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November 1, 2014


In honor of the occasion (the eve of All Saints Day, aka Halloween) and the fun associated with juvenile dressing up as ghosts and goblins and rambling about the neighborhood demanding sugary treats, this essay (one paragraph per story) will dress up a few tidbits of fact and fantasy teased out of the unusual and absurd ranging from the floors of Congress to the floors of Wall Street trading houses and their (so to speak) ramblings across this great country seeking (and sometimes demanding) approval and participation of the voting populace in their schemes to get rich, offered here in an attempt to provide some fun for us adults, including stories of a Congressman whose antics sent him to prison and AIG executives who apparently cannot take yes for an answer and are now in court complaining about the way AIG was bailed out relative to others who were bailed out by the federal government in the run-up to Bush’s Great Recession, as in, you saved my life but I didn’t like the way you did it. Huh? So for starters, the Halloween joke is on the reader who labored through this paragraph-long sentence (and yet longer ones will follow), but I had to start somewhere, so my first attempt at Halloween humor will involve allusions to stratospheric science, commercial sex and foreign policy – all in the same package.

Tidbit #1. James Traficant, Jr., a Congressman from Ohio who was reelected eight times but wound up in prison and had the distinction of being only the second member to be expelled from the Congress since the Civil War, has made some memorable utterances from the floor of the House. Once, in a strange speech from the floor of the House, he alluded to Star Trek as follows: “Russia gets $15 billion in foreign aid from Uncle Sam. In exchange, Uncle Sam gets nuclear missiles pointed at our cities, two tape decks and three cases of vodka. Beam me up.” This “Gettysburg Address” level of learned scientific narration descended into the profane with another of such observations he made on another occasion in which he apologized for referring to “political prostitutes” in Congress. He said that, “I want to apologize to all the hookers of America for associating them with the United States Congress.” It is indeed heartening to see the esteem members of Congress hold for one another. Given the reasoning of this congressman who is so devoted to members of the sexual underclass, it is clear from his point of view that we need more hookers in the Congress in order to improve congressional performance and spice up after-hours and bi-partisan discussion of the “issues.” We have to learn to compromise (and to be compromised).

Tidbit #2. It wasn’t just the big Wall Street banks that were bailed out by Bush’s brigade several years ago as the world teetered on the edge of financial collapse. So were the banks’ shareholders, other investment houses and even the giant insurance company, AIG, which was insolvent and headed for failure. The government stepped in with $182 billion of our money, rescued this huge insurance company from certain bankruptcy, and is now sued by the company it rescued. So what was the government’s terrible sin in undertaking to play its role of bringing equilibrium to the terrifying financial chaos of that time? Why, that dirty government cheated AIG’s shareholders because the government took control of their company when it gave billions to other companies and left such other companies with their independence – and that (per AIG’s complaint) wasn’t fair – so it is suing that gift-giving government for maldistribution of corporate welfare. Fair’s only fair! Apparently the big bad government should have left the then current management of AIG in charge, you know, those same brilliant managers who ran the company into the ground in the first place. Like, just give us the $182 billion of taxpayer money and leave us alone. See you later. Private enterprise, you know.  We don’t want the government sticking their noses into our business (i.e., beyond welfare handouts of taxpayer money).The trial is expected to be a show trial featuring such high-powered witnesses as former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, Former Treasury Secretary Paulson and his successor, Timothy Geithner, all of whom by attending will have to forego their 100 grand or more per speech for speeches (the same speech delivered in different venues) they could be giving to all of those “free enterprise” groups (who double as our chief welfare recipients) but for those subpoenas requiring them to appear and testify. And here I thought for all these years that appropriations and spending powers were constitutionally exclusive to the legislative branch and none of the judiciary’s business and that this suit should have therefore been dismissed early on without proceeding to trial – shows you what I know. Looks like the judiciary has added jurisdiction over the budget as well as electing presidents (see Bush #2) and provision for purchase of elections (Citizens United and McCutcheon) to its power portfolio, which raises a real issue, like, who overrules the Supreme Court in its redistribution of power among the supposedly “coordinate branches of government?” Something to ponder. . .

Tidbit #3. Wall Street apologists have an excuse for every drop or increase in the stock market, from the 460 point drop in the Dow recently to its seeming recovery this week when as of now it has reached historic highs. Standard excuses might include: OPEC is threatening to act up, the European recession is deepening, Japan’s economy remains in the doldrums, the dollar is too strong, the dollar is too weak, the Saudis want more jets, there is a slowdown in China, too much government spending, not enough government spending, ISIS, Syria, Putin, Ebola etc. etc. etc. The list is long and limited only by the imagination of Wall Street hacks and the financial media. Nobody seems to want to admit that “the market” is dictated by two things: aggregate demand and corporate earnings. One of the substantial triggers which accounted for the big drop in the Dow a few weeks ago was a report showing retail sales declined 0.3 in September from the previous month (weakened aggregate demand) as purchases of autos, gasoline, furniture and clothing all slowed. (This situation, incidentally, could have been alleviated if those market-worshipping free enterprisers were to order their congressional servants to do something about income inequality so that worker/buyers would have had the necessary withal to make such purchases.) So what has propelled the Dow from the recent big drop to today’s historic highs? It’s the blowout profits reported by GE and Textron and others (corporate profits). It’s not rocket science; when more people are buying, more people are selling. The Dow doesn’t tell us the whole story anyway, since it measures international operations of our multinationals as well as their domestic operations. The bulk of us live in another economy, so when we hear that the economy is improving we may rightly ask, which one? I think the economy we live in is best described by Steven Ricchiuto of Mizuho Securities who wrote to clients recently that, “The economy remains stuck on the same shallow growth trajectory that has been in place for the past several years.” I would add that our austerity economics policies will likely keep such a slow growth pattern in effect until we abandon such policies for Keynesianism. In all events, and in the spirit of the Halloween season, Wall Street traders win first prize in my book for the year-round Halloween masks they provide for “the market’s” ups and downs. I am greatly impressed with their employment of the ghosts of Adam Smith and Ebenezer Scrooge, i.e., capitalism and welfare for us bond traders and Scrooge treatment (poverty wages, right to work laws etc.) for the rest of our fellow Americans (who deserve no better, having supplanted their hookers for ours in the last election). Conclusion: Halloween is celebrated daily in our corridors of power.  GERALD  E


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