by ilene - October 16th, 2010 2:05 pm
Courtesy of Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds
Positive feedback loops soon reach the runaway/self-destruction stage. Concentrations of wealth and gaming-the-system are reaching just such levels.
Positive feedback loops lead to runaway scenarios. The classic example is global warming and the Arctic ice cap. As temperatures rise, the the ice melts, exposing more land or seawater. Ice reflects solar radiation, and so as it shrinks then more solar radiation is absorbed, raising temperatures more, which melts the ice faster, which then leads to more solar radiation being absorbed, and so on.
The runaway feedback loop leads to the disappearance of the Arctic ice and a much warmer planet.
Nature has multiple feedback loops, and so the solar radiation flux may be acting to reduce temperatures as the positive feedback of melting ice raises temperatures. But the point is that positive feedback is self-reinforcing and it speeds up processes as it gathers momentum.
We can see runaway feedback loops in the economy and society, not just in Nature. One of the key runaway feedbacks in the U.S. is the concentration of wealth and political power.
As wealth has become concentrated in the top 1/10th of 1%, then the political power that can be purchased with that wealth also rises, which then enables the wealthy to increase their wealth via "Federal entrepreneurship" and other means.
The political process--once potentially a force resisting or moderating wealth--has been completely captured by an ever-expanding army of lobbyists, the fast-spinning revolving door between the Central State and corporations and unprecedented levels of corporate/Elites campaign contributions.
The judiciary, theoretically a force which could have resisted this concentration of wealth and political power, has also been co-opted by a marriage of ideology and wealth/power. Thus the courts have gutted every attempt at limiting corporate/insider influence over the processes of governance; the courts have enabled corporations to have the "right to free (paid) speech" unburdened by the obligations that go with such rights.
The wealth/power feedback has reached runaway levels. "Reforms" are gutted in backroom deals, votes to benefit the banking/mortgage/foreclosure industry are done on voice calls to evade public scrutiny, and a thousand other games and tricks are played daily to subvert the common good for the benefit of the few and their armies of technocrat toadies.
by ilene - October 16th, 2010 2:02 pm
Courtesy of Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds
The moral rot at the center of American life results from a normalization of pathologies--sociopathic and psychopathic states and behaviors are now "normal" or incentivized. Moral behavior is institutionally punished.
My entry on the moral rot which has taken hold in all socio-economic levels of America drew a number of insightful responses: Runaway Feedback Loops, Wealth Concentration and Gaming-The-System (October 13, 2010).
While the American/Western worldview holds that we are autonomous individuals exercising free will at every moment, in reality we are all heavily programmed by our socio-economic class conditions. What is so striking about present-day America is the way in which the narcissistic, no-moral-compass social pathologies of entitlement, denial and fabrication of "truth"/reality has been "normalized" (accepted as normal behavior and thinking) in all social classes.
Before we analyze that further, let’s get some direct experiences from three observant readers.
First up in Freeacre, one of the proprietors of the excellent Trout Clan Campfire blog:
Here are my examples (of the feedback loops you described):
Thirty-one years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, a friend in San Francisco explained to me that I should go down and apply for welfare. He told me the the social workers basically tell you the right answers to give when applying. They ask the question and you just say agree with whatever it is. That’s the game. (I didn’t do it, choosing to marry the father of our child and live a life of penury instead…)
2) We finally were able to buy a house in Portland. Our next door neighbor lived in one exactly like ours. But, she was divorced and had two kids. Her kids went to church school for free, got free clothing and medical care, her mom collected her rent from the state, she got food stamps, and on and on. Her ex even got a penile implant due to an unfortunate motorcycle accident! We ended up losing our home and car and having to declare bankruptcy due to our son’s medical bills for cancer.
3) Years later, when my husband got cancer and I had to pay his COBRA payments up front, I had hardly any money for food or the house payment from my job at the Tahoe Daily Tribune. When I inquired what we could do to qualify for some assistance, the social
by ilene - September 8th, 2010 4:55 pm
Courtesy of JESSE’S CAFÉ AMÉRICAIN
It appears that financial regulations such as the Volcker rule are getting some traction with Goldman and their ilk, compelling them to spin off their proprietary trading desks to institutions that do not drink so directly from the subsidies of the Federal Reserve.
Still, regulation is not a set of rules, but a mindset to enforcement and investigation for the many, with no favoritism shown to the powerful few.
Financial fraud has been a major export from the US for the past ten years. As we have noted elsewhere, New York financial firms may find themselves persona non grata in many of the overseas markets, especially the sovereign financial asset markets, which they have abused repeatedly from their US and London centers.
Goldman Sachs is facing a near-record fine from the UK’s financial regulator following a five-month investigation into the investment bank’s international business initiated in the wake of fraud charges against the company in the US.
The fine, which could be announced by the Financial Services Authority as early as Thursday morning, will deal a blow to Goldman’s efforts to put the high-profile fraud case behind it following the bank’s settlement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission probe in July for $550m.
The largest fine handed down by the UK regulator came three months ago, when JPMorgan paid a £33.3m for failing to keep client money in separate accounts.
Goldman, the world’s best-known investment bank, has seen its reputation tarnished in recent months as questions continue to swirl over whether it favoured the interests of some clients at the expense of others during the financial crisis.
The bank’s business model is also under pressure amid volatile markets and regulatory reforms that have forced it to shut some of its highly profitable “proprietary” trading operations.
On Wednesday it emerged that KKR, the private equity firm, is in early talks with individuals in Goldman
by ilene - May 4th, 2010 3:00 am
Courtesy of JESSE’S CAFÉ AMÉRICAIN
"Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu’ il a été proprement fait."
(The secret of great returns which are difficult to explain is a crime that has not yet been discovered because it has been carefully executed.)
Honoré de Balzac, Pere Goriot
There is quite a bit of spin surrounding the Goldman Sachs deal. The best debunking of the spin around the nature and quality of the SEC’s case was written by Barry Ritholz.
One of the best summaries of what the deal actually encompassed is excerpted below by Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi.
"Here’s the Cliffs Notes version of the scandal: Back in 2007, Harvard-educated hedge-fund whiz John Paulson (no relation to then-Treasury secretary and former Goldman chief Hank Paulson) smartly decided the housing boom was a mirage. So he asked Goldman to put together a multibillion-dollar basket of crappy subprime investments that he could bet against. The bank gladly complied, taking a $15 million fee to do the deal and letting Paulson choose some of the toxic mortgages in the portfolio, which would come to be called Abacus.
What Paulson jammed into Abacus was mortgages lent to borrowers with low credit ratings, and mortgages from states like Florida, Arizona, Nevada and California that had recently seen wild home-price spikes. In metaphorical terms, Paulson was choosing, as sexual partners for future visitors to the Goldman bordello, a gang of IV drug users, Haitians and hemophiliacs, then buying life-insurance policies on the whole orgy. Goldman then turned around and sold this poisonous stuff to its customers as good, healthy investments.
Where Goldman broke the rules, according to the SEC, was in failing to disclose to its customers – in particular a German bank called IKB and a Dutch bank called ABN-AMRO – the full nature of Paulson’s involvement with the deal. Neither investor knew that the portfolio they were buying into had essentially been put together by a financial arsonist who was rooting for it all to blow up.
Goldman even kept its own collateral manager – a well-known and respectable company called ACA – in the dark. The bank hired the firm to approve the bad mortgages being selected by Paulson, but never bothered to tell ACA that Paulson was
by ilene - April 28th, 2010 3:20 pm
Courtesy of JESSE’S CAFÉ AMÉRICAIN
This is beyond a doubt the story of the week. Neil Barofsky has been a thorn in the side of the Treasury Department and the Fed since he first took office.
I doubt there will be criminal charges filed against Turbo Tim personally, since in his case the clueless CEO defense may have some traction. Unless, that is, they have wiretaps and/or emails showing collusion with some of the bailed out banks, in either insider trading or the manipulation of assets for extraordinary gains.
It is a boiling scandal, but emblematic of the corruption that has pervaded financial regulation in Washington for the past ten years at least. It did not start with Obama, but it may still bring down key members of his Administration.
Reform the financial system, and audit the Fed.
Barofsky Says Criminal Charges Possible in Alleged AIG Coverup
By Richard Teitelbaum
28 April 2010
April 28 (Bloomberg) — …That tense relationship [between Treasury and Barofsky] has grown out of Barofsky’s mandate to monitor and root out fraud and waste in the management of TARP, the $700 billion program passed in October 2008 to remove toxic debt from the banks. The special inspector general, in a series of reports, interviews and congressional hearings, has heaped criticism on the Treasury Department’s operation of the program.
Barofsky’s most recent broadside came on April 20, when a SIGTARP report labeled a housing-loan modification program funded with $50 billion of TARP money as ineffectual.
…The TARP watchdog has also criticized Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner in reports and in congressional testimony for his handling of the process by which insurance giant American International Group Inc. was saved from insolvency in 2008, when Geithner was head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The secrecy that enveloped the deal was unwarranted, Barofsky says, adding that his probe of an alleged New York Fed coverup in the AIG case could result in criminal or civil charges.
In Senate Finance Committee testimony on April 20, Barofsky said SIGTARP would investigate seven AIG-linked mortgage-related securities similar to Abacus 2007-AC1, the instrument underwritten by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. that is at the center
by ilene - April 19th, 2010 12:00 pm
Call to break up the big banks – more to follow. – Ilene
Courtesy of Simon Johnson, co-author of 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown, at Baseline Scenario
On a short-term tactical basis, Goldman Sachs clearly has little to fear. It has relatively deep pockets and will fight the securities “Fab” allegations tooth and nail; resolving that case, through all the appeals stages, will take many years. Friday’s announcement had a significant negative impact on the market perception of Goldman’s franchise value – partly because what they are accused of doing to unsuspecting customers is so disgusting. But, as a Bank of America analyst (Guy Mozkowski) points out this morning, the dollar amount of this specific allegation is small relative to Goldman’s overall business and – frankly – Goldman’s market position is so strong that most customers feel a lack of plausible alternatives.
The main action, obviously, is in the potential widening of the investigation (good articles in the WSJ today, but behind their paywall). This is likely to include more Goldman deals as well as other major banks, most of which are generally presumed to have engaged in at least roughly parallel activities – although the precise degree of nondisclosure for adverse material information presumably varied. Two congressmen have reasonably already drawn the link to the AIG bailout (how much of that was made necessary by fundamentally fraudulent transactions?), Gordon Brown is piling on (a regulatory sheep trying to squeeze into wolf’s clothing for election day on May 6), and the German government would dearly love to blame the governance problems in its own banks (e.g., IKB) on someone else.
But as the White House surveys the battlefield this morning and considers how best to press home the advantage, one major fact dominates. Any pursuit of Goldman and others through our legal system increases uncertainty and could even cause a political…
by ilene - January 6th, 2010 5:14 pm
The Biggest Financial Deception of the Decade
Courtesy of Jeff Clark, Editor, Casey’s Gold & Resource Report
Enron? Bear Stearns? Bernie Madoff? They’re all big stories about big losses and have hurt a lot of employees and investors. But none come close to getting my vote for the decade’s most dastardly deception…
First came Enron, with $65.5 billion in assets, going belly-up and becoming the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history at that time. Chairman Kenneth Lay said that Enron’s decision to file bankruptcy would “stabilize the company,” but over the next five years the company was completely liquidated. The stock went from a high of $84.63 in December 2000 to a whopping 26¢ one year later.
And what had we been told by the media? Fortune magazine dubbed Enron “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years. A well-intentioned friend wanted to give me a gift subscription to the magazine for Christmas; I choked on my cocktail and luckily he assumed my drink was too strong. In the end, you can thank Enron for bringing us the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, a ghastly financial reporting regulation for which compliance is grossly expensive, and – stop the presses! – hasn’t prevented similar repeats.
Next came WorldCom filing for bankruptcy in 2002, their assets of $103.9 billion dwarfing Enron’s. “We will use this time under reorganization to regain our financial health and focus, while operating with the highest integrity,” assured CEO John Sidgmore. Was his eggnog spiked? Today, WorldCom stock certificates have been spotted as doilies under pancake house coffee mugs signifying it’s decaf.
Tyco, Adelphia, Peregrine Systems… it’s a crowded field around this time. But their stories of fraud and greed and mismanagement get boring after awhile. Just watch the closing credits from the movie Fun with Dick and Jane and you’ll see what I mean.
Bear Stearns set us all up for the Big Meltdown of 2008. It was B.S. (no, I mean Bear Stearns) that pioneered the asset-backed securities markets, and we all know how that turned out. Later we learned that as losses mounted in 2006 and 2007, the company was actually adding to its exposure of mortgage-backed assets, gearing itself up to 35:1. With net equity of $11.1 billion supporting $395 billion in assets, B.S. carried more leverage than a streetwalker’s push-up bra.