Where Did Our Wealth Go? Why Haven't We Clawed It Back? (Answers Below.)


Barack Obama's administration has so far been witless for the prosecution of the goniff investment bankers who crashed Wall Street and has shown no signs of clawing back the wealth that dramatically shifted from households to private equity, hedge funds, foreign bank accounts, and the bailed-out banks themselves.

Read about Obama's clawless — not clueless but inherently clawless — crew in James Lieber's "We've Bailed out the Banks. When Do We Go After the Crooks Behind our Financial Collapse?," the Voice's cover story this week. Long piece, but a quick read.

You might remember Lieber's "What Cooked the World's Economy?" from earlier this year, in which he laid out a groundbreaking, readable analysis of the devilish details.

Obama hasn't exactly surrounded himself with regulators, as Lieber points out.

An argument could be made that the Bush administration's prosecutors were more aggressive against the Wall Street goniffs last year than the current crew. No shit.

The Pay-Limit Charade

The Obama administration's two-pronged attack on Wall Street execs' pay — Czar Kenneth Feinberg's crackdown and the Fed's plan to regulate compensation — is no more than a poke at a pig.

Feinberg's task was difficult, but he wielded more of a loofah than a whip. And the idea of the Fed Reserve Bank's stepping in to regulate compensation at banks is little more than fancied-up self-regulation by the banks. By its nature, the Fed is not much of a regulatory agency except in macroeconomic matters. Just look at the board of the New York Fed: It includes such "regulators" as JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, plus GE CEO Jeff Immelt and Pfizer CEO Jeff Kindler. They'll keep those Wall Street execs in check.

To Her Credit: At Least Brooksley Born Tried to Stop the Madness

Here's a clip from Frontline's The Warning, focusing in on former CFTC chair Brooksley Born's attempts in vain to regulate derivatives during the Greenspan Era. For more background, see "Credit Crisis Cassandra," in the Washington Post last May.

Face it: Men are dogs. And the current CFTC chair, Gary Gensler, is just a little mutt, not the kind of shepherd that's needed. Born, on the other hand, was one tough and prescient bitch.

This A.M.: Banks Shed Toxic Assets, Fend Off Gov't; Cuomo's Riding High; Business World Rolls Out Red Carpet for Qaddafi

Bank of America to Pay for Merrill Backstop, Faces SEC Trial (Bloomberg)

Ken Lewis trying hard to buy his way out of trouble, saying BofA will pay $425 million to cancel one piece of unused federal guarantee of Merrill Lynch's assets. Lewis frantically trying to reduce "reliance on government support and return to normal market funding." Will it help fend off the government? SEC says it will "vigorously pursue" its bonuses case against the bank, and maybe the SEC means business now that federal judge Jed Rakoff is on the agency's back.

Liquidation of CDOs aids banks (FT)

Market has loosened up for the assets underlying the complex, toxic securities that crashed Wall Street. An estimated $123 billion of these bullshit, defaulted securities that fed the Street's excessive greed have been liquidated.

Is This a Sucker's Rally? (Seeking Alpha, Jeff Miller)

A good roundup of bloviations good and bad.

Why haven't any Wall Street tycoons been sent to the slammer? (McClatchy, Kevin G. Hall)

In search of a "poster child for the Great Recession." Hank Paulson's always a candidate.

Envoy seeks to ditch 'bullying' US image (FT)

Louis Susman, Obama fundraiser and now U.S. ambassador to the U.K., announces that the Bush Era is officially over: "We are not a dumb power, we are not a bullying power." He adds: "To compare it to the previous relationship, well, some people might say that relationship wasn't healthy. Many people here in the UK didn't think it was healthy because it was without questioning and interaction."


Obama's FCC Chair Will Propose Net Neutrality Rules

Great news for any users of computers: FCC Chair Julius Genachowski (Barack Obama's buddy) will announce on Monday a push for "net neutrality" rules.

As the WSJ notes, the rules would "prevent Internet providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic, a move that could set off a battle with phone and cable companies that don't want the government telling them how to run their networks."

Unless you're a phone company or cable company, this is a good, good thing.

Top Doc: Rakoff versus the SEC and BofA

Federal judge Jed Rakoff's 12-page order filed last Monday formally rejecting the SEC's lame-ass settlement with Bank of America over the Merrill Lynch conniving is an instant classic. You heard about it; now read it.

Rolfe Winkler dished out an excellent report last month from inside Rakoff's courtroom as the judge hammered at both sides. Well worth checking out.

Here's just a taste of Rakoff's order itself:

"The proposed Consent Judgment in this case suggests a rather cynical relationship between the parties: the S.E.C. gets to claim that it is exposing wrongdoing on the part of the Bank of America in a high-profile merger; the Bank's management gets to claim that they have been coerced into an onerous settlement by overzealous regulators. And all this is done at the expense, not only of the shareholders, but also of the truth."

App-oplexy: Google Calls Apple a Rotten Liar

It was a big deal earlier in the summer when powerful Google Voice was rejected as an app for the powerful iPhone, and the big question was exactly why this monumental decision was made. Now we know more: In previously redacted material in FCC filings, Google says Apple — not AT&T — pulled the plug on Google Voice. Until this latest revelation, Apple had gotten away with claiming that it wasn't the bad guy. Google now gets to call its former lover Apple a big liar.

The FCC is still wrestling with how to sort out which apps you should be able use on which phones from which carrier, and who the hell gets to make those decisions. Pretty basic. Which makes this a major battle "with far-reaching implications for the U.S. telecommunications industry."

Many people (me included) thought that AT&T, exclusive purveyor of the iPhone, had nixed Google Voice out of fright that it would make even more inroads into the old-school phone business. Turns out that Apple did made the call out of a similar mean-spiritedness.

Top Doc: The SEC, By Definition, Is a Piss-Poor Prosecutor, So Let DOJ Do It

Hot off the server from Wayne State University's law school is Peter Henning's "Should the SEC Spin Off the Enforcement Division?" Amid all the whining about the SEC, this is a question that has so far eluded most of the press — I mean, the question itself has, let alone any debate or discussion.

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Law prof Henning, a white-collar-crime maven, raises the question about whether the Justice Department ought to take over the prosecutorial part of the SEC, its enforcement division — which, as we know, doesn't do that good a job enforcing.

I like the way the guy cuts through the bullshit swirling around the SEC to get to the point of how the SEC dropped the ball on the Madoff caper — and how that is a problem stemming from the very nature of the SEC and thus will happen again and again and again.

This A.M.: Senate Health-Care Bill Bails Out Insurors; Lehman Disaster Haunts Schools, Cities; Madoff Delivers Another 'Fuck You'

Americans Plan to Limit Spending on Recovery Concern (Bloomberg)

Wall Street's pissed at you for not wanting to spend more money during the recession.

Pen to paper: Will Madoff make him rich? (Philadelphia Daily News)

K.C. White sketched a portrait of fellow convict Bernie Madoff in the Butner, N.C., federal pen and hopes to peddle it. Its title? "Fuck My Victims." The recently freed White says Madoff autographed it for him and told him, "I made them millions of dollars. I'm doing 150 years. Fuck my victims."

The Specter of Lehman Shadows Trade Partners (WSJ)

"The ghost of Lehman Brothers' derivatives business is haunting hundreds of schools, municipalities and companies, which remain entangled in financial transactions with the failed firm."

Volcker Sees 'Long Slog' for U.S. Economy, Seeks Bank Limits (Bloomberg)

Pushing way harder than the Obama administration for limits on trading in risky capital markets by "too-big-to-fail" banks, which is why the Obama administration has marginalized the old codger.

U.S. Stock-Index Futures Advance; Citigroup, Nucor Shares Gain (Bloomberg)

Cuomo Calls In 5 BofA Directors (WSJ)

NY's AG issues subpoenas, scaring the shit out of board members across the country.

Next Up: Dow 10,000? Does Anyone Care? (Seeking Alpha)

When it happens, you'll see big, bold headlines, but not that big a deal. The S&P 500 passing 1,000 — now that was big.


This A.M.: Obama Talks the Talk on Wall Street, but a Federal Judge Walks the Walk; Execs Party in Foreclosed House, Flee Swine Flu in Private Jets

For Obama, a Chance to Reform the Street Is Fading (NYT)

The president "sternly admonished the financial industry and lawmakers to accept his proposals." Obama says Wall Street is "choosing to ignore" the "lessons of Lehman and the crisis."

Judge Rejects Settlement Over Merrill Bonuses (NYT)

Astonishing, rare, and powerful rebuke of Wall Street by federal judge Jed Rakoff that far outstrips Obama's for-public-consumption scolding — and embarrasses the president and Obama's SEC chief Mary Schapiro. WSJ's "Judge Tosses Out Bonus Deal" points out that the "unusual ruling ... casts doubts about how the [SEC] handles probes of major U.S. companies." Rakoff's ruling strengthens NY AG Andy Cuomo's attempt to file civil-fraud charges against Bank of America's CEO Ken Lewis. Meanwhile, Lewis tells Japan that "there is a potential for a rebound that beats the forecasts." He's talking about the global economy, not his own future.

No Easy Exit for U.S. As Housing's Savior (WSJ)

Housing market's only doing better because the government's propping it up.

Swine Flu Means $25,000 Chartered New York Flights for Senior Executives (Bloomberg)

"Demand for private travel during the swine flu pandemic is boosting the charter business, worth about $33 billion a year worldwide."

For France, a Joie de Vivre Index (WSJ)

"Sarkozy to Add New Indicators, Such as Well-Being, to Measure Economic Health." Clever. Based on Joseph Stiglitz's analysis.

Wells Fargo Dismisses Executive Accused of Using Foreclosed Home for Parties (WSJ)

Bank seized $12 million beach house lost amid Madoff scheme, and senior veep Cheronda Guyton used it to party like it was 1999.