Opinion

The Great Debate

Shared sacrifice – except for CEOs

The hypocrisy over deficits and calls for shared sacrifice can be illustrated with one simple statistic. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, 25 of the most-well-paid chief executives got higher compensation than their companies paid in federal taxes.  There’s a class war on, as Warren Buffett has noted, and his class is winning it.

The drive for austerity, with its attendant manufactured crises, carries with it a host of mini-outrages making this point. Americans learned after the fiscal cliff negotiations ended that the final agreement, ostensibly to pass “tax hikes for the wealthy,” extended huge corporate handouts. These included special breaks for NASCAR, help for Hollywood movie studios, $3 billion a year for General Electric, support for mining and railroad companies, and even a push for electric scooters.

Outrage over this story flamed everywhere, from the floor of the House of Representatives to cable news networks, including ESPN. The anger at these corporate subsidies was justified because breaks like these are a symbol of a budget process designed to shift money and power to people who already have too much of it.

The real story of the fiscal cliff negotiations, and the coming debt ceiling debate, are corporate tax cuts and the CEOs who love them. There are many corporations that don’t pay taxes. They then pass along some of that increased profit to their CEOs, who also shelter their income from the Internal Revenue Service. It’s a veritable circle of life.

As David Cay Johnston has shown recently in his excellent book, The Fine Print, the middle class is at a double disadvantage. One, we actually have to pay taxes every year on our income. Two, we have to deal with a frightening overly complex tax code.

from James Saft:

Learning from Ken Feinberg

Sometimes it's what doesn't happen that is most illuminating.

When Pay Czar Kenneth Feinberg first slashed executive compensation at U.S. firms that benefited most from a government bailout the cry was that this would hurt these weakened firms when they could least afford it, as the best and brightest would leave for better money elsewhere, where the free market still ruled.

Well, the door didn't hit them on their way out, but mostly because they stayed rooted to their desk chairs.
Feinberg evaluated the compensation of 104 top executives at affected companies in 2009, reducing pay for most to levels far below financial industry norms and their own former earnings.

Yet here we are in 2010 and about 85 percent are still working for the same firms, still toiling for the kinds of wages that may well make them wish they'd gone into the law rather than finance. Remember all those articles in glossy magazines about how impossible it is to make it in New York City on $500,000 a year?

from Rolfe Winkler:

Geithner’s faulty apologia

Tim Geithner's appearance in front of Congress today was another embarrassment, perhaps more for the people's representatives than the Treasury Secretary. Still, Geithner offered a clumsy defense for paying out 100¢ on the dollar to AIG's counterparties, which included more than Goldman Sachs.

What they lacked in knowledge and nuance, Congress made up for in volume and OUTRAGE. The worst moment I saw was the utterly bogus comparison by Rep. Stephen Lynch between AIG's payout to Goldman (100¢ on the dollar!) and the bailout offer for Bear Stearns shareholders (only $2 per share). 100 is a bigger number than 2, you see.

Geithner was lucky to be doing battle with such an unprepared, unimpressive group.

from Commentaries:

Securitization survives the fall

A year after the government's seizure of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and AIG , not to mention the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers that sent the global financial system into a tailspin, very little has changed to prevent debt from being sliced and diced, again and again.

This is a mistake. Although there were many factors contributing to the downfall of the global financial system, the repackaging of toxic debt into esoteric financial products was at the heart of the credit crisis when it erupted in 2007.

It's easy to forget, particularly when many are focused on anniversary tick-tock accounts of the last days of Lehman Brothers, how nasty CDOs -- or worse, CDO squareds -- became so incredibly popular in the first place.

from Commentaries:

Time to get tough with AIG

It's time for someone in the Obama administration to read the riot act to Robert Benmosche, American International Group's new $7 million chief executive.

Since getting the job, Benmosche has spent more time at his lavish Croatian villa on the Adriatic coast than at the troubled insurer's corporate offices in New York.

And in the short term, Benmosche's vacation strategy appears to be paying dividends.

from Commentaries:

Don’t be fooled by global stock stumble

Don't blame global stock markets for being skittish. It is August, after all, a month that has spelled trouble in the past two years.

Recall that, a year ago, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac started wobbling at the precipice while AIG, desperate for cash, began paying junk-like yields in the corporate bond market. A month later, all hell broke loose.

In August 2007, a shutdown in short-term lending markets forced global policy makers to rush in with a flood of liquidity to keep the lifeblood of the financial system from clotting.

from Commentaries:

Regulators are opaque, too

Matthew GoldsteinSo much for more transparency in the financial system.

It's hard for regulators to demand greater transparency from Wall Street banks when they can't even live up to their own standard of greater disclosure. A case in point is the Treasury Department's press release touting its decision to permit "10 of the largest U.S. financial institutions" to begin repaying $68 billion in federal bailout money. The only trouble is Treasury doesn't name any of the banks that can begin repaying money to the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Treasury, it appears, has left it up to each of the "10 of the largest U.S. financial institutions" to make their own announcements about their intentions to repay the TARP. And some, like Morgan Stanley, didn't waste anytime putting out a PR trumpeting its plan to repay $10 billion in TARP money.

Now it's not like this list of banks is any big secret. For weeks now, it's been well-known that Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, American Express, Bank of New York Mellon--to name a few--were itching to repay the bailout money.

The CEO is the latest endangered species

ericauchard1– Eric Auchard is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

The revolving doors are spinning ever faster in the executive suites of corporations.

CEO turnover has reached an all-time high, according to figures kept by recruiting firm Challenger & Gray. Last year, 1,484 U.S. CEOs resigned, stepped down or were fired — six casualties every business day.

Paulson’s folly: Throwing good money after bad at AIG

morici– Peter Morici is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Business and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. The opinions expressed are his own. –

By Peter Morici

The Treasury is injecting another $27 billion into AIG and raising the taxpayers’ investment to $150 billion. Secretary Paulson appears more intent on helping his pals on Wall Street than protecting taxpayer interests.

AIG has solid businesses in industrial, commercial and life insurance, but like a lot of financial firms, was attracted to easy profits writing credit default swaps on mortgage backed bonds—so called collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).

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