Archive for the ‘Banking/Finance’ Category
The Securities and Exchange Commission, which is the govt “watchdog” that’s supposed to bark at corporate wrong-doing, has a gift for us this Thanksgiving. Well, that is, not us exactly. More like for lobbyists.
As the Project on Government Oversight reports, the SEC is postponing a new ethics rule. That’s no big deal, right? Wrong.
As POGO notes, the move deliberately allows an untold number of senior SEC employees to evade standard employment regulations – more specifically, it allows them to leave the agency and immediately begin lobbying their old government colleagues on behalf of corporate clients.
Of course survival isn’t the only goal, just the first one, and I guess we ought from time to time to be more positive and look at ways of making the New American Oligarchy work for you. It’s not impossible. In fact it’s relatively easy once you can wrap your head around what the New Rules mean. That meaning can be put very simply:
Money is all that matters.
Even the brightest of left-wing commentators can’t seem to see the forest for the trees even while they’re explaining what a forest is. Apparently our vaunted “reality-based community” just can’t get its head around the reality of the Dem sell-out to Wall Street.
Take Glenn Greenwald, a very smart guy who’s come closer than most to admitting the obvious. Here he has little difficulty figuring out the reasons for Republican pro-corporate policies.
There are few more bitter ironies than watching the Republican Party — controlled at its core by the very business interests responsible for the country’s vast and growing inequality; responsible for massive transfers of wealth to the richest; and which presided over and enabled the economic collapse — now become the beneficiaries of middle-class and lower-middle-class economic insecurity.
Yet when it comes to the Dems, he just can’t bring himself to admit what it is so easy to see in the Pubs.
That crisis presented a huge opportunity for Obama and the Democrats to bring about real change in Washington — the central promise of his campaign — by capitalizing on (and becoming the voice of) populist anger and using it to wrestle away control from Wall Street and other financial and corporate elites who control Washington. Had they done so, they would have been champions of populist rage rather than its prime targets. But, as John Judis argues in his excellent New Republic piece, they completely squandered that opportunity. Rather than emphatically stand up to the bankers and other oligarchical thieves, they coddled and served them, and thus became the face of the elite interests oppressing ordinary Americans rather than their foes. How can an administration represented by Tim Geithner and Larry Summers — and which specializes in an endless stream of secret deals with corporate lobbyists and sustains itself with Wall Street funding — possibly maintain any pretense of populist support or changing how Washington works? It can’t.
My dear Glenn, it isn’t supposed to. OK, it “maintained a pretense” for a number of years and still does play the kabuki you see through like glass when Republicans do it, a sort of pretense-dance that doesn’t fool anyone. So why can’t you see through it when the Dems do it and understand that the reason is identical: the New Democrat is owned and controlled by the exact same interests who own and control the GOP. Otherwise, nothing Obama and the New Dems have done makes any sense whatever, as you said yourself.
But the Democratic Party’s failure/refusal/inability to be anything other than the Party of Tim Geithner — continuing America’s endless, draining Wars while plotting to cut Social Security, one of the few remaining guarantors of a humane standard of living — renders them unable to offer answers to angry, anxious, resentful Americans.
“Failure/refusal/inability”? Just can’t bring yourself to say it out loud, eh? That’s too bad because your and other progressives’ failure/refusal/inability to face the Awful Truth about the New Right-wing Dems is simply going to prolong the agony.
Republican senators have agreed to stop filibustering debate on financial-regulatory reform legislation. After successfully blocking the bill for the third time in three days Wednesday, Republicans appeared ready to go another round. But when Majority Leader Harry Reid threatened to throw a Senate sleepover by calling votes all night, the GOP backed down.
Practically everybody. And we did.
Remember when we were begging Harry to force the GOP to defend its insane, incoherent policies physically? On live teevee in front of the whole country? We said that all those fake filibusters would either a) collapse or b) make the voters realize just what shitheads the GOoPers are.
Harry said No. Remember? He woulodn’t do it. It wouldn’t work.
Guess who was right and who was wrong. Again.
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Once upon a time there was a liberal crusader named Barney Frank. Barney was famous for his toughness, his smarts, and his canny ability to realize when he was being conned. Then the Democrat party won the Congress back and Barney found himself Chair of the House Financial Service Committee. Suddenly (*dummmm da dum-dum*) he was replaced by an evil twin who became the banksters’ best friend, shoveling them $$$ by the barrel and protecting their profits at our expense. What happened? Who pulled the switcheroo?
David Horsey’s on a roll this week. (Related to this post.)
Rollicking, rampant, blind-as-a-bat optimism, anyway.
Look. Sometime around the Industrial Revolution business discovered the power of optimism and began to exploit it. From the bleariest, drunkest, shotgun-in-the-pickup-truck redneck Southern white trash to the snobbiest, most coked-up, Armani-only Upper East Side corporate-raider/investment banker dildo, Americans one and all believe in being optimistic.
- We voted for Nixon because he promised “Peace with Honor” even though we knew he was a man who wouldn’t know the sting of honor from the slap of a wet turd. We elected him not once but twice knowing full well – or at least with no excuse for NOT knowing full well – that he was a paranoid, belligerent, lying jackass and always had been.
- We voted for Ronnie Rayguns because he told us a fantasy about shining cities on hills and how it was “morning in America” because it suggested we had everything to look forward to and no history behind us that we needed to worry about. We elected him not once but twice despite knowing full well that he was incompetent, extremely ill-informed (trees pollute??!), and not so much a president as an actor playing one on tv.
- We voted for George W Bush because he was charming and upbeat and told us we could be millionaires if only he was in charge, a guy we’d like to have a beer with who was incidentally passing out slices of pie from the sky. We elected him not once but twice knowing full well – or with little excuse for not knowing full well – that he was a liar, a failure, a coward, and an arrogant pissant who thought God had elected him instead of us.
Behind all these incredibly bad decisions lay a miasma of denial and optimism, the first required by the second since optimism in the face of a blatantly negative reality is impossible without a fervent denial of what’s right before your eyes.
But to say all that is only to begin to enumerate the folly of unjustified optimism. For example, there’s the global economic crisis created by a handful of Wall Street manipulators and Main Street frauds. This -
The bank’s [Goldman Sachs] unprecedented reach and power have enabled it to turn all of America into a giant pumpanddump scam, manipulating whole economic sectors for years at a time, moving the dice game as this or that market collapses, and all the time gorging itself on the unseen costs that are breaking families everywhere — high gas prices, rising consumercredit rates, halfeaten pension funds, mass layoffs, future taxes to pay off bailouts. All that money that you’re losing, it’s going somewhere, and in both a literal and a figurative sense, Goldman Sachs is where it’s going: The bank is a huge, highly sophisticated engine for converting the useful, deployed wealth of society into the least useful, most wasteful and insoluble substance on Earth — pure profit for rich individuals.
They achieve this using the same playbook over and over again. The formula is relatively simple: Goldman positions itself in the middle of a speculative bubble, selling investments they know are crap. Then they hoover up vast sums from the middle and lower floors of society with the aid of a crippled and corrupt state that allows it to rewrite the rules in exchange for the relative pennies the bank throws at political patronage. Finally, when it all goes bust, leaving millions of ordinary citizens broke and starving, they begin the entire process over again, riding in to rescue us all by lending us back our own money at interest, selling themselves as men above greed, just a bunch of really smart guys keeping the wheels greased. They’ve been pulling this same stunt over and over since the 1920s — and now they’re preparing to do it again, creating what may be the biggest and most audacious bubble yet.
- would not have been possible were it not for an America drowning in optimism, the belief that better days are right around the corner. Who but a zealot optimist could have possibly believed so fervently in the Reagan Paradox that the less the govt collected in taxes, the more it would collect in taxes?
Optimism is the weapon that Goldman and the other Wall Street manipulators use to make a strapped America overplay its already overstretched finances. “Better days are coming. We can take on all this extra debt because when the economy turns up we’ll be making more money, enough to cover this new house.” They had us convinced.
But the economy did get better and our wages still didn’t rise. We weren’t making more money. In many cases we were actually making less because the fear of inflation that infects the rich like typhoid and the power of a fascist-style govt kowtowing to the rich and incipient corporate panic meant that inflationary fears trumped every other concern. And if we fought for higher wages, the rich moved their companies to low-wage low tax countries, dodged the taxes involved, and our jobs were gone. Forever. The optimism they fed us was gibberish, a lie, a con.
To an extent, the entire economic meltdown could only have taken place in a country so besotted with optimism that it could deny the chasm under its feet even as it was tumbling down the slope to the rocks below. The bubble was built on optimism – not at the top where they knew better – but throughout the rest of the body right down to the very bottom. We would never have tied ourselves into financial knots if we hadn’t persisted in being optimistic about the future, and if we hadn’t tied ourselves into financial knots with debt on top of debt, there would have been no imaginary profits to feed the bubble Goldman and others were blowing up.
And still we learn nothing. Taibbi points out in his Goldman take-down that they’re ginning up to do it all again, and we’re going to let them because we’re…what? You got it. Optimistic. Dig:
[I]nstead of credit derivatives or oil futures or mortgage-backed CDOs, the new game in town, the next bubble, is in carbon credits — a booming trillion dollar market that barely even exists yet, but will if the Democratic Party that [Goldman Sachs] gave $4,452,585 to in the last election manages to push into existence a groundbreaking new commodities bubble, disguised as an “environmental plan,” called cap-and-trade.
The new carboncredit market is a virtual repeat of the commodities-market casino that’s been kind to Goldman, except it has one delicious new wrinkle: If the plan goes forward as expected, the rise in prices will be government-mandated. Goldman won’t even have to rig the game. It will be rigged in advance.
Here’s how it works: If the bill passes, there will be limits for coal plants, utilities, natural-gas distributors and numerous other industries on the amount of carbon emissions (a.k.a. greenhouse gases) they can produce per year. If the companies go over their allotment, they will be able to buy “allocations” or credits from other companies that have managed to produce fewer emissions. President Obama conservatively estimates that about $646 billion worth of carbon credits will be auctioned in the first seven years; one of his top economic aides speculates that the real number might be twice or even three times that amount.
The feature of this plan that has special appeal to speculators is that the “cap” on carbon will be continually lowered by the government, which means that carbon credits will become more and more scarce with each passing year. Which means that this is a brand new commodities market where the main commodity to be traded is guaranteed to rise in price over time. The volume of this new market will be upwards of a trillion dollars annually; for comparison’s sake, the annual combined revenues of all electricity suppliers in the U.S. total $320 billion.
Wall Street makes its money on suckers like us by selling us optimistic fairy tales. Got a pollution problem? We can fix it and you can get rich at the same time. This is America. We can do anything!
Optimism is largely responsible for our being so deep in denial that we could consistently vote against our own best interests and even help destroy our own country and yet insist we did no such thing.
Fuck optimism. Give me a little healthy skepticism any day. If you’re staring at pie-in-the-sky instead of the ground under your feet, it’s a lot easier to walk off a cliff.
Yet instead of finally letting go of our childish and dangerous dependency on Happy Endings, we build entire sociological and psychological structures defending Optimism as “necessary for survival“.
We humans tend to be an optimistic bunch. In fact, it’s long been established by psychologists that most people tend to be irrationally positive. The optimism bias, as it’s called, accounts for the fact that we expect to live longer and be more successful than the average and we tend to underestimate the likelihood of getting a serious disease or a divorce. This tendency is adaptive—many researchers have claimed that a positive outlook motivates us to plan for our future and may even have an effect on our long-term physical health.
Optimism may be so necessary to our survival that it’s hardwired in our brains. A new study published in the journal Nature further confirms the idea that having a rosy outlook is a personality trait with deep, neurological roots. Researchers found that the brains of optimistic people actually light up differently on a scan than those who tend to be more pessimistic when they think about future events.
The disparity between positive and pessimistic minds is especially prominent in areas of the brain that have been linked to depression. “The same areas that malfunction in depression are very active when people think about positive events,” says Tali Sharot, a post-doctorate fellow at University College London, who conducted the research at New York University.
And in skeptical France, say, their brains are hardwired to be pessimistic? Crap.
Only in America is optimism made into a religion that supercedes everything but death and where we protect our divine right to remain children with guns. Hope has become an American fetish. America without optimism would be Europe. Ugh. Oscar Wilde said that the basis of all optimism is sheer terror. If that’s true, and it probably is, it makes us the most frightened country on Earth. Not good for an Imperial Superpower. It’s one thing to indulge your urge to defy growing up when all you can fuck up is yourself. It’s another to shove it down the throats of the rest of the world when you have the power to fuck up everything. At some point you need to become a responsible adult who considers reality instead of wetdreams to figure out policy.
What we are fighting now is a century-old training program. We have all been taught to believe and worse, act as if we have every right to ignore uncomfortable facts because, hey, somebody will figure it out and relieve us of the responsibility of fixing any of it. The Best Is Yet to Come! We’re No 1! Don’t Worry, Be Happy! Shop Til You Drop!
Enough already. Unjustified optimism has brought us to the brink of economic destruction. It’s time to put away childish things, y’all, and eat our damn green beans.
Bob Woodward’s Maestro, a history of Alan Greenspan’s regime at the Fed through the turbulent 90′s, was written 10 full years ago, yet reading it today, it is startlingly familiar territory. All the issues, arguments, and solutions which we think are new to the financial market since the collapse were actually rehearsed – over and over again – during various Financial crises while Greenspan was the Fed’s Chair. It’s all there – bailouts, “too big to fail”, threats to the vulnerable global economy, taxpayer rescues – everything except any mention of derivatives.
From the morning in August 1987 when Greenspan chaired his first FOMC meeting (the Fed board’s actual name is, significantly, the Federal Open Market Committee) he seemed to be dealing with one crisis after another. When he took over the economy was in the dumper brought about by the first Bush; when he was finally replaced by Ben Bernanke 3 years ago, he left having watched over the second Bush while he flushed the vibrant Clinton economy down the toilet, an economy that Greenspan – according to himself as reported by Woodward, at least – did a great deal to help create. And in each of those instances – from the savings & loan crisis to the currency crises of Mexico, Asia, and Russia to the LTCM crisis – there was a single cause: exceedingly dangerous financial speculation, not by fly-by-night hucksters and shady traders but by the biggest financial instutions in the world.
Obama’s actions are, at best, a mixed blessing so far. He has surrounded himself with establishmentarian Blue Dogs and Democrat conservatives, from his powerful Chief-of-Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, to Treas Sec Timmy Geithner (a Wall Street Willie if ever there was one), Leon Panetta at the CIA, and Larry Summers as a Presidential Advisor. While he has talked eloquently about Wall Street’s responsibility for the mess, he insisted in $billions$ in bail-out money to moribund, clueless auto CEO’s and is about to hand over another $30B to AIG because, you know, it ran through the first $100B paying for parties and executive bonuses.
But all of that was prelude to the real danger. It puts in context a much more conservative agenda. In “Dump the Dems 6” I warned, “The Democrats aren’t pretending to be like the Pubs to get elected. They are like the Pubs.” Obama seems to be going out of his way to prove it. Glenn Greenwald again reports on the heels of Marcy Wheeler’s excellent summation of the recent moves by the Obama Admin to make exactly the same arguments of presidential power that Bush made.
[T]he Obama DOJ is now spouting the Cheney/Addington view of government in its purest and most radical expression.
The brief filed by Obama on Friday afternoon (.pdf) has to be read to believed. It is literally arguing that no court has the power to order that classified documents be used in a judicial proceeding; instead, it is the President — and the President alone — who possesses that decision-making power under Article II, and no court order is binding on the President to the extent it purports to direct that such information be made available for use in a judicial proceeding.
What I’ve been afraid of is happening right now. Obama and the conservative Democrat leadership are fighting to preserve the very same power Obama criticized Bush for taking, using the same autocratic arguments that Bush used. Does it make them right just because a Democrat says them?
Of course not.
“Dead people are the newest frontier in debt collecting…”
I am NOT making up this vulture stuff, OK? This is our society as it really is.
The banks need another bailout and countless homeowners cannot handle their mortgage payments, but one group is paying its bills: the dead.
Dozens of specially trained agents work on the third floor of DCM Services here, calling up the dear departed’s next of kin and kindly asking if they want to settle the balance on a credit card or bank loan, or perhaps make that final utility bill or cellphone payment.
The people on the other end of the line often have no legal obligation to assume the debt of a spouse, sibling or parent. But they take responsibility for it anyway.
“I am out of work now, to be honest with you, and money is very tight for us,” one man declared on a recent phone call after he was apprised of his late mother-in-law’s $280 credit card bill. He promised to pay $15 a month.
Dead people are the newest frontier in debt collecting, and one of the healthiest parts of the industry. Those who dun the living say that people are so scared and so broke it is difficult to get them to cough up even token payments.
That should read “token payments they don’t owe“. So completely out-of-control greedy has our amok-running banking industry become that they’re going after money they cheerfully and openly admit isn’t owed to them by the people they’re harassing.
Well, if you can ”retaliate” against some country that didn’t do anything to you because there’s no profit in invading the country actually responsible for the attack on you, why not? But it doesn’t end there, no no no.