Monday, July 26, 2010

Week of 07/26/2010

Support Your Local (Consumer) Sheriff
– by David Matthews 2

In the movie “Boiler Room”, a young college dropout is introduced to a pump-and-dump trading company, and one of the key questions asked was “Is this legal?” He is then directed to a guy sitting in a closed-off room with a window and is told that the man is the watchdog for the Securities and Exchange Commission, there to make sure that everything is legitimate. The so-called “watchdog” is bored out of his skull.

That is apparently how the business world likes their “watchdogs”; all “watch” and absolutely no “dog”. Just sit there, read your newspaper, cash your paycheck, and WATCH as the financial world fleeces the rest of the world like sheep in a shearing pen.

Same thing with the government. They LOVE lording over people, but they don’t want to have anyone watching what they do.

So it probably should be to nobody’s surprise in 2008 when the Troubled Assets Relief Program was brought up to bail out Wall Street that they would put in a “watchdog” that had no power or authority to do anything to truly monitor and control $700 BILLION in taxpayer money is spent. The IDEA of a “watchdog” sounded good, but obviously neither Wall Street nor Pennsylvania Avenue wanted a REAL “watchdog” overlooking the bailout.

Unfortunately for the folks at both Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, the person they picked for the “watchdog” position was someone who wouldn’t just sit back and read the newspaper and cash in their paycheck. Elizabeth Warren, appointed to the commission by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told EVERYONE exactly what her job entailed. She made TV appearance after TV appearance telling people what they really didn’t want to hear… that her position is a joke, that she was never given any opportunity to really WATCH over the tax money as it was handed out like early Christmas presents, and that there’s absolutely nothing that she could do to make sure the money was used for what it was originally SOLD as being needed for.

Sure the American public was pissed about it, but, hey, what could they do? This was George W. Bush’s parting gift to Corporate America, and his final screwjob over the American people as their president. He was on his way out the door, and he knew that whomever took his place wouldn’t lift a finger to do the right thing.

Well Ms. Warren has been going about for the past two years, asking questions that nobody in power wants answered, and going on TV telling people what they don’t WANT to hear concerning their tax money. And she’s been talking about the need for a new sheriff for the financial world. A Consumer Protection sheriff.

Wait… isn’t that supposed to be the Department of Treasury’s job? Aren’t THEY supposed to keep an eye on the system for the average American? And what happened to the Securities and Exchange Commission? These guys were supposed to be regulating THEMSELVES to make sure they don’t go overboard, right? So how could they… OOOOOhhhhh… right… Goldman Sachs, AIG, “too big to fail”, K Street… sorry, for a moment I guess I forgot which groups I was talking about here.

A “Consumer Protection” position SOUNDS good on paper. It SOUNDS good when brought up as a sound-byte for the air-fluffed ego-driven media and their ten-second attention span.

Unfortunately this kind of idea is doomed to fail. And here’s why:

First and foremost is the simple fact that this idea is coming FROM WASHINGTON. Worse yet, it’s coming from a majority party that has an abysmal record of letting the American people down! Heathcare reform that doesn’t really reform, credit card protections that screw over the customers, promised aid that continually lapses because of both political incompetence and malicious brinksmanship… and now this same group wants to create a new government position to supposedly “represent the people”?

Remember all of those promises about healthcare that would be enacted? Single-payer, the public option, the elimination of loopholes and exemptions? Those weren’t forgotten. Those were sacrificed on the altar of political compromise. Did you think that “too big to fail” was somehow forgotten this time around? Or that the Volkner Rule was accidentally neutralized?

And behind those sacrifices in the name of “political compromise” was countless millions paid to lobbying groups. The K Street Empire was in full force, twisting more arms than a mobster convention, doing everything possible to minimize and castrate such reform on behalf of their clients. It is reasonable to presume that the only reforms enacted were the ones that K Street ALLOWED to be made, the ones that had a minimal impact on their clients, and the ones that gave their clients even MORE power and control over the masses than ever before.

Plus all we have to do is look at how the TARP system was set up in the first place to see how any future regulatory body would be considered. Zero accountability, zero control, zero authority… just a bunch of people sitting around asking questions and getting very frustrated over the lack of answers.

Oh, and remember the “pay czar”? The guy that was supposed to monitor the businesses that were getting bailout money to make sure they didn’t turn around and blow that money on executive bonuses recently announced that seventeen banks that got bailout money did just that. BUT he didn’t do anything about it except wag his finger at them. And neo-conservatives were screaming bloody murder over THAT?

Unfortunately, the flip-side to this is gross ineptitude from the government that the private sector has an equally abysmal record. Why do you think that the Federal Reserve has been fighting tooth-and-nail to prevent a full accounting of their actions? No doubt JP Morgan, who screamed bloody murder over the creation of the Fed a century ago, would be laughing from the grave if he knew how it would eventually be used.

The truth of the matter is that we wouldn’t NEED a so-called “Consumer Affairs” position if the private sector had the morals and the strength to truly regulate itself. Instead, they have long since sold their souls to the Cult of Capitalism and have pledged eternal profit at all costs, even if that cost is the stability of the civilized world.

And that brings us back to that brand new “Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection” and our yet-to-be-appointed sheriff. Like it or not, the job has been created and now it needs to be filled. Ms. Warren’s name has been bantered about to be the “perfect” candidate for the job, much to the regret of Treasury Secretary and boy genius Tim Geithner. Warren has certainly been the loudest voice calling for such a position to be created, and her two years of exposing her group’s inability to properly account for the TARP money certainly gives her the appearance of being a formidable defender of “We the Fleeced”.

But does that mean that she is the perfect candidate for THAT position?

Only if it does what it REALLY is supposed to do, which is very unlikely.

There are two possibilities here. The first is that the position actually has the power and the authority to do what it is supposed to do, which is stop Wall Street from fleecing the general public. If that is the case, then Secretary Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake and their friends in Wall Street certainly DO NOT want someone like Ms. Warren in that position! Someone in that kind of position would make what they do a little more complicated.

The second possibility, and one that is a little more realistic, is that the position is just another “watchdog” gig that is all “watch” and no “dog”, just like TARP oversight and the “Pay Czar”. And if that is the case, then Geither and company most certainly DO NOT want someone like Ms. Warren in that position! They certainly do not need someone who will go in front of the media and point out that their position is essentially a joke and that there is nothing that they can really do for the American people and that they wasted all of that time, energy, and effort for nothing. That’s bad PR for Big Government.

Either way… let’s get brutally honest here… while Elizabeth Warren may seem to be perfect for the position of “Consumer Sheriff”, the very reasons WHY she is perfect for it are also the reasons why the political system and Wall Street would NOT want her anywhere NEAR that job. Either she would do too good of a job, or she would expose yet another political screwjob from a political party with a history of screwjobs.

There is a part of me that would like to see her get that position just to prove either theory to be true. Unfortunately, as a political cynic, I know there’s a strong possibility that we won’t see that happen, no matter how many people rally for her appointment.

In “Boiler Room”, the whole crooked business is exposed and the bad guys reportedly get arrested because the main character finally discovers his conscience (with a little encouragement from the FBI and his father). In order for this “Consumer Sheriff” to actually make a difference, that person would also have to have a conscience… something that power-mongers in money and politics sort of despise.

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