Thursday, March 26, 2009

Usurious Bastards

by Ed Encho
The history of the last century shows, as we shall see later, that the advice given to governments by bankers, like the advice they gave to industrialists, was consistently good for bankers, but was often disastrous for governments, businessmen, and the people generally.
-Carroll Quigley
As the conventional wisdom goes, the stock market is predicated on trust and as a crusty old uncle of mine once said to a young and impressionable teenager with zero knowledge of the way that the world really worked: “trust me is just another two letter word that means the same as fuck you.” Old Uncle Harvey’s words of wisdom came home to roost on this Monday morning in America when the finance oligarchs were able to use their inside juice to pull off the grandest and most audacious heist yet in this season of sleazy swindles. Obama Treasury Secretary and Wall Street fixer Timothy Geithner delivered the bacon for the bankers, gave the crack ho stock market a wonderful and intoxicating fix that sent the Dow screaming up by nearly 7 percent in a matter of hours and locked in the losses for the great grandchildren of every poor schmuck with the misfortune to be living through this period of plunder and wealth consolidation.

In phase two of the ongoing SPLURGE (any similarity to the con-game called the surge that allowed us to become winners in Iraq is fully intentioned), on Tuesday night, our very own national Teflon coated bullshit salesman, President Barack Obama, the banker’s gofer and shill for the new generation began to sell it to the saps and a marvelous job he is doing. This man my friends is no new Roosevelt, he is the devil in disguise and he (as many progressives had warned) is in the bag for the establishment. What we really have is a by proxy continuation of the Clinton administration, of course Hillary was to have been the one but in the waning days of the ruinous Bush-Cheney neocon war on America it was just too tough to pimp another dynasty so the crooks who run the system found another pitchman.

I cannot possibly articulate the sense of disgust and betrayal that I am experiencing as I write this, it is very difficult to restrain my gag reflex and keep from vomiting on my keyboard because once again the scum wins again and Americans have been played for chumps. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman(another Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz decried its "perverse incentives”) and columnist for the damned liberal New York Times put it best in his Monday column Financial Policy Despair:
Over the weekend The Times and other newspapers reported leaked details about the Obama administration’s bank rescue plan, which is to be officially released this week. If the reports are correct, Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, has persuaded President Obama to recycle Bush administration policy — specifically, the “cash for trash” plan proposed, then abandoned, six months ago by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

This is more than disappointing. In fact, it fills me with a sense of despair.

But the Geithner scheme would offer a one-way bet: if asset values go up, the investors profit, but if they go down, the investors can walk away from their debt. So this isn’t really about letting markets work. It’s just an indirect, disguised way to subsidize purchases of bad assets.

The likely cost to taxpayers aside, there’s something strange going on here. By my count, this is the third time Obama administration officials have floated a scheme that is essentially a rehash of the Paulson plan, each time adding a new set of bells and whistles and claiming that they’re doing something completely different. This is starting to look obsessive.

But the real problem with this plan is that it won’t work. Yes, troubled assets may be somewhat undervalued. But the fact is that financial executives literally bet their banks on the belief that there was no housing bubble, and the related belief that unprecedented levels of household debt were no problem. They lost that bet. And no amount of financial hocus-pocus — for that is what the Geithner plan amounts to — will change that fact.

You might say, why not try the plan and see what happens? One answer is that time is wasting: every month that we fail to come to grips with the economic crisis another 600,000 jobs are lost.
Even more important, however, is the way Mr. Obama is squandering his credibility. If this plan fails — as it almost surely will — it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to persuade Congress to come up with more funds to do what he should have done in the first place.
This isn’t likely to win Krugman any friends in the Obama White House, especially with a sleazy little political gangster like Rahm Emanuel who I predict will eventually make even the Great Satan Karl Rove look like an amateur running the show and protecting the interests of his investment banker buddies. While Barack Obama may be the friendly Fozzie Bear face of this latest hostile takeover of the White House the real example of how things are really done is in this incredible NYT piece from back in January:
Early this month, Barack Obama was meeting with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and other lawmakers when Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, began nervously cracking a knuckle.
Mr. Obama then turned to complain to Mr. Emanuel about his noisy habit.
At which point, Mr. Emanuel held the offending knuckle up to Mr. Obama’s left ear and, like an annoying little brother, snapped off a few special cracks.
The venomous cobra that is Emanuel is of course Mr. Obama’s minder and handler, note that he was the first announced member of the new administration, the first of a reoccupation of Washington by Clintonistas. The promised change, at least to this point has been strictly cosmetic, the wars still continue, more troops are headed to Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires past, Gitmo is still open, the new administration is engaging in Clintonian language manipulation regarding ‘torture’ that invokes memories of “it depends on what the meaning of is is”, the military is getting ready to be sent to the Mexican border and there has been no serious discussion of reigning in the run amok police state and the Stasi style high tech domestic spying operations. Yep, change has come to America alright, just like “the check’s in the mail”, “this won’t hurt a bit”, “I love you” and “I promise not to come in your mouth”…and it was all wrapped up in a big bundle of stinking dogshit with a $ sign on it and parked on the doorsteps of Americans and set afire by the Geithner-Bernanke-Paulson triad with the unarguable message that you are either cops or little people. Webster Tarpley had a good one that I heard that saving the banks is like trying to save one of Count Dracula's victims by giving the blood transfusion to the victim through the vampire when the real remedy is to just pull him off and drive a stake through his heart.

Now that it has become apparent that Obama is just more of the same and like Bush has his own legions of cultlike devotees and apologists we can all just take Bobby Knight's advice that if rape is intevitable relax and enjoy it because really what choice do we really have? Before it even really started the revolution has been hijacked, progressives are still getting the shaft, the Employee Free Choice Act is going to be dead on arrival, there is NO antiwar movement if the media refuses to acknowledge that there is a fucking war and even the Ron Paul movement libertarians have been marginalized by the old fool's proclivity to ghettoize himself and keep showing up at Nazi bund meetings like CPAC and regularly appearing on FOX.

The oligarchy has it's shit together, this is their homefield, they own the refs and there is no replay booth. Welcome to chumpland, when a show like HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher features Keith Olbermann as a guest and they both mock the very real detention camps by conflating their existence with the weeping, at the edge of sanity fascist basket case Glenn Beck it's a done deal that the agents have seized control of all phones and the only way out of the matrix will be in a body bag.

Despite the rear guard cover that the corporate media is giving to the ongoing looting spree by laying poison bait for maxed-out marks and rubes to get back into the casino and start spending their money at usurious interest rates by rapacious banks that are fast approaching the same sort of deal that you can score at pay day lenders there are those who really get it, too bad that their observations are drowned out by Dancing With the Stars, American Idol and the rest of the standard bread and circuses that placate the masses of asses. Some very excellent work has been done for those with an inclination for the truth by alternative media types and dissenting with the official state line experts who have been consistently right about this catastrophic clusterfuck from the outset.
The gold standard in calling out the great robbery and financier's coup d'etat has to go to Matt Taibbi whose piece in the new issue of Rolling Stone magazine entitled The Big Takeover is a must read. I excerpt a few pieces of this long but brilliant expose:
It's over — we're officially, royally fucked. No empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock, which is what happened as of a few weeks ago, when the buffoons who have been running things in this country finally went one step too far. It happened when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was forced to admit that he was once again going to have to stuff billions of taxpayer dollars into a dying insurance giant called AIG, itself a profound symbol of our national decline — a corporation that got rich insuring the concrete and steel of American industry in the country's heyday, only to destroy itself chasing phantom fortunes at the Wall Street card tables, like a dissolute nobleman gambling away the family estate in the waning days of the British Empire.
And
People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they're not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d'état. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.
The crisis was the coup de grâce: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess. And so the gambling-addict leaders of companies like AIG end up not penniless and in jail, but with an Alien-style death grip on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve — "our partners in the government," as Liddy put it with a shockingly casual matter-of-factness after the most recent bailout.
The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron — a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers.
And
There are plenty of people who have noticed, in recent years, that when they lost their homes to foreclosure or were forced into bankruptcy because of crippling credit-card debt, no one in the government was there to rescue them. But when Goldman Sachs — a company whose average employee still made more than $350,000 last year, even in the midst of a depression — was suddenly faced with the possibility of losing money on the unregulated insurance deals it bought for its insane housing bets, the government was there in an instant to patch the hole. That's the essence of the bailout: rich bankers bailing out rich bankers, using the taxpayers' credit card. 
The people who have spent their lives cloistered in this Wall Street community aren't much for sharing information with the great unwashed. Because all of this shit is complicated, because most of us mortals don't know what the hell LIBOR is or how a REIT works or how to use the word "zero coupon bond" in a sentence without sounding stupid — well, then, the people who do speak this idiotic language cannot under any circumstances be bothered to explain it to us and instead spend a lot of time rolling their eyes and asking us to trust them.
That roll of the eyes is a key part of the psychology of Paulsonism. The state is now being asked not just to call off its regulators or give tax breaks or funnel a few contracts to connected companies; it is intervening directly in the economy, for the sole purpose of preserving the influence of the megafirms. In essence, Paulson used the bailout to transform the government into a giant bureaucracy of entitled assholedom, one that would socialize "toxic" risks but keep both the profits and the management of the bailed-out firms in private hands. Moreover, this whole process would be done in secret, away from the prying eyes of NASCAR dads, broke-ass liberals who read translations of French novels, subprime mortgage holders and other such financial losers.
In addition to Taibbi's magnum opus on the greedy pigs who have destroyed the economy I would also recommend Thomas Georghegan's treatise on the legalization of usury in the latest Harper's entitled Infinite Debt: How Unlimited Interest Rates Destroyed the Economy, the same April issue has Daniel Brook's article on the payday lending industry Usury Country, a piece in Washington Monthly by James K. Galbraith that calls bullshit on the 'the worst is over' folderol being foisted upon us by the high-rollers, the looters and the banksters where he speaks the forbidden heresy of No Return to Normal:
The most likely scenario, should the Geithner plan go through, is a combination of looting, fraud, and a renewed speculation in volatile commodity markets such as oil. Ultimately the losses fall on the public anyway, since deposits are largely insured. There is no chance that the banks will simply resume normal long-term lending. To whom would they lend? For what? Against what collateral? And if banks are recapitalized without changing their management, why should we expect them to change the behavior that caused the insolvency in the first place? 
The oddest thing about the Geithner program is its failure to act as though the financial crisis is a true crisis—an integrated, long-term economic threat—rather than merely a couple of related but temporary problems, one in banking and the other in jobs. In banking, the dominant metaphor is of plumbing: there is a blockage to be cleared. Take a plunger to the toxic assets, it is said, and credit conditions will return to normal. This, then, will make the recession essentially normal, validating the stimulus package. Solve these two problems, and the crisis will end. That’s the thinking.
But the plumbing metaphor is misleading. Credit is not a flow. It is not something that can be forced downstream by clearing a pipe. Credit is a contract. It requires a borrower as well as a lender, a customer as well as a bank. And the borrower must meet two conditions. One is creditworthiness, meaning a secure income and, usually, a house with equity in it. Asset prices therefore matter. With a chronic oversupply of houses, prices fall, collateral disappears, and even if borrowers are willing they can’t qualify for loans.

The other requirement is a willingness to borrow, motivated by what Keynes called the "animal spirits" of entrepreneurial enthusiasm. In a slump, such optimism is scarce. Even if people have collateral, they want the security of cash. And it is precisely because they want cash that they will not deplete their reserves by plunking down a payment on a new car.
The aforementioned pieces by Taibbi, Geoghegan and Brooks all merited appearances on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now the past three days but perhaps the greatest statement of all was made by former Reagan administration Assistant Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts who in his latest column, Is the Bailout Plan Breeding a Bigger Crisis? is coming very close to actually endorsing - GASP - Socialism! Roberts mentions that ugly little story that flew below the radar that our number one creditor China is starting to make noises about dumping the dollar as the world reserve currency:
Rome eventually understood that its imperial frontiers exceeded its resources and pulled back. This realization has yet to dawn on Washington.
More budget savings could come from a different approach to the financial crisis. The entire question of bailing out private financial institutions needs rethinking. The probability is that the bailouts are not over. The commercial real estate defaults are yet to present themselves.
Would it be cheaper for government to buy the shares of the banks and AIG at the current low prices than to pour trillions of taxpayers’ dollars into them in an effort to drive up private share prices with public money? The Bush/Paulson bailout plan of approximately $800 billion has been followed a few months later by the Obama/Geithner stimulus-bailout plan of another approximately $800 billion. Together it adds to $1.6 trillion in new Treasury debt, much of which might have to be monetized.
Could this massive debt issue be avoided if the government took over the banks and netted out the losses between the constituent parts? A staid socialized financial sector run by civil servants is preferable to the gambling casino of greed-driven, innovative, unregulated capitalism operated by banksters who have caused crisis throughout the world.
Perhaps the Federal Reserve should be socialized as well. The notion of an independent, privately-owned Federal Reserve system was never more than a ruse to get a national bank into place. Once the central bank is part of the state-owned banking system, the government can create money without having to accumulate a massive public debt that saddles taxpayers’ and future budgets with hundreds of billions of dollars in annual interest payments.
Roberts has been ahead of the curve since his early realization that the Republican party had been taken over by drooling brownshirts in the early years of the Bush-Cheney nightmare and he consistently serves as a reminder of that bygone era when some conservatives actually had principles, ideas and a respect for intellectualism way back back before Joe the Plumber became the man.
The DOW was up 174 today, it's morning in America again, time to pull yerself up by those good ole star-spangled bootstraps, go shopping... but if you look around you will notice that gas prices are creeping up again too since speculation is back in vogue, it could crack 8000 tomorrow when Barack Obama goes to give a progress report (grovel) to his banker bosses.
But that's not important, hey, didja hear the one about the Michigan dude who just got 90 days for being caught with his dick in a car wash vacuum cleaner?

Move Along, Nothing to See Here...
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