Matt Taibbi writes in Rolling Stone:
The bottom line is that the “unfunded liability” crisis is, if not exactly fictional, certainly exaggerated to an outrageous degree. Yes, we live in a new economy and, yes, it may be time to have a discussion about whether certain kinds of public employees should be receiving sizable benefit checks until death. But the idea that these benefit packages are causing the fiscal crises in our states is almost entirely a fabrication crafted by the very people who actually caused the problem. It’s like Voltaire’s maxim about noses having evolved to fit spectacles, so therefore we wear spectacles. In this case, we have an unfunded-pension-liability problem because we’ve been ripping retirees off for decades – but the solution being offered is to rip them off even more.
Everybody following this story should remember what went on in the immediate aftermath of the crash of 2008, when the federal government was so worried about the sanctity of private contracts that it doled out $182 billion in public money to AIG. That bailout guaranteed that firms like Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank could be paid off on their bets against a subprime market they themselves helped overheat, and that AIG executives could be paid the huge bonuses they naturally deserved for having run one of the world’s largest corporations into the ground. When asked why the state was paying those bonuses, Obama economic adviser Larry Summers said, “We are a country of law. . . . The government cannot just abrogate contracts.”
Now, though, states all over the country are claiming they not only need to abrogate legally binding contracts with state workers but also should seize retirement money from widows to finance years of illegal loans, giant fees to billionaires like Dan Loeb and billions in tax breaks to the Curt Schillings of the world. It ain’t right. If someone has to tighten a belt or two, let’s start there. If we’ve still got a problem after squaring those assholes away, that’s something that can be discussed. But asking cops, firefighters and teachers to take the first hit for a crisis caused by reckless pols and thieves on Wall Street is low, even by American standards.
Read the piece here.
See Taibbi interviewed by Democracy Now! on the Great Pension Fund Rip-off here.
What are CDOs (collateralized debt obligations), anyway? Paddy Hirsch of Marketplace explains how financial institutions used them to build the house of cards that came tumbling down five years ago and plunged the world into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Lynn Parramore, writing for Alternet, explains why investment in innovation has declined in America:
There’s a motto on Wall Street: “I.B.G.-Y.B.G.” or “I’ll Be Gone, You’ll Be Gone.” As long as you’re making money right now, what happens tomorrow is not your problem.
It’s everyone else’s problem. Witness the decline in the number and quality of jobs, the middle class evaporating, and the financial instability that brought about the Great Recession.
Read more here.
Gretchen Morgenson writes in today’s Times:
OUR nation’s largest banks have grown accustomed to regulators who are respectful, deferential and mindful of these institutions’ needs and desires. So, last week, when federal financial overseers unveiled a potent new weapon against too-big-to-fail banks, it seemed as if — just maybe — the winds in Washington were shifting.
Read more here.
Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism has released an ebook based on testimony from whistleblowers at Bank of America and PNC on the whitewash more formally known as the Independent Foreclosure Reviews. You can download the pdf here.
Read more about the book here.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (Ind- VT) on corporate takers:
In 2010, Bank of America set up more than 200 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands (which has a corporate tax rate of 0.0 percent) to avoid paying U.S. taxes. It worked. Not only did Bank of America pay nothing in federal income taxes, but it received a rebate from the IRS worth $1.9 billion that year. They are not alone. In 2010, JP Morgan Chase operated 83 subsidiaries incorporated in offshore tax havens to avoid paying some $4.9 billion in U.S. taxes. That same year Goldman Sachs operated 39 subsidiaries in offshore tax havens to avoid an estimated $3.3 billion in U.S. taxes. Citigroup has paid no federal income taxes for the last four years after receiving a total of $2.5 trillion in financial assistance from the Federal Reserve during the financial crisis.
On and on it goes. Wall Street banks and large companies love America when they need corporate welfare. But when it comes to paying American taxes or American wages, they want nothing to do with this country.
Read more here.
Gretchen Morgenson recounts Tim Geithner’s accomplishments as Treasury Secretary for Obama 1.0:
How did Treasury favor the banks? Consider its answer to the foreclosure mess. After promising to help four million borrowers, its Home Affordable Modification Program at last count had helped about one-quarter of that number.
One reason for this is that the program was flawed from the start.
First, the Treasury made the program voluntary, awarding funds to participating banks but failing to penalize those that did not. The program was all carrot, no stick.
Worse, the initial plan didn’t require the banks to write down second liens they may have held — like home equity lines — from borrowers whose original loans were modified. This let the banks put their interests ahead of both borrowers and those who held the first mortgages.
Read how HAMP was hampered here.
The Times reports free-market funnies from documents unearthed in a case now before the New York State Supreme Court:
On March 16, 2007, Morgan Stanley employees working on one of the toxic assets that helped blow up the world economy discussed what to name it. Among the team members’ suggestions: “Subprime Meltdown,” “Hitman,” “Nuclear Holocaust” and “Mike Tyson’s Punchout,” as well a simple yet direct reference to a bag of excrement.
Ha ha. Those hilarious investment bankers.
Then they gave it its real name and sold it to a Chinese bank.
Read here what they don’t teach about banking in B-school.
Dani Rodrik explains how rich countries could promote development overseas:
First, a new global compact should focus more directly on rich countries’ responsibilities. Second, it should emphasize policies beyond aid and trade that have an equal, if not greater, impact on poor countries’ development prospects.
A short list of such policies would include:
- carbon taxes and other measures to ameliorate climate change;
- more work visas to allow larger temporary migration flows from poor countries;
- strict controls on arms sales to developing nations;
- reduced support for repressive regimes; and
- improved sharing of financial information to reduce money laundering and tax avoidance.
Notice that most of these measures are actually aimed at reducing damage—for example, climate change, military conflict, and financial crime—that otherwise results from rich countries’ conduct. “Do no harm” is as good a principle here as it is in medicine.
Read his piece here.
Stacey Mitchell of the Institute for Self-Reliance says changing where you shop is only the first step: