People frequently tell me how well I communicate in my writing and I am grateful for this God-given talent. Therefore, I think it is only reasonable that I should employ my skills as a wordsmith to try and help others understand the world we live in. Right now my focus has been on the economy and the sorry mess that we are in due to some very unscrupulous people on Wall Street and in Washington. As I read through the news reports covering everything that has happened over the last few years I am amazed by the blatant attempts by all involved to confuse, obscure and minimize their culpability by offering meaningless explanations.
Let me give a few examples of what they said and what it really means.
Reuters, in an article about Lehman Bros. wrote these cryptic lines: “he was generally aware of firms using balance-sheet window dressing”, “Reducing leverage is something banks do. It’s cosmetic.” “this method can goose earnings higher”. I read this article in its entirety and reread it again just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I have to admit I have no idea what they are talking about. Window dressing a balance sheet? I have seen enough balance sheets in my time to know they are intended for only one purpose, to prove your financial position as a company either good or bad. Even if you print it on pink scented paper it doesn’t change the bottom line, you’re either profitable or you’re not. If you do anything else, cosmetic or otherwise, you’re a liar and have committed fraud. Now let’s take “goose earnings higher”. The dictionary has two definitions for this word as a transitive verb to goose. 1. to poke between the buttocks with an upward thrust 2. to increase the activity, speed, power, intensity or amount of. Upon reflection it seems clear that when it comes to Wall Street the first definition is most appropriate.
Now let’s examine this article from the Huffington Post about AIG Financial Products Group. The head of that group, Michael Cassano said, ” It is hard for us, without being flippant, to even see a scenario within any realm of reason that would see us losing one dollar in any of these transactions.” Can you imagine what he would have said if he had been flippant? I can’t even venture a guess at what “scenario within a realm of reason” means. That’s pure unadulterated gibberish straight from the Wall Street pig latin thesaurus. I guess if you put a long enough title on your business card you get instant credibility no matter how big a doofus you are. I thought I was doing good to be called a wordsmith. Now I’m thinking Senior Executive Director of Creative Writing is more appropriate.
The same article discussed Hank Greenberg, the head of AIG International. Here’s just one of Greenberg’s executive decisions.
The Teacher’s Retirement System of Louisiana alleged that half of the $2.2 billion that AIG paid to C.V. Star — a firm run by Greenberg that also underwrote some AIG business — from 2000 to 2005 was a sham, a way to artificially drive profits to the company. They also questioned why some AIG executives were allowed to serve simultaneously as officers of Starr, while also profiting from business between the two companies. And it gets better…… In May of 2008, Greenberg’s Starr Foundation sued AIG, claiming it had “misrepresented and concealed the truth” about losses related to its credit default swaps. Greenberg maintains that if Starr, whose holdings of AIG shares is its only currency, knew of AIG’s potential losses, it would have sold the shares. “I was hurt very badly,” Greenberg told CNBC. I have to admit Hank Greenberg should be in the Hall of Shame for this disaster. It seems pretty clear to me that working for both companies doubles your potential for a big fat bonus doesn’t it? And then, after he was forced out at AIG he has the gall to sue them for misrepresenting their financial situation. Who does he think they learned that balance sheet window dressing from? Isn’t America a wonderful country, where any idiot can grow up to be head of a large multinational firm while only possessing skills that would make him unqualified for virtually any other job anywhere?
Can you handle one more story? From Bloomberg.com a story about Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan, UBS and derivatives. “Derivatives are typically unregulated financial instruments linked to stocks, bonds, loans, currencies and commodities or related to specific events such as changes in interest rates or the weather.” (That’s right the weather.) “Through swaps, banks found a way to sell something that is debt without making it look like debt.” Well sure, how inconvenient is it to sell something that sounds as bad as debt, nobody wants one of those so let’s call it a derivative, that’s much more sexy and less obvious. Oh and by the way, if it rains next week in Hawaii you owe us a bonus, but other than that this is a great deal that you don’t want to miss.
I can only write so long under this much duress. The steam coming out of ears is starting to frizz my greying hair. The fact that these people were ever handed the keys to the vault scares me to death. Apparently greed has no limits whatsoever and Steven Wright is wrong. How poetic?
©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.