The Wall Street sales tax is very much in the mainstream. HR-6411, introduced by Congressman Keith Ellison (MN), is gaining support in the US Congress and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has pledged to introduce such a bill in the US Senate.
Dan here…Taking a look back to 2009:
Geithner’s Baa Humbug to Jobs and Labor 12/25/2009
“Ebenezer: Since you ask me what I wish sir, that is my answer. I help to support the establishments I have named; those who are badly off must go there.”
Daniel Gross at Slate interviews Tim Geithner here: “We Will Be Judged on How We Dealt with the Things that were Broken” Some rather revealing statements by Tim Geithner to Daniel Gross’s questions:
GROSS: There’s a perception that you regard your portfolio narrowly, as primarily focused on the health of Wall Street, with Main Street a distant second.
GEITHNER: “My first and essential responsibility was to fix and reform the financial system. That was necessarily going to be the principal part of what people saw. About half my time from the beginning has been spent on the design of the broader economic strategy. The idea that we did not do much for the broader challenges facing the country is completely unjustified. The Recovery Act itself was not just a sweeping, essential force for growth but included a bunch of targeted investments in education, energy, environment, health care that will have huge long-term benefits.”
(Run here: Geithner misses the point or makes the point that finance is the number one concern over Main Street, even though Main Street is financing the rescue of W$. The constituency doesn’t want charity in targeted investments in education, energy, education, and environment when it can pay for those investments itself if they are working. Main Street wants jobs? Main street is still waiting for that tsunami of job creation which is one of the broader challenges of any administration and no administration has put into play any package to stimuli it or companies to do more. Jobs are left to free market influences which is content with investing profits elsewhere other than job creating infrastructure.)
GROSS: So you don’t think the bailouts were too friendly to Wall Street?
GEITHNER: “The idea that the strategy was unfair and has principally benefited a small number of institutions in New York is a mischaracterization of the design and result of the strategy. I thought people would have understood this after the failure of Lehman Bros. But when you do too little and you leave the system with real fear that everything is going to fall apart, like any financial crisis, it hurts the poorest most. A just and fair strategy, even if it is politically hardest to explain and justify, is to use well-designed but massive force to stabilize the system.“
(Run here: Over at Naked Capitalism, they are debating whether Goldman Sachs drove the collapse of AIG by calling for the mark down of CDO by companies holding too many of them thereby forcing AIG to raise collateral after it was downgraded and eventually paying off on CDO that never were expected to payoff. While AIG is at fault for seeing too many pie in the sky dollars in risk and having too little collateral to cover it, one has to wonder why Goldman Sachs should have received 100% on the dollar on its CDS for its risk with AIG and not knowing how over leveraged AIG was at the time. Goldman Sachs certainly benefited by Geithner’s negotiated settlement of AIG’s liabilities at 100% on the dollar.)
GROSS: The biggest downside surprise?
GEITHNER: “The [high] level of unemployment relative to what was happening in the economy as a whole. I’m not an economist, but almost all forecasters missed that. And that’s hugely consequential, because it’s the prism through which most people view basic economic health.”
(Run here:He is kidding right? During every economic downturn, it has consistently been Main Street that has been shown the street from their jobs or homes.)
… But Also Don’t Miss Glenn Greenwald’s Piece Today on Obama’s First-Term Appalling Justice Dept. – UPDATED
The disgusting Lanny Breuer–a Clinton-era big-wig–is heavily featured in Glenn Greenwald’s article. But of course the weak, ineffectual Eric Holder, and Obama himself, are even greater culprits on this.
A key reason why Obama’s first term was such a disappointment was that, in the worst ways, it was Bill Clinton’s third term. Obama basically just reissued Clinton Administration folks, who failed to notice, as did Obama himself, that it was no longer the 1990s and that a whole lot of water had passed under the bridge since then.
Obama badly needs to revamp his Justice Department. He really does. It’s past time now that he make the Department of Justice a department of justice. The operative word there, of course, being justice.
Better late than never, please
UPDATE: Wow! I just saw the post below mentioning Yves Smith’s h/t that Lanny Breuer just resigned, unexpectedly–obviously the result of the Frontline exposé aired on Tuesday, which is the main subject of Greenwald’s piece.
But, good grace. Why did it take a Frontline exposé, in 2013, to prompt his (presumably) forced resignation?
The good news? Well, maybe this is really bad news for some key Wall Street folks. The statute of limitations on a relevant federal criminal statute, (acronym, “RICO”), is 10 years.
by Linda Beale
Do Good Wall Street Days Translate to Good Days for Most Americans?
As usual, there was one of those all-knowing snippets in the news last Friday about what the direction in the stock market meant for the economy. Observing high corporate profits and buoyed by the idea that the GOP might not play its “just say no” game on the debt ceiling issue (at least for three months), Wall Street profits rose. See Wall Street at 5-year high, New York Times Business Insider, Jan 18, 2013.
Should we so easily consider Wall Street’s well-being as a general sign of the well-being of the economy? Sometimes it seems that it marches to its own tune, while ordinary Americans continue to struggle. Foreclosures, job losses, offshoring, state actions to make union membership harder even when most Americans say union membership should be easier, huge inequalities in incomes and wealth and the social problems that go with those inequalities–there are all kinds of things going on that still don’t bode well for ordinary Americans whose income is mostly made up of wages and not preferentially taxed capital gains and who don’t own much of the financial assets of this country. Democratic egalitarianism isn’t satisfied by such a system that consistently rewards one class of income over another based on what amounts to class distinctions–the kind of income that requires hard work is less rewarded than the kind of income that comes with a silver spoon at birth.
In other words, corporate giants making high profits doesn’t provide much reassurance to ordinary guys about the stability of their own personal economies. High profits seem to translate to higher payouts to corporate managers/shareholders, but ordinary workers don’t get more than a trickle of a share of those productivity gains.
Trickle down hasn’t trickled much down the last few decades, if it ever did. Inequality is growing worse, and with that comes even more influence so that the politically powerful are the same as the economically powerful, yielding a return on lobbying that the Founders couldn’t have imagined.
The unequal society that is today’s United States has many problems that are at least partially caused by the high level of inequality–from teenage pregnancy to illiteracy rates to lifespan of the underclass to low birth weights to college graduate rates and many other indicators of a less than optimal quality of life. And those problems are exacerbated by the continuing blind faith of so many Washington politicians in the “degenerating discourse of mainstream economics” (the link is to a recent post on Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism by Philip Pilkington). We continue to look to Wall Street, and ignore the blight of wealth and income inequality that besets Main Street, because economists have fabricated a convenient theory of equilibrium that is most successful at hiding what is really going on from us while protecting the “free market” impulses of brute force capitalism.
Perhaps one of the positive results of the buoying of Wall Street is the general consumer attitude, which does result in more spending (still perhaps beyond one’s means for much of the underclass)? That spending increases business demand, and could even result ultimately in more job creation, especially if accompanied by more federal spending rather than the counter-stimulus current focus on spending cuts and “balanced” budgets (in at least one sense an oxymoron for a federal government that can print its own money). But those jobs will require a better educated public than the US is likely to have. Again, partly due to the mainstream economic discourse, we are effectively debilitating public education through cuts in funding, exploitation of teachers, and privatization for the profit-making gains of education profiteers, rendering what was our greatest strength our greatest weakness.\
But what really happens to most of the wealth created by those increases in corporate profits (and those demands for ever higher returns that the wealthy have come to view as their norm, accompanied by those terribly preferential tax rates that mean the wealthy get to keep more of their unearned wealth while ordinary workers cannot)? One suspects that much of that ‘extra’ wealth heads out of the country–to offshore tax havens, invested in yet another vacation home abroad, put into emerging markets, following the promise of higher returns without much regard for the impact on the US economy.
As long as we are facing the kind of inordinate reward to the uberwealthy and underreward to ordinary Americans, I find it hard to get excited about a five-year high on Wall Street. It’s main effect is to drive home the need for Congress to develop better tax policy to at least use tax as a means to help, on the periphery, cut back on inequality. Eliminate the preferential taxation of capital gains and dividends and estates. Don’t listen so much to the deficit scolds who want to decimate earned benefit programs like Medicare and Social Security. Invest more in physical infrastructure, particularly mass transit and environmentally sounder energy policies. Don’t listen so much to the militarists (who are often in company with said deficit scolds) who want to continue allowing the military budget to engorge itself.
cross posted with ataxingmatter
The big three banks, the equivalent of the Wall Street ones? They’re just fine.
Know which part of he banking system screwed up? The Main Street one. The one that was run not for profit (the cajas were not for profits, usually owned by a charitable foundation). Run by the local politicians in fact. The community organisers you might say.
That’s the part of the Spanish banking system that is hopelessly bust. Not a single piece of deregulation in sight. No CDOs, no CDS, no nothing except too many loans out to people who cannot repay.
This may be many things but a rerun of Wall Street in the 90s and 00s it ain’t.
By Jeff McCord is a former US Senate staffer, Securities Investor Protection Corp (SIPC) executive and has been a free-lance journalist for Dow Jones publications. His academic background in economics includes post-graduate work at the London School of Economics and George Washington University. He can be read at Investors Advocate.
EX-BIDEN AIDE’S MEA CULPA REVEALS WHY WALL STREET ALWAYS WINS
Book Review of “The Pay Off: Why Wall Street Always Wins” by Jeff Connaughton Published by Prospecta Press, August 2012-08-21
Brief Bio of Jeff Connaughton:
Mr. Connaughton served as Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Ted Kaufman during the 111th Congress. He previously served as Special Assistant to the Counsel to the President (Abner Mikva) in the Clinton White House (1994-95) and as Special Assistant to then-Chairman Joseph R. Biden, Jr. of the Senate Judiciary Committee (1988-91). Following work as a lobbyist for Arnold & Porter (1998-2000), he was co-founder and a principal of Quinn Gillespie & Associates (2000 to 2009), corporate lobbying firm.
August, 22, 2012
This is the autobiographical coming of age story of Jeff Connaughton, a former aide to Democratic Senators Biden (D-DE) and Kaufman (D-DE) and a Clinton White House adviser. Before becoming Senator Kaufman’s chief of staff, he had struck it rich as a corporate lobbyist, partnering with Republican Ed Gillespie and others to co-found Quinn Gillespie & Associates in 2000. Mr. Gillespie, a former senior aide to House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) is credited as a principal author of the GOP’s 1994 “Contract with America.” And, during Mr. Connaughton’s years as his partner, Mr. Gillespie advised Senator George Allen (R-VA) on his re-election campaign. Allen famously lost that election after he twice publicly used the racial epithet “macaca” to describe a dark complexioned Democratic activist of Asiatic Indian descent.
Mr. Connaughton’s unabashed description of his own “revolving door” career goes a long way toward explaining why “Wall Street always wins.” He candidly says he has seen the enemy and it is “us.”
With an MBA from the University of Chicago and law degree from Stanford, Mr. Connaughton was well qualified for his government service and as a top corporate lobbyist. Here’s his description of his million dollar lobbying career prior to serving briefly on Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential transition team and then heading-up Senator Kaufman’s staff:
“For twelve years, I developed and implemented legislative and regulatory campaign strategies for corporate clients, including broker-dealers, banks, accountants, insurance firms, and Silicon Valley. During my years as a lobbyist, I made a big pile of money, enough to have a house in Georgetown, a speedboat on the Chesapeake [and plan a house in Costa Rica].”
“I’d been trained in business and law school to believe that corporate governance worked. Even though I knew Wall Street held Washington in a perpetual half nelson,
I still believed our laws would prevent hidden catastrophes and blatant fraud. Our system is based on full disclosure of independently audited financial statements
combined with oversight and enforcement from the Securities and Exchange Commission.”
As one who no doubt ably helped Wall Street hold Washington in a “half nelson” in partnership with the ideologically pure GOP de-regulator Ed Gillespie, Mr. Connaughton was either naïve or had fallen victim to that DC disease: ‘believing one’s own press releases.’
Because he seems to tell his personal story frankly, readers can forgive Jeff Connaughton for a few self-serving remarks. Who among us wouldn’t do the same? But, anyone who lobbied for Wall Street and accounting firms during first eight years of the 21st Century and had witnessed Enron, WorldCom and so many other blatant frauds up-close, knew that corporate governance had become a quaint anachronism and financial statements barely worth the paper or digitized distribution.
Nevertheless, Mr. Connaughton’s insider description of the struggle among a few in Congress to gain meaningful post-meltdown financial regulation is worth the read.
He begins by describing the intellectual abduction of the young President Obama by the Goldman Sachs/Citigroup vetted and cleared team of William Geithner and Larry Summers. Readers who want more detail on their stranglehold on Administration economic policy and undermined the President’s goals should look no further than “Confidence Men,” by Ron Susskind.
Against great odds, Mr. Connaughton details the good faith efforts he and Senator Kaufman made in 2009 and beyond to push the seemingly conflicted Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department to launch civil and criminal prosecutions of those culpable for the financial meltdown. Although he concludes DOJ lacked the will to prosecute, Mr. Connaughton also describes testimony by SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami who at a 2009 hearing explained why such prosecutions are exceedingly difficult in today’s world. Here’s how Mr. Connaughton tells it:
Khuzami put it this way during the hearing:
‘White-collar area cases, I think, are distinguishable from terrorism or drug crimes, for the primary reason that, often, people are plotting their defense at the same time they’re committing their crime. They are smart people who understand that they are crossing the line, and so they are papering the record or having veiled or coded conversations that make it difficult to establish a wrongdoing.’
In other words, Wall Street criminals not only possess enormous resources, they’re also sophisticated enough to cover their tracks as they go along, often with the help, perhaps unwitting, of their lawyers and accountants.
Messrs. Khuzami and Connaughton hit the nail on the head. Time after time, civil cases and a few criminal ones demonstrate that corporate and financial law and accounting firms actually knowingly help design, cover-up and otherwise aid and abet fraud. And, they do so with the knowledge that a combination of Congressional and Supreme Court actions have virtually relieved these professional advisers of liability for client advisory services.
In short, it is hard to prosecute securities fraud perps in a world in which Congress has decriminalized much of enabling behavior and actions required to plan and successfully execute fraud.
Mr. Connaughton ably describes the first major assault in the accounting and financial services’ industries’ war upon securities fraud laws and financial regulation. As a White House lawyer he saw:
President Bill Clinton steamrolled by Wall Street (and by its biggest booster, the most Machiavellian of United States Senators, Chris Dodd) circa 1995. Dodd had led Congress to overturn President Clinton’s veto of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, which he and the Republicans had drafted to gut the class action securities-fraud laws. It was the only Clinton veto given the back-of-the-hand by two-thirds of Congress. And it was my first taste of how Wall Street had come to own Washington.
The Private Securities Litigation Reform Act was merely the first of a decade-long effort by Congress and the Supreme Court to shield corporate securities fraud perpetrators and their professional aiders and abettors from shareholder and consumer accountability. During the same period, the dismantling of the Glass-Steagall Act’s separation of commercial and investment banking (this time supported by the Clinton Administration), enabled banks to use customer money to engage in the high-risk securities and derivatives practices — aided and abetted by their lawyers and accountants who covered-up the magnitude of risks taken — that led to the catastrophic 2008 meltdown.
Mr. Connaughton, whose Wall Street epiphany may have come too late to help correct Congress’ mistakes, describes how he and Senator Kaufman, a Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, worked with other sincere reformers such as Senators Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), among others, to build-up white collar crime fighting resources and push the SEC and DOJ to go after financial wrongdoers.
Sadly for all of us, Mr. Connaughton concludes:
Despite our nearly fanatical dedication, we and other reformers failed. To date, there have been no high-profile Wall Street prosecutions for financial wrongdoing. The stock market has become even more volatile and dominated by computer-driven trading. Too-big-to fail banks continue to act lawlessly, teeter on the brink, and destabilize the global economy. The post-crisis regulatory reforms (particularly, the Dodd-Frank Act) were and are being written by over-matched regulators with the help of Wall street lawyers instead of by the elected representatives of Americans, a substantial majority of whom support rules to rein in Wall Street excesses.
He knows personally of what he speaks.
Via Reuters comes David Cay Johnston’s musing on Closing Wall Street’s casino:
A superb example of a sound rule in law and economics that needs reviving, because it can halt the rampant speculation in derivatives, is the ancient legal principle that gambling debts are not enforceable through court action.
Not so long ago — before casinos, currency and commodities speculation, and credit default swaps became big business — U.S. courts would not enforce gambling debts.
Restoring this principle offers a simple way to shrink the rampant speculation in derivatives that was central to the 2008 meltdown on Wall Street.
Professor Lynn Stout, a deeply principled Republican capitalist who teaches corporate law at the University of California, Los Angeles, raised this issue at a conference where we both spoke about the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.
“Derivatives are gambling,” she said, referring to credit default swaps, at the University of Missouri-Kansas City law school conference on the financial crisis. “They are a zero-sum game in which one side loses the bet and one side wins,” Stout said.
Actually they are worse than that, since the hefty fees Wall Street pockets for arranging the bets result in a less-than-zero-sum game.
As Wall Street fights meaningful financial regulations, and draft regulations remind us how complex and unfathomable regulations can be, this is a good time to remember the basic principles that served society so well until Chicago School theorists, and casino corporations, together with commodities and currency traders convinced us we were too modern to need them.
You can go read the OWS stuff yourself; I want to highlight this:
Escaping on the R train from Rector Street, we got home to discover that Steve Jobs died. And that my Twitter feed is full of people wanting to wag their finger in my face for caring too much, in the wrong way.
As John Emerson said on Facebook, “I would hate to use a product that I loved so much that I would mourn its creator the way I mourned a family member.” Otoh, some of us have been using Macs since long before we were married (even if there was that period of, you know, trial separation and dalliances with Ubuntu and RedHat). And even John finished that statement with “I have guarded carefully against that possibility by using Microsoft products (damn him to hell).”
The other half of the backlash was summed up by Michael Moore on Twitter:
Devices made in sweatshops. We all use them. We use them at times for the greater good. Don’t think about where they come from.
He later amended that with:
Correction: FEW PEOPLE think about where these devices come from. We ignore this at our own peril. R.I.P., Steve Jobs.
but the point is clear: all the people talking about the miracle of “cheap technology” are ignoring that it’s only cheap because people price their lives and their health too cheaply in the “labor market.” Or, as Erik Loomis noted of a similar technological marvel, ” I’ll tell you one thing for damn sure—the cotton gin made the lives of slaves a hell of a lot worse.”
So I’m guessing those are the types of things Patrick was seeing, though probably more stridently. And his response—again, a few paragraphs at the end of a long, informative post that you should go read the whole thing—is worth quoting here on this “slightly left of center economic commentary” blog, or whatever we are today:
He was complicit in many of the sins I just got home from marching against. He gamed the inequities between labor in the First World and labor in the Third. He was probably a lot of people’s boss-from-hell.
He also made a world in which people like me and Teresa—computer users since 1988, when we got our first Mac SE—are technologists rather than passive victims of someone else’s vision of technology. Selfish though it may be, I have to acknowledge that this means a very great deal to us.
The world is complicated. Late capitalism sucks. Our systems don’t work. Our futures are controlled by people who don’t give a crap for anything we care about.
Steven Jobs cared about something. Without him, our lives would have been different, and probably worse. We’ll miss him. Anyone who wants to take this as the occasion to wag a reproving finger is invited—not entirely cordially—to comprehensively plobz the frap off. You may quote me, in this life or the next.
I’ll let Steve Jobs have his night, and note that the local Fox News station just posted this:
What was once a protest of powerful Wall Street financial firms and banks is growing into a larger movement about the working class, employment, poverty, education, and more.
As they say, a liberal is just a conservative who got maced and batoned by police.
Revolving door continues. Citigroup (C) is rumored to be in advanced talks to hire Peter Orszag, who served as budget director for the Obama administration until he stepped down in July 2010. Sources said Orszag might take a job in Citi’s I-banking division and an announcement could come as soon as today. Citigroup, which is still recovering from its $45B bailout, would be only the latest in a long string of companies that have poached workers from the political sector, and of employees who have bounced back and forth between regulating (directly or indirectly) financial firms and then working for them.
States to face tighter finances. States may have to make additional spending cuts over the next couple of years or else face the possibility of deteriorating financial health as tax revenues recover at a slow pace and support from the federal government dwindles. A new report from the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers warned of “extremely tight fiscal conditions for states,” and at least 23 states are already anticipating budget deficits totaling $40.5B in 2012.
… While it will be many years yet before we can put a hard number on the amount of taxpayer dollars actually lost in the bailout, the Center for Media and Democracy’s latest assessment of dollars disbursed in the bailout graphically illustrates the extraordinary lengths to which the federal government went to bailout the financial sector.
The silence from deficit hawks is deafening on this point, even on how to have the money returned eventually…except, it appears, for Social Security and unemployment insurance. Are you really going to put up with this from either party? Looks to be yes, of course! (update: sources of numbers found at Sourcewatch)