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Letters Sent to Us from the Public

Articles by Joel Martin

Articles by Margaret Wendt

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04/23/08 Moody's Blues

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There is an article that will be published in the Sunday, May 27, 2008 magazine section of the New York Times entitled “Triple A Failure” by Roger Lowenstein that is a must read for anyone who wants to begin to get a handle on what is going on in the financial markets these days. He makes a valiant and successful effort to lay out the role of the credit agencies (his primary source being Moody’s) in facilitating the current melt-down in the value of and the trust in the financial markets. What follows is an analysis of two of the more salient facts that he lays out for us.

Moody’s, Standard and Poor and Fitch provide credit ratings for virtually all securities bought and sold, not only on the exchanges but also on unregulated auction markets. The Federal government outsourced their responsibilities to these agencies in the 1970’s so their imprimatur carries a regulatory seal of approval as well as a consumer reports rating. What is jaw dropping is that the financial institutions seeking these ratings also pay the rating agencies for them. If they don’t get approval for a particular “structured financial product” such as a mortgage backed security, they don’t have to pay.

Using this logic, all regulatory and watchdog agencies would be paid by the companies that are seeking their approval for their products and services. The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) would be dependent on the revenue from the film producers seeking an R rather than and X rating. Perhaps umpires would be paid by batters and only if they liked the call, and, in it’s full implementation, this logic would have judge’s salaries dependant on whether or not defendants liked their rulings. Mr. Lowenstein graciously writes about this lunacy as a “system”; I expect he has to in order to maintain his journalistic objectivism and avoid running screaming into the night.

We also discover in this article that Moody’s and the other rating agencies are stalwart in their insistence that they only provide ratings and those ratings are not meant to be used in any buy or sell decisions. It’s hard to come up with an apt analogy to apply to this thinking. We can surely imagine the spokesperson for Moody’s making the statement; we see a lot of that sort of thing these days. The collective response seems to be that we hear this information, it doesn’t really compute, so we ignore it and pretend that we never heard it in the first place.

But we now know what we already knew in the recesses of our minds. The collective delusion that has been called a “sophisticated financial marketplace” is really the Mad Hatter’s tea party. We have developed an industry that is does nothing but move money around. It is secured by itself (despite the cries of “federal bailout” the Federal Reserve is really just a bunch of banks supporting other banks). While we watch businesses that actually make and sell things go bankrupt, billions of dollars are being printed to keep the financial Ponzi game going.

There’s lots of denial going on these days. The more we hear about what is happening the more we want to hang on to what we have and hope some how, some way somebody figures out a way out of this mess. It would seem however, that we have all outsmarted ourselves this time. Nobody really knows how to untangle all of this. The next shoe to drop apparently is the failure of all the securities that have been derived from car loans.

There will also be a great deal of finger pointing and “howling at the moon”. How could this have happened, how could they have done this, how can they be punished? They did it because we bought it. There really isn’t any “them” and “us” here. These shenanigans brought us more personal credit that we merited and a lifestyle that is pretty much unsustainable in the current context of what we all want to believe has value.

Which brings us to a very colorful man named Dannion Brinkley. Mr. Brinkley has had the unique experience of being struck by lightening twice (and no, not in the same place). He’s also had open heart surgery, a stroke and three brain aneurisms. He’s been declared dead three times and once was put on a stretcher in hallway where he lay for nearly a half and hour before he once again took a breath. He quotes God as having decided that the only way to get him to pay attention was to kill him – over and over. Apparently nothing concentrates the mind better than a strike of lightening. Let’s hope we all only have to take his word for that.

It is remarkable that through all of these calamities Mr. Brinkley has maintained an infectious a sense of humor. It is, he tells us, a very important aspect of his experience. Learning about what we have all participated in is an essential part of the process of changing it. Being able to laugh at our follies, while not diminishing the pain and suffering they cause, will lighten the load a bit and allow us to move on with understanding what we really want and what we need to do to get it.
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It has been brought to our attention that Margaret is being portrayed as a psychic on $1.99 sites. These sites are doing so without Margaret's permission. Margaret has not claimed she is a psychic. - MW