Monday, March 21, 2016

It's Time to put the Blame for 'The Great Recession' Firmly Where it Belongs.

This is a great interview with Michael Burry, the actual market genius (played by actor Christian Bale) from the movie 'The Big Short' -- and yes, this guy is on-point. People need to stop trying to lay all the blame at the feet 'Wall Street' while trying to absolve all of the other actors in the shit-show that was the Great Recession. There's plenty of blame to go around -- but especially so for the US Government, the Federal Reserve, and GSE's like FME and FRC.

On to some snippets from the interview...

NYMAG: When I spoke to some of the other real-life characters from The Big Short, I was surprised to hear that they thought that financial reform was pretty effective and that the system was much safer. Michael Lewis disagreed. In your opinion, did the crash result in any positive changes?

Michael Burry: Unfortunately, not many that I can see. The biggest hope I had was that we would enter a new era of personal responsibility. Instead, we doubled down on blaming others, and this is long-term tragic. Too, the crisis, incredibly, made the biggest banks bigger. And it made the Federal Reserve, an unelected body, even more powerful and therefore more relevant. The major reform legislation, Dodd-Frank, was named after two guys bought and sold by special interests, and one of them should be shouldering a good amount of blame for the crisis. Banks were forced, by the government, to save some of the worst lenders in the housing bubble, then the government turned around and pilloried the banks for the crimes of the companies they were forced to acquire. The zero interest-rate policy broke the social contract for generations of hardworking Americans who saved for retirement, only to find their savings are not nearly enough. And the interest the Federal Reserve pays on the excess reserves of lending institutions broke the money multiplier and handcuffed lending to small and midsized enterprises, where the majority of job creation and upward mobility in wages occurs. Government policies and regulations in the postcrisis era have aided the hollowing-out of middle America far more than anything the private sector has done. These changes even expanded the wealth gap by making asset owners richer at the expense of renters. Maybe there are some positive changes in there, but it seems I fail to see beyond the absurdity.

NYM: How do you think all of this affected people's perception of the System, in general?

MB: The postcrisis perception, at least in the media, appears to be one of Americans being held down by Wall Street, by big companies in the private sector, and by the wealthy. Capitalism is on trial. I see it a little differently. If a lender offers me free money, I do not have to take it. And if I take it, I better understand all the terms, because there is no such thing as free money. That is just basic personal responsibility and common sense. The enablers for this crisis were varied, and it starts not with the bank but with decisions by individuals to borrow to finance a better life, and that is one very loaded decision. This crisis was such a bona fide 100-year flood that the entire world is still trying to dig out of the mud seven years later. Yet so few took responsibility for having any part in it, and the reason is simple: All these people found others to blame, and to that extent, an unhelpful narrative was created. Whether it’s the one percent or hedge funds or Wall Street, I do not think society is well served by failing to encourage every last American to look within. This crisis truly took a village, and most of the villagers themselves are not without some personal responsibility for the circumstances in which they found themselves. We should be teaching our kids to be better citizens through personal responsibility, not by the example of blame.

NYM: Where do we stand now, economically?

MB: Well, we are right back at it: trying to stimulate growth through easy money. It hasn’t worked, but it’s the only tool the Fed’s got. Meanwhile, the Fed’s policies widen the wealth gap, which feeds political extremism, forcing gridlock in Washington. It seems the world is headed toward negative real interest rates on a global scale. This is toxic. Interest rates are used to price risk, and so in the current environment, the risk-pricing mechanism is broken. That is not healthy for an economy. We are building up terrific stresses in the system, and any fault lines there will certainly harm the outlook.

NYM: What makes you most nervous about the future?

MB: Debt. The idea that growth will remedy our debts is so addictive for politicians, but the citizens end up paying the price. The public sector has really stepped up as a consumer of debt. The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet is leveraged 77:1. Like I said, the absurdity, it just befuddles me.


The absurdity is befuddling, indeed.

Also, let's get the details straight. The crisis pervaded almost 1,000 out of the United States' 6,900 banks, particularly the largest ones that got involved in the sub-prime market, mortgage-backed securities, and credit-default swaps. Not all US banks got mixed up in all of these toxic assets. Most banks stayed pretty conservative and smart with their lending and risk management and didn't need a bailout. I actually worked for one of these east-coast banks for three years immediately following the recession -- and they very much took advantage of the situation. Most of them weathered the financial crisis very well, considering.

Additionally, I continue to hear and read this utter nonsense that 'economic deregulation caused the crisis'. It's just complete and total silliness. This alleged 'economic deregulation' that all of these ignorant Pro-regressives like to refer to involved a 1999 repeal of two provisions (not the whole act, which is usually the first sign that the person you're talking to is regurgitating half-truths) of what was called the Glass-Steagall Act (also known as the 'U.S. Banking Act of 1933'). These two provisions separated commercial banking and investment banking activities so as to try to keep these industries isolated from eachother within the same company. However, the repeal of these provisions of this act had nothing to do with what caused the crisis. If it did, then Canada, which was definitely affected by the crisis, would have experienced many of the same problems. Well, it didn't, even though Canada didn't have anything like Glass-Steagall. Canada weathered the crisis pretty well, actually -- they certainly fared a lot better than the US, all while mixing commercial and investment banking since, well, forever in their banking history.

But, hey, don't just take my word for it -- take it from Former Deputy Governor Jean Boivin (2010-2012), himself, of the (Central) Bank of Canada. They had a sharp, deep recession, and immediately bounced right back -- faster, even, than the past couple recessions.

Hell, the entire claim of 'economic deregulation under Bush' is just absurd, even apart from all of this. Looking at the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), there has not been a single president, since at least Jimmy Carter (elected in 1976), and I'm pretty sure since even before FDR (obviously), who actually cut regulations on net. As a matter of fact, individual regulatory restrictions increased anywhere from a 57,000 minimum under Bill Clinton, to up to 105,000 under Barack Obama -- and Barry's numbers are based on stats only two years into his second term. At that rate, he'll hit 140,000 additional regulatory restrictions over the course of his presidency. The last I checked, the CFR currently stood at an approximated whopping 160,000 pages long. The whole idea or claim from pro-regressives, et al, that we have some vestige of a 'free market' -- is nothing short of complete and total  willful delusion.

Back to the factors that played into the Great Recession. Yes, there's plenty of blame to go around -- but where does it start, really? Certain actors set the stage for this all to take place. It was all done with good intentions, of course. Home ownership for all -- regardless of income, savings, or credit-worthiness! Near-zero interest rates, always! Infinite economic growth and increasing home prices, forever and ever! Equities, through the roof, with no end in sight! Central planning and micro-managing has defeated the free market! Consume everything! Produce nothing! Finance debt with more debt! Dig holes and fill them back up again! Move water with a bucket from one end of the pool, with water splashing out everywhere, and dump it into the other end of the pool, to end up with more water! See? All of our contrived and/or broken measuring instruments say-so!

But you know what they say... the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And it's never paved as well as it is with the arrogance of government bureaucrats.

The US Government expanded the Community Reinvestment Act under Clinton, pushing more people towards home-ownership that often weren't ready for it. They pressed the issue further by mounting increasing regulations over the financial and banking industry, punishing banks if they didn't lend to riskier individuals and families, and rewarding them if they did. You've got all of the other major financial regulations -- one for every letter of the alphabet, and then some. Throw into this mix a Federal Reserve that sets absurdly artificially low interest rates for extended periods of time, within a highly materialistic culture that loves to live beyond its means and is all too eager to accept easy credit -- and you naturally have a bubbling cauldron ready to explode.

I am and have long been with people like Michael Burry on where we were and we're headed. The path we're marching towards is a minefield that could set off a global financial crisis the likes of which we've never seen, and we're trying to fix the same old problems with the same old tools that caused those problems in the first place. Now, the Federal Reserve is stuck between a rock and a hard place -- the US economy is addicted to low interest rates, like a heroin addict. If it doesn't get its fix, it goes into a ruthless withdrawal. Eventually, the same old dose doesn't work its magic and bring the same euphoric high, anymore, and so now there's talk of entertaining the possibility of negative interest rate territory to get the same effect. Near-zero rates aren't having the effect they used to, anymore. Even increasing the Federal Funds Rate a measly quarter of a point sent the markets reeling. Yes, a major factor in the equities drop was an 'oversupply' of oil, but the rate hike couldn't have come at a seemingly worse time.

In the end, the US Government and Federal reserve is just kicking a snowball further down the road that continues to get bigger and bigger. Eventually, that snowball will roll up on a hill, and roll right back down on each and every one of us in an avalanche.

Source on the regulatory restriction numbers, here.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Happy San Patricio's Day!

Here's some fun and interesting information about Saint Patrick's Day, Saint Patrick himself, the Irish, and... huh? Italians?! What the hell -- why would I bring up Italians on such a well-established holiday of Irish Pride, you ask? Well, despite Ireland and modern-day Italy being on complete opposite sides of Europe and being geographically isolated from eachother, they have quite a bit of interesting history with eachother.

First, let's get this out of the way. Saint Patrick was actually Italian. Heresy, I know, but it's true. Ole Saint Patrick was born to Calpurnius (a Roman diplomat) and Conchessa, who lived on a British estate within the then-Roman Empire. Of course, you have the history of him being taken prisoner by pagan Irish pirates when he was 16, made into a slave where he lived for six years, escaped, and returned to his family. He later returned as a cleric and 'drove the snakes out of Ireland', which really means that he converted the people from paganism to Christianity. 'Snakes' are referenced because the druidic priests had tattoos of snakes on their forearms.

Why does any of this matter? Why bring it up? Well, because it's interesting and I find it funny regarding the whole 'Irish pride' thing mixed with Saint Patrick, being that he was actually Italian and not Irish. But it doesn't end, there. There is actually a lot of interesting recent history between the Irish and the Italians. There's basically like this quasi-joke that goes on between Irish and Italian circles of a kind of 'cold war' between them, that they 'can never get along', or are 'so much alike and yet so different and so hate eachother for it', et cetera.

You won't hear about any of this amongst European Irish or European Italians, though. It'll be the first they hear about it if you mention it or try to joke about it. But it's not them I'm talking about. This is in America. New England, specifically. Well, mostly the Boston area, actually. It's really all but faded for all practical purposes, to the point of it being a passing joke that Irish and Italians these days laugh about and get along great, but we love to make fun of eachother over it. So why is this? Well, it has little to do with Saint Patrick's Day, I'll tell you that.

I'm pretty sure it has a lot to do with the history of the Irish and Italian immigrants going back about a hundred years. About a hundred years ago, right before Italians really started migrating in, the Irish had already migrated over a lot and were a lot more accepted than they were when they first came here. They finally integrated more after they stopped trying to hopelessly rely on racist local officials and police to protect them and look out for their interests, and so started with their own Irish mobs to do it for them. Eventually, it kind of worked and people mostly stopped causing as many issues with them, and they started getting more involved in local government, and especially becoming the police force in the area. 


When Italians first started coming here, they were treated worse than almost anyone else, including blacks, in a lot of ways -- racially, in the perception of their 'lower class' status, weren't trusted, etc -- like Mexican immigrants are today, unfortunately, but even worse. They were treated poorly even in more traditionally 'liberal' places, like here in Massachusetts. After some time, Italians started banding together more and looking out for eachother, and that's when you had the rise of the Italian mafia families from the 20s and decades since and the criminal enterprises that arose out of that. Naturally, this caused even more tension with now heavily Irish-dominated police and local officials, which were basically owned by the local Irish mafia families in the first place. Corruption was rampant. The Italian and Irish mob families were fighting constantly and agreed to a meeting -- but the Italians decided, instead, to show up with the intent of outright slaughtering the heads of the local Irish mobs in one fell swoop, leading to a massive boost in power to the Italians. From there on enters the era we all know about in movies and television regarding the Italian mafia.

To top it all off, the tensions and 'war' between the Italians who ran the 'North End' of Boston and the 'Winter Hill Gang' (Whitey Bulger) in 'Southie' (South Boston) just further adds to the whole Irish / Italian 'thing'.

It's all a very interesting part of Greater Boston history. As we all know, there's lots of great books, movies, and television on all of this. 

Now, let's bring on the obligatory nitpicking randos!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Trump Supporter Accosted by 'Black Lives Matter' Protestors

Watch the interaction, first, below...


Okay, 'accosted' is a bit reaching, IMO. These debates were, I think, generally pretty civil. I guess it may be technically correct (even though we don't really know how the interaction began), but I digress.

So this was very interesting to watch. I'm not a Trump supporter, and I actually think he is one of the worst up there, after Bernie Sanders, but regardless of who this guy supports -- he has cast aside the victim mentality and is more interested in self-empowerment based on individual merit, not arbitrarily-drawn lines of 'class' or 'race'. He has transcended these self-destructive boxes.
Good for him.

It doesn't matter whether you're 'white', 'black', 'latino', 'asian', whatever. The victim mentality is self-destructive. Building walls around arbitrarily-drawn lines of 'race' and 'class' and the desire to stay under the dependency of government is disempowering -- not empowering.

The people at the end saying, and I'm paraphrasing, "All it is is black skin, you're one of us and that's it, all white people see is that you're black and that's it -- it's us and them!" (when it's very clear that all these people see is that white people are white), etc -- well, when you as an individual approach everything in life like this, and you purposefully, explicitly, publicly, and aggressively separate yourself out in this way -- then yes, it makes it a lot harder to see past differences and find similarities, cohesion, friendship, and cooperation.

People don't all view the world and other people in this way, and they don't need to. This is not how you build a peaceful and civil society. You don't break down barriers by approaching it like this -- by building the barriers ever higher and deeper and trying to legitimize them.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

YOUR GOD IS DEAD

So how do you pro-regressives and 'democratic socialists' like your precious democracy, now? How is that working out for you, exactly, what with Trump absolutely slaughtering his opponents in the debates and primaries, and the idea that he will most likely be your next President? This is democracy. This is the mob. This is how it works. Democracy is your 'God that Failed' (hat-tip, Hans-Hermann Hoppe). The idea that the 'sock in the wind' of 'public wisdom' can decide on good government representatives and policy decisions is one of the most absurd notions, ever, and history and this entire election reflect exactly that. The irony that 'democracy' ends up ushering in what seems like the antithesis incarnate of almost everything pro-regressives stand for is truly sublime.

But the vast majority of them don't seem to be getting it. Pro-regressives are so unbelievably out of touch and just not understanding why Trump is so popular -- with the Republican rank-and-file, with centrists, independents, and even some right-leaning Democrats. It has far less to with his 'policies' or how 'liberal' or 'conservative' he is (or isn't) than other factors, and attacking him over ignorant, incoherent, or flip-flopping statements that he constantly makes is actually counter-productive. A lot of it is an act, of course, and the guy is a social genius, whether you want to admit it or not. 

In the end, the more people from 'the left' (whatever that even means, anymore), 'the right' (whatever that even means, anymore), 'big media', 'the establishment', et al attack him, the stronger his support gets and grows. His support is a referendum on big media, the establishment of both parties, the way politics is conducted, how support for presidential candidates is manufactured, and on political correctness in general. He says what a lot of these people are already thinking, and his support continues to grow because it only makes them feel empowered when they've felt so weak and so powerless for so long. It may all end up being short-sighted, but since when has the mob not been?

Yes, Donald Trump is the culmination of GOP policy and pandering and flame-fueling for years, now. They are greatly responsible for creating this monster. I won't bother getting into why, because that's already been widely established and talked about elsewhere, and it should be obvious in the first place. 

But what further adds to all of the irony is that we can't just thank the GOP for this. We have to thank Pro-regressives in particular, and even some Democrats as well -- what with their ridiculous political correctness, elitism, condescension, fueling the flames of (arbitrarily-drawn lines of) 'racial' and 'class' tension, and constant, non-stop explicit and implicit personal attacks on those who have now become Trump supporters. These attacks have been the norm for a long time. They've felt manipulated and powerless and hopeless for so long, and he is tapping in to that -- which is exactly why attacks against them and him just make them that much stronger and rally and dig in their heels that much more fervently. Trump supporters are lashing out in the most angry and unified way, now, by supporting and voting for someone like Trump. They don't like the way the table is set (and has been set for a long time), and so they're flipping the table. 

His supporters just don't care about 'the usual stuff' -- how liberal or conservative he is (or isn't), what his policies are, his 'substance' (or lack thereof), what he's said about people, who he's supported politically in the past or done in his life and how he got to where he is, et cetera. It's that he's a protest vote that can actually win -- and the outright disruption he and his supporters are causing among both parties really is quite a thing to behold. He can flip-flop on the issues all he wants, and it will barely hurt him -- if at all. It might even strengthen him by giving more people who hate Hillary some hope somewhere else. It's basically all a kind of political nihilism, which almost warms even my ice-cold, Vantablack void of a political heart.

Almost.

I think Trump is pretty damned horrible, policy-wise, but this is the reality we're facing. Barring any extremely ruthless (and short-sighted of their own) GOP shenanigans, he absolutely will be the GOP nominee, and he has a strong chance of becoming the next president, whether we like it or not. Dismiss and underestimate his chances at your own peril.

Basically, it comes down to this, as it always does. Democracy is the idea that the People know what they want. And they deserve to get it, too -- good and hard. 

But enough of my rant. I don't entirely agree with him, but Louis C.K. seems to be one of the few Pro-regressives who (mostly) gets it. He recently gave a (mostly) good to maybe even great rant on Donald Trump, from his perspective -- as a kind of love letter to his supporters. It's one for the ages. You've got the typical overdramatic Hitler and Nazi comparisons going on (thank you for satisfying 'Godwin's Law', by the way, like every other head-exploding pro-regressive out there, recently), but hey, when are pro-regressives not overdramaticHere's a snippet of this that I particularly enjoyed from him... 


"And that voting for Trump is a way of saying “f--- it. F--- them all”. I really get it. It’s a version of national Suicide. Or it’s like a big hit off of a crack pipe. Somehow we can’t help it. Or we know that if we vote for Trump our phones will be a reliable source of dopamine for the next four years. I mean I can’t wait to read about Trump every day. It’s a rush. But you have to know this is not healthy.

If you are a true conservative. Don’t vote for Trump. He is not one of you. He is one of him. Everything you have heard him say that you liked, if you look hard enough you will see that he one day said the exact opposite. He is playing you."


Go read the whole thing, though. Seriously. Check it out, here.

Wow. Abraham Lincoln actually said this.

So, like, wow, man. Abraham Lincoln actually said this. I knew he had 'reverence for the law' (ugh), but really? 'Political religion'?

In a nutshell, to adopt the political religion and to sacrifice unceasingly upon the altar of the state? Shameless. Stalin would truly be proud.

"Let every American... swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others... let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor... Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap – let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; – let it be written in Primmers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; –And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.” - Abraham Lincoln

Check out the source, here.


Of course, libertarians have been calling out statism as a form of religion for some time, now. There's tons of stuff around the internet by libertarians you'll find on this, but this one is my personal favorite:

"Libertarianism is "cultish," say the sophisticates. Of course, there's nothing cultish at all about allegiance to the state, with its flags, its songs, its mass murders, its little children saluting and paying homage to pictures of their dear leaders on the wall, etc." - Tom Woods

Sophisticates? Sophists, maybe, but I've got to give it to ole Tom Woods -- he's always been a treasure trove of righteous indignation and disdain for state fundamentalism. Regardless of calling out political religion for what it is and has been for decades, though, libertarians are usually mocked and laughed at for it. This phenomenon is not simply isolated to 'the right' or 'the left' (whatever either of these concepts even mean anymore, anyways) though. Both conservatives and pro-regressives are horribly guilty of worshiping the state as a kind of religion. And now we've got further explicit evidence from another one of 'Our Dear Leaders' that that's exactly what it is and exactly what it aims to be. 

Oh, well, what's this? A wikipedia on 'Civil religion'? What's that, you ask?

"Civil religion is a concept that originated in French political thought and became a major topic for American sociologists since its use by Robert Bellah in the 1960s. It means the implicit religious values of a nation, as expressed through public rituals, symbols (such as the national flag) and ceremonies on sacred days and at sacred places (such as monuments, battlefields or national cemeteries). It stands outside the churches, although church officials and ceremonies are sometimes incorporated into the practice of civil religion"



Hrm. Let's dig a little deeper, shall we? Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his reverence for his 'social contract'? But, of course.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau coined the term in chapter 8, book 4 of The Social Contract (1762), to describe what he regarded as the moral and spiritual foundation essential for any modern society. For Rousseau, civil religion was intended simply as a form of social cement, helping to unify the state by providing it with sacred authority. In his book, Rousseau outlines the simple dogmas of the civil religion:
  • deity
  • afterlife
  • the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice
  • the exclusion of religious intolerance.
Delectable.