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Three New Books For March

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February 24, 2010

The month of March brings us three new books about the financial crisis.  The authors are not out to make apologies for anyone.  To the contrary, they point directly at the villains and expose the systemic flaws that were exploited by those who still may yet destroy the world economy.  All three of these books are available at the Amazon widget on the sidebar at the left side of this page.

Regular fans of the Naked Capitalism blog have been following the progress of Yves Smith on her new book, ECONned:  How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism.  It will be released on March 2.  Here is some information about the book from the product description at the Amazon website:

ECONned is the first book to examine the unquestioned role of economists as policy-makers, and how they helped create an unmitigated economic disaster.

Here, Yves Smith looks at how economists in key policy positions put doctrine before hard evidence, ignoring the deteriorating conditions and rising dangers that eventually led them, and us, off the cliff and into financial meltdown.  Intelligently written for the layman, Smith takes us on a terrifying investigation of the financial realm over the last twenty-five years of misrepresentations, naive interpretations of economic conditions, rationalizations of bad outcomes, and rejection of clear signs of growing instability.

In eConned (sic), author Yves Smith reveals:

–why the measures taken by the Obama Administration are mere palliatives and are unlikely to pave the way for a solid recovery

–how economists have come to play a profoundly anti-democratic role in policy

–how financial models and concepts that were discredited more than thirty years ago are still widely used by banks, regulators, and investors

–how management and employees of major financial firms looted them, enriching themselves and leaving the mess to taxpayers

–how financial regulation enabled predatory behavior by Wall Street towards investors

–how economics has no theory of financial systems, yet economists fearlessly prescribe how to manage them

Michael Lewis is the author of the wildly-popular book, Liar’s Poker, based on his experience as a bond trader for Solomon Brothers in the mid-80s.  His new book, The BigShort: Inside the Doomsday Machine, will be released on March 15.  Here is some of what Amazon’s product description says about it:

A brilliant account — character-rich and darkly humorous — of how the U.S. economy was driven over the cliff.

*   *   *

Michael Lewis’s splendid cast of characters includes villains, a few heroes, and a lot of people who look very, very foolish:  high government officials, including the watchdogs; heads of major investment banks (some overlap here with previous category); perhaps even the face in your mirror.  In this trenchant, raucous, irresistible narrative, Lewis writes of the goats and of the few who saw what the emperor was wearing, and gives them, most memorably, what they deserve.  He proves yet again that he is the finest and funniest chronicler of our times.

Our third author, Simon Johnson, recently co-authored an article for CenterPiece with Peter Boone entitled, “The Doomsday Cycle” which explains how “we have let a ‘doomsday cycle’ infiltrate our economic system”.  The essay contains a number of proposals for correcting this problem.  Here is one of them:

We believe that the best route to creating a safer system is to have very large and robust capital requirements, which are legislated and difficult to circumvent or revise.  If we triple core capital at major banks to15-25% of assets, and err on the side of requiring too much capital for derivatives and other complicated financial structures, we will create a much safer system with less scope for “gaming” the rules.

Simon Johnson is a professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.  From 2007-2008, he was chief economist at the International Monetary Fund.  With James Kwak, he is the co-publisher of The Baseline Scenario website.  Johnson and Kwak have written a new book entitled, 13 Bankers:  The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown.  Although this book won’t be released until March 30, the Amazon website has already quoted from reviews by the following people:  Bill Bradley, Robert Reich, Arianna Huffington, Bill Moyers, Alan Grayson, Brad Miller, Elizabeth Warren and others.  Professor Warren must be a Democrat, based on the affiliation of nearly everyone else who reviewed the book.

Here is some of what can be found in Amazon’s product description:

.  .  .  a wide-ranging, meticulous, and bracing account of recent U.S. financial history within the context of previous showdowns between American democracy and Big Finance: from Thomas Jefferson to Andrew Jackson, from Theodore Roosevelt to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  They convincingly show why our future is imperiled by the ideology of finance (finance is good, unregulated finance is better, unfettered finance run amok is best) and by Wall Street’s political control of government policy pertaining to it.

As these authors make the talk show circuit to promote their books during the coming weeks, the American public will hearing repeated pleas to demand that our elected officials take action to stop the mercenary financial behemoths from destroying the world.  Perhaps the message will finally hit home.

If you are interested in any of these three books, they’re available on the right side of this page.



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Palin Comparison

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September 1, 2008

In a perfect world, there would be a floor fight to take Sarah Palin off the ticket at the Republican Convention. It would make for some good TV this week.  On the Friday, August 29 program, Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO), National Public Radio’s Michel Martin made the strident claim that those who criticize Sarah Palin “do so at their peril”.  Sarah Palin is a Gumball.   There.  I will say it again, as well.  Although I would agree that anyone who resorts to sexist criticism of Palin does so at their own peril, there is plenty of room for reasoned dismay at McCain’s choice.  Meanwhile, Michel Martin’s claim that Palin’s experience is analogous to Tim Kaine’s experience, should have been made at Martin’s peril.  Actually, it was.  Tim Kaine is the Governor of a state that just happens to be next door to our nation’s Capitol.  Virginia’s population is 7,702,091 people.  The population of Alaska is less than one tenth of that at 683,478.  Although Kaine’s time served as Governor of Virginia is equivalent to the time served by Palin as Governor of Alaska, Kaine previously served four years as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia  — a job with similar day-to-day duties as those of the Vice-President of the United States.  You see, both the Lieutenant Governor and the Vice-President preside over a body called “the Senate”. The Lieutenant Governor presides over the State Senate and the Vice-President presides over the United States Senate.  The Gumball made the mistake of asking the question, into a TV camera, of what the everyday duties of the Vice-President might be.  Tim Kane learned the answer by presiding over the Virginia Senate for four years.  In case The Gumball doesn’t know (and she doesn’t, by her own admission) Kane’s duties as Lieutenant Governor matched those of the Vice President of the United States.  Michel Martin must be aware of this … she just might not want anyone else to be so aware.  Before Tim Kaine was Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, he was the Mayor of Richmond Virginia for four years.  Two years ago, The Gumball was the mayor of her home town:  Wasilla, Alaska (population 9,000).  Tim Kaine was the mayor of a city with a population over twenty times the size of Wasilla, Alaska, at 200,123 people.  Tim Kaine went to law school (Georgetown).  The Gumball didn’t, nor did John McCain.

The stupidity of this episode is “off the charts”.  On the heels of an outrageously successful Democratic Convention, McCain has made a desperate reach for those disgruntled supporters of Hillary Clinton.  At the same time, with his choice of The Gumball, McCain has sold out to the televangelist lobby in the hope of connecting with that ever-elusive Republican “base”.  The term “desperate” has been used by many commentators.  Jonathan Alter of Newsweek was kind enough to analogize the selection of Palin to a “Hail Mary” or “Hail Sarah” pass at the end of a close football game.  McCain’s media sycophants claim that McCain’s selection of Palin as his running mate, reinforces his “maverick” persona.  To the contrary, if McCain really were a maverick, he would be standing up to the televangelist lobby, rather than sucking up to it, as he is with this choice.

Sarah Palin (a/k/a “The Gumball”) is a “wing nut” who wants creationism to be taught in public schools and who refuses to believe that global warming has been caused by human activity.  To her credit, Palin went to term with a baby known to have Down Syndrome, based on her anti-abortion stance.  Her ability to do the anti-abortion walk as well as the anti-abortion talk will give her some degree of “street cred” with a limited population.

Nevertheless, with his choice of Palin, McCain has alienated his own “base” – the independents, moderate Republicans and centrists who believed that once elected President, McCain would tear off the rubber mask and return to his old self.  As Arianna Huffington said a while ago:  “The John McCain of 2000 is not a candidate in this election.”  McCain’s choice of The Gumball just drove that message home.

The fact that The Gumball was not adequately vetted, has become glaringly obvious to many Republicans.  She hasn’t been Governor of Alaska for two years and yet, she is already in trouble there. A special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate her activity.  She has been accused of “abuse of power”.  Our current Vice-President has that as his middle name.  This situation should make life easy for those writing the negative ads about the Republican ticket.

As long as Michel Martin has directed our attention to Tim Kaine, let’s remember where he was born:  a city named St. Paul, Minnesota.  If you want to find out what life is like there now, with the Republican Convention taking place, read Lindsay Beyerstein’s article, “Inside an RNC Raid” at Firedoglake.com.  It will make you sick, with reports of warrantless searches at homes — even one owned by a former military police officer.  When a woman staying at the house discussed in the story asked for a warrant, she was detained.  Local police were blended with apparent “contractors” or private Gestapo-for-hire.  Of course, this is all completely illegal in the United States where we have lived for all our lives.  Those in control of the 2008 Republican Party don’t care about the rule of law.  They make a point of promoting “leaders” who know nothing about it, either.  The reasons for this are obvious.