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CEO Council Demands Cuts To Poor, Elderly While Reaping Billions In Government Contracts, Tax Breaks The corporate CEOs who have made a high-profile foray into deficit negotiations have themselves been substantially responsible for the size of the deficit they now want closed.
The companies represented by executives working with the Campaign To Fix The Debt have received trillions in federal war contracts, subsidies and bailouts, as well as specialized tax breaks and loopholes that virtually eliminate the companies' tax bills.
The CEOs are part of a campaign run by the Peter Peterson-backed Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, which plans to spend at least $30 million pushing for a deficit reduction deal in the lame-duck session and beyond.
During the past few days, CEOs belonging to what the campaign calls its CEO Fiscal Leadership Council -- most visibly, Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein and Honeywell's David Cote -- have barnstormed the media, making the case that the only way to cut the deficit is to severely scale back social safety-net programs -- Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security -- which would disproportionately impact the poor and the elderly. (The Huffington Post)
Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes? Matt Taibbi: A whistle blower says the agency has illegally destroyed thousands of documents, letting financial crooks off the hook. - Imagine a world in which a man who is repeatedly investigated for a string of serious crimes, but never prosecuted, has his slate wiped clean every time the cops fail to make a case. No more Lifetime channel specials where the murderer is unveiled after police stumble upon past intrigues in some old file – "Hey, chief, didja know this guy had two wives die falling down the stairs?" No more burglary sprees cracked when some sharp cop sees the same name pop up in one too many witness statements. This is a different world, one far friendlier to lawbreakers, where even the suspicion of wrongdoing gets wiped from the record.
That, it now appears, is exactly how the Securities and Exchange Commission has been treating the Wall Street criminals who cratered the global economy a few years back. For the past two decades, according to a whistle-blower at the SEC who recently came forward to Congress, the agency has been systematically destroying records of its preliminary investigations once they are closed. By whitewashing the files of some of the nation's worst financial criminals, the SEC has kept an entire generation of federal investigators in the dark about past inquiries into insider trading, fraud and market manipulation against companies like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and AIG. With a few strokes of the keyboard, the evidence gathered during thousands of investigations – "18,000 ... including Madoff," as one high-ranking SEC official put it during a panicked meeting about the destruction – has apparently disappeared forever into the wormhole of history.
Under a deal the SEC worked out with the National Archives and Records Administration, all of the agency's records – "including case files relating to preliminary investigations" – are supposed to be maintained for at least 25 years. But the SEC, using history-altering practices that for once actually deserve the overused and usually hysterical term "Orwellian," devised an elaborate and possibly illegal system under which staffers were directed to dispose of the documents from any preliminary inquiry that did not receive approval from senior staff to become a full-blown, formal investigation. Amazingly, the wholesale destruction of the cases – known as MUIs, or "Matters Under Inquiry" – was not something done on the sly, in secret. The enforcement division of the SEC even spelled out the procedure in writing, on the commission's internal website. "After you have closed a MUI that has not become an investigation," the site advised staffers, "you should dispose of any documents obtained in connection with the MUI." (Rolling Stone)
The Fed Audit The first top-to-bottom audit of the Federal Reserve uncovered eye-popping new details about how the U.S. provided a whopping $16 trillion in secret loans to bail out American and foreign banks and businesses during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. An amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders to the Wall Street reform law passed one year ago this week directed the Government Accountability Office to conduct the study. "As a result of this audit, we now know that the Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world," said Sanders. "This is a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you're-on-your-own individualism for everyone else."
Among the investigation's key findings is that the Fed unilaterally provided trillions of dollars in financial assistance to foreign banks and corporations from South Korea to Scotland, according to the GAO report. "No agency of the United States government should be allowed to bailout a foreign bank or corporation without the direct approval of Congress and the president," Sanders said. (Bernie Sanders)
Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail? Financial crooks brought down the world's economy -- but the feds are doing more to protect them than to prosecute them By Matt Taibbi. Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer.
"Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail," he said. "That's your whole story right there. Hell, you don't even have to write the rest of it. Just write that."
I put down my notebook. "Just that?"
"That's right," he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. "Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there."
Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world's wealth — and nobody went to jail. Nobody, that is, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant and pathological celebrity con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people.
This article appears in the March 3, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available now on newsstands and will appear in the online archive February 18.
The rest of them, all of them, got off. Not a single executive who ran the companies that cooked up and cashed in on the phony financial boom — an industrywide scam that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities — has ever been convicted. Their names by now are familiar to even the most casual Middle American news consumer: companies like AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. Most of these firms were directly involved in elaborate fraud and theft. Lehman Brothers hid billions in loans from its investors. Bank of America lied about billions in bonuses. Goldman Sachs failed to tell clients how it put together the born-to-lose toxic mortgage deals it was selling. What's more, many of these companies had corporate chieftains whose actions cost investors billions — from AIG derivatives chief Joe Cassano, who assured investors they would not lose even "one dollar" just months before his unit imploded, to the $263 million in compensation that former Lehman chief Dick "The Gorilla" Fuld conveniently failed to disclose. Yet not one of them has faced time behind bars. - "You put Lloyd Blankfein in pound-me-in-the-ass prison for one six-month term, and all this bullshit would stop, all over Wall Street," says a former congressional aide. "That's all it would take. Just once." (Rolling Stone)
Saving Capitalism from Itself, Greener Pastures Edition The peasants were restive. Medievalism was breaking up. So some academic theorists came up with a great idea for propping up the British throne — a shiny new theory known as the "divine right of kings." People had no right to question the king's decisions, they argued, because his authority came directly from God. - But there is a third option to our economic future.
I'm going to let Bill Clark explain it. He's a lawyer with a big corporate firm, Drinker, Biddle and Reath, a business law expert who has written corporate laws for Pennsylvania and other states. For the last few years he's been working with a nonprofit called B Labs -- here's the background in my last posting -- to write a new law that allows companies to reorganize themselves as "benefit corporations," which means that instead of only focusing on profit, they are also legally allowed to consider the impact their decisions will have on their workers, their community, their country, and the earth. So far, the law has passed in Vermont and Maryland and one branch of New York State's legislature. It's also pending in New Jersey, Washington state, and North Carolina. Next month, it's going to be introduced in Pennsylvania.
"What Maryland and Vermont are doing is changing the basic rule by saying that you have an obligation to consider the interests of other constituencies," Clark says. (Esquire)
Once a government pet, BP now a capitalist tool As BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig was sinking on April 22, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was on the phone with allies in his push for climate legislation, telling them he would soon roll out the Senate climate bill with the support of the utility industry and three oil companies -- including BP, according to the Washington Post. - Expect BP to be public enemy No. 1 in the climate debate. There’s a problem: BP was a founding member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a lobby dedicated to passing a cap-and-trade bill. As the nation’s largest producer of natural gas, BP saw many ways to profit from climate legislation, notably by persuading Congress to provide subsidies to coal-fired power plants that switched to gas. (Washington Examiner)
Goldman shares plunge as feds open criminal probe The SEC brought civil fraud charges against Goldman and a trader in connection with the transactions in 2006 and 2007. The agency alleged the firm misled investors by failing to tell them the subprime mortgage securities had been chosen with help from a Goldman hedge fund client, Paulson & Co., that was betting the investments would fail. Goldman and the trader, Fabrice Tourre, have denied wrongdoing and said they will contest the allegations in court. (Associated Press)
Secret AIG Document Shows Goldman Sachs Minted Most Toxic CDOs When a congressional panel convened a hearing on the government rescue of American International Group Inc. in January, the public scolding of Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner got the most attention. Lawmakers said the former head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank had presided over a backdoor bailout of Wall Street firms and a coverup. Geithner countered that he had acted properly to avert the collapse of the financial system.
A potentially more important development slipped by with less notice, Bloomberg Markets reports in its April issue. Representative Darrell Issa, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, placed into the hearing record a five-page document itemizing the mortgage securities on which banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Societe Generale SA had bought $62.1 billion in credit-default swaps from AIG.
These were the deals that pushed the insurer to the brink of insolvency -- and were eventually paid in full at taxpayer expense. The New York Fed, which secretly engineered the bailout, prevented the full publication of the document for more than a year, even when AIG wanted it released.
That lack of disclosure shows how the government has obstructed a proper accounting of what went wrong in the financial crisis, author and former investment banker William Cohan says. “This secrecy is one more example of how the whole bailout has been done in such a slithering manner,” says Cohan, who wrote “House of Cards” (Doubleday, 2009), about the unraveling of Bear Stearns Cos. “There’s been no accountability.” - E-mails between Fed and AIG officials that Issa released in January show that the efforts to keep Schedule A under wraps came from the New York Fed. Revelation of the messages contributed to the heated atmosphere at the House hearing.
“What date did you know there was a coverup?” Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray of California demanded of Geithner. Lawmakers used the word coverup more than a dozen times as they peppered Geithner with questions. (Bloomberg)
Geithner: 'I had no role' in an AIG cover up Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told lawmakers Wednesday that he had no involvement in an apparent attempt by government regulators to withhold crucial information about AIG's bailout from the public.
"I had no role in making decisions regarding what to disclose," Geithner testified at a hearing held by the House Oversight Committee Wednesday.
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AIG payouts: Who got what
Counterparties that got more than $1 billion from the government and AIG.
AIG counterparty Total payment
Societe Generale $16.5 billion
Goldman Sachs $14 billion
Deutsche Bank $8.5 billion
Merrill Lynch $6.2 billion
Calyon $4.3 billion
UBS $3.8 billion
Deutsche Zentral Genossenschaftsbank $1.8 billion
Barclays $1.5 billion
Bank of Montreal $1.4 billion
Royal Bank of Scotland $1.1 billion
Wachovia $1 billion
Source:Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
New York Fed officials instructed AIG (AIG, Fortune 500) not to disclose more than a dozen controversial transactions to the Securities and Exchange Commission in November 2008. At the time, Geithner was the president of the New York Fed, but he said he had recused himself from the day-to-day operations at that time because of his nomination to be Treasury secretary.
At least two lawmakers weren't buying Geithner's denial. - "Why shouldn't we ask for your resignation?" Mica asked Geithner. "We're not getting the whole story, we're getting the blame story. You're either incompetent on the job or you knew what was taking place and you tried to conceal it, and I think that's grounds for your review."
Geithner angrily responded to Mica, "You don't know me very well."
He then more calmly said, "That is your right to have that opinion. I have served my country as carefully and ably as I can."
AIG's bailout has incited furor among lawmakers and the public, as the troubled insurer has come to symbolize the corporate greed, risky behavior and lack of regulation that many believe caused the Great Recession.
The issue at hand on Wednesday was one of the bailout's most contentious: a decision by the New York Fed to pay counterparties 100 cents on the dollar for the underlying assets that AIG has insured through so-called credit default swap agreements.
As a result, $62.1 billion of taxpayer and AIG funds were essentially funneled to 16 banks that were counterparties to AIG insurance contracts. - Due to many New York Fed employees' ties to Wall Street investment banks -- including Geithner -- many lawmakers and members of the public have implied that the regulator's decisions may have been made for personal gain.
"I think your commitment to Goldman Sachs trumped your commitment to the American people," said Rep. Steven Lynch, D-Mass. (CNN)
Darrell Issa's Special Report On AIG Could Be The End Of Geithner GEITHNER’S ROLE IN THE AIG COVER UP REMAINS UNCLEAR
When asked directly if he was involved in the efforts by the FRBNY to prevent disclosure of the AIG counterparty payments, Secretary Geithner responded, “I wasn’t involved in that decision.” On January 8, 2010, FRBNY General Counsel Thomas Baxter wrote Ranking Member Issa to clarify the role of then-President Geithner:
[M]atters relating to AIG securities law disclosures were not brought to the attention of Mr. Geithner …. In my judgment as the New York Fed’s chief legal officer, disclosure matters of this nature did not warrant the attention of the president.
Mr. Baxter reiterated this claim in an interview with Committee staff. Questions of securities disclosure, Baxter said, were “legal stuff,” and Baxter did not bring legal stuff to the attention of then-President Geithner. However, Baxter said that “on significant policy issues, of course I would go” to Geithner.
However, documents received by the Committee suggest that Secretary Geithner was, at a minimum, engaged personally in reviewing what information about the AIG bailout would be revealed to Congress and the public. On November 6, 2008, SarahDahlgren, the FRBNY’s lead staff member in AIG’s operations, e-mailed Geithner with a proposed statement regarding AIG’s upcoming equity capital raise for Geithner’s approval:
[I]n terms of saying something publicly about our intentions, we … think that saying something that conveys the following … makes sense:
It is our (Federal Reserve/Treasury) continued intention to put the company in a sound capital position and exit the facility/preferred securities/common stock ownership as soon as practicable…
[I]f you are good with this, …we would also make sure that the company sticks to this line (echo)…. [emphasis added]
On November 13, 2008, Geithner received a report on AIG’s restructuring that would be sent to Congress, which Geithner had asked to personally review. Sophia Allison, a staff member of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, e-mailed the draft congressional report to several Federal Reserve staff:
Attached is a draft Congressional report for the restructuring package for AIG announced on Monday, November 10. …I tried to take everything in the report from publicly available documents, such as press releases, the prior AIG Congressional Report, and AIG’s most recent 10-Q. If there is anything in the report that you believe should not be publicly disclosed, please specifically point that out. [emphasis added]
Michael Nelson, a staff member of the FRBNY, forwarded Allison’s email to Geithner with the following message:
Tim – this is the draft EESA-required filing on AIG that the Board owes the Hill, as you requested. [emphasis added]
In addition, Secretary Geithner’s meeting logs from his tenure as President of the FRBNY show that he was regularly engaged with top AIG officials and the FRBNY officials directly responsible for AIG’s disclosures to the SEC. Geithner’s schedule shows that he had at least six formal meetings with top FRBNY staff members about AIG-related issues between November 4, 2008, and November 21, 2008. It is unclear whether AIG’s disclosure obligations were discussed in these meetings.
At a minimum, the cover-up of the details about AIG’s counterparty payments began on Secretary Geithner’s watch, and the culture of the FRBNY in which this behavior occurred reflected his leadership. Secretary Geithner needs to explain his role in the cover-up, and if he thinks the behavior of his staff at the FRBNY was appropriate. - GEITHNER’S CLAIMS RAISE QUESTIONS ABOUT PURPOSE OF AIG BAILOUT
Secretary Geithner’s claim to SIGTARP that the backdoor bailout of AIG’s counterparties had nothing to do with the health of AIG’s counterparties also raises questions about why AIG was bailed out in the first place. As the Wall Street Journal notes:
[I]f Mr. Geithner now says the AIG bailout wasn’t driven by a need to rescue CDS counterparties, then what was the point? Why pay Goldman [Sachs] and even foreign banks like Societe Generale billions of tax dollars to make them whole?
Secretary Geithner now claims that the point of AIG’s bailout was to protect AIG’s insurance policy holders:
AIG was providing a range of insurance products to households across the country. And if AIG had defaulted, you would have seen a downgrade leading to the liquidation and failure of a set of insurance contracts that touched Americans across this country and, of course, savers around the world.
However, as the Wall Street Journal further explains:
Yet, if there is one thing that all observers seemed to agree on last year, it was that AIG’s money to pay policyholders was segregated and safe inside the regulated insurance subsidiaries. If the real systemic danger was the condition of these highly regulated subsidiaries – where there was no CDS trading – then the Beltway narrative implodes.
Secretary Geithner’s inconsistent statements and apparent contradictions raise important questions about the decision to not only funnel billions of taxpayer dollars to AIG’s counterparties, but also the decision to bail out AIG itself. - The FRBNY and its attorneys at Davis Polk interfered with AIG’s securities disclosures in several ways. They edited AIG’s SEC filings in ways that made it more difficult for investors and the public to understand the ML3 transactions. They contacted the SEC directly and pressured it to treat AIG’s filings differently from other companies’ filings. In addition, they appear to have forced AIG to cancel a compensation-related filing that it was required to make. The FRBNY’s edits of AIG’s filings and the FRBNY’s pressure on the SEC were intended to serve the Fed’s interests by obscuring embarrassing details about the FRBNY’s backdoor bailout of AIG’s counterparties. Investors cannot be protected by a disclosure system that only requires full transparency when the Federal Reserve’s embarrassment is not at stake. The special SEC procedures established via FRBNY pressure also demonstrate that bailouts lead to enforced favoritism. - Finally, the secrecy, concealment, and lack of transparency in the conduct of the Federal Reserve have serious implications for the continued health of democracy and free markets. The Federal Reserve’s payment of par to AIG’s counterparties and the subsequent cover-up of information about these payments raise concerns about the accountability of the unelected bureaucrats within the Federal Reserve System. The fact that a quasi-government agency, unaccountable to the American people, likely wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and went to great lengths to prevent Congress and the American people from learning about these actions demonstrates the threat that the Federal Reserve poses to basic principles of American democracy. (quotes selected by Zero Hedge) (US Congress)
Bernanke Reflects on Fed's Actions in Forum In a forum on the Fed's role in the handling of the economic crisis and recovery, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke reflected on his desire not to be the Fed chief who "presided over the second Great Depression." (PBS)
The Great American Bubble Machine From tech stocks to high gas prices, Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression — and they're about to do it again - But then, any attempt to construct a narrative around all the former Goldmanites in influential positions quickly becomes an absurd and pointless exercise, like trying to make a list of everything. What you need to know is the big picture: If America is circling the drain, Goldman Sachs has found a way to be that drain — an extremely unfortunate loophole in the system of Western democratic capitalism, which never foresaw that in a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy. (Rolling Stone)
Federal Reserve to gain power under plan Targets dangers to economy - The Federal Reserve, already arguably the most powerful agency in the U.S. government, will get sweeping new authority to regulate any company whose failure could endanger the U.S. economy and markets under the Obama administration's regulatory overhaul plan (Washington Times)
Obama to propose strict new regulation of financial industry President Obama is expected to unveil a plan that would give the government new powers to seize key companies whose failure jeopardizes the financial system. The plan would give the government new powers to seize key companies whose failure jeopardizes the financial system, as well as creation of a watchdog agency to look out for consumers' interests (Los Angeles Times)
Details Set for Remake of Financial Regulations At the center of the plan, which administration officials are referring to as a "white paper," is a move to remake powers of the Federal Reserve to oversee the biggest financial players, give the government the power to unwind and break up systemically important companies -- much like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. does with failed banks -- and create a new regulator for consumer-oriented financial products (Wall Street Journal)
Fed hiring veteran lobbyist: source The U.S. Federal Reserve is on track to hire a veteran lobbyist to help manage its relations with Congress at a time of heightened attention to its role in national affairs (Reuters)
Cashing in on 'Government Sachs' The fact that the chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank made millions off his secret purchase of Goldman Sachs stock, "in violation of Federal Reserve policy," as the WSJ put it, at a time when the N.Y. Fed was ostensibly overseeing the antics of the Wall Street firm, has barely registered a blip of outrage (Huffington Post)
Should White House Employees Keep Bonuses? In addition, the Solicitor General, Elena Kagan, who was previously the dean of Harvard Law School, also served on an advisory council for Goldman Sachs and received a $10,000 stipend, according to her financial disclosure form. But she, too, received no bonus, the administration said. (New York Times)
Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull Bailout Pay Cuts; Madoff Warnings Ignored? - QUESTION: That seems as if people that the president called shameless last week are being allowed to go on the honor system. I mean, what is the accountability? You said accountability. What is the teeth? I mean, what happens if these people violate it? Do we yank the money back? Do we bankrupt the firms? Do we fire the executives? ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I will get clarification from Treasury on that, but I don't -- I mean, first of all, the beginning and the end of these is not just putting something on a Web site. (CNN)
We Need a Bank Of the World The financial crisis is global, and only an international central bank can deal with it - If George W. Bush's upcoming global summit on how to fix the world's broken financial system—an event proposed by several European presidents and prime ministers—is to be a serious effort, the leaders should begin laying the groundwork for establishing a global central bank. - Had it existed, a global central bank would have acted without the air of panic that has been exhibited by national central banks and finance ministries in this meltdown. Ideally, it would have gathered its governing board well in advance of a financial blowup to execute a coordinated rescue and global-stimulus plan, part of what should be its ongoing role of preparing for crises.
It would be hard to overestimate the political pushback that any official proposal for a global central bank would draw from various constituencies, most especially within the United States. Among their many charges, critics will protest the establishment of "world government." But we have a World Trade Organization with legally binding powers over trade disputes. We have a World Health Organization for communicable disease with the ability to quarantine entire countries. And a World Court functions today that has considerable legal and moral clout.
No one should want too much globally centralized oversight. But the world's gathering misery shows that too little leadership from the center can be equally dangerous. The November summit itself won't solve anything, but if it gave instructions to finance ministers and central bankers to explore what a new central bank could do, with a deadline to come back with concrete ideas shortly after a new U.S. president is inaugurated, it will have made real progress on one of the great problems of our times. (Newsweek)
The Guys From ‘Government Sachs’ This summer, when the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., sought help navigating the Wall Street meltdown, he turned to his old firm, Goldman Sachs, snagging a handful of former bankers and other experts in corporate restructurings (New York Times)
Fed to lend billions more to AIG Under the program, the New York Federal Reserve Bank will provide $37.8 billion in additional cash to certain domestic life insurance subsidiaries of AIG in return for investment-grade, fixed-income securities (Wall Street Journal)
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