Friday, March 27, 2009

Of Pyramid Schemes and Protection Rackets

Is the recent economic meltdown the result of a giant pyramid scheme, Bernie Madoff writ really really large? Did all the new money go to the earlier investors, and now the money's run out except for what the Feds are willing to print and hand over to the very same villains who designed the scheme?

Or maybe it's just a shill game. You know, somebody's got one pea or other small object and three opaque cup shaped objects. He puts the pea under one of the cups and shuffles them for twenty seconds or so and then you guess which shell the pea is under. It's a gambling game. You guess right, you double your money. Guess wrong, you lose your money. But guess what? You can't win because the player palms the pea and no matter how carefully you watch or which cup you choose, you lose.

I'm starting to think it's a protection racket. All those wealthy execs saying, you need us to run this show. Pay or we'll walk.

Whatever it is, it's clearly being run by criminals. Or at least that's the import behind this argument against trying to write new rules and rein some of the more reckless players in:

Wall Street wizards have proved adept at designing complex financial products to sidestep existing regulations. And Vincent Reinhart, former director of monetary affairs at the Federal Reserve, says, "You're going to see firms try to figure out how to be under the radar."

"Wizard" in this context means, "exceptionally successful criminal." "Complex financial products" means "pyramid scheme." And "under the radar' means "breaking the law."

Just in case these wise guys need an idea to get them going, Reinart supplies one:

For example, private equity investors might try to buy large hedge funds and chop them into funds that would be small enough to operate unregulated, Reinhart said.

Whatever happens, there's one thing you can be sure of: your cup's gonna turn up empty.

(To read the original story, click here)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Back in the Saddle

OK. I'm the world's worst letter writer and the world's worst blogger. The first trait I come by honestly. Everyone in my family knows how to write a letter, but no one does. The second trait I can't account for. Is it genetic? Here I am trying to overcome my genes.

I've been thinking a lot about the TV show "Big Love," which sounds really dorky--a soap opera-ish hour about a bunch of Mormon polygamists who one would imagine must be pretty boring. Or simply creepy--all those child brides being transported from one sealed compound to another. 

But this show does a good job of making Mormon polygamy seem, well, normal. Sure, the family has three moms and only one dad. But they're are all pretty likable, except wife number two, Nicki, who is kind of borderline, but only because her father, the Prophet, put her into one of the Joy Books when she was probably around fourteen and some old guy she didn't know found her there and married her, and she had a daughter she abandoned and never told anyone about including her husband, Bill and her sister wives. 

Bill pursues wealth like his salvation depended on it, which is its own kind of vice, and he tries really hard to make everyone happy. He even has to take Viagra to make everyone happy. It doesn't work, though, because when Nicky learns that he needs Viagra to even think about making her happy she gets really really unhappy. That fight gets displaced though by the fight over Nicky's birth control pills and that fight stops because of their eldest daughter's miscarriage which is really really bad because she isn't married. 

Whew! I guess when you take the usual forms of vice out of the picture, as the Mormons have tried to do, you have to make do with money and sex. Unless you live on one of the compounds, and then, according to this show, it's sex and murder, sex and child rape, sex and forced marriage, sex and forgery, sex and (for something completely different) gay sex. 

I really like it though that Bill decides to declare his family its own church and give everybody communion with pieces of Wonder Bread and water, under the stars by the swimming pool.