Why we aren’t out of the woods yet

In fact, we’re deeper in the woods than ever. All the elements are in place for a continuation of the unthinkable becoming thinkable. For the past 18 months or so I’ve said we would have a sharp downturn highlighted by a battered dollar and inflation and malaise. I was careful to say I did not expect a full-scale meltdown. Now I am a lot less sanguine. I think this excellent article captures the heart of the question that’s baffling most Americans: “How do the failures of these financial institutions affect me? Why should I worry?”

The big unanswerable question, though, is what happens next. Hurricanes start out as a heavy breeze, and then get worse—and the preconditions for a financial hurricane are very much in place. If a real hurricane needs high ocean surface temperatures and warm humid air, a financial hurricane needs generalized nervousness and a general lack of liquidity. Once those are in place, a few failed trades are all that is necessary to precipitate a very nasty chain reaction.

…Lehman Brothers has more than $600 billion in assets that will need to be liquidated as part of its bankruptcy. That’s an order of magnitude greater than any bankruptcy the world has ever seen: No one has a clue how to even get started on something so huge, let alone what the repercussions will be. Is there $600 billion in cash sitting on the sidelines of the global financial markets just waiting for an opportunity to snap up assets on the cheap? No. So as Lehman’s assets get liquidated, asset prices in general, and bond prices in particular, are likely to be under a great deal of pressure

In turn, that’s going to hurt other players in the global financial system, from hedge funds and sovereign wealth funds to small- and medium-sized regional banks. Anybody who’s leveraged and who marks their assets to market is at risk of margin calls and possible bankruptcy themselves, depending on the volatility and risk profile of those assets.

The upshot is a state of radical uncertainty…There is a very, very long list of things that could go horribly wrong from here on out. The liquidation of Lehman is one; the possible collapse of American International Group is another. Beyond that are countless hedge funds and other financial institutions which, collectively, present significant systemic risk.

But the biggest and most obvious risk of all is the one associated with Lehman’s own debt, which is now trading at less than 35 cents on the dollar. That’s a big loss for the institutions holding it—but it also means an unknowably huge loss for anybody who wrote credit protection on Lehman Brothers at any point over the past five years. Those sellers of credit protection are staring down the barrel of billions of dollars in claims, and they’re going to have to raise that money quick by selling anything they can get their hands on—and that might well include stocks.

So you think that we’ve dodged a bullet with the Dow still above 11,000? Just wait. This thing ain’t over yet. In fact, it’s barely begun.

As imbeciles argue about lipstick and flag lapel pins and the latest silly gaffe of the day, many of us are at risk that we do not comprehend and that we think the government can hold at bay. They can’t. It’s too big. Maybe they can contain it until after the election, but I’m skeptical. The worst is not over (as everyone was saying after the Feds seized Fannie/Freddie). We may see some bargain hunting in the weeks ahead that makes it all seem fine, but that will be a mirage. We saw what happened with the dot-com disaster: stock prices kept going lower and lower, and those who jumped in thinking they were getting great bargains got flayed alive. Especially if they did so on margin. Anyone who trades on margin at this time, even for buying gold, is setting themselves up for ruin.

The very idea of electing to the presidency a dedicated anti-regulation, economics-averse war-mongering liar is insane. Insane.

Speaking of imbeciles, I found this quite amusing.

Update: A friend of mine who lives off of gold trading just wrote me the following:

I took a $150k hit in the PM slide but am quickly recovering as I have been purchasing more shares around the $750 level.

Gold/Silver have entered the Wave 3 up move which will be violent in its swings — both up and down.

As JS recommends: sell 1/3 on the very sharp, short up moves — and buy back shares on very sharp, short down moves.

I sell long term shares for tax preference capital gains and add new shares on sharp breaks.

The next several years are going to be the most amazing times of our lives with few social institutions surviving as we have known them.

To this I say: “Bring it on!”

A bicycle is a good thing to own in the emerging America ….

Yes, alarmist, extreme, hysterical. But is it really? if someone had looked you in the eye last year and said that within a few short days we would watch the demise of Fannie/Freddie, Merrill Lynch, AIG, Lehman and, a few months earlier, Bear Stearn, and that many more pillars of American finance were at critical risk as well, you’d have thought it was impossible, extreme, hysterical, totally unthinkable. Welcome to the unthinkable. We’re there.

As I said recently, maybe it would be best for McCain to win. He and Palin deserve this shitstorm more than Obama. Of course, I do want Obama to win because we can’t turn this around under the McCain platform of yet more tax cuts for the super-rich and more wars. Obama can’t turn it around, either, but he can, god willing, help take us in a new and better direction.

The Discussion: 33 Comments

I want a do-over on the election. Guess who got the bulk of Lehman Brothers donations? Obama is the candidate of Wall Street.

McCain, needless to say, is worse.

Either way we’re screwed.

September 18, 2008 @ 12:10 pm | Comment

Obama also got the most Fannie/Freddie donations. But he is not anti-regulation,and as I’ve said many times, he’s what we’ve got. No sense thinking about how Gore or Edwards or Clinton would be better. And I am wary of damning a politician because of who donated money to them. In that area, the Clintons (both of them) have their own vulnerabilities. A lot of Wall Street firms, especially in this election, donated to both parties. Krugman once took a stipend from Enron. Does that make him a pawn on Enron’s? I don’t think so.

September 18, 2008 @ 12:26 pm | Comment

I have no faith in Obama. I don’t like his advisors, by and large, and he’s not a progressive, which just drives me crazy, given that all my super-progressive friends flipped for him.

And, yeah. The full extent of the mortgage shit-pile has yet to be revealed. I don’t know whether it’s better for this to get dumped on the Republicans, who bear a larger portion of the responsibility for this mess, or on an unproven Democrat, who if he isn’t up to the task is going to set the stage for twenty more years of Republican domination.

September 18, 2008 @ 12:43 pm | Comment

Yes, this is only the end of the beginning. Lots of unresolved debt out there, inflated assets, and the US$ is still being purchased by foreign governments at unsustainable rates to help prop it up. And Obama thinks the surge has “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams” and promises lots of fresh new wars when he’s in charge. What fun.

September 18, 2008 @ 12:44 pm | Comment

I find it very disturbing that no one is discussing the grotesque corruption in US leadership circles which has brought this disasterous situation about. Treasury Secretary Paulson (ex-Goldman Sacs) drives up the market by bailing out Freddie and Fannie and then drives the market down by forcing Goldman Sacs competitor Lehman Brothers into bankruptcy. Goldman folks short Lehman stock and make a killing.

To understand what’s going on, please read Naomi Klein’s book “The Shock Doctrine”. Capitalism has become so dysfunctional that it’s actually creating crises since crises are very profitable. Even Bill Gates and Pascal Lamy have said publicly that capitalism doesn’t work. Of course, the little guy gets screwed as he won’t know when to get in and out of the market.

The corruption in government and Wall Street has become pathological. Our system is run by psychopaths. Remember that bloke who wrote the book “Snakes in Suits” several years ago? He said that current corporate structures actually encourage psychopathic, sociopathic personalities. They’re corrupt Nazis. I often hear Western businessmen in China say that China should be the model for the West.

September 18, 2008 @ 12:45 pm | Comment

What Patrick Henry said.

And should I mention that Obama’s VP search was headed up by a former Freddie Mac head?

September 18, 2008 @ 12:55 pm | Comment

I saw a discussion on CCTV last night in which several of China’s financial “experts” discussed what China should do about its US dollar holdings. One group wants to dump US dollars now; the other group wants to dump US dollars but do it so as not to force a rapid depreciation of the US dollar so as to devalue China’s US dollar assets. They were all giddy about America’s financial crisis. Some are hopeful for an opportunity to buy up the US financial sector. Others think that the US financial crisis won’t be able to resolve itself for at least 3 to 4 years as it’ll take that long for the US real estate market to stabilize.

September 18, 2008 @ 1:07 pm | Comment

So we’re supposed to trust these psychopaths to extricate us from the train wreck of the US budget and trade deficits, retirement of the baby boomers, global warming, resource depletion and resource wars, Afghanistan and Iraq? Think again—they’ll see in each crisis another opportunity to make huge profits. We’ll become fodder for the soylent green factories. It’s all a product of US tyranny (unaccountable power).

Typical US capitalist: “So what if things all go to hell as long as I make my pile of money and move to a Caribean tax haven!”

September 18, 2008 @ 1:18 pm | Comment

True, Lisa, about Obama’s VP search. But if ties to big business is the criterion, do you really want to wade into the swamp of corporate relations and the Clintons? Maybe Obama’s worse in that respect, but it’s only a matter of degree. In any case, the point is soooo moot; Obama is the Democratic candidate. For those who can’t come up with any reason to vote for him, visualize Palin as president – pro-Creationism, corrupt, anti-women’s reproductive rights, anti-stem cell research, pro-war (“a task from God”) and too mentally feeble (or at least too insecure) to sit down for a real live interview. (Which isn’t to say she can’t at times be very profound.)

Back to the economy…. Things look a lot brighter today and I guess I was just exaggerating everything:

In the stock market, the Dow fell 449.36 points, or 4.1%, to 10,609.66, its lowest close since November 2005. The blue-chip average has fallen 25% since hitting an all-time high of 14,164.53 in October. That’s worse than the 20% decline most market professionals consider the benchmark for a bear market.

The bleeding continued with Asian stock markets sinking early today. Showing the global scope of the crisis, authorities in Russia suspended trading altogether after stocks there plunged Tuesday and early Wednesday. In Britain, embattled HBOS, originator of about one-fifth of all mortgages written in the country, said it was in advanced talks to be taken over by the Lloyds TSB Group.

The AIG deal came on the heels of the government’s declaration that it was out of the bailout business. After rescuing mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this month, the government let Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc., the nation’s fourth-largest investment bank, slide into bankruptcy Monday. The same day, Merrill Lynch & Co. rushed to accept a buyout by Bank of America Corp.

…Meanwhile, the prospect that another bailout might be needed was raised by the sharp declines Wednesday in the shares of Morgan Stanley and fellow investment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

“They are the backbone of the whole investment-banking business and to see them take these types of body blows is nerve-wracking,” Dietze said. “These are not dot-com penny stocks. This is the heart and soul of American financial business.”

…And as the already depressed shares of Washington Mutual fell 13% on Wednesday, the big mortgage lender put itself on the auction block, according to people who were briefed on the move.

Yup. Nothing to see here, move along.

September 18, 2008 @ 3:05 pm | Comment

What lisa says is interesting about whether a Democrat should want to be elected right now. In the UK the same comment has been passed about the opposition Conservative Party (that’s “Conservative” with a big “C” – doesn’t mean they are especially conservative), who are expected to win the next election. Would they want to face and win a snap election now, or wait another year and a bit until things have started to improve a bit?

I guess that like any president Obama’s choice of advisors and cabinet will be crucial. lisa, has he chosen his advisors already? Or do you mean the people advising him on the campaign?

September 18, 2008 @ 3:07 pm | Comment

Lisa, you’re stealing my lines! he says, from his Caribbean tax haven, lighting a Havana rolled on the glistening virgin thighs of a nubile Cuban slave girl, admiring his own scales under the Armani

BTW, are you sure Obama’s not progressive? You’re just hearing the campaign platform now. A platform is what you stand on while waiting for the train. Once you’re on the train, you don’t need the platform anymore.

September 18, 2008 @ 3:08 pm | Comment

I don’t think he’s as progressive as Clinton, and he has regurgitated some of the most misleading GOP talking points, but I also don’t think he’s the Manchurian Candidate (though Palin is). I’d like to quote from a most unsual source (for me), a David Brooks column that left a strong impression on me when I read it nine months ago. Please read it carefully, remembering that Brooks is to the right and a former Weekly Standard writer. He can also be a complete jackass, but I think this column was sincere, whether he’s right or wrong.

Obama is an inner-directed man in a profession filled with insecure outer-directed ones. He was forged by the process of discovering his own identity from the scattered facts of his childhood, a process that is described in finely observed detail in “Dreams From My Father.” Once he completed that process, he has been astonishingly constant.

Like most of the rival campaigns, I’ve been poring over press clippings from Obama’s past, looking for inconsistencies and flip-flops. There are virtually none. The unity speech he gives on the stump today is essentially the same speech that he gave at the Democratic convention in 2004, and it’s the same sort of speech he gave to Illinois legislators and Harvard Law students in the decades before that. He has a core, and was able to maintain his equipoise, for example, even as his campaign stagnated through the summer and fall.

Moreover, he has a worldview that precedes political positions. Some Americans (Republican or Democrat) believe that the country’s future can only be shaped through a remorseless civil war between the children of light and the children of darkness. Though Tom DeLay couldn’t deliver much for Republicans and Nancy Pelosi, so far, hasn’t been able to deliver much for Democrats, these warriors believe that what’s needed is more partisanship, more toughness and eventual conquest for their side.

But Obama does not ratchet up hostilities; he restrains them. He does not lash out at perceived enemies, but is aloof from them. In the course of this struggle to discover who he is, Obama clearly learned from the strain of pessimistic optimism that stretches back from Martin Luther King Jr. to Abraham Lincoln. This is a worldview that detests anger as a motivating force, that distrusts easy dichotomies between the parties of good and evil, believing instead that the crucial dichotomy runs between the good and bad within each individual.

Obama did not respond to his fatherlessness or his racial predicament with anger and rage, but as questions for investigation, conversation and synthesis. He approaches politics the same way. In her outstanding New Yorker profile, Larissa MacFarquhar notes that Obama does not perceive politics as a series of battles but as a series of systemic problems to be addressed. He pursues liberal ends in gradualist, temperamentally conservative ways.

Obama also has powers of observation that may mitigate his own inexperience and the isolating pressures of the White House. In his famous essay, “Political Judgment,” Isaiah Berlin writes that wise leaders don’t think abstractly. They use powers of close observation to integrate the vast shifting amalgam of data that constitute their own particular situation — their own and no other.

Obama demonstrated those powers in “Dreams From My Father” and still reveals glimpses of the ability to step outside his own ego and look at reality in uninhibited and honest ways. He still retains the capacity, also rare in presidents, of being able to sympathize with and grasp the motivations of his rivals. Even in his political memoir, “The Audacity of Hope,” he astutely observes that candidates are driven less by the desire for victory than by the raw fear of loss and humiliation.

What Bill Clinton said on “The Charlie Rose Show” is right: picking Obama is a roll of the dice. Sometimes he seems more concerned with process than results. But for Democrats, there’s a roll of the dice either way. The presidency is a bacterium. It finds the open wounds in the people who hold it. It infects them, and the resulting scandals infect the presidency and the country. The person with the fewest wounds usually does best in the White House, and is best for the country.

This is food for thought. As with China, I hope we can hold a nuanced view of Obama, just as I wanted us to do for Hillary Clinton, whom I defended when I felt the world was ganging up on her. The way I sometimes do for China’s government when I feel they are blamed for something unfairly (which grangted isn’t too often). All I ask: keep a clear head. I try to look for sunshine in our economy. I even look for sunshine in Bush’s record, and have found a few slender rays here and there. I’ve looked endlessly for something to praise about Palin aside from her charisma and looks. All I’m saying is Obama is not the antichrist and there is some substance and consistency to his record – and probably a lot of shit that you can dig up, too. I know, and I have posted about that, too. Meanwhile, it’s him and Biden, or McCain and Palin. I know who I’m voting for,

September 18, 2008 @ 3:30 pm | Comment

Actually, I “like” Obama more than I “like” McCain. What puts me off him (besides the fact that what little economic program one can tease out of him sounds eerily like the policies that deepened the Great Depression), ought to be some of the same things I might expect Lisa to be excited about.

I know EXACTLY what community organizers do, having come through the same Saul Alinsky school of radical social change as Obama. “Rub raw the sores of discontent”. Convincing people they are victims, stimulating discontent to the point of rage, as a tool for gaining power. That’s the method and the goal, and Obama is a master teacher of it. None of this is imagined, and his mentors are on record, so it’s not a deep-conspiracy kind of thing….it’s just something that his campaign strategists don’t play up. That church he belonged to is no accident at all. It’s just not my kind of guy anymore. Not for leader of the country I mean.

This isn’t for campaign purposes; vote for whoever you want. Just by way of explaining why even a half-hearted, old, partial-reformer accompanied by a gun-toting Sunday school teacher would be my preference. Hell, my drunken old hippie brother would be my preference if it was all there was! I left the organizers and most of the beliefs of the “new left” for moral reasons, which would only sound pompous and tiresome if I went into them here. Let’s just say a red-diaper “organizer” with the economics of Hoover isn’t my cup of tea. Love his voice, though, and we really need a good talker!

September 18, 2008 @ 4:12 pm | Comment

I was unhappy about the church thing too, Sam, but I can’t make that a deciding factor – especially when you look at Palin’s church. And you are making some assumptions about community organizers – I’ve actually done a little myself, and it wasn’t always manipulating people. (Though for the record there were always some true a++holes in our community organization and the infighting was absurd.) I’ve watched Obama and never saw him drive people to rage but maybe it’s true. Repeating from Brooks, not a usual source for TPD:

But Obama does not ratchet up hostilities; he restrains them. He does not lash out at perceived enemies, but is aloof from them. In the course of this struggle to discover who he is, Obama clearly learned from the strain of pessimistic optimism that stretches back from Martin Luther King Jr. to Abraham Lincoln. This is a worldview that detests anger as a motivating force, that distrusts easy dichotomies between the parties of good and evil, believing instead that the crucial dichotomy runs between the good and bad within each individual.

Obama did not respond to his fatherlessness or his racial predicament with anger and rage, but as questions for investigation, conversation and synthesis. He approaches politics the same way.

Is every word true? Probably not. But maybe he’s not quite as bad as we’ve imagined him to be. Now please, show me a thoughtful, unhysterical column by a political writer based on their studying Palin for four years that describes her qualities and foibles in a like manner to Brooks on Obama. I would truly love to find one and see what it says.

About his being a talker: that is really important. Especially after eight years of Bush’s mangled grammar and tortured syntax. A president is a talker, a lobbyist, and their persuasive power is often key to their success. Reagan was not my favorite president, but he will be remembered as one, mainly for his power of rhetoric. At least when he had a teleprompter in front of him or a script memorized.

Anyway about the economy – I may be ready to place that bet.

September 18, 2008 @ 4:24 pm | Comment

With the oft repeated anti-argument of the Chinese that their people are not yet educated enough for democracy, would not a McCain / Palin presidency prove it to most certainly be true of America?

September 18, 2008 @ 8:04 pm | Comment

Courtney, therein lies the dilemma of democracy. I was just in Thailand where they seem to be waging an ongoing coup. The Thaksin crowd will always win the election because they know how to manipulate the majority – poor, relatively uneducated people in the countryside. The business community and city dwellers and the military see through the scam and demand the system be changed, but I don’t see any effective solution.

Pluralism brings with it all kinds of risks. There is no reason why anyone with even a scintilla of grey matter would want Palin to be in line for the world’s most powerful position. It defies all reason. At least with Obama there are reasons, whether we agree with them or not: he is articulate on the issues and quick to give intelligent answers, he raises people’s hopes, he can outline what sounds like an effective program for this or that, he voted against the iraq war and stuck to his principles about it, he wrote a book outlining his political vision, he dedicated himself to community service (and whether it was meaningful service or political BS is irrelevant in this discussion), he can debate intelligently, he has shown an interest in improving the lives of the poor for decades, he gave up a lucrative job to pursue service to others – these are at least reasons why people my choose to vote for him, even though each item might be subject to argument and proven false. In Palin, there is nothing, zilch – just an impression and many questions. It really brings to mind the movie Being There. And yet, we live in a democracy, and if people want to vote for an empty vessel or a question mark or a marketing creation, it’s their right. If they do, it will be a tragedy and a testament to the GOP’s spectacular skill at pushing people’s emotional buttons as opposed to their brains, an art that was perfected and legitimized by Richard Nixon.

So is democracy a good thing? It doesn’t look so good at the moment, bringing to power Hezbollah, Hamas and, in a different arena but also not my cup of tea, George Bush and possibly McCain. Hell, it was democracy (combined with back-room political intrigue) that brought Hitler to power. So yeah, democracy can really suck. But is there anything better?

September 18, 2008 @ 8:31 pm | Comment

As Winston Churchill noted: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

September 18, 2008 @ 8:52 pm | Comment

Rhys, amen.

September 18, 2008 @ 8:58 pm | Comment

I must differ with you on the notion of there being no reason for electing Palin to be in line for the world’s top job, Richard. I’m sure many decent folks out there want a gun totin’, god fearin’, bible thumpin’, abortion hatin’, abstinence teachin’, military promotin’, oil guzzlin’, environment trashin’ George Bush Jr II. YEEEEHHAAAAW.

September 18, 2008 @ 8:58 pm | Comment

Nice, Rhys. Totally agree. What a disaster. Just what America needs at this incredibly fragile moment.

September 18, 2008 @ 10:25 pm | Comment

Actually, Sam, Obama’s community organizer creds don’t do much for me – it’s not at all clear to me what he actually did during this period. What makes me particularly uneasy about him is his tendency to move on to the next job/elected position before he’s really established himself in the one he’s in. Running for President after half a term in the US Senate? Ridiculous.

Richard, I realize that politics is all about compromise and that all politicians are compromised. I expect that. And I certainly didn’t start this election season as a Clinton fan. But what I want to see from a candidate is a solid grasp of issues and a high degree of competence (I’m actually kind of boring that way, Sam). I don’t get a lot of substance from Obama, and that really concerns (and angers) me.

September 19, 2008 @ 1:42 am | Comment

Actually, McCain saw this coming 2 years ago. Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act of 2005. Check it out. What did Obama do? He was in the Senate too.

September 19, 2008 @ 9:15 am | Comment

Wall Street Socialists
by Amy Goodman

The financial crisis gripping the U.S. has the largest banks and insurance companies begging for massive government bailouts. The banking, investment, finance and insurance industries, long the foes of taxation, now need money from working-class taxpayers to stay alive. Taxpayers should be in the driver’s seat now. Instead, decisions that will cost people for decades are being made behind closed doors, by the wealthy, by the regulators and by those they have failed to regulate.

Tuesday, the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury Department agreed to a massive, $85-billion bailout of AIG, the insurance giant. This follows the abrupt bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the 158-year-old investment bank; the distressed sale of Merrill Lynch to Bank of America; the bailout of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; the collapse of retail bank IndyMac; and the federally guaranteed buyout of Bear Stearns by JPMorgan Chase. AIG was deemed “too big to fail,” with 103,000 employees and more than $1 trillion in assets. According to regulators, an unruly collapse could cause global financial turmoil. U.S. taxpayers now own close to 80 percent of AIG, so the orderly sale of AIG will allow the taxpayers to recoup their money, the theory goes.

It’s not so easy.

The financial crisis will most likely deepen. More banks and giant financial institutions could collapse. Millions of people bought houses with shady subprime mortgages and have already lost or will soon lose their homes. The financiers packaged these mortgages into complex “mortgage-backed securities” and other derivative investment schemes. Investors went hog-wild, buying these derivatives with more and more borrowed money.

Nomi Prins used to run the European analytics group at Bear Stearns and also worked at Lehman Brothers. “AIG was acting not simply as an insurance company,” she told me. “It was acting as a speculative investment bank/hedge fund, as was Bear Stearns, as was Lehman Brothers, as is what will become Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. So you have a situation where it’s [the U.S. government] … taking on the risk of items it cannot even begin to understand.”

She went on: “It’s about taking on too much leverage and borrowing to take on the risk and borrowing again and borrowing again, 25 to 30 times the amount of capital. … They had to basically back the borrowing that they were doing. … There was no transparency to the Fed, to the SEC, to the Treasury, to anyone who would have even bothered to look as to how much of a catastrophe was being created, so that when anything fell, whether it was the subprime mortgage or whether it was a credit complex security, it was all below a pile of immense interlocked, incestuous borrowing, and that’s what is bringing down the entire banking system.”

As these high-rolling gamblers are losing all their banks’ money, it comes to the taxpayer to bail them out. A better use of the money, says Michael Hudson, professor of economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and an economic adviser to Rep. Dennis Kucinich, would be to “save these 4 million homeowners from defaulting and being kicked out of their houses. Now they’re going to be kicked out of the houses. The houses will be vacant. The cities are going to [lose] property taxes, they’re going to have to cut back local expenditures, local infrastructure. The economy is being sacrificed to pay the gamblers.”

Prins elaborated: “You’re nationalizing the worst portion of the banking system. … You’re taking on risk you won’t be able to understand. So it’s even more dangerous.” I asked Prins, in light of all this nationalization, to comment on the prospect of nationalizing health care into a single-payer system. She responded, “You could actually put some money into something that pre-empts a problem happening and helps people get health care.”

The meltdown is a bipartisan affair. Presidential contenders John McCain and Barack Obama each have received millions of dollars from these very companies that are collapsing and are receiving the corporate welfare. President Clinton and his treasury secretary, Robert Rubin (now an Obama economic adviser), presided over the repeal in 1999 of the Glass-Steagall Act, passed after the 1929 start of the Great Depression to curb speculation that caused that calamity. The repeal was pushed through by former Republican Sen. Phil Gramm, one of McCain’s former top advisers. Politicians are too dependent on Wall Street to do anything. The people who vote for them, and whose taxes are being handed over to these failed financiers, need to show their outrage and demand that their leaders truly put “country first” and bring about “change.”

Denis Moynihan contributed to this column.

September 19, 2008 @ 10:55 am | Comment

At one point in M…e..i///n K a..am)pf, the psychopath H..i t-l-er recounts the “glorious time” when in his early days as an organizer he’d give lengthy speeches standing atop a table in a German beer hall ranting and raving for hours to a boisterous, drunken crowd of brawling St/orm Tr..oop..ers about the evils of those weak, corrupt politicians.

September 19, 2008 @ 11:07 am | Comment

Very level-headed for a girl, Lisa. So who to vote for? I think Kucinich and Nader are beyond resuscitation (not that I would vote for them, but somebody would). You certainly wouldn’t want the guy who pressed for better oversight of Fannie and Freddie.

September 19, 2008 @ 11:11 am | Comment

Joe, this is a slick piece of propaganda and a sublime example of the GOP noise machine. Proceed to do a google search and you will find the following:

Nearly every single hit of this unknown bill that never made it out of committee is from last week – even though the bill was proposed more than three years ago.

Nearly all the sites that bring it up are the Wurlitzer players: Free Republic, Malkin’s Hot Air, National Review, etc.

Some are saying, “Why isn’t McCain jumping on this and shouting it from the highest rooftops. Here’s why:

1. While some Dems like Chris Dodd went against this bill, here is the real culprit, with a story by a real reporter, not a GOP shill:

Mr Oxley [former head of NASDAQ] reached out to Barney Frank, then the ranking Democrat on the committee and now its chairman, to secure support on the other side of the aisle. But after winning bipartisan support in the House, where the bill passed by 331 to 90 votes, the legislation lacked a champion in the Senate and faced hostility from the Bush administration.

Adamant that the only solution to the problems posed by Fannie and Freddie was their privatisation, the White House attacked the bill. Mr Greenspan also weighed in, saying that the House legislation was worse than no bill at all.

“We missed a golden opportunity that would have avoided a lot of the problems we’re facing now, if we hadn’t had such a firm ideological position at the White House and the Treasury and the Fed,” Mr Oxley says.

2. At most, we can say this shows that for a moment McCain had it right about Freddie/Fannie, but… McCain and two others introduced the bill to the committee in an extremely half-hearted way: there was no debate, he never brought it to the public’s attention, he never followed up or attempted to revise it. He never cited this during his campaign because it’s so weak – one quote from three years ago, compared to example after example after example of McCain actually doing more to de-regulate than nearly any other senator aside from his campaign adviser Phil Graham, who truly threatened the fiscal health of America by writing the legislation repealing Glass-Steagall. Now, based on one prescient quote, for which we have to give McCain credit, the right wants to absolve McCain of his rich track record of attacking regulation, and say, “Look, McCain tried to warn us, he is so great, he is for regulation!” It’s marvelously cynical and underscores the ingenuity of the GOP noise machine to exploit people’s short memory spans, and to spin and unbelievably obscure factoid into the defining story that shows us “the real John McCain.”

I can go on. About the question, “What did Obama do?” This is an inane question a he is a first-term senator, and it is not possible for him to have a strong track record on every issue facing America. Nevertheless, before the banking crisis became a meltdown, Obama was consistently pro-regulation and pro-consumer – unlike McCain, who literally overnight became pro-regulation.

Sen. Obama’s $10 billion foreclosure prevention fund, designed to help troubled borrowers sell their home or restructure an unaffordable loan, would be funded by penalties on lenders who commit fraud. He envisions new disclosures that would help borrowers compare mortgage products, and he would confront mortgage fraud by beefing up reporting, increasing funding for enforcement, and raising fines.

The Illinois Democrat would let bankruptcy judges modify mortgage terms, and he would encourage banks and credit unions to make short-term, small-dollar loans to provide underserved consumers with alternatives to payday lenders. His proposed 36% rate cap is directed at the payday industry.

…To illustrate the point, he [an Obama adviser] cited a March 27 speech at New York’s Cooper Union in which Sen. Obama spoke at length about reforming the patchwork of financial regulation. The speech, delivered four days before the Treasury Department released its blueprint for reform, went further in some areas than the administration did.

For instance, Sen. Obama proposed giving the Federal Reserve Board clear supervisory authority over any institution that borrows from the central bank, extending its capital and liquidity rules to investment banks. The Treasury plan, by contrast, would establish the central bank more as a monitor of market stability than as a direct supervisor.

Sen. Obama also would create a public-private commission of experts to warn Congress and the White House about emerging systemic risks in the markets.

Look at McCain’s track record and you will see one crystal-clear pattern: deregulate.

If this raises questions about Obama’s ties to Wall Street… Every single candidate has ties to Wall Street. Freddie and Fannie are the largest campaign donors in history and they gave to everybody. Is Obama a puppet of Wall Street? Was Hillary Clinton? I don’t know, but looking at their track records and platforms, I would say probably not. They all take the money (they have to). But their level of carrying water for Wall Street is not necessarily consistent. After all, they all take money from the big pharma companies and the insurance companies, opposing forces. Accepting a campaign donation doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in their pocket. It’s how you then proceed to vote that reveals the truth.

Looking at McCain’s track record, I would say probably yes, he is a puppet of big business and Wall Street. Don’t forget he was one of the Keating Five, even if he “wasn’t as bad” as the other four. That was the supreme example of carrying water for the privileged at the expense of the common man. One sentence from three years ago doesn’t erase everything else.

Again, this was GOP propaganda at its most slick, complete with a masterly google bomb and a full-blown chorus singing in unison at triple-forte. As usual, there’s no substance behind it. You can find a quote to prove anything about anyone. That solitary quote, cob-webbed and obscure, is not the proof of the pudding.

September 19, 2008 @ 11:19 am | Comment

Sam – I’ll vote for Obama because of the polar bears.

September 19, 2008 @ 12:11 pm | Comment

I’ll admit it, I’ve become a Hillary fan. Her remarks today on the crisis.

September 19, 2008 @ 1:44 pm | Comment

Hmmm…it looks like a link, and yet it’s not. let me try that again:


September 19, 2008 @ 1:45 pm | Comment

I admire her more and more, though I also understand why so many people have a reflexive hatred of her (another whole topic). Should Obama fail, she is certainly well poised for next time.

September 19, 2008 @ 2:56 pm | Comment

Polar bears! Why didn’t I think of polar bears?

Funny how Hillary looks so good now. I was kind of secretly hoping for a Clinton/Obama ticket, but the mysterious “baggage” issue was always around (would it be fair to say the public probably just had enough of Clintons for a while?).

Meanwhile, the election futures market is jerking around as wildly as the financial markets right now.

September 19, 2008 @ 3:38 pm | Comment

I’m not saying that McCain has the perfect solution. Maybe Obama does. I’m waiting to hear it. I’m waiting to hear the counter-proposals he made to McCain’s bill. I’m waiting to hear Chris Dodd’s suggestions. Today Obama said, “this is not a time for fear, it’s not a time for panic.”


OK, that’s good.

Also: “Get rid of this philosophy. Get rid of the do-nothing approach to our economic problem and put somebody in there who’s going to fight for you.” Flaw in his statement: Obama’s already there. He’s a lawmaker. If he’s serious, maybe he could, I don’t know, propose a law. He could fight for you if he wanted to. He’s saying this like there’s nothing he can do NOW. Heck, he’s even implying there’s nothing he SHOULD do now. He’s saying we need someone to show leadership, but he’s not showing any.

This is why senators are traditionally weak candidates. Any great ideas should have already been introduced. A governor as candidate (say Richardson or Romney) would be harping on his opponent about that right now, and would be correct.

I also see a lot of blame for the current crisis being heaped on the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. Well, since that passed the Senate with 90 votes and the House with 362 votes, and was signed by a Democratic president, I’m sure that’s John McCain’s fault too.

For the record, I don’t trust either candidate to “fix” the problem. I have no intention of voting for either of them, as I prefer not to participate in my own mugging.

September 19, 2008 @ 4:59 pm | Comment

Joe, he’s running for president and may be a little busy at the moment. How many new laws has McCain proposed re. the credit crisis? Anyway, that one sentence you quote is hardly representative – I quoted several other things he said that are far more substantive. Anyway, we’ve had this conversion now a trillion times here: he’s the only way we can keep MCain/Palin out and purge the GOP from the White House. Not a perfect solution, but the best we have.

September 19, 2008 @ 6:19 pm | Comment

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