Sunday, February 15, 2009

THE INSIDERS

You'll recall that just a few days ago I referred to Tim Geithner as "The Insider." And I've also used the term to describe the cadre of governmental hacks that do the bidding of Wall St. in the name of the American economy. Of the American people.

Well, lest you think this is nothing more than the mad prattlings of an internet nobody looking for a few rich and famous folks to tee off on, think again. Please read what Simon Johnson, former IMF chief economist and current professor of global economics and management at MIT said on Bill Moyers this week when he discussed his grave concerns about the unchecked power and influence of "America's Oligarchs" (H/T Jesse):

SIMON JOHNSON: I think I'm signaling something a little bit shocking to Americans, and to myself, actually. Which is the situation we find ourselves in at this moment, this week, is very strongly reminiscent of the situations we've seen many times in other places . . . [we] somehow find ourselves in the grip of the same sort of crisis and the same sort of oligarchs . . . it's a small group with a lot of power. A lot of wealth. They don't necessarily - they're not necessarily always the names, the household names that spring to mind, in this kind of context. But they are the people who could pull the strings. Who have the influence. Who call the shots.

BILL MOYERS: Are you saying that the banking industry trumps the president, the Congress and the American government when it comes to this issue so crucial to the survival of American democracy?

SIMON JOHNSON: I don't know. I hope they don't trump it. But the signs that I see this week, the body language, the words, the op-eds, the testimony, the way they're treated by certain Congressional committees, it makes me feel very worried. I have this feeling in my stomach that I felt in other countries, much poorer countries, countries that were headed into really difficult economic situation. When there's a small group of people who got you into a disaster, and who were still powerful. Disaster even made them more powerful. And you know you need to come in and break that power. And you can't. You're stuck.

BILL MOYERS: . . . Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod [] have pushed for tougher action against the banks. But they didn't prevail. Obama apparently sided with Geithner and the Treasury Department in using a velvet glove.

SIMON JOHNSON: What I read from that is that there is an unnecessary and excessive deference to the experts, or the supposed experts. And I think the view that a lot of people have in Washington -- I live in Washington, I follow this very closely -- the view is that you need to rely on the technocrats. And the technocrats are saying, "This is the way to go, and you mustn't be too tough on because banks, because that will have adverse consequences for credits, and for the economy, and for unemployment," and so on and so forth. Those technocrats, if that's what they're saying, are wrong. That is not the right way to deal with this crisis.

* * *

[B]eing nice to the banks, is a mistake. The powerful people are the insiders. They're the CEOs of these banks. They're the people who run these banks. They're the people who pay themselves the massive bonuses at the end of the last year. Now, those bonuses are not the essence of the problem, but they are a symptom of an arrogance, and a feeling of invincibility, that tells you a lot about the culture of those organizations, and the attitudes of the people who lead them.

BILL MOYERS: Geithner has hired as his chief-of-staff, the lobbyist from Goldman Sachs. The new deputy secretary of state was, until last year, a CEO of Citigroup. Another CFO from Citigroup is now assistant to the president, and deputy national security advisor for International Economic Affairs. And one of his deputies also came from Citigroup. One new member of the president's Economic Recovery Advisory Board comes from UBS, which is being investigated for helping rich clients evade taxes. You're probably too young to remember that old song, "Sounds like the Mack the Knife is back in town." I mean, is that what you're talking about with this web of relationships?

SIMON JOHNSON: . . . it's exactly a web of interest, I think, is what you said. And that's exactly the right way to think about it. That web of interest is not my interest, or your interest, or the interest of the taxpayer. It's the interest, first and foremost, of the financial industry in this country.

* * *

BILL MOYERS: When Tim Geithner said, earlier in the week, that the American people have lost faith in some financial institutions and the government, did it occur to you that this was the same man who was president of the New York Fed through much of this debacle?

SIMON JOHNSON: I have no problem with poachers turning gamekeeper, right? So if you know where the bodies are buried maybe you can help us sort out the problem. And I did think the first three or four minutes of what Mr. Geithner said were very good. As a definition of a problem, and pointing the finger clearly at the bankers, and saying that the government had been slow to react, and, of course, that included himself. I liked that. And then he started to talk about the specifics. And he said, "The compensation caps we've put in place, for the executives of these banks, are strong." And at that point I just fell out of my chair. That is not true. That is factually inaccurate, in my opinion.

BILL MOYERS: That?

SIMON JOHNSON: That this $500,000 limit, and deferred stock, is some kind of restriction on what they do? It's deferred stock, Bill. It's not restricted. You can get as much stock as you want, as soon as you pay back the government, you can cash out of that. That's one. Second, you can, sorry to get technical, but reset the strike price. This is something you and your and your viewers, you need to hear this one out. Just look for these words, okay, follow them through the press. When you get into trouble, when your company goes down, and you have massive amounts of stock options that aren't worth much anymore, because the stock price has gone down, you say, "Oh, well, we're going to reset our option prices."

And, basically, it means that, at the end of the day, these people are going to walk away with tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars paid for by basically, insurance policy that you and I are providing. Think of it like this, our taxpayer money is ensuring their bonuses. We're making sure that companies, that banks survive. And eventually, of course, the economy will turn around. Things will get better. The banks will be worth a lot of money. And they will cash out. And we will be paying higher taxes, we and our children, will be paying higher taxes so those people could have those bonuses. That's not fair. It's not acceptable. It's not even good economics.

BILL MOYERS: Are we chumps?

SIMON JOHNSON: We'll find out. Yes, we may be. Okay. It depends on how we play this politically. It depends on what our political system does. It depends, I think, on the level of reaction. The financial system is playing us for chumps, okay? The bankers think we're chumps. We'll find out. We have leadership that can handle this. We'll find out what they do.

* * *

BILL MOYERS: Geithner says . . . the board of Goldman Sachs, will have to decide [whether to fire Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs]. But aren't we all ipso facto stock holders now?

SIMON JOHNSON: We should certainly have a big say over critical matters like this. Like the CEO. Because, two things. First of all, it's our money that kept these banks in business. Not just the treasury recapitalization money, that's relatively small. It's the financial support provided by the Federal Reserve. Make no mistake about it, if the Federal Reserve hadn't stepped in late September, in dramatic fashion, to prop up organizations like Goldman Sachs, they would be out of business, okay?

It was our money that did that. The Federal Reserve acting on behalf of the American taxpayer. And secondly, Senator Sanders is exactly right. That a CEO, like Lloyd Blankfein, made mistakes, and led his company into deep trouble. Now, other companies are in deeper trouble. His company was in deep trouble and had to be rescued at that moment. It's absolutely the right way to pose the question. And the answer to Senator Sanders' question is, in my opinion, yes. We should change the leadership of these major banks.

BILL MOYERS: And, yet, Secretary Geithner's chief-of-staff is the former lobbyist for Goldman Sachs. How -- serious question -- how do they make a dispassionate judgment about how to deal with Goldman Sachs when they're so intertwined with Goldman Sachs' mindset?

SIMON JOHNSON: I have no idea. Of course, the administration, the new administration, has a lot of rules about lobbying. And they have rules that basically say, I think, as understood the rules, when they were first presented, I was very impressed. They basically said, "We're not going to hire lobbyists into the administration. There has to be some sort of cooling off period."

BILL MOYERS: And the next day Obama exempted a number of people from that very rule that he had just proclaimed.

SIMON JOHNSON: Yes. It's a problem. It's a huge problem.

As always, I urge you to read the entire transcript. And, more importantly, I urge you to come to grips -- intellectually, emotionally, politically -- with the facts that are sitting right in front of you, staring you in the face. Namely, that a small cadre of Washington Insiders is enabling an even smaller Oligarchy of Wall St. Insiders to accomplish one thing, and one thing only: the naked looting of the United States Treasury.

It started last fall with Paulson, Bush, Cheney, Bernanke, and Barney Frank, and it's continuing with Geithner, Bernanke, Larry Sommers, Barney Frank and yes, even Obama.

The Insiders are robbing us blind. And they're laughing at us for letting them do it so brazenly.

Wake up.

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Applesaucer said...

Great post, as usual.

By the way, as predicted, in whack-a-mole fashion, the Obama Administration is once again interceding on behalf of its Wall St. friends.

See this excellent piece over at Naked Capitalism:

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2009/02/obama-to-neuter-bank-pay-restrictions.html

I strogly urge people to read the whole thing, but if they don't want to, here's the most relevant excerpt:

"...here's the Bloomberg story:

The Obama administration said it would work with Congress on limiting executive pay at banks that get federal bailout money after critics said tough new restrictions in an economic stimulus plan would prompt talented managers to leave..

"The president shares a deep concern about excessive executive compensation" and "he looks forward to working with Congress to responsibly address this issue," she [spokeswoman Jen Psaki] said.

Administration officials wanted to keep the executive compensation measures as part of the financial sector rescue package, according to a person familiar with the administration's views. This person said the executive compensation provision in the stimulus bill was a contentious issue. The administration decided not to fight the provision because of the possibility that it would have to go back to Congress for more bailout funds, the person said....


Yves here. Did you catch that? The Admiinistration would have fought were it not for the need to keep Congress appeased."

Applesaucer

10:51 AM  
Blogger Smitty said...

First of all, I love Bill Moyers. Real questions, listens to answers rather than just waiting for his interviewee to quit talking, etc.

Second:

Secretary Geithner's chief-of-staff is the former lobbyist for Goldman Sachs

No lobbyists in the administration! Change I can believe in!

Fuck.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Moyers has always been great. In addition to his obvious intelligence and people skills, I think he's always shown a true decency, which makes him worth listening to, even if you're not inclined to agree.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Agi said...

Yup. This whole economic cry-sis definitely wreaks of an inside job.

8:10 PM  
Blogger DED said...

Another informative post. Thanks for sharing.

Yep. We're fucked.

12:47 PM  
Blogger George said...

TPM has been running Johnson interviews, too, if you want to get further angry.

The amazing thing about Moyers is he's an ordained minister. Seems they're not all shysters after all.

12:51 AM  

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