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Posts Tagged ‘frauds’

AIG-Gate: The World’s Greatest Insurance Heist

Posted by Admin on February 13, 2010

AIG-Gate: The World’s Greatest Insurance Heist
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Global Research, February 6, 2010
Web of Debt – 2010-02-05

Rumor has it that Timothy Geithner is on his way out as Treasury Secretary, due to his involvement in the AIG scandal that is now unraveling in hearings before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Bob Chapman writes in The International Forecaster:

Each day brings more revelations of efforts of the NY Fed and Goldman Sachs to hide the details of the criminal conspiracy of the AIG bailout. . . . This is a real crisis on the scale of Watergate. Corruption at its finest.

But unlike the perpetrators of the Watergate scandal, who wound up looking at jail time, Geithner evidently has a golden parachute waiting at Goldman Sachs, not coincidentally the largest recipient of the AIG bailout. At least that is the rumor sparked by an article by Caroline Baum on Bloomberg News, titled “Goldman Parachute Awaits Geithner to Ease Fall.” Hank Paulson, Geithner’s predecessor, was CEO of Goldman Sachs before coming to the Treasury. Geithner, who has come up through the ranks of government, could be walking through the revolving door in the other direction.

Geithner has been under the House microscope for the decision of the New York Fed, made while he headed it, to buy out about $30 billion in credit default swaps (over-the-counter derivative insurance contracts) that AIG sold on toxic debt securities. The chief recipients of this payout were Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Societe Generale and Deutsche Bank. Goldman got $13 billion, roughly equivalent to its bonus pool for the first 9 months of 2009. Critics are calling the New York Fed’s decision a back-door bailout for the banks, which received 100 cents on the dollar for contracts that would have been worth far less had AIG been put through bankruptcy proceedings in the ordinary way. In a Bloomberg article provocatively titled “Secret Banking Cabal Emerges from AIG Shadows,” David Reilly writes:

[T]he New York Fed is a quasi-governmental institution that isn’t subject to citizen intrusions such as freedom of information requests, unlike the Federal Reserve. This impenetrability comes in handy since the bank is the preferred vehicle for many of the Fed’s bailout programs. It’s as though the New York Fed was a black-ops outfit for the nation’s central bank.

The beneficiaries of the New York Fed’s largesse got paid in full although they had agreed to take much less. In a November 2009 article titled “It’s Time to Fire Tim Geithner,” Dylan Ratigan wrote:

[L]ast November . . . New York Federal Reserve Governor Tim Geithner decided to deliver 100 cents on the dollar, in secret no less, to pay off the counter parties to the world’s largest (and still un-investigated) insurance fraud — AIG. This full payoff with taxpayer dollars was carried out by Geithner after AIG’s bank customers, such as Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Societe Generale, had already previously agreed to taking as little as 40 cents on the dollar. Even after the GM autoworkers, bondholders and vendors all received a government-enforced haircut on their contracts, he still had the audacity to claim the “sanctity of contracts” in the dealings with these companies like AIG.

Geithner testified that the Fed’s hands were tied and that the bank could not “selectively default on contractual obligations without courting collapse.” But if it was all on the up and up, why all the secrecy? The contention that the Fed had no choice is also belied by a recent holding in the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, in which New York Bankruptcy Judge James Peck set aside the same type of investment contracts that Secretaries Paulson and Geithner repeatedly swore under oath had to be paid in full in the case of AIG. The judge declared that clauses in those contracts subordinating other claims to the holders’ claims were null and void in bankruptcy.

“And notice,” comments bank analyst Chris Whalen, “that the world has not ended when the holders of [derivative] contracts are treated like everyone else.” He calls the AIG bailout “a hideous political contrivance that ranks with the great acts of political corruption and thievery in the history of the United States.”

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, said Joseph Goebbels, people will eventually come to believe it. The bailout of Wall Street initiated in September 2008 was premised on the dire prediction that if major counterparties in the massive edifice of derivative contracts were allowed to fall, the whole interlocking house of cards would collapse and take the economy with it. A hijacked Congress dutifully protected the derivatives game with taxpayer money while the real economy proceeded to collapse, the financial sector choosing to put their money into this protected form of speculative betting rather than into the more mundane and risky business of making loans to struggling businesses and homeowners. In the end, $170 billion of federal funds went to AIG and the banks feeding at its trough. Meanwhile, a survey of state finances by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities think tank found that state governments face a collective $168 billion budget shortfall for fiscal 2010. If the money used to bail out AIG and the banks had been used to bail out the states instead, the states would not be facing insolvency today.

There is no law against gambling, but there is a law against fraud. In Watergate, a special prosecutor was appointed to bring criminal charges; but times seem to have changed.

Ellen Brown developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles. In Web of Debt, her latest book, she turns those skills to an analysis of the Federal Reserve and “the money trust.” She shows how this private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her eleven books include Forbidden Medicine, Nature’s Pharmacy (co-authored with Dr. Lynne Walker), and The Key to Ultimate Health (co-authored with Dr. Richard Hansen). Her websites are www.webofdebt.com, www.ellenbrown.com, and www.public-banking.com.

Ellen Brown is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Ellen Brown

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Vatican Bank Charged with Money Laundering

Posted by Admin on February 8, 2010

Vatican Bank Charged with Money-Laundering

PressTV, January 24. 2010
Published here:  Monday, January 25, 2010 at 7:15 AM

http://battleofearth.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/vaticanbank012510.jpg

Saints in Sinners

The Bank of the Vatican has been accused of laundering USD 200 million by proxy through an Italian creditor, a report indicates.

The allegation of the Vatican bank’s financial corruption has been made by an Italian magazine that pointed to the financial institute’s purported involvement in stealth fiscal transactions —via several accounts —with Italy’s UniCredit Bank, Russia Today television network quoted the Panorama magazine as reporting.

“This corruption is continuing on a regular basis in the Vatican,” claimed Janathan Levy, a lawyer familiar with the bank.

“Again, there’s no reason for a religion to have a bank that does worldwide commercial activities, dealing in gold, dealing in insurance, dealing in property and then hiding behind the Roman Catholic Church,” Levy pointed out.

“I had the privilege to walk inside this bank. It’s nothing like a bank,” the Russian news channel quoted another lawyer, Massimiliano Gabrieli, as saying.

“If you go there you deposit or withdraw money without limit, without any kind of receipt for the bank and for the client. All you have is a single card with a number,” he stated.

The British London Telegraph, has recently ranked the Bank of the Vatican ahead of the Bahamas, Switzerland and Liechtenstein in banking secrecy.

The Vatican has denied all charges.

Read Original Article >>>

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The Battle of the Titans: JP Morgan Versus Goldman Sachs

Posted by Admin on February 8, 2010

The Battle of the Titans: JP Morgan Versus Goldman Sachs
Or Why the Market Was Down for 7 Days in a Row
Global Research, January 29, 2010
Web of Debt – 2010-01-28

We are witnessing an epic battle between two banking giants, JPMorgan Chase (Paul Volcker) and Goldman Sachs (Geithner/Summers/Rubin). Left strewn on the battleground could be your pension fund and 401K.

The late Libertarian economist Murray Rothbard wrote that U.S. politics since 1900, when William Jennings Bryan narrowly lost the presidency, has been a struggle between two competing banking giants, the Morgans and the Rockefellers. The parties would sometimes change hands, but the puppeteers pulling the strings were always one of these two big-money players. No popular third party candidate had a real chance at winning, because the bankers had the exclusive power to create the national money supply and therefore held the winning cards.

In 2000, the Rockefellers and the Morgans joined forces, when JPMorgan and Chase Manhattan merged to become JPMorgan Chase Co. Today the battling banking titans are JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, an investment bank that gained notoriety for its speculative practices in the 1920s. In 1928, it launched the Goldman Sachs Trading Corp., a closed-end fund similar to a Ponzi scheme. The fund failed in the stock market crash of 1929, marring the firm’s reputation for years afterwards. Former Treasury Secretaries Henry Paulson, Robert Rubin, and Larry Summers all came from Goldman, and current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner rose through the ranks of government as a Summers/Rubin protégé. One commentator called the U.S. Treasury “Goldman Sachs South.”

Goldman’s superpower status comes from something more than just access to the money spigots of the banking system. It actually has the ability to manipulate markets. Formerly just an investment bank, in 2008 Goldman magically transformed into a bank holding company. That gave it access to the Federal Reserve’s lending window; but at the same time it remained an investment bank, aggressively speculating in the markets.  The upshot was that it can now borrow massive amounts of money at virtually 0% interest, and it can use this money not only to speculate for its own account but to bend markets to its will.

But Goldman Sachs has been caught in this blatant market manipulation so often that the JPMorgan faction of the banking empire has finally had enough. The voters too have evidently had enough, as demonstrated in the recent upset in Massachusetts that threw the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s Democratic seat to a Republican. That pivotal loss gave Paul Volcker, chairman of President Obama’s newly formed Economic Recovery Advisory Board, an opportunity to step up to the plate with some proposals for serious banking reform. Unlike the string of Treasury Secretaries who came to the government through the revolving door of Goldman Sachs, former Federal Reserve Chairman Volcker came up through Chase Manhattan Bank, where he was vice president before joining the Treasury. On January 27, market commentator Bob Chapmanwrote in his weekly investment newsletter The International Forecaster:

“A split has occurred between the paper forces of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. Mr. Volcker represents Morgan interests. Both sides are Illuminists, but the Morgan side is tired of Goldman’s greed and arrogance. . . . Not that JP Morgan Chase was blameless, they did their looting and damage to the system as well, but not in the high handed arrogant way the others did. The recall of Volcker is an attempt to reverse the damage as much as possible. That means the influence of Geithner, Summers, Rubin, et al will be put on the back shelf at least for now, as will be the Goldman influence. It will be slowly and subtly phased out. . . . Washington needs a new face on Wall Street, not that of a criminal syndicate.”

Goldman’s crimes, says Chapman, were that it “got caught stealing. First in naked shorts, then front-running the market, both of which they are still doing, as the SEC looks the other way, and then selling MBS-CDOs to their best clients and simultaneously shorting them.”

Volcker’s proposal would rein in these abuses, either by ending the risky “proprietary trading” (trading for their own accounts) engaged in by the too-big-to-fail banks, or by forcing them to downsize by selling off those portions of their businesses engaging in it. Until recently, President Obama has declined to support Volcker’s plan, but on January 21 he finally endorsed it.

The immediate reaction of the market was to drop – and drop, day after day. At least, that appeared to be the reaction of “the market.” Financial analyst Max Keiser suggests a more sinister possibility. Goldman, which has the power to manipulate markets with its high-speed program trades, may be engaging in a Mexican standoff. The veiled threat is, “Back off on the banking reforms, or stand by and watch us continue to crash your markets.” The same manipulations were evident in the bank bailout forced on Congress by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in September 2008.

In Keiser’s January 23 broadcast with co-host Stacy Herbert, he explains how Goldman’s manipulations are done. Keiser is a fast talker, so this transcription is not verbatim, but it is close. He says:

“High frequency trading accounts for 70% of trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Ordinarily, a buyer and a seller show up on the floor, and a specialist determines the price of a trade that would satisfy buyer and seller, and that’s the market price. If there are too many sellers and not enough buyers, the specialist lowers the price. High frequency trading as conducted by Goldman means that before the specialist buys and sells and makes that market, Goldman will electronically flood the specialist with thousands and thousands of trades to totally disrupt that process and essentially commandeer that process, for the benefit of siphoning off nickels and dimes for themselves. Not only are they siphoning cash from the New York Stock Exchange but they are also manipulating prices. What I see as a possibility is that next week, if the bankers on Wall Street decide they don’t want to be reformed in any way, they simply set the high frequency trading algorithm to sell, creating a huge negative bias for the direction of stocks. And they’ll basically crash the market, and it will be a standoff.  The market was down three days in a row, which it hasn’t been since last summer. It’s a game of chicken, till Obama says, ‘Okay, maybe we need to rethink this.’”

But the President hasn’t knuckled under yet. In his State of the Union address on January 27, he did not dwell long on the issue of bank reform, but he held to his position. He said:

“We can’t allow financial institutions, including those that take your deposits, to take risks that threaten the whole economy. The House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes. And the lobbyists are already trying to kill it. Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back.”

What this “real reform” would look like was left to conjecture, but Bob Chapman fills in some blanks and suggests what might be needed for an effective overhaul:

“The attempt will be to bring the financial system back to brass tacks. . . . That would include little or no MBS and CDOs, the regulation of derivatives and hedge funds and the end of massive market manipulation, both by Treasury, Fed and Wall Street players. Congress has to end the ‘President’s Working Group on Financial Markets,’ or at least limit its use to real emergencies. . . . The Glass-Steagall Act should be reintroduced into the system and lobbying and campaign contributions should end. . . . No more politics in lending and banks should be limited to a lending ratio of 10 to 1. . . . It is bad enough they have the leverage that they have. State banks such as North Dakota’s are a better idea.”

On January 28, the predictable reaction of “the market” was to fall for the seventh straight day. The battle of the Titans was on.

Ellen Brown developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles. In Web of Debt, her latest book, she turns those skills to an analysis of the Federal Reserve and “the money trust.” She shows how this private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her eleven books include Forbidden MedicineNature’s Pharmacy (co-authored with Dr. Lynne Walker), and The Key to Ultimate Health (co-authored with Dr. Richard Hansen). Her websites are www.webofdebt.comwww.ellenbrown.com, and www.public-banking.com.

Ellen Brown is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Ellen Brown

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US MILITARY: A Mindset of Barbarism

Posted by Admin on February 8, 2010

The US Military: A Mindset of Barbarism, Part 2

by: Dahr Jamail, t r u t h o u t | Interview

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Uncontrolled

Yesterday, Truthout ran the first part of an interview with Dr. Stjepan Mestrovic, a Professor of Sociology at Texas A&M University who has written three books on US misconduct in Iraq: “The Trials of Abu Ghraib: An Expert Witness Account of Shame and Honor,” “Rules of Engagement?: Operation Iron Triangle, Iraq” and “The ‘Good Soldier’ on Trial: A Sociological Study of Misconduct by the US Military Pertaining to Operation Iron Triangle, Iraq.” He has three degrees from Harvard University, including a Master’s degree in clinical psychology, and has been an expert witness in psychology and sociology at several Article 32 hearings, courts-martial and clemency hearings involving US soldiers accused of committing crimes of war in Iraq, including the trials of prison guards involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Dr. Mestrovic’s books meticulously document how the US Army, as an institution, has become dysfunctional, and how illegal rules of engagement (ROE) are issued by officers and politicians at the top of the Army’s hierarchy, but only low-ranking soldiers are punished for carrying out those same rules and orders. As an example, in one of the several hearings Dr. Mestrovic has attended as an expert witness, US soldiers openly admitted they had shot a 75-year-old man who had emerged unarmed from his house, but because the soldiers were following the rule to shoot all “military aged males,” neither they nor their officers were charged for that death.

In the second part of his interview with Truthout, Dr. Mestrovic examines the fallacious nature of the rules of engagement, Operation Iron Triangle in Iraq, the rampant nature of atrocities in the US military today, and the possibility of a solution. In Operation Iron Triangle, Iraqi detainees were murdered by US soldiers under the command of a legendary American colonel, Michael Steele. On May 9, 2006, American soldiers executed three unarmed men they had captured in an operation in the so-called Sunni Triangle in Iraq. Several of these soldiers were court-martialed and imprisoned, but some within the military say that responsibility ultimately lies with Colonel Steele.)

Truthout: What are your thoughts about the “Rules of Engagement?” How are these brought into being? Are they truly expected to work in the field? Given that they are clearly not working, why is that?

Dr. Mestrovic:There is insufficient information to answer the first question at the present time. The creation and actual wording of the written ROE are shrouded in secrecy. At the courts-martial of the accused soldiers in the Operation Iron Triangle killings, the government forbade the introduction of the actual, written ROE into testimony. It only allowed verbal testimony as to what the soldiers heard as to the ROE. The soldiers testified that the order was “to kill every military-aged male.” The brigade commander who apparently issued the order, Col. Michael D. Steele, refused and still refuses to testify and to be cross-examined, so that the question you are asking may never be answered. Presumably, he would know how the ROE are and were brought into being.

Are these ROE expected to work in the field? Again, there does not exist sufficient public information as to what commanders and Pentagon officials believe with regard to this and similar ROE in theory. But I can give you an answer that is concrete and specific to this case. On November 5, 2009, Col. Nathaniel Johnson testified at William Hunsaker’s clemency hearing in Alexandria, Virginia. Hunsaker is one of the convicted soldiers from the Operation Iron Triangle case. Colonel Johnson was one of Colonel Steele’s battalion commanders, and was the “convening authority” who sets the courts-martial into motion. I was an eyewitness to Colonel Johnson’s mesmerizing testimony. He testified that Colonel Steele had created a “toxic command climate” by constantly threatening to remove any of his subordinates, from battalion commanders to first sergeants, who disagreed or questioned his orders. Johnson gave the example that when Steele told the soldiers, “We do not give warning shots,” he would tell his men, “We do give warning shots.” These simmering discrepancies and discontent among the commanders clearly confused the soldiers.

Obviously, in the field, the soldiers encounter many problems in carrying out this ROE. What if the alleged target is holding a child or hiding behind women? In fact, such tactics are so common among the targets that the Army refers to them as a “tactical training point,” namely, that insurgents use human shields to avoid being killed. What should a soldier do in that situation? Do they give warning shots? Do they shoot to wound? Do they take prisoners? Do they carry out the order regardless of consequences? Common sense suggests that the soldier cannot be expected to act as a legal scholar in the heat of battle and debate or discuss what he should do. It is an open question how often situations like this arise in combat. But what I do know is that Colonel Johnson testified that the soldiers were confused, and he recommended that Hunsaker’s sentence be reduced to time served and upgraded to a general discharge so that he could use VA benefits to get treated for PTSD. The clemency board ignored his recommendation and offered no clemency or explanation.

These ROE do not work for the straightforward reason that the “targets” are not abstractions but are human beings who associate with women, children and civilians who are not targets. Therefore, one can rarely “take out the target” without also “taking out” innocent civilians. Moreover, the targets are pre-designated based upon “intelligence.” But in all the cases on which I have worked, I have found that the so-called intelligence was grossly inaccurate. In the Abu Ghraib cases, the government now admits that 90 percent of the detainees were not terrorists or insurgents and were not a threat to Americans. In the Operation Iron Triangle case, the government never determined whether the “targets” were real “bad guys” or just innocent farmers. Who are these secret “sources” that have the power to pre-designate targets for execution? Next to nothing is known about them or the process of using such “intelligence.” What is clear is that the local populations in Iraq and Afghanistan come to hate Americans when innocents are killed by mistake on missions of this sort.

But again, the Army is not a democratic society, so I do not foresee seminars, discussions or public airing of these important issues. These issues are covered up for the most part, and emerge – only partially – through the window into Army society that is offered through the court-martial process. On the other hand, the US is a democratic society and the public has a right to know the ROE that are being carried out in its name.

Truthout: What did you find in your research about Operation Iron Triangle that led to that atrocity?

Dr. Mestrovic: Well, that’s the problem: the killings were apparently routine and were not regarded as an atrocity. Soldiers told me that they were routinely sent out on missions to kill designated “targets.” Their graphic descriptions included finding a shopkeeper and killing him in front of his wife and children. The court transcripts also refer to testimony of “kill-kill” orders, which apparently mean that the target does not have the option to surrender (which would be a “kill-capture” order). In effect, a lot of the missions seem to amount to the “execution squads” that Vice President Cheney mentioned while he was in office. So, in the eyes of the Army, government and soldiers, missions of this sort were not considered “atrocities.”

What made this one episode of Operation Iron Triangle different does not seem to lie in the acts that were committed. As court documents show, at the same time that these particular soldiers who went to prison were carrying out their mission, a different platoon was carrying out a similar mission on another part of the island. The platoon leader, Lieutenant Horne, is quoted as ordering his soldiers, “Kill them all.” Nobody was prosecuted for any of these other killings on the mission.

So the question becomes, why were Hunsaker, Clagett and Girouard prosecuted and sent to prison? Part of the answer lies in the prosecutor’s opening and closing statements. Apparently, the Army wants to send a “message” to the world that it is better than the enemy. And it seems that one way it does this is to periodically send some of its soldiers to prison as a way of making the statement that it does not tolerate war crimes, even though the routine kill-kill orders may be construed as being war crimes. In other words, this particular case, and some related murder cases, appear to be politically motivated, and the soldiers who are picked for prosecution appear to be random, and are definitely treated as expendable by the Army.

In a similar case of killings that CNN dubbed the “Baghdad Canal Killings,” (hyperlink “Baghdad Canal Killings” with HYPERLINK “http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/11/17/army.tapes.canal.killings/index.html” http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/11/17/army.tapes.canal.killings/index.html) it is well-known that the entire platoon participated in the killings, although only three were prosecuted. One of the soldiers, Joshua Hartson, admitted to CNN that he thinks he should have been sent to prison as well, but instead, the government granted immunity from prosecution to him and some of his comrades to testify against the soldiers who were chosen for prosecution.

It is important to note that in all these cases, scores of “atrocities” are included in the court records but were never prosecuted. The real atrocities at Abu Ghraib occurred in the interrogation rooms at the hands of intelligence personnel, and some detainees were murdered, but the government went out of its way to exclude these events from the courts-martial. In every case I have studied, sworn statements report scores of atrocities similar to the ones prosecuted, but again, all references to these other events are excluded from evidence. There appears to be a definite, politically motivated, “social construction” of reality to issues pertaining to how acts are defined, prosecuted or ignored as “atrocities” and war crimes.

Truthout: How rampant do you believe instances like this are, in both Iraq and Afghanistan?

Dr. Mestrovic: Even though no one has access to the secret ROE or the secret ways in which they are devised, it is clear that ROE similar to the ones used at Operation Iron Triangle are still being used, including in Afghanistan. Numerous news stories report that the government is currently using drones to kill pre-designated human targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan based upon “intelligence.” These news stories also routinely report that women, children, and civilians are often killed in the process. The mechanical drones are used exactly the same way as human soldiers are used: to carry out the same ROE that applied to Operation Iron Triangle. Incidentally, news stories suggest that the drone operators who execute these missions while sitting in remote control areas in the US are developing PTSD rates faster than the soldiers who actually engage in battle.

It seems to be the case that we are supposed to be mesmerized by the “postmodern” technology that leads to the use of “simulacra” soldiers and missions. The “target” becomes an image on a screen. But real human beings are carrying out the same ROE, whether in face-to-face confrontations or “simulacra” remote control engagements. And the human toll on both the soldiers and the civilian populations is not “simulacra,” but is very real.

Truthout: What would need to happen in the Army in order for soldiers to behave more along the lines of international law whilst abroad?

Dr. Mestrovic: The most important thing would be for the government to decide to adhere to international law, and the soldiers would follow orders. In any case, the low-ranking soldiers always follow orders. It really comes down to following the letter as well as the spirit of the Nuremberg Principles. In his opening remarks at the Nuremberg Trials, chief US prosecutor Robert Jackson said: “The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which leave no home in the world untouched.” I put emphasis on Jackson’s phrase, “common sense.” Even though he was a lawyer, he did not refer to the law, which often uses law-speak to justify such crimes. He referred to “common sense,” which resonates with usages of this term by pragmatist philosophers (William James, John Dewey, George Herbert Mead). In other words, everyone knows that it is wrong to kill people who do not show an active hostile intent, no matter how one justifies such acts legally. The “little people” to whom Jackson refers are, in this case, the low-ranking soldiers who were sent to Fort Leavenworth for carrying out the orders of many civilian and military commanders above them in the chain of command. It is a fact that not a single commissioned officer has ever been prosecuted for all the war crimes in the current war, from Abu Ghraib to Operation Iron Triangle. In a complete reversal of Nuremberg Principles, the government prosecutes and imprisons only the “little people” or low-ranking soldiers.

Jackson also specifically referred to the “men of station and rank who do not soil their own hands with blood” as the ones who should be prosecuted for war crimes. I do not foresee a day when the US will prosecute its colonels, generals or high-ranking civilian officials for establishing the policies and ROE that result in atrocities. There is simply no precedent for such a move in the US in the past century. The last time the US prosecuted a high-ranking officer for atrocities committed by his soldiers was in 1860, when it hung the commander of the infamous Andersonville Prison, in which Union soldiers were systematically exterminated by Confederate soldiers. But in other similar historical incidents, the government went out of its way to protect its “men of station and rank.” For example, the Biscari Massacre of 1943 was most likely the result of Gen. George Patton’s speech in which he told his soldiers to take no prisoners and to show no mercy. (In fact, General Patton’s and Colonel Steele’s speeches to their troops are very similar.) But Patton was not indicted, while a Sergeant West was given a life sentence and a Captain Compton was acquitted on the grounds that he was following Patton’s orders. Similarly, many historians believe that Lieutenant Calley was made to be a scapegoat for the “search and destroy” policies that led to My Lai.

In general, and despite its democratic base, the US does not resort to the established doctrine of command responsibility to prosecute “men of station and rank” whose orders result in atrocities. Again, this is not merely a military or legal issue, but a wider, cultural issue. In the recent Wall Street meltdown, the “robber barons” (as Thorstein Veblen called them) who caused the current economic crisis have escaped responsibility, and are rewarding themselves with bonuses. Meanwhile, many average Americans are losing homes, businesses and futures due to the errors in judgment made by the robber barons. The government bailed out the Wall Street firms, but not the average American in economic trouble. A similar principle seems to operate in today’s Army. Colonel Steele, whose ROE resulted in the Operation Iron Triangle tragedy, will no doubt retire with all his benefits intact. Meanwhile, the low-ranking soldiers who carried out his orders are languishing in prison. This American, cultural discrepancy between elitism and democracy has already been explored by sociologists such as C. Wright Mills in “The Power Elite and White Collar.” But without some great cultural awakening, it does not seem that this strange feature of American culture will change anytime soon.

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False Profits…

Posted by Admin on February 8, 2010

False Profits

Sunday 07 February 2010

by: Leslie Thatcher, t r u t h o u t | Book Review

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The Neo-Cons

False Profits: Recovering From the Bubble Economy

By Dean Baker

PoliPoint Press, 2010

He who feels punctured must once have been a bubble.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, 6th century BCE

As the nation struggled to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the people who got us here are desperately working to rewrite history. The basic story of this economic collapse is very simple. The Federal Reserve Board, guided by its revered chairman, Alan Greenspan, allowed an $8 trillion housing bubble to grow unchecked.

– Dean Baker’s “False Profits”

The delicious double-entendre of Dean Baker’s most recent title is enhanced by the book’s cover photo of a trio of false prophets, Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan and Henry (Hank) Paulson, all of whom are thoroughly excoriated within the book’s pages for their responsibility in feeding, prolonging, misdiagnosing and incorrectly responding to the 2007-2009 financial meltdown and the associated economic collapse. However, the book also chronicles the loss of $8 trillion of housing “wealth,” $1.4 trillion in annual demand, whatever financial security the vast majority of baby-boomers ever had, “increases” in homeownership rates and any other widespread economic gains associated to the post-2000 period. Truthout has published Dean Baker’s columns about net job losses for 2000-2010, a decade that also saw a 26 percent drop in the stock market, the elimination of the $236 billion federal budget surplus President Bush inherited and its transformation into a record deficit and the overall deliquescence of any societal and most people’s personal economic “profits.”

While most of us find ourselves economically worse off after the last ten years, some have done extremely well and most of those who bear the burden of responsibility for the American economic catastrophe have suffered no consequences whatsoever: financial, social or professional. Writing about Bernanke specifically, Baker’s remarks are equally apposite to other titans of finance, central banking and the financial regulatory regimes:

It would difficult to imagine someone with a comparable record of disastrous failures being allowed to remain in most jobs. Would a nurse who routinely administers the wrong medicine and causes his patients to die be allowed to keep his job? Would a bank teller who leaves the cash drawer open remain in her position? How about the school bus driver who comes drunk to work?

In most lines of work, a certain level of competence is expected. Unfortunately, this is not the case for those who set US economic policy.

Baker places the burden of blame on regulators and the political establishment because they utterly perverted their mission:

Progressives do conservatives’ bidding when we denounce them as “market fundamentalists.” We should, instead, be exposing their use of government to set up structures that ensure the market works to benefit the wealthy. We could then bring our policies into focus as those designed to ensure that market outcomes will benefit the bulk of the population.

The market is just a tool, like a wheel or a hammer. It would be bad politics and bad policy for progressives to make a big scene attacking the wheel. It is similarly bad politics and bad policy to put these attacks on the market at the center of a political agenda.

Baker never attacks the wheel; instead he demonstrates how it was deliberately allowed to run wild. As Baker himself warned as early as summer 2002, all indicators pointed to the rise in housing prices as a classic bubble, divorced from any tether in reality, yet the regulators, media and most mainstream economists kept pumping hot air into that bubble. Further, Dean Baker exposes the pathetic excuses that the regulators did not have the necessary tools to put on the brakes for the self-serving and specious rationalizations they are. Ever debunking the myth that somehow it was the “free” market at work, he relentlessly exposes how regulation, regulatory bodies and the public officials charged with supervising the financial industry have used their power to favor a narrow swathe of private interests over the public good. And, as always, Baker highlights what alternatives were and are available to turn that equation around. Baker’s relentless exposé of what is actually subsidized and who profits from specific policies, how wealth is transferred and how all this activity is disguised fuels his narrative with “true prophet” power.

“False Profits” combines impeccable scholarship – assembling an array of relevant facts and data totally accessible to non-economists – with Baker’s acerbic, but unforced, wit and verve. His iconoclasm constantly renews its sources and consistently targets those “false prophets” in all sectors who contribute to misleading the American people. Baker is the journalists’ economist, the reality-based economist: whatever other case he may be making, he invariably demonstrates why correct and timely information and clear understanding are essential to economic problem-solving, as well as how “fudges” harm everyone.

The book’s structure begins by a backward look, an analysis of precisely how we reached the present situation and what our present situation actually is (in chapters, “Economic Collapse: It Is Their Fault,” “Surveying the Damage” and “The Terrible Tale of the TARP”), then pivots on an exposition of why correct diagnosis and analysis are so crucial (“Will They Ever Discover the Housing Bubble?”), develops the case he has presented with three chapters of prescription (“Stimulus: It Is Just Spending,” “Real Stimulus: Programs to Boost the Economy” and “Reforming the Financial System”) and concludes with a resounding final call for accountability (“Remember the Housing Bubble”).

Unfortunately, recent events – the absence of any effective policy to slow down foreclosures; the most probably ineffective and unquestionably inadequate stimulus measures in the just-presented budget; financial services regulatory proposals that do not address the causes for regulatory failure – suggest that the present administration is only slightly more willing to learn from Dean Baker’s acute analyses than was its predecessor. And Ben Bernanke’s reconfirmation as Fed chairman is just the most recent and flagrant sign that the administration has no intention of investigating, let alone punishing, the regulatory – and individual regulators’ – blunders that led to the present pass.

Economics is a science of human behavior. It rests on the observation that people respond to incentives. Consequently, Baker’s apparently political argument that there must be consequences for the failures of judgment and action that resulted in the economic meltdown is a quintessentially economic one. With no disincentives for failure and the ever-present incentives for complicity offered by the industry that has captured them, regulators will continue to fail the whipping boy who pays for their transgressions – us.

1. Dean Baker, “False Profits,” p.5.

2. OpCit. p.9.

3. Read the book for the argument, but the unequivocal conclusion is, “The regulators – first and foremost the Fed – had all the tools necessary to combat the bubble. They chose not to.” (p.153)

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This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Leslie Thatcher is Truthout’s French Language Editor and sometime book reviewer.

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Fake Gold Bars in Bank of England and Fort Knox

Posted by Admin on February 1, 2010

Fake Gold Bars in Bank of England and Fort Knox

[This story was brought to the surface late last year but this article is a great background to what happened and how it’s going to affect the future.]

goldpic
Gold plated Tungsten Bars!

Jan 11, 2010

It’s one thing to counterfeit a twenty or hundred dollar bill. The amount of financial damage is usually limited to a specific region and only affects dozens of people and thousands of dollars. Secret Service agents quickly notify the banks on how to recognize these phony bills and retail outlets usually have procedures in place (such as special pens to test the paper) to stop their proliferation.

But what about gold? This is the most sacred of all commodities because it is thought to be the most trusted, reliable and valuable means of saving wealth.

A recent discovery — in October of 2009 — has been suppressed by the main stream media but has been circulating among the “big money” brokers and financial kingpins and is just now being revealed to the public. It involves the gold in Fort Knox — the US Treasury gold — that is the equity of our national wealth. In short, millions (with an “m”) of gold bars are fake!

Who did this? Apparently our own government.

Background

In October of 2009 the Chinese received a shipment of gold bars. Gold is regularly exchanges between countries to pay debts and to settle the so-called balance of trade. Most gold is exchanged and stored in vaults under the supervision of a special organization based in London, the London Bullion Market Association (or LBMA). When the shipment was received, the Chinese government asked that special tests be performed to guarantee the purity and weight of the gold bars. In this test, four small holes are drilled into the gold bars and the metal is then analyzed.

Officials were shocked to learn that the bars were fake. They contained cores of tungsten with only a outer coating of real gold. What’s more, these gold bars, containing serial numbers for tracking, originated in the US and had been stored in Fort Knox for years. There were reportedly between 5,600 to 5,700 bars, weighing 400 oz. each, in the shipment!

At first many gold experts assumed the fake gold originated in China, the world’s best knock-off producers. The Chinese were quick to investigate and issued a statement that implicated the US in the scheme.

What the Chinese uncovered

Roughly 15 years ago — during the Clinton Administration [think Robert Rubin, Sir Alan Greenspan and Lawrence Summers] — between 1.3 and 1.5 million 400 oz tungsten blanks were allegedly manufactured by a very high-end, sophisticated refiner in the USA [more than 16 Thousand metric tonnes]. Subsequently, 640,000 of these tungsten blanks received their gold plating and WERE shipped to Ft. Knox and remain there to this day.

According to the Chinese investigation, the balance of this 1.3 million to 1.5 million 400 oz tungsten cache was also gold plated and then allegedly “sold” into the international market. Apparently, the global market is literally “stuffed full of 400 oz salted bars”. Perhaps as much as 600-billion dollars worth.

An obscure news item originally published in the N.Y. Post [written by Jennifer Anderson] in late Jan. 04 perhaps makes sense now.

DA investigating NYMEX executive ,Manhattan, New York, – Feb. 2, 2004.

A top executive at the New York Mercantile Exchange is being investigated by the Manhattan district attorney. Sources close to the exchange said that Stuart Smith, senior vice president of operations at the exchange, was served with a search warrant by the district attorney’s office last week. Details of the investigation have not been disclosed, but a NYMEX spokeswoman said it was unrelated to any of the exchange’s markets. She declined to comment further other than to say that charges had not been brought. A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office also declined comment.

The offices of the Senior Vice President of Operations — NYMEX — is exactly where you would go to find the records [serial number and smelter of origin] for EVERY GOLD BAR ever PHYSICALLY settled on the exchange. They are required to keep these records. These precise records would show the lineage of all the physical gold settled on the exchange and hence “prove” that the amount of gold in question could not have possibly come from the U.S. mining operations — because the amounts in question coming from U.S. smelters would undoubtedly be vastly bigger than domestic mine production.

No one knows whatever happened to Stuart Smith. After his offices were raided he took “administrative leave” from the NYMEX and he has never been heard from since. Amazingly, there never was any follow up on in the media on the original story as well as ZERO developments ever stemming from D.A. Morgenthau’s office who executed the search warrant.

Are we to believe that NYMEX offices were raided, the Sr. V.P. of operations then takes leave — all for nothing?

The revelations of fake gold bars also explains another highly unusual story that also happened in 2004:

LONDON, April 14, 2004 (Reuters) — NM Rothschild & Sons Ltd., the London-based unit of investment bank Rothschild [ROT.UL], will withdraw from trading commodities, including gold, in London as it reviews its operations, it said on Wednesday.

Interestingly, GATA’s Bill Murphy speculated about this back in 2004:

“Why is Rothschild leaving the gold business at this time my colleagues and I conjectured today? Just a guess on my part, but [I] suspect something is amiss. They know a big scandal is coming and they don’t want to be a part of it… [The] Rothschild wants out before the proverbial “S” hits the fan.” — BILL MURPHY, LEMETROPOLE, 4-18-2004

What is the GATA?

The Gold Antitrust Action Committee (GATA) is an organisation which has been nipping at the heels of the US Treasury Federal Reserve for several years now. The basis of GATA’s accusations is that these institutions, in coordination with other complicit central banks and the large gold-trading investment banks in the US, have been manipulating the price of gold for decades.

What is the GLD?

GLD is a short form for Good London Delivery. The London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) has defined “good delivery” as a delivery from an entity which is listed on their delivery list or meets the standards for said list and whose bars have passed testing requirements established by the associatin and updated from time to time. The bars have to be pure for AU in an area of 995.0 to 999.9 per 1000. Weight, Shape, Appearance, Marks and Weight Stamps are regulated as follows:

Weight: minimum 350 fine ounces AU; maximum 430 fine ounces AU, gross weight of a bar is expressed in troy ounces, in multiples of 0.025, rounded down to the nearest 0.025 of an troy ounce.

Dimensions: the recommended dimensions for a Good Delivery gold bar are: Top Surface: 255 x 81 mm; Bottom Surface: 236 x 57 mm; Thickness: 37 mm.

Fineness: the minimum 995.0 parts per thousand fine gold. Marks: Serial number; Assay stamp of refiner; Fineness (to four significant figures); Year of manufacture (expressed in four digits).

After reviewing their prospectus yet again, it becomes pretty clear that GLD was established to purposefully deflect investment dollars away from legitimate gold pursuits and to create a stealth, cesspool / catch-all, slush-fund and a likely destination for many of these fake tungsten bars where they would never see the light of day — hidden behind the following legalese “shield” from the law:

[Excerpt from the GLD prospectus on page 11]

“Gold bars allocated to the Trust in connection with the creation of a Basket may not meet the London Good Delivery Standards and, if a Basket is issued against such gold, the Trust may suffer a loss. Neither the Trustee nor the Custodian independently confirms the fineness of the gold bars allocated to the Trust in connection with the creation of a Basket. The gold bars allocated to the Trust by the Custodian may be different from the reported fineness or weight required by the LBMA’s standards for gold bars delivered in settlement of a gold trade, or the London Good Delivery Standards, the standards required by the Trust. If the Trustee nevertheless issues a Basket against such gold, and if the Custodian fails to satisfy its obligation to credit the Trust the amount of any deficiency, the Trust may suffer a loss.”

The Federal Reserve knows but is apparently part of the scheme.  Earlier this year GATA filed a second Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Federal Reserve System for documents from 1990 to date having to do with gold swaps, gold swapped, or proposed gold swaps.

On Aug. 5, The Federal Reserve responded to this FOIA request by adding two more documents to those disclosed to GATA in April 2008 from the earlier FOIA request. These documents totaled 173 pages, many parts of which were redacted (blacked out). The Fed’s response also noted thatthere were 137 pages of documents not disclosed that were alleged to be exempt from disclosure.

GATA appealed this determination on Aug. 20. The appeal asked for more information to substantiate the legitimacy of the claimed exemptions from disclosure and an explanation on why some documents, such as one posted on the Federal Reserve Web site that discusses gold swaps, were not included in the Aug. 5 document release.

In a Sept. 17, 2009, letter on Federal Reserve System letterhead, Federal Reserve governor Kevin M. Warsh completely denied GATA’s appeal. The entire text of this letter can be examined athttp://www.gata.org/files/GATAFedResponse-09-17-2009.pdf.

The first paragraph on the third page is the most revealing.  “In connection with your appeal, I have confirmed that the information withheld under exemption 4 consists of confidential commercial or financial information relating to the operations of the Federal Reserve Banks that was obtained within the meaning of exemption 4. This includes information relating to swap arrangements with foreign banks on behalf of the Federal Reserve System and is not the type of information that is customarily disclosed to the public. This information was properly withheld from you.”

The above statement is an admission that the Federal Reserve has been involved with the fake gold bar swaps and that it refuses to disclose any information about its activities!

Why use tungsten?

If you are going to print fake money you need to have the special paper, otherwise the bills don’t feel right and can be easily detected by special pens that most merchants and banks use. Likewise, if you are going to fake gold bars you had better be sure they have the same weight and properties of real gold.

In early 2008 millions of dollars in gold at the central bank of Ethiopia turned out to be fake.What were supposed to be bars of solid gold turned out to be nothing more than gold-plated steel. They tried to sell the stuff to South Africa and it was sent back when the South Africans noticed this little problem. The problem with making good-quality fake gold is that gold is remarkably dense. It’s almost twice the density of lead, and two-and-a-half times more dense than steel. You don’t usually notice this because small gold rings and the like don’t weigh enough to make it obvious, but if you’ve ever held a larger bar of gold, it’s absolutely unmistakable: The stuff is very, very heavy.

The standard gold bar for bank-to-bank trade, known as a “London good delivery bar” weighs 400 troy ounces (over thirty-three pounds), yet is no bigger than a paperback novel. A bar of steel the same size would weigh only thirteen and a half pounds.

According to gold expert, Theo Gray, the problem is that there are very few metals that are as dense as gold, and with only two exceptions they all cost as much or more than gold.

The first exception is depleted uranium, which is cheap if you’re a government, but hard for individuals to get. It’s also radioactive, which could be a bit of an issue.

The second exception is a real winner:  tungsten. Tungsten is vastly cheaper than gold (maybe $30 dollars a pound compared to $12,000 a pound for gold right now). And remarkably, it has exactly the same density as gold, to three decimal places. The main differences are that it’s the wrong color, and that it’s much, much harder than gold. (Very pure gold is quite soft, you can dent it with a fingernail.)

A top-of-the-line fake gold bar should match the color, surface hardness, density, chemical, and nuclear properties of gold perfectly. To do this, you could could start with a tungsten slug about 1/8-inch smaller in each dimension than the gold bar you want, then cast a 1/16-inch layer of real pure gold all around it. This bar would feel right in the hand, it would have a dead ring when knocked as gold should, it would test right chemically, it would weigh *exactly* the right amount, and though I don’t know this for sure, I think it would also pass an x-ray fluorescence scan, the 1/16″ layer of pure gold being enough to stop the x-rays from reaching any tungsten. You’d pretty much have to drill it to find out it’s fake.

Such a top-quality fake London good delivery bar would cost about $50,000 to produce because it’s got a lot of real gold in it, but you’d still make a nice profit considering that a real one is worth closer to $400,000.

What’s going to happen now?

Politicians like Ron Paul have been demanding that the Federal Reserve be more transparent and open up their records for public scrutiny. But the Fed has consistently refused, stating that these disclosures would undermine its operation.

Yes, it certainly would!

ARTICLE CAN BE FOUND HERE.

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The Fix Is In For The Owners Of The Fed

Posted by Admin on January 28, 2010

The Fix Is In For The
Owners Of The Fed

From Joel Skousen
World Affairs Brief
3-13-9

http://www.rense.com/general85/own.htm

As the US Treasury Department continues to brag that the US has not yet been forced to make good on its guarantees of toxic debt held by the major insider banks (Citigroup, JP Morgan, Bank of America, etc) we find they have been using a back door to funnel money to their friends–AIG the world insurance giant holding the largest share of derivative contracts that guarantee those toxic debts against default.

In point of fact, those debts are defaulting in ever increasing number, and AIG is having to pay out billions. But, those billions are being replenished by additional bailout funds from the Treasury–while the rest of the nation suffers from lack of credit.

Why should the American taxpayer be bailing out gambling bets based on promises to pay that were utterly fraudulent? Now we find out that AIG is also the preferred avenue of funneling money into European banks.

Lastly, what do all these insider banks have in common? They constitute the private owners of the Federal Reserve. It all begins to make sense why only the largest banks are receiving these funds and why the regulators continue to squeeze the smaller banks with millions in new surcharges–forcing them into liquidation. The fix is in.

International law professor Richard Cummings, writing for Lew Rockwell.com, says, “Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has resisted calls from Congress that he release the names of the banks that were recipients of the bailout money the Fed gave to AIG to prevent it from collapsing.

AIG insured its counterparties against losses from mortgage-backed derivatives. The Fed poured $85 billion into AIG, which paid out $37.3 billion of that money to counterparties that had purchased a certain type of derivative-based protection from AIG, called multi-sector credit default swaps.

“The counterparties have never been disclosed but the Wall Street Journal reported that they included Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, UBS and Deutsche Bank. AIG and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York have unwound many of these contracts. To do this, they offered to buy the CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) that were originally insured by those agreements. The counterparties sold these assets at a discount, but were compensated in full in return for allowing AIG to extricate itself from the obligations. The counterparties also got to keep the $37.3 billion in collateral, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“While Bear Stearns was collapsing, Goldman Sachs boasted that it had insulated itself by buying insurance against the mortgage-backed derivatives. As it turns out, it was, in fact, rescued by the Fed when it bailed out AIG. In 2007, Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs’ CEO, received $70 million in compensation, including bonuses, $27 million in cash… At the time the New York Fed came to AIG’s assistance, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner was its head.

“Blankfein is still drawing down millions in compensation. The rationale for his compensation is the alleged profitability of Goldman Sachs, which raked in over $9 billion in 2006. It should also be noted that the bailout stopped Goldman stock from plummeting, thereby protecting not only Blankfein’s fortune, but that of Hank Paulson, the former chairman of Goldman Sachs, who was Secretary of the Treasury under George W. Bush.

“This is perhaps the greatest financial scandal in American history but most Americans are totally ignorant of it. On top of this, the AIG bailout enabled John Thain to pay out billions in bonuses while he headed Merrill Lynch, just prior to its sale to Bank of America, a recipient of billions of bailout money, this while the unemployment rate is headed towards ten percent and the market collapse has caused losses in the trillions. Were the names of the banks made officially public, there would be cries of outrage so loud as to be deafening, making any further bailouts dubious for political reasons.

“And while Bernanke has said that he would not permit the big banks to fail, the looting of America by some of the richest and most powerful people, such as Blankfein and Thain, goes on, with no end in sight. Pandit the bandit now says Citigroup is profitable, enabling its stock to rise above a dollar, generating a temporary euphoria in the market. The cheers going up on CNBC can be heard all the way to Warren Buffett’s coffers. And American tax payers are not only bailing out the American banks, they are also bailing out Europe.”

Toni Reinhold of Reuters answers “Who got AIG’s bailout billions?” “The Wall Street Journal reported… that some of the banks paid by AIG since the insurer started getting taxpayer funds were: Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Deutsche Bank AG, Merrill Lynch, Societe Generale, Calyon, Barclays Plc, Rabobank, Danske, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Banco Santander, Morgan Stanley, Wachovia, Bank of America, and Lloyds Banking Group.” I think it’s the large number of foreign banks that would be particularly irritating to the public if it knew the extent of this largess.

WHO OWNS THE FED?

Jim Quinn unravels for us the real link between all this insider dealing. Who really owns the Federal Reserve. It’s not the US government and its not you the taxpayer. “The average American does not know much about the Federal Reserve. The government and the Federal Reserve prefer to operate in the shadows. If the American public understood what their policies have done to their lives, they would be rioting in the streets. Henry Ford had a similar opinion: ‘It is well that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.’

“Most Americans believe that the Federal Reserve is part of the government. They are wrong. It is a privately held corporation owned by stockholders. The Federal Reserve System is owned by the largest banks in the United States. There are Class A, B, and C shareholders. The owner banks and their shares in the Federal Reserve are a secret. Why is this a secret? It is likely that the biggest banks in the country are the major shareholders. Does this explain why Citicorp, Bank of America and JP Morgan, despite being insolvent, are being propped up by Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner?” It does, indeed.

Tony Rheinholt continues: “The U.S. Federal Reserve has refused to publicize a list of AIG’s derivative counterparties and what they have been paid since the bailout, riling the U.S. Senate Banking Committee. Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Donald Kohn testified before that committee on Thursday that revealing names risked jeopardizing AIG’s continuing business. Kohn said there were millions of counterparties around the globe, including pension funds and U.S. households.” What this means is that AIG is only paying out on SOME of its obligations, and US Pension funds are NOT on that list. In other words, the bailout monies are only going to a select few. AIG has absorbed $180B so far, with no end in sight, no transparency, and no sign of changing this pattern.

Proof that we haven’t even turned the corner yet comes from Greg Gordon and Kevin G. Hall of McClatchy Newspapers (itself a losing enterprise like dozens of other print media): “America’s five largest banks, which already have received $145 billion in taxpayer bailout dollars, still face potentially catastrophic losses from exotic investments if economic conditions substantially worsen, their latest financial reports show. Citibank, Bank of America, HSBC Bank USA, Wells Fargo Bank and J.P. Morgan Chase reported that their ‘current’ net loss risks from derivatives —- insurance-like bets tied to a loan or other underlying asset —- surged to $587 billion as of Dec. 31. Buried in end-of-the-year regulatory reports that McClatchy has reviewed, the figures reflect a jump of 49 percent in just 90 days.”

Not counted in those write downs, of course, are the funds they are getting through the back door, which are not accounted for publicly. “While the potential loss totals include risks reported by Wachovia Bank, which Wells Fargo agreed to acquire in October, they don’t reflect another Pandora’s Box: the impact of Bank of America’s Jan. 1 acquisition of tottering investment bank Merrill Lynch, a major derivatives dealer.”

SQUEEZING THE SMALL SOLVENT BANKS

The next part of the fix is the most evil, in my opinion. The Fed and the US Treasury have given trillions of paper dollars to insider banks, and yet they are letting the FDIC run short of money so that this “insurer” of the public’s deposits ($250,000 and below) can have an excuse to jack up the insurance premiums (surcharges) to member banks. These new “temporary” fees are more than most small bank profits, and will ensure that these banks fail.

As Paul Kiel writes in ProPublica, “It’s looking increasingly like the FDIC will have to turn to Treasury to help it weather the storm… FDIC’s deposit insurance fund has plummeted in the past year as a growing number of banks have failed. The fund relies on fees from member banks, and Bair held out hope that a recent bump in those feeswould provide enough cushion. But if it doesn’t, Bair said, people shouldn’t be nervous about their FDIC-insured accounts: ‘It is important for people to understand, we’re backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government. The money will always be there. We can’t run out of money.'” Then why has the fee increased? Why penalize the banks that have been conservative, and limited their growth for safety?

Bill Butler describes the “squeeze play” going on: “FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair announced last week that the quasi-public insurance monopoly would become insolvent in the next few months if it is not allowed to implement a one-time, draconian surcharge on all U.S. banks. This charge will, in some cases, wipe out last year’s profits. At the same time, the FDIC has requested an additional $500 billion ‘loan’ from Congress [notice that a loan requires the member banks to pay it off. A bailout would not. They choose to ask only for the loan as a justification for the surcharge].

“Small, solvent, well-run local and regional banks have objected. They rightly claim that they are not the problem. These banks have a solid and growing deposit base and many of them service their own loans and so did not get caught in the trap of originating bad loans and dumping them on the secondary mortgage market in federally-guaranteed bundles. Whether they know it or not, these banks intuit that, like Social Security, there is no FDIC “fund.” FDIC insurance, like social security, is just another government-coerced Ponzi scheme — a tax that, according to former FDIC commissioner Bill Isaac, goes immediately to the Treasury to buy “spending . . . on missiles, school lunches, water projects, and the like.”

“Rather than increasing their taxes and punishing their relatively good behavior, these small banks suggest that the FDIC look first to Bailout Banks, the Wall Street mega-banks that have received nearly a trillion dollars in unearned, government-supplied capital via the printing press, for any increased insurance premium/tax. Ms. Bair rejected these pleas by claiming that FDIC law does not allow her to ‘discriminate’ against banks based on their size. Clever [Actually, there is a basis for discrimination since the larger one’s 1) caused the problem and 2) are the recipients of taxpayer backed funds]. What is really going is that the Bailout Banks are using the government and its insurance monopoly to help them gain market share by drastically increasing the operating costs of their smaller, better-run and scrappy competitors.” We are about to see the worst banks absorb the smaller sound banks–a great injustice, and totally engineered.

(End Excerpt)

World Affairs Brief – Commentary and Insights on a Troubled World.

Copyright Joel Skousen. Partial quotations with attribution permitted.

Cite source as Joel Skousen’s World Affairs Brief http://www.worldaffairsbrief.com

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What Cooked the World’s Economy?

Posted by Admin on January 26, 2010

logo

What Cooked the World’s Economy?

Tuesday 27 January 2009

http://www.truthout.org/013009T»

by: James Lieber, The Village Voice

It wasn’t your overdue mortgage.

It’s 2009. You’re laid off, furloughed, foreclosed on, or you know someone who is. You wonder where you’ll fit into the grim new semi-socialistic post-post-industrial economy colloquially known as “this mess.”

You’re astonished and possibly ashamed that mutant financial instruments dreamed up in your great country have spawned worldwide misery. You can’t comprehend, much less trim, the amount of bailout money parachuting into the laps of incompetents, hoarders, and miscreants. It’s been a tough century so far: 9/11, Iraq, and now this. At least we have a bright new president. He’ll give you a job painting a bridge. You may need it to keep body and soul together.

The basic story line so far is that we are all to blame, including homeowners who bit off more than they could chew, lenders who wrote absurd adjustable-rate mortgages, and greedy investment bankers.

Credit derivatives also figure heavily in the plot. Apologists say that these became so complicated that even Wall Street couldn’t understand them and that they created “an unacceptable level of risk.” Then these blowhards tell us that the bailout will pump hundreds of billions of dollars into the credit arteries and save the patient, which is the world’s financial system. It will take time – maybe a year or so – but if everyone hangs in there, we’ll be all right. No structural damage has been done, and all’s well that ends well.

Sorry, but that’s drivel. In fact, what we are living through is the worst financial scandal in history. It dwarfs 1929, Ponzi’s scheme, Teapot Dome, the South Sea Bubble, tulip bulbs, you name it. Bernie Madoff? He’s peanuts.

Credit derivatives – those securities that few have ever seen – are one reason why this crisis is so different from 1929.

Derivatives weren’t initially evil. They began as insurance policies on large loans. A bank that wished to lend money to a big, but shaky, venture, like what Ford or GM have become, could hedge its bet by buying a credit derivative to cover losses if the debtor defaulted. Derivatives weren’t cheap, but in the era of globalization and declining American competitiveness, they were prudent. Interestingly, the company that put the basic hardware and software together for pricing and clearing derivatives was Bloomberg. It was quite expensive for a financial institution – say, a bank – to get a Bloomberg machine and receive the specialized training required to certify analysts who would figure out the terms of the insurance. These Bloomberg terminals, originally called Market Masters, were first installed at Merrill Lynch in the late 1980s.

Subsequently, thousands of units have been placed in trading and financial institutions; they became the cornerstone of Michael Bloomberg’s wealth, marrying his skills as a securities trader and an electrical engineer.

It’s an open question when or if he or his company knew how they would be misused over time to devastate the world’s economy.

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Fast-forward to the early years of the Clinton administration. After an initial surge of regulatory behavior in favor of fair markets, especially in antitrust, that sort of behavior was abandoned, and free markets triumphed. The result was a morass of white-collar sociopathy at Archer Daniels Midland, Enron, and WorldCom, and in a host of markets ranging from oil to vitamins.

This was the beginning of the heyday of hedge funds. Unregulated investment houses were originally based on the questionable but legal practice of short-selling – selling a financial instrument you don’t own in hopes of buying it back later at a lower price. That way, you hedge your bets: You cover your investment in a company in case a company’s stock price falls.

But hedge funds later diversified their practices beyond that easy definition. These funds acquired a good deal of popular mystique. They made scads of money. Their notoriously high entry fees – up to 5 percent of the investment, plus as much as 36 percent of profits – served as barriers to all but the richest investors, who gave fortunes to the funds to play with. The funds boasted of having genius analysts and fabulous proprietary algorithms. Few could discern what they really did, but the returns, for those who could buy in, often seemed magical.

But it wasn’t magic. It amounted to the return of the age-old scam called “bucket shops.” Also sometimes known as “boiler rooms,” bucket shops emerged after the Civil War. Usually, they were storefronts where people came to bet on stocks without owning them. Unlike their customers, the shops actually owned blocks of stock. If customers were betting that a stock would go up, the shops would sell it and the price would plunge; if bettors were bearish, the shops would buy. In this way, they cleaned out their customers. Frenetic bucket-shop activity caused the Panic of 1907. By 1909, New York had banned bucket shops, and every other state soon followed.

In the mid-’90s, though, the credit-derivatives industry was hitting its stride and argued vehemently for exclusion from all state and federal anti-bucket-shop regulations. On the side of the industry were Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and his deputy, Lawrence Summers. Holding the fort for the regulators was Brooksley Born, who headed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The three financial titans ridiculed the virtually unknown and cloutless, but brilliant and prophetic Born, who warned that unrestricted derivatives trading would “threaten our regulated markets, or indeed, our economy, without any federal agency knowing about it.” Warren Buffett also weighed in against deregulation.

But Congress loved Greenspan – a/k/a “the Maestro” and “the Oracle” – and Clinton loved Rubin. The sleepy hearings received almost no public attention. The upshot was that Congress removed oversight of derivatives from the CFTC and preempted all state anti-bucket-shop laws. Born resigned shortly afterward.

Soon, something odd started to happen. Legitimate big investors, often with millions of dollars to place, found that they couldn’t get into certain hedge funds, despite the fact that they were willing to pay steep fees. In retrospect, it seems as if these funds did not want fussy outsiders looking into what they were doing with derivatives.

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Imagine that a person is terminally ill. He or she would not be able to buy a life insurance policy with a huge death benefit. Obviously, third parties could not purchase policies on the soon-to-be-dead person’s life. Yet something like that occurred in the financial world.

This was not caused by imprudent mortgage lending, though that was a piece of the puzzle. Yes, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were put on steroids during the ’90s, and some people got into mortgages who shouldn’t have. But the vast majority of homeowners paid their mortgages. Only about 5 to 10 percent of these loans failed – not enough to cause systemic financial failure. (The dollar amount of defaulted mortgages in the U.S. is about $1.2 trillion, which seems like a princely sum, but it’s not nearly enough to drag down the entire civilized world.)

Much more dangerous was the notorious bundling of mortgages. Investment banks gathered these loans into batches and turned them into securities called collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). Many included high-risk loans. These securities were then rated by Standard & Poor’s, Fitch Ratings, or Moody’s Investors Services, who were paid at premium rates and gave investment grades. This was like putting lipstick on pigs with the plague. Banks like Wachovia, National City, Washington Mutual, and Lehman Brothers loaded up on this financial trash, which soon proved to be practically worthless. Today, those banks are extinct. But even that was not enough to cause a worldwide financial crisis.

What did cause the crisis was the writing of credit derivatives. In theory, they were insurance policies for investors; in practice, they became a guarantee of global financial collapse.

As insurance, they were poised to pay off fabulously when these weak bundled securities failed. And who was waiting to collect? Well, every gambler is looking for a sure bet. Most never find it. But the hedge funds and their ilk did.

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The mantra of entrepreneurial culture is that high risk goes with high reward. But unregulated and opaque derivatives trading was countercultural in the sense that low or no risk led to quick, astronomically high rewards. By plunking down millions of dollars, a hedge fund could reap billions once these fatally constructed securities plunged. Again, the funds did not need to own the securities; they just needed to pay for the derivatives – the insurance policies for the securities. And they could pay for them again and again. This was known as replicating. It became an addiction.

About $2 trillion in credit derivatives in 1989 jumped to $8 trillion in 1994 and skyrocketed to $100 trillion in 2002. Last year, the Bank for International Settlements, a consortium of the world’s central banks based in Basel (the Fed chair, Ben Bernanke, sits on its board), reported the gross value of these commitments at $596 trillion. Some are due, and some will mature soon. Typically, they involve contracts of five years or less.

Credit derivatives are breaking and will continue to break the world’s financial system and cause an unending crisis of liquidity and gummed-up credit. Warren Buffett branded derivatives the “financial weapons of mass destruction.” Felix Rohatyn, the investment banker who organized the bailout of New York a generation ago, called them “financial hydrogen bombs.”

Both are right. At almost $600 trillion, over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives dwarf the value of publicly traded equities on world exchanges, which totaled $62.5 trillion in the fall of 2007 and fell to $36.6 trillion a year later.

The nice thing about public markets is that they act as canaries that give warnings as they did in 1929, 1987 (the program trading debacle), and 2001 (the dot-com bubble), so we can scramble out with our economic lives. But completely private and unregulated, the OTC derivatives trade is justly known as the “dark market.”

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The heart of darkness was the AIG Financial Products (AIGFP) office in London, where a large proportion of the derivatives were written. AIG had placed this unit outside American borders, which meant that it would not have to abide by American insurance reserve requirements. In other words, the derivatives clerks in London could sell as many products as they could write – even if it would bankrupt the company.

The president of AIGFP, a tyrannical super-salesman named Joseph Cassano, certainly had the experience. In the 1980s, he was an executive at Drexel Burnham Lambert, the now-defunct brokerage that became the pivot of the junk-bond scandal that led to the jailing of Michael Milken, David Levine, and Ivan Boesky.

During the peak years of derivatives trading, the 400 or so employees of the London unit reportedly averaged earnings in excess of a million dollars a year. They sold “protection” – this Runyonesque term was favored – worth more than three times the value of parent company AIG. How could they have not known that they were putting at risk the largest insurer in the world and all the businesses and individuals that it covered?

This scheme that smacks of securities fraud facilitated the dreams of buyers called “counterparties” willing to ante up. Hedge fund offices sprouted in Kensington and Mayfair like mushrooms after a summer shower. Revenue from premiums for derivatives at AIGFP rose from $737 million in 1999 to $3.26 billion in 2005. Cassano reportedly hectored ever-willing counterparties to “play the power game” – in other words, gobble up all the credit derivatives backing CDOs that they could grab. As the bundled adjustable-rate mortgages ballooned, stretched home buyers defaulted, and the exciting power game became about as risky as blasting sitting ducks with a Glock.

People still seem surprised to read that hedge principals have raked in billions of dollars in a single year. They shouldn’t be. These subprime-time players knew how to score. The scam bled AIG white. In mid-September, when it was on the ropes, AIG received an astonishing $85 billion emergency line of credit from the Fed. Soon, that was supplemented by another $67 billion. Much of that money, to use the government’s euphemism, has already been “drawn down.” Shamefully, neither Washington nor AIG will explain where the billions went. But the answer is increasingly clear: It went to counterparties who bought derivatives from Cassano’s shop in London.

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Imagine if a ring of cashiers at a local bank made thousands of bad loans, aware that they could break the bank. They would be prosecuted for fraud and racketeering under the anti-gangster RICO Act. If their counterparties – the debtors – were in on the scam and understood that they didn’t have to pay off the loans, they could be charged, too. In fact, this scenario played out at subprime-pushing outlets of a host of banks, including Washington Mutual (acquired last year by JP Morgan Chase, which itself received a $25 billion bailout); IndyMac (which was seized by FDIC regulators); and Lehman Brothers (which went belly-up). About 150 prosecutions of this type of fraud are going forward.

The top of the swamp’s food chain, where the muck was derivatives rather than mortgages, must also be scrutinized. Apparently, that is the case. AIGFP’s Cassano has hired top white-collar litigator and former prosecutor F. Joseph Warin (profiled in the 2004 Washingtonian piece, “Who to Call When You’re Under Investigation!”). Neither Cassano nor his attorney responded to interview requests.

AIG’s lavishly compensated counterparties were willing participants and likewise could be considered for prosecution, depending on what they knew. Who were they?

At a 2007 conference, Cassano defined them as a “global swath” that included “banks and investment banks, pension funds, endowments, foundations, insurance companies, hedge funds, money managers, high-net-worth individuals, municipalities, sovereigns, and supranationals.” Abetting the scheme, ratings agencies like Standard & Poor’s gave high grades to the shaky mortgage-backed securities bundled by investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers.

After the relative worthlessness of these CDOs became clear, the raters rushed to downgrade them to junk status. This occurred suddenly with more than 4,000 CDOs in the first quarter of 2008 – the financial community now regards them as “toxic waste.” Of course, the sudden massive downgrading raises the question: Why had CDOs been artificially elevated in the first place, leading banks to buy them and giving them protective coloring just because the derivatives writers “insured” them?

After the raters got real (i.e., got scared), the gig was up. Hedge funds fled in droves from their luxe digs in London. The industry remains murky, but some observers feel that more than half of all hedges will fold this year. Not necessarily a good sign, it seems to show that the funds were one-trick ponies living mainly off the derivatives play.

We know that AIG was not the only firm that sold derivatives: Lehman and Bear Stearns both dealt them and died. About 20 years ago, JP Morgan, the now-defunct investment bank, had brought the idea to AIGFP in London, which ran with it. Seeing the Cassano group’s success, Morgan jumped in with both feet. Specializing in credit default swaps – a type of derivative triggered to pay off by negative events in the lives of loans, like defaults, foreclosures, and restructurings – Morgan had a distinctive marketing spin. Its “quants” were classy young dealers who could really do the math, which of course gave them credibility with those who couldn’t. They abjured street slang like “protection.” They pitched their sophisticated swaps as “technologies.” The market adored them. They, in turn, oversold the product, made huge commissions, and wounded Morgan, which had to sell itself to Chase, becoming JP Morgan Chase – now the country’s biggest bank.

Today, the real question is whether the Morgan quants knew the swaps didn’t work and actually were grenades with pulled pins. Like Joseph Cassano, such people should consult attorneys.

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Secrecy shrouds the bailout. The 21 banks that each received more than $1 billion from the Fed won’t disclose how, or even if, they’re lending it, which hardly quells fears of hoarding. The Treasury says it can’t force disclosure because it took only preferred (non-voting) stock in exchange for the money.

If anything, the Fed had been less candid. It stonewalls requests to reveal the winners (mainly banks and corporations) of $1.5 trillion in loans, as well as the securities it received as collateral. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit to obtain this information by Bloomberg News has been rebuffed by the Fed, which insists that a loophole in FOIA exempts it. Bloomberg will probably lose the case, but at least it’s trying to probe the black hole of bailout money. Of course, Barack Obama could tell the Fed to release the information, plus generally open the bailout to public eyes. That would be change that we could believe in.

As for Bloomberg, its business side, Bloomberg L.P., has been less than forthcoming. Requests to interview someone from the company – and Michael Bloomberg, who retains a controlling interest – about the derivatives trade went unanswered.

In his economic address at Cooper Union last spring, Obama argued for new regulations, which he called “the rules of the road,” and for a $30 billion stimulus package, that now seems quaint. In the OTC swaps trade, the Bloomberg L.P.’s computer terminals are the road, bridges, and tunnels for “real-time” transactions. The L.P.’s promotional materials declare: “You’re either in front of a Bloomberg or behind it.” In terms of electronic trading of certain securities, including credit default swaps: “Access to a dealer’s inventory is based upon client relationships with Bloomberg as the only conduit.” In short, the L.P. looks like a dominant player – possibly, a monopoly. If it has a true competitor, I can’t find it. But then, this is a very dark market.

Did Bloomberg L.P. do anything illegal? Absolutely not. We prosecute hit-and-run drivers, not roads. But there are many questions – about the size of the derivatives market, the names of the counterparties, the amount of replication of derivatives, the role of securities ratings in Bloomberg calculations (in other words, could puffing up be detected and potentially stop a swap?), and how the OTC industry should be reported and regulated in order to prevent future catastrophes. Bloomberg is a privately held company – to the chagrin of would-be investors – and quite private about its business, so this information probably won’t surface without subpoenas.

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So what do we do now? In 2000, the 106th Congress as its final effort passed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA), and, disgracefully, President Clinton signed it. It opened up the bucket-shop loophole that capsized the world’s economic system. With the stroke of a presidential pen, a century of valuable protection was lost.

Even with that, the dangerous swaps still almost found themselves subjected to state oversight. In 2000, AIG asked the New York State Insurance Department to decide if it wanted to regulate them, but the department’s superintendent, Neil Levin, said no. The question was not posed by AIGFP, but by the company’s main office through its general counsel, a reminder that not long ago, AIG was a blue chip with a triple-A rating that touted its integrity.

We can’t know why Levin rejected the chance to regulate the tricky trade. He died in the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11. A Pataki-appointed former Goldman Sachs vice president, Levin may have shared other Wall Streeters’ love of derivatives as the last big-money sure thing as the IPO craze wound down. Or maybe he saw swaps as gambling rather than insurance, hence beyond his jurisdiction. Regardless, current Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo told me, “I don’t agree with his answer.” Maybe the economic crisis could have been averted if Levin had answered otherwise. “How close we came …” Dinallo mused.

Deeply occupied with keeping AIG, the parent company, afloat since the bailout, Dinallo saw the carnage that the swaps caused and, with the support of Governor Paterson, pushed anew for regulatory oversight, a position also adopted by the President’s Working Group (PWG), which includes the Treasury, Fed, SEC, and CFTC.

But regulation isn’t enough to stop a phenomenon called “de-supervision” that occurs when officials can’t, or won’t, oversee a market. For instance, the Fed under Greenspan had authority to regulate mortgage bankers and brokers, the industry’s cowboys who kicked off this fiasco. Because Greenspan’s libertarian sensibilities prevented him from invoking the Fed’s control, the mortgage market careened corruptly until the wheels came off. Notoriously lax and understaffed, the SEC did nothing to limit investment banks that bundled, pitched, and puffed non-prime mortgages as the raters cheered. It’s doubtful that any agency can be relied on to control lucrative default swaps, which should be made illegal again. The bucket-shop loophole must be closed. The evil genie should go back in the bottle.

Will Obama re-criminalize these financial weapons by pushing for repeal of the CFMA? This should be a no-brainer for Obama, who, before becoming a community organizer in Chicago, worked on Wall Street, studied derivatives, and by now undoubtedly knows their destructive power.

What about the $600 trillion in credit derivatives that are still out there, sucking vital liquidity and credit out of the system? It’s the tyrannosaurus in the mall, the one that made Henry Paulson, the former Treasury Secretary who looks like Daddy Warbucks, get down on his knees and beg Nancy Pelosi for a bailout.

Even with the bailout, no one can get their arms around this monster. Obviously, the $600 trillion includes not only many unseemly replicated death bets, but also some benign derivatives that creditors bought to hedge risky loans. Instead of sorting them out, the Bush administration tried to protect them all, while keeping the counterparties happy and anonymous.

Paulson has taken flack for spending little to bring mortgages in line with falling home values. Sheila Bair, the FDIC chief who often scrapped with Paulson, said this would cost a measly $25 billion and that without it, 10 million Americans could lose their homes over the next five years. Paulson thought it would take three times as much and balked. Congress is bristling because the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA) could provide mortgage relief – and some derivatives won’t detonate if homeowners don’t default. Obama’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, could back such relief at his hearings.

The other key appointment is attorney general. A century ago, when powerful trusts distorted the market system, we had AGs who relentlessly tracked and busted them. Today’s crisis is missing, so far, an advocate as dynamic and energetic as the mortgage bankers, brokers, bundlers, raters, and quants who, in a few short years, littered the world with rotten loans, diseased CDOs, and lethal derivatives. During the Bush years, white-collar law enforcement actually dropped as FBI agents were transferred to antiterrorism. Even so, according to William Black, an effective federal litigator and regulator during the 1980s savings-and-loan scandal, by 2004, the FBI perceived an epidemic of fraud. Now a professor of law and finance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Black has testified to Congress about the current crisis and paints it as “control fraud” at every level. Such fraud flows from the top tiers of corporations – typically CEOs and CFOs, who control perverse compensation systems that reward cheating and volume rather than quality, and circumvent standard due diligence such as underwriting and accounting. For instance, AIGFP’s Cassano reportedly rebuffed AIG’s internal auditor.

The environment from the top of the chain – derivatives gang leaders – to the bottom of the chain – subprime, no-doc loan officers – became “criminogenic,” Black says. The only real response? Aggressive prosecution of “elites” at all stages in this twisted mess. Black says sentences should not be the light, six-month slaps that white-collar criminals usually get, or the Madoff-style penthouse arrest.

As staggering as the Madoff meltdown was, it had a refreshing side – the funds were frozen. In the bailout, on the other hand, the government often seems to be completing the scam by quietly passing the proceeds to counterparties.

The advantage of treating these players like racketeers under federal law is that their ill-gotten gains could be forfeited. The government could recoup these odious gambling debts instead of simply paying them off. In finance, the bottom line is the bottom line. The bottom line in this scandal is that fantastically wealthy entities positioned themselves to make unfathomable fortunes by betting that average Americans – Joe Six-Packs and hockey moms – would fail.

Black suggests that derivatives should be “unwound” and that the payouts cease: “Close out the positions – most of them have no social utility.” And where there has been fraud, he adds, “clawback makes perfect sense.” That would include taking back the ludicrously large bonuses and other forms of compensation given to CEOs at bailed-out companies.

No one knows how much could be clawed back from the soiled derivatives reap. Clearly, it’s not $600 trillion. William Bergman, formerly a market analyst at the Chicago Fed in “netting” – what’s left after financial institutions pay each other off for ongoing deals and debts – makes a “guess” that perhaps only 5 percent could be recouped, which he concedes is unfortunately low. Still, that’s $30 trillion, a huge number, more than 10 times what the Fed can deploy and over twice the U.S. gross domestic product. Such a sum, if recovered through the criminal justice process, could ease the liquidity crisis and actually get the credit arteries flowing. Not everyone would like it. What’s left of Wall Street and hedge funds want their derivatives gains; so do foreign banks.

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A tangle of secrecy, conflicts of interest, and favoritism plagues the process of recovery.

Lehman drowned, but Goldman Sachs, where Paulson was formerly CEO, was saved. The day before AIG reaped its initial $85 billion bonanza, Paulson met with his successor, Lloyd Blankfein, who reportedly argued that Goldman would lose $20 billion and fail unless AIG was rescued. AIG got the money.

Had Goldman bought from AIG credit derivatives that it needed to redeem? Like most other huge financial traders, Goldman has a secretive hedge fund, Global Alpha, that refuses to reveal its transactions. Regardless, Paulson’s meeting with Blankfein was a low point. If Dick Cheney had met with his successor at Halliburton and, the very next day, written a check for billions that guaranteed its survival, the press would have screamed for his head.

The second most shifty bailout went to Citigroup, a money sewer that won last year’s layoff super bowl with 73,000. Instead of being parceled to efficient operators, Citi received a $45 billion bailout and $300 billion loan package, at least in part because of Robert Rubin’s juice. While Treasury Secretary under Clinton, Rubin led us into the derivatives maelstrom, deported jobs with NAFTA, and championed bank deregulation so that companies like Citi could mimic Wall Street speculators. After he joined Citi’s leadership in 1999, the bank went long on mortgages and other risks du jour, enmeshed itself in Enron’s web, tanked in value, and suffered haphazard management, while Rubin made more than $100 million.

Rubin remained a director and “senior counselor” at Citi until January 9, 2009, and is an economic adviser to Obama. In truth, he probably shouldn’t be a senior counselor anywhere except possibly at Camp Granada. Like Greenspan, he should retire before he breaks something again, and we have to pay for it. (Incidentally, the British bailout, which is more open than ours and mandates mortgage relief, makes corporate welfare contingent on the removal of bad management.)

The third strangest rescue involved the Fed’s announcement just before Christmas that hedge funds for the first time could borrow from it. Apparently, the new $200 billion credit line relates to recently revealed securitized debts including bundled credit card bills, student loans, and auto loans. Obviously, it’s worrisome that the crisis may be morphing beyond its real estate roots.

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To say the bailout hasn’t worked so far is putting it mildly. Since the crisis broke, Washington’s reaction has been chaotic, lenient to favorites, secretive, and staggeringly expensive. An estimated $7.36 trillion, more than double the total American outlay for World War II (even correcting for inflation), has been thrown at the problem, according to press reports. Along the way, banking, insurance, and car companies have been nationalized, and no one has been brought to justice.

Combined unemployment and underemployment (those who have stopped looking, and part-timers) runs at nearly 20 percent, the highest since 1945. Housing prices continue to hemorrhage – last fall’s 18 percent drop could double. Holiday shopping fizzled: 160,000 stores closed last year, and 200,000 more are expected to shutter in ’09. Some forecasts place eventual retail darkness at 25 percent. In 2008, the Dow dropped further – 34 percent – than at any time since 1931. There is no sound sector in the economy; the only members of the 30 Dow Jones Industrials posting gains last year were Wal-Mart and McDonald’s.

Does Obama’s choice for attorney general, Eric Holder, have the tenacity and will to tackle the widest fraud in American history? Parts of his background don’t necessarily augur well: He worked on a pardon for Marc Rich, the fugitive billionaire tax evader once on the FBI’s Most Wanted List whom Clinton cleared. After leaving the Clinton era’s Justice Department, Holder went to work for Covington & Burling, a D.C. firm that represents corporate heavies including Big Tobacco. He defended Chiquita Brands in a notorious case, in which it paid a $25 million fine for using terrorists in Columbia as security. Holder fits well within the gaggle of elite D.C. lawyers who move back and forth between government and defending corporate criminals. He doesn’t exactly have the sort of résumé that startles robber barons.

Can Holder design and orchestrate a muscular legal response, including prosecution and stern punishment of top executives, plus aggressive clawbacks of money? There seems little question that he has the skill, so the decision on how aggressive the Justice Department will be is up to Obama.

Holder could ask for and get well-organized FBI white-collar teams. The personnel hole caused by shifts to antiterrorism would have to be more than filled to their pre-9/ll staffing if the incoming administration decides to break this criminogenic cycle rather than merely address it symbolically.

Black contends that aggressive prosecution would be good for the economy because it may help prevent cheating and fraud that inevitably cause bubbles and destroy wealth. The Sarbanes-Oxley law passed in Enron’s wake, for instance, is supposed to make corporations now keep the kinds of documents necessary to assess criminality. Whether the CEOs, CFOs, and others who controlled the current frauds will do so is another matter.

“Don’t count on them keeping records for long,” Black warns. “It’s time to get out the subpoenas.”

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James Lieber is a lawyer whose books on business and politics include “Friendly Takeover” (Penguin) and “Rats in the Grain” (Basic Books). This is his fifth article for The Voice.

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