American oligarchy-2: The fraud on the American people

(For previous posts in this series, see here.)

Obama’s nominee to be chief performance officer, Nancy Killefer, had to withdraw her nomination following the revelation that she had a mere $946.69 lien on her property in 2005 for failure to pay taxes ($298 in unemployment compensation for household help, $48.69 in interest, and $600.00 in penalties.) This was a fairly trivial issue.

Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle had to also withdraw over the failure to pay a much larger amount of $140,000 in taxes but there was a faintly plausible case of ambiguity there. I was glad Daschle withdrew for a different reason, because he is completely enmeshed with all kinds of lobbying interests.

So why was Timothy Geithner able to beat his far more serious problems and become confirmed for the position of Treasury Secretary? Because Obama and the Democratic leadership wanted him badly enough, and so did the Republicans. Why? Because he will continue the practice of subordinating the interests of the US to the financial oligarchy. It is not hard to see why he was favored by Wall Street and thus secured his nomination fairly easily despite his tax problems.

This New York Times article relates how Geithner fought to protect the interests of the big banks during internal debates on how to handle the financial crisis. Economist Michael Hudson explains why the big Wall Street players wanted Geithner to succeed Paulson as Treasury Secretary. “[T]he Obama-Geithner recovery plan is basically an extension of the Bush-Paulson plan – yet more giveaways to financial insiders, with a view to concentrating the U.S. banking system into a cartel of just a few large banks.”

The recent plan adopted by Geithner has the government putting up at least 85% of the money to buy these mortgage-backed assets of dubious value, with private investors putting up just 15%. If the assets rise in value, the profits are split 50-50. If the assets lose value, however, the government bears the brunt of the losses. So Wall Street gets the upside and the taxpayer gets the downside. Economist Michael Hudson calls it a scam and explains why this plan was greeted with such enthusiasm by the banking sector.

Suppose a bank is sitting on a $10 million package of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) that was put together by, say, Countrywide out of junk mortgages. Given the high proportion of fraud (and a recent Fitch study found that every package it examined was rife with financial fraud), this package may be worth at most only $2 million as defaults loom on Alt-A “liars’ loan” mortgages and subprime mortgages where the mortgage brokers also have lied in filling out the forms for hapless borrowers or witting operators taking out mortgages at far more than properties were worth and pocketing the excess.

The bank now offers $3 million to buy back this mortgage. What the hell, the more they bid, the more they get from the government. So why not bid $5 million. (In practice, friendly banks may bid for each other’s junk CDOs.) The government – that is, the hapless FDIC – puts up 85 per cent of $5 million to buy this – namely, $4,250,000. The bank only needs to put up 15 per cent – namely, $750,000.

Here’s the rip-off as I see it. For an outlay of $750,000, the bank rids its books of a mortgage worth $2 million, for which it receives $4,250,000. It gets twice as much as the junk is worth.

The more the banks holding junk mortgages pay for this toxic waste, the more the government will pay as part of its 85 per cent. So the strategy is to overpay, overpay, and overpay. Paying 15 per cent is a small price to pay for getting the government to put in 85 per cent to take the most toxic waste off your books.

Another economist Dean Baker explains the real purpose of these plans. “Mr. Geithner wants to use taxpayer dollars to keep bankrupt banks in business. In effect, he wants to tax teachers, fire fighters, and Joe the Plumber to protect the wealth of the banks’ shareholders and to pay high salaries to their top executives.”

Others economists have voiced their concerns. In an interview with Bill Moyers, William K. Black, a professor of economics and law with the University of Missouri, alleges that a massive fraud is being perpetrated on the American taxpayer. As Raw Story summarizes:

In an explosive interview on PBS’ Bill Moyers Journal, William K. Black, a professor of economics and law with the University of Missouri, alleged that American banks and credit agencies conspired to create a system in which so-called “liars loans” could receive AAA ratings and zero oversight, amounting to a massive “fraud” at the epicenter of US finance.

But worse still, said Black, Timothy Geithner, President Barack Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury, is currently engaged in a cover-up to keep the truth of America’s financial insolvency from its citizens.

Black goes on to also describe other shenanigans.

Under Secretary Geithner and under Secretary Paulson before him… we took $5 billion dollars, for example, in U.S. taxpayer money. And sent it to a huge Swiss Bank called UBS. At the same time that that bank was defrauding the taxpayers of America. And we were bringing a criminal case against them. We eventually get them to pay a $780 million fine, but wait, we gave them $5 billion. So, the taxpayers of America paid the fine of a Swiss Bank. And why are we bailing out somebody who that is defrauding us?

The Bush administration and now the Obama administration kept secret from us what was being done with AIG. AIG was being used secretly to bail out favored banks like UBS and like Goldman Sachs. Secretary Paulson’s firm, that he had come from being CEO. It got the largest amount of money. $12.9 billion. And they didn’t want us to know that. And it was only Congressional pressure, and not Congressional pressure, by the way, on Geithner, but Congressional pressure on AIG.

Geithner is just the symbol of the oligarchy. Bill Moyers concludes, and Black agrees, “that people in power, political power, and financial power, act in concert when their own behinds are in the ringer.”

More on that in the next post.

POST SCRIPT: Our Goldman Sachs dominated oligarchy

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