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Mussolini-Style Corporatism in Action: Treasury Conference Call on Bailout Bill to Analysts (Updated)

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Various readers wrote us, and it was confirmed by a detailed report on the call at DealBreaker, that the Treasury Department held a conference call this evening for analysts on the bailout bill. A memo was evidently sent to SIFMA members; others may have been contacted by other means. But the report I got from one person who was on the call was the the questions came from financial services industry members. In other words, this was most assuredly not intended to be a call open to the public at large. If anyone from the media or other member of the great unwashed was listening in, it was by accident.

This is simply scandalous. To have a group of interested parties get a privileged briefing by government officials on a matter of keen public interest flies in the face of what a democracy is supposed to be about. The proper method would either be a published FAQ on the Treasury website or a briefing with the media included. But why should I be surprised? Favoritism has been a staple of the Bush Administration.

There is a live blogging recap at DealBreaker. Someone who was on the call is going over his notes and other recaps on the Web and sending me his version, which I hope will add some color. Check back for that update.

Update: Here are the notes promised. Calculated Risk had put up the conference call number. so some of this is the listener’s notes, some are hoisted from CR. They are admittedly skeletal at points, but track and enhance the live blogging report at DealBreaker. You can download a torrent for the call here, which I intend to do post haste and will amend the post accordingly. I’ve included the long form notes below, but some items jump out:

1. The tranching is a mere formality, and the Treasury boys as much as said so. They could take the $700 billion max as soon as the bill has passed,

2. However, they do not plan any action immediately, will wait a couple of weeks. They want to focus their efforts on stronger companies but also made noise about protecting the financial system. This, by the way, is the Japanese convoy system all over.

3. There seemed to be a lot of tap dancing about what price they will pay for assets and no straight answer about their policy on warrants. They did say that if the amount sold was greater than $100 million, they would take warrants. FYI, the current draft allows them to pay up to the price at which the assets were initially booked (yikes) . I wonder if this is obfuscation, if they have an idea of what the plan to do but will not admit it in any public forum.

4. As the person who listened to the call stressed, DealBreaker wasn’t clear on the bifurcated process. If you come to the Treasury and you are in trouble, you get reamed. Bear/AIG style treatment, execs probably fired. But if you participate on a voluntary basis, the intent is to make it very user friendly. That is consistent with Paulson’s position during the negotiations.

5. The exec comp provisions sound like a joke, They DO NOT affect existing contracts, they affect only contracts entered into during the two years of the authority of this program and then affect only golden parachutes. More detail on that point, but I don’t need more detail to get the drift of the gist.

Further below are the notes, admittedly somewhat cryptic at points, but hopefully helpful. But if you have time, listen to the download. Be warned I may revise and add to the post once I have done so.

Update 12:30 AM: Have queued up recording of conference call but not yet listened to it. But reader and sometime contributor Lune provides a useful take. Hoisted from comments:

1) If even the Treasury is saying tranching is a formality, then it really is nothing. Not sure why Dems fought so hard for a fig leaf.

2) Waiting a couple of weeks because no one has any idea when or where the next bomb will blow up. In other words, all their doomsday scenarios about Black Monday were B.S. They screamed the check had to be written by Monday, but now they’re saying they actually have a few weeks before they need to cash it. Plus, this will allow them to “seek guidance” from GS, JPM, and other selfless public servants about where the money should be funneled.

3. The tap dancing is because they don’t want it to get out that they’ll be giving a sweetheart deal. The public won’t be following each individual transaction to see exactly what price is being paid. So ridiculously overpriced asset sales can be hidden in the details, and by the time some reporter (or blogger :-) combs through and analyzes the transactions, the deed will have been done. But if Paulson makes a statement that assets will be bought at par before the bailout’s even begun, that will be reported and might kill the deal.

4. In other words, we need to sweeten the pot to encourage banks to come “voluntarily”. Pardon my ignorance, but why the hell should we be begging banks to borrow from us? I thought a bailout should be the absolute last option for a bank. I.e., it should be so unpalatable, so unprofitable for a bank and its executives that they exhaust every private means of survival before coming for their public “reaming”. I wonder if foreclosed homeowners would rate their foreclosure process as “user friendly”.

5. Of course the exec comp provisions are a joke. Who do you think is going to be hiring all those banking cmte staffers and newly retired congresspeople next year during the inevitable post-election turnover? Do you really think they’re going to vote to limit their salaries? Remember that for lots of people on the Hill (including elected reps), govt work is merely time you spend accumulating credentials in preparation for your real life’s work in the vastly richer private world.

Taxpayer losses: “golly, let’s just pray to Jesus and hope he’ll make sure that in a few years our country won’t be bankrupt.”

Oversight: “let’s appoint a committee which will file toothless reports that no one will ever read”.

I’m glad to see that while much time was spent in Exec comp. and tranching kabuki theater, the real points of protection of taxpayer losses and implementation of new regulation seem to be afterthoughts.

The notes on the call per our helpful anonymous reader (and former investment banker, it turns out):

“Draft bill is very positive for both markets and our companies”

Much explanation of Executive Comp

Residential and commercial mortgages. But very importantly, it can be any asset.

Excited about ability to guarantee assets in exchange for a guarantee fee.

Sought as much authority and as much flexibility as possible.

Eligibility: as broad participation by institutions as possible. The
more participation, the more effective it will be. Want banks of all
sizes or any financial institution that has a meaningful presence in
the US to be interested and enthusiastic.

Purpose is to help private sector clean up their balance sheets.

Highest priority: make sure it works, will attract companies to
participate. Warrants and exec comp. were very highly negotiated.

still listening …
some1 | 09.28.08 – 9:14 pm | #

Warrants:

Direct purchases from failing institution e.g. Bear Stearns, AIG, F&F: will do the same thing, take maybe 79.9% equity.

Market mechanism: Congress wanted taxpayer benefit in upside. Sell
warrants for assets over $100M , but the amount of warrants is still
TBD. WE want healthy institutions to participate so it should not be
punitive.
some1 | 09.28.08 – 9:17 pm | #

Exec comp.

Most difficult part of negotiation.

Direct deal: fire the management, like AIG etc.

Market mechanism: if sell over $300M into fund, some exec comp limits
come with it. For 2 years, the firm could not enter into NEW contracts
including golden parachute, for involuntary departure. And lose some
deductibility.

We feel really good that we have encouraged healthy institutions to participate, not just bailouts of sick institutions.
some1 | 09.28.08 – 9:22 pm | #

Clawback of taxpayer losses:
1. it’s a long way out, “a lot can happen in that time”
2. it’s targeted at all financial institutions, not just participants! (that means it will never happen)
3. would need more congressional and presidential action to implement this.
some1 | 09.28.08 – 9:24 pm | #

Oversight (Bob Hoyt)

1. Financial Stability Oversight Board
2. General Accountability Office and Comptroller General managing purchase auctions
3. Special Inspector General
4. Congressional Oversight Panel
5. Reporting provisions
some1 | 09.28.08 – 9:27 pm | #

Tranching of $700B (I didn’t know that was a limit)

Entire 700B is appropriated entirely by the act, no further appropriation necessary.

Tranching: first $250B
Then Secretary determines that more is needed and tells Congress, another $100B
Then Secretary determines that more is needed and Congress has 15 days to refuse, the remaining $350B

No time limits. Can request all the tranches at once, no need for delays.
some1 | 09.28.08 – 9:29 pm | #

More about tranching:

To block the last $350B, Congress has to say no. Then the President can
veto that. To override that veto, Congress needs 2/3 majority.

ALL of that must happen within 15 days, otherwise the money goes out.

Can’t the President wait and veto it with one minute left in the 15 days?

RTC had to go back to Congress. Kudos for making this program much EASIER!
some1 | 09.28.08 – 9:32 pm | #

Price: not a fire-sale price, not an outrageous price, a “fair” price. Firms might get a price higher than their current mark.

(Congress will be voting on this, with this aspect totally undetermined.)
some1 | 09.28.08 – 9:35 pm | #

Not trying to maximize return to the taxpayer, but to provide liquidity to the system as a whole.
some1 | 09.28.08 – 9:39 pm | #

They will prefer to help healthy banks become even healthier, as
opposed to rescuing a failing bank, because the healthy bank is more
likely to relend into the system.

They expect that the exec. comp. limits won’t constrain the healthy banks, since they are so light.
artichoke | 09.28.08 – 9:43 pm | #

xIt will take several weeks, before any assets can be bought, to hire asset managers and get systems up and running.

(They’re going to let the weak banks fail, then help the rest.)
artichoke | 09.28.08 – 9:45 pm | #

No provision to mandate re-lending.

Stuff that is still to be determined, will be issued as “guidelines” therefore exempt from discussion and comment period.

About 800 people on the call.
some1 (oops;) | 09.28.08 – 9:47 pm | #

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48 comments

  1. Anonymous

    Around 9:30 pm est the s&p futures were up 400. At 11:00 pm est they were down 1120. Will the package even pass the House? If so, will it do any good beyond keeping gs and ms afloat? It would seem the early verdict is nay.

  2. Terminal

    Yves,
    Sorry I didn’t see your question until you had the situation well in hand.
    Have you noticed Sec. 132 of the bill? – SUSPENSION OF MARK-TO-MARKET ACCOUNTING.

    Less transparency combined with providing enough funds only to shift losses from the favored few.

    This is almost the exact opposite of a long term solution, call it Bizarro World Finance.

  3. Anonymous

    I am normally not a conspiracy theorist, but the total neglect of our monetary system combined w/ ridiculous spending habits makes me believe they are intentionally destroying our currency. What will replace it is anyones guess.

  4. Lune

    From the notes that Yves has summarized, this looks like a blank check to Treasury which it intends to pass on posthaste to Wall St. Let’s translate some of the notes’ points from politico-speak to real-speak:

    1) If even the Treasury is saying tranching is a formality, then it really is nothing. Not sure why Dems fought so hard for a fig leaf.

    2) Waiting a couple of weeks because no one has any idea when or where the next bomb will blow up. In other words, all their doomsday scenarios about Black Monday were B.S. They screamed the check had to be written by Monday, but now they’re saying they actually have a few weeks before they need to cash it. Plus, this will allow them to “seek guidance” from GS, JPM, and other selfless public servants about where the money should be funneled.

    3. The tap dancing is because they don’t want it to get out that they’ll be giving a sweetheart deal. The public won’t be following each individual transaction to see exactly what price is being paid. So ridiculously overpriced asset sales can be hidden in the details, and by the time some reporter (or blogger :-) combs through and analyzes the transactions, the deed will have been done. But if Paulson makes a statement that assets will be bought at par before the bailout’s even begun, that will be reported and might kill the deal.

    4. In other words, we need to sweeten the pot to encourage banks to come “voluntarily”. Pardon my ignorance, but why the hell should we be begging banks to borrow from us? I thought a bailout should be the absolute last option for a bank. I.e., it should be so unpalatable, so unprofitable for a bank and its executives that they exhaust every private means of survival before coming for their public “reaming”. I wonder if foreclosed homeowners would rate their foreclosure process as “user friendly”.

    5. Of course the exec comp provisions are a joke. Who do you think is going to be hiring all those banking cmte staffers and newly retired congresspeople next year during the inevitable post-election turnover? Do you really think they’re going to vote to limit their salaries? Remember that for lots of people on the Hill (including elected reps), govt work is merely time you spend accumulating credentials in preparation for your real life’s work in the vastly richer private world.

    Taxpayer losses: “golly, let’s just pray to Jesus and hope he’ll make sure that in a few years our country won’t be bankrupt.”

    Oversight: “let’s appoint a committee which will file toothless reports that no one will ever read”.

    I’m glad to see that while much time was spent in Exec comp. and tranching kabuki theater, the real points of protection of taxpayer losses and implementation of new regulation seem to be afterthoughts.

  5. Anonymous

    Memo found at: http://dealbreaker.com/2008/09/treasury-to-hold-conference-ca.php

    MEMORANDUM

    TO: SIFMA Government Reps Committee

    FR: SIFMA Washington Office

    DA: September 28, 2008

    RE: Conference Call w. Treasury / 9:00PM TONIGHT

    At 9:00pm tonight, Sunday, September 28th, there will be a call with Treasury officials to discuss the Troubled Asset Recovery Plan. This call is specifically for analysts. Please distribute ASAP to analysts in your firm who might be interested in participating. We have also distributed this call notice through various SIFMA Committees to solicit analyst participation.

    Please find the conference call information below:

    Date: Sunday, September 28th

    Time: 9:00PM ET

    Toll-free Dial-in: 1-866-843-0890

    Entry Code: 1812173#

  6. tk6910

    As I have feared, Paulson got just about everything he demanded. All the reassurances the Democratic Congressional leaderstold us about fixing Paulson’s plan were lies to keep the public less agitated and less oppositional.

    At this point, I ask all voters to vote out in November each and every rascal who votes for this Paulson’s power and money grab. They have sold us out. We all need to channel our outrage and hurt these rogues as much as we can.

    I still hold on to one hope, and that is, that Republican leaders such as Senator Shelby and many Republican House members will still fight against this robbery.

  7. Wendy

    Can I, if someone is not already, forward this to every reporter I can find tonight? As well as post a link on every blog out there that I can get to? From Good Housekeeping to Wall Street to People Magazine?

    This HAS to get out and be understood by the majority of Americans so that they see their government for what it has truly become. I am outraged that they are giving “special” treatment.

    This is downright illegal. Now, investment bankers and other “insiders” are poised to gain while we sit here losing our retirement, homes and college savings.

    I HAVE to channel my anger somewhere.

    Yves,

    Do I have your blessing to contact reporters and alert them to this scandal?

  8. Yves Smith

    Wendy,

    This blog is public domain. I’d be delighted if you’d contact reporters and anyone who might listen. This is an outrage and people ought to understand what is really afoot here.

  9. doc holiday

    This was my favorite part of The Plan:

    SEC. 122. INCREASE IN STATUTORY LIMIT ON THE PUBLIC DEBT.
    Subsection (b) of section 3101 of title 31, United
    States Code, is amended by striking out the dollar limitation contained in such subsection and inserting
    ‘$11,315,000,000,000’’.

    *8 regards, Kona

  10. Anonymous

    Your tax dollars at work. I don’t see anything different than what the Federal Reserve is doing every week, then exchanging dollars for trash hiding it on their books.

  11. buermann

    From the intro remarks of the call:

    It requires us to take warrants at the Secretary’s discretion … in the direct case [i.e. a seizure of a failing institution] we will be very aggressive in taking warrants for the taxpayer benefit. … Companies that sell over $100 million dollars into this fund must give warrants.

    The warrants we can set at whatever level we want to set, it’s not specified. We want to set that at a level so there is some upside for the taxpayers, but also encourages all firms to participate. This goes back to the spirit that we don’t want just failing institutions to participate but also healthy firms to participate. Having that discretion was very very important to us.

    Healthy firms are not only able but encouraged to come in and take taxpayers for $100 million, with no downside for them and no upside for us. While the Treasury will be very aggressive about taking stock options on failing institutions, when healthy institutions come for their checks, the Treasury will set the price of the warrant at whatever level is high enough to keep the firm at the trough.

    Sounds like a real win-win to me!

  12. Anonymous

    I can honestly say, for the first time in my life, I’m really sick of the people in Congress, the Senate and the Presidency right now — the ones that are supposed to be working for us — all of them from both parties. Why can’t we get honest government in this country?

  13. Wendy

    Does anyone know how to get the Washington Times Newsroom?

    So far I have contacted:

    Clark Howard
    San Francisco Chronicle
    Atlanta Journal
    Chicago Tribune and L.A. Times (Who were jerks).

    I will continue to update so that if anyone else is trying to get the work out they don’t repeat. I have been unable to reach the Washington Times newsroom though.

  14. Wendy

    Sorry, I meant “word” out, not “work”. I am a stay at home mother and have intention other than saving our country.

  15. doc holiday

    Today, as Kona @ CR, I posted this chaotic stuff from The Plan:

    SEC. 122. INCREASE IN STATUTORY LIMIT ON THE PUBLIC DEBT.
    Subsection (b) of section 3101 of title 31, United States Code, is amended by striking out the dollar limitation contained in such subsection and inserting
    ‘$11,315,000,000,000’’.

    >> (3) LIMITATION ON ACTIONS BY PARTICIPATING COMPANIES.—No action or claims may be brought against the Secretary by any person that divests its assets with respect to its participation in a program under this Act, except as provided in paragraph other than as expressly provided in a written contract with the Secretary.

    …the Secretary shall determine whether the public disclosure required for such financial institutions with respect to off-balance sheet transactions, derivatives instruments, contingent liabilities, and similar sources of potential exposure is adequate to provide to the public sufficient information as to the true financial position of the institutions.

    ..estimate using the methodology required by the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1990 and section 123/118 of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.

    (1) the estimate, notwithstanding section
    502(5)(F) of the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1990, as of the first business day
    that is at least 30 days prior to the issuance of the report, of the cost of the troubled assets determined in accordance with section 123/118

    >> U.S.C. 661a(5)(F)

    (1) the cost of troubled assets and guarantees
    of troubled assets shall be calculated by adjusting the discount rate in section 502(5)(E) (2 U.S.C. 661a(5)(E)) for market risks; and …

    http://uscode.house.gov/search/c…/ criteria.shtml

    See: § 502(5)(E)(E) In estimating net present values, the discount rate shall be the average interest rateon marketable Treasury securities of similar maturity to the cash flows of the direct loan orloan guarantee for which the estimate is being made.

    FEDERAL CREDIT REFORM ACT OF 1990
    Title V of the Congressional Budget Act of 1990

    http://www.usaid.gov/policy/ads/…ds/600/ fcra.pdf

    >> I know that all may not make sense there, but, just thought I'd send puzzle pieces here. In a nutshell, the Treasury can go beyond $700 Billion and has unlimited ability to ask for more cash. They also will accept any type of collateral, which of course is why we are, where we are today, because thin air and bullshit derivatives are worthless today and they will remain worthless until this debt is forgiven — no taxpayer will see a cent of return from this, however, people like Buffett and members of SIFMA will skim off assets that have value, as taxpayers are left with the other stuff. Obviously, this game can go on for as long as they allow it to.

    Furthermore, Paulson can value the collateral with discretion and not be held accountable, and he seems to be pushing to keep in this clause:

    See: Sec. 8. Review.

    Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are
    non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be
    reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

    Ahhhh, I give up…. more later

  16. Wendy

    That’s all I can get to this evening. (3am here). I sure learned that some newsroom’s can be quite rude (LA Times, CNN) and others very kind (SF Chronicle).

    Thanks for your informing us of this.

  17. jmgrey

    I’ve forwarded the article length to Greg Horvath, Letters Editor for Money Magazine, with whom I’ve had some contact in the past. I don’t know what he’ll do with it, but I can always hope. Vive la liberté!

  18. Anonymous

    Radio stations need to get this! They can get the word out quick.
    I already sent an email to Brent Hatley, producer at the Bubba the Love Sponge show (FM radio morning show in Florida and Sirius satellite in the afternoon).
    Howard Stern needs to get this too.

  19. Richard Kline

    There aren’t words . . . And yes, after all their political theater, the Demos got absolutely _nothing_ back from Paulson. And how not?: Frank has run this show and he is clearly skin to skin with Hanky Panky. If this Mondo Scamo passes: 1) Paulson personally has absolute discretion of action, 2) can buy anything he pleases at prices unfair to the public at any time, 3) has zero effective oversight, 4) is not even required to tack back equity for warrants unless he feels like it except if 5) firms are insolvent when he seizes them in which case there is no equity for the public any way and Hank can simply give the assets away to his friends and peers of the realm.

    Congress, the Demos especially, took so long arguing over this because they felt that they didn’t have enough political cover to maker it into their bunkers after passing this rot. They at least had to pretend to negotiate before surrendering abjectly, which in my view summarizes their total process of the last ten days in the fewest words possible. Personally, I prefer fighting conservatives. They dislike me; I dislike them; we both know we’re on opposite sides and no bones about it. Liberals, on the other hand, will always sound like they’re with you until the going gets tough: then, the can’t sell you out fast enough to save themselves. So we see here again.

    Indescribably awful. I have been promoting the concept, which I see as quite valid, that this is indeed corporate fascism, essentially on the Italian model, so I’m glad to see explicit mention made of that going forward. Socialism this ain’t, ’cause society gets nothing but the debt obligations. I strongly expect that in a few years time the debt will be repudiated from this stinker, essentially blowing off the public’s foot to get out of the trap where it is about to be inserted by Paulson and his chorus in the Confiscature. Everything about this bill, both it’s substance and its political implications, are total timebombs.

    By ‘a delay of a few weeks,’ Paulson doubtless means “After the Elections.” That is his trade off to serving Congressfolks. The public stone hates this thing, but Paulson will hold off spending until after the first Tuesday in November—and tell the financial oligarchs to lay off their credit squeeze chokehold and be patient until then. The real gush of money will come in November with the godawful 110th Congress nowhere to be seen. By the time anyone could or will come back to town, Paulson will have spent the wad. By the time a new Congress is sworn in, Paulson’s term will have expired and he can retire to the Bahamas with the jobbing well down, and the money stolen. I would far rather that the Powers that Be simply declared martial law and transfered the funds into their personal bank accounts before fleeing the country: At least it would be obvious that we wuz robbed.

    . . . There aren’t enough words for this; or the right ones . . . .

  20. Anonymous

    “If even the Treasury is saying tranching is a formality, then it really is nothing. Not sure why Dems fought so hard for a fig leaf.”

    Uhhhh … so they wouldn’t get LYNCHED? Ricardo Kline is right on about the deep-seated worthlessness of these feckless liberal pansies.

    What I love is that yesterday, 98% of the Blogoverse assumed a big pop today on the infusion of stolen loot. But the spoos are getting whacked 20 points. Implication: I see your $700 billion, and raise you to $7 TRILLION. Gulp!

    Now I am loony-tunes, “psychotic break” bearish. Sell paper till your fingers bleed, your screen goes dark, and the flames of burning buildings scorch the horizon. Torch the bastards!

    – Juan Falcone

  21. Anonymous

    FYI, SIFMA just sent an action alert message to its members asking for them to call their representatives and tell them to vote for this bill. Here’s the reasoning given:

    - We believe this legislation is critically important and should be enacted into law at the earliest possible time in order restore market stability and increase credit availability for businesses and consumers across the country.

    - Every day, working Americans rely on healthy credit markets for home loans, auto loans, student loans and other types of financing. These credit markets help support small businesses as well, which need cash flow to meet their payrolls.

    - The legislation Congress will vote on today will restore confidence, credit availability and market stability in a timely manner. There are no viable alternatives and doing nothing is not a reasonable option.

    - You want your Representative to vote in favor of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.

  22. Anonymous

    Here’s a comforting thought for you– the vast majority of the people who work at Treasury and the Federal Reserve came on board during the Bush years, beginning in 2000. I’m sure they have everything under control…

  23. average guy

    Unless one of the commenters here or a generally well-known blogger is willing and able to put this stuff into PLAIN ENGLISH that anyone can understand in one sitting, you’re all wasting your breath.

    “Average” Americans, who are not, as a rule, conversant in economics will not understand what you’re talking about unless you put it in simple, Martha Stewart-like, 101 terms.

    I hope somebody does that soon because I can’t; it’s “beyond” me.

    The key to success here is in the translation.

  24. Anonymous

    a staple of the bush admin?

    Puh – lease !

    Democrats fought for a fig leaf but they also fought like mad to push this through ASAP. Everybody’s hands are dirty in the pot here.

    A democrat admin will obviously be as corrupt as a republican one. Dark times ahead.

  25. vaporland

    I agree with Average Guy: summarize what this conference call means in a paragraph or less if you want its revelation to have any real impact.

    It’s greek to me, but I do smell a rat…

  26. Anonymous

    I second that. Average guy nailed what is most pertinent right now. Someone "Stephen King" this horror & get it out quick. Until them, half of this will go over reporting heads.

  27. Anonymous

    > I am normally not a conspiracy theorist,
    > but the total neglect of our monetary
    > system combined w/ ridiculous spending
    > habits makes me believe they are
    > intentionally destroying our currency.
    > What will replace it is anyones guess.

    Beat them to the punch, and replace 10-30% of your money with gold and silver. Physical gold and silver, not an ETF in some account.

    If every American bought just 2 ounces of silver, that would consume an entire year's worth of production of it. At today's prices, that would cost each American about $30. It's a severely undervalued commodity but nobody will believe us tin foiled hard money types just like they didn't believe us about the coming housing market crash in 2004.

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