Tuesday, December 1, 2009

United Sachs of Amerika

I really don't like to re use images but I do it to make a point. I have spent several years puzzling over why our country's economy went over a cliff like Wily Coyote. Our political and financial leaders and our media have their take on the causes of this collapse and what they think are the proper solutions to address the problem. Their advice has filled me with unease. After the twin towers fell down with the help of 15 Saudi nationals and three of their friends, our president was asked what Americans could do and he said"Shop." I knew then that America had a problem far bigger than the loss of 3000 of our citizens inside two collapsed buildings.There were two obvious questions that the media did not ask:1. Why would these Arab terrorists do such a thing and 2. Why would our president say such a thing? It was at that moment that I suffered a cognitive dissonance breakdown. This was cognitive dissonance on steroids. No one in power asked the questions. All I could think was "What in heck is going on here?" It has taken me a long time to figure out how we got to this point and it has involved a lot of reading and conversations and I have come to a general set of conclusions that I think explains why all this happened and who the responsible parties might be. I do not have definitive proof and my conclusions are more in the nature of allegations. My research has involved retrospective looks at the history of economic collapses as well as financial panics, cultural collapses, social collapses and collapses of civilizations. I assumed that I might find clues to our current economic collapse by looking at others in the near and distant past and I have addressed aspects of these in past blogs and will likely do the same in future blogs. But in this posting I think I have found the proximate causes and source of this current depression or recession if you will. Plainly stated, the causes are the policies of the Federal Reserve Central Bank and the US Treasury with the help of now massive too big to fail central banks and global banks both here and around the world. I think I can trace the beginning of this current problem as far back as the 1980's and 1990's. President Reagan got the ball rolling when he fired then Federal Reserve Chief Paul Volker and replaced him with an Ayn Rand libertarian by the name of Alan Greenspan. There is ample documentation from the 1990's laying out how this policy evolved. In the early 1990's the US was the unchallenged economic and military super power with the collapse of the Soviet Union. This allowed our military and political and corporate leaders to imagine the US as THE new Imperial Power in the world.
When you are the only imperial power, you get to tell the world to jump and all they can ask is "How high?". If you are the sole imperial power, you get to decide who is with you and who is against you. And if you cross an imperial power, you will pay a price and anyone who interferes with an imperial power's access to energy will pay the ultimate price.
Any questions?
And so it went. One of the first items on this new agenda was money, that little item that makes the world go round. It would be a whole lot simpler if the US could just deal with one global currency. Let's just make the US dollar the global reserve currency and we'll price everything important like oil in dollars. That would make trading and commerce nice and simple for everybody, like us.Any objections out there in the trading pits of the world? No? Good.
Now that we had the global reserve currency, everybody wanted it, so our merchants caught on to the Wall Mart model
of the lowest price, Always! My pappy always used to say that there were two ways to get rich: don't spend it or go out and earn it. Our leaders chose the former and the fedsters and the banksters and all their associated chums in the IMF and the World Bank went along with this idea by loaning dollars all over the world to any country that wanted to build sweatshops to sell cheap stuff to the US. Somewhere along the way the boys behind those marble and glass facades had decided that stuff made in a sweatshop in China was a better deal than at a factory in Ohio. And why not just tweak the tax law to allow our own good ole American companies to build those factories. That way they could insure that that stuff could be made for half the quality but one fourth of the price and the US tax system could allow these American companies to write off all those pesky expenses of closing factories and paying pensions and health care to those lazy middle class union workers. By now children of those middle class union workers were pouring out of colleges with MBA and law degrees and quickly finding out that the real money was not in using air tools building stuff but using the new fangled computer tools to move money at warp speed. So instead of putting on tool belts, they donned pin striped suits and headed downtown to join the new industrial revolution, the Information Economy. They handed off their tool belts to the hard working brown folks now pouring over the porous southern border. Meanwhile back inside the big banking towers there were guys with computer science degrees and MBA's living the American Dream and trying to think up new ways to use that most fundamental tenet of the American Dream:Something for Nothing! It was the computer revolution that fueled the next leg up. With the aid of computers, sharp eyed traders and economists were finding little discrepancies in the pricing of assets such as bonds in world markets and they discovered that they could use those very slight differences in prices to make money. They discovered that trading these slight differences might only net say .01 % on a trade but it worked every time. The next step was to leverage the bet, 10 times. That made the return 1 %. 100 times made it 10%. . So investment banks turned into betting casinos. New words were invented to describe what they were doing like arbitrage, pairs trading, and a myriad of other names were invented to describe these complicated bets. Initially they bet on government bonds using complex strategies of going long and short and taking options. Most of this began with a new hedge fund in Wall Street called Long Term Capital Management(LTCM). The members included traders and statisticians from most of the Wall Street Trading houses and even a few Nobel prize winners. They felt they had a can't miss strategy and no one had yet heard of Taleb's term Black Swan, to describe rare events. But the East Asia Financial crisis and the Russian bond defaults became those Black Swan events and LTCM collapsed. The Federal Reserve stepped in because the losses were enormous but the Fed managed to put together a bailout of LTCM by passing the hat around Wall Street to the big banks. I'll skip over the details but this helped to cement the Fed/Big Bank marriage even more. People took to calling these trading strategies derivative trading, and in the late 1990's many people like CFTC Chairperson Brooksley Born began to question the wisdom of allowing this unseen unregulated trading which clearly had huge risks to the economy. But these wealthy bankers like John Corzine and Hank Paulson of Goldman Sachs and Robert Rubin and Larry Summers and supportive Senators like Phil Graham and of course Al Greenspan of the Fed wanted nothing to do with any stinking regulation of their casino. How they crushed Brooksley Born and abolished the last wall to their trading strategies, the depression era Glass-Steagall Act with the help of President Clinton has been well covered in several books and documentaries. With Brooksley Born and other troublesome pests now passing under the FED/Banking steamroller and Glass-Steagall out of the way, the way was clear for the banks aided by the hands off Fed to really expand derivative trading worldwide. The banks wasted no time developing the next product that would make everyone's payday for the next decade: Securitization of Assets. They used the US mortgage market as their playground and since mortgages no longer resided at the local S&L or bank, they could buy these mortgages and "bundle" them converting a "debt" into an asset . It was magic and they could mix and match mortgages, slice and dice mortgages and covert them into something like a stock or bond that could be sold to unsuspecting buyers. To make these debts more palatable they bribed and paid the big rating agencies to put their good housekeeping seal of approval on them. And with easy Al Greenspan keeping interests rates as low as possible to get a new bubble inflating to replace the tech bubble popping, these new securities seemed to be just the ticket paying a nice rate of return to unsuspecting suckers which included not only other banks but municipalities, individuals andpension firms both here and abroad. Profits exploded at these banks as they spread these securities all over the world. But down in the dungeon levels of Goldman Sachs there was another branch of the company who were nervous enough about these securities that they crafted secret derivative shorting strategies of these securitized mortgages just in case the housing market didn't keep rising . Hank Paulson was careful to make sure that this dirty secret never saw the light of day. Things went swimmingly with the whole cast of rogues passing through the swinging doors between Government, the Fed and Wall Street and everyone making more and more money right up to the waning months of the junior bush administration. By then Hank Paulson had moved over from Goldman Sachs to the Treasury so he could have the 500 million or so he had in Goldman Sachs retirement tax free as one of the perks for going through that swinging door. When the housing market began its collapse and the securities became less secure, and when people started to refer to them as "toxic waste", the banks discovered they were holding on to a huge declining asset that no one wanted and dozens of banks became essentially insolvent when these assets became in effect liabilities. The Fed and Hank Paulson knew that this problem threatened him and a lot of his cronies with ruin so he did what any robber would have done: He held up the American People telling everyone that Armageddon would certainly happen if the banks weren't covered for their bad bets. He had to have been particularly worried about his own plummeting net worth because Goldman stock was dropping in value just like all the other banks. In a mere 3 page paper he told the Congress and the American People that they had to come up with three quarters of a Trillion dollars virtually overnight or it was Armageddon and the world financial establishment would collapse. We are now more than one year past that amazing con job by Treasury and the Fed and many trillions has been given or promised since in a series of futile gestures to prevent Armageddon. We have been served up all manner of justification for these actions which have convincingly demonstrated to discerning observers that the Federal Reserve would do whatever it took to protect and preserve its own even if it meant bypassing the Congress and the Constitution in the process. High net worth individuals, Sovereign Wealth Funds around the world, Hedge Funds and Banks were holding the bonds in these sinking banks and GSE's like Freddie Mac and Fannie along with Insurance companies like AIG. They had been the aiders and abettors of this bubble and they stood to lose big if their badbets weren't covered. The American People didn't want it, members of congress not on the bankers payroll didn't want it, but the Fed and Treasury wanted it. Thus it happened. How on earth did it happen? Where did the Fed get the money? Ben Bernanke once remarked that, “the US government has a technology, called the printing press (or today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many US dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost”. And so there you have it. That building above is the De facto White House. It is where the real power resides in this country. It is the Fourth Branch of Government and arguably, the most powerful. That Fed with Goldman Sachs and other bankers pulling the strings,has decided that no bondholders In these banks and insurance companies will get financial haircuts and Lloyd Blankfein, current CEO of Goldman, has decreed that if he wants to pay his executives $30 Billion in bonuses this Christmas, he will, even if the taxpayer has bailed him out. It should be clear to anyone that these people have no shame and no limits to their chutzpah, their greed, and their contempt of the American taxpayer . And as I write this, absolutely nothing has happened to change or limit the influence of these Wall Street banks. They can still trade derivatives to their heart's content with no oversight whatever and they can securitize anything within their reach. In effect, they are the shadow government and they know it. The only glimmer of hope is that Republican Representative Ron Paul of Texas has a bill with over 300 cosponsors to have the GAO audit the Fed and I urge anyone who is reading to write or call their congressman to support this audit. The banks and the senators who are tools of the banking lobby such as Barney Frank, Mel Watt, and Charles Schumer are fighting tooth and nail to stop this grass roots movement which is perhaps might be the only bipartisan bill to appear in the Congress this year. I will also provide a link to a petition which is perhaps worth signing. If this bill passes, there is no assurance Barak will sign it, but that is another matter. Here is the link:http://stopbailoutben.com/?source=e2-fix. I have a myriad of sources for the information contained in this posting with especial thanks to theautomaticearth.com , and Mish at http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com/ as well as a number of other economic books and fellow bloggers out there in cyberland who I do not have the time or space to thank at this time. Ron Paul's book is called End the Fed. The gigantic building early in the blog is of course, the seat of government, Goldman Sachs.

No comments: