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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

BUSH SPEAKS: "HOW DID WE EVER GET IN THIS MESS? WHERE HAVE I BEEN?"
James S. Henry

Artbushap Last night on national television, Comrade Bush presented his own miniature 14-minute "Cliff Notes" version of the roots of the current US financial crisis, and a heart-rending appeal for the most generous act to date of his Administration, the $700 billion blank-check Wall Street bailout

By now the man has established a bit of a pattern --  customarily trying to scare us all into granting him unlimited powers,  while arguing that there is simply no alternative to whatever bitter pill he happens to be pushing at the moment. 

You are of course free to believe him if you like. Hundreds do.

Stockmarketcrash1929 In fact, as we argued yesterday, there are all sorts of improvements to be made to the proposed Whale of a Bailout package.   

These include things like, at a minimum, (1) equity investment and warrants for taxpayers, to provide some upside returns in proportion to the risks we are taking on any purchases of bank assets; (2) stronger oversight; (3) more assistance for the millions of Americans who are experiencing home foreclosures; (4) compensation ceilings, clawbacks, and stiff progressive tax rates on incomes over $1 million and estates over $10 million, to offset the cost of all this; (5) a Financial Products Safety Commission; (6) a new Treasury-backed competitive insurance market for mortgage securities,  available to banks and homeowners; (7) expanded FDIC reserve fund rather than buy "toxic" bank securities up now, set up an  -- since all the "I-banks" are commercial banks now, anyway; (8) a new installment of the 1932 Pecora Commission, complete with subpoena power, to investigate the origins of the crisis and hold people accountable.

(For more details, here is the testimony that Dr. Brent Blackwelder, Friends of the Earth, and I submitted to Rep. Frank's House Financial Services Committee yesterday: BAILOUT.pdf)

Even more important, the President's central claim that there is no alternative to this bitter pill is a triple whopper with cheese.    

As the IMF -- not our favorite institution, but it does know a thing or two about recapitalizing broken banking sectors --  has suggested just this week, long-term "swaps" of mortgage-backed securities for government bonds could be used to clean up the banks' balance sheets while completely sparing  taxpayers the risks of a huge loss on the $billions of toxic assets we'll soon be owning. 

There are also numerous other approaches  to broken-banking sector restructuring  that have been employed by governments all over the planet in more than 124 banking sector crises since 1970 -- for example, in Chile, Korea, Germany, Buffettserious75x75Mexico, and  Japan.

Doesn't anyone else find it odd that none of this expertise is being put to use?

Or that, with losses on complex derivative and structured securities at the core of this debacle, and thousands of "quants" from MIT and Wharton on Wall Street, we cannot design some simple security vehicles to help taxpayers reduce their personal or collective exposure to its potential costs? 

Perhaps Bush & Co. are not familiar with the IMF or the World Bank/ IFC's "Capital Markets Group." Perhaps Secretary Paulson never bothered to understand the first thing about derivatives and options during his 32 years at Goldman Sachs.   

For their informaDoggytion, the World Bank/ IMF/ IFC  are located at 700 19th St. NW, Washington D.C., three blocks from the White House.

Their staffs are not especially busy at the moment -- indeed,  15 percent of the IMF's professionals are being laid off, so they may have some time to help out.

We've been assured by the Bush Administration, however, that the IMF's assistance is not really needed at this point.

"What are we," Bush asks,  "Some sort of two-bit corrupt, debt-ridden plutocracy  that can't manage its own affairs?"

Indeed, the President,  Secretary Paulson, and a weird new assortment of  bottom-feeding Wall Street investors  (Omaha's Warren Buffet, Tokyo's Nomura Holdings and Mitsubishi UJF), and, of course, those who are still left on Wall Street itself are in a white heat to get this deal done, and are trying to create a stampede. 

They are also clearly not interested in improving the bailout. They just want our money -- and a loosey-goosey, behind-closed-doors process for distributing it that hasn't even been designed yet.

Unlike US taxpayers, Buffet, who is reportedly investing $5 billion in Goldman Sachs, was saavy enough to get prefAp_obamccain32erred shares and warrants for his money -- worth up to 8 percent of the premier bank's share.

At that rate, just think how much Wall Street real estate our  $700 billion would buy -- if only Paulson and Bernanke and the US Congress would follow in Buffet's footsteps and insist on some equity and warrants in exchange for a bailout. 

Meanwhile, Bush has the temerity to intermeddle (once again) with the orderly conduct of a US Presidential election, by inviting the two leading Presidential candidates to the White House just to help him close the deal with Congress. (Ralph Nader and Bob Barr are reportedly already camped out in the White House basement.)

As if the candidates don't have anything else to do, like debate each other,  41 days before the 539w election.

As if Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke were not already the world's consummate sales team!

Of course both Obama and McCain will accept the President's hospitality -- they have no choice.

So both have now been roped into making this deal happen. 

Alas,  it probably will -- minus almost all of the possible improvements noted above. The largely symbolic CEO comp limit is probably the only exception

To those to whom much has been given, even more will be given.

We do have one consolation, however,  as we prepare to pay the check for this lousy meal. We've located a different version of the history of this crisis that is more accurate -- and more entertaining -- in this must-see video:

(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008

September 24, 2008 at 05:40 PM | Permalink

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BUSH SPEAKS: "HOW DID WE EVER GET IN THIS MESS? WHERE HAVE I BEEN?"
James S. Henry
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