories. But they are far from alone. There are literally millions of Americans with economic horror stories out there. It is just that we don’t get to hear too many stories from the “other America” on our televisions.
The following stories of economic pain are from people just like you and me. Times are incredibly hard for most of America right now, and they are only getting harder with each passing month….
My mother is unemployed. She is 61 years old, has 25 years of experience working for a major telecommunications corporation, and has a four-year degree. I watch her send application after application to employers with no response. I watch her get contacted by recruiters who say she is a ‘perfect fit’ for a job and never deliver. I watch her slide into depression and staying in bed many hours of the day.
I am 38 years old, I have mental illness, and I recently lost my job as a delivery driver because the owner sold his business to a competitor.
I don’t believe that either my mother or I will ever be employed again. I am beginning to feel that I am permanently in the world of the unemployed.
I graduated college in May 2000 with a Bachelors degree in Broadcasting/Minored in History. I have worked for major corporations as an Enterprise Sales Consultant selling Servers. I was a Network Engineer for Qwest Communications. I even worked for the Federal Government and held a Security Clearance for 4 years. I also won Dell Small Business Sales Consultant of the quarter as well. But since I don’t have an active clearance anymore no one wants to hire me in D.C. I lost my job in 07/2010 and from 07/2010-Present I have been unemployed. My food stamps were also recently cut off last month since the State of Virginia decided that for a household of 1 you can’t make more than $1178 a month. I make $1250 a month in Unemployment compensation before taxes so according to the Government I am too rich to receive Food stamps now. My Rent, Gas and Car insurance is $1000 a month and I am holding on for dear life. I am currently in the process of declaring Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and using my tax return to pay the attorney $1500 to file. That leaves me with only #250 a month for food, water and cell phone.
I have a list compiled in my Google email with approximately 784 applications I have filled out for every government agency, defense contractor and job available in the Washington, DC area. I even applied to Carmax and my old job in college waiting tables at red Lobster and the moving company I used to work at during the summers in college. If its bad for someone like me with over 10 years of Sales, Server/computer experience, Investigations and Network Engineering than I can’t imagine how bad it is for people that just have a high school diploma. I have been on one interview out of the almost 1000 jobs I have applied to (It takes about 2 hours to apply to one job). The one interview I went on offered me less than my unemployment gives me at $8 an hour. I can sit at home and make more money on unemployment than 80% of the jobs that I have applied too and even those jobs don’t call me. Is this what America has become? Is this what I sacrificed 5 years of my life in college from 17 years old to 21 years old and spent $40,000 to get a worthless degree that won’t even get you hired?
Well, My family has been ripped to shreds alright.
Overall combined (My father, and myself) make about 60k a year. We can barely survive we keep looking to cut things, and make things cheaper but it’s just not working fast enough.
My wife can’t find a job, and now student loans are starting to become issues. (won’t go in to further details).
Tax returns taken, and various other things, Can’t even afford dental care. We don’t even get to go out anymore, and lucky to get any type of snacks. Just so you know there are 5 people living in this house.
The only reason I am not out on the street is that when I had money I paid off my mortgage.
However, because I did that, my food stamp allotment is only $25 a month. The heating assistance I get only paid for less than one months’ heat out of the six months I need here in Pennsylvania. All other expenses use up what’s left, so you learn to eat at home; I try not to leave the house because it’s going to cost me money.
I blame Congress for destroying America. They have given tax breaks to themselves and their rich friends at our expense. Did you know that anybody who serves 5 years in Congress gets a FULL pension at age 62? Us peasants work for 45 years and then if we retire at age 62 we are forced to give up 25% of what we earned.
I lost my house, my family was split, and all my savings is gone.
I have lost hope. I served in the military, went to college and have high tech skills. My country doesn’t give a ***** about me. The bankers are as evil as the communists and I hate them.
I’m also 38, and have worked in IT since the mid 90s. I lost my full time job in April ’03, and have only been able to find short term temporary work since. The contracts started to get shorter and fewer as the years went on, so in spring ’10 I retrained to be an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) but have not been able to find work in the last 9 months. An ambulance company I applied with said that they have hundreds of applications in several Northern CA counties but no job openings. And health care jobs are supposed to be on the the only areas of growth. I deliver pizzas for cash on and off and am getting unemployment.
I lost track of how many resumes I’ve sent out during the past several months. My neighbors think I’m trying to win the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes or something (yeah, that would help too! Ha!)
Maybe I should go back to school and become an RLP (Rejection Letter Professional).
The rent at the place I lived was so high that I couldn’t afford it on a school bus driver’s salary, which I was doing for the past few years, because in spite of 30 years clerical experience, where I performed every function from clerk typist to executive legal secretary, I could not find employment. So I applied for subsidized housing and was forced to move back to Chicago, where the crime rate is very high in certain areas.
Before I moved I was getting $200 in food stamps, but now that I am in subsidized housing, I have to go and reapply and if I get anything at all, I have heard that it will be about $52 a month! Although the rent is subsidized, I have to pay for my own heat, and the building in which I live is completely electric! Energy assistance doesn’t cover it. They give with one hand and take away with the other.
All of the people above are still “surviving”, but what do you think is going to happen to many of them as the cost of living goes up dramatically? Brent crude just hit $108 a barrel and the UN says that the global price of food recently hit a new all-time high.
Americans on fixed incomes or that are on government assistance are going to be absolutely devastated if prices for basics such as food and gas rise substantially.
Not only that, but budget cuts on the federal, state and local levels are also going to hurt many of these people deeply.
But this is where we are at as a nation. A small privileged class is enjoying the high life while a rapidly growing poverty class pleads for the government to toss them some more crumbs.
The American people deserve better than this. They deserve an economy that will provide them with good jobs which will enable them to pay their mortgages and feed their families.
Unfortunately, the U.S. economy is dying. The number of good jobs is actually declining. The middle class is being systematically wiped out.
The answer is not to “tax the rich” so that we can toss the rapidly growing poverty class a few more crumbs. The answer is to radically transform our economy back into the kind of economy our founding fathers originally intended.
But wealthy corporate executives and politicians such as Barack Obama are not going to have any of that. Those sitting on top don’t want any real change to happen. Sadly, the general population has become so dumbed-down that they don’t even know the questions that they should be asking.
So unfortunately it appears we are going to keep heading down the exact same economic path that we have been heading for decades. The middle class will keep being ripped apart and politicians like George W. Bush and Barack Obama will just keep on smiling.
The financial disaster of continuing to bailout commercial real estate through the shadows of Federal Reserve jargon. Why you haven’t heard of this trillion dollar bailout.
The media has done a fantastic job painting over the enormous sinkhole of a problem that is commercial real estate (CRE). U.S. banks hold over $3 trillion in commercial real estate loans on properties that were once valued at over $6 trillion. Today those values are down to roughly $3 to $3.5 trillion depending on what metric you believe. How is it possible for a market that has lost $2.5 to $3 trillion to become largely hidden in the dark from the mainstream media? We constantly hear about $3 billion deficits or other issues but is the trillion dollar figure just so enormous that they don’t even bother investigating? It is probably more likely that the Federal Reserve has concealed massive failures in CRE by allowing banks to play a game of extend and pretend that continues today. The shadowy problems of empty shopping centers, vacant car dealership lots, and misplaced strip malls is largely a taxpayer problem now. Banks made these irresponsible loans but had the Fed hand over taxpayer loot in exchange for worthless real estate.
“Another empty strip mall”
CRE bringing down FDIC banks
CRE values are still hovering near their trough and are likely to move lower. The only reason these prices haven’t moved lower is because banks are more generous with the borrowers of CRE debt since these holders are grappling with multi-million dollar cuts in each deal. Banks would rather pretend a mall is valued at $100 million instead of marking it to a real value of $40 million or less. The fact that the Federal Reserve allows this to happen is financial chicanery. Can you pretend to the government that you really don’t make $100,000 a year so instead you will act as if you make $30,000 a year and act accordingly? This is what is happening here. Banks are essentially allowing these toxic loans to be laundered through the system in exchange for taxpayer dollars. The Fed is betting that the public doesn’t wake up to this scam.
CRE is a giant and pernicious problem. With residential real estate it hits directly home and many American families are considered home owners. This bubble has garnered most media attention as it should. Yet CRE debt is enormous, larger than every state budget deficit combined by many times! In fact, the losses on CRE loans is larger than the state budget issues. Of course the Fed wants the public to look away from the real culprit behind the decline of the American middle class. The scheme was to build junk and pawn off the loans to average Americans whether they wanted to accept the debt or not.
The cost of CRE problems
Banks have no faith in this recovery. Look at the above regarding commercial loans. Banks continue to claim that the reason for the taxpayer bailouts was to help the American public weather the economic storm and for banks to continue lending to average Americans. Instead, as you can see above, commercial loan lending has collapsed and banks have hoarded money and speculated on the stock market casino on the taxpayer dime. This money was used to shore up bad balance sheet problems and for gambling on the stock market to boost profits. In short it was one giant swindle perpetrated on the public.
And think about the supposed recovery we are experiencing. If we were truly growing and expanding don’t you think there would be healthy demand for loans as businesses expand their workforce? Wouldn’t it be logical to conclude that commercial loans would reflect the supposed increased demand from a booming American economy? Of course the only boom occurring is for the top 1 percent who are siphoning off the wealth from average Americans to spin their continuing speculation in the stock market. Many are starting to wake up from this collective sleepwalk where taxpayers were robbed in open daylight.
The problems are coming up
What is even more problematic is many of the CRE loans are going bad in the next few years. Just like residential real estate is now experiencing a second collapse, CRE will have another move lower. Banks can only carry fantasy paper for so long. So far we have been paying for it through QE1, QE2, TARP, and other convoluted programs to launder money and devalue the U.S. dollar and decrease the quality of life of average Americans. The public did not sign up for this. The banks talk about shared responsibility and many are paying for it by losing their homes and going bankrupt. Millions are facing this economic “responsibility” on a daily basis. What penalty for the banks? Instead, they get bailouts and continue to pretend the junk loans they made on concrete disasters are worth inflated values only to shovel them off to taxpayers. How is it that there are no buyers for these supposedly highly priced items?
CRE debt exposes the worst aspect of the bubble. Pure profit motive by supposed sophisticated investors on both sides of the coin with no financial responsibility or ownership. This isn’t some poor family in a low-income neighborhood taking out a subprime loan. This is actually a supposed responsible bank and a supposed financially savvy investor. There is no justification for one penny of a bailout here. Yet the Federal Reserve continues with their hidden bailout where they support malls in Oklahoma to Chick-fil-A. Don’t expect to hear about this on your nightly news.
In accounts of the political unrest sweeping through the Middle East, one factor, inflation, deserves more attention. Nothing can be more demoralizing to people at the low end of the income scale—where great masses in that region reside—than increases in the cost of basic necessities like food and fuel. It brings them out into the streets to protest government policies, especially in places where mass protests are the only means available to shake the existing power structure.
Wow, it’s being recognized! Money printing is a problem?
And when the Fed sneezes money, the weak economies of the world, and the poor masses who are highly vulnerable to price rises in the necessities of life, catch pneumonia.
Would pursuing policies that lead to starvation be considered an act of war?
Would such be considered something for which one could be indicted and tried as a war criminal?
Hmmm…… I wonder if Bernanke recognizes the (rather delicious) irony that could come from this, given what ethnic and religious group he belongs to?
The Fed is financing a vast and rising federal deficit, following a practice that has been a surefire prescription for domestic inflation from time immemorial. Meanwhile, its policies are stoking a rise in prices that is contributing to political unrest that in some cases might be beneficial but in others might turn out as badly as the overthrow of the shah in 1979. Does any of this suggest that there might be some urgency to bringing the Fed under closer scrutiny?
Actually, what it suggests is that we need to add a 20 year prison term to The Federal Reserve Act for violating “stable prices”, then enforce it the next afternoon against one Ben Bernanke.
A law without an “or else” is no law at all.