“Wall Street’s Threat To The American Middle Class”: Do We Really Need To Be Reminded About What Happened Six Years Ago?
Presidential aspirants in both parties are talking about saving the middle class. But the middle class can’t be saved unless Wall Street is tamed.
The Street’s excesses pose a continuing danger to average Americans. And its ongoing use of confidential corporate information is defrauding millions of middle-class investors.
Yet most presidential aspirants don’t want to talk about taming the Street because Wall Street is one of their largest sources of campaign money.
Do we really need reminding about what happened six years ago? The financial collapse crippled the middle class and poor — consuming the savings of millions of average Americans, and causing 23 million to lose their jobs, 9.3 million to lose their health insurance, and some 1 million to lose their homes.
A repeat performance is not unlikely. Wall Street’s biggest banks are much larger now than they were then. Five of them hold about 45 percent of America’s banking assets. In 2000, they held 25 percent.
And money is cheaper than ever. The Fed continues to hold the prime interest rate near zero.
This has fueled the Street’s eagerness to borrow money at rock-bottom rates and use it to make risky bets that will pay off big if they succeed, but will cause big problems if they go bad.
We learned last week that Goldman Sachs has been on a shopping binge, buying cheap real estate stretching from Utah to Spain, and a variety of companies.
If not technically a violation of the new Dodd-Frank banking law, Goldman’s binge surely violates its spirit.
Meanwhile, the Street’s lobbyists have gotten Congress to repeal a provision of Dodd-Frank curbing excessive speculation by the big banks.
The language was drafted by Citigroup and personally pushed by Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase.
Not incidentally, Dimon recently complained of being “under assault” by bank regulators.
The American middle class needs stronger bank regulations, not weaker ones.
Last summer, bank regulators told the big banks their plans for orderly bankruptcies were “unrealistic.” In other words, if the banks collapsed, they’d bring the economy down with them.
Dodd-Frank doesn’t even cover bank bets on foreign exchanges. Yet recent turbulence in the foreign exchange market has caused huge losses at hedge funds and brokerages.
This comes on top of revelations of widespread manipulation by the big banks of the foreign-exchange market.
Wall Street is also awash in inside information unavailable to average investors.
Just weeks ago a three- judge panel of the U.S. court of appeals that oversees Wall Street reversed an insider-trading conviction, saying guilt requires proof a trader knows the tip was leaked in exchange for some “personal benefit” that’s “of some consequence.”
Meaning that if a CEO tells his Wall Street golfing buddy about a pending merger, the buddy and his friends can make a bundle — to the detriment of small, typically middle-class, investors.
That three-judge panel was composed entirely of appointees of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
But both parties have been drinking at the Wall Street trough.
In the 2008 presidential campaign, the financial sector ranked fourth among all industry groups giving to then candidate Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee. In fact, Obama reaped far more in contributions from the Street than did his Republican opponent.
Wall Street also supplies both administrations with key economic officials. The treasury secretaries under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson, respectfully, had both chaired Goldman Sachs before coming to Washington.
And before becoming Obama’s treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner had been handpicked by Rubin to become president of Federal Reserve Bank of New York. (Geithner is now back on the Street as president of the private-equity firm Warburg Pincus.)
It’s nice that presidential aspirants are talking about rebuilding America’s middle class.
But to be credible, he (or she) has to take clear aim at the Street.
That means proposing to limit the size of the biggest Wall Street banks; resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act (which used to separate investment from commercial banking); define insider trading the way most other countries do – using information any reasonable person would know is unavailable to most investors; and close the revolving door between the Street and the U.S. Treasury.
It also means not depending on the Street to finance their campaigns.
By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, January 26, 2015
“U.S. Chamber Carrying The Tea Party Label”: The Tea Party and Wall Street Are Even Closer Than We Thought
Ever since the Tea Party Republicans arrived on the scene in Washington, I’ve cast a wary eye at the notion of them as grass-roots insurgents disconnected from the party’s big business and Wall Street base. Heck, when I went looking for one Tea Party tribune, Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia, the night of the August 2011 vote to resolve that summer’s debt-ceiling showdown, I found him at a fundraiser in AT&T’s box at National Stadium.
But even I, with my lack of illusions on this score, was startled to see just how tight the business lobby-Tea Party bond has been, as revealed in today’s Washington Post by Tom Hamburger and Jia Lynn Yang, with help from the Center for Responsive Politics. They report:
The American Bankers Association gave more money over the past two election cycles to GOP lawmakers who in effect voted to allow the United States to default on its debt than those who voted against that scenario. The ABA contributed $2.2 million to lawmakers who ultimately ignored the group’s warnings, second only to the Club for Growth and just ahead of Koch Industries, both of which are leading sources of funds for conservative candidates…
At financial services firms, including hedge funds and major banks, contributions totaled more than $26 million over the past two election cycles to the Republican lawmakers who voted against a deal to reopen the government and avoid a first-ever debt default. Employees and the political action committee of Goldman Sachs, which didn’t comment for this article, gave $1.06 million from 2009 to 2012 to the group of GOP lawmakers who voted against the deal. At Bank of America, which also declined to comment, contributions totaled $1.03 million. Hedge funds gave $1.7 million….
Employees and political action committees at Honeywell, the manufacturing conglomerate [whose CEO David Cote was among the Fortune 500 types warning against the shutdown] contributed nearly $2.1 million to last week’s naysayers while providing slightly less to yes-voting Republicans. At AT&T, contributions reached $1.9 million for no-voting members and $2.1 million for those voting “yes.”
Even the proud leader of the defund-Obamacare government-shutdown movement got the business lucre:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), whose 21-hour floor speech helped spark the crisis and who voted against the debt-ceiling deal, received $786,157 from financial services companies — more than the $705,657 he received from the Club for Growth. Cruz’s wife works at Goldman Sachs, whose PAC gave $5,000 to her husband in 2012.
The question now, of course, is whether big business and Wall Street keep shoveling money toward those in the congressional suicide caucus. There are already signs of a rethinking underway, with talk of non-lunatic business-backed challengers in Michigan and Utah, and with some donors holding off on writing the usual checks to the GOP. Still, the Post’s report reminds us that we should not be surprised if this shift is marginal at best. The fact is, Ted Cruz and his ilk were making no bones at all about what they planned to do in Washington, and got plenty of backing from supposedly sober business types nonetheless. Why? Because their interests overlap more than the new talk of a rift acknowledges, on everything from taxes to organized labor to government regulations. What was the final demand that many in the shutdown caucus were making? The elimination of a tax on some of the highest-margin companies in the country—not exactly a typical pitchfork-wielding cause. Make no mistake: The great Shutdown Debacle of 2013 may have carried the Tea Party label, but it was made in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the C-suite.
Addendum, 5:30 p.m. Wednesday: It’s worth noting that Ted Cruz is not just getting big financial support from Wall Street. He’s also on its health plan.
By: Alec MacGillis, The New Republic, October 23, 2013
America’s great minds of business and finance have reached a consensus on the government shutdown and worse, the prospect of a debt default: While the latter is worse, both are bad. Those same great minds are well aware how the shutdown came to pass and why default still looms on the horizon, whether next week, next month, or next year.
Yes, the frightened corporate leaders surely know how this happened — because their money funded the Tea Party candidates and organizations responsible for the crisis.
Consider Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), a Tea Party freshman whose outspoken stupidity on a default’s potential benefits, such as an improved U.S. credit rating, has provided a bit of dark humor in these dark days. Yoho, a large-animal veterinarian, announced months ago that he would never vote to raise the debt ceiling.
Like most Republican candidates, he had no problem raising contributions from business interests, notably including contractors, insurance companies, manufacturers and agricultural processors — all of which presumably share the horror of default expressed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But no doubt Yoho parroted the usual right-wing clichés about taxes, regulation, labor, and health care, so all the business guys wrote a check without caring that Yoho is an ignorant yobbo.
Or consider Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), who came to embody the idiocy of the shutdown when he declared “we’re not going to be disrespected” by the White House, but couldn’t articulate precisely what Republicans needed in order to reopen the government and avoid default. Another low-wattage Tea Party newcomer, Stutzman likewise raised plenty of money from commercial banks, real estate firms, insurance companies, and various manufacturers. Why do these executives write checks to elect someone like him?
Then there are the Tea Party leaders in the upper chamber, including such adornments of democracy as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and of course Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Johnson says there need be no debt default, no matter what Congress does, while Cruz, the “Defund Obamacare” mastermind, is more culpable than any other single legislator for the paralysis gripping Washington and the country. Johnson’s top donors include an investment firm called Fiduciary Management, Inc., ironically enough, as well as Northwestern Mutual, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Mass Mutual Life Insurance, and naturally, Koch Industries (which now claims, disingenuously, that it doesn’t favor the Cruz shutdown strategy or a debt default).
As for Cruz, guess who paid for his campaign? Very close to the top of the list of donors for the despised Texan is none other than Goldman Sachs — whose chairman Lloyd Blankfein showed up at the White House a few days ago to bemoan the catastrophic threat of default. Not only did Blankfein and his fellow bankers warn of what might happen if America breaches its full faith and credit, but he even hinted that the fault lies with Republican hostage takers. Which is only partially right, because Blankfein and his fellow financiers need to look in the mirror, too. Cruz also got a big check from Berkshire Hathaway, corporate home of the venerated Wall Street sage Warren Buffett, who just compared the impact of default to “a nuclear bomb.” If that nuke wipes out the markets, Berkshire’s investment in Cruz will have lit the fuse.
If any of these business leaders honestly cared about fiscal responsibility and economic growth – let alone the constant threat of shutdowns and defaults – they could step up to warn the Republicans that the money won’t be there anymore unless they cease and desist from such assaults on democracy. They have more than enough money and power to end this crisis – and make sure it never happens again – but they seem to lack the necessary character and courage.
By: Joe Conason, Featured Post, The National Memo, October 11, 2013
“Taking A Trip To Boehnerland”: John Boehner Takes His Relationship With DC’s Lobbying Industry Quite Seriously
When we think about the sphere of influence for the Speaker of the House, we would ordinarily think first of the House majority caucus. After all, that would make sense — John Boehner should have power on the Hill, where he leads over 200 federal lawmakers who chose to put a gavel in his hands and put behind only the Vice President in the presidential line of succession.
But in practice, Boehner’s sphere of influence is fairly limited in the chamber he ostensibly leads. His operation is far more impressive about a mile and a half away from the Capitol, in the city’s lobbying corridor.
A top aide to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is leaving his post to run the Washington office of American Express, becoming the third-high ranking staffer to depart the office in recent months.
Brett Loper, one of Boehner’s key conduits to the White House during the doomed “fiscal cliff” negotiations of 2012, is returning to K Street after a brief stint in the Speaker’s office where he most recently served as deputy chief of staff.
The Speaker’s chief of staff, Barry Jackson, left in Feburary to work at two separate firms — Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a lobby shop, and Lindsey Group, an economic advisory firm. Earlier in February, Boehner’s health adviser, Emily Porter, left to become a vice president at the lobbying firm Nickles Group.
As these departures mount, it’s only natural to wonder if the Speaker’s career is in in decline, and there are rumors that Boehner, frustrated by his complete inability to govern, may retire in the near future. The resignations will only further fuel the speculation.
But there is another explanation — there’s long been a revolving door in Boehner’s office, with aides (a) leaving his staff to become lobbyists; (b) leaving lobbying to join his staff; or (c) occasionally making more than one trip in each direction.
Indeed, in a statement thanking Loper for his service, the Speaker said the staffer will be missed throughout Boehnerland, our Conference, and the entire House.”
This may sound like an odd choice of words, but for a significant group of people, “Boehnerland” is an actual thing.
He maintains especially tight ties with a circle of lobbyists and former aides representing some of the nation’s biggest businesses, including Goldman Sachs, Google, Citigroup, R. J. Reynolds, MillerCoors and UPS.
They have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaigns, provided him with rides on their corporate jets, socialized with him at luxury golf resorts and waterfront bashes and are now leading fund-raising efforts for his Boehner for Speaker campaign, which is soliciting checks of up to $37,800 each, the maximum allowed.
Some of the lobbyists readily acknowledge routinely seeking his office’s help — calling the congressman and his aides as often as several times a week — to advance their agenda in Washington. And in many cases, Mr. Boehner has helped them out.
Of course he has; many of these lobbyists worked in his office.
While many lawmakers in each party have networks of donors, lobbyists and former aides who now represent corporate interests, Mr. Boehner’s ties seem especially deep. His clique of friends and current and former staff members even has a nickname on Capitol Hill, Boehner Land. The members of this inner circle said their association with Mr. Boehner translates into open access to him and his staff.
It’s probably worth emphasizing that all of this is legal and permissible under congressional ethics rules. The point isn’t that Boehner is guilty of anything untoward; rather, the point is Boehner takes his relationship with DC’s lobbying industry quite seriously.
And as we talked about last fall, this relationship manifests itself in ways that reinforce its value. When Congress worked on a jobs bill in 2010, Boehner and his team huddled with corporate lobbyists. When work on Wall Street reform got underway, Boehner and the GOP huddled with industry lobbyists. When Congress worked on health care reform, Boehner and the GOP huddled with insurance lobbyists. When an energy/climate bill started advancing, the GOP huddled with energy lobbyists. In 2012, when the STOCK Act was being considered, the GOP huddled with financial industry lobbyists.
This is just Boehner’s m.o. And as more staffers depart the Speaker’s office for more lobbying gigs, the population of Boehnerland just keeps growing.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 24, 2013
Bankers gone wild! Let’s tally some of their crimes:
JPMorgan Chase engaged in massive, systematic fraud to foreclose without cause or due process on innocent homeowners, tossing thousands of families into the streets.
Goldman Sachs profited by marketing an investment package that was designed to fail, collecting fat fees on each sale to unsuspecting investors who lost millions, while the bank also collected millions more from a side bet it made that, sure enough, its package would be a loser.
For years, HSBC has been butt-deep in a swamp of despicable, illegal money-laundering schemes, willingly processing billions of dirty dollars for vicious drug cartels and peddlers of arms to terrorist forces at war with America.
Many more examples abound. These are not poor saps desperately robbing a bank branch for a few hundred dollars, but criminal enterprises run by multimillionaire Wall Streeters who run in the finest social circles, are celebrated by the media and hobnob with the nation’s political elite.
Their corruption is complete; their crimes are documented. Yet, unlike sad-sack bank robbers, none of these Robbing Bankers have even been prosecuted, much less jailed. In fact, as revealed on PBS’s Frontline program earlier this year, frustrated prosecutors who served in the Justice Department’s criminal division two years ago report that “when it came to Wall Street, there were no investigations going on. There were no subpoenas, no document reviews, no wiretaps.”
Why is that? Where are the cops on the Wall Street beat?
Up in the suites, coddling the culprits, whom they know on a first-name basis. That’s because Attorney General Eric Holder and the chief of his criminal division, Lanny Breuer, have previously enjoyed lucrative careers as lawyers defending the very barons they’re now supposed to be prosecuting. Holder and Breuer both hail from the same Washington law firm, Covington & Burling, that specializes in representing corporate clients with legal issues at the Justice Department.
The moral here is clear: When engaged in high crimes, it literally pays to have friends in the highest places.
To transport them there, a secret cosmic door connects the parallel universes of Washington and Wall Street. It’s not the proverbial revolving door, but a wide-open passageway for easy flow back and forth — reserved for those in the know.
Lanny Breuer is one definitely in the know, passing with impunity from the job of defending Wall Street wrongdoers in cases before the Justice Department to being the department’s chief prosecutor of Wall Street wrongdoing.
Four years ago, he left Covington & Burling, where he represented Wall Street clients, to head the criminal division of Justice. Dismissing criticism that his long service to Wall Street banksters created an inherent conflict of interest with his new duty to the public, Breuer insisted that he’d be a better prosecutor “because of my deep experience in the private sector.”
That claim would’ve proven more convincing had he brought even a single case against the Wall Street executives who’ve been publicly exposed as self-enriching perpetrators of widespread fraud and other destructive financial crimes. But, no, not one.
Why? Call me cynical, but perhaps because he was using his four years at Justice to pad his résumé and enhance his value to Wall Street. Protecting bankers from prosecution could be a good career move.
No surprise, then, that Breuer headed back through that cosmic door, rejoining Covington in a specially created position to expand its role in defending corporate clients charged with foreign bribery, money laundering, securities fraud and such. “I’m a zealous advocate,” said the guy who studiously refrained from being a zealous prosecutor. “I look forward to being a zealous advocate for our clients again,” he added.
Sheesh, couldn’t he at least pretend to have some ethics? Instead, Lanny was relieved to be back on Wall Street’s side: “It’s my professional home,” he confessed.” Oh, did I mention that his starting salary at Covington will be $4 million a year?
By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, April 10, 2013