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Changing the Rules of the Blame Game

Hat tip to Jesse’s Café Américain for finding.

Bill Moyer’s Journal
Changing the Rules of the Blame Game
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

A cartoon in the Sunday comics shows that mustachioed fellow with monocle and top hat from the Monopoly game – “Rich Uncle Pennybags,” he used to be called – standing along the roadside, destitute, holding a sign: “Will blame poor people for food.”

Time to move the blame to where it really belongs. That means no more coddling banks with bailout billions marked “secret.” No more allowing their executives lavish bonuses and new corporate jets as if they’ve won the megalottery and not sent the economy down the tubes. And no more apostles of Wall Street calling the shots.

Which brings us to Larry Summers. Over the weekend, the White House released financial disclosure reports revealing that Summers, director of the National Economic Council, received $5.2 million last year working for a $30 billion hedge fund. He made another $2.7 million in lecture fees, including cash from such recent beneficiaries of taxpayer generosity as Citigroup, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. The now defunct financial services giant Lehman Brothers handsomely purchased his pearls of wisdom, too.

Reading stories about Summers and Wall Street you realize the man was intoxicated by the exotic witches’ brew of derivatives and other financial legerdemain that got us into such a fine mess in the first place. Yet here he is, serving as gatekeeper of the information and analysis going to President Obama on the current collapse. We have to wonder, when the President asks, “Larry, who did this to us?” is he going to name names of old friends and benefactors? Knowing he most likely will be looking for his old desk back once he leaves the White House, is he going to be tough on the very system of lucrative largesse that he helped create in his earlier incarnation as a de-regulating Treasury Secretary? (“Larry?” “Yes, Mr. President?” “Who the hell recommended repealing the Glass-Steagall Act back in the 90s and opened the floodgates to all this greed?” “Uh, excuse me, Mr. President, I think Bob Rubin’s calling me.”)

That imaginary conversation came to mind last week as we watched President Obama’s joint press conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. When a reporter asked Obama who is to blame for the financial crisis, our usually eloquent and knowledgeable President responded with a rambling and ineffectual answer. With Larry Summers guarding his inbox, it’s hardly surprising he’s not getting the whole story…

Shifting the blame for the financial crisis to where it belongs also means no more playacting in round after round of congressional hearings devoted more to posturing and false contrition than to truth. We need real hearings, conducted by experienced and fiercely independent counsel asking the tough questions, or an official commission with subpoena power that can generate evidence leading, if warranted, to trials and convictions – and this time Rich Uncle Pennybags shouldn’t have safely tucked away in his vest pocket a “Get Out of Jail Free” card…

Bill Black wrote a book about his experiences with a title that fits today as well as it did when he published it four years ago – "The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One." On last Friday night’s edition of BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, he said the current economic and financial meltdown is driven by fraud and banks that got away with it, in part, because of government deregulation under prior Republican and Democratic administrations.

“Now we know what happens when you destroy regulation,” Black said. “You get the biggest financial calamity for anybody under the age of 80.”

What’s more, the government ignored warnings and existing legislation to stop it before the current crisis got worse. “They didn’t even begin to investigate the major lenders until the market had actually collapsed, which is completely contrary to what we did successfully in the savings and loan crisis,” Black said. “Even while the institutions were reporting they were the most profitable savings and loans in America, we knew they were frauds. And we were moving to close them down.”

There was advance warning of the current collapse. Black says that the FBI blew the whistle; in September 2004, “there was an epidemic of mortgage fraud, that if it was allowed to continue it would produce a crisis at least as large as the Savings and Loan debacle.”….

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner “is covering up,” Black said. “Just like Paulson did before him. Geithner is publicly saying that it’s going to take $2 trillion — a trillion is a thousand billion — $2 trillion taxpayer dollars to deal with this problem. But they’re allowing all the banks to report that they’re not only solvent, but fully capitalized. Both statements can’t be true. It can’t be that they need $2 trillion, because they have massive losses, and that they’re fine…

“They’re scared to death of a collapse. They’re afraid that if they admit the truth, that many of the large banks are insolvent, they think Americans are a bunch of cowards, and that we’ll run screaming to the exits… And it’s foolishness, all right?…

Full article here.


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