Paul Craig Roberts: Without A Revolution, Americans Are History
(1) Paul Craig Roberts: Without A Revolution, Americans Are History
(2) Washington And Wall Street Depending On Deceptive Economic Statistics
(3) Homeowners' Rebellion: Could 62 Million Homes Be Foreclosure-Proof? - Ellen Brown
(1) Paul Craig Roberts: Without A Revolution, Americans Are History
Without A Revolution, Americans Are History
By Paul Craig Roberts – VDARE.Com
August 16, 2010
The United States is running out of time to get its budget and trade deficits under control. Despite the urgency of the situation, 2010 has been wasted in hype about a non-existent recovery. As recently as August 2 Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner penned a New York Times Column, Welcome to the Recovery.
As John Williams (shadowstats.com) has made clear on many occasions, an appearance of recovery was created by over-counting employment and undercounting inflation. Warnings by Williams, Gerald Celente, and myself have gone unheeded, but our warnings recently had echoes from Boston University professor Laurence Kotlikoff and from David Stockman, who excoriated the Republican Party for becoming big-spending Democrats.
It is encouraging to see a bit of realization that, this time, Washington cannot spend the economy out of recession. The deficits are already too large for the dollar to survive as reserve currency, and deficit spending cannot put Americans back to work in jobs that have been moved offshore.
However, the solutions offered by those who are beginning to recognize that there is a problem are discouraging. Kotlikoff thinks the solution is massive Social Security and Medicare cuts or massive tax increases or hyperinflation to destroy the massive debts.
Perhaps economists lack imagination, or perhaps they don’t want to be cut off from Wall Street and corporate subsidies, but Social Security and Medicare are insufficient at their present levels, especially considering the erosion of private pensions by the dot com, derivative and real estate bubbles. Cuts in Social Security and Medicare, for which people have paid 15% of their earnings all their life, would result in starvation and deaths from curable diseases.
Tax increases make even less sense. It is widely acknowledged that the majority of households cannot survive on one job. Both husband and wife work and often one of the partners has two jobs in order to make ends meet. Raising taxes makes it harder to make ends meet—thus more foreclosures, more food stamps, more homelessness. What kind of economist or humane person thinks this is a solution?
Ah, but we will tax the rich. The usual idiocy. The rich have enough money. They will simply stop earning.
Let’s get real. Here is what the government is likely to do. Once the Washington idiots realize that the dollar is at risk and that they can no longer finance their wars by borrowing abroad, the government will either levy a tax on private pensions on the grounds that the pensions have accumulated tax-deferred, or the government will require pension fund managers to purchase Treasury debt with our pensions. This will buy the government a bit more time while pension accounts are loaded up with worthless paper.
The last Bush budget deficit (2008) was in the $400-500 billion range, about the size of the Chinese, Japanese, and OPEC trade surpluses with the US. Traditionally, these trade surpluses have been recycled to the US and finance the federal budget deficit. In 2009 and 2010 the federal deficit jumped to $1,400 billion, a back-to-back trillion dollar increase. There are not sufficient trade surpluses to finance a deficit this large. From where comes the money?
The answer is from individuals fleeing the stock market into “safe” Treasury bonds and from the bankster bailout, not so much the TARP money as the Federal Reserve’s exchange of bank reserves for questionable financial paper such as subprime derivatives. The banks used their excess reserves to purchase Treasury debt.
These financing maneuvers are one-time tricks. Once people have fled stocks, that movement into Treasuries is over. The opposition to the bankster bailout likely precludes another. So where does the money come from the next time?
The Treasury was able to unload a lot of debt thanks to “the Greek crisis,” which the New York banksters and hedge funds multiplied into “the euro crisis.” The financial press served as a financing arm for the US Treasury by creating panic about European debt and the euro. Central banks and individuals who had taken refuge from the dollar in euros were panicked out of their euros, and they rushed into dollars by purchasing US Treasury debt.
This movement from euros to dollars weakened the alternative reserve currency to the dollar, halted the dollar’s decline, and financed the massive US budget deficit a while longer.
Possibly the game can be replayed with Spanish debt, Irish debt, and whatever unlucky country swept in by the thoughtless expansion of the European Union.
But when no countries remain that can be destabilized by Wall Street investment banksters and hedge funds, what then finances the US budget deficit?
The only remaining financier is the Federal Reserve. When Treasury bonds brought to auction do not sell, the Federal Reserve must purchase them. The Federal Reserve purchases the bonds by creating new demand deposits, or checking accounts, for the Treasury. As the Treasury spends the proceeds of the new debt sales, the US money supply expands by the amount of the Federal Reserve’s purchase of Treasury debt.
Do goods and services expand by the same amount? Imports will increase as US jobs have been offshored and given to foreigners, thus worsening the trade deficit. When the Federal Reserve purchases the Treasury’s new debt issues, the money supply will increase by more than the supply of domestically produced goods and services. Prices are likely to rise.
How high will they rise? The longer money is created in order that government can pay its bills, the more likely hyperinflation will be the result.
The economy has not recovered. By the end of this year it will be obvious that the collapsing economy means a larger than $1.4 trillion budget deficit to finance. Will it be $2 trillion? Higher?
Whatever the size, the rest of the world will see that the dollar is being printed in such quantities that it cannot serve as reserve currency. At that point wholesale dumping of dollars will result as foreign central banks try to unload a worthless currency.
The collapse of the dollar will drive up the prices of imports and offshored goods on which Americans are dependent. Wal-Mart shoppers will think they have mistakenly gone into Neiman Marcus.
Domestic prices will also explode as a growing money supply chases the supply of goods and services still made in America by Americans.
The dollar as reserve currency cannot survive the conflagration. When the dollar goes the US cannot finance its trade deficit. Therefore, imports will fall sharply, thus adding to domestic inflation and, as the US is energy import-dependent, there will be transportation disruptions that will disrupt work and grocery store deliveries.
Panic will be the order of the day.
Will farms will be raided? Will those trapped in cities resort to riots and looting?
Is this the likely future that “our” government and “our patriotic” corporations have created for us?
To borrow from Lenin, “What can be done?”
Here is what can be done. The wars, which benefit no one but the military-security complex and Israel’s territorial expansion, can be immediately ended. This would reduce the US budget deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars per year. More hundreds of billions of dollars could be saved by cutting the rest of the military budget, which in its present size, exceeds the budgets of all the serious military powers on earth combined.
US military spending reflects the unaffordable and unattainable crazed neoconservative goal of US Empire and world hegemony. What fool in Washington thinks that China is going to finance US hegemony over China?
The only way that the US will again have an economy is by bringing back the offshored jobs. The loss of these jobs impoverished Americans while producing over-sized gains for Wall Street, shareholders, and corporate executives. These jobs can be brought home where they belong by taxing corporations according to where value is added to their product. If value is added to their goods and services in China, corporations would have a high tax rate. If value is added to their goods and services in the US, corporations would have a low tax rate.
This change in corporate taxation would offset the cheap foreign labor that has sucked jobs out of America, and it would rebuild the ladders of upward mobility that made America an opportunity society.
If the wars are not immediately stopped and the jobs brought back to America, the US is relegated to the trash bin of history.
Obviously, the corporations and Wall Street would use their financial power and campaign contributions to block any legislation that would reduce short-term earnings and bonuses by bringing jobs back to Americans. Americans have no greater enemies than Wall Street and the corporations and their prostitutes in Congress and the White House.
The neocons allied with Israel, who control both parties and much of the media, are strung out on the ecstasy of Empire.
The United States and the welfare of its 300 million people cannot be restored unless the neocons, Wall Street, the corporations, and their servile slaves in Congress and the White House can be defeated.
Without a revolution, Americans are history.
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagan’s first term. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Mitterrand. He is the author of Supply-Side Revolution : An Insider’s Account of Policymaking in Washington; Alienation and the Soviet Economy and Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy, and is the co-author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice. Click here for Peter Brimelow’s Forbes Magazine interview with Roberts about the recent epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct.
(2) Washington And Wall Street Depending On Deceptive Economic Statistics
By Paul Craig Roberts
August 17, 2010
On August 17, Bloomberg reported a US government release that industrial production rose twice as much as forecast, climbing 1 percent. Bloomberg interpreted this to mean that "increased business investment is propelling the gains in manufacturing, which accounts for 11 percent of the world’s largest economy."
The stock market rose.
Let’s look at this through the lens of statistician John Williams of shadowstats.com.
Williams reports that "the primary driver of a 1.0% monthly gain in seasonally-adjusted July industrial production" was "warped seasonal factors" caused by "the irregular patterns in U.S. auto production in the last two years." Industrial production "shrank by 1.0% before seasonal adjustments."
If the government and Bloomberg had announced that industrial production fell by 1.0% in July, would the stock market have risen 104 points on August 17?
Notice that Bloomberg reports that manufacturing accounts for 11 percent of the US economy. I remember when manufacturing accounted for 18% of the US economy. The decline of 39% is due to jobs offshoring.
Think about that. Wall Street and shareholders and executives of transnational corporations have made billions by moving 39% of US manufacturing offshore to boost the GDP and employment of foreign countries, such as China, while impoverishing their former American work force. Congress and the economics profession have cheered this on as "the New Economy."
Bought-and-paid-for-economists told us that "the new economy" would make us all rich, and so did the financial press. We were well rid, they claimed, of the "old" industries and manufactures, the departure of which destroyed the tax base of so many American cities and states and the livelihood of millions of Americans.
The bought-and-paid-for-economists got all the media forums for a decade. While they lied, the US economy died.
Now, back to statistical deception. On August 17 the Census Bureau reported a small gain in July 2010 residential construction housing starts.
More hope orchestrated. In fact, the "gain", as John Williams reports, was due to a large downward revision in June’s reporting. The reported July "gain" would "have been a contraction" without the downward revision in June’s "gain."
So, the overestimate of June housing not only made June look good, but also the downward correction of the June number makes July look good, because starts rose above the corrected June number. The same manipulation is likely to happen again next month.
If the government will lie to you about Iraqi weapons of mass production, Iranian nukes, and 9/11, why won’t they lie to you about the economy?
We now have an all-time high of Americans on food stamps, 40.8 million people, about 14% of the population. By next year the government estimates that food stamp dependency will rise to 43 million Americans. So last week Congress cut food stamp benefits. Let them eat cake.
Wherever one looks--food stamps, home foreclosures, bankrupted states, mounting joblessness, the message to long-suffering Americans from "their government" is the same: go eat cake, while we fight wars for Israel that enrich the military/security complex and while we bail out banksters whose annual incomes are in the tens of millions of dollars and up.
It is impossible to get any truth out of the US government about anything. If private companies used US government accounting, the executives would be prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated.
"Our government" is committed to fighting wars to enrich the military/security complex and Israel’s territorial expansion at the expense of cuts in Social Security and Medicare.
All most members of Congress, especially Republicans, want to do is to pay for the pointless wars by cutting Social Security and Medicare.
When they worry about the deficit, it is usually Social Security and Medicare--so-called "entitlements" that are in the crosshairs.
You don’t have to be smart to see that Wall Street’s and the government’s response to the amazing US budget deficit is not to stop the senseless wars and bailouts of mega-millionaires, but to cut "entitlements."
I will end this column on unemployment. "Our government" tells us that the unemployment rate is just under 10 percent, a figure that would have wrecked any post-Great Depression administration. But, again, "our government" is lying. The reported unemployment rate is just below 10% because the US government no longer, since the corrupt Clinton administration, counts Americans who have been unemployed for longer than one year. Once the unemployed hit one year and one day, they are dropped from the unemployment roles and no longer counted as unemployed.
Compare this fact with the number you read from the financial press. Right now, if measured according to the methodology of 1980, the US unemployment rate is about 22%. Thus, the reported rate of unemployment hides more than half of the unemployed.
And Secretary Treasury Tim Geithner welcomed us in the August 2 New York Times to "the recovery."
(3) Homeowners' Rebellion: Could 62 Million Homes Be Foreclosure-Proof? - Ellen Brown
From: Ellen Brown <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: 19.08.2010 02:48 PM
Homeowners' Rebellion: Could 62 Million Homes Be Foreclosure-Proof?
The financial juggling that helped cause the 2008 crisis may be coming back to haunt banks—and help homeowners.
by Ellen Brown
posted Aug 18, 2010
Over 62 million mortgages are now held in the name of MERS, an electronic recording system devised by and for the convenience of the mortgage industry. A California bankruptcy court, following landmark cases in other jurisdictions, recently held that this electronic shortcut makes it impossible for banks to establish their ownership of property titles—and therefore to foreclose on mortgaged properties. The logical result could be 62 million homes that are foreclosure-proof.
Mortgages bundled into securities were a favorite investment of speculators at the height of the financial bubble leading up to the crash of 2008. The securities changed hands frequently, and the companies profiting from mortgage payments were often not the same parties that negotiated the loans. At the heart of this disconnect was the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or MERS, a company that serves as the mortgagee of record for lenders, allowing properties to change hands without the necessity of recording each transfer.
A committed homeowner movement to tear off the predatory mask called MERS could yet turn the tide.
MERS was convenient for the mortgage industry, but courts are now questioning the impact of all of this financial juggling when it comes to mortgage ownership. To foreclose on real property, the plaintiff must be able to establish the chain of title entitling it to relief. But MERS has acknowledged, and recent cases have held, that MERS is a mere “nominee”—an entity appointed by the true owner simply for the purpose of holding property in order to facilitate transactions. Recent court opinions stress that this defect is not just a procedural but is a substantive failure, one that is fatal to the plaintiff’s legal ability to foreclose.
That means hordes of victims of predatory lending could end up owning their homes free and clear—while the financial industry could end up skewered on its own sword.
The latest of these court decisions came down in California on May 20, 2010, in a bankruptcy case called In re Walker, Case no. 10-21656-E–11. The court held that MERS could not foreclose because it was a mere nominee; and that as a result, plaintiff Citibank could not collect on its claim. The judge opined:
Since no evidence of MERS’ ownership of the underlying note has been offered, and other courts have concluded that MERS does not own the underlying notes, this court is convinced that MERS had no interest it could transfer to Citibank. Since MERS did not own the underlying note, it could not transfer the beneficial interest of the Deed of Trust to another. Any attempt to transfer the beneficial interest of a trust deed without ownership of the underlying note is void under California law.
In support, the judge cited In Re Vargas (California Bankruptcy Court); Landmark v. Kesler (Kansas Supreme Court); LaSalle Bank v. Lamy (a New York case); and In Re Foreclosure Cases (the “Boyko” decision from Ohio Federal Court). (For more on these earlier cases, see here, here and here.) The court concluded:
Since the claimant, Citibank, has not established that it is the owner of the promissory note secured by the trust deed, Citibank is unable to assert a claim for payment in this case.
The broad impact the case could have on California foreclosures is suggested by attorney Jeff Barnes, who writes:
This opinion . . . serves as a legal basis to challenge any foreclosure in California based on a MERS assignment; to seek to void any MERS assignment of the Deed of Trust or the note to a third party for purposes of foreclosure; and should be sufficient for a borrower to not only obtain a TRO [temporary restraining order] against a Trustee’s Sale, but also a Preliminary Injunction barring any sale pending any litigation filed by the borrower challenging a foreclosure based on a MERS assignment.
While not binding on courts in other jurisdictions, the ruling could serve as persuasive precedent there as well, because the court cited non-bankruptcy cases related to the lack of authority of MERS, and because the opinion is consistent with prior rulings in Idaho and Nevada Bankruptcy courts on the same issue.
What Could This Mean for Homeowners?
Earlier cases focused on the inability of MERS to produce a promissory note or assignment establishing that it was entitled to relief, but most courts have considered this a mere procedural defect and continue to look the other way on MERS’ technical lack of standing to sue. The more recent cases, however, are looking at something more serious. If MERS is not the title holder of properties held in its name, the chain of title has been broken, and no one may have standing to sue. In MERS v. Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance, MERS insisted that it had no actionable interest in title, and the court agreed.
An August 2010 article in Mother Jones titled “Fannie and Freddie’s Foreclosure Barons” exposes a widespread practice of “foreclosure mills” in backdating assignments after foreclosures have been filed. Not only is this perjury, a prosecutable offense, but if MERS was never the title holder, there is nothing to assign. The defaulting homeowners could wind up with free and clear title.
In Jacksonville, Florida, legal aid attorney April Charney has been using the missing-note argument ever since she first identified that weakness in the lenders’ case in 2004. Five years later, she says, some of the homeowners she’s helped are still in their homes. According to a Huffington Post article titled “‘Produce the Note’ Movement Helps Stall Foreclosures”:
Because of the missing ownership documentation, Charney is now starting to file quiet title actions, hoping to get her homeowner clients full title to their homes (a quiet title action ‘quiets’ all other claims). Charney says she’s helped thousands of homeowners delay or prevent foreclosure, and trained thousands of lawyers across the country on how to protect homeowners and battle in court.
"MERS was and is used in a way so that the average consumer, or even legal professional, can never determine who or what was or is ultimately receiving the benefits of any mortgage payments."
Other suits go beyond merely challenging title to alleging criminal activity. On July 26, 2010, a class action was filed in Florida seeking relief against MERS and an associated legal firm for racketeering and mail fraud. It alleges that the defendants used “the artifice of MERS to sabotage the judicial process to the detriment of borrowers;” that “to perpetuate the scheme, MERS was and is used in a way so that the average consumer, or even legal professional, can never determine who or what was or is ultimately receiving the benefits of any mortgage payments;” that the scheme depended on “the MERS artifice and the ability to generate any necessary ‘assignment’ which flowed from it;” and that “by engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity, specifically ‘mail or wire fraud,’ the Defendants . . . participated in a criminal enterprise affecting interstate commerce.”
Local governments deprived of filing fees may also be getting into the act, at least through representatives suing on their behalf. Qui tam actions allow for a private party or “whistle blower” to bring suit on behalf of the government for a past or present fraud on it. In State of California ex rel. Barrett R. Bates, filed May 10, 2010, the plaintiff qui tam sued on behalf of a long list of local governments in California against MERS and a number of lenders, including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, for “wrongfully bypass[ing] the counties’ recording requirements; divest[ing] the borrowers of the right to know who owned the promissory note . . .; and record[ing] false documents to initiate and pursue non-judicial foreclosures, and to otherwise decrease or avoid payment of fees to the Counties and the Cities where the real estate is located.” The complaint notes that “MERS claims to have ‘saved’ at least $2.4 billion dollars in recording costs,” meaning it has helped avoid billions of dollars in fees otherwise accruing to local governments. The plaintiff sues for treble damages for all recording fees not paid during the past ten years, and for civil penalties of between $5,000 and $10,000 for each unpaid or underpaid recording fee and each false document recorded during that period, potentially a hefty sum. Similar suits have been filed by the same plaintiff qui tam in Nevada and Tennessee.
By Their Own Sword: MERS’ Role in the Financial Crisis
MERS is, according to its website, “an innovative process that simplifies the way mortgage ownership and servicing rights are originated, sold and tracked. Created by the real estate finance industry, MERS eliminates the need to prepare and record assignments when trading residential and commercial mortgage loans.” Or as Karl Denninger puts it, “MERS’ own website claims that it exists for the purpose of circumventing assignments and documenting ownership!”
Taking Financial Reform Into Our Own Hands
Why we can't let this financial reform bill be our only response to the economic crisis.
MERS was developed in the early 1990s by a number of financial entities, including Bank of America, Countrywide, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, allegedly to allow consumers to pay less for mortgage loans. That did not actually happen, but what MERS did allow was the securitization and shuffling around of mortgages behind a veil of anonymity. The result was not only to cheat local governments out of their recording fees but to defeat the purpose of the recording laws, which was to guarantee purchasers clean title. Worse, MERS facilitated an explosion of predatory lending in which lenders could not be held to account because they could not be identified, either by the preyed-upon borrowers or by the investors seduced into buying bundles of worthless mortgages. As alleged in a Nevada class action called Lopez vs. Executive Trustee Services, et al.:
Before MERS, it would not have been possible for mortgages with no market value . . . to be sold at a profit or collateralized and sold as mortgage-backed securities. Before MERS, it would not have been possible for the Defendant banks and AIG to conceal from government regulators the extent of risk of financial losses those entities faced from the predatory origination of residential loans and the fraudulent re-sale and securitization of those otherwise non-marketable loans. Before MERS, the actual beneficiary of every Deed of Trust on every parcel in the United States and the State of Nevada could be readily ascertained by merely reviewing the public records at the local recorder’s office where documents reflecting any ownership interest in real property are kept....
After MERS, . . . the servicing rights were transferred after the origination of the loan to an entity so large that communication with the servicer became difficult if not impossible .... The servicer was interested in only one thing – making a profit from the foreclosure of the borrower’s residence – so that the entire predatory cycle of fraudulent origination, resale, and securitization of yet another predatory loan could occur again. This is the legacy of MERS, and the entire scheme was predicated upon the fraudulent designation of MERS as the ‘beneficiary’ under millions of deeds of trust in Nevada and other states.
Axing the Bankers’ Money Tree
If courts overwhelmed with foreclosures decide to take up the cause, the result could be millions of struggling homeowners with the banks off their backs, and millions of homes no longer on the books of some too-big-to-fail banks. Without those assets, the banks could again be looking at bankruptcy. As was pointed out in a San Francisco Chronicle article by attorney Sean Olender following the October 2007 Boyko [pdf] decision:
The ticking time bomb in the U.S. banking system is not resetting subprime mortgage rates. The real problem is the contractual ability of investors in mortgage bonds to require banks to buy back the loans at face value if there was fraud in the origination process.
. . . The loans at issue dwarf the capital available at the largest U.S. banks combined, and investor lawsuits would raise stunning liability sufficient to cause even the largest U.S. banks to fail . . . .
Nationalization of these giant banks might be the next logical step—a step that some commentators said should have been taken in the first place. When the banking system of Sweden collapsed following a housing bubble in the 1990s, nationalization of the banks worked out very well for that country.
The Swedish banks were largely privatized again when they got back on their feet, but it might be a good idea to keep some banks as publicly-owned entities, on the model of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. For most of the 20th century it served as a “people’s bank,” making low interest loans to consumers and businesses through branches all over the country.
With the strengthened position of Wall Street following the 2008 bailout and the tepid 2010 banking reform bill, the U.S. is far from nationalizing its mega-banks now. But a committed homeowner movement to tear off the predatory mask called MERS could yet turn the tide. While courts are not likely to let 62 million homeowners off scot free, the defect in title created by MERS could give them significant new leverage at the bargaining table.
Ellen Brown wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Ellen developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles. In Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books, she shows how the Federal Reserve and "the money trust" have usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her websites are webofdebt.com, ellenbrown.com, and public-banking.com.