24 July 2008


The comprehensive bankruptcy of the United States, at every level, in all corners, atop each hill and mole-hill, and down not a few rat-holes, is preceding like some kind of hideous multi-media, inter-dimensional cosmic grand opera as produced and directed by the Devil. Every week, some bizarre new subplot is introduced by the stage managers, each turn and twist geared to produce maximum pain and carnage in the US economy, as if to foreclose any possibility of redemption on the way down. Well, the absence of hope is, after all, the essential nature of Hell (setting aside, for the moment, J.P. Sartre's quaint notion that Hell is other people).
Among the many developments in the story last week was the solidifying consensus that the nation is in really serious trouble, and the noticeable slippage of legitimacy among those pretending to run financial affairs. The howler of the week was the Securities and Exchange Commission's edict that Wall Street sportsters would be prohibited from trafficking in so-called "naked short" sales against a cherry-picked bunch of 19 banks and financial companies for the next two weeks. A cute trick, naked shorting is done by pretending to borrow a bunch of stocks, pretending to sell them high just before the share-price falls, pretending to buy them back at a lower price when the share price has fallen, and then pretending to return exactly the same number of lower-priced shares to the lender, pocketing the difference. Real shorting is cute enough, and involves "clearing" the sales -- i.e. proving that real stocks were really lent and really returned. Shorting is helped along by generating rumors that a given company is in trouble, thus nudging share prices down. This works really well when a company already is known to be struggling, as many now are. In fact, it usually works best when a struggle turns into a feeding-frenzy -- as when a bleeding mullet attracts the swarming sharks. When this scam is run using odd-lots of millions and tens-of-millions of shares sharked up at many dollars each, the profits to be made in this sport is obviously huge.
With naked shorting, however, the stocks being shorted are basically non-existent, imaginary, made-up, fictional, registered only as pixels in a program. It's a racket, pure and simple, run by both the supposed borrower of the stocks and the supposed lender and, more to the point, was wholly and absolutely against the law before the SEC declared a selective holiday from it last week. So, what the SEC action really demonstrates is the utter lawlessness reigning on Wall Street, and the SEC's singular unfitness as an enforcer of the laws, not to mention the criminal irresponsibility of the clearing authorities who only pretend to go through the motions of certifying the sales. What's more, the companies cherry-picked for immunity against shorting were some of the very companies believed to be most active in profiting off naked short sales against other companies.
Thus, the credibility of all the authorities in American finance, including the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Paulson, the head of the Federal Reserve, Mr. Bernanke, the director of the SEC, Mr. Cox, takes on the aroma of week-old dead carp, while the affairs of American banking and business as a general proposition look to the rest of the world like a simple looting operation, reflecting poorly on the paper certificates that we use as "money" in the land of the free. The odor of blood and desperation around these activities must be sending a strong signal to those offshore who hold American dollars in some form or other. It must make them rather itchy to dump them while the dumping is good -- before some clever American B-School Boyz figure out a way to short their own country (if they haven't already done that). Finally, Mr. Bush presides at a remove from all this, sitting just offstage in his own special velveteen loge of Hell, watching this opera-to-end-all-operas, and waiting for his reputation to be sealed as the historical equivalent of something found in a colostomy bag.
The sub-plot of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac just lends a romantic edge to the show. You could spin it off as a sitcom called "The Fucked and the Feckless." This would include all the poor shlubs who signed $XXX-K mortgage contracts, for houses now worth $XXX-K-minus-XX-K (and still sinking), as well as the shareholders, who saw their share prices approach penny stock range (especially the pensioners whose fund managers gorged on Fannie and Freddie paper) and not least the sovereign wealth funds of China and Russia. Those responsible for fucking everybody, the investment bankers who engineered the tranches of securitized bundled non-performing mortgages, and pocketed huge fees for doing so, are now conniving to off-load the liability of all this worthless paper on the taxpayers, led by chief conniver, Secretary Paulson.
Meanwhile, the runs on the banks are just beginning with Indymac last week and Whachovia warming up to catch the baton this week, with more banks waiting to enter the relay race to insolvency. It's becoming obvious that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will choke and croak on this wad of losses, and its liabilities will also be fobbed onto the taxpayers. In the meantime, though, it will be obvious that the full faith backing of the United States is an empty promise. That may be the near-term endgame for all this pretending. When American depositors get screwed out of their deposits and the deposit insurance doesn't come through, the full force of the fiasco will drag the dollar underwater like the legendary Kraken of old preying on a babe thrown overboard.
Then the forces of darkness will really be loosed.
Things may get so chaotic that Mr. Bush and his circle may actually be removed from the scene before his term in office expires. He could go out of office much the way he came in: by means unconventional. Mrs. Pelosi will keep the seat in the oval office warm for a few months. Then the prosecutions will begin.

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