Bailout Débācle

March 22, 2009

By Padmini Arhant

The past two weeks dominated with AIG and oligarchs debating over the controversial $165 million and now increased to $218 million bonuses to executives instrumental in driving the insurance giant to the brink of collapse along with the financial markets of the world.

As usual, Washington vs. Wall Street dispute contributed to media frenzy and aptly reflected in the roller coaster performance of the stock market. The interesting factor in the blame game is those pointing fingers at others fail to acknowledge that remaining fingers are pointing towards them as they are equal partners in this charade.

By now, well-educated American taxpayers upon the quest to secure their future convinced that both Wall Street and Washington have serious credibility issues in wealth management and nation governance.

The back and forth allegations in the political crossfire reveals the true sense of Washington politics and Wall Street free market systemic corporate management failure. Again, the beneficiaries in this deal are the legislators responsible for the bailout approval and the corporations rewarded with taxpayer’s funds for unprecedented incompetence in modern economic times.

They are the beneficiaries because the legislators secured their emoluments by rushing the operating budget $410 billion omnibus bill ladened with pork projects to the tune of $8 billion to curb ‘government shut down’ rather than passing the required operating budget and isolating the earmarks spending for individual scrutiny through separate legislation.

The Corporate executives in due diligence spared no opportunities to collect remuneration, bonuses retrospectively and in the foreseeable future to maintain their status among the top 10% wealthiest hierarchy.

Let’s not forget in the Darwinian "Survival of the fittest contest" the weak, fragile and frail average taxpayer doesn’t stand a chance against the ferocious Corporate executives (compared to sharks) and Capitol Hill crusaders.

Events unfolding in the entire scenario deserves attention from every citizen involuntarily pledged to carry the burden of national debt currently projected at $9.3 trillion i.e. $1 trillion budget deficits every year for a decade, 2010-2019.

It is worth examining the role of legislators, corporations and lobbyists in securing taxpayer bailouts more prevalent in the past year 2008 and continuation of it in 2009. Prior to the diagnostic procedure, it is essential to shed light on the alliances forged by the key cabinet members and Wall Street merchants.

According to – Thank you.

Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)

Who is Henry Paulson?

By Tom Eley, 23 September 2008

Henry Paulson rose through the ranks of Goldman Sachs, becoming a partner in 1982, co-head of investment banking in 1990, chief operating officer in 1994. In 1998, he forced out his co-chairman Jon Corzine “in what amounted to a coup,” according to New York Times economics correspondent Floyd Norris, and took over the post of CEO.

Goldman Sachs is perhaps the single best-connected Wall Street firm. Its executives routinely go in and out of top government posts. Corzine went on to become US senator from New Jersey and is now the state’s governor. Corzine’s predecessor, Stephen Friedman, served in the Bush administration as assistant to the president for economic policy and as chairman of the National Economic Council (NEC). Friedman’s predecessor as Goldman Sachs CEO, Robert Rubin, served as chairman of the NEC and later treasury secretary under Bill Clinton.

Agence France Press, in a 2006 article on Paulson’s appointment, “Has Goldman Sachs Taken Over the Bush Administration?” noted that, in addition to Paulson, “[t]he president’s chief of staff, Josh Bolten, and the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Jeffery Reuben, are Goldman alumni.”

Prior to being selected as treasury secretary, Paulson was a major individual campaign contributor to Republican candidates, giving over $336,000 of his own money between 1998 and 2006.

Since taking office, Paulson has overseen the destruction of three of Goldman Sachs’ rivals. In March,

Paulson helped arrange the fire sale of Bear Stearns to JPMorgan Chase. Then, a little more than a week ago, he allowed Lehman Brothers to collapse, while simultaneously organizing the absorption of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America. This left only Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley as major investment banks, both of which were converted on Sunday into bank holding companies, a move that effectively ended the existence of the investment bank as a distinct economic form.

In the months leading up to his proposed $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, Paulson had already used his office to dole out hundreds of billions of dollars. After his July 2008 proposal for $70 billion to resolve the insolvency of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac failed, Paulson organized the government takeover of the two mortgage-lending giants for an immediate $200 billion price tag, while making the government potentially liable for hundreds of billions more in bad debt. He then organized a federal purchase of an 80 percent stake in the giant insurer American International Group (AIG) at a cost of $85 billion.

These bailouts have been designed to prevent a chain reaction collapse of the world economy, but more importantly, they aimed to insulate and even reward the wealthy shareholders, like Paulson, primarily responsible for the financial collapse.

Paulson bears a considerable amount of personal responsibility for the crisis.

Paulson, according to a celebratory 2006 Business Week article entitled “Mr. Risk Goes to Washington,” was “one of the key architects of a more daring Wall Street, where securities firms are taking greater and greater chances in their pursuit of profits.” Under Paulson’s watch, that meant “taking on more debt: $100 billion in long-term debt in 2005, compared with about $20 billion in 1999. It means placing big bets on all sorts of exotic derivatives and other securities.”

According to the International Herald Tribune, Paulson “was one of the first Wall Street leaders to recognize how drastically investment banks could enhance their profitability by betting with their own capital instead of acting as mere intermediaries.” Paulson “stubbornly assert[ed] Goldman’s right to invest in, advise on and finance deals, regardless of potential conflicts.”

Paulson then handsomely benefited from the speculative boom. This wealth was based on financial manipulation and did nothing to create real value in the economy. On the contrary, the extraordinary enrichment of individuals like Paulson was the corollary to the dismantling of the real economy, the bankrupting of the government, and the impoverishment of masses the world over.

Paulson was compensated to the tune of $30 million in 2004 and took home $37 million in 2005. In his career at Goldman Sachs he built up a personal net worth of over $700 million, according to estimates.
Washington and Wall Street Analysis:

By Padmini Arhant

The beginning of the chain link usually found on the campaign trail, when corporations fund election campaigns through donation loopholes despite contribution limits by electoral commission and reign in on the successful candidate for the entire term.

After all, in the contemporary world focused on “What’s in it for me” deals, there is no free lunch with the exception of debt-consumed public yearning for believable change and better future offer available resources in terms of time, energy and money during the electoral process and beyond.

Who gets preference by the elected officials in the so-called democracy?

Indeed the Corporations due to the inter-dependency of sweetheart deals and brokering that take place throughout the election campaign. The deafening noise in the Capitol Hill about identifying the guilty party and pursuing disastrous course of action such as 90% tax on AIG bonuses after having approved without any stipulations predictably backfired at the victims none other than the average American taxpayers, presumably the majority shareholder at 80% of the multinational conglomerate.

In a bizarre development, more appropriately deterioration of the bailout fiasco, the headlines, news across the nation reverberate…
AIG sues its biggest shareholder – us

By David S. Hilzenrath, Washington Post – March 21, 2009. Thank you.

As AIG takes billions of dollars from the federal government to stay afloat, it is suing the government for millions more.

The big insurer is trying to recover $306.1 million of taxes, interest and penalties from the Internal Revenue Service. Among other things, AIG is contesting an IRS determination last year that the company improperly claimed $61.9 million of tax credits associated with complex international transactions.

AIG has also asked a court to make the government reimburse it for money spent suing the government.

Given that the government owns 79.9 percent of AIG and has been using taxpayer money to fill a seemingly bottomless hole at the company, the lawsuit might seem like a case of biting the hand that feeds it. But an

AIG spokesman said the company has an obligation to press its case.

AIG believes it overpaid the IRS, and it “has a duty to its shareholders, including the government and other shareholders, to insure that it pays the proper amount of taxes,” spokesman Mark Herr said by e-mail.
Washington tax lawyer Martin Lobel agreed with that assessment.

‘If in fact they honestly believe that they’re entitled to a refund of those taxes, it would be a breach of their fiduciary duty not to” sue, Lobel said.

“On the other hand, the sense of entitlement from AIG is awesome,” Lobel said.

Because the dispute pits the government against a company that has essentially become a ward of the government, the only clear winners are likely to be lawyers, legal experts said. The legal expenses could consume millions of dollars, they said.

Lawyers at the firm Sutherland Asbill & Brenan, which is representing AIG, did not respond to an interview request.

For partners of similar stature to those representing AIG, fees can run $700 to $900 an hour, said Dan Binstock, managing director of BCG Attorney Search, a legal recruiter.

AIG’s dispute with the IRS focuses on taxes for 1997 and dates at least as far back as March 2008.”

L.A. congresswoman defends actions

Husband Linked to Bank that got AID

By Richard Simon – Los Angeles Times – March 14, 2009 – Thank you.

Excerpts from the article:

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, on Friday defended her efforts to help minority-owned banks – including one with ties to her husband – scoffing at the notion that she, a liberal Democrat, could influence George W. Bush’s presidential administration in deciding what financial institutions would receive bailout funds.

Waters, a senior member of the congressional committee that, oversees banking, has come under scrutiny because OneUnited Bank, on which her husband Sidney Williams had been a board member and stockholder, received $12 million in bailout funds. The money was provided in December, three months after Waters helped arrange a meeting between officials from the bank and other minority-owned institutions and Treasury representatives.

“I followed up on the association’s request by asking Treasury Secretary (Henry) Paulson to schedule such a meeting, as did other members of Congress,” she said.

She said she did not attend the meeting. She released letters by the National Bankers Association requesting the meeting and following up on it – signed by the group’s incoming Chairman Robert Patrick Cooper an officer with OneUnited.

Waters said the decision to provide bailout funds to OneUnited was “based on the merits of the bank’s request, not based on anything said at the September meeting and not based on political influence.”

She said that she has fully disclosed her husband’s ties to the bank. Williams served on the bank board until early last year and held at least $500,000 in investments in the bank in 2007, the most recent year for which public financial disclosure statements are available.

Waters could not be reached for an interview Friday. OneUnited Chief Executive Kevin Cohee said Friday he didn’t have time to speak with a reporter.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said she found Waters’ behavior “inappropriate and certainly has the appearance of impropriety, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of an actual conflict-of-interest under House rules.”

Sloan said Waters’ comments that the meeting focused on the general problems of minority-owned banks “don’t seem credible” in light of statements from Treasury officials that the session became a discussion of one bank’s troubles. “At a minimum, Treasury officials should have been apprised of her interest in the bank before the meeting took place.”

Waters’ efforts, she said, raise a question: “How many members of Congress are having meetings with the Treasury Department pleading for funds for certain banks?”

“Treasury has said they’re going to list the lobbying contacts,” Sloan said.”
Voice of the Electorate:

San Jose Mercury News – Readers’ Letters – March 18, 2009

Obama’s earmarks stance disappoints

I am disappointed that President Barack Obama backed off his campaign pledge to eliminate earmarks. The process subverts democratic government by avoiding votes on specific issues. It encourages our representatives to compete to spend more—if they fail to “bring home the bacon,” they may be seen as ineffective and not be re-elected. The further we move from specific votes for specific programs, the less inclined people are to support the government and the more inclined to resist taxes.

We must promote responsible stewardship. While many of the projects are meritorious, that hardly means they should be funded. Tax dollars are a scarce resource and every expenditure should be carefully scrutinized. Obama was right on this issue during the campaign; he is sliding off track now.

Christopher K. Payne


Ethical Lapse

By Padmini Arhant

The sparring political factions, the far left and the far right along with the centrists is in a strange dilemma today as they witness their reflection in the image of the accused parties in the most expensive soap opera entertainment.

As more Washington and Wall Street scandals are exposed, the more disingenuous the legislators appear to be in their pledge to turn the nation around.

An average citizen struggling to make ends meet asked the following questions –

“Why should I vote for anyone in the next election when I see politics as usual prevailing over the promised inevitable change?

Can the elected officials with public housing, guaranteed regular and several other sources of income, supreme health care, and free transportation relate to the suffering population dealing with job loss, foreclosure and other miseries?”

Unfortunately, the Washington atmosphere is secluded as elitist not making connection with the plight of the populist. The deepening of the recession combined with the multi-trillion dollar national debt forecast is a matter of great concern for the vast majority of population in precarious economic conditions due to job insecurity and declining prospects all around.

The American electorate enthusiastically elected the new administration with the hope to experience the “change” they deserve and the recent events are adversarial to the optimism built during the campaign.

Campaign promises involved Accountability, Transparency and changing Washington by eliminating corruption, cronyism and conventionalism. The passing of the $787 billion stimulus bill and subsequently the $410 billion omnibus spending bill loaded with earmarks confirms the status quo in Washington.

The pet projects, however meritorious they might be, cannot be more important than supplementing K-12 educational funding by retaining qualified teaching professionals and providing after school sports activities for students from lower income families and scores of other important social services for the constituents in California and other states.

It is obvious throughout the legislative process from the authorization of illegal invasion of Iraq war to Wall Street bailouts that lawmakers as representatives of the electorate in a democracy no longer consider it important to peruse the budget and other legislative bills because of the voluminous content. Hence, hastily resort to wasteful spending at taxpayers’ expense.

With the national debt projection in multi-trillion dollars, the wasteful spending in billions doesn’t seem to matter to the sponsors of the pet projects. Apparently, $8 billion added to the national debt for projects experimenting swine odor, road to nowhere, monuments ‘supposedly creating jobs’ when the industries are crumbling apart clearly signifies misplaced priorities by the legislators expected to be in touch with reality of their respective constituency.

The people are hurting and their mere existence is challenged by the hour while Washington and Wall Street continue to engage the nation in burgeoning financial crisis through legal and constitutional confrontations of the bailout débācle.

Perhaps it is time for the victims and the lame duck, the average taxpayers to rise to the occasion and execute power in the mid-term election to restore democratic values, ethical and moral standards desperately lacking in the corporate and political system.

It is best to eradicate the narcissistic culture that permeates the surroundings like weeds destroying the grassland and fertile grounds.

Evidently change is necessary and necessity is the mother of invention.

Thank you.

Padmini Arhant