DID LEHMAN BROTHERS FALL OR WAS IT PUSHED?
Ellen Brown, September 7th, 2009
A year after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008, questions still swirl around its collapse. Lawrence MacDonald, whose book A Colossal Failure of Common Sense came out in July 2009, maintains that the bank was not in substantially worse shape than other major Wall Street banks. He says Lehman was just “put to sleep. They put the pillow over the face of Lehman Brothers and they put her to sleep.” The question is, why?
The Lehman bankruptcy is widely considered to be the watershed event that changed the rules of the game for those Wall Street banks considered “too big to fail.” The bankruptcy option was ruled out once and for all. The taxpayers would have to keep throwing money at the banks, no matter how corrupt, ill-managed or undeserving. As Dean Baker noted in April 2009:
“Geithner has supposedly ruled out the bankruptcy option because when he, along with Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke, tried letting Lehman Brothers go under last fall, it didn’t turn out very well. Of course, it is not necessary to go the route of an uncontrolled bankruptcy that Geithner and Co. pursued with Lehman. . . . [But] the Geithner crew insists that there are no alternatives to his plan; we have to just keep giving hundreds of billions of dollars to the banks . . . , further enriching the bankers who wrecked the economy.”
Although Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy on Monday, September 15, 2008, it was actually “bombed” on September 11, when the biggest one-day drop in its stock and highest trading volume occurred before bankruptcy. Lehman CEO Richard Fuld maintained that the 158 year old bank was brought down by unsubstantiated rumors and illegal naked short selling. Although short selling (selling shares you don’t own) is legal, the short seller is required to have shares lined up to borrow and replace to cover the sale. Failure to buy the shares back in the next three trading days is called a “fail to deliver.” Christopher Cox, who was chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2008, said in a July 2009 article that naked short selling “can allow manipulators to force prices down far lower than would be possible in legitimate short-selling conditions.” By September 11, 2008, according to the SEC, as many as 32.8 million Lehman shares had been sold and not delivered – a 57-fold increase over the peak of the prior year. For a very large company like Lehman, with plenty of “float” (available shares for trading), this unprecedented number was highly suspicious and warranted serious investigation. But the SEC, which was criticized for failing to follow up even on tips that Bernie Madoff’s business was a ponzi scheme, has yet to announce the results of any investigation.
Other questions about the Lehman collapse are raised in David Wessel’s July 2009 book In Fed We Trust. Why was Bear Stearns saved from bankruptcy but Lehman Brothers was not? How could the decision makers not realize the dire consequences of letting Lehman go down?
One possible explanation is that they actually thought the bank would be bought out at the last minute, just as Bear Stearns was. In both cases, the parties worked feverishly over the weekend after the stock’s collapse to try to negotiate a deal. For Bear Stearns, the negotiations succeeded, with the help of the New York Federal Reserve, which provided the loan used by JPMorgan Chase to complete the deal. With Lehman, however, the interested buyer was British, and the help that was needed was from the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling. The weekend after the September 11 stock collapse, intense negotiations were pursued with Barclays Bank, which was prepared to underwrite Lehman’s debts; but it needed a waiver from British regulators of a rule requiring shareholder approval. Negotiations continued until the market was getting ready to open in Japan on Sunday, but UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling would not give the necessary waiver. He said something to the effect that he did not want to infect Britain with America’s cancer. The sentiment was understandable, but the question was, why did he wait until it was too late for the Treasury or the Federal Reserve to move in with other arrangements?
The issue takes on more significance in light of the fact that Chancellor Darling played a similar role in another 9-11 collapse the previous year. On September 11, 2007, frantic customers were lining up outside Northern Rock, the UK’s fifth largest mortgage lender, in the first British bank run in 141 years. The bank’s shares plunged 31% in a single day. Like the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the U.S., the bankruptcy of Northern Rock changed the rules of the game. Britain’s major banks too would now be saved at any cost, in order to avoid the loss of customer confidence, panic and bank runs that could precipitate a 1929-style market crash.
With Northern Rock, as with Lehman Brothers, Alistair Darling could have saved the day but backed down. Northern Rock had a willing buyer, Lloyds TSB; but the buyer needed a loan from the Bank of England, which the Bank’s Governor, Mervyn King, had denied. Darling was advised by his staff to overrule the Governor and grant the loan, but this would have cost political capital for UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who had been widely lauded for giving the Bank of England its independence in 1997.
Brown is criticized domestically for precipitating the financial crisis with errors made as Chancellor of the Exchequer before he became Prime Minister. Critics maintain the British Treasury has abdicated its responsibility as the financial overseer of the British economy to the Bank of England, which in many ways controls the government, because its advice is always followed regarding the British budget. The whole scenario suggests that the much-vaunted virtues of an independent central bank are overblown. Some economists, including Milton Friedman and Ben Bernanke, blame poor policymaking by an independent Federal Reserve for bringing on the Great Depression of the 1930s.
According to Representative Paul Kanjorski, speaking on C-SPAN in January 2009, the collapse of Lehman Brothers precipitated a $550 billion run on the money market funds on Thursday, September 18. This was the dire news that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson presented to Congress behind closed doors, prompting Congressional approval of Paulson’s $700 billion bank bailout despite deep misgivings. It was the sort of “shock therapy” discussed by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine, in which a major crisis prompts hasty emergency action involving the relinquishment of rights or funds that would otherwise be difficult to pry loose from the citizenry.
Like the “bombing” of Lehman stock on September 11, the $550 billion money market run was suspicious. The stock market had plunged when Lehman filed for bankruptcy on September 15, but it actually went up on September 16. Why did the money market wait until September 18 to collapse? A report by the Joint Economic Committee pointed to the fact that the $62 billion Reserve Primary Fund had “broken the buck” (fallen below a stable $1 per share) due to its Lehman investments; but that had occurred on September 15, and the fund had suspended redemptions for the following week. What dire reversal happened on September 17? According to the SEC, it was another record day for illegal naked short selling. Failed trades climbed to 49.7 million – 23% of Lehman trades.
The Larger Question Is Why?
All of this suggests that Lehman Brothers did not just fall over the brink but was pushed. Judge James Peck, who presided in the bankruptcy proceedings, said “Lehman Brothers became a victim, in effect the only true icon to fall in a tsunami that has befallen the credit markets.”
If Lehman was indeed sacrificed, who pushed it and to what end? Some critics point to Henry Paulson and his cronies at Goldman Sachs, Lehman’s arch rival. Goldman certainly came out on top after Lehman’s demise, but there are other possibilities as well, involving more global players. The month after Lehman collapsed, Gordon Brown and the EU leaders called for using the financial crisis as an opportunity to radically enhance the regulatory power of global institutions. Brown spoke of “a new global financial order,” echoing the “new world order” referred to by globalist banker David Rockefeller when he said in 1994:
“We are on the verge of a global transformation. All we need is the right major crisis and the nations will accept the new world order.”
Richard Haas, President of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in 2006:
“Globalisation . . . implies that sovereignty is not only becoming weaker in reality, but that it needs to become weaker.”
Sovereignty is one of these cherished rights that nations will give up only with “the right major crisis.” Gordon Brown put it like this:
“Sometimes it takes a crisis for people to agree that what is obvious and should have been done years ago, can no longer be postponed. . . . We must create a new international financial architecture for the global age.”
In April 2009, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling hosted the G20 summit in London, which focused on the financial crisis. A global currency issue was approved, and an international Financial Stability Board was agreed to as global regulator, to be based in the controversial Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. The international bankers who caused the financial crisis are indeed capitalizing on it, consolidating their power in “a new global financial order” that gives them top-down global control. Just some food for thought as September 11 rolls around again.
Ellen Brown developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles. In Web of Debt, her latest book, she turns those skills to an analysis of the Federal Reserve and “the money trust.” She shows how this private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her earlier books focused on the pharmaceutical cartel that gets its power from “the money trust.” Her eleven books include Forbidden Medicine, Nature’s Pharmacy (co-authored with Dr. Lynne Walker), and The Key to Ultimate Health (co-authored with Dr. Richard Hansen). Her websites are www.webofdebt.com and www.ellenbrown.com.
HOW BANKS SECRETLY CREATE MONEY
Ellen Brown, July 3rd, 2007
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It has been called "the most astounding piece of sleight of hand ever invented." The creation of money has been privatized, usurped from Congress by a private banking cartel. Most people think money is issued by fiat by the government, but that is not the case. Except for coins, which compose only about one one-thousandth of the total U.S. money supply, all of our money is now created by banks. Federal Reserve Notes (dollar bills) are issued by the Federal Reserve, a private banking corporation, and lent to the government.1 Moreover, Federal Reserve Notes and coins together compose less than 3 percent of the money supply. The other 97 percent is created by commercial banks as loans.2
Don't believe banks create the money they lend? Neither did the jury in a landmark Minnesota case, until they heard the evidence. First National Bank of Montgomery vs. Daly (1969) was a courtroom drama worthy of a movie script.3 Defendant Jerome Daly opposed the bank's foreclosure on his $14,000 home mortgage loan on the ground that there was no consideration for the loan. "Consideration" ("the thing exchanged") is an essential element of a contract. Daly, an attorney representing himself, argued that the bank had put up no real money for his loan. The courtroom proceedings were recorded by Associate Justice Bill Drexler, whose chief role, he said, was to keep order in a highly charged courtroom where the attorneys were threatening a fist fight. Drexler hadn't given much credence to the theory of the defense, until Mr. Morgan, the bank's president, took the stand. To everyone's surprise, Morgan admitted that the bank routinely created money "out of thin air" for its loans, and that this was standard banking practice. "It sounds like fraud to me," intoned Presiding Justice Martin Mahoney amid nods from the jurors. In his court memorandum, Justice Mahoney stated:
Plaintiff admitted that it, in combination with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, . . . did create the entire $14,000.00 in money and credit upon its own books by bookkeeping entry. That this was the consideration used to support the Note dated May 8, 1964 and the Mortgage of the same date. The money and credit first came into existence when they created it. Mr. Morgan admitted that no United States Law or Statute existed which gave him the right to do this. A lawful consideration must exist and be tendered to support the Note.
The court rejected the bank's claim for foreclosure, and the defendant kept his house. To Daly, the implications were enormous. If bankers were indeed extending credit without consideration – without backing their loans with money they actually had in their vaults and were entitled to lend – a decision declaring their loans void could topple the power base of the world. He wrote in a local news article:
This decision, which is legally sound, has the effect of declaring all private mortgages on real and personal property, and all U.S. and State bonds held by the Federal Reserve, National and State banks to be null and void. This amounts to an emancipation of this Nation from personal, national and state debt purportedly owed to this banking system. Every American owes it to himself . . . to study this decision very carefully . . . for upon it hangs the question of freedom or slavery.
Needless to say, however, the decision failed to change prevailing practice, although it was never overruled. It was heard in a Justice of the Peace Court, an autonomous court system dating back to those frontier days when defendants had trouble traveling to big cities to respond to summonses. In that system (which has now been phased out), judges and courts were pretty much on their own. Justice Mahoney, who was not dependent on campaign financing or hamstrung by precedent, went so far as to threaten to prosecute and expose the bank. He died less than six months after the trial, in a mysterious accident that appeared to involve poisoning.4 Since that time, a number of defendants have attempted to avoid loan defaults using the defense Daly raised; but they have met with only limited success. As one judge said off the record:
If I let you do that – you and everyone else – it would bring the whole system down. . . . I cannot let you go behind the bar of the bank. . . . We are not going behind that curtain!5
From time to time, however, the curtain has been lifted long enough for us to see behind it. A number of reputable authorities have attested to what is going on, including Sir Josiah Stamp, president of the Bank of England and the second richest man in Britain in the 1920s. He declared in an address at the University of Texas in 1927:
The modern banking system manufactures money out of nothing. The process is perhaps the most astounding piece of sleight of hand that was ever invented. Banking was conceived in inequity and born in sin . . . . Bankers own the earth. Take it away from them but leave them the power to create money, and, with a flick of a pen, they will create enough money to buy it back again. . . . Take this great power away from them and all great fortunes like mine will disappear, for then this would be a better and happier world to live in. . . . But, if you want to continue to be the slaves of bankers and pay the cost of your own slavery, then let bankers continue to create money and control credit.
Robert H. Hemphill, Credit Manager of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta in the Great Depression, wrote in 1934:
We are completely dependent on the commercial Banks. Someone has to borrow every dollar we have in circulation, cash or credit. If the Banks create ample synthetic money we are prosperous; if not, we starve. We are absolutely without a permanent money system. When one gets a complete grasp of the picture, the tragic absurdity of our hopeless position is almost incredible, but there it is. It is the most important subject intelligent persons can investigate and reflect upon.6
Graham Towers, Governor of the Bank of Canada from 1935 to 1955, acknowledged:
Banks create money. That is what they are for. . . . The manufacturing process to make money consists of making an entry in a book. That is all. . . . Each and every time a Bank makes a loan . . . new Bank credit is created -- brand new money.7
Robert B. Anderson, Secretary of the Treasury under Eisenhower, said in an interview reported in the August 31, 1959 issue of U.S. News and World Report:
[W]hen a bank makes a loan, it simply adds to the borrower's deposit account in the bank by the amount of the loan. The money is not taken from anyone else's deposit; it was not previously paid in to the bank by anyone. It's new money, created by the bank for the use of the borrower.
How did this scheme originate, and how has it been concealed for so many years? To answer those questions, we need to go back to the seventeenth century.
The Shell Game of the Goldsmiths
In seventeenth century Europe, trade was conducted primarily in gold and silver coins. Coins were durable and had value in themselves, but they were hard to transport in bulk and could be stolen if not kept under lock and key. Many people therefore deposited their coins with the goldsmiths, who had the strongest safes in town. The goldsmiths issued convenient paper receipts that could be traded in place of the bulkier coins they represented. These receipts were also used when people who needed coins came to the goldsmiths for loans.
The mischief began when the goldsmiths noticed that only about 10 to 20 percent of their receipts came back to be redeemed in gold at any one time. They could safely "lend" the gold in their strongboxes at interest several times over, as long as they kept 10 to 20 percent of the value of their outstanding loans in gold to meet the demand. They thus created "paper money" (receipts for loans of gold) worth several times the gold they actually held. They typically issued notes and made loans in amounts that were four to five times their actual supply of gold. At an interest rate of 20 percent, the same gold lent five times over produced a 100 percent return every year, on gold the goldsmiths did not actually own and could not legally lend at all. If they were careful not to overextend this "credit," the goldsmiths could thus become quite wealthy without producing anything of value themselves. Since only the principal was lent into the money supply, more money was eventually owed back in principal and interest than the townspeople as a whole possessed. They had to continually take out loans of new paper money to cover the shortfall, causing the wealth of the town and eventually of the country to be siphoned into the vaults of the goldsmiths-turned-bankers, while the people fell progressively into their debt.8
Following this model, in nineteenth century America, private banks issued their own banknotes in sums up to ten times their actual reserves in gold. This was called "fractional reserve" banking, meaning that only a fraction of the total deposits managed by a bank were kept in "reserve" to meet the demands of depositors. But periodic runs on the banks when the customers all got suspicious and demanded their gold at the same time caused banks to go bankrupt and made the system unstable. In 1913, the private banknote system was therefore consolidated into a national banknote system under the Federal Reserve (or "Fed"), a privately-owned corporation given the right to issue Federal Reserve Notes and lend them to the U.S. government. These notes, which were issued by the Fed basically for the cost of printing them, came to form the basis of the national money supply.
Twenty years later, the country faced massive depression. The money supply shrank, as banks closed their doors and gold fled to Europe. Dollars at that time had to be 40 percent backed by gold, so for every dollar's worth of gold that left the country, 2.5 dollars in credit money also disappeared. To prevent this alarming deflationary spiral from collapsing the money supply completely, in 1933 President Franklin Roosevelt took the dollar off the gold standard. Today the Federal Reserve still operates on the "fractional reserve" system, but its "reserves" consist of nothing but government bonds (I.O.U.s or debts). The government issues bonds, the Federal Reserve issues Federal Reserve Notes, and they basically swap stacks, leaving the government in debt to a private banking corporation for money the government could have issued itself, debt-free.
Theft by Inflation
M3, the broadest measure of the U.S. money supply, shot up from $3.7 trillion in February 1988 to $10.3 trillion 14 years later, when the Fed quit reporting it. Why the Fed quit reporting it in March 2006 is suggested by John Williams in a website called "Shadow Government Statistics" (shadowstats.com), which shows that by the spring of 2007, M3 was growing at the astounding rate of 11.8 percent per year. Best not to publicize such figures too widely! The question posed here, however, is this: where did all this new money come from? The government did not step up its output of coins, and no gold was added to the national money supply, since the government went off the gold standard in 1933. This new money could only have been created privately as "bank credit" advanced as loans.
The problem with inflating the money supply in this way, of course, is that it inflates prices. More money competing for the same goods drives prices up. The dollar buys less, robbing people of the value of their money. This rampant inflation is usually blamed on the government, which is accused of running the dollar printing presses in order to spend and spend without resorting to the politically unpopular expedient of raising taxes. But as noted earlier, the only money the U.S. government actually issues are coins. In countries in which the central bank has been nationalized, paper money may be issued by the government along with coins, but paper money still composes only a very small percentage of the money supply. In England, where the Bank of England was nationalized after World War II, private banks continue to create 97 percent of the money supply as loans.9
Price inflation is only one problem with this system of private money creation. Another is that banks create only the principal but not the interest necessary to pay back their loans. Since virtually the entire money supply is created by banks themselves, new money must continually be borrowed into existence just to pay the interest owed to the bankers. A dollar lent at 5 percent interest becomes 2 dollars in 14 years. That means the money supply has to double every 14 years just to cover the interest owed on the money existing at the beginning of this 14 year cycle. The Federal Reserve's own figures confirm that M3 has doubled or more every 14 years since 1959, when the Fed began reporting it. 10 That means that every 14 years, banks siphon off as much money in interest as there was in the entire economy 14 years earlier. This tribute is paid for lending something the banks never actually had to lend, making it perhaps the greatest scam ever perpetrated, since it now affects the entire global economy. The privatization of money is the underlying cause of poverty, economic slavery, underfunded government, and an oligarchical ruling class that thwarts every attempt to shake it loose from the reins of power.
This problem can only be set right by reversing the process that created it. Congress needs to take back the Constitutional power to issue the nation's money. "Fractional reserve" banking needs to be eliminated, limiting banks to lending only pre-existing funds. If the power to create money were returned to the government, the federal debt could be paid off, taxes could be slashed, and needed government programs could be expanded. Contrary to popular belief, paying off the federal debt with new U.S. Notes would not be dangerously inflationary, because government securities are already included in the widest measure of the money supply. The dollars would just replace the bonds, leaving the total unchanged. If the U.S. federal debt had been paid off in fiscal year 2006, the savings to the government from no longer having to pay interest would have been $406 billion, enough to eliminate the $390 billion budget deficit that year with money to spare. The budget could have been met with taxes, without creating money out of nothing either on a government print press or as accounting entry bank loans. However, some money created on a government printing press could actually be good for the economy. It would be good if it were used for the productive purpose of creating new goods and services, rather than for the non-productive purpose of paying interest on loans. When supply (goods and services) goes up along with demand (money), they remain in balance and prices remain stable. New money could be added without creating price inflation up to the point of full employment. In this way Congress could fund much-needed programs, such as the development of alternative energy sources and the expansion of health coverage, while actually reducing taxes.
___________________ 1 Wright Patman, A Primer on Money (Government Printing Office, prepared for the Sub-committee on Domestic Finance, House of Representatives, Committee on Banking and Currency, 88th Congress, 2nd session, 1964).
2 See Federal Reserve Statistical Release H6, "Money Stock Measures," www.federalreserve.gov/releases/H6/20060223 (February 23, 2006); "United States Mint 2004 Annual Report," www.usmint.gov; Ellen Brown, Web of Debt, www.webofdebt.com (2007), chapter 2.
3 "A Landmark Decision," The Daily Eagle (Montgomery, Minnesota: February 7, 1969), reprinted in part in P. Cook, "What Banks Don't Want You to Know," www9.pair.com/xpoez/money/cook (June 3, 1993).
4 See Bill Drexler, "The Mahoney Credit River Decision," www.worldnewsstand.net/money/mahoney-introduction.html.
5 G. Edward Griffin, "Debt-cancellation Programs," www.freedomforceinternational.org (December 18, 2003).
6 In the Foreword to Irving Fisher, 100% Money (1935), reprinted by Pickering and Chatto Ltd. (1996).
7 Quoted in "Someone Has to Print the Nation's Money . . . So Why Not Our Government?", Monetary Reform Online, reprinted from Victoria Times Colonist (October 16, 1996).
8 Chicago Federal Reserve, "Modern Money Mechanics" (1963), originally produced and distributed free by the Public Information Center of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, now available on the Internet at http://landru.i-link-2.net/monques/mmm2.html; Patrick Carmack, Bill Still, The Money Masters: How International Bankers Gained Control of America (video, 1998), text at http://users.cyberone.com.au/myers/money-masters.html.
9 James Robertson, John Bunzl, Monetary Reform: Making It Happen (2003), www.jamesrobertson.com, page 26.
10 Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, "M3 Money Stock (discontinued series)," http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/data/M3SL.txt.
Ellen Brown, J.D., developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles. In Web of Debt, her latest book, she turns those skills to an analysis of the Federal Reserve and "the money trust." She shows how this private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Brown's eleven books include the bestselling Nature's Pharmacy, co-authored with Dr. Lynne Walker, which has sold 285,000 copies.