NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Spotted at Rupert Murdoch’s splashy digital newspaper launch on Wednesday: a prototype of Apple’s newest iPad.
The recently released Financial Crisis Inquiry Report makes it clear that there is enough blame to go around for the financial collapse of 2008. Wall Street hustlers looking to make quick bucks made huge bets on the housing bubble that ultimately came crashing down, the government not wanting to stop the good times did little to regulate Wall Street, the public bought into the dream and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac too eagerly chased business. However, many on the right see no fault on Wall Street and blame the whole thing on Fannie and Freddie. How narrow-minded can they be?
The chief man with blinders on appears to be Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute. He blames the whole crisis on Fannie and Freddie’s policies to buy more debt and spur homeownership. The Wall Streeters, he must believe, were just taking advantage of a market opportunity by doing all of their machinations to make more money. What makes this view even more incredible is that Mr. Wallison was on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commisssion so he had access to the facts, which say otherwise. But what do facts matter in the face of ideology? He must believe Wall Streeters have no free will but slavishly follow market opportunities. Frankly, I think coming up with the creative financial instruments they did, takes some initiative by the financial geniuses on Wall Street. One would think they would also be smart enough to analyze the downside of the deal.
But isn’t this the problem. No one wants to look at the downside when things are good and money is easy. Why question it? Like many did not question Bernie Madoff, they did not question Fannie and Freddie’s policies and whether the housing market would go down. Instead taking some safe investments they continued to make bigger and bigger bets on housing. This is not Fannie and Freddie’s fault but Wall Street’s. Those that continue to apologize for Wall Street must realize this.
Sometimes, I wonder whether we all live in a grand farce. But, actually, it’s a real-life story about a robbery of the people that continues every day — and today is no different. The robbers grow richer.
From the Wall Street Journal, a story headlined: “On Street, Pay Vaults to Record Altitude”:
When it comes to paychecks, Wall Street’s law of gravity is back in full force: What goes down must come back up.
In 2010, total compensation and benefits at publicly traded Wall Street banks and securities firms hit a record of $135 billion, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal. The total is up 5.7% from $128 billion in combined compensation and benefits by the same companies in 2009.
The increase was fueled by a revenue rebound as the financial crisis recedes in the rearview mirror…
“Things are shifting back to where they were before,” said J. Robert Brown, a law professor at the University of Denver who studies compensation and corporate-governance issues.[emphasis added]
Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan got a 67% bump in his total compensation for 2010, the company said Monday. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. tripled the salary of Chairman and CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein and increased his stock-based bonus 40% to $12.6 million.
In some respects, this is reaffirming news — reaffirming in that, for those of us who have argued that nothing much has changed, this is concrete evidence.
Let me make three points here.
First, the notion that the “financial crisis” has receded is a perspective that millions of Americans do not share, and do not live. Those people are still coping with joblessness and homelessness and bankruptcy precisely because of the crisis caused by many of the people who are now being rewarded. Rather than jailing a lot of these folks, or at least firing them, the financial “community” rewards them.
Second, the escalating pay serves notice that we are back to business as usual. The next bubble is just over the horizon.
Third, and maybe most important, any “reforms,” particularly those in the Dodd-Frank bill, are honestly toothless for this reason: we have not truly made an effort to SHRINK the size of Wall Street and its influence on our economy. Remember, in the “good days” of Wall Street, when the Street said “cut your labor costs”, CEOs, always attentive to the level of their share price (which effected the stock options CEOs held), would go ahead and slash thousands of jobs — not because it necessarily helped the company’s overall performance but because the stock price might improve because well, Wall Street would be happy.
Much of the financial sector’s money was tied up in leveraged buy-outs and corporate takeovers — this is precisely the kind of behavior, along with foolish so-called “free trade” deals and union busting, that has undercut the middle-class and set us on a course of a declining standard of living. None of that mindset has changed as we embark on that mission to “win the future.”
That is the more dangerous message from the pay hikes:
NOTHING HAS CHANGED.
Seems to me that the next Tahrir Square should be around the Wall Street bull on lower Broadway in Manhattan.
Rumor has it that the 50-state attorneys general investigation into the Fraudclosure scandal is wrapping up. It’s time for a backbone check. Will the state attorneys general just ask the big banks and service providers to turn over a chunk of change from seemingly bottomless pockets? (This strategy was pursued by the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) with little impact). Or will Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller take the lead in wrestling a real settlement out of the banks so that families hammered by unemployment and underemployment can stay in their homes?
Americans know that the big banks and the mortgage service providers got us into this hole by pursuing an array of financial crimes. The SEC settlements alone have revealed a plethora of illegal, predatory and deceptive lending related to mortgages, securities fraud, accounting fraud, insider trading, brokerage fraud, bribery of government officials, criminal conflict of interest, deception of shareholders and investors, and more.
Now the “robo-signing” scandal is pulling back the curtain on Act II of this white collar crime spree — revealing a new array of financial crimes by the very same institutions: robo-signing, fake witnesses, fake notaries, fake documents, fake attorneys, not to mention plain old theft as servicers rob consumers of hundreds or thousands of dollars in misapplied fees. There are additional crimes related to the way that banks have failed to correctly transfer promissory notes through the system and efforts to mislead and defraud investors. The short story is that many homeowners were foreclosed upon based on falsified documents by a bank who was not the true holder of the mortgage note. This is a crisis not only for individual homeowners, but investors who bought flawed mortgage-backed securities and for the financial system as a whole.
Not a Single Prosecution of a Major Player
Perverse incentives on Wall Street allowed top executives to make more money on flawed loans than boring old 30-year mortgages. Even though there is widespread agreement that Wall Street’s endless appetite for high-interest, high-fees loans to fuel the mortgage securitization machine had a causal role in supercharging the housing bubble, not one mortgage servicer provider or big bank CEO has been put in jail. This compares to over 1,000 successful prosecutions of top officers during the Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980s.
While the SEC has been churning out fines resulting in a long list of “settlements”, Wall Street firms are beginning to set aside money and treat these actions merely as the cost of doing business.
There is nothing more instructive than jail time, but the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has been hoodwinked by America’s biggest hoodlums, preferring to arrest a string of penny-ante Jersey mobsters than the Mafioso hiding in plain sight at Wall Street and Broadway. The DOJ delights in arresting people like Vinny Carwash” Frogiero, Frank “Meatball” Ballantoni, Anthino “Hootie” Russo while Jamie “Pretty Boy” Dimon, Lloyd “Godswork” Blankfein and Vikram “Slumdog” Pandit collect record bonuses.
History is Calling
In the history of the financial crisis, state AGs have so far come out looking pretty good. State AGs were the first in the nation to recognize that the predatory lending practices of firms such as Ameriquest and Countrywide were a danger to consumers and to the entire U.S. economy. In 2004, they were radically preempted from taking action against these crimes by Bush-appointed federal regulators at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Now state AGs have another moment to outshine negligent federal prosecutors.
State AGs can take a series of actions that the Feds have failed to take. First of all, they can book the crooks and force top officers to trade pinstripes for jail stripes. Secondly, they can force the banks into settlements with individual homeowners that really take a bite out of their profits, complete with foreclosure redos and damages for harmed homeowners. They can also subject the banks to ongoing independent audits of their foreclosure procedures and they can demand that the banks force principle write downs and other across-the-board measures that will stabilize communities and the economy.
February 3rd National Day of Action
The rocking National People’s Action and other anti-foreclosure groups are calling for a national day of action tomorrow to urge the AGs to do the right thing. But why wait? You can go to BanskterUSA.org to email the lead investigator, Iowa AG Tom Miller, and urge him to do the right thing. You can also join thousands of people across the country by click here to find your AG’s phone number so you can ask him or her directly for meaningful action on foreclosure.
If you are struggling with these issues, think about meeting up with your neighbors. “Mortgage Madness Meetups” are being facilitated by Huffington Post. The next worldwide meetup day is February 8th. Finally, if you are trapped in the snow today, check out Dylan Ratigan’s excellent series on the housing crisis “No Way to Live” on MSNBC.
Three people are killed and hundreds wounded in the Egyptian capital, as supporters and opponents of President Hosni Mubarak fight pitched battles.