October 4, 2008

CRASH TALK OCTOBER 4

CNN - Fannie Mae said it will set aside the loan of a woman who shot herself as sheriff's deputies tried to evict her from her foreclosed home. Fannie Mae foreclosed on the Akron, Ohio, home of Addie Polk, 90, after acquiring the mortgage in 2007. Fannie Mae foreclosed on the Akron, Ohio, home of Addie Polk, 90, after acquiring the mortgage in 2007.

Addie Polk, 90, of Akron, Ohio, became a symbol of the nation's home mortgage crisis when she was hospitalized after shooting herself at least twice in the upper body Wednesday afternoon.

On Friday, Fannie Mae spokesman Brian Faith said the mortgage association had decided to halt action against Polk and sign the property "outright" to her. . .

"We're going to forgive whatever outstanding balance she had on the loan and give her the house," Faith said. "Given the circumstances, we think it's appropriate."

Neighbor Robert Dillon, 62, used a ladder to enter a second-story bathroom window of Polk's home after he and the deputies heard loud noises inside, Dillon said. Don't Miss

He found her lying on a bed, and he could see she was breathing. He also noticed a long-barreled handgun on the bed, but thought she just had it there for protection. He touched her on the shoulder.

"Then she kind of moved toward me a little and I saw that blood, and I said, 'Oh, no. Miss Polk musta done shot herself,' " Dillon said.

He hurried downstairs and let the deputies in. He said they told him they found Polk's car keys, pocketbook and life insurance policy laid out neatly where they could be found, suggesting that she intended to kill herself.

"There's a lot of people like Miss Polk right now. That's the sad thing about it," said Sommerville, who had met Polk before and rushed to the scene when contacted by police. "They might not be as old as her, some could be as old as her. This is just a major problem." Video Watch Polk's neighbor describe what he saw »

In 2004, Polk took out a 30-year, 6.375 percent mortgage for $45,620 with a Countrywide Home Loan office in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. The same day, she also took out an $11,380 line of credit.

Over the next couple of years, Polk missed payments on the 101-year-old home that she and her late husband purchased in 1970. In 2007, Fannie Mae assumed the mortgage and later filed for foreclosure.

David Sirota, Alternet - American democracy is defined by vesting government power in systems and rules, not in individuals and whims. We have been, as John Adams wrote, "an empire of laws, and not of men" -- until now. Instead of responding to this meltdown by updating regulatory institutions or investing in job-creating infrastructure, the bailout proposes giving one unelected appointee -- the Treasury Secretary -- complete authority to dole out $700 billion to bank executives, with little oversight. And here's the scary part: That lurch toward dictatorship was motivated not just by crony corruption, but also by a deeper ideological shift.

We now face market forces uninhibited by democratic governance -- Chinese dictators and Saudi princes can move trillions of dollars without so much as a press release. This bailout, marketed as a speed enhancer, is an aggressive attempt to discard democracy's checks and balances and pantomime that kind of autocracy.

While our political culture still required a public sales job (thus, the fear mongering), the bill's czarism aims to permanently euthanize democracy in the name of improving our capitalism's global agility. In that sense, this week's spousal killing wasn't random. It was the beginning of a systematic assault on our Constitution.

Pro Publica -
While Congress managed to pass a $700 billion financial-industry bailout before breaking for over a month to campaign, legislation to extend unemployment aid for 800,000 laid-off workers did not make the cut. Negotiations late yesterday in the Senate for streamlined passage of a bill to extend emergency jobless relief by at least seven weeks failed when Republicans balked. By evening, most senators had left town on election recess. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the Senate would reconvene the week of Nov. 17.

William Greider, Nation
- Our country is at a rare and dangerous juncture. The old order is crumbling, and virtually all the centers of power that govern us have been discredited by events. The president is irrelevant, weak and unbelievable, even to his own party. The Democratic majority controlling Congress is stalled by its own shortcomings. The treasury secretary, given his arrogant approach to the financial crisis, is not to be trusted as a steward of the public interest. Nor are the conservative Federal Reserve and its chairman. The private power of Wall Street is utterly disgraced and desperate.

This condition of vulnerability is sure to prevail for at least the next three months, until a new president and new Congress take office. In the meantime, the governing elites are clinging to the old order, trying to salvage it by delivering massive amounts of relief from taxpayers to the failing financial institutions. The American people correctly see this approach as a historic swindle that rewards the villains at the expense of the victims. A Nevada real estate broker asked the Washington Post, "Instead of having a bailout, why don't we have indictments?". . .

Here are five concepts for recovery and reconstruction that are in circulation. If we are lucky, these proposals will redefine the next presidency, whoever wins.

1. Stop the easy-money bailout. Instead of buying rotten assets from Wall Street firms with no strings attached, the government should examine their books and decide which banks can be saved with direct infusions of capital in exchange for public ownership--roughly on the terms Warren Buffett got when he aided Goldman Sachs (preferred shares and guaranteed dividends). The failing institutions should get regulatory euthanasia. This approach gives the government direct control over the survivors and ensures that the public is protected from egregious loss. The model is the Reconstruction Finance Corporation of the 1930s, which recapitalized banks and corporations under stern supervision.

2. Help the folks who are hurting--directly. A homeownership corporation patterned after the New Deal original would have the money and the flexible authority to supervise "workouts" for millions of failing families. This is what bankers do for corporations when they get in over their head. Government can do the same for indebted households: stop the liquidation, stretch out default dates and arrange manageable terms. This is not a bleeding-heart gesture--keeping families in their homes is economic stimulus, and it halts the decay of neighborhoods.

3. Get serious about economic stimulus. We need a recovery program five or six times larger than the pitiful $60 billion proposed by Democratic leaders. These billions should go for the familiar list of neglected priorities--fixing bridges and schools--but should also jump-start the green agenda for alternative fuels and restoration of ruined ecosystems. The government should subsidize the new industries of our age, just as New Deal spending financed the modern development of aircraft, petrochemicals, steelmaking and other key industries in the 1930s.

4. Re-regulate the bad actors and indict the criminals. Start by restoring the law against usury--the predatory lending practices that ruin weak and defenseless borrowers. Government cannot wait for a relaxed debate about restoring regulations. We need newly designed controls over the financiers and well-defined public obligations imposed not only on banking but also on hedge funds and private equity firms. These cannot be discretionary rules. If the money guys don't like them, they should get out of the business. Paulson's Wall Street colleagues are already mobilizing lobbyists for this fight, but they may discover that Washington has been changed by events. The easygoing deference to Big Money seems suddenly out of fashion.

5. Create a new brain for government management of the economy. The crisis and the halting decision-making by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve--not to mention the secrecy and special deal-making on behalf of financial interests--make it clear that deep reform is required. I would start with a special reconstruction and recovery agency, empowered to lead policy and oversee banking regulators and the economic stimulus. The Federal Reserve's so-called independence is an antique concession to the big banks and doesn't make any sense. Monetary policy and fiscal policy must be balanced and decided in the same process. That rational approach might have stopped the Fed from the biases and dereliction that led to this crisis.

Ian Welch, Firedog Lake
- Fundamentally it's the Treasury Secretary to spend pretty much as he chooses, with meaningless oversight, up to 700 billion or the debt limit. In theory it's "whichever is less" in practice it's going to be "whichever is more". Add to this the end of mark to the end of mark to market, and the move to mark to "whatever the bank says its worth" and banks are going to be allowed to stay alive no matter whether they're solvent or not as long as their cash flow doesn't go so far negative it can't be papered over the world's favorite wallpaper, the US buck. Zombie banks plus all the money flooding into trying to stop deleveraging from wiping out said financial institutions means this is a Japanification plan.

Japan had its own bubble back in the 80's. When it popped the Japanese decide that they would not force banks to write down their losses. Instead they left them on the . . . The world's most vibrant economy went into a long economic slump from which it never recovered. This wasn't a classic depression - there wasn't a huge immediate contraction. Things just generally got lousy - unemployment rose somewhat, jobs stagnated, no one had a lot of money. The good times never, ever, came back ever again. It was like being caught in a low grade recession, all the time.

That's what this bill will do in the most likely scenario. The US will go into recession, every once in a while it will seem to pop out, then it will drop again. Because the US has population growth, and Japan doesn't, the actual numbers will look better than Japan's, but the feeling of "there are no jobs anywhere" and "this economy sucks" will be pervasive. This will translate into a grinding down of Americans standards of living.

The reason this happens is that all the money that could be used to increase output and productivity or to decrease input problems (by, say, reducing the amount of oil and other commodities used) will be all be being used to prop up the current financial structure. 750 billion dollars, and this is key, is not going to be enough. Folks on Wall Street are already saying so. More money is going to keep flying into the structure to keep it from deleveraging in an uncontrolled fashion, and thus wiping out lots of rich people. I figure they'll be back for more money in 6 months, 9 max. Three months wouldn't surprise me, since Paulson has a lot of incentive to use up his full allowance while he's still secretary. . .

Note that Japanification was always the plan of the "neconomy", or Busheconomy if you prefer. It was always the endgame. Why? Because Japanification makes the winners of the final game permanent. All extra money in the system will be pumped to the people who made the bad decisions that crashed the prior economy, they will stay in power and because there isn't a dynamic economy left, no one is likely to rise to replace them. . .

For ordinary people this means a long gray suck. The US is in worse condition to handle this than the Japanese were. It has a trade deficit and its government is hemorrhaging red ink. Foreigners will start lending again, but that's because they know they're going to get a lot of the bailout cash, which means their real rate of return on the treasuries is going to be a lot more than nominal. (

Standards of living, which have been essentially stagnant with a slight decrease in the last few years, will start a steep decline. Nominal housing values may or may not fully crash, but if they don't, you'll find it very hard to find anyone to sell your house to; the housing club will become one for people who are already in it. Those who aren't won't be able to afford the overinflated prices, because only people who can sell at high prices will be able to buy at high prices.

Because the US does not run a balance of payments surplus this is a game that can't go on forever, as it has in Japan. The US still needs outside money and that money will get more and more expensive and will eventually be turned off entirely. How long? Two to four years is my guess. At that point the US will be forced to go to the IMF (which, arguably, it should be doing right now, when it can use special drawing rights with no catch except a prestige loss.) At first the IMF will lend with no conditions. Then it will lend with conditions. You will not like those conditions. At all. Since Obama will be in office and will be associated with this mess (fairly enough, since he whipped for the bill) the right will run populist right wing and odds are very good that they will win. 2013 will likely see a populist right wing government in the US.

Jonathan Weil, Bloomberg - If you think this bailout is expensive, just wait until you see the next one. The $700 billion rescue plan approved by the U.S. Senate won't fix the core problem with the nation's ailing financial institutions. And it almost guarantees that you and I will have to pony up for an even costlier bailout someday, maybe soon. . .

Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson has correctly identified the quandary: Lots of shaky banks and insurance companies are showing strangely high values for assets that aren't worth squat in the market. Many need more capital and can't raise it. And he's right in saying the outlook is grim if we don't get this fixed.

What's stunning is how little the taxpayers would get in return for their money under Paulson's package, and how illusory much of the banks' newly minted capital would be.

Under the plan, Treasury would buy some companies' troubled assets at above-market values. To boost their capital, Paulson would have to pay the companies more than what their balance sheets say the assets are worth. Then other companies would use the rigged prices to write up, or avoid writing down, the values of similar holdings on their own books.

So, the taxpayers get hosed on the asset purchases. Other banks use the trumped-up prices to cook their books. And investor confidence supposedly is restored.

Sam Smith - If this had been two or three decades ago, the first thing the congressional Democrats would have done upon hearing Secretary Paulsen's demands would have been to write their own damn bill. They would have sent it to the White House, waited for Bush to veto it, and then worked out a compromise, but one based on their - rather tha Paulsen's - foundation. Unfortunately, the Democrats have become so gopaphilic and vetophobic that they just let the Bush team run all over them.

LA Times - There is growing evidence that the country is slipping into the deepest recession in decades. The latest marker came when the government reported that employers shed 159,000 jobs in September, far more than expected. That was the worst one-month drop in more than five years and brings to 760,000 the number of jobs that have disappeared this year

Hinckley Yachts is laying off about 9 percent of its workforce, a sign that the crash is affecting even the upper reaches of the economy.

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