Monday, October 13, 2008

Tuna To The Rescue!

Tuna To The Rescue!

Several screenplays have been written where the arch-villain conspires to use all his resources to manipulate the global financial markets to either hold the world hostage or to walk away with unimaginable wealth.

Ian Fleming's, Goldfinger is one of the most comical films where the diabolical plot is planned to perfection only to be spoiled by James Bond. The comedy was not part of the script, nor is it funny when viewed in the context of 1962. In 1962 it was indeed diabolical. To conceive of irradiating the US national gold reserve to render it useless with what today would be called a 'dirty bomb' was the work of a masterly criminal mind. But the time and reality has a way of rendering the most ingenious ploys trivial and indeed laughable. Let's review the essential facts.

Auric Goldfinger owns $10m in gold. He has a fixation on the shiny stuff. He spends some unspecified sum to obtain a nuclear bomb and to hire and train a commando unit which will put the bomb inside Fort Knox. His plan is to destroy America's gold deposits and the other nations' piles so that his gold will increase in value by a factor of 10. A tidy profit for his industrious plan. The plan fails. Auric dies. Bond sleeps with Honor Blackman.

In the years that followed, Congress, armed only with rhetoric and a pen, deregulated the price of gold and the cost of an ounce went from $36 to over $700. Mr. Goldfinger turned in his grave (if they ever found his body.) For those who are quick with a calculator or can do the math in their heads, this was an increase of 20 times, twice as much as Auric planned for. And all he had to do was form a PAC and contribute to a strategic number of elected officials. Actually he did not need to anything at all but be patient and continue to cheat at gin rummy.

Now of course we are talking about 1962 Dollars. Inflation has eaten up a lot of the value that would have been created by the destruction of the Fort Knox gold piles. In the intervening years, the price of a gallon of gasoline has from less than 20¢ to over $4.00. The crude price went from less than $10 a barrel to over $140 a barrel. That is 1400%. Mr. Goldfinger should have built huge storage tanks and stockpiled oil to be sold much later. He would have done much better.

How mundane this all must seem to any present-day American who can read or watch the 24-hour cable news. We have a trillion dollar financial debacle to remedy and a man with a pen and an excess of rhetoric who says we must move quickly and trust him to sign only the most earnest legislation that will save the planet from imminent financial collapse and the destruction of the American way of life.

There is an ominous vapor in the air that smells like something that Latin Americans have smelled for several decades. It is the acrid-sweet smell of ozone from the electric sparks of our shock therapy. Naomi Klein, in her book, Shock Doctrine, illuminates the dark history of free-market, laissez-faire economics perpetuated by Milton Friedman and the 'Chicago Boys' who first advised Ronald Reagan to develop the 'trickle down' economic model that creates a unencumbered playing field for multi-national corporations. The model required three things: cutting taxes, raising prices and curtailing social spending. If this all seems familiar, it is no wonder. All you have to do is listen to any Neo-conservative member of Congress or the Senate, any member of the Bush Administration, and 500 of the economists on John McCain's list of supporters.

In Latin America, "neoconservative" is still referred to as "neoliberal" because down there they haven't repackaged and rebranded the economic politics in order to sound like they are against a "new" way of doing things. The resistance to the free-market economic landscape are left-leaning in their collateral politics, too. This is unfortunate in that when Americans hear the word "leftist" they think of Karl Marx, Lennon, Trotsky, and other communist-socialist leaders of the part century. They picture Castro and Chavez and immediately discount EVERYTHING they stood for. What most Americans do not realize it that when it comes to the interests of Board of Directors of any multibillion dollars corporation, they are mere peasants, Tuna to be bought and sold.

Read the following quote while not thinking about the fact that South American countries are named and just put Arkansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Florida in its place. Then form your opinion. "The combined and closely related processes of military dictatorship and the application of neoliberal [neocon] models acted together to yield an extreme regression in the balance of power between social classes. It would have been impossible to implement the wholesale sell-offs of national industrial resources that unfolded most drastically in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina without first crushing the people's ability to defend their interests. These three countries had been remarkable for their achievements, possessing advanced systems of social protection under states that assumed a regulatory capacity and a role in expanding the domestic market, guaranteeing the social welfare of the population, and providing public services. The most brutal repression they had ever known was needed to clear the way for neoliberal [neocon] policies that privatized state functions-in the case of Argentina, transferring virtually all public resources into the hands of private capital-and abolished hard-won social rights. In short, three of the most enlightened states on the continent found themselves completely dismantled."

Kevin Phillips, whose book Bad Money guides the reader through the financial landscape also recognizes that playing fast and loose with the US economy has led to the present "urgent need to prevent collapse" The 300 million Americans, not to mention the billion or so other people who are vested in the American economy through buying financial products invented to export US debt as a means to make a profit are directly impacted by the failure of oversight by the government. This lack of oversight is itself not an oversight but a conscious decision to not oversee the process so that the financial institutions could play fast and loose with all our resources. The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule by Thomas Frank delineates the overt plans that have been being implemented domestically even as those same principles are being rejected with bloodshed in Latin America.

America is being dismantled part by part like some leveraged buyout from the 1980s. As our domestic manufacturing capacity is being stripped away and tens of thousands of workers are marginalized, the goods we need are supplied to us by foreign labor employed by multi-national enterprises that respect neither nations nor any group of people. In Latin America, as well as all the other places where the Friedman model of free-market economics, one of the hallmarks was the incapacitation of the workforce and massive import of nearly everything that people needed. This method of supply made the population completely dependent upon the businesses that supplied their commodities.

Then as the resources were sold off to private interests, there was a need to refinance the national debt to stem the rise of hyper-inflation. In steps the World Bank with loans to save the day. Along with the loans came the requirements of opening the country to even more imports, and the opportunity for foreign investors to buy even more of the national resources. That was then, and that was way far south of the USA.

The same people who orchestrated the "opening" of the markets in South America, Eastern Europe and Asia are the ones who are in the present Administration. The names will sound familiar: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, George H.W. Bush. But they did not act alone. There were (are) many elected Congressmen and Senators who steadfastly hold to the theory that small government is better government and if you can't do away with the remnants, at least you can outsource their functions to the private sector. So today in every administration of the federal government there are the contracted employees who officially work for a private corporation who work along side the actual civil service employees.

Tens of billions of dollars are channeled through private defense contractors, homeland security and the euphemistic "War On Terror." Tens of billions are appropriated for the two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, all without any appreciable monetary benefit to the people of the United States. We couldn't get the funds to assure that everyone can get adequate health care. We couldn't get the funds to make sure that Social Security remains solvent. We couldn't get funds to buy down our national debt. But we can get $150B for the next year of war. And now we are getting $700B to save us from imminent financial collapse.

The statement that 'we are getting funds' for such spending purposes is actually a misnomer. We are getting nothing but more national debt. Since the spending of the Federal government is already in deficit mode, anything more we spend, we must borrow. So what is really happening is each American is being encumbered with $23,000 of debt to pay off the debt of the companies that each of us is in debt to. Those companies got into trouble mostly because they were making mortgages for people who could not afford to pay back the loan. A family of four will owe $92,000 just for that rescue of the finance institutions. Who of those taxpayers has the collateral today to get a loan from any bank right now? It looks like the Administration is just using credit card to pay off another. This will the biggest Sub-prime No Doc mortgage in the history of money.

Munchausen's syndrome by Tuna

Munchausen's syndrome by Tuna

Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy is a strange malady indeed. In the strict sense of what it is, a person creates illness in him/herself in order to illicit attention from the medical profession. In contrast to hypochondria, Munchausen’s illnesses are real. The person actively seeks out an illness in order to get the 'benefits' of treatment.

In a more perverse form of the disorder, the person actively makes someone else sick in order to help them, or get treatment for the victim. In a number of cases, mothers make their child sick so that they can take the child to the doctor and derive social comfort from being the stoic and selfless parent of a sick child.

The psychological term stems from the fictitious Baron Von Munchausen who was a weaver of tall tales. These were tales of his grand accomplishments against incredible odds. According to Wikipedia, 'Originally, this term was used for all factitious disorders. Now, however, there is considered to be a wide range of factitious disorders, and the diagnosis of "Munchausen syndrome" is reserved for the most severe form, where the simulation of disease is the central activity of the affected person's life.' It is not the intent of this article to explain all aspects of the medical/psychological of this syndrome but to show it as an analogue for the free-market financial malady that this country and the whole world is now suffering.

Since psychiatric imbalances are never rational, one can exhibit contradicting symptoms which only serve to strengthen the claim of ailment. The financial industry knew that they were making bad loans to people who did not have the ability to repay them. The Administration knew that their financial arms, Freddie and Sallie were buying those bad loans because that is exactly what they were supposed to do. The explicit intent of those two massive mortgage institutions was to make it possible for less than qualified border-line middle-class people to buy a house and move solidly into the middle-class. These people, presumably deserving to do so, needed cash to buy all the stuff they would need in order to make good on their upwardly mobile lifestyles. They needed cash to send their children to college even as the college financing dollars were getting more scarce and students were notoriously deficient in repaying those loans. They needed cash to fund their retirements since Social Security could not keep up with the demands of the economy.

All the while that the neoconservatives were decrying the government interference in the free market, the waste of public funds on public education and the inefficient management of Social Security, excessive regulations that made US companies uncompetitive in a global market, the financial institutions were racking up huge profits for their executives and preferred investors right up to the point when the first rumblings came up from deep in the foundation of the cardhouse.

Up until the week of September 15, 2008, the industry was just not feeling well. A sort of malaise set in accompanied by non-descript symptoms. The patient had some kind of distress but nobody was paying attention to the pain it was suffering. In fact the patient was suffering indigestion from eating too rich a diet. It was bloated on easy profits from tainted Tuna! But the patient was not yet sick enough to present definitive symptoms that would require a huge transfusion of money from taxpayers to the inflamed veins of the market.

The sick children of the Administration cried out to their parents and got their attention. They were rushed to the ICU (Immediate Currency Unit) for an examination. Before the illness was diagnosed, the President, Secretary of the Treasury, and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve demanded that the doctors begin experimental treatment and save the children. They were in such dire straits that waiting even a day could spell doom for the sickly offspring. No one should question the parents’ motives, veracity or competence to suggest and lobby for the specific treatment. They demanded an unencumbered infusion of $700 Billion to resuscitate and stabilize the patients. Never mind what the final bill might be. The children were too precious to put at risk.

The neoconservative movement has sought for years to emasculate the government and turn over the power to private corporations who could 'do a better job and even make a profit.' Although this rescue (see the parallels in that too?) - the poor corporations need to be rescued like some Pauline from Snidely Whiplash - constitutes the largest intrusion of government into private businesses, the rationality of doing it is lost in the urgency of the pleas for help. Then right on cue, the nickel and dime bait and switch ploy was added. It is not just mortgage bonds that are in distress, all forms of distressed assets should be eligible for the rescue, says the industry. And what about the Lehman Brothers who flinched first and filed the bankruptcy. Maybe that patient is only in a coma and not really dead. Maybe is was just a bad dream and Bobby Ewing is not really dead. A jolt of $50B might bring that one around and Lazarus may indeed rise again. George Bush has a lot of faith, maybe if we all hold our breath and wish really hard...

Let’s put this bailout on a performance measure basis. If my 401 (k) funds recover to the balances of September of 2007, then I will call the $700B an investment. If it doesn't I will call it a huge rip-off.
A bit more if you are interested - The Urge To Surge
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Author's Note: The book cover images in the side margins of this blog are my own publications of eBooks available at both Amazon and B&N. Please take a moment and go to the sites and read about them. Then if you like it, buy one or two.