In what’s shaping up as a crucial week in the quest for financial reform there are some encouraging signs, some not so encouraging, and a demonstration by the executives at “the great vampire squid” (aka Goldman Sachs) give us an example of why meaningful reform is necessary.
First, the reasons to be hopeful. There appear to be some cracks in the Republican wall of solidarity. Sen. Olympia Snowe endorsed Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s tough stance toward derivative trading passed last week by the Agriculture Committee. (Sen. Grassley, another possible defector, was the lone Republican on the committee who voted for Lincoln’s proposal). In a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, Snowe wrote:
“I believe that strong derivatives regulation goes to the heart of an effective financial reform bill and that Chairman Lincoln’s legislation is a strong step towards realizing this fundamental component to financial reform……I believe that we should err on the side of caution and finally bring full transparency to these markets once and for all and allow regulators to preemptively identify these damaged firms.
“Accordingly, I believe the Senate should start with a comprehensive, strong derivatives reform proposal and defend attempts to weaken it, not the other way around and the legislation produced by the Senate Agriculture Committee includes the strongest safeguards and most robust transparency provisions on our expansive derivatives market.
I urge the Majority Leader to incorporate these provisions into the regulatory reform bill.”
On Friday, Sen. Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, “agreed to replace his proposed restrictions on derivatives with those of the Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln.”
On This Week yesterday, Sen. Bob Corker said he intended to propose an amendment containing a “claw back” provision to the legislation “which would take away the personal earnings for the past five years of the corporate officers of failed institutions that fall under the government’s resolution authority.”
Another possible Republican defector might be the newly-elected senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown. Will someone who was elected as a sort of “man of the people” want to be painted as a defender of Wall Street? Especially when he faces re-election in 2 years? Maybe not.
Also on the positive side, “President Obama and House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank have personally urged Dodd not to cut a deal with Republicans…This is a welcome sign that Obama realizes that public opinion is moving in the direction of tougher banking reform, and that he learned from the health debate that bipartisan compromise on key reform issues is a snare and a delusion.”
Sen. Dodd has shown signs of weakening the legislation in order to compromise with Republicans leaders in the Senate, Mitch McConnell and Richard Shelby, who want to use the same tactics Republicans used on health care reform—stall and delay as long as possible. Hopefully, Dodd will be emboldened by support from President Obama and not dilute reform to try and pacify those whose intentions are to maintain the status quo.
Now to the crooks at Goldman. What were they doing as the housing market was collapsing and threatening to take the entire economy with it? Having a party:
“As the U.S. housing market began its epic fall nearly three years ago, top executives at Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs cheered the large financial gains the firm stood to make on certain bets it had placed, according to newly released documents.
The documents show that the firm’s executives were celebrating earlier investments calculated to benefit if housing prices fell, a Senate investigative committee found. In an e-mail sent in the fall of 2007, for example, Goldman executive Donald Mullen predicted a windfall because credit-rating companies had downgraded mortgage-related investments, which caused losses for investors.
“Sounds like we will make some serious money,” Mullen wrote.”
To somewhat defend Goldman, what they were doing, “selling short,” (betting against certain investments) is something that happens on Wall Street every day. But, betting against instruments that they designed to fail, and which were sold to investors as AAA investments allowing Goldman to profit from on both ends, may not be illegal (although it should be) but it certainly shows that the execs at the “great vampire squid” have no interest in what’s best for the country. They have one party’s interests in mind—-their own.