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Secrets and Lies of the Wall Street Bailout January 9, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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Roger’s note: One does not have to have a Ph.D. in Economics to understand the words “lies” and “secrets.”  Matt Taibbi is one of the finest journalists writing today, and he painstakingly outlines the fraud perpetuated on the American people by the Republicrat government in collusion with the Wall Street financial institutions.

 

Published on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 by Rolling Stone

The federal rescue of Wall Street didn’t fix the economy – it created a permanent bailout state based on a Ponzi-like confidence scheme. And the worst may be yet to come

by Matt Taibbi

It has been four long winters since the federal government, in the hulking, shaven-skulled, Alien Nation-esque form of then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, committed $700 billion in taxpayer money to rescue Wall Street from its own chicanery and greed. To listen to the bankers and their allies in Washington tell it, you’d think the bailout was the best thing to hit the American economy since the invention of the assembly line. Not only did it prevent another Great Depression, we’ve been told, but the money has all been paid back, and the government even made a profit. No harm, no foul – right?

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(Illustration by Victor Juhasz)

Wrong.

It was all a lie – one of the biggest and most elaborate falsehoods ever sold to the American people. We were told that the taxpayer was stepping in – only temporarily, mind you – to prop up the economy and save the world from financial catastrophe. What we actually ended up doing was the exact opposite: committing American taxpayers to permanent, blind support of an ungovernable, unregulatable, hyperconcentrated new financial system that exacerbates the greed and inequality that caused the crash, and forces Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to increase risk rather than reduce it. The result is one of those deals where one wrong decision early on blossoms into a lush nightmare of unintended consequences. We thought we were just letting a friend crash at the house for a few days; we ended up with a family of hillbillies who moved in forever, sleeping nine to a bed and building a meth lab on the front lawn.

How Wall Street Killed Financial Reform

But the most appalling part is the lying. The public has been lied to so shamelessly and so often in the course of the past four years that the failure to tell the truth to the general populace has become a kind of baked-in, official feature of the financial rescue. Money wasn’t the only thing the government gave Wall Street – it also conferred the right to hide the truth from the rest of us. And it was all done in the name of helping regular people and creating jobs. “It is,” says former bailout Inspector General Neil Barofsky, “the ultimate bait-and-switch.”

The bailout deceptions came early, late and in between. There were lies told in the first moments of their inception, and others still being told four years later. The lies, in fact, were the most important mechanisms of the bailout. The only reason investors haven’t run screaming from an obviously corrupt financial marketplace is because the government has gone to such extraordinary lengths to sell the narrative that the problems of 2008 have been fixed. Investors may not actually believe the lie, but they are impressed by how totally committed the government has been, from the very beginning, to selling it.

They Lied to Pass the Bailout

Today what few remember about the bailouts is that we had to approve them. It wasn’t like Paulson could just go out and unilaterally commit trillions of public dollars to rescue Goldman Sachs and Citigroup from their own stupidity and bad management (although the government ended up doing just that, later on). Much as with a declaration of war, a similarly extreme and expensive commitment of public resources, Paulson needed at least a film of congressional approval. And much like the Iraq War resolution, which was only secured after George W. Bush ludicrously warned that Saddam was planning to send drones to spray poison over New York City, the bailouts were pushed through Congress with a series of threats and promises that ranged from the merely ridiculous to the outright deceptive. At one meeting to discuss the original bailout bill – at 11 a.m. on September 18th, 2008 – Paulson actually told members of Congress that $5.5 trillion in wealth would disappear by 2 p.m. that day unless the government took immediate action, and that the world economy would collapse “within 24 hours.”

To be fair, Paulson started out by trying to tell the truth in his own ham-headed, narcissistic way. His first TARP proposal was a three-page absurdity pulled straight from a Beavis and Butt-Head episode – it was basically Paulson saying, “Can you, like, give me some money?” Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, remembers a call with Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. “We need $700 billion,” they told Brown, “and we need it in three days.” What’s more, the plan stipulated, Paulson could spend the money however he pleased, without review “by any court of law or any administrative agency.”

The White House and leaders of both parties actually agreed to this preposterous document, but it died in the House when 95 Democrats lined up against it. For an all-too-rare moment during the Bush administration, something resembling sanity prevailed in Washington.

So Paulson came up with a more convincing lie. On paper, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was simple: Treasury would buy $700 billion of troubled mortgages from the banks and then modify them to help struggling homeowners. Section 109 of the act, in fact, specifically empowered the Treasury secretary to “facilitate loan modifications to prevent avoidable foreclosures.” With that promise on the table, wary Democrats finally approved the bailout on October 3rd, 2008. “That provision,” says Barofsky, “is what got the bill passed.”

But within days of passage, the Fed and the Treasury unilaterally decided to abandon the planned purchase of toxic assets in favor of direct injections of billions in cash into companies like Goldman and Citigroup. Overnight, Section 109 was unceremoniously ditched, and what was pitched as a bailout of both banks and homeowners instantly became a bank-only operation – marking the first in a long series of moves in which bailout officials either casually ignored or openly defied their own promises with regard to TARP.

Congress was furious. “We’ve been lied to,” fumed Rep. David Scott, a Democrat from Georgia. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, raged at transparently douchey TARP administrator (and Goldman banker) Neel Kashkari, calling him a “chump” for the banks. And the anger was bipartisan: Republican senators David Vitter of Louisiana and James Inhofe of Oklahoma were so mad about the unilateral changes and lack of oversight that they sponsored a bill in January 2009 to cancel the remaining $350 billion of TARP.

So what did bailout officials do? They put together a proposal full of even bigger deceptions to get it past Congress a second time. That process began almost exactly four years ago – on January 12th and 15th, 2009 – when Larry Summers, the senior economic adviser to President-elect Barack Obama, sent a pair of letters to Congress. The pudgy, stubby­fingered former World Bank economist, who had been forced out as Harvard president for suggesting that women lack a natural aptitude for math and science, begged legislators to reject Vitter’s bill and leave TARP alone.

In the letters, Summers laid out a five-point plan in which the bailout was pitched as a kind of giant populist program to help ordinary Americans. Obama, Summers vowed, would use the money to stimulate bank lending to put people back to work. He even went so far as to say that banks would be denied funding unless they agreed to “increase lending above baseline levels.” He promised that “tough and transparent conditions” would be imposed on bailout recipients, who would not be allowed to use bailout funds toward “enriching shareholders or executives.” As in the original TARP bill, he pledged that bailout money would be used to aid homeowners in foreclosure. And lastly, he promised that the bailouts would be temporary – with a “plan for exit of government intervention” implemented “as quickly as possible.”

The reassurances worked. Once again, TARP survived in Congress – and once again, the bailouts were greenlighted with the aid of Democrats who fell for the old “it’ll help ordinary people” sales pitch. “I feel like they’ve given me a lot of commitment on the housing front,” explained Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat from Alaska.

But in the end, almost nothing Summers promised actually materialized. A small slice of TARP was earmarked for foreclosure relief, but the resultant aid programs for homeowners turned out to be riddled with problems, for the perfectly logical reason that none of the bailout’s architects gave a shit about them. They were drawn up practically overnight and rushed out the door for purely political reasons – to trick Congress into handing over tons of instant cash for Wall Street, with no strings attached. “Without those assurances, the level of opposition would have remained the same,” says Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a leading progressive who voted against TARP. The promise of housing aid, in particular, turned out to be a “paper tiger.”

HAMP, the signature program to aid poor homeowners, was announced by President Obama on February 18th, 2009. The move inspired CNBC commentator Rick Santelli to go berserk the next day – the infamous viral rant that essentially birthed the Tea Party. Reacting to the news that Obama was planning to use bailout funds to help poor and (presumably) minority homeowners facing foreclosure, Santelli fumed that the president wanted to “subsidize the losers’ mortgages” when he should “reward people that could carry the water, instead of drink the water.” The tirade against “water drinkers” led to the sort of spontaneous nationwide protests one might have expected months before, when we essentially gave a taxpayer-funded blank check to Gamblers Anonymous addicts, the millionaire and billionaire class.

In fact, the amount of money that eventually got spent on homeowner aid now stands as a kind of grotesque joke compared to the Himalayan mountain range of cash that got moved onto the balance sheets of the big banks more or less instantly in the first months of the bailouts. At the start, $50 billion of TARP funds were earmarked for HAMP. In 2010, the size of the program was cut to $30 billion. As of November of last year, a mere $4 billion total has been spent for loan modifications and other homeowner aid.

In short, the bailout program designed to help those lazy, job-averse, “water-drinking” minority homeowners – the one that gave birth to the Tea Party – turns out to have comprised about one percent of total TARP spending. “It’s amazing,” says Paul Kiel, who monitors bailout spending for ProPublica. “It’s probably one of the biggest failures of the Obama administration.”

The failure of HAMP underscores another damning truth – that the Bush-Obama bailout was as purely bipartisan a program as we’ve had. Imagine Obama retaining Don Rumsfeld as defense secretary and still digging for WMDs in the Iraqi desert four years after his election: That’s what it was like when he left Tim Geithner, one of the chief architects of Bush’s bailout, in command of the no-strings­attached rescue four years after Bush left office.

Yet Obama’s HAMP program, as lame as it turned out to be, still stands out as one of the few pre-bailout promises that was even partially fulfilled. Virtually every other promise Summers made in his letters turned out to be total bullshit. And that includes maybe the most important promise of all – the pledge to use the bailout money to put people back to work.

They Lied About Lending

Once TARP passed, the government quickly began loaning out billions to some 500 banks that it deemed “healthy” and “viable.” A few were cash loans, repayable at five percent within the first five years; other deals came due when a bank stock hit a predetermined price. As long as banks held TARP money, they were barred from paying out big cash bonuses to top executives.

But even before Summers promised Congress that banks would be required to increase lending as a condition for receiving bailout funds, officials had already decided not to even ask the banks to use the money to increase lending. In fact, they’d decided not to even ask banks to monitor what they did with the bailout money. Barofsky, the TARP inspector, asked Treasury to include a requirement forcing recipients to explain what they did with the taxpayer money. He was stunned when TARP administrator Kashkari rejected his proposal, telling him lenders would walk away from the program if they had to deal with too many conditions. “The banks won’t participate,” Kashkari said.

Barofsky, a former high-level drug prosecutor who was one of the only bailout officials who didn’t come from Wall Street, didn’t buy that cash-desperate banks would somehow turn down billions in aid. “It was like they were trembling with fear that the banks wouldn’t take the money,” he says. “I never found that terribly convincing.”

In the end, there was no lending requirement attached to any aspect of the bailout, and there never would be. Banks used their hundreds of billions for almost every purpose under the sun – everything, that is, but lending to the homeowners and small businesses and cities they had destroyed. And one of the most disgusting uses they found for all their billions in free government money was to help them earn even more free government money.

To guarantee their soundness, all major banks are required to keep a certain amount of reserve cash at the Fed. In years past, that money didn’t earn interest, for the logical reason that banks shouldn’t get paid to stay solvent. But in 2006 – arguing that banks were losing profits on cash parked at the Fed – regulators agreed to make small interest payments on the money. The move wasn’t set to go into effect until 2011, but when the crash hit, a section was written into TARP that launched the interest payments in October 2008.

In theory, there should never be much money in such reserve accounts, because any halfway-competent bank could make far more money lending the cash out than parking it at the Fed, where it earns a measly quarter of a percent. In August 2008, before the bailout began, there were just $2 billion in excess reserves at the Fed. But by that October, the number had ballooned to $267 billion – and by January 2009, it had grown to $843 billion. That means there was suddenly more money sitting uselessly in Fed accounts than Congress had approved for either the TARP bailout or the much-loathed Obama stimulus. Instead of lending their new cash to struggling homeowners and small businesses, as Summers had promised, the banks were literally sitting on it.

Today, excess reserves at the Fed total an astonishing $1.4 trillion.”The money is just doing nothing,” says Nomi Prins, a former Goldman executive who has spent years monitoring the distribution of bailout money.

Nothing, that is, except earning a few crumbs of risk-free interest for the banks. Prins estimates that the annual haul in interest­ on Fed reserves is about $3.6 billion – a relatively tiny subsidy in the scheme of things, but one that, ironically, just about matches the total amount of bailout money spent on aid to homeowners. Put another way, banks are getting paid about as much every year for not lending money as 1 million Americans received for mortgage modifications and other housing aid in the whole of the past four years.

Moreover, instead of using the bailout money as promised – to jump-start the economy – Wall Street used the funds to make the economy more dangerous. From the start, taxpayer money was used to subsidize a string of finance mergers, from the Chase-Bear Stearns deal to the Wells Fargo­Wachovia merger to Bank of America’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch. Aided by bailout funds, being Too Big to Fail was suddenly Too Good to Pass Up.

Other banks found more creative uses for bailout money. In October 2010, Obama signed a new bailout bill creating a program called the Small Business Lending Fund, in which firms with fewer than $10 billion in assets could apply to share in a pool of $4 billion in public money. As it turned out, however, about a third of the 332 companies that took part in the program used at least some of the money to repay their original TARP loans. Small banks that still owed TARP money essentially took out cheaper loans from the government to repay their more expensive TARP loans – a move that conveniently exempted them from the limits on executive bonuses mandated by the bailout. All told, studies show, $2.2 billion of the $4 billion ended up being spent not on small-business loans, but on TARP repayment. “It’s a bit of a shell game,” admitted John Schmidt, chief operating officer of Iowa-based Heartland Financial, which took $81.7 million from the SBLF and used every penny of it to repay TARP.

Using small-business funds to pay down their own debts, parking huge amounts of cash at the Fed in the midst of a stalled economy – it’s all just evidence of what most Americans know instinctively: that the bailouts didn’t result in much new business lending. If anything, the bailouts actually hindered lending, as banks became more like house pets that grow fat and lazy on two guaranteed meals a day than wild animals that have to go out into the jungle and hunt for opportunities in order to eat. The Fed’s own analysis bears this out: In the first three months of the bailout, as taxpayer billions poured in, TARP recipients slowed down lending at a rate more than double that of banks that didn’t receive TARP funds. The biggest drop in lending – 3.1 percent – came from the biggest bailout recipient, Citigroup. A year later, the inspector general for the bailout found that lending among the nine biggest TARP recipients “did not, in fact, increase.” The bailout didn’t flood the banking system with billions in loans for small businesses, as promised. It just flooded the banking system with billions for the banks.

They Lied About the Health of the Banks

The main reason banks didn’t lend out bailout funds is actually pretty simple: Many of them needed the money just to survive. Which leads to another of the bailout’s broken promises – that taxpayer money would only be handed out to “viable” banks.

Soon after TARP passed, Paulson and other officials announced the guidelines for their unilaterally changed bailout plan. Congress had approved $700 billion to buy up toxic mortgages, but $250 billion of the money was now shifted to direct capital injections for banks. (Although Paulson claimed at the time that handing money directly to the banks was a faster way to restore market confidence than lending it to homeowners, he later confessed that he had been contemplating the direct-cash-injection plan even before the vote.) This new let’s-just-fork-over-cash portion of the bailout was called the Capital Purchase Program. Under the CPP, nine of America’s largest banks – including Citi, Wells Fargo, Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, State Street and Bank of New York Mellon – received $125 billion, or half of the funds being doled out. Since those nine firms accounted for 75 percent of all assets held in America’s banks – $11 trillion – it made sense they would get the lion’s share of the money. But in announcing the CPP, Paulson and Co. promised that they would only be stuffing cash into “healthy and viable” banks. This, at the core, was the entire justification for the bailout: That the huge infusion of taxpayer cash would not be used to rescue individual banks, but to kick-start the economy as a whole by helping healthy banks start lending again.

This announcement marked the beginning of the legend that certain Wall Street banks only took the bailout money because they were forced to – they didn’t need all those billions, you understand, they just did it for the good of the country. “We did not, at that point, need TARP,” Chase chief Jamie Dimon later claimed, insisting that he only took the money “because we were asked to by the secretary of Treasury.” Goldman chief Lloyd Blankfein similarly claimed that his bank never needed the money, and that he wouldn’t have taken it if he’d known it was “this pregnant with potential for backlash.” A joint statement by Paulson, Bernanke and FDIC chief Sheila Bair praised the nine leading banks as “healthy institutions” that were taking the cash only to “enhance the overall performance of the U.S. economy.”

But right after the bailouts began, soon-to-be Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner admitted to Barofsky, the inspector general, that he and his cohorts had picked the first nine bailout recipients because of their size, without bothering to assess their health and viability. Paulson, meanwhile, later admitted that he had serious concerns about at least one of the nine firms he had publicly pronounced healthy. And in November 2009, Bernanke gave a closed-door interview to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the body charged with investigating the causes of the economic meltdown, in which he admitted that 12 of the 13 most prominent financial companies in America were on the brink of failure during the time of the initial bailouts.

On the inside, at least, almost everyone connected with the bailout knew that the top banks were in deep trouble. “It became obvious pretty much as soon as I took the job that these companies weren’t really healthy and viable,” says Barofsky, who stepped down as TARP inspector in 2011.

This early episode would prove to be a crucial moment in the history of the bailout. It set the precedent of the government allowing unhealthy banks to not only call themselves healthy, but to get the government to endorse their claims. Projecting an image of soundness was, to the government, more important than disclosing the truth. Officials like Geithner and Paulson seemed to genuinely believe that the market’s fears about corruption in the banking system was a bigger problem than the corruption itself. Time and again, they justified TARP as a move needed to “bolster confidence” in the system – and a key to that effort was keeping the banks’ insolvency a secret. In doing so, they created a bizarre new two-tiered financial market, divided between those who knew the truth about how bad things were and those who did not.

A month or so after the bailout team called the top nine banks “healthy,” it became clear that the biggest recipient, Citigroup, had actually flat-lined on the ER table. Only weeks after Paulson and Co. gave the firm $25 billion in TARP funds, Citi – which was in the midst of posting a quarterly loss of more than $17 billion – came back begging for more. In November 2008, Citi received another $20 billion in cash and more than $300 billion in guarantees.

What’s most amazing about this isn’t that Citi got so much money, but that government-endorsed, fraudulent health ratings magically became part of its bailout. The chief financial regulators – the Fed, the FDIC and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency – use a ratings system called CAMELS to measure the fitness of institutions. CAMELS stands for Capital, Assets, Management, Earnings, Liquidity and Sensitivity to risk, and it rates firms from one to five, with one being the best and five the crappiest. In the heat of the crisis, just as Citi was receiving the second of what would turn out to be three massive federal bailouts, the bank inexplicably enjoyed a three rating – the financial equivalent of a passing grade. In her book, Bull by the Horns, then-FDIC chief Sheila Bair recounts expressing astonishment to OCC head John Dugan as to why “Citi rated as a CAMELS 3 when it was on the brink of failure.” Dugan essentially answered that “since the government planned on bailing Citi out, the OCC did not plan to change its supervisory rating.” Similarly, the FDIC ended up granting a “systemic risk exception” to Citi, allowing it access to FDIC-bailout help even though the agency knew the bank was on the verge of collapse.

The sweeping impact of these crucial decisions has never been fully appreciated. In the years preceding the bailouts, banks like Citi had been perpetuating a kind of fraud upon the public by pretending to be far healthier than they really were. In some cases, the fraud was outright, as in the case of Lehman Brothers, which was using an arcane accounting trick to book tens of billions of loans as revenues each quarter, making it look like it had more cash than it really did. In other cases, the fraud was more indirect, as in the case of Citi, which in 2007 paid out the third-highest dividend in America – $10.7 billion – despite the fact that it had lost $9.8 billion in the fourth quarter of that year alone. The whole financial sector, in fact, had taken on Ponzi-like characteristics, as many banks were hugely dependent on a continual influx of new money from things like sales of subprime mortgages to cover up massive future liabilities from toxic investments that, sooner or later, were going to come to the surface.

Now, instead of using the bailouts as a clear-the-air moment, the government decided to double down on such fraud, awarding healthy ratings to these failing banks and even twisting its numerical audits and assessments to fit the cooked-up narrative. A major component of the original TARP bailout was a promise to ensure “full and accurate accounting” by conducting regular­ “stress tests” of the bailout recipients. When Geithner announced his stress-test plan in February 2009, a reporter instantly blasted him with an obvious and damning question: Doesn’t the fact that you have to conduct these tests prove that bank regulators, who should already know plenty about banks’ solvency, actually have no idea who is solvent and who isn’t?

The government did wind up conducting regular stress tests of all the major bailout recipients, but the methodology proved to be such an obvious joke that it was even lampooned on Saturday Night Live. (In the skit, Geithner abandons a planned numerical score system because it would unfairly penalize bankers who were “not good at banking.”) In 2009, just after the first round of tests was released, it came out that the Fed had allowed banks to literally rejigger the numbers to make their bottom lines look better. When the Fed found Bank of America had a $50 billion capital hole, for instance, the bank persuaded examiners to cut that number by more than $15 billion because of what it said were “errors made by examiners in the analysis.” Citigroup got its number slashed from $35 billion to $5.5 billion when the bank pleaded with the Fed to give it credit for “pending transactions.”

Such meaningless parodies of oversight continue to this day. Earlier this year, Regions Financial Corp. – a company that had failed to pay back $3.5 billion in TARP loans – passed its stress test. A subsequent analysis by Bloomberg View found that Regions was effectively $525 million in the red. Nonetheless, the bank’s CEO proclaimed that the stress test “demonstrates the strength of our company.” Shortly after the test was concluded, the bank issued $900 million in stock and said it planned on using the cash to pay back some of the money it had borrowed under TARP.

This episode underscores a key feature of the bailout: the government’s decision to use lies as a form of monetary aid. State hands over taxpayer money to functionally insolvent bank; state gives regulatory thumbs up to said bank; bank uses that thumbs up to sell stock; bank pays cash back to state. What’s critical here is not that investors actually buy the Fed’s bullshit accounting – all they have to do is believe the government will backstop Regions either way, healthy or not. “Clearly, the Fed wanted it to attract new investors,” observed Bloomberg, “and those who put fresh capital into Regions this week believe the government won’t let it die.”

Through behavior like this, the government has turned the entire financial system into a kind of vast confidence game – a Ponzi-like scam in which the value of just about everything in the system is inflated because of the widespread belief that the government will step in to prevent losses. Clearly, a government that’s already in debt over its eyes for the next million years does not have enough capital on hand to rescue every Citigroup or Regions Bank in the land should they all go bust tomorrow. But the market is behaving as if Daddy will step in to once again pay the rent the next time any or all of these kids sets the couch on fire and skips out on his security deposit. Just like an actual Ponzi scheme, it works only as long as they don’t have to make good on all the promises they’ve made. They’re building an economy based not on real accounting and real numbers, but on belief. And while the signs of growth and recovery in this new faith-based economy may be fake, one aspect of the bailout has been consistently concrete: the broken promises over executive pay.

They Lied About Bonuses

hat executive bonuses on Wall Street were a political hot potato for the bailout’s architects was obvious from the start. That’s why Summers, in saving the bailout from the ire of Congress, vowed to “limit executive compensation” and devote public money to prevent another financial crisis. And it’s true, TARP did bar recipients from a whole range of exorbitant pay practices, which is one reason the biggest banks, like Goldman Sachs, worked so quickly to repay their TARP loans.

But there were all sorts of ways around the restrictions. Banks could apply to the Fed and other regulators for waivers, which were often approved (one senior FDIC official tells me he recommended denying “golden parachute” payments to Citigroup officials, only to see them approved by superiors). They could get bailouts through programs other than TARP that did not place limits on bonuses. Or they could simply pay bonuses not prohibited under TARP. In one of the worst episodes, the notorious lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac paid out more than $200 million in bonuses­ between 2008 and 2010, even though the firms (a) lost more than $100 billion in 2008 alone, and (b) required nearly $400 billion in federal assistance during the bailout period.

Even worse was the incredible episode in which bailout recipient AIG paid more than $1 million each to 73 employees of AIG Financial Products, the tiny unit widely blamed for having destroyed the insurance giant (and perhaps even triggered the whole crisis) with its reckless issuance of nearly half a trillion dollars in toxic credit-default swaps. The “retention bonuses,” paid after the bailout, went to 11 employees who no longer worked for AIG.

But all of these “exceptions” to the bonus restrictions are far less infuriating, it turns out, than the rule itself. TARP did indeed bar big cash-bonus payouts by firms that still owed money to the government. But those firms were allowed to issue extra compensation to executives in the form of long-term restricted stock. An independent research firm asked to analyze the stock options for The New York Times found that the top five executives at each of the 18 biggest bailout recipients received a total of $142 million in stocks and options. That’s plenty of money all by itself – but thanks in large part to the government’s overt display of support for those firms, the value of those options has soared to $457 million, an average of $4 million per executive.

In other words, we didn’t just allow banks theoretically barred from paying bonuses to pay bonuses. We actually allowed them to pay bigger bonuses than they otherwise could have. Instead of forcing the firms to reward top executives in cash, we allowed them to pay in depressed stock, the value of which we then inflated due to the government’s implicit endorsement of those firms.

All of which leads us to the last and most important deception of the bailouts:

They Lied About the Bailout Being Temporary

The bailout ended up being much bigger than anyone expected, expanded far beyond TARP to include more obscure (and in some cases far larger) programs with names like TALF, TAF, PPIP and TLGP. What’s more, some parts of the bailout were designed to extend far into the future. Companies like AIG, GM and Citigroup, for instance, were given tens of billions of deferred tax assets – allowing them to carry losses from 2008 forward to offset future profits and keep future tax bills down. Official estimates of the bailout’s costs do not include such ongoing giveaways. “This is stuff that’s never going to appear on any report,” says Barofsky.

Citigroup, all by itself, boasts more than $50 billion in deferred tax credits – which is how the firm managed to pay less in taxes in 2011 (it actually received a $144 million credit) than it paid in compensation that year to its since-ousted dingbat CEO, Vikram Pandit (who pocketed $14.9 million). The bailout, in short, enabled the very banks and financial institutions that cratered the global economy to write off the losses from their toxic deals for years to come – further depriving the government of much-needed tax revenues it could have used to help homeowners and small businesses who were screwed over by the banks in the first place.

Even worse, the $700 billion in TARP loans ended up being dwarfed by more than $7.7 trillion in secret emergency lending that the Fed awarded to Wall Street – loans that were only disclosed to the public after Congress forced an extraordinary one-time audit of the Federal Reserve. The extent of this “secret bailout” didn’t come out until November 2011, when Bloomberg Markets, which went to court to win the right to publish the data, detailed how the country’s biggest firms secretly received trillions in near-free money throughout the crisis.

Goldman Sachs, which had made such a big show of being reluctant about accepting $10 billion in TARP money, was quick to cash in on the secret loans being offered by the Fed. By the end of 2008, Goldman had snarfed up $34 billion in federal loans – and it was paying an interest rate of as low as just 0.01 percent for the huge cash infusion. Yet that funding was never disclosed to shareholders or taxpayers, a fact Goldman confirms. “We did not disclose the amount of our participation in the two programs you identify,” says Goldman spokesman Michael Duvally.

Goldman CEO Blankfein later dismissed the importance of the loans, telling the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that the bank wasn’t “relying on those mechanisms.” But in his book, Bailout, Barofsky says that Paulson told him that he believed Morgan Stanley was “just days” from collapse before government intervention, while Bernanke later admitted that Goldman would have been the next to fall.

Meanwhile, at the same moment that leading banks were taking trillions in secret loans from the Fed, top officials at those firms were buying up stock in their companies, privy to insider info that was not available to the public at large. Stephen Friedman, a Goldman director who was also chairman of the New York Fed, bought more than $4 million of Goldman stock over a five-week period in December 2008 and January 2009 – years before the extent of the firm’s lifeline from the Fed was made public. Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit bought nearly $7 million in Citi stock in November 2008, just as his firm was secretly taking out $99.5 billion in Fed loans. Jamie Dimon bought more than $11 million in Chase stock in early 2009, at a time when his firm was receiving as much as $60 billion in secret Fed loans. When asked by Rolling Stone, Chase could not point to any disclosure of the bank’s borrowing from the Fed until more than a year later, when Dimon wrote about it in a letter to shareholders in March 2010.

The stock purchases by America’s top bankers raise serious questions of insider trading. Two former high-ranking financial regulators tell Rolling Stone that the secret loans were likely subject to a 1989 guideline, issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the heat of the savings and loan crisis, which said that financial institutions should disclose the “nature, amounts and effects” of any government aid. At the end of 2011, in fact, the SEC sent letters to Citigroup, Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Wells Fargo asking them why they hadn’t fully disclosed their secret borrowing. All five megabanks essentially replied, to varying degrees of absurdity, that their massive borrowing from the Fed was not “material,” or that the piecemeal disclosure they had engaged in was adequate. Never mind that the law says investors have to be informed right away if CEOs like Dimon and Pandit decide to give themselves a $10,000 raise. According to the banks, it’s none of your business if those same CEOs are making use of a secret $50 billion charge card from the Fed.

The implications here go far beyond the question of whether Dimon and Co. committed insider trading by buying and selling stock while they had access to material nonpublic information about the bailouts. The broader and more pressing concern is the clear implication that by failing to act, federal regulators­ have tacitly approved the nondisclosure. Instead of trusting the markets to do the right thing when provided with accurate information, the government has instead channeled Jack Nicholson – and decided that the public just can’t handle the truth.

All of this – the willingness to call dying banks healthy, the sham stress tests, the failure to enforce bonus rules, the seeming indifference to public disclosure, not to mention the shocking­ lack of criminal investigations into fraud committed by bailout recipients before the crash – comprised the largest and most valuable bailout of all. Brick by brick, statement by reassuring statement, bailout officials have spent years building the government’s great Implicit Guarantee to the biggest companies on Wall Street: We will be there for you, always, no matter how much you screw up. We will lie for you and let you get away with just about anything. We will make this ongoing bailout a pervasive and permanent part of the financial system. And most important of all, we will publicly commit to this policy, being so obvious about it that the markets will be able to put an exact price tag on the value of our preferential treatment.

The first independent study that attempted to put a numerical value on the Implicit Guarantee popped up about a year after the crash, in September 2009, when Dean Baker and Travis McArthur of the Center for Economic and Policy Research published a paper called “The Value of the ‘Too Big to Fail’ Big Bank Subsidy.” Baker and McArthur found that prior to the last quarter of 2007, just before the start of the crisis, financial firms with $100 billion or more in assets were paying on average about 0.29 percent less to borrow money than smaller firms.

By the second quarter of 2009, however, once the bailouts were in full swing, that spread had widened to 0.78 percent. The conclusion was simple: Lenders were about a half a point more willing to lend to a bank with implied government backing – even a proven-stupid bank – than they were to lend to companies who “must borrow based on their own credit worthiness.” The economists estimated that the lending gap amounted to an annual subsidy of $34 billion a year to the nation’s 18 biggest banks.

Today the borrowing advantage of a big bank remains almost exactly what it was three years ago – about 50 basis points, or half a percent. “These megabanks still receive subsidies in the sense that they can borrow on the capital markets at a discount rate of 50 or 70 points because of the implicit view that these banks are Too Big to Fail,” says Sen. Brown.

Why does the market believe that? Because the officials who administered the bailouts made that point explicitly, over and over again. When Geithner announced the implementation of the stress tests in 2009, for instance, he declared that banks who didn’t have enough money to pass the test could get it from the government. “We’re going to help this process by providing a new program of capital support for those institutions that need it,” Geithner said. The message, says Barofsky, was clear: “If the banks cannot raise capital, we will do it for them.” It was an Implicit Guarantee that the banks would not be allowed to fail – a point that Geithner and other officials repeatedly stressed over the years. “The markets took all those little comments by Geithner as a clue that the government is looking out for them,” says Baker. That psychological signaling, he concludes, is responsible for the crucial half-point borrowing spread.

The inherent advantage of bigger banks – the permanent, ongoing bailout they are still receiving from the government – has led to a host of gruesome consequences. All the big banks have paid back their TARP loans, while more than 300 smaller firms are still struggling to repay their bailout debts. Even worse, the big banks, instead of breaking down into manageable parts and becoming more efficient, have grown even bigger and more unmanageable, making the economy far more concentrated and dangerous than it was before. America’s six largest banks – Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley – now have a combined 14,420 subsidiaries, making them so big as to be effectively beyond regulation. A recent study by the Kansas City Fed found that it would take 70,000 examiners to inspect such trillion-dollar banks with the same level of attention normally given to a community bank. “The complexity is so overwhelming that no regulator can follow it well enough to regulate the way we need to,” says Sen. Brown, who is drafting a bill to break up the megabanks.

Worst of all, the Implicit Guarantee has led to a dangerous shift in banking behavior. With an apparently endless stream of free or almost-free money available to banks – coupled with a well-founded feeling among bankers that the government will back them up if anything goes wrong – banks have made a dramatic move into riskier and more speculative investments, including everything from high-risk corporate bonds to mortgage­backed securities to payday loans, the sleaziest and most disreputable end of the financial system. In 2011, banks increased their investments in junk-rated companies by 74 percent, and began systematically easing their lending standards in search of more high-yield customers to lend to.

This is a virtual repeat of the financial crisis, in which a wave of greed caused bankers to recklessly chase yield everywhere, to the point where lowering lending standards became the norm. Now the government, with its Implicit Guarantee, is causing exactly the same behavior – meaning the bailouts have brought us right back to where we started. “Government intervention,” says Klaus Schaeck, an expert on bailouts who has served as a World Bank consultant, “has definitely resulted in increased risk.”

And while the economy still mostly sucks overall, there’s never been a better time to be a Too Big to Fail bank. Wells Fargo reported a third-quarter profit of nearly $5 billion last year, while JP Morgan Chase pocketed $5.3 billion – roughly double what both banks earned in the third quarter of 2006, at the height of the mortgage bubble. As the driver of their success, both banks cite strong performance in – you guessed it – the mortgage market.

So what exactly did the bailout accomplish? It built a banking system that discriminates against community banks, makes Too Big to Fail banks even Too Bigger to Failier, increases risk, discourages sound business lending and punishes savings by making it even easier and more profitable to chase high-yield investments than to compete for small depositors. The bailout has also made lying on behalf of our biggest and most corrupt banks the official policy of the United States government. And if any one of those banks fails, it will cause another financial crisis, meaning we’re essentially wedded to that policy for the rest of eternity – or at least until the markets call our bluff, which could happen any minute now.

Other than that, the bailout was a smashing success.

© 2012 Rolling Stone
matt-taibbi

As Rolling Stone’s chief political reporter, Matt Taibbi’s predecessors include the likes of journalistic giants Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O’Rourke. Taibbi’s 2004 campaign journal Spanking the Donkey cemented his status as an incisive, irreverent, zero-bullshit reporter. His books include Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History, The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion, Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire.

Obama Sells Out Homeowners Again: Mortgage Settlement a Sad Joke February 23, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Housing/Homelessness.
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Published on Thursday, February 23, 2012 by Common Dreams

by  Ted Rall

Joe Nocera, the columnist currently challenging Tom Friedman for the title of Hackiest Militant Centrist Hack–it’s a tough job that just about everyone on The New York Times op-ed page has to do–loves the robo-signing settlement announced last week between the Obama Administration, 49 states and the five biggest mortgage banks. “Two cheers!” shouts Nocera.

Too busy to follow the news? Read Nocera. If he likes something, it’s probably stupid, evil, or both.

(Photo: CNN)

As penance for their sins–securitizing fraudulent mortgages, using forged deeds to foreclose on millions of Americans and oh, yeah, borking the entire world economy–Ally Financial, Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo have agreed to fork over $5 billion in cash. Under the terms of the new agreement they’re supposed to reduce the principal of loans to homeowners who are “underwater” on their mortgages–i.e. they owe more than their house is worth–by $17 billion.

Some homeowners will qualify for $3 billion in interest refinancing, something the banks have resisted since the ongoing depression began in late 2008.

What about those who got kicked out of their homes illegally? They split a pool of $1.5 billion. Sounds impressive. It’s not. Mark Zuckerberg is worth $45 billion.

“That probably nets out to less than $2,000 a person,” notes The Times. “There’s no doubt that the banks are happy with this deal. You would be, too, if your bill for lying to courts and end-running the law came to less than $2,000 per loan file.”

Readers will recall that I paid more than that for a speeding ticket. 68 in a 55. This is the latest sellout by a corrupt system that would rather line the pockets of felonious bankers than put them where they belong: prison.

Remember TARP, the initial bailout? Democrats and Republicans, George W. Bush and Barack Obama agreed to dole out $700 billion in public–plus $7.7 trillion funneled secretly through the Fed–to the big banks so they could “increase their lending in order to loosen credit markets,” in the words of Senator Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican.

Never happened.

Three years after TARP “tight home loan credit is affecting everything from home sales to household finances,” USA Today reported. “Many borrowers are struggling to qualify for loans to buy homes…Those who can get loans need higher credit scores and bigger down payments than they would have in recent years. They face more demands to prove their incomes, verify assets, show steady employment and explain things such as new credit cards and small bank account deposits. Even then, they may not qualify for the lowest interest rates.”

Financial experts aren’t surprised. TARP was a no-strings-attached deal devoid of any requirement that banks increase lending. You can hardly blame the bankers for taking advantage. They used the cash–money that might have been used to help distressed homeowners–to grow income on their overnight “float” and issue record raises to their CEOs.

Next came Obama’s “Home Affordable Modification Program” farce. Another toothless “voluntary” program, HAMP asked banks to do the same things they’ve just agreed to under the robo-signing settlement: allow homeowners who are struggling to refinance and possibly reduce their principals to reflect the collapse of housing prices in most markets.

Voluntary = worthless.

CNN reported on January 24th: “The HAMP program, which was designed to lower troubled borrowers’ mortgage rates to no more than 31% of their monthly income, ran into problems almost immediately. Many lenders lost documents, and many borrowers didn’t qualify. Three years later, it has helped a scant 910,000 homeowners–a far cry from the promised 4 million.”

Or the 15 million who needed help.

As usual, state-controlled media is too kind. Banks didn’t “lose” documents. They threw them away.

One hopes they recycled.

I wrote about my experience with HAMP: Chase Home Mortgage repeatedly asked for, received, confirmed receiving, then requested the same documents. They elevated the runaround to an art. My favorite part was how Chase wouldn’t respond to queries for a month, then request the bank statement for that month. They did this over and over. The final result: losing half my income “did not represent income loss.”

It’s simple math: in 67 percent of cases, banks make more money through foreclosure than working to keep families in their homes.

This time is different, claims the White House. “No more lost paperwork, no more excuses, no more runaround,” HUD secretary Shaun Donovan said February 9th. The new standards will “force the banks to clean up their acts.”

Don’t bet on it. The Administration promises “a robust enforcement mechanism”–i.e. an independent monitor. Such an agency, which would supervise the handling of million of distressed homeowners, won’t be able to handle the workload according to mortgage experts. Anyway, it’s not like there isn’t already a law. Law Professor Alan White of Valparaiso University notes: “Much of this [agreement] is restating obligations loan servicers already have.”

Finally, there’s the issue of fairness. “Underwater” is a scary, headline-grabbing word. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Tens of millions of homeowners have seen the value of their homes plummet since the housing crash. (The average home price fell from $270,000 in 2006 to $165,000 in 2011.) Those who are underwater tended not to have had much equity in their homes in the first place, having put down low downpayments. Why single them out for special assistance? Shouldn’t people who owned their homes free and clear and those who had significant equity at the beginning of crisis get as much help as those who lost less in the first place? What about renters? Why should people who were well-off enough to afford to buy a home get a payoff ahead of poor renters?

The biggest fairness issue of all, of course, is one of simple justice. If you steal someone’s house, you should go to jail. If your crimes are company policy, that company should be nationalized or forced out of business.

Your victim should get his or her house back, plus interest and penalties.

You shouldn’t pay less than a speeding ticket for stealing a house.

© 2012 Ted Rall

 

Ted Rall

Ted Rall is the author of the new books “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?,” and “The Anti-American Manifesto” . His website is tedrall.com.

 

 

Chris Hedges Arrested in Front of Goldman Sachs November 4, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Occupy Wall Street Movement.
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Posted on Nov 3, 2011

David Shankbone (CC-BY)
 

Chris Hedges made this statement in New York City’s Zuccotti Park on Thursday morning during the People’s Hearing on Goldman Sachs, which he chaired with Dr. Cornel West. The activist and Truthdig columnist then joined a march of several hundred protesters to the nearby corporate headquarters of Goldman Sachs, where he was arrested with 16 others.

Goldman Sachs, which received more subsidies and bailout-related funds than any other investment bank because the Federal Reserve permitted it to become a bank holding company under its “emergency situation,” has used billions in taxpayer money to enrich itself and reward its top executives. It handed its senior employees a staggering $18 billion in 2009, $16 billion in 2010 and $10 billion in 2011 in mega-bonuses. This massive transfer of wealth upwards by the Bush and Obama administrations, now estimated at $13 trillion to $14 trillion, went into the pockets of those who carried out fraud and criminal activity rather than the victims who lost their jobs, their savings and often their homes.

Goldman Sachs’ commodities index is the most heavily traded in the world. Goldman Sachs hoards rice, wheat, corn, sugar and livestock and jacks up commodity prices around the globe so that poor families can no longer afford basic staples and literally starve. Goldman Sachs is able to carry out its malfeasance at home and in global markets because it has former officials filtered throughout the government and lavishly funds compliant politicians—including Barack Obama, who received $1 million from employees at Goldman Sachs in 2008 when he ran for president. These politicians, in return, permit Goldman Sachs to ignore security laws that under a functioning judiciary system would see the firm indicted for felony fraud. Or, as in the case of Bill Clinton, these politicians pass laws such as the 2000 Commodity Futures Modernization Act that effectively removed all oversight and outside control over the speculation in commodities, one of the major reasons food prices have soared. In 2008 and again in 2010 prices for crops such as rice, wheat and corn doubled and even tripled, making life precarious for hundreds of millions of people. And it was all done so a few corporate oligarchs, the 1 percent, could make personal fortunes in the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars. Despite a damning 650-page Senate subcommittee investigation report, no individual at Goldman Sachs has been indicted, although the report accuses Goldman of defrauding its clients. 

When the government in the fall 2008 provided the firm with billions of dollars in the form of cheap loans, FDIC debt guarantees, TARP, AIG make-wholes, and a late-night label-shift from investment bank to bank holding company, giving the firm access to excessive Federal Reserve aid, access [the corporation] still has, it enabled and abetted Goldman’s criminal behavior. Goldman Sachs unloaded billions in worthless securities to its clients, decimating 401(k)s, pension and mutual funds. The firm misled investors about the true nature of these worthless securities, insisted the securities they were pushing on their clients were sound, and hid the material fact that, simultaneously, they were betting against these same securities—$2 billion against just one of their deals. The firm then had the gall to extort from its victims—us—to make good on its bets when the global economy it helped trash lost $40 trillion in worldwide wealth and huge insurance firms were unable to cover their bad debts.

The Securities Act of 1933, established in the wake of the massive fraud that pervaded the securities market before the 1929 Crash, was written to ensure that “any securities transactions are not based on fraudulent information or practices.” The act “prohibits deceit, misrepresentation, and other fraud in the sale of securities.” The subcommittee report indicates that Goldman Sachs clearly broke security laws.

As part of the political theater that has come to replace the legislative and judicial process, the Securities and Exchange Commission agreed to a $550 million settlement whereby Goldman Sachs admitted it showed “incomplete” information in marketing materials and that it was a “mistake” to not disclose the nature of its portfolio selection committee. This fine was a payoff to the SEC by Goldman Sachs of about four days’ worth of revenue, and in return they avoided going to court. CEO Lloyd Blankfein apparently not only lied to clients, but to the subcommittee itself on April 27, 2010, when he told lawmakers: “We didn’t have a massive short against the housing market, and we certainly did not bet against our clients.” Yet, they did.

 

And yet nothing has been done. No Goldman Sachs officials have gone to trial. This is because there is no way within the corporate state to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs. There is no way through the formal mechanisms of power to restore the rule of law. There is no way to protect the ordinary citizen and the poor around the globe from the predatory activity of financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs. Since our courts refuse to put on trial the senior executives at Goldman Sachs, including Blankfein, who carried out these crimes and lied to cover them up, we will. Speculators like those in Goldman Sachs—who in the 17th century when speculation was a crime would have been hanged—must be prevented by law from again destroying our economy, preying on ordinary citizens, hoarding food so the poor starve and running our political process. We are paying for these crimes—not those who orchestrated perhaps the most massive fraud in human history. Our teachers, police, firefighters and public employees are losing their jobs so speculators like Blankfein can make an estimated $250,000 a day. Working men and women are losing their homes and going into personal bankruptcy because they cannot pay their medical bills. Our unemployed, far closer to 20 percent than the official 9 percent, are in deep distress all so a criminal class, a few blocks from where I speak, can wallow in luxury with mansions and yachts and swollen bank accounts.

What we are asking for today is simple—it is a return to the rule of law. And since the formal mechanisms of power refuse to restore the rule of law, then we, the 99 percent, will have to see that justice is done.

Attacks on NY AG Standing Up for Main Street Show Wall Street’s Control Over August 26, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis.
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Attacks on New York’s attorney general Eric Schneiderman
expose the destructive thinking of our financial and political elites.

August 25, 2011  |
The following article first appeared at Working In
These Times
, the labor blog of In These
Times
magazine. For more news and analysis like this, sign
up to receive In These Times
weekly updates.

“Corporations are people, my friend,” Mitt Romney recently declared.

That was pretty clumsy coming from a mega-millionaire Republican candidate,
as he was backing the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United
opposed by no less than 80 percent of the public because of the enormous
political power it confers
upon the rich.

But how about the notion that “Wall Street is our Main Street,” which was voiced
by Federal Reserve official Kathryn Wylde? Her assertion was especially
startling because her explicit duty is “to represent
the public” in determining how to handle the massive wrongdoing of major banks
in ramming through home foreclosures.

However, Wylde was merely being honest about the aims of federal policy. The
idea that “Wall Street is Main Street” and its protection was the uppermost goal
in the mind of top Treasury Department officials. The plight of working families
on the verge of losing their homes—well, that was somehow a much, much lower
priority.

The major banks—Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells
Fargo—are facing legal pressure from the attorneys general of all 50 states over
their practices, including “robo-signing.

With the ownership of mortgages spread among thousands of investors due to
securities designed to minimize the risk, it becomes hopelessly complex to prove
ownership of a home when a bank wants to foreclose, as Chris Hayes of The
Nation
explained on MSNBC Wednesday night.

But no sweat! Presto—the banks came up with reams of bogus documents and then
hired employees whose job was to sign affidavits saying that yes, indeed, Bank
of America owned the home in question. Untold thousands of families were thus
illegally evicted.

These unlawful practices brought together the 50 attorneys general who
demanded—no, not time in jail for bank CEOs—$20 billion in fines that would be
devoted to mortgage modifications. In exchange, the bankers would get total
immunity from prosecution.

When New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman—who this week was dismissed
from the executive committee of the 50-state AG investigation—balked at
accepting the deal, Wylde, the public’s watchdog, told
him,

It is of concern to the industry that instead of trying to facilitate
resolving these issues, you seem to be throwing a wrench into it. Wall Street is
our Main Street — love ’em or hate ’em. They are important and we have to make
sure we are doing everything we can to support them unless they are doing
something indefensible.

Wylde’s concern for the banks—already the recipients of taxpayers’ generous
2008 TARP bailout package—has been matched throughout the past two and a half
years of Obama administration programs designed to help homeowners.

The programs were supposed to help desperate
working families faced with rising
interest rates and falling home values to stay in their homes.

Recent reports and articles on foreclosures should assure Wylde that the
bankers have been treated with kid gloves from day one of the mortgage-relief
programs. First, the Obama Administration apparently ruled out the idea of
prosecuting bank officials for their multiple offenses, as Mary Bottari of
Bankster USA points
out:

Perverse incentives on Wall Street allowed top executives to make more money
on flawed loans than boring old 30-year mortgages.

Even though there is widespread agreement that Wall Street’s endless appetite
for high-interest, high-fees loans to fuel the mortgage securitization machine
had a causal role in supercharging the housing bubble, not one mortgage servicer
provider or big bank CEO has been put in jail. This compares to over 1,000
successful prosecutions of top officers during the Savings and Loan crisis of
the late 1980s.

The almost uniform judgment of government officials outside Treasury
Secretary Timothy Geithner is that the homeowner assistance programs have been a
disaster. Former Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware said: “We have a $700 billion
program that basically helped all the banks but really hasn’t done a whole lot
for people who in the process of losing their homes.”

Elizabeth Warren, the consumer advocate who inspires fear and loathing among
Republicans, “grilled” Geithner at a June hearing in Washington D.C. for shaping
the programs around the needs of banks and other financial institutions rather
than homeowners, the New York Times reported:

“Forgive me, Mr. Secretary, but you say we designed the program from the
beginning, in effect you’re saying, not to save everyone,” she said. “You
designed it around servicers who, I wrote it down when you said it, ‘servicers
have done a terrible job.’

“We only have three months left, with hundreds
of thousands of families facing foreclosure,” she continued. “Is it time to
rethink whether or not a mortgage foreclosure prevention program that is based
on a group of servicers whom you describe as having done a terrible job, is a
program that perhaps should be redesigned?”

Particularly tragic is that these programs were proposed at a moment when the
public was ready
for truly innovative action to help families on the verge of losing their
homes.

With the antiforeclosure programs failing so badly, the nation is in no
condition to cope with a housing picture that is, if anything, worsening,
according to economist Jack Rasmus.

Foreclosures now approach 10 million, with some sources predicting 13-14
million before the current housing cycle bottoms. That’s about one-fourth of all
mortgages in the U.S. The numbers for homes in negative equity are even greater at around 16 million.

 LeonBNJ
It’s all about the
money. Much of our finacial services industry and their leaders are based in NY
City and adjacent areas, providing directly and indirectly 500,000 jobs.many of
them among the best paying and paying a living wage. That also means huge
precentages of tax revenues to NY City and State as well as huge amounts of
campaign contibutions/bribes to politicans of both parties. That means you don’t
want to chase them out with even sound and reasoned criminal proscution or civil
actions to Texas or other rich and corporate friendly states.
Don’t forget
that the NYS AG is an elected position, so they too are looking for campaign
contributions thus comprimising their proscution policies. Look at what happened
to Elliot Spitzer who went after the NY Stock Exchange and AIG where somehow it
come up that he was seeing prostitutes – probably by those interests having
private investigators looking for any dirt they could throw on him to get
revenge for his active going after their abuses.

Too Big to Jail May 24, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis.
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 Goldman Sach’s Lloyd Blankfein

Published on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

  by  Danny Schechter

This week the financial crisis finally went prime time in the form of a big budget HBO docudrama called “Too Big To Fail.”Goldman Sach’s Lloyd Blankfein. (File)

It was a well-acted docudrama focused on the BIG men and some women in the banks and in government who tried to put Humpty Dumpty back together again up on that wall to prevent a total economic collapse when panic dried up credit and financial institutions faced failure.

Based on the work of a New York Times reporter, it offered a skillfully-made but conventional narrative which, like most TV shows, showcase events but miss their deeper context and background.

We heard all the explanations, save one.

There was greed, ambition, ego and money lust. There were personal rivalries and ideological battles, parochial agendas and narrow self-interest. There was panic on THE Street and in the halls of mighty institutions. In many ways, the program recycled and made an official narrative compelling viewing. In the end, everyone was to blame so no one was to blame.

But… what was missing was any notion of intentionality and premeditation, almost no mention of systemic fraud and CRIME, that one word that sums up what really happened for those millions of Americans who have lost jobs and homes. We never saw victims or felt their pain and bewilderment. We were never shown how a shadow banking system emerged or how the finance industry worked with their counterparts in finance and insurance to transfer wealth from the poor and middle class to the superrich,

When I was but a precocious lad, my elementary school encouraged students to take out a savings account at the nearby Dime Bank in the Bronx. We were each given a bankbook and taught to put in $.50 a week to show us how to build wealth by being thrifty. It was with a sense of pride that I watched my balance grow.

It may have been peanuts in the scheme of things, but to me, at the time, it was the way to plan for the future.

At the same time, in those year I watched TV shows glamorize the bank robbing antics of a man named Willie Sutton who also staged jail breaks wearing masks and costumes. When he was asked why he robbed banks, he responded famously, “That’s where the money is.”

And it still is, except in our era, it is the banks that are robbing us.

That’s because what’s now called the “financial Services sector” has gone from about 30 percent of our economy to over 60 percent. Through a process called financialization, they have transformed how all business is done.

Making money from money soon began to surpass making money from making things. What we were never warned about was the danger of getting too deeply in debt, or how the economy was shifting from production to consumption.

Private equity, credit swaps, derivative deals and collateralized debt obligations soon drove the economy. Markets became captives of high performance trading by powerful computers.

When Wall Street became the defacto capital of the country, the bankers accrued more power than the politicians who they bought up with impunity. Their lobbying power deregulated the economy and decriminalized their activities. They killed many of the reforms enacted during the New Deal designed to protect the public. They built a shadow (and shadowy) banking system beyond the reach of the law.

And now, here we are, in 2011, five years after the meltdown of 2007, four years after the crash of 2008 and the passage of the TARP bailout that pumped money into their treasuries at taxpayer expense. Since then, there has been a steady parade of scandals and the disclosures that have come out since. Every week, more banks close and or consolidate and run into problems with regulators.

Take “my” old bank in the Bronx. It has been through as many changes as I have been. A website on bank histories runs it down:

Dime Savings Bank of New York, The
04/12/1859 NYS Chartered Dime Savings Bank of Brooklyn
09/10/1930 Acquire By Merger Navy Savings Bank
06/30/1970 Name Change To Dime Savings Bank of New York, The
09/30/1979 Acquire By Merger Mechanics Exchange Savings Bank
07/01/1980 Acquire By Merger First Federal S & L Assoc. of Port Washington
08/01/1981 Acquire By Merger Union Savings Bank of New York
06/23/1983 Convert Federal Dime Savings Bank of NY, FSB
01/07/2002 Purchased By Washington Mutual Inc.
01/07/2002 Name Change To Washington Mutual Bank

And then, of course, some years later, Washington Mutual itself, went bust and was bought up for a song by JP Morgan Chase. Here are some of the latest headlines about the bank now known as WAMU:

WaMu agrees on post-bankruptcy control — report‎ – Reuters
WaMu, Shareholders, Biggest Creditors Said to Settle …‎ – Bloomberg
WaMu shareholders are offered $25M-plus to drop claims

On the day I wrote this commentary, the New York Times reported:

“The nation’s biggest banks and mortgage lenders have steadily amassed real estate empires, acquiring a glut of foreclosed homes that threatens to deepen the housing slump and create a further drag on the economic recovery.

All told, they own more than 872,000 homes as a result of the groundswell in foreclosures, almost twice as many as when the financial crisis began in 2007, according to RealtyTrac.”

And to whom does the Times turn for expertise on the subject, but a key former operative at Washington Mutual who was with the bank in the go-go era of shoveling out subprime mortgages? Now, he gives advice on risk management:

“These shops are under siege; it’s just a tsunami of stuff coming in,” said Taj Bindra, who oversaw Washington Mutual’s servicing unit from 2004 to 2006 and now advises financial institutions on risk management. “Lenders have a strong incentive to clear out inventory in a controlled and timely manner, but if you had problems on the front end of the foreclosure process, it should be no surprise you are having problems on the back end.”

What were people’s homes are now “inventory” to be stockpiled even though it has a negative cumulative effect on economic recovery of the housing market.

The banks that are increasingly despised and blamed for their role in engineering the financial disaster, are now trying to play nice to change their negative image.

Explains the Times:

“Conscious of their image, many lenders have recently started telling real estate agents to be more lenient to renters who happen to live in a foreclosed home and give them extra time to move out before changing the locks.

“Wells Fargo has sent me back knocking on doors two or three times, offering to give renters money if they cooperate with us,” said Claude A. Worrell, a longtime real estate agent from Minneapolis who specializes in selling bank-owned property. “It’s a lot different than it used to be.”

So, they are still foreclosing, but with a smile. Is it a ‘lot different than it used to be’?
Just last month, Huffington Post reported:

“Top executives at Washington Mutual actively boosted sales of high-risk, toxic mortgages in the two years prior to the bank’s collapse in 2008, according to emails published in a wide-ranging Senate report that contradicts previous public testimony about the meltdown.

The voluminous, 639-page report on the financial crisis from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations singles out Washington Mutual for its decision to champion its subprime lending business, even as executives privately acknowledged that a housing bubble was about to burst.”

The truth is that most of the bigger banks have emerged from the financial crisis stronger than ever, with executives cashing in with higher salaries and bigger bonuses. That old saying about criminals who “laughed all the way to the bank” has to be revised because in this case they never left the bank.

More shocking has been the largely passive response by our government and prosecutors. At last, the Attorney General of New York is said to be investigating but none of the big bankers have yet gone to jail or suffered for the scams and frauds they committed. Most of the State officials who vowed to after the banks in the absence of aggressive federal actions have backed down.

So what can “we the people” do? We can do nothing and watch more of what’s left of our wealth vanish, or we can join others in demanding a “jailout,” not a bailout.

A well-known international banker was just arrested for a high profile alleged sex crime but not one of possibly thousands have been prosecuted for well documented financial crimes.

Where are the political leaders and activist groups willing to “fight the power” and demand accountability and transparency on Wall Street?

Why are so many us banking on a financial recovery to bring back jobs and a modicum of justice created by the very people and institutions responsible for the crisis?

And why didn’t I learn about these dangers when I first discovered the wonderful world of banking? Isn’t that what schools are for?

<!–

–>

Danny Schechter

Mediachannel’s News Dissector Danny Schechter investigates the origins of the economic crisis in his book Plunder: Investigating Our Economic Calamity and the Subprime Scandal (Cosimo Books via Amazon). Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org

Who Are You and What Have You Done With the Community Organizer We Elected President? November 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis.
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Published on Wednesday, November 18, 2009 by TruthDig.comby Robert Scheer

What’s up with Barack Obama? The candidate for change once promised to take on the powerful banking interests but is now doing their bidding. Finally, a leading Democrat, in this case Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, has a good idea for monitoring the Wall Street fat cats who all but destroyed the American economy, and the Obama administration condemns it.

Dodd wants to take supervisory power from the Federal Reserve, which is controlled by the banks it pretends to monitor, and put it in the hands of a new independent agency. That makes sense given the Fed’s abject failure to properly monitor the financial sector over the past decade as that industry got drunk on greed. As Dodd’s spokeswoman Kirstin Brost put it: “The Federal Reserve flat out failed at supervising the largest, most complex firms.” But White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee frets that taking power from the Fed would cause financial industry “nervousness.” Isn’t that the whole point of government regulation-to make the bandits look over their shoulders before they launch their next destructive scam?

Not so in the view of Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, who blithely insists that the Fed “is the best agency equipped for the task of supervising the largest, most complex firms,” despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary. There is some irony in the fact that the largest of those complex firms got to be “too big to fail” because of the radical deregulatory legislation that Wolin drafted during his previous incarnation as the Treasury Department’s general counsel in the Clinton administration. Wolin is now deputy to Timothy Geithner, who as head of the New York Fed in the five years preceding the banking meltdown looked the other way as the disaster began to unfold.

Why is Barack Obama allowing these retreads from the Clinton era who went on to great riches on Wall Street to set economic policy for his administration? The fatal hallmark of this president’s financial policy is that it is being designed by the very people whose previous legislative efforts created the mess that enriched them while impoverishing the nation, and they now want more of the same.

In the Clinton years, Wolin was general counsel to then-Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, the key architect of the radical deregulation that caused the recent banking collapse. Summers went off to work for hedge funds and banks that paid him $15 million in 2008 while he was advising Obama. Meanwhile, Wolin became general counsel for Hartford Insurance Corp., which had to be bailed out by the taxpayers because it took advantage of the radical deregulation that he helped write into law.

Wolin, Geithner and Summers were all protégés of Robert Rubin, who, as Clinton’s treasury secretary, was the grand author of the strategy of freeing Wall Street firms from their Depression-era constraints. It was Wolin who, at Rubin’s behest, became a key force in drafting the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which ended the barrier between investment and commercial banks and insurance companies, thus permitting the new financial behemoths to become too big to fail. Two stunning examples of such giants that had to be rescued with public funds are Citigroup bank, where Rubin went to “earn” $120 million after leaving the Clinton White House, and the Hartford Insurance Co., where Wolin landed after he left Treasury.

Both Citigroup and Hartford would not have gotten into trouble were it not for the enabling legislation that the three Clinton officials pushed through while they were in power. But even with that law, had Geithner been on the case protecting the public interest while head of the New York Fed much of the damage could have been avoided.

Thanks to the legislation that Wolin helped write, the limits preventing mergers between insurance companies and banks imposed during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency was reversed. Hartford got into banking, and as The Washington Times observed in a scathing editorial, “Hartford … rushed to buy regulated savings and loans just so they could call themselves banks and qualify for government TARP funds.” Wolin collected his millions while the taxpayers were obliged to cover Hartford’s losses.

It is depressing for a columnist who had great hopes for Obama to be forced by the facts to credit editors at the right-wing Washington Times for getting it right when they opined: “Revolving doors between industry and the administration and fat-cat political contributors getting bailed out at taxpayer expense sound like business as usual. This certainly isn’t change we can believe in.” Please, Mr. President, say it ain’t so.

© 2009 TruthDig.com

Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.

Bailout Plan Hits the Poor June 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Poverty.
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Published on Sunday, June 14, 2009 by ColorLines by Victor Corral

When Congress hastily created and passed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) last fall to bail out the financial sector, the program didn’t offer any consumer protection against the type of predatory lending practices that led to the financial crisis. It came as no surprise, then, when Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, a self-described “community bank” in California, announced in January that it was intending to use its $180 million in bailout money to make high-priced refund anticipation loans, known as RALs.

RALs are short-term loans borrowed against a consumer’s tax refund. They’re often advertised as “quick cash,” because they allow people to get their tax refund in days instead of waiting for the IRS, which can take at least 10 days. Historically, poor communities have been targeted for these loans. According to the IRS, 85 percent of the people who took RALs in 2006 had incomes of $37,300 or less, and nearly two-thirds were recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit. On average, a person pays between $200 and $500 in fees for a RAL.

This tax season, it’s expected that low-income taxpayers will pay more than $1 billion in fees and triple-digit interest rates associated with RALs.

Refund anticipation loans are made by a handful of banks, including HSBC, JP Morgan Chase and Santa Barbara Bank & Trust. The banks give tax preparers—including H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt, as well as preparers found at places like used car lots—a share of
the hundreds of dollars in “application,” “processing” and “e-file” fees that can be made from a single loan.

“These multimillion dollar corporations are basically skimming off another layer of taxpayer money with these loans,” said Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, an organization that specializes in consumer law issues on behalf of low-income people.

While refund anticipation loans can be classified as abusive, predatory loans, they escape government regulation because they are bank loans, Wu said. National banks are immune to state consumer protection laws. Other than requiring full disclosure about RALs, all most states can do is sue for the fraud frequently associated with these loans.

Recently, the IRS began to implement the initial phase of a new system to process tax returns and issue refunds within 48 to 72 hours. “While this is significant, the refund anticipation loan business is anticipating this,” said Kimberly S. Jones of the California Reinvestment Coalition, a group that advocates for fair access to banking and financial services. “Now, some preparers provide RALs where you can walk out of there with a check or a check card. But it’s still a good thing, because it shortens the amount of time that they can accrue interest.”

Staff from the California Reinvestment Coalition and other groups recently met with Congress members to alert them to how bailout money was being used. “There was a lack of awareness on how TARP funds were being used” said Jones, who added that the groups are going to keep pressing Congress and the media about this “because there is a genuine, and appropriate, disgust with how TARP has been spent.” © 2009 ColorLines

Grand Theft Auto: How Stevie the Rat Bankrupted GM June 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
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Monday 01 June 2009

by: Greg Palast  |  Visit article original @ GregPalast.com

Screw the autoworkers. They may be crying about General Motors’ bankruptcy today. But dumping 40,000 of the last 60,000 union jobs into a mass grave won’t spoil Jamie Dimon’s day.

    Dimon is the CEO of JP Morgan Chase bank. While GM workers are losing their retirement health benefits, their jobs, their life savings; while shareholders are getting zilch and many creditors getting hosed, a few privileged GM lenders – led by Morgan and Citibank – expect to get back 100% of their loans to GM, a stunning $6 billion.

    The way these banks are getting their $6 billion bonanza is stone cold illegal.

    I smell a rat.

    Stevie the Rat, to be precise. Steven Rattner, Barack Obama’s “Car Czar” – the man who essentially ordered GM into bankruptcy this morning.

    When a company goes bankrupt, everyone takes a hit: fair or not, workers lose some contract wages, stockholders get wiped out and creditors get fragments of what’s left. That’s the law. What workers don’t lose are their pensions (including old-age health funds) already taken from their wages and held in their name.

    But not this time. Stevie the Rat has a different plan for GM: grab the pension funds to pay off Morgan and Citi.

    Here’s the scheme: Rattner is demanding the bankruptcy court simply wipe away the money GM owes workers for their retirement health insurance. Cash in the insurance fund would be replaced by GM stock. The percentage may be 17% of GM’s stock – or 25%. Whatever, 17% or 25% is worth, well … just try paying for your dialysis with 50 shares of bankrupt auto stock.

    Yet Citibank and Morgan, says Rattner, should get their whole enchilada – $6 billion right now and in cash – from a company that can’t pay for auto parts or worker eye exams.

    Preventive Detention for Pensions

    So what’s wrong with seizing workers’ pension fund money in a bankruptcy? The answer, Mr. Obama, Mr. Law Professor, is that it’s illegal.

    In 1974, after a series of scandalous take-downs of pension and retirement funds during the Nixon era, Congress passed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. ERISA says you can’t seize workers’ pension funds (whether monthly payments or health insurance) any more than you can seize their private bank accounts. And that’s because they are the same thing: workers give up wages in return for retirement benefits.

    The law is darn explicit that grabbing pension money is a no-no. Company executives must hold these retirement funds as “fiduciaries.” Here’s the law, Professor Obama, as described on the government’s own web site under the heading, “Health Plans and Benefits.”

    

“The primary responsibility of fiduciaries is to run the plan solely in the interest of participants and beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits.”

    Every business in America that runs short of cash would love to dip into retirement kitties, but it’s not their money any more than a banker can seize your account when the bank’s a little short. A plan’s assets are for the plan’s members only, not for Mr. Dimon nor Mr. Rubin.

    Yet, in effect, the Obama Administration is demanding that money for an elderly auto worker’s spleen should be siphoned off to feed the TARP babies. Workers go without lung transplants so Dimon and Rubin can pimp out their ride. This is another “Guantanamo” moment for the Obama Administration – channeling Nixon to endorse the preventive detention of retiree health insurance.

    Filching GM’s pension assets doesn’t become legal because the cash due the fund is replaced with GM stock. Congress saw through that switch-a-roo by requiring that companies, as fiduciaries, must

    

“… act prudently and must diversify the plan’s investments in order to minimize the risk of large losses.”

    By “diversify” for safety, the law does not mean put 100% of worker funds into a single busted company’s stock.

    This is dangerous business: The Rattner plan opens the floodgate to every politically-connected or down-on-their-luck company seeking to drain health care retirement funds.

    House of Rubin

    Pensions are wiped away and two connected banks don’t even get a haircut? How come Citi and Morgan aren’t asked, like workers and other creditors, to take stock in GM?

    As Butch said to Sundance, who ARE these guys? You remember Morgan and Citi. These are the corporate Welfare Queens who’ve already sucked up over a third of a trillion dollars in aid from the US Treasury and Federal Reserve. Not coincidentally, Citi, the big winner, has paid over $100 million to Robert Rubin, the former US Treasury Secretary. Rubin was Obama’s point-man in winning banks’ endorsement and campaign donations (by far, his largest source of his corporate funding).

    With GM’s last dying dimes about to fall into one pocket, and the Obama Treasury in his other pocket, Morgan’s Jamie Dimon is correct in saying that the last twelve months will prove to be the bank’s “finest year ever.”

    Which leaves us to ask the question: is the forced bankruptcy of GM, the elimination of tens of thousands of jobs, just a collection action for favored financiers?

    And it’s been a good year for Senor Rattner. While the Obama Administration made a big deal out of Rattner’s youth spent working for the Steelworkers Union, they tried to sweep under the chassis that Rattner was one of the privileged, select group of investors in Cerberus Capital, the owners of Chrysler. “Owning” is a loose term. Cerberus “owned” Chrysler the way a cannibal “hosts” you for dinner. Cerberus paid nothing for Chrysler – indeed, they were paid billions by Germany’s Daimler Corporation to haul it away. Cerberus kept the cash, then dumped Chrysler’s bankrupt corpse on the US taxpayer.

    (“Cerberus,” by the way, named itself after the Roman’s mythical three-headed dog guarding the gates of Hell. Subtle these guys are not.)

    While Stevie the Rat sold his interest in the Dog from Hell when he became Car Czar, he never relinquished his post at the shop of vultures called Quadrangle Hedge Fund. Rattner’s personal net worth stands at roughly half a billion dollars. This is Obama’s working class hero.

    If you ran a business and played fast and loose with your workers’ funds, you could land in prison. Stevie the Rat’s plan is nothing less than Grand Theft Auto Pension.

    It doesn’t make it any less of a crime if the President drives the getaway car.

    ——-

    Economist and journalist Greg Palast, a former trade union contract negotiator, is author of the New York Times bestsellers “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” and “Armed Madhouse.” He is a GM bondholder and card-carrying member of United Automobile Workers Local 1981. Palast’s latest reports for BBC Television and Democracy Now! are collected on the newly released DVD, “Palast Investigates: From 8-Mile to the Amazon – on the trail of the financial marauders.” Watch the trailer here.

Mortgaging the White House May 2, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Finally, here we are at the end of this week of a hundred days. As everyone in the western world probably knows by now, this benchmark for assessing presidencies goes back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who arrived at the White House in the depths of the Great Depression.

In his first hundred days, FDR came out swinging. He shut down the banks, threw the money lenders from the temple, cranked out so much legislation so fast he would shout to his secretary, Grace Tully, “Grace, take a law!” Will Rogers said Congress didn’t pass bills anymore; it just waved as they went by.

President Obama’s been busy, but contrary to many of the pundits, he’s no FDR. Our new president got his political education in the world of Chicago ward politics, and seems to have adopted a strategy from the machine of that city’s longtime boss, the late Richard J. Daley, father of the current mayor there. “Don’t make no waves,” one of Daley’s henchmen used to advise, “don’t back no losers.”

Your opinion of Obama’s first 100 days depends of course on your own vantage point. But we’d argue that as part of his bending over backwards to support the banks and avoid the losers, he has blundered mightily in his choice of economic advisers.

Last week, at a hearing of the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) monitoring the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner tried to correct AFL-CIO General Counsel Damon Silvers. “I’ve practiced law and you’ve been a banker,” Silvers said. Never, Geithner replied, “I’ve only been in public service.”

We beg to differ. Read Jo Becker and Gretchen Morgenson’s front-page profile of Secretary Geithner in Monday’s New York Times, and you’ll see how Robert Rubin protégé Geithner, during the five years he was running the New York Federal Reserve, fell under the spell of the big barons of banking to whom he would one day help shovel overly generous sums of money at taxpayer expense.

During “an era of unbridled and ultimately disastrous risk-taking by the financial industry,” the Times reported, “… He forged unusually close relationships with executives of Wall Street’s giant financial institutions.

“His actions, as a regulator and later a bailout king, often aligned with the industry’s interests and desires, according to interviews with financiers, regulators and analysts and a review of Federal Reserve records.”

Wined and dined at the Four Seasons, and in corporate dining rooms and fine homes by the very men whose greed and judgment helped bring on the Great Collapse, Geithner became so much a favorite of the Club that former Citigroup chairman Sandy Weill talked with him about becoming the bank’s CEO.

According to Becker and Morgenson, “Even as banks complain that the government has attached too many intrusive strings to its financial assistance, a range of critics — lawmakers, economists and even former Federal Reserve colleagues — say that the bailout Mr. Geithner has played such a central role in fashioning is overly generous to the financial industry at taxpayer expense.”

The two reporters write that Geithner “repeatedly missed or overlooked signs” that the financial system was self-destructing. “When he did spot trouble, analysts say, his responses were too measured, or too late.”

In choosing a man to manage the bailout of the banks who’s so cozy with its players, and then installing as his White House economic adviser Larry Summers, who in the Clinton administration took a laissez-faire attitude toward the financial industry which would later enrich him, the president bought into the old fantasy that what’s best for Wall Street is best for America.

With these two as his financial gatekeepers, President Obama’s now in the position of Louis XVI being advised by Marie Antoinette to have another piece of cake until that rumble in the streets has passed on by.

In fact, other Wall Street insiders — many of them big contributors to the Obama presidential campaign, and progressive in their concern for the public interest — privately are expressing serious concerns that Geithner, Summers and their associates are leading the president and America’s taxpayers down a path toward further economic disaster.

This week, as Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois unsuccessfully fought for a congressional amendment he said would have helped 1.7 million Americans save their homes from foreclosure, the senator told a radio station back home that, “The banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”

He could say the same of the White House.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.

Banksters on the War Path: How Wall Street Is Fighting Back and Winning Their Fight for the Status Quo May 2, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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by Danny Schechter

Dick Durbin knows his way around the Senate. He’s been there a long time, long enough to know how things really work. Over the years, the man from Illinois has come to realize that it’s not the elected officials who are in charge. Last week, he said it was the bankers “who run the place” acknowledging that Senators may be in office, but not necessarily in power.

Usually, the people who pull the strings stay in the background to avoid too much public exposure. They rely on lobbyists to do their bidding. They prefer to work in the shadows. They may back certain politicians, but coming from a world of credit default swaps as they do, they hedge their bets by putting money on all the horses.

They have so much influence because they have been reengineering the American economy for decades through “financialization,” a process by which banks and financial institutions gradually came to dominate economic and political decision-making. Kevin Phillips, a one time Reagan advisor and commentator, says our deepest problem is “the ascendancy of finance in national policymaking (as well as in the gross domestic product), and the complicity of politicians who really don’t want to talk about it.”

Curiously, despite the journalists like Bill Moyers and Arianna Huffington who have been blowing the whistle on the role of the “banksters” in our political life, criticizing the Republicans and Democrats who deregulated the financial system, this issue seems to float above the heads of most of the public, much of the press, and even the activist community more drawn to punishing the torture inflicted on a few by a former Administration than the economic duress being imposed on the majority of Americans by a minority of the super rich.

Demonstrators are still drawn more to the White House than the banks that have proliferated on every corner of the country.

Last week, a Zogby poll found that a majority of the public believes the press made things worse by reporting on the economic collapse. Not only is that blaming the messenger, it also overlooks the fact that much of the media was complicit in the crisis by not covering the forces that caused the collapse when it might have done some good.

Exacerbating the problem is that the Obama Administration has, in Robert Scheer’s words, enlisted “the very experts who helped trigger the crisis to try to fix it.”

“Obama,” he writes “seems depressingly reliant on the same-old, same old cast of self-serving house wreckers who act as if government exists for the sole benefit of corporations and executives.”

The team of Tim Geithner and Larry Summers has been carrying Wall Street’s water as Robert Rubin did before them. No wonder that Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder told the Street last February, “We’re not going to go on any witch hunts.”

That was before we learned that Wall Street forced US regulators to delay the release of stress test results for the country’s 19 biggest banks until next Thursday, because some of the lenders objected to government demands that they needed to raise more capital. They are trying to rig the results.

That was also before the public learned of the obscenely huge bonuses the firms benefiting from the TARP bailout were shelling out to their executives. That was before we saw how the bankers with help from Democrats, including new convert Arlen Specter, managed to kill a bill to help homeowners stop foreclosures.

“The Senate on Thursday rejected an effort to stave off home foreclosures by a vote of 51 to 45. It was an overwhelming defeat, with the bill’s backers falling 15 votes short — a quarter of the Democratic caucus — of the 60 needed to cut off debate and move to a final vote. Across the United States, the measure is estimated to have been able to prevent 1.69 million foreclosures and preserve $300 billion in home equity.”

Commented the Center for Responsible Lending, “Instead of defending ordinary Americans, the majority of Senators went with the banks. Yes, the same banks who have benefited so richly from the TARP bailout.”

There was one small victory with the House approving a bill to protect consumers from credit card abuses. It’s not clear if the Senate will pass it too. “It’s one step forward and one step backward,” said Travis Plunkett, of the Consumer Federation of America. “Congress is moving in fits and starts to re-regulate the financial services industry and the banking lobby still has tremendous clout.”

“Tremendous clout” is an understatement.

In this past week, we also saw how a few hedge funds undermined the attempt to save Chrysler from bankruptcy by holding out for more money even after the unions and big banks agreed to compromise to save jobs.

The President was furious but apparently powerless: “A group of investment firms and hedge funds decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout,” Obama said. “They were hoping that everybody else would make sacrifices, and they would have to make none. Some demanded twice the return that other lenders were getting.”

Explains the blog Naked Capitalism, “the banksters are eagerly, shamelessly, and openly harvesting their pound of flesh from financially stressed average taxpayers, and setting off a chain reaction in the auto industry which has the very real risk of creating even larger scale unemployment than the economy already faces. It’s reckless, utterly irresponsible, over-the-top greed.”

Will they be allowed to get away with it? A “captured” Congress is doing their bidding. There is no doubt that class antagonism is stewing, says the editor of the blog. He expressed a fear of a reaction that will go way beyond flag-wavng tea parties.

“… I am concerned this behavior is setting the stage for another sort of extra-legal measure: violence. I have been amazed at the vitriol directed at the banking classes. Suggestions for punishment have included the guillotine (frequent), hanging, pitchforks, even burning at the stake. Tar and feathering appears inadequate, and stoning hasn’t yet surfaced as an idea. And mind you, my readership is educated, older, typically well-off (even if less so than three years ago). The fuse has to be shorter where the suffering is more acute.”

One is reminded of the title of that movie, “There will be blood.” Rather than show contrition or compassion for its own victims, Wall Street is hoping to jack up its salaries and bonuses to pre-2007 levels. The men at the top are oblivious to the pain they helped cause. And so far, they’ve only occasionally been scolded by politicians that have mostly enabled, coddled, bankrolled, funded, rewarded, and genuflected to their power.

Wall Street’s behavior may be predictable, but how can we account for the silence of so many organizations that should be out there organizing the outrage that is building? Knock, Knock, Obama supporters, bloggers, trade unionists, out of work workers and fellow Americans. Will we fight back or roll over?

Pitchforks anyone?

Mediachannel’s News Dissector Danny Schechter is making a film about Wall Street based on his book Plunder (newsdissector.com/plunder). Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org 

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