Looking Forward to What, Mr. President? April 24, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About Justice, About War, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Pakistan, Torture, War.
Tags: Afghanistan escalation, al-Qaeda, bailout, bush crimes, bush era crimes, civilian casualties, Criminal Justice, derivites, drone missiles, Economic Crisis, foreign policy, gaza, geithner, great depression, healtcare, health care, health care reform, health insurance, healthcare reform, Iraq war, israel, justice, looking forward, medicare, netanyahu, Pakistan acceleration, ponzi, president obama, private insurance, roger hollander, rubin, single payer, special prosecutor, summers, Taliban, tarp, torture, toxic loans, US constitution, Wall Street, War Crimes
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Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.com, April 24, 2009
O.K. Let’s for a moment entertain the president’s thesis. The problems facing the country are enormous. No one can deny that. Are they that critical, however, so as to justify ignoring the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes and violations of the United States Constitution of the gravest nature?
Since this is hypothetical I am willing for the moment to grant the president his argument: to wit, the need for the government to attend to critical matters is so vital that at the very least investigations and prosecutions of the Bush era crimes have to be put off. In other words, as the president has put it, we need to look forward not backwards.
(There are those supporters of the president’s position who allege that those who are screaming for investigation and prosecutions are extreme leftists, partisan, out for revenge, etc. There arguments are too facile and prima facie ridiculous to merit a response. All I am granting here for the sake of argument is the hypothesis that it is in the country’s interest to attend to matters other than the Bush era crimes.)
What then, are we “looking forward” to?
In foreign policy the president has made a promise about withdrawal from Iraq that is so full of loopholes and caveats that any serious analysis cannot but conclude that the generals will have there way and the U.S. military presence, supported by an army of mercenaries, dozens of military bases, combat troops operating under a different name, and the largest embassy in the history of the world, will be extended indefinitely. The president has gone ahead with a major escalation of the futile aggression in Afghanistan along with an escalation of the bombarding border areas of Pakistan with unmanned drone missiles. His generals have assured him that the value of the “military gains” will outweigh the recruiting boon to al qaeda and the Taliban (who as we speak are marching towards Kabul) that results from the massive killing of civilians (the ghost of light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-troops-home-for-Christmas General Westmoreland lives on) . With respect to the Middle East, so far President Obama has followed the Bush agenda to a tee, with uncritical support of Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip. Whether he has the guts to stare down Netanyahu with respect to the latter’s threats to attack Iran remains to be seen.
On the home front looms the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the catalyst of which was the sub-prime mortgage scandal and the massive Ponzi schemes that the banks (banksters) and finance industry have run with toxic illegal loans and the unregulated derivatives market. The president has put in charge of dealing with the crisis the very team (Geithner, Summers, Rubin) that created it and is throwing taxpayers monies down the same Black Hole created by George Bush, known as the Toxic Assets Relief Program (TARP), the premise of which is that bad debts equal money. The “relief” goes to the Wall Street mafia while the nations’ mortgage defaults and employment goes through the ceiling.
In one of the country’s other most critical issues, that of health care reform, a major plank in the president’s campaign platform, the president apparently has reneged on his previous support for a single-payer national program (similar in theory and practice to Medicare), which he now tells us is “off the table.” This can be considered as nothing less than sacrificing the national interest by caving in to the bloated blood-sucking private health care industry.
Well, Mr. President, I have gone along with you in agreeing on the seriousness of the problems facing our nation; but if what you have shown us about how you intend to deal with them is your justification for putting aside taking steps to achieve JUSTICE (and restore a semblance of respect for the rule of law) for the most heinous of war crimes and constitutional violations, then you have failed miserably to make your case.
You can count me out, and despite the psychotic-like ranting and ravings of the radical right (to which you have not stood up) and a mainstream media that has its collective head in the sand, I believe that I am part of a rapidly growing soon to be majority.
Someone, Mr. President, perhaps it was you, once quoted FDR telling those who were crying for radical reform to “make me do it.” Well, Mr. President, do it.
Bill Moyers Journal: William K. Black Interview April 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: AIG, bailout, bank deregulation, banker fraud, banking industry, banksters, bill moyers, charles keating, conggressional oversight, congress, derivatives, doj, Economic Crisis, Federal Reserve, general motors, glass-steagall, gm, indymac, japan lost decade, jim wright, john glenn, justice department, lawrence summers, liar's loans, McCain, ninja loans, paulson, pecora investigation, Phil Gramm, ponzi, ponzi scheme, roger hollander, rubin, s&l scandal, savings and loan, sub-prime, subprime scandal, tim geithner, toxic assets, toxic loans, ubs, Wall Street, wall street barons, wall street bonuses, william k. black
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BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.
For months now, revelations of the wholesale greed and blatant transgressions of Wall Street have reminded us that “The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One.” In fact, the man you’re about to meet wrote a book with just that title. It was based upon his experience as a tough regulator during one of the darkest chapters in our financial history: the savings and loan scandal in the late 1980s.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: These numbers as large as they are, vastly understate the problem of fraud.
BILL MOYERS: Bill Black was in New York this week for a conference at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice where scholars and journalists gathered to ask the question, “How do they get away with it?” Well, no one has asked that question more often than Bill Black.
The former Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention now teaches Economics and Law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. During the savings and loan crisis, it was Black who accused then-house speaker Jim Wright and five US Senators, including John Glenn and John McCain, of doing favors for the S&L’s in exchange for contributions and other perks. The senators got off with a slap on the wrist, but so enraged was one of those bankers, Charles Keating — after whom the senate’s so-called “Keating Five” were named — he sent a memo that read, in part, “get Black — kill him dead.” Metaphorically, of course. Of course.
Now Black is focused on an even greater scandal, and he spares no one — not even the President he worked hard to elect, Barack Obama. But his main targets are the Wall Street barons, heirs of an earlier generation whose scandalous rip-offs of wealth back in the 1930s earned them comparison to Al Capone and the mob, and the nickname “banksters.”
Bill Black, welcome to the Journal.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: I was taken with your candor at the conference here in New York to hear you say that this crisis we’re going through, this economic and financial meltdown is driven by fraud. What’s your definition of fraud?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Fraud is deceit. And the essence of fraud is, “I create trust in you, and then I betray that trust, and get you to give me something of value.” And as a result, there’s no more effective acid against trust than fraud, especially fraud by top elites, and that’s what we have.
BILL MOYERS: In your book, you make it clear that calculated dishonesty by people in charge is at the heart of most large corporate failures and scandals, including, of course, the S&L, but is that true? Is that what you’re saying here, that it was in the boardrooms and the CEO offices where this fraud began?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: How did they do it? What do you mean?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, the way that you do it is to make really bad loans, because they pay better. Then you grow extremely rapidly, in other words, you’re a Ponzi-like scheme. And the third thing you do is we call it leverage. That just means borrowing a lot of money, and the combination creates a situation where you have guaranteed record profits in the early years. That makes you rich, through the bonuses that modern executive compensation has produced. It also makes it inevitable that there’s going to be a disaster down the road.
BILL MOYERS: So you’re suggesting, saying that CEOs of some of these banks and mortgage firms in order to increase their own personal income, deliberately set out to make bad loans?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: How do they get away with it? I mean, what about their own checks and balances in the company? What about their accounting divisions?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: All of those checks and balances report to the CEO, so if the CEO goes bad, all of the checks and balances are easily overcome. And the art form is not simply to defeat those internal controls, but to suborn them, to turn them into your greatest allies. And the bonus programs are exactly how you do that.
BILL MOYERS: If I wanted to go looking for the parties to this, with a good bird dog, where would you send me?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, that’s exactly what hasn’t happened. We haven’t looked, all right? The Bush Administration essentially got rid of regulation, so if nobody was looking, you were able to do this with impunity and that’s exactly what happened. Where would you look? You’d look at the specialty lenders. The lenders that did almost all of their work in the sub-prime and what’s called Alt-A, liars’ loans.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah. Liars’ loans–
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Liars’ loans.
BILL MOYERS: Why did they call them liars’ loans?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Because they were liars’ loans.
BILL MOYERS: And they knew it?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: They knew it. They knew that they were frauds.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Liars’ loans mean that we don’t check. You tell us what your income is. You tell us what your job is. You tell us what your assets are, and we agree to believe you. We won’t check on any of those things. And by the way, you get a better deal if you inflate your income and your job history and your assets.
BILL MOYERS: You think they really said that to borrowers?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: We know that they said that to borrowers. In fact, they were also called, in the trade, ninja loans.
BILL MOYERS: Ninja?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Yeah, because no income verification, no job verification, no asset verification.
BILL MOYERS: You’re talking about significant American companies.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Huge! One company produced as many losses as the entire Savings and Loan debacle.
BILL MOYERS: Which company?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: IndyMac specialized in making liars’ loans. In 2006 alone, it sold $80 billion dollars of liars’ loans to other companies. $80 billion.
BILL MOYERS: And was this happening exclusively in this sub-prime mortgage business?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: No, and that’s a big part of the story as well. Even prime loans began to have non-verification. Even Ronald Reagan, you know, said, “Trust, but verify.” They just gutted the verification process. We know that will produce enormous fraud, under economic theory, criminology theory, and two thousand years of life experience.
BILL MOYERS: Is it possible that these complex instruments were deliberately created so swindlers could exploit them?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Oh, absolutely. This stuff, the exotic stuff that you’re talking about was created out of things like liars’ loans, that were known to be extraordinarily bad. And now it was getting triple-A ratings. Now a triple-A rating is supposed to mean there is zero credit risk. So you take something that not only has significant, it has crushing risk. That’s why it’s toxic. And you create this fiction that it has zero risk. That itself, of course, is a fraudulent exercise. And again, there was nobody looking, during the Bush years. So finally, only a year ago, we started to have a Congressional investigation of some of these rating agencies, and it’s scandalous what came out. What we know now is that the rating agencies never looked at a single loan file. When they finally did look, after the markets had completely collapsed, they found, and I’m quoting Fitch, the smallest of the rating agencies, “the results were disconcerting, in that there was the appearance of fraud in nearly every file we examined.”
BILL MOYERS: So if your assumption is correct, your evidence is sound, the bank, the lending company, created a fraud. And the ratings agency that is supposed to test the value of these assets knowingly entered into the fraud. Both parties are committing fraud by intention.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Right, and the investment banker that — we call it pooling — puts together these bad mortgages, these liars’ loans, and creates the toxic waste of these derivatives. All of them do that. And then they sell it to the world and the world just thinks because it has a triple-A rating it must actually be safe. Well, instead, there are 60 and 80 percent losses on these things, because of course they, in reality, are toxic waste.
BILL MOYERS: You’re describing what Bernie Madoff did to a limited number of people. But you’re saying it’s systemic, a systemic Ponzi scheme.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Oh, Bernie was a piker. He doesn’t even get into the front ranks of a Ponzi scheme…
BILL MOYERS: But you’re saying our system became a Ponzi scheme.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Our system…
BILL MOYERS: Our financial system…
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Became a Ponzi scheme. Everybody was buying a pig in the poke. But they were buying a pig in the poke with a pretty pink ribbon, and the pink ribbon said, “Triple-A.”
BILL MOYERS: Is there a law against liars’ loans?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Not directly, but there, of course, many laws against fraud, and liars’ loans are fraudulent.
BILL MOYERS: Because…
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Because they’re not going to be repaid and because they had false representations. They involve deceit, which is the essence of fraud.
BILL MOYERS: Why is it so hard to prosecute? Why hasn’t anyone been brought to justice over this?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Because they didn’t even begin to investigate the major lenders until the market had actually collapsed, which is completely contrary to what we did successfully in the Savings and Loan crisis, right? Even while the institutions were reporting they were the most profitable savings and loan in America, we knew they were frauds. And we were moving to close them down. Here, the Justice Department, even though it very appropriately warned, in 2004, that there was an epidemic…
BILL MOYERS: Who did?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: The FBI publicly warned, in September 2004 that there was an epidemic of mortgage fraud, that if it was allowed to continue it would produce a crisis at least as large as the Savings and Loan debacle. And that they were going to make sure that they didn’t let that happen. So what goes wrong? After 9/11, the attacks, the Justice Department transfers 500 white-collar specialists in the FBI to national terrorism. Well, we can all understand that. But then, the Bush administration refused to replace the missing 500 agents. So even today, again, as you say, this crisis is 1000 times worse, perhaps, certainly 100 times worse, than the Savings and Loan crisis. There are one-fifth as many FBI agents as worked the Savings and Loan crisis.
BILL MOYERS: You talk about the Bush administration. Of course, there’s that famous photograph of some of the regulators in 2003, who come to a press conference with a chainsaw suggesting that they’re going to slash, cut business loose from regulation, right?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, they succeeded. And in that picture, by the way, the other — three of the other guys with pruning shears are the…
BILL MOYERS: That’s right.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: They’re the trade representatives. They’re the lobbyists for the bankers. And everybody’s grinning. The government’s working together with the industry to destroy regulation. Well, we now know what happens when you destroy regulation. You get the biggest financial calamity of anybody under the age of 80.
BILL MOYERS: But I can point you to statements by Larry Summers, who was then Bill Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury, or the other Clinton Secretary of the Treasury, Rubin. I can point you to suspects in both parties, right?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: There were two really big things, under the Clinton administration. One, they got rid of the law that came out of the real-world disasters of the Great Depression. We learned a lot of things in the Great Depression. And one is we had to separate what’s called commercial banking from investment banking. That’s the Glass-Steagall law. But we thought we were much smarter, supposedly. So we got rid of that law, and that was bipartisan. And the other thing is we passed a law, because there was a very good regulator, Brooksley Born, that everybody should know about and probably doesn’t. She tried to do the right thing to regulate one of these exotic derivatives that you’re talking about. We call them C.D.F.S. And Summers, Rubin, and Phil Gramm came together to say not only will we block this particular regulation. We will pass a law that says you can’t regulate. And it’s this type of derivative that is most involved in the AIG scandal. AIG all by itself, cost the same as the entire Savings and Loan debacle.
BILL MOYERS: What did AIG contribute? What did they do wrong?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: They made bad loans. Their type of loan was to sell a guarantee, right? And they charged a lot of fees up front. So, they booked a lot of income. Paid enormous bonuses. The bonuses we’re thinking about now, they’re much smaller than these bonuses that were also the product of accounting fraud. And they got very, very rich. But, of course, then they had guaranteed this toxic waste. These liars’ loans. Well, we’ve just gone through why those toxic waste, those liars’ loans, are going to have enormous losses. And so, you have to pay the guarantee on those enormous losses. And you go bankrupt. Except that you don’t in the modern world, because you’ve come to the United States, and the taxpayers play the fool. Under Secretary Geithner and under Secretary Paulson before him… we took $5 billion dollars, for example, in U.S. taxpayer money. And sent it to a huge Swiss Bank called UBS. At the same time that that bank was defrauding the taxpayers of America. And we were bringing a criminal case against them. We eventually get them to pay a $780 million fine, but wait, we gave them $5 billion. So, the taxpayers of America paid the fine of a Swiss Bank. And why are we bailing out somebody who that is defrauding us?
BILL MOYERS: And why…
WILLIAM K. BLACK: How mad is this?
BILL MOYERS: What is your explanation for why the bankers who created this mess are still calling the shots?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, that, especially after what’s just happened at G.M., that’s… it’s scandalous.
BILL MOYERS: Why are they firing the president of G.M. and not firing the head of all these banks that are involved?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: There are two reasons. One, they’re much closer to the bankers. These are people from the banking industry. And they have a lot more sympathy. In fact, they’re outright hostile to autoworkers, as you can see. They want to bash all of their contracts. But when they get to banking, they say, â€˜contracts, sacred.’ But the other element of your question is we don’t want to change the bankers, because if we do, if we put honest people in, who didn’t cause the problem, their first job would be to find the scope of the problem. And that would destroy the cover up.
BILL MOYERS: The cover up?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Sure. The cover up.
BILL MOYERS: That’s a serious charge.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Of course.
BILL MOYERS: Who’s covering up?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Geithner is charging, is covering up. Just like Paulson did before him. Geithner is publicly saying that it’s going to take $2 trillion — a trillion is a thousand billion — $2 trillion taxpayer dollars to deal with this problem. But they’re allowing all the banks to report that they’re not only solvent, but fully capitalized. Both statements can’t be true. It can’t be that they need $2 trillion, because they have masses losses, and that they’re fine.
These are all people who have failed. Paulson failed, Geithner failed. They were all promoted because they failed, not because…
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, Geithner has, was one of our nation’s top regulators, during the entire subprime scandal, that I just described. He took absolutely no effective action. He gave no warning. He did nothing in response to the FBI warning that there was an epidemic of fraud. All this pig in the poke stuff happened under him. So, in his phrase about legacy assets. Well he’s a failed legacy regulator.
BILL MOYERS: But he denies that he was a regulator. Let me show you some of his testimony before Congress. Take a look at this.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER:I’ve never been a regulator, for better or worse. And I think you’re right to say that we have to be very skeptical that regulation can solve all of these problems. We have parts of our system that are overwhelmed by regulation.
Overwhelmed by regulation! It wasn’t the absence of regulation that was the problem, it was despite the presence of regulation you’ve got huge risks that build up.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, he may be right that he never regulated, but his job was to regulate. That was his mission statement.
BILL MOYERS: As?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: As president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which is responsible for regulating most of the largest bank holding companies in America. And he’s completely wrong that we had too much regulation in some of these areas. I mean, he gives no details, obviously. But that’s just plain wrong.
BILL MOYERS: How is this happening? I mean why is it happening?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Until you get the facts, it’s harder to blow all this up. And, of course, the entire strategy is to keep people from getting the facts.
BILL MOYERS: What facts?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: The facts about how bad the condition of the banks is. So, as long as I keep the old CEO who caused the problems, is he going to go vigorously around finding the problems? Finding the frauds?
BILL MOYERS: You–
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Taking away people’s bonuses?
BILL MOYERS: To hear you say this is unusual because you supported Barack Obama, during the campaign. But you’re seeming disillusioned now.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, certainly in the financial sphere, I am. I think, first, the policies are substantively bad. Second, I think they completely lack integrity. Third, they violate the rule of law. This is being done just like Secretary Paulson did it. In violation of the law. We adopted a law after the Savings and Loan crisis, called the Prompt Corrective Action Law. And it requires them to close these institutions. And they’re refusing to obey the law.
BILL MOYERS: In other words, they could have closed these banks without nationalizing them?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, you do a receivership. No one — Ronald Reagan did receiverships. Nobody called it nationalization.
BILL MOYERS: And that’s a law?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: That’s the law.
BILL MOYERS: So, Paulson could have done this? Geithner could do this?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Not could. Was mandated–
BILL MOYERS: By the law.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: By the law.
BILL MOYERS: This law, you’re talking about.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: What the reason they give for not doing it?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: They ignore it. And nobody calls them on it.
BILL MOYERS: Well, where’s Congress? Where’s the press? Where–
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, where’s the Pecora investigation?
BILL MOYERS: The what?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: The Pecora investigation. The Great Depression, we said, “Hey, we have to learn the facts. What caused this disaster, so that we can take steps, like pass the Glass-Steagall law, that will prevent future disasters?” Where’s our investigation?
What would happen if after a plane crashes, we said, “Oh, we don’t want to look in the past. We want to be forward looking. Many people might have been, you know, we don’t want to pass blame. No. We have a nonpartisan, skilled inquiry. We spend lots of money on, get really bright people. And we find out, to the best of our ability, what caused every single major plane crash in America. And because of that, aviation has an extraordinarily good safety record. We ought to follow the same policies in the financial sphere. We have to find out what caused the disasters, or we will keep reliving them. And here, we’ve got a double tragedy. It isn’t just that we are failing to learn from the mistakes of the past. We’re failing to learn from the successes of the past.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: In the Savings and Loan debacle, we developed excellent ways for dealing with the frauds, and for dealing with the failed institutions. And for 15 years after the Savings and Loan crisis, didn’t matter which party was in power, the U.S. Treasury Secretary would fly over to Tokyo and tell the Japanese, “You ought to do things the way we did in the Savings and Loan crisis, because it worked really well. Instead you’re covering up the bank losses, because you know, you say you need confidence. And so, we have to lie to the people to create confidence. And it doesn’t work. You will cause your recession to continue and continue.” And the Japanese call it the lost decade. That was the result. So, now we get in trouble, and what do we do? We adopt the Japanese approach of lying about the assets. And you know what? It’s working just as well as it did in Japan.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah. Are you saying that Timothy Geithner, the Secretary of the Treasury, and others in the administration, with the banks, are engaged in a cover up to keep us from knowing what went wrong?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: You are.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Absolutely, because they are scared to death. All right? They’re scared to death of a collapse. They’re afraid that if they admit the truth, that many of the large banks are insolvent. They think Americans are a bunch of cowards, and that we’ll run screaming to the exits. And we won’t rely on deposit insurance. And, by the way, you can rely on deposit insurance. And it’s foolishness. All right? Now, it may be worse than that. You can impute more cynical motives. But I think they are sincerely just panicked about, “We just can’t let the big banks fail.” That’s wrong.
BILL MOYERS: But what might happen, at this point, if in fact they keep from us the true health of the banks?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, then the banks will, as they did in Japan, either stay enormously weak, or Treasury will be forced to increasingly absurd giveaways of taxpayer money. We’ve seen how horrific AIG — and remember, they kept secrets from everyone.
BILL MOYERS: A.I.G. did?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: What we’re doing with — no, Treasury and both administrations. The Bush administration and now the Obama administration kept secret from us what was being done with AIG. AIG was being used secretly to bail out favored banks like UBS and like Goldman Sachs. Secretary Paulson’s firm, that he had come from being CEO. It got the largest amount of money. $12.9 billion. And they didn’t want us to know that. And it was only Congressional pressure, and not Congressional pressure, by the way, on Geithner, but Congressional pressure on AIG.
Where Congress said, “We will not give you a single penny more unless we know who received the money.” And, you know, when he was Treasury Secretary, Paulson created a recommendation group to tell Treasury what they ought to do with AIG. And he put Goldman Sachs on it.
BILL MOYERS: Even though Goldman Sachs had a big vested stake.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Massive stake. And even though he had just been CEO of Goldman Sachs before becoming Treasury Secretary. Now, in most stages in American history, that would be a scandal of such proportions that he wouldn’t be allowed in civilized society.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, like a conflict of interest, it seems.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Massive conflict of interests.
BILL MOYERS: So, how did he get away with it?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: I don’t know whether we’ve lost our capability of outrage. Or whether the cover up has been so successful that people just don’t have the facts to react to it.
BILL MOYERS: Who’s going to get the facts?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: We need some chairmen or chairwomen–
BILL MOYERS: In Congress.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: –in Congress, to hold the necessary hearings. And we can blast this out. But if you leave the failed CEOs in place, it isn’t just that they’re terrible business people, though they are. It isn’t just that they lack integrity, though they do. Because they were engaged in these frauds. But they’re not going to disclose the truth about the assets.
BILL MOYERS: And we have to know that, in order to know what?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: To know everything. To know who committed the frauds. Whose bonuses we should recover. How much the assets are worth. How much they should be sold for. Is the bank insolvent, such that we should resolve it in this way? It’s the predicate, right? You need to know the facts to make intelligent decisions. And they’re deliberately leaving in place the people that caused the problem, because they don’t want the facts. And this is not new. The Reagan Administration’s central priority, at all times, during the Savings and Loan crisis, was covering up the losses.
BILL MOYERS: So, you’re saying that people in power, political power, and financial power, act in concert when their own behinds are in the ringer, right?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: That’s right. And it’s particularly a crisis that brings this out, because then the class of the banker says, “You’ve got to keep the information away from the public or everything will collapse. If they understand how bad it is, they’ll run for the exits.”
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, and this week in New York, at this conference, you described this as more than a financial crisis. You called it a moral crisis.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Because it is a fundamental lack of integrity. But also because, if you look back at crises, an economist who is also a presidential appointee, as a regulator in the Savings and Loan industry, right here in New York, Larry White, wrote a book about the Savings and Loan crisis. And he said, you know, one of the most interesting questions is why so few people engaged in fraud? Because objectively, you could have gotten away with it. But only about ten percent of the CEOs, engaged in fraud. So, 90 percent of them were restrained by ethics and integrity. So, far more than law or by F.B.I. agents, it’s our integrity that often prevents the greatest abuses. And what we had in this crisis, instead of the Savings and Loan, is the most elite institutions in America engaging or facilitating fraud.
BILL MOYERS: This wound that you say has been inflicted on American life. The loss of worker’s income. And security and pensions and future happened, because of the misconduct of a relatively few, very well-heeled people, in very well-decorated corporate suites, right?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Right.
BILL MOYERS: It was relatively a handful of people.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: And their ideologies, which swept away regulation. So, in the example, regulation means that cheaters don’t prosper. So, instead of being bad for capitalism, it’s what saves capitalism. “Honest purveyors prosper” is what we want. And you need regulation and law enforcement to be able to do this. The tragedy of this crisis is it didn’t need to happen at all.
BILL MOYERS: When you wake in the middle of the night, thinking about your work, what do you make of that? What do you tell yourself?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: There’s a saying that we took great comfort in. It’s actually by the Dutch, who were fighting this impossible war for independence against what was then the most powerful nation in the world, Spain. And their motto was, “It is not necessary to hope in order to persevere.”
Now, going forward, get rid of the people that have caused the problems. That’s a pretty straightforward thing, as well. Why would we keep CEOs and CFOs and other senior officers, that caused the problems? That’s facially nuts. That’s our current system.
So stop that current system. We’re hiding the losses, instead of trying to find out the real losses. Stop that, because you need good information to make good decisions, right? Follow what works instead of what’s failed. Start appointing people who have records of success, instead of records of failure. That would be another nice place to start. There are lots of things we can do. Even today, as late as it is. Even though they’ve had a terrible start to the administration. They could change, and they could change within weeks. And by the way, the folks who are the better regulators, they paid their taxes. So, you can get them through the vetting process a lot quicker.
BILL MOYERS: William Black, thank you very much for being with me on the Journal.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Thank you so much.
William K. Black suspects that it was more than greed and incompetence that brought down the U.S. financial sector and plunged the economy in recession — it was fraud. And he would know. When it comes to financial shenanigans, William K. Black, the former senior regulator who cracked down on banks during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, has seen pretty much everything.
Now an Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri, William K. Black tells Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL that the tool at the very center of mortgage collapse, creating triple-A rated bonds out of “liars’ loans” — loans issued without verifying income, assets or employment — was a fraud, and the banks knew it.
And while there is no law against liars’ loans, Black points out that there are, “many laws against fraud, and liars’ loans are fraudulent. [...] They involve deceit, which is the essence of fraud.”
Only the scale of the scandal is new. A single bank, IndyMac, lost more money than the entire Savings and Loan Crisis. The difference between now and then, explains Black, is a drastic reduction in regulation and oversight, “We now know what happens when you destroy regulation. You get the biggest financial calamity of anybody under the age of 80.”
William K. Black, author of THE BEST WAY TO ROB A BANK IS TO OWN ONE, teaches economics and law at the University of Missouri — Kansas City (UMKC). He was the Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention from 2005-2007. He has taught previously at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and at Santa Clara University, where he was also the distinguished scholar in residence for insurance law and a visiting scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
Black was litigation director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, deputy director of the FSLIC, SVP and general counsel of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, and senior deputy chief counsel, Office of Thrift Supervision. He was deputy director of the National Commission on Financial Institution Reform, Recovery and Enforcement.
Black developed the concept of “control fraud” — frauds in which the CEO or head of state uses the entity as a “weapon.” Control frauds cause greater financial losses than all other forms of property crime combined. He recently helped the World Bank develop anti-corruption initiatives and served as an expert for OFHEO in its enforcement action against Fannie Mae’s former senior management.
Published April 3, 2009. Guest photos by Robin Holland
Bailout backlash December 17, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: auto industry, bailout, banks, bernanke, Bloomberg, brent budowsky, ceo's, congress, Economic Crisis, fdic, Federal Reserve, govenment, ponzi, roger hollander, sec, taxpayers, treasury, trickle down
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|Posted: 12/16/08 05:17 PM [ET]
|Americans have begun an angry backlash against bailouts that could become a national revolt in 2009.
The Federal Reserve has cut interest rates by some 500 basis points. Government agencies have poured close to $8 trillion into banking bailouts. The Treasury secretary has promoted massive government support of troubled, failed and corrupted institutions.
This program is a 100 percent top-down exercise involving the largest amount of money in history.
Virtually none of this money directly helps average Americans. Virtually none of it trickles down to the people who suffer the most and pay for the program.
After $8 trillion we are still debating whether any money should be used to directly help average Americans.
The Fed has cut rates dramatically. It is shameful that after all of these rate cuts and all of these bailouts, banks continue raising credit card interest rates, lowering credit lines, refusing to lend to creditworthy businesses and allowing the Grapes of Wrath-like foreclosure crisis to continue with minimal effort to address it.
The banks don’t trust the banks. The banks don’t trust their customers. Business does not trust the banks or the government. Taxpayers don’t trust anyone.
The only trust is from the Fed and the Treasury Department that transfer huge sums of money to the large institutions that caused the problem, often in secret, often involving complicated financial derivatives that neither Congress nor many CEOs understand, based on trust that these institutions will use this money wisely, which often they have not.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is discredited. The Federal Reserve has failed in its duty as banking regulator. Congress has failed in its duty of oversight. The most wise and citizen-friendly regulator, Sheila Bair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, is treated with contempt by the Treasury secretary.
The public backlash is only beginning. It will rise with every new scandal and Ponzi scheme and every new increase in credit card rates. It has already infected good judgment in the auto case, where major support is needed, tied to major plans for industry renewal.
I do not oppose bailouts, I oppose bailouts managed with banana-republic standards of secrecy and incompetence in which recipients of massive taxpayer largesse work against those who pay for this largesse.
Today the Federal Reserve Board refuses to disclose information regarding some $2 trillion provided to financial institutions. Bloomberg business news has filed a historic freedom-of-information case seeking disclosure. Congress and the president-elect should support it.
Bailout money is not a private account that belongs to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, Fed governors, the Treasury secretary or the banks. It is the people’s money. It should be used to benefit the people. It should be monitored through the checks and balances of the democratic process.
Secrecy is the enemy of equity, integrity and common sense. Secrecy is the friend of negligence, misjudgment and corruption. There are probably selected instances where the Fed should not disclose, but show me $2 trillion of secretly spent money and I will show you trouble.
In the coming days I will be writing about the Bloomberg case and offering specific bailout proposals on The Hill’s Pundits Blog. The backlash is coming. Time is short. The dangers are extreme.
America needs new thinking and an informed national consensus — and we need it now.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog.
Workers Laid Off, Executives Paid Off, Bernard Madoff December 16, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
Tags: $700 billion bailout, amy goodman, bank of america, Barack Obama, denis moynihan, enron, executive bonuses, George Bush, Goldman Sachs, jobless, labor, labour, Lehman Brothers, madoff, Merrill Lynch, nasdaq, paulson, pelosi, ponzi, pyramid, roger hollander, sec, severnce pay, tarp, taxpayers, treasury, unemployment, Wall Street, workers
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Posted on Dec 16, 2008, www.truthdig.com
By Amy Goodman
The global financial crisis deepens, with more than 10 million in the U.S. out of work, according to the Department of Labor. Unemployment hit 6.7 percent in November. Add the 7.3 million “involuntary part-time workers,” who want to work full time but can’t find such a job. Jobless claims have reached a 26-year high, while 30 states reportedly face potential shortfalls in their unemployment-insurance pools. The stunning failure of regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission was again highlighted, as former NASDAQ head Bernard Madoff (you got it, pronounced “made off”) was arrested for allegedly running the world’s largest criminal pyramid scheme, with losses expected to be $50 billion, dwarfing those from the Enron scandal. The picture is grim—unless, that is, you are a corporate executive.
The $700-billion financial bailout package, TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program), was supposed to mandate the elimination of exorbitant executive compensation and “golden parachutes.” As U.S. taxpayers pony up their hard-earned dollars, highflying executives and corporate boards are now considering whether to give themselves multimillion-dollar bonuses.
According to The Washington Post, the specific language in the TARP law that forbade such payouts was changed at the last minute, with a small but significant one-sentence edit made by the Bush administration. The Post reported, “The change stipulated that the penalty would apply only to firms that received bailout funds by selling troubled assets to the government in an auction.”
Read the fine print. Of the TARP bailout funds to be disbursed, only those that were technically spent “in an auction” would carry limits on executive pay. But Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and his former Goldman Sachs colleague Neel Kashkari (yes, pronounced “cash carry”), who is running the program, aren’t inclined to spend the funds in auctions. They prefer their Capital Purchase Program, handing over cash directly. Recall Paulson’s curriculum vitae: He began as a special assistant to John Ehrlichman in the Nixon White House and then went on to work for a quarter-century at Goldman Sachs, one of the largest recipients of bailout funds and chief competitor to Lehman Brothers, the firm that Paulson let fail.
The Government Accountability Office issued a report on TARP Dec. 10, expressing concerns about the lack of oversight of the companies receiving bailout funds. The report states that “without a strong oversight and monitoring function, Treasury’s ability to ensure an appropriate level of accountability and transparency will be limited.” The nonprofit news organization ProPublica has been tracking the bailout program, reporting details that remain shrouded by the Treasury Department. As of Tuesday, 202 institutions had obtained bailout funds totaling close to $250 billion.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said recently, “The Treasury Department’s implementation of the TARP is insufficiently transparent and is not accountable to American taxpayers.” Barney Frank, D-Mass., chair of the House Financial Services Committee, said earlier, “Use of these funds … for bonuses, for severance pay, for dividends, for acquisitions of other institutions, etc. … is a violation of the terms of the act.”
Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa said of the loophole, “The flimsy executive-compensation restrictions in the original bill are now all but gone.” Put aside for the moment that these three all voted for the legislation. The law clearly needs to be corrected before additional funds are granted.
The sums these titans of Wall Street are walking away with are staggering. In their annual “Executive Excess” report, the groups United for a Fair Economy and the Institute for Policy Studies reported 2007 compensation for Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs (Paulson’s replacement), at $54 million and that of John Thain, CEO of Merrill Lynch, at a whopping $83 million. Merrill has since been sold to Bank of America, after losing more than $11 billion this year—yet Thain still wants a $10-million bonus.
Paulson, Kashkari and their boss, President George W. Bush, might not be the best people to spend the next $350-billion tranche of U.S. taxpayer money, with just weeks to go before the new Congress convenes Jan. 6 and Barack Obama assumes the presidency Jan. 20. As Watergate leaker Deep Throat was said to have told Bob Woodward, back when Paulson was just starting out, “Follow the money.” The U.S. populace, its representatives in Congress and the new Obama administration need to follow the money, close the executive-pay loophole and demand accountability from the banks that the public has bailed out.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America.
© 2008 Amy Goodman
Distributed by King Features Syndicate
Blundering U.S. Should Spare the World Any More Nation Building December 16, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: baghdad, capitalism, Condoleezza Rice, denazification, financial fraud, foreign policy, germany, hitler, Iraq, Iraq civilian casualties, iraq reconstruction, Iraq war, iraqi civilians, japan, macarthur, madoff, Obama, ponzi, Robert Gates, roger hollander, sec, william pfaff
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Posted on Dec 16, 2008
Early in December, the press reported from the Barack Obama transition team that the president-elect has signed onto a foreign policy program continuing the “war against terror” on new, expanded and fundamentally changed terms. The United States will attack the sources of the problem of terrorism. It will start from scratch in “rogue,” “failed” and other distressed Middle Eastern, South Asian and African states, to build them up into modern democracies.
The Washington foreign policy community has been working on this idea. Condoleezza Rice announced last summer that new, multi-agency teams were being formed to move into countries to build democratic institutions and practices there, in addition to providing traditional aid. “Democratic state-building,” she said, was the “new American wisdom.” Robert Gates, who will continue as Defense Secretary in the Obama administration, has already endorsed the substance of this program. Washington will—in Secretary Rice’s words—“change the world in America’s image.”
Let me change the subject for a moment. Recent days have brought information on a 513-page federal report on the American-led reconstruction of American-destroyed Iraq, which has proven to be a $100 billion disaster, incorporating ignorant assumptions, waste, organizational chaos, bureaucratic and personal rivalries, lies and incompetence.
According to the document, during the past five years little more has been accomplished than restoration of the basic services and productive capacity that was destroyed by the American invasion and the looting that followed.
This is after killing or wounding—how many, a half million?—Iraqi civilians in order to liberate them. No wonder the Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at George W. Bush at the president’s farewell Baghdad news conference, and shouted “you dog!”—the worst insults possible in Arabic culture. This happened because no one in responsibility knew what they were doing, beyond the military objectives. The neoconservatives assured the president that America built democracies in Germany and Japan after the war. Surely Iraq would be easier yet. No one in power asked anyone who was there in Germany or Japan, or bothered to consult the records, which are ample.
Japan was “democratized” because the emperor, having been informed that such was the wish of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, ordered his people to become democrats. Japan had a parliament and constitutional monarchy before the war, then became a military dictatorship, and by fiat became a constitutional democracy again after the war.
The British and American occupation authorities in Germany in 1945 began “denazification” but soon found that, as most official positions in the country had required Nazi party membership, if they denazified Germany there would be no one to run it. They settled for prosecuting actual war criminals. As the Cold War then began, they let the Germans get on with installing a democratic system as ordered (Germany had been a parliamentary democracy before Hitler and his party were democratically elected). The first thing the Bush administration did in its crusade to democratize Iraq was to fire all the people who knew how to run it.
Something else has happened recently that bears on the issue of American official competence. This was the confession by one of the most respected men on Wall Street, former chairman of the NASDAQ exchange, that he had for years been running a simple Ponzi pyramid swindle (paying high returns to established customers out of the funds newcomers invest). With this, on his own account, he stole $50 billion from individuals, including sophisticated investors, as well as banks in the United States and abroad.
Bernard Madoff seems to have done this over a 40-year period (he started his investment firm in 1960), despite three Securities and Exchange Commission investigations, formal complaints to the SEC from competitors, conspicuous secrecy about his clients and methods, published accounts going unquestioned despite being prepared by an obscure two-man auditing firm, and persistent Wall Street rumors and suspicions. It may be the biggest financial swindle ever committed.
It comes at an unfortunate moment for American-style capitalism, which it has been the U.S. aim to install worldwide. The capitalist world suffers a liquidity crisis and impending catastrophe that may prove worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s. It has been caused by American financial fraud and incompetence. Following this evidence of American fiasco in running its own affairs, let me return to the subject of a foreign policy devoted to remaking other countries “in the American image.”
The conclusions of the report on American reconstruction of Iraq included the following statement: “Five years after embarking on its largest foreign reconstruction project since the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II, the U.S. government has in place neither the policies and technical capacity nor the organizational structure that would be needed to undertake such a program.” I would think this should be written in fiery letters over the portal of the future president Barack Obama’s National Security Council.
Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2008 Tribune Media Services, Inc.