Daily Archives: March 24, 2009
In all the uproar over AIG, the most important lesson has been ignored. AIG failed because it sold large amounts of credit default swaps (CDS) without properly offsetting or covering their positions. What we must take away from this is that CDS are toxic instruments whose use ought to be strictly regulated: Only those who own the underlying bonds ought to be allowed to buy them. Instituting this rule would tame a destructive force and cut the price of the swaps. It would also save the U.S. Treasury a lot of money by reducing the loss on AIG’s outstanding positions without abrogating any contracts.
CDS came into existence as a way of providing insurance on bonds against default. Since they are tradable instruments, they became bear-market warrants for speculating on deteriorating conditions in a company or country. What makes them toxic is that such speculation can be self-validating.
Up until the crash of 2008, the prevailing view — called the efficient market hypothesis — was that the prices of financial instruments accurately reflect all the available information (i.e. the underlying reality). But this is not true. Financial markets don’t deal with the current reality, but with the future — a matter of anticipation, not knowledge. Thus, we must understand financial markets through a new paradigm which recognizes that they always provide a biased view of the future, and that the distortion of prices in financial markets may affect the underlying reality that those prices are supposed to reflect.
One day last July, Naji Hamdan was summoned to the U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates. He drove two hours through the desert heat from Dubai to answer questions from FBI agents who had arrived from Los Angeles, where Hamdan had gone to school, started a family, built a successful auto-parts business and become a U.S. citizen.
At his apartment six weeks later, he was awakened from a nap by men who bundled him into a black Chevrolet Suburban with tinted windows. Hamdan was told he was a prisoner of the UAE and was held in a cell painted glossy white to reflect the lights that burned round the clock, according to a note he wrote from prison. Between interrogations, he wrote, he was confined in a frigid room overnight, strapped into “an electric chair” and punched in the head until he lost consciousness.
In one session, the blindfolded prisoner recalled hearing a voice that sounded American. The voice said, “Do what they want or these people will [expletive] you up,” Hamdan wrote.
The prisoner obliged, signing a confession that he later said meant only that he would do anything to make the pain stop. The case might have ended there but for Hamdan’s U.S. citizenship and his American attorney’s assertion that he was tortured “at the behest” of his own government.
The Obama administration is considering asking Congress to give the Treasury secretary unprecedented powers to initiate the seizure of non-bank financial companies, such as large insurers, investment firms and hedge funds, whose collapse would damage the broader economy, according to an administration document.
The government at present has the authority to seize only banks.
These opportunities for what Kate Lehman, information technology coordinator for the Diocese of Bethlehem, called “ubiquitous communication” can also create difficulties, she and Lytle agreed. “Ubiquitous communication is great, but you are always in the network and you can’t always be in the network or you will end up crashing and burning,” Lehman said. “Jesus went into the wilderness to get away from the network to re-focus.”
Lytle said “this is where we have to be honest and we have to have integrity. We cannot do everything we are being asked to do, and be faithful people. We can’t.”
“We have to get to the point where we are counter-cultural and right now we’re not. We’re trying to keep up with everything that everyone in the world is doing,” she continued. “That’s not going to keep us alive and if we can’t stay alive — if we can’t feel joyous when we’re a part of our communities — how are we going to model and witness what it is that we’re supposed to be excited about?”
Plenty of people dream of leaving their jobs to become teachers. Today, more people are actually doing it.
Peter Vos ran an Internet start-up. Now he teaches computer science to middle school kids in Maryland.
Jaime McLaughlin used to do people’s taxes. Now he teaches math to sixth graders in Chicago.
Alisa Salvans was a makeup artist at Saks department store. Now she teaches high school chemistry in suburban Dallas.
The number of people who have Alzheimer’s disease is creeping insidiously higher year after year, adding increasing pressure on the health care system, experts say.
A report out today, the 2009 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, indicates that an estimated 5.1 million Americans over 65 now have Alzheimer’s.
The Board of Governors of the Church Commissioners and the Archbishops’ Council each agreed, last August, to make available to the Lambeth Conference Company up to Â£600,000 as required to enable the Company to honour its commitments while fundraising efforts continued. Both bodies regarded these amounts as interest free loan facilities. Of the Â£388,000 actually borrowed by the Company, Â£124,000 has now been repaid, leaving Â£132,000 owing to each organisation as fundraising continues.
By the end of 2008, the review reports, the projected deficit had reduced from an estimate of over Â£1 million in August 2008 to Â£288,000, in part as a result of further fundraising efforts and in part due to actual costs proving lower than had been cautiously projected earlier in the year. The total cost of the event was Â£5.2million, as against the budget of Â£6.1million.
The long awaited details of Geithner’s “plan” for dealing with bad bank assets is finally out. Githener’s plan is disingenuous at best. If people want to be outraged at something, it should be over Geithner’s plan.
After repeated pledges by world leaders to avoid erecting trade barriers, protectionism is on the march, provoking nasty trade disputes and undermining efforts to plot a coordinated response to the deepest global economic downturn since World War II.
From a looming battle with China over tariffs on carbon-intensive goods to a spat over Mexican trucks using American roads, barriers are going up around the world. As the recession’s grip tightens, these pressures are likely to intensify, several experts said.
The surge in protectionism is casting a shadow over an economic summit meeting of world leaders scheduled for London on April 2. At the last such gathering, in Washington in November, former President George W. Bush persuaded the Group of 20 members to commit to protecting free trade Â— whatever the pressures caused by faltering economies and lost jobs. The members include industrialized and developing nations, and the European Union.
[We need]…A Green New Deal. If Roosevelt’s big idea for the Great Depression was public works, then it makes sense to use this crisis to start the long, hard process of making economies more sustainable and less dependent on fossil fuels. A combination of low interest rates and fiscal expansion is ideal – provided the investment is used productively rather than for speculation. That will involve two concepts that have been anathema during the heyday of laissez-faire: industrial policy and credit controls.
A Green New Deal is vital for the world. The US has only 4 per cent of the world’s population, but is responsible for 25 per cent of global CO2 emissions. The problems of the big three car makers provide Obama with an unprecedented opportunity to send the gas guzzler to the scrapheap. Rebalancing the global economy means countries such as China must increase domestic demand; one way to do that would be through investment in greener energy.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced Monday evening that nine of the top 10 executives at AIG will return their bonuses.