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Saving Illinois: Getting More Bang for the State’s Bucks
by ELLEN BROWN
GLOBAL NEWS ARUBA
ASSOCIATE WRITER - SENIOR NEWS REPORTER

Illinois is teetering on bankruptcy and other states are not far behind, largely due to unfunded pension liabilities; but there are solutions. The Federal Reserve could do a round of “QE for Munis.” Or the state could turn its sizable pension fund into a self-sustaining public bank.

 Illinois is insolvent, unable to pay its bills. According to Moody’s, the state has $15 billion in unpaid bills and $251 billion in unfunded liabilities. Of these, $119 billion are tied to shortfalls in the state’s pension program. On July 6, 2017, for the first time in two years, the state finally passed a budget, after lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto on raising taxes. But they used massive tax hikes to do it – a 32% increase in state income taxes and 33% increase in state corporate taxes – and still Illinois’ new budget generates only $5 billion, not nearly enough to cover its $15 billion deficit.

Adding to its budget woes, the state is being considered by Moody’s for a credit downgrade, which means its borrowing costs could shoot up. Several other states are in nearly as bad shape, with Kentucky, New Jersey, Arizona and Connecticut topping the list. U.S. public pensions are underfunded by at least $1.8 trillion and probably more, according to expert estimates. They are paying out more than they are taking in, and they are falling short on their projected returns. Most funds aim for about a 7.5% return, but they barely made 1.5% last year.

If Illinois were a corporation, it could declare bankruptcy; but states are constitutionally forbidden to take that route. The state could follow the lead of Detroit and cut its public pension funds, but Illinois has a constitutional provision forbidding that as well. It could follow Detroit in privatizing public utilities (notably water), but that would drive consumer utility prices through the roof. And taxes have been raised about as far as the legislature can be pushed to go.

The state cannot meet its budget because the tax base has shrunk. The economy has shrunk and so has the money supply, triggered by the 2008 banking crisis. Jobs were lost, homes were foreclosed on, and businesses and people quit borrowing, either because they were “all borrowed up” and could not go further into debt or, in the case of businesses, because they did not have sufficient customer demand to warrant business expansion. And today, virtually the entire circulating money supply is created when banks make loans When loans are paid down and new loans are not taken out, the money supply shrinks. What to do?

Quantitative Easing for Munis

There is a deep pocket that can fill the hole in the money supply – the Federal Reserve. The Fed  had no problem finding the money to bail out the profligate Wall Street banks following the banking crisis, with short-term loans totaling $26 trillion. It also freed up the banks’ balance sheets by buying $1.7 trillion in mortgage-backed securities with its “quantitative easing” tool. The Fed could do something similar for the local governments that were victims of the crisis. One of its dual mandates is to maintain full employment, and we are nowhere near that now, despite some biased figures that omit those who have dropped out of the workforce or have had to take low-paying or part-time jobs.

The case for a “QE-Muni” was made in an October 2012 editorial in The New York Times titled “Getting More Bang for the Fed’s Buck” by Joseph Grundfest et al. The authors said Republicans and Democrats alike have been decrying the failure to stimulate the economy through needed infrastructure improvements, but shrinking tax revenues and limited debt service capacity have tied the hands of state and local governments. They observed:

State and municipal bonds help finance new infrastructure projects like roads and bridges, as well as pay for some government salaries and services.

. . . [E]very Fed dollar spent in the muni market would absorb a larger percentage of outstanding debt and is likely to have a greater effect on reducing the bonds’ interest rates than the same expenditure in the mortgage market.

. . . [L]owering the borrowing costs for states, cities and counties should not only forestall tax increases (which dampen individual spending), but also make it easier for local governments to pay for police officers, firefighters, teachers and infrastructure improvements.

The authors acknowledged that their QE-Muni proposal faced legal hurdles. The Federal Reserve Act prohibits the central bank from purchasing municipal government debt with a maturity of more than six months, and the beneficial effects expected from QE-Muni would require loans of longer duration. But Congress was then trying to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” so all options were on the table. Today the fiscal cliff has come around again, with threats of the debt ceiling dropping on an embattled Congress. It could be time to look at “QE for Munis” again.

Getting More Bang for the Pensioners’ Bucks

 Scott Baker, a senior advisor to the Public Banking Institute and economics editor at OpEdNews, has another idea. He argues that the states are far from broke. They may not be able to balance their budgets with taxes, but a search through their Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) shows that they have massive surplus funds and rainy day funds tucked away around the state, most of them earning minimal returns. (Recall the 1.5% made by the pension funds collectively last year.)

The 2016 CAFR for Illinois shows $94.6 billion in its pension fund alone, and well over $100 billion if other funds are included.  To say it is broke is like saying a retired couple with a million dollars in savings is broke because they can earn only 1.5% on their savings and cannot live on $15,000 a year. What they need to do is to spend some of their savings to meet their budget and invest the rest in something safe but more lucrative.

So here is Baker’s idea for Illinois:

  1. Make an iron-clad pledge by law, even in the State Constitution if they can get quick agreement, to provide for pension payouts at the current level and adjusted for inflation in the future.
  2. Liquidate the current pension fund and maybe some of the other liquid funds too to pay off all current debts.
  3. This will leave them with a great credit rating . . . .
  4. Put the remaining tens of billions into a new State Bank, partnering with the beleaguered small and community banks . . . . Use that money to finance state and local businesses and individuals instead of Wall Street schemes and high fund manager fees that will no longer be necessary or advisable, saving the state hundreds of millions a year.

The Public Bank could be built roughly on the model of the hugely successful Bank of North Dakota example, one of the country’s greatest banks, measured by Return on Equity, and scandal-free since its founding in 1919.

The Bank of North Dakota (BND), the nation’s only state-owned bank, has had record profits every year for the last 13 years, with a return on equity in 2016 of 16.6%, twice the national average. Its chief depositor is the state itself, and its mandate is to support the local economy, partnering rather than competing with local banks. Its commercial loans range from 2.4% to 7.5%. The BND makes cheaper loans as well, drawing on loan funds for special programs including infrastructure, startup businesses and affordable housing. Its loan income after deducting allowances for loan losses was $175 million in 2016 on a loan portfolio of $4.7 billion. (2016 BND CAFR, pages 28-29.)That puts the net return on loans at 3.7%.

Illinois could follow North Dakota’s lead. Looking again at the Illinois CAFR (page 45), the amount paid out for pension benefits in 2016 was only $1.833 billion, or less than 2% of the $94.6 billion pool. An Illinois state bank could generate that much in profit, even after paying off the state’s outstanding budget deficit.

Assume Illinois guaranteed its pension payouts, as Baker recommends, then liquidated its pension fund and withdrew $10 billion to meet its current budget shortfall. This would significantly improve its credit rating, allowing it to refinance its long-term debt at a reduced rate. The remaining $85 billion could be put into the state’s own bank, $8 billion as capital and $77 billion as deposits. [See chart below.] At a loan to deposit ratio of 80%, $60 billion could be issued in loans. At a return similar to the BND’s 3.7%, these loans would produce $2.2 billion in interest income. The remaining $17 billion in deposits could be invested in liquid federal securities at 1%, generating an additional $170 million. That would give a net profit of $2.37 billion, enough to cover the $1.8 billion annual pensioners’ payout, with $570 million to spare.

The salubrious result: the pension fund would be self-funding; the state would have a bank that could create credit to support the local economy; the pensioners would have money to spend, increasing demand; the economy would be stimulated, increasing the tax base; and the state would have a good credit rating, allowing it to borrow on the bond market at low interest rates. Better yet, it could borrow from its own bank and pay the interest to itself. The proceeds could then go to its pensioners rather than to bondholders.

Where there is the political will, there is a way. Politicians and central bankers will take radical, game-changing steps in desperate times. We just need to start thinking outside the box, a Wall Street-imposed box that has trapped us in austerity and economic servitude for over a century.

____________________

Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, a Senior Fellow of the Democracy Collaborative, and author of twelve books including Web of Debt and The Public Bank Solution. A 13th book titled The Coming Revolution in Banking is due out this fall. She also co-hosts a radio program on PRN.FM called “It’s Our Money.” Her 300+ blog articles are posted at EllenBrown.com.










GLOBAL NEWS ARUBA INTERNATIONAL

Dear Mr. President, Be Careful What You Wish for: Higher Interest Rates Will Kill the Recovery
by ELLEN BROWN
GLOBAL NEWS ARUBA
ASSOCIATE WRITER - SENIOR NEWS REPORTER

Higher interest rates will triple the interest on the federal debt to $830 billion annually by 2026, will hurt workers and young voters, and could bankrupt over 20% of US corporations, according to the IMF. The move is not necessary to counteract inflation and shows that the Fed is operating from the wrong model.

Responding to earlier presidential pressure, the Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates this week for the third time since November, from a fed funds target of 1% to 1.25%.  But as noted in The Guardian in a March 2017 article titled “Trump Is Set to Win the Battle on Interest Rates, but US Economy Will Pay the Price”:

An increase in the base rate, however small, will tighten the screw on younger voters and some of the poorest communities who voted for him and rely on credit to get by.

More importantly for his economic programme, higher interest rates in the US will act like a honeypot for foreign investors . . . . [S]ucking in foreign cash has a price and that is an expensive dollar and worsening trade balance. . . . It might undermine his call for the repatriation of factories to the rust-belt states if goods cost 10% or 20% more to export.

In its Global Financial Stability report in April, the International Monetary Fund issued another dire warning: projected interest rises could throw 22% of US corporations into default. As noted on Zero Hedge the same month, “perhaps it was this that Gary Cohn explained to Donald Trump ahead of the president’s recent interview with the WSJ in which he admitted that he suddenly prefers lower interest costs.”

But the Fed was undeterred and is going full steam ahead. Besides raising the fed funds rate to a target of 3.5% by 2020, it is planning to unwind its massive federal securities holdings beginning as early as September. Raising interest rates benefits financial institutions, due to a rise in interest on their excess reserves and net interest margins (the difference between what they charge and what they pay to depositors). But borrowing costs for everyone else will go up (rates on student loans are being raised in July), and the hardest hit will be the federal government itself. According to a report by Deloitte University Press republished in the Wall Street Journal in September 2016, the government’s interest bill is expected to triple, from $255 billion in 2016 to $830 billion in 2026.

The Fed returns the interest it receives to the Treasury after deducting its costs. That means that if, rather than dumping its federal securities onto the market, it were to use its quantitative easing tool to move the whole federal debt onto its own balance sheet, the government could save $830 billion in interest annually – nearly enough to fund the president’s trillion dollar infrastructure plan every year, without raising taxes or privatizing public assets.

That is not a pie-in-the-sky idea. Japan is actually doing it, without triggering inflation. As noted by fund manager Eric Lonergan in a February 2017 article, “The Bank of Japan is in the process of owning most of the outstanding government debt of Japan (it currently owns around 40%).” Forty percent of the US national debt would be $8 trillion, three times the amount of federal securities the Fed holds now as a result of quantitative easing. Yet the Bank of Japan, which is actually trying to generate some inflation, cannot get the CPI above 0.2 percent.

The Hazards of Operating on the Wrong Model

The Deloitte report asks:

Since the anticipated impact of higher interest rates is slower growth, the question becomes: why would the Fed purposely act to slow the economy? We see at least two reasons. First, the Fed needs to raise rates so that it has room to lower them when the next recession occurs. And second, by acting early, the Fed likely hopes to choke off inflationary pressure before it starts to build.

Rates need to be raised so that the recession this policy will trigger can be corrected by lowering them again – really? And what inflation? The Consumer Price Index has not even hit the Fed’s 2% target rate. Historically, when interest rates have been raised in periods of tepid growth, the result has been to trigger a recession. So why raise them? As observed in a June 2 editorial in The Financial Times titled “The Needless Urge for Higher Borrowing Costs”:

In this context, the apparent determination of the Fed in particular to press on with interest rate rises looks a little peculiar. Having created expectations that it was likely to tighten policy with three quarter-point increases over the course of 2017, the Fed is acting more like a party to a contract that feels the need to honour its terms, than a central bank that takes the data as it finds them. [Emphasis added.]

In the six months since President Trump was elected, the Fed has pressed on with two rate hikes and is proceeding with a third, evidently just because it said it would.  Impatient bond investors are complaining that it has found one excuse after another to postpone the “normalization” it promised when market conditions “stabilized;” and in his presidential campaign, Donald Trump attacked Janet Yellen personally for keeping rates low, putting her career in jeopardy. She has now gotten with the program, evidently to restore the Fed’s waning credibility and save her job. But the question is, why did the Fed promise these normalization measures in the first place? As then-Chairman Ben Bernanke explained its “exit strategy” in 2009:

At some point, . . . as economic recovery takes hold, we will need to tighten monetary policy to prevent the emergence of an inflation problem down the road. . . . [B]anks currently hold large amounts of excess reserves at the Federal Reserve. As the economy recovers, banks could find it profitable to be more aggressive in lending out their reserves, which in turn would produce faster growth in broader money and credit measures and, ultimately, lead to inflation pressures.

The Fed evidently believes that the central bank needs to tighten monetary policy (raise interest rates and sell its bond holdings back into the market) because the massive “excess reserves” held by the banks (currently ringing in at $2.2 trillion) will otherwise be lent into the economy, expanding the money supply and triggering hyperinflation. Which, as David Stockman puts it, shows just how clueless even the world’s most powerful central bankers can be in matters of banking and finance . . . .

Banks Don’t Lend Their Reserves

There need be no fear that banks will dump their excess reserves into the market and create “inflation pressures,” because banks don’t lend their reserves to their commercial borrowers. They don’t because they can’t. The only thing that can be done with money in a bank’s reserve account is to clear checks or lend reserves to another bank. Reserves never leave the reserve system, which is simply a clearing mechanism set up by the central bank to facilitate trade among banks. Technically, dollars leave the system when a depositor pulls money out of the bank in cash; but as soon the money is spent and redeposited, these Federal Reserve Notes go back into the banking system and again become reserves.

Not only do banks not lend their reserves commercially, but they do not lend their deposits. Banks create deposits when they make loans. As researchers at the Bank of England have acknowledged, 97 percent of the UK money supply is created in this way; and US figures are similar. Banks do not need reserves or deposits to make loans; and since they are now flooded with reserves, they have little incentive to pay interest on the deposits of “savers.” If they do not have sufficient incoming deposits at the end of the business day to balance their outgoing checks, they can borrow overnight in the fed funds market, where banks lend reserves to each other.

At least they used to do this. But since the Fed began paying Interest on Excess Reserves (IOER) in 2008, they have largely quit lending their reserves to each other. They are just pocketing the IOER. If they need funds, they can borrow more cheaply from the shadow banking system – the Federal Home Loan Banks (which are not eligible for IOER) or the repo market.

So why is the Fed paying interest on excess reserves? Because with the system awash in $2.2 trillion in reserves, it can no longer manipulate its target fed funds rate by making reserves more scarce, pushing up their price. So now the Fed raises the fed funds rate by raising the interest it pays on reserves, setting a floor on the rate at which banks are willing to lend to each other – since why lend for less when you can get 1.25% from the Fed?

That is the theory, but the practical effect has been to kill the fed funds market. The Fed has therefore implemented a new policy tool: it is “selling” (actually lending) its securities short-term in the “reverse repo” market. The effect is to drive up the banks’ cost of borrowing in that market; and when this cost is passed on to commercial borrowers, market rates are driven up.

Meanwhile,  the Fed is paying 1% (soon to be 1.25%) on $2.2 trillion in excess reserves. At 1%, that works out to $22 billion annually. At 1.25%, it’s $27.5 billion; and at 3.5% by 2020, it will be $77 billion, most of it going to Wall Street megabanks. This tab is ultimately picked up by the taxpayers, since the Fed returns its profits to the government after deducting its costs, and IOER is included in its costs. Among other possibilities, an extra $22 billion annually accruing to the federal government would be enough to end homelessness in the United States. Instead, it has become welfare for those Wall Street banks that largely own the New York Fed, the largest and most powerful of the twelve branches of the Federal Reserve.

Paying IOER is totally unnecessary to prevent inflation, as evidenced again by the case of Japan, where the Bank of Japan is actually trying to fan inflation and is now charging banks 0.1% rather than paying them on their excess reserves. Yet the inflation rate refuses to rise above 0.2%.

Banks cannot lend their reserves commercially and do not need to be induced not to lend them. The Fed’s decision to raise rates by increasing IOER just increases public and private sector borrowing costs, slows the economy, threatens to bankrupt businesses and consumers, and gives another massive subsidy to Wall Street.

____________________

Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, a Senior Fellow of the Democracy Collaborative, and author of twelve books including Web of Debt and The Public Bank Solution. She co-hosts a radio program on PRN.FM called “It’s Our Money.” Her 300+ blog articles are posted at EllenBrown.com.


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STEPHEN LENDMAN

HARVARD UNIVERSITY GRADUATE IN JOURNALISM

ASSOCIATE WRITER OF GLOBAL NEWS ARUBA SINCE 2008


Russia Warns Washington

by Stephen Lendman

Russia is committed to free Syria from the scourge of terrorism Washington supports – a noble mission deserving universal support.

On Thursday, the Kremlin said “Russia has officially informed the United States via a special communications channel that Russian forces will strike immediately US-backed forces if they attack or shell Syrian or Russian task forces operating near the Deir Ezzor city.”

“Any attempts at shelling from the areas where the militants of the Syrian Democratic Forces are based will be immediately curbed. Russian forces will suppress firing points in these areas using all means of destruction.”

There’s no ambiguity in the above statement, the Kremlin telling the Trump administration of its intentions in the only language it understands – its statement coming in response to so-called US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) attacking government positions at least twice in Deir Ezzor with mortar and rocket fire.

In retaliation for US-supported al-Nusra terrorists targeting Russian policemen in the Idlib de-escalation zone days earlier, a Russian submarine in the Mediterranean Sea fired Kalibr cruise missiles, destroying their positions, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry, saying:

“The missile strike targeted the recently detected terrorist strongholds, manpower, and armored vehicles, as well as the ammunition depots of the Jabhat al-Nusra terror group (outlawed in Russia) in the Idlib province.”

“The missiles flew about 300 kilometers. According to the objective monitoring data, all targets (were) hit” and destroyed.

Days earlier, Russian chief of staff in Syria General Aleksander Lapin said Syrian and allied forces liberated 85% of ISIS-held territory. Another 27,000 km remain to be freed from its scourge, daily progress made toward achieving this goal.

On Friday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert falsely accused Syrian and Russian forces of striking civilians in Idlib and Hama – a US specialty, Pentagon warplanes responsible for massacring tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Syria since 2014, more killed daily.

Syrian and allied forces continue making gains on the ground, liberating areas held by US-supported terrorists.

They crossed the Euphrates River to the eastern side on Russian-supplied pontoon bridges. Washington abandoned its base in southeastern Syria, its forces retreating cross-border to Jordan, government and allied forces taking control of the area.

On Friday, Israeli warplanes struck an area southwest of the Damascus international airport, according to Al Mayadeen television, citing Syrian officials – part of the Netanyahu regime’s undeclared war on Syria, multiple attacks launched on its territory.

Will Russia send Israel the same ultimatum issued Washington, warning Netanyahu his aggression no longer will be tolerated?


Stephen Lendman Contact at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html


Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.


Stephen Lendman was born in 1934 in Boston, MA. In 1956, he received a BA from Harvard University. Two years of US Army service followed, then an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1960. After working seven years as a marketing research analyst, he joined the Lendman Group family business in 1967. He remained there until retiring at year end 1999. Writing on major world and national issues began in summer 2005. In early 2007, radio hosting followed. Lendman now hosts the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network three times weekly. Distinguished guests are featured. Listen live or archived. Major world and national issues are discussed. Lendman is a 2008 Project Censored winner and 2011 Mexican Journalists Club international journalism award recipient.









STEPHEN LENDMAN

HARVARD UNIVERSITY GRADUATE IN JOURNALISM

ASSOCIATE WRITER OF GLOBAL NEWS ARUBA SINCE 2008


Geoffrey M. Young: Progressive Democrat for Congress

by Stephen Lendman 

Geoff is a political anomaly, a true progressive, the real McCoy, saying what he means forthrightly and meaning what he says, no doubletalk so commonplace in Washington.

If Congress had a majority like him and a peacemaker like Jack Kennedy in the White House, imperial wars would end, world peace would be waged, progressive politics would dominate the Washington landscape – polar opposite its bipartisan neocon infestation.

Geoff hopes to represent Central and Eastern Kentucky in Congress. He’d be guaranteed my vote if I lived in his district.

Chicago is miles away, its federal, state and local political class disgraceful – on the wrong side of everything Geoff and I stand for, a world at peace, a nation fit to live in, serving all its people equitably, not just its privileged few like today.

Geoff is an MIT graduate. Two decades earlier, I went to college up the street a mile or two at that other Cambridge, MA university, the one scorning Chelsea Manning, including me on a fake news site with the most highly respected independent web sites I know – honoring me and them by its insolence, disgracing itself at the same time, mocking the school’s VERITAS (truth) motto.

Geoff is a proud anti-war activist. He and others staged a 1985 sit-in at the office of Mitch McConnell, current Senate majority leader, a deplorable character, on the wrong side of vital issues like most others in Congress and the deplorable Trump team – supporting privilege exclusively, waging war on humanity at home and abroad, abhorring peace, equity and justice for all.

In 2008, Geoff and other activists tried placing Dick Cheney under arrest for waging naked aggression on Iraq after raping Afghanistan.

He spent years “promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies for Kentucky’s state energy office, an agency now called the Department for Energy Development and Independence (DEDI). He was the Assistant Director for most of that time and participated in more than a dozen utility company cases before the Public Service Commission (PSC),” his web site explained.

Later he was involved in a Sierra Club initiative to help improve energy efficiency in East Kentucky.

He’s done other progressive work, including involvement in forming the state’s Green Party. Now he’s a progressive Democrat.

Wage peace, not war. Fund infrastructure, not weapons and munitions procurement. End the racist war on drugs. Stop supporting terrorists in Syria and elsewhere, Geoff urges.

He’s a real Democrat, not an undemocratic one, on the right side of vital issues, a candidate who’ll serve with honor and distinction in Congress, delivering what he promises.

Isn’t that what politics should be all about, serving the electorate, all of it, not special interests alone the way it works now in Washington – why America is a pariah state, a fantasy democracy, not the real thing.

My best to you, Geoff, in your congressional race next year. Get elected! Shake up the House with your anti-war advocacy when it’s most needed!




Stephen Lendman Contact at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.


My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html


Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.


Stephen Lendman was born in 1934 in Boston, MA. In 1956, he received a BA from Harvard University. Two years of US Army service followed, then an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1960. After working seven years as a marketing research analyst, he joined the Lendman Group family business in 1967. He remained there until retiring at year end 1999. Writing on major world and national issues began in summer 2005. In early 2007, radio hosting followed. Lendman now hosts the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network three times weekly. Distinguished guests are featured. Listen live or archived. Major world and national issues are discussed. Lendman is a 2008 Project Censored winner and 2011 Mexican Journalists Club international journalism award recipient.


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