President Obama’s GM Bailout Bailed Out the UAW not GM

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 19th, 2012

Week in Review

GM got into trouble because they couldn’t sell cars competitively.  Because they had higher labor costs than the foreign competitors taking their market share.  And they simply couldn’t sell enough cars at their high prices to pay their labor costs.  Which led them to bankruptcy.  But President Obama saved GM.  By bailing them out.  And putting them on the road to prosperity.  Or did he (see Morning Bell: Taxpayers’ Auto Bailout Losses Mounting by Amy Payne posted 8/14/2012 on The Foundry)?

Taxpayers will lose even more on the auto bailout than previously thought, as the Treasury has just revised its estimate upward to $25 billion. This may still underestimate the losses to come—yet President Obama plans to tout the auto bailout as a key accomplishment of his Administration…

Heritage labor expert James Sherk and co-author Todd Zywicki found that all of the taxpayer losses occurred because the Administration manipulated bankruptcy law to shelter the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) compensation. None of the losses were necessary to preserve jobs, and taxpayers spent billions to prop up the compensation of some of the most highly paid workers in America. They write:

We estimate that the Administration redistributed $26.5 billion more to the UAW than it would have received had it been treated as it usually would in bankruptcy proceedings.…Thus, the entire loss to the taxpayers from the auto bailout comes from the funds diverted to the UAW.

The union workers, who were making more than $70 an hour in wages and benefits, received preferential treatment when their companies had to restructure. GM and Chrysler owed billions to a trust fund they had created to provide UAW members with gold-plated retiree health benefits—and taxpayers ended up paying right into that fund. That doesn’t happen in a normal bankruptcy.

Even Stephen Rattner, President Obama’s “car czar,” has admitted that “We should have asked the UAW to do a bit more. We did not ask any UAW member to take a cut in their pay.” As a result, even after the reorganization, GM still has higher labor costs ($56 an hour) than any of its foreign-based competitors.

So this wasn’t so much a bailout of GM as it was a bailout for the UAW.  Lovely.  More debt for the rest of us so a privileged few can live better than we can.  And to add insult to injury this didn’t even fix GM’s original problem.  Their high labor costs.  Which prevents them from selling their cars competitively.  So the bailout did nothing to help GM.  Which means they’ll probably need another bailout later.  Or special treatment from the government.  Such as a pass on paying their federal income taxes.  So the American taxpayer is not benefitting at all from the GM bailout.  Unless he or she is a member of the UAW.

So in other words, the GM bailout basically screwed the American taxpayer.  So the president could reward a political ally.  That will repay his kindness in campaign contributions.  And votes.  Which he desperately needs because his stewardship of the economy is worse than Jimmy Carter’s.

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Debt Limit Talks just Theatre, Obama Determined to Emulate Greek Spending and Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 18th, 2011

The Debt Limit hasn’t Stopped the Debt from Growing

The bond ratings agencies are getting nervous.  About the inevitable default of Greece.  And the possibility that the U.S. won’t be able to accumulate the unsustainable debt like the Greeks have (see Moody’s suggests U.S. eliminate debt ceiling by Walter Brandimarte posted 7/18/2011 on Reuters).

Ratings agency Moody’s on Monday suggested the United States should eliminate its statutory limit on government debt to reduce uncertainty among bond holders…

“We would reduce our assessment of event risk if the government changed its framework for managing government debt to lessen or eliminate that uncertainty,” Moody’s analyst Steven Hess wrote in the report…

In the United States, Moody’s said the debt limit had not effectively curbed the rise in government debt because lawmakers regularly raise it and because that limit is not related to the level of expenditures approved by Congress.

They have a point.  The Economist noted (see Down to the wire posted 7/18/2011 on The Economist) “Congress has acted a total of 91 times since June 1940 to either raise, extend or alter the definition of the debt limit…”  So it would seem that the debt limit is a limit in name only.  It hasn’t stopped the debt from growing.  As their little chart shows.  So why have it?

A Debt Default will be Bad, so will continued Out of Control Spending

Because, apart from World War II, the public debt hasn’t exceeded 100% of the GDP (see The Economist chart referenced above).  George W. Bush took it close to World War II heights to pay for two costly wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and an expensive Medicare drug plan.  Obama has taken it beyond World War II levels.  At about 140% of GDP.  And Obama wants to borrow more, taking it to 150% of GDP.  Or beyond.  The European Central Bank is forecasting Greek debt to peak at 161% of GDP.  So you can see why having a debt limit is a little more important now.  Which makes the Moody’s recommendation a bit puzzling considering their concerns over Greece (see Senate Throws Obama a Debt Lifeline by Chris Stirewalt posted 7/18/2011 on FOX NEWS).

The bond-rating agencies have spelled out the two scenarios that would result in a downgrading of U.S. creditworthiness: either an unconditional increase to federal borrowing that shows Washington sprinting toward the fiscal abyss or an unbreakable stalemate on the debt ceiling.

A debt default will be bad.  But so will be continued out of control spending.  So it makes little sense solving one problem by making another problem bigger.  Besides, the U.S. has the money to service its debt.  The only question is will Obama service it?

But, here again, Obama is the one in charge of deciding who gets paid in the event of a shortfall. While his administration might send scare letters to senior citizens as a bargaining tactic with Republicans, it’s unlikely that the president would tell pensioners that they can’t have the money they paid into the system during their working lives.

Imagine the president keeping open national parks or green energy stimulus projects while telling America’s oldsters that they aren’t getting checks. Not going to happen.

Yes, if Social Security checks don’t go out to seniors, it will be because Obama chose not to send them.  And speaking of Social Security, this brings up another point.  That it’s a Ponzi scheme. 

The money we paid into the Social Security isn’t sitting in some lockbox collecting interest.  Like those Social Security statements we get imply.  The government spends that money, our money, as soon as they get it.  Which is why they viciously attack any plans to privatize Social Security.  They want your money now.  While you’re living.  And after you die.  For if we privatize Social Security, our heirs would get our unspent retirement money.  Not the government.  As the system is now designed.

This is just another good reason not to give the government more money.  They’re just going to blow irresponsibly.  Like using our retirement money deducted from our paychecks to pay for national parks.  Or green energy.

Obama and the Democrats don’t want Deficit Reduction

Washington can’t curb it’s appetite to spend.  Doesn’t want to.  And they don’t try to hide this fact (see Obama officially threatens to veto ‘Cut, Cap and Balance’ by Sam Youngman posted 7/18/2011 on THE HILL).

The White House on Monday warned President Obama will veto GOP legislation to “Cut, Cap and Balance” spending and the budget…

The administration lambasted the “Cut, Cap and Balance” proposal as setting out “a false and unacceptable choice between the federal government defaulting on its obligations now or, alternatively, passing a Balanced Budget Amendment that, in the years ahead, will likely leave the nation unable to meet its core commitment of ensuring dignity in retirement.”

The White House also blasted some of the cuts Republicans have suggested, saying the proposal would “undercut the federal government’s ability to meet its core commitments to seniors, middle-class families and the most vulnerable, while reducing our ability to invest in our future.

“[The bill] would set unrealistic spending caps that could result in significant cuts to education, research and development and other programs critical to growing our economy and winning the future,” the SAP said. “It could also lead to severe cuts in Medicare and Social Security, which are growing to accommodate the retirement of the baby boomers, and put at risk the retirement security for tens of millions of Americans.”

Business as usual.  Scare the old people.  So they can spend more.  This is an admission that there will be no deficit reduction.  Obama and the Democrats don’t want it.  It’s all just theatre.  To amuse the public.  And buy time.  For they plan to spend, spend and spend.  On programs that are ‘critical’ to winning the future.  Despite the fortune we’ve spent already on these programs that have won jack squat so far.

The American Taxpayer paying for Irresponsible Governments Here and Abroad

So it’s on to Athens.  Push that debt up to 160% of GDP.  I mean, what really can happen that’s so bad (see Gloomy Forecast for Europe’s Banks by Jack Willoughby published 7/16/2011 on BARRON’S)?

Sean Egan, co-founder and president [Egan-Jones Ratings], has a stunning prediction for Barron’s readers: Forget about things getting better in Europe, he says; they will actually get worse. And who might be one of the patsies in all this? The American taxpayer, who could feasibly be stung as the Federal Reserve aids an ailing European Central Bank already depleted by too many bailouts. The big question: Will Europe, worn down by bailout after bailout, finally be forced to bail out the bailer—the ECB?

Oh.  As bad as things are in Europe they’re going to get worse?  And the American taxpayer may ultimately pay for these bailouts?  Lovely.  Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse.  Not only will the American taxpayer pay for their own irresponsible government.  But Europe’s as well.

Atlas can’t Shoulder the Weight of the World Anymore

That debt limit seems more important than ever.  This out of control spending has to stop.  Before it’s too late.  Because we can’t afford our debt and Europe’s debt.   America can’t be Atlas and shoulder the weight of the world on its shoulders.  At least, not anymore.  Not with the Obama administration running things.

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2010 Midterm Election: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 3rd, 2010

Big Cities, Big Union and Big Government

If you look at a map of the House election results (provided by The Washington Post), you can see the two Americas.  What you see is a red map with small dabs of blue.  And where are those blue areas?  The Big Cities, the big colleges, the big unions and the big urban concentrations of poor and minorities.  And, of course, the liberal elite in and around the Big Cities.  In other words, where you find Big Union (manufacturing, trade unions, school teachers and government employees) and Big Government.  And it’s the dynamic between Big Union and Big Government that empower the liberal elite.   Big Union provides campaign money and foot soldiers for Big Government.  And Big Government rewards Big Union by favoring their small minority over the majority of Americans.  It’s a throwback to before our Founding when kings and nobles ruled nations.  Political power is devolving into fewer and fewer hands. Into those little dabs of blue.

To get a perspective of how bad and how oppressive this ruling minority elite has gotten, consider two races.  Two people nationally despised won their reelections.  Barney Frank, who is largely responsible for giving us the subprime mortgage crisis, won in liberal Massachusetts.  And Nancy Pelosi, who forced her liberal agenda on the American people against their wishes, won by a whopping 80% in San Francisco.  This is what the Founding Fathers meant when they spoke of the tyranny of the minority.  These two have caused great harm to the American people.  Yet they represent such a sliver of minority thought in this nation.  They could not win a national vote.  Yet they can destroy a nation by winning their local vote.

But it’s not all bad.  If you look at the map, you see a lot of red in once dominate blue areas.  New England is not completely blue anymore.  New York State isn’t as blue as New York City.  Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan are red outside of the Big Cities.  Chicago, in fact, is a small pocket of blue adrift in a sea of red.  And in Washington, Oregon and California, if you move in from the Big Money coast, you see mostly red.  More importantly, if you click on the governors tab in the map, you see change, too.  New York and California are blue, yes, but there’s more red than blue overall on that map.  Which gives one hope that the republic the Founding Fathers gave us is not yet dead.  It will be hard to gerrymander those congressional districts around the Big Cities to give such little, elitist, local voices a large national voice anymore.

It’s the Economy, Stupid.  Was, and still is.

So, outside of the blue Big Cities, what do we know?  Well, the exit polling told us what we already knew.  It’s the economy, stupid.  We’ve lost too many jobs.  And that’s what we want.  Jobs (see Exit poll: Economy the big dog for worried voters by Connie Cass, Associated Press, posted on Yahoo!

About a third of voters said their household suffered a job loss in the past two years.

And as we lost our jobs, we lost our homes (see Homeownership at lowest level in a decade by Alan Zibel, AP Real Estate Writer, posted on Yahoo! News). 

The nation’s homeownership rate is at the lowest level in more than a decade, hampered by a rise in foreclosures and weak demand for housing.

And while we lose our jobs and our homes, what is the president doing?  Going on vacation to an exclusive 5-star resort.  And it’s going to cost the American taxpayer a pretty penny (see US to spend $200 mn a day on Obama’s Mumbai visit posted by Press Trust of India. 

The US would be spending a whopping $200 million (Rs. 900 crore approx) per day on President Barack Obama’s visit to the city.

Does the royal family feel our pain?

Not only do they govern against our will, but they flaunt it in our faces.  We struggle because of the likes of Barack Obama, Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi.  We lose our jobs and our homes (which is ironic considering we’re in this mess to begin with because of Washington’s policy to provide affordable housing to those who could not afford to buy a house).  And what does the ‘royal’ family do?  Go on vacation that will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars per day.  I guess they can’t feel our pain.  Or that they just don’t care.  So think back to last summer when you spent your family vacation in your backyard because money was tight.  And that team Obama will probably raise your taxes come January 1 to be ‘responsible’ to pay for their irresponsible spending.  Take solace in the fact that at least he could live large on your dime.  Even if you had to spend summer ‘staycation’ in your backyard.

As we proceed from the 2010 midterm elections, do not forget the dynamic between Big Government and Big Union.  It won’t be easy, but they’ll continue to try to help fund those under-funded union pension plans.  And they will point to the Republicans as obstructionists.  That they need to compromise.  Put partisanship behind us.  Especially now.  Since they lost the House of Representatives, the Left can’t be partisan anymore.  Like they have been the last two years.

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LESSONS LEARNED #24: “You cannot lobby a politician unless he or she is for sale.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 29th, 2010

BUILDING A RAILROAD ain’t cheap.  It needs dump trucks of money.  Especially if it’s transcontinental.  And that’s what the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific were building.  Starting during the Civil War in 1863 (the year Vicksburg fell and Lee retreated from Gettysburg).  The Union Pacific was building west from Iowa.  And the Central pacific was building east from California. 

For the most part, Protestant, English-speaking Americans settled Texas.  Mexico had encouraged the American colonists to settle this region.  Because few Mexicans were moving north to do so.   The deal was that the colonists conduct official business in Spanish and convert to Catholicism.  They didn’t.  These and other issues soured relations between Mexico and the American Texans.  The Republic of Texas proclaimed their independence from Mexico.  America annexed Texas.  Mexico tried to get it back.  The Mexican-American War followed.  America won.  Texas became a state in 1845.  And that other Spanish/Mexican territory that America was especially interested in, California, became a state in 1850.  Hence the desire for a transcontinental railroad.

The U.S. government was very eager to connect the new state of California to the rest of America.  So they acted aggressively.  They would provide the dump trucks of money.  As America expanded, the U.S. government became the owner of more and more public land.  The sale of new lands provided a large amount of revenue for the federal government.  (Other forms of taxation (income taxes, excise taxes, etc.) grew as the amount of public lands to sell decreased.)  Land is valuable.  So they would grant the railroad companies some 44 million acres of land (i.e., land grants) for their use.  The railroad companies, then, would sell the land to raise the capital to build their railroads.  The government also provided some $60 million in federal loans.

But it didn’t end there.  The federal government came up with incentives to speed things up.  They based the amount of loans upon the miles of track laid.  The more difficult the ground, the more cash.  So, what you got from these incentives was the wrong incentive.  To lay as much track as possible on the most difficult ground they could find.  And then there were mineral rights.  The railroad would own the property they built on.  And any minerals located underneath.  So the tracks wandered and meandered to maximize these benefits.  And speed was key.  Not longevity.  Wherever possible they used wood instead of masonry.  The used the cheapest iron for track.  They even laid track on ice.   (They had to rebuild large chunks of the line before any trains would roll.)  And when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific met, they kept building, parallel to each other.  To lay more miles of track.  And get more cash from the government.

PAR FOR THE COURSE.  When government gets involved they can really mess things up.  But it gets worse.  Not only was government throwing dump trucks of American money down the toilet, they were also profiting from this hemorrhaging of public money.  As shareholders in Crédit Mobilier.

Thomas Durant of Union Pacific concocted the Crédit Mobilier Scandal.  As part of the government requirements to build the transcontinental railroad, Union Pacific had to sell stock at $100 per share.  Problem was, few believed the railroad could be built.  So there were few takers to buy the stock at $100 per share.  So he created Crédit Mobilier to buy that stock.  Once they did, they then resold the stock on the open market at prevailing market prices.  Which were well below $100 per share.  Union Pacific met the government requirements thanks to the willingness of Crédit Mobilier to buy their stock.  The only thing was, both companies had the same stockholders.  Crédit Mobilier was a sham company.  Union Pacific WAS Crédit Mobilier.  And it gets worse.

Union Pacific chose Crédit Mobilier to build their railroad.  Crédit Mobilier submitted highly inflated bills to Union Pacific who promptly paid them.  They then submitted the bills to the federal government (plus a small administration fee) for reimbursement.  Which the federal government promptly paid.  Crédit Mobilier proved to be highly profitable.  This pleased their shareholders.  Which included members of Congress who approved the overbillings as wells as additional funding for cost overruns.  No doubt Union Pacific/Crédit Mobilier had very good friends in Washington.  Including members of the Grant administration.  Until the party ended.  The press exposed the scandal during the 1872 presidential campaign.  Outraged, the federal government conducted an investigation.  But when you investigate yourself for wrongdoing you can guess the outcome.  Oh, there were some slaps on the wrists, but government came out relatively unscathed.  But the public money was gone.  As is usually the case with political graft.  Politicians get rich while the public pays the bill.

(Incidentally, the investigation did not implicate Ulysses Grant.  However, because members of his administration were implicated, this scandal tarnished his presidency.  Grant, though, was not corrupt.  He was a great general.  But not a shrewd politician.  Where there was a code of honor in the military, he found no such code in politics.  Friends used his political naivety for personal profit.  If you read Grant’s personal memoirs you can get a sense of Grant’s character.  Many consider his memoirs among the finest ever written.  He was honest and humble.  A man of integrity.  An expert horseman, he was reduced to riding in a horse and buggy in his later years.  Once, while president, he was stopped for speeding through the streets of Washington.  When the young policeman saw who he had pulled over, he apologized profusely to the president and let him go.  Grant told the young man to write him the ticket.  Because it was his job.  And the right thing to do.  For no man, even the president, was above the law.)

THE FINANCIAL WORLD fell apart in 2007.  And this happened because someone changed the definition of the American Dream from individual liberty to owning a house.  Even if you couldn’t afford to buy one.  Even if you couldn’t qualify for a mortgage.  Even, if you should get a mortgage, you had no chance in hell of making your payments.

Home ownership would be the key to American prosperity.  Per the American government.  Build homes and grow the economy.   That was the official mantra.  So Washington designed American policy accordingly.  Lenders came up with clever financing schemes to put ever more people into new homes.  And they were clever.  But left out were the poorest of the poor.  Even a small down payment on the most modest of homes was out of their range.  Proponents of these poor said this was discriminatory.  Many of the inner city poor in the biggest of cities were minority.  People cried racism in mortgage lending.  Government heard.  They pressured lenders to lend to these poor people.  Or else.  Lenders were reluctant.  With no money for down payments and questionable employment to service these mortgages, they saw great financial risk.  So the government said not to worry.  We’ll take that risk.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would guarantee certain ‘risky’ loans as long as they met minimum criteria.  And they would also buy risky mortgages and get them off their books.  Well, with no risk, the lenders would lend to anyone.  They made NINJA loans (loans to people with No Income, No Job, and no Assets).  And why not?  If any loan was likely to default it was a NINJA loan.  But if Freddie or Fannie bought before the default, what did a lender care?  And even they defaulted before, Fannie and Freddie guaranteed the loan.  How could a lender lose?

Once upon a time, there was no safer loan than a home mortgage.  Why?  Because it would take someone’s lifesavings to pay for the down payment (20% of the home price in the common conventional mortgage).  And people lived in these houses.  In other words, these new home owners had a vested interested to service those mortgages.  Someone who doesn’t put up that 20% down payment with their own money, though, has less incentive to service that mortgage.  They can walk away with little financial loss.

ARE YOU GETTING the picture?  With this easy lending there was a housing boom.  Then a bubble.  With such easy money, housing demand went up.  As did prices.  So housing values soared.  Some poor people were buying these homes with creative financing (used to make the unqualified qualify for a mortgage).  We call these subprime mortgages.  They include Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs).  These have adjustable interest rates.  This removes the risk of inflation.  So they have lower interest rates than fixed-rate mortgages.  If there is inflation (and interest rates go up), they adjust the interest rate on the mortgage up.  Other clever financing included interest only mortgages.  These include a balloon payment at the end of a set term of the full principal.  These and other clever instruments put people into houses who could only afford the smallest of monthly payments.  The idea was that they would refinance after an ‘introductory’ period.  And it would work as long as interest rates did not go up.  But they went up.  And house prices fell.  The bubble burst.  Mortgages went underwater (people owed more than the houses were worth).  Some people struggled to make their payments and simply couldn’t.  Others with little of their own money invested simply walked away.  The subprime industry imploded.  So what happened, then, to all those subprime mortgages?

Fannie and Freddie bought these risky mortgages.  And securitized them.  They chopped and diced them and created investment devices called Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs).  These are fancy bonds backed by those ‘safe’ home mortgages.  Especially safe with those Fannie and Freddie guarantees.  They were as safe as government bonds but more profitable.  As long as people kept making their mortgage payments.

But risk is a funny thing.  You can manage it.  But you can’t get rid of it.  Interest rates went up.  The ARMs reset their interest rates.  People defaulted.  The value of the subprime mortgages that backed those CDOs collapsed, making the value of the CDOs collapse.  And everyone who bought those CDOs took a hit.  Investors around the globe shared those losses. 

Those subprime loans were very risky.  Lenders would not make the loans unless someone else took that risk.  The government took that risk in the guise of Fannie and Freddie.  Who passed on that risk to the investors buying what they thought were safe investments.  Who saw large chunks of their investment portfolios go ‘puff’ into thin air.

SO WHAT ARE Freddie and Fannie exactly?  They are government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs).  They key word here is government.  Once again, you put huge piles of money and government together and the results are predictable.  In an effort to extend the ‘American Dream’ to as many Americans as possible, the federal oversight body for Freddie and Fannie lowered the minimum criteria for making those risky loans.  Even excluding an applicant’s credit worthiness from the application process (so called ‘no-doc’ loans were loans made without any documentation to prove the credit worthiness of the applicant.)  To encourage further reckless lending.  Ultimately causing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. 

And, of course, members of Congress did well during the good times of the subprime boom.  They got large campaign contributions.  Some sweetheart mortgagee deals.  A grateful voting bloc.  And other largess from the profitable subprime industry.  Government did well.  Just as they did during the Crédit Mobilier Scandal.  And the American taxpayer gets to pay the bill.  Some things never change.  Government created both of these scandals.  As government is wont to do whenever around huge piles of money.  For when it comes to stealing from the government, someone in the government has to let it happen.  For it takes a nod and a wink from someone in power to let such massive fraud to take place. 

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