“If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists
– to protect them and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost.”
– BARACK OBAMA, speech, Aug. 28, 2006
Economics Editor, AlterNet; Fellow, Campaign for America’s Future
The Washington Post has published a very silly op-ed by Chrystia Freeland accusing President Barack Obama of unfairly “demonizing” Wall Street. Freeland wants to see Obama tone down his rhetoric and play nice with executives in pursuit of a harmonious economic recovery. The trouble is, Obama hasn’t actually deployed harsh words against Wall Street. What’s more, in order to avoid being characterized as “anti-business,” the Obama administration has refused to mete out serious punishment for outright financial fraud. Complaining about nouns and adjectives is a little ridiculous when handcuffs and prison sentences are in order.
Freeland is a long-time business editor at Reuters and the Financial Times, and the story she spins about the financial crisis comes across as very reasonable. It’s also completely inaccurate. Here’s the key line:
“Stricter regulation of financial services is necessary not because American bankers were bad, but because the rules governing them were.”
Bank regulations were lousy, of course. But Wall Street spent decades lobbying hard for those rules, and screamed bloody murder when Obama had the audacity to tweak them. More importantly, the financial crisis was not only the result of bad rules. It was the result of bad rules and rampant, straightforward fraud, something a seasoned business editor like Freeland ought to know. Seeking economic harmony with criminals seems like a pretty poor foundation for an economic recovery.
The FBI was warning about an “epidemic” of mortgage fraud as early as 2004. Mortgage fraud is typically perpetrated by lenders, not borrowers — 80 percent of the time, according to the FBI. Banks made a lot of quick bucks over the past decade by illegally conning borrowers. Then bankers who knew these loans were fraudulent still packaged them into securities and sold them to investors without disclosing that fraud. They lied to their own shareholders about how many bad loans were on their books, and lied to them about the bonuses that were derived from the entire scheme. When you do these things, you are stealing lots of money from innocent people, and you are, in fact, behaving badly (to put it mildly).
The fraud allegations that have emerged over the past year are not restricted to a few bad apples at shady companies– they involve some of the largest players in global finance. Washington Mutual executives knew their company was issuing fraudulent loans, and securitized them anyway without stopping the influx of fraud in the lending pipeline. Wachovia is settling charges that it illegally laundered $380 billion in drug money in order to maintain access to liquidity. Barclays is accused of illegally laundering money from Iran, Sudan and other nations, jumping through elaborate technical hoops to conceal the source of their funds. Goldman Sachs set up its own clients to fail and bragged about their “shitty deals.” Citibank executives deceived their shareholders about the extent of their subprime mortgage holdings. Bank of America executives concealed heavy losses from the Merrill Lynch merger, and then lied to their shareholders about the massive bonuses they were paying out. IndyMac Bank and at least five other banks cooked their books by backdating capital injections.
Continue reading…..The Huffington Post