As economist Joe Stiglitz says, “But if the final bill that emerges from conference reflects the lowest common denominator, then we can only pray to be spared another financial crisis in the near future. Our economy and our Treasury can ill afford another such episode.”
In a profile piece by the WSJ titled, “The Three Men of Regulation”, it’s clear that the men who helped to define the crisis also helped to define the terms of our financial overhaul plans. They chose to pit activists and banking lobbyists against each other around the debate of regulation. We should not be so silly to let conflicted politicians define the course of our financial system on terms that start and end around broken lines.
As many of you know, we thought that Congress had the ability to think more structurally and fight for structural change in the face of extreme big bank abuses and a financial crisis. They have not done so, except a few like Senators Kaufman who have fought for the interests of the public. But even as we fight for the toughest parts of the regulatory bill, we still have a long haul fight to define the debate in terms of structural issues. Break up the banks has its political constituency now and it’s on the table. We can define the debate on appropriate terms.
“To some extent, some of the people who did the most to help precipitate the crisis are now in charge of writing the legislation to make sure theoretically it doesn’t happen again,” Mr. Hensarling said.
Messrs. Geithner, Dodd and Frank each vigorously defend their reputations, often with fervor and equally barbed words for their critics.
Politically, the three move very differently. They also answer to different political constituencies, which could challenge their ability to deliver a completed package by an unofficial July 4 deadline.
Mr. Geithner was a political novice before joining the Obama administration. Mr. Dodd is a classic Senate deal maker. Mr. Frank benefits from a broad Democratic majority but has been known to catch lawmakers off guard.
On May 21, coming out of the White House meeting after the Senate vote, Mr. Frank had the endgame in sight.
“It’s hard to even think that this is going to take us a month,” he said.
The obvious problems of graft and the revolving door between government and industry, in other words, were really symptoms of a more fundamental pathology: regulation itself became delegitimatized… This view was exacerbated by the way regulation works… Too many regulators, for instance, are political appointees, instead of civil servants. This erodes the kind of institutional identity that helps create esprit de corps, and often leads to politics trumping policy. Congress, meanwhile, often takes a famine-or-feast attitude toward funding, allocating less money when times are good and reinflating regulatory budgets after the inevitable disaster occurs. … This … also contributes to the sense that regulation is something it’s O.K. to skimp on.
[T]he history of regulation both here and abroad suggests that how we think about regulators, and how they think of themselves, has a profound impact on the work they do. … So reforming the system isn’t about writing a host of new rules; it’s about elevating the status of regulation and regulators. More money wouldn’t hurt: as … George Stigler and Gary Becker point out, paying regulators competitive salaries … would attract talent and reduce the temptations of corruption. It would also send a message about the value of what regulators do. That’s important… If we want our regulators to do better, we have to embrace a simple idea: regulation isn’t an obstacle to thriving free markets; it’s a vital part of them.
Anyone who is not serious about fixing Too-big-to-fail and thinking about the implications of big banks and their size is not serious about reform. Just plain not serious.
Surprise: Hedge Fund Managers made a killing last year with help of Treasury. Shows that big investors perceive Wall St. as a game of people’s lives, the sneaky win the money and the outcome for regular people is inconsequential. April 1 joke is always on us.
Top from left: David Tepper, George Soros, James Simons, John Paulson, Steve Cohen; Bottom from left: Carl Icahn,
At least the notion of TBTF is gaining traction and the word on the street is that more insider people are going to attack size. “Speeches by central bankers tend to be dry affairs. For this reason alone, remarks by Andrew Haldane, the Bank of England’s executive director in charge of financial stability, deserve attention. In a discussion about bank size, he made reference to the limits of Facebook friendship and the structure of Al Qaeda. Rhetorical flourishes aside, Mr. Haldane delivered a serious message: regulators are thinking increasingly radical thoughts about tackling big banks.”
Geithner says “it’s “deeply unfair” that some financial institutions that got taxpayer-paid bailouts are emerging in better shape from the recession than millions of ordinary Americans.” Well, we have a sense that he might push harder now that health care is over in Congress. He should have some leverage to go after size and if he doesn’t, he’s not being sincere about fixing the disparity.
To know who else is not serious about the interests of a safe/fair/prosperous economy, look at who is in bed with Wall Street. This is a great article that chronicles Wall Street’s “best hope” (Clinton and Obama have chummed up with them in the past too):
Republicans are stepping up their campaign to win donations from Wall Street, trying to capitalize on an increasing sense of regret among executives at big financial institutions for backing Democrats in 2008.
In discussions with Wall Street executives, Republicans are striving to make the case that they are banks’ best hope of preventing President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats from cracking down on Wall Street.
GOP strategists hope to benefit from the reaction to the White House’s populist rhetoric and proposals, which range from sharp critiques of bonuses to a tax on big Wall Street banks, caps on executive pay and curbs on business practices deemed too risky. [Wall Street Journal, 2/4/10; emphasis added]
The debate over banks and banking came front and center this week. In his toughest language yet, President Barack Obama vowed to veto financial reform legislation that is not tough enough on Wall Street. “The lobbyists are already trying to kill it,” Obama told Congress in his State of the Union address. “Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back.”
The President’s rhetoric offers an important measure of progress. Now we can be assured that the political elite are paying attention to the poll numbers showing an unprecedented anger at the big banks and the Wall Street bailouts. Democrats are starting to figure out if they don’t take up this populist message and run with it in November, the Republicans will.
But the rest of the President’s speech and the other dramatic developments in the banking world this week indicate that Democratic actions are falling far short of their rhetoric, a pattern that voters are sure to notice.
First, the speech. Many had anticipated a big announcement on jobs. With jobless rates in the double digits and a projected 5-10 year haul to get employment back to normal levels, workers were hoping for something big and bold. Instead, Obama proposed $30 billion in TARP funds to get credit flowing to small businesses. $30 billion to put 16 million Americans back to work? $30 billion when the Wall Street bonus pool for a few thousand bankers was $140 billion this month? Democrats will live to regret this missed opportunity.
Also on Wednesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was called on the carpet once again by irate members of the House for his mishandling of the AIG bailout. To their credit, several Democrats asked the toughest questions. But Geithner bobbed and weaved and no knock-out punches were landed. This is a problem for the Democrats. The whole incident paints an ugly picture of the federal response to the financial meltdown, best described by Representative Edolphus Towns (D-NY): “The taxpayers were propping up the hollow shell of AIG by stuffing it with money and the rest of Wall Street came by and looted the corpse.”
On Thursday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was reconfirmed by the Senate for another four year term. His nomination had been in trouble and a record number of senators voted no, but Obama stood by his man and pushed him through. The problem with Bernanke is best summarized by economist Simon Johnson: “Bernanke is an airline pilot who pulled off a miraculous landing, but didn’t do his preflight checks and doesn’t show any sign of being more careful in the future – thank him if you want, but why would you fly with him again (or the airline that keeps him on)?” While Bernanke may have saved Wall Street, he has shown little interest in using his power as Fed Chairman to aggressively aid Main Street. He is not the man for the job in these tough economic times and that will soon be apparent to the detriment of the Democrats who secured his confirmation.
Ultimately, however, the most important developments of the week were played out behind closed doors in the Senate. Senate Banking Chairman, Chris Dodd, made the decision some time ago to try to devise a bipartisan financial reform package. His package of reforms was then handed over to four bipartisan working groups. With thousands of bank lobbyists swarming the hill, it is no surprise that these groups are busily making the Dodd bill worse.
The derivatives language is being weakened and bankruptcy is emerging as the preferred method of unwinding financial institutions, which could leave taxpayers to foot the bill for this expensive procedure. To truly end the “too big to fail” problem and crack down on the reckless behavior of the biggest banks, we need strong, specific preventative measures such as leverage limits, capital and margin requirements, limits on counterparty exposures, a ban on proprietary trading and limits on bank size through a low cap on total liabilities. Even Obama’s signature reform, an independent consumer agency is in danger of being whittled down to a corner desk in a failed federal agency.
The President understands that the Wall Street bailout was “about as popular as a root canal.” But if Democrats continue to peddle this type of rhetoric while neglecting meaningful reform as they have done this week, the Republicans will run away with the anti-bailout message and with the election in November.
Crossposted from http://www.banksterusa.org/
One more secret of the American International Group’s bailout became public on Wednesday: a list of the tens of billions of dollars in toxic assets that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York bought for 100 cents on the dollar from A.I.G.’s trading partners.
Representative Darrell Issa of California, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, released the list after the committee’s hearing on the A.I.G. bailout, even though he said the New York Fed wanted to keep it under wraps until 2018. But Mr. Issa said it made little sense to keep the information private. (See the list on the jump.)
“A lot of these assets were short term,” he told Mary Willliams Walsh of The New York Times. “Most will have been liquidated in the next three to four years.”
The list of derivative transactions is part of the 250,000 pages of internal documents on A.I.G. that were subpoenaed by the House committee. Until now, the details of what the New York Fed bought from from A.I.G.’s counterparties in November 2008 were not publicly known, nor the specific losses.
In his statement releasing the document, Mr. Issa argued, “It’s not conjecture, it’s not speculation, it’s fact — the New York Fed gave a backdoor bailout to A.I.G.’s counterparties and then tried to cover it up.”
Mr. Issa added, “No one has answered the question as to why the New York Fed were so adamant at keeping details of the counterparty deal confidential.”
This article is written by our guest blogger and ANWF member, Robert Roth
The Three Stooges – Moe, Larry and Curly Joe – gave a comic definition to the term “stooge.” But one of the dictionary definitions of “stooge” is “one who plays a subordinate or compliant role to a principal” – “principal” meaning one who calls the shots. “Puppet” is said to mean the same thing. The dictionary I’m looking at even gives, to illustrate the definition of “stooging,” “congressmen who stooge for the oil and mineral interests.” So how apt is the use of the term for Ben, Larry and Curly Tim – Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke, Larry Summers, director of the National Economic Council, the White House office that coördinates economic policy in the Obama Administration, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner?
In a general way, all three are stooges for Wall Street, in that their reaction to the near-collapse of the financial system that nearly brought us a Second Great Depression – and still could, in my view – has been to try to revive the institutions and practices that gave rise to the problem in the first place. In short, they have been representing financial interests, rather than Main Street. More specifically, Ben Bernanke supported and now continues the low-interest policies that helped inflate the Bubble Economy, enabled widespread fraud by failing to exercise the Fed’s regulatory powers while the Bubble was inflating, and has arranged trillions in backing for the credit markets, making more billions for Wall Street at the expense of the rest of us. And it seems entirely fair to give Larry Summers, as the chief advisor to the White House on economic policy, an ample helping of blame for Obama’s failure to fight for a more substantial jobs program. And there is evidence Tim Geithner arranged for a secret bailout of AIG when he was chairman of the New York Fed. Others have made the case in more detail – see, for example, Chris Hedges, “Wall Street Will Be Back For More” and the other sources cited below – but I think it’s clear the terms are apt, and a useful way to draw attention to the need for President Obama not only to do an about-face on the subject of financial regulatory reform, but to clean the White House of the influence of those who have until now served as stooges for Wall Street while occupying positions of public authority and trust. And a good start would be firing Ben, Larry and Curly Tim.
Perhaps in desperation after the Democrats’ loss in Massachusetts, President Obama has finally come out swinging at Wall Street. Previous “reform” efforts were a smokescreen, but there is potential for real change in the latest proposals. Those should be evaluated against our own program for fundamental restructuring of the financial system and the economy, and as their impact is complex and they will surely change, I don’t propose to evaluate them fully here. Suffice it to say that in adopting the proposals of former Fed Chief Paul Volcker, Obama may have taken a page directly out of the playbook outlined by Simon Johnson a few days previous. But as the dust flies and may not settle for some time, there are some things we can and should do to impact the situation. This article outlines some of those first steps and provides a toolkit of information resources for following the action.
First, Obama should conduct a clean sweep, and divest his administration of those who produced the near collapse of the financial system and the economy and have thus far been working to preserve the pre-crisis status quo. That means dumping the Three Stooges who laid so much of the groundwork for the recent near collapse of the economy and have worked ever since to preserve in its current form the financial system that caused it: Amid the talk of possibly replacing Bernanke at the Fed, Summers’ name has been floated as an alternative. That would be a change we could believe in – from the frying pan to the fire, or vice versa, take your pick. Instead, progressive forces should mobilize behind figures like FDIC Chair Sheila Bair or economists like Joseph Steiglitz or James K. Galbraith. And the few Senators who have thus far announced opposition to Bernanke’s reappointment – Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, and California’s Barbara Boxer – should hear from us in support, and the rest should hear from us in protest until they change their tune.
Second, something constructive should come out of the hearings of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. Thus far, we’ve seen softball questions lobbed at the giants of the finance industry on heavily reported Day One, while the media all but ignored the second day, at which Sheila Bair and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, among others, systematically described the ways in which the Fed helped enable the rampant fraud that led to the crisis and proposed serious steps to avoid a repetition.
Third, we should understand generally Wall Street’s program at this point – so we can oppose it – and devise and promote specific steps toward genuine and effective reform. Ms. Bair’s testimony before the Commission is a wonderful resource for this purpose, and in reviewing it, we should also recognize that the People have a genuine champion in Sheila Bair. Ms. Bair deserves our thanks, praise and support for taking on the – literally – Old Boys network who have empowered Wall Street’s fraud machine and are working to preserve it.
I published last May a comprehensive assessment of the financial and economic crisis, and a set of proposals for restructuring the economy. Nothing in my assessment has changed, and I suggest it to your attention as a starting point if you want one. Fast-forwarding to the present, possibly the best short resource I’m aware of on the background to the current situation and how it is evolving is Michael Hudson’s “The Revelations of Sheila Bair: Wall Street’s Power Grab (CounterPunch, January 19, 2010).
There are some straightforward proposals, already on our table if not Wall Street’s, that we should keep sight of and continue to mobilize behind. Wall Street’s program provides a sort of mirror image of what they are and ought to be. First, the Old Boys want to be allowed to continue to gamble with other people’s money and the financial system as a whole, and they want the financial sector to stay as it is even though it is already too big a part of the overall economy and is full of institutions whose practices continue to pose systemic risk. Second, they want the proposed new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to be dumped. Third, they want to avoid any structural reforms like reenactment of Glass-Steagall. And of course, they want their own Three Stooges – Ben, Larry and Curly Tim – to remain in charge at the Fed, the Treasury, and the White House. So if they lost Bernanke at the Fed, for example, they’d want to replace him with Larry Summers. Flip those coins and we have the beginnings of our own program.
First, the big banks should be broken up. Too big to fail means too big to be allowed to exist. However, the financial system has evolved so that there are now institutions other than banks whose failure can pose systemic threats. That’s one reason Obama’s proposals are more complex than the old Glass-Steagall firewall between commercial and investment banking. There should be limits on the size of financial institutions. But just as importantly, any institution engaged in financial activity should be required to hold sufficient reserves to cover its deposits if it takes them, and its bets if it makes them. Simon Johnson recommends tripling capital requirements so banks hold at least 20-25 percent of their assets in core capital. Peter Boone and Simon Johnson, “A bank levy will not stop the doomsday cycle,” Financial Times, January 19, 2010. If implemented, such a requirement would make it more expensive for financial entities to expand beyond their usefulness or to pose systemic risk by making bets they couldn’t cover. Of course, such a rule would have to be vigorously enforced, and that would require a regulator with integrity as well as authority.
Another key proposal is creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency. On the need for it, see “Elizabeth Warren: Pass A Consumer Protection Agency Or Forget Regulatory Reform,” and Michael Hudson’s article including his report of Sheila Bair’s testimony. In the meantime, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, who has floated the idea of dumping such an entity or burying it in another agency in order to obtain, excuse the expression, bipartisan support, should hear from his constituents by all available means.
And the financial sector itself should be reduced in size to the point where it can serve the needs of the economy without putting it at risk. As Ms. Bair pointed out, “our financial sector has grown disproportionately in relation to the rest of our economy,” from “less than 15 percent of total US corporate profits in the 1950s and 1960s…to 25 percent in the 199s and 34 percent in the most recent decade through 2008.” While financial services are “essential to our modern economy, the excesses of the last decade” represent “a costly diversion of resources from other sectors of the economy.” In other words, what is spent on financial services is not available for investment in plant, equipment, research and development, training, or the production of goods, services and jobs outside the financial sector.
As the battles that have now been joined proceed, I’d suggest, among many excellent resources, those listed below, and the ongoing commentary of Simon Johnson, Michael Hudson, Mike Whitney (often posted on the website of CounterPunch, and others whose work appears here and on the home page of Progressive Democrats of America).
Robert Roth is a retired public interest lawyer who prosecuted marketplace fraud for the Attorneys General of New York and Oregon.
Other valuable reads from Robert:
Dan Geldon, http://baselinescenario.com/2010/01/20/how-supposed-free-market-theorists-destroyed-free-market-theory/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BaselineScenario+%28The+Baseline+Scenario%29″>“How Supposed Free-Market Theorists Destroyed Free-Market Theory”
As Unemployment Festers, A New Economic Strategy Team Needed
Danny Schechter is the author of “The Crime Of Our Time”
When a pitcher gets tired, starts throwing walks or being hit, most attentive managers take him out of the game. Lately, when policies fail, as in the case of the security system that didn’t work to spot the alleged Christmas bomber (who just pled “not guilty”), the President starts acting tough with bluster about the buck stopping here and orders to straighten out a failed system.
But when tens of thousands of workers, once again, lose their jobs, the people responsible get winked at, not wanked. The President is contrite, his rhetoric subdued, even as the recovery he keeps talking about goes south.
Yes, there needs to be a cabinet shake-up. It’s time to yank tiny Tim Geithner from the game along with Larry Summers. Their pro-bank, pro-Wall Street policies are failing. Isn’t it obvious?
The Establishment will lean towards a Republican to replace him like FDIC Chairman Sheila Bear who has proven to be far more competent and outspoken than her counterparts.
Geithner is a Trilateralist toadie, a servant and stalking horse for the people responsible for the meltdown. It’s time to say “sayonara,” and appoint someone with the people’s interest at heart. There is no shortage of capable and committed Democratic economists that can replace him. How about Elizabeth Warren or Joe Stiglitz or Brooksley Born or Simon Johnson or even, for op-ed’s sake, Paul Krugman?
Even Wall Streeters know Geithner is a dead man walking. Bruce Krasting, a foreign exchange and derivatives veteran writes on Naked Capitalism: “Tim Geithner has outlived his usefulness. He is too connected to the bailouts of 08. Bear, Lehman, AIG, TARP and even QE are all part of his legacy. That makes Tim a lightening rod. Too many Americans hate that part of our history.
“I don’t think the current flap relating to the deliberate ‘non-disclosure’ of information relating to AIG is that big a deal. When the full history of this period is finally told (it will take awhile yet) this particular transgression of Mr. Geithner will look small by comparison. The things that we do not yet know about the that ‘agreed to’ during the ‘crisis period’ are going to cause us to roll our eyes and bow our heads when all is said and done.”
Now, there will be hearings to see what Tim knew and when he forgot he knew it. MarketWatch says he is “ankle deep in the AIG quicksand.” A deceptive defense is being crafted, as Bloomberg reports.
“Timothy Geithner, the former Federal Reserve Bank of New York president, wasn’t aware of efforts to limit American International Group Inc.’s bailout disclosures because the regulator’s top lawyer didn’t think the issue merited his attention, according to a letter sent to lawmakers.
“Matters relating to AIG securities law disclosures were not brought to the attention of Mr. Geithner,” Thomas Baxter, general counsel of the New York Fed, said today in a letter to Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican. “In my judgment as the New York Fed’s chief legal officer, disclosure matters of this nature did not warrant the attention of the president.”
Why is the media so quiet on the Geithner front? Cenk Uygur wrote about the way rightwing channels are giving him a pass:
“If it was anyone else that had screwed up one tenth of what Geithner has, it would be running on a 24/7 loop on Fox News. Geithner gave away over $62 billion to the top banks in the country in secret, tried to cover it up and at the very least overpaid these banks by $13 billion. And that’s just the latest in a series of scandals, with all the same theme – Geithner gives away taxpayer money to the richest (and most culpable) guys in the country. Ah, there it is.
If the right-wing goes after Geithner, then they’re going after the banks and the billions in taxpayer money they received. The right-wing media in this country have no interest in attacking big money, big corporations or big banks. So, while they’ll talk about how Janet Napolitano should be fired for misspeaking for ten straight days, Geithner is remarkably bullet-proof. Why? Because they actually love what he’s doing.”
And now the White House has joined the cover-up. Read this exchange between CNN’s Ed Henry and Obama news flack Robert Gibbs, and weep:
“Q: Robert, Does the White House believe that Secretary Geithner should testify on the Hill, turn over any documents he has, to sort of clear this up?
MR. GIBBS: Ed, I’d point you to the Treasury Department. I’m sure you’ve already talked to them. Secretary Geithner was not involved in any of these emails. These decisions did not rise to his level at the Fed. These are emails and decisions made by officials at an independent regulatory agency –
Q: But how do you know that he wasn’t involved? He was the leader of the New York Fed.
MR. GIBBS: Right, but he wasn’t on the emails that have been talked about and wasn’t party to the decision that was being made.
Q: Well, Republican Congressman Issa says there are probably thousands of more emails and he may not be on some that some people have looked at. In the interest of transparency would the White House want more — I mean, you run AIG now, essentially –
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to the Department of Treasury, which I think will tell you that –
Q: But what does the White House believe?
MR. GIBBS: I just gave you what the White House believes.
What should we believe? Perhaps another investigation that gets underway this week may offer some answers. Its lacks the power and zeal of the independent Pecora Commission appointed by FDR to probe the causes of the Crash of ’29, but it will at least raise some questions. It is, unfortunately, modeled on the 911 Commission which was subverted by the Bush Administration and ended up raising more questions than it answered.
Reports the New York Times:
“The commission, comprising six Democrats and four Republicans, has summoned four heads of big banks to testify on Wednesday at the panel’s first substantive hearing: Lloyd C. Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, John J. Mack of Morgan Stanley and Brian T. Moynihan of Bank of America.
“There is a deep hunger out there, on behalf of the American people, to understand what happened,” the commission’s chairman, Phil Angelides, said in an interview on Friday. “It arises out of anger, confusion and anxiety about their own future. This will be, in a real sense, the only public forum for examination of this crisis.”
The Times also reports that the banks and their lobbying arms have been working overtime to prepare testimony that will defect all the blame away from them. Will the commission and the media challenge this disinformation?
“Bank employees worked through the holidays preparing testimony and drawing up potential questions that will be asked of their chiefs. The hearings will occur in the middle of the 2009 bonus season, and executives are bracing for questions about the paychecks that many firms will dispense.”
And so it goes. Will the truth ever come out? Will the folks who screwed up our economy—in government and Wall Street—ever be held accountable?