Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Trump's New Fed Chairman--Meet the New Boss; Same as the Old Boss

Trumpster's choice as next chairman of the Federal Reserve is Jerome Powell, who is not an economist, but a lawyer. Powell, a Republican, has been on the Fed Board of Governors since 2012 when he was appointed by that paragon of unrequited bipartisanship, Barack Obama.

Actually, I myself missed the news: Powell's appointment was on November 2, 2017. I just learned of it via one of today's postings at Naked Capitalism: Powell�s Federal Reserve, a melange of reactions from various economists, including Kenneth "dangerous debt cliff" Rogoff, and Joseph Stiglitz, one of the precious few high-profile but decent economists in the world, who "wonders whether Trump has captured the Fed." The best line in the piece linked to by NC is "Tho Bishop at Mises Wire argues that with the nomination of Powell the �swamp wins again�." This is one time the libertarians get it right: a quick perusal of Powell's profile on Wikipedia shows that Powell is a swamp creature, a Wall Street financial predator, and nothing else.

Powell started his career clerking for a federal judge, followed by joining the big Wall Street law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell in 1981. This firm was a central legal player in the leveraged buy outs (LBOs) of the 1980s, which laundered hundreds of billions of dollars of dirty money by taking over and asset-stripping thousands of U.S. industrial and other companies.

In 1984, Powell moved to Dillon, Read & Co., one of the most established of the Wall Street establishment investment banks. A few years ago, a former managing director of Dillon Read, Catherine Austin Fitts, made her public mea culpa by posting details of the firm's involvement in dirty money laundering that will make your eyeballs pop. Dillon Read was involved in what was by far the largest LBO of the time, the $25 billion buyout of RJR Nabisco by Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts in 1988. (KKR has been a top funder of the Republican Party and conservative political infrastructure for decades now). Fitts writes that the RJR Nabisco LBO made no business sense at all, since it was impossible for RJR Nabisco to service the buyout debt piled on it within the limits of its stated cash flow. The LBO only made sense after she read a European Union lawsuit against RJR Nabisco, which alleged that RJR Nabisco was engaged in multiple long-lived criminal conspiracies, including business with Latin American drug cartels, Italian and Russian mafia, and Saddam Hussein�s family. There were literally billions of dollars in additional cash flow, but it was all dirty money.

Fitts also provides lots of detail on the role of Dillon Read in launching the private prison industry. It's worth taking an hour or so to read through what Fitts has posted. Save some of it before it disappears from the net as "fake news."

I remember the RJR Nabisco buyout was an inflection point in my own career as a community organizer, when I was compelled to learn that "the left" was a morass of useless airbags who wanted to debate theory rather than deal with reality. Lefty organizations such as the Socialist Workers Party were not interested in hearing about dirty money flows because such obvious criminality simply did not conform with their preferred ideological explanation of capitalist exploitation. The deindustrialization and decapitalization caused by dirty money being laundered through buying control of legitimate industrial companies was not a problem that could be solved simply by building a "workers movement." It would require a thorough application of the police, military, and intelligence apparatus of nation states to investigate, track, apprehend, confiscate, and eliminate -- the very apparatus that lefties argue need to be "overthrown" for the victory of a "workers movement."

Dillon Read chairman Nicholas Brady became Ronald Reagan's Treasury Secretary in 1988. (In hind sight, it's amazing that anyone was surprised the Reagan administration decided to ignore U.S. law and aid right-wing para-military organizations in Latin America by shipping them weapons bought with illicit narcotics money.) Powell followed Brady to Treasury as an Undersecretary. He reportedly had a hand in keeping the Salomon Brothers bond scandal under control.

After Treasury, Powell became a managing director for Bankers Trust in 1993, but left two years later after BT's new fangled financial derivatives almost destroyed a number of clients, including Proctor & Gamble. Apparently, Powell got out before Bankers Trust itself went boom.

Powell went back to work for Dillon Read, before joining another big name in the history of USA's deindustrialization and decapitalization, The Carlyle Group, which specialized in purchasing the services of former heads of state and ministers to peddle their political influence to assist and promote various financial schemes.

In 2005, Powell had enough money and connections to establish his own "investment" firm, Severn Capital Partners, which " focused on specialty finance and opportunistic investments in the industrial sector," according to Powell's Wikipedia profile. There are more details there, including the past few years, when Powell made himself a palatable "bipartisan" choice for Obama to appoint to the Fed board.

Now sit back and look at this guy. Is he qualified to head the Federal Reserve?

Depends on what kind of future you want for society. If you're content to blunder on with the deindustrialization and decapitalization of the USA, and the continued reign of dirty money launderers and financiers, the answer is: "Yes, certainly, Powell is qualified." He has been at or near the center of every major dirty financial development of the past three decades: LBOs, KKR, Dillon Read, private prisons, Bankers Trust, Salomon Brothers. [What's happened to Dillon Read the past couple decades involves a complete roster of the most powerful, and, corrupt, financial entities in the world, with long ties to old European oligarchs: acquired by Barings Bank in 1991; then by Swiss Bank Corporation in 1997, which in turn was acquired by UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland) in 1998. All these outfits have figured prominently in investigative accounts of the world's dirty money flows and secret tax havens.] With Powell, you will definitely get "business as usual," not any "draining the swamp."

But if you want a society that squarely confronts 1) the problem of increasingly concentrated wealth consolidating oligarchical control over nations states that were formerly constitutional republican democracies, and 2) the problem of environmental destruction and climate change, which is going to require at least $100 trillion to build new industries, energy systems, and transportation networks all around the world, then Powell, or anyone like him, is not your guy.

Powell has done nothing constructive in his entire life. He has never designed or built anything useful, and his concept of common prosperity involves only letting the rich get richer so they can pee more on everyone else. But then, you could say that exact same thing about every other major appointment by Trump.

The evidence, including polls, indicates that this truth is even beginning to seep into the crippled consciousness of some Trump supporters. But convincing Trump supporters to see the errors of -- their ways, hell, of their thinking -- is not our path to salvation. Getting Democrats and independents out to vote is the key, and that requires the Democrats put forward a bold vision for building a better future. Like a $100 trillion program to solve climate change. $100 trillion is a lot of jobs. A LOT of jobs. More than enough to make a real, immediate positive difference in the lives of every person on the planet. And there is plenty of money to do it. Problem is, most of it is dirty, and -- as the new Paradise Papers show -- hidden away from the reach of citizens and their governments.

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