House Financial Services Subcommittee Hearing


Here are high points of the Hearing I found interesting and some of my own thoughts. (Quotation marks are included where statements are actual quotes rather than the “sense” of what was said.)

BARNEY FRANK, Democrat & Financial Services Committee Chairman.   As major stockholders, the US Government should try to recoup $165 million in bonuses by filing  a lawsuit alleging “poor performance” on the part of  bonus recipients.  He also demanded the names of bonus recipients and updates when bonus recipients either return or refuse to return  bonus money. (Although New York’s Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is in receipt of these names, Liddy expressed a need to protect bonus recipients because of  deadly threats made against them and their families.)  (According to  the Center for Responsive Politics,  Frank received $202,548 in contributions from the Insurance Industry.)

OLYMPIA SNOW, (R) Maine.   Offered AIG bailout provisions which would have disallowed most of the oversized bonuses.  (Received $5,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.)

CHRISTOPHER  DODD, (D) Connecticut.  Snow’s amendment was (allegedly) struck by  Connecticut’s  Chris Dodd.  How he did it is unclear.  At first, he denied the act.  Subsequently,  he said  he received instructions from Treasury and/or The White House.  Regardless, striking the provision resulted in Congressional approval of bonus contracts entered into before February 11, 2009.  As a result,  165 million taxpayer dollars have been paid to architects of the debacle. Reportedly, Dodd received $852,556 from insurance lobbyists.  (Center for Responsive Politics)

STEPHEN LYNCH, Massachusetts:  “We amend  contracts all the time.  My auto workers were badgered and badgered….  These [AIG] guys lost billions of dollars  and still believe they’re entitled to these bonuses.” (Lynch  received $35,299 according to the Center for Responsive Politics)

PAUL KANJORSKI, Chairman, Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets (D-PA).   Admitted to knowing about the incipient bonus payments  two months  ago and  “warned Liddy that  paying the bonuses would be a  big mistake.”  “You [CEO Edward Liddy] should have told the bonus recipients to ‘sue us.'”  (Kanjorksi did not mention warning anyone else and according to the Center for Responsive Politics, received $345,548 in donations from the insurance industry.)

Joel Ario,  State of Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner and  Chairperson of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.  Ario believes that AIG’s toxic holdings could be walled off from its healthy funds-at-large.   (NB:  Therefore, the company at-large could survive if its sick subsidiaries were permitted to fail.) (Also see: [Funny] Side of the [Wall] Street:  Obamanomics.)

Neither the Government Accountability Office (GAO) nor the federal Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS)  have investigated whether AIG fraudulently misrepresented its health and wealth at the time it was creating “retention” and other bonus contracts  “to the tune of $400 + million  with the division that was bleeding to the tune of $40 billion.”

Another committee member asserted, [“The distribution of these bonuses] borders on fraud and criminality.”

According to Scott Polakoff of OTS, his agency knew the risk of the credit default swaps  in 2004 and did nothing to avert the collapse.  OTS did not close AIG’s toxic financial products division even though “the agency had a complete picture and oversight authority” to do so.  Polakoff further stated that “OTS had sufficient  expertise and personnel” but in effect, since Congress didn’t instruct OTS to review the  bonus contracts before AIG’s bailout was approved, the agency didn’t do the research.

Rodney  Clark of Standard & Poor’s (S & P) rating agency was asked,  “How can we depend on you and were mistakes made?”  Clark answered, “Hindsight being 20-20…, our conclusions [of AIG’s solvent value]  changed rapidly once the market started to collapse.  Market values are important as a guideline.  We could not understand  how quickly the value of mortgage backed securities would decline….  (NB:  On what basis, then,  did S & P  justify its AA-  rating until  September 15, 2008 if ?)  S & P hedged its bets. Ratings are based on current value and  give prospective investors a factual basis for predicting future performance.)  Clark  went on to say,   “In 2008, excluding  investment losses,  AIG would’ve been profitable.”

Really?  Does that mean S&P didn’t see the looming  losses or didn’t consider them relevant to the total value of the company?  (See: Ratings Agencies falsify reports or search CSPAN’s  archives for quotes from ratings agents who knew full-well that the mortgage-backed securities were toxic but provided healthy ratings because…that was the outcome corporations paid them to obtain.  (See:  previously-cited statement from Joel Ario.)

Edward LIDDY,  AIG insurance Chairman & CEO (temporarily appointed  in 2008 to detoxify AIG).   Prior to Mr. Liddy  taking his witness  seat,  he was stopped by  “pink lady demonstrators” who questioned him (in part) about  consequences to returning war veterans whose savings were invested  with AIG.  If he answered, it wasn’t televised.

He did tell us that the risk to AIG was unacceptably high if we did not pay the $165 million in bonuses. “It was my determination,” he said, “that AIG-FP would unravel if employees weren’t retained to wind down the projects they were working on.  Which they did.  They’ve reduced $2.7 trillion in toxic assets to $1.6 trillion.  It’s my intention to reduce those debts, sell AIG’s insurance companies and strengthen the healthy portions of our business.  If we don’t pay our debts, that triggers bankruptcy. I’ve asked AIG-FP (financial product) employees to return a portion  of the bonuses.   Believe me, I wouldn’t have approved the contracts if I’d been CEO  at the time they were  created.”

Liddy further asserted that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke acquiesced to the  payment of retention bonuses.

“We didn’t tell Congress because nobody told us to,” Liddy explained.  “We’re partners with the Federal Reserve. They participate in  activities leading up to board meetings and they attend board meetings. I asked if they had comments  or different points of view as far as bonuses and everything else.  The Federal Reserve  did  not  disagree with our assessment that AIG-FN was at risk of jeopardizing the monies already given if we didn’t pay the bonuses. We were told by our attorneys that the contracts were unbreakable.  I assumed they shared  with Treasury and Congress information they gained from us.  The Secretary of the treasury did not know we were going to make the [bonus] payments though the Federal Reserve did.  It’s  up to the Federal Reserve to  discuss”  salient issues with the Secretary of the Treasury.

Later,  Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said he didn’t know about the bonus contracts until two weeks ago.

Countering assertions of possible fraud, Liddy said he believes,  “AIG was solvent when the retention contracts were drawn.”   (On what factual basis did he develop this assessment?  Or,  is he just repeating assessments  from ratings agencies which regurgitated AIG’s own corporate projections?  Isn’t that the same self-quoting claptrap that got us into Iraq?)

Liddy  continued,  “AIG has problems besides the mortgage-backed securities. There’s oil accounts and other  utilities in trouble.” (This appears to contradict his assertions of fundamental solvency.)

ED PERLMUTTER, Committee Member.  “There’s a whole fraud concept that says ya’ can’t be handing out bonuses when you’re insolvent.  I don’t think these bonuses should have been paid.”

Some legal issues, AIG’s Employee Retention Plan and relevant case and statutory findings.

Currently, some members of Congress are promoting tax legislation which would target bonuses paid by corporations that received stipulated bailout funds. Their idea is to re-appropriate the funds already disbursed. (There is every reason to believe such targeting is unconstitutional.  Seeing as how Congress writes the laws and  has more than its fair share of attorneys,  you’d think they’d know that.)

AIG-FP 2008  Employee Retention Plan, effective December 1, 2007

(Importantly, there is no signing date on the Retention Plan although it specifically covers 2008 and 2009.)  According to CEO Liddy’s Executive Summary of the retention plan in which he discusses the bonuses,  “The plan was implemented because there was a significant risk  of departures among employees at AIGFP, and given the $2.7 trillion of derivative positions at AIGFP at that time, retention incentives appeared to be in the best interest of all of AIG’s stakeholders…. This resulted in a $313 million total for 2008 and a $327 million total for 2009… The 2008 awards range from $1,000 to slightly less that $6.5 million.  Only seven employees will receive more than $3 million…. The retention plan is governed by Connecticut Wage Act.  (Section 4.04)”   (NB:  The law provides for the recovery of double damages and attorneys’ fees when wages are improperly withheld and the employer’s refusal to pay wages lack a good faith basis. Conn. Gen. Stat  sections 31-72.)  “In addition,”  states Liddy, “individual managers who decide to withhold wages that are due are individually liable for violation of the Wage Act…We have been advised that the bonus provisions of the American Recovery  and Reinvestment Act of 2009 prohibiting certain bonuses specifically exclude bonuses paid pursuant to pre-February 11, 2009 employment contracts.”  (Apparently, this is the  alleged  “Dodd Provision.”)

NB: The definition of “executive employee”  rests largely on whether an employee is salaried, is required to exercise personal discretion in performance of duties,  earns in excess of certain dollar amounts and has (usually) some supervisory responsibilities.

According to the Connecticut Wage Statute (sec. 31-71(e).  “No employer may withhold or divert any portion of an employee’s wages unless (1) the employer is required or empowered to do so by state or federal law and  (i) “Wage” means compensation due to an employee by reason of his employment.  (Italics added for emphasis.)

Liddy’s  Executive Summary referenced Schoonmaker v Lawrence Brunoli, Inc. 828 A.2d64 (Conn.2003). Schoonmaker established that double damages could be paid when salaries are withheld for reasons of  “bad faith, arbitrariness or unreasonableness.”

The courts have also established that, “Punitive damages may be awarded in suits in which it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s [employer’s] actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression or [lack of care] which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences. Under O.C.G.A. 51-12-5.1(b), it remains the rule that something more than the mere commission of a tort is always required for punitive damages. There must be certain circumstances of aggravation or of outrage.”

New York’s Attorney General Andrew Cuomo may attempt to use the Fraudulent Conveyance Act to recover the bonuses.

In order to pursue Fraud charges, “… the misrepresentation [or omission] must be made knowingly and intentionally, not as a result of mistake or accident; that is, that the person either knew or should have known of the falsity of the misrepresentation [or the false effect of the omission], or that he made the misrepresentation [or omission] in negligent disregard of its truth or falsity.

NB:  Under the Bankruptcy Code, insolvency exists when the sum of the debtor’s debts exceeds the fair value of the debtor’s property, with some exceptions. It is a balance sheet test. 11 USC § 101(32)

18 USC CHAPTER 47 § 1031 concerns  “major fraud against the United States”  and  is another  statute being considered by  New York State’s Attorney General Cuomo. It  provides  the following:

(a) Whoever knowingly executes, or attempts to execute, any scheme or artifice with the intent-

(1) to defraud the United States; or

(2) to obtain money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises.

Therefore, the two most important facts to ascertain  are,  “What was AIG’s actual state of solvency when the bonuses were contracted and did its officers misrepresent that state?”

More Answers Needed:

Which Congress people  received campaign finances from AIG and other financial corporations?  How much did they receive? How did those congress people vote or speak on salient congressional  actions?  (You can find some of the answers at  the Center for Responsive Politics and RollCall.  Feel free to vote accordingly in upcoming elections.)

At the time of AIG’s bailout or request for a bailout, what was the corporation’s actual worth?

Was the United States coerced by fear and intimidation into awarding bailout funds?

Besides Christopher Dodd, who was involved in exempting bonuses agreed to before February 11, 2009?   To  what extent were Treasury and The White House involved?

As always, you can view the hearings at CSPAN.

[F]unny side of the [Wall] Street: Obamanomics

In the spirit of Jon Stewart, “Let’s just cut out the middle man.” If President Obama is serious about “changing how we do business,” then he needs to roll out something better than his new version of Reaganomics.


Imagine  you’re the on-duty emergency room (ER) nurse in a small country hospital.  Your resources are severely limited by high unemployment and a health insurance crisis.

A healthy snowboarder hobbles in with a broken leg and dislocated shoulder.

You start a prophylactic IV drip of normal saline, pain killers  and antibiotics to protect the snowboarder from dehydration, pain and infection.

In a corner of the emergency room is a bloated near-corpse in systemic organ failure. His liver’s shot.  His heart’s all but stopped.  The smell of his rot and disease are spreading out of the ER, down the corridors and into the rooms of recuperating patients.

Emergency room protocol requires you to infuse the snowboarder’s  IV solution through the bloated near-corpse middle man first, rather than  into the snowboarder’s arm directly.

Proponents of this bassackward policy say that if the gas in the bloated guy explodes, it’ll jeopardize everyone in the hospital so we have to treat him with the best of the drugs and hope enough benefit reaches the snowboarder to prevent her relatively minor injuries from becoming a systemic threat.  If you’re the cynical type, you might think  the nearly-dead guy’s membership on the hospital’s Board of Directors is significant, too.

Whatever the reason for  the policy, the outcome is assured:  the bloated near-corpse will drain  your few precious resources on its way to the morgue and the healthy patient will die of preventable consequences.

In the spirit of Jon Stewart,  “Let’s just cut out the middle man.”  Break with protocol and centuries of obsolete thinking. Infuse the snowboarder directly. She’s going into shock.  Microbes are chewing on her broken, exposed bone. It’s a matter of basic triage:  apply your resources where they will do the most good as you asses each situation  uniquely, dispassionately and quickly.

The snowboarder (like most of our  neighbors) will heal quickly and be ready to continue her education,  develop new products, create new markets  and in general, become the new economic engine.  She’ll be rebuilding our nation while the rotting AIG-Goldman Sachs-Citi-Bank of America-corpse that’s poisoning us all is buried quietly in the background.

Stimulate acutely-ill  borrowers with a direct infusion of debt-cancelling cash that can be paid by them  to their ORIGINATING lenders.   The funds will or won’t trickle UP to the bloated entities who bought and bundled the  stinky credit card and mortgage loans.  Those who are too-big-to-fail will collapse if the funds can’t  find their way through the maze of intermediaries.  But, by  excising the corpse and caring directly for our fundamentally healthy neighbors, we can mitigate the effects of this new shift in focus and purpose.

The “mortgage-crisis” isn’t the root of our problems.  And our continued reliance on a rotting corpse to rescue the future may not be the cause of our problems, but it’s certainly proximate.  If President Obama is serious about “changing how we do business,”  then he needs to roll out something better than his new version of  Reaganomics.

*     *     *     *

NEXT:  Tell-tale quotes from this week’s House Financial Services Subcommittee Hearing.

Bank of America : Get Your $78 Refund


(First,  a correction to  Bipartisanship:  The Lowest Common Denominator.  I misleadingly referred to Obama’s restriction on  executive salaries as a restriction on executive compensation.   Though President Obama  has put his weight behind capping certain executive salaries at $500,000,   total executive compensation may be oodles more.  Oodles, billions or trillions?     The difference is…?)

*       *       *

On one hand,  Walt Disney accused the Screen Actors Guild of being a communist front bent on malevolently influencing Hollywood. On the other, he created  Donald Duck who quacked his way into popular culture  in  1934.  When Donald’s  nephews, Huey, Dewey & Louie came to stay for a day and never left, Donald was a de facto single dad with a  romantic companion he never  really married (Daisy).  In later years, he morphed into an adventurer who  dumped the kids on Uncle Scrooge.

Donald’s Hollywood foe, Mickey Mouse, was another Disney creation.  He met his main squeeze,  Minnie the Barmaid,  in a tavern and in their first short together,   Minnie parachuted out of a plane to escape Mickey’s pawings.  It was  the anthropomorphic mouse version of  John Wayne dragging  Maureen O’Hara around by her hair in one cinematic lust fest after another. (Not that I’ve watched The Quiet Man two billion times….)   Mickey & Minnie free float in each other’s lives–sometimes married, sometimes dating–but frequently together for  shared adventures.

In a time when Puritanism  and  Doris Day were slathering our cultural landscape with goo,  Disney understood that if a creature, character or person was cute  enough, he could sell us anything — even lifestyles we found offensive in 1950.

“Cute” and adorably irascible  have  sold us down the drain regularly.   George Bush and Laura Bush are almost as cute as   Ron Paul and he’s  even more adorable than  Barnie Frank, Diane Feinstein and Chris Dodd,  none of  whom hold a candle to the ETrade babies.  (Check out the E-Trade babies which front  for the much-maligned  E-Trade  online trading platform. )

Whether it was weapons of mass destruction or  financier- and congress-based  schemes to rip off credit cardholders,  we’ve  spectated at  our own screwing because so many of the salesman looked or spoke as disarming populists.

Bank of America did virtually no due diligence before it  bought  Merrill Lynch one weekend for $50 billion in stock.  Then, when BOA realized it had grossly underestimated Merrill Lynch’s toxic holdings, it “accepted”  a taxpayer bailout.

In this economy (brought to the point of collapse by financial institutions like Bank of America) what does  BOA do to taxpayer-customers who have BOA accounts and  own BOA’s debt?    They manipulated  “…customers’ account activity in order to trigger more fees for overdrawn accounts, returned checks, and similar infractions. Under the agreement, account holders who incurred overdraft fees from BofA between 2000 and 2007–or from any of the banks it took over during that period–may be entitled to up to a $78 payout. Although it may be a victory for the consumer, financial services advisory firm Bretton Woods says the restitution represents only a sliver of the $368 that the average U.S. household doles out each year for overdraft charges. Generating these and similar fees has become big business for banks and credit unions, which posted $37 billion-plus in such charges last year. As financial institutions try to compensate for losses on loan defaults and stiffer competition during the credit crisis, they are making it easier for customers–even those that carefully monitor their own activity–to trip the fee wire. Practices such as clearing the largest transactions in a single day from largest to smallest and posting deposits last of all makes it difficult for even the most diligent bank customers to avoid charges. In response, consumer advocates are counting on the Federal Reserve to take steps to protect the public from overdraft fees. While the issue failed to earn a place in new credit card rules approved by the agency last month, the central bank has signaled that it will raise the issue again–this time independently–sometime this year.  (See:  Center for Responsible Lending:  Bank of America)

We’re being raped by the people we saved and somehow,  Uncca Chris Dodd and “Populist” Barney Frank can’t get  legislation through Congress that would rescue us because of  push back from the financial lobby.

And then, there’s  Citigroup.

“… Citi began sending the notices at about the same time it was getting a $20 billion, taxpayer-financed government bailout.  No one at Citigroup would talk on camera to CNN about the matter. Instead, the company issued a written statement, which said: “To continue funding in this difficult credit and funding environment, Citi is repricing a group of customers.” Citi told CNN that anyone unhappy with the new [credit card] rates can opt out and continue paying the lower interest, but they must close their account when their card expires. It’s all in the fine print.  (See:  Cnn/Citigroup.)

Here’s Representative Carolyn Maloney’s  proposed legislation “Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights” which has been supported by The Center for Responsible Lending.

If you have a BOA  account, apply for your $78.00 and send a copy of the demand to your Congresspeople.

The Week That Was: Words & Brainstorms


It’s been a  flurry all week.  Here’s a collection of pieces:

US Army and Marines report a sharp escalation in soldier and veteran suicides.  (LA Times)  Caregivers on the front lines cited, among other issues, more and longer deployments, family stress, hopelessness, drugs, alcohol and extreme psychological fatigue.

In the Senate Banking Committee Hearing (Chaired by Sen. Chris Dodd),  Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve Chairman and Obama advisor offered,  “…other nations regulate the risk of  functions  rather than of entities  or particular business models.”  

 (Author note:  our present system regulates banks, for instance, but  the function of mortgage-backed securities slipped through the jurisdictional cracks of  twenty understaffed  regulatory agencies.  (See CSPAN videos.)

In the same hearing, Gene  Dodaro, Acting Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office and Elizabeth Warren, Chair of  the Congressional Oversight Panel for the TARP  described faultlines in our financial structure and offered comments:  (1)  it’s inefficient, ineffective and inflexible; (2) it permits inadequate disclosures by credit institutions; (3)  the “financial illiteracy” of the populace  and inadequate disclosures by institutions combined to create predatory loans with incomprehensible terms; (4)  Federal and State jurisdictional issues created holes in oversight/regulation;  (5) institutions that originated loans passed the risk to other institutions without keeping “skin in the game”;  (6) we need  new ways to value  the debt because we don’t know who’s holding it or what it’s  worth;  (6)  current compensation models  encourage bad loans because there’s little or no  risk to the  originating broker. 

In an umbrella statement,  Dodaro described the current  financial model as pitting consumer protection against economic growth and urged Congress  to recognize that growth is impossible without the  trust and health of the consumer.

Senator Mark Warren referenced financial illiteracy  and  the  lack of regulation that’s allowed lenders and insurance companies to prey on our soldiers and their  families.

Witnesses in the hearing  concurred that:  (1)  we don’t know where the bailout funds are;  (2)  institutions who received funds feel no obligation  to reveal what they did with them; and regardless,  (3)  the bailout has not  significantly improved the flow of investments or loans; and (4) small business failures  and foreclosures are escalating.

Obama, stumping for the Stimulus Plan, described it as a strategy, not a piecemeal, temporary fix.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) told homeowners to stay in their homes when they’re foreclosed.  She told Amy Goodman (Democracy Now)  “…there’s a number people can call:  (888-995-HOME)  to get the proper legal representation so they can actually have the scales of justice be balanced rather than, now, all the power to Wall Street and none of the justice to Main Street.” 

(Author note:   When tenants were thrown out of their homes in the 1920s and ’30s,  their neighbors and activists overcame dogs, sheriff ‘s deputies and head-cracking batons to haul each other’s belongings back inside.)

Obama:  Companies  that receive TARP funds will limit executive compensation to $500,000.  This has caused corporations to worry they won’t be able to “attract the best talent.”   (Rewarding incompetence seems to have worked so well for all of us.)  

Aren’t our Graduate Schools  loaded with financial and administrative wizards?  Let them take take the mound and relegate  the Geithners,  Summers, Rubins and financiers to advisory positions in the dugout.  One idea is that executive officers be rewarded only after their policies result in  sustained profit growth over a number of years.  (No more $18 billion bonuses for collapsing a world economy in a single year.)

National Prayer Breakfast  and broadening of the old “faith-based” service model. My agnostic self is staying out of this one but my community organizer is shouting “hallelujah!”   (Perhaps the idea would be less offensive if we called it a “National Meditational Breakfast.)   “Community Service”  is, apparently,  fertile ground for another “Moral Majority” showdown.  It reminds me of  the efforts peace activists made  “to take back the flag”  after Bush invaded Iraq.  Obama’s model incorporates secular groups and recognizes a place for both secular and religious organizations.  My objection would be  to  religious bias dictating  what, how and to whom our civil services are provided.  (See:  First Amendment on separation of Church & State:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”)  Certainly, stringent guidelines must be enforced if  community service is to remain free of  religious dogma.

According to Bloomberg News  on February 4, 2009“Bank of America’s CEO (Kenneth Lewis) told employees that his management team and strategy have the board’s support and January results were ‘encouraging’ as turmoil in the credit markets eased.”  

The  very next day, “Bank of America’s  (BAC) shares  fell as low as $3.77 before finishing up 14 cents at $4.84.  The bank’s shares had fallen for five days prior to Thursday.”  (In the period from  January 1, 2009 to February 5, 2009 — 36 days — BAC has fallen from $14.08 to $4.56.)  No kidding,  some pundits are wondering whether Lewis is the “right guy for the job.”

Bank of America still won’t let people sully their great glass windows with community announcements.

Today,  “January’s sharp drop in employment brings job losses to 3.6 million since the start of the recession in December 2007 and…about half the decline occurred in the last three months.  January’s losses followed upwardly revised cuts of 577,000 in December and 597,000 in November.”  (CNBC

In an Orwellian way,  these unemployment numbers are good news because coincidentally, average hourly wages have risen from 0.3-0.4%  over last year. I guess that’s what happens when mass layoffs and retail closings  eliminate low wage earners from the statistical pool.

And finally, 14 year old actess  Dakota Fanning  strode  pencil-thin  onto the stage of late night television in a pair of  spiked heels.

Bailouts: Tired of Linear Thinking and Threats?


I’ve been listening since the election to the national  “discussion” of the automaker bailout and  I’m not the only one who’s noticed it sounds like the “discussion” we had before the Iraq invasion.  “Either-or,”  again and again.  It’s played out like this,  “If we don’t give the Big Three Automakers another $25 billion dollars, the United States will swirl down the drain.”   The other side counters with, “If we  give The Big Three another $25 billion, it will be the end of the Capitalist model.”

As near as I can tell, we need six pieces of unequivocal information which are not, apparently available:

:     are The Big Three “toxic”  and are they equally-toxic?

:     would  a loan of $50 billion dollars ensure that  The Big Three  are market-competitive in  five years?

:     what structural changes have to be made in their physical plants and business models to ensure they’re market-competitive in five years?

:     are there viable buyers and/or investors for The Big Three? If not, what makes Paulsen and the Treasury Department believe that We The People want to invest in a raggedy Wonderland?

:     how long will it take to create green manufacturing jobs for people clobbered with job losses?

And, just because we should be alarmed by  the increased vilification of the poor, working poor and middle classes:

:     how did workers’ wages and insurance premiums destroy The Big Three?  Workers were being paid to build products nobody wanted.  Successive generations of families worked  in the same plants forty years or more. It was one of the few corporate sectors where “trickle-down economics”  actually benefited workers as well as CEOs.  Auto workers set a standard for participating in our economic booms and after forty years of feeding the economy with the products they bought, the homes they built and the children they sent to college, they’ve earned better than bankruptcy when their employers “bail out” of their pension and health care contracts.  Our economy runs on the notion that “workers” will earn enough to have “expendable income” which they will use to  “consume and invest.”  How did we achieve a topsy-turvy understanding that blames worker/consumers when corporate profit margins for worthless products exceed all rational models?

Why isn’t  the information we need for good decision-making  available in  discussable form?  Economic journalists have morphed into “opinion” journalists.  I read Robert Reich, Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman and for balance, I watch CNBC.  The analysts are just as frightened as the rest of us and I’m tired of hearing the same “mushroom cloud” analyses  we heard before the Iraq invasion. If I hear “economic Armageddon” or “world-wide meltdown”  one more time from trusted analysts….

Instead,  I want to hear from Buffett and Soros.  I want a team of their analysts to audit the automakers.  I want an analysis of each company’s future viability.  I want to know the conditions they need to meet in order to be market-competitive.  I also want to know what they’ve done with the first $25 billion they were given besides tuck it in their back pockets.  Why is that money collecting interest in their corporate accounts?  I want those interest dollars reimbursed to a Green Manufacturing  and Job Creation Fund.  (Relatedly, every single person whose job is threatened should be enrolled in all-expenses-paid educational programs today.  Let’s make sure every single community college and BOCES offers vocational training in computer- and green-based manufacturing because  there are other sectors on the brink of failure.  Hospitals, for instance, are in desperate straits and everyone knows we have a nursing shortage. One reason for that is the huge number of good nurses who’ve run screaming out of hospital work because the system is cruel and unusual to patients and workers.  Clean up the system and the “nursing crisis” will evaporate.)

Sorry for that sidetrack.

Structural changes to The Big Three’s physical plants and business models.  I want a full-blown analysis of both these areas for each of the Three. I don’t want another bundle of toxic assets. Is there a law of  magneto-physics that links the three inextricably?

The team of analysts who audit The Big Three should include representatives from  green manufacturing sectors, autoworkers and anyone who sold their patent rights to the automakers — anyone whose bright idea so threatened the automakers that they bought the patents and buried them under a pile of over-priced and poisonous vehicles.  Let this team of analysts examine the physical plants cooperatively. Let them tell us what’s possible.  I’ll bet there are hungry and innovative enterprises fully-capable of building a better mousetrap in abandoned car factories all over this country. All they need is the investment capital that, heretofore, was siphoned off by the companies at the top of the heap.  In fact, I’ll bet innovators are  already buzzing with  brilliant ideas as I type this. I’ll even  bet there are stymied Ford engineers and line workers with boxes of great ideas that have been trampled in the race to the mediocre bottom.  Maybe innovative employees could create a research, development and implementation  plan.  In the meantime, let the bean counters do their work.  When the chickens are counted, let’s invest in the demonstrably best bet.

Presumably, after offering its cost analysis,  this team of structural and financial experts would be able to provide business plans for retrofitting the abandoned factories for a variety of industrial purposes.   Hell.  I’ll bet there’d be investors all over the world lining up — anything to keep the US economy intelligently afloat.  (I wonder what the rest of the world will trust us with next.)

Plenty of respected economists  believe we don’t have time to do a thorough analysis of the companies’ financial prospects.  In point of fact, we don’t know our timeframe, do we?  We have claims and counter-claims without verifiable proofs.  Our distrust is  one price of being lied to for eight years.  It’s one price of all the dead and maimed in Iraq.  Regardless, if it’s too late for a thoughtful analysis, then it’s probably too late, period. Supporters of The Big Three Bailout cite their increased European profile and the fact that GM makes more 30+ MPG models than any other company. (Their sales lag but their production is up.)  I’m not convinced we should let them fade away.  I’m not convinced we’d be nuts to invest in The Big Three;  but  we do need to know if they  can be market-competitive in five years or if they’re hopelessly behind the eight ball.

Soon, there’ll be a lot of soldiers coming home.  Among the many things they’ll need,  fair-wage jobs have to be a priority.   Are the automakers — America’s industrial backbone — going to provide those jobs?

No?  Then perhaps we need to answer the question:  what are the viable alternatives? Should we throw good money after bad for, perhaps, the sake of egocentric nostalgia?   At our root, isn’t this more a referendum on what it means to be American?  Aren’t we afraid of what we’ll see in the mirror (or what else we’ll cede)  if we admit publicly  that we don’t make cars anymore?  Don’t we need a stronger backbone for our US economy than what’s been provided by The Big Three?

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Related questions:

How did teachers, plumbers, farmers and nurses outwit  bankers, lawyers and their maze of legal documents  to create the mortgage meltdown?

Why aren’t AIG’s hyenas in jail instead of lolling poolside with  private masseuses and standing in front of Congress with their hands still out?

Why aren’t rating agency employees (Moody’s,  Standards & Poors, Fitch) who colluded to award falsely high grades to toxic bundled assets in jail?