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Rajiv
04-13-08, 01:23 AM
Ellen Brown - CREDIT DEFAULT SWAPS:
DERIVATIVE DISASTER DU JOUR (http://www.webofdebt.com/articles/derivative-disaster.php)


When the smartest guys in the room designed their credit default swaps, they forgot to ask one thing what if the parties on the other side of the bet don't have the money to pay up? Credit default swaps (CDS) are insurance-like contracts that are sold as protection against default on loans, but CDS are not ordinary insurance. Insurance companies are regulated by the government, with reserve requirements, statutory limits, and examiners routinely showing up to check the books to make sure the money is there to cover potential claims. CDS are private bets, and the Federal Reserve from the time of Alan Greenspan has insisted that regulators keep hands off. The sacrosanct free market would supposedly regulate itself. The problem with that approach is that regulations are just rules. If there are no rules, the players can cheat; and cheat they have, with a gambler's addiction. In December 2007, the Bank for International Settlements reported derivative trades tallying in at $681 trillion ten times the gross domestic product of all the countries in the world combined. Somebody is obviously bluffing about the money being brought to the game, and that realization has made for some very jittery markets.

"Derivatives" are complex bank creations that are very hard to understand, but the basic idea is that you can insure an investment you want to go up by betting it will go down. The simplest form of derivative is a short sale: you can place a bet that some asset you own will go down, so that you are covered whichever way the asset moves. Credit default swaps are the most widely traded form of credit derivative. They are bets between two parties on whether or not a company will default on its bonds. In a typical default swap, the "protection buyer" gets a large payoff if the company defaults within a certain period of time, while the "protection seller" collects periodic payments for assuming the risk of default. CDS thus resemble insurance policies, but there is no requirement to actually hold any asset or suffer any loss, so CDS are widely used just to speculate on market changes. In one blogger's example, a hedge fund wanting to increase its profits could sit back and collect $320,000 a year in premiums just for selling "protection" on a risky BBB junk bond. The premiums are "free" money free until the bond actually goes into default, when the hedge fund could be on the hook for $100 million in claims. And there's the catch: what if the hedge fund doesn't have the $100 million? The fund's corporate shell or limited partnership is put into bankruptcy, but that hardly helps the "protection buyers" who thought they were covered.

To the extent that CDS are being sold as "insurance," they are looking more like insurance fraud; and that fact has particularly hit home with the ratings downgrades of the "monoline" insurers and the recent collapse of Bear Stearns, a leading Wall Street investment brokerage. The monolines are so-called because they are allowed to insure only one industry, the bond industry. Monoline bond insurers are the biggest protection writers for CDS, and Bear Stearns was the twelfth largest counterparty to credit default swap trades in 2006.<sup><small>1</small></sup> These players have been major protection sellers in a massive web of credit default swaps, and when the "protection" goes, the whole fragile derivative pyramid will go with it. The collapse of the derivative monster thus appears to be both imminent and inevitable, but that fact need not be cause for despair. The $681 trillion derivatives trade is the last supersized bubble in a 300-year Ponzi scheme, one that has now taken over the entire monetary system. The nation's wealth has been drained into private vaults, leaving scarcity in its wake. It is a corrupt system, and change is long overdue. Major crises are major opportunities for change.



The Wall Street Ponzi Scheme
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Benjamin Franklin's Solution

Nationalization has traditionally had a bad name in the United States, but it could be an attractive alternative for the American people and our representative government as well. Turning bankrupt Wall Street banks into public institutions might allow the government to get out of the debt cyclone by undoing what got us into it. Instead of robbing Peter to pay Paul, flapping around in a sea of debt trying to stay afloat by creating more debt, the government could address the problem at its source: it could restore the right to create money to Congress, the public body to which that solemn duty was delegated under the Constitution.

The most brilliant banking model in our national history was established in the first half of the eighteenth century, in Benjamin Franklin's home province of Pennsylvania. The local government created its own bank, which issued money and lent it to farmers at a modest interest. The provincial government created enough extra money to cover the interest not created in the original loans, spending it into the economy on public services. The bank was publicly owned, and the bankers it employed were public servants. T he interest generated on its loans was sufficient to fund the government without taxes; and because the newly issued money came back to the government, the result was not inflationary.<sup><small>7</small></sup> The Pennsylvania banking scheme was a sensible and highly workable system that was a product of American ingenuity but that never got a chance to prove itself after the colonies became a nation. It was an ironic twist, since according to Benjamin Franklin and others, restoring the power to create their own currency was a chief reason the colonists fought for independence. The bankers' money-creating machine has had two centuries of empirical testing and has proven to be a failure. It is time the sovereign right to create money is taken from a private banking elite and restored to the American people to whom it properly belongs.
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Continued (http://www.webofdebt.com/articles/derivative-disaster.php)