Taking Everything

by lizard

In my more paranoid moments, I wonder how much of what we see and know is being engineered by people with too much power and influence.

As Occupy Wall Street was emerging in the fall of 2011, the accusations from the right (and a-political, all-in conspiracists) was that Soros money was behind it. This Reuters piece debunking that claim still carries a seed of doubt, because a guy with billions of dollars will have it going lots of different places:

Soros spokesman Michael Vachon said that Soros has not “funded the protests directly or indirectly.” He added: “Assertions to the contrary are an attempt by those who oppose the protesters to cast doubt on the authenticity of the movement.”

Soros has donated at least $3.5 million to an organization called the Tides Center in recent years, earmarking the funds for specific purposes. Tides has given grants to Adbusters, an anti-capitalist group in Canada whose inventive marketing campaign sparked the first demonstrations last month.

While I still support the idea of directly challenging Wall Street’s role in the extreme wealth disparity that’s exploded over the last decades, and while I still greatly admire the people who faced down the (nationally coordinated) police state response, there are reasons to be skeptical, like this rather disorienting headline:

Carne Ross, Top Occupy Wall Street Activist, Hired To Lobby For Syrian Opposition

WASHINGTON — Members of the Syrian opposition movement have hired a top Occupy Wall Street activist as their U.S. lobbyist, according to registration forms filed with the U.S. Senate on Monday. Carne Ross is best known as one of the driving forces behind the Occupy Wall Street Working Group on Alternative Banking, a coalition that created a model for nonprofit banking.

According to the lobbying forms, Ross’s advisory firm, Independent Diplomat, Inc., will “meet with key officials and desk officers in the State Department and other U.S. agencies to gather their views [on the Syrian civil war] … and advise the Syrian Coalition how best to tailor their own approach to the U.S. Government.”

Um, well, shit.

Have fun, Mr. Activist, figuring out how to destroy Syria as al-Nusra just announced they’re officially going steady with Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

While Mr. Activist lands a nice gig with the government that’s run by the banks, two articles recently boggled my mind, because they deal with money in the trillions.

I linked to this article by Dave Lindorff in the comments of a post about poverty, because the cruelty of the cuts rippling out right now shouldn’t even be happening if not for this obscene greed:

I mean it. Stop talking about cutting school budgets, Social Security benefits, Medicare, Veteran’s pensions. Stop cutting subsidies to transit systems, to foreign aid. Stop cutting unemployment benefits. Stop it all.

There can not be any justification for budget cutting while wealthy criminals, corrupt politicians and business executives are hiding what reportedly totals between $29 trillion and $32 trillion in offshore tax havens.

A massive data dump by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), working in conjunction with dozens of news organizations around the globe, has exposed the secret files of over 120,000 dummy offshore companies that have been used for years to hide the wealth — much of it ill-gotten, all of it tax-dodged — of the world’s rich and mega-rich.

But it’s not those tax-dodging depositors at risk. The second article from Ellen Brown describes a sleight of hand that really started with the repeal of Glass-Steagall and now lives on in Cyprus and the language of Dodd-Frank, potentially exposing US depositors to a 230 trillion derivative black hole:

Shock waves went around the world when the IMF, the EU, and the ECB not only approved but mandated the confiscation of depositor funds to “bail in” two bankrupt banks in Cyprus. A “bail in” is a quantum leap beyond a “bail out.” When governments are no longer willing to use taxpayer money to bail out banks that have gambled away their capital, the banks are now being instructed to “recapitalize” themselves by confiscating the funds of their creditors, turning debt into equity, or stock; and the “creditors” include the depositors who put their money in the bank thinking it was a secure place to store their savings.

The Cyprus bail-in was not a one-off emergency measure but was consistent with similar policies already in the works for the US, UK, EU, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, as detailed in my earlier articles here and here. “Too big to fail” now trumps all. Rather than banks being put into bankruptcy to salvage the deposits of their customers, the customers will now be put into bankruptcy to save the banks.

Why Derivatives Threaten Your Bank Account

The big risk behind all this is the massive $230 trillion derivatives boondoggle managed by US banks. Derivatives are sold as a kind of insurance for managing profits and risk; but as Satyajit Das points out in Extreme Money, they actually increase risk to the system as a whole.

In the US after the Glass-Steagall Act was implemented in 1933, a bank could not gamble with depositor funds for its own account; but in 1999, that barrier was removed. Recent congressional investigations have revealed that in the biggest derivative banks, JPMorgan and Bank of America, massive commingling has occurred between their depository arms and their unregulated and highly vulnerable derivatives arms. Under both the Dodd Frank Act and the 2005 Bankruptcy Act, derivative claims have super-priority over all other claims, secured and unsecured, insured and uninsured. In a major derivatives fiasco, derivative claimants could well grab all the collateral, leaving other claimants, public and private, holding the bag.

The article gets a bit chunky, but it’s worth slogging through.

To wrap up this post, if you were like me and heard about this thing called bitcoin, but didn’t feel like taking the time figure out what the hell the people making snarky tweets were referring to, this Mother Jones piece attempts to explain it.

I still don’t know. About any of it really.

Maybe a song would be nice. This one just popped up on shuffle as I was writing this post, and thinking about their two Missoula performances makes me smile.

  1. Lizard, there’s a lot of hand-wringing over the size of the international derivative market and very little understanding. But let just show you how you are directly an owner of derivatives if you have a simple penny in your hand.

    We have a thing called “fractional banking”. Today, the Fed monetary base (the amount of money created by the Fed) is about $3 Trillion. But the “M2 Money Supply” – which is the sum of cash, checking accounts, savings accounts and money market funds – is about $11 Trillion. Thus, we have a derivative money supply of 3.67X the stock of money officially printed. For every dollar you have in your pocket 73 cents of it is, by definition, a derivative of base money.

    The whole system is one big derivative and most of the derivatives are, in fact, mechanisms to control risk. But when we put a gross value on derivatives it is in large part the sum of private contracts that don’t affect the public purse such as stock options, bond futures, interest rate swaps, forward currency contracts (which facilitate international trade) and all types of financial instruments that individuals and organizations use as insurance. And the large derivatives, such as Credit Default Swaps on sovereign debt (like Greek, Spanish, Italian, Irish and Cypriot bonds) are where the bulk of real counter-party exposure are in the system. The amount of synthetic CDS exposure is tiny in comparison. That’s not to say that it can’t cause a financial shock. It can. But the real risk is in sovereign debt. Which, if you haven’t been paying attention, is the creation of government. Cyprus got in trouble because it larded its banks up with junk sovereign debt to pay interest to Russian mobsters.

    One more thing. The “bail-in” is not new at all. It happened to Dutch banks in 2009 and to Icelandic banks in the same year. The risk for anyone has is deposits in excess of deposit insurance. But that’s always been the case and a lot of depositors in S&Ls in the 1980s “bailed-in” the failed thrifts at that time.

    You know me, I’m calling for the break-up of big banks. But the reason that to-big-to-fail banks exist is that government needs them to trade in their paper. Don;t kid yourself.

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