Monday, November 28, 2011

Secret Loans Reveal the Arrogant Aristocracy of U.S. Banks

by Ian Hoppe

$7.77 trillion.

That number is the (actual) amount loaned out by the Federal Reserve in secret during the 2007 to 2009 financial crisis, from which we are all still reeling. It finally came out in a Freedom of Information act and a lawsuit by Bloomberg LP.

Just to put this number in perspective, since we’ve all become desensitized to the ‘billions’ and ‘trillions’ that are tossed around like pennies these days, $7.77 trillion is more than half of the US GDP in 2010. That means that the Fed loaned out an amount equal to half of everything of value produced in or by the United states in an entire year. Try to maintain that context and consider the following:

As a result of these various bailouts and transactions numbering in the tens of thousands, the “Big 6” banks increased in size (^39% since 2006)*, increased the amount spent on lobbying congress (^33% since 2006)*, and have all but ceased lending to businesses and individuals since. They made money on the deal (an estimated $13 billion net)*, and are sitting on it. Except, of course, that money they are routing to congress and attorneys to keep transparency and regulations at bay.

When we were all worried about TARP funds and congressional bailouts in the mere billions and small trillions of dollars, this egregious lending was going on behind the scenes without our knowledge and without our representatives’ knowledge. How are we or our elected lawmakers supposed to make decisions with incomplete information? This is shameful.

The “Big 6” consist of; Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley,  and Wells Fargo. Given the depth of failure it seems obvious that these institutions are dangerously inept in their practices and completely incapable of managing risk. These bailouts extended by The Fed, came with no restrictions and even further corrupted the incentive to acquire and balance with safe assets.

The big bank bailouts were bad enough, but with huge amounts of money flowing behind the scenes in an effort to sustain the clearly defective and contaminated monetary syndicates and their position in our staggering little republic, one wonders if a true aristocracy has formed, backed by the full faith and credit of the US government.


Thursday, November 17, 2011


by Gaije Kushner

I have a dream for the Republican party, which I have had since sometime this summer. It's simple enough, and far more realistic than most. At least, it’s much likelier to come true than my getting Maureen Dowd's job, or my own talk show.

Whatever might this be, you're hopefully wondering by now? Only the possibility, probability maybe even, at this point, that the Republican primary voters who don't want to vote for Rick Perry, because he's crazy, and carries a gun when he heads out for a run, and those who don't want to vote for Mitt Romney, because he's a Mormon Ken doll, and used to be a baby killer, will come together to nominate a true freak show as their presidential candidate, thereby ensuring Obama's second term.

Despite the punditocracy's best efforts to imbue Romney with a sense of inevitability, his support consistently hovers below 30%, running neck and neck with the amount of likely primary voters who say they will never vote for him, for whatever reason. Mittens has been running for president for at least the last five years. Unless he's been saving his best material, if he hasn't sold the voters' on himself by now, it isn't going to happen. It's probably time for him to start sending out some resumes, get himself a real job.

It's almost impossible to think of Rick Perry as a serious contender at this point. His poll numbers have been dropping like flies, ever since the first time he was allowed to speak in public. If only he could somehow contrive to spend the rest of primary season in Texas, silently killing animals or something, for the rest of primary season. But that's probably not a viable option.

For a little while, I thought Herman Cain might just be the man of my dreams. He's so very entertaining, so preposterous a presidential candidate. A conservative talk radio host no one had ever heard of, former CEO of a third-tier pizza chain, who'd never held public office? Seriously? Of course not. Add in the creepy, inappropriate jokes about electrified border fences, and Anita Hill, his apparent inability to understand, or even remember, his own anti-choice position, and of course those allegations about his crotch grabbing management style.

It's the last of those finally eroding Cain's support. I was surprised it took so long, so many accusations for it to happen. But then I remembered, Republicans have no souls, and understood it all. It's really too bad, as a Cain nomination would have guaranteed both an entertaining general campaign, and Obama's reelection. But life is full of disappointments, or so I'm told.

All those Cain supporters are going to have to choose another candidate eventually. You might think they'd give up the fight, and get onboard with Mittens, or resurrect Perry's campaign. But that doesn't seem to be what's happening. Whose numbers are rising as Cain's fall? None other than Newt Gingrich's. Remember him?

It makes some sense, at least as much as anything Republican voters do. He's been so far below the radar thus far, he somehow feels like a fresh faced newcomer to the field, despite his lengthy political career. Simultaneously, that lengthy career makes him a comforting, adult figure, in the midst of all the primary mayhem and madness, to those who fondly remember his tenure as Speaker of the House. Apparently some do.

The lack of attention has also allowed voters to forget Newt's obvious flaws in a general election. The ethical problems, the serial infidelities, his overall smarmy nastiness. There are reasons he's no longer Speaker of the House, or even a member. They should suffice to keep him out of the Oval Office, and he's pretty entertaining himself. So, Cain, Gingrich, either way, I'm good.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rick Perry's New Hampshire Antics

by Gaije Kushner

Watching Rick Perry's bizarre performance at the recent Cornerstone banquet, in Manchester, N.H., I found myself profoundly grateful to the governor for having done such a fantastic job of taking himself out of contention for his party's presidential nomination. Well, once I left off laughing, I was.

If you haven't seen the speech yet, it's almost impossible to describe. Perry giggles and bounces on his toes, gesticulating wildly. He loses his place in his speech, has to take long pauses to remember what word or gesture is supposed to come next. At one point, discussing New Hampshire's state motto, he exclaims, "This is such a cool state, c'mon, live free or die? Ya gotta love that!" Sounding more like a frat boy near the end of spring break than an actual adult, let alone a presidential candidate, Perry goes on to say something semicoherent about the Alamo, and slogans, finishing big with, "Live free or die! Victory or death! Bring it!" the first two, of course, reference the state motto again, and then the Alamo. The last calls nothing much to mind, just the second President Bush's infamous mission accomplished challenge to evil doers, only that was, "Bring it on!" so it doesn't quite work. I'm not sure what he was getting at with that one, but then, the governor probably isn't either.

There was another semicoherent rant, something to do with fundraising, in which Perry announced, "Gold is good!" once or twice. I'm not entirely clear as to what he meant, but I have to admit, it would make a great catch phrase for the reality TV show I'm ardently hoping is in his future.

Perry finished big, with more maniacal grinning, shouting, "Today has been awesome!" He could barely contain his joy at being presented with a small jug of maple syrup. Then it was finally over.

The truly mesmerizing thing, though, isn't anything the governor said or did. It's the gleam in his eyeballs. The incoherence coupled with so much energy. An overall demeanor I expect to see in myself at 3 am, after a busy, varied night out. Or in someone else, about halfway to complete insanity. Not in presidential candidates touring New Hampshire.

The temptation to speculate as to what exactly Perry was up to proved too strong for pretty much every cable news personality, or viewer. Not even Fox news could resist. Of course MSNBC's lone conservative host, Joe Scarborough, was all over it.

On his Morning Joe, Scarborough referred to Perry's, "truly bizarre behavior," suggested Perry might have had a few drinks before his speech to loosen up a little. His sidekick, Mika Brzenski, rambled on a bit herself, saying, "It just makes you think, that's all. There's not a law against thinking someone was acting completely loopy and wondering ... if they were maybe ... I'm wondering." If you're too loopy for Mika, something is very, very, wrong.

Later, on Fox's The Five, Greg Gutfield said, "That reminded me when I take an Ambien and have a scotch." In co-host Bob Beckel's opinion, "That looked more like shrooms." Andrea Tantaros thought, "He looked unstable." Former Bush Press Secretary Dana Perino, an old hand at defending the indefensible, thought Perry had just gotten overexcited. She might even believe it. She never did seem all that bright.

One friend of mine similarly suggested the governor might just have been overtired. I am intimately acquainted with the effects of lack of sleep upon a human brain. This wasn't that. Another described him as a, "stoned bumpkin with suppressed dreams of being Jeff Foxworthy." If there's anything more tragic than having suppressed dreams of being Jeff Foxworthy, I can't think what it would be. Others called Perry an unwatchable bitch, a bobblehead, and reminiscent of both George W. Bush, and Mr. Rogers. Gawker thought he seemed awfully gay, thanks to the giggling, and the uncharacteristically lisping overenunciation,
The most specific idea was, "benzodiazepines, some Inderal to stop the shakes, valium, and three fingers of Wild Turkey."

The last is closest to my own best guess. What with all the goofy grinning and eyebrow waggling, the giggling and the bouncing, I'd say there was a combination of uppers and downers going on. Maybe Perry overdid some kind of something or other on his own— benzos, painkillers, or some Wild Turkey—the possibilities are endless. Some overachieving staffer noticed his boss was not quite right, and gave him a handful of his Adderall, or Ritalin, or Dexedrine, hoping they would pull him through the speech. This clearly did not turn out to be the very best of all possible plans.

It wasn't all fun and games in Manchester though. Perry did manage to get across the basics of his plans for tax reform. Taken together, they amount to a declaration of war against the middle and working classes. It wasn't that he said anything new and different, just the timely reminder of who he'll be when he sobers up.

There's the ill considered, implicitly regressive, 20% flat tax. Hurriedly concocted in response to Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan, this will be optional, at least initially. Perry's big argument for this one is its simplicity. Who cares if a tax plan unfairly distributes the tax burden, if you can fill out your return on a postcard in two minutes?

Perry also plans to eradicate the estate tax, saying, "The death tax expires before you will expire." He further vows, "You can wave goodbye to the capital gains tax, and the dividend tax." Considering that the estate tax isn't applied to any estates of less than $5 million, and many of the very, very, rich pay only capital gains and dividend taxes, this will lead to a radical redistribution of wealth towards the top. Fortunately, 1% can't make up an electoral majority. But they do tend to have the best drugs.