“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, December 03, 2010

Busting the joint out

LI hopes, someday, to hammer with his little hammer and nails one little dictum into the American mind (that mountain of quivering balony, that Etna of bullshit): you can not indefinitely support an income spread a la 1900 and a social welfare network a la 1965. Yes, the neo-liberals will claim that the lion and the lamb can lie down together, and that a paradise of growth will infuse us all with the milk of human kindness and good medical coverage.

But besides the fact that growth, when one begins to examine the constituents out of which it is measured, seems to be a funny way of looking at human well being – and besides the fact that growth, inconveniently enough, was much better under the non neo-liberal bad times from 1945 to 1980 – there is, of course, a sort of blindness in this belief. It is as if the neo-libs want to defend the wealthy without ever asking themselves – why be wealthy?

After all, how many lunches can one highly overpaid CEO gobble in a day?

Wealth is power, and power is embedded in the social reproduction of classes. The wealthy need only use a small portion of their wealth to block upward social mobility – and they will gladly do so, if they can. Why shouldn’t they? Wealth, after all, responds to a positional as well as an accumulative logic. You don’t just ‘make a buncha money’ – you use that money to exert power. Which is to homo sapiens what the dew is to the daffodil.

All of which floods the mind in this, the second year of the Zona. As a Christmas gift, we were given the Federal reserve dump, Wednesday, showing how much they loaned and who to and with what interest in the 2007-2010 period. Of course, as Yves Smith has pointed out, they blatantly and illegally kept dark what they took for their loans – in other words, there is a pile of 885 billion dollars in collateral that the Fed, majestically, decided not to disclose to the unwashed. The Fed don’t work for the unwashed.

The numbers have a sort of operetta feeling – the comedy of Randian Wallstreeters running like, to use Dutch Reagan’s phrase, a Chicago Welfare Mother to the Fed should definitely be scored to Offenbach. Today’s Business Week contains this excellent quote:

“Magnetar Capital LLC, the hedge fund which profited from bets against mortgage securities during the financial collapse, participated in the program through Magnetar Funding II, which borrowed about $1.05 billion through seven TALF transactions.
“Magnetar participated in the program on the same terms as the hundreds of other participants in the TALF program, by Magnetar providing ‘first loss’ risk capital in these markets,” Steven Lipin, a spokesman for the Evanston, Illinois-based firm, said in an e-mail.
FrontPoint Partners, a hedge fund unit of New York-based Morgan Stanley, used the facility 48 times through its FrontPoint Strategic Credit Investments for a total of $1.09 billion.
“On behalf of clients, FrontPoint was an early participant in the government TALF program,” Steve Bruce, a spokesman for the firm said in an e-mailed statement. “With our clients, we were able to support the government in this important initiative.”

I’d like to support the government by taking out a 1 billion dollar loan for 0.0077 percent interest to. Please? I promise to be most patriotic.
This is even more rich for those of us Zona fans with that Long Term Memory – a most unpatriotic property. If there were an operation to get rid of it, I’m sure that , the Dems and Republicans would probably join together in bipartisan harmony to make it tax deductible.

But we remember Front Point from the excellent article by Michael Lewis about the firm that shorted the subprimemarket.
Here’s a quote to go out on. And, if I could only reproduce in prose what is so well done in cartoon, I’d like this quote to be read in a Woody Woodpecker laughing voice, please. The suckers are the American people, and if they don’t rise up and cast aside mock chains and the serious message mongers who insist on herding them into the killing stalls, they deserve what they get:

By the spring of 2005, FrontPoint was fairly convinced that something was very screwed up not merely in a handful of companies but in the financial underpinnings of the entire U.S. mortgage market. In 2000, there had been $130 billion in subprime mortgage lending, with $55 billion of that repackaged as mortgage bonds. But in 2005, there was $625 billion in subprime mortgage loans, $507 billion of which found its way into mortgage bonds. Eisman couldn’t understand who was making all these loans or why. He had a from-the-ground-up understanding of both the U.S. housing market and Wall Street. But he’d spent his life in the stock market, and it was clear that the stock market was, in this story, largely irrelevant. “What most people don’t realize is that the fixed-income world dwarfs the equity world,” he says. “The equity world is like a fucking zit compared with the bond market.” He shorted companies that originated subprime loans, like New Century and Indy Mac, and companies that built the houses bought with the loans, such as Toll Brothers. Smart as these trades proved to be, they weren’t entirely satisfying. These companies paid high dividends, and their shares were often expensive to borrow; selling them short was a costly proposition.
Enter Greg Lippman, a mortgage-bond trader at Deutsche Bank. He arrived at FrontPoint bearing a 66-page presentation that described a better way for the fund to put its view of both Wall Street and the U.S. housing market into action. The smart trade, Lippman argued, was to sell short not New Century’s stock but its bonds that were backed by the subprime loans it had made. Eisman hadn’t known this was even possible—because until recently, it hadn’t been. But Lippman, along with traders at other Wall Street investment banks, had created a way to short the subprime bond market with precision.
Here’s where financial technology became suddenly, urgently relevant. The typical mortgage bond was still structured in much the same way it had been when I worked at Salomon Brothers. The loans went into a trust that was designed to pay off its investors not all at once but according to their rankings. The investors in the top tranche, rated AAA, received the first payment from the trust and, because their investment was the least risky, received the lowest interest rate on their money. The investors who held the trusts’ BBB tranche got the last payments—and bore the brunt of the first defaults. Because they were taking the most risk, they received the highest return. Eisman wanted to bet that some subprime borrowers would default, causing the trust to suffer losses. The way to express this view was to short the BBB tranche. The trouble was that the BBB tranche was only a tiny slice of the deal.
But the scarcity of truly crappy subprime-mortgage bonds no longer mattered. The big Wall Street firms had just made it possible to short even the tiniest and most obscure subprime-mortgage-backed bond by creating, in effect, a market of side bets. Instead of shorting the actual BBB bond, you could now enter into an agreement for a credit-default swap with Deutsche Bank or Goldman Sachs. It cost money to make this side bet, but nothing like what it cost to short the stocks, and the upside was far greater.
The arrangement bore the same relation to actual finance as fantasy football bears to the N.F.L. Eisman was perplexed in particular about why Wall Street firms would be coming to him and asking him to sell short. “What Lippman did, to his credit, was he came around several times to me and said, ‘Short this market,’ ” Eisman says. “In my entire life, I never saw a sell-side guy come in and say, ‘Short my market.’”
And short Eisman did—then he tried to get his mind around what he’d just done so he could do it better. He’d call over to a big firm and ask for a list of mortgage bonds from all over the country. The juiciest shorts—the bonds ultimately backed by the mortgages most likely to default—had several characteristics. They’d be in what Wall Street people were now calling the sand states: Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada. The loans would have been made by one of the more dubious mortgage lenders; Long Beach Financial, wholly owned by Washington Mutual, was a great example. Long Beach Financial was moving money out the door as fast as it could, few questions asked, in loans built to self-destruct. It specialized in asking homeowners with bad credit and no proof of income to put no money down and defer interest payments for as long as possible. In Bakersfield, California, a Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000.”

WE SEE HENRY AND TWO HOODS from cabstand checking the cases
of liquor being delivered into the lounge. The entire room
is filled floor to ceiling with cases of whiskey, wine,
crates of lobster, and shrimp, and stacks of table linen
and sides of beef. The place looks like a warehouse.

But now the guy has got to come up
with Paulie 's money every week,
no matter what. Business bad? Fuck
you, pay me. You had a fire? Fuck
you, pay ma. The place got hit by
lighting? Fuck you, pay me. Also,
Paulie could do anything. Especially
run up bills on the joint's credit.
Why not? Nobody's gonna pay for it


WE SEE cases of liquor, wine, etc., being carried out of
the rear door of the lounge by HOODS from the cabstand and
loaded onto U-Haul trucks.

As soon as the deliveries are made
in the front door, you move the
stuff out the back and sell it at
a discount. You take a two hundred
dollar case of booze and sell it
for a hundred. It doesn't matter.
It's all profit.


HENRY, JIMMY and TOMMY are standing around the small
workman's table. There is no desk. The office looks denuded
of furniture. A LAWYER is going over papers.

A terrified, unshaven SONNY BAMBOO is seated behind the
desk. The LAWYER is showing him where to sign.

And, finally, when there's nothing
1 left, when you can't borrow
another buck from the bank or buy
another case of booze, you bust
the joint out.

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