I opine

From My Senator on the Bailout of Wall Street

Posted in economy, politics by jaeminuf on September 27, 2008

Senator Feinstein‘s veeeeeeeery long response to a letter I submitted to her office. Her key points are:

  • Necessity for a bailout
  • Phased funding of bailout
  • Paulson plan thumbs down because too much power in one person. Entrust responsibility not just to one person. More oversight/accountability necessary.
  • Legislative reform of the financial system in the first quarter of 2009
  • Protection for tax payers in the form of warrants/stock/etc. Learn from the Swedes.
  • Cap on executive compensation for firms that participate in bailout. If executives balk, let them sink or swim on their own.
  • Mortgage relief

Dear Ms. XXX:

Thank you for your letter expressing concern about Congress’ consideration of a plan to meet our Nation’s credit crisis with financial help from the Federal Government. This is a difficult situation for which there are no perfect solutions, and I would like to share my thoughts and concerns about this issue with you.

On September 19, 2008, Secretary of the Treasury Henry M. Paulson, Jr. announced a legislative proposal to use $700 billion to purchase illiquid mortgage-related assets from ailing financial institutions. Secretary Paulson’s three-page proposal was a non-starter, and without critical changes it has no chance of approval from Congress.

This proposal would have given a blank check to an economic czar who would have been empowered to spend it without administrative oversight, legal requirements, or legislative review. Decisions made by the Treasury Secretary would be non-reviewable by any court, agency, or Congress. The proposal also lacked a requirement for regular reports to Congress on the status of the program. This was simply untenable.

Since this announcement, my offices have received thousands of comments from Californians like you concerned about how this action will affect them. Yet, I believe prudent action must be taken. The bill should include the following principles: a phase-in of funding; oversight, accountability and transparency; a mechanism allowing the Secretary of the Treasury to modify mortgages to prevent additional foreclosures; and a precise cap on executive compensation.

The current credit crisis affects all Americans. If action is not taken to stem the crisis, Americans risk losing their homes, jobs, personal savings, life insurance and more. Banks will cease to lend to businesses and homeowners, and credit will be increasingly difficult to come by for average Americans. I strongly believe that the consequences of failing to act now would be greater than not acting at all.

Attached please find a statement I recently made on the floor of the Senate expressing my feelings on this issue. Please know that I will keep your thoughts in mind as this situation unfolds.

Once again, thank you for writing. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 224-3841. Best regards.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (more…)

And They All Fall Down

Posted in economy, ethics by jaeminuf on September 25, 2008
Front Cover of The Predator State by James K. Galbraith

Glad to get confirmation that my years as a financial analyst weren’t for notta. A few days ago, I wondered aloud whether it would be feasible and helpful to create a federal entity with oversight for home loan refinancing, an entity modeled on federal student loans program. Well…

James K. Galbraith, the author of The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too and the son of renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith, questions whether the bailout is necessary and proposes a new Home Owners Loan Corp., which would rewrite mortgages, manage rental conversions and decide when vacant, degraded properties should be demolished.

All five big investment banks have disappeared or morphed into regular banks. Is this bailout still necessary?

The point of the bailout is to buy assets that are illiquid but not worthless. But regular banks hold assets like that all the time. They’re called “loans.”

With banks, runs occur only when depositors panic, because they fear the loan book is bad. Deposit insurance takes care of that. So why not eliminate the pointless $100,000 cap on federal deposit insurance and go take inventory? If a bank is solvent, money market funds would flow in, eliminating the need to insure those separately. If it isn’t, the FDIC has the bridge bank facility to take care of that.

Next, put half a trillion dollars into the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. fund — a cosmetic gesture — and as much money into that agency and the FBI as is needed for examiners, auditors and investigators. Keep $200 billion or more in reserve, so the Treasury can recapitalize banks by buying preferred shares if necessary — as Warren Buffett did this week with Goldman Sachs. Review the situation in three months, when Congress comes back. Hedge funds should be left on their own. You can’t save everyone, and those investors aren’t poor.

With this solution, the systemic financial threat should go away. Does that mean the economy would quickly recover? No. Sadly, it does not. Two vast economic problems will confront the next president immediately. First, the underlying housing crisis: There are too many houses out there, too many vacant or unsold, too many homeowners underwater. Credit will not start to flow, as some suggest, simply because the crisis is contained. There have to be borrowers, and there has to be collateral. There won’t be enough.

In Texas, recovery from the 1980s oil bust took seven years and the pull of strong national economic growth. The present slump is national, and it can’t be cured that way. But it could be resolved in three years, rather than 10, by a new Home Owners Loan Corp., which would rewrite mortgages, manage rental conversions and decide when vacant, degraded properties should be demolished. Set it up like a draft board in each community, under federal guidelines, and get to work…

James K. Galbraith – A Bailout We Don’t Needwashingtonpost.com

For a review of Galbraith’s book by The Journal of Economic Issues, go to the Economist’s View, a blog by Mark Thoma, Professor of Economics at the University of Oregon. More information on Galbraith’s book can be found at:

 

Nigerian Scam?

Posted in economy, ethics, politics by jaeminuf on September 23, 2008

Forwarded to me today.

>Dear American:
> I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship
> with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.
>
> I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My
> country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer
> of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this
> transfer, it would be most profitable to you.
>
> I am working with Mr. Phil Gramm, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my
> replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator,
> you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation
> movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.
>
> This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need
> the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these
> funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly
> under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look
> for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin
> so the funds can be transferred.
>
> Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund
> account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to
> wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your
> commission for this transaction. After I receive that information,
> I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will
> be used to protect the funds.
>
> Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Wall Street on the Dole

Posted in economy, ethics, politics by jaeminuf on September 23, 2008

Someone tell me why that $700 billion can’t be put to actually helping out individuals rather than Wall Street.

The Feds will need to create some administrative infrastructure that will handle doling out – yes, I am using the rhetoric of welfare intentionally here – $700 billion to Wall Street. There will be some wrangling over how many cents to each dollar of debt to be acquired. Blah blah blah.

How much more difficult would it be to set aside that money, create the administrative infrastructure by which mortgage owners who are suffering can apply for re-financing from that pot of money? The banks will get their loans back, homeowners would be able to keep their homes (presuming that a majority will be able to afford discounted mortgage rates), and the fed will get its money back over time, and bankruptcy laws wouldn’t need to be changed?

And really, I can’t be the only person who thinks this may be feasible and far preferable than what Paulson, Bernancke, and the Bush administration are demanding, oops, “proposing as necessary to avoid financial meltdown, global economic crisis, a recession, Armageddon (choose your pick).” Other than that this may be impolitic, why can’t this work?

And tell me again, why ought the US Treasury include foreign investors in the bailout? Nevermind why Wall Street can’t pull itself up by its bootstraps.

I’m asking, not being rhetorical. Sarcastic, but not rhetorical.

David Frum on Equality – “Never Can Be or Should Be a Conservative Goal.”

Posted in class, economy, education, ethics, politics by jaeminuf on September 8, 2008

Question to David Frum. Do you really want to assert the following on record?

Equality in itself never can be or should be a conservative goal.

The Vanishing Republican Voter: Why income inequality is destroying the G.O.P. base.
– David Frum,
The New York Times

WTF?

I reread it and the surrounding passage repeatedly to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood that the author was asserting that conservatives should not prioritize equality in itself as a worthwhile objective. I didn’t misread it.

Wow, really? Somebody needs to brush up on his civics lessons:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal…”

The Declaration of Independence, 2nd paragraph

 

Collective Consuming Power! Dangling the Carrot…

Posted in economy by jaeminuf on September 8, 2008

(For the full, funnier 10 minute version, go to Carrotmob Makes It Rain from carrotmob on Vimeo.)

Environmental activism via consumerism: Carrotmob mobilizes the good people of San Francisco to shop en masse at a convenience store that agrees to spend 22% of the generated revenue on energy efficient retrofits to the store.

Wildly successful would be an understatement.

CBS5 Eye Witness News’s segment on the event.
(Note the lazy journalism.
Nearly all of the footage featured is from Carrotmob‘s youtube video.)

I raised my eyebrow at Carrotmob’s presentation of environmental activism via consumerism as if it were some radically new notion. Anyone older than a Millennial certainly remembers the impact had by The Body Shop and the environmental consumerist activism of the late 80s and early 90s. The really nice part about this Carrotmob effort, however, is that the impact was immediately evident and local. As they say, it’s a win-win situation.

 

The Wrong Kind of Hungry

Posted in class, economy, education, ethics by jaeminuf on September 1, 2008

School Lunch Line

While school districts struggle with financial problems, record numbers of students turning up for classes this fall are homeless or poor enough to qualify for free meals. – Hard Times Hitting Students and SchoolsNYTimes.com

This is America, folks. Homeless kids who go to school so that they can have at least one meal, the premise being that kids can’t learn if they’re too hungry to think. While I am thankful that we are conscientious enough to ensure both that we’ve implemented one such public assistance program and that schools provide at least that, reading this makes me shake my head at the idea of the US being a first world nation.