Wednesday, March 04, 2009

"Sold Out" - (by BOTH Parties)

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration officials appeared before Congress Tuesday seeking to reassure lawmakers about the economy. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Peter Orszag, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, testified before separate House committees that the President’s massive spending bill would benefit working Americans. Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke testified before the Senate Budget Committee about the potential impacts of stimulus.

While the Obama administration is looking to turn around the economy with its stimulus plan and budget proposal, what about the issue of financial regulation, what some people point to as the fundamental cause of the crisis? A new report points to twelve deregulatory steps that led to the financial meltdown. It also does an analysis of the amount of money Wall Street poured into Washington in campaign contributions and lobbying over the last decade. Their answer? A staggering $5.1 billion over the past decade.

Rob Weissman is the author of the report. It’s called “Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America.” He is director of Essential Action, editor of the Multinational Monitor, joining us from Washington, D.C.

Good morning, Rob Weissman. Talk about what you think were the steps that brought us here.

ROBERT WEISSMAN: Well, we saw over the last decade and really the last three decades, with both parties in power in Congress and the executive branch, this long series of deregulatory moves. And as you go step-by-step through them, you see that those are the things that really paved the way for the current financial collapse.

Perhaps the signature move was the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had prevented co-ownership of commercial banks and securities firms, investment banks. That was precipitated by and directly authorized the creation of Citigroup, which is now sucking so much public taxpayer money and has really been at the cutting edge of driving the financial crisis we’re now in.

You can go forward another year and see that Congress, with the Clinton administration authorization, prohibited the executive branch agencies from regulating financial derivatives, the instruments that no one can really understand or get a handle on but which have multiplied the problem from the housing crash many-fold over. So we now have $600 trillion in financial derivatives being traded around the world, with no one having a handle on what they are, who owes whom, and all of this requiring us to pour tens of billions of more dollars more every day, it seems, into AIG.

You can step forward and look at the failure to enforce rules against predatory lending, beginning with the Clinton administration, but really accelerating in a really terrifying way with the Bush administration, so that there were about three actions taken by federal regulators in the peak period of predatory lending—three—against some of the commercial lenders and mortgage brokers who were undertaking some of the most abusive predatory lending activities. And on and on it goes.

And there was, of course, over the last three decades a real surge in deregulatory ideology. And perhaps the people who were putting this stuff forward believed in it. But it also makes sense to think that, maybe a little bit, they were influenced by the staggering amounts of money that the financial sector was pouring into Washington, as you said, more than $5 billion in campaign contributions and lobbying money. And, you know, they got a good return on investment, and it was good for them while it lasted. It’s turned out to be quite a disaster for them but, more importantly, for the rest of the country and the world.

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