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It's unclear what are the alternatives, but sliding to Italy model is probably not an achievement.... Here is one telling quote: "Wouldn’t it be bizarre if the USA had a recent Treasury Secretary who conmitted fraud?" . At some points of the latest financial crisis history (for example collapse of AIG) it was difficult to tell when Treasury ends and GS starts and vice versa. Yves Smith of naked capitalism:
Simon Johnson argues the Administration would be well served to support Warren:
With his track record of survival, Geithner and his team apparently feel they can push hard against Elizabeth Warren and give the new consumer protection job to someone closer to their philosophy – which is much more sympathetic to the banking industry.
This would be a bad mistake – trying the patience of already exasperated Congressional Democrats. If the Obama administration can’t even complete the deal they implicitly agreed with Senators over the past months, this will set of a firestorm of protest within the party (and with anyone else who is paying attention).
Financial “reform” is already very weak. If Secretary Geithner gets his way on consumers protection, pretty much all of the Democrats efforts vis-à-vis the financial sector’s treatment of customers have been for naught.
Yves here. But Johnson misses the real calculus for this Administration. It may actually see loss of the Democrat majority in the House as a win (as in is finding creative ways to rationalize its fallen standing as a possible longer-term advantage). First, it allows Team Obama to blame whatever happens (or fails to happen) on the Republicans. Second, it gives the Administration plenty of air cover to become more openly corporatist (recall Clinton’s famed move to the right after the 1994 mid term debacle).
The Administration is not about to change its stripes and suddenly take an action that might actually lead to some effective measures against the financial services industry. It’s clear they will oppose a Warren appointment; the only question is how openly they will do so.
To say there is no love lost between Treasury and Elizabeth Warren is probably putting it mildly.
Treasury was gunning for her ouster in early 2009; I heard multiple accounts both of how concerted the Administration opposition to her was (recall she was actually chosen as head of the Congressional Oversight Panel before the regime change), with the clear objective of forcing her out. Eventually, after firm pushback from some very influential individuals (I've heard variants of the story, but there isn't any dispute as to who the key actors were), the pressure receded, but only after Warren was semi-neutralized. As I noted in "On Pelosi's Duplicity and Apparent Sandbagging of Elizabeth Warren":
So why are we pointing a finger at Pelosi in particular? The next chapter is her appointment of one Richard Nieman to the Congressional Oversight Panel. Under the TARP rules, the House Majority leader selects one of the oversight panel members, so this choice was completely under her control.
Nieman is the New York Superintendent of Banks. He helped Goldman set up its bank holding company.
Nieman fell out with the other Democrats and wrote a joint opinion with John Sununu (see page 88 of the document). If you were somehow ignorant of the fact that the Summers/Geithner programs embody massive hidden and inefficient subsidies to banks (the Public Private Investment Partnership), questionable uses of the FDIC, and the employment of the Fed as quasi-fiscal agent, the critique might sound reasonable. But to anyone with a passing acquaintance with the facts, the dissenting views are absurd. To give you an idea of how far they have to stretch to make their arguments sound plausible, they grasp at the straw of "oh yeah, that over 50 point spread between market price and bank valuation for toxic assets is due to a liquidity discount."
There is also sophisticated mud-slinging, for instance, suggesting that the panel's recommendations run against the
…preference for maintaining a private banking system via temporary public support or partnership, which is consistent with this country's tradition of private rather than government control of business
That's code for "Warren is a commie". Didn't anyone tell these clowns that no private investor with an operating brain cell would give so much money to a private enterprise without demanding a good deal of oversight and control? And at a time like this, the public versus private polarity that they invoke has been blunted. Pretending that wards of the state are entitled to the rights of normal private concerns is absurd, yet that's the fiction that Nieman and Sununu present.
Maybe I'm too cynical, but this sure looks like the behavior of someone looking for his next, bigger meal ticket.
But then we come back to Pelosi. I can't imagine that Nieman would have fallen in with the Republicans without at least as a courtesy informing Pelosi in advance. And if she had a big problem, she would have gotten him to back down (either not siding with the opposition or issuing a separate view that was more ambivalent). So Pelosi is at a minimum sitting this one out (which I deem unlikely) or on board with the program to undermine Warren.
Yves again During the period when the COP was openly and effectively critical of the TARP, there was also a full court press in the media against Warren.
Warren is the obvious choice to head the otherwise-guaranteed-to-be-a-joke consumer financial services agency due to set up its shingle at the Fed. She has been a tireless consumer advocate, is trusted and well liked by the public at large, an effective communicator and a respected legal scholar, and is willing to stare down political opponents. All those qualities make her hugely threatening. Banksters and their lobbyist allies have been saying loudly and clearly that they are firmly opposed to having Warren head the new consumer agency. So, predictably, Geithner acts as their water-carrier. As Shahien Nasiripour reported in the Huffington Post:
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has expressed opposition to the possible nomination of Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to a source with knowledge of Geithner's views….
Warren's persistent oversight is part of the reason for Geithner's opposition, according to the source.
In addition, her increasing public profile could make it difficult for Geithner, who will oversee the unit until it's transferred to the Federal Reserve. His role would involve trying to balance her advocacy on behalf of borrowers with the demands of the nation's major financial institutions, his traditional constituency.
Geithner's objections to Warren taking over that role also involve her views on Wall Street, sources say. The longtime professor believes the nation's megabanks are Too Big To Fail and have been among the biggest abusive lenders in the country. Her toughness on giant banks is said to be a longtime source of tension with Geithner.
Obama's top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, is also said to have a strained relationship with Warren, though his stance on her nomination is not known.
Yves here. Summer's position may not be public, but there is no chance he will support her (save as a part of a bizarre kabuki; a show of support by Summers would be proof her candidacy was dead, but the Administration needed to pretend to have dissent, as opposed to unified opposition). He and Geithner are Rubin proteges, staunch supporters of banks uber alles.
Simon Johnson argues the Administration would be well served to support Warren:
With his track record of survival, Geithner and his team apparently feel they can push hard against Elizabeth Warren and give the new consumer protection job to someone closer to their philosophy – which is much more sympathetic to the banking industry.
This would be a bad mistake – trying the patience of already exasperated Congressional Democrats. If the Obama administration can't even complete the deal they implicitly agreed with Senators over the past months, this will set of a firestorm of protest within the party (and with anyone else who is paying attention).
Financial "reform" is already very weak. If Secretary Geithner gets his way on consumers protection, pretty much all of the Democrats efforts vis-à-vis the financial sector's treatment of customers have been for naught.
Yves here. But Johnson misses the real calculus for this Administration. It may actually see loss of the Democrat majority in the House as a win (as in is finding creative ways to rationalize its fallen standing as a possible longer-term advantage). First, it allows Team Obama to blame whatever happens (or fails to happen) on the Republicans. Second, it gives the Administration plenty of air cover to become more openly corporatist (recall Clinton's famed move to the right after the 1994 mid term debacle).
The Administration is not about to change its stripes and suddenly take an action that might actually lead to some effective measures against the financial services industry. It's clear they will oppose a Warren appointment; the only question is how openly they will do so.
"Second, it gives the Administration plenty of air cover to become more openly corporatist (recall Clinton's famed move to the right after the 1994 mid term debacle)."
Interesting point you make, Yves. Obama's admin does sort of reminds me of the Getulio Vargas period in 1930-40s Brazil.
Use the appearance of Populism to manage the plebes on behalf of the business sector. I think Vargas was much better at it, though, witness his Roosevelt-like longevity.
Stammering Hank Paulson and Tim "Dead Man Talking" Geithner couldn't wait to get out of the witness chair yesterday when they appeared before the House Oversight Committee. The former and current Treasury secretaries were grilled separately, in one of the few bipartisan events since President Obama took office. Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/business/what_congress_missed_at_aig_geithner_H1rhDxyH4vrcOMONwmkjxO#ixzz0dxQD7xbn
The former and current Treasury secretaries were grilled separately, in one of the few bipartisan events since President Obama took office.
Not a single member of either political party cut these two guys any slack. As we used to say in Brooklyn, Paulson and Geithner got their asses kicked.
Isn't it amazing how a little fear of losing an election can snap even the laziest politicians into action?
As a matter of course, one congressman yesterday brought up Geithner's past tax troubles. And everyone mentioned the apparent conflict of interest that occurred when AIG was bailed out by taxpayers and Goldman Sachs -- Paulson's old firm -- just happened to score enormous benefits.
At one point, Paulson was asked to stay for an additional eight minutes of questioning. When the clock hit 10 minutes, Paulson asked to be excused like he suddenly had a bathroom emergency.
But Paulson and Geithner were very lucky that their interrogators really didn't know what they were doing, so they took their inquisition down a dead end.
What do I mean? The main line of questioning is about AIG, the insurance company that invested in risky stuff and needed taxpayers to save its behind.
Not only did companies like Goldman, which invested on the other side of AIG trades, get all of their money back, but it turns out the New York Fed decided to keep details of the deals secret.
That's all very interesting stuff. The problem is, Paulson and Geithner have an easy explanation that they invoked over and over.
At various times the two either proclaimed that they weren't the ones who negotiated the AIG deal or -- and this is the real winner -- the whole freakin' financial world would have fallen apart if the AIG bailout hadn't occurred.
In other words, Paulson and Geithner were saying: Why are you people bothering us? You should be giving us a ticker-tape parade.
"If, if, if, if AIG had failed, with the system as fragile as it was, I believe it would have taken down the whole financial system and the economy," Paulson said at one point. And in case that didn't frighten you enough, Paulson was nice enough to provide threatening numbers -- 25 percent unemployment instead of the current 10 percent and housing prices "much lower" than they are today.
"This would have been an economic nightmare," Paulson said.
The best anyone could say about Geithner's performance is that he didn't start crying when one member of the committee accused him of being a politician and another cut him short by repeating, "you've answered the question, you've answered the question."
AIG is a dead end. The culprits can argue that they were under a lot of pressure and even if mistakes were made, they were honest ones.
But there's nothing honest about Paulson's habit of phoning up friends on Wall Street when he got the itch. There is nothing Paulson and someone like Lloyd Blankfein, his successor at Goldman, could have spoken about -- six times, for instance, on Sept. 18, 2008 -- that would not have been inside information.
If others are prosecuted for having information that the public doesn't, why is it that Goldman had a hot line to the Treasury?
Was this very profitable financial institution suddenly invested with certain quasi-government powers?
If you look through Paulson's phone logs, there are dozens upon dozens of calls made between Blankfein and Paulson during the latter's tenure as Treasury secretary.
And those calls don't even include ones likely made on cell phones. One congressman said during yesterday's hearing that Geithner also made hundreds of calls to Goldman Sachs during the AIG timeframe. Or, as he put it, 103 calls to Goldman and 100 calls to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.
I'd be shocked if Tim Geithner, lasts much longer as Treasury Secretary.
His mouth keeps moving, but Geithner continues to say incredibly stupid things -- like, insisting again yesterday that he in herited today's financial problems when in fact he was head of the New York Fed when this mess started. email@example.com
Is your New Year's resolution to find a new job? Then sign up for The Post's Job Fair today!Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/business/what_congress_missed_at_aig_geithner_H1rhDxyH4vrcOMONwmkjxO#ixzz0dxPltCec
The Baseline Scenario
with 43 commentsOver the past 30 years Wall Street captured the thinking of official Washington, persuading policymakers on both sides of the aisle not to regulate (derivatives), to deregulate (Gramm-Leach-Bliley), not enforce existing safety and soundness regulations (VaR), and to stand idly by while millions of consumers were misled into life-ruining financial decisions (Alan Greenspan).
This was pervasive cultural capture or, to be blunter, mind control. But when the crisis broke it was not enough. Having powerful people generally on your side is not what you need when all hell breaks loose in financial markets. Official decisions will be made fast, under great pressure, and by a small group of people standing up in the Oval Office.
If you run a big troubled bank, you need a man on the inside – someone who will take your calls late at night and rely on you for on the ground knowledge. Preferably, this person should have little first-hand experience of the markets (it was hard to deceive JP Morgan and Benjamin Strong when they were deciding whom to save in 1907) and only a limited range of other contacts who could dispute your account of what is really needed.
Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and Citigroup, we learn today, have such a person: Tim Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury.
We already knew, from the NYT, that most of Geithner's contacts during 2007 and 2008 were with a limited subset of the financial sector – primarily the big Wall Street players who were close to the New York Fed (including on its board). And the announcement of his appointment was widely regarded as very good news for those specific firms.
But Geithner himself has always insisted that his policies are intended to help the entire financial system and thus the whole economy.
"SECRETARY TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I've been in public service all my life. I've spent all my life working in government on ways to make our financial system stronger, better economic policy for this country. That's the only thing I've ever done. And I would never do anything and be part of any policy that's designed to benefit some piece of our financial system. The only thing that we care about and the only obligation I have is try to make sure this financial system is doing a better job of meeting the needs of businesses and families across the country." Interview on Lehrer NewsHour, May 8, 2009
Geithner's defenders insist that his specific contacts while President of the NY Fed were a function of that position; "he was only doing his job."
But today's AP report, based on looking at Geithner's phone records, from the inauguration through July, suggest something else. How can anyone build an accurate picture of conditions in the entire crisis-ridden financial sector primarily from talking to a few top bankers?
The list of phone calls is not the largest banks, because some of the biggest are hardly represented (e.g., Wells Fargo), it's not the most troubled banks (e.g., Bank of America had little contact), and it's not even investment banker-types who were central to the most stressed markets (Morgan Stanley was not in the inner loop). And small and medium-sized banks (and others) always bristle at the suggestion that their interests are in alignment with those of, say, Goldman Sachs.
Geithner's phone calls were primarily to and from people he knew well already - who had cultivated a relationship with him over the years, shared nonprofit board memberships, and participated in the same social activities. These are close professional colleagues and in some cases, presumably, friends.
The Obama administration had to rescue large parts of the financial sector, given the situation they inherited. But it absolutely did not have to run the rescue in this exact fashion – bending over backwards to be nice to leading bankers and allowing their banks to become even larger. Saving top executives' jobs under such circumstances is not best practice, it's not what the US advises to other countries, it's not what the US tells the IMF to implement when it helps clean up failed banking systems, and it's not what the FDIC implements for failed banks under its auspices.
The idea that you could leave big US bank bosses in place (or let them get stronger politically) and do meaningful regulatory reform later has always seemed illusory – and this strategy now appears to be in serious trouble. But presumably Mr. Geithner's financial advisers told him this was the right thing to do.
By Simon Johnson
Dave Cohenjake chase
I had long ago given up the hope that Obama/Geithner would work for us Americans.
Given this level of corruption, what is one supposed to do? I too have written about this kind of stuff in my weekly column. You write it, some people read it, business as usual goes on.
I have no experience at living in a Banana Republic, but I'm learning fast.
How do we get things done?
You have thirty years experience of living in a Banana Republic, but are just now waking up to it.
History tells us that nothing will help except massive strikes and boycotts of existing incumbent politicians at election time. Of course that assumes the challengers will be honest statesmen as opposed to opportunists.
Americans are now on the receiving end of a new kind of disaster capitalism, in which the traditional IMF role is played by China. For now the Chinese are taking an avuncular pleasure in supplying financial rope to our clueless leaders. What happens next is entirely up to them.
The alternative remedy (although not terribly attractive) is: return of Glass
Steagle plus derivative transparency plus leverage limitations plus Fifties level taxation of speculative gains (and elimination of offshore tax loopholes) plus a crash to return asset values to levels at which investment begins to make sense. Can you imagine a national bankruptcy in which all consumer debt is wiped out and every mortgage is written down to fair value? Or we could have Argentinian or perhaps German inflation circa 1923.
"History tells us that nothing will help except massive strikes and boycotts of existing incumbent politicians at election time."
To target incumbents and not the entire system is naive. You'll simply get the same scum with a different letter after their name. Face it, we're past the point where elections and parliamentary remedies will be of any help. As Stalin so imaginatively pointed out: "The people who cast the votes don't decide an election, the people who count the votes do." And the people who count the votes in our case are those that have sold themselves out like whores to special interests. You'll never fix that inside these structures. Only massive public demonstrations and economy stopping, general strikes hold any hope.
The only conceivable soft landing requires an unlimited Chinese appetite for Treasury bonds at current interest rates. Lets hope Chinese bankers studied at the University of Chicago.
China is busy buying up anything that's not treasury bonds. They want to divest themselves of dollars and buy just about anything else around the world they can hold for a presumed increase in value, if not now, eventually.
It's been feeling rather Weimar Republic-ish to me every time I go to the grocery store.
Maybe they could go back to letting banks be banks as Krugman suggested yesterday on his blog. I'd like a savings account that pays 5% like I had through the 80s, as I recall. Series EE savings bonds paid 6% for a long time. I met people who actually retired early for having intested in those savings bonds. Compound interest wasn't just on purchases on credit back then.
Dave CohenJohn F. McGowan
The Banana Republic became "official" in my view when Obama, whom many of us had hoped would implement serious reforms, hired Tim Geithner and Larry Summers. (He wasn't even President yet!)
So, when our much needed FDR turned out to be something more akin to Warren Harding, we knew where we stood at last after the Clinton/Bush years.
It is remarkable that such a huge betrayal of trust came at the time of our direst need.
Please don't tell me that I am "just waking up" to something I've been troubled about the B-movie actor Ronald Reagan dazzled us with his ability to roll over the poor and further enrich the wealthy.
Re David Cohen's comment
It seems to me that there is a lot of preaching to the choir on The Baseline Scenario and other blogs devoted to the financial crisis and the banks.
The issue needs to be framed in terms of the interests of most Americans. Yes, it is annoying that banks have special access to Timothy Geithner, but so what? Big banks have probably always had special access to the Treasury Secretary since Alexander Hamilton.
Rather, the issue needs to be framed in terms of the dollar cost of the subsidies to banks from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury, possibly in the several trillion dollar range (it will certainly be trillions if the banks default on the various loans).
The real resources represented by trillions of dollars do not come from nowhere. They are coming from other sectors of the economy: from smaller banks that did not make bad bets on the housing bubble, from agriculture, from manufacturing (what is left), and so forth.
Most ordinary people and most businesses do not benefit from these policies. Businesses are seeing declining demand, higher interest rates from the megabanks, and so forth.
If people want to change this/stop it, they must phrase the debate in terms of the self-interest of the unconverted and indifferent.
Document the cost, demonstrate the cost, never let the debate move away from the cost.
P.S. Note that Dean Baker at CEPR has some posts detailing the specific costs of some of the implicit and explicit subsidies.
Government went so far as to try and merge Goldman with the bankrupt Wachovia (now a problem for Wells Fargo), but thought better of it because of the conflicts of interest for Hank Paulson and Robert Steel:
In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Too Big To Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System-and Themselves, Sorkin reports that the deal, which was nearly consummated, would have merged Goldman Sachs and Wachovia. Henry M. Paulson, the Treasury secretary and former C.E.O. of Goldman, was deeply involved in the process, contacting both Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman's current C.E.O., and a Wachovia board member, and strongly urged both to consider it. Wachovia's C.E.O., Robert Steel, was a former vice-chairman at Goldman Sachs and Paulson's former number two at the Treasury Department.
Sorkin reports that Warren Buffett was also contacted about investing in the merged company, but told a banker at Goldman that it would never happen. "By tonight the government will realize they can't provide capital to a deal that's being done by the former firm of the Treasury secretary with the company of a former vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs and former deputy Treasury secretary," Buffett said. "There is no way. They'll all wake up and realize, even if it was the best deal in the world, they can't do it."
... ... ...I think eyes should be focused firmly on the government's responsibility and not Goldman when it comes to these issues. Which is why the issues that Simon Johnson raises are important. They go to the core of the regulation of banks.
Here are four questions we should be asking regulators:
Clearly, regulators are not serious about regulating or they would correct these problems. MarketWatch reported on this as far back as July and nothing has happened.
- Why is Goldman Sachs allowed to maintain leverage ratios significantly higher than the large legacy bank holding companies like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan and Citigroup?
- Why is Goldman allowed to operate like a private equity company, holding large stakes of foreign non-financial corporations? (I should note that Financial Holding Companies do have ten years in which to sell their stakes)
- Why is Goldman (and other large banks) allowed to operate like a hedge fund and take outsized risks with capital via large proprietary trading operations. Most of Goldman's profits are coming from this area. At least Deutsche Bank has offloaded these bets onto hedge funds in which it invests. Given the fact that the large too-bog-to-fail financial institutions have received a large backstop from the taxpayer, the fact that they are loading up in prop trading shows that regulation in the U.S. is non-existent.
- Why is Goldman allowed to have an interest in the failure of other financial firms? We now hear that Goldman has an interest in the failure of CIT, a major lender to small-and medium-sized businesses. These perverse incentives are everywhere in the derivatives world and were an enabler of the financial meltdown and the principal reason AIG was bailed out with taxpayer money.
When Goldman switched to a bank holding company, such big profit seemed unlikely as analysts worried the firm would face stricter regulatory oversight from the Federal Reserve, with limits on risk-taking and higher capital requirements. See story Wall Street changes.
But almost 10 months later, nothing much appears to have changed, some analysts said in the wake of the firm's second-quarter results.
After two quarters as a bank holding company, Goldman is still "not reporting like a bank and not acting like one either," said David Hendler, Baylor Lancaster, Pri de Silva and Kristine Lanspa, analysts at CreditSights, an independent fixed-income research firm.
Given Goldman's spectacular results so far this year, "the company has basically been given a green light to continue operating in a 'business as usual' fashion," they wrote in a note to investors after Goldman's latest earnings report. "Bank regulators have their hands full with other deteriorating bank situations and, for the time being, seem content to let Goldman do what it's always done."
Goldman still doesn't report quarterly results like other large bank holding companies. For instance, the firm doesn't disclose a full balance sheet in its earnings release or provide detailed information on revenue and valuation marks on exposures, the analysts noted…
"Our sense is that Goldman's switch to bank holding company status was basically a security blanket in the worst of last fall's troubles, and the company would be happier today if it could let it go," they added. "We also sense that Goldman Sachs many not yet have the same level of regulatory scrutiny that many banks routinely live with."
And CreditSights is right. Goldman have no intention of changing anything at all.
"Our model really never changed," Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer David Viniar said yesterday in an interview. "We've said very consistently that our business model remained the same."
Nik Kondratieff says:
October 5, 2009 at 6:01 pm
Ed, You're on a roll with another great article exposing the massive economic fleecing and fraud that is the US financial system.
What is it going to take for Americans to wake up from their stupor and realize the culture of greed is destroying the US? Nothing, I fear.
October 5, 2009 at 9:16 pm
GoldmanSux & JPM ARE the system.
Dave Raithel says:
October 6, 2009 at 12:56 am
I'm a literal cripple. I read this:
I also read the linked definitions provided in the original post.
Will GS let me open a checking account / savings account? If not GS – literally as Goldman Sachs – then where is the bank they own that accepts deposits, lets me take out a personal note with a CD as collateral, so I can replace my driveway, etc?
"The Bank intends to provide deposit and loan products to high net-worth clients and employees of Goldman Sachs." Is that the language (pulled from the link above) that excludes me?
Really, I just don't get it.
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