The Alliance Portal for the Writing of Ellen Brown http://www.theportlandalliance.org/ellenbrown
Ellen Brown developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles.
In Web of Debt, she turns those skills to an analysis of the Federal Reserve and “the money trust.”
She shows how this private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people
themselves, and how we the people can get it back.
In The Public Bank Solution, the 2013 sequel, she traces the evolution of two banking models
that have competed historically, public and private; and explores contemporary public banking systems globally.
The US Government Is The Largest Launderer Of Marijuana Cash In The Nation by Ellen Brown
Image by Federacion de Asociaciones Cannabicas (FAC) via Flickr
by Ellen Brown
Writer, Dandelion Salad
The Web of Debt Blog
January 24, 2018
In a blatant example of “do as I say, not as I do,” the US government is profiting handsomely by accepting marijuana cash in the payment of taxes while imposing huge penalties on banks for accepting it as deposits. Onerous reporting requirements are driving small local banks to sell out to Wall Street. Congress needs to harmonize federal with state law.
Thirty states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. The herb has been shown to have significant therapeutic value for a wide range of medical conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, glaucoma, lung disease, anxiety, muscle spasms, hepatitis C, inflammatory bowel disease, and arthritis pain. The community of Americans who rely on legal medical marijuana was estimated to be 2.6 million people in 2016 and includes a variety of mainstream constituency groups like veterans, senior citizens, cancer survivors, and parents of epileptic children. Unlike patented pharmaceuticals, which are now the leading cause of death from drug overdose, there have been no recorded deaths from marijuana overdose in the US. By comparison, alcohol causes 30,000 deaths annually, and prescription drugs taken as directed are estimated to kill 100,000 Americans per year.
Under federal law, however, marijuana remains a Schedule I Controlled Substance – a “deadly dangerous drug with no medical use and high potential for abuse” – and its possession remains a punishable offense. On the presidential campaign trail, Donald Trump said the issue of marijuana legalization “should be up to the states,” continuing the “hands off” policy established under President Obama. Under the 2013 Cole Memorandum, the Department of Justice said it would not prosecute individuals and companies complying with robust and well-enforced state legalization programs. But on January 4th, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that memo and gave federal prosecutors the authority to pursue marijuana cases at their own discretion, even in places where the herb is legal under state law. The action has made banks even more afraid to take marijuana cash, which can be prosecuted as illegal “money laundering,” an offense that can incur stiff criminal penalties.
The Government Has “Unclean Hands”
As explained by Dr. Richard Rahn, author of The End of Money and the Struggle for Financial Privacy:
“Money laundering is generally understood to be the practice of taking ill-gotten gains and moving them through a sequence of bank accounts so they ultimately look like the profits from legitimate activity. Institutions, individuals, and even governments who are believed to be aiding and abetting the practice of money laundering can be indicted and convicted, even though they may be completely unaware that the money being transferred with their help was of criminal origin.”
The law has focused on banks, but all sorts of businesses accept money without asking where it came from or being required to report “suspicious activity.” As Rahm observes, even governments can be indicted and convicted for money laundering. Strictly construed (as Attorney General Sessions insists when interpreting the law), that means the US government itself could be indicted. In fact the US government is the largest launderer of marijuana cash in the nation. The IRS accepts this tainted money in the payment of taxes, turning it into “clean” money; and it is not an unwitting accomplice to the crime. Estimates are that marijuana business owners across the U.S. will owe $2.8 billion in taxes to the federal government in 2018. The government makes a massive profit off the deal, snatching up to 70 percent of the proceeds of the reporting businesses, as opposed to the more typical rate of 30 percent. It does this by branding marijuana businesses criminal enterprises which are not entitled to deduct their costs when reporting their income. This is not only a clear case of the unequal protection of the laws but is a clear admission by the government that it is knowingly accepting illegal funds. The government is a principal beneficiary of a business the government itself has made illegal.
Under those circumstances, both marijuana businesses and banks should be able to raise the “unclean hands” defense. As summarized in Kendall-Jackson Winery, Ltd. v. Superior Court (1999), 76 Cal.App.4th 970, 978-79:
“The defense of unclean hands arises from the maxim, “He who comes into Equity must come with clean hands.” The doctrine demands that a plaintiff act fairly in the matter for which he seeks a remedy…. The defense is available in legal as well as equitable actions…. The doctrine promotes justice by making a plaintiff answer for his own misconduct in the action. It prevents a wrongdoer from enjoying the fruits of his transgression.”
The government is enjoying the fruits of money it considers “dirty.” It has unclean hands, a defense against prosecuting others for the same crime.
Should “Money Laundering” Even Be a Crime?
In an article titled “Why the War on Money Laundering Should Be Aborted,” Dr. Rahn asks whether money laundering should even be a crime. It became a criminal activity in the US only in 1986, and in many countries it still is not a crime. Banks operating in the US must now collect and verify customer-provided information, check names of customers against lists of known or suspected terrorists, determine risk levels posed by customers, and report suspicious persons, organizations and transactions. The reporting requirements are so burdensome and expensive that they have caused many smaller banks to sell out to larger banks or close their doors. According to Dr. Rahn:
“[I]t has failed to produce the advertised results and, in fact, has not been cost effective, has resulted in wholesale violations of individual civil liberties (including privacy rights), has violated the rights of sovereign governments and peoples, has created new opportunities for criminal activity, and has actually lessened our ability to reduce crime.
“… Banks are required to supply the government with not only Currency Transaction Reports but also Suspicious Activity Reports. These reports impose huge regulatory costs on banks and require bank employees to operate as police officers. As a result, the total public and private sector costs greatly exceed $10,000,000 per conviction. This whole effort not only does not make any economic sense, but is clearly incompatible with a free society. The anti-money laundering laws allow almost complete prosecutorial discretion.”
One small banker complained that banks have been turned into spies secretly reporting to the federal government. If they fail to comply, they can face stiff enforcement actions, whether or not actual money-laundering crimes are alleged. In 2010, one small New Jersey bank pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Bank Secrecy Act and was fined $5 million for failure to file suspicious-activity and cash-transaction reports. Another small New Jersey bank closed its doors after it was hit with $8 million in fines over its inadequate monitoring policies. The cost of compliance and threat of massive fines for not complying have been major factors in the collapse of the community banking sector. The number of community banks has fallen by 40 percent since 1994 and their share of U.S. banking assets has fallen by more than half, from 41 percent to 18 percent.
“Regulation is killing community banks,” Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said at his confirmation hearing in January 2017. If the process is not reversed, he warned, we could “end up in a world where we have four big banks in this country.” That would be bad for both jobs and the economy. “I think that we all appreciate the engine of growth is with small and medium-sized businesses,” said Mnuchin. “We’re losing the ability for small and medium-sized banks to make good loans to small and medium-sized businesses in the community, where they understand those credit risks better than anybody else.”
If the goal of the anti-money laundering statutes is to identify and deter criminal activity, strictly enforcing the law could actually backfire in the case of state-legalized marijuana businesses. As noted in a January 9 article in The Daily Beast:
“Marijuana businesses have to register and incorporate in states and that puts them on the IRS radar…. Sky-high federal taxes on top of state taxes can make it almost impossible to operate a legal business…. If the government fails to cut businesses a break, legal marijuana could be sold on the black market to dodge taxes.”
On the black market, cash proceeds can be dispersed in a way that avoids banks and makes the money hard either to trace or to tax.
Federal Law Needs to Be Changed
With more than half the states legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, Congress needs to acknowledge the will of the people and remove this natural herb from the Schedule I classification that says it is a deadly dangerous drug with no health benefits. The Tenth Amendment gives the federal government only those powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution, and regulating medical practice is not one of them. Federal courts have held that the federal Controlled Substances Act does not allow the federal government to usurp states’ exclusive rights (pursuant to their inherent police powers) to regulate the practice of medicine.
H.R. 1227, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, sponsored by Virginia Republican Thomas Garrett and 15 cosponsors, would remove marijuana from Schedule I and eliminate federal penalties for anyone engaged in marijuana activity in a state where it is legal. Congress just needs to pass it.
In its zeal for eliminating burdensome, costly and ineffective regulations, the Trump administration might also consider lightening the heavy reporting burden that is killing community banks and the local businesses that have traditionally relied on them for affordable credit. On Tuesday, January 16th, a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general sent a letter to leaders in Congress requesting advancement of legislation such as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to “provide a safe harbor” for banks that provide financial products or services to state-legal marijuana businesses. If the government can accept marijuana money in the payment of taxes, banks should be able to accept it to keep track of it and prevent the crimes associated with storing and transporting large sums of cash.
This article was originally published on Truthdig.org.
Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt. Her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 300+ blog articles are at EllenBrown.com. Listen to “It’s Our Money with Ellen Brown” on PRN.FM.
Posted on March 13, 2016 by Ellen Brown
Critics have long questioned why violent intervention was necessary in Libya. Hillary Clinton’s recently published emails confirm that it was less about protecting the people from a dictator than about money, banking, and preventing African economic sovereignty.
The brief visit of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Libya in October 2011 was referred to by the media as a “victory lap.” “We came, we saw, he died!” she crowed in a CBS video interview on hearing of the capture and brutal murder of Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi.
But the victory lap, write Scott Shane and Jo Becker in the New York Times, was premature. Libya was relegated to the back burner by the State Department, “as the country dissolved into chaos, leading to a civil war that would destabilize the region, fueling the refugee crisis in Europe and allowing the Islamic State to establish a Libyan haven that the United States is now desperately trying to contain.”
US-NATO intervention was allegedly undertaken on humanitarian grounds, after reports of mass atrocities; but human rights organizations questioned the claims after finding a lack of evidence. Today, however, verifiable atrocities are occurring. As Dan Kovalik wrote in the Huffington Post, “the human rights situation in Libya is a disaster, as ‘thousands of detainees [including children] languish in prisons without proper judicial review,’ and ‘kidnappings and targeted killings are rampant’.”
Before 2011, Libya had achieved economic independence, with its own water, its own food, its own oil, its own money, and its own state-owned bank. It had arisen under Qaddafi from one of the poorest of countries to the richest in Africa. Education and medical treatment were free; having a home was considered a human right; and Libyans participated in an original system of local democracy. The country boasted the world’s largest irrigation system, the Great Man-made River project, which brought water from the desert to the cities and coastal areas; and Qaddafi was embarking on a program to spread this model throughout Africa.
But that was before US-NATO forces bombed the irrigation system and wreaked havoc on the country. Today the situation is so dire that President Obama has asked his advisors to draw up options including a new military front in Libya, and the Defense Department is reportedly standing ready with “the full spectrum of military operations required.”
The Secretary of State’s victory lap was indeed premature, if what we’re talking about is the officially stated goal of humanitarian intervention. But her newly-released emails reveal another agenda behind the Libyan war; and this one, it seems, was achieved.
Of the 3,000 emails released from Hillary Clinton’s private email server in late December 2015, about a third were from her close confidante Sidney Blumenthal, the attorney who defended her husband in the Monica Lewinsky case. One of these emails, dated April 2, 2011, reads in part:
Qaddafi’s government holds 143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver . . . . This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA).
In a “source comment,” the original declassified email adds:
According to knowledgeable individuals this quantity of gold and silver is valued at more than $7 billion. French intelligence officers discovered this plan shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attack on Libya. According to these individuals Sarkozy’s plans are driven by the following issues:
- A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production,
- Increase French influence in North Africa,
- Improve his internal political situation in France,
- Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world,
- Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa
Conspicuously absent is any mention of humanitarian concerns. The objectives are money, power and oil.
Other explosive confirmations in the newly-published emails are detailed byinvestigative journalist Robert Parry. They include admissions of rebel war crimes, of special ops trainers inside Libya from nearly the start of protests, and of Al Qaeda embedded in the US-backed opposition. Key propaganda themes for violent intervention are acknowledged to be mere rumors. Parry suggests they may have originated with Blumenthal himself. They include the bizarre claim that Qaddafi had a “rape policy” involving passing Viagra out to his troops, a charge later raised by UN Ambassador Susan Rice in a UN presentation. Parry asks rhetorically:
So do you think it would it be easier for the Obama administration to rally American support behind this “regime change” by explaining how the French wanted to steal Libya’s wealth and maintain French neocolonial influence over Africa – or would Americans respond better to propaganda themes about Gaddafi passing out Viagra to his troops so they could rape more women while his snipers targeted innocent children? Bingo!
Toppling the Global Financial Scheme
Qaddafi’s threatened attempt to establish an independent African currency was not taken lightly by Western interests. In 2011, Sarkozy reportedly called the Libyan leader a threat to the financial security of the world. How could this tiny country of six million people pose such a threat? First some background.
It is banks, not governments, that create most of the money in Western economies, as the Bank of England recently acknowledged. This has been going on for centuries, through the process called “fractional reserve” lending. Originally, the reserves were in gold. In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt replaced gold domestically with central bank-created reserves, but gold remained the reserve currency internationally.
In 1944, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were created in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to unify this bank-created money system globally. An IMF ruling said that no paper money could have gold backing. A money supply created privately as debt at interest requires a continual supply of debtors; and over the next half century, most developing countries wound up in debt to the IMF. The loans came with strings attached, including “structural adjustment” policies involving austerity measures and privatization of public assets.
After 1944, the US dollar traded interchangeably with gold as global reserve currency. When the US was no longer able to maintain the dollar’s gold backing, in the 1970s it made a deal with OPEC to “back” the dollar with oil, creating the “petro-dollar.” Oil would be sold only in US dollars, which would be deposited in Wall Street and other international banks.
In 2001, dissatisfied with the shrinking value of the dollars that OPEC was getting for its oil, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein broke the pact and sold oil in euros. Regime change swiftly followed, accompanied by widespread destruction of the country.
In Libya, Qaddafi also broke the pact; but he did more than just sell his oil in another currency.
As these developments are detailed by blogger Denise Rhyne:
For decades, Libya and other African countries had been attempting to create a pan-African gold standard. Libya’s al-Qadhafi and other heads of African States had wanted an independent, pan-African, “hard currency.”
Under al-Qadhafi’s leadership, African nations had convened at least twice for monetary unification. The countries discussed the possibility of using the Libyan dinar and the silver dirham as the only possible money to buy African oil.
Until the recent US/NATO invasion, the gold dinar was issued by the Central Bank of Libya (CBL). The Libyan bank was 100% state owned and independent. Foreigners had to go through the CBL to do business with Libya. The Central Bank of Libya issued the dinar, using the country’s 143.8 tons of gold.
Libya’s Qadhafi (African Union 2009 Chair) conceived and financed a plan to unify the sovereign States of Africa with one gold currency (United States of Africa). In 2004, a pan-African Parliament (53 nations) laid plans for the African Economic Community – with a single gold currency by 2023.
African oil-producing nations were planning to abandon the petro-dollar, and demand gold payment for oil/gas.
Showing What Is Possible
Qaddafi had done more than organize an African monetary coup. He had demonstrated that financial independence could be achieved. His greatest infrastructure project, the Great Man-made River, was turning arid regions into a breadbasket for Libya; and the $33 billion project was being funded interest-free without foreign debt, through Libya’s own state-owned bank.
That could explain why this critical piece of infrastructure was destroyed in 2011. NATO not only bombed the pipeline but finished off the project by bombing the factory producing the pipes necessary to repair it. Crippling a civilian irrigation system serving up to 70% of the population hardly looks like humanitarian intervention. Rather, as Canadian Professor Maximilian Forte put it in his heavily researched bookSlouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa:
[T]he goal of US military intervention was to disrupt an emerging pattern of independence and a network of collaboration within Africa that would facilitate increased African self-reliance. This is at odds with the geostrategic and political economic ambitions of extra-continental European powers, namely the US.
Hilary Clinton’s emails shed light on another enigma remarked on by early commentators. Why, within weeks of initiating fighting, did the rebels set up their own central bank? Robert Wenzel wrote in The Economic Policy Journal in 2011:
This suggests we have a bit more than a rag tag bunch of rebels running around and that there are some pretty sophisticated influences. I have never before heard of a central bank being created in just a matter of weeks out of a popular uprising.
It was all highly suspicious, but as Alex Newman concluded in a November 2011 article:
Whether salvaging central banking and the corrupt global monetary system were truly among the reasons for Gadhafi’s overthrow . . . may never be known for certain – at least not publicly.
There the matter would have remained – suspicious but unverified like so many stories of fraud and corruption – but for the publication of Hillary Clinton’s emails after an FBI probe. They add substantial weight to Newman’s suspicions: violent intervention was not chiefly about the security of the people. It was about the security of global banking, money and oil.
rest of story: http://ellenbrown.com/2016/03/13/exposing-the-libyan-agenda-a-closer-look-at-hillarys-emails/
Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt. Her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 300+ blog articles are at EllenBrown.com. Listen to “It’s Our Money with Ellen Brown” on PRN.FM.
Ellen Brown • www.webofdebt.com • July 31, 2011
The debt ceiling crisis can be averted by enforcing the Fourteenth Amendment, which mandates the government to pay its debts already incurred, including pensions. That means Social Security, which IS an “entitlement,” in the original sense of the word. We’re entitled to it because we’ve paid for it with taxes.
The game of Russian roulette being played with the U.S. federal debt has been called a “grotesque political carnival” and political blackmail. The uproar stems from a statute that is unique to the United States and never did make much sense. First passed in 1917 and revised multiple times since, it imposes a dollar limit on the federal debt. What doesn’t make sense is that the same Congress that voted on the statute votes on the budget, which periodically exceeds the limit, requiring the statute to be revised. The debt ceiling has been raised 74 times since 1962, 10 of them since 2001. The most recent increase, to $14.294 trillion by H.J.Res. 45, was signed into law on February 12, 2010.
Taxes aren’t collected until after the annual budget is passed, so Congress can’t know in advance whether or how much additional borrowing will be required. Inevitably, there will be some years that the budget pushes the debt over the limit, requiring new legislation. And inevitably, now that this tactic has been discovered, there will be a costly battle over the increase, wasting congressional time, destabilizing markets, and rattling faith in the American financial and political systems. There will be continual blackmail, arm-twisting and concessions. The situation is untenable and cries out for a definitive resolution.
Read the entire article here.
Many people have asked for help with their foreclosures. For a discussion of legal remedies and a list of attorneys, click on the link
Particularly recommended are these sites –
Seventeen states have now introduced bills for state-owned banks, and others are in the works. Hawaii’s innovative state bank bill addresses the foreclosure mess. County-owned banks are being proposed that would tackle the housing crisis by exercising the right of eminent domain on abandoned and foreclosed properties. Arizona has a bill that would do this for homeowners who are current in their payments but underwater, allowing them to refinance at fair market value.
The long-awaited settlement between 49 state Attorneys General and the big five robo-signing banks is proving to be a major disappointment before it has even been signed, sealed and court approved. Critics maintain that the bankers responsible for the housing crisis and the jobs crisis will again be buying their way out of jail, and the curtain will again drop on the scene of the crime.
We may not be able to beat the banks, but we don’t have to play their game. We can take our marbles and go home. The Move Your Money campaign has already prompted more than 600,000 consumers to move their funds out of Wall Street banks into local banks, and there are much larger pools that could be pulled out in the form of state revenues. States generally deposit their revenues and invest their capital with large Wall Street banks, which use those hefty sums to speculate, invest abroad, and buy up the local banks that service our communities and local economies. The states receive a modest interest, and Wall Street lends the money back at much higher interest.
Rhode Island is a case in point. In an article titled “Where Are R.I. Revenues Being Invested? Not Locally,” Kyle Hence wrote in ecoRI News on January 26th:
According to a December Treasury report, only 10 percent of Rhode Island’s short-term investments reside in truly local in-state banks, namely Washington Trust and BankRI. Meanwhile, 40 percent of these investments were placed with foreign-owned banks, including a British-government owned bank under investigation by the European Union.
Further, millions have been invested by Rhode Island in a fund created by a global buyout firm . . . . From 2008 to mid-2010, the fund lost 10 percent of its value — more than $2 million. . . . Three of four of Rhode Island’s representatives in Washington, D.C., count [this fund] amongst their top 25 political campaign donors . . . .
Are Rhode Islanders and the state economy being served well here? Is it not time for the state to more fully invest directly in Rhode Island, either through local banks more deeply rooted in the community or through the creation of a new state-owned bank?
Hence observes that state-owned banks are “[o]ne emerging solution being widely considered nationwide . . . . Since the onset of the economic collapse about five years ago, 16 states have studied or explored creating state-owned banks, according to a recent Associated Press report.”
2012 Additions to the Public Bank Movement
Make that 17 states, including three joining the list of states introducing state bank bills in 2012: Idaho (a bill for a feasibility study), New Hampshire (a bill for a bank), and Vermont (introducing THREE bills—one for a state bank study, one for a state currency, and one for a state voucher/warrant system). With North Dakota, which has had its own bank for nearly a century, that makes 18 states that have introduced bills in one form or another—36% of U.S. states. For states and text of bills, see here.
Other recent state bank developments were in Virginia, Hawaii, Washington State, and California, all of which have upgraded from bills to study the feasibility of a state-owned bank to bills to actually establish a bank. The most recent, California’s new bill, was introduced on Friday, February 24th.
All of these bills point to the Bank of North Dakota as their model. Kyle Hence notes that North Dakota has maintained a thriving economy throughout the current recession:
One of the reasons, some say, is the Bank of North Dakota, which was formed in 1919 and is the only state-owned or public bank in the United States. All state revenues flow into the Bank of North Dakota and back out into the state in the form of loans.
Since 2008, while servicing student, agricultural and energy— including wind — sector loans within North Dakota, every dollar of profit by the bank, which has added up to tens of millions, flows back into state coffers and directly supports the needs of the state in ways private banks do not.
Publicly-owned Banks and the Housing Crisis
A novel approach is taken in the new Hawaii bill: it proposes a program to deal with the housing crisis and the widespread problem of breaks in the chain of title due to robo-signing, faulty assignments, and MERS. (For more on this problem, see here.) According to a February 10th report on the bill from the Hawaii House Committees on Economic Revitalization and Business & Housing:
The purpose of this measure is to establish the bank of the State of Hawaii in order to develop a program to acquire residential property in situations where the mortgagor is an owner-occupant who has defaulted on a mortgage or been denied a mortgage loan modification and the mortgagee is a securitized trust that cannot adequately demonstrate that it is a holder in due course.
The bill provides that in cases of foreclosure in which the mortgagee cannot prove its right to foreclose or to collect on the mortgage, foreclosure shall be stayed and the bank of the State of Hawaii may offer to buy the property from the owner-occupant for a sum not exceeding 75% of the principal balance due on the mortgage loan. The bank of the State of Hawaii can then rent or sell the property back to the owner-occupant at a fair price on reasonable terms.
Arizona Senate Bill 1451, which just passed the Senate Banking Committee 6 to 0, would do something similar for homeowners who are current on their payments but whose mortgages are underwater (exceeding the property’s current fair market value). Martin Andelman calls the bill a “revolutionary approach to revitalizing the state’s increasingly water-logged housing market, which has left over 500,000 of Arizona’s homeowners in a hopelessly immobile state.”
The bill would establish an Arizona Housing Finance Reform Authority to refinance the mortgages of Arizona homeowners who owe more than their homes are currently worth. The existing mortgage would be replaced with a new mortgage from AHFRA in an amount up to 125% of the home’s current fair market value. The existing lender would get paid 101% of the home’s fair market value, and would get a non-interest-bearing note called a “loss recapture certificate” covering a portion of any underwater amounts, to be paid over time. The capital to refinance the mortgages would come from floating revenue bonds, and payment on the bonds would come solely from monies paid by the homeowner-borrowers. An Arizona Home Insurance Fund would create a cash reserve of up to 20 percent of the bond and would be used to insure against losses. The bill would thus cost the state nothing.
Critics of the Arizona bill maintain that it shifts losses from collapsed property values onto banks and investors, violating the law of contracts; and critics of the Hawaii bill maintain that the state bank could wind up having paid more than market value for a slew of underwater homes. An option that would avoid both of these objections is one suggested by Michael Sauvante of the Commonwealth Group, discussed earlier here: the state or county could exercise its right of eminent domain on blighted, foreclosed and abandoned properties. It could offer to pay fair market value to anyone who could prove title (something that with today’s defective title records normally can’t be done), then dispose of the property through a publicly-owned land bank as equity and fairness dictates. If a bank or trust could prove title, the claimant would get fair market value, which would be no less than it would have gotten at an auction; and if it could not prove title, it legally would have no claim to the property. Investors who could prove actual monetary damages would still have an unsecured claim in equity against the mortgagors for any sums owed.
Rhode Island Next?
As the housing crisis lingers on with little sign of relief from the Feds, innovative state and local solutions like these are gaining adherents in other states; and one of them is Rhode Island, which is in serious need of relief. According to The Pew Center on the States, “The country’s smallest state . . . was one of the first states to fall into the recession because of the housing crisis and may be one of the last to emerge.”
Rhode Islanders are proud of having been first in a number of more positive achievements, including being the first of the 13 original colonies to declare independence from British rule. A state bank presentation was made to the president of the Rhode Island Senate and other key leaders earlier this month that was reportedly well received. Proponents have ambitions of making Rhode Island the first state in this century to move its money out of Wall Street into its own state bank, one owned and operated by the people for the people.
Ellen Brown is an attorney and president of the Public Banking Institute, http://PublicBankingInstitute.org. In Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books, she shows how a private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her websites are http://WebofDebt.com and http://EllenBrown.com.
How Greece Could Take Down Wall Street
February 20, 2012
In an article titled “Still No End to ‘Too Big to Fail,’” William Greider wrote in The Nation on February 15th:
Financial market cynics have assumed all along that Dodd-Frank did not end “too big to fail” but instead created a charmed circle of protected banks labeled “systemically important” that will not be allowed to fail, no matter how badly they behave.
That may be, but there is one bit of bad behavior that Uncle Sam himself does not have the funds to underwrite: the $32 trillion market in credit default swaps (CDS). Thirty-two trillion dollars is more than twice the U.S. GDP and more than twice the national debt.
CDS are a form of derivative taken out by investors as insurance against default. According to the Comptroller of the Currency, nearly 95% of the banking industry’s total exposure to derivatives contracts is held by the nation’s five largest banks: JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, HSBC, and Goldman Sachs. The CDS market is unregulated, and there is no requirement that the “insurer” actually have the funds to pay up. CDS are more like bets, and a massive loss at the casino could bring the house down.
It could, at least, unless the casino is rigged. Whether a “credit event” is a “default” triggering a payout is determined by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), and it seems that the ISDA is owned by the world’s largest banks and hedge funds. That means the house determines whether the house has to pay.
The Houses of Morgan, Goldman and the other Big Five are justifiably worried right now, because an “event of default” declared on European sovereign debt could jeopardize their $32 trillion derivatives scheme. According to Rudy Avizius in an article on The Market Oracle (UK) on February 15th, that explains what happened at MF Global, and why the 50% Greek bond write-down was not declared an event of default.
If you paid only 50% of your mortgage every month, these same banks would quickly declare you in default. But the rules are quite different when the banks are the insurers underwriting the deal.
MF Global: Canary in the Coal Mine?
MF Global was a major global financial derivatives broker until it met its unseemly demise on October 30, 2011, when it filed the eighth-largest U.S. bankruptcy after reporting a “material shortfall” of hundreds of millions of dollars in segregated customer funds. The brokerage used a large number of complex and controversial repurchase agreements, or “repos,” for funding and for leveraging profit. Among its losing bets was something described as a wrong-way $6.3 billion trade the brokerage made on its own behalf on bonds of some of Europe’s most indebted nations.
[A]n agreement was reached in Europe that investors would have to take a write-down of 50% on Greek Bond debt. Now MF Global was leveraged anywhere from 40 to 1, to 80 to 1 depending on whose figures you believe. Let’s assume that MF Global was leveraged 40 to 1, this means that they could not even absorb a small 3% loss, so when the “haircut” of 50% was agreed to, MF Global was finished. It tried to stem its losses by criminally dipping into segregated client accounts, and we all know how that ended with clients losing their money. . . .
However, MF Global thought that they had risk-free speculation because they had bought these CDS from these big banks to protect themselves in case their bets on European Debt went bad. MF Global should have been protected by its CDS, but since the ISDA would not declare the Greek “credit event” to be a default, MF Global could not cover its losses, causing its collapse.
The house won because it was able to define what “ winning” was. But what happens when Greece or another country simply walks away and refuses to pay? That is hardly a “haircut.” It is a decapitation. The asset is in rigor mortis. By no dictionary definition could it not qualify as a “default.”
That sort of definitive Greek default is thought by some analysts to be quite likely, and to be coming soon. Dr. Irwin Stelzer, a senior fellow and director of Hudson Institute’s economic policy studies group, was quoted in Saturday’s Yorkshire Post (UK) as saying:
It’s only a matter of time before they go bankrupt. They are bankrupt now, it’s only a question of how you recognise it and what you call it.
Certainly they will default . . . maybe as early as March. If I were them I’d get out [of the euro].
The Midas Touch Gone Bad
In an article in The Observer (UK) on February 11thtitled “The Mathematical Equation That Caused the Banks to Crash,” Ian Stewart wrote of the Black-Scholes equation that opened up the world of derivatives:
The financial sector called it the Midas Formula and saw it as a recipe for making everything turn to gold. But the markets forgot how the story of King Midas ended.
As Aristotle told this ancient Greek tale, Midas died of hunger as a result of his vain prayer for the golden touch. Today, the Greek people are going hungry to protect a rigged $32 trillion Wall Street casino. Avizius writes:
The money made by selling these derivatives is directly responsible for the huge profits and bonuses we now see on Wall Street. The money masters have reaped obscene profits from this scheme, but now they live in fear that it will all unravel and the gravy train will end. What these banks have done is to leverage the system to such an extreme, that the entire house of cards is threatened by a small country of only 11 million people. Greece could bring the entire world economy down. If a default was declared, the resulting payouts would start a chain reaction that would cause widespread worldwide bank failures, making the Lehman collapse look small by comparison.
Some observers question whether a Greek default would be that bad. According to a comment on Forbes on October 10, 2011:
[T]he gross notional value of Greek CDS contracts as of last week was €54.34 billion, according to the latest report from data repository Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC). DTCC is able to undertake internal netting analysis due to having data on essentially all of the CDS market. And it reported that the net losses would be an order of magnitude lower, with the maximum amount of funds that would move from one bank to another in connection with the settlement of CDS claims in a default being just €2.68 billion, total. If DTCC’s analysis is correct, the CDS market for Greek debt would not much magnify the consequences of a Greek default—unless it stimulated contagion that affected other European countries.
It is the “contagion,” however, that seems to be the concern. Players who have hedged their bets by betting both ways cannot collect on their winning bets; and that means they cannot afford to pay their losing bets, causing other players to also default on their bets. The dominos go down in a cascade of cross-defaults that infects the whole banking industry and jeopardizes the global pyramid scheme. The potential for this sort of nuclear reaction was what prompted billionaire investor Warren Buffett to call derivatives “weapons of financial mass destruction.” It is also why the banking system cannot let a major derivatives player—such as Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers—go down. What is in jeopardy is the derivatives scheme itself. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal on January 20th:
Hanging in the balance is the reputation of CDS as an instrument for hedgers and speculators—a $32.4 trillion market as of June last year; the value that may be assigned to sovereign debt, and $2.9 trillion of sovereign CDS, if the protection isn’t seen as reliable in eliciting payouts; as well as the impact a messy Greek default could have on the global banking system.
Players in the future may simply refuse to play. When the house is so obviously rigged, the legitimacy of the whole CDS scheme is called into question. As MF Global found out the hard way, there is no such thing as “risk-free speculation” protected with derivatives.
Ellen Brown is an attorney and president of the Public Banking Institute, http://PublicBankingInstitute.org. In Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books, she shows how a private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her websites are http://WebofDebt.com