Decision Time: Has the President Abandoned Paul Volcker’s Ideas On Financial Reform?

By Simon Johnson

The official reconciliation process between Senate and House reform bills will get underway next week, but the behind-the-scenes maneuvering (and intense lobbying) is already well underway.  The main remaining question is whether the final legislation will ultimately make the financial system at all safer than it was in the run up to the crisis of September 2008.

How do big banks repeatedly get themselves into so much trouble?  Dangerous banking in today’s world involves banks trading securities and, in that context, taking positions – i.e., betting their own capital.  For example, almost all the profits made by big banks in 2009 came from securities trading.  When market conditions are favorable and traders get lucky, the people running these banks (and hopefully their shareholders) get tremendous upside.  But when this same risk-taking behavior results in big losses, the major negative impact is felt in terms of a major recession, raising government debt, and sharply lower employment.

“Wall Street gets the upside, and society gets the downside” is an old saying that is now more relevant than ever.  This asymmetry in incentives explains how smart people with concentrated financial power can cause so much damage – according to, for example, the Bank of England’s analysis.

The derivatives market is the arena where much of this risk-taking activity occurs.  And while the financial regulatory reform bill makes some efforts to bring the derivatives market onto exchanges – although the exemptions granted are far too sweeping – it does disappointingly little to separate out risky trading from critical banking infrastructure, i.e., the payments system and relatively boring parts of traditional retail and commercial banking without which any modern economy cannot operate.   

An earlier version of this risky-boring split is exactly what inspired the Glass-Steagall legislation of the 1930s and, while these specific arrangements had drawbacks and ultimately broke down, they did serve the US economy well for close to 50 years.  (We review exactly what happened to Glass Steagall and why in 13 Bankers.)

The spirit of the reforms advocated by Paul Volcker – and championed, at least in principle, by the administration – is to update and apply the principles behind Glass-Steagall (links to more details: Volcker’s original policy push and his current thinking).  We need to separate the relatively high risk parts of banking from the relatively boring and safer parts that are essential to the payments system and to the routine credit needs of households and business. 

There are two provisions that are currently under consideration for the “reconciliation” between Senate and House versions of regulatory reform that seek to address this problem, and while each is valuable, they come at the problem from different directions.

Senator Blanche Lincoln’s approach – which focuses exclusively on derivatives trading (the purview of the Agriculture Committee, which she chairs) – would require banks to set up separate subsidiaries, within which they would need to hold a great deal more capital against their trading books.  In this way, the Lincoln approach addresses all derivatives trading, including the use of proprietary capital. 

The “Lincoln amendment” would have real teeth and – if properly implemented by regulators – would make derivatives trading substantially less risky.  It would also make such trading less profitable – requiring more capital to be held against downside losses will also reduce the extent of upside profits; this is a feature, not a bug.  Big Wall Street banks are naturally furious and fighting hard – with all the lobbying power and potential campaign contributions at their disposal to ensure that profits prevail over social considerations (that’s their job, after all).  Unfortunately, all the indications are that the megabanks will prevail and the Lincoln amendment will be completely stripped from the final bill.

Senators Jeff Merkley and Carl Levin would go a considerable distance in the same direction, although with greater focus on separating out – and not allowing, if regulators follow through – the “proprietary” (own capital) bets that recently crippled even the biggest banks.  Remember that Bear Stearns and Lehman were broken by their holdings of toxic real estate-related assets, while Citigroup, Bank of America and others were brought low by wrongly believing that certain kinds of derivatives were good bets. 

The Merkley-Levin approach leaves client-focused trading (buying and selling securities for others) where it is now within the big banks, but it would exclude the inappropriate use of proprietary capital across all types of financial instruments – not just derivatives.  The Merkley-Levin amendment gathered great momentum in the Senate and would almost certainly have prevailed in a floor vote – but through some unpleasant parliamentary maneuvering (at the instigation of the banking lobby, presumably), it was denied such a vote.

Within the reconciliation process, Merkley-Levin still has a chance, although the precise odds depend on how hard the White House wants to fight.  The president announced the Volcker Rules to great acclaim in late January, but unfortunately the detailed follow up by his own team was lackluster at best.  Senators Merkley and Levin stepped into the political and legislative gap, pushing hard for at least some version of the Volcker principles to be adopted in Senator Dodd’s bill.

They were turned back at every stage, but have remained doggedly on message.  Ultimately, this comes down to President Obama.  Is he will to really put his political capital seriously into play?  Or is his new found (and oil spill inspired) rhetoric against runaway corporate power and pathetic regulation at best completely empty and at worst a smokescreen for continued abuses?

We will learn a great deal in the coming weeks, not just about the future stability of our financial system, but also for what President Obama really stands.

An edited version of this post appeared today on NYT.com’s Economix; it is used here with permission.  If you would like to repost the entire article, please contact the New York Times.

83 responses to “Decision Time: Has the President Abandoned Paul Volcker’s Ideas On Financial Reform?

  1. Kliment Voroshilov

    “We will learn a great deal in the coming weeks, not just about the future stability of our financial system, but also for what President Obama really stands.”

    Now isn’t this remark just the most profound and weasily vomit? Its going to require the “coming weeks” for us to learn where “President Obama really stands”? We hadn’t picked up on that as early as his campaign and the period of transition from the identical twin, Bush regime? I mean are we now to think of Johnson as slow or as pitifully handicapped? What else given the vapid tripe we read here.

  2. now that blanche has won her primary battle i imagine we wont hear anymore about her proposal. & simon i hope u r rite about president obama tho i feel its just empty words

  3. So, the financial reform is making sure the banks continue receiving limitless free money which they can continue to leverage into obscene profits by screwing yield chasing idiots pretending to manage other people’s money? Well, at least you guys have the book sales for consolation.

  4. As Jon Stewart colorfully illustrated a couple days ago, Obama views nearly any problem as complicated: health care, financial reform, Guantanamo, Afghanistan, etc. Consequently, he does not believe in (or does not like) simple solutions. Now, if the “Lincoln amendment” were 1,500 pages long and designed by a team of experts, the Administration could have taken it seriously…

  5. Obama is owned by the banksters. Plain and simple. You need only understand this to under what Obama is for or against, in his heart — i.e. not what comes out of his mouth.

    Simon, why haven’t you figured this out yet? Geesh.

  6. I have noticed that Simon tries hard to give Obama and TPTB the benefit of the doubt. Insulting their integrity is unlikely to be very effective.

  7. In recent remarks, Obama HAS made a connection between the regulatory failures that led to the Gulf disaster and regulatory failure in financial services. That may indicate that he has some inkling of the problem and the importance of real reform.

    We need political reform as much or more as we need financial or regulatory reform. Even if we got strong financial/regulatory reform it would be chipped away over time with out political reform.

  8. Decision Time: Has the President Abandoned Paul Volcker’s Ideas On Financial Reform?

    Yes, he has. Next!

  9. Kliment Voroshilov

    You must have thought that this was the Sales Department, eh? Some exciting news for you, son: These vermin are “public servants”, not rulers. You make demands of these lice, not requests. You’re paying their salaries and the salaries are only one form of the larceny they’re committing against you. Only prissy little worms would address these lice in the manner you suggest here. Are you a prissy little worm.?

  10. What Obama really stands for was apparent before he even took office: his own political career and reputation.

    Every decision that he has made or refused to make, every adviser that he has hired, and every maddeningly insincere speech that he has made attests to this.

    He is all talk and no action; all flashy image with no backbone!

    I have given up hope that he will ever do what is best for the country on any issue.

  11. Kliment Voroshilov

    Just a post script. You speak of the “integrity” you imagine these whores to have. Are you daft?

  12. As good as “13 Bankers” is, Robert Kuttner’s “A Presidency in Peril” may be better. He discusses how Obama came to retain two (Geithner and Bernanke) of the three members of GWB’s financial trioka. Apparently, Hank Paulson felt that he’d already done more than enough for Wall Street and the biggest banks in the country.
    Rahm Emanuel is also fully exposed in Kuttner’s book. He helped to overload the House Banking Committee with new members in need of campaign financing from Wall Street.
    The Obama administration is totally beholden to the financial elites. This president is a total fraud.

  13. Just like in the old days when the circus paraded through the center of town with the the band, the fancy floats and all the animals, afterwards there will have come along a few fellows with brooms to clean up the mess.

  14. Wall Street gets the upside, and society gets the downside. The sad thing is that Wall Street just doesn’t care. And the money they spend on lobbying…if that money were spent on job creation or social programming for the benefit of society, Big Banking would be heroes (well, maybe). Instead, greed and personal profit reign–and they wonder why the American people hate them. Oh wait–I just said they don’t care. And it’s true. They don’t care what their Policy of Me does to the economy and they don’t care that they are held in contempt. Congress apparently doesn’t care, either. Campaign coffers made fat with Banking contributions cause amnesia in elected officials!

  15. As long as any country allows its organizational system to be driven by BRIBERY…call it “lobbying” if you like, but it is still BRIBERY…..it will suffer the consequences!

    As much as we would like to regard our lawmakers as superb individuals guided by high principles…(OK,
    maybe that is “over the top”), they are mostly people with average intelligence who can be tempted….and
    CAPTURED….by “filthy lucre”.

    The U.S. is at a crossroads. Either we “get wise” or our democracy “gets gone”!!!

  16. Agreed. I suspect he started with health care to let this whole financial meltdown situation cool down. I didn’t vote for him but I did cling to naive hope. The fact that nobody will get the either parties nomination for the white house without corporate support (and why would they support a candidate?-favors!) suggests that it would take a miracle for Obama to really take a bite out of this problem. It gets worse before it gets better… The question is how much worse. The saddest thing about the ‘voter backlash’ is its channeling into the massively unsophisticated tea party. The solution is to vote Republican? Sarah Palin is supposed to inspire? We don’t need any more phonies. They can keep their Obama-hope and Palin-platitudes. Are we fools? Ugh, I feel dizzy.

  17. Hey Simon: I was very much encouraged with your call to action last time. I participated and it seemed to me that at least we got some traction and recognition. Who should we be contacting this time before the bill goes down?

  18. Another thing is that TBTF banks can do a sort of insider trading, because they know what the Fed, the Treasury, and the White House -their self declared “friends”- are up to. This helps to explain the great success trading in 2009.
    I wrote a general critique of Obama’s policies and ways on my site.from Afghanistan to BP, to finance, etc.: “Uncle Tom House.” Obama owes everything to the powers that be, so he gives it back, because, deep down inside, he has only gratitude, and sees only advantage. For himself.

  19. It should be added that, in addition to the expectation created by monies received, there is the ABJECT FEAR of their discontinuation.

    Thus, a two-edged sword is wielded over the lawmaker….and OVER OUR SOCIETY!!!

    Could the corrosive effect of this process be any more CLEAR ???

  20. Your anger has clearly gotten the better of you. Your insulting remarks are not worth a reply.

    Thanks for proving my point.

  21. Always happy to read what you have to say Patrice. However, I see this a bit differently.

    Yes, Obama is beholded to TPTB but I think his failing is not that he is selfish but that he is tooooo much of a consumate politician. So much so that he has virtually no substance. Leadership is foreign/scary to him: he seems to crave consensus – he would call it something quaint and nice like “bringing people together,” “gaining a full understanding of the issues,” “bipartisanship,” etc. This generally results in those with the loudest voices/deepest pockets getting what they want, of course.

  22. The pragmatitist

    The sad truth about the US presidency is that no one who wants the job could possibly be any good at it. Obamma has simply proven this to be true all over again.

  23. The pragmatitist

    Ray Magliozzi for President

  24. Kliment Voroshilov

    If my “insulting” remarks are unworthy of a reply, then why have you made one, son?

  25. One of this morning’s papers reported that Karzai was beginning to doubt that The U.S. military would subdue the Taliban. I wonder what our military believes should be their response to the financial, energy and other corps. that are really killing us?

  26. That’s the irony with institutionalizing “nihilism” :-)

    Who do you call, “ghostbusters”?

    Too bad that the big suck math only worked in virtual reality – all currency ever traded since the awful horror of an agricultural civilization flowered was sucked up into a “private” enterprise

    and when we all needed to suck up oil, the choice was made not to do that because it would expose how all $$$ was tucked away in virtual reality, and CASH in flow among war lords and drug lords….

    From my American Heritage Dictionary, 1981 edition:

    Nihilism – 1. Metaphysics. A doctrine that nothing exists, is knowable, or can be communicated; 2. Ethics. Rejection of all distinctions in moral value, constituting a willingness to refute all previous theories of morality; 3. The belief that the destruction of existing political or social institutions is necessary to ensure future improvement; extreme radicalism; 4. A doctrine among the Russian intelligentsia of the 1860s and 1870s , denying all authority in favor of individualism and advocating terrorism.

    The more things “change”, the more they stay the same.

    And lo and behold, the morals, the call to action, the VISION of a better way

    written down in the Declaration of Independence (DOI) in 1776 STILL WORKS.

    tada! :-)

    Let’s circulate the DOI for signatures, again.

    In the meantime, their game is the same – kill NOW, hire lawyers (scribes? :-)) and PR (public relations or political rats) to spin the nihilism wheel of Fortune (the stop button is there – rigged in their favor, of course).

    For once, let’s be at least 3 steps ahead on the chess board…we KNOW what their moves are going to be –

    (okay just maybe, because you never know what CRAZY will do when cornered)

    any criminologist fed heads on these boards…we are trying to take down individual criminals, after all…and let’s start at the top this time, eh?, Timmy didn’t pay taxes…

  27. Speculation about Obama’s motivation is simply that: speculation.

    Obama’s track record is something else entirely.

    On the topic of economic ‘policy’ we could politely refer to the WH’s approach as ‘situational’ at best
    or ‘unprincipled’ at worst.

    Perhaps he should meditate on the French saying, “He who has no enemies has no friends and no place in court.”

    It seems to me that Simon’s point is that the time has
    come to choose sides, like it or not.

  28. C’est vrai.

  29. I recommend the reading of Matt Taibi’s “Wall Street wars”where he describes the Lincoln amendment opposed by the government itself..from ‘regulatory capture’to
    ‘regulation capture’

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/17390/96712

    Given tne current mess in the European banking system, I
    am supposing we will see more of the same..

  30. I agree.

  31. Yes – a must read.

    —- Excerpt —
    “Whatever the final outcome, the War for Finance Reform serves as a sweeping demonstration of how power in the Senate can be easily concentrated in the hands of just a few people. Senators in the majority party – Brown, Kaufman, Merkley, even a committee chairman like Lincoln – took a back seat to Reid and Dodd, who tinkered with amendments on all four fronts of the war just enough to keep many of them from having real teeth. “They’re working to come up with a bill that Wall Street can live with, which by definition makes it a bad bill,” one Democratic aide explained in the final, frantic days of negotiation.

  32. Simon,

    Thanks for FINALLY giving us a lucid explanation of what’s really going on instead of all the esoteric crap.

    It’s all just gambling from mortgages to CDS’s. The only question is who’s going to get the winnings & who’s going to take the losses.

    Bernanke, Geithner & Summers have decided for all of us. They & the bankers get the winnings & we, the taxpayer, get the losses.
    $hit on the economy.

  33. Here’s an older saying: The broker made money, the firm made money – heck, two out of three ain’t bad.

    Thus: “Wall Street gets the upside, and society gets the downside” – heck, half a loaf is better than none.

  34. Prof. Johnson forgets to mention that his hero, Paul Volcker, has himself recently abandoned one of the policies of the originally pronounced Volcker Rule, and one dear to Johnson’s reformist heart, namely, a size cap for big finance. Volcker now endorses the Resolution Authority anodyne mooted in Congress. See Volcker’s article in the June 24 NY Review of Books: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jun/24/time-we-have-growing-short/?pagination=false

  35. Bill Gilwood

    Obama’s just a climber. His only interest in becoming president was to be president; issues are merely incidental to him. He enjoys being a member of the elite and will let them do and “reach a consensus” about whatever they want, while he gets to preside over them as president.

  36. Patrice Ayme

    I agree with both Jackrabbit and Bill Gilwood (and with myself too!), about Obama’s motivations.

    Human beings are complicated. They depend upon networks of reasons. I do not think Hitler was playing a comedy when he was beaming around little blonde children. That does not mean he was not an abominable critter, perfused by the worst. After all, the devil started as an angel.

    Another factor connected with all the preceding, is that leaders, especially those who started as lawyers, are aware of “mens rea”, namely the intent to commit unlawful acts. Their defense is to make sure they do not know, or can claim they were not in position to know. Thus Obama used a parody of the Swedish banking system to claim that the USA banking system was not like that, so he had to do differently. One more reason to select deliberately bad advisers.

    Badness is a network too.

    PA

  37. Merkley/Levin “would almost certainly have prevailed in a floor vote”.

    Simon,please. Had it that much support, it WOULD have gone to a floor vote. Simply put, it had “after the fact” support. I read and enjoyed 13 Bankers and I have much respect for your knowledge, but that comment is much like your Waterloo column. Weak defiance.

  38. Patrice Ayme

    Who cares about Volcker’s rule? It’s simple: banks are publicly funded, to serve the economy, but, nowadays, an oligarchy has learned to profit from them exclusively. This is a violation, not just of the bank fiduciary duty, but of why they exist to start with, under the public-private fractional reserve system.

    That was to create money for the general economy. Instead they play in a parallel universe, a derivative universe, among themselves. They touch ground only in a few fiscal paradises.

    Hence: BANKING OUGHT TO BE SEPARATED FROM SPECULATING. Simple. Even Sarkozy can repeat that sentence clearly. Obama, another lawyer, can do it too.

    This is what is going on in China, with the world’s largest banks. If they stray, a bullet is waiting with their name on it.

    PA

    http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/

  39. Kliment Voroshilov

    Well, there’s hope for you at least which is more than I can say for half the credulous adolescents that populate this blog. One gets the impression that they are beyond help, perhaps constitutionally incapable of grasping the simplist of realities. One despairs in such instances and is tempted to believe that only a good beating might start them on a path to recovery. But beatings aren’t my department. That’s Beria’s job. :-)

  40. Patrice Ayme

    The Taliban’s aggression is proportional to American aggression. the only solution is to make a secular deal with the Taliban: we help you (and you help us save face, BTW…)

    The present strategy can only fail. Even Bush understood that, so he did not get into it too much.
    PA

  41. As long as the Democrats and the Republicans are running the show you will never get real reform. Those two parties are entwined with the corporations and special interest groups that there’s no way any of those politicians will ever make a decision that is purely for THE PEOPLE. The constitution of the united states is flawed in my opinion as it gives Corporations superior rights to individuals with a pulse, but it fails to hold them accountable for their externalities.

    Capitalism is a way for rich people(corporations) to make money off poor people(Me). And people(corporations) with money will always make sure that the laws(politicians) of the land are in their favor. In other words, Wall Street wins, I get screwed.

    The real reform needed in this country as some one already mentioned is Political Reform. But why would politician screw up a good thing for themselves?

    The real political reform needs to come from THE PEOPLE which won’t happen any time soon given the level of stupidity of the voters. 1/3 is too dumb to make its own decision and will always vote Republican, the other third is just as dumb and will always vote Democrats, the last third has actually a brain but and votes for the person with better story.
    A

  42. Kliment Voroshilov

    Well, if its a foreign policy question and it involves the Middle East, I’d give a call to Howard Friedman at AIPAC if I were you, they’re the proprietors and decision makers when it comes to that area of governance. Or in the alternative if you can’t reach Friedman, call Abe Foxman at the Anti Defamation League or John Hagee at Cornerstone Church. They’ll be able to tell you what instructions they’ve given Congress about Afghanistan.

  43. Re: @ Kliment Voroshilov____Professor Johnson’s thesis is solely too advocate knowledge, reason, and transparency as an advocate for progress. His message is one of integrity, and enlightenment – a crusader of sorts. Not, of a hyphenated larcenous lemur blinded by the light as yourself,…! You must, as your temperament espouses – read the “Economist”? “For Shame”!

  44. Kliment Voroshilov

    You’re right, without any doubt the problem is political before it is economic. But I’m not sure that your rather low regard of the average voter catches the fullness of the truth of this matter. Marshall Auerbach has had some interesting comments to make recently concerning this question. He remarked:

    “Our policy making elites have discovered that the underclass doesn’t matter politically anymore, so why respond to it? That indifference is extending to the middle class. Ordinary, struggling folks are all becoming so demoralized that they present: (1) No voting threat, because none of the major political parties in Europe or the US genuinely represent their interests (and haven’t for years). There have been, as a result, no political price to pay for such shameless predatory capitalism. (2) They present no power threat, because they have been systematically destroyed over the last 30 years and what is happening now in Europe represents the final assault on the residue of the 20th century welfare state (the US social safety net eviscerated well before this).”

    I don’t think the lack of protest can be laid at the feet of the people. Our system simply has given them no way to represent their interests. One day when they’ve had enough, this purposeful marginalizing will result in mass protests and economy stopping strikes. Its then that you’ll see the justice you think they’re too stupid to deserve.

  45. Kliment Voroshilov

    You’ll excuse me, of course, earle, florida, but if Professor Johnson is a “crusader”, Little Lord Fauntleroy was a revolutionary. :-)

  46. Gambling with other people’s money I might add.

  47. pairochucks

    HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa.

  48. ” …the precise odds depend on how hard the White House wants to fight. The president announced the Volcker Rules to great acclaim in late January, but unfortunately the detailed follow up by his own team was lackluster at best…. ”

    We can tell which side the President is on by looking at his economic team: Geithner, Summers, Bernanke, and Emanuel. The team hasn’t changed, so his policy hasn’t either.

  49. pairochucks

    Actually, Kliment, that was funny. I think that earle overstates the case that Simon is a “sort of crusader”. Let’s remember that he is still a professor and not a talk radio show host.

  50. Mr. Johnson wrote:

    “This asymmetry in incentives explains how smart people with concentrated financial power can cause so much damage – according to, for example, the Bank of England’s analysis.”

    Brits Blame Obama As BP-linked Pensions Plummet

    8 hours ago – msnbc.com

    “The oil polluting Louisiana’s marshes lies about 5,000 miles away from Britain’s coastline. But while wildlife, the fishing industry and tourism here are safe from the slick, the leak is hitting Britons’ pockets and their pride.”

    http://tinyurl.com/254xxj6

  51. pairochucks

    But he’s dead – or maybe there’s something you know and we don’t…

    Maybe there’s a stage play in here: Lavrenti Beria meets J. Edgar Hoover.

    That’d be a hoot.

  52. I read the Professor as keeping understated and hopeful. What are you going to do? Go smoke two joints, or drink some chamomile or a glass of cab. The Profs optimism has a sad pesssimistic tone to it. I don’t think he’s too misled.

  53. That’s what I think. Being from Arkansas I had the honor of expressing my feelings in the booth. I decided to reward her in the primary for the bold proposal, not that I had much faith. But I took it away in the runoff, voted for Halter. Dint trust Blanch.

    I don’t know if that makes any sense.

  54. Question: Has the President Abandoned Paul Volcker’s Ideas On Financial Reform?

    Answer: Is the Pope catholic?

  55. “We will learn a great deal in the coming weeks, not just about the future stability of our financial system, but also for what President Obama really stands.”

    What, you haven’t already learned yet?

  56. Bruce E. Woych

    http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=shadow_banking

    TAIBBI DOES A GREAT JOB AS USUAL BUT NAOMI PRINS GIVES A SYSTEMATIC, SYSTEMIC, AND
    COMPREHENSIVE EVALUATION OF THE DEVILS IN THE FIANCIAL DETAILS.

    ALSO SEE HER 2009 TEXT:
    IT TAKES A PILLAGE: BEHIND THE BAILOUTS, BONUSES, AND BACKROOM DEALS FROM WASHINGTON TO WALL STREET (John Wiley & Sons).

  57. Bruce E. Woych

    (1)

    http://seekingalpha.com/article/209229-federal-reserve-exit-watch-part-11

    (2)

    http://seekingalpha.com/article/208687-a-busted-bailout-and-stimulate-formula

    http://seekingalpha.com/article/208687/comments

    One would think that some people will benefit from the scavenger economy and collapsing the value of the infrastructure…while the “spOIL” floats on top with monetary easing….but what kind of a true American would steal the foundation of the most powerful country on the face of the earth and resort to historic empire building???

    Just impossible.! (?)

    In the meantime if we do not finance the supply chain that truly sustains this economy and pump the infrastructure, you can quote all the monetary terms you want and it won’t make a difference to the real world of surviving as a free sustaining middle class anchored economy. If the price structure is all that matters, than the thousand dollar loaf of bread is right around the corner.
    Commercial fuel; direct housing / mortgage relief / food and medicine supplies are essential needs. If the big banks are hoarding all the capital…all their talk of liquidity is exclusive to their own gains and we are being stifled off to the poor house while stealth and wealth sustain itself in a vicious cycle of profiteering.

  58. Bruce E. Woych

    THIS IS A FORWARD FROM info@banksterusa.org AND MOST OF PERTAINS DIRECTLY TO EVERYTHING THAT IS BEING SAID HERE…EXCEPT THAT IT IS AN INVITATION TO ACTUALLY TAKE DIRECT INDIVIDUAL ACTION.

    June 10, 2010
    CONTACT: Tiffiniy Cheng at tycheng@gmail.com

    TAKE ACTION! NO MORE GAMBLING WITH TAXPAYER MONEY!

    Reckless swaps and derivatives trading played a critical role in the financial crisis, inflating the domestic housing bubble and turning it into a global economic catastrophe. As the House and Senate conference committee begins final work on the financial services reform bill, it is critically important to preserve the strong language cracking down on those “financial weapons of mass destruction” contained in the Senate bill. Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz makes the case for Senate derivatives chapter plainly, “If [Congress] fails to pass strict oversight of dangerous over-the-counter derivatives and swaps, the U.S. economy will continue to be vulnerable to significant financial risk.”

    Casino Banking

    Currently the five largest banks in the United States have an anti-competitive strangle-hold on 90 percent of the U.S. swaps and derivatives market worth some $300 trillion. The five banks are Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. These five bank-dealers can fund their swaps trading units with FDIC-insured deposits. They have access to the Federal Reserve’s discount window, which allows them to borrow money for gambling in swaps at near-zero percent interest rates. But these government supports were created to reassure the public that their deposits are safe, and to protect banks from runs on their deposits — not to help banks finance their own casinos.

    Play with Your Own Money, Not Ours

    Sec. 716 of the Senate bill contains a ban on federal government assistance to any swap entity. In effect, Sec. 716 will require the five largest banks/swaps dealers to spin off their swaps desks into a separately capitalized affiliate — in other words to Wall off the casino from old fashioned banking. The measure is geared entirely towards preventing a situation in which taxpayers would once again be liable for the bad bets of big banks. Sec. 716 would ensure that private sector institutions alone are responsible for these risky trades.

    Don’t Believe Bank Spin

    This fight is winnable! Politico reports that the banks are downright “queasy” as the final reform deal nears. It is also important to note that contrary to big bank spin, the banks would be able to serve their customers as they always have. Their affiliated swaps desks would be able to sell a full range of financial products and they would be able to hedge their own risk. But they would no longer be gambling with taxpayer money.

    Proposal Under Threat

    While the Senate derivatives chapter is supported by leading economists and reform advocates including Joseph Stigliz, Nouriel Roubini, Simon Johnson, Robert Johnson, Dean Baker, advocates like Americans for Financial Reform, small American banks and even a large number of international bank analysts, it is not supported by the Obama administration or Congressional leaders. It is also the top target of the 2,500 bank lobbyists swarming Capitol Hill. Since these powerful provisions are already in the bill, thanks to the efforts of Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), they will have to be stripped out with a public vote. Democratic leaders like Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.) are in the awkward position of needing to gut the reform package that they are touting as the strongest since the New Deal era. They are hoping to do this gracefully and are working on a bad compromise to buy off critics.

    Disgraceful not Graceful, Whip the Conferees!

    It’s time to tell Dodd and Frank that we need to preserve Sec. 716, and strengthen it with meaningful enforcement powers through a technical amendment put forward by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington). Tell them it is disgraceful that they are talking about weakening the financial reform package behind the scenes, while touting the bill as a powerful crack down on Wall Street in front of the cameras. Below you will find the whip list of Senate conferees. See if any of them are in your state and call them first, then put in a jingle to Dodd and Frank. Tell them we have their number and we are demanding real reform.

    The Congressional switchboard can link you up to any member of Congress (202)224-3121 and specific conferee numbers are listed below. Check to see if there is a member from your state and call them first, but also consider calling other members as well.
    Script: “Can you tell me what [Senator X's] position is on Senator Lincoln’s derivatives language? As a taxpayer, I am calling to tell [Senator X] that I do not want to pay for Wall Street’s reckless gambling. Keep Senator Lincoln’s strong language that will crack down on financial weapons of mass destruction in the final reform bill. We also need Senator Cantwell’s amendment to make sure that these rules are properly enforced. Congress’ focus should be the stability of the financial system not the profitability of big banks.”
    Tell us what they said! You can post comments to this blog or you can email Tiffiny at tycheng@gmail.com.
    Senate Conferees

    Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) (202) 224-2823
    Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) (202) 224-5842
    Jack Reed (D-R.I.) (202) 224-4642
    Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) (202) 224-6542
    Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) (202) 224-5744
    Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) (202) 224-3344
    Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) (202) 224-6142
    Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) (202) 224-3324
    Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) tell her to stand strong (202) 224-4843
    Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) (202) 224-4242
    Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) 202 224-3254
    Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) 202 224-3521
    House Conferees

    Barney Frank (D-MA), (202) 225-5931
    Paul Kanjorski (D-PA), (202) 225-6511
    Maxine Waters (D-CA), (202) 225-2201
    Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), (202) 225-7944
    Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), (202) 225-8203
    Mel Watt (D-NC), 202-225-1510
    Gregory Meeks (D-NY), (202) 225-3461
    Dennis Moore, Chair (D-KS), (202)225-2865
    Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH), (202)225-2015
    Gary Peters (D-MI), (202) 225-5802
    Collin Peterson (D-MN), (202) 225-2165
    Leonard Boswell (D-IA), (202) 225-3806
    Henry Waxman (D-CA), (202)225-3976
    Bobby Rush (D-IL), (202) 225-4372
    John Conyers (D-MI), (202) 225-5126
    Howard Berman (D-CA), (202) 225-4695
    Edolphus Towns (D-NY), (202) 225-5936
    Elijah Cummings (D-MD), (202) 225-4741
    Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), (202) 225-2361
    Heath Shuler (D-NC), (202) 225-6401
    Spencer Bachus (R, AL) 202-225-4921
    Edward Royce (R, CA) 202-225-4111
    Shelley Capito (R, WV) 202-225-2711
    Scott Garrett (R, NJ) 202-225-4465
    Judy Biggert (R, IL) 202-225-3515
    Jeb Hensarling (R, TX) 202-225-3484
    Frank Lucas (OK-3) 202-225-5565
    Lamar Smith (R, TX) 202-225-4236
    Darrell Issa (R, CA) 202-225-3906
    Samuel Graves (R, MO) 202-225-7041

  59. Patrice Ayme

    @ Kliment:
    I view myself as knowing a lot, but I was totally mystified by all these names you dropped.
    I want to know more, though… I have lived most of my childhood in Muslim countries, so I view myself as an expert of sort…
    Obama lived in Indonesia (not typical), whereas I lived in Africa/Arabia…
    PA

  60. Ad hominem as your primary argumentative tactic? Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?

  61. Dianne Foster

    Dear Simon and Tiffiniy,
    Thanks for the timely update on the legislation… planning on having a Bellingham ANWF meeting Sunday of people “harvested” from the teach-in, needed to know what’s priority; what happened to the Kanjorski Amendment? Still there? I do agree with Simon about the “sheeple” – if they would act up, we could get movement, but it seems in the USA you only get right-wing sustained action – they can always get press. (Still, we need at least to cultivate some cadres.) Also, is Cantwell’s version of Glass-Steagall in there, or separate?
    As my friend Peggy at Washington Outsiders blog says, “how’s the cancerous phase of casino crony capitalism workin’ for ya?” And yes, Obama is a huge disappointment, and I gave him my vacation hours in ’08 canvassing and poll-watching in NE Cleveland. Then the morning after election day he picked Rahm, and I knew the honeymoon was over.

  62. Kliment Voroshilov

    :-)

    Well, pairochucks, if I recall, Beria made more than a few appearances on this very blog a few months ago. And there was some discussion years ago about the date of his execution, December 1953 or July 1953. I mean if there can be Elvis sightings, why not Lavrenti sightings. OK, so they made a different kind of music. :-)

  63. Bayard Waterbury

    The only question is, who will carry the day? Will it be the leaders of the plutocracy (oligarchs and governmental handmaidens), or the serfdom? My guess would be the former.

    A friend of mine asked me today, as the investment house holding her IRA and other investments was taken over by Morgan Stanley, whether she should follow the advice of her investment advisor and move her accounts, or leave them there. Of course, I told her that it was up to her, and theoretically probably made little difference, but if she wants not to support one of the major financial oligarchs she should move them. She, I think, is going to. She’s been looking for a job for more than a year. She’s a 53-year-old professional.

    She said that she doesn’t know what to invest in, and I suggested that a dart board might be useful, and that she probably has only two or three months before the next collapse, give or take a couple. The news I am seeing is very ominous, almost everywhere. Smart money is headed into precious metals (gold may soon be at $4k).

  64. Kliment Voroshilov

    I was being sarcastic, Patrice. AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and Cornerstone Church are some of the principal faces of the very powerful Isreal Lobby which, like the banking lobby, has made slaves of the whores which are the Congress of the United States. When you can actually write legislation for Congress and produce 95% majorities for anti-Iran resolutions as regularly as they do, you begin to wonder whether its 2010 and this is America or 1948 and its the Peoples Republic of Bulgaria. Only Joseph Stalin could produce majorities of this kind. Our country will be free only when it has broken out of the hammerlock these snakes exert on our foreign policy. But that will not happen short of massive demonstrations and economy crippling strikes.

  65. Enough With The Economic Recovery: It’s time To Pay Up

    Friday, June 11, 2010 – Washington Post – excrerpts

    “Just about now, you may be a bit confused about the economy.

    Some economists and policymakers look at growth in output and see the beginnings of a sustainable recovery. Others note that most of that recent growth reflects a return to high spending and low savings, which is most definitely unsustainable.

    Some look at core inflation rates of less than 1 percent in major industrialized countries and worry about deflation. Others look at soaring government deficits and central banks’ ballooning balance sheets and warn of inflation just over the horizon…

    Even the people who are supposed to really understand this stuff can’t come to consensus on where things are headed and what we should do next. And I have a hunch why that is: At this point, there are no good solutions — only a choice among painful and distasteful ones.

    The controlling reality is that the global economic system is rebalancing itself after years in which the United States was not only allowed but encouraged to live beyond its means, consuming more than it produced and investing more than it saved. Now the bill for that is finally coming due — all the clever and seemingly painless ways for postponing that day of reckoning have pretty much been played out. The only question now is what form that payment is going to take. Will it be an extended period of subpar growth and high unemployment, inflation that erodes the purchasing power of our income and the value of our assets, a deflationary spiral that grinds down wages and salaries and increases our debt burden — or, as I suspect, some combination of all three?….”

    http://tinyurl.com/26b58em

  66. Frank: ‘Conceptual Agreement’ Reached On Tougher Volcker Rule

    06-10-10 06:56 PM – Huff Post

    http://tinyurl.com/393s4rq

  67. (..not quite brain dead and awake enough to type out a few line through spell check and grammar) Opening remarks, and conference to continue next week on CSPAN:

    http://www.c-span.org/pdf/C-SPAN_Financial_Reform_Coverage_060910.pdf

    “Chairman Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) announced that the committee will resume next Tuesday, June 15, and will start to debate and possibly vote on amendments to change four titles in the bill: the Derivatives Markets Transparency and Accountability Act, the Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act, the Capital Markets, and the Nonadmitted and Reinsurance Reform Act.”

    Also, an excellent radio chat with Patt Morrison and Phil Angelides, chairperson of the ongoing Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission:

    http://www.scpr.org/programs/patt-morrison/2010/06/10/financial-crisis-inquiry-commission-takes-on-moody/

  68. The elites have panicked and a double dip depression is going to happen. In the meantime, and afterwards, the banksters plan to steal as much as they can.

    The only sensible thing to invest time in, assuming that you don’t live in a gated commmunity, is to get out from under the falling safe. There’s a reason growing your own food is increasingly fashionable….

  69. One door closes, another eventually opens.

  70. Voroshilov, “But that will not happen short of massive demonstrations and economy crippling strikes.”

    Pan Voroshilov,

    We continue to have, worldwide, ECONOMY CRIPPLING

    natural disasters

    And ever more “zero-risk” INDUSTRIAL disasters…

    That’s why demonstrations and strikes aren’t happening…no point to it.

    The INCOMPETENCE of a virtual-reality casino economy is OBVIOUS, isn’t it?

    And so is the the lack of POWER over others that psychotics and sociopaths THOUGHT they had (delusions of grandeur)…

    How does that snippet go…?

    Something like this – “don’t talk with a crazy person because to the outside observers, it’s not possible to know who is crazy and who is not…”

  71. “We need, in sum, to reset our macroeconomic timetables. There are no short-term miracles, only the threat of more bubbles if we pursue economic illusions. To rebuild our economies, the watchword must be investment rather than stimulus.”

    http://tinyurl.com/2wrgvbd

  72. Kliment Voroshilov

    Might I suggest that a certain slowness is to blame. There are resources for this kind of thing though.

  73. Kliment Voroshilov

    In the essentials, you are right in my view, lambert. Today, government exists solely to serve these interests. If its not the financial, munitions, drug or oil interests, its the foreign policy interests of Israel. The political structure is so utterly corrupt that it can see no point in pursuing the interests of the common man. In the view of those of the ruing class, public assets are there for their private benefit and the benefit of those that have helped fostered their careers. There is not a single exception to this rule, they are all thieves and maggots, every one. One day there will be a “peoples’ moment”, a time that will be redolent of the Gdansk strikes in Poland in the early 1980s or Budapest in 1956 and it will result in changes so fundamental that these filth will wish they’d never drawn breathe. It will come to that, I assure you.

  74. Abandoned?! President Zero never embraced them in anything but rhetoric.

  75. lambert strether wrote:

    “There’s a reason growing your own food is increasingly fashionable…”

    Canned food lasts forever, unless it has a bulge or is leaking. The nutritional value is preserved much longer than the aesthetic flavour.

  76. Thank you for recommending the Kuttner book. “Total fraud” is the best two-word description of Obama that I have come across.

  77. Plebeianswillrevolt

    what about expiration dates? are you saying that is just a marketing trick.

  78. Plebeianswillrevolt

    There is a reason why the government funds and nurtures such a strong military. I wonder what form you envision this people’s movement to take. China, Iran, France,…. we more closely resemble North Korea.

  79. Plebeianswillrevolt

    “There’s nothing we can do,” Mike McLaughlin, a commercial fisherman for 16 years, said of the spill effects.

  80. Ed, Unfortunately I have to agree with you. “Uncle Tom” has shown his true colors from RE & LSanders on down.

    The banking industry looks at our president as middle level management….how sick is that.

    Cheers, Gene

  81. Well said Ahmed.

    Cheers, Gene

  82. “what about expiration dates? ”

    The flavor is best before the expiration date – otherwise the nutritional value remains for decades. You can validate this through a Google search.