Sunday, March 22, 2009

In A Nutshell ...

They should have a big, confetti-falling, band-playing, ribbon-cutting ceremony at 30 Rockefeller Center in the coming days.

Perhaps to distance themselves from their own folly, their front-row cheering of the Wall Street Meltdown, General Electric will be changing the name of its' flagship business channel, giving it a dose of "truth in advertising".

No, they don't need to do esoteric, like Xe.

In fact, they can keep the same call letters, CNBC.

Just now, they translate to Can Not Be Credible.

For CNBC's Mark Haines to say to someone (and elected member of Congress, to boot), criticizing the Wall Street Meltdown, the naked, obscene raping of the financial system, to the point of complete ruin, that the steps to correct it are "Witch Huntery", says, in the nutshell, how in-the-tank Can Not Be Credible is, and how screwed the "media" really is (or, how screwed we really are).

Rep. Sherman (D-CA) vs. CNBC's Mark Haines

"What do people on Main Street know about running a financial system?"

Well, Mister Mark Haines, we don't have to look back to sepia-colored history, to turn that question around on you, and ask "What do people on Wall Street know about running a financial system?"

Hilzoy, over on Obsidian Wings, in fact, illustrates that point rather well;

A couple of years ago, it would have been hyperbole to suggest that we would all be better off if the senior executives at all our major financial firms were people picked entirely at random out of the phone book. Now, it's arguably true. People picked at random would, admittedly, be likely not to have been to business school. They might not know a lot about futures or derivatives or put options. But so what? At least they might have been more likely to know that they were clueless, and a few of them might have had the common sense to ask questions like: will housing prices really go up indefinitely?

In any case, what's the worst they could have done? Bankrupted their companies with ludicrously risky gambles that fell apart once markets went south? Destroyed trillions of dollars in value? Brought the world financial system to the brink of collapse? Left taxpayers across the globe on the hook for trillions of dollars? Bankrupted entire countries?

Oh, right.

And Now, We Come To The Sanity Clause

It may, or may not, be accidental, that news of the long-awaited Geithner-created, Obama Administration plans for the failed banks, stocked to the brim with those "toxic assets", was leaked out, just as March Madness was getting underway.

Perhaps they were looking for a "Cinderella Story" run with it, however, the early reviews coming in show it getting bounced, in the first round.

Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman was brought to "Despair" over it, citing "The zombie ideas have won";
The Obama administration is now completely wedded to the idea that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the financial system — that what we’re facing is the equivalent of a run on an essentially sound bank. As Tim Duy put it, there are no bad assets, only misunderstood assets. And if we get investors to understand that toxic waste is really, truly worth much more than anyone is willing to pay for it, all our problems will be solved.


But it’s immediately obvious, if you think about it, that these funds will have skewed incentives. In effect, Treasury will be creating — deliberately! — the functional equivalent of Texas S&Ls in the 1980s: financial operations with very little capital but lots of government-guaranteed liabilities. For the private investors, this is an open invitation to play heads I win, tails the taxpayers lose. So sure, these investors will be ready to pay high prices for toxic waste. After all, the stuff might be worth something; and if it isn’t, that’s someone else’s problem.
A few hours later, Krugman, still despaired, added;
Why am I so vehement about this? Because I’m afraid that this will be the administration’s only shot — that if the first bank plan is an abject failure, it won’t have the political capital for a second. So it’s just horrifying that Obama — and yes, the buck stops there — has decided to base his financial plan on the fantasy that a bit of financial hocus-pocus will turn the clock back to 2006.
Economist James K. Galbraith;
If I'm right and the mortgages are largely trash, then the Geithner plan is a Rube Goldberg device for shifting inevitable losses from the banks to the Treasury, preserving the big banks and their incumbent management in all their dysfunctional glory. The cost will be continued vast over-capacity in banking, and a consequent weakening of the remaining, smaller, better- managed banks who didn't participate in the garbage-loan frenzy.
Publius, on Obsedian Wings, heralds that "This banking business may well be Obama’s Vietnam ...", while Frank Rich, today, slaps Obama upside the head, respectfully, but forcefully, pointing out that his "Katrina Moment" has arrived.

Digby, perhaps, got it down, on what Obama, Summers and Geithner must need, to either breath life into the plan, or themselves, with "Clap Louder".

Well, not only "Clap Louder", but yell, scream, jump up-and-down, louder, until it is a deafening roar, is, apparently what is needed.

After the last eight-years, "trust us" isn't going to cut it, something Glenn Greenwald got into yesterday;
This anti-anger consensus among our political elites is exactly wrong. The public rage we're finally seeing is long, long overdue, and appears to be the only force with both the ability and will to impose meaningful checks on continued kleptocratic pillaging and deep-seated corruption in virtually every branch of our establishment institutions. The worst possible thing that could happen now is for this collective rage to subside and for the public to return to its long-standing state of blissful ignorance over what the establishment is actually doing.


Atrios has been writing a version of the same key observation virtually every day for weeks -- that almost every plan to "solve" the financial crisis involves nothing more than transfers of enormous amounts of public money into the pockets of the same unchanged system and the same people who caused the collapse in the first place:

The issue is that [Geithner] and friends never distinguished between bailing out the system and bailing out the players. There was a way to do that, and they didn't do it.


The AIG scandal vividly reveals how corrupt and self-interested are the people who are still exerting primary control over this process, which is why our establishment class is so eager to demand that everyone look away. For months, Americans have been told that they must sacrifice and trust the Government to engage in extraordinary actions if they want to stave off another Great Depression, only to watch as hundreds of billions of dollars fly to the very people who are the prime culprits. As Jane Hamsher put it: "The 'populist rage' that the pundits find so unseemly is actually the appropriate response."

But Wait!

Matthew Yglesias is optimistic, and Brad DeLong weighs in on the positive side;
Q: This sounds very different from the headline of the Andrews, Dash, and Bowley article in the New York Times this morning: "Toxic Asset Plan Foresees Big Subsidies for Investors."

A: You are surprised, after the past decade, to see a New York Times story with a misleading headline?

Q: No.

A: The plan I have just described to you is the plan that was described to Andrews, Dash, and Bowley. They write of "coax[ing] investors to form partnerships with the government" and "taxpayers... would pay for the bulk of the purchases..."--that's the $30 billion from the private managers and the $150 billion from the TARP that makes up the equity tranche of the program. They write of "the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will set up special-purpose investment partnerships and lend about 85 percent of the money..."--that's the debt slice of the program. They write that "the government will provide the overwhelming bulk of the money — possibly more than 95 percent..."--that is true, but they don't say that the government gets 80% of the equity profits and what it is owed the FDIC on the debt tranche. That what Andrews, Dash, and Bowley say sounds different is a big problem: they did not explain the plan very well. Deborah Solomon in the Wall Street Journal does, I think, much better. David Cho in tomorrow morning's Washington Post is in the middle.
Krugman still isn't on-board;
And a final point: I’m with Atrios here. If getting the prices of toxic assets “right” isn’t enough to rescue the banks, that doesn’t mean that we’re doomed; it means that we actually have to, you know, rescue the banks, Swedish style, rather than rely on fancy financial engineering to make the problem go away.
"I'm with Atrios?"
Actually, it's worse than that, it's "If Timmeh is wrong about the ponies in Big Shitpile then it's Mad Max for all of us."

But, this all gets put in motion, tomorrow morning, before the opening bell of trading, when Tim "What's that, Lassie? (Woof, woof!!) Timmy Geithner's in the well?!!" Geithner meets with reporters and lays it all out.

Then, we wait and see.

Either the economy starts its' Herculean rise, and money is flooding the streets like a summer cloudburst, or, it's Harry Lime time;
"...and don't be so gloomy. Remember what the man said: under the Borgias there was warfare, bloodshed and murder and they had Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they have brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace. And what have they produced? The cuckoo clock! ..."

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