Friday, August 26, 2011

Austerity, Rigour... And Why Do Rich People Always Just Get Greedier When They Get Richer?


Market jitters? The American financial industry is pointing to Europe and warning that a collapse of the banking system there could be nigh-- and could be catastrophic for everyone.
Insurance on the debt of several major European banks has now hit historic levels, higher even than those recorded during financial crisis caused by the US financial group's implosion nearly three years ago.

Credit default swaps on the bonds of Royal Bank of Scotland, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and Intesa Sanpaolo, among others, flashed warning signals on Wednesday. Credit default swaps (CDS) on RBS were trading at 343.54 basis points, meaning the annual cost to insure £10m of the state-backed lender's bonds against default is now £343,540.

The cost of insuring RBS bonds is now higher than before the taxpayer was forced to step in and rescue the bank in October 2008, and shows the recent dramatic downturn in sentiment among credit investors towards banks.

"The problem is a shortage of liquidity-- that is what is causing the problems with the banks. It feels exactly as it felt in 2008," said one senior London-based bank executive.

"I think we are heading for a market shock in September or October that will match anything we have ever seen before," said a senior credit banker at a major European bank.

France isn't calling it Austerity, but the proud nation is being dragged into the clutches of the banksters and calling it a "rigour package." Compared to the Austerity measures being proposed in the U.S.-- Obama even floated a trial balloon yesterday that sounded like bringing back indentured servitude-- the French version sounds down right benign.
The measures in the rigour package, dubbed by some the "financial turn of the screw," include:

• An "exceptional contribution" of 3% on taxable earnings for those earning above €500,000 to remain in place until France's deficit had been reduced to 3% of GDP.

• Higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol.

• A modification of capital gains tax on property.

...Among other measures, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, is reported to be considering the abandonment of tax-free overtime for workers. This was one of the measures that, under the slogan "work harder to earn more," was a pillar of his election campaign in 2005, but it has cost an estimated €4.5bn in lost revenues. The government is also looking at ending tax breaks for companies.

Having recently abolished the "financial shield," which set a limit on the total amount of tax that the rich were expected to pay, a new tax on the wealthy would avoid accusations that his austerity measures would hit those lower down the income scale in the run-up to next year's elections.

France and Germany are also discussing proposals for a tax on financial transactions-- a measure that is vehemently opposed by Britain.

Not just Britain... Wall Street is going insane at the idea and is spending millions of dollars in lobbying and in direct bribes campaign contributions to it's most dedicated mouthpieces in government. The 25 worst Wall Street shills in the House (this year only):
John Boehner (R-OH)- $986,787
Eric Cantor (R-VA)- $610,250
Chris Murphy (D-CT)- $380,500
Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)- $350,350
Dave Camp (R-MI)- $343,800
Scott Garrett (R-NJ)- $320,185
Ed Royce (R-CA)- $318,004
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)- $315,200
Spencer Bachus (R-AL)- $309,115
Pat Tiberi (R-OH)- $300,549
Steve Stivers (R-OH)- $282,485
Robert Dold (R-IL)- $272,006
Nan Hayworth (R-NY)- $240,006
Jim Himes (D-CT)- $233,500
Steny Hoyer (D-MD)- $226,670
Randy Neugebauer (R-TX)- $224,133
Steve Israel (D-NY)- $204,000
Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)- $199,750
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)- $197,900
Joseph Crowley (D-NY)- $193,750
Shelley Berkley (D-NV)- $189,660
Peter Roskam (R-IL)- $188,700
Denny Rehberg (R-MT)- $187,330
Francisco Canseco (R-TX)- $183,852
Paul Ryan (R-WI)- $181,400

Bolded names are members of the Financial Services Committee, charged with "regulating" the banksters to keep them from ripping off consumers and society at large. Alan Grayson was on that committee when he was in Congress. Wall Street wasn't giving him money then and, now that he's campaigning to get back into Congress they're not donating to him either. I called Alan-- who's just back from a trip to Ghana-- this morning to get his take on all this. He told me he "always found it puzzling that business interests gave lockstep support to Republicans, despite their fondness for auctioning off the law to the highest bidder." He was just warming up:
The Republican Party may be the party of Big Business, but it is also the party of Economic Failure.
Let’s take the stock market, that very apt measure of how rich the rich are.  In Tommy McCall’s classic 2008 article Bulls, Bears, Donkeys and Elephants, he pointed out that $10,000 invested in the stock market under Democratic presidents would have grown to $300,671, while $10,000 invested under Republican presidents would have “grown” to $11,733. That’s a 2907% Democratic profit versus a 17% Republican profit. Is that still true? Sure enough, the stock market started to recover less than one month after Barack Obama was sworn in.
Since federal spending alone now equals almost a quarter of GNP, is it really good for business to make government small enough to “drown in the bathtub,” as Grover Norquist always demands?
And how, exactly, is the banking system supposed to function without regulations? Reserve requirements are regulations. They are the only limits on the banks’ unbridled speculation and gambling with other people’s money. Remove the regulations and a crash will quickly follow. That wouldn’t be good for business.
Republican economic mismanagement takes down both the rich and the poor. In other countries, the rich seem to understand that, but not here. Here, the blanket support for Republicans by Big Business and the filthy rich amounts to an economic death wish.
There is an old saying: “if you’re so smart, how come you ain’t rich?” I have a different question: when it comes to political self-interest, how can rich people be so dumb?

If we can't count on Congress to protect us-- and we can't-- who can we turn to? That was the whole idea of why Elizabeth Warren came up with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau-- and why Wall Street fought so hard to cut it off at the knees. Obama has been nearly as friendly to Wall Street as any Republican president and it would be foolish to expect him to change his stripes. Matt Taibbi has done some great reporting in Rolling Stone about one of the few places where consumers can look for redress: New York's crusading Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman. Basically, Wall Street and their political puppets-- from Obama and the GOP to the rest of the states' attorney generals-- have "cooked up a deal that would allow the banks to walk away with just a seriously discounted fine from a generation of fraud that led to millions of people losing their homes." Schneiderman is the odd man out.
The idea behind this federally-guided “settlement” is to concentrate and centralize all the legal exposure accrued by this generation of grotesque banker corruption in one place, put one single price tag on it that everyone can live with, and then stuff the details into a titanium canister before shooting it into deep space.

This is all about protecting the banks from future enforcement actions on both the civil and criminal sides. The plan is to provide year-after-year, repeat-offending banks like Bank of America with cost certainty, so that they know exactly how much they’ll have to pay in fines (trust me, it will end up being a tiny fraction of what they made off the fraudulent practices) and will also get to know for sure that there are no more criminal investigations in the pipeline.  

...But Schneiderman, who earlier this year launched an investigation into the securitization practices of Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and other companies, is screwing up this whole arrangement. Until he lies down, the banks don’t have a deal. They need the certainty of having all 50 states and the federal government on board, or else it’s not worth paying anybody off. To quote the immortal Tony Montana, “How do I know you’re the last cop I’m gonna have to grease?” They need all the dirty cops on board, or else the whole enterprise is FUBAR. 

In addition to the global settlement, Schneiderman is also blocking an individual $8.5 billion settlement for Countrywide investors. He has sued to stop that deal, claiming it could “compromise investors’ claims in exchange for a payment representing a fraction of the losses.”

If Schneiderman thinks $8.5 billion is an insufficient, fractional payoff just for defrauded Countrywide investors, then you can imagine how bad a $20 billion settlement for the entire industry would be for the victims.

In that particular Countrywide settlement deal, it looks like Bank of New York Mellon, the New York Fed, Pimco and other players negotiated on behalf of defrauded investors. They told the Times they were happy with the deal, but investors outside the talks told Gretchen they weren’t happy with the settlement.  

Schneiderman apparently listened to those voices instead of the Mellon-Fed-BofA crowd, which infuriated the insiders who struck the actual deal. In a remarkable quote given to the Times, Kathryn Wylde, the Fed board member who ostensibly represents the public, said the following about Schneiderman:

It is of concern to the industry that instead of trying to facilitate resolving these issues, you seem to be throwing a wrench into it. Wall Street is our Main Street-- love ’em or hate ’em. They are important and we have to make sure we are doing everything we can to support them unless they are doing something indefensible.

This, again, is coming not from a Bank of America attorney, but from the person on the Fed board who is supposedly representing the public!

This quote leads one to wonder just what Wylde would consider “indefensible,” given that stealing is pretty much the worst thing that a bank can do-- and these banks just finished the longest and most orgiastic campaign of stealing in the history of money. Is Wylde waiting for Goldman and Citi to blow up a skyscraper? Dump dioxin into an orphanage? It’s really an incredible quote.

Remember this?

She's running for the Senate now, in Massachusetts, against Wall Street's "favorite" senator, Scott Brown. Wall Street and the financial services industry are financing his campaign. Can you help Elizabeth's? Our House candidates worthy of help, like Grayson, are on another page-- this one.

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At 11:49 AM, Blogger John said...

It's truly reassuring to see that the new DNC Chair
(Ms Wasserman Schultz) is #19 on the list.

No, I'm NOT surprised. As a matter of fact, we should assume, until it is proven otherwise, that residence on this list is a prerequisite for the job.

John Puma


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