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Selling Out America to Wall Street
Friday, 19 February 2010
Expect a deepening global depression; protracted economic, political, social, and institutional upheaval; mass unemployment, poverty, homelessless, and hunger; and severe repression to curb public anger. Blame it on decades of political influence buying yielding unprecedented returns for the privileged.
Project Censored's top 2010 story was "US Congress Sells Out to Wall Street," highlighting that since 2001, "eight of the most troubled firms have donated $64.2 million to congressional candidates, presidential candidates and the Republican and Democratic parties." It's no surprise that they own them, what Wall Street Watch.org showed in a March 2009 Essential Information and Consumer Education Foundation report titled,"Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America."
The accompanying press release said:
Over the past decade, "$5 billion in political contributions bought Wall Street freedom from regulation, (and) restraint." From 1998 - 2008, "Wall Street investment firms, commercial banks, hedge funds, real estate companies and insurance conglomerates (the FIRE sector)" spent over $1.7 billion in political contributions and another $3.4 billion on lobbyists, in return for which:
For decades, Wall Street and successive governments colluded to defraud the public, using various schemes to transfer wealth from them to the privileged. Carter spearheaded deregulation Nixon and Ford began by hiring Alfred Kahn to head the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). The 1978 Airline Deregulation Act followed. It dissolved the CAB, removed industry restraints, eased consolidation, and subsequent bills deregulated trucking and railroads - the 1980 Motor Carrier Act and 1980 Staggers Rail Act, following the 1976 Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act.
Carter also phased out interest rate deposit ceilings, and gave the Fed more power through the 1980 Depository Institutions and Monetary Control Act, removing New Deal restraints and enabling subsequent administrations to go further.
Under Reagan, energy deregulation followed, notably oil and gas, then electric utilities under GHW Bush and Clinton, the result being high prices, brownouts, and Enron-like scandals. In the 1980s, the 1982 Alternative Mortgage Transactions Parity Act led to exotic feature mortgages with adjustable rates or interest-only. They carry low "teaser" rates for several years, after which they're adjusted much higher, often making loans unaffordable, especially for low-income, high-risk borrowers using subprime and Alt-A loans.
The 1982 Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act deregulated thrifts and fueled fraud, so much that the Savings and Loan crisis followed, hundreds of banks failed, and taxpayers got stuck with most of the $160 billion cost. In 1987, the Government Accountability Office (GOA) declared the S & L deposit insurance fund insolvent because of mounting bank failures.
In 1988, global regulators imposed minimum bank capital requirements, known as the Basel Accord or Basel I, enforced in the G-10 countries.
In 1989, the Financial Institutions Reform and Recovery Act abolished the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and FSLIC, transferring them to the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) and FDIC. It also created the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) to liquidate troubled assets, assume Federal Home Loan Bank Board insurance functions, and clean up a troubled system.
Clinton era telecommunications deregulation let media and telecommunication giants consolidate, gave new digital television broadcast spectrum space to current TV station owners, and let cable companies increase their local monopoly positions.
His 1994 Reigle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act let bank holding companies operate in more than one state. In 1996, the Fed reinterpreted Glass-Steagall to let bank holding companies earn up to 25% of their revenue from investment banking. The 1998 Citicorp-Travelers merger followed, combining a commercial/investment bank with an insurance company ahead of the 1999 Financial Services Modernization Act, also called the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) authorizing it.
During the Great Depression, the Bank Act of 1933 (Glass-Steagall) created the FDIC, insuring bank deposits up to $5,000 and separating commercial from investment banks and insurance companies, among other provisions to curb speculation. Senator Carter Glass was its prime mover and got Senator Henry Steagall to go along by including his amendment to protect deposits. Glass believed banks should stick to lending, not speculate, deal, or hold corporate securities. He blamed them for the 1929 crash, subsequent bank failures, and the Great Depression. The Bank Act of 1933 passed quickly to curb them.
No Longer since the Neoliberal 1990s
Later weakened, it still curbed abusive practices until GLBA repealed it, let commercial and investment banks and insurance companies combine, and facilitated consolidated power, fraud and abuse that followed. Other deregulatory rules permitted off-balance sheet accounting to let banks hide liabilities.
In 2000, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA) passed, legitimizing swap agreements and other hybrid instruments, at the heart of today's problems by ending regulatory oversight of derivatives and leveraging that turned Wall Street more than ever into a casino.
In her book "It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals from Washington to Wall Street," former insider Nomi Prins explained CFMA as follows:
Credit default swaps became the most widely traded credit derivative. As unregulated insurance bets between two parties on whether or not a company's bonds would default, financial writer Ellen Brown asked in her April 11, 2008 article titled, "Credit Default Swaps: Evolving Financial Meltdown and Derivative Disaster Du Jour:"
What if "the smartest guys in the room designed their credit default swaps (but) forgot to ask one thing - what if the parties on the other side of the bet don't have the money to pay up?" In late 2007, when the financial crisis hit, they didn't, causing a "supersized bubble" to deflate.
New Deal reforms were enacted to prevent it. Deregulatory madness made it inevitable and the subsequent global economic fallout that continues - compounded by what Danny Schechter explained in his book, titled "The Crime of Our Time," calling the financial collapse "a crime story (involving) high status white-collar crooks." Their schemes included:
Worst of all, they got away with it, still do, and got trillions of dollars in bailout money as a bonus, free money from the Fed plus interest on Fed held reserves.
The Absence of Regulatory Oversight
Earlier New Deal reforms were long gone, but for the most part worked when in place. The Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 followed the Securities Act of 1933, requiring offers and security sales to be registered, pursuant to the Constitution's interstate commerce clause. Previously, they were governed by state laws, so-called "blue sky laws" to protect against fraud.
The 1934 law regulated secondary trading of financial securities and established the SEC under Section 4 to enforce the new Act, later under the 1939 Trust Indenture Act, the 1940 Investment Company Act, the Investment Advisors Act the same year, Sarbanes-Oxley of 2002, and the 2006 Credit Rating Agency Reform Act.
The SEC was established to enforce federal securities laws, the security industry, the nation's financial and options exchanges, and other electronic securities markets and instruments unknown in the 1930s, including derivatives and other forms of speculation. In principle, it's charged with uncovering wrongdoing, assuring investors aren't swindled, and keeping the nation's financial markets free from fraud and other abuses.
That was then, but no longer. Under George Bush, the SEC was more facilitator than enforcer, a paper tiger, not a guardian of the public trust. It:
Financial fraud prosecutions dropped sharply, practically never against powerful, well-connected firms, the Bernie Madoff exception because he confessed to his sons, and they turned him in for running what he called a "giant Ponzi scheme."
Obama exacerbated the worst bad practices. Wall gets a free ride. Foxes guard the hen house. Inmates run the asylum. Regulators don't regulate. Investigations aren't conducted. Criminal fraud is ignored. Nothing is done to curb it, and except for Madoff, only small fries need worry. Washington protects the big ones, Obama assigning Mary Schapiro the task as his SEC chief.
She's a consummate insider, spent years promoting Wall Street self-regulation, headed the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), was the National Association of Securities Dealers' (NASD) chairman, president, and CEO, ran the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and is expert at quashing fraud investigations. Except for high profile cases too big to hide (like Countrywide's Angelo Mozilo and Texas financier Robert Allen Sanford), she's treaded lightly on the rich and powerful, is doing nothing to curb insider trading, front-running, market manipulation, and other abuses.
Even the Wall Street Journal, commenting on her appointment, said her regulatory record "shows she has infrequently pursued tough action against big Wall Street firms." A year later, her job performance proves it, made easier by decades of deregulation.
In 2003, the Controller of the Currency, John Hawke, Jr. preempted state predatory lending laws (in violation of the 10th Amendment), meaning nationally chartered banks (including the nation's biggest) would come under federal standards, not more stringent state ones. According to former New York Attorney General and Governor, Eliot Spitzer:
In 2004, Basel II replaced Basel I with more comprehensive guidelines, ostensibly to ensure banks hold capital reserves appropriate to their lending and investment practices. In other words, the more risk, the greater the reserves, but given lax regulatory oversight, banks pretty much do what they want, and Obama gives them free reign, all the easier with trillions in bailout dollars.
In 2007, the Fed's Term Auction Facility extended loans to depository institutions with no public disclosure, unlike its discount window operations. In addition, global regulators let commercial banks set their own capital requirements, based on internal "risk-assessment models."
Regulators ignored predatory lending practices. They:
Credit rating agencies played their part as well because of their relationship with issuers. They ignored high-risk financial instruments, rated them highly, and duped investors to believe they were safe. The SEC could have intervened but didn't. The 2006 Credit Rating Agencies Reform Act requires regulators to establish clear guidelines to determine which ones qualify as NRSROs (Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations).
The SEC is supposed to monitor their internal record-keeping and prevent conflicts of interest, but can't regulate their methodology and must approve their standards even knowing they're flawed.
One hand thus feeds the other. Conspiratorially, the regulator and credit agencies turn a blind eye to abuses, cry foul when it's too late, then promise greater diligence next time. Change, of course, never comes, so next time is like last time until so extreme the whole system collapses, harming ordinary people the most.
After the 2008 Bear Stearns collapse, special lending facilities opened the discount window to investment banks, accepting a broad range of asset-backed securities, principally toxic ones, as collateral - what economist Michael Hudson called "cash for trash." Numerous other programs followed, including:
Wall Street never had it so good. For the public, hard times are worsening as America sinks deeper into depression, a protracted one according to some experts hitting the needy and disadvantaged hardest. The land of the free is now the most callous, the result of what former Wall Street and government insider Catherine Austin Fitts calls a "financial coup d'etat."
She explains the "pump(ing) and dump(ing) of the entire American economy," duping the public, fleecing trillions of dollars, and it's more than just "a process (to destroy) the middle class. (It's) genocide (by other means) - a much more subtle and lethal version than ever before perpetrated by the scoundrels of our history texts."
The scheme includes abusive market manipulation, "fraudulent housing (and other bubbles), pump and dump schemes, naked short selling, precious metals price suppression, and active intervention in the markets by the government and central bank" along with insiders trading on privileged information unavailable to the public. It's part of a government - business partnership for enormous profits through "legislation, contracts, regulat(ory laxness), financing, (and) subsidies" - a conspiratorial plot to transfer household wealth to powerful special interests.
Here's a taste of the consequences, courtesy of economist David Rosenberg on February 16.
He reported that "credit contraction continues unabated," and the numbers are staggering:
And it's broad-based:
Rosenberg calls it "alarming," especially "since the bulk of the fiscal and US dollar stimulus is behind us, not ahead of us....The era of the 'green shoots' is officially dead."
Europe is mired in recession. Britain faces a possible 2010 sovereign debt crisis, spiking yields and raising borrowing costs, according to Morgan Stanley. Eastern European nations teeter on the brink of debt default. So do Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Ireland. A January 14 George Magnus Financial Times article titled, "Sovereign default risks loom" said:
Yet according to Rosenberg, "the consensus community has no clue as to what the future holds," forecasting rosy scenarios while Rome burns.
"[T]he depression is ongoing even if the most recent recession has faded; and in our view, the next one is not too far away now that the stimulus is soon to subside." The contagion will be global, the fallout catastrophic because the worst is yet to come.
In fact, "the depression is ongoing even if the most recent recession has faded; and in our view, the next one is not too far away especially now that the stimulus is soon to subside." The contagion will be global, the fallout catastrophic because the worst is yet to come, what economist Michael Hudson foresaw in early 2009 saying:
Expect a deepening global depression; protracted economic, political, social, and institutional upheaval; mass unemployment, poverty, homelessless, and hunger; and severe repression to curb public anger. Blame it on decades of political influence buying yielding unprecedented returns for the privileged, but economic wreckage and catastrophic life changes for the rest. The price of excess is pain, lots of it for the world's disadvantaged, the ones who always pay for rich peoples' sins.
Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.
Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.This story was published on February 19, 2010.
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