Bank robber says bank bailouts justify abrupt withdrawal

San Francisco police investigators are seeking the public’s help in tracking down a suspect who walked into a downtown bank, explained that he was fed up with corporate bailouts and threatened to detonate a bomb.

The manager escorted the man to a private room, where the suspect explained that he was employed by an organization that is concerned about U.S. government bailouts of corporations. … The money, the suspect explained, "would go to people who deserve it."

Can you steal your own money? Can a legal defense be built around the idea that it wasn’t a bank robbery but actually as "taxpayer repossession"?

Chances are someone will try it soon – bank robberies are definitely on the rise. They jumped 19.5% during the fourth quarter of 2008 over the previous quarter.

The whistling at the financial graveyard grows increasingly repetitive

This brilliant post is entirely from the great blog Financial Armageddon

These days, lots of people seem to be reading from the same script:

"CBI Says Worst of British Recession Over" (Reuters)
"China’s Premier Says Economy Better than Expected" (Associated Press)

"Dubai’s Ruler Says the Worst Is Over" (Financial Times)

"U.S. Officials Suggest Worst of Recession Is Over" (Reuters)

"Italy Employers See Signs Worst Over in Crisis" (Reuters)

"Worst Over? Just Maybe" (Associated Press)

"’Worst Is Over; India to Be on Recovery Path in 2-3 Quarters’" (Business Line)

"US Hopes the Worst Is Over" (The National)

Hmmm, those words sound awfully familiar…ah, yes, now I remember:

"Lehman CEO Says Worst Is Over, Yet Troubles Ahead" (Reuters)

"Bear Stearns Says Worst Is Over After Writedown" (CNBC)

"Citigroup Chief Says Worst of Crisis Is Over" (Evening Standard, May 7, 2008)

"Legg Mason’s Miller Sees Recovery for Stocks; ‘Worst Is Behind Us,’ Famed Fund Manager Tells Beleaguered Shareholders" (MarketWatch, April 23, 2008)

"Is the Worst Over for Detroit?" (SmartMoney, July 18, 2005)

A brilliant and simple guide to how we are being lied to about the meltdown

First appeared at BlownMortgage.com

There has been a deliberately high signal-to-noise-ratio ("the ratio of a signal power to the noise power corrupting the signal") around the financial fiasco. The reason for this is the same reason that a magician does patter — to divert your attention from the sleight-of-hand.

We have heard long explanations about how no one could have seen this coming and how we can’t fire the people who got us into this mess to get us out of it and how we are going to borrow our way out of a debt crisis and how the value of loans shouldn’t reflect actual market conditions when the market is a mess. All of which can be translated to, "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

I am not sure if this rises to the exact level of a conspiracy or if it just coinciding self-interest by people who stand to lose a lot of money if that curtain is pulled back. I am sure that the effect is the same as a conspiracy.

However, Bill Black thinks it’s a conspiracy and that’s good enough for me. In an interview on Bill Moyer’s show Mr. Black — the senior regulator during the S&L crisis & now a prof of economy and law at U. of Missouri — applies a brilliantly sharp Occam’s Razor to the entire fiasco. In less than half-an-hour he explains what went wrong, why and why what we’re doing won’t work. This is a truly bipartisan dissection. Watch it and learn.

My favorite part is his conclusion (transcript here):

So stop that current system. We’re hiding the losses, instead of trying to find out the real losses. Stop that, because you need good information to make good decisions, right? Follow what works instead of what’s failed. Start appointing people who have records of success, instead of records of failure. That would be another nice place to start. There are lots of things we can do. Even today, as late as it is. Even though they’ve had a terrible start to the administration. They could change, and they could change within weeks. And by the way, the folks who are the better regulators, they paid their taxes. So, you can get them through the vetting process a lot quicker.

(Hat tip to Infectious Greed, Financial Armageddon, and Washington’s Blog)

Here’s part 1 of the interview, go here for part 2 and here for part 3.

"The tragedy of this crisis is that it didn’t have to happen at all." — William Black

AIG claims it is paying bonuses to retain “best and brightest talent”

“We cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest talent to lead and staff the A.I.G. businesses — which are now being operated principally on behalf of American taxpayers — if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury.” — Edward M. Liddy, government-appointed chairman of A.I.G.

Congrats to Mr. Liddy for calling the people in question “the best and the brightest” – a description famously applied to the folks who got us into Vietnam.

And what would these folks be talented at? While getting someone else to pay for bankrupting a company is quite a talent it’s not one to reward.

Lawyers at both the Treasury Department and AIG have concluded that the firm would risk a lawsuit if it scrapped the retention payments at the AIG Financial Products subsidiary, whose troublesome derivative trading nearly sank AIG. The company promised before the government started bailing out the firm in September that employees would be awarded more than $400 million in retention pay this year and next.

Which is worse – losing a lawsuit or needing around-the-clock security for all your senior executives? I’m pretty sure the phrase “hanging is too good for them” is echoing around a lot of people’s minds right now.

BTW, the $165M in bonuses is in addition to a previously scheduled $121M:

The payments to A.I.G.’s financial products unit are in addition to $121 million in previously scheduled bonuses for the company’s senior executives and 6,400 employees across the sprawling corporation. Mr. Geithner last week pressured A.I.G. to cut the $9.6 million going to the top 50 executives in half and tie the rest to performance.

Yep, more than a quarter of a billion bucks being paid to the folks who put the I in incompetent.

To quote Mr. Mencken: “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

UPDATE:

In New Terror Video, AIG Demands Huge Ransom from U.S.

Shadowy Group Seeks Bonuses, Golf Retreats

How broken is the banking system?

My latest from over at BlownMortgage:

The most important number not included in Mr. Geithner’s bailout plan has nothing to do with who gets how much. That is all just fine-tuning and clearly not a number Geithner & Co. have figured out yet. (Why release a plan before you have figured that out? I dunno either.) The most important number not included in the bailout plan is one he knows and isn’t telling: How big is the problem? … (more)

GM argument against bankruptcy is a car wreck

The astoundingly badly run car maker says it won’t declare chapter 11 because “people won’t buy cars from a bankrupt company.” Given that GM’s sales have dropped 45 percent over the last year, how would this be any different from the current situation?

Not surprisingly the “it’s not our fault” argument is echoed by UAW President Ron Gettelfinger: “We’re here not because of what the auto industry has done. We’re here because of what has happened to the economy.”

This would be more believable if GM had been doing well before the credit markets went to hell. Let’s remember that we’re talking about GM here and what it’s track record is like. This is a company that even when it gets a good idea goes out of its way to kill it.

Quoth this great article from the WSJ:

This situation doesn’t stem from the recent meltdown in banking and the markets. GM, Ford and Chrysler have been losing billions since 2005, when the U.S. economy was still healthy. The financial crisis does, however, greatly exacerbate Detroit’s woes. As car sales plunge — both in the U.S. and in Detroit’s once-booming overseas markets — it’s becoming nearly impossible for the companies to cut costs fast enough to keep pace with the evaporation of their revenue.

In all this lies a tale of hubris, missed opportunities, disastrous decisions and flawed leadership of almost biblical proportions. In fact, for the last 30 years Detroit has gone astray, repented, gone astray and repented again in a cycle not unlike the Israelites in the Book of Exodus.

Remember Saturn? GM started an authentically different company that attained a beloved cult-like status and then all but killed it by not letting it put out new models. Don’t even get me started about the electric car and where the company would be today if they’d kept developing that program they killed after putting $1 billion into it. And then there’s the decades of lobbying against improving mileage standards that — had they been in effect — would have also saved their asses.

GM is also arguing that it’s basically under new management and that the guys who made all those stupid decisions have been replaced. Even if this is true, then let’s hold them accountable for the stupidity just since Rick Waggoner became CEO. For the last seven years their strategy has been, “we’re going to bet it all on the short-term profits to be made from SUVs.” Thus they launched Hummer et al. I’m supposed to trust a bunch of guys who couldn’t figure out that the price of gas fluctuates? Who couldn’t figure out that there was a difference between short-term profits and long-term viability?

Let’s make one thing clear — the term “US automakers” is a misnomer. When someone says they want to “bailout the US automakers” they really mean GM. Ford has said repeatedly that they have enough credit to get through and Chrysler is no more or less a US company than Honda or Toyota. The Big Three is in fact the Incompetent One.

Wait, I will bow to the Journal on this one: they’re going with “The Detroit Three” and that works for me.

Nothing happens until the new prez takes over. Good or bad?

My latest from BlownMortgage:

In a time of economic crisis, where every moment brings more bad/alarming news, what does it mean that the government is essentially in a holding pattern for the next two months?

Many people are concerned this will mean a continuation of the Paulson strategy of throwing good money after bad. (”Am I the only one worried that by the time Obama is sworn in on January 20th, the Paulson Treasury will have run through almost a trillion dollars to little or no effect?“) Currently there are attempts to qualify GM as a bank so it can get a cut of the bailout money (LOL!!!). A similar request by GE makes more sense to me because GE is a well-run company. Several large cities are also making requests for funds. Personally, I’d give funds to Wasilla before I’d hand a dime to GM.

Still others think that Paulson and the Congress will take this moment to do nothing — and that’s a good thing. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe thinks this is such a good thing that he wants to legislate a freeze on the remaining bailout cash. (Inhofe’s willingness to rip Paulson a new one is a great indicator of how the Bushies are closer to dead-duck instead of merely being lame: Senator Inhofe suggests Paulson “may have given the [bailout] money to his friends.”)

There’s more where that came from…

Scariest halloween costume ever?

CollateralDamage Jr. went out like this on Friday. The reaction was the same everywhere — a very rueful chuckle.

Hello, treasury department.

Hello, treasury department.

OMG

OMG

PS: It was all his idea.

Here are the key housing bailout questions no one is asking

Another one from BlownMortgage.com:

Here’s a heretical notion: How much CEOs get from the bailout doesn’t matter. It’s a smokescreen, red meat being tossed to the public to make it seem as though the bad guys won’t get away scott-free.

While limits on pay packages for executives whose firms seek assistance from the government will be part of the whatever settlement gets reached, it will have no real impact on the bailout. But it will give the politicians something to beat their chests about and say that they have stood up to Big Business.

Click on the link to read the rest.

The kind of forward thinking people we want working on this problem

“These two entities — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — are not facing any kind of financial crisis. The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.” —  Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, September, 2003. Frank is now the chair of House Financial Services Committee.

Frank spoke against a Bush administration plan to create an agency to oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The proposed agency would have had the authority “to set one of the two capital-reserve requirements for the companies. It would exercise authority over any new lines of business. And it would determine whether the two are adequately managing the risks of their ballooning portfolios.”

A simple guide to making sense of the financial mess

This subprime primer was forwarded by my pal Dauber. It is incredibly accurate. If you haven’t yet received it via email you can find the entire thing at BusinessPundit or drop me a line and I’ll send you the powerpoint stack. I haven’t found out who did it, but he/she/they is/are a genius (s).

Congress doesn’t even want to fiddle while Rome burns

I’ve got a gig as a guest blogger over at BlownMortgage.com. Here’s the start of my first post:

Every news story about the bailout makes it sound as if Friday is some sort of do-or-die deadline. It’s not. It is just the day Congress wanted to adjourn so they could get home and do some campaigning. Given the magnitude of the crisis and the size of the pig in this particular poke, it’s time for Congress to get its priorities in order. If ever there was a piece of legislation that needed to be carefully considered, this is it.

Click above to read more.

This is truly a bipartisan issue. Regardless of your political affiliation I urge you to do what I have already done and call your rep, senators and the Speaker of the House about this.

Do I think calling these people will make any difference? No idea. I take the approach of the baseball manager who was asked why he argued with the ump. “It’s all I can do.”

Some days there is no joy in “I told you so.”

As I mentioned Friday:

Today the early headlines say Stocks soar at opening after gov’t rescue plan. Forgive me for thinking the markets are indulging in some irrational exuberance. We’ve seen this sort of response before. This is from the Wall Street Journal on March 19: Stocks and commodities plummeted on Wednesday as the euphoria that carried equity markets to massive gains a day earlier gave way to nervousness that the broader U.S. economy hasn’t yet escaped the dangers of the credit crisis.

At the close today: Anxious Investors Push Dow Down 372 Points

I’d be more impressed in my precognitive abilities except this was about as hard to predict as what happens when a ball rolls off the side of a table.

It’s never a good feeling when you’re really hoping you’re wrong.

Shanty towns and bank runs: recession may be the optimist’s outcome

Before the fiddlers have fled
Before they ask us to pay the bill
And while we still
Have the chance
Let’s face the music and dance

Last March, the BBC ran a story about shanty towns springing up in the US.

At the time BoingBoing and those few others who saw it asked why we were learning about this from the UK media and not from the US media. Now, a scant six months later, the US press has paused from parsing porcine lipstick and noticed.

The relatively tony city of Santa Barbara has given over a parking lot to people who sleep in cars and vans. The city of Fresno, Calif., is trying to manage several proliferating tent cities, including an encampment where people have made shelters out of scrap wood. In Portland, Ore., and Seattle, homeless advocacy groups have paired with nonprofits or faith-based groups to manage tent cities as outdoor shelters. Other cities where tent cities have either appeared or expanded include include Chattanooga, Tenn., San Diego, and Columbus, Ohio.

We’ve already had a bank run in the classic sense and one updated for today’s world: Yesterday’s announcement that Putnam was liquidating a “$12bn prime money market fund because of a spike in redemption requests from clients.” Just because they have the money to cover this — as it appears they eventually will — doesn’t make it any less of a run.

Today the early headlines say Stocks soar at opening after gov’t rescue plan. Forgive me for thinking the markets are indulging in some irrational exuberance. We’ve seen this sort of response before. This is from the Wall Street Journal on March 19:

Stocks and commodities plummeted on Wednesday as the euphoria that carried equity markets to massive gains a day earlier gave way to nervousness that the broader U.S. economy hasn’t yet escaped the dangers of the credit crisis.

At some point we are going to see a huge impact from the Fed’s determination to once again deal with another issue by printing more money. Some commentators say this will simply mean an explosion in the size of the national debt. I wish that was all. The current crisis was created by pumping increasing amounts of money and credit into the economy, it is beyond me to understand why doing more of this will help fix it.  You know what they call it when you keep repeating the same behavior and expect different results, right?

I am not smart enough to determine if we are about to hit a period of inflation or deflation but I know something is going to happen and will keep happening until all the difference between the amount loaned and the actual value of assets comes into balance. (If you’re a debtor start rooting for deflation — it means any money you do use to pay off a debt will be worth less than the money you originally borrowed. A net gain, if not a happy one.)

As the year has gone along, I’ve tagged a number of items under Recession? What Recession? I can’t say they make for happy reading:

In March, when the BBC ran that shanty town story, it still seemed possible to have a reasonable disagreement over whether or not we were in a recession. Now the D word is in play. Soon we will be hearing that we are not in a depression and that we are trying to avert one. That is becoming the economic equivalent of promising to have the troops home by Christmas. As soon as you hear it, you know it’s a lot worse than anyone is willing to say.

The leading indicator of the “we are not in a Depression” meme came last week when Alan Greenspan — who is mostly responsible for the crisis — tried to put lipstick on this pig by saying, “First of all, let’s recognize that this is a once-in-a-half-century, probably once-in-a-century type of event.” Given that the Mississippi river keeps getting hit by floods that were once described as “once in a century” events, this is not a heartening phrase. Another troubling indicator is that the folks who decided what’s in the Dow Jones Industrial Average have replaced the now defunct AIG with Kraft. I suspect the real problem with leaving AIG is that it would have made the Dow actually reflect the economy.

Someone once asked Tom Lehrer why he stopped writing those wonderful, witty songs about the news. Having turned out anthems on topics from pollution to nuclear proliferation, Lehrer said he had begun to feel like a citizen of Pompeii being asked to say funny things about lava. Without having matched Mr. Lehrer’s accomplishments, I can certainly empathize. I have been saying for the last seven years that the real problem with the Bush administration is that it took all the fun out of being able to say “I told you so.” Unlike Mr. L, I refuse to leave the scene — especially when we are in such a target rich environment.

There may be trouble ahead
But while there’s moonlight and music
And love and romance
Let’s face the music and dance

While many people have recorded this song — but not Roxxy Music, for some reason — I still prefer the original by Fred Astaire. It’s on the soundtrack to Follow The Fleet. A happy little musical by Irving Berlin that was made into a movie in 1936.