Third World America: Drowning in Debt and Choking on Lies

If a drunk driver crashed his speeding rental car into your house and killed your spouse, you would be outraged if law enforcers took bribes and refused to give the driver a blood test. If the judge then gave the killer a small fine and ordered you to pay the fine and pay for all the damages, you’d be outraged. If the government then handed the drunk-driver keys to a bigger faster rental car, handed the drunk driver an even bigger bottle of whiskey, and then gave you the rental bill; you’d storm Washington, blizzard elected officials with protests and organize friends and associates to vote these malefactors, the elected officials that betrayed your trust, out of office.

Yet, we’ve remained largely silent in the face of the same sort of behavior by Wall Street and Washington. Bonus-seeking bankers crashed into Main Street’s economy and ran control frauds within banks that would have failed without taxpayer bailouts. Bureaucrats and elected officials bailed them out without demanding consequences. Bankers are revving their engines again in credit derivatives, currency derivatives, and commodities trades. “Financial reform” addresses none of the latter problems.

Arianna Huffington’s Third World America: How Our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream explains that the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the bank bailout package also known as TARP, allotted only $72 billion to infrastructure projects. Another feature of the bill was to have banks agree to lend money to medium and small sized businesses to stimulate the economy. That didn’t happen and official unemployment numbers remain above 9%, while unofficial figures for underemployed Americans soar above 20%.

The number one stimulus for any economy is not consumer spending, although that is a powerful secondary effect. The number one stimulus is capital spending, investment in the production of real goods and consumables. As Third World America explains: “There were three flaws with the old economy that has crashed. It favored consumption over production, debt over small savings, and environmental damage over environmental renewal.”

Our ongoing bank bailouts included the mispricing of around $4 trillion of toxic assets that the banks cannot afford to honestly price, since bank capital would be wiped out sparking another global financial meltdown. We continue to provide cheap taxpayer funding through the Fed. New accounting rules allow banks to cover-up the low price of impaired assets, and government debt guarantees provide ongoing subsidies to banks that have a value of trillions of dollars.

Ground Zero for America’s Debt Crisis

Beyond the banks, we have fiscal mismanagement and corruption that plagues middle class taxpayers. I happen to live in Illinois, the best example of this in the nation. Cook County encompasses Chicago and some of its surrounding suburbs. This week, the Cook County Treasurer discovered “stunning” debt. This debt isn’t new, but apparently our officials are now properly terrified. Our total debt for the municipality, education, county, sanitary, park, fire, township, library and special services is now $108 billion. That means the debt per person in Chicago exceeds $37,000 or more than $63,500 per household, and that is just local debt.

The other problem is that the Illinois economy isn’t growing. Many of those households have no income coming in other than government subsidies, and some have no income at all. Unofficial unemployment numbers top 20%. State of Illinois taxes increased from 3% to 5%, an increase of around 67%. Taxes on real estate, utilities, sales, and more are expected to skyrocket. Businesses like the Chicago Mercantile Exchange are being courted by low income tax states (at least the income taxes are currently low) like Florida.

We’re not doing better on a national level. Americans owe almost $26,500 per household or around $45,000 per person (Greek citizens owe $44,000 per person). That’s on top of our local debt.

David Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general, says it’s even worse than that. When he takes into account future obligations for Medicare, Social Security, Federal debt, Military retirement, Civil servant retirement, and more, we owe $546,663 per household. That doesn’t even include your local debt — it may not be as bad as if you lived in Illinois, but it’s substantial nonetheless — and personal debt including mortgages and consumer debt that average more than $120,000 per household.

We’re told we are a great country and we can “grow our way out of it.” Exactly how does that occur, when jobs are going overseas, taxes for the wealthiest in our country are uncollectible after exploiting tax breaks, and programs for investment in infrastructure and production are virtually nonexistent?

America’s biggest problem by far is that capital spending in new production facilities that create jobs and real products never occurred, not even after trillions of dollars were thrown at banks in the global financial system.

Chicago Police Superintendent McCarthy’s Cheap Shot: “Government Sponsored Racism”

One would think that our fiscal problems and corruption by local and national officials would unite citizens in a common cause. I’ve been very vocal about predatory lending that targeted vulnerable minorities. A practice called “reverse red lining” targeted people of color and those in minority neighborhoods to get them to sign mortgages that had complicated documentation that hid risks. Yes, there was some fraud by borrowers, but the overwhelming problem in the Chicago area, was fraud on borrowers. I’ve explained this in some detail on The Huffington Post in past years and again recently: “Third World America 2011: Forget ‘Fast Tracking to Anarchy.’ We’ve Arrived.” (June 8, 2011).

I’ve also been vocal about shootings, mob wildings, and muggings in Chicago and the fact that our officials are lying to our population about the causes. It’s true that most of shootings are black-on-black or brown-on-brown and that violence in our poorer neighborhoods is branching out into middle class neighborhoods. In instances where perpetrators are black or brown and the victims are white, it is tempting to say it is all about race, but as I pointed out, this is much bigger than our racial issue:

It’s Not a Race War; It’s a Class War

It’s much too easy to let politicians divide the nation, make this about race, and ignore the underlying causes. It’s true that many of the mobs in downtown Chicago are comprised of African Americans, but Oprah Winfrey isn’t into wilding. Mary McCarthy didn’t get a close up look at the mob outside her window, but they appeared white — definitely not African American.

Last year, I never mentioned race in my post about Chicago violence, but a few commenters brought up race and made unwarranted assumptions. Some commenters assumed “wildings” only involve black youths. Chicago is a city with a lot of diversity and gangs of every race. I mentioned a separate incident of an armed intruder being shot and killed by an off duty police officer; the armed intruder was not African American. I also mentioned three police officers were shot and killed within a two month period. Two were African American, one was not.

I pointed out that our officials have been lying to the public about crime. On June 23, NBC televised a segment on how 911 calls on Memorial Day noted gang violence on Chicago’s trendy beaches and the lack of adequate police presence for crowd control.

For example, a 911 caller implored for more police protection. He was selling chairs and umbrellas on the beach that day when he was confronted by thugs: “We have a couple of gentlemen, well, actually a few people, threatening to shoot us, threatening to whoop our ass. They’re unhooking our equipment.” Calls like belied the story told by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy that the beach was closed due to the heat.

More disturbing, however, were remarks made by Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to Father Pfleger’s congregation on Sunday June 5, 2011 at St. Sabina’s Catholic Church. I provide the entire transcript along with this video, which has already been pulled from the web once, and was retrieved from the Google cache by a concerned citizen:

The last part of the speech is wrong on many levels. I’m happy to speak up about injustices such as predatory lending and how this practice victimized many neighborhoods in Chicago. In fact, I co-authored an Op-ed for the New York Times with the Reverend Jesse Jackson on that topic; it wasn’t published, however, but we gave it a shot.

When it comes to the type of violent crime referred to by the Superintendent, he has his cause and effects all wrong, and he made it all about racism. He equated gun laws to “government sponsored racism.”

If criminals didn’t have guns, they would use knives. The killings in our African American communities have nothing to do with racism. These are black-on-black crimes perpetrated by criminals with no respect for authority and no self-respect. They victimize and terrorize decent members of the black community struggling to survive a devastating economic crisis. The Chicago Police Superintendent’s pandering and misinformation doesn’t make it easy for anyone to respect authority.

Gun control is “government sponsored racism?” Superintendent McCarthy is wrong on many levels. He mentions segregation, Jim Crow and the Black Code. The latter denied African Americans the right to own guns and that left them open to victimization by armed racists. Now they are victimized by armed criminals in their own communities. Only law-abiding citizens aren’t allowed to have guns in Chicago, which seems to be a violation of U.S. citizens’ Second Amendment rights. The chief challenger of this prohibition in Illinois is an African American man who wants to own a gun so he can defend himself. Moreover, Superintendent McCarthy didn’t mention the understaffed and underequipped police officers, many of whom are men and women of color, who have been shot and killed, wounded, or have had guns pointed at them by criminals. How is any of this racism?

Father Pfleger has something to answer for as well. What happened to separation of Church and State? Why does the Catholic Church deserve tax-exempt status if it allows a priest to use the Church pulpit for political rallies?

Politicians divide the nation and try to make these issues about race, and ignore the underlying causes.

In Third World America, Arianna Huffington notes: “the first step toward stopping our relentless transformation into Third World America has to be breaking the choke hold that special interest money has on our politics.” We must also break the choke-hold that politicians in clerical robes and uniforms have on our public discourse.

Endnote: Transcript of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy addressing the Congregation at St. Sabina’s Church in Chicago, Illinois on June 5, 2011 (from above video):

I feel so inadequate after Father Pfleger speaking, but I would never turn down an opportunity to share a couple of words with the community.

Because there’s only 24 hours in the day, I’m trying to fit that 25th hour in and get out everywhere and talk to everybody all the time. I’ve spent an awful lot of time over the last… tomorrow’s my three week anniversary. And I’m also up for conformation tomorrow, so speak to your alderman; that would be very helpful.

But I’ve spent an awful lot of time speaking to police officers over the last few weeks and I cannot help but be impressed by the sense of pride that they all take in this great agency called the Chicago Police Department. And Father, I’ve gotta…You know what? I’m there.

I’m going to take one second if you’ll forgive me for this. Um, You know I cannot echo or speak as articulate as you did laying out the challenges that we face as a society, but I’m here to tell you one or two quick things. There are no accidents. There are no accidents in this universe and I believe deep down in my soul, I’ve never made a decision in my police career but God has brought me to this place. I’ve never made a decision in my police career, and I jokingly tell people that I lead a Forrest Gump type existence, floating along and ending up where I go.

But I did 20 years in the NYPD, and I was there on 911, so I have my own personal opinions about Osama Bin Laden. Please forgive me for that Father. But I was also there to see a change, a big change in the NYPD and the way we do business. And I want to give you a couple of numbers. In 1990 in NYC, there were 2, 245 people murdered. I’m going to say that again. 2,245 people murdered, and the headlines on the daily news were “Do something, Dave,” talking to David Dinkins, the Mayor at the time. Well we changed the way we did business, and the NYPD has been very successful to the point where last year they reduced that number to 450.

Now that’s certainly progress, but it’s not good enough. Do you realize we’re talking about a 75% reduction, which is a big deal, but we had 450 people murdered. That’s not okay, that’s not okay. And again Father forgive me, I looked at my Blackberry in church, but while we were sitting here, there was another murder in the City of Chicago. It’s not okay, and I’m not willing to accept that it’s okay. And I’m setting the bar higher than anybody ever sets the bar for me. I set it higher than anybody sets it.

And I had a conversation with Father Pfleger, and I told him my vision, and he basically articulated it. But I want to tell you, we used to react to crime, then we used to prevent crime. That’s what we’re doing now; that’s how we reduce crime. Nobody’s ever cured crime. Nobody’s ever cured it. The police cannot arrest their way out of crime. It’s got to be done on a different level. It’s got to be done in recognition of the moral authority of the community to change the behavior of criminals.

Wow, there must be something about this pulpit here, ’cause I’m feelin’ strong. I usually, I, I, [sic] should never mix politics and faith, but since, since the Father mentioned it, I want to talk just one thing, and then I promise you I’m giving up the microphone. It’s, it’s the last time I get invited to speak.

You know I’m going to take a risk here, and I’m gonna give you somethin’. This is definitely the right audience. Father Pfleger talked about gun control, and I wanna, I wanna give a little test here. And this is sensitive. You know, because everybody’s afraid of race. Have you noticed that? Everybody’s afraid of race.

I’m not afraid of race. I was born and raised in the Bronx, NY, and when I was growin’ up, the three biggest problems were gangs, guns, and drugs. Does that sound familiar?

So how, how much have we failed as a society to address this?

I’m 52 years old. I’m 52 years old, and today in 2011, we’re talking about gangs and guns and drugs and what we’re going to do to fix it. Okay? A big component of this has to do with race.

Everybody’s afraid of race. I’m not afraid of race. So here’s what I want to tell you. See, let’s see if we can make a connection here. Slavery. Segregation. Black codes. Jim Crow. What, what did they all have in common? Anybody getting’ scared?

Government sponsored racism. [Long pause.]

I told ya I wasn’t afraid. I told ya I wasn’t afraid.

Now I want you to connect one more dot on that chain of the African American history in this country, and tell me if I’m crazy.

Federal gun laws that facilitate the flow of illegal firearms, into our urban centers across this country, that are killing our black and brown children. [Long pause.]

The NRA does not like me, and I’m okay with that. We’ve got to get the gun debate back to center, and it’s got to come with the recognition of who’s paying the price for the gun manufacturers being rich and living in gated communities.

I, on December 23 in Newark, I was coming from a Christmas Party when we had two back-to-back events. We had five kids who were shot, two of ’em succumbed to their wounds, and then we had two more men who were shot back-to-back within five minutes of each other. I was on my way to one, when I went to the other, and I was walking through shell casings, bullets, spent bullets in the street. They were gettin’ stuck in my shoes and I said “You know what? Sumpin’s wrong. Somethin’s wrong, and I went from one scene to the next, and by the time I got home, probably about 10:30, 11:00 that night, snapped on the TV to relax for a few minutes, and what was on TV? Sarah Palin’s Alaska. And she was caribou hunting, and talking about the right to bear arms.

Why wasn’t she at the crime scene with me?

I’m gonna need some help. Because people don’t want to hear this. Okay? And this is what I’m talking about changing the face of the way we do police in this country starting right here in Chicago. It’s with the recognition of what is going on, and a plan to address it.

I couldn’t be happier. I feel like I’m in a perfect place, the perfect time, with the right people around me.

Thank you very much everybody. This is gonna be great experience.

Janet Tavakoli is the president of Tavakoli Structured Finance, a Chicago-based firm that provides consulting to financial institutions and institutional investors. Ms. Tavakoli has more than 20 years of experience in senior investment banking positions, trading, structuring and marketing structured financial products. She is a former adjunct associate professor of derivatives at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. Author of: Credit Derivatives & Synthetic Structures (1998, 2001), Collateralized Debt Obligations & Structured Finance (2003), Structured Finance & Collateralized Debt Obligations (John Wiley & Sons, September 2008). Tavakoli’s book on the causes of the global financial meltdown and how to fix it is: Dear Mr. Buffett: What an Investor Learns 1,269 Miles from Wall Street (Wiley, 2009).

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About Janet Tavakoli 34 Articles

Affiliation: Tavakoli Structured Finance, Inc.

Janet Tavakoli is the founder and president of Tavakoli Structured Finance, Inc. (TSF), a Chicago based consulting firm providing expert experience and knowledge about maximizing value in the capital markets in the face of complexity and uncertainty. TSF provides consulting services to financial institutions, institutional investors, and hedge funds.

Ms. Tavakoli was years ahead of the financial industry predicting lax underwriting and misrating of structured financial products would result in the collapse of the global credit bubble. She also predicted the collapse of the thrift industry, Long Term Capital Management, and First Alliance Mortgage prompting Business Week to profile her as "The Cassandra of Credit Derivatives." [2008].

Ms. Tavakoli pointed out grave flaws in the methodology for rating structured financial products in her books, Structured Finance & Collateralized Debt Obligations (2003, 2008), and Credit Derivatives (1998, 2001). She wrote the first letter the SEC posted in February 2007 in response to its proposed rules for the credit rating agencies; she made the case that the NRSRO designation for the rating agencies should be revoked for structured financial products.

Ms. Tavakoli is frequently published and quoted in financial journals including The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Business Week, Fortune, Global Risk Review, RISK, IDD, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, LIPPER HedgeWorld, Asset Securitization Report, Journal of Structured Finance, Investor Dealers' Digest, International Securitization Report, Bloomberg News, Bloomberg Magazine, Credit, Derivatives Week,, Finance World, and others.

Frequent television appearances include CNN, CNBC, BNN, CBS Evening News, Bloomberg TV, First Business Morning News, Fox, ABC, and BBC.

Tavakoli is a former adjunct associate professor of finance at Chicago Booth (the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business) where she taught "Derivatives: Futures, Forwards, Options and Swaps".

Janet Tavakoli is the former Executive Director, Head of Financial Engineering in the Global Financial Markets Division at Westdeutsche Landesbank in London. She headed market risk management for the capital markets group for Bank One in Chicago. Tavakoli headed the asset swap trading desk at Merrill Lynch in New York, headed mortgage backed securities marketing for Merrill Lynch in New York, and headed mortgage backed securities marketing to Japanese clients for PaineWebber in New York. She also worked for Bear Stearns heading marketing for quantitative research.

She is the author of: Credit Derivatives & Synthetic Structures (1998, 2001), Collateralized Debt Obligations & Structured Finance (2003), Structured Finance & Collateralized Debt Obligations (John Wiley & Sons, September 2008), and Dear Mr. Buffett: What An Investor Learns 1,269 Miles From Wall Street (Wiley, 2009).

During her career, she has been registered and licensed with the SFA, NASD, ASE, CBOE, NYSE, PSE and the NFA and has passed the series 7, 63 and 3 qualifying exams.

Ms. Tavakoli has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology and an MBA in Finance from University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.

Visit: Tavakoli Structured Finance

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