Sunday, April 5, 2009

Warren Commission Redux: Tim's Time Coming Close?

Courtesy of Jesse's Cafe Americain comes notice of this blockbuster out of the Guardian in the UK that the Harvard lawyer Elizabeth Warren is going to blast one of Harvard Law's own, Barack Obama (through the vehicle of Timothy Geithner) in (no link as the article is provided in its entirety:

US watchdog calls for bank executives to be sacked

Elizabeth Warren, chief watchdog of America's $700bn (£472bn) bank bailout plan, will this week call for the removal of top executives from Citigroup, AIG and other institutions that have received government funds in a damning report that will question the administration's approach to saving the financial system from collapse.

Warren, a Harvard law professor and chair of the congressional oversight committee monitoring the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program (Tarp), is also set to call for shareholders in those institutions to be "wiped out". "It is crucial for these things to happen," she said. "Japan tried to avoid them and just offered subsidy with little or no consequences for management or equity investors, and this is why Japan suffered a lost decade." She declined to give more detail but confirmed that she would refer to insurance group AIG, which has received $173bn in bailout money, and banking giant Citigroup, which has had $45bn in funds and more than $316bn of loan guarantees.

Warren also believes there are "dangers inherent" in the approach taken by treasury secretary Tim Geithner, who she says has offered "open-ended subsidies" to some of the world's biggest financial institutions without adequately weighing potential pitfalls. "We want to ensure that the treasury gives the public an alternative approach," she said, adding that she was worried that banks would not recover while they were being fed subsidies. "When are they going to say, enough?" she said.

She said she did not want to be too hard on Geithner but that he must address the issues in the report. "The very notion that anyone would infuse money into a financially troubled entity without demanding changes in management is preposterous."

The report will also look at how earlier crises were overcome - the Swedish and Japanese problems of the 1990s, the US savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and the 30s Depression. "Three things had to happen," Warren said. "Firstly, the banks must have confidence that the valuation of the troubled assets in question is accurate; then the management of the institutions receiving subsidies from the government must be replaced; and thirdly, the equity investors are always wiped out."

If the article is true, this is the first bit of common sense to come out of (semi-?) officialdom, but nonetheless it may be difficult for the powers that be to ignore the second Warren Commission's findings.

More to the point, Timothy Geithner was certainly the worst NY Fed-head in many years, if not the worst ever.  He recently groveled before Congress rather than defend his regulatory record as Wall Street ran riot since he took over the NY Fed in 2003.  He is certainly the worst Treasury Secretary since Hank Paulson (!); and in a more serious vein, the PPIP is a disastrous plan that is clearly only good for the financial community.  PPIP corrupts FDIC and disadvantages banks that are solely banks by forcing them to subsidize financial supermarkets that happen to own banks, such as Citigroup and BofA.  At least Paulson could claim in the late summer and fall that he had a sudden set of catastrophes.   Geithner cannot claim anything of that nature and cannot claim that he needed time to get up to speed. 

Barack Obama is no longer Senator Obama.  Mr. Obama does not happen to just live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue while Tim Geithner makes financial policy.  In a crisis, the President makes policy.  The policy buck and the bailout bucks stop with the President.  As stated at EBR several times, Barack Obama is no FDR.  FDR came to the White House prepared for the immensity of the crisis and took actions immediately.  Those actions were successful.  Talk that his 1932 election might be the country's last subsided, the stock market tripled in 4 years, and we know the rest of the story.  That story is that the banksters came back and in 1999 were where they were in 1929 (or so), but this time they stayed around and gave us a second act with a second and worse set of bubbles popping in the past 2 years. 

The PPIP bailout is Barack Obama's policy.  Mr. Geithner is obviously just a tool.  Let us hope for change in the administration's policies toward Big Finance.  That agent of change should be Barack Obama, who may, if the Guardian report is accurate, have a chance to reinvent himself by promptly firing Timothy Geithner and saying, as did Humphrey Bogart when told that he was wrong to have come to Casablanca for the waters, that he was "misinformed".  

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