By Robert Scheer
On Tuesday, I received yet another deceptively personal e-mail addressed to “Robert” from Michelle Obama asking me once again to contribute to the “amazing journey” toward “progress” that her husband has led.
“Fool me once,” I muttered, regretful of my previous contribution and even embarrassed to wear the artist-designed Obama for President T-shirt that I got in return. I was particularly annoyed by the first lady’s assurance that “You’re the reason we reined in Wall Street banks that were out of control,” since I have written a book and numerous articles asserting just the opposite.
I envy her blind spousal loyalty—my own mate is a bit less forgiving—but how in the world can she, or the hacks that ginned out this e-mail to millions on her behalf, make such an assertion without sensing the absurd? Surely she knows that this administration has thrown trillions at the banks in the wan hope that they would respond with increased liquidity and mortgage relief to improve the lot of struggling homeowners and the unemployed, who have received nothing in return.
There are 50 million Americans who have either lost their homes or are “under water” on their mortgages, and unemployment is stuck at close to 10 percent. The real number, which includes those who have given up looking for work, or who have been forced to take crummy jobs well below their skill set, is at least double.
But the official number is high enough to shock Charles Evans, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. “In the last several months I’ve stared at our unemployment forecast and come to the conclusion that it’s just not coming down nearly as quickly as it should,” he told The Wall Street Journal on Monday, adding, “This is a far grimmer picture than we ought to have.” Pretty grim when you add the fact that there is now an all-time high of 43 million Americans living in poverty while Wall Street salaries and bonuses grow fatter.
Evans expressed a widespread concern over the developing “liquidity trap” in which the banks that have been saved from a disaster of their own making nonetheless refuse to lend as the president had hoped, and industries that have been made more secure through access to cheap money induced by the Fed don’t invest and rehire.
As for reining in the banks with his semblance of regulation over the out-of-control derivatives market that caused the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the president admitted in an interview published in Rolling Stone last month that “People have legitimate concerns that if the rules drafted by all these various agencies in charge of implementing financial reform wind up with exceptions that are so big you can drive a truck through … you could end up with an inadequate regulatory structure.”
That’s exactly what will happen once the lobbyists get through working their buddies in the regulatory agencies. Obama made light of the concern expressed by Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner that “when it comes to financial reform … your economic team is closely identified with Wall Street and the deregulation that caused the collapse … [M]any of them worked for or were close to banks like Goldman Sachs.” In response, Obama observed, “Larry Summers didn’t work for Goldman Sachs,” which ignores the fact that Summers was paid almost $8 million by Wall Street firms while he was an adviser to candidate Obama—including one $135,000 lecture fee from Goldman.
Goldman alums and others from Wall Street hold key economic positions throughout the Obama administration. That includes former Goldman partner Gary Gensler, whom Obama selected to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which has the key responsibility for derivatives regulation. In the Clinton administration it was Gensler as treasury undersecretary, along with his then-boss Summers, who led the fight against the regulation of derivatives and swaps.
His insistence that “swap transactions should not be regulated” under the existing Commodity Exchange Act was made law when President Bill Clinton signed off on the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, preventing any regulation of the toxic mortgages that the Fed is now stuck with.
The “no banker left behind program,” initiated by George W. Bush and continued by Obama, got a big boost Tuesday when Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke committed to adding to the more than $2 trillion in toxic derivatives assets that the Fed has already bought from the banks. Once again the suffering of homeowners is ignored while the bankers who fleeced them are made whole.
Until progressives break with Obama’s rosy perceptions, they will have nothing to offer as a retort to the tea-party faux populists who are effectively monopolizing the legitimate rage over the bailouts that has spread like wildfire throughout the land.
Click here to check out Robert Scheer’s new book,
“The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street.”
AP / Charles Dharapak
Michelle Obama speaks during the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008.