Via Howie Klein at Down With Tyranny, some encouraging news - not every member of Congress is buying the Wall Street line:
There is a small group of progressive Democrats-- very small-- who are actually independent of Wall Street. You may have noticed that last week Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced a bill targeting outrageous bonuses of banksters who are getting it out of TARP money.
Yesterday Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced an even more stringent bill that targets any bonus over $25,000-- where the Boxer-Webb bill goes after anything over $400,000. I'm with Sherrod on this one. He says he wants to use the proceeds to help small businesses expand and hire new employees. In a talk about how Wall Street benefited from the infusion of taxpayer dollars via TARP, he explained why he thinks Main Street needs to be helped along now and how this is a way to get that started. “It’s time," he said, "for Wall Street to return the favor to Main Street. While big banks have rebounded thanks to the help of American taxpayers, small businesses are still struggling. If a big firm that received taxpayer help is now paying out massive bonuses, they should be able to help American small businesses expand operations and hire new workers. Small business growth will create jobs and get our economy back on track."
That's mere chump change to these guys! I just have to wonder if the Democrats are still dumb enough to roll over for them:
Banks are mobilising a smooth-running lobbying machine in Washington to battle Barack Obama's plans to limit the size and scope of Wall Street institutions, as financial services firms gear up to stop a shake-up that could slice away large chunks of their operations.
Their influence on Capitol Hill is broad – the top eight US banks spent $26m (£16m) on lobbying efforts last year, an increase of 6% on 2008 despite their financial woes, according to Congressional records. And in the first 10 months of 2009, the financial industry donated $78.2m to federal candidates and party committees – more than any other business sector – according to political research institute the Centre for Responsive Politics.
"The power of the financial services sector in this city has not dissipated at all … they've just done things in a quieter way," said Ethan Siegel, an analyst at financial consultancy The Washington Exchange, who monitors Congress for big investors. "They haven't pulled back on their lobbying just because they've become piñata [punchbags] in the press."
Wall Street lobbyists argue that scaling back the size of banks misdiagnoses the cause of the financial crisis, jeopardises jobs, damages America's competitiveness and could inhibit growth.
The Financial Services Forum, which represents 18 top banks including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Citigroup, says the problem of institutions becoming "too big to fail" ought to be tackled through more effective supervision, and by creating an authority able to wind down failing firms, rather than by forcing them to shrink. Spokeswoman Erica Hurtt said: "This was not a trading crisis and these proposals miss the mark. They won't get to the causes of the crisis."
Banks' persuasiveness has already had significant impact on the Obama administration. Plans for the creation of a consumer financial protection agency are meeting staunch Senate opposition and may be watered down to get the 60-40 support needed to override objections.
One widely used strategy by the financial industry has been to deploy representatives of smaller high-street banks to make the case to lawmakers. Organisations such as the Independent Community Bankers of America tend to get a sympathetic hearing because they can point to members in towns and cities in almost every Congressional district, rather than purely in lower Manhattan.
A commenter over at Matt Taibbi's blog makes some excellent if painful points about this week's election results, and it was so good, so much to the heart of the matter, that I thought you would all want to read it:
The idiot pundits proclaiming this as a protest to Obama’s “overreach” are just morons and deserve to be ignored by anyone with half a brain. In a just world, bankers would wipe out their savings, after which they’d be fired and have to stand in today’s unemployment lines.
The lesson Obama should take from this is that people are not fooled by Obama throwing out platitudes like “I didn’t run for President to please fat-cat bankers” and then appointing people like Tim Geithner of Goldman Sachs to Treasury, keeping Ben Bernanke around, and having people who caused the economic pain for so many people like Larry Summers and Robert Rubin as his economic advisors. And are not fooled when he does nothing but mouth platitudes, or makes a scene of phoning a bank to tell them not to buy a plane, as the largest round of banking bonuses is handed out the year after they did the financial equivalent of blowing up the world. And are not fooled when he gives a speech to Wall Street politely requesting them not to be so greedy, and that they don’t need to wait for him to enact legislation to change their behavior. And are not fooled when all the popular elements of reform like a public insurance option are gutted out of the health care reform bill in order to “pass something” and call it a win, and then lie that you “never campaigned on a public option” (for someone who ran such a new-media campaign, it’s pretty brazen to act like in 2010, people don’t have the YouTubes!).
It's difficult to watch as our national arts organizations go begging for relatively small sums while bankers rake in taxpayer money and give themselves fat bonuses. Via the Baltimore Sun:
Over the weekend, my colleague Peter Dobrin reported on the Philadelphia Orchestra's emergency need $15 million to held ends meet. Here's an excerpt:
The orchestra is running a string of large deficits - $3.3 million for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, and a projected $7.5 million for the current year - and has maxed out its line of credit.
"Unless we, individually and collectively, provide critical financial support in the next several weeks, there is danger that our effort to fix and transform the orchestra will falter," incoming board chairman Richard B. Worley wrote in a four-page memo to the board. "Without financial stability, we will continually be forced to devote our energy to triaging short-term financial crises, making long-term sustainable change more difficult. We cannot shrink our way to a better future."
Discouraging news is everywhere in the arts world, of course. It's going to be another rough season. The situation in Philadelphia drives home what's happening here, where the Baltimore Symphony has been doing the battle of the budget since the Great Recession grabbed hold, and has done so with a remarkable degree of internal cohesiveness. For more on the local picture (just in case you missed it -- and we wouldn't want that to happen, would we?), I've got a story in today's paper.
Fifteen million? Chump change. Why not hit the bankers with a culture tax?
As President Obama traveled to Wall Street on Monday and chided bankers for their recklessness, across town a federal judge issued a far sharper rebuke, not just for some of the financiers but for their regulators in Washington as well.
Giving voice to the anger and frustration of many ordinary Americans, Judge Jed S. Rakoff issued a scathing ruling on one of the watershed moments of the financial crisis: the star-crossed takeover of Merrill Lynch by the now-struggling Bank of America.
Judge Rakoff refused to approve a $33 million deal that would have settled a lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission against the Bank of America. The lawsuit alleged that the bank failed to adequately disclose the bonuses that were paid by Merrill before the merger, which was completed in January at regulators’ behest as Merrill foundered.
He accused the S.E.C. of failing in its role as Wall Street’s top cop by going too easy on one of the biggest banks it regulates. And he accused executives of the Bank of America of failing to take responsibility for actions that blindsided its shareholders and the taxpayers who bailed out the bank at the height of the crisis.
The sharply worded ruling, which invoked justice and morality, seemed to speak not only to the controversial deal, but also to the anger across the nation over the excesses that led to the financial crisis, and the lax regulation in Washington that permitted those excesses to flourish.
Implicit in the judge’s remarks were broader questions on the anniversary of one of the most tumultuous weeks in Wall Street’s history: What do the giants of finance owe their shareholders and the investing public? And who will adequately oversee these behemoths?
Congress is pondering these issues as it prepares to reshape the power structure of financial regulators in Washington, including the S.E.C. President Obama is pushing lawmakers to pass tougher regulations this year that would touch everything from bonuses to the structural soundness of Wall Street’s most powerful banks, even as some Democrats fret that the health care debate makes it unlikely that financial reform can be achieved.
“We will not go back to the days of reckless behavior and unchecked excess at the heart of this crisis,” Mr. Obama said in his speech before several hundred banking executives, lawmakers and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York.
Such consequences were at the heart of the dispute that came before Judge Rakoff, who had demanded that the S.E.C. and the bank explain which executives were responsible for failing to tell the bank’s shareholders about the payout of Merrill’s bonuses. That information, together with evidence of large undisclosed losses at Merrill, may have led shareholders to reject the merger at a time when the government wanted to forestall a worse meltdown of the financial system.
The judge accused Bank of America and the S.E.C. of concocting the settlement to effectively absolve themselves of further responsibility.
“The S.E.C. gets to claim that it is exposing wrongdoing on the part of the Bank of America in a high-profile merger,” he wrote, and “the Bank’s management gets to claim that they have been coerced into an onerous settlement by overzealous regulators.”
Okay, let's see if I'm following this. The administration is talking about lending money to small businesses because the banks to which they've already funneled billions didn't do the thing all that money was supposed to do: make them open up the taps and lend working capital to businesses.
Are we clear now?
The Obama administration is developing an initiative to take money from the $700 billion program for the banking system and make it available to millions of small businesses, which officials say are essential to any economic recovery because they employ so many people, according to sources familiar with the plan.
The new effort -- which would represent a striking shift from the rescue program's original mandate -- would direct billions of bailout dollars toward a program that aims more at saving jobs than righting the financial system.
A proposal being floated by senior Treasury Department officials calls for using the bailout funds to expand an existing government program that helps small companies borrow money from banks a low rates to keep their businesses going, the source said. These "working capital" loans would come with few restrictions and could be used for buying inventory, holding onto employees and paying off short-term debt.
The initiative would expand a Small Business Administration lending program called 7(a), the agency's most popular lending program. Lines of credit for small companies could greatly increase in size. If the firm failed despite receiving this help, the government would cover most of the losses on the federal loan, perhaps as much as 90 percent. Lines of credit act like the credit cards for companies -- short-term revolving debt used to pay a variety of immediate expenses.
Discussions about the plan have reached the highest levels of the administration. In a meeting at the White House last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner expressed support of his staff's proposal, while National Economic Council director Lawrence Summers was more skeptical. Neither has made up his mind, officials said.
"Larry has supported every small business idea we have implemented so far," said Gene Sperling, a counselor to Geithner, who has been working on small business issues. "When we have a brainstorming session on new ideas, Larry as always asks the toughest questions in the room."
The debate over the proposal has centered on whether taxpayers would be protected and whether banks that make these loans would lower their standards if the government promises to cover most of any loan losses, according to participants present or briefed on the discussions. The spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversations were considered private.
On one hand, administration officials want to prevent healthy small businesses from closing their doors and adding their workers to the growing ranks of the unemployed. But small companies have poorer record of repaying loans compared to large corporations and would be the riskiest investment made under the bailout program to date.
The officials said the discussions are in the early stages and that no plan is expected before the fall. Ideas currently on the table may evolve or be scrapped altogether, they said.
Anything that creates or maintains jobs is good, but I wonder if this will really do that. I think too many of those small businesses are already gone.
I have to watch Congress dither over withholding money that would bring much-needed health care to the uninsured, and then I get to watch things like this. Compare and contrast!
General Electric, the world's largest industrial company, has quietly become the biggest beneficiary of one of the government's key rescue programs for banks.
At the same time, GE has avoided many of the restrictions facing other financial giants getting help from the government.
The company did not initially qualify for the program, under which the government sought to unfreeze credit markets by guaranteeing debt sold by banking firms. But regulators soon loosened the eligibility requirements, in part because of behind-the-scenes appeals from GE.
As a result, GE has joined major banks collectively saving billions of dollars by raising money for their operations at lower interest rates. Public records show that GE Capital, the company's massive financing arm, has issued nearly a quarter of the $340 billion in debt backed by the program, which is known as the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program, or TLGP. The government's actions have been "powerful and helpful" to the company, GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt acknowledged in December.
GE's finance arm is not classified as a bank. Rather, it worked its way into the rescue program by owning two relatively small Utah banking institutions, illustrating how the loopholes in the U.S. regulatory system are manifest in the government's historic intervention in the financial crisis.
The Obama administration now wants to close such loopholes as it works to overhaul the financial system. The plan would reaffirm and strengthen the wall between banking and commerce, forcing companies like GE to essentially choose one or the other.
"We'd like to regulate companies according to what they do, rather than what they call themselves or how they charter themselves," said Andrew Williams, a Treasury spokesman.
I'm getting so tired of these stories. I mean, what's the point? Americans are perfectly happy to stay home and watch TV while our elected officials rob us blind and we struggle along without needed health care:
June 26 (Bloomberg) -- In June 2008, U.S. Virgin Islands Governor John deJongh Jr. agreed to give London-based Diageo Plc billions of dollars in tax incentives to move its production of Captain Morgan rum from one U.S. island -- Puerto Rico -- to another, namely St. Croix.
DeJongh says he had no idea his deal would help make the world’s largest liquor distiller the most unlikely beneficiary of the emergency Troubled Asset Relief Program approved by Congress just four months later.
Today, as two 56-foot-high (17-meter-high) tanks for holding fermenting molasses will soon rise from the ground on the Caribbean island of St. Croix, the extent to which dozens of nonbank companies benefited from last October’s emergency financial rescue plan is just beginning to come to light.
The hurried legislation adopted by a Congress voting under the threat of sudden global economic collapse led to hidden tax breaks for firms in dozens of industries. They included builders of Nascar auto-racing tracks, restaurant chains such as Burger King Holdings Inc., movie and television producers -- and London’s Diageo.
“It’s kind of like the magician’s sleight of hand,” says former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman William Thomas, a California Republican who ran the committee from 2001 to 2007 and oversaw all tax legislation. “They snuck these things in a bill that was focused on other things.”
[...] The added tax breaks prevented the TARP legislation from being rejected a second time, says Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner. Twenty-six Republicans, including Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, John Shadegg of Arizona and Zach Wamp of Tennessee, reversed their earlier no votes.
Each of the tax provisions has a story -- and plenty of defenders.
Clearly, some people are just looking out for themselves. And these are the ones we count on to look out for the rest of us? Oy. I wonder if this falls into the "moving ahead" category, or is anyone going to look into this?
WASHINGTON -- As financial markets tumbled and the government worked to stave off panic by pumping billions of dollars into banks last fall, several members of Congress who oversee the banking industry were grabbing up or dumping bank stocks.
Anticipating bargains or profits or just trying to unload before the bottom fell out, these members of the House Financial Services Committee or brokers on their behalf were buying and selling stocks including Bank of America and Citigroup -- some of the very corporations their committee would later rap for greed, a Plain Dealer examination of congressional stock market transactions shows.
Financial disclosure records show that some of these Financial Services Committee members, including Ohio Rep. Charlie Wilson, made bank stock trades on the same day the banks were getting a government bailout from a program Congress approved. The transactions may not have been illegal or against congressional rules, but securities attorneys and congressional watchdog groups say they raise flags about the appearance of conflicts of interest.
"I don't think that any of these people should be owning these types of financial instruments," said Brian Biggins, a Cleveland securities lawyer and former stock brokerage manager. "I'm not saying they shouldn't be in the stock market. But if they're on the banking committee and trading in these kinds of stocks, I don't think that's right."
I can't imagine the thinking behind this. We lend them the money and then let them pay it back - before we've fixed the problems that lead to the crash in the first place? And it won't do much for consumers, since half of them are investment banks.
Elizabeth Warren is skeptical, and wants to hear the terms of repayment. She also warns that the stress tests were not as strong as they should have been. Stay tuned:
... The decision to allow the banks to exit the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, also ushered in a new, and potentially risky, phase of the banking crisis. Letting the lenders out now — earlier than many had envisioned, and without the industry reforms some consider necessary to prevent future crises — raises many sobering questions for policy makers, bankers and taxpayers.
The program was aimed at purchasing assets and equity from banks to strengthen them and encourage them to expand lending during a tightening credit squeeze. But after banks return the TARP money, the administration will forfeit much of its leverage over them. With that loss goes a rare opportunity to overhaul the industry. The administration’s ability to push institutions to purge themselves quickly of bad assets and do more to help hard-pressed homeowners will be diminished.
Of even deeper concern is the running trouble inside the banking industry. Despite tentative signs of revival, many banks remain fragile. Four of the nation’s five largest lenders, including Citigroup and Bank of America, were not allowed to return their bailout funds.
Some analysts worry that financial institutions that repay bailout money now may turn to Washington again if the economy worsens and losses overwhelm banks. One of the most vexing problems of the credit crisis — how to rid banks of their troubled mortgage investments — remains unresolved.
Which, of course, is why so many experts were urging the administration to nationalize the banks. Those bad mortgages have to be dealt with sooner or later, and the bailout program simply postponed the day of reckoning.
The banks are eager to escape TARP and the restrictions that come with it, particularly the limits on how much they can pay their 25 most highly compensated workers. (Even so, the Obama administration plans to propose guidelines on executive compensation for the broader industry as early as Wednesday.)
Yet even banks that return taxpayers’ money will remain dependent on other forms of government aid. Among them are enhanced deposit insurance, incentive payments to modify home mortgages and federal guarantees on bonds that banks sell to raise capital.
“They may need the government’s money to get through this storm,” Christopher Whalen, a managing partner at Institutional Risk Analytics, said of the banks. “If the banks have to come back and ask for more money in a few months, I don’t think the response from Washington will be too kind.”