Uncle Sam, King of Junk Real Estate


April 03, 1991|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON. — Washington.-- Newspaper columnists and television pundits usually pretend that they see a solution for every problem, including the new world disorder brought on by the Persian Gulf war, or the conflict in the Soviet Union brought on by Mikhail Gorbachev's efforts to rein in his own reforms.

But I confess that there is one ''crisis'' that renders me intellectually impotent, a debacle in which I know that my pockets are being picked, but I'm never sure how, or by whom. I refer to the savings-and-loan mess, which is arguably the greatest economic scandal in human history.

I've been following this pile-up of financial tragedies for months, but only slowly has it sunk in that some shadowy government agency called the Resolution Trust Corporation now ''manages'' some $300 billion of property that the government has seized while trying to bail out troubled S & L's.

Our government has taken over thousands of houses on which '' taxes and upkeep are so costly that the Resolution Trust can hardly give them away. I can get you a ski resort in Utah or a harbor marina in Texas at a 50 percent discount, but you'd know that even at the government price it would be a bad deal, something the out-of-business thrift institutions never figured out.

It seems certain that President Bush is going to ask you and me to follow up on a recent $77 billion bailout allocation with a September call for another $150 billion to keep trying to buy the nation's way out of this incredible fiasco.

The pity is that I don't recall the president ever giving a speech in which he revealed fully to you and me the dimensions of this debacle, or his battle plan for fighting our way out of this economic quagmire. The White House, in the person of Chief of Staff John Sununu, is spending time and brainpower trying to get L. William Seidman out of the job of chairman of the Resolution Trust Corporation. Out of what must be foolish pride, Mr. Seidman is spending your and my money to pay lawyers to tell him that nobody can deprive him of this charming job before 1993.

However long Mr. Seidman sits atop this gigantic S & L sinkhole, you ought to be aware of this dichotomous situation:

* Early on, the Resolution Trust disposed of properties in a panicky way that gave colossal bonanzas to some of the very people who brought on this crisis.

* Criticized for the fat giveaways, the Resolution Trust became cautious, bringing on criticisms that Uncle Sam would be bled to death unless the $300 billion inventory was disposed of -- fast. But even in a buyer's market, few people are willing to purchase any of the trust's $21 billion in delinquent mortgages and troublesome loans.

I have this sickly feeling that President Bush doesn't want to talk about how Uncle Sam wound up holding the bag for $300 billion in shopping malls, office buildings, horse farms, yachts, family homes, junk bonds and heaven knows what else. I fear that the president doesn't want to admit that he is just as stumped by this outrage as any columnist in the land.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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