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Op-Ed: The Illusion of Wealth

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The last eight years were a fantasy, created by massive debt, manipulation and deceit.

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Editor's Note: James Quinn is a senior director of strategic planning for a major university. James has held high level financial positions with a retailer, homebuilder and a university in his 22-year career.

"I'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."
- J. Wellington Wimpy

If you're old enough to remember the Popeye cartoons, you'll remember Wimpy and his promise to pay at a later date for a hamburger today. As Congress listens to the latest pleas for $25 billion from GM (GM), Ford (F) and Chrysler, I can't help but think of Wimpy's promise. The entire $700 billion bailout (plus the $150 billion of pork used to buy votes) is based on the Wimpy motto. Give me what I want today and I'll pay you at some future date. This has become the motto of government and corporate and consumer America.

The most amusing part of CEOs begging Congressmen for $25 billion is the assumption that there's $25 billion to give. The United States has no money. It's broke. It already spent $10.6 trillion more than it has. That's a lot of hamburgers. Uncle Sam, the personification of America, may need to step aside for the new personification of America, Wimpy.



Citigroup (C) has overshadowed the automaker's "miniscule" request of $25 billion with today's taxpayer bailout of over $300 billion. Over the weekend, when the Federal Reserve and Treasury do their best work, Vikram "Wimpy" Pandit asked Ben "Popeye" Bernanke for $300 billion - and promised that his worthless derivatives would be worth something next Tuesday. Somewhere, Charlie Prince is still dancing.

TARP: I Thought Turkeys Could Fly

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!!!"
- Arthur Carlson,
WKRP in Cincinnati

Arthur Carlson was the clueless station manager on WKRP in Cincinnati, a sitcom from the late 70s. His idea for a Thanksgiving promotion was based on his belief that turkeys could fly. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is the Arthur Carlson of our generation. Instead of dropping turkeys from a helicopter, he dropped $179 billion in bailout money. It had the same impact.

As detailed in the following chart, the first $125 billion was forced on the 9 largest financial institutions by Paulson on October 28th. Since that force-feeding, 21 other financial institutions have applied for -- and received -- an additional $34 billion from the $700 billion trough. AIG is a bottomless pit that has sucked $40 billion more into its vortex. Every company in America is trying to figure out how to get a piece of the action. American Express (AXP) and GMAC are converting to banks so they can get bailed out by taxpayers for loaning money to people who couldn't repay them. GMAC generated all of GM's false demand over the last 5 years by providing financing to anyone who could generate fog on a mirror and sign their name on a loan document.



By any reasonable assessment, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has been a miserable failure and a complete waste of taxpayer money. The basis used to ram the bill through Congress was the purchase of the toxic assets off of bank's book, but not $1 has been used for this purpose.

Furthermore, the banks who have received the $179 billion have not made any loans with the money. Some are using the money to buy other banks. Their goal is to become too big to fail. Others, like Citigroup, have used the money to buy back bad assets they created to mislead investors.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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