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Thank Ghu It’s Freitag


‘Quantitative Easing': The Hidden Government Subsidy for Banks

This video went up on Zero Hedge yesterday, I believe. In the first minute you will want to throw both of these little bears in a sack and drown them, but by the end they win you over. There are so many things about QE that are crazy, but there’s one thing that I’d like to point out in particular. Yes, this is a huge money-printing program with potentially disastrous inflationary consequences. And yes, the influx of all this money could easily distort markets and prices far beyond the extreme distortions we’ve already been dealing with (commodities prices shot through the roof after this latest QE round was announced). But the thing I want to focus on is the subsidy aspect of QE, pointed out in the video. QE is designed to buy Treasuries and other assets, but the Fed does not simply go out and buy Treasuries itself; it does it through its primary dealers, who include of course banks like Goldman, Sachs. The Fed all but announces when it’s going to be doing this buying and in what quantity, which allows the banks to buy up this stuff at lower prices ahead of time and then sell it to the Fed at inflated cost.

Even forgetting about the obvious insider trading aspect to all of this, the official middleman status of the banks is a direct government subsidy and it is little remarked upon, even by the Tea Party crowd, which is otherwise so opposed to “welfare.” But these sorts of subsidies exist all throughout the financial services industry.

You want to take out a mortgage or a credit card; you obviously can’t get your credit from the government at 0% interest. What you do instead is you get a mortgage from a private bank at 4.7% or 5%, and that bank in turn has borrowed from the Fed at 0%. This would almost make sense if indeed these banks were legitimately providing a service for that 5% cut, i.e. if they were carefully and judiciously weighing the credit risk of applicants. But if anything these banks have been even more irresponsible (more irresponsible by far, actually) with their money than the masses of people who are now in trouble with their credit cards, mortgages, student loans, etc. They not only don’t deserve this subsidy any more than ordinary people do, they’re actually the worst possible destination for an appropriation of emergency funding, which is what this Fed money is supposed to be.

Take seven minutes and watch the video. Plan on being irate afterward. Seriously.

After you watch it, read this:

In Defense of Ben Bernanke

All in all, it looks like the nation and the world need an Economics 101 refresher. So let’s start with the basics.

The Fed’s plan is to purchase about $600 billion of additional U.S. government securities over about eight months, creating more bank reserves (“printing money”) to do so. This policy is one version of quantitative easing, or “QE” for short. And since the Fed has done QE before, this episode has been branded “QE2.”

Here’s the first Economics 101 question: When central banks seek to stimulate their economies, how do they normally do it? If you answered, “by lowering short-term interest rates,” you get half credit. For full credit, you must explain how: They create new bank reserves to purchase short-term government securities (in the U.S., that’s mostly Treasury bills). Yes, they print money.

But short-term rates are practically zero in the U.S. now, so the Fed wants to push down medium- and long-term interest rates instead. How? You guessed it: by creating new bank reserves to purchase medium- and long-term government securities.

That sounds pretty similar to garden-variety monetary policy. Yet critics are branding QE2 a radical departure from past practices and a dangerous experiment.

Continue reading

The Culture of Cannibalism in US Politics: The Triumph of The Cyclop’s Values Over Democratic Citizenship

{The first essay in this series introduced a model I created to explain the cycle of corruption that plagues US politics. This essay looks into the roots of this corruption. It takes a long time to get to the payoff. Further, the conclusion is somewhat ex nihilo if you have not read the first essay. This said, for those who dare, I hope you find it worth the read.}
polyphemus2-3717

Polyphemos the cyclops would have eaten Odysseus, if his survival was dependent on the moral virtues of Silenus’s satyrs. Fortunately for Odysseus, and Silenus and his lot, Odysseus could depend on his fellow citizens. If Polyphemos had the majority of America’s elected representatives depending on him for their survival in his cave, the way that they are presently beholden to lobbyists’ money for their electoral survival, he could have had a ready supply of citizens for his daily meals.

Cyclopean virtues regularly triumph over the virtues of democratic citizenship in the political landscape of the United States. Given that the Declaration of Independence embodies the spirit and principles that ground the virtues of democratic citizenship, why is it that cyclopes, who eat humans, win the day in America? Answering this question requires that we journey back to Attic Greece and her proto-democratic foundations. Continue reading

Common Sense and the sensus communis: anatomy of an American pressure cooker

romesenate1

Gay-Lussac

The pressure of a fixed mass and fixed volume of a gas is directly proportional to the gas’s temperature.

This relationship is known as the Gay-Lussac’s Law and a pressure cooker is an example of the law in practice. Cooking under pressure creates the possibility of cooking with high temperature liquids because the boiling point of a liquid increases as its pressure increases. High pressure and high heat can result in delectable dishes.

41CvXI3gHEL__SL160_

Cooking under pressure can be also dangerous because as liquids change phase into gases their volume expands greatly. For example, at atmospheric pressure the volume of steam is about 1700 times greater than the volume of water. To prevent pressure cookers from becoming bombs, relief devices (pop safety valves) are employed that are capable of relieving all of the steam the vessel is capable of producing.

America the Beautiful Pressure Cooker

The political pressure cooker is beginning to heat up. The power brokers and institutions that drive the nation have arrived unannounced on the doorsteps of America like a gaggle of unwanted, high maintenance relatives that demand hospitality for an unforeseeable time and that won’t take no for answer. Furthermore, they’ve announced that more relatives are on the way. Whatever plans America’s householders had, they’ve just gone out the window, with their household budgie and the relatives’ cat in hot pursuit.

People are justifiably angry with this incursion. Their budgie might not have been much, but it was “their budgie”, nurtured from birth into what it had become. Justifiably angry householders are trying to work out why the relatives arrived on their doorsteps and why they brought their fucking cat. Continue reading

Friday Morning News

morning_paper

Good morning Conflucians! Today is September 11, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of focus on that grim anniversary in the major newspapers. The New York Times has a couple of articles. The first is about fears that never materialized:

Remembering a future that many feared

So much has been said and written about what happened on 9/11. The following day is forgotten, just another dulled interlude in the aftermath of an incoherent morning.

But New Yorkers were introduced that day to irreducible presumptions about their wounded city that many believed would harden and become chiseled into the event’s enduring legacy.

New York would become a fortress city, choked by apprehension and resignation, forever patrolled by soldiers and submarines. Another attack was coming. And soon.

Tourists? Well, who would ever come again? Work in one of the city’s skyscrapers? Not likely. The Fire Department, gutted by 343 deaths, could never recuperate.

If a crippled downtown Manhattan were to have any chance of regeneration, ground zero had to be rebuilt quickly, a bricks and mortar nose-thumbing to terror.

Eight years later, those presumptions are cobwebbed memories that never came to pass. Indeed, glimpses into a few aspects of the city help measure the gap between what was predicted and what actually came to be.

The second piece is about therapists who dealt with mental health issues that arose for people after 9/11/2001:

A trauma that rippled outward

Dr. Kane is a psychologist. She works a great deal with the dying and the grieving. It was thus not surprising that people, dozens of them, would turn to her after losing relatives or friends at the World Trade Center.

“I always try to leave some space in my practice for nice, normal neurotic people, so that my whole day isn’t just death and dying,” Dr. Kane said. That was not possible after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack. “It was death, day in and day out,” she said. “I would be in the office from 8 in the morning till 8 at night dealing with dead people and bereaved people — all day long for more than a year.”

Her work took its toll. It was nothing like what her patients endured, but it was no walk in the park, either. She would cry on the way home from work. Pain crept into muscles and bones. And she came to understand that, for all her training, “I was ill equipped for how to deal with that kind of trauma that I saw.”

At the Washington Post, there is a really depressing article about teaching high school kids about 9/11–kids who have no memories of that day only eight years ago. Continue reading

This creek smells funny. How did we get here?

Shit_Creek_
Imagine you were rowing your boat gently down the stream and one of the oars got caught in the hatch. What would happen? Logic suggests that the current would slowly move you downstream as you spun the boat in circles.

O.K. Rowboats don’t have hatches, but Orrin Hatch is a creature and a feature of the ship of state and it is people of his intellectual and moral quality who are spinning the boat in circles when it’s clearly in need of proper direction. In fact, abandoning the first metaphor, they’ve piloted the US up the creek to where it is today. When you’re up this creek, you need a paddle, not an Orrin.

In response to Charles Schumer’s statement, that the Democrats can pass healthcare reform without Republican support:

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who joined Schumer on the show, said Democrats should not try to use reconciliation to force through a bill which could not overcome a filibuster in the Senate.

“If they use that, that would be an abuse of the process,” Hatch said. He also said creating a government health plan open to all would be a grave mistake. “If we do that, we’ll bankrupt the country.”

Earth to Orrin. What do you think you’ve been actively working at for the last 8 years? What do you think lying to the public to make a war in Iraq, and loosely regulating the financial community, have to do with the current economic situation?

The Republican Party set the stage for bankrupting the nation by adopting neo-conservatism as its political philosophy. Neo-conservatism, which is conservatism without moral and intellectual grounding, is bankrupt at the conceptual level, so it’s hardly surprising that Bush’s application of its principles gutted the economy of the nation. It’s also why so many Republicans continue working to bankrupt the nation by applying the principles they say prevent bankruptcy.

Ideologues whose brains can’t get beyond binaries are incapable of accepting the empirical world when it conflicts with their beliefs. One such belief is that public healthcare would bankrupt the economy, when every study ever published in The New England Journal of Medicine on the topic shows that public healthcare is more efficient and cost effective than private healthcare.

With people like Orrin at the helm, there is no reason to wonder why the country is up the creek. I can think of at least two good uses for a paddle.

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Geithner and Summers: Economic Disaster Deja Vu

g + s

Timothy Geithner’s profanity-laced rant against Sheila Bair and Mary Shapiro for their rational, reality-based concerns about increasing the power of Federal Reserve Bank, as opposed to increasing oversight of the system, should elicit a kind of déjà vu because the scenario has been played before. (Note: Increasing oversight does not mean policy disclosure.)

In 1997-8, Brooksley Born, the head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, tried to open a discussion about introducing oversight measures into the OTC derivatives market by producing a memo because she could see that:

“There was no transparency of these markets at all. No market oversight. No regulator knew what was happening,” Born says. “There was no reporting to anybody.”

Summers, Rubin’s deputy (and now director of the National Economic Council), said the memo had “cast the shadow of regulatory uncertainty over an otherwise thriving market, raising risks for the stability and competitiveness of American derivative trading.”

History, in the form of the role these derivatives played in this economic disaster, has proven that she was right to undertake that initiative. Unfortunately, Greenspan, Leavitt, Rubin, and Summers, to name some major players, were effective in pushing legislation that ended the CFTC’s ability to undertake oversight.

Born assailed the legislation, calling it an unprecedented move to undermine the independence of a federal agency. In eerily prescient testimony, she warned of potentially disastrous and widespread consequences for the public. “Losses resulting from misuse of OTC derivatives instruments or from sales practice abuses in the OTC derivatives market can affect many Americans,” she testified that July. “Many of us have interests in the corporations, mutual funds, pension funds, insurance companies, municipalities and other entities trading in these instruments.”

Notwithstanding, her concerns were dismissed and her ominous predictions came to pass.

Geithner is a protégé of Summers.

Is it not an ironic twist of fate, and a testament to Geithner’s blind faith against oversight, that he, like his mentor before him, is assailing intelligent, moral, qualified women for pointing out the  folly of his ways.

{Note: I defer all economic inquiries to our resident expert, Dakinikat.  My interest in the situation is the social dynamic.}

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Blaming a Generation

civil war soldiers

One outrage after another. Obama’s recent defense of DOMA leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I won’t continue, I may start to blub again if I do, and I don’t feel like being smug anyway. Claiming that banning Gay Marriage is good for the federal budget, and then invoking incest and pedophilia does not warrant comments that aren’t X rated in nature, and this is a family blog.

But while I’m at it, I want to talk about something that I won’t be scoring any points for. In fact, I’m likely going to get Hell for this, but it needs to be said, and Little Isis can’t be polite and sweet all the the time when she has something to say.

It’s like this: since Bam’s victory in the General Election, there has been talk of “The Obama Generation.” Voters of my age group who tended to vote for him have been dubbed “Obama’s Youth Army.”

Well, for one thing, that sounds so militant. Who wants to be part of a “Youth Army?” Can you say cheesy? Besides, that is a loaded phrase with violent imagery, and I detest violence.

But I digress.

Thankfully, all this talk of “The Obama Generation” and “The Obama Era,” is dying down. Sadly, not because of the incredible corniness of those phrases, but because of what a disappointment my Generation’s alleged savior is turning out to be, only five or six months into his administration.

That’s the thing about Demi-Gods. They’re just human narcissists who are full of themselves, and the messianic imagery gets old after a while. My female friends who voted for the Chosen One will no doubt abandon their “Chocolate Fudge Sunday” in favor of the next big thing when it is no longer cool to like him. It’s like having a boyfriend who is great at first, because he’s, you know, so cocky and good looking. But then eventually you just cannot stand the sight of his smug mug anymore, because every time he opens his mouth to utter something stupid you must resist the urge to backhand him.

No see, there is a point. Since all this talk of “Youth Armies” and “Obama Generations” and “Obama Nightlights” and “Obama Thongs” and “Obama Midnight Movies,” there has been a trend among … people of a certain age group, I guess, to put the blame of Obama on us, that is to say, my generation.

Well, I take issue with that. (Note: I am not referring to most of the commenters here in this post. I have noted that you are all mature adults, and good parents to boot, and you seem to have a strong enough sense of history to realize it is a little more complicated than that.)

Continue reading

Did Hank Paulson Use TARP as a “Ruse” to Rescue Citigroup?

TheScream

Be sure you’re sitting down before you read this, Okay? Barry Rithholtz speculates in his forthcoming book, Bailout Nation that the entire multi-trillion dollar boondoggle was

a giant ruse, a Hank Paulson engineered scam to cover up the simple fact that CitiGroup (C) was teetering on the brink of implosion. A loan just to Citi alone would have been problematic, went this line of brilliant reasoning, so instead, we gave money to all the big banks.

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From the book:

As of October 2008, the other banks, while somewhat worse for wear, neither wanted nor needed the capital injection. None of them were in the same trouble as Citi. Even Bank of America’s problems via Merrill Lynch wouldn’t become acute until December 2008. Washington Mutual, the most troubled on the list, had already been put into FDIC receivership the month before.26 JPMorgan bought WaMu from the FDIC for under $2 billion, and Wachovia was swept up by Wells Fargo for about $15 billion. Thanks to a change in the tax law, Wells Fargo got to shelter $74 billion in profits from taxation. Instead of the FDIC absorbing a few billion in losses from Wachovia’s bad assets, the taxpayers lost 35 times that amount.

According to Rithholtz, today’s news that ten banks are going to pay back the TARP funds provides support for his thesis:

The hurry to repay this cheap cash confirms that the fix was in. If these banks were really in the bad shape Paulson suggested, they would hold onto this cheap source of credit. Instead, they want to throw the yoke of government monies off as soon as possible. The desire to return to their old compensation packages for executives cannot be the only factor . . .

In other words (or as President Obama would say, “Let us be clear”) our government spent $2.25 trillion and put our social safety net and maybe even the future of our country in jeopardy in order to rescue one huge bank that should have just been allowed to go bankrupt. I think I’m going to scream now.

Rithholtz went into more detail in an interview with Bloomberg Radio yesterday. You can listen to it here. In the interview, he makes the argument that huge corporate bailouts always seem to happen in election years. {{Sob!}} There’s a little good news in the broadcast, I guess; since Rithholtz says that while things are still getting worse, it isn’t happening as quickly as before. He thinks maybe we are going to pull out of this without falling all the way into another Great Depression.

Oh goody. But I’d feel a whole lot better about that prediction if I could see any sign that the government cares even a tiny bit about jobs and health care and such mundane needs of ordinary people as opposed to protecting banksters from their own stupidity and greed.

(See also Dakinikat’s post from earlier today.)

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has a new article in which they argue that Citigroup should be broken up.

Resolving Citi — by either forcing it into a strategic partnership, if anyone will have it, or selling off its assets and breaking it up — wouldn’t be cheap, but it would have a number of benefits. It would remove the leading candidate for zombie-bankdom from the financial system. It would also, finally, put an end to the slow bleeding of taxpayer money into the bank.

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Your Breakfast Read, Served By The Confluence

Morning Read

The “homosexual agenda” on the march
After MA, CT, IA, VT, ME too has decided to get into the “marriage-ruining” business. NH is waiting around the corner.
Maine Governor Signs Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Gov. John Baldacci of Maine signed a same-sex marriage bill on Wednesday minutes after the Legislature sent it to his desk, saying he had reversed his position because gay couples were entitled to the state Constitution’s equal rights protections.

Isn’t it about time Obama undertakes something about this pervasive homosexual agenda? So far he’s been silent on DADT, hasn’t said a word about the proliferation of gay marriages, and has kept mum while some are talking about a gay Justice on the SCOTUS. At least we know Hillary would have shot gays in the face.
With Gay Issues in View, Obama Is Pressed to Engage

Dems to Specter: Watch out!
I count myself amount those who were happy Arlen Specter left the Republican Party to join to Dems, not for the sake of Specter himself but simply because it’s a zero-sum game. He has to be reminded that Dems have him by the nuts sack.
Meltdown: Specter stands alone

Since declaring himself a Democrat last Tuesday, Specter has defied Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House on virtually everything that’s come down the pike: the budget, mortgage reform, the Al Franken-Norm Coleman race, even President Barack Obama’s appointment of Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
All while quibbling over whether he said he’d be a “loyal Democrat” — and insisting that he had an “entitlement” to transfer his Senate seniority from one side of the aisle to the other.

Specter Isn’t Sitting Too Pretty These Days

What to do with “Torturegate” architects?
Bush attorneys who wrote terror memo face backlash

Iraq, the good and the bad

The Good:
Blackwater era ending in Iraq

The Bad:
Ambush by an Ally Chills Trust in Iraqi Units

When the gunfire broke out, Capt. Sean K. Keneally scrambled over to Master Sgt. Anthony Davis, who was lying flat on his back, and dragged him to a nearby building.
It was too late. Sergeant Davis, a member of a small team of American military advisers embedded with an Iraqi Army battalion in this remote town, was dead.

Af-Pak
Civilian Deaths Imperil Support for Afghan War

Clinton expresses ‘deep regret’ over deadly US airstrike in Afghanistan

Pakistan Strife Fills a Hospital With Refugees

Obama applauds Afghan and Pakistan cooperation

Entertainment recommendation for SoS Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton, Watch These Movies!

High Noon, Godfather II, Grand Illusion, and 22 other indispensable movies for understanding war and diplomacy.

Staving off a Depression
Budget Proposes Cuts in 121 Programs

President Barack Obama’s detailed 2010 budget plan, due out Thursday, will propose to eliminate or consolidate 121 domestic and defense programs to save $17 billion, administration officials said Wednesday.

After being stress-tested, BofA needs another $34,000,000,000, Wells Fargo $15,000,000,000 and Citi $5,000,000,000
Fed’s Bank Results ‘Reassuring,’ Show No Insolvency

Banks Need at Least $65 Billion in Capital

American stocks surge after leaked results of banking stress tests bring relief to investors

Timmy explains the methodology. (Wasn’t it some giant Monte Carlo simulation?)
How We Tested the Big Banks (Timothy Geithner)

U.S., Europe Are Ocean Apart on Human Toll of Joblessness

Rupert wants to charge the Internets
News Corp will charge for newspaper websites, says Rupert Murdoch

He wasn’t only a big time crook
The Bernard Madoff I knew: former secretary tells of sexist, sex-mad swindler

What Does “Qualified” Mean?
People opposed to identity politics on the SCOTUS like to propagate the trope about the “most qualified” person for the job. Let’s forget the fact that a SC Justice doesn’t have to be a lawyer, there are a gazillion people with a law degree in the US. Who’s the most “qualified” for any single job among them? “The SCOTUS is not the place for identity politics.”Really? Why not? It’s all about the best fit.
Identity Politics Not New to Supreme Court

W.E.B. Du Bois was quick to endorse the appointment of Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court. “As a Jew,” Du Bois said, quoting Isaiah, Brandeis knows the experience of “being despised and rejected of men.”

Prepare to be awed by Odd Day


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Your Breakfast Read, Served By The Confluence

Morning Read

The other downside of “swine” flu
American Airlines passengers held for flu test

Passengers on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles were detained for several hours in Tokyo after Japanese officials suspected one passenger of having swine flu, according to the airline.

Mexico to start China flu airlift

Robert Barro has an op-ed column about the economic toll the swine flu could take
Pandemics and Depressions

We’re all waiting with bated breath
Obama assures Hatch he’ll pick a pragmatist

Orrin Hatch: White House may announce Supreme Court nominee this week

G.O.P. Picks Conservative for Senate Judiciary Post

After Specter switch: buyer’s remorse?

GOP, Quo Vadis?
GOP Tries to Dig Out of Its Hole

Young Ross Douthat and David Brooks have some thoughts about how to save the GOP from a massive shrinkage
A Hole in the Center

The Long Voyage Home

The GOP leadership meanwhile is grasping at straws
For GOP, it’s Coleman or bust

With former Sen. Norm Coleman now standing between Democrats and their 60-seat supermajority, the GOP is prepared to back the Republican’s appeal to the federal level if even a shred of doubt emerges in the case currently before the Minnesota Supreme Court.

How do we fix the economy?
Nation Ready To Be Lied To About Economy Again (The Onion via Yves Smith)

Fed Stress Test Results May Show 10 U.S. Banks Need Capita

Matthew Richardson and Nouriel Roubini say we shouldn’t keep throwing money and banks
We Can’t Subsidize the Banks Forever

Wall Street and ZOMBIES

What financial crisis? A George W. Bush library. Quel oxymoron!
Bush Library Raises $100 Million in 100 Days

[T]he Bush center will not be used to “defend or promote something that he did in the past” but will offer a record to help future generations learn about what happened during a presidency, so they make better decisions.”

Ergh!!!

Obama proposes tax fix. Not everyone is happy

President’s Tax Proposal Riles Business

President Barack Obama’s plan to revamp international tax rules stirred opposition from many multinational businesses and questions among a few leading lawmakers. But even if the proposal doesn’t advance rapidly, policy makers said a broader corporate-tax overhaul is becoming increasingly likely over the next two years.

Corporations cry foul over tax fix

Silicon Valley voices concern over new rules

Tax Salvos

The Obama proposals oversimplify the challenge, both technically and politically.

The other headaches
In Preview of Surge, U.S. Calms Afghan Valley but Peace Is Fragile

U.S. military says Afghan bibles have been destroyed

Stay classy Newt, stay classy
Gingrich: ‘Obama endangering Israel’

Forty-four killed in attack on Turkish wedding

Watch out Blackberry
Companies Shed Initial Resistance to iPhone

Malcolm Gladwell penned a great piece in the New Yorker about David v. Goliath
How David Beats Goliath

Vive La France
Sleeping and eating – the French do it best

True to their reputation as leisure-loving gourmets, the French spend more time sleeping and eating than anyone else among the world’s wealthy nations, according to a study published Monday.

Why we love Europe
US shock-jock, Jewish extremist and Hamas MP on list of 16 banned from UK

The list includes Erich Gliebe, the leader of an American neo-Nazi group, Michael Savage (real name Michael Weiner), a radio presenter in America, Mike Guzovsky, a Jewish extremist, and Stephen “Don” Black, a former Grand Wizard in the Ku Klux Klan.
Also on the list is Fred Waldron Phelps Snr, an American Baptist pastor and his daughter, Shirley, who were barred last year for their homophobic views.

WTF?
Girl finds condom in McDonald’s Happy Meal

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