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Selling Out America to Wall Street

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Selling Out America to Wall Street
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Project Censored's top 2010 story was "US Congress Sells Out to Wall Street," highlighting that since 2001, "eight of the most troubled firms have donated $64.2 million to congressional candidates, presidential candidates and the Republican and Democratic parties." It's no surprise that they own them, what Wall Street Watch.org showed in a March 2009 Essential Information and Consumer Education Foundation report titled,"Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America."

The accompanying press release said:

Over the past decade, "$5 billion in political contributions bought Wall Street freedom from regulation, (and) restraint." From 1998 - 2008, "Wall Street investment firms, commercial banks, hedge funds, real estate companies and insurance conglomerates (the FIRE sector)" spent over $1.7 billion in political contributions and another $3.4 billion on lobbyists, in return for which:

  • they were freed from regulation;
  • could speculate on financial derivatives and an alphabet soup of securitized garbage, including asset-backed securities (ABSs), mortgage-backed securities (MBSs), collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs), collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), collateralized bond obligations (CBOs), credit default swaps (CDSs), and collateralized fund obligations (CFOs) - combined, sliced, diced, packaged, repackaged, and sold in tranches to sophisticated and ordinary investors, many unwittingly through mutual funds, 401(k)s, pensions, and the like;
  • could merge commercial and investment banking and insurance operations;
  • bilk investors and the public through fraudulent schemes; and
  • get trillions of bailout dollars when the economy crashed.

For decades, Wall Street and successive governments colluded to defraud the public, using various schemes to transfer wealth from them to the privileged. Carter spearheaded deregulation Nixon and Ford began by hiring Alfred Kahn to head the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). The 1978 Airline Deregulation Act followed. It dissolved the CAB, removed industry restraints, eased consolidation, and subsequent bills deregulated trucking and railroads - the 1980 Motor Carrier Act and 1980 Staggers Rail Act, following the 1976 Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act.

Carter also phased out interest rate deposit ceilings, and gave the Fed more power through the 1980 Depository Institutions and Monetary Control Act, removing New Deal restraints and enabling subsequent administrations to go further.

Under Reagan, energy deregulation followed, notably oil and gas, then electric utilities under GHW Bush and Clinton, the result being high prices, brownouts, and Enron-like scandals. In the 1980s, the 1982 Alternative Mortgage Transactions Parity Act led to exotic feature mortgages with adjustable rates or interest-only. They carry low "teaser" rates for several years, after which they're adjusted much higher, often making loans unaffordable, especially for low-income, high-risk borrowers using subprime and Alt-A loans.

The 1982 Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act  deregulated thrifts and fueled fraud, so much that the Savings and Loan crisis followed, hundreds of banks failed, and taxpayers got stuck with most of the $160 billion cost. In 1987, the Government Accountability Office (GOA) declared the S & L deposit insurance fund insolvent because of mounting bank failures.

In 1988, global regulators imposed minimum bank capital requirements, known as the Basel Accord or Basel I, enforced in the G-10 countries.

In 1989, the Financial Institutions Reform and Recovery Act abolished the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and FSLIC, transferring them to the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) and FDIC. It also created the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) to liquidate troubled assets, assume Federal Home Loan Bank Board insurance functions, and clean up a troubled system.

Clinton era telecommunications deregulation let media and telecommunication giants consolidate, gave new digital television broadcast spectrum space to current TV station owners, and let cable companies increase their local monopoly positions.

His 1994 Reigle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act let bank holding companies operate in more than one state. In 1996, the Fed reinterpreted Glass-Steagall to let bank holding companies earn up to 25% of their revenue from investment banking. The 1998 Citicorp-Travelers merger followed, combining a commercial/investment bank with an insurance company ahead of the 1999 Financial Services Modernization Act, also called the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) authorizing it.

Some Background

During the Great Depression, the Bank Act of 1933 (Glass-Steagall) created the FDIC, insuring bank deposits up to $5,000 and separating commercial from investment banks and insurance companies, among other provisions to curb speculation. Senator Carter Glass was its prime mover and got Senator Henry Steagall to go along by including his amendment to protect deposits. Glass believed banks should stick to lending, not speculate, deal, or hold corporate securities. He blamed them for the 1929 crash, subsequent bank failures, and the Great Depression. The Bank Act of 1933 passed quickly to curb them.

No Longer since the Neoliberal 1990s

Later weakened, it still curbed abusive practices until GLBA repealed it, let commercial and investment banks and insurance companies combine, and facilitated consolidated power, fraud and abuse that followed. Other deregulatory rules permitted off-balance sheet accounting to let banks hide liabilities.

In 2000, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act  (CFMA) passed, legitimizing swap agreements and other hybrid instruments, at the heart of today's problems by ending regulatory oversight of derivatives and leveraging that turned Wall Street more than ever into a casino.

In her book "It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals from Washington to Wall Street," former insider Nomi Prins explained CFMA as follows:

"That act ushered in tremendous growth of unregulated commodity trades through its "Enron Loophole (for its Enron On-Line, the first Internet-based commodity transactions system to let companies) trade energy and other commodity futures on unregulated exchanges."

"It also sparked growth in the unregulated credit derivatives trades that bet on defaults of corporations or loans, which became the main ingredient in the hot new Wall Street financial gumbo. Credit derivatives were a type of insurance contract written against not just one corporation or loan but on investments that scarfed up bunches of subprime loans (junk) and stuffed them into the unregulated CDOs that imploded and hastened the greater lending crisis."

Credit default swaps became the most widely traded credit derivative. As unregulated insurance bets between two parties on whether or not a company's bonds would default, financial writer Ellen Brown asked in her April 11, 2008 article titled, "Credit Default Swaps: Evolving Financial Meltdown and Derivative Disaster Du Jour:"

What if "the smartest guys in the room designed their credit default swaps (but) forgot to ask one thing - what if the parties on the other side of the bet don't have the money to pay up?" In late 2007, when the financial crisis hit, they didn't, causing a "supersized bubble" to deflate.

New Deal reforms were enacted to prevent it. Deregulatory madness made it inevitable and the subsequent global economic fallout that continues - compounded by what Danny Schechter explained in his book, titled "The Crime of Our Time," calling the financial collapse "a crime story (involving) high status white-collar crooks." Their schemes included:

  • "Fraud and control frauds;
  • Insider trading;
  • Theft and conspiracy;
  • Misrepresentation;
  • Ponzi schemes;
  • False accounting;
  • Embezzling;
  • Diverting funds into obscenely high salaries and obscene bonuses;
  • Bilking investors, customers and homeowners;
  • Conflicts of interest;
  • Mesmerizing regulators;
  • Manipulating markets;
  • Tax frauds;
  • Making loans and then arranging that they fail;
  • Engineering phony financial products: (and)
  • Misleading the public."

Worst of all, they got away with it, still do, and got trillions of dollars in bailout money as a bonus, free money from the Fed plus interest on Fed held reserves.

The Absence of Regulatory Oversight

Earlier New Deal reforms were long gone, but for the most part worked when in place. The Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 followed the Securities Act of 1933, requiring offers and security sales to be registered, pursuant to the Constitution's interstate commerce clause. Previously, they were governed by state laws, so-called "blue sky laws" to protect against fraud.

The 1934 law regulated secondary trading of financial securities and established the SEC under Section 4 to enforce the new Act, later under the 1939 Trust Indenture Act, the 1940 Investment Company Act, the Investment Advisors Act the same year, Sarbanes-Oxley of 2002, and the 2006 Credit Rating Agency Reform Act.

The SEC was established to enforce federal securities laws, the security industry, the nation's financial and options exchanges, and other electronic securities markets and instruments unknown in the 1930s, including derivatives and other forms of speculation. In principle, it's charged with uncovering wrongdoing, assuring investors aren't swindled, and keeping the nation's financial markets free from fraud and other abuses.

That was then, but no longer. Under George Bush, the SEC was more facilitator than enforcer, a paper tiger, not a guardian of the public trust. It:

  • turned a blind eye to fraud and abuse;
  • protected Wall Street, not investors;
  • neutered its enforcement staff's authority;
  • adopted voluntary regulation;
  • let investment banks hold less reserve capital;
  • freely use leverage;
  • incur much higher debt levels; and
  • pretty much do what they pleased, only occasionally punishing an offender with a wrist-slap.

Financial fraud prosecutions dropped sharply, practically never against powerful, well-connected firms, the Bernie Madoff exception because he confessed to his sons, and they turned him in for running what he called a "giant Ponzi scheme."



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