Monday, March 17, 2008

Hunter S. Thompson would have understood what is going on now

As we watch the federal reserve desperately trying to save the financial markets, we get this report from Greg Palast.
While New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was paying an ‘escort’ $4,300 in a hotel room in Washington, just down the road, George Bush’s new Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Ben Bernanke, was secretly handing over $200 billion in a tryst with mortgage bank industry speculators.

Both acts were wanton, wicked and lewd. But there’s a BIG difference. The Governor was using his own checkbook. Bush’s man Bernanke was using ours.
So? Is there a connection? Palast thinks so.
How? Follow the money.

The press has swallowed Wall Street’s line that millions of US families are about to lose their homes because they bought homes they couldn’t afford or took loans too big for their wallets. Ba-LON-ey. That’s blaming the victim.

Here’s what happened. Since the Bush regime came to power, a new species of loan became the norm, the ‘sub-prime’ mortgage and its variants including loans with teeny “introductory” interest rates. From out of nowhere, a company called ‘Countrywide’ became America’s top mortgage lender, accounting for one in five home loans, a large chunk of these ‘sub-prime.’

Here’s how it worked: The Grinning Family, with US average household income, gets a $200,000 mortgage at 4% for two years. Their $955 monthly payment is 25% of their income. No problem. Their banker promises them a new mortgage, again at the cheap rate, in two years. But in two years, the promise ain’t worth a can of spam and the Grinnings are told to scram - because their house is now worth less than the mortgage. Now, the mortgage hits 9% or $1,609 plus fees to recover the “discount” they had for two years. Suddenly, payments equal 42% to 50% of pre-tax income. The Grinnings move into their Toyota.

Now, what kind of American is ‘sub-prime.’ Guess. No peeking. Here’s a hint: 73% of HIGH INCOME Black and Hispanic borrowers were given sub-prime loans versus 17% of similar-income Whites. Dark-skinned borrowers aren’t stupid – they had no choice. They were ‘steered’ as it’s called in the mortgage sharking business.

‘Steering,’ sub-prime loans with usurious kickers, fake inducements to over-borrow, called ‘fraudulent conveyance’ or ‘predatory lending’ under US law, were almost completely forbidden in the olden days (Clinton Administration and earlier) by federal regulators and state laws as nothing more than fancy loan-sharking.

But when the Bush regime took over, Countrywide and its banking brethren were told to party hearty – it was OK now to steer’m, fake’m, charge’m and take’m.

But there was this annoying party-pooper. The Attorney General of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who sued these guys to a fare-thee-well. Or tried to.

Instead of regulating the banks that had run amok, Bush’s regulators went on the warpath against Spitzer and states attempting to stop predatory practices. Making an unprecedented use of the legal power of “federal pre-emption,” Bush-bots ordered the states to NOT enforce their consumer protection laws.

Indeed, the feds actually filed a lawsuit to block Spitzer’s investigation of ugly racial mortgage steering. Bush’s banking buddies were especially steamed that Spitzer hammered bank practices across the nation using New York State laws.

Spitzer not only took on Countrywide, he took on their predatory enablers in the investment banking community. Behind Countrywide was the Mother Shark, its funder and now owner, Bank of America.
Is that realistic? Consider my previous post Elliot Spitzer; Prostitutes; Why is the DoJ involved?. It really wasn't reasonable for the Department of Justice to focus on Elliot Spitzer, but we know from the US Attorney Purge that this administration has used the criminal law to silence its critics. Why would the Bush administration be so adamant about fleecing mortgage-holders? Because that's the only place left that there has been any money for over two decades. Quoted in my earlier post "What's happened to America? Over half a century of war and the conservative movement.":
In just the past seven years, US household debt almost doubled and federal debt soared by near two-thirds, rocketing by a combined $10.5 Trillion. The total combined debt of households ($14.4 Trillion) and the federal government ($9.2 Trillion) is now 168% of GDP, far higher even than in the brief spike during World War II. All other levels and ratios of debt also have soared far beyond any past precedent.

Yet, this record-shattering explosion of debt stimulus created the weakest seven year job growth (4.4%) and one of the weakest periods of real GDP growth (18.1%) since the Depression: less than 6 million new jobs ($1.8 million of debt per job) and a mere $4 Trillion increase in GDP.
This period began with the collapse of Wall Street's stock market bubble from the late 1990s and ends now with the collapse of Wall Street's housing and other debt bubbles. That such massive mortgage and consumer borrowing, tax cuts and war spending produced such remarkably weak real economic results suggests the months and years ahead could be quite difficult.

Yet, along with Fed rate cuts for cheaper debt, the only policies seriously considered by this year's crop of Wall Street-funded political candidates is more short-term household and federal debt "stimulus." Locked into a failed, 30-year-old ideology of deregulation and debt, there is no option to compete with the remarkably effective industrial and trade policies pursued by China and others.

2008 will be the ninth consecutive year the US economy grows slower than the world's growth while China grows more than three times faster. In the past seven years of sluggish growth, the US accumulated Manufacturing trade deficits (production shortfalls) of over -$3 Trillion with full Current Account trade losses of -$4.3 Trillion; more than the entire nominal growth of GDP.
This is what the Wall Street Republican financed Reagan Revolution has brought America to. Financial collapse and Department of Justice prosecutions of political opponents who expose the failure of the conservative politicians and the Wall Street crooks bankers who have caused the collapse.

Palast makes the connection between the bailout for Wall Street and Elliot Spitzer here:
When the housing bubble burst and the paint flaked off, investors were left with the poop and the bankers were left with bonuses. Countrywide’s top man, Angelo Mozilo, will ‘earn’ a $77 million buy-out bonus this year on top of the $656 million - over half a billion dollars – he pulled in from 1998 through 2007.

But there were rumblings that the party would soon be over. Angry regulators, burned investors and the weight of millions of homes about to be boarded up were causing the sharks to sink. Countrywide’s stock was down 50%, and Citigroup was off 38%, not pleasing to the Gulf sheiks who now control its biggest share blocks.

Then, on Wednesday of this week, the unthinkable happened. Carlyle Capital went bankrupt. Who? That’s Carlyle as in Carlyle Group. James Baker, Senior Counsel. Notable partners, former and past: George Bush, the Bin Laden family and more dictators, potentates, pirates and presidents than you can count.

The Fed had to act. Bernanke opened the vault and dumped $200 billion on the poor little suffering bankers. They got the public treasure – and got to keep the Grinning’s house. There was no ‘quid’ of a foreclosure moratorium for the ‘pro quo’ of public bailout. Not one family was saved – but not one banker was left behind.

Every mortgage sharking operation shot up in value. Mozilo’s Countrywide stock rose 17% in one day. The Citi sheiks saw their company’s stock rise $10 billion in an afternoon.

And that very same day the bail-out was decided – what a coinkydink! – the man called, ‘The Sheriff of Wall Street’ was cuffed. Spitzer was silenced.

Do I believe the banks called Justice and said, “Take him down today!” Naw, that’s not how the system works. But the big players knew that unless Spitzer was taken out, he would create enough ruckus to spoil the party. Headlines in the financial press – one was “Wall Street Declares War on Spitzer” - made clear to Bush’s enforcers at Justice who their number one target should be. And it wasn’t Bin Laden.
And Hunter S. Thompson? He described where we are now in his slogan "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." That's where we are now.

1 comment:

foreclosurefish said...

Palast is great with words and with his reports. This one is no different and it's great to see him going after more of the financial crimes of the administration.

The rest of the economy was ignored as suburbia was built up across the country and people who didn't have jobs, money, or social security numbers were given loans for homes that weren't worth anything and payments they could never afford.

But banks don't usually create these awful lending policies unless they know that they'll make a profit from it quickly and can socialize their losses later on. And that's exactly what's happening now.

Allow the bad loans to go through, take as much profit, keep the state regulators out of the picture, and then blame the fallout on something else while providing bailouts to the banks and devaluing the dollar.

Seems like the perfect crime, except that one guy who wanted to stop it needed to be shut up. And so he was.