Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Coming Age of Financial Triage  (HELP!)  Democratic Debate:  Alan Greenspan’s Spouse Should Not Have Co-Hosted Democratic Debate (Maybe the Republican?)

Big Bank Stocks Have Been Crushed:  Here’s Why

Get Ready to Live the Sequel to “The Big Short”
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The Coming Era of Financial Triage

January 19, 2016
Virtually every major program of every major nation-state is financially unsustainable going forward.
Though triage is typically used in a medical setting, we are entering an era when financial triage will increasingly be necessary on a household, enterprise and national level.
The term triage may have originated during the Napoleonic Wars from the work of Dominique Jean Larrey. The term was used further during World War I by French doctors treating the battlefield wounded at the aid stations behind the front. Those responsible for the removal of the wounded from a battlefield or their care afterwards would divide the victims into three categories: 
Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive

Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive

Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome.
Financial triage is the process of sorting financial expenses/programs that are unsustainable and cannot be "reformed," those that cannot be saved except with systemic reforms, and those that will survive if simply scaled back.
On the household level, financial triage becomes necessary when one of the primary wage earners lose their jobs and cannot find a replacement position.
First to go are non-essentials such as cable TV subscriptions, eating out at restaurants, costly coffees from Starbucks, etc.
But scaling back these modest expenses may not restore the household's income to expenses balance. The major expenses of transportation, housing and healthcare may have to be sorted into what can be cut and what must be allowed to expire in order to save the household from insolvency and bankruptcy. 
A mortgage that exceeds the remaining wage earner's income is an example of an expense that cannot be "reformed" away. Refinancing to a lower rate of interest may trim the monthly cost a bit, but the history of mortgage "reforms" suggests many if not most households that attempt to lower fundamentally unaffordable mortgage payments end up defaulting anyway. 
Slashing major expenses is not cost-free. Trying to reduce healthcare insurance costs boils down to accepting high-deductible plans that end up costing as much as gold-plated plans once the full deductible is paid in cash.
Financial triage is intrinsically painful and wrenching. Corporations have much more practice in financial triage, as divisions or departments that aren't generating profits are sold, closed or slashed to save what can still be salvaged.
Nation-states typically have near-zero experience with financial triage. Programs are rarely ever shut down or slashed to the bone to save core functions; cuts are modest and as soon as the crisis passes, expenses soar as everyone who suffered minor cuts demands pay raises and benefits that restore whatever was trimmed.
Virtually every major program of every major nation-state is financially unsustainable going forward. Every major program is funded by wages and profits, both of which will be eviscerated in the global recession that is just starting.
Longer term, the demographics of a shrinking work force and the profit-destroying forces of automation render immensely costly social and military programs unsustainable. The idea that these trillion-dollar programs can be reformed/saved with minor cuts and policy tweaks is delusional; to save these programs, cuts must be deep and permanent - precisely what the status quo cannot accomplish because it is politically impossible to over-ride vested/ entrenched interests. 
Unfortunately, this inability to save what could be saved with deep cuts/ reforms means programs that could have been saved will collapse, and politically acceptable half-measures of "reform" will end up dragging other programs that could have been saved to the financial morgue.

Democratic Debate:  Alan Greenspan’s Spouse Should Not Have Co-Hosted

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens
January 18, 2016
Andrea Mitchell and Lester Holt Moderating the January 17, 2016 Democratic Debate on NBC
Andrea Mitchell and Lester Holt Moderating the January 17, 2016 Democratic Debate on NBC

Leave it to NBC to remind us that corporate media is tone deaf when it comes to facing up to outrageous conflicts of interest. The final presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary aired last night on NBC and was co-moderated by Lester Holt and Andrea Mitchell. Given the public focus on Hillary Clinton’s financial ties to Wall Street, it was clear that hard-hitting policy questions on reforming Wall Street would need to be asked during the debate.

So why put Andrea Mitchell on that stage instead of an objective media moderator? Mitchell is married to Alan Greenspan, the man whose 18-year stint as Fed Chairman included a two-term appointment by Bill Clinton’s White House. Greenspan was correctly dubbed by "Time Magazine" as “25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis;” was the man who played a key role together with the Clinton administration’s Wall Street sycophants Robert Rubin and Larry Summers in repealing the Glass-Steagall Act that ushered in the devastating deregulation of Wall Street and subsequent collapse in 2008; and the man who attempted to lend credence to the nutty “selfishness is good/government regulation is the enemy” theories of Ayn Rand, Greenspan’s long-time economic mentor.

This is not the first time Mitchell has been called out for a conflicted media role. In 2008, Megan Garber, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, had this to say of Mitchell’s coverage of the financial crisis:

You wouldn’t want Laura Bush asking you about the federal government’s reaction to Katrina. You wouldn’t Maria Malan interviewing you about apartheid. And so on. Those interviews would be awkward, but, more to the point, they would be unproductive. They’d yield, at most, partial truths. It’d be naive to think that an interview with Mitchell would be any different.

“In reporting on the financial crisis, journalists need to help viewers and readers and listeners fully understand what we’re facing right now…‘What went wrong?’ should be a standard question Mitchell and other journalists are asking right now. When one potential answer to that question is ‘Alan Greenspan,’ there’s a conflict. A big one.”

Garber went on to recommend in the article that Andrea Mitchell “should be a little less everywhere while the financial crisis is at its height. Maybe MSNBC should consider whether its viewers are served by an anchor and reporter who is, in so many ways, so close to the story she’s covering.”

The second leg of the financial crisis is now upon us with Clinton/Wall Street continuity government being offered up as a serious option. Garber’s comment is as valid today as it was in 2008 – Andrea Mitchell “should be a little less everywhere…”

Greenspan was not part of some minor economic misjudgment. He was a key architect of deregulation policies that produced the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression. As Dean Baker wrote for "The Guardian" in 2013:

“Alan Greenspan will go down in history as the person most responsible for the enormous economic damage caused by the housing bubble and the subsequent collapse of the market. The United States is still down almost 9 million jobs from its trend path. We are losing close to $1 trillion a year in potential output, with cumulative losses to date approaching $5 trillion.

“These numbers correspond to millions of dreams ruined. Families who struggled to save enough to buy a home lost it when house prices plunged or they lost their jobs. Many older workers lose their job with little hope of ever finding another one, even though they are ill-prepared for retirement; young people getting out of school are facing the worst job market since the Great Depression, while buried in student loan debt.

“The horror story could have easily been prevented had there been intelligent life at the Federal Reserve Board in the years when the housing bubble was growing to ever more dangerous proportions (2002-2006). But the Fed did nothing to curb the bubble. Arguably, it even acted to foster its growth with Greenspan cheering the development of exotic mortgages and completely ignoring its regulatory responsibilities.”

Adding insult to injury, a few years after Greenspan stepped down from the Fed, his consulting firm was hired by Paulson & Co. – the hedge fund that teamed up with Goldman Sachs to create a subprime loan vehicle designed to fail so that  Paulson could short it. Goldman pitched it to customers as a good investment. According to the SEC, Paulson & Co. made about $1 billion on that deal while customers of Goldman Sachs lost approximately the same amount.

In the fall of 2008, with much of Wall Street lying in ruins and economic indicators plunging, Greenspan was hauled before the House of Representatives Oversight Committee. The Chair of the Committee, Henry Waxman, chronicled for Greenspan the recent collapses occurring from either deregulation and/or unbridled greed and corruption. Waxman stated:

“Each of these case studies is different, but they share common themes. In each case, corporate excess and greed enriched company executives at enormous cost to shareholders and our economy. In each case, these abuses could have been prevented if Federal regulators had paid more attention and intervened with responsible regulations.”
Waxman had correctly indicted the Greenspan Fed, which was following the irrational writings of Ayn Rand. Greenspan had written essays for Rand’s “Objectivist” newsletter and contributed articles to her book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. One of Greenspan’s articles in the book is titled “Antitrust.”

Greenspan makes the totally unsupported case that if government will only get out of the way, moral corporate leadership will move the country perpetually forward. Greenspan writes:

“The churning of a nation’s capital, in a fully free economy, would be continuously pushing capital into profitable areas — and this would effectively control the competitive price and production policies of business firms, making a coercive monopoly impossible to maintain …

To sum up:  The entire structure of antitrust statutes in this country is a jumble of economic irrationality and ignorance. It is the product:  (a) of a gross misinterpretation of history, and (b) of rather naive, and certainly unrealistic, economic theories … No speculation, however, is required to assess the injustice and the damage to the careers, reputations, and lives of business executives jailed under the antitrust laws.”
At the end of this treatise, Greenspan writes, “I am indebted to Ayn Rand for her identification of this principle.”

At the October 2008 Congressional hearing, when Waxman was at last able to get Greenspan to address how he had been blindsided to the epidemic of corruption building right under his nose, Greenspan replied:

“So the problem here is something which looked to be a very solid edifice, and, indeed, a critical pillar to market competition and free markets, did break down. And I think that, as I said, shocked me. I still do not fully understand why it happened and, obviously, to the extent that I figure out where it happened and why, I will change my views. If the facts change, I will change.”
One of Greenspan’s earliest jobs was at the National Industrial Conference Board (NICB), now known as The Conference Board. NICB was created with corporate money in 1916 to counter the devastating negative publicity that grew out of an earlier U.S. era of lax regulation of business.

Two specific horrors had galvanized the public’s attention:  the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire where women and children laborers were burned to death in a New York City sweatshop, and the Ludlow Massacre in which a tent colony of striking miners and their families were attacked by the National Guard, leaving women and children dead along with striking miners.

Despite a lifetime of evidence, including the rigging of the Nasdaq stock market by Wall Street players that came to light in the late 90s, the corrupted research and pump and dump schemes that led to the 2001 crash on Wall Street, Greenspan actually never did let the facts on the ground change his views.

Last night, Andrea Mitchell demonstrated just how conflicted her role as moderator was when she needled Senator Bernie Sanders about his remark that Bill Clinton’s behavior in office was “disgraceful.”

Mitchell posed her question as follows:

Senator Sanders, let me ask you a question. You called Bill Clinton’s past transgressions, quote, ‘totally, totally, totally disgraceful and unacceptable.’ Senator, do you regret saying that?”
Sanders said he had only made that statement when pointedly asked the question and was sticking to his larger promise to focus on the big issues that concern the American people.

Mitchell pressed ahead with more needling, saying: “You didn’t have to answer it that way, though. Why did you?”

Sanders said words to the effect that it would have been a front page story if he had refused to answer the question, adding: “Yes, his behavior was deplorable. Have I ever once said a word about that issue? No, I have not. I’m going to debate Secretary Clinton, Governor O’Malley, on the issues facing the American people, not Bill Clinton’s personal behavior.”

Bill Clinton was the man responsible for giving Mitchell’s spouse an extra eight years as the second most powerful man in the U.S.  Bill Clinton was responsible for making Greenspan and Mitchell a power couple in Washington D.C. A sitting President of the United States having sex with a young intern  is disgraceful, unacceptable and deplorable. Most Americans understand this.

That Andrea Mitchell thinks Bernie Sanders’ view on this topic needs to be examined on network television shows just how unsuited she was to moderate last night’s debate.

I've said dozens of time at this blog, "When is Mrs. Alan Greenspan going to be banned from programs where she is allowed to excuse her husband from his self- and dirty-dealing?"

It's beginning to look like never.

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