Resumen de una injusticia

Hace unas semanas, leí con sorpresa y estupor la noticia que daba cuenta de la abrupta expulsión de José Miguel Vivanco, director para las Américas de la ONG Human Rights Watch, de Venezuela. Su expulsión, sin el más mínimo respeto a los derechos humanos del afectado, con un claro tinte autoritario, más propio de países en los que la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos jamás ha sido conocida, ocurría en la capital venezolana, Caracas, y la orden no procedía de ningún juez, ni había sido precedida de un procedimiento judicial. Se había producido, manu militari, con invasión por las fuerzas policiales actuantes del domicilio (habitación de hotel) que ocupaba el interesado, sin su presencia, a escondidas y con nocturnidad.

Esta acción de comando respondía al "terrible delito" cometido por el director de Human Rights Watch consistente en la presentación en rueda de prensa en aquella capital del libro titulado Una década de Chávez: Intolerancia política y oportunidades perdidas para el progreso de los derechos humanos en Venezuela.

Doy por supuesto que en un país democrático, la libertad de pensamiento y de expresión son valores fundamentales que garantizan la solvencia de ese sistema, para alejarlo del autoritarismo y hacer que prevalezca el Estado de derecho. Cuando esos valores se pierden, en el horizonte de ese país aparecen nubarrones que ensombrecen cualquier posibilidad de credibilidad del mismo y se comienza a intuir un panorama de represión ideológica muy peligroso.

Parece claro que la acción del director de Human Rights Watch no era merecedora de la arbitraria respuesta dada por las autoridades venezolanas, que antes de actuar así deberían haber combatido, si les interesaba, con explicaciones y argumentos las afirmaciones-acusaciones que en aquel texto se contenían. La bravuconada de la expulsión, ejemplo de debilidad interna, no conduce más que a la demostración de que la razón de la fuerza se ha impuesto por encima de la fuerza de la razón, y a privar de credibilidad a cualquier respuesta posterior.

Es asimismo llamativo que a esta postura, antes que criticarla, se hayan sumado ciertos elementos del mundo político chileno (nacionalidad del señor Vivanco) y de Cuba. Asumo que en este último país las posturas sean casi miméticas a las del Gobierno venezolano, pero lo de Chile sí que me llama la atención porque con ello se demuestra la principal conclusión de libro: la intolerancia de los Gobiernos ante las críticas recibidas en materia de derechos humanos.

Con ello, y recuperando los momentos más oscuros de épocas que creía superadas en Latinoamérica, se opta por "matar" al mensajero que denuncia una situación de flagrante violación y desconocimiento de los derechos humanos de miles de ciudadanos, en vez de poner los medios para remediarla, o denunciar la omisión, como el autor hace.

Cuando, en este campo, se aboga porque alguien o algunos no se ocupen por los asuntos internos de un país, me vienen a la memoria todos los argumentos que durante décadas se han empleado para justificar la impunidad frente a violaciones permanentes y masivas de derechos humanos. Con ello se olvida que en la defensa de aquéllos -y en breves fechas se celebrará el 60 aniversario de su proclamación- la obligación de denuncia y persecución de los violadores es universal. Por ende, no podemos permanecer silentes antes estos hechos, más propios de quien actúa con miedo y con la amenaza del poder que ostenta, que de quien tiene y defiende la razón.

De José Miguel Vivanco sólo puedo decir que lo conozco desde hace ya muchos años, desde el proceso contra la dictadura de Pinochet. Lo he visto actuar con la misma firmeza y coraje frente al Gobierno del presidente Álvaro Uribe en Colombia como frente a la Administración Bush por Guantánamo.

Por ello, no me sorprende que él le aplique el mismo rasero al Gobierno de Venezuela que a cualquier otro Gobierno. Puedo decir con total convicción que las acciones de José Miguel Vivanco son coherentes con su compromiso democrático con la causa universal por los derechos humanos y con la rectitud jurídica y moral que lo han caracterizado por igual frente a Gobiernos de izquierda como de derecha.

(El País. Baltasar Garzón es magistrado de la Audiencia Nacional de España, famoso por su orden de captura contra el expresidente chileno Pinochet.)

Rescue the Rescue

I was channel surfing on Monday, following the stock market’s nearly 800-point collapse, when a commentator on CNBC caught my attention. He was being asked to give advice to viewers as to what were the best positions to be in to ride out the market storm. Without missing a beat, he answered: “Cash and fetal.”

I’m in both — because I know an unprecedented moment when I see one. I’ve been frightened for my country only a few times in my life: In 1962, when, even as a boy of 9, I followed the tension of the Cuban missile crisis; in 1963, with the assassination of J.F.K.; on Sept. 11, 2001; and on Monday, when the House Republicans brought down the bipartisan rescue package.

But this moment is the scariest of all for me because the previous three were all driven by real or potential attacks on the U.S. system by outsiders. This time, we are doing it to ourselves. This time, it’s our own failure to regulate our own financial system and to legislate the proper remedy that is doing us in.

I’ve always believed that America’s government was a unique political system — one designed by geniuses so that it could be run by idiots. I was wrong. No system can be smart enough to survive this level of incompetence and recklessness by the people charged to run it.

This is dangerous. We have House members, many of whom I suspect can’t balance their own checkbooks, rejecting a complex rescue package because some voters, whom I fear also don’t understand, swamped them with phone calls. I appreciate the popular anger against Wall Street, but you can’t deal with this crisis this way.

This is a credit crisis. It’s all about confidence. What you can’t see is how bank A will no longer lend to good company B or mortgage company C. Because no one is sure the other guy’s assets and collateral are worth anything, which is why the government needs to come in and put a floor under them. Otherwise, the system will be choked of credit, like a body being choked of oxygen and turning blue.

Well, you say, “I don’t own any stocks — let those greedy monsters on Wall Street suffer.” You may not own any stocks, but your pension fund owned some Lehman Brothers commercial paper and your regional bank held subprime mortgage bonds, which is why you were able refinance your house two years ago. And your local airport was insured by A.I.G., and your local municipality sold municipal bonds on Wall Street to finance your street’s new sewer system, and your local car company depended on the credit markets to finance your auto loan — and now that the credit market has dried up, Wachovia bank went bust and your neighbor lost her secretarial job there.

We’re all connected. As others have pointed out, you can’t save Main Street and punish Wall Street anymore than you can be in a rowboat with someone you hate and think that the leak in the bottom of the boat at his end is not going to sink you, too. The world really is flat. We’re all connected. “Decoupling” is pure fantasy.

I totally understand the resentment against Wall Street titans bringing home $60 million bonuses. But when the credit system is imperiled, as it is now, you have to focus on saving the system, even if it means bailing out people who don’t deserve it. Otherwise, you’re saying: I’m going to hold my breath until that Wall Street fat cat turns blue. But he’s not going to turn blue; you are, or we all are. We have to get this right.

My rabbi told this story at Rosh Hashana services on Tuesday: A frail 80-year-old mother is celebrating her birthday and her three sons each give her a present. Harry gives her a new house. Harvey gives her a new car and driver. And Bernie gives her a huge parrot that can recite the entire Torah. A week later, she calls her three sons together and says: “Harry, thanks for the nice house, but I only live in one room. Harvey, thanks for the nice car, but I can’t stand the driver. Bernie, thanks for giving your mother something she could really enjoy. That chicken was delicious.”

Message to Congress: Don’t get cute. Don’t give us something we don’t need. Don’t give us something designed to solve your political problems. Yes, Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke need to accept strict oversights and the taxpayer must be guaranteed a share in the upside profits from all rescued banks. But other than that, give them the capital and the flexibility to put out this fire.

I always said to myself: Our government is so broken that it can only work in response to a huge crisis. But now we’ve had a huge crisis, and the system still doesn’t seem to work. Our leaders, Republicans and Democrats, have gotten so out of practice of working together that even in the face of this system-threatening meltdown they could not agree on a rescue package, as if they lived on Mars and were just visiting us for the week, with no stake in the outcome.

The story cannot end here. If it does, assume the fetal position.

(The New York Times)

The better bailout

The champagne bottle corks were popping as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced his trillion-dollar bailout for the banks, buying up their toxic mortgages. To a skeptic, Paulson's proposal looks like another of those shell games that Wall Street has honed to a fine art. Wall Street has always made money by slicing, dicing and recombining risk. This "cure" is another one of these rearrangements: somehow, by stripping out the bad assets from the banks and paying fair market value for them, the value of the banks will soar.

There is, however, an alternative explanation for Wall Street's celebration: the banks realized that they were about to get a free ride at taxpayers' expense. No private firm was willing to buy these toxic mortgages at what the seller thought was a reasonable price; they finally had found a sucker who would take them off their hands--called the American taxpayer.

The administration attempts to assure us that they will protect the American people by insisting on buying the mortgages at the lowest price at auction. Evidently, Paulson didn't learn the lessons of the information asymmetry that played such a large role in getting us into this mess. The banks will pass on their lousiest mortgages. Paulson may try to assure us that we will hire the best and brightest of Wall Street to make sure that this doesn't happen. (Wall Street firms are already licking their lips at the prospect of a new source of revenues: fees from the US Treasury.) But even Wall Street's best and brightest do not exactly have a credible record in asset valuation; if they had done better, we wouldn't be where we are. And that assumes that they are really working for the American people, not their long-term employers in financial markets. Even if they do use some fancy mathematical model to value different mortgages, those in Wall Street have long made money by gaming against these models. We will then wind up not with the absolutely lousiest mortgages, but with those in which Treasury's models most underpriced risk. Either way, we the taxpayers lose, and Wall Street gains.

And for what? In the S&L bailout, taxpayers were already on the hook, with their deposit guarantee. Part of the question then was how to minimize taxpayers' exposure. But not so this time. The objective of the bailout should not be to protect the banks' shareholders, or even their creditors, who facilitated this bad lending. The objective should be to maintain the flow of credit, especially to mortgages. But wasn't that what the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout was supposed to assure us?

There are four fundamental problems with our financial system, and the Paulson proposal addresses only one. The first is that the financial institutions have all these toxic products--which they created--and since no one trusts anyone about their value, no one is willing to lend to anyone else. The Paulson approach solves this by passing the risk to us, the taxpayer--and for no return. The second problem is that there is a big and increasing hole in bank balance sheets--banks lent money to people beyond their ability to repay--and no financial alchemy will fix that. If, as Paulson claims, banks get paid fairly for their lousy mortgages and the complex products in which they are embedded, the hole in their balance sheet will remain. What is needed is a transparent equity injection, not the non-transparent ruse that the administration is proposing.

The third problem is that our economy has been supercharged by a housing bubble which has now burst. The best experts believe that prices still have a way to fall before the return to normal, and that means there will be more foreclosures. No amount of talking up the market is going to change that. The hidden agenda here may be taking large amounts of real estate off the market--and letting it deteriorate at taxpayers' expense.

The fourth problem is a lack of trust, a credibility gap. Regrettably, the way the entire financial crisis has been handled has only made that gap larger.

Paulson and others in Wall Street are claiming that the bailout is necessary and that we are in deep trouble. Not long ago, they were telling us that we had turned a corner. The administration even turned down an effective stimulus package last February--one that would have included increased unemployment benefits and aid to states and localities--and they still say we don't need another stimulus. To be frank, the administration has a credibility and trust gap as big as that of Wall Street. If the crisis was as severe as they claim, why didn't they propose a more credible plan? With lack of oversight and transparency the cause of the current problem, how could they make a proposal so short in both? If a quick consensus is required, why not include provisions to stop the source of bleeding, to aid the millions of Americans that are losing their homes? Why not spend as much on them as on Wall Street? Do they still believe in trickle-down economics, when for the past eight years money has been trickling up to the wizards of Wall Street? Why not enact bankruptcy reform, to help Americans write down the value of the mortgage on their overvalued home? No one benefits from these costly foreclosures.

The administration is once again holding a gun at our head, saying, "My way or the highway." We have been bamboozled before by this tactic. We should not let it happen to us again. There are alternatives. Warren Buffet showed the way, in providing equity to Goldman Sachs. The Scandinavian countries showed the way, almost two decades ago. By issuing preferred shares with warrants (options), one reduces the public's downside risk and insures that they participate in some of the upside potential. This approach is not only proven, it provides both incentives and wherewithal to resume lending. It furthermore avoids the hopeless task of trying to value millions of complex mortgages and even more complex products in which they are embedded, and it deals with the "lemons" problem--the government getting stuck with the worst or most overpriced assets.

Finally, we need to impose a special financial sector tax to pay for the bailouts conducted so far. We also need to create a reserve fund so that poor taxpayers won't have to be called upon again to finance Wall Street's foolishness.

If we design the right bailout, it won't lead to an increase in our long-term debt--we might even make a profit. But if we implement the wrong strategy, there is a serious risk that our national debt--already overburdened from a failed war and eight years of fiscal profligacy--will soar, and future living standards will be compromised. The president seemed to think that his new shell game will arrest the decline in house prices, and we won't be faced holding a lot of bad mortgages. I hope he's right, but I wouldn't count on it: it's not what most housing experts say. The president's economic credentials are hardly stellar. Our national debt has already climbed from $5.7 trillion to over $9 trillion in eight years, and the deficits for 2008 and 2009--not including the bailouts--are expected to reach new heights. There is no such thing as a free war--and no such thing as a free bailout. The bill will be paid, in one way or another.

Perhaps by the time this article is published, the administration and Congress will have reached an agreement. No politician wants to be accused of being responsible for the next Great Depression by blocking key legislation. By all accounts, the compromise will be far better than the bill originally proposed by Paulson but still far short of what I have outlined should be done. No one expects them to address the underlying causes of the problem: the spirit of excessive deregulation that the Bush Administration so promoted. Almost surely, there will be plenty of work to be done by the next president and the next Congress. It would be better if we got it right the first time, but that is expecting too much of this president and his administration.

(The Nation. Joseph E. Stiglitz is University Professor at Columbia University. He received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001 for research on the economics of information.)

Un gigantesco naufragio político

Es imposible un mayor naufragio político. En manos de sus propios partidarios, esos congresistas republicanos que han reventado la votación del plan de rescate de las finanzas arruinadas. George W. Bush ha intervenido públicamente en tres ocasiones en apenas una semana para apoyar la aprobación del plan de su secretario del Tesoro Henry Paulson. Nadie le ha hecho caso, ni siquiera en su partido. Su apelación al miedo, invocado en términos sombríos, amenazantes, de nada ha servido. Este nuevo fracaso que se añade a la lista inacabable de esta presidencia desenfrenada viene a lastrar, además, al candidato republicano hasta un punto difícil de calibrar.

John McCain anunció la suspensión de su campaña electoral para dedicarse a salvar la economía de su país. Rubricó junto a Obama el plan de salvación que ahora la Cámara de Representantes acaba de rechazar. Participó en el primer debate televisivo con el candidato demócrata sin apenas entrar en detalles sobre las dificultades del plan de salvación. Y regresó a la campaña sin darse cuenta de la desautorización que empezaba a tejerse en Washington para hacer saltar esa aportación de 700.000 millones de dólares al sistema financiero quebrado.

Obama sólo sale un poco mejor parado que McCain, pero también su imagen sufre de la división con que los demócratas han abordado el plan: unos lo han destruido porque no quieren un Gobierno intervencionista y en el lado opuesto los otros lo han boicoteado porque consideran injusto que el Gobierno salve a quienes han abusado de la confianza pública. Aun en distintos grado, el resultado de esta votación es penoso para ambos candidatos. Demuestra que la crisis de liderazgo de la que Bush es el máximo exponente también les afecta a ellos. Es una auténtica crisis americana.

Pero cuidado, esta jornada negra no ha sido precisamente plácida para los europeos. El temporal ya pega en nuestras costas y está llevándose por delante un banco aquí, otro allá, y otro más acá. Algunos se persignan. Otros sonríen con suficiencia: "yo ya lo decía". Otros más lo observan con estoica paciencia: ¿a qué viene ahora extrañarse sobre la honda verdad de las historias bíblicas?. Las vacas flacas llegan a Europa porque antes llegaron las gordas y anduvieron paciendo una eternidad en nuestros prados hasta engañarnos a todos. Creíamos que se habían instalado con nosotros para siempre y eran las mismas que poblaron el sueño de José.

Antes de empezar con los lamentos, sin embargo, hay que seguir mirando a la otra orilla del Atlántico, donde Wall Street se desploma al hilo de la falta de líderes políticos y de la indisciplina política. Todo está a la deriva cuando los barcos naufragan, empezando por esa campaña electoral errática que encara la recta final de la forma más accidentada posible.

(El País 29/09/2008)

"No se pueden dar 700.000 millones a los bancos y olvidarse del hambre"

Hans-Gert Poettering (Alemania, 1945), ocupa la presidencia del Parlamento Europeo desde principios de 2006. Democristiano militante se muestra escandalizado porque se destinen 700.000 millones de dólares para salvar a los banqueros en lugar de destinarlo a la lucha contra la pobreza. Defiende la economía social de mercado de la UE y apuesta por un sistema bancario más regulado y transparente. Poettering visitará España entre el 2 y el 4 de octubre.

Pregunta. La crisis financiera está acaparando la agenda. El economista estadounidense Joseph Stiglitz afirma que esta crisis financiera significa para el mercado lo mismo que significó para el comunismo la caída del muro de Berlín. ¿Cómo ve la situación?

Respuesta. Creo que no son comparables. La caída del Muro fue un acontecimiento positivo, pero la crisis que vivimos es una experiencia muy negativa.

P. ¿Qué lecciones puede sacar Europa de la crisis de EE UU?

R. Lo más importante ahora es ver qué podemos aprender. Desgraciadamente nuestros socios americanos rechazaron más transparencia y más control en el campo financiero. Estoy aconsejando a las instituciones y Gobiernos europeos que empiecen a desarrollar una legislación política europea con más transparencia y más control en el sistema bancario.

P. ¿Esta crisis supone el fin del capitalismo anglosajón, desarrollado sobre todo en EE UU, que desconfía de la regulación y del Estado y lo fía todo al mercado?

R. Siempre hemos tenido modelos diferentes, pero esta crisis demuestra que el modelo europeo es más convincente. Pero incluso nuestro modelo requiere nuevos desarrollos. Las soluciones nacionales ya no son suficientes y necesitamos soluciones europeas. Ciertamente, el modelo americano no es el modelo del futuro.

P. La canciller Angela Merkel, propone un mayor contenido social con medidas como limitar los sueldos de los ejecutivos o la participación de los trabajadores en los beneficios empresariales.

R. Nuestro modelo se describe por primera vez en el Tratado de Lisboa. Es la política social de mercado. No es sólo política de mercado ni sólo política social, sino política social de mercado.

P. Reflexionando sobre las raíces de la crisis, el comisario de Asuntos Económicos, Joaquín Almunia, dice que las causas se resumen en una palabra: codicia.

R. Aprecio mucho al comisario Almunia y creo que tiene razón. No podemos permitir que tras la crisis monetaria, los americanos pongan 700.000 millones de dólares en el sistema bancario, es decir, a unos bancos que ganan dinero para su uso privado. Además, hay otro aspecto. Nunca comprenderé que haya 700.000 millones de dólares de los contribuyentes disponibles para salvar al sistema financiero y no para luchar contra el hambre del mundo. Esto no es aceptable y por esto propongo correcciones.

P. ¿En qué tipo de medidas piensa?

R. Es lo que decía Angela Merkel hace un año, cuando planteaba que era necesaria más transparencia y más control. Necesitamos más legislación y el Parlamento Europeo está dispuesto a hacer esta contribución. Mi consejo para Europa es no gastar dinero como hacen los americanos sino empezar a legislar.

(El País. Entrevista de Andreu Missé)