Pieces of eight

Taken in by America
An outsider's look at America and the American
Contemporary
C20th
C19th
C18th
C17th
Contemporary

When has the American ever "preferred hard work to the fast shuffle and the artful dodge, the bird in the hand to the five in the bush?" ( Lewis Lapham)

" ... the ultimate consequence of the delinking of borrower and lender, which securitization had made possible [was that] no-one in the chain, from broker to subprime originator to Wall Street, cared  that the loans they were making and selling were likely to go bad. ... Everyone assumed that someone else would be left holding the bag." (Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera)

In the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis, “the most over-priced bonds were the bonds that had been most ineptly rated. And the bonds that had been most ineptly rated were the bonds that Wall Street firms had tricked the rating agencies into rating most ineptly.”
(Michael Lewis)

The deregulatory atmosphere of the Reagan years—the loosening of strictures on banks and energy companies, the reining in of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, the removal of vast tracts of land from the Department of the Interior’s protected list—was, in a sense, a calculated regression to the immature, individualistic American Dream of yore; not for nothing did Ronald Reagan (and, later, far less effectively, George W. Bush) go out of his way to cultivate a frontiersman’s image, riding horses, chopping wood, and reveling in the act of clearing brush.
(David Kamp, April 2009)


Enron
managed to provide the illusion of billion-dollar profits when the company was actually losing money. (Larry McDonald)

“ ... the fact that [Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s] ratings carried the force of law explained a troubling paradox: even as proof piled up that the agencies made mistake after mistake, their power continued to grow.”
(Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera)

"Although securitization supposedly reduced risk and increased liquidity, what it meant in reality was that ... A municipal pension fund in Norway might have subprime mortgages from California in its portfolio and not even realize it." (Andrew Ross Sorkin)

The convertible bond is Wall Street's "magic wand [that] ... investment banks wave when they suddenly turn unadulterated debt into an investment opportunity. All those corporations are doing is borrowing money. Bond means debt, nothing else." (Larry McDonald)

“ ... the results from the 2008 general election [revealed] ... that communities had grown increasingly unequal economically, educationally, and politically. People with higher incomes and more education were congregating in [Democratic] communities. ... Those with less income and fewer years of schooling were growing more Republican.”
(Bill Bishop and Robert G Cushing)

" ... with a synthetic CDO, it didn’t matter anymore if the originators could make new mortgages—or even if they went out of business entirely. Because synthetic CDOs made of credit default swaps referenced mortgage bonds that already existed, you didn’t need any more bonds. You could clone the same risky tranches again and again—five, ten, twenty times if you wanted. And you could do this quickly, without waiting around to buy real securities. Even if there wasn’t a single new mortgage bond created, the supply of securities was now infinite and immediate, thanks to credit default swaps and synthetic CDOs. But that also meant that as subprime mortgages continued to default—and those losses eventually began to erode the value of the CDOs—those losses were going to be greatly amplified because so many side bets had been made so quickly through the purchase of synthetic CDOs." (Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera)

America's “middle class is collapsing, median family income has gone down, poverty is going way, way up and the gap between the very, very rich and everybody else is growing wider. ... This year, Exxon Mobil ... is not paying a nickel in Federal income taxes despite having made $19 billion last year. In 2005, one quarter of large corporations in America making a trillion in revenue didn’t pay a nickel in taxes.” (Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders, February 16th, 2011)

Successive American “governments are being called on to reconcile the demands of communities that have less and less in common.” (Bill Bishop)

"It’s not whether or not we’re going through a global warming period. We were. We’re not now. You know God’s still up there. We’re now going through a cooling spell. And the whole issue there was, is it manmade gases, anthropogenic gases, CO2, methane. I don’t think so." (Oklahoma Republican Senator, James Inhofe,
October 7, 2008)

“Surely it is not a coincidence that [in his ‘Hans Phaall,’ Edgar Allan Poe] begins the main action of his story on April Fool’s Day.”
(Matthew Goodman, 2008)

“I do not have doubt about what we’ve done. We did not do this. When we were sitting home minding our own business, we got attacked on 9/11.” (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, July 2006, justifying the USA's invasion of Iraq)

"In the National Security Council meetings of October 2001 “ ... the atmosphere was generally one of deference to authority, especially by [General] Franks to [Secretary of Defence] Rumsfeld. ... Rumsfeld said something, and the president asked Franks, ‘Tommy, what do you think?’

‘Sir, I think exactly what my secretary thinks, what he’s ever thought, what he will ever think, or whatever he thought he might think.’ "
(Bob Woodward - Bush at War)

“Americans are more deeply divided and angry with each other today than at any other time since the 1850s. … distrust of leaders and institutions is widespread, and charges of conspiracy by one group against the liberty, livelihood, or principles of another pour out … there are racial and ethnic clashes, terrorist confrontations, a fracturing of parties, and charges of corruption everywhere. At the heart of the turmoil, now, as then, are three factors: a new technological revolution, a cultural crisis precipitated by technologically induced change in the structure of the economy, and two powerful social and political movements confronting each other across an ideological and ethical chasm, threatening to undermine the great egalitarian reforms of the twentieth century.” (Robert Fogel, 2000)
twentieth century
nineteenth century

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