By Robert Scheer
Does it really matter which party is in charge when it comes to bailing out the Wall Street hustlers whose shenanigans have bankrupted so many ordinary folks? Not if the Democrats roll over and cede power to the former head of Goldman Sachs, the investment bank at the center of our economic meltdown.
What arrogance for Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson—who the year before President Bush appointed him treasury secretary was paid $16.4 million for heading the company that did as much as any to engineer this financial travesty—to now insist we must blindly trust him to solve the problem. Paulson is demanding the power to act with “absolute impunity,” said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who admonished the treasury chief: “After reading this proposal, it is not only our economy that is at risk, Mr. Secretary, but our Constitution as well.”
Clearly, it’s a vast improvement to have Dodd in the chairman’s seat of the Senate Banking Committee, asking the right questions, rather than his predecessor, Texas Republican Phil Gramm, who presided over the committee in the years when the American economy, long the envy of the world, was viciously sabotaged by radical deregulation legislation.
Gramm, whom Sen. John McCain backed for president in 1996, pushed through the financial market deregulation that has brought the American economy to its knees. Maybe this time Congress won’t give the financial moguls everything they want, including a bailout for foreign-owned banks like Swiss-based UBS, where Gramm now hangs out as a very well paid executive when he’s not advising the presidential campaign of McCain, his old buddy and partner in crime. Oops, sorry, no crimes were committed because the deregulation laws Gramm pursued and McCain faithfully supported decriminalized the financial scams that have proved so costly.
Just check out the language of Gramm’s pet projects, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. By preventing mergers between the various branches of Wall Street, the former act reversed basic Depression-era legislation passed to prevent the sort of collapse we are now experiencing. The latter legitimized the “swap agreements” and other “hybrid instruments” that are at the core of the crisis.
The legislation’s “Legal Certainty for Bank Products Act of 2000,” Title IV of the law—a law that Gramm snuck in without hearings hours before the Christmas recess—provided Wall Street with an unbridled license to steal. It made certain that financiers could legally get away with a whole new array of financial rip-off schemes.
One of those provisions, summarized by the heading of Title III, ensured the “Legal Certainty for Swap Agreements,” which successfully divorced the granters of subprime mortgage loans from any obligation to ever collect on them. That provision of Gramm’s law is at the very heart of the problem. But the law went even further, prohibiting regulation of any of the new financial instruments permitted after the financial industry mergers: “No provision of the Commodity Exchange Act shall apply to, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission shall not exercise regulatory authority with respect to, an identified banking product which had not been commonly offered, entered into, or provided in the United States by any bank on or before December 5, 2000. …”
Even some Republicans on the Senate committee expressed exasperation Monday with the swindles that they had voted for with such enthusiasm in the past, as well as with giving Wall Street yet another blank check. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., condemned Paulson’s proposal as an effort to “take Wall Street’s pain and spread it to the taxpayers.” He added, “It’s financial socialism and it’s un-American.”
He’s wrong on that last point, for what is proposed is not the nationalization of private corporations but rather a corporate takeover of government. The marriage of highly concentrated corporate power with an authoritarian state that services the politico-economic elite at the expense of the people is more accurately referred to as “financial fascism.” After all, even Hitler never nationalized the Mercedes-Benz company but rather entered into a very profitable partnership with the current car company’s corporate ancestor, which made out quite well until Hitler’s bubble burst.
Smell a rat if Congress approves the Paulson plan without severely curtailing CEO pay and putting a freeze on the mortgage foreclosures that are threatening to destroy the homes of millions of Americans.
Robert Scheer is author of a new book, “The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America.”
AP photo / J. Scott Applewhite
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson briefs reporters on the economy earlier this month at the White House.