Wednesday, October 27, 2010

« MERS DEATH ZONE - Double Class Action Lawsuits Filed Against Mortgage Registration Puppet »

Scroll down for VIDEO - Interview with MERS CEO






The Plaintiff shows herein that MERS’ foreclosure on Plaintiff’s property was not valid and was wrongful, as are those foreclosures by MERS on the property in the State of Georgia of all similarly situated persons to the Plaintiff wherein MERS sent the notice of foreclosure to the debtor and wherein MERS purports to have exercised the power of sale and auctioned the property. MERS does not have the authorized power to send a valid notice of foreclosure within the State of Georgia for those deeds where it is “solely a nominee” and does not have the authority or power under Georgia law to foreclose on a property or engage in an auction of sale on such property where is is “solely a nominee” on such deeds.

Dustin Rollins v Mers Class Action Suit

We can only imagine the blood-curdling feeding frenzy as trial lawyers gash the bones and suck the marrow from the fraudulent banks.


Class Action vs Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Gmac, Deutsche Bank, Nation Star, Aurora, Bac, Ci...

Scribd Document: Class Action vs Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Gmac, Deutsche Bank, Nation Star, Aurora, Bac, Citigroup, Us Bank, Lps, Et Al

From page 75 of the Kentucky complaint:

  • "From the time of the Great Depression up and until 1999, the conversion of loans into MBS was illegal. The Banking Act of 1933 established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in the United States and introduced banking reforms, some of which were designed to control speculation of the exact nature of what has taken place in the last several years. It was commonly known as the Glass–Steagall Act. Over the years provisions of the Act were eroded little by little, until the Act was finally killed with the last repeal of the section which prohibited a bank holding company from owning other financial companies. This was accomplished with the Gramm–Leach Act."


Fox Video: CEO R.K. Arnold discusses how the company and its database are involved in the nation's foreclosure mess.


Lenders Make "Mistakes" & Washington Makes Believe 10/25/10

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« The U.S. Bails Out Failed Industries, While China Buys The Rare Earth »

We run deficits to bail, and China uses surplus to buy.

We borrow money from our grandchildren to bailout banks, insurers, hedge funds, private-equity shops, car companies, states, unions, houseowners, new car buyers, new house buyers. Meanwhile China is using its surplus to buy every natural resource that's for sale, anywhere on the globe.

And not one word from Obama or anyone in Washington. We are so supremely f**ed in the long run, exhibiting the mass insanity of all empires in decline. Fighting wars, spending massively, encouraging consumer debt, monetizing the national debt and destroying the greatest currency history has ever known - the once mighty U.S. Dollar.

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America vs. China In 2020 - A Zombie Battle For Rare Earth Resources

A Halloween theme from Paul Farrell

Here are 8 demonic reasons why China’s aggressive “economic warfare” is also a secret long-term defensive military strategy:

1. Zombie-eating China has a long-range plan to conquer America

Listen closely, because the nuttiest theories are so often revealed later as hidden truths. Remember Delaware Tea Party Senate candidate “I’m no witch” Christine O’Donnell. You may question her credibility about secret classified documents revealing that China has a “carefully thought out and strategic plan to take over America.”

But still, the facts are that the China Zombie Eaters are destroying and devouring millions of American jobs.

We also know China is stealing U.S. state secrets, stealing proprietary patents, stealing our technology. We know China is hacking away, aggressively engaged in a not-so-secret cyber war against America. We also know China has forged alliances with America’s enemies, including Iran, Venezuela and North Korea.

So while you’ll chuckle at a non-witch’s “classified” plans, the fact is China Zombie Eaters are our worst nightmare, aggressively engaged in wars against America on multiple fronts.

As Ross Terrill, a China expert at Harvard, put it in the Wilson Quarterly: “The Chinese Communists are very aware of this contest with the United States, though Americans (beyond the Pentagon) are not.”

Yes, Zombie America is clueless about the threat. And, Terrill warns, our lack of awareness will destroy us: “By being a shrinking violet, the United States would simply hand over the future to China.”

2. Zombie-eating China ‘buys’ Australia with surplus U.S. dollars

Want more proof? Read Malcolm Knox’s recent piece in Bloomberg-BusinessWeek. Wake up Americans. While our Zombie Politicians are fighting selfish turf wars this election cycle, China is using its foreign currency reserves (U.S. dollars) to buy rights to Australia’s commodities and natural resources, giving China Zombie Eaters long-term access to natural gas, minerals, iron ore and more.

A lot of those resources are found in Queensland, Australia, the home of John Quiggin, the economics professor who wrote the book “Zombie Economics.” Quiggin also summarizes the five main undead ideas of “Zombie Capitalism” in Foreign Policy magazine.

4. China Zombie Eaters are aware of Pentagon war strategies

That trawler incident got me thinking of the Pentagon study from Fortune back during the Bush/Cheney years: “By 2020 there is little doubt something drastic is happening.” The Pentagon warned that “as the planet’s carrying capacity shrinks, an ancient pattern of desperate, all-out wars over food, water, and energy supplies would emerge ... warfare is defining human life.” You can bet China’s generals have the same strategic playbook.

Krugman fears the Zombie Eaters long-range plans: “I don’t know about you, but I find this story deeply disturbing, both for what it says about China and what it says about us. On one side, the affair highlights the fecklessness of U.S. policy makers, who did nothing while an unreliable regime acquired a stranglehold on key materials. On the other side, the incident shows a Chinese government that is dangerously trigger-happy, willing to wage economic warfare on the slightest provocation.” Maybe even military action?

5. Zombie-eating China way ahead of Pentagon’s war planners

Krugman calls this “economic warfare.” But the Marine Corps veteran in me sees a long-range strategy of out-flanking a complacent Zombie America.

It’s well-known the China Zombie Eaters are making deals all over the world — in Africa, South America, Russia and Asia — tying up long-term natural resources, using their surplus credits of U.S. dollar reserves to lock up essential global commodity futures. Meanwhile America’s Zombie Politicians waste time in myopic election turf wars for personal gain, failing to see that America’s consumers and taxpayers are financing China’s war plans. Wake up. Admit it.

So to echo Krugman: I don’t know about you, but on so many fronts China’s behavior smells like their leaders are doing lots more than expanding China’s economy (the Foreign Policy Journal predicts China will explode from 11% to 40% of the global GDP by 2040, creating a $123 trillion economy that will dwarf America’s GDP).

But even more deeply disturbing, China’s behavior tells us they are obviously engaged in long-term defensive military strategies as well as economic planning, and that in the future, another trawler incident may well provoke dangerously trigger-happy Chinese leaders into escalating from defensive military strategies to a preemptive strike protecting China’s economic power.

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Chart of the Week: Inflation in the Real World

Jake Weber, Editor
The Casey Report

As is often the case, there is a big difference between what the government statistics are reporting and what’s going on in the real world. According to the most recent inflation reading published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), consumer prices grew at an annual rate of just 1.1% in August.

The government has an incentive to distort CPI numbers, for reasons such as keeping the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security payments low. While there’s no question that you may be able to get a good deal on a new car or a flat-screen TV today, how often are you really buying these things? When you look at the real costs of everyday life, prices have risen sharply over the last year. For simplicity’s sake, consider the cash market prices on some basic commodities.

On average, our basic food costs have increased by an incredible 48% over the last year (measured by wheat, corn, oats, and canola prices). From the price at the pump to heating your stove, energy costs are up 23% on average (heating oil, gasoline, natural gas). A little protein at dinner is now 39% higher (beef and pork), and your morning cup of coffee with a little sugar has risen by 36% since last October.

You probably aren’t buying new linens or shopping for copper piping at the hardware store every day, but I included these items to show the inflationary pressures on some other basic materials that will likely affect consumer prices down the road.

The jump in gold and silver prices illustrates that it’s not just supply and demand issues driving the precious metals higher – the decline in purchasing power of the dollar is also showing up in the price of physical goods. It is because stashing wheat and cotton in the garage is an impractical way to protect purchasing power that investors are increasingly looking to protect themselves with the monetary metals – a trend that is now very much in motion.
[Jake is going to be digging deeper into the “secret” inflation in the next edition of The Casey Report, which will be released just following the upcoming midterm elections. Sign up today and make the powerful trends now sweeping the global economy and investment markets work in your favor. Our 3-month, 100% satisfaction guarantee assures you’ll love the publication or get a full no-questions-asked refund. Details here.]

Inside a Sub-Prime Mortgage Boiler Room

This is an excerpt from the book The Monster, by Michael W. Hudson. It is republished with permission of the publisher.

By Michael W. Hudson


Bait and Switch

A few weeks after he started working at Ameriquest Mortgage, Mark Glover looked up from his cubicle and saw a coworker do something odd. The guy stood at his desk on the twenty-third floor of downtown Los Angeles's Union Bank Building. He placed two sheets of paper against the window. Then he used the light streaming through the window to trace something from one piece of paper to another. Somebody's signature.

Glover was new to the mortgage business. He was twenty-nine and hadn't held a steady job in years. But he wasn't stupid. He knew about financial sleight of hand—at that time, he had a check-fraud charge hanging over his head in the L.A. courthouse a few blocks away. Watching his coworker, Glover's first thought was: How can I get away with that? As a loan officer at Ameriquest, Glover worked on commission. He knew the only way to earn the six-figure income Ameriquest had promised him was to come up with tricks for pushing deals through the mortgage-financing pipeline that began with Ameriquest and extended through Wall Street's most respected investment houses.

Glover and the other twentysomethings who filled the sales force at the downtown L.A. branch worked the phones hour after hour, calling strangers and trying to talk them into refinancing their homes with high-priced "subprime" mortgages. It was 2003, subprime was on the rise, and Ameriquest was leading the way. The company's owner, Roland Arnall, had in many ways been the founding father of subprime, the business of lending money to home owners with modest incomes or blemished credit histories. He had pioneered this risky segment of the mortgage market amid the wreckage of the savings and loan disaster and helped transform his company's headquarters, Orange County, California, into the capital of the subprime industry. Now, with the housing market booming and Wall Street clamoring to invest in subprime, Ameriquest was growing with startling velocity.

Up and down the line, from loan officers to regional managers and vice presidents, Ameriquest's employees scrambled at the end of each month to push through as many loans as possible, to pad their monthly production numbers, boost their commissions, and meet Roland Arnall's expectations. Arnall was a man "obsessed with loan volume," former aides recalled, a mortgage entrepreneur who believed "volume solved all problems." Whenever an underling suggested a goal for loan production over a particular time span, Arnall's favorite reply was: "We can do twice that." Close to midnight Pacific time on the last business day of each month, the phone would ring at Arnall's home in Los Angeles's exclusive Holmby Hills neighborhood, a $30 million estate that once had been home to Sonny and Cher.On the other end of the telephone line, a vice president in Orange County would report the month's production numbers for his lending empire. Even as the totals grew to $3 billion or $6 billion or $7 billion a month—figures never before imagined in the subprime business—Arnall wasn't satisfied. He wanted more. "He would just try to make you stretch beyond what you thought possible," one former Ameriquest executive recalled. "Whatever you did, no matter how good you did, it wasn't good enough."

Inside Glover's branch, loan officers kept up with the demand to produce by guzzling Red Bull energy drinks, a favorite caffeine pick-me-up for hardworking salesmen throughout the mortgage industry. Government investigators would later joke that they could gauge how dirty a home-loan location was by the number of empty Red Bull cans in the Dumpster out back. Some of the crew in the L.A. branch, Glover said, also relied on cocaine to keep themselves going, snorting lines in washrooms and, on occasion, in their cubicles.

The wayward behavior didn't stop with drugs. Glover learned that his colleague's art work wasn't a matter of saving a borrower the hassle of coming in to supply a missed signature. The guy was forging borrowers' signatures on government-required disclosure forms, the ones that were supposed to help consumers understand how much cash they'd be getting out of the loan and how much they'd be paying in interest and fees. Ameriquest's deals were so overpriced and loaded with nasty surprises that getting customers to sign often required an elaborate web of psychological ploys, outright lies, and falsified papers. "Every closing that we had really was a bait and switch," a loan officer who worked for Ameriquest in Tampa, Florida, recalled. " 'Cause you could never get them to the table if you were honest." At companywide gatherings, Ameriquest's managers and sales reps loosened up with free alcohol and swapped tips for fooling borrowers and cooking up phony paperwork. What if a customer insisted he wanted a fixed-rate loan, but you could make more money by selling him an adjustable-rate one? No problem. Many Ameriquest salespeople learned to position a few fixed-rate loan documents at the top of the stack of paperwork to be signed by the borrower. They buried the real documents—the ones indicating the loan had an adjustable rate that would rocket upward in two or three years—near the bottom of the pile. Then, after the borrower had flipped from signature line to signature line, scribbling his consent across the entire stack, and gone home, it was easy enough to peel the fixed-rate documents off the top and throw them in the trash.

At the downtown L.A. branch, some of Glover's coworkers had a flair for creative documentation. They used scissors, tape, Wite-Out, and a photocopier to fabricate W-2s, the tax forms that indicate how much a wage earner makes each year. It was easy: Paste the name of a low-earning borrower onto a W-2 belonging to a higher-earning borrower and, like magic, a bad loan prospect suddenly looked much better. Workers in the branch equipped the office's break room with all the tools they needed to manufacture and manipulate official documents. They dubbed it the "Art Department."

At first, Glover thought the branch might be a rogue office struggling to keep up with the goals set by Ameriquest's headquarters. He discovered that wasn't the case when he transferred to the company's Santa Monica branch. A few of his new colleagues invited him on a field trip to Staples, where everyone chipped in their own money to buy a state-of-the-art scanner-printer, a trusty piece of equipment that would allow them to do a better job of creating phony paperwork and trapping American home owners in a cycle of crushing debt.

Carolyn Pittman was an easy target. She'd dropped out of high school to go to work, and had never learned to read or write very well. She worked for decades as a nursing assistant. Her husband, Charlie, was a longshoreman.In 1993 she and Charlie borrowed $58,850 to buy a one-story, concrete block house on Irex Street in a working-class neighborhood of Atlantic Beach, a community of thirteen thousand near Jacksonville, Florida. Their mortgage was government-insured by the Federal Housing Administration, so they got a good deal on the loan. They paid about $500 a month on the FHA loan, including the money to cover their home insurance and property taxes.

Even after Charlie died in 1998, Pittman kept up with her house payments. But things were tough for her. Financial matters weren't something she knew much about. Charlie had always handled what little money they had. Her health wasn't good either. She had a heart attack in 2001, and was back and forth to hospitals with congestive heart failure and kidney problems.

Like many older black women who owned their homes but had modest incomes, Pittman was deluged almost every day, by mail and by phone, with sales pitches offering money to fix up her house or pay off her bills. A few months after her heart attack, a salesman from Ameriquest Mortgage's Coral Springs office caught her on the phone and assured her he could ease her worries. He said Ameriquest would help her out by lowering her interest rate and her monthly payments.

She signed the papers in August 2001. Only later did she discover that the loan wasn't what she'd been promised. Her interest rate jumped from a fixed 8.43 percent on the FHA loan to a variable rate that started at nearly 11 percent and could climb much higher. The loan was also packed with more than $7,000 in up-front fees, roughly 10 percent of the loan amount.

Pittman's mortgage payment climbed to $644 a month. Even worse, the new mortgage didn't include an escrow for real-estate taxes and insurance. Most mortgage agreements require home owners to pay a bit extra—often about $100 to $300 a month—which is set aside in an escrow account to cover these expenses. But many subprime lenders obscured the true costs of their loans by excluding the escrow from their deals, which made the monthly payments appear lower. Many borrowers didn't learn they had been tricked until they got a big bill for unpaid taxes or insurance a year down the road.

That was just the start of Pittman's mortgage problems. Her new mortgage was a matter of public record, and by taking out a loan from Ameriquest, she'd signaled to other subprime lenders that she was vulnerable—that she was financially unsophisticated and was struggling to pay an unaffordable loan. In 2003, she heard from one of Ameriquest's competitors, Long Beach Mortgage Company.

Pittman had no idea that Long Beach and Ameriquest shared the same corporate DNA. Roland Arnall's first subprime lender had been Long Beach Savings and Loan, a company he had morphed into Long Beach Mortgage. He had sold off most of Long Beach Mortgage in 1997, but hung on to a portion of the company that he rechristened Ameriquest. Though Long Beach and Ameriquest were no longer connected, both were still staffed with employees who had learned the business under Arnall.

A salesman from Long Beach Mortgage, Pittman said, told her that he could help her solve the problems created by her Ameriquest loan. Once again, she signed the papers. The new loan from Long Beach cost her thousands in up-front fees and boosted her mortgage payments to $672 a month.

Ameriquest reclaimed her as a customer less than a year later. A salesman from Ameriquest's Jacksonville branch got her on the phone in the spring of 2004. He promised, once again, that refinancing would lower her interest rate and her monthly payments. Pittman wasn't sure what to do. She knew she'd been burned before, but she desperately wanted to find a way to pay off the Long Beach loan and regain her financial bearings. She was still pondering whether to take the loan when two Ameriquest representatives appeared at the house on Irex Street. They brought a stack of documents with them. They told her, she later recalled, that it was preliminary paperwork, simply to get the process started. She could make up her mind later. The men said, "sign here," "sign here," "sign here," as they flipped through the stack. Pittman didn't understand these were final loan papers and her signatures were binding her to Ameriquest. "They just said sign some papers and we'll help you," she recalled.

To push the deal through and make it look better to investors on Wall Street, consumer attorneys later alleged, someone at Ameriquest falsified Pittman's income on the mortgage application. At best, she had an income of $1,600 a month—roughly $1,000 from Social Security and, when he could afford to pay, another $600 a month in rent from her son. Ameriquest's paperwork claimed she brought in more than twice that much—$3,700 a month.

The new deal left her with a house payment of $1,069 a month—nearly all of her monthly income and twice what she'd been paying on the FHA loan before Ameriquest and Long Beach hustled her through the series of refinancings. She was shocked when she realized she was required to pay more than $1,000 a month on her mortgage. "That broke my heart," she said.

For Ameriquest, the fact that Pittman couldn't afford the payments was of little consequence. Her loan was quickly pooled, with more than fifteen thousand other Ameriquest loans from around the country, into a $2.4 billion "mortgage-backed securities" deal known as Ameriquest Mortgage Securities, Inc. Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates 2004-R7. The deal had been put together by a trio of the world's largest investment banks: UBS, JPMorgan, and Citigroup. These banks oversaw the accounting wizardry that transformed Pittman's mortgage and thousands of other subprime loans into investments sought after by some of the world's biggest investors. Slices of 2004-R7 got snapped up by giants such as the insurer MassMutual and Legg Mason, a mutual fund manager with clients in more than seventy-five countries. Also among the buyers was the investment bank Morgan Stanley, which purchased some of the securities and placed them in its Limited Duration Investment Fund, mixing them with investments in General Mills, FedEx, JC Penney, Harley-Davidson, and other household names.

It was the new way of Wall Street. The loan on Carolyn Pittman's one-story house in Atlantic Beach was now part of the great global mortgage machine. It helped swell the portfolios of big-time speculators and middle-class investors looking to build a nest egg for retirement. And, in doing so, it helped fuel the mortgage empire that in 2004 produced $1.3 billion in profits for Roland Arnall.

In the first years of the twenty-first century, Ameriquest Mortgage unleashed an army of salespeople on America. They numbered in the thousands. They were young, hungry, and relentless in their drive to sell loans and earn big commissions. One Ameriquest manager summed things up in an e-mail to his sales force: "We are all here to make as much fucking money as possible. Bottom line. Nothing else matters." Home owners like Carolyn Pittman were caught up in Ameriquest's push to become the nation's biggest subprime lender.

The pressure to produce an ever-growing volume of loans came from the top. Executives at Ameriquest's home office in Orange County leaned on the regional and area managers; the regional and area managers leaned on the branch managers. And the branch managers leaned on the salesmen who worked the phones and hunted for borrowers willing to sign on to Ameriquest loans. Men usually ran things, and a frat-house mentality ruled, with plenty of partying and testosterone-fueled swagger. "It was like college, but with lots of money and power," Travis Paules, a former Ameriquest executive, said. Paules liked to hire strippers to reward his sales reps for working well after midnight to get loan deals processed during the end-of-the-month rush. At Ameriquest branches around the nation, loan officers worked ten- and twelve-hour days punctuated by "Power Hours"—do-or-die telemarketing sessions aimed at sniffing out borrowers and separating the real salesmen from the washouts. At the branch where Mark Bomchill worked in suburban Minneapolis, management expected Bomchill and other loan officers to make one hundred to two hundred sales calls a day. One manager, Bomchill said, prowled the aisles between desks like "a little Hitler," hounding salesmen to make more calls and sell more loans and bragging he hired and fired people so fast that one peon would be cleaning out his desk as his replacement came through the door.As with Mark Glover in Los Angeles, experience in the mortgage business wasn't a prerequisite for getting hired. Former employees said the company preferred to hire younger, inexperienced workers because it was easier to train them to do things the Ameriquest way. A former loan officer who worked for Ameriquest in Michigan described the company's business model this way: "People entrusting their entire home and everything they've worked for in their life to people who have just walked in off the street and don't know anything about mortgages and are trying to do anything they can to take advantage of them."

Ameriquest was not alone. Other companies, eager to get a piece of the market for high-profit loans, copied its methods, setting up shop in Orange County and helping to transform the county into the Silicon Valley of subprime lending. With big investors willing to pay top dollar for assets backed by this new breed of mortgages, the push to make more and more loans reached a frenzy among the county's subprime loan shops. "The atmosphere was like this giant cocaine party you see on TV," said Sylvia Vega-Sutfin, who worked as an account executive at BNC Mortgage, a fast-growing operation headquartered in Orange County just down the Costa Mesa Freeway from Ameriquest's headquarters. "It was like this giant rush of urgency." One manager told Vega-Sutfin and her coworkers that there was no turning back; he had no choice but to push for mind-blowing production numbers. "I have to close thirty loans a month," he said, "because that's what my family's lifestyle demands."

Michelle Seymour, one of Vega-Sutfin's colleagues, spotted her first suspect loan days after she began working as a mortgage underwriter at BNC's Sacramento branch in early 2005. The documents in the file indicated the borrower was making a six-figure salary coordinating dances at a Mexican restaurant. All the numbers on the borrower's W-2 tax form ended in zeros—an unlikely happenstance—and the Social Security and tax bite didn't match the borrower's income. When Seymour complained to a manager, she said, he was blasé, telling her, "It takes a lot to have a loan declined."

BNC was no fly-by-night operation. It was owned by one of Wall Street's most storied investment banks, Lehman Brothers. The bank had made a big bet on housing and mortgages, styling itself as a player in commercial real estate and, especially, subprime lending. "In the mortgage business, we used to say, 'All roads lead to Lehman,' " one industry veteran recalled.Lehman had bought a stake in BNC in 2000 and had taken full ownership in 2004, figuring it could earn even more money in the subprime business by cutting out the middleman. Wall Street bankers and investors flocked to the loans produced by BNC, Ameriquest, and other subprime operators; the steep fees and interest rates extracted from borrowers allowed the bankers to charge fat commissions for packaging the securities and provided generous yields for investors who purchased them. Up-front fees on subprime loans totaled thousands of dollars. Interest rates often started out deceptively low—perhaps at 7 or 8 percent—but they almost always adjusted upward, rising to 10 percent, 12 percent, and beyond. When their rates spiked, borrowers' monthly payments increased, too, often climbing by hundreds of dollars. Borrowers who tried to escape overpriced loans by refinancing into another mortgage usually found themselves paying thousands of dollars more in backend fees—"prepayment penalties" that punished them for paying off their loans early. Millions of these loans—tied to modest homes in places like Atlantic Beach, Florida; Saginaw, Michigan; and East San Jose, California—helped generate great fortunes for financiers and investors. They also helped lay America's economy low and sparked a worldwide financial crisis.

The subprime market did not cause the U.S. and global financial meltdowns by itself. Other varieties of home loans and a host of arcane financial innovations—such as collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps—also came into play. Nevertheless, subprime played a central role in the debacle. It served as an early proving ground for financial engineers who sold investors and regulators alike on the idea that it was possible, through accounting alchemy, to turn risky assets into "Triple-A-rated" securities that were nearly as safe as government bonds. In turn, financial wizards making bets with CDOs and credit default swaps used subprime mortgages as the raw material for their speculations. Subprime, as one market watcher said, was "the leading edge of a financial hurricane."

This book tells the story of the rise and fall of subprime by chronicling the rise and fall of two corporate empires: Ameriquest and Lehman Brothers. It is a story about the melding of two financial cultures separated by a continent: Orange County and Wall Street.

Ameriquest and its strongest competitors in subprime had their roots in Orange County, a sunny land of beauty and wealth that has a history as a breeding ground for white-collar crime: boiler rooms, S&L frauds, real-estate swindles. That history made it an ideal setting for launching the subprime industry, which grew in large measure thanks to bait-and-switch salesmanship and garden-variety deception. By the height of the nation's mortgage boom, Orange County was home to four of the nation's six biggest subprime lenders. Together, these four lenders—Ameriquest, Option One, Fremont Investment & Loan, and New Century—accounted for nearly a third of the subprime market. Other subprime shops, too, sprung up throughout the county, many of them started by former employees of Ameriquest and its corporate forebears, Long Beach Savings and Long Beach Mortgage.

Lehman Brothers was, of course, one of the most important institutions on Wall Street, a firm with a rich history dating to before the Civil War. Under its pugnacious CEO, Richard Fuld, Lehman helped bankroll many of the nation's shadiest subprime lenders, including Ameriquest. "Lehman never saw a subprime lender they didn't like," one consumer lawyer who fought the industry's abuses said.Lehman and other Wall Street powers provided the financial backing and sheen of respectability that transformed subprime from a tiny corner of the mortgage market into an economic behemoth capable of triggering the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

A long list of mortgage entrepreneurs and Wall Street bankers cultivated the tactics that fueled subprime's growth and its collapse, and a succession of politicians and regulators looked the other way as abuses flourished and the nation lurched toward disaster: Angelo Mozilo and Countrywide Financial; Bear Stearns, Washington Mutual, Wells Fargo; Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve; and many more. Still, no Wall Street firm did more than Lehman to create the subprime monster. And no figure or institution did more to bring subprime's abuses to life across the nation than Roland Arnall and Ameriquest.

Among his employees, subprime's founding father was feared and admired. He was a figure of rumor and speculation, a mysterious billionaire with a rags-to-riches backstory, a hardscrabble street vendor who reinvented himself as a big-time real-estate developer, a corporate titan, a friend to many of the nation's most powerful elected leaders. He was a man driven, according to some who knew him, by a desire to conquer and dominate. "Roland could be the biggest bastard in the world and the most charming guy in the world," said one executive who worked for Arnall in subprime's early days. "And it could be minutes apart."He displayed his charm to people who had the power to help him or hurt him. He cultivated friendships with politicians as well as civil rights advocates and antipoverty crusaders who might be hostile to the unconventional loans his companies sold in minority and working-class neighborhoods. Many people who knew him saw him as a visionary, a humanitarian, a friend to the needy. "Roland was one of the most generous people I have ever met," a former business partner said.He also left behind, as another former associate put it, "a trail of bodies"—a succession of employees, friends, relatives, and business partners who said he had betrayed them. In summing up his own split with Arnall, his best friend and longtime business partner said, "I was screwed."Another former colleague, a man who helped Arnall give birth to the modern subprime mortgage industry, said: "Deep down inside he was a good man. But he had an evil side. When he pulled that out, it was bad. He could be extremely cruel." When they parted ways, he said, Arnall hadn't paid him all the money he was owed. But, he noted, Arnall hadn't cheated him as badly as he could have. "He fucked me. But within reason."

Roland Arnall built a company that became a household name, but shunned the limelight for himself. The business partner who said Arnall had "screwed" him recalled that Arnall fancied himself a puppet master who manipulated great wealth and controlled a network of confederates to perform his bidding. Another former business associate, an underling who admired him, explained that Arnall worked to ingratiate himself to fair-lending activists for a simple reason: "You can take that straight out of The Godfather: 'Keep your enemies close.' "

Michael W. Hudson is a staff writer at the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit journalism organization. He previously worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and as an investigator for the Center for Responsible Lending. The winner of a George Polk Award, Hudson has also written for Forbes, The Big Money, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Mother Jones. He edited the award-winning book Merchants of Misery and appeared in the documentary film Maxed Out. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

The above is excerpted from THE MONSTER: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America--and Spawned a Global Crisis by Michael W. Hudson, just published by Times Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright (c) 2010 by Michael W. Hudson. All rights reserved.

Treasury Hid A.I.G. Loss, Report Says

The United States Treasury concealed $40 billion in likely taxpayer losses on the bailout of the American International Group earlier this month, when it abandoned its usual method for valuing investments, according to a report by the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“In our view, this is a significant failure in their transparency,” said Neil M. Barofsky, the inspector general, in an interview on Monday.

In early October, the Treasury issued a report predicting that the taxpayers would ultimately lose just $5 billion on their investment in A.I.G. [AIG 42.03 0.93 (+2.26%) ], a remarkable outcome, since the insurance company was extended $182 billion in taxpayer money in the early months of its rescue. The prediction of a modest loss, widely reported as A.I.G., the Federal Reserve and the Treasury rushed to complete an exit plan, contrasted with an earlier prediction by the Treasury that the taxpayers would lose $45 billion.

“The American people have a right for full and complete disclosure about their investment in A.I.G.,” Mr. Barofsky said, “and the U.S. government has an obligation, when they’re describing potential losses, to give complete information.”

An official of the Treasury disputed Mr. Barofsky’s conclusions, saying the department appropriately used different methods for different purposes. He said the smaller loss was a projection of future events, and the larger one was the result of an audit, which includes only realized gains and losses.

The Treasury will include more information about A.I.G. when it issues its own audited financial statement in November. Because those numbers must pass an auditor’s scrutiny, the loss it reports is likely to grow once again, to more than $5 billion.

Members of Congress who have been critical of the federal bailouts jumped on Monday to commend the special inspector general and challenge the varying numbers.

“If a private company filed information with the government that was just as misleading and disingenuous as what Treasury has done here, you’d better believe there would be calls for an investigation from the S.E.C. and others,” said Representative Darrell Issa, the senior Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He called the Treasury’s October report on A.I.G. “blatant manipulation.”

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, said he thought “administration officials are trying so hard to put a positive spin on program losses that they played fast and loose with the numbers.” He said it reminded him of “misleading” claims that General Motors had paid back its rescue loans with interest ahead of schedule.

Mr. Barofsky said he had written to the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, in mid-October, after widespread reports in the news media about the possibility that the Treasury could wind down its position in A.I.G. with just a $5 billion loss. He recommended that the Treasury correct the October report, perhaps by adding a footnote saying the methodology for calculating its losses had changed.

The Treasury declined. It sent back a letter saying its methodology for calculating losses had not really changed, although its assumptions had. For instance, it based the values of several future transactions on the current price of A.I.G.’s common stock. The letter, signed by Timothy G. Massad, the acting assistant secretary for financial stability, said this reflected the fact that a crucial component of its exit strategy would be the exchange of preferred for common stock.

Mr. Barofsky said the government failed to account for the volatility of A.I.G.’s common stock. A relatively small portion of the company is publicly traded, and that portion will be soon diluted further. The government now has a 79 percent stake, which will rise to about 92 percent, in the form of common stock, under the exit plan.

It is not clear whether the Treasury will be able to sell so much stock without making the price fall. Mr. Barofsky said the Treasury’s projection also assumed that all the other steps for the federal government to withdraw from A.I.G. would go smoothly.

He said the Treasury’s statements tended to contribute to a “widespread, but mistaken, belief that TARP is at or near its end.”

As inspector general, Mr. Barofsky has extensive powers of investigation but no enforcement power.

This story originally appeared in the The New York Times

CFTC’s Chilton sees silver manipulation efforts

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — A federal futures regulator said Tuesday he believes there have been numerous attempts to fraudulently influence silver market prices, and he urged the agency to prosecute those who may have violated commodities laws.

Bart Chilton, a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, made his comments Tuesday at the start of a public meeting where the agency will be proposing new rules to strengthen its anti-fraud and anti-manipulation powers.

The agency’s enforcement division for over two years now has been probing the silver /quotes/comstock/21e!f1:si\z10 (SIZ10 2,382, +27.60, +1.17%) market amid a flurry of complaints by investors who have raised fears about potential price manipulation. The CFTC hasn’t provided any updates on the investigation, and Chilton said he thinks “the public deserves some answers to their concerns that silver markets are being, and have been, manipulated.”

“I believe there have been repeated attempts to influence prices in the silver markets,” he said. “There have been fraudulent efforts to persuade and deviously control that price.”

He urged prosecution of those who may have violated the law, but said he can’t prejudge what the agency will do with its investigation.

Confirmed: PayPal sabotages New Hampshire vote recount

I received the following in an email from an AFTF coordinator in CA:

Hello Volunteers!

On our California Conference Call earlier this evening, I mentioned that I had been
informed that the Granny Warriors’ PayPal account had been frozen at the last minute
by PayPal and the freeze prevented the transfer of the fee for the New Hampshire
vote recount. I promised to verify this information and I have now done so.

I am informed directly by the Granny Warriors that PayPal did in fact freeze the
funds earmarked for the Recount Fees! So, now you know who to blame for the failure
to get a recount of the New Hampshire vote count. PayPal.
The application for a recount of the New Hampshire vote required a deposit of
$55,600 to the New Hampshire Secretary of State no later than 3:00 P.M. this
afternoon, January 15th. A huge and successful effort by the Granny Warriors raised
the money and they ordered the transfer to the Secretary. However, at the very last
moment, PayPal FROZE THE ACCOUNT and did not transfer the money. The deadline for
payment of the deposit passed and the recount application was rejected for lack of

Emergency efforts by our folks on the scene in New Hampshire to push the recount
through the Secretary’s office were not successful and a lot of frustration has been
expressed on both sides as a result. The problem was not with the Secretary of State
for New Hampshire, it was with PayPal. I understand that the matter may remain
unresolved and a recount may still be possible. I am hoping for additional
information early Wednesday, January 16th.

I am sure that PayPal will have a lot of excuses, but lame excuses are not
acceptable under these circumstances.

Here is the PayPal contact URL:

Thank you to the Granny Warriors and to the others on the ground in New Hampshire
who went beyond the call of duty for the recount and a big BOO to PayPal. We should
remember who our friends are. And we should also remember which companies,
organizations and people act to oppose our fight for Liberty and Self-Determination.
I will pass along more information as it becomes available.


I redacted the signature line, but will provide it to Info Wars if they contact me directly at

Dollar at Risk of Becoming 'Toxic Waste': Charts

The dollar's slump could get far worse if the dollar index takes out last year's low, Robin Griffiths, technical strategist at Cazenove Capital, told CNBC Monday.

"If the (dollar index) takes out the low that was made roughly a year ago I really think that will not only encourage more sales, it will cause a little bit of minor panic," Griffiths said. "A year ago it was deemed too cheap, if it goes any lower than that it's actually become toxic waste."

The dollar [.DXY 77.675 0.57 (+0.74%) ] resumed its recent downtrend Monday in the wake of a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of 20 nations at the weekend. The meeting failed to yield a definitive agreement on currencies, putting selling pressure on the greenback.

"The dollar is being trashed, we've actually had effectively devaluation of about 14 percent in the last two months," Griffiths said.

His view is contrary to that of HSBC foreign exchange strategist David Bloom, who told CNBC that a continuation of the currencies war after the G20 might put pressure on risky assets, causing a flight to safety into the dollar.

The outlook for the stock markets is more positive and the major indexes could be set to benefit from the seasonal upswing that typically starts at this time of year, according to Griffiths.

"We are now at the very beginning, on an ordinary year, of the strong season of the year," he said.

"The fact that it didn't go super weak in the weakest season on the year doesn't mean the seasonality isn't there, it means it was overridden, this time of course by the printing press of the Fed," he added.

Typically the major stock markets see a seasonal decline in September, but this year the month saw the markets rise strongly.

The seasonal upswing should add to any positive momentum being generated by expectations of further monetary easing from the Federal Reserve, Griffiths said.

If the stock rally materializes, it will likely last until the end of the year and one of the best ways to take advantage of it is to buy good quality, large-cap stocks, according to Griffiths.

"The dividend yield on the first-class equities, the sort of things that dominate FTSE, are actually safer as a stream of income than many government bonds are," he said.

Owners Seek to Sell at Loss as Banks Push Foreclosure

Bank of America and GMAC are firing up their formidable foreclosure machines again today, after a brief pause.

But hard-pressed homeowners like Lydia Sweetland are asking why lenders often balk at a less disruptive solution: short sales, which allow owners to sell deeply devalued homes for less than what remains on their mortgage.

Ms. Sweetland, 47, tried such a sale this summer out of desperation. She had lost her high-paying job and drained her once-flush retirement savings, and her bank, GMAC, wouldn’t modify her mortgage. After seven months of being unable to pay her mortgage, she decided that a short sale would give her more time to move out of her Phoenix home and damage her credit rating less than a foreclosure.

She owes $206,000 and found a buyer who would pay $200,000. Last Friday, GMAC rejected that offer and said it would foreclose in seven days, even though, according to Ms. Sweetland’s broker, the bank estimates it will make $19,000 less on a foreclosure than on a short sale.

“I guess I could salute and say, ‘O.K., I’m walking, here’s the keys,’ ” says Ms. Sweetland, as she sits in a plastic Adirondack chair on her patio. “But I need a little time, and I don’t want to just leave the house vacant. I loved this neighborhood.”

GMAC declined to be interviewed about Ms. Sweetland’s case.

The halt in most foreclosures the last few weeks gave a hint of hope to homeowners like Ms. Sweetland, who found breathing room to pursue alternatives. Consumer advocates took the view that this might pressure banks to offer mortgage modifications on better terms and perhaps drive interest in short sales, which are rising sharply in many corners of the nation.

But some major lenders took a quick inventory of their foreclosure practices and insisted their processes were sound. They now seem intent on resuming foreclosures. And that could have a profound effect on many homeowners.

In Arizona, thousands of homeowners have turned to short sales to avoid foreclosures, and many end up running a daunting procedural gantlet. Several of the largest lenders have set up complicated and balky application systems.

Concerns about fraud are one of the reasons lenders are so careful about short sales. Sometimes well-off homeowners want to portray their finances as dire and cut their losses on a property. In other instances, distressed homeowners try to make a short sale to a relative, who would then sell it back to them (a practice that is illegal). A recent industry report estimates that short sale fraud occurs in at least 2 percent of sales and costs banks about $300 million annually.

Short sales are also hindered when homeowners fail to forward the proper papers, have tax liens or cannot find a buyer.

Because of such concerns, homeowners often are instructed that they must be delinquent and they must apply for a modification first, even if chances of approval are slim. The aversion to short sales also leads banks to take many months to process applications, and some lenders set unrealistically high sales prices — known as broker price opinions — and hire workers who say they are poorly trained.

As a result, quite a few homeowners seeking short sales — banks will not provide precise numbers — topple into foreclosure, sometimes, critics say, for reasons that are hard to understand. Ms. Sweetland and her broker say they are confounded by her foreclosure, because in Arizona’s depressed real estate market, foreclosed homes often sit vacant for many months before banks are able to resell them.

“Banks are historically reluctant to do short sales, fearing that somehow the homeowner is getting an advantage on them,” said Diane E. Thompson, of counsel to the National Consumer Law Center. “There’s this irrational belief that if you foreclose and hold on to the property for six months, somehow prices will rebound.”

Homeowners, advocates and realty agents offer particularly pointed criticism of Bank of America [BAC 11.30 0.14 (+1.25%) ], the nation’s largest servicer of mortgages, and a recipient of billions of dollars in federal bailout aid. Its holdings account for 31 percent of the pending foreclosures in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and Scottsdale, according to an analysis for The Arizona Republic.

The bank instructs real estate agents to use its computer program to evaluate short sales. But in three cases observed by The New York Times in collaboration with two real estate agents, the bank’s system repeatedly asked for and lost the same information and generated inaccurate responses.

In half a dozen more cases examined by The New York Times, Bank of America rejected short sale offers, foreclosed and auctioned off houses at lower prices.

Is Today's Rate of Unemployment Higher than During the Great Depression of the 1930s?

It is difficult to compare current unemployment with that during the Great Depression. In the Depression, unemployment numbers weren't tracked very consistently, and the U-3 and U-6 statistics we use today weren't used back then. And statistical "adjustments" such as the "birth-death model" are being used today that weren't used in the 1930s.

But let's discuss the facts we do know.

The Wall Street Journal noted in July 2009:

The average length of unemployment is higher than it's been since government began tracking the data in 1948.


The job losses are also now equal to the net job gains over the previous nine years, making this the only recession since the Great Depression to wipe out all job growth from the previous expansion.

The Christian Science Monitor wrote an article in June entitled, "Length of unemployment reaches Great Depression levels".

60 Minutes - in a must-watch segment - notes that our current situation tops the Great Depression in one respect: never had we had a recession this deep with a recovery this flat. 60 Minutes points out that unemployment has been at 9.5% or above for 14 months:

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David M. Kennedy notes in Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (Oxford, 1999) that - during Herbert Hoover's presidency, more than 13 million Americans lost their jobs. Of those, 62% found themselves out of work for longer than a year; 44% longer than two years; 24% longer than three years; and 11% longer than four years.

Blytic calculates that the current average duration of unemployment is some 32 weeks, the median duration is around 2o weeks, and there are approximately 6 million people unemployed for 27 weeks or longer.

As I noted in January 2009:

In 1930, there were 123 million Americans.

At the height of the Depression in 1933, 24.9% of the total work force or 11,385,000 people, were unemployed.

Will unemployment reach 25% during this current crisis?

I don't know. But the number of people unemployed will be higher than during the Depression.

Specifically, there are currently some 300 million Americans, 154.4 million of whom are in the work force.

Unemployment is expected to exceed 10% by many economists, and Obama "has warned that the unemployment rate will explode to at least 10% in 2009".

10 percent of 154 million is 15 million people out of work - more than during the Great Depression.

Given that the broader U-6 measure of unemployment is currently around 17% ( puts the figure at 22%), the current numbers are that much worse.

But it is important to look at some details.

For example, official Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers put U-6 above 20% in several states:

  • California: 21.9
  • Nevada: 21.5
  • Michigan 21.6
  • Oregon 20.1

And certain races and age groups have gotten hit hard.

According to Congress' Joint Economic Committee:

By February 2010, the U-6 rate for African Americans rose to 24.9 percent.

34.5% of young African American men were unemployed in October 2009.

As the Center for Immigration Studies noted last December:

Unemployment rates for less-educated and younger workers:

  • As of the third quarter of 2009, the overall unemployment rate for native-born Americans is 9.5 percent; the U-6 measure shows it as 15.9 percent.

  • The unemployment rate for natives with a high school degree or less is 13.1 percent. Their U-6 measure is 21.9 percent.

  • The unemployment rate for natives with less than a high school education is 20.5 percent. Their U-6 measure is 32.4 percent.

  • The unemployment rate for young native-born Americans (18-29) who have only a high school education is 19 percent. Their U-6 measure is 31.2 percent.

  • The unemployment rate for native-born blacks with less than a high school education is 28.8 percent. Their U-6 measure is 42.2 percent.

  • The unemployment rate for young native-born blacks (18-29) with only a high school education is 27.1 percent. Their U-6 measure is 39.8 percent.

  • The unemployment rate for native-born Hispanics with less than a high school education is 23.2 percent. Their U-6 measure is 35.6 percent.

  • The unemployment rate for young native-born Hispanics (18-29) with only a high school degree is 20.9 percent. Their U-6 measure is 33.9 percent.

No wonder Chris Tilly - director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UCLA - says that African-Americans and high school dropouts are experiencing depression-level unemployment.

And as I have previously noted, unemployment for those who earn $150,000 or more is only 3%, while unemployment for the poor is 31%.

The bottom line is that it is difficult to compare current unemployment with what occurred during the Great Depression. In some ways things seem better now. In other ways, they don't.

Factors like where you live, race, income and age greatly effect one's experience of the severity of unemployment in America.

In addition, wages have plummeted for those who are employed. As Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter David Cay Johnston notes:

Every 34th wage earner in America in 2008 went all of 2009 without earning a single dollar, new data from the Social Security Administration show. Total wages, median wages, and average wages all declined....

And see this, this, and this.

Trade of the Decade: The Power Elite's Grand Strategy

The key to understanding the inflation-deflation debate is to ask what would benefit the Financial Power Elites who own the debt as opposed to owing the debt.

A number of readers have asked me to weigh in on the inflation-deflation question. To many minds, getting this right is the key to choosing successful investment strategies going forward.

I am going to approach the question with the goal of reaching an integrated understanding, as per my Survival+ analysis, rather than be forced to make a binary choice (either deflation or inflation, or one followed by the other).

I am indebted to correspondents Cheryl A, Harun I., B.C., Chris Sullins and Zeus Y. for sharing their thoughts on this topic, as well as the analyses of Mish Shedlock, John Hussman, Karl Denninger and many others.

I am going to start my analysis by listing what we know. Then I am going to proceed to the key survival+ question of cui bono--to whose benefit? Why does answering this question matter?

Because extreme concentrations of wealth lead to concentrated political influence. Thus we are not dealing with a mechanical system here in which the gears of money supply, pricing of risk, and so on are mechanistically processed as if by "invisible hands;" on the contrary, the hands are quite visible, and the feedback between the political and the financial is self-reinforcing.

Which is a fancy way of saying that the Financial Power Elites (corporatocracy, Plutocracy, rentier-financial Elites, etc.) will look out for their best interests. As Harun I. recently pointed out in our ongoing discussion of Power Elites and systemic risk, the hyper-wealthy are no different than the middle class or indeed any other class in this regard: we're all looking out for our best interests.

The difference is the Financial Power Elites are partnered with (or own) the political class of politicos and high-caste apparatchiks which are tasked with keeping the machinery of governance running smoothly to the benefit of the status quo.

Here is the key point I wish to emphasize: we will not "get" inflation or deflation by chance or mechanistic functions, but by a series of policy choices which will be made to benefit the Financial Power Elites and their functionaries in the Central State.

As I noted in Hyperinflation Is a Political Process (October 21, 2010), any policy which is driving inflation can be reversed politically at any time. Thus there is nothing inevitable in the current system except the following:

Demographics and the intrinsic limits of exponentially rising debt and consumption dictate that the status quo will implode at some point in the near future. Historical cycles suggest the point of implosion will occur around 2021-2022, but nothing is written in stone.

Indeed, were the status quo to transform into a financial and resource-consumption model that was truly sustainable, then the implosion could be avoided altogether. But the concentrations of wealth and political power are so profound that such a transformation seems unlikely, unless the Power Elites concluded such a radical transformation was in their best interests.

So rather than look at inflation-deflation as mechanical models, I ask: which one would benefit those with the wealth and power? If we answer that, then we can predict which will occur, regardless of what various models predict.

I would like to point out that defining deflation and inflation can end up being somewhat like defining love; the words are inadequate to the task of parsing out the various permutations.

Thus I prefer the more discrete term purchasing power which doesn't demand a mechanism for price discovery. It simply asks if your currency (or gold, quatloos, etc.--whatever "money" you are measuring) can buy more or less of items such as oil, grain, coffee, sugar, rental housing, consumer luxuries, and so on.

This distinction helps us avoid various rabbit holes associated with "inflation." According to conventional thinking, inflation is a monetary phenomenon, that is, "too much money chasing too few goods."

But this is easily confused with currency depreciation, which also causes prices to rise in the sense that our money buys less oil, etc. than it did in the past. This is not the same as the inflation caused by an economy being flooded with cash.

We also have to make some distinctions between asset inflation and standard-issue inflation, in which prices and wages may enter a wage-price spiral. Assets can rise in price and purchasing power even as the "real economy" stagnates.

Lastly, there are our old free-market friends, supply and demand. If oil is suddenly in short supply due to war or other severe disruption, then the rise in price is not a result of an increase in money supply (inflation) or currency devaluation; the fact remains that it takes more currency buy a gallon of petrol than it did before the supply disruption, even if there is no inflation and the currency has remained stable against other currencies and gold.

All this is to say that trying to parse out the meanings of these "hot button" words and all the dynamics can end up being more distracting and confusing than enlightening.

On to what we know.

1. We know that wealth is highly concentrated in the U.S., and becoming more concentrated with the passage of time. I often publish this chart to demonstrate how the majority of Americans have few if any financial assets.

Source: Wealth, Income, and Power.

The top-earning 20 percent of Americans — those making more than $100,000 each year — received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent earned by those below the poverty line.

U.S. median household income fell 3 percent in 2009 to $50,221, the second straight annual drop, the Census Bureau said.

One Year Later, No Sign of Improvement in America's Income Inequality Problem:

Income inequality has grown massively since 2000. According to Harvard Magazine, 66% of 2001-2007's income growth went to the top 1% of Americans, while the other 99% of the population got a measly 6% increase.

2. The nation's economy is heavily dependent on two revenue/consumption streams: the top slice of households and the Federal Government, which is borrowing roughly 12% of GDP (borrowing $1.6 trillion, GDP of about $14 trillion) annually to prop up the economy.

But the Top 5 percent in income earners — those households earning $210,000 or more — account for about one-third of consumer outlays, including spending on goods and services, interest payments on consumer debt and cash gifts, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by Moody’s Analytics.

Obstacle to Deficit Cutting: A Nation on Entitlements: 44% of all households receive a check or cash-equivalent from the Federal government, while 45% pay no Federal income tax.

Note the reliance on Central State borrowing and spending to keep household income from cratering.

3. The top slice of households pays the vast majority of the taxes, but the top 1%'s share of national income has risen faster than their tax burdens.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the top 20% paid 86.3% of all Federal income taxes.

4. This same top slice owns most of the assets/net worth in the nation. As I documented in Housing and the Collapse of Upward Mobility (April 16, 2010):

There were 51,487,282 housing units with a mortgage and 23,875,803 Housing units without a mortgage as of 2008.

As of the end of 2009, total equity in household real estate was a paltry $6.24 trillion of which about $5.25 trillion was held in free-and-clear homes (32% of all household real estate, i.e. 32% of $16.5 trillion).

That leaves about $1 trillion--a mere 1.85% of the nation's total net worth-- of equity in the 51 million homes with mortgages.

Their 7% share of the nation's financial wealth? That is 7% of $45 trillion, or $3 trillion, including all stocks, bonds and securities in IRAs, 401K retirement funds, savings and other accounts.

That's $3 trillion held by 108 million households, compared to $32.4 trillion held by the top 5% of households (72% of $45 trillion), roughly 7 million households.

You can confirm the numbers yourself by examining the Fed Flow of Funds.

5. The world is awash with credit/debt. Total US credit outstanding rose from 221 percent of GDP in 2000 to 291 percent in 2008, reaching $42 trillion. Eurozone indebtedness rose higher, to 304 percent of GDP by the end of 2008, while UK borrowing climbed even higher, to 320 percent.

6. Though the Federal Reserve can create trillions of dollars in new credit, and lower interest rates to near-zero, it cannot control where that credit flows. As others have documented, most of the liquidity created by the Fed has not flowed into the real economy; it has flowed into the banks to bolster their reserves or into speculative chasing of yields in risk-assets.

As Mish has pointed out, neither the Fed nor the banks can force people or enterprises to borrow money. Therefore "printing money" via credit creation does not mean vast new floods of money gush into the real economy. On the contrary:

7. The flood of global quantitative easing/liquidity/credit has flowed into risk-assets as zero-interest rate policies (ZIRP) have created a mad rush for yield. Rather than create new borrowing and spending in the real economy, as the Fed claims was the intention of its policies, the trillions of dollars, euros, yuan, etc. have flowed into emerging markets (many of which are up fantastic percentages in the past few years), commodities, corporate debt (which as surged to $7 trillion in the U.S.), Chinese real estate and developed-nation's equity markets.

This has created global bubbles in a variety of asset classes.

8. The U.S. economy has been financialized. From The Quiet Coup by Simon Johnson:

From 1973 to 1985, the financial sector never earned more than 16 percent of domestic corporate profits. In 1986, that figure reached 19 percent. In the 1990s, it oscillated between 21 percent and 30 percent, higher than it had ever been in the postwar period. This decade, it reached 41 percent. Pay rose just as dramatically. From 1948 to 1982, average compensation in the financial sector ranged between 99 percent and 108 percent of the average for all domestic private industries. From 1983, it shot upward, reaching 181 percent in 2007.

In the last 40 years, financial profits went from just under 20 percent of corporate profits to around 40 percent before the financial crisis. Financial company stocks became 22 percent of the Standard & Poor’s financial index by 2006, up from 13 percent in 1999.

The shadow banking system grew from a mere $500 billion in 1970 to $30 trillion by September 2008.

9. You cannot control everything in global markets. The reason for this is that other nations trade with the U.S. and they are pursuing their own best interests. Also, there are still relatively open markets for currencies and commodities on a global scale, and these cannot be set by political fiat, though the machinery of the Fed and Treasury aims to manipulate or direct these markets to meet the goals of those setting the agendas for the Fed and Treasury.

As I believe John Hussman pointed out, in an unfettered market then countries with high needs for capital and/or domestic inflation would pay substantially higher interest rates than other economies. But with quantitative easing and ZIRP the Central States' policy of choice, then bond yields and prices are locked down and unable to respond in a market fashion (that is, discovering and pricing risk and return).

That leaves all the adjusting to the foreign exchange markets. China's peg to the dollar, for example, is one attempt to control everything: the currency's value, China's bond yields and its domestic money supply.

But the net result is that "hot money" has flooded into China's real estate market, crating a monumental bubble. So you can't control everything, even if you are a Central State with authoritarian controls over Central Banking and currency pegs.

So where does all this leave us? With this question: if you owned 93% of the net worth in the U.S., what would benefit you most?

Let's ask two other questions: who benefits from inflation and who benefits from deflation (increasing purchasing power as borrowing and economic activity decline).

In broad brush strokes:

Those with massive debts benefit from inflation as they can pay down their debt with "cheaper" money. This is the reason many people give for why the Federal government loves inflation and why the Fed is striving to create it: so the Central State can pay the interest on its fast-rising debt without crimping future spending.

The trick here is that wages and revenues have to rise in tandem with costs. If wages/income/tax revenues stagnate as prices rise (purchasing power declines) then everyone's net income left to service debt falls.

As noted above, median household incomes are declining.

Conversely, those with fixed incomes benefit from deflation. If everything you need gets cheaper with time, then your cash is earning a nice yield even if its nominal yield is zero.

The problem is incomes (and tax revenues) also tend to decline in deflation, so debts become ever more burdensome. This is the reason usually given for why the status quo fears and loathes deflation.

But remember: every debt is someone else's asset. If I owe you $300,000 for a mortgage at 5%, and next year inflation enables me to pay you off with one month's salary, then your asset has lost most of its purchasing power. My debt is gone and you have seen your assets wiped out.

My conclusion: the idea that those owning most of the financial and property assets would welcome inflation makes little sense. If inflation eats away the value of debt, it also eats away the value of debt-based assets (i.e. the mortgage I owe you).

For the same reason, I can't see the value of a depreciating U.S. dollar to those who own 93% of all financial assets. Sure, these Elites have overseas assets, gold, etc., but a substantial percentage of their wealth is still in dollar assets. For them to allow or welcome the destruction of the dollar--that makes no sense. On the contrary, their purchasing power rises along with the dollar.

The Financial Power Elites have good reason to prefer higher interest rates and low or no inflation, as I described in The Con of the Decade (July 8, 2010).

The ideal scenario for the Financial Power Elites which own the debt is modest deflation, as that increases the purchasing power of their income stream. The ideal setup is a nation/world of debt-serfs who are still able to service their debts and pay their taxes. The only real danger is if debt service and taxes become too burdensome and they revolt.

So the Financial Power Elites do have to care about the top 20% below them, as these tax mules pay most of the Central State's taxes. That's important because the Power Elites will likely end up owning high-yield long-term Treasury bonds.

They also have to care a bit (but not too much) about the bottom 60% who own no assets to speak of, as this class could create political turmoil were they to recognize the hopelessness of their serfdom. So the Power Elites will support bread-and-circuses: cheap entitlement programs like food stamps, and abundant entertainment (cable TV and Internet). This combination has a long history of success in placating and distracting the masses.

Out-of-control costly programs like Medicare will be pared back. They are only valuable as ways of diverting the national income into cartels owned by the Power Elites. To the degree they threaten to disrupt the overall financial status quo, they will be pared down via reduction of benefits.

If commodity prices get too outrageous, then the Power Elites will support Central State rationing and other programs which ensure the bottom 60% will have few reasons to rebel and plentiful reasons to silently, passively comply.

All the above leads me to this Grand Strategy for the Financial Power Elites. Most of us have a difficult time putting ourselves in the shoes of those tasked with maintaining the private purchasing power of $500 million, or $5 billion, and the inability to think on this scale leads to obsessive focus on financial minutae.

If I had $5 billion, and the political power that goes with spending a tiny sliver of that on political donations and lobbying, then here's what I would do, as an entirely "obvious" Grand Strategy:

1. I would slowly liquidate my common-stock equity and long-bond positions, and maintain my precious-metals positions (preferably ownership of the mines than the bullion) and my preferred stock in global corporations.

Insiders selling 1,169 to 1 (zero hedge)

2. I would engineer a global recession that implodes all the asset bubbles around the world--Chinese real estate, commodities, emerging market equities, etc., as demand collapsed and supply was suddenly revealed as overly abundant. (Please see my oil "head-fake" entries for how this works: Oil: One Last Head-Fake? (May 9, 2008)

This would create a mad dash for dollars and other cash to pay down debt taken on in the "easy money"/ZIRP era (i.e. 2008-2010), and lead to wholesale dumping of all assets which still have value. The higher the value (i.e. gold) the quicker they will be unloaded for cash: for instance, oil and energy-based equities.

3. I would sit on my hoard of cash while the selling created a positive feedback loop and prices plummeted in a downward panic spiral.

4. As net worth vanished in the tens of trillions of dollars/yen/yuan/euros, interest rates would rise dramatically as those desperate for funds compete for dwindling free cash. Revenues of oil exporters and other exporters crash, drying up a once-reliable source of cash.

5. When premium real estate properties and equities are selling for 10%-20% of their pre-crash valuations, I will begin buying. I won't buy long-term bonds until the yields skyrocket; then I will jump in with all four feet.

6. As the long-term shortage of commodities eventually re-asserts itself, then I (and my other Financial Power Elites cohort) will own most of what the world needs to function, including the Central State tax revenues which will increasingly be directed to making interest payments.

7. I will be a strong supporter of food stamps and other low-cost rebellion-reduction programs, and "soft" and "hard" power to enforce my ownership of assets which I purchased.

8. As interest rates rise, the U.S. dollar will strengthen, further increasing my purchasing power.

9. I will oppose inflationary policies as needless reductions in my purchasing power. I don't owe debt, I own debt as an asset.

Bottom line: expect a crash in commodity prices and other asset bubbles, a much stronger dollar and rapidly rising interest rates. I am playing it as it lays, and this is precisely what I expect to unfold between 2010 and 2014.

Special podcast: Steve over at Two Beers with Steve was generous enough to invite me back to discuss topics of great importance to both of us and to you: health, diet, fitness and taking charge of our own lives. Please give it a listen: Two Beers with Steve podcast.

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