Posts Tagged ‘Financial Meltdown’

The hollow populism of Steve Bannon

February 13, 2017

Steve Bannon, the chief adviser to President Donald Trump, is probably the most influential person in the Trump administration besides Trump himself.

But I find it hard to get a handle on Bannon’s thinking, since he shuns the limelight, and hasn’t written any books or magazine articles I could get hold of,

His 2010 documentary film, Generation Zero, is probably as good a guide to his thinking as anything else.

It is well done and, despite being 90 minutes long, held my interest—at least until the last 10 minutes of so, which consists of restatements of the main points.

Generation Zero is an analysis of the roots and consequences of the 2008 financial crisis, which Bannon rightly blames on crony capitalism, the unholy alliance of Wall Street and Washington that began in the 1990s.

But if you look at the film’s action items, what he really does—knowingly or unknowingly—is to protect Wall Street by diverting the public’s attention from what’s really needed, which is criminal prosecution of financial fraud and the break-up of “too big to fail” institutions.

Bannon presents himself as an enemy of corrupt politicians and financiers.  But there is nothing he advocates in the film or otherwise that threatens the power of either.


Generation Zero draws on a book, The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe, who claim there is a cycle in American politics based on the succession of generations.  Each cycle consists of four turnings—(1) a heroic response to a crisis, (2) a new cultural or religious awakening, (3) an unraveling and (4) a crisis.


Prosecuting Wall Street: time is running out

September 14, 2012

Two governmental agencies which investigated the causes of the 2008 financial meltdown—the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and the U.S. Senate Criminal Investigations Subcommittee—made criminal referrals to the U.S. Department of Justice.  These referrals were never acted on.  Soon the six-year statute of limitations on prosecuting financial fraud will run out, and it will be too late to prosecute.

Chris Swecker, former assistant FBI director in charge of its Criminal Investigations Division, issued a public warning back in 2004 about an explosion of mortgage fraud that could lead to calamity.  The warning was not heeded.  He told Al Jazeera English that the Justice Department has not allocated sufficient resources for investigation and prosecution.  He noted that Attorney General Eric Holder and Criminal Division Chief Larry Breur were white-collar defense attorneys and have a “defense mindset.”

Bryan Georgiou, who served on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, said the Justice Department’s inaction shows “a lack of accountability that is really quite unique in American history.”

Part of the reason is the large sums of money the big Wall Street firms spend on campaign contributions and lobbying.  Goldman Sachs was President Obama’s largest corporate donor in 2008; the Justice Department terminated its criminal investigation of Goldman in August, saying there was no basis for indictments.  Another reason is the revolving door between working for government and working on Wall Street.

William Black, an expert on white collar crime and litigation director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s, said the impact of the recent financial meltdown is roughly 70 times as great, in terms of its economic impact, as the S&L crash, yet the investigative and prosecution effort is much smaller.  The subprime mortgage crisis was fraud from start to finish, from knowingly signing up borrowers based on false information to repackaging the loans and selling them based on false information.

He said the Justice Department appears not to understand “accounting control fraud,” in which executives who control a company loot it for their own benefit.  “The best way to rob a bank is to own or control one,” he said.   Unless President Obama and Attorney General Holder change course, the robbers will get away with it.  And, no, there is no reason to think that Mitt Romney, with his shady financial history, would be any different.

“Inside Job” is an excellent movie

November 11, 2010

Last night I saw an Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job,” a documentary movie on the Wall Street crisis.  It is excellent journalism and excellent cinema.   Most people who see this movie will leave it not just angry, but better-informed.  Ferguson both names the culprits behind the crisis, and clearly explains the deeper systemic problems.

Ferguson makes the point that there has been no criminal prosecution of financial manipulators, unlike in the lesser savings and loan crisis of an earlier era.  Maybe there is not only such a thing as “too big to fail,” but “too powerful to prosecute.”  The Charles Keatings of that era had much less clout than the Henry Paulsons of today.

Ferguson does not go easy on the Bush administration, but he shows origins of Wall Street’s capture of the government in the Reagan and Clinton administrations and its continuation in the Obama administration which, as in so much else, continues the Bush policies with many of the Bush appointees.

He shows the conflicts of interest among top economists, who receive big consulting and directors’ fees from the financial industry they supposedly are analyzing impartially.  Long ago there was a scandal when radio disc jockeys accepted payola from record companies to play certain records.  We ought to be equally scandalized about payola to academics.  But in fact, these economists are still treated with respect by officialdom and the press, while the economists whose warnings proved true are still regarded as marginal figures.


The new American oligarchy

May 30, 2010

About two months after President Obama was inaugurated, he met with the CEOs of the 13 largest financial institutions to ask for their cooperation in averting financial collapse. The U.S. government was engaged in a major financial rescue effort to save the U.S. banking industry from collapse. In return, he asked that the bank CEOs hold off on big pay raises and bonuses that enrage the public. “We’re all in this together,” he reportedly said. “Help me to help you.”

He was pleading with them as if they were a sovereign power in their own right. “This administration is the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks,” he reportedly said.  The bank CEOs balked at Obama’s requests and since then have mobilized against even modest financial reforms.

This story is told in 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown, by Simon Johnson and James Kwak. Simon Johnson is a former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund. His brother-in-law, James Kwak, has had a successful career as a software entrepreneur and business consultant. In many ways, they argue, the United States fits the profile of faltering Third World oligarchies the IMF has had to bail out. And Obama, so far, has not challenged this.

Their definition of an oligarchy is a nation in which economic power generates political power, and vice versa. They show how, for the past 30 years, a financial oligarchy has emerged and, under Democrats and Republicans alike, has steadily freed itself of governmental control while continuing to demand and get government bailouts. The recent bailout is only the latest and biggest of a long series, and is unlikely to be the last unless big changes are made.

The savings of Americans, instead of being invested in American industry and contributing to the nation’s economic growth, have been diverted to a kind of high-stakes poker game that benefits nobody but the winners, and in which the big losers are bailed out.  This will not end, they say, until the big banks are broken up, as President Theodore Roosevelt broke up the Standard Oil trust.