by ilene - March 17th, 2011 3:45 pm
THE BANKS MUST BE RESTRAINED, AND THE FINANCIAL SYSTEM REFORMED, WITH BALANCE RESTORED TO THE ECONOMY, BEFORE THERE CAN BE ANY SUSTAINED RECOVERY – Jesse
I have long been a fan of Jesse’s Café Américain. Jesse is a brilliant writer and a deep thinker who uniquely transcends politics, easily seeing through lies and disinformation. He has a great feel for what really matters, and the courage to speak out about it. Jesse and I have spoken before about the economy, markets and politics, and being at a crossroads once again, it was a perfect time to catch up.
Ilene: Hi Jesse, since our last interview, I would guess that we’d both agree that nothing has been done to clean up the financial system – the banks and government interconnectedness, conflicts of interest, and out-and-out fraudulent activities. Are things better or worse, or in line, with what you were expecting over a year ago?
Jesse: I think things are progressing in line with what I had expected, with the Fed and the government trying to prop up an unsustainable status quo by monetizing debt. I am still a little shocked by the brazen manner in which the financial markets are being conducted and regulated, and the news is reported in the US. It is one thing to hold a theory that says something will happen, but it is quite another to see it actually happening, and so blatantly, almost without a word of protest.
Ilene: How do you view our financial system and the global financial system now, with no progress towards any kind of reform?
Jesse: The US is now being run by an oligarchy, with lip service being paid to the electorate in allowing the people to vote for the candidates that the parties and the powers will put forward. There will be no recovery for the middle class until they assert themselves. I know I have stated this often in my tag phrase, “The banks must be restrained…” But it is the case.
There are areas of resistance to this trend on what one might call ‘the fringes of Empire,’ those client states which have been ruled by powerful cliques with the support and the protection of the US. Although certainly not a great analogy, it does remind one of…
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 7th, 2010 5:21 pm
Courtesy of James Howard Kunstler
The toils of summer are bygone now. The days grow shorter and America stands in the darkling road of its own prospects like a dumb animal frozen in the blinding light of approaching fury. The White House must be a strange place these days with the management of the USA turned over to astrologasters, alchemists, prayer-wheel spinners, fakirs, viziers, necromancers and other visitors from occult realms unaffiliated with the dominion of reality.
One of these characters, Ms. Christina Romer, at a luncheon celebrating her departure as chief of the White House Council of Economic Advisors (i.e. readers of spilled goat innards) even blurted out that she had no idea what’s been going on in banking and business and how come America can’t be more like it was in 1999. Don’t cry for Christina. A cushy chair awaits her at the Hogwarts Berkeley outpost where she can repose in a trance of unknowing until California slides into its own tar pit of default and disintegration.
It’s all a mystery in Washington. Nobody can figure out what happened to their green-eyed champion called Growth, that savior who rights all wrongs and insures our eternal exception from the sad fates of other less-blessed empires. Isn’t there a book of conjures somewhere in the Harvard Business School that guarantee perpetual growth — even if there are different tomes around the campus that describe the essential tragic nature of life, viz., that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end to everything. And while this might not be the end of the human project in North America, it is certainly the end of the cheap oil abbondanza, and everything spun off of it in the way of mass consumer luxury, with air-conditioning and a cherry on top.
My own view — I might be wrong-- is that we are going through an epochal compressive contraction, which is the opposite of growth. Money is disappearing because debts are being welshed on in such a volume that all the digital dollars conjured out of chief wizard Ben Bernanke’s magic booty box are but empty spells cast into a hurricane of broken promises. This is no Hurricane Earl – which stared into the discharge tube of Lloyd Blankfein’s cappuccino machine and skidded off whimpering into the fogs of Newfoundland. This…
by ilene - May 26th, 2010 12:29 pm
Courtesy of James Kwak at Baseline Scenario
“Geithner’s team spent much of its time during the debate over the Senate bill helping Senate Banking Committee chair Chris Dodd kill off or modify amendments being offered by more-progressive Democrats. A good example was Bernie Sanders’s measure to audit the Fed, which the administration played a key role in getting the senator from Vermont to tone down. Another was the Brown-Kaufman Amendment, which became a cause célèbre among lefty reformers such as former IMF economist Simon Johnson. ‘If enacted, Brown-Kaufman would have broken up the six biggest banks in America,’ says the senior Treasury official. ‘If we’d been for it, it probably would have happened. But we weren’t, so it didn’t.’”
That’s one passage from John Heileman’s juicy article in New York Magazine. It provides a lot of background support for what many of us have been thinking for a while: the administration is happy with the financial reform bill roughly as it turned out, and it got there by taking up an anti-Wall Street tone (e.g., the Volcker Rule), riding a wave of populist anger to the point where the bill was sure of passing, and then quietly pruning back its most far-reaching components. If anything, that’s a testament to the political skill of the White House and, yes, Tim Geithner as well.
There are two other things in the article I thought worth commenting on. Here’s one:
“Obama could be forgiven for expecting greater reciprocity from the bankers—something more than the equivalent of a Hallmark card and a box of penny candy. He had, after all, done more than saved their lives directly by continuing the bailout policies formulated by Paulson and Geithner. He and his team could credibly claim to have kept the world economy from falling off a cliff. Yet with the unemployment rate still near double digits, Obama had (and still has) received scant credit from the public for what was arguably his signal accomplishment. At the same time, the one thing that almost every slice of the electorate would have applauded wildly—the sight of the president landing a few haymakers on Wall Street’s collective jaw—was an opportunity that the president had largely forsworn.”
by ilene - May 8th, 2010 6:07 pm
Courtesy of Robert Reich
The White House opposes three important financial reforms that have drawn bi-partisan support in the Senate. It should reverse course.
1. Require the Fed to disclose the entities it lends to. There’s no reason the public should be kept in the dark about who benefits when the Fed departs from its traditional interest-setting role and chooses to provide credit (or in Fed parlance, “open its discount window”) to particular companies or entities. To the contrary, a well-functioning capital market and a well-functioning democracy depend on full disclosure about who the Fed picks for such special treatment and why.
Senator Bernard Sanders, Independent of Vermont, pushed an amendment requiring that the Fed be subject to a public audit that reveals which specific companies and entities the Fed is supporting with extra loans. The measure drew support on both sides of the aisle, including conservative Republicans like David Vitter of Louisiana. But Sanders’s amendment met stiff opposition from the White House and the Fed. Both argued that it would undermine the Fed’s independence. That’s a red herring. Fed’s independence is important when it comes to basic decisions about monetary policy and short-term interest rates, but not about which companies and entities get special treatment.
Bowing to the pressure, Sanders has agreed to alter his proposal. He says his new amendment would still force the Fed to disclose many of its steps to bail out banks. But what why shouldn’t all of the Fed’s special machinations be disclosed? And why limit disclosure only to the banks that the Fed supports and not other firms or entities? Sanders shouldn’t retreat on this.
2. Require big banks to spin off their derivative businesses. Derivatives got us into the mess and Wall Street’s biggest banks are still wielding them like giant poker games. That’s because they’re enormously lucrative for the banks. But they’re also dangerous to the economy because bad bets can lead to meltdowns, especially if they’re backed only by flimsy promises to pay up rather than real capital. The credit default swap business continues to be out of control. To this date, no one knows how big it is, where it is, and who has promised what.
by ilene - April 10th, 2010 6:14 pm
Courtesy of John Mauldin at Thoughts from the Frontline
It’s Time for Reform We Can Believe In
The Fed Must Be Independent
Credit Default Swaps Threaten the System
Too Big To Fail Must Go
And This Thing About Leverage
What Happens If We Do Nothing?
New York, Media, and La Jolla
Casey Stengel, manager of the hapless 1962 New York Mets, once famously asked, after an especially dismal outing, "Can’t anybody here play this game?" This week I ask, after months of worse than no progress, "Can’t anybody here even spell financial reform, let alone get it done?" We are in danger of experiencing another credit crisis, but one that could be even worse, as the tools to fight it may be lacking when we need them. With attacks on the independence of the Fed, no regulation of derivatives, and allowing banks to be too big to fail, we risk a repeat of the credit crisis. The bank lobbyists are winning and it’s time for those of us in the cheap seats to get outraged. (And while this letter focuses on the US and financial reform, the principles are the same in Europe and elsewhere, as I will note at the end. We are risking way too much in the name of allowing large private profits.) And with no "but first," let’s jump right in.
Last Monday I had lunch with Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Mr. Fisher is a remarkably nice guy and is very clear about where he stands on the issues. My pressing question was whether the Fed would actually accommodate the federal government if it continued to run massive deficits and turn on the printing press. Fisher was clear that such a move would be a mistake, and he thought there would be little sentiment among the various branch presidents to become the enabler of a dysfunctional Congress.
But that brought up a topic that he was quite passionate about, and that is what he sees as an attack on the independence of the Fed. There are bills in Congress that would take away or threaten the current independence of the Fed.
by ilene - March 21st, 2010 7:43 pm
Regardless of what you think about health care, tomorrow we wake up in a different political world.
Parties have passed legislation before that wasn’t broadly publicly supported. But the only substantial instances I can think of in America are budget bills and TARP--bills that the congressmen were basically forced to by emergencies in the markets.
P>One cannot help but admire Nancy Pelosi’s skill as a legislator. But it’s also pretty worrying. Are we now in a world where there is absolutely no recourse to the tyranny of the majority? Republicans and other opponents of the bill did their job on this; they persuaded the country that they didn’t want this bill. And that mattered basically not at all. If you don’t find that terrifying, let me suggest that you are a Democrat who has not yet contemplated what Republicans might do under similar circumstances. Farewell, social security! Au revoir, Medicare! The reason entitlements are hard to repeal is that the Republicans care about getting re-elected. If they didn’t--if they were willing to undertake this sort of suicide mission--then the legislative lock-in you’re counting on wouldn’t exist.
Oh, wait--suddenly it doesn’t seem quite fair that Republicans could just ignore the will of their constituents that way, does it? Yet I guarantee you that there are a lot of GOP members out there tonight who think that they should get at least one free "Screw You" vote to balance out what the Democrats just did.
by ilene - March 21st, 2010 4:32 pm
Courtesy of Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds
The U.S. "healthcare" system is broken financially and in terms of improving the overall health of the citizenry; costs have doubled, with no end in sight.
Whether the massive 2,700-page "reform bill" passes or not, this is the high water mark of America’s broken "healthcare" system. I call U.S. "healthcare" sickcare because it is failing to improve the health of the citizenry even as its share of GDP has doubled in the past 30 years.
This is the high water mark because the fiscal insolvency built into the system will only gain momentum from this point in time.
Here are the core facts:
1. The U.S. spent 17.6% of its GDP on "healthcare" in 2009, while other developed economies (Japan, Britain, Spain, Italy, Australia, et al.) spent roughly half that share (about 8.5%).
2. Thirty years ago, the U.S. also spent about 8.5% of its GDP on healthcare.
3. Even though we spend twice as much as other developed countries, the health of our workforce lags the health of workforces in nations which spend half of what we do.
4. The health of our workforce is only marginally better than the workforces in countries which spend 15 cents for every dollar we spend on healthcare.
I have covered the fundamental problems of the U.S. sickcare system recently in three articles for AOL-Daily Finance. The above data is sourced in the first story:
Three key concepts of the Survival+ analysis illuminate the inherent insolvency and failure of U.S. sickcare:
1. An integrated understanding of health and well-being reveals that the American way of growing food/raising animals/selling packaged food, its diet and its approach to fitness are fundamental drivers of diseases which cannot be "fixed" with surgery or pills--the two "hammers" sickcare deploys against all diseases.
An integrated understanding of food, health, diet, fitness, community, autonomy, transparency and responsibility are the building blocks of a positive approach to healthcare/public health.
I am indebted to Dr. David D. (M.D.) for an introduction to Ivan Illich’s profound critique of healthcare, Limits to Medicine: Medical Nemesis, the…
by ilene - February 16th, 2010 9:00 pm
Personally I doubt that the US is capable of self-reform at this time. I think the corruption of the system runs that deeply and is embedded in the national consciousness as a reflexive set of slogans (the big lies) that substitute for empirical thought and effective policy formation. The examples of ‘thinkspeak’ are almost endless, but the irony is that the inmates of the asylum can no longer recognize them as such.
The major media is owned by a few corporations, and the Congress listens to its large contributors and ignores the public except at election time, when it inundates them with expensive media campaigns, political spin, and propaganda. And then it is back to business as usual
What will it take? It took the Japanese about twenty years of economic privation to finally get rid of the LDP political party that had ruled the country since the Second World War. It may take ten years of stagflation and economic hardship for the American people to wake up and put an end to the crony capitalism that has captured its two party political system. A good start would be to continue to eject incumbents from both parties, and to start electing viable third party candidates. But that will take more a more thoughtful venue than is currently the norm.
…What can be done to reduce the likelihood of a repeat performance – in Iceland and elsewhere? Here are eleven main lessons from the Iceland story, lessons that are likely to be relevant in other, less extreme cases as well.
Lesson 1. We need effective legal protection against predatory lending just as we have long had laws against quack doctors. The problem is asymmetric information. Doctors and bankers typically know more about complicated medical procedures and complex financial instruments than their patients and clients. The asymmetry creates a need for legal protection through judicious licensing and other means against financial (as well as medical) malpractice to protect the weak against the strong.
Lesson 2. We should not allow rating agencies to be paid by the banks they have been set up to assess. The present arrangement creates an obvious and fundamental conflict of interest and needs to be revised. Likewise, banks should not be allowed to hire employees of regulatory agencies,…