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Watchdog Warns Toxic Assets Remain a Major Danger to Financial System
Report by Congressional Oversight Panel Says the Troubled Asset Relief Program Never Bought Any Troubled Assets
By Matthew Jaffe and Charlie Herman | ABCNews
Signs abound that the worst of the recession is over: Stocks have been surging, the rate of job losses has slowed, so it seems that the economic apocalypse has been averted.
Government programs such as the $787 billion stimulus and last fall's $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program have so far been successful, the Obama administration says.
Except, the Congressional Oversight Panel warns in its August report, TARP never actually bought any troubled assets.
"It is likely that an overwhelming portion of the troubled assets from last October remain on bank balance sheets today," the panel's report says. Read more.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner formally requested that Congress raise the $12.1 trillion statutory debt limit on Friday, saying that it could be breached as early as mid-October.
"It is critically important that Congress act before the limit is reached so that citizens and investors here and around the world can remain confident that the United States will always meet its obligations," Geithner said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that was obtained by Reuters.
A Treasury spokeswoman declined to comment on the letter.
Treasury officials earlier this week said that the debt limit, last raised in February when the $787 billion economic stimulus legislation was passed, would be hit sometime in the October-December quarter. Geithner's letter said the breach could be two weeks into that period, just as the 2010 fiscal year is getting underway.
Losing track of all the money the government is spending to bolster the crashing economy left the nation by George W. Bush? Check out CNN's Economic Rescue Tracker. Each black arrow to the right of the category expands to tell you more.
By Dave LIndorff
As I wrote months ago in an article titled America’s Stupid Health Care Debate: Keeping Some Ideas Off the Table and several subsequent pieces on my website, President Obama and the Democrats who currently run Congress have been hoist on their own collective petard by their craven and gutless refusal to consider adopting a Canadian-style single-payer system to finance health care in the US, or simply to expand Medicare, which is a successful single- payer program, to cover everyone, instead of just people over 65 and the disabled.
A cancer survivor's family is still in their Oakland home after winning a battle so many Americans are now facing. They were going to be foreclosed upon and evicted today. Read more.
OAKLAND, CA - 31JULY09 - Home Defender activists sit in on the steps of the home of Tosha Alberty, her husband, four children and two grandchildren, who were evicted after First Franklin Mortgage Services, owned by Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, foreclosed on the home. Community activists in the Home Defenders campaign of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) sat in on the house steps behind the padlocked gate in an act of civil disobedience, and were arrested for trespassing by the Oakland Police.
Click "Read more" for photos of the action.
By Dave Lindorff
The “happy talk” campaign in the US media and coming from the White House is just that: Happy Talk.
To get a real picture of what is happening with this economy, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Yes, the rate of decline in economic activity has slowed. But that is to be expected. When an economy is going at full tilt, as the US economy was doing in early 2007, a slowdown of any significance yields huge numbers, in terms of falling production, falling factory utilization, falling car sales, or, this time around, falling housing prices.
But once you get to the same period in 2008, you’re already in a deep recession, and there really isn’t that much farther to fall. If, for example, the carmakers have basically shut down by fall of 2008, and are just working off huge inventories, then you are not going to see more factory closings and further reductions in production (how do you reduce production below zero?).
House votes to clamp limits on Wall Street bonuses
By Anne Flaherty, Associated Press | Google
Bowing to populist anger, the House voted Friday to prohibit pay and bonus packages that encourage bankers and traders to take risks so big they could bring down the entire economy.
Passage of the bill on a 237-185 vote followed the disclosure a day earlier that nine of the nation's biggest banks, which are receiving billions of dollars in federal bailout aid, paid individual bonuses of $1 million or more to nearly 5,000 employees.
"This is not the government taking over the corporate sector," Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C, said of the House action. "It is a statement by the American people that it is time for us to straighten up the ship."
Aware of voter outrage about the bonuses, Republicans were reluctant in Friday's debate to push back, even though they voted overwhelmingly against the bill. They said severe restrictions should apply only to banks that accept government aid.
The legislation's ban on risky compensation would apply to any firm with more than $1 billion in assets, including bank holding companies, broker-dealers, credit unions, investment advisers and mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The White House and Senate Democrats haven't fully embraced the measure, leaving its prospects uncertain. The Senate Banking Committee planned to take up the proposal in the fall as part of a broader bill overhauling financial regulations. Read more.
A high-ranking lawmaker has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to prohibit a trading technique that enables some large banks and hedge funds to peek at investors’ stock orders before they are sent to the broader marketplace.
The technique, known as flash orders, gives high-frequency traders using lightning-fast computers an unfair advantage, Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who is chairman of the Senate rules and administration committee, said in a letter to the S.E.C. Mr. Schumer wrote that he intended to introduce legislation barring the technique, if the agency failed to act.
“The hallmark of our markets are that they are open and above board and the little guy has as much of a chance as the big guy,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview. “This takes a dagger to the heart of that concept.”
The S.E.C. declined to comment on Mr. Schumer’s letter, though some officials acknowledged they were investigating the technique and expected new regulations to be issued by this fall. Read more.
It's been just over three weeks since the July 3rd arrest of former Goldman Sachs IT executive Sergey Aleynikov inadvertently blew the lid off the intricacies of exactly how those great vampire squids on Wall Street manage (no past tense here) to suck Main Street dry.
(Actually, come to think of it, that didn't take long at all.)
The high frequency trading ("HFT") scam on Wall Street is being exposed to the masses as we blog. Read more.
Kucinich Asks ‘Is the Fed Paying Banks NOT to Loan Money?’ | Press Release
Domestic Policy Subcommittee Chair Announces New Probe of TARP
WASHINGTON (JULY 21, 2009) - - Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who has led the effort challenging the use of TARP funds through two administrations, today questioned whether or not “banks are parking a historic amount of taxpayers’ money in the Federal Reserve while the businesses and consumers across America are starved for credit” and whether the Federal Reserve is “paying banks not to make loans.”
Kucinich raised the question in a hearing this morning before the Government and Oversight Committee at which the Special Inspector General for TARP, Neil Barofsky, testified.
Kucinich cited today’s Fed news report on Bloomberg.com:
I woke up one morning late last week to the news that taxpayers, already $149 billion in the hole in the Treasury Department's TARP bailout program, are set to lose even more. As rescued banks now try to extricate themselves from the government's control, they must buy back stock warrants proffered at the time of the bailout, which, as the New York Times described it, offer "the right to purchase shares in each of the companies at roughly the price of their shares at the time of the deals."
As it happens, thanks largely to that taxpayer-funded bailout, bank stocks have risen since last fall's meltdown. Selling those warrants, then, should mean a tidy profit for taxpayers. But no such luck, it seems. Almost a dozen small banks have already bought back their warrants, and for a considerable discount -- a mere 66% of their value -- costing taxpayers upwards of $10 million. If this were to continue when giant firms like JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley come up to bat, taxpayers could be out up to $2.1 billion. Think of that as a small potential thank-you note from the banking business to Americans for helping it out of a jam.
Right behind that bit of sprightly news was a report from the Associated Press that the giant insurance firm AIG, almost 80% owned by taxpayers, was now back in consultation with the Obama administration over just how much more it should pay out in further retention bonuses -- this after multi-millions in such bonuses were already paid -- including "about $235 million for employees at AIG's financial products unit." AIG's near collapse, added the AP, "was not due to its traditional insurance operations, but instead risky derivatives contracts written by the financial products division." In addition to those traders, for 40 top execs of the dismally failed company, there is to be a payout of a mere $9 million in further bonuses for 2008. What a comedown!
Of course, who can be surprised by this sort of thing these days? Not, I assume, Barbara Garson, known in the Vietnam era as the author of the satiric play "MacBird," who has since gone on to write books on American work life (All the Livelong Day) and on a single bank deposit as it made its dizzying way around our planet (Money Makes the World Go Around). For TomDispatch, she's written a little mystery story about those financial-products types, what's happened to them, and -- most strikingly -- their possible rebirth. Think of her as this site's equivalent of Miss Marple, set loose on our financially melted-down planet. Tom
The Mystery of the Missing Unemployed Man
On Jobs and Banks
By Barbara Garson
For the book I'm writing about unemployed Americans, I had no trouble finding accountants, brokers, cashiers, or die casters. Admittedly, I had to go out of town to interview the die casters. But when I arrived, alphabetically, at unemployed editors, I had only to look in my address book.
Financiers were further from my life experience than either die casters or editors. Yet the "do you know anyone who…?" method still proved an effective way of turning up unemployed hedge-fund analysts and bank loan officers -- and within a week at that. It was only when I refined my search to ferret out unemployed financiers who had actually handled those infamous "toxic assets" that I hit the proverbial brick wall.
Swiss ready to seize UBS data to stifle Washington
By BALZ BRUPPACHER, Associated Press Writer | Yahoo! News
Switzerland's government said Wednesday it would forbid the Swiss bank UBS AG from complying with any court-ordered transfer of data on tens of thousands of American clients to the U.S. government, and would consider seizing documents to prevent that.
The statement was the strongest yet by Swiss authorities locked in a battle with the U.S. Justice Department over the identities of more than 50,000 American clients at UBS.
The case in the federal district court in Miami has become a focal point of Washington's efforts to crack down on tax evasion and the foreign banks that help wealthy Americans send money overseas. But UBS and the Swiss government say handing over the names would violate Swiss law and subject bank employees to criminal prosecution in Switzerland. Read more.
House Finance Committee Members Took $62.9 Million From Industry Interests
By Sam Stein | Huffington Post | H/T Liam Hughes
Members of the House Financial Services Committee, which is playing a critical role in restructuring the nation's reeling financial, banking and housing sectors, have received nearly $63 million in campaign contributions from the industries they oversee.
A new analysis of campaign finance data by Public Campaign Action Fund, which provided an advance preview to the Huffington Post, shows that financial, insurance and real estate interests donated a combined $62.9 million to the 71 members of the House Financial Services Committee.
The hefty donations reflect the extent to which key companies and individuals of the financial sector have attempted to exert their influence on legislative debates even before the recent economic collapse. For good-government groups, the findings also raise a bevy of questions over just how neutral lawmakers have been in crafting solutions toward getting the financial markets and Wall Street on more stable footing. Read more.
Amazingly, San Francisco Fed Chair Jessica Yellen doesn't think the Fed's policy is dangerous...
Edward Harrison at Naked Capitalism has her recent speech:
Let me now turn to an issue that has lately garnered a great deal of attention—inflation. Just a short time ago, most economists were casting a wary eye on the risk of deflation—that is that prices might drop, perhaps falling into a downward spiral that would squeeze the life out of the economy. Now, though, all I hear about is the danger of an outbreak of high inflation....
I’ll put my cards on the table right away. I think the predominant risk is that inflation will be too low, not too high, over the next several years. I take 2 percent as a reasonable benchmark for the rate of inflation that is most compatible with the Fed’s dual mandate of price stability and maximum employment. This is also the figure that a majority of FOMC members cited as their long-run forecast for inflation, according to the minutes of the committee’s April meeting.
First of all, this very weak economy is, if anything, putting downward pressure on wages and prices. Read more.
Payrolls Fall More Than Forecast, Unemployment Rises
By Shobhana Chandra | Bloomberg
Employers in the U.S. cut 467,000 jobs in June, the unemployment rate rose and hourly earnings stagnated, offering little evidence the Obama administration’s stimulus package is shoring up the labor market.
The payroll decline was more than forecast and followed a 322,000 drop in May, according to Labor Department figures released today in Washington. The jobless rate jumped to 9.5 percent, the highest since August 1983, from 9.4 percent.
Unemployment is projected to keep rising for the rest of the year just as the income boost from the stimulus package fades, undermining prospects for a sustained rebound in household purchases, analysts said. As companies from General Motors Corp. to Kimberly-Clark Corp. cut costs, the lack of jobs will limit any recovery.
“Payrolls will be going down the rest of the year and the unemployment rate will be rising,” John Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia Corp. in Charlotte, North Carolina, said before the report. “The challenge for the Obama administration is that we’ll have positive economic growth but still no job growth. It’s going to be tough on them.” Read more.
Fannie, Freddie to Refinance Larger Underwater Loans
By Dawn Kopecki | Bloomberg
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will begin refinancing mortgages with loan-to-value ratios of as much as 125 percent as the Obama administration seeks to boost participation in its anti-foreclosure programs.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan made the announcement in a statement today. Currently Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, through President Barack Obama’s Home Affordable program, can refinance mortgages they own or guarantee when the loan is worth as much as 105 percent of the home’s market value.
The continuing slide in home prices has pushed millions of Americans beyond that 105 percent loan-to-value ratio, limiting participation in Obama’s initiative. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have refinanced 80,000 loans under that program, which set out to help as many as 5 million people who may owe more than their homes are worth, Federal Housing Finance Agency Director James Lockhart said at a real estate conference on June 18.
The decision to change the allowable ratio is part of an effort to “adapt to an ever-changing housing market,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in the HUD statement. “By expanding refinance eligibility, we can bring relief to more struggling homeowners more quickly.” Read more.
Read Matt Taibbi's expose on Goldman Sachs, "The Great American Bubble Machine: From Tech Stocks to High Gas Prices, Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation - and they're about to do it again!" here.
Your bank wants more of your money, and it's found a way to get it: by jacking up the fees on your account.
Customers are paying more to maintain a checking account and withdraw cash from an out-of-system ATM, and when they bounce a check. To make up for declining revenue, many banks are boosting fees and are requiring higher minimum balances for many accounts.
The institutions also have made it easier for customers to spend more than is in their accounts -- and then hit them with substantial fees, a practice so vexing to consumer advocates that the Federal Reserve is thinking of regulating it.
Bank revenue has plummeted on the back of foreclosures and rising credit card delinquencies. Now Congress has passed a law cracking down on arbitrary and excessive credit card fees. So the banks have been fighting back.
"There is an economic storm that has made revenue fall," said Michael Moebs, an economist and chief executive of Moebs Services, an economic research firm in Lake Bluff, Ill. "Fee income is basically where banks and credit unions can offset both loan- and investment-related losses." Read more.
It's good that Barack Obama is an agile basketball player because on financial regulatory reform he's having to straddle an ever widening chasm between his words and his deeds.
Obama said: "Millions of Americans who have worked hard and behaved responsibility have seen their life dreams eroded by the irresponsibility of others and by the failure of their government to provide adequate oversight. Our entire economy has been undermined by that failure."
"Over the past two decades, we have seen, time and again, cycles of precipitous booms and busts. In each case, millions of people have had their lives profoundly disrupted by developments in the financial system, most severely in our recent crisis."
Strong words, even though he didn't include "corporate crime, fraud and abuse" to replace the euphemism "irresponsibility." One would think that his 88 page reform proposal to Congress would be up to his words. Instead he provides Washington aspirins for Wall Street brain cancer.
The anemic nature of these reforms ostensibly designed to prevent or deter another big bust on Wall Street and its hostage grip on the nation's savings and investments immediately drew the ire of well-regarded business columnists. Read more.
The first Black president has racked up some impressive victories. Barack Obama has quarantined single-payer healthcare advocates, crushed dissent against the war in Congress, and transferred more money to the finance capital class than at any time in planetary history. Not bad for just five months in office. "At some point in the near future Barack Obama will become inextricably associated in the public mind with Big Capital – and deservedly so." The 'Obama Effect' has led to the near-total collapse of the Left."
As of this writing, the Progressives for Obama website still exists, a relic of Left delusion that should have died of embarrassment months ago. Barack Obama has, indeed, grown in the presidency – but not into the FDR-like figure of his leftish supporters’ imaginations. Nor has his presence in the Oval Office served to spur Blacks and progressives to dramatic action, creating the “push” that Left Obamites had predicted would allow their champion to act on his more “liberal” instincts. Quite the contrary. The “Obama Effect” has led to the near-total collapse of the Left– both its white and Black wings – and made the nation safe for rule by finance capital and militarists.
The military, finance capital and healthcare corporations (insurers are a branch of finance capital) are winning every important battle because, on fundamental issues, President Obama is on their side. It is he who crushed the anti-war bloc in the US. House; who silenced and marginalized single payer advocates, while fawning over health profiteers; who engineered the greatest transfer of wealth in human history to bankers, leaving them free to once again ruin themselves and the rest of us.
So let us give President Obama his due. He not only smashed the Left opposition, he humiliated them. Read more.
It's not working. The Bush-Obama strategy of throwing trillions at the banks to solve the mortgage crisis is a huge bust. The financial moguls, while tickled pink to have $1.25 trillion in toxic assets covered by the feds, along with hundreds of billions in direct handouts, are not using that money to turn around the free fall in housing foreclosures.
As the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, "The Mortgage Bankers Association cut its forecast of home-mortgage lending this year by 27% amid deflating hopes for a boom in refinancing." The same association said that the total refinancing under the administration's much ballyhooed Home Affordable Refinance Program is "very low."
Aside from a tight mortgage market, the problem in preventing foreclosures has to do with homeowners losing their jobs. Here again the administration, continuing the Bush strategy, is working the wrong end of the problem. Although President Obama was wise enough to at least launch a job stimulus program, a far greater amount of federal funding benefits Wall Street as opposed to Main Street.
State and local governments have been forced into draconian budget cuts, firing workers who are among the most reliable in making their mortgage payments--when they have jobs. Yet the Obama administration won't spend even a small fraction of what it has wasted on the banks to cover state shortfalls. Read more.
Obama's Financial Reform Proposal: A Stealth Scheme for Global Monetary Control
By Stephen Lendman
When politicians plan reform, it's wise to be skeptical and hold on to your wallets. So fixing the economy by bailing out Wall Street is wrecking it, and Obama's proposed health care reform taxes more, provides less, places profits above human need, avoids the most vital solutions, and leaves a broken system in place.
Now there's "Financial Regulatory Reform, A New Foundation: Rebuilding Financial Supervision and Regulation" - announced June 17 with Obama saying he'll send Congress a plan to create new government agencies, give the private banking cartel Federal Reserve more power, and address five major problems needing regulatory and legislative measures to fix.
Addressing business executives in the White House East Room, he said:
Momentum Builds For Ron Paul's "Fed Transparency" Act
Joe Weisenthal | Business Insider
For years, Ron Paul has been a lone voice in Congress, questioning the wisdom of the Federal Reserve -- both its various chairmans and the institution itself. His dogged questioning of Alan Greenspan, and then Ben Bernanke, make for great TV (otherwise, those hearings are total snoozefests).
But now, as America wakes up to its dire financial situation and average people talk about things like "fractional reserve lending", the gold standard, and Zimbabwe-like inflation, he's finally getting some momentum.
It's baby steps, of course. Paul is the sponsor of the Federal Reserve Transparency act of 2009, which demands a GAO audit of the Fed, and a full report to Congress sometime next year. And it's gaining steam. It already has 175 co-sponsors in the House, and now a major Democrat, Rep. Alan Grayson (ironically, the same one who's proposing that stupid France vacation bill we mentioned this morning has joined on, and is urging his party colleagues to join them. Read more.
US House to debate Ron Paul’s ‘Audit the Fed’ bill
By Stephen C. Webster | Raw Story
“To understand how unwise it is to have the Federal Reserve, one must first understand the magnitude of the privileges they have. They have been given the power to create money, by the trillions, and to give it to their friends, under any terms they wish, with little or no meaningful oversight or accountability. Thus the loudest arguments against greater transparency are likely to come from those friends, and understandably so.”
After months of activism and lobbying by Congressman Ron Paul’s supporters, House Resolution 1207, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act, will move out of committee to be debated by the full House of Representatives.
In a show of cross-party unity, Ohio Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich became the bill’s 218th co-sponsor, pushing it over the threshold for debate in Congress. Read more.
Check here to see whether your House Representative has signed on to the bill yet.
Swindlers, con men, and thieves could siphon off as much as $50 billion of the government's planned stimulus package as the money begins flooding the economy in coming months, according to David Williams, who runs Deloitte Financial Services Advisory and counsels clients on fraud prevention.
Williams predicted that about $500 million of the total $787 billion stimulus would be channeled into the traditional procurement network for government contracts, while the rest will be spent directly by the government or outside the corporate network.
"The rule of thumb typically is that of the about $500 billion worth of money that's going to run through the procurement process, somewhere between 5% and 10% of that usually finds it way into potential problems," Williams said. "That's sort of the benchmark that I use."
Companies will face increased pressure to try to stem the tide, and need to be prepared to safeguard data as well as the cash, according to Williams.
Williams said this week that the money flowing from the current stimulus package is particularly vulnerable to fraud because almost all movement of money is now done electronically. Read more.
Dollar’s Reserve Status May Deteriorate, Roubini Says
By Natalie Weeks and Mark Deen | Bloomberg
The dollar’s status as the world economy’s sole reserve currency may deteriorate, said Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economics professor who predicted the financial crisis.
“We may see complementary reserve currencies,” Roubini said at a conference today in Athens. While it’s “not going to happen overnight,” the development “will diminish the role of the dollar over time.”
The dollar’s status has come into question as leaders of Brazil, Russia, India and China discuss substituting other assets for their dollar holdings amid a ballooning budget deficit that keeps the U.S. dependent on foreign financing. China alone owns about $744 billion of U.S. Treasury bonds among its $2 trillion of foreign-exchange reserves. Read more.
Jean Johnson is 81 years old and suffering from diabetes. But instead of relaxing in retirement, she recently started a new job.
"I need money. My social security check just doesn't make it, with rent and the gas bill to pay," said Johnson, who took a job in March at a library in Danforth, Illinois. "I need to work."
Amid the economic downturn, shrinking retirement accounts, increasing costs for food and medicine, and stiff competition for even entry-level jobs, evidence is building that the dream of a comfortable retirement is dying for many Americans.
The ranks of the elderly looking for work has swelled more than 120 percent to more than 1.8 million in the last year. Among that group, those who were 75 and older increased by 80 percent, according to data from the National Council on Aging.
There are some 29 million seniors - those 55 and older - employed or actively looking for work in the United States, which is about 18 percent of the civilian labor force.
And their numbers are expected to grow. Read more.
By Dave Lindorff
My bank, a small regional institution that was not involved in sub-prime lending, and that was not a recipient of any TARP bailout money, cut off my home equity line of credit two weeks ago. They did it abruptly, with no notice—I only discovered it had happened when I tried to get a $500 advance from it to cover a payment I was making on my credit card. When I asked what was going on, the local branch manager informed me that “we are closing out a lot of credit lines while we reassess the value of houses in this region, which have been falling.”